MotoGP: 2009 Estoril Results

Lorenzo breathes life back into the 2009 season

On a spectacular Sunday afternoon in Portugal’s coastal mountains, Jorge Lorenzo led an orderly procession of the world’s best motorcycle riders on a leisurely tour of the Autódromo do Estoril. The 45,000 or so frenzied Euros in the stands probably would have had more excitement at an Independence Day parade or watching women’s beach volleyball. At the end of the day, however, the MotoGP 2009 world championship standings had drawn appreciably closer, with Lorenzo now trailing leader Valentino Rossi by only 18 points and a revived Casey Stoner just three points out of third place behind Dani Pedrosa.

What today’s race lacked in excitement, the 2009 season gained. Fiat Yamaha’s Rossi’s 30 point advantage coming in was verging on a lockout; had he beaten Lorenzo today, the season would have been essentially over but for the shouting. Instead, Rossi looked strangely unfocused, almost disinterested. After starting the race in the two hole, he soon fell back to fourth place and steadily faded, finishing an incomprehensible 23 seconds behind Lorenzo. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, starting in fourth position, once again looked to have been shot out of a howitzer at the start and took his customary early lead, but gave it up to Lorenzo on the first lap. On Lap 3, a refreshed Casey Stoner of Ducati Marlboro, coming off a three-race sabbatical, blew by Pedrosa into second place. With Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards having by then assumed his usual position in fifth, the top five spots in the race remained unchanged for the rest of the day.

With Jorge Loernzo's win at Estoril, the pressure is now on Valentino Rossi to hold off his teammate and rival.

Unable to attend the post-race press conference from my kitchen table in Indiana, I can only guess what teammates Lorenzo and Rossi had to say about today’s event. As the race was getting ready to start, and the umbrella girls were earning their money, the announcers remarked as to how tense the front row seemed, especially Rossi, the man with the big lead in the standings. The man who had never finished off the podium in Estoril. The photogenic, rich, charming and usually animated Italian heartthrob, with his millions of fans around the world, the best bike and the most beautiful groupies on earth, was tense. This was news.

Loris Capirossi demonstrates how to look cool and relaxed on the starting grid.What was not news was that Lorenzo appeared focused, Stoner appeared nervous, and Pedrosa appeared ready to take a piece out of anyone who got too close. As it turned out, Rossi had reason to be tense. By finishing off the podium, he has made his task in the three remaining races much more difficult. Now, not only must he show up, but he must race hard and carefully, lest Lorenzo mount an eleventh-hour theft of the 2009 title most of us had conceded to the Doctor weeks ago.

Lorenzo, for his part, made it look easy today. In the 14 races he has run this season, he has recorded three DNF’s and 11 podiums. One might say that his main opponent is himself, because when he maintains his discipline and keeps his machine upright, he is always a threat to win. It is inconceivable that he will crash again this season, unless it is during a final lap showdown with Rossi in Valencia with the title on the line. Much of the pressure on the Spaniard earlier today now rests on Rossi.

Valentino Rossi seemed to lack the magic expected from him. Maybe it was the one-off Punto Evo livery.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Casey Stoner showed no sign of the health problems that plagued him the last few months.
Colin Edwards had another top five finish.

Pramac Ducati Racing’s Mika Kallio, freshly signed for next year, moved up from the ten hole to sixth place before crashing out on Lap 6. He looks capable of giving Nicky Hayden a run for his money for the factory team seat in 2011, having made the adjustment to the Desmosedici look easier than has the Kentuckian, who managed an eighth place finish today. Kallio’s teammate Niccolo “Pokey” Canepa, on the other hand, qualified in 14th and finished 13th, and appears headed to Moto2 next year. Rumors have either Alex de Angelis or Aleix Espargaro taking his premier class seat for 2010. Toni Elias qualified poorly this weekend in 13th place but finished a very respectable sixth. He reminds me of an NBA player in what they call a “contract season” with something to prove since having lost his Gresini Honda ride for next year. Alex de Angelis, meanwhile, retired from the race with mechanical problems, as did a visibly disgusted Loris Capirossi of Rizla Suzuki.

LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet, having secured his ride for 2010, mailed in his race today, qualifying sixth and finishing 11th. Likewise WSB-bound Chris Vermeulen, who qualified in a very relaxed 14th place and would have finished in 14th place, had not Kallio, de Angelis and Capirossi made their early exits. The wheels finally seem to be falling off for Marco Melandri on the Hayate Racing Kawasaki, with a 16th place qualifying run and an undistinguished 12th place finish. The recently deposed James Toseland from Tech 3, defying the conventional wisdom that MotoGP MUST have a Brit in the field (see similar earlier comments regarding Japanese rider Yuki “Crash” Takahashi), started 12th and finished ninth, stiff upper lip firmly in place. His replacement for next year, American Ben Spies, has snagged an YZR-M1 for Valencia, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gives new teammate Colin Edwards a run for his money next month. And in late-breaking news today Big Swiss Cheese Daniel Epp announced a new Honda team for the premier class next season with current 250cc championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama on board.

A Tip of the Hat to Moto2

The MotoGP Selection Committee on Saturday announced the team lineup for the inaugural Moto2 season, featuring 25 primary teams, two reserve teams, 39 primary bikes and another 10 reserve bikes. While the premier class has (or perhaps has HAD) trouble filling its stated minimum 18 seat grid, Moto2 looks to have the opposite problem. I can’t help but wonder what it’s going to look like when 40 bikes hit that first turn in Misano; I’m flashing on some kind of weird two-wheeled demolition derby in downtown Tokyo at rush hour.

For the second year in a row, Portugal became Lorenzo's Land.

With Moto2 running 600 cc bikes, and high profile premier class riders like Rossi lobbying for MotoGP to return to the 990’s, it seems likely that the big bikes will return sooner than later. It would also seem natural at some point to replace the 125s with the 250s and leave the 125s to the rookies.

MotoGP Top Five standings (after 14 rounds)
Pos. Rider Team Points
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 250
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 232
3rd Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 173
4th Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 170
5th Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 142

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