Round 17 of the 2012 MotoGP championship tour rolls into southern Australia for the annual “Watch Ol’ Casey Win Another”, otherwise known as the AirAsia Australian Grand Prix. This year, attendance is expected to balloon for the newly renamed “Last Chance to Watch Ol’ Casey Win Another.” And while Repsol Honda front man Dani Pedrosa and factory Yamaha regent Jorge Lorenzo slug it out for the world championship, most eyes will be on Stoner as he goes for his sixth consecutive, and final, win at Phillip Island.
It would have been nice if Stoner, who retires at the end of this season, had been in the mix for this year’s title as the tour returned to his home base. Unfortunately, due to his impressive high side at Indianapolis and subsequent ankle surgery, such will not be the case on Sunday. Sure, there are probably a couple of Australian rules footballers and Olympic butterflyers who are better known Down Under than is Stoner. But across the world, he is one of the most recognizable figures in motorsports, and MotoGP will miss him. I join the thousands of his countrymen who will be there on Sunday to see Stoner come through for them one last time.
Recent History at Phillip Island
Since 2008, the storyline for the Australian Grand Prix has gone something like this: Casey Stoner, starting from the pole, blew away the field to capture his nth Australian Grand Prix in a row. In 2009 he led defending world champion Valentino Rossi on an all-day chase that ended as it started, with Stoner ahead. Joining the two rivals on the podium that day was Dani Pedrosa, who finished some 22 seconds off the lead. Old Lonesome, Alex de Angelis, took a surprising fourth that day, while Lorenzo, still in his excitable stage, endured a violent lowside crash in the first turn of lap one and watched the race from his garage.
In 2010, Stoner took his Ducati Desmosedici for a stroll in his home park for the last time, beating Lorenzo by 8 seconds and Rossi by 18. Nicky Hayden, despite getting punked by Rossi at the flag, finished a respectable fourth, demonstrating that the Phillip Island circuit is friendly to the less nimble Ducati and Yamaha entries. Pedrosa sat out the race that year with collarbone injuries suffered the previous week in Japan.
Last year, Stoner, on the Repsol Honda, was chased to the flag by none other than Marco Simoncelli who, in his last race finish, came within 2.2 seconds of winning the Australian GP. Simoncelli, in turn, edged compatriot Andrea Dovizioso by 2/10ths at the flag with Pedrosa finishing in fourth, giving Honda a sweep of the top four spots. And this is supposed to be a Yamaha track! Lorenzo missed the race with a pinky finger injury.
The Big Picture
This year, two of three Aliens are at close to full strength, with Stoner still feeling some effects from his ankle surgery. There is simply no way that anyone other than these three, in some combination, will appear on the podium on Sunday afternoon. The three most dominant riders since Valentino Rossi rode for Yamaha, hooking up in Round 17 for the definitive race of the year.
I imagine Casey Stoner will be largely unconcerned with the battle between teammate Pedrosa and rival Lorenzo, as this is bound to be an emotional weekend for him. Compared to the two Spaniards, who are in a cage match for a world championship, Stoner is mainly concerned with giving his home fans a lasting memory of the way he dominated the sport while wrestling the most demanding motorcycle on the grid every time out, making it look almost easy.
Dani Pedrosa has one mission this week: beat Jorge Lorenzo. Finish ahead of Lorenzo, regardless of what Stoner does. Recently, this has not been a very tall order, as Pedrosa seems to be able to go through on Lorenzo whenever he chooses. He can’t let a wobble, or running wide, or, for God’s sake, a crash take him out of contention. Make it a dogfight heading back to Valencia and sort it out there. If there is to be a breath of a chance for Pedrosa heading to Spain, he must beat Lorenzo again on Sunday.
No way around it. No second chances. No do-overs.
Go hard or go home.
Valentino Rossi Mouths Off
I’ve always believed that if you stick an expensive microphone in front of an athlete’s grille, you deserve what you get. The most recent example of this is the interview Rossi gave BBC Sport in which he offered the observation that the premier class is dull, that changes are needed, and that the underclasses have a healthier formula than do the big bikes. Great.
One reason Rossi’s 2012 has been, at times, dull, is because it appears he has begun checking out of races. Once the deal with Yamaha was signed, his loyalties were immediately divided. He had one good outing, the Miracle at Misano, but otherwise doesn’t appear to have pushed himself or the bike nearly to the extent Stoner did when he was winning races on it. There is no other way to characterize Rossi’s experiment with Ducati but as a resounding failure. That one of the most informative riders ever could not communicate with one of the most talented engineering teams ever is a shame neither will want to remember.
Getting back to your rant, Vale – my question is what, exactly, would you do to improve the premier class and make it more competitive and interesting? How would you, for instance, finance a 24 prototype-bike grid, with two bikes per rider? Or, conversely, how could you drive fan interest in the sport if every bike on the grid was some Frankenstein CRT mash-up? So many questions, so few answers and such willingness to offer up un-insightful observations on obvious topics.
I suspect that next year, when he is back winning races with Yamaha, he will believe that the premier class is healthy and vibrant again. Just sayin’.
By Popular Demand – The Weekend Forecast
The forecast for the weekend is cold and windy, no rain expected. Temps in the 50s and 60s, which means watch out for anxious riders early on cold tires.
As for the race, it’s easy to assume Stoner will find a way to win, taking 25 points off the board. If he does, that means that the points up for grabs will be 20, 16, 13 and 11, as it is virtually impossible for me to contemplate either Lorenzo or Pedrosa finishing lower than 5th. The spread sits at 23. The math is simple. As long as one avoids crashing.
It’s the riding that’s hard. The avoiding crashing part.
We’ll be back on Sunday, perhaps with a new world champion.
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