MotoGP: Last-Lap Thriller at San Marino GP Underscores Pivotal Moment in Championship

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Despite its venue title, MotoGP returned to Italy this race weekend, as Misano played host to the San Marino GP. With the Championship standings vetting themselves out, Casey Stoner seems to be all but assured of his second premier class title. Trailing Stoner by 44 points, Jorge Lorenzo’s bid for keeping his #1 plate for next season is in serious jeopardy, though not mathematically impossible. If the Spaniard can mount a slew of top finishes, starting at San Marino, he might have a chance at the Championship if Stoner or the Repsol Honda team drops the ball at one the six remaining races (including this weekend’s).

That task won’t be easy for Lorenzo though, as Stoner has been strong all season, and once again sat at the pole position for today’s race. The x-factor however is one Dani Pedrosa, as the Catalan has been a Top 3 contender for every race he’s been healthy at this season. Likely to be in every fight, Pedrosa could easily take points from both Stoner and Lorenzo, aiding either his teammate or his countryman in their bid for 2011 supremacy.

Also looking for some magic in Misano are Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli. With both Italians vying for a factory seat in 2012, Honda made its position clear that it will only have two riders in the factory-backed team, with a factory bike a possibility for SuperSic, though his support levels could change. For Dovi, Honda has made it clear there is no room in the team for the Italian. Wanting a factory ride for 2012 though, Dovi’s best choice might be a Rizla Suzuki, though he has been linked to LCR Honda, Tech 3 Yamaha, and Pramac Ducati as well.

Speaking of Ducati, not all is well with the home town brand, which yet again at another race weekend has shown itself to be decidedly out of the 2011 MotoGP Championship contention. With the back half of the starting grid at Misano having an almost exclusive showing of the Bologna brand’s bikes, even local hero Valentino Rossi admitted a strong showing at Misano would be impossible without some help from global warming. With the coastal weather threatening to put moisture on the track, or even rain, Rossi’s wishes looked like they could be coming true as MotoGP riders took to the grid. You’ll have to follow after the jump though to see if flag-to-flag racing reared its head at the San Marino GP, and how that may have affected the day’s racing results.

With a spattering of rain, riders started the San Marino GP under dry, but changing conditions. Though the flags would come out, allowing riders to pit and take a bike with rain tires on, after a few laps the sun proved that it was here to stay, leaving the field on slicks, and an otherwise dry track. Getting the jump at the start, Jorge Lorenzo showed he meant business, taking the lead into the first turn, and never looking back.

Though Stoner would have several looks on his Championship rival, the Australian could never get a wheel past the reigning World Champion. Trailing Lorenzo and Stoner throughout the race, Dani Pedrosa made his presence felt as the laps counted-down. Catching back his time from the Australian, the super-lightweight Pedrosa clearly had a fuel and power-to-weight advantage that shined at the fuel-hungry Misano. Passing Stoner with six laps to go, Pedrosa handed his teammate a nine point deficit on Lorenzo for the day, which leaves Stoner  with”only” 35 points in front of the factory Yamaha rider. A sign of what could become in the MotoGP Championship, Pedrosa could easily cost Stoner the Championship in the remaining five races should he continued to get between Casey and Jorge.

With no team orders expected from Honda, and Pedrosa keen on grabbing back points for third in the Championship, the plucky little Spaniard clearly has his eyes set on another teammate: Andrea Dovizioso. Trailing Dovi by a similar number of points as Lorenzo is to Stoner, Pedrosa has made it clear he will do what is in his best interest (a third in the Championship), before helping Stoner secure a World Title. As we doubt the Australian would have it any other way, that attitude has also given vigor to Dovi, who is looking to prove a point in the MotoGP paddock. Though the prodigal son at Repsol Honda, Dovi currently sits third in the MotoGP Championship, and consistently finishes faster than the man allegedly taking his factory Honda: Marco Simoncelli. With a healthy battle for fourth though, we saw that distinction fail for the first time this season.

In perhpas some of the best racing we’ve seen all season, SuperSic passed Dovi with 21 laps remaining, to take fourth place from his Italian rival. Though Simoncelli would make a bid to battle with the “aliens”, he would be reeled back by the very hungry duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies. Setting the tone with four laps to go, Dovi finally got around SuperSic on the next lap, though the San Carlos Gresini Honda rider would answer back on the last lap of the race.

A brutal melee strung over a series of corners, Simoncelli got past Dovizioso, only for the Repsol Honda rider to answer back at the next turn. Tired of finishing behind his racing rival, Sic pushed the argument further, and went around Dovi at the next apex, and was joined by Ben Spies. With Spies running the exit wide, Sic answered back in magnificent form, retaining his fourth place position, and riding it all the way to the finish line. With the battle underlining the potential of Simoncelli, the fans at Misano were treated to a proper battle between national heroes.

The same could not be said of the home town favorite Valentino Rossi, who had a better day than usual, lapping his first few laps in fifth, and finished seventh. Ducati continues to make progress on the GP11/1, though the team has made it clear that they are building for next year at this point in time. Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden continued his back luck at Misano, as the American crashed out the fourth lap, making yet another race at Misano where the Kentucky Kid failed to finish.

Also sadly DNF’ing for the day was Loris Capirossi, who had chain problems on his Pramac Ducati. Not able to give his last race in Italy his best showing, Capirex will surely leave Misano disappointed. MotoGP racing continues next at Aragaon on September 18th.

Race Results from the San Marino GP at Misano:

Pos. No. Rider Nation Team Diff.
1 1 Jorge LORENZO SPA Yamaha Factory Racing 44’11.877
2 26 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team +7.299
3 27 Casey STONER AUS Repsol Honda Team +11.967
4 58 Marco SIMONCELLI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini +17.353
5 4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team +17.390
6 11 Ben SPIES USA Yamaha Factory Racing +18.092
7 46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Ducati Team +23.703
8 19 Alvaro BAUTISTA SPA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +30.678
9 8 Hector BARBERA SPA Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP +37.502
10 35 Cal CRUTCHLOW GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +37.720
11 7 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini +39.548
12 17 Karel ABRAHAM CZE Cardion AB Motoracing +40.506
13 5 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +53.349
14 14 Randy DE PUNIET FRA Pramac Racing Team +1’02.366
15 24 Toni ELIAS SPA LCR Honda MotoGP +1’20.156
Not Classified
65 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Pramac Racing Team 20 Laps
69 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Team 26 Laps

Source: MotoGP; Photo: Yamaha Racing