Dani Pedrosa Wins Shocker in the Rain
At the start of the 2013 French Grand Prix, the Alien with the faintest prospects had to be Repsol Honda minuteman Dani Pedrosa. Since joining the premier class in 2006, he had never finished higher than third here. Though his free practice sessions were good, he crashed in qualifying, putting him back in the 6 hole for the start. He was eighth in the wet morning warm up practice. But when the red lights went out, it was Pedrosa who dropped the hammer on his rivals, won the race, and put himself in the lead for the 2013 world championship. Bravo, Dani!
80,000 soaked French spectators received more shocks today than a nun in a cucumber patch:
- Andrea Dovizioso led more laps on his factory Ducati than Valentino Rossi did in the last two years, before fading to fourth place.
- Cal “It’s Only a Flesh Wound” Crutchlow drove his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to an exhilarating second place finish, providing his French team with its best result in years, with a cracked shinbone and too many contusions to count, courtesy of yet another hard fall on Saturday.
- Rookie sensation Marc Marquez finished third—not a surprise—after driving his Repsol Honda all over the park, skirting the gravel more than once, and spending a good part of the day in eighth place. Marquez is very good. He also seems to be very lucky, a powerful combination.
- Valentino Rossi, who struggled all weekend, started eighth on his factory M-1 and was looking strong, running third on Lap 14 when pressure from a streaking Crutchlow forced him into a lowside and an eventual 12th place finish. Rossi can ill afford more disappointment at Mugello. In the words of Satchel Paige, he’d best not look backwards, ‘cause something may be gaining on him.
- Even Nicky Hayden had a good day, moving up from the 10 hole at the start to finish fifth, putting more Ducatis than Yamahas in the Top Five.
- Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo will, at some point, tell us what the heck happened to his race today. As our deadline looms, we’re left to wonder. See below.
For the second year in a row, the race was run in the rain. Last year, Lorenzo ran away from the field to win for the third time in four tries in France. The Mallorcan started well today, dogging race leader Andrea Dovizioso and his red Ducati for two laps before dropping like a stone for a dozen laps to as far back as ninth place on Lap 17. He would ultimately finish seventh behind Fun & Go Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista, for God’s sake. Was it water vapor inside his visor? A slow leak in his rear tire? The heartbreak of psoriasis? Whatever it was, it left him with a nine point day, buried in third place for the year. Not exactly a momentum booster heading to Mugello in two weeks.
A Quick Word about MotoGP Qualifying
Across the board in motorsports, everyone makes a big deal about how important it is to qualify well. MotoGP, buying heavily into this theory during the offseason, decided that it needed two qualifying sessions to sort out the finer points of determining who starts where. Granted, the 15 minute qualifying sessions are a hoot, resembling a Chinese fire drill, especially at the longer circuits, where coming up with a single fast lap can be a challenge.
Today was a good example of the folly of such thinking. The first three qualifiers were Marquez, Lorenzo and Dovizioso. By the midpoint of the first lap, your race leaders were Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, who had started sixth, while Marquez was dawdling in 10th. On the silliness scale, this ranks just behind the National Basketball Association, where teams play 82 regular season games to secure homecourt advantage in the playoffs, then go out and lose the first game in the series. Just sayin’.
Elsewhere on the Grid
LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl crashed today for the third time in four outings in his rookie season onboard the Honda RC213V. After winning the Moto2 title last year and tearing it up during offseason testing, young Stefan and Company must be shaking their heads, trying to get the taste of ashes out of their mouths. The six points he earned today by finishing 10th are but cold comfort.
Perhaps the best eighth place finish of the year was turned in today by Michele Pirro, subbing for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati. Pirro, called up two rounds ago when Spies’ physical problems put him on the shelf for Jerez, started in 14th place and moved steadily up on the field all day. It must be said that Le Mans, especially in the rain, is a Ducati-friendly circuit.
Today’s race put the vast difference between the prototypes and the CRT bikes in clear perspective. All 12 of the prototypes finished today, occupying the top 12 spots at the flag. Five of the 12 CRT bikes failed to finish, including homeboy Randy de Puniet, whose Lap 17 crash left him with six (6) points for the season, as compared to teammate Aleix Espargaro’s 20. De Puniet confirmed this weekend that he will be in Japan this coming week testing the 2014 Suzuki prototype, causing me to wonder who’s in charge of the racing program at the Hamamatsu factory, and what’s in his medicine cabinet.
The Big Picture
Today’s race shuffled the Top Ten standings for the year, elevating Crutchlow and Dovizioso at the expense of Bautista and Rossi, respectively. The Repsol Honda team must smell blood with Mugello, historically a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, next up. Everyone expects Yamaha to do well in Italy, with its wide, sweeping curves, thousands of Rossi supporters, and eight wins (plus two seconds) in the past 10 years. But if Pedrosa and Marquez end up on the podium in suburban Florence, the 2013 constructor’s trophy is likely to go to Honda for the third year in a row.
Next Up: Mugello
MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage to Tuscany in two weeks, to the legendary Mugello circuit outside Florence. Ground Zero for the Renaissance is always one of the favorite stops on the MotoGP calendar. This year, the pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi is enormous, as the season is starting to get away from them.
In our Le Mans preview last week, we compared the premier class battle between the factory Honda and Yamaha teams to the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, and found ourselves leaning toward the tortoise. Perhaps we’ve been misled by this story for generations. Perhaps, indeed, young and fast beats consistent and experienced. We’ll find out in two weeks.