Posts Tagged ‘Ben Spies’

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Preview

September 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere.  In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished.  It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in.  Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

It’s getting crowded up front.

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable.  Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011.  When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks.  His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race.  The forecast is for dry and warm conditions.  He has everything going for him and should win the race.  As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds.  Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez.  Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable.  Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled.  Exhibit A:  The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively.  Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall.

While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know–the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati.  (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece.  By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Too Tall Baz.)

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains.  Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place.  Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day.  But the diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year.  Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.”  This is not meant as criticism.  It might explain why Hondo so willingly signed him for another two years.  If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even.  And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

Rossi           69

Crutchlow    54

Marquez      53

Vinales        53

Pedrosa       49

Lorenzo       40

Dovizioso     40

Iannone       33

My original idea for the Misano race summary—a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow—which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers.  (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help.  Nor did the outburst that followed.)  The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish.  My apologies.  I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

As for Rossi, the world is correct.  An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia.  (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore.  You can have sixteen strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider.  Then count points.  A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season.  It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha—his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice.  Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.  Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems–just a flesh wound—but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule.  And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off.  The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend.  It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas.  Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days.  Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso.  Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS.  I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon.

Australia worships Jack Miller at The Cathedral

June 26, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

MotoGP 2016 Assen Results 

The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story.  Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps.  Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters.  And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.

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Assen in the rain

Saturday’s qualifying sessions were adventures on a track that was wet but drying quickly.  Pol Espargaro whipped his Tech3 Yamaha into Q2 with a scintillating last lap, joined by Yonny Hernandez, one of the several Ducatis doing especially well.  One rider doing especially not well was Dani Pedrosa, who suffered the ignominy of plodding through Q1, never once threatening to graduate to Q2.

Q2 itself was equally dramatic, as Marquez crashed early, stole some surprised attendant’s scooter to hustle back to the pits, waited for his crew to convert his second bike from dry to wet settings—what was it doing with dry settings anyway?—ultimately putting his RC213V at the top of the second row.  The session ended with Dovizioso, Rossi and Scott Redding daisychaining to the flag for an atypical first row.  Jorge Lorenzo looked tentative, having barely avoided Q1, and started the race in 10th place.  Four Ducatis in the first four rows would have been five if not for Iannone’s brainfart at Catalunya, which penalized him to the back of the grid.

Recapping—Lorenzo started 10th, Pedrosa 16th and Iannone 21st.  Conditions looked ripe for some higher-than-usual finishes on Sunday for several non-Aliens.  Such would, indeed, be the case.

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If nothing else Tito Rabat had an upgraded brolly girl.

Dovizioso Wins Race #1 to No Avail

Turns out the voices in my head last week telling me factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso could win the Dutch TT were right.  Sort of.  The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during the race, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance.  With Dovi leading Danilo Petrucci, Rossi and Scott Redding, three Ducatis in the top four proved beyond any doubt that the improvements in the Desmosedici’s performance on dry tracks has not come at the expense of its historical stability in the wet.

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No kidding.

That there were relatively few crashers in the first race—Avintia Ducati plodder Yonny Hernandez, who led most of the way in a true shocker, eventually crashed out of the lead and, for good measure, crashed again on his #2 bike.  Andrea Iannone, who had sliced through the field from 21st to 5th ran out of luck on Lap 14 but was able to rejoin the race in time to qualify for the second race.  The rain, buckets of it, cooled both the air and the track, and the paucity of crashers in the first race would be over-corrected in the second.

Race #2—Weirder than Race #1

The first two rows of the second 12 lap sprint were filled, in order, by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Rossi, Redding, Marquez and Pedrosa, the latter three having been charging toward the lead group in race #1 when the red flags came out.  This, then, was the second time in 90 minutes that there would be no Spanish riders on the front row, the last time being Mugello in 2011.  Interesting to note that joining Michele Pirro on the back row was Jorge Lorenzo, who had been mired in 20th position when the first race ended.  I have sent an official request to the Movistar Yamaha team to cease issuing press releases advising us that Lorenzo has no major concerns about racing in the wet.

Race #2 started much the same as race #1 with Dovizioso and Rossi battling up front.  Marquez, nowhere to be seen the first time out, settled into third, being tailed by, um, Jack Miller. The 21 year-old back marker whose 10th place finish in Barcelona marked the high water mark of his MotoGP career to date was somehow sitting in fourth place looking, well, rather comfortable, if totally out of place.  With cold air, a cold track and cold tires, the crashing began on Lap 1, with both Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crashlow leaving the asphalt, Pedrosa rejoining the festivities miles out of contention.  Rossi went through on Dovizioso and appeared ready to repeat his win of last year.

On Lap 2, Octo Pramac hard luck guy Danilo Petrucci, who had ridden the wheels off his Ducati in race #1, leading when it was called during Lap 15, retired with a mechanical issue, the picture of desolation.  Shortly thereafter Dovizioso quieted the voices in my head with a high speed off from second place, leaving Rossi alone in front leading Marquez by roughly two seconds with Pol Espargaro seizing third place on the Tech 3 Yamaha.  It was on Lap 3 when, shortly after Brit Bradley Smith laid down his own Tech 3 Yamaha that Rossi, appearing to have hit a puddle, lowsided at Turn 10 and, unable to restart his M1, laid his head on the saddle in complete, utter frustration.

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Rossi banging his head in frustration.

Suddenly, it was Marc Marquez leading the Dutch TT, with this Miller guy snapping at his heels like he hadn’t skipped through Moto2 while Marquez was busy winning a couple of premier class championships.  On Lap 4, Aleix Espargaro crashed his Suzuki out of the race and, unaccountably, Miller went through on Marquez into the lead.  My notes at this juncture read “JM will NEVER finish this race.”  Wrong, as wrong as wrong ever gets.

