MotoGP 2009: Laguna Seca Results

The last shall be first and the first shall be, um, second


Dani Pedrosa, fresh off a DNF disaster in Assen, took the lead on the first lap and never trailed, winning Sunday’s MotoGP dogfight at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey. In doing so, the Repsol Honda rider became the first Spaniard ever to win a premier class event at Laguna, and put himself back in the conversation for the 2009 world championship. Meanwhile, Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo took on teammate Valentino Rossi in an unsuccessful duel for second place that may have ended up costing Rossi and his team the win.

It was only eight days ago that Pedrosa took an early exit at Assen and spent the day watching Rossi effortlessly win his 100th Grand Prix race, a turn of events that must have left him nauseated. His practice runs on Friday and Saturday gave no reason to expect much from him today, other than being one of the few riders not to crash in the run-up to the race. At least six riders had accidents this weekend, with Lorenzo ending up being listed as “questionable” on Saturday with a separated shoulder and a contused foot suffered while qualifying on the pole.

Dani Pedrosa earned Honda its first MotoGP win since June 8, 2008 at Catalunya.

I believe 17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ famous description of the life of man, “nasty, brutish and short”, also applies to Laguna Seca. That Lorenzo could run at all there with his injuries was a testament to his competitiveness and toughness. After getting off to another of what are becoming characteristically slow starts, he joined the front group on lap three and started picking off riders. From fifth place, he encouraged Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso into a lowside slider on lap five that ended his day.

Valentino Rossi seemed energized after fighting off teammate Jorge Lorenzo.Lorenzo settled into fourth place while, closer to the front, teammate Rossi was lining up Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and calculating how and when he would make his inevitable move from third place to second. Rossi made the effortless pass on lap 11, with Stoner once again beginning to fade, as he had in both Catalunya and Assen. By lap 13, Pedrosa was alone in front, and Rossi had abandoned Stoner to Lorenzo’s tender mercies. Lorenzo, apparently feeling no pain, began stalking Stoner, and finally took him out on lap 20, taking third place and turning his attention to teammate Rossi. And once again, as in Catalunya, it was ON.

Nothing seems to get Jorge Lorenzo as juiced as seeing The Doctor directly in front of him. The Spaniard steadily closed the gap on Rossi until he made his move on lap 27, passing Rossi momentarily, and immediately sensing he was too deep, running hot, and in danger of causing himself additional bodily harm. As he fought to regain control, the bike began to slip wildly, and he was heading for Carmel-by-the-Sea. He ended up way wide, smoking the brakes, while Rossi calmly maintained his line and literally left his putative teammate in his dust. The exchange cost Rossi a second or two, but cost Lorenzo four or five, ending any chance he had of cutting into Rossi’s lead in the championship standings.

Nicky Hayden, in special USGP livery, finished a season-best fifth.

The exchange seemed to energize Rossi, while Pedrosa looked to be riding conservatively late in the day. What had been an almost four second gap narrowed toward the end of the race until the last lap, when Rossi materialized on Pedrosa’s derriere with two turns left. Whether the Spaniard had dozed off, or was perhaps playing with the defending world champion, we don’t yet know. Whatever it was, Pedrosa responded appropriately to his adrenaline jolt and ran flat out over the final half mile, ultimately edging Rossi by .34 seconds.

An exhilarating U.S. Grand Prix thus left the standings at the top three of the championship board unchanged, while propelling both Pedrosa and seventh place finisher Colin Edwards past Dovizioso into fourth and fifth places, respectively. American afterthought Nicky Hayden enjoyed his best day by far of the 2009 season with a respectable fifth place finish, edging out a surprisingly competitive Toni Elias on the San Carlo Gresini Honda. Joining Dovizioso in the DNF parade were Loris Capirossi, whose Rizla Suzuki just couldn’t make it up all those steep hills, Sete Gibernau, and The Hungarian Hope, Gabor Talmacsi, who crashed early and actually left a few fans longing for Yuki Takahashi.

James Toseland: "Pitboard? What pitboard?"The rider with the worst day of all, however, had to be James Toseland. Early on, race officials determined that the crafty Brit had jumped the start. Once this had been decided, they invited JT to take a nice slow stroll down pit lane as punishment, which he politely declined, and to which they reacted poorly. At the end of lap 10, they absolutely insisted that he end his day and join them in the pits for a tête à tête. And so, whereas Dovizioso and his friends were officially described as “Not Classified”, poor Toseland was alone in being “Excluded.” The joy of his sixth place finish at Assen had become ashes in his mouth in Monterey. After the race, Toseland says he was concentrating on the race and did not see the pitboard calling him in. It wouldn’t surprise me if they lay some kind of additional penalty on him for the next round in Germany.

Cheaters never prosper, James.

2009 U.S. Grand Prix Top Five
Pos. Rider Team Time
1st Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 44:01.580
2nd Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha + 0.344
3rd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha + 1.926
4th Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro + 12.432
5th Nicky Hayden Ducati Marlboro + 21.663

Footnotes

The FOX network announcers on today’s telecast raised the possibility that Casey Stoner’s ongoing health problems, his so-called “mystery virus”, may be psychosomatic. They were speculating that his illness may be stress-related and might stem from having to fight a one-on-two battle every week with the Fiat Yamaha boys while at the same time trying to keep the Desmosedici upright. Perhaps Pedrosa’s win today will relieve some of that stress.

Two items crossed the wire today, one a surprise and one not. It looks as though Kawasaki is off the board for 2010, which will leave Dorna with less than its stated minimum of 18 rides. This is not much of a surprise, despite the relative success being enjoyed thus far by Marco Melandri on what is basically a 2008 machine.

Somehow Valentino Rossi seemed happier about Dani Pedrosa's win than the Honda rider.

A second report suggested that MotoGP is considering returning to 990cc machines in the not-too-distant future in an effort to reduce the processions and give riders more strategic options on the track. They have apparently noticed that since the advent of the 800s, the only riders enjoying any real success come from the 250cc division, and look like jockeys, weighing in at around 125 pounds, and giving an additional layer of meaning to the term “paddock”.

Ben Spies is rumored to be staying in World SuperBike in 2010 and getting a non-factory Yamaha MotoGP ride for the 2011 season. As he demonstrated in Indianapolis last year, Spies is ready for MotoGP. One gets the impression that Yamaha is preparing itself for Jorge Lorenzo’s departure for greener pastures in the foreseeable future.

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