MotoGP: 2009 Catalunya Results

Three riders tied for first in standings

Sunday’s remarkable MotoGP race at Catalunya served to answer several questions. The first, which was answered early, was, “Which is the top team in the premier class of MotoGP?”, and the answer was a resounding “Fiat Yamaha.” The second question, “So, who is the top dog at Fiat Yamaha?” wasn’t answered at all until the last turn of the race, and the answer, for now, was “Valentino Rossi.” Rossi’s skin-of-the-teeth win over his putative teammate Jorge Lorenzo, the 99th of his career in the Premier Class, was a classic example of his skill, nerve and experience.

The factory Yamaha riders moved to the front of the pack on Lap 1 and never looked back. (Ducati’s Casey Stoner ran with them for a few laps, but appeared to have tire problems and fell back into a second half duel with Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso for the third spot on the podium, which he eventually won.) Watching the two Yamaha riders run away from the field reminded me of the early 2000’s, when Ferrari teammates Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello dominated Formula One to such an extent that the entire classification was harmed. Although that is not the case with MotoGP in 2009, it was on Sunday. Lorenzo ended up leading 12 laps, while Rossi led 13, including the most important final one.

Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner are tied on top of the standings with 106 points and 2 wins apiece.

The last quarter of the race, and especially the last lap, was simply the best extended piece of racing I’ve ever seen. On the last lap alone there were three or four lead changes, with the separation between the bikes in the turns seemingly measured in millimeters. Neither rider blinked, neither rider backed down and neither rider conceded anything. In 2002 the Ferrari drivers each drew heavy criticism for allowing each other to win a race, with Barrichello backing off the gas in Austria and Schumacher returning the favor later in Indianapolis. It’s no secret that Rossi and Lorenzo don’t like each another. Although they undoubtedly respect one another, there was none of that F-1 nonsense in Barcelona on Sunday.

Jorge Lorenzo raced in the colors of his beloved FC Barcelona.Aside from winning his 99th race, setting the table for #100 in Assen a week from Saturday, the win had to be especially gratifying for Rossi. Lorenzo has challenged Rossi more than any teammate he’s ever had. The young Spaniard was a heavy crowd favorite on Sunday, wearing a helmet in salute to the Barcelona soccer club that had won the European Cup championship in Rome last month. And Sunday’s papers had been full of stories from the Italian press suggesting that, at age 30, Rossi was over the hill. As the race announcers observed immediately after the race concluded, “Write him off at your peril.” And although Jorge Lorenzo may one day displace Valentino Rossi from his perch atop the world of international motorcycle racing, that day will have to wait awhile longer.

A Brutal Day for Casey Stoner

Throughout the weekend, one got the sense that Stoner knew that Catalunya wasn’t going to be his fondest memory of 2009. Despite having won there during his championship season of 2007 and finishing a very respectable third in 2008, Stoner spent Friday and Saturday downplaying his chances, despite leading the championship and coming off a strong showing in Mugello. The Desmosedici didn’t appear to have its dominant speed in the long front straight at Catalunya, and was bouncing and hopping visibly in the corners.

At the end of the race, when Stoner dismounted, he looked completely spent, as though he could barely stand up. As usual, he was the top Ducati rider, with his nearest compatriot, rookie Mika Kallio, finishing in ninth place. All that work, for 16 points.

No, In Fact, the Championship Could Not Get Any Tighter

A quick glance at the championship standings after six rounds reveals an unusual three way tie at the top of the premier class. There’s probably an intern at Dorna, some sophomore from, like, the University of Milan, going through the archives tonight in search of the last time this occurred so far into the season to update MotoGP’s website in the morning.

2009 MotoGP top five standings (after six rounds)
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 106
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 106
3rd Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 106
4th Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 69
5th Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 67

Elsewhere on the Circuit

This race resembled an NBA game in that there was a lot of one-on-one play. Unlike the NBA, though, the two-man battles in this race were entertaining and interesting.

A new engine from Suzuki helped Loris Capirossi out-race Honda's Dani Pedrosa.
Nicky Hayden benefited from a new bike setup to get his best result of the season.

Stoner and Repsol Honda’s Dovizioso spent a good deal of time together trying to figure out who would end the day on the podium and who would end the day talking about how happy he was to finish fourth. Despite losing out again today, Dovizioso appears to have a bright future in this sport.

Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa had it going on for perhaps a dozen laps in the battle for fifth place, with Capirossi eventually prevailing. the fact that Pedrosa ran injured – not hurt, injured – and is about 15 years younger than the Italian suggests this won’t be a contest for much longer. Capirossi started in the 11 hole and finished fifth despite having exited the racing surface briefly in mid-race, so he still has some chops.

Toni Elias had an encouraging qualifying run, starting fifth, but once again disappointed his team and fans with an unforced low-sider on Lap 9.

Nicky Hayden was somewhat less irrelevant than usual this week, starting 13th and finishing tenth for his best result of the season. It’s not much, but it’s progress.

”Crash” Takahashi welcomed new Scot Honda teammate Gabor Talmacsi to the premier class by checking out on Lap 1. I’m thinking Yuki’s days in the premier class are numbered, although I could swear I heard one of the announcers suggest that it’s in the MotoGP rules somewhere that there has to be at least one Japanese rider in the game each year.

Things over in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage are far from sunny. Colin Edwards started sixth and finished seventh, while James Toseland started ninth and finished 13th, having spent a good portion of the day trying to avoid finishing last. At least James has a career in music to fall back on.

Valentino Rossi supplies some wet weather conditions of his own.

For the sixth race in a row, there were numerous references to the “difficult conditions” faced by the riders. Today it was the heat, whereas in previous sessions it has been rain, cool temperatures, high humidity, low barometric pressure, windy conditions, a lack of wind, etc. … one gets the impression that conditions for MotoGP races are always difficult.

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