At the End of the Day

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One Shining Moment for the pride of Australia.

History will record that Jack Miller kept his bike upright and roared to his first premier class podium and win in wet conditions in the 250th MotoGP race of the four stroke era.  He became the first rider not named Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi or Pedrosa to win a MotoGP race since Ben Spies pulled off a similar miracle at Assen back in 2011.  He became the first satellite rider to stand on the top step of the podium since Toni Elias at Estoril in 2006.

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As strange a podium as you’re likely to see anytime soon.

For the first time since Misano last year two satellite riders stood on the podium, Redding  for the second time in his MotoGP career.  Only 13 riders finished the race, with crashers Pedrosa and Smith several laps down but still in the points.  Some astute reader will reveal the identity of the last Australian rider before Casey Stoner to win a MotoGP race; our crack research department is off on holiday this week.  Jorge Lorenzo improved greatly on his result from the first race, crossing the line 10th and capturing 6 points, probably shaking like a leaf.

The Big Picture

For Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, the weekend was a debacle.  For Ducati Corse, placing four bikes in the top seven, it was a triumph; Gigi Dall’Igna can only hope for a bevy of wet races during the second half of the season.  Marc Marquez commented several times after the race that his second place finish today felt like a win, as it powered his lead over Lorenzo from 10 to 24 points and pushed Rossi from 22 points back to a daunting 42.  He also refused to respond to a disrespectful crack from Miller during the post-race presser and now is exhibiting the maturity he has needed in the past to go with his ridiculous talents.  It says here he will win the 2016 championship.

Turning our gaze to Dresden, Germany and the tiny, cramped, very Aryan Sachsenring, we are stunned by the events which unfolded today during the first Dutch TT ever run on a Sunday.  The crowd or 105,000 surely got its money’s worth—two races for the price of one, and perhaps the only win of Jack Miller’s premier class career, as I expect him to return to Tranche Four in the weeks to come.

Though I will not deny Miller his One Shining Moment, I’m not sold on his talent nor his attitude.  Perhaps if he reads enough of this stuff he will take a look in the mirror, realize that he is the source of many of his own problems, and think twice before taunting Marc Marquez in a post-race press conference, should he ever be invited to one again.  Trailing the double world champion by 112 points, the only term he should use to address Marquez in 2016 is “sir.”

Rossi seizes the moment; Marquez goes down

September 14, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Misano Results, by Bruce Allen

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered for a number of things in years to come. The 54,543 Italian fans in attendance experienced the ecstasy of watching their idol, Movistar Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy since Misano in 2009. They witnessed the annual crash of the impertinent Marc Marquez, who laid his Repsol Honda down going perhaps 35 miles per hour in Turn 4 of Lap 10. They saw their national motorcycle, Ducati, place two riders in the top five. And, for the first time since The Renaissance, they could head home feeling their country may have turned the corner after 500 years of uninterrupted decline.

During the practice sessions leading up to today’s race, one could sense that defending world champion Marc Marquez wasn’t eating his Wheaties. He failed to top any of the practice sessions on his way to qualifying fourth, his first time off the front row since Catalunya last year. Meanwhile, the Ducatis and Yamahas were enjoying themselves immensely, the Ducatis dominant in the rain on Friday, the Yamahas—Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo—looking frisky and dangerous in the sunshine. Both qualified on the front row, sandwiching the increasingly impressive Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati; both would finish on the podium, joined by a dejected Dani Pedrosa, who struggled all day on his way to finishing third.

Ten Laps of High Drama

At the start, Lorenzo, whom we had picked to win today, jumped into the lead, with Rossi and Marquez filling out the first group. Marquez, looking as strong as ever, traded places twice with Rossi on Lap 3. Both he and Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 as the Mallorcan, the only Alien having chosen the hard front tire, lacked the edge grip enjoyed by his two rivals. By Lap 6, Lorenzo had faded slightly, leaving Rossi towing Marquez around the circuit and summoning recent memories of their head-to-head battles at Qatar and Catalunya earlier in the year.

How many times in the past few years have we watched the Repsol Hondas double-team a factory Yamaha into ruin? Today the tables were turned, as Rossi and Lorenzo had Marquez covered front and rear. Suddenly, in the slow Rio corner, Rossi sailed through, but Marquez slid into a slow motion lowside, barely marring the paint of his RC213V and narrowly avoiding a close encounter with the trailing Lorenzo. What ensued were perhaps 60 of the most frustrating seconds of young Marquez’ career as he tried over and over to restart his bike, the marshals finally helping him do so, after which he was roughly 90 seconds down on the Yamahas, his day effectively over. The predominantly Catholic crowd might have been tempted to remind Marquez that he was in Italy, that there is only one infallible person in that country, and his name is Francis.

18 Laps of a High Speed Parade

Not too much happened for the remainder of the race, reminding some of us of the interminable processions we so often saw in 2009 and 2010. By this time, two of the usual back markers—Mike di Meglio and Danilo Petrucci—had crashed out early on, joined in the kitty litter on Lap 7 by LCR Honda ejectee Stefan Bradl, whose season continues to disintegrate since his announced departure to NGM Forward Racing several weeks ago. Cal Crutchlow ran another very low risk race today, apparently determined to join his new LCR Honda team in November at the Valencia test with his body in one piece. And Aleix Espargaro, routinely getting schooled of late by little brother Pol on the Tech 3 Yamaha, made an uncharacteristic rookie mistake today, crashing out on the last lap and thereby ceding sixth place for the season to Pol.

