Monday, April 23, 2007

MotoGP Turkey: Stoner, Ducati, Bridgestone

Casey Stoner has been telling everybody how good he is for quite a while now. During the MotoGP race at Istanbul, the cocky little so-and-so showed us what he's been talking about. An utterly dominant victory on the Ducati put him back on top of the championship standings, and he's certainly starting to look like he belongs there. People have started to whisper the names Stoner and Doohan in the same sentence.
Stoner has the same endless reserves of self-confidence as Mick Doohan, and crucially he also has the same relationship with his team. Doohan was beloved by Honda, and now Stoner is the apple of Ducati's eye. On top of that, Casey clearly loves those Bridgestone tyres. Last year, he had plenty of lowside crashes on his Michelin-shod Honda. Some of us said that he would surely have an easier time with the legendary grip and feel of the front Bridgestone. Were we right? Boy, howdy! The kid who surprised us with his innovative ways of throwing his bike at the scenery last year has had fewer crashes in practise and testing than nearly anybody else.
Bridgestone tyres were crucial to Stoner's victory in Turkey. All tyres might be black and round, but in the race it became obvious that the ones stamped "Made in Japan" were the ones to have.
What kind of bike was the one to have? With a 1,3,4 finish, it was pretty obvious that Ducati produced the top machinery for this race, especially when 4th place was taken by a D'Antin Ducati ridden by the oldest 36 year old since Frankie Chili: Alex Barros. Third place had been snatched by Loris Capirossi, returning to form after the birth of his baby son.
Second place was snatched by MotoGP's newest superhero, Toni Elias. In a pre-race TV interview, top MotoGP technical writer Neil Spalding said that he hadn't seen anyone ride like Elias since Kevin Schwantz, and you'd be hard-pressed to call him a liar. Elias was simply brilliant, sideways always and with some crunching overtakes. One of these incurred the wrath of Valentino Rossi, who had been unfortunate enough to be in Toni's way, only to be slammed off line by the crazy young Spaniard. Elias didn't seem too concerned, casually lifting a boot in apology for making contact. The general consensus seems to be that Valentino should shut up.
Of course, talk of the race was the massive pile-up on lap one. Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque seemed to get a nosebleed from running so far up the order, forgot to brake and piled into Colin Edwards and Dani Pedrosa, who skittled the hapless Chris Vermeulen. The Aussie managed to pluck his bike from its bizarre resting place, on top of Dani's stricken Honda, and rejoin. Vermeulen set the fastest lap of the race. If he could just put that Suzuki one or two rows further up the grid, he wouldn't get involved in that kind of lap-one nonsense. Sylvain Guintoli was pushed miles wide in the melee, but charged back, only losing out to his team-mate Tamada after the young Frenchman hit debris on the last lap and nearly fell off.
Valentino Rossi had an awful race. He made an uncharacteristic error on lap one, trying to stay ahead of Stoner. Not only that, but the error was at the terrifying right-hander, taken at around 160mph on the apex and accelerating hard. Rossi flew off the outside of the track, but got away with losing a few places. The Doctor looked to be feeling the pressure a lot more than Stoner was. After being beaten up by the charging Elias, Rossi then had a tyre problem and trundled in 10th, behind de Puniet and Hofmann.
With more fast tracks, or Ducati tracks as they are also known, coming up over the rest of the season, Rossi must be running scared. Stoner has a fantastic bike, great tyres and doesn't feel any pressure from Rossi at all. The Doctor's mind games, played on Biaggi and Gibernau to great effect in the past, might as well be chucked in the recycling box. Stoner couldn't give a monkey's what Valentino thinks about anything, and I wouldn't be too surprised if Elias responded to Rossi's complaints by saying "Talk to the hand, girlfriend!"
So, a flawless weekend from Casey. Can he win the championship this year? Before race one, you'd be crazy to say that, but Stoner is looking a hell of a lot more impressive than Hayden did last year...

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