Bold and fearless or brash and ill-advised? There was a lot of that sort of thing at the Sachsenring on Sunday, in all three classes. (Spoiler Alert — Ed.) The most obvious example begging that question was what would have been Casey Stoner’s last-corner lunge past Dani Pedrosa, had it not gone horribly wrong as he lined the pass up the corner before. We’ll come to that later, but with a Moto3 race run in drying conditions and a Moto2 race where one of the favorites had to start from well down on the grid, there were plenty more to choose from.
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.
For the past few years, attending a MotoGP round has been a disheartening experience for most British fans. After sitting in traffic for several hours, they then faced a day of getting soaked to the skin while watching their local heroes – if any were actually on the grid – circulating around at the rear of the pack. At the end of the day, they faced yet more hours sitting in a chaos of traffic chaos, with usually another downpour of rain, just to get home again. They loved it, of course, but it tested their courage.
2012 would be different. The miserable weather magically disappeared for race day – it was far from perfect, but it remained largely dry – Scott Redding got on the podium in Moto2, and Cal Crutchlow put on a heroic and brilliant performance in MotoGP. It might be fair to question the wisdom of Crutchlow’s decision to lie about his foot not being broken and race anyway, but there is no question about his bravery or pain threshold, nor, after starting at the back of the grid and slicing through the field to finish 6th, matching the pace of race winner Jorge Lorenzo, about his ability. The British fans have a hero again. More than one, in fact.
Race day at Barcelona saw three different races in each of the three classes, and each with a particular lesson to teach. In Moto3, Maverick Vinales was the only rider to understand that it is better to escape from a battling group than get caught up in all the excitement. Vinales eventually won with a massively comfortable lead, but while there is no doubt that the Spaniard’s pace was particularly tough, those in the group behind him gave him a big helping hand by turning on each other instead of banding together to hunt down Vinales for the win. Even 2nd place went to the smartest rider, rather than the most fierce: Sandro Cortese had been forced to ride more carefully due to a very painful right hand he suffered in a crash during qualifying, and by conserving his forces for when he needed them most, he bagged second spot and did very well in the Championship race. Brave, mature, and above all intelligent riding by the young German.
Moto2 deserves a chapter apart, and one which will surely be forthcoming later in the week, probably entitled “The Multitudinous Sins of Marc Marquez”. Marquez was initially punished after a collision with Pol Espargaro which saw Espargaro crash heavily. The Catalunya Caixa rider was given a one minute penalty, but his appeal was upheld, and the penalty was canceled. But the penalty was more about what had happened at Qatar than the incident at Barcelona. After the move on Thomas Luthi, Marquez was given a yellow card by Race Direction, and warned to take care in future. Race Direction appeared to have decided that this move was worthy of a second yellow card, and had therefore decided to apply a penalty. While there is merit to their argument – especially in punishing riders at the front, talk to mid-pack riders and they will tell you that it is a proper killing field further back – this particular incident seems a poor one to pick. As this incident is being viewed by the fans in isolation, rather than as part of the bigger picture, including Marquez’ prior form. Viewed separately, this pass looks too much like an ordinary racing incident to be worthy of such severe punishment.
Up front, Andrea Iannone had one of his days. When the Italian is good, he is utterly unbeatable, showing the style, ability, intelligence and ruthlessness to seal the win. Unfortunately for Iannone, those days are few and far between, with too many days where the Italian ends up miles off the pace.
The MotoGP lesson was perhaps the most interesting of all, because of what it told us of the relative strengths of the Hondas and Yamahas, and how they use the tires. In both practice and race, the Hondas went with the harder rear tire while the Yamaha riders preferred the softer option, because of the way the bike uses the tires. The difference was visible in the stunning 2000 fps video that Dorna provided from some of the corners, proving once again that though Dorna may have a bunch of stuff horribly wrong, their TV coverage is absolutely top notch. Shots of the Hondas showed the rear spinning, and sliding around the corner to get more drive, while the Yamahas looked to be wheels in line, driving out of the corner with less power, but getting it down earlier in the corner.
Last year we combined the QP2 times from World Superbike with the Qualifying times from AMA Superbike, to see how America’s finest motorcycle racers stack up on against the international championship of a similar name. Of course there are different regulations in each series (not to mention a variety of other factors), which vary a bit on how teams are allowed to modify their race bikes, so there isn’t an exact comparison between the two series, but it makes for something interesting to mull over with your morning coffee, and the results this year may surprise you.
If there’s one lesson we can take from Sunday’s race at Estoril, it’s this: “I’ve always said we know Casey’s the guy that’s the fastest guy in the world. Maybe over the seasons he hasn’t put the championships together, but by far he’s the best guy in the world.” Cal Crutchlow is not known for mincing his words, and his description of Casey Stoner pulls no punches. But given the fact that Stoner only managed to win the Portuguese round of MotoGP by a second and a bit, is that not a little exaggerated?
Here’s what Stoner had to say about it, when I asked him if winning with the chatter he suffered – even on the TV screens the massive vibration front and rear was clearly visible – made him more confident about the level of his performance. “It gives me a lot more confidence. That’s the thing, you know, with arm pump, with the chatter problem, I’ve been feeling like crap all week, and my body’s not as good as I normally am, and we still managed to hang on, we still managed to be clearly faster than the others at the end of the race.”
The weather may have tried to claim the leading role at Jerez on Sunday, but after three fascinating races, there are still a few stars which easily outshone it. First and foremost is surely Romano Fenati: the Italian teenager won a Moto3 race at just the second attempt, going one better than his first race. Winning was impressive enough – you had to go back to 1991 and Nobby Ueda to find a rookie with a better debut, and Fenati’s victory made him the 3rd youngest winner behind Scott Redding and Marc Marquez – but it was the manner of his victory which impressed most.
Not only did the 16-year-old keep his head in the treacherous conditions while all around him fell, ran off track or made other serious mistakes, he also managed to run at a pace simply inconceivable to the rest of the field. Fenati was over 1.5 seconds a lap quicker than the rest, and he went on to win by over 36 seconds. This was just his second ever race in the rain (he won the first one, naturally) and he still felt he lacked experience in the wet. His victory received the loudest round of applause in the media center all day.