Valentino Rossi Day at Misano

Fittingly, the day belonged to The Doctor, whose sense of theatre has been finely honed by years of celebrity and national recognition. At the relatively advanced age of 35, in his home race, he would pick up his 107th career grand prix win. He would notch his 81st win in the premier class. And, he would surpass 5,000 career grand prix points, the only rider ever to achieve such supremacy.

Parenthetically, he would prove a point I’ve been making here since 2009—regardless of what anyone tells you, this is Italy. Call it what you want—San Marino, The Riviera di Rimini, Most Serene Republic of San Marino (!), braunschweiger, whatever you want—this is Italy, these are Italians, and Vali is right up there with Pope Francis and the holy trinity. Somewhere, Rossi’s late friend and understudy Marco Simoncelli, for whom the circuit is now named, is smiling down on his friend, saying, “ben fatto, fratello.”

As for the Constructors

Today was an important day for Yamaha Racing, as it got an enormous monkey off their back. The prospect of going 0-18 against Honda Racing Corporation had to be giving company executives in Japan a collective case of hives. Even if they win out, which they won’t, 2014 will be regarded as a disastrous year for the once-dominant Iwata factory.

Ducati Corse, on the other hand, is seeing substantial progress in its MotoGP program. Although still running a distant third to Honda and Yamaha, the margin between the top Ducati finisher and the winner of each round is narrowing. In addition, this past week they signed a deal to provide machinery for the Avintia team for next season, bringing the number of Desmosedicis on the grid to six, assuming Pramac Racing continues in the fold. Such a strategy reminds one of W.C. Fields’ dictum that “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Having trouble keeping up in the constructors trophy competition? Put a dozen bikes out there and see how things shake out.

The Big Picture

Clearly, despite his disappointment at Brno and today’s mistake, Marc Marquez is going to win the 2014 title, relegating the rest of the Aliens to battling for second place. In this residual fight, Rossi picked up nine points on Pedrosa, leaving him only two points out of second place for the season, with teammate Lorenzo trailing the Honda pilot by 37. Rossi has stated that his main goal for the season, aside from winning races, is to finish second; Lorenzo has made it clear that his remaining motivation in 2014 is to simply win a race. Dani Pedrosa, who has been mostly mute on the subject, assumedly shares Rossi’s objective, but must keep an eye on Lorenzo who, with four consecutive second place finishes, is eating into his margin. None of the three, who are so competitive they would want to whip your ass in tiddlywinks, can be very happy about battling over second place.

And so it’s on to Aragon, the last stop before the brutal Pacific flyaway rounds that precede Valencia. Marquez’ second consecutive coronation suffered a delay today, and now looks more likely to take place at Motegi. But delay is by no means defeat.

Top Finishers Today

2014 Standings after 13 Rounds

MotoGP Laguna Seca 2013 Preview

July 16, 2013
Lorenzo's collarbone at Assen

Jorge Lorenzo’s left collarbone at Assen.

Will Jorge Lorenzo concede, or go all in?

For defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo, the approach of the U.S. Grand Prix at the Mazda Laguna Seca circuit in Monterey is fraught with peril.  Fate, and the powerful Repsol Hondo duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, have conspired to put the bright star of Yamaha Racing in an incredible bind.  Having injured his left collarbone twice in two weeks, a crash in Monterey could jeopardize the rest of his career.  But by sitting out, he effectively surrenders the 2013 title to one of his rivals. 

Graphically, it looks something like this:

ROCK———Jorge Lorenzo———-HARD PLACE

As has been said of Peyton Manning and Cal Ripken Jr., this guy is so competitive he would want to whip your ass in tiddlywinks.  Just the idea of allowing one of his compatriot/rivals to abscond with his title this year must make him physically ill.  But taking the track on his Yamaha M-1 is something of a sucker’s bet, i.e., wagering 2013 versus six or eight years yet to come.  The odds are shortened somewhat by the inarguable fact that rookie Marc Marquez is going to be a serious threat to Lorenzo’s fortunes from now on.  The precocious Spaniard, barely out of his teens, is a legitimate contender for this year’s title.  What’s he going to be like three years from now, when he is at the top of his game?  One shudders to think.

Lorenzo indicated on Saturday night via Twitter that he would stay home and try to be 100% in time for Indianapolis in August.  But his factory bosses have said no decision has yet been made; they have some skin in this game, too, although theirs is figurative.  His team is on its way to California as this is being written, ready in case Lorenzo opts to go all in, to keep his 2013 title chances alive.  Both Pedrosa and Marquez will be there, though Dani is less than 100% after his ugly highside in practice at the Sachsenring, and Marquez, according to me anyway, is unlikely to finish what will be his first career outing at Laguna.  The U.S. Grand Prix is a crashfest pretty much every year, and is notoriously difficult for first-timers.  Even one as gifted as Marc Marquez.

The Changing Dynamic at Repsol Honda

What a difference a weekend makes.  Heading into Round 8, the 2013 title fight appeared to be Pedrosa vs. Lorenzo, with Marquez, as well as Lorenzo’s Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi, playing supporting roles, more wingmen than leading men.  All that changed in Saxony.

With Pedrosa and Lorenzo sidelined, Marquez seized the day and the championship lead, while Rossi and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha stud Cal Crutchlow thrust themselves into the conversation by joining the rookie on the podium.  And while some people now see 2013 as a five man race—a bit of a stretch, in my opinion—the relationship between Marquez and Pedrosa has changed fundamentally.

Let us suggest that HRC management is greatly interested in adding 2013 to their impressive roster of MotoGP world championships.  Let us then suggest they are less concerned whether it is employee Pedrosa or employee Marquez who wins it for them.  Until last week, one suspects Marquez felt somewhat deferential to Pedrosa, the alpha male on the factory team.  Now, leading the series, and with Pedrosa nursing a variety of injuries, it is possible that Marquez sees him as an obstacle.

