Saturday, March 10, 2007

MotoGP Qatar: Advance Australia Fair!

Is it just me, or are Aussie MotoGP race winners getting younger?
The 2006 MotoGP season ended with the Australian national anthem, and the first race of 2007 finished to the same tune. This time, it wasn't the veteran Troy Bayliss but the baby-faced Casey Stoner.
It was a flawless, breathtaking first victory for the little Ducati rider. He went toe to toe with Valentino Rossi and beat him all ends up. After a sensational qualifying lap that left him second on the grid by a mere 5 thousandths of a second, Stoner rode like a champion to take his first ever MotoGP win, at the same track where he took his first pole position last year.
The main question over Stoner has never been his speed. He caused a sensation by taking pole at Qatar last year. However, he did chuck that 990cc Honda down the road on a regular basis. Anybody who has followed the winter testing season will know that the Australian has had very few crashes on the Bridgestone-shod Ducati, even when the new electronics were so unrefined that his team-mate Capirossi declared the bike unrideable.
It is well known that the front Bridgestone tyre inspires much more confidence than the Michelin equivalent, as can be seen by quick Bridgestone runners who switch to Michelin and are suddenly all at sea. (Tamada and Nakano being the classic examples).
In the Qatar race, Stoner showed that he had total confidence in his tyres, even when they were worn down at the end of the race.
In fact, Stoner "did a Rossi", by setting the fastest lap as he took the chequered flag. Rossi had been menacing, staying close and repeatedly passing his Aussie Rival, but just couldn't live with the incredible final lap that Stoner posted.
The Ducati had dramatically outpaced the Yamaha on the enormous start/finish straight, screaming down the kilometre between the first and last turns like an exocet missile, fully 20K's faster than Rossi's bike. What was really impressive was Stoner's pace around the twisty bits, as he pulled away from Rossi around the whole last lap.
It would take a fool to bet against Stoner winning more races this year. If he can perform at this level throughout the year, he could finish in the top 3 of the championship. That's a lot to ask from a youngster in his 2nd year of MotoGP, but it looks like Pedrosa has a major rival for the next decade.
At the first MotoGP race of 2009, there will almost certainly be no Valentino Rossi. Stoner will be just 23 years old...

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