Monday, July 02, 2007

MotoGP Assen: Rossi Rampant

Valentino Rossi reminded us that he is The Doctor when he slaughtered half the field to win from 11th on the grid at Assen.
The starting positions had been scrambled up by a wet qualifying session. Chris Vermeulen had started from pole position, or jinx position as it should now be known, since nobody has won a MotoGP race from pole for as long as anyone can remember. (Contrast this with Formula 1, where confused fans panic if the polesitter doesn't lead the entire race from lights to flag.) Casey Stoner had started from 2nd, while Randy de Puniet bagged an impressive front row slot, only to remind us he's still an idiot when he threw his bike at Vermeulen while they were battling in the midfield after both made atrocious starts. Unlike de Puniet, Vermeulen managed to plough back through the gravel onto the track but finished pointless as his bike didn't handle well with bits hanging off (bits of Kawasaki, probably).
Up front, Stoner had made an excellent start and was doing a disappearing act, with only Suzuki's John Hopkins able to stay anywhere near him. Valentino Rossi's start had been reasonable, but after a few laps he was still barely inside the top 10. It looked like a disaster for The Doctor.
World Champion Nicky Hayden had an outstanding start from 13th place, sailing around the outside of the pack at the first corner. He overtook his teeny tiny team-mate Pedrosa and was running in a strong 4th. It was the old Kentucky Kid back again, sliding the bike around in the way that only Toni Elias was supposed to. (Elias is now reckoned to be out for 3 months with his broken femur, after Doctor Costa asked him whether he wanted to recover in 3 months like a lunatic or 12 months like anyone with a scrap of sanity would).
All of a sudden, Valentino Rossi decided that he liked the bike and tyres, and it was a good day to win. He started slamming in fastest laps and destroying everybody around him with his sheer pace. After his now traditional battle with John Hopkins, Rossi had come from nowhere to 2nd place, but Stoner was still leading by over 2 seconds.
In the next few laps, Rossi ate up Stoner's lead, and ended up on the Aussie's tail. We then saw the same old story playing out as the Italian tried to get alongside the Australian, only to make a mistake and drop back. It looked like Stoner was simply going to stay on line and hold off Rossi yet again, even though the Ducati was starting to slide its Bridgestone tyres around a lot.
Then Rossi decided that was enough messing around, and stuck the Yamaha down the inside of the Ducati in a good, clean move at the last chicane. Stoner was considering how to re-pass Rossi when the Italian pulled off one of his trademark manoeuvres: sodding off into the wide blue yonder. Lapping several tenths quicker than his opponent, Rossi had checked out, not wanting Stoner's Ducati anywhere near him. To be fair, Stoner probably didn't want Rossi's Yamaha anywhere near him with its hideous paint scheme. It has been suggested that the Yamaha's one-off Fiat 500 paint scheme was signed off by bosses after their 4th bottle of wine. I'd say it was created by an artist throwing up his 4th bottle of wine and his multi-coloured dinner onto the fairing.
Behind them, Hopper's Bridgestone tyres were also suffering and he lost out to the two Repsol Hondas, with Nicky Hayden beating his team-mate and taking the final podium position. The Kentucky Kid celebrated by stealing an idiotic hat, or crash helmet, or something, from a podium girl. It made him look like a Lego man, but he was too happy to care after finishing 10 places better than he started.
Ant West, the Australian who earned a reputation for being gobby after his plain speaking got him fired by KTM in 250GP, impressed his new Kawasaki overlords with a battling 9th place finish. It was impressive as he was in a real dogfight with Hofmann, Melandri and Checa, eventually losing out to The Hoff, but beating the other two. Not bad for Westy's first dry race in MotoGP.
Stoner still leads the championship, with his 2nd place minimizing the damage and meaning Rossi is still at arm's length. The rest of the year is hard to call, with Stoner having won at Yamaha circuits and Rossi having won at Mugello, which should really be a Ducati circuit. It's going to be close, but the Aussie still has the advantage.

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