Recall Round 2 in Austin, where Marquez went through on Pedrosa without so much as a “by your leave” on the way to the win.  The pass was not disrespectful, but it wasn’t reverent, either.  It was clean (and much friendlier than his bumping Lorenzo out of his way in Jerez the following time out).  But that was then, and this is now.  With no team orders to back down from Pedrosa, and with a MotoGP title clearly possible in his rookie year, I look for Marquez to treat Pedrosa like any other rider for the remainder of the season.  Salir de mi camino, señor! 

Recent History at Laguna Seca

Among my most vivid MotoGP memories is the 2008 U.S. Grand Prix, when Rossi, on the Yamaha, pushed then defending world champion Casey Stoner and his Ducati so hard that Stoner eventually piled into the kitty litter.  Stoner and others accused Rossi of having been overly aggressive.  The rest of us viewed it as just plain old fashioned racing, a master class by The Doctor when he was at the top of HIS game.

In 2009, Dani Pedrosa beat Rossi in a sprint to the flag, with Lorenzo in hot pursuit.  That was the year Pedrosa took off like a scalded cat and looked to have the race in his back pocket midway through, only to have to withstand a furious second half charge by the Italian that fell tenths of a second short.  Rossi lost valuable time that year jousting with teammate Lorenzo for much of the day, back when the two combatants still had a wall separating them in the “team garage.”

Lorenzo enjoyed his only premier class win at Laguna Seca in 2010, having started from the pole, stiff-arming Stoner by 3.5 seconds, with Rossi well off the pace but still on the podium.  Under pressure from Lorenzo, Pedrosa crashed out of the lead on Lap 20 that year, a low point for MotoGP as only 12 bikes managed to finish the race.  Two of those finishers were the Hayden brothers, with Nicky, still relevant at the time, coming in 5th and wildcard Roger Lee earning 5 points in 11th position.

There was a certain similarity in the 2011 and 2012 contests, as Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa finished 1-2-3 both years.  In 2011, Pedrosa was healing from injuries suffered earlier in the season at Le Mans, but was still dogging Lorenzo for the lead much of the day.  Meanwhile, Stoner, managing his tires in third place, found his fuel load to his liking with ten laps left and went through on both Pedrosa and Lorenzo on the way to his second world championship.

Last year, Stoner became the first three-time winner at Laguna, while even Rossi crashed out, the seventh starter out of 21 to fail to finish in his only DNF of the year.  Lorenzo led Stoner for much of the day, but didn’t have enough left to withstand the Repsol Honda chieftain late in the race.  It was Lorenzo, though, who would go on to win HIS second world championship.

What?  No Weather Forecast?

Honda has now taken three of the last four U.S. Grands Prix, making it officially a Honda-friendly track.  Whether that remains so this year depends upon two things—the physical condition of Dani Pedrosa, and how quickly young Marquez is able to learn his way around.  (I’m sure he has played the video game a million times, but something tells me the real thing will be different.)  With Lorenzo problematic as of Tuesday, the possibility of seeing some new faces on the podium is pretty good.  Maybe Cal Crutchlow captures his first win, or Stefan Bradl his first podium.

Anything can happen in California.

MotoGP Jerez 2013 Preview

May 1, 2013

Look for an edited version of this story on Motorcycle.com on Thursday.  Until then, enjoy the raw copy.

The Spaniards Return Home for Round Three 

When it comes to grand prix motorcycle racing, Spain and her favorite sons own the sport.  Across the three classes—MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3—eight of the nine top riders are Spanish.  (The exception, Brit Scott Redding, who leads the Moto2 contingent, should actually be struggling for Tech 3 Yamaha this year, having been curiously passed over last season in favor of countryman Bradley Smith.)  With the first of four Spanish rounds on tap this weekend, the fastest riders on Earth are hungry for some home cooking. 

Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez turned the moto racing world on its ear in Austin with his first premier class win, barely breaking a sweat in the process.  Defending world champion and Yamaha mogul Jorge Lorenzo sits tied with the Catalan cherub in this year’s championship battle, which must come as a bit of a downer after his dominating performance in the season opener in Qatar.  Pre-season favorite Dani Pedrosa, expected to be the alpha male in the Repsol garage this year, can’t be happy fighting with Valentino Rossi over third place.  Rossi, on the other hand, must feel pretty good about being back in the Alien club after his self-imposed two year punishment detail with Ducati.

Don’t be surprised to see the standings get shuffled this weekend in Andalusia.

Recent History at Jerez

The Big Four appear to have vastly different expectations heading back to Europe for the first time this year:

  • Since joining the premier class in 2006, Dani Pedrosa has never finished off the podium at Jerez.  He has a third, five seconds, and a win in 2008 to show for his efforts.  He was on his way to a second win in 2010 until Lorenzo ate his lunch on the last lap.  Jerez is one of Dani’s faves.
  • Jorge Lorenzo started his premier class work at Jerez in 2008 with a competitive third, trailing Rossi and Pedrosa, and crashed out late in 2009 trying to overtake Casey Stoner for third.  Since then, he’s had two wins, and lost to Stoner last year by less than a second.  Jerez is one of Jorge’s faves, too.
  • Valentino Rossi, in the four years prior to his defection from Yamaha to Ducati, had a third, a second and two wins here.  Vale used to love Jerez, and is looking to rekindle the romance this year, especially after his struggles in Austin, where he was soundly beaten by Cal Crutchlow on his satellite M-1.
  • For the wűnderkind Marquez, a visit to Jerez is about as welcome as a toothache on a Friday night.  In three 125cc seasons, he had a DNS, a DNF, and a 3rd.  He crashed out in his Moto2 debut in 2011, but narrowly missed a win last season, yielding to race winner Pol Espargaro by two tenths.  No one would be too surprised to see him struggle this weekend.  If, however, he manages a podium, he will be serving notice on the world that his time is, indeed, now.

