MotoGP 2010 Motegi Results

Yamaha teammates provide some drama

Few observers expected much of a race in the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, as only 40,000 fans bothered to show up. During Friday’s initial practice session, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, the only rider with even a mathematical chance of overtaking series leader Jorge Lorenzo, crashed heavily, demolished his left collarbone, and essentially handed the 2010 title to his countryman. But the relative handful of attendees got their money’s worth as contender-turned-spoiler Casey Stoner thwarted Andrea Dovizioso’s bid for his first win of the season.

Stoner, who had waited until Round 13 for his own first win, waited only until Turn 2 of Lap One to take the lead for good from Dovizioso, who had qualified on the pole for the first time in his premier class career. Two weeks ago in Aragon, Stoner had frustrated Pedrosa, narrowly leading him all day until breaking his will late in the race. Today’s race was a carbon copy of Aragon, with Dovizioso playing Pedrosa’s part. Fortunately for the Italian, it was not a carbon copy of Catalunya, in which Dovizioso chased Lorenzo hard all day until finally crashing out on the last lap, surrendering 20 certain championship points in the process.

With another late-season surge, Casey Stoner won his second race in a row, beating Andrea Dovizioso to the finish.

While Stoner and Dovizioso were dueling for the win, it was another ulcer-inducing day for Lin Jarvis, the Grand Poobah of Yamaha racing. Factory teammates Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi had clear agendas heading into the race, neither of which included “Put the team’s interests ahead of my own.” Lorenzo, needing only to keep his bike upright to win the 2010 title, eschewed a new improved sixth engine, electing to keep it in reserve for the remote possibility it would be needed later in the season. Rossi, with no such concerns and an improved shoulder to boot, installed the new power plant, strapped on his helmet, and pointed himself at the podium.

What ensued was an epic clash of two racing titans, a cage match between two incredibly talented riders who don’t like one another. The duel covered the entire 24 laps and illustrated how one’s decision-making process deteriorates at 200 miles per hour.

Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi had a race-long battle, even touching fairings a couple of times.

With Rossi starting second – his best qualifying spot since Le Mans – and Lorenzo fourth – his worst of the year – Lorenzo took a slight lead over Rossi for the first five laps. Rossi executed a beautiful pass on Lap Six, saying, in effect, “If you want the podium this week, niño, you’re going to have to take it from me.” Lorenzo, with virtually nothing to gain and everything to lose, eagerly took the bait, and it was on.

Fiat Yamaha Team Manager Wilco Zeeelenberg chastised Valentino Rossi for taking too many risks.

Lorenzo spent the next 12 laps trying to line Rossi up, with Vale having none of it. The two swapped positions briefly on Lap 18, with Rossi maintaining his narrow lead, keeping his rainbow-hued “The Doctor” written on his leathers in Lorenzo’s face. This graphic taunt seems to affect Lorenzo the way a flashing red cape affects a wounded bull in the fighting ring. You could almost see Lorenzo’s conservative game plan go out the window, replaced by the blinding, visceral desire to bury Rossi, preferably in a shallow grave in Sicily.

By Lap 22, neither Rossi nor Lorenzo had any clue what was going on around them; there was a podium at stake, not to mention machismo, national honor, etc. One suspects the Spaniard at this moment was ruing his decision to go with the slower engine. One also suspects that Rossi would have been delighted had his teammate lost the front and gone sailing over his handlebars. The teammates finally swapped paint on the last lap, which appeared to awaken Lorenzo from his trance, as he came off the gas just enough for Rossi to cross the finish line half a second before him. Moments later in the pit area, we caught glimpses of a jubilant Rossi and a disgusted Lorenzo, proof positive that in MotoGP there is, after all, an “I” in TEAM.

Take a look at the highlights in this rare MotoGP video released by the FIM. Was Rossi being too aggressive or is it just what Rossi described as “proper racing”? Also pay attention for the brief on-board clip of Pedrosa’s crash.

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The Big Picture

After all this drama, here’s where things stand. Lorenzo’s lead over the wounded Pedrosa now stands at 69 points; his magic number after next week’s tilt at Sepang is 76. Speculation abounds as to whether this faint hope will be enough to entice Pedrosa, and his new titanium plate, back next week. Personally, I hope it doesn’t, as it would be virtually impossible for Dani to compete effectively, and he really has nothing to prove. The Repsol team is undoubtedly more interested in securing Pedrosa’s second place position, for which he leads Stoner by 48 points. In this regard, it makes more sense to have Pedrosa delay his return until Phillip Island the following week.

Jorge Lorenzo is on the cusp of his first MotoGP title. All he has to worry about now is staying on his bike and not letting Rossi get into his head.

Rossi and Dovizioso are now locked in a tight race for fourth place, with Dovizioso at 159 points and Rossi at 156. Stoner’s late-season resurgence – he reminds me of an NFL team that starts out 0-14 and valiantly wins their last two games – seems to assure a third-place finish for the Australian. And while all of this may be of relatively little interest for 2010, it plays directly into 2011, as Rossi and Stoner will be changing team affiliations, while Dovizioso is trying to hold onto the third factory Honda seat. His effort this weekend probably went a long way toward that goal.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha dude Colin Edwards, quick all weekend, started and finished fifth, a great improvement for him after an immensely frustrating season. Not so for teammate Ben Spies, who went walkabout with fellow American Nicky Hayden on Lap One and had to battle back furiously for an eighth place finish. (Hayden had to settle for 12th.)

Colin Edwards scored a season-best fifth place.

Rookie Marco Simoncelli, one of the few full-sized riders on the grid, continued his season-long improvement with a sixth place finish today, equaling his previous best result at the Sachsenring. And hope returned today to the Rizla Suzuki team as rookie Alvaro Bautista guided his underpowered GSV-R to a respectable seventh place. The torch may have been passed for the team on Lap 22, as Bautista went through on the grizzled Loris Capirossi, causing Capi to stall and retire, if not from motorcycle racing, then at least from today’s contest.

Randy de Puniet started his LCR Honda from the seven hole and finished (chortle) ninth … Hiro Aoyama, under orders from The Powers That Be to drastically improve his results, started 14th and finished tenth … paging Toni Elias.

No, that's not Loris Capirossi testing a new set-up. It's 1963 Isle of Man TT winner Mitsuo Ito making a special appearance on the 1967 RK67 to celebrate Suzuki's 50th anniversary of racing.

In apparent deference to the home cards being played by the Japanese manufacturers, Ducati riders finished in the last four spots … I guess Casey Stoner didn’t get the memo.

Judging from the massive banners hung all over the place, it appeared as though the title sponsor of the Japanese Grand Prix was, um, Spain.

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