MotoGP: Patience Proves to be a Virtue at the Portuguese GP

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MotoGP riders were blessed with dry weather conditions today at the Portuguese GP, as the rain decided to wait a bit longer in making its appearance at Estoril. Accordingly, today’s MotoGP race provided dry, but still tough, conditions as more than one rider had to contend with the cooler temperatures affecting their Bridgestone tires. With MotoGP racing being absent for four weeks because of the postponement of the Japanese GP, the eyes of the paddock were trained on several riders who took the downtime to recuperate and have operations for nagging injuries.

Perhaps the most prominent of this group was Dani Pedrosa, who had a plate removed that was pinching a nerve cluster removed from his shoulder. Similarly, Cal Crutchlow had a his arm operated on for issues with arm pump, while Randy de Puniet had a screw removed from his leg from a injury he suffered at Sachsenring last season. Of course the return of Álvaro Bautista to MotoGP racing was big news, as the Rizla Suzuki rider had missed the first two races of the season to a broken femur, and made his astonishing recovery in just 42 days’ time.

At Estoril, pre-race action heated up on the track with impressive lap times from Marco Simoncelli, who has shown a noticeable improvement on his pace from last season. Off the track, the spotlight also followed Simoncelli, as he and Jorge Lorenzo exchanged some less than friendly words about each other during the pre-race press conference. This latest spat comes on the heels of the one between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, the pair having gotten entangled during a crash at the Spanish GP.

With tempers still simmering off the track, it was cooler heads that prevailed at Estoril this weekend, as patience proved to be the better virtue for a number of riders at the Portuguese GP. Read all about it after the jump.

Leading into Turn 1, it was Jorge Lorenzo who set the pace early on in the Portuguese GP, followed closely by the Hondas of Dani Pedrosa, Marco Simoncelli, and Casey Stoner. It seemed as if Lorenzo would have a number of riders to contend with, but the warming tires fired a warning shot to both Stoner and Simoncelli as they wen through the right-hander, as the pair seemingly lost grip at the same time. Luckily for Stoner, Simoncelli did not go down, which surely would have meant the demise for the Australian by another rider…again.

While both Honda riders came through the bobble unscathed, the San Carlo Gresini Honda of Marco Simoncelli would see the gravel traps moments later going through Turn 4, the first left-hander of the circuit. Losing grip on the still cool side of the tire, Simoncelli was thrown off his Honda RC212V with a terrific highside. Unrelated, but going through the same turn, Hector Barbera would also crash, with both riders taking some time to get up and walk off the race course. Also pushing too hard early in the race, Karel Abraham would find himself retiring from the race after crashing in the next lap.

With the first laps behind them, the rest of the field settled into race pace, with most of the mixing up occurring in the latter part of the pack. Two laps into the race, and Lorenzo and Pedrosa had gapped the field, with Stoner seemingly by himself in third. Meanwhile Valentino Rossi had to deal with a very fast Andrea Dovizioso, who stuck to the Italian’s Ducati like glue through out the whole race. For virtually the entirety of the race, these riders would remain in these position, seemingly unable to gain on their predecessors.

Meanwhile in back of the field, battles for every position broke out at virtually every corner. Clearly struggling with the Portuguese track, American Ben Spies made several mistakes, running both wide and off the course, and even at one point making contact with fellow American Nicky Hayden. Crashing in the warm-up last year at Estoril, the Portuguese GP still proves to be a problem child for the Factory Yamaha rider, as Spies would finally crash out on Lap 13 — an outcome that seemed destined to occur from his early lap behavior.

On the 14th lap, Stoner finally made a bid for the front pair, who had gapped the Australian by over 2.7 seconds at that point. Quickly answering back with faster laps, it was clear that Stoner would not be able to touch the paces of the two Spaniards, with the Australian comfortably coasting from that point forward to a third place finish.

As the laps ticked down, Pedrosa seemingly lurked behind Lorenzo on every corner, and answered every increase that Lorenzo could throw at him. Finally with four laps to go, Pedrosa made his move on the Yamaha rider, and moved the pace up a couple more pegs. Visibly working to keep up on Pedrosa’s pace, it was clear that Lorenzo could not answer his countryman’s challenge, and had to call his response off. Cruising to a comfortable victory, Pedrosa took his first race win of the season, and perhaps silenced any doubts about his fitness.

While the battle at the front had many’s attention, the war for fourth raged on. Like Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso was all over Valentino Rossi’s tail section, seemingly waiting for the fellow Italian to make a mistake. Closing on the final lap, Dovi finally made his move on Rossi, but didn’t see the effort stick. As the pair came down the final straight, Dovi again made an attempt for the lead, this time passing Rossi as the pair came across the finish line. A replay of the 2006 Portuguese GP, Rossi found himself beaten with a photo finish of two hundredths of a second margin.

Colin Edwards would ride to an impressive sixth place finish, with teammate Cal Crutchlow, who had never raced at Estoril before, also impressing with an 8th place result. Disappointingly, Nicky Hayden finished 9th. The American had issues with his bike on the starting grid, but opted not to replace it and start from the pits. Unable to ride around the back-shifting issue, Hayden struggled on corner-entry. Álvaro Bautista would finish the race last, clearly still suffering from his broken leg. The Rizla Suzuki rider earned his “True Grit” status, by even finishing all 28 race laps this weekend, and being only two seconds off the pace.

Race Results from MotoGP at the Portuguese GP in Estoril, Portugal:

Pos. No. Rider Nation Team Bike Time
1 26 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 45’51.483
2 1 Jorge LORENZO SPA Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha +3.051
3 27 Casey STONER AUS Repsol Honda Team Honda +7.658
4 4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda +16.530
5 46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Ducati Team Ducati +16.555
6 5 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +32.575
7 7 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +38.749
8 35 Cal CRUTCHLOW GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +40.912
9 69 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Team Ducati +54.887
10 14 Randy DE PUNIET FRA Pramac Racing Team Ducati +59.697
11 24 Toni ELIAS SPA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda +1’00.374
12 65 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Pramac Racing Team Ducati +1’01.793
13 19 Alvaro BAUTISTA SPA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki +1’24.370
Not Classified
11 Ben SPIES USA Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha 16 Laps
17 Karel ABRAHAM CZE Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati 27 Laps
Not Starting
58 Marco SIMONCELLI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda 0 Lap
8 Hector BARBERA SPA Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP Ducati