Kevin Schwantz vs. Alberto Puig

Crash.net and Superbike Planet.com reported extensively this week on a web-based exchange between Pedrosa’s Rasputin, Alberto Puig, and former world champion Kevin Schwantz.  Schwantz, who has made a career out of his single world title in 1993 (notice we’re not saying a word here about Nicky Hayden), started it off, observing, among other things, that Pedrosa has enjoyed a Honda factory ride since 2006 without ever having won a premier class title, which is a good point.  But then the Texan wandered off into the ether, talking about Dani’s mom—don’t be talking ‘bout my momma–and taking a few swipes at Puig, Pedrosa’s Apologist-in-Chief.

Puig, himself a former racer, and not one to shy away from a tussle, came back at Schwantz with both barrels blazing.  Recall 2006, when Pedrosa took out eventual world champion Nicky Hayden at Estoril in a move criticized by pretty much everyone who saw it.  In stepped Puig, denigrating Hayden and absolving his guy of a crash blame whatsoever.  This past week, he claimed that Schwantz won his only title due to a crash suffered by Wayne Rainey at Misano that season, and that otherwise Schwantz “was always in the shade” of Rainey and Eddie Lawson.  (Kind of like Dani has been with Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo.  Just sayin’.)

The bottom line, from here:  Schwantz is a world-class hanger-on.  Pedrosa, despite what he says, needs to win a title this year or next, for any number of reasons.  Puig is deeply in bed with the good folks at Dorna, while Schwantz is exchanging subpoenas with them over the fiasco in Austin.  All of this is a tempest in a teapot.  Schwantz needs to find a job, Puig needs to shut his piehole, and Pedrosa needs to win a title.  And, as one of my old bosses used to tell me, right now would be fine.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Valentino Rossi went to the trouble of telling Crash.net he expects to be “very fast” this weekend.  I believe the Italian master is trying to get inside Marc Marquez’s head…Ben Spies is sitting out Round Three, still suffering the after-effects of his off-season shoulder surgery.  This will allow his team to endure its customary disappointment prior to the race, rather than afterwards.  Michele Pirro, former CRT slogger and current Ducati test rider, will take Spies’ place as a “wild card”, due to some typically convoluted rule from the Wizards of Odd at Dorna…To the relief of virtually no one, Karel Abraham is returning from his broken collarbone several weeks too early, despite what he refers to as “complications” from his injury.  I’d say the prospect of scoring zero points all year would qualify as a “complication” for someone in the racing business.

Colin Edwards, who as recently as 2011 finished ninth in the world, has yet to score a point this season.  Inasmuch as this trend seems likely to continue, Edwards has now joined that massive legion of athletes who clearly overstayed their welcome.  Colin should go back to Texas, scare up some sponsors, rent a handful of Yamaha engines for next season, and put a competitive CRT team together…How cool would it be to see Aleix Espargaro finish in the top nine this year?  The new softer slicks Bridgestone has prepared for the CRT entries appear to be helping.  The junior Ducati entries, Spies and Andrea Iannone, had better keep an eye on Aleix…With unemployment in Spain hovering around 28%–28%!!!–attendance is bound to be down this year.  Which is a shame, as Jerez is one of the great racing venues on the planet.  Given Spain’s now chronic employment woes, how much longer can we expect four MotoGP races on the Iberian Peninsula?

Your Weekend Forecast

The economy may suck, but the weather on the Spanish Riviera is still choice.  Weather.com is calling for sunny skies and temps in the low to mid-70’s.  Now, if we could just arrange a little plate of jamón, some young Manchega, a bottle of red and a handful of those tasty Spanish olives…

MotoGP 2012 Laguna Seca Results

July 29, 2012

An edited version of this article will appear on Motorcycle.com on Monday, complete with hi-rez photos.  Until then, please enjoy this summary of the MotoGP 2012 U.S. Grand Prix.

Stoner Outduels Lorenzo in Replay of 2011 Classic

Defending world champion Casey drove his Repsol Honda RC213V past Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 22 of today’s U.S. Grand Prix for a convincing and refreshing win, his third at Laguna Seca.  This turn of events provided observers with a startling déjà vu of last year’s race.  Stoner’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa finished third both years, adding the same eerie similarity to the podium celebration and post-race press conference.

I knew something weird was happening in Monterey when I glanced at the results of the first two practice sessions and noticed that the top five spots in each were identical.  FP3 was mostly fogged out, and the Repsol Honda team blew it off in the garage playing euchre rather than tackling The Corkscrew blindfolded.  Lorenzo snatched the pole from Stoner on the last lap of the QP, and then Stoner topped Lorenzo in the warm-up practice on Sunday morning by a full 1/1000th of a second, after waiting an hour for the fog to clear.  Although the podium duplicated last year’s rostrum, the lead-up to the weekend was vastly different.

Recall last year.  Heading to California, Stoner was enjoying a string of seven straight podium finishes, and led defending champion Lorenzo by 15 points.  Lorenzo had been having a great season until he crashed out at Silverstone and finished a lowly sixth at Assen.  Curiously, on Saturday Stoner had given himself virtually no chance of winning, all but conceding the round to his Alien rivals, a master class in sandbagging.

