Monday, June 25, 2007

MotoGP Donington: Stoner Steamroller Rolls On

Casey Stoner: is he Doohan in disguise?
In the British MotoGP round, Casey found himself in a tricky position. He was in 2nd place behind Colin Edwards in treacherous conditions with the track starting to dry out. In front of him, the Michelin rubber of the number 5 Yamaha started to overheat, causing Edwards to run very wide twice in two corners. What should Stoner do? Stay conservative and wait behind the Texan until the last lap, or shut his eyes, open the throttle and scream past into the lead?
There was only one choice.
For a guy like Stoner, anyway.
He won by 12 seconds after deciding to crank open the throttle and go for it.
I will always defend Nicky Hayden's right to the number 1 plate, but I don't kid myself that he's one of the all-time greats: riders who combine consistency with raw speed and aggression, and grab the public's imagination. In the last couple of decades, this means the likes of Rossi, Doohan, Rainey and Schwantz.
When I was a little kid, there was a poster of Barry Sheene on my bedroom wall. I'll bet that sales of Casey Stoner posters are starting to take off.
Ducati have built a very fast bike, but it seems difficult to set up and ride quickly, making Stoner's performance all the more impressive. The fact that the Italian marque won on a twisty, slippy, wet track with a longest straight of barely 500 metres proves that all the chatter about the Duke being a rocketship that doesn't go round corners was just hot air.
Colin Edwards was impressive in 2nd place, probably losing out on the win due to his rear Michelin's total lack of dry grip. Chris Vermeulen took an excellent podium, despite spending several laps frightening the living daylights out of himself because he could barely see out of his misted visor.
Valentino Rossi's race was a nightmare. Not a great start, and an atrocious finish in 4th place with his rear Michelin visibly ragged and falling to bits. To add insult to injury, his title rival Stoner took the win, extending the lead to a full 26 points. Rossi had never quite nailed the setup on his Yamaha as his Texan team-mate had, and even The Doctor couldn't save that tyre from a slow, miserable death as the track dried.
People who impressed but crashed included new Kawasaki rider Anthony West, who made up a dozen places to run in 5th before flying off the track, still managing to finish well into the points. Capirossi was also doing well before chucking the Ducati down the track and walking home. Nicky Hayden looked like his old self, before locking the front and flying into a gravel trap. He too remounted, but finished dead last.
Dani Pedrosa seemed to have forgotten that he is rubbish in the rain, leading the race brilliantly until getting spooked and plummeting down the field. Even Kurtis Roberts was in a decent 11th before dropping back to 13th. This is still his best ever MotoGP finish. (In fact it's the only time I can remember him finishing at all!)
The list of losers is long and varied.
Michelin were incredibly lucky that Edwards had been so fast in the early stages that he could survive the disastrous Michelin drop-off and still grab 2nd place. They were given a sound spanking by Bridgestone when a dry line started to appear on the track.
Dunlop did even worse, with their wet tyres being simply embarrassing.
Rossi was hammered by his team-mate all weekend.
Honda haven't won a race for ever, and barring miracles, don't look like winning any time soon. The HRC bikes ate their tyres for breakfast, while the Gresini boys found it completely impossible to make their Honda machines work around Donington on Bridgestones. Shinya Nakano must cry himself to sleep at night, cursing the French tyre company with every sob.
The next GP is at Assen on Saturday, with early forecasts predicting rain. Let's see if the losers can redeem themselves, and if that cocky little Aussie can take a step closer to a place in history.

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