MotoGP 2011 Catalunya Results

Stoner runs away with Round Five ahead of Lorenzo and Spies

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Sunday’s Catalan GP was the weather, which threatened to turn the race into one of those hugely entertaining “flag to flag” affairs in which the riders jump off their original dry mounts, Pony Express-style, onto their wet setup bikes. As it was, the rain, and ensuing Chinese fire drill, failed to materialize, as did any semblance of a competitive tilt. The top six finishers assumed their positions on Lap Four, and that was that.

Repsol Honda top dog Casey Stoner dominated the proceedings in Spain this weekend from FP1 onward for his third win in five rounds. Only a flukey fast lap from Marco Simoncelli late in qualifying, which resulted in the Italian’s first premier class pole, kept it from being an all-Stoner-all-the-time festival in Barcelona. Stoner, who now trails series leader Jorge Lorenzo by a mere seven points for the season, could arguably be leading the championship right now, were it not for his having been clipped by Valentino Rossi at Round Two in Jerez. That the Australian will end up winning the 2011 title appears to be all but a foregone conclusion.

At day’s end, it was Stoner heading the podium flanked by factory Yamaha teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies. Lorenzo, realizing early on that it was not to be his day, lived up to his Mr. Consistency moniker and cruised to second, while Spies, who was fast all weekend, staked out third place and now has me thinking Ben is Back. His season to date had been utterly forgettable, with two sixths and two DNFs, so it was good to see him medal again. Three Italians took positions four through six, led by Repsol afterthought Andrea Dovizioso, (who clearly has Valentino Rossi’s number), Rossi himself, leading the mediocre Ducati contingent, and Simoncelli who, after starting poorly, clawed his way back to sixth place amidst the hoots and catcalls raining down upon him.

Any real drama this weekend was over midway through the first lap, as polesitter Simoncelli, the target of death threats since the altercation with Dani Pedrosa in France, fell from first place all the way to seventh, sending the partisan Spanish crowd into euphoria. American fans were unable to cheer for Colin Edwards this week, as he crashed heavily during FP2, shattering his right collarbone, and is out indefinitely. Randy de Puniet and Hiro Aoyama tangled on Lap Four today, and both had to leave the race, with the Frenchman seeming to have injured his arm or wrist. After that, the only things missing from today’s parade were the flower-covered floats topped by beauty queens blowing kisses to the crowd.

The Big Picture

Even with Lorenzo and Stoner off on their own trip this season, the 2011 standings are interesting. Dovizioso vaulted into third place today, followed closely by the injury-idled Pedrosa and Rossi. American Nicky Hayden has sixth place all to himself, for better or for worse. Spies, Aoyama, Simoncelli and the overachieving Crutchlow sit within six points of one rounding out the top ten.

There appears to be a subtle changing of the guard taking place these days in the premier class. The headliners now include Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, with Spies and Dovizioso knocking on the door demanding entry. Simoncelli, Aoyama and Crutchlow’s stars are on the rise, while Rossi and Hayden’s appear to be waning. Capirossi, de Puniet and Edwards are clearly at the end of their chains. The jury’s still out on Alvaro Bautista, Hector Barbera and Karel Abraham. And somebody PLEASE tell me what’s going on with Toni Elias and the LCR Honda team.

The rules changes in store for 2012 will probably have little effect on this hierarchy. The race announcers today suggested that an additional nine teams may find their way onto the premier class grid next season, a number well above what I thought possible several weeks ago. Best case would be a full nine row grid with the variety and excitement (not to mention smash-ups) of Moto2. Worst case would be the NASCAR scenario, in which the announcers would have to keep track of which riders were on the lead lap, with the contenders routinely lapping the slower CRT entries. Such a setting would not help MotoGP, unique for the fact that the separation in lap times between the rock stars and the mutts is on the order of four seconds.

From the Rumor Mill

It was suggested today that the Aspar Ducati team, currently fronted by Hector Barbera, would be adding a second bike to their team for next season … if Dani Pedrosa is unable to go, Hiro Aoyama may get promoted to the Repsol team for Silverstone, with one of the Honda factory test riders taking his place on the Gresini team for Round Six

Nicky Hayden is going through engines like Sherman through Georgia, and is already on engine number four of his six engine allotment for the season … Karel Abraham is working on a law degree in case this whole 200 mph thing doesn’t work out.

Was it Just My Imagination …

… Or did it appear that the entire field conspired to stick Marco Simoncelli at the back of the pack in the early moments of the race? Watching the replay of the start, Simoncelli was clearly slow getting off the line. Once he trailed Lorenzo, Stoner and Spies, though, it looked like several other riders, Nicky Hayden in particular, took turns cutting him off, boxing him in until the first half dozen riders were clear of the pack. Sideshow Bob doesn’t appear to have too many close friends on the grid. Bodyguards, yes. Fishing buddies, no.

Who am I to Disagree with Jeremy Burgess?

Okay, so Burgess, Valentino Rossi’s crew chief at Yamaha and now at Ducati, has forgotten more about motorcycle racing than I’ve ever known. Among other things, he is credited for having observed that in MotoGP, outcomes are 80% due to the rider and 20% to the bike. Yet this season’s results fly in the face of that argument. Rossi, one of the greatest riders ever, has quickly gone from contender to pretender in the switch from Yamaha to Ducati. Yet Casey Stoner, who was unable to coax more than one championship from the Ducati Desmosedici, now looks unbeatable after only five races on the Honda RC212V.

A Honda automotive mechanic recently told me that the rear suspension on my 2006 Civic had been factory installed upside-down. Perhaps Jeremy, too, has his numbers reversed.

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