With a damp but drying track, MotoGP got underway at Jerez, Spain this weekend with Jorge Lorenzo sitting once again at the pole position. A favorite to win at the Spanish track, Lorenzo’s bid for his second race win of the season would surely be challenged by fellow countryman Dani Pedrosa. Always unable to count out Casey Stoner, and with Nicky Hayden and Cal Crutchlow mixing things up at the front, the Spanish GP promised to have some good close racing, and its results will surely frame the discussion about who the contenders are the 2012 MotoGP Championship.
Writing about MotoGP is hard at the moment. There are so many great stories to tell – the astonishing rise of Romano Fenati out of nowhere in Moto3, the legion of Kalexes taking on Marc Marquez in Moto2, the frenetic pace of development among the CRT machines, the ascendancy of Dani Pedrosa as a challenger for Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, the rebirth of Cal Crutchlow as a serious force to be reckoned with, the HRC design gaffe that left the RC213V seriously afflicted by chatter, just to name a few – but it is hard to get around to telling them. Because the vast majority of fans only want to read about one single subject: the enigma of Valentino Rossi’s continuing battle with the Ducati Desmosedici, and his fall from championship contender to mid-pack straggler.
With rain in all three of MotoGP’s Free Practice Sessions at Jerez, qualifying for the Spanish GP was unsurprisingly shaped by the weather. Getting a dry track with damp sections, riders were able to go out initially on slicks, though mid-way through it looked like rain could cut short the chance for lap-time improvements. The weather more or less cooperated though, only interrupting the qualifying briefly, though it did help make for some interesting results, with more than a few riders caught sliding along the asphalt.
There were plenty of big names to watch out for at Jerez, but the real star of the show was the weather. She turned out to be such a prima donna that she almost completely halted on-track action for the first session of MotoGP, though not so much through her ferocity as by her fickleness. A rain shower at the end of the previous Moto3 made the track just greasy enough for it to be no use for slick tires, and nowhere near wet enough to get any useful information from wets, and so the vast majority of the MotoGP grid spent all of FP1 suited up but twiddling their thumbs.
Though the night race at Qatar is spectacular, the paddock at Jerez feels like a proper paddock. There is a bustle missing from Qatar, and the return of the hospitality units means that it is an altogether more colorful place. The presence of the hospitality units also means seeing more old friends, the men and women who slave all weekend putting the units together and ensuring that everything runs smoothly within them, and that the guests who spend their time there – including, most importantly, the people who foot the bill for this whole MotoGP malarkey – pass it as pleasantly as possible. These are the people who are the backbone of MotoGP, the foundation on which it is built, and it is always a happy moment meeting them again.
The reappearance of the hospitality units also sees the reopening of another, more informal competition. Not content with just facing each other out on the track, the teams also vie for attention in the paddock as well. The rules of the contest are simple and rather childish: the team with the biggest, shiniest, most impressive hospitality unit wins. This year, the contest is already over: Avintia Racing, fielding Maverick Vinales in Moto3, Julian Simon in Moto2, and Yonny Hernandez and Ivan Silva in MotoGP, have erected a structure that can only be described as humungous (see photo). Where most units are the size of a spacious lounge, the Avintia hospitality unit is about the size of a basketball stadium. The fact that Avintia is a construction company has doubtless influenced their design decisions, and if the racing doesn’t work out, they can always turn it into an olympic sized swimming pool.
After the opening of hostilities in the black of the desert night in Qatar, the 2012 MotoGP season gets underway for real – or at least, what feels like for real – this weekend in Jerez. The paddock finally full, not of Nissen huts, but of sleek and shiny hospitality units and race trucks; the stands full of fans, and spread all around the track, not huddled together at one end of Qatar’s single grandstand; the bikes displaying their natural glory in daylight, not the fluorescent glare of Qatar’s admittedly spectacular floodlit fish bowl.
The track is familiar to all. We were here just a month ago, for the final IRTA test ahead of the season, and everyone has had a chance to find a decent setup for the track. Fastest man during the test was also the fastest man at Qatar, though arm pump prevented Casey Stoner from capitalizing on that speed, and his title rival Jorge Lorenzo taking advantage to secure a well-deserved victory.