With MotoGP returning to Mugello for the Italian GP, the San Carlo Gresini Honda team is reverting back to its customary white livery scheme, a decision made by both Fausto Gresini and the Simoncelli family. Hoping to invoke some memories of Marco Simoncelli lapping around that famous Italian track, Gresini Racing’s time of mourning for its fallen Italian rider appears to be over as it retires its all-black livery, and has painted Alvaro Bautista’s Honda RC213V in the team’s customary all-while livery for this weekend.
With the rainy weekend turning to cloudy but dry skies, racing for the German GP proved to be a challenge as teams had only one practice session plus the warm-up to get their dry-setups right for the afternoon’s race. With Casey Stoner sitting on the pole-position, all eyes were on the Australian to see if he could convert the front-row start into a points advantage in the MotoGP Championship, after Lorenzo’s crash in Assen leveled the points between the two rivals.
The level playing field was courtesy of one over-zealous Alvaro Bautista, whose first-turn crash at Assen took the factory Yamaha rider down with him, thus negating his 25 point lead in the 2012 MotoGP Championship. With much of silly season still undecided, the focus wasn’t just on the riders at the front, as Ben Spies, Andrea Dovizioso, and Cal Crutchlow all are vying for the last factory seat in the Yamaha garage. As the German GP would prove, even with half of the season nearly over, it could all come down to the last minute. Click on for a full race report with spoilers.
There is a danger to thinking any championship is a foregone conclusion, especially this early in the season. Just as there is a danger to thinking that a race will pan out the way you thought it would after practice and qualifying. At Assen, everyone was afraid of three things: the weather, Jorge Lorenzo, and Pol Espargaro. All three turned out differently than expected.
Best of all was the weather. After treacherous conditions on Friday, with rain falling, stopping, wetting the track just enough for Casey Stoner to bang himself up badly in the morning, though that did not stop him from blasting to pole, Saturday dawned bright and only got better: the big skies of flat-as-a-board Drenthe were mainly blue, with the occasional sighting of fluffy white clouds to provide a little cover and prevent egregious sunburn. But best of all, it stayed dry: no complications, just sunny, dry and calm weather.
Neither Lorenzo nor Esparagaro would prove too pose much of a threat either, Lorenzo through no fault of his own, but Espargaro would need no outside help in taking himself out of the equation. The crashes of Lorenzo and Espargaro – Lorenzo taken out by a boneheaded move from Alvaro Bautista, for which the Gresini Honda man will have to start from the back of the grid at the Sachsenring, Espargaro crashing on a bump at the Ruskenhoek – put an end to the domination of the two men in the MotoGP and Moto2 classes.
Espargaro had blasted every sessions of free practice, and only a blistering lap from Marc Marquez had denied the HP Pons rider pole. Lorenzo’s domination had been more subtle, his race pace clearly several tenths better than anyone else, though others on soft tires occasionally bettered the Spaniard during practice and qualifying.
With the Dutch weather improving from the scattered rains of Friday, to just a grey gloom for Saturdays’ Dutch TT, MotoGP had a cool, but dry race day in Holland. This would bode well for the Hondas, who gambled on the tire selection, going with the softer of the two compounds available from Bridgestone, while the Yamahas played a more conservative game on the harder compound (Ducati chose the lesser of its two evils, opting for the harder compounding, though knowing it wouldn’t last the race).
As the premier-class headed into three back-to-back races, the bids for the 2012 MotoGP Championship were certain to get heated at Assen, the first of the three stops. Sitting on pole was Casey Stoner, who put in a fantastic exhibition of speed during the closing minutes of Friday’s qualifying. Despite Stoner’s performance, teammate Dani Pedrosa and Championship-rival Jorge Lorenzo couldn’t be counted out from the hunt either.
With Alvaro Bautista sitting fourth on the grid, the satellite Honda rider has found a new form in the past two races, and of course the battle between the three remaining Hondas has been entertaining to watch, as they fight for the last remaining factory seat at Yamaha Racing for the 2013 season and onwards. So as the lights went out, and the riders headed into Turn 1 at Assen, the Dutch track revealed the next chapter of our MotoGP saga.
One of the great things about the support classes in Grand Prix motorbike racing is the depth of the competition. While there are a handful of favorites in each class, we generally don’t have the Three Alien situation of MotoGP. Once a rider leaves that broader talent and equipment pool for the premier class however, his potential results are limited by the bike he lands on.
Alvaro Bautista paid his dues for two years on an 800cc Suzuki, finishing in lucky thirteenth spot for both the 2010 and 2011 championships. If Suzuki hadn’t folded up and gone home for 2012, Bautista might still have been on an uncompetitive bike with a crowd of fans who could only think fondly back to what an exciting 125cc and 250cc rider he had been.