Despite having amassed a total of eight (8) points in the last two rounds and trailing Lorenzo by 37, Stoner started this weekend quick and got better each day.  Curiously, he was the only one of the top six riders to choose the softer option rear tire on a day when the sun was quickly heating the racing surface.  My thought was he would try to jump out to the lead and hope his tire held up long enough to fend off his challengers late in the race.  And though he was able to go through on Pedrosa on lap 3, it took him 22 laps to pass Lorenzo.  At that point I, for one, expected the Spaniard to win the race, thinking that his rear tire would outlast Stoner’s.

Wrong.  The Australian did a masterful job managing his rubber, and still looked strong at the end of the day.  Lorenzo, visibly exhausted after the race, didn’t have enough left in his tank to mount a serious rally at the end.  Pedrosa observed after the race that the soft tire was too soft and the hard tire had no grip, and seemed pleased to have finished third.

When the tire dust cleared, the standings at the top of the 2012 chart had tightened slightly.  Stoner became the first three-time winner at Laguna, where Hondas have won four of the eight races since 2005; it is inarguably a Honda-friendly layout.  Lorenzo, with four consecutive poles but only one win, enjoys a larger lead leaving California than when he arrived.  Pedrosa is, as yet, uninjured in 2012.  Heading into the summer break, everyone has something they can feel good about.

Well, Not Exactly Everyone

Laguna Seca lived up to its reputation as a thorny place to ride motorcycles at high speeds.  By lap 2, both CRT pilot Michele Pirro and Pramac Racing designated victim Toni Elias had crashed out.  Two CRT pilots retired with mechanical problems or, more likely, Corkscrew-induced psychological issues, and James Ellison crashed on lap 20.  None of these mishaps had anything to do with anything.

That would change on lap 22, when the luckless Ben Spies endured an ugly crash out of fourth place, ruining yet another weekend for the wayward American.  No one on the grid tries harder, or has less to show for his efforts.  As the old blues standard laments, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Having injured his heel in a QP crash, Spies may have added to his medical woes ending his day with an Olympic-caliber double back flip in the tuck position, with a degree of difficulty of 4.3 out of 5.

The last and most surprising fall of the day occurred on lap 29, when Valentino Rossi, who never crashes, lost it at the top of the corkscrew for his first DNF of the season.  We knew Rossi had a lot on his mind before the race, with the speculation about his future with Ducati and rumors of a return to the factory Yamaha team swirling.  His Italian employers sent one of their Bigga Bosses to California to make The Doctor a final offer for next year, somewhere in the neighborhood of €17 million ($21 million) to waste another of the last few years of a great career wrestling the demonic Desmosedici.  Vale didn’t appear to have much on his mind at all after the crash, wandering around in the gravel looking like he’d had his bell rung, waiting for his own personal fog to clear.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow spent another lovely Sunday afternoon bashing each others’ brains in, finishing 4-5 for the fourth time this season.  Nicky Hayden, glowing after having signed another one year contract with the Italian factory, went through on rookie Stefan Bradl late in the day to claim 6th place, relegating the German to a still respectable 7th in his first visit to Laguna.

San Carlo Honda’s Alvaro Bautista started 7th and finished 8th, another nondescript day at the office for the young Spaniard.  Aleix Espargaro, clearly the cream of the CRT crop, finished ninth, with” Kareless” Abraham rounding out the top ten in his first return to action since Barcelona.

Bits and Pieces

The Hayden-Ducati marriage appears to work better for Nicky than for Ducati, as his best days are well behind him.  Over the past three seasons he’s managed a single third place finish each year, and the last of his three (3) premier class wins came back in 2006, when he somehow won the world championship with a thin 252 points.  (In 2008, Pedrosa would finish third with 249 points.)  Other than name recognition, the Kentucky Kid doesn’t bring much to the party any more.

Rumor has it that Fausto Gresini, the volatile manager of the San Carlo team, is courting Andrea Dovizioso to return to the Honda family that so unceremoniously dumped him last year.  Fausto has clearly lost whatever confidence he ever had in Bautista.  Whether he can convince Dovizioso to wear Honda colors again is problematic.  Personally, I think Dovizioso has earned the second factory Yamaha seat, and that Rossi could again be competitive on the factory-spec San Carlo Honda.

An interesting bit of trivia concerns the Constructors Trophy awarded each year to the manufacturer whose riders earn the most points.  Not surprisingly, Honda and Yamaha sit tied at the top of the pile.  But third place Ducati is much closer points-wise to the Aprilia ART bikes than to the two Japanese manufacturers.  We’ve come up with a term to describe the increasing irrelevance of the Ducati MotoGP program:  Suzukification.

2012 Laguna Seca Preview

July 25, 2012

An edited version of this story, complete with hi-rez photos, will appear on Motorcycle.com on Thursday.  Until then, enjoy.

Lorenzo and Pedrosa Ready to Rumble on Sunday

The U.S. Grand Prix, hosted by the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, welcomes ”those magnificent men in their flying machines” to kick off the second half of the 2012 season.  Yamaha CEO for a Day and 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo has recently put a little room between himself and the Repsol Hondas of challengers Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.  Over the past three seasons, no less than four riders have failed to finish this race each year, a reminder of how perilous life can be in the hills of the Monterey Peninsula; a single “MotoGP moment” could easily shake up the 2012 standings.

Recent History

The 2009 race here was fascinating, as Pedrosa disappeared at the start, while teammates Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi duked it out all day in a great battle for second place.  Rossi, that year’s ultimate champion, dispatched Lorenzo late in the day and set his formidable sights on Pedrosa, whose enormous early lead shrank steadily over the final 10 laps.  At the finish, Rossi trailed the Spaniard by only a third of a second, with Lorenzo another few seconds farther back.  Stoner was wrestling the Ducati and lactose intolerance that year and still managed a respectable fourth.  Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda teammate, crashed out early, joining three other riders in the gravel that day.

