The lead-up to today’s race was more interesting than usual. There was Ducati’s Valentino Rossi topping the chart in a wet FP1. A dry FP2 concluded with Spies, Bautista, Ducati #2 Nicky Hayden and LCR Honda rookie Stefan Bradl occupying spots two through five and Rossi in 11th. The only thing fans would remember about FP3 is hometown fave Cal Crutchlow going ragdoll falling off his Tech 3 Yamaha, ending up in the gravel facing Coventry with his dislocated left ankle pointing toward Oxford. While everyone else was out qualifying, Cal was in the hospital having things put back in their rightful places, and it appeared he would miss his second consecutive home race. But as they say in Chicago, “Not so fast.”
Drama Here, Drama There, Drama Everywhere
To the delight of the fans, Crutchlow today appeared on the grid, albeit in the 20 hole, stiff upper lip firmly in place. Early on, it was Spies, Repsol ace Casey Stoner, polesitter Bautista and Hayden emerging in the first group, with Lorenzo laying back and Stoner’s Alien teammate Dani Pedrosa uncharacteristically getting caught in traffic. Crutchlow’s Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Andrea Dovizioso, featured and thoroughly jinxed in this space last week, was unable to break into the top five after starting a surprising eighth. Dovi would later crash, pit for some minor repairs, and finish a lap down, out of the points.
Between laps five and eight, Spies conceded the lead to Stoner, while Lorenzo went through on three riders into second place, and the hoped-for match race was on. Meanwhile, an anesthetized Crutchlow had dispatched all of the CRT bikes and made his way up to 9th position. On Lap 11, the practically invisible Pedrosa snuck past Bautista into third.
At that point, the fans were being entertained by two separate races. Up front, the three Aliens were slugging it out for the lead, a world championship at stake. Back in the middle of the pack, Crutchlow, who was too injured to walk, was lining up the laggard prototype bikes, gritting his teeth, and likely thinking how nice a second injection in his ankle would feel at that moment. The way things turned out, he wouldn’t need it. As they say in Newark, New Jersey, “Fuggedabouddit.”
The Fans Go Home Happy
The Stoner-Lorenzo duel came to a head on Lap 12, during which the two rivals traded places three or four times, Lorenzo emerging with the lead he would maintain to the finish. Stoner, Pedrosa and Bautista jousted for the remaining two spots on the rostrum, with the Repsol Hondas prevailing. Bautista could feel good about his first pole and closest sniff to a premier class podium, and is clearly making progress in his effort to rid himself of the ghost of Marco Simoncelli that seemingly haunts team owner Fausto Gresini.
The ride of the day, however, belonged to Cal Crutchlow, who appeared to smell blood once teammate Dovizioso went down on Lap 10. On Lap 11 he put a lovely move on rookie Bradl to take over seventh position. At that point he trailed the sixth place Nicky Hayden by over eight seconds, the equivalent of eight minutes in MotoGP time. Here are their splits from the end of Lap 12 on:
Finally, on the last lap of the day, the throbbing Crutchlow went through on the Kentucky Kid and sent the hometown faithful into a fit of national pride unseen since the days Silverstone was an undermanned RAF fighter base holding off the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. The crowd expressed its heartfelt sympathy to Hayden with a classic English taunt. As they say in Northamptonshire, “Hard cheese, you Yank bastard!”
Elsewhere on the Grid
Sure, Ben Spies managed to finish 5th today, not quite redemptive but a significant improvement over his previous 2012 results. And sure, Stefan Bradl came in a respectable eighth, doing nothing to harm his Rookie of the Year prospects. Karel Abraham’s absence today meant that only the last two (rather than the usual three) prototype bikes to finish would be Ducatis, as Rossi crossed the line in front of Hector Barbera and the CRT lot. Nothing unusual there.
Here’s the amazing statistic to emerge from today’s race, in my humble opinion: Rossi ended the day trailing teammate and understudy Hayden by a full 21 seconds. On essentially the same machines, the fading one-time world champion administered a thorough and decisive beatdown to The Doctor.
Our Department of Idle Speculation suggests this is a sign that Rossi, despite his pronouncements to the contrary, is preparing to throw in the towel on the ill-fated Ducati project in favor of what will probably be his own team next year, featuring a rented Yamaha M1 or Honda RC214V and sponsored by Coca Cola. It’s hard to explain today’s Marlboro Ducati team result as anything but a lack of effort from Rossi, who will likely attribute it instead to a poor tire choice. As they say in Indianapolis, “That’s just a big ol’ bunch of #@%$&, Vale!”
The Big Picture
No major changes in the 2012 standings today. Jorge Lorenzo extended his lead over defending champion Stoner to a full race win. Crutchlow’s gutty performance enabled him to leap past teammate Dovizioso into fourth place for the year, while Bautista now sits tied with Rossi for sixth. Ben Spies started and finished the day in 11th place despite his best outing of the year, a measure of the depths he has plumbed during the first third of the season. Without a couple of wins between now and Valencia it appears Ben’s factory team days are numbered.
The riders and teams will take next weekend off before launching into their three-races-in-three-weeks maelstrom at Assen, the Sachsenring and Mugello. Closing out the first half of the season in a mini-marathon will test the endurance and focus of everyone involved, including the journalists covering the sport. I expressed my concern about turning out six coherent articles in 19 days to my Canadian editor, to which he responded, “As we say in Toronto, if you want to run with the big dogs, you’d best be able to handle the tall grass, eh?”
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