With Sunday’s race having perhaps some of the best weather yet at Silverstone, the British GP started with concern, after Cal Crutchlow missed qualifying after a hard crash in FP3. Getting cleared to ride Sunday morning, the Honey Badger was relegated to the back of the grid for the start, dashing any hopes of a podium finish.
Still, the man from Man delighted British fans with his resolve to go racing, with further spectacle coming in the form of Alvaro Bautista’s first MotoGP pole-positiion start, putting his black San Carlo Gresini Honda in front of the factory machines of Ben Spies, Casey Stoner, and Jorge Lorenzo. With the British GP showing the first signs of Spies’ renewed confidence, MotoGP fans had all the makings of a good race as the sun shined through the cloud cover. To see how it all finished out, click on past the jump.
The weather has been a cruel mistress at Silverstone this weekend, much as it has been every year MotoGP has paid a visit. The track is built around an airfield, and consequently sits on a plateau just enough above the surrounding area to catch any wind which may be about. On Saturday, that was a lot, with the wind blowing hard and gusting harder all day, catching many a rider out, especially on the way into Brooklands. The wind also blew in occasional showers, though it blew them back out again just as fast, a small blessing on an incredibly difficult day.
Despite the conditions, three men braved the wind to take pole in each class, to varying levels of surprise. That Maverick Vinales should take pole in Moto3 is much as expected, Silverstone being the Spaniard’s third pole position in a row. Though his advantage is relatively modest, there has been no one to mount a serious challenge to his supremacy all weekend, and if he gets a decent start he will be a very hard man to beat.
Pol Espargaro’s Moto2 pole is hardly unexpected – the Spaniard is one of the main candidates for the title this year, and is looking particularly fearsome at Silverstone this weekend – yet it is his first ever pole in the class. A front row regular this season, things have really come together with the Pons team and the Kalex chassis, the bike performing exceptionally well in the windy conditions. Mostly, though, Espargaro’s performance is down to the man himself: he has led every session at Silverstone so far, his advantage over his rivals increasing each time.
The big surprise came in MotoGP, Alvaro Bautista snatching his first ever pole in the premier class. Luck – and judgment – were certainly on Bautista’s side, the San Carlo Gresini man timing his first fast run just right, the first light showers appearing shortly after he claimed the spot atop the timesheets. Though the rain may have hampered his rivals – Casey Stoner, in particular, was confident he could have gone a lot faster than he had, his crew finding a big improvement just before the rain came down – Bautista’s time was of itself highly respectable, and came on top of strong performances throughout free practice.
With tough conditions being the week-long tradition at the British GP, MotoGP qualifying at Silverstone began with dry, but very windy, conditions. Friday’s rain saw the Ducatis of Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden on the top of the time sheets, though the day proved to be the tale of two Ducatis, as once the British track dried, the Desmosedici GP12 once again showed its other personaly, and proved to be a handful in the dry.
Unsurprisingly, Casey Stoner was the fastest once the water cleared, with Yamaha-man Ben Spies showing some renewed confidence as well. Noticeably quick was satellite Honda rider Alvaro Bautista, who posted a third and fifth in FP2 & FP3 for the San Carlo Gresini Honda team, respectively. With the weather supposedly set to improve tomorrow, though the chance of rain still seems to be a coin toss of probabilities, the certainty for a wet race seems to have been reduced in the paddock, though the tough windy conditions can still be expected.
There are several MotoGP riders I count as dark horses to show their true colors in 2012, and Alvaro Bautista is one of them. Freed from the troubled Suzuki GSV-R and now on a Honda RC213V, Alvaro should have a more reliable package on which to show his stuff, and I expect to see him fighting for the “Best of the Rest” title.
With rain the night before, MotoGP’s first day of testing in Sepang got off to a late start, with riders not taking to the Malaysian track until well into the day. Noticeably absent from the day’s test was reigning-World Champion Casey Stoner, as the Australian’s back seized during stretching before the first session. Casey is expected to ride Wednesday (Tuesday evening US time), though former-teammate Andrea Dovizioso is a question mark, as the Monster Yamaha Tech3 rider was too sick for a media debrief last night.
For the Ducati camp, initial results are looking positive, as the factory Ducati Desmosedici GP12 had its first shakedown from riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden. Still recovering from his broken shoulder, Hayden only put in 25 laps on the new GP12 “Phoenix” before calling it a day and letting test rider Franco Bataini finish the day’s testing for him. Rossi on the other hand had a full-day with the Ducati Corse’s GP12, and was already impressed with the bike and the progress Ducati had made with it.
“I’m happy because first impressions are important, and already in the first few laps, I could tell that I like the bike,” said the nine-time World Champion. “Ducati did a good job in a just a short time. The bike is beautiful, but more importantly, it’s nice to ride. The riding position has improved a lot, and it’s better on braking and corner entry. I can brake like I want to and take the lines that I like, and I feel comfortable in general.”