The weather had been a factor all weekend, alternating between damp, dry and wet, and led to some surprising practice results. Exhibit A was FP3, run in the wet, in which the top two finishers were CRT plodders Michele Pirro and Mattia Pasini. Qualifying practice closely resembled last week’s shocker in Assen, as the wet track suddenly dried out late in the session, and Stoner again snatched the pole to join Pedrosa and Yamaha’s Ben Spies on the front row. Row two included the highly ambitious Cal Crutchlow, a limping Lorenzo, and homeboy Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda. When the red light went out, the sun was shining, the track was hot, and the big dogs had their game faces on, along with hard compound asymmetric rear slicks.
If Losail, Silverstone and Aragon are Yamaha-oriented circuits, the Sachsenring is clearly Honda-friendly. Tight and twisty, it favors the RC213V with its superior corner-exit power. (The 1000cc Yamaha M1 loves long straights, but in Germany the longest is only 700 meters.) As expected, Stoner and Pedrosa took off early, leaving all four Yamahas to scramble for third place, led by an increasingly desperate Spies. The American, whose fortunes are waning, gave way to Lorenzo on Lap 5, and both Andrea Dovizioso and Crutchlow on Lap 9. Though Ben would ultimately finish 4th, his best result of the year, it was more a matter of luck than skill, as we shall see.
On Lap 19, Pedrosa went through on Stoner, but the Australian looked comfortable, apparently biding his time until opportunity arose to break his teammate’s little heart once again. With Lorenzo by himself in third, the battle for fourth place was raging. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the ‘race within the race’ off the lead, but there is much at stake in the Spies-Dovizioso-Crutchlow wars, namely the second factory seat alongside Jorge Lorenzo for the next couple of years. As of this past week, Spies is officially “disappointing” team manager Wilco Zeelenberg.
On Lap 26, Crutchlow, trying to get past Dovizioso, went too hot into one of the three right-handers and ended up in the kitty litter, falling back to 11th position and effectively ending his day. (It may be that this lone error will result in his going to work for Ducati next year, a mistake the dimensions of which cannot be overstated. If it does, I can serenely predict that Cal will earn fewer points on the factory Ducati in 2013 than will either of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders. Take that to the bank.)
A Shocking, Karma-Laden Finish
Pedrosa was still managing to hold off Stoner when the two crossed the start-finish line to start the last lap. Lorenzo was a mile back, and the Dovizioso-Spies battle continued in the distance. The only question in my mind was when Stoner would try to go through on Pedrosa. The racing gods, apparently offended by last week’s events, in which Lorenzo was forced to give up his 25 point championship lead to Stoner, suddenly intervened. In the midst of Turn 12, a fast left-hander, the front end of Stoner’s bike gradually folded into a lowside, with the Australian sliding 100 yards into his first DNF in 22 races. The domino effect was remarkable, as follows.
Pedrosa’s win elevated him from third place into second, 14 points behind Lorenzo. Stoner’s shutout dropped him from a tie for first into third, six points behind Pedrosa. Dovizioso, who edged Spies by 7/100ths of a second, enjoyed his second consecutive podium finish. Behind Spies sat Bradl, who coaxed his satellite Honda into fifth place, to the delight of the tollwütigen Zuschauer.
San Carlo Honda pilot Alvaro Bautista, forced to start from the back of the grid after last week’s debacle, stormed back into 7th place, a fraction of a second in front of the hard-luck Crutchlow. For the record, Valentino Rossi finished sixth today, and had absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Idle Speculation from the Department of Idle Speculation
The torrent of leaks from the Bologna factory show the depth of concern Ducati has about the 2013 season and beyond. They seem to think Rossi will not be returning next year, and are giving the distinct impression they don’t want Hayden, either. They’ve offered a contract to Crutchlow, who would be crazy to accept it. The sense here is that the overall quality of life on a factory team is so superior to that on the satellite teams (never mind the CRTs) that Crutchlow will find the “opportunity” irresistible, despite the likelihood that it will effectively remove any chance he might have to contend for a world championship in MotoGP.
This past week we learned that both Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci are in discussions with the Italian company regarding 2013. I’m starting to feel that I’m the only guy involved in this sport who has NOT been approached by some well-groomed Italian guy in a red windbreaker.
The Big Picture
So, Pedrosa now has his hat trick, with three consecutive wins in Saxony. Lorenzo has his fourth consecutive bridesmaid finish here, although this one likely feels much better than the last three. Stoner received some payback for his lucky win last time out, and has work to do if he wants to repeat as world champion. With only 20 points separating the three Aliens at the top of the heap, the 2012 season is suddenly fascinating. Approaching the halfway point of the season next week, no one is running away with the title this year.
|MotoGP Championship Top Ten Standings After Eight Rounds|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||146|
|3||Casey Stoner||Repsol Honda||140|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Tech3 Yamaha||92|
|5||Cal Crutchlow||Tech3 Yamaha||85|
|7||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||67|
|9||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||62|
Next Stop – Mugello
Practice starts again on Friday for the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM. Between the virulent European financial crisis, which now has Italy in its crosshairs, and the sagging fortunes of Rossi and Ducati, expect a sparse, subdued crowd. Wait – what am I saying? Never mind the economy, or the standings. Next to soccer, MotoGP is the biggest thing in Italy, and the stands will be packed with delirious jabbering men and gorgeous, sultry and, hopefully, under-dressed Italian women. The brolly girls will be a thing of joy. And the circuit is one of the best on the planet.
It will be a three day party, a few short miles from Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. For Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, the renaissance of the 2012 season started today in Turn 12. Portarlo sulla!
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