2010 was Lorenzo’s year, as he cruised to victory after Pedrosa crashed out of the lead unassisted.  Stoner drove his Desmosedici to a respectable second, while Rossi, still healing after his disastrous practice crash in Italy, managed third, just in front of Dovizioso’s RC211V.  2010 marked the beginning of what has become a recent trend, namely the appearance of wild card riders.  That year, Nicky Hayden’s little brother Roger Lee took over the LCR Honda for the injured Randy de Puniet and managed 5 championship points, finishing 11th.  His somewhat misleading result was a side effect of having five other riders crash out, although Roger Lee did manage to edge Alex de Angelis fair and square.

Casey Stoner won here last year in convincing style, due in part to the fact that both Lorenzo and Pedrosa were hurting.  Pedrosa was still recovering from injuries suffered at Le Mans, and Lorenzo was a basket case, having endured a vicious highside crash after taking the pole in the QP.  While both Spaniards hobbled their way up to the podium after the race, the most exciting match of the day saw Ben Spies punk Dovizioso at the flag to steal fourth place.  Ben Bostrom was the sacrificial wildcard that day, retiring after 10 terrifying laps to join the three riders that crashed out.

What to Expect on Sunday

Based upon recent results in Germany and Italy, it is tempting to predict a Lorenzo win, with Pedrosa placing and Stoner to show.  Last time out at Mugello, Lorenzo put on a clinic reminiscent of his 2010 championship season.  Pedrosa, consistent and uninjured all year, has appeared on the podium eight times, but has won only once, at the Sachsenring.  Defending champion Stoner seems to have misplaced his mojo, having won but once, at Assen, since announcing his impending retirement at Le Mans back in May.  As was true at Mugello, each has won here in the last three years.

Unlike Mugello, however, Laguna Seca is short and relatively slow, a layout more favorable to the Hondas than the Yamahas.  When he’s healthy, Pedrosa has the ability to get out in front of the field and take advantage of his superior speed exiting the turns.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that the two Spaniards will fight for the win, with Stoner and Tech 3 Yamaha stud Dovizioso likely contesting the final podium spot.  The Ducati team of Rossi and Nicky Hayden will fight over whatever’s left, joined by Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow.

One thing is certain.  This year’s wildcard, Steve Rapp on a CRT entry from Attack Racing powered by Kawasaki, will be nowhere near the podium at the race’s end.  Steve is a veteran AMA rider with plenty of credentials, but this is MotoGP, for God’s sake, and he can only hope to beat a few of the Frankenbikes.  His experience at Monterey may indeed help him embarrass one of the other Kawasaki-powered entries from Avintia Blusens, Ivan Silva and Yonny Hernandez.  For Rapp, that would probably count as a win.  Since the two CRT regulars have amassed a total of 11 points in nine rounds, that goal is definitely within reach.

Ben Spies “Gets Quit”

Word that Ben Spies would be leaving the factory Yamaha team at season’s end came as a surprise to many, although we have expected it here for some time.  Though the decision initially is being positioned as Ben’s, it seems likely he was asked to resign, while allowing him to maintain his dignity during the second half of the season.  The move, which must be a crushing disappointment for the American, may relieve some pressure on him, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have a vastly improved second half of the season, as he did last year.  Monterey seems like a good place to start.

Years ago I worked with a thoroughly lazy salesman who sat at home watching daytime TV instead of making sales calls.  Sure enough, management came in one day and asked him to join them in a conference room for a quick meeting, after which they announced he had resigned.  Later, when I asked him what happened, he replied, “I got quit.”  Such seems to be the case with Ben.  Hopefully, we will see him return to MotoGP in 2014 with a reinvigorated Suzuki team.  Until then, it appears World SuperBike is his best option.

Spies is a highly likeable guy who, unlike certain Australian world champions, rarely points the finger of blame at others when he fails to perform.  This feels more like a setback, albeit a big one, than a conclusion.  As for the identity of Jorge Lorenzo’s Italian teammate in 2013, we shall save that speculation for a later date.

Toni Elias Sighting Likely on Sunday

With “Hectic” Hector Barbera out for the foreseeable future with a badly broken leg suffered in practice this past week, Pramac Racing has hired Toni Elias to wear the ghastly green for Round Ten.  Elias, last seen floundering on the Aspar Moto2 Suter, had been given the boot there just in time to join Pramac for one (or two) of their final nine races in the premier class.  Despite his travails since having won the Moto2 title in 2010, Elias’ recent history at Laguna is pretty good, with a 7th in 2008 for Alice Ducati and a 6th in 2009 for the LCR Honda team.

Toni’s return screws up my intended weekend wordplay, as I had intended to discuss Hectic Hector’s departure in conjunction with “Kareless” Karel Abraham’s return to the grid after missing four rounds to injuries suffered at Silverstone.  As the lowest form of humor on earth, no one likes puns anyway, so we won’t bother.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

It promises to be perfect in the greater Salinas area, with temps in the low 70’s and plenty of sunshine.  The westerlies could be a bit of an issue, as they are most years.  Pretty much perfect conditions, especially if you’re an insanely fast Spanish motorcycle racing hombré in search of a world championship.

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 8, 2012

An edited version of this story will appear on Motorcycle.com with stunning photos later today.  Until then, please enjoy this summary of the 2012 German Grand Prix.

Pedrosa’s Win Tightens the 2012 Championship Race

For the third consecutive year, countrymen Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo finished one-two in the German Grand Prix.  For the diminutive Repsol Honda pilot, today’s race was a field study in skill, stamina and stones, as he tangled with teammate Casey Stoner all day, until Stoner slid off in Turn 12 of the last lap.  Yamaha ace Lorenzo, nursing an injured ankle, had appeared content to settle for third until Stoner’s mishap.  When the dust cleared, the standings at the top of the championship were scrambled, and the 2012 season had just became a lot more interesting.

