Sunday, May 20, 2007

MotoGP Le Mans: Awesome Aussies Again!

Who said MotoGP was becoming predictable? Well, they were wrong!
Our first wet/dry race of the season, and what a race it was.
Colin Edwards had stunned the world by taking pole position with a banzai lap that put him ahead of Stoner, Checa and team-mate Rossi. The Italian looked gutted at the lack of performance from his Yamaha, which is supposed to excel on twisty tracks, and the Michelin tyres which were supposed to be perfect for the French race. Despite his speed in qualifying, Edwards was outside the top 10 on race tyres in the various practise sessions. Things did not look good for Yamaha.
Stoner had amazed many people by qualifying on the front row. The Ducati is clearly not just a missile in a straight line, it goes round corners too.
The race started off dryish.
It didn't stay like that for long. Rain was slowly spitting down from the start, and the track was getting more and more treacherous. With the front runners being careful, it fell to the local boys to put on a show. Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet took the lead, and if that wasn't astonishing enough, Sylvain Guintolli achieved true superhero status when he led his home race fair and square on the second-string Yamaha with its miserable Dunlop tyres. It was a stunning achievement for the young Frenchman, which he topped off by having a terrifying highside right in front of Valentino Rossi. Guintolli was fired miles into the air, frantically flapping his arms but failing to overcome the force of gravity. Rossi almost came to a halt in avoiding the Tech 3 machine as it slid along the track in front of him. To his great credit, Guintolli crawled back to his battered bike, restarted and trundled round to the pits to change bikes.
Everybody else changed bikes at around that time, as the rain was falling ever harder, and the modern rain rules allow for a tyre change by switching to a backup bike with rain tyres already fitted. One of the first in was Australian Chris Vermeulen. The Suzuki rider is a wet weather specialist, having taken a pole position in similar conditions before. Vermeulen came out of the pits behind the front runners but very close to them. His team-mate John Hopkins came out in the lead, but was soon overhauled by Vermeulen.
Rossi was looking good at first on his rain tyres, but things started to go wrong. He was having trouble, often running wide in corners, and letting Stoner cruise past. At one stage The Doctor was well out of the seat in the middle of a chicane, and although he held onto the machine as only he can do, he lost momentum and was swamped by other riders.
Nicky Hayden was in a promising position when he lost the front under braking, dropped the bike and had a spectacular high speed crash which destroyed his Honda, joining other crashers such as de Puniet, Checa and Elias, who had all been caught out by the slippery track.
Up front, Vermeulen was being closed down by the fearless Marco Melandri, but even Marco has his limits, and after several frightening moments he backed off to give the Australian a breath-taking debut victory in MotoGP.
Casey Stoner had an excellent ride in terrible conditions, finishing 3rd and extending his championship points lead over Rossi. Before the race, one motorsports website printed a list of riders who have won at least 3 of the 4 opening races as Stoner has done. The names were: Duke, Surtees, Hocking, Hailwood, Agostini, Sheene, Roberts Senior, Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Doohan, Rossi. See any familiar names in there? This was an incredibly mature ride to a podium place by the self-confident little Aussie, and showed that he deserves his place on that list.
Dani Pedrosa forgot that he's a terrible wet weather rider, and showed himself to be an excellent wet weather rider to take 4th place. Alex Hofmann will be pinching himself after a well-earned 5th place, 2nd of the 4 Ducatis home. Capirossi could manage just 8th place, and his career looks to be effectively over. In a BBC interview after the race he complained bitterly that Ducati aren't working hard enough to make the bike work for him. Sorry, Loris, but they'd be mad to do that with Stoner on this kind of form.
Valentino Rossi, finished a devastated 6th, his bike trying to throw him at the scenery at least 3 times per lap. This was supposed to be his race, where he would win and Stoner finish 6th or 7th. Can he regain his world title? Hmmm...
All in all, this was a brilliant race. Vermeulen is a sensational wet weather rider, and fully deserved his win. Melandri had a great race after an appalling start to the season, while Stoner's form should have Yamaha bosses waking up screaming in a cold sweat. The Australian isn't going to sit around while Rossi wins at all of the twisty European tracks, so Yamaha had better find some serious horsepower to get closer to the Ducati.

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