Monday, July 23, 2007

MotoGP: Stoner Untouchable At Laguna Seca

So, is Casey Stoner the next Doohan?
Yep, pretty much. I think that one's been put to bed. 6 wins from 11 starts, and a worst placing of 5th? The kid's a phenomenon.
Sure, the Ducati's a better bike than the Yamaha, and the Bridgestone tyres are generally better than the Michelins, but there are 4 Ducatis out there and only one of them has won a race, never mind 6 races.
At Laguna Seca, Stoner didn't go toe to toe with anybody. He just disappeared into the distance and let everybody else squabble amongst themselves. Very Mick Doohan.
Dani Pedrosa was in hot pursuit, but it soon became obvious that Michelin were having another nightmare, and the teeny Spaniard slipped further and further back, ending up a miserable 5th. If he had decent tyres, Pedrosa could have given Stoner a real fight.
Chris Vermeulen earned a new Rizla Suzuki contract with a fine 2nd place finish on a track where he is always extremely quick. He pushed Stoner for a while, but couldn't live with his fellow Australian's sustained pace.
Third on the podium was an overjoyed Marco Melandri, who was riding injured after a crash in qualifying. The Italian had been on a hot lap early in the session when in front of him, Kurtis Roberts did something stupid (even by Kurtis standards), and shut off the throttle on the racing line. Marco clipped the dim-witted Californian and had to let go of his Honda as it screamed towards the air fence, bouncing across the ground and ending up with a severely bruised left foot. Melandri didn't get his reputation as the hardest racer in MotoGP for nothing. His foot was so painful that he took it off the peg the moment he crossed the finish line, and did the slowdown lap with it dangling in the air. Shortly after the race, Ducati announced that they have signed Melandri for 2008, as everybody expected. It was just reward for an incredible performance. Uninjured, he too could have pushed Stoner, and it will be fascinating to see them both on Ducatis next year.
Valentino Rossi saw his title hopes slipping through his fingers, thanks to the rubbish rubber supplied by Michelin. He finished 4th, battling vainly against Melandri but managing to mug the struggling Spaniard Dani Pedrosa for 4th place. He is now 44 points behind Stoner, and really needs the Aussie either to have a sudden drop-off in performance or to start dropping off his bike on a regular basis. Things don't look good for The Doctor.
Kawasaki managed to get all 3 bikes into the top ten. Randy de Puniet took 6th, Ant West was close behind in 7th and wildcard Roger Lee Hayden had a, like, totally awesome race in 10th, dude! He was, like, just 2 seconds behind West at the finish. Awesome!
Seriously, an outstanding performance from Nicky's li'l bro.
Makoto Tamada finished 8th, in front of Barros. Well, Tamada and Dunlop had to surprise us eventually, it's the law of averages.
Englishman Chaz Davies was a surprise addition to the Pramac d'Antin team after Alex "The Hoff" Hofmann was crocked in practise by Sylvain Guintoli. It was a lunatic move from the Frenchman, who was very apologetic. The Hoff was furious with everybody on the planet. Guintoli for a move that made Dani vs Nicky look like the work of Einstein. Race Control for refusing to throw the red flag until he grabbed a walkie-talkie off a marshal and started screaming at them. Journalists for saying this was a great chance for Chaz Davies.
Hofmann has a serious hand injury, that reportedly looks like a gunshot wound. It might even end his career, which is a pity because over the last few years he has proved without doubt that he is German. (And Dorna need one to make sure Germans tune in their Fernsehen to MotoGP on a Sunday afternoon.)
Davies put in an incredible performance, despite never having raced a MotoGP bike, Bridgestone tyres or the Laguna Seca circuit, and having missed the first practise session. He would have finished in the points if it wasn't for d'Antin giving him a sprocket that had probably done about 5 races and 1000km of testing, as it broke and he had to come in for a replacement. His best lap was a staggering 1 minute 23.7, which was 14th fastest overall and just a tenth of a second off Barros's best lap on the sister machine. Chaz said he would love to finish in front of Miguel Duhamel. Well, the Canadian never got to grips with the Honda, and wisely pulled into the garage rather than falling off, so Davies basically blew the (cough!) 39 year old veteran into the weeds. D'Antin should sign the kid for next year and give Barros the boot.
All in all, a crushing performance by Stoner. He looks like a champion already, in fact if he finished 2nd in every race from now on and Rossi won them all, Stoner would still be champion.
At the start of the year there was much laughter about how Guintoli was best rookie, since he was the only rookie, but there have been some unexpected additions during the year. With Ant West, Roger Lee Hayden and Chaz Davies all impressing at Laguna, it's time for a clearout in MotoGP. Give some of the codgers their marching orders, and bring in some fresh blood!

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