Monday, June 11, 2007

MotoGP Barcelona: Battle Royale

Last year's Barcelona MotoGP had a horrific start as local boy Sete Gibernau clipped his team-mate and caused a horrific pile-up that sent himself, Capirossi and Melandri to hospital. This year we were spared the collarbone-crunching antics of the retired Gibernau, as Diminutive Dani Pedrosa took the lead into turn one, followed by Stoner, Hopkins and Rossi, who had started from pole.
Stoner's Ducati soon passed the Repsol Honda of Pedrosa to take the lead, but he couldn't break away from the following riders. Rossi and Hopper had another of their battles in the early laps before The Doctor managed to pass and sneak away. Hopper stayed with the front three for a while before gradually starting to slip backwards, holding 4th place until the flag. Behind them, the Kawasaki of Randy de Puniet was an excellent 5th after his incredible qualifying lap put him 2nd on the grid, just hundredths behind Rossi. The crash-happy young Frenchman stayed on board for once, despite one of his knees doing an impression of a beach ball due to a previous crash, and finished 5th, a career best.
Stoner was now leading from Pedrosa and Rossi. The Ducati is still the fastest bike in a straight line, but the Honda and Yamaha could keep up so long as they stayed in the slipstream. Rossi managed to pass Pedrosa, who was even worse on the brakes than usual (and his usual ain't good, just ask Hayden...) while Rossi reigned supreme in the braking zones. The teeny Spaniard had the overall pace to stick with Casey and Vale, but just didn't have enough confidence in the Honda to brake late and force a way past. He was relegated to watching the race that unfolded in front of him.
Up till now, Rossi and Stoner have had a couple of battles in Qatar and China, where the Ducati's straight line speed advantage let the young Aussie keep his Italian rival at bay like a boxer would use his extra reach to keep an opponent at arm's length.
At Barcelona, the Marquis of Queensberry rules were torn up, and it turned into a full-on streetfight with bare knuckles, iron bars and broken bottles flying.
Rossi passed his young rival for the lead with a brilliant move. It was highly aggressive, but they did not collide and nobody ended up in the gravel. Even so, Stoner later told the press that he was "disappointed" by the brutal pass. The Aussie was using his typical understatement, as his body language showed that he was utterly incandescent. For the next minute or so, Stoner's usual smooth style was gone and he was furiously hurling the bike into corners and jamming on the throttle with such violence that it looked exactly like Troy Bayliss on the Ducati.
What followed was by far the best racing of the season so far, and this race will be remembered for years to come.
In Rossi's slipstream, Stoner was much faster and could overtake. With Casey in the lead, Rossi could slipstream the Ducati down the straight then brake impossibly late to re-take the lead. At one point, Rossi even threw his bike down the inside and overtook on the way onto the main straight, a move that would seem impossible if anybody else tried it.
Stoner led into the last lap, and for the next minute and three quarters, rode to perfection. Rossi had shown that there were two or three places where he could pass, but Stoner shrugged off the enormous pressure and kept in front, never straying more than an inch from an apex. There was nothing that The Doctor could do. All the time, Pedrosa was close behind Rossi, sometimes pulling alongside on the straights but unable to brake late enough to pass. If the pair in front had run wide, Dani would have taken the win, but there was no such opportunity.
Stoner had fought toe to toe with the greatest off all time, and won fair and square.
If there was ever a race that dispelled doubts about a championship contender, this was it. The Ducati and Yamaha were evenly matched on this track, with the Duke's speed cancelled out by the Yam's incredible braking and turn-in. Nor was there any great difference between the Bridgestone and Michelin tyres. This was a straight fight between Rossi and Stoner, and Stoner won.
Valentino Rossi has a real rival at last. Hayden had the consistency and sheer guts, but lacked the speed to beat Rossi fair and square. Biaggi and Gibernau were both unbeatable on their day, but too emotional to challenge The Doctor over a full season. Stoner also has the raw speed, but his bulletproof self-confidence will not be scratched by mind games and gypsy curses. Let's hope Rossi decides not to retire at the end of 2008 after all, because I for one would like to see this kind of battle carry on for a few more years to come.


Alessandro Matteucci aka Alex 555 said...

I am positive that Rossi will want to win another championship before ending his career ... this one or the next one? If Yamaha gives him extra speed and acceleration Rossi could definetely overtake Stoner and take off without giving his opponent the chance to catch him again on the next straight .... A lot of respect for Stoner but Rossi is still another from another planet

Jimmy said...

Yes, Rossi lives on a planet with Agostini, Hailwood, Surtees and maybe Doohan, Schwantz and Co.