MotoGP: Sunday at Jerez Round Up: Of Rising Stars

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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.

With the favored Italian riders falling short elsewhere in the series, the Italian media have seized on to Fenati’s success with much eagerness. At last the Italian journalists can repay in kind the jibes they have received from their Spanish colleagues, who have had things go their way in all three classes for the past few years. Fenati is clearly something very special, but it is only his second race at this level, and the pressure on him is likely to grow massively in the coming weeks. How he handles that – he is a likeable, calm and cheerful soul, which bodes well for him – will determine just how far he goes in the future. The past is littered with the remains of great 125 and 250 riders who could never make it in the premier class, but right now, Romano Fenati is looking like something very, very special indeed.

The rest of the Moto3 race turned into a comedy of errors, though forgivable given the callowness of much of the field. Alex Rins looked outstanding in the early laps, capable of running with Fenati until halfway, until he made a mistake and ran through the gravel and grass, rejoining in the middle of the second group. In the early laps, a mass of riders went down on the patchy conditions, though thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt.

In Moto2, the weather gods smiled upon Pol Espargaro. Marc Marquez was looking like the inevitable winner, deciding to push into the lead just as the weather looked like turning. It changed quicker than he had anticipated, the rain causing the red flags to be waved before Marquez had led the race for long enough to win. Espargaro took an emotional – and well-deserved – maiden Moto2 victory, forcing Marquez down into 2nd. With Thomas Luthi finishing 3rd, the Moto2 championship is looking closer than was expected at the start of the season. And with strong rides by Scott Redding, Takaaki Nakagami, and even Mika Kallio, there could be a few more names to add to the mix as the season progresses.

The one cloud on the Moto2 horizon is rumblings of nefarious doings among some of the top teams. Marc Marquez’ behavior at Qatar was fueling much of the gossip, the Spaniard constantly sitting up on Qatar’s long front straight to stop himself from passing others considered suspicious. Whether there is any truth in this, or whether it is just the usual paddock spite, excuse-mongering, and backstabbing remains to be seen, and is something I will be returning to in due course.

In MotoGP, Casey Stoner finally freed himself of the Jerez monkey on his back. The Australian had won here only once, back in the Spanish championship a very long time ago, but finally, despite a recurrence of arm pump, he managed to get a win at the track on a MotoGP bike. The arm pump had been an issue all weekend, though he had done his best to hide it, with an HRC employee even engaging in a pointed conversation with Dorna’s head of TV about the amount of air time Stoner’s wrist and forearm was getting. It was good enough to still win with, but the Australian still has work to do. Behind Stoner, Lorenzo had ridden well, but he could not make his front tire last – both Stoner and Lorenzo raced on the softer of the two compounds, which were not quite up to the drying circumstances – as well as the Repsol Honda man.

Behind Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow confirmed that his result at Qatar was no flash in the pan. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man hounded Dani Pedrosa all race long, and felt he could have gone with Stoner and Lorenzo had he got past Nicky Hayden much earlier. The pace he set would seem to confirm this, the Englishman not only setting the fastest lap, but also posting consistent low 1’40s throughout the race. He had learned a few things following Dani Pedrosa all race long, he said, enough to give him sufficient pace to stick with the Spaniard. The 1000cc bikes, but more especially, the new Bridgestone tires had given Crutchlow the part that he was missing from last year, and have made him a genuine threat. The only question mark over his performance – and it is a relatively minor one – is that he chose the new, harder compound tire for the race, that turned out to perform better than the softer one selected by the front three.

The real disappointment of the MotoGP class is surely Ben Spies. The factory Yamaha rider complained of a lack of confidence in the front end of his M1, the bike wanting to run wide, especially at the fast sweepers of which Jerez has so many. Spies’ set up is radically different to the other Yamaha riders, but adopting their set up has never worked for the Texan so far. But finishing in 11th, 38 seconds behind the winner and 37 behind his teammate on identical equipment is simply not good enough. His team have two ideas for Spies to test at Estoril, and he is confident they will make a difference. They will need to.

Naturally, we will have to talk about the Ducatis, but for once, we will leave that for another day. More tomorrow.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.