MotoGP: 2009 Le Mans Results

Welcome to Bizarro World

That Jorge Lorenzo won the MotoGP Grand Prix de France on Sunday in the first “flag to flag” victory of his career was one of the lesser surprises on a day filled with them. On a “normal” race day, there is usually a lot of – read WAY TOO MUCH – conversation about two major topics: the weather and the tires. On Sunday, these two elements conspired to give us what seemed like two or three separate races, depending on how you count.

In the beginning (quoting from the Book of Genesis) the riders set off on what are referred to as “wet tires”, due to a guy in the start/finish tower holding up a big sign that read, “WET RACE.” [I wonder what they pay him for that duty.] The usual suspects – Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Stoner and Rossi – jumped out in front of the pack, the mid-tier guys – Dovizioso, Vermeulen, Capirossi, Edwards – trailed them, and the slow hands – Hayden, de Angelis, Takahashi, Canepa – were bringing up the rear. Your typical Sunday MotoGP procession – orderly and predictable, if a bit noisy, with occasional OhMyGod moments of mainlined adrenaline as riders pass one another in the corners.

After the Le Mans race, Casey Stoner (left), Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi all sit within nine points of leader Jorge Lorenzo.

By Lap 4 the track was getting pretty dry, and the weird “second race” got underway. Unlike auto racing, it takes awhile, hours apparently, to change the tires on a motorcycle. Unlike auto racing, it is perfectly okay in MotoGP to come into the pits, jump off your bike, jump on to a second bike with different tires, and resume racing. And unlike auto racing, there is no communication between the pits and the riders, which leaves the pilots completely in charge of deciding if and when to pit. However, as with auto racing, once riders start making pit stops, any semblance of order breaks down. The procession gets totally cobbled up, the only people who seem to know what’s going on at all are the announcers, and they have trouble keeping up.

Valentino Rossi was swaps bikes in one of his many visits to the pits on Sunday.
Usually, it is the laggards who pit first, apparently having little to lose by spending an extra 30 seconds on the old switch-a-roo. On Sunday, the first rider to pit was defending world champion Valentino Rossi of Fiat Yamaha, who was busily watching Lorenzo lengthen his lead until, on Lap 4, he couldn’t stand it anymore. Thus began one of the worst days in Rossi’s premier class career.

In chronological order, he almost immediately executed a thrilling lowside crash, returned to the pits, traded his fractured dry tire bike for his original wet tire bike, got flagged for speeding on pit row, did his penalty bong, broke into a quick impression of Robert Benigni (for whom he is a dead ringer), took a few relatively slow laps, pitted again, traded back his wet tire bike for his now-repaired dry tire bike, returned to the track, and finished 16th. He might as well have gone to Baltimore to watch the Preakness.

One by one, all the riders traded bikes, even Marco Melandri, whose team, I thought, owned only one. The last to make the switch was Lorenzo, on Lap 13, by which point he led everyone by a country mile. He was in first place when he entered the pits and remained in the lead when he exited, well within the posted speed limit. But between Lap 4 when Rossi pitted and Lap 13 when Lorenzo did so, weirdness prevailed at Le Mans, as evidenced by the following splits:

2009 Grand Prix de France splits
Pos. Lap 6 Lap 9 Lap 13
1 Lorenzo Lorenzo Lorenzo
2 Dovizioso Dovizioso Melandri
3 Melandri Stoner Dovizioso
4 Stoner Vermeulen Stoner
5 Vermeulen Hayden Vermeulen
6 Hayden Elias Pedrosa
7 Toseland Takahashi Toseland
8 de Puniet Edwards Capirossi
9 Toseland Canepa Elias

It was when the leaders hit the pits that I saw the single weirdest visual I’ve ever seen in MotoGP appeared briefly on the screen:

Marco Melandri finished higher than both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden of his former team, Ducati Marlboro.
Jorge Lorenzo does his traditional podium leap while Marco Melandri earns Kawasaki's first podium since 2006.
Le Mans final results
Pos. Rider Time
1st Jorge Lorenzo 47:52.678
2nd Marco Melandri +17.710
3rd Dani Pedrosa +19.893
4th Andrea Dovizioso +20.455
5th Casey Stoner +30.539

Toni Elias in 2nd place. Nicky Hayden in 5th. In 2009? Yuki Takahashi running in 7th. Niccolo Canepa NOT last.

Welcome to Bizarro World.

Once the pit stops were complete, the third race got underway. It was another of your basic MotoGP parades, with several notable exceptions. The first and most enjoyable was Marco Melandri finishing second for Hayate Racing, Kawasaki’s first podium since 2006. There was Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards, running briefly in 16th place early before finally locating his shift lever, viciously passing teammate James Toseland on Lap 21.

There was the classic stalking and last lap pass by Dani Pedrosa of HIS teammate Andrea Dovizioso, robbing Dovi of his first podium of the season. And, of course, there was the seething Valentino Rossi, finishing two full laps behind the leaders, with his home circuit Mugello on the horizon.

Each 45 minute sprint of the MotoGP series gives us just a brief glimpse of reality; it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from such short events. The Grand Prix de France, however, put the World Championship completely up for grabs, as nine points now separate first and fourth places. Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo announced his intention to take his teammate’s crown away from him. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa’s late pass of Dovizioso made it clear that he cares more about points than he does team spirit. Spain has been putting a beatdown on Italy lately.

Casey Stoner has proven himself the only one of the five Ducati riders capable of handling the Desmosedici, as the big red bikes now occupy four of the bottom five slots in the championship standings. Marco Melandri has proven that he deserves a factory ride with someone next season. And LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet has proven that public relations won’t win races, that if you put lipstick on a gorilla, it’s still a gorilla.

To me, the funniest aspect of MotoGP is the ongoing misuse of the word “team.” MotoGP teammates need walls built in their garages to keep them from one another. MotoGP riders will never ride harder than when they have an opportunity to pass a teammate. The final thought this week is that “MotoGP teams” ought to join “military intelligence”, “sanitary landfill”, and “jumbo shrimp” among the great oxymorons of the English language.

MotoGP Championship standings after four rounds
Pos. Rider Team Points
1 Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 66
2 Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 65
3 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 65
4 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 57
5 Marco Melandri Hayate Kawasaki 43

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