Repsol Honda’s #1 rider, Casey Stoner, is a lucky man. He’s famous, young, and wealthy, has a beautiful wife and daughter, and reigns at the top of his chosen profession, doing what he loves, or at least likes. While he may have lost his passion for racing, it still beats working for a living. Thanks to the vastly ill-considered antics of San Carlo Honda’s Alvaro Bautista at Assen last week, Stoner is also back in contention for the world championship, now tied with Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo at 140 points. Lucky and good is a wicked combination.
The Sachsenring is one of those old world venues surrounded by tidy Teutonic villages and soaring peaks straight out of The Sound of Music. Between 1962 and 1971 it hosted the East German Grand Prix, which sends a bit of a jangle up the spines of people old enough to remember the old Soviet Bloc. After a bit of a political flap in ’71, the German Grand Prix bounced around a number of venues until 1998, when improvements at the Sachsenring lured MotoGP, and where it has been held every year since. Organizers recently signed an extension of the contract with Dorna through 2016. Dass ist eine gute sache, nicht wahr?
The 2009 German Grand Prix was one for the ages. That was the year Casey Stoner suffered from what was eventually diagnosed as lactose intolerance. By mid-season he was starting races like a house on fire, but would run out of gas, as it were, usually finishing well off the podium. In Germany that year, he led the first 17 laps, at which point the Battle of the Factory Yamahas commenced. Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, teammates and bitter rivals, went hard at each other for the next 13 laps, Rossi ultimately winning by just under a tenth of a second. Dani Pedrosa finished 3rd that year, a relatively poor showing for him, as we shall presently see.
The fans got their money’s worth in 2010, enjoying two races in one afternoon. LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet’s had his leg broken in two places and his bike destroyed as Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista and Pramac Racing’s Aleix Espargaro were able to avoid neither bike nor rider when the Frenchman went down on Lap 9. The race was red-flagged. After the re-start, Pedrosa took command early and eventually finished comfortably ahead of Lorenzo and Stoner, followed by Rossi, who made a very macho early return from injuries suffered at Mugello several weeks previous.
Last year, it was “déjà vu all over again” as Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner finished 1-2-3, although the final standings were in doubt until the last lap. Pedrosa ended up edging Lorenzo by 1.4 seconds, while Lorenzo punked eventual world champion Stoner and his Repsol Honda by a tenth at the flag. This was Round 9 last year, at which time Stoner led Lorenzo for the title by a mere 15 points. From there, Stoner went on to three consecutive wins, with Lorenzo collecting two seconds and a fourth, and that was that.
Of the three major contenders, Pedrosa has the best history in Saxony with a remarkable five wins in eight starts across both the 250cc and premier classes. Stoner’s first and only win occurred in 2008, and Lorenzo has never won at the Sachsenring in any class, in ten tries. Finishing second each of the last three years must stick in his throat like a bone. Our crack research staff is busy scouring the archives to find any other current MotoGP tracks at which Lorenzo has been, um, stoned. (Ed. Of the current MotoGP tracks, Lorenzo is winless at Aragon. True, there have only been two rounds at that track, but you’d figure he’d have a home advantage in Spain. He also has just a single win at Sepang and two at Phillip Island, but those all came in the 250cc class.)
Final Reflections on Bautista, Lorenzo and the Big Picture
A few half-crazed conspiracy theorists out there are promoting the idea that Bautista’s unseating of Lorenzo at Assen was part of a vast and implausible plot hatched at HRC headquarters in Asaka. Their “reasoning” is that HRC would gladly make a sacrificial pawn of satellite rider Bautista in order to advance the championship prospects of factory stud Casey Stoner.
This goofy notion does, however, recognize the cozy working relationship between HRC and Fausto Gresini, who seems to enjoy way more factory perks than do the poor French schlubs at LRC. In any case, we will not dignify the wild speculations of a few fevered motorheads over what was, in truth, a rather ordinary crash. The layout at Estoril is similar to that at Assen, and these kinds of first-turn crashes happen all the time in Portugal.
Let’s not forget the uproar that took place last year at Jerez when Valentino Rossi, in only his second race on the factory Ducati, clipped Stoner from behind, putting a major damper on the Australian’s early season prospects. Stoner, you will recall, had opened the season with a mildly surprising win at Losail in his first race on the Honda RC212V. Thinking that 2011 might be his year, his fans were OUTRAGED that Rossi would ride in such a reckless and feckless manner. Conspiracy theorists immediately assumed that Vale had trashed any chance Stoner might have had of repeating as world champion. This, clearly, was an over-reaction, and mirrors the response to Bautista’s atypical wreck. Stoner went on to win the title last year, and Lorenzo will probably do the same this year, as his M1 has proven to be smoother and easier to handle than the RC213V.
My only comment should not be construed as an ethnic slur, but here it is. A rider carelessly taking a championship-leading Australian out of a race gets his wrist slapped by Race Direction. A rider taking a Spaniard out of the championship lead in similar fashion is sent to the woodshed and thence to the last slot on the grid. I’m not suggesting that Bautista should not have been penalized for his carelessness, as lives and careers are at stake in this game. I’m suggesting that Rossi, too, should have paid some kind of price for his equally ill-advised move on Stoner. Just sayin’ … Of course, there’s also the fact Alvaro Bautista is no Valentino Rossi.
What Does Dorna Know that Rossi Doesn’t?
Final thoughts this week concern the curious comments offered up by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta last week concerning Valentino Rossi’s future MotoGP prospects. In an interview with Omnicorse.it, Ezpeleta was quoted as saying, "I am calm. Valentino next year will be riding a competitive bike, but I [can't] tell you what it is. It is still too early to talk about: in 2013 we will see Rossi fight for the win ... again.” When asked about the statement, Rossi’s response was to play dumb, as if to say, “I will?”
Surely Rossi has a number of irons in the fire concerning 2013 and beyond, but for now he is sticking with the story that he is 100% committed to improving the Ducati. Ezpeleta, whose behavior reminds me of Bernie Ecclestone more each year (and that’s no compliment) may be making it harder for The Doctor to keep his intentions under wraps than it might otherwise be. We should know sometime next month where Rossi will end up. Until then, we’ll have to endure the pain of watching him struggle to finish in the top eight each week. How the mighty have fallen.
MotoGP and other Professional Competition coverage