All last season, and for the first three races of 2012, when I’ve walked past the Ducati garage and looked in at Rossi’s side, watching for an interesting moment to photograph, I’ve seen pretty much the same thing: Immensely talented people looking immensely frustrated. I stand there for a moment and think, I’ve already taken this photo, many times. When are things going to change in there?
Things changed this weekend at Le Mans. But after three races in a row, I’d elected to be home for some family events instead of away at the French GP. From the perspective of getting different images of the Ducati box, this was bad timing. But in other ways, and not just family-related, it was good timing indeed, because I watched the race with friends at the San Francisco Dainese Store, which was, as one might expect, full of Rossi fans. And being there was a bit like going back in time.
This, race fans, is Danilo Petrucci, one of the brave souls trying his luck on the future of MotoGP hardware, in his case the doggedly underpowered Came IodaRacing Project machine. Not on a (relatively) zippy Aprilia ART, or a Honda-powered FTR, Petrucci qualifies on the same grid as Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, and brings to this gunfight a knife that packs a whopping 185 bhp, compared to the factory prototype engines that are rumored to be around 260 bhp.
As I photograph a race, I see a much different version of the event than TV viewers. I watch the recorded TV broadcast later, and can tell you that there is a lot going on with the Claiming Rule Team bikes that doesn’t make in onto TV. I’m generally moving the entire time (when I haven’t stopped to photograph a turn obviously), so I see the entire field go past, lap after lap. Since Qatar I’ve noticed that most of the CRT talk has centered around the machines, and that no one I’ve seen has talked much about what the CRT riders are going through.
Though we currently have in the sub-set of MotoGP bikes a group of machines that are less expensive to run and correspondingly less impressive in the performance category, the fellows riding them are not similarly handicapped when it comes to racing spirit. They aren’t trying half as hard because they have no chance to win. Much of the time it seems just the opposite; because they don’t want to be six seconds a lap slower, they are trying that much harder merely to get within four seconds of the fastest times.
As I listened to Casey Stoner explain how he rode around the flu, a chattering bike, and his latest bout with arm pump to stay just far enough ahead of Jorge Lorenzo to win the final GP at Estoril, I couldn’t help but wonderi how Lorenzo sees his future. It can’t seem as bright as it did at the end of his nearly perfect 2010 season.
Lorenzo had succeeded in mounting so much pressure on his Fiat-Yamaha teammate that Rossi started crashing, and ultimately left Yamaha for Ducati, rather than remain on the same team as the Spaniard. But for Lorenzo, that only exchanged one demon for another, this one in the form on Stoner on a Honda — a combination that now appears pretty much unbeatable over the course of a season.
As the 2012 MotoGP plot thickens, no chapter is more complex than that of Ducati. Trying to turn the GP12 into a red Yamaha has been unsuccessful, but along the way it has become something the team’s second rider likes quite a bit. This is the best Ducati Nicky Hayden has ridden according to The Kentucky Kid, and his 3rd place in Jerez qualifying and up-front pace at the beginning of the race makes that plain to see.
For Nicky, the job is about finding a setting that allows him to keep that pace over race distance, whereas Rossi has admitted he needs to regroup and redefine his approach to a bike that is simply never going to be a Yamaha. “I must get used to riding the bike a bit differently than I’m used to,” he said after the race. “A bit differently” may be an understatement, for if it were only “a bit” he’d likely have done that already.