The weather had been a factor all weekend, alternating between damp, dry and wet, and led to some surprising practice results.  Exhibit A was FP3, run in the wet, in which the top two finishers were CRT plodders Michele Pirro and Mattia Pasini.  Qualifying practice closely resembled last week’s shocker in Assen, as the wet track suddenly dried out late in the session, and Stoner again snatched the pole to join Pedrosa and Yamaha’s Ben Spies on the front row.  Row two included the highly ambitious Cal Crutchlow, a limping Lorenzo, and homeboy Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda.  When the red light went out, the sun was shining, the track was hot, and the big dogs had their game faces on, along with hard compound asymmetric rear slicks.

If Losail, Silverstone and Aragon are Yamaha-oriented circuits, the Sachsenring is clearly Honda-friendly.  Tight and twisty, it favors the RC213V, with its superior corner-exit power.  (The 1000cc Yamaha M1 loves long straights, but in Germany the longest is only 700 meters.)  As expected, Stoner and Pedrosa took off early, leaving all four Yamahas to scramble for third place, led by an increasingly desperate Spies.  The American, whose fortunes are waning, gave way to Lorenzo on Lap 5, and both Andrea Dovizioso and Crutchlow on Lap 9.  Though Ben would ultimately finish 4th, his best result of the year, it was more a matter of luck than skill, as we shall see.

On Lap 19, Pedrosa went through on Stoner, but the Australian looked comfortable, apparently biding his time until opportunity arose to break his teammate’s little heart once again.  With Lorenzo by himself in third, the battle for fourth place was raging.  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the ‘race within the race’ off the lead, but there is much at stake in the Spies-Dovizioso-Crutchlow wars, namely the second factory seat alongside Jorge Lorenzo for the next couple of years.  As of this past week, Spies is officially “disappointing” team manager Wilco Zeelenberg.

On Lap 26, Crutchlow, trying to get past Dovizioso, went too hot into one of the three right-handers and ended up in the kitty litter, falling back to 11th position and effectively ending his day.  (It may be that this lone error will result in his going to work for Ducati next year, a mistake the dimensions of which cannot be overstated.  If it does, I can serenely predict that Cal will earn fewer points on the factory Ducati in 2013 than will either of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders.  Take that to the bank.)

A Shocking, Karma-Laden Finish

Pedrosa was still managing to hold off Stoner when the two crossed the start-finish line to start the last lap.  Lorenzo was a mile back, and the Dovizioso-Spies battle continued in the distance.  The only question in my mind was when Stoner would try to go through on Pedrosa.  The racing gods, apparently offended by last week’s events, in which Lorenzo was forced to give up his 25 point championship lead to Stoner, suddenly intervened.  In the midst of Turn 12, a fast left-hander, the front end of Stoner’s bike gradually folded into a lowside, with the Australian sliding 100 yards into his first DNF in 22 races.  The domino effect was remarkable, as follows.

Pedrosa’s win elevated him from third place into second, 14 points behind Lorenzo.  Stoner’s shutout dropped him from a tie for first into third, six points behind Pedrosa.  Dovizioso, who edged Spies by 7/100ths of a second, enjoyed his second consecutive podium finish.  Behind Spies sat Bradl, who coaxed his satellite Honda into fifth place, to the delight of the tollwütigen Zuschauer, for whom he is The Great Aryan Hope.  San Carlo Honda pilot Alvaro Bautista, forced to start from the back of the grid after last week’s debacle, stormed back into 7th place, a fraction of a second in front of the hard-luck Crutchlow.  For the record, Valentino Rossi finished sixth today, and had absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Idle Speculation from the Department of Idle Speculation

The torrent of leaks from the Bologna factory show the depth of concern Ducati has about the 2013 season and beyond.  They seem to think Rossi will not be returning next year, and are giving the distinct impression they don’t want Hayden, either.  They’ve offered a contract to Crutchlow, who would be crazy to accept it.  The sense here is that the overall quality of life on a factory team is so superior to that on the satellite teams (never mind the CRTs) that Crutchlow will find the “opportunity” irresistible, despite the likelihood that it will effectively remove any chance he might have to contend for a world championship in MotoGP.

This past week we learned that both Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci are in discussions with the Italian company regarding 2013.  I’m starting to feel that I’m the only guy involved in this sport who has NOT been approached by some well-groomed Italian guy in a red windbreaker.  Never mind that I’ve never ridden anything larger than 80cc, and that was during the Nixon administration.

The Big Picture

So, Pedrosa now has his hat trick, with three consecutive wins in Saxony.  Lorenzo has his fourth consecutive bridesmaid finish here, although this one likely feels much better than the last three.  Stoner received some payback for his lucky win last time out, and has work to do if he wants to repeat as world champion.  With only 20 points separating the three Aliens at the top of the heap, the 2012 season is suddenly fascinating.  Approaching the halfway point of the season next week, no one is running away with the title this year.

Next Stop—Mugello

Practice starts again on Friday for the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  Between the virulent European financial crisis, which now has Italy in its crosshairs, and the sagging fortunes of Rossi and Ducati, expect a sparse, subdued crowd.  Wait—what am I saying?  Never mind the economy, or the standings.  Next to soccer, MotoGP is the biggest thing in Italy, and the stands will be packed with delirious jabbering men and gorgeous, sultry and, hopefully, under-dressed Italian women.  The brolly girls will be a thing of joy.  And the circuit is one of the best on the planet.

It will be a three day party, a few short miles from Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance.  For Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, the renaissance of the 2012 season started today in Turn 12.  Portarlo sulla!