Monday, September 17, 2007

MotoGP: Estoril In Exciting Race Shocker!

Fans the world over were amazed to see an exciting MotoGP race at Estoril, against all expectations. There were several leaders, and changes of the lead. For the last few races we've known who would win after the first corner. This time we didn't know that Valentino Rossi would win until he exited the last.

The first surprise was Nicky Hayden on pole position after a blistering lap in qualifying where he took around 2 seconds off his time on race tyres. The second surprise was when Casey Stoner didn't pull away by a second a lap. Li'l Dani Pedrosa was on a mission, and went with the Aussie. The miniature Spanish rider had put in a run of super-fast lap times on race tyres in practise, and was probably still furious after being taken out by bonehead de Puniet last time out. His team-mate Nicky Hayden had made a decent start and was running 3rd.

Valentino Rossi was back in 5th after a mediocre start, and was battling with Marco Melandri. The pair passed and re-passed each other, with Rossi gaining the upper hand, overtaking Hayden and taking off after the leading pair. Would this be another Catalunya, with the top riders in the world beating each other up for a win? Hell, yeah!

When Stoner got to the kilometre-long start-finish straight and cranked open the throttle, the Ducati rocketship didn't take off. The Repsol Honda now seems to be producing around 15,000bhp more than the engines they rent to Team KR, and Kurtis retired on lap 3 with yet another engine/clutch related problem. Anyway, Pedrosa was very nearly as quick as the Ducati down the straights. Alright, the Honda only had to carry Dani, who weighs about as much as a full tank of petrol, but it was seriously quick. Diminutive Dani could stay right in the Ducati's slipstream. Not only that, but Rossi was lapping at an incredible rate, reeling in his two rivals. The new Yamaha pneumatic valve springs did their job as the M1 was respectably fast down the straights too.

With Rossi closing in, Pedrosa got tired of being held up by Stoner and incredibly slipstreamed alongside and outbraked the Aussie into turn 1. The Honda is far from the embarrassing liability that it was in the early races of the year, and Pedrosa clearly had far more confidence on the brakes than he had at Catalunya where he finished 3rd. Rossi then closed in on Stoner, and amazingly he too managed to draft the Ducati and pass on the brakes. Casey stayed close, but couldn't quite fight with the two riders in front and was forced to keep watch for anyone making a mistake. After the race, he complained that a clutch problem ruined his engine braking. I think it's more likely that the team gave him the Capirossi engine by mistake.

The battle was now between Rossi and Pedrosa. There's no love lost between these two, and they were both fiercely determined to grab the win. Rossi managed to slipstream alongside and outbrake Dani, but The Doctor was no more able to pull away than Dani had been. We were then treated to a proper racing duel between the charismatic Rossi and the uncharismatic but bloody quick Pedrosa. Behind them, Stoner kept a watching brief. For a while, Hayden was setting incredible lap times and getting very close to Stoner, but he chewed up his tyre and dropped back to finish 4th while Stoner took a comfortable 3rd.

Pedrosa and Rossi fought it out, both leading the race at times, until Rossi managed to outbrake his teeny nemesis to take the lead. The pair then proceeded to ride the last lap on the ragged edge of adhesion, both of them sliding and smoking up the rear tyre. It was Rossi who stayed in front and took the chequered flag in a stunning return to form. There was no birdbrained comedy celebration, only a display of unbridled joy from the Italian. He stood up and nodded to all the grandstands with his hands behind his back. He did a burnout, which turned into a donut. He then kissed the front of the bike while still doing a burnout, then rode off side-saddle. Rossi dedicated his win to rally driver Colin McRae, who died on Saturday.

Behind them there had been more drama. At one point there were around half a dozen bikes in a line, bickering over the lower points positions. De Puniet's bike exploded in clouds of blue smoke before he had the chance to fall off it, and surprisingly Barros suffered the same fate. Colin Edwards had an atrocious race, but he fought back to 10th despite losing time while he selected the right excuse.

Alex Hofmann started on the spare bike, and rode around slowly before, in a sub-Kurtis Roberts moment of madness, he came into the pits and told the d'Antin boys that he couldn't be bothered riding around at the back. The shock of seeing that kind of arrogance from a German drove Luis d'Antin into a rage and he told Alex to stop whining about Guintoli, dismantle his David Hasselhoff shrine and get stuffed, never to darken d'Antin Ducati's door again. He also officially signed Guintoli for 2008, in the same delicious irony as the factory Ducati squad signing Stoner after he crocked Sete Gibernau. There are now rumours that Welsh boyo Chaz Davies may get the Hofmann ride for the rest of the year. If Chaz wants a d'Antin ride for next year he should find a way to injure Alex Barros before the end of the season.

Overall, an excellent race that defied all of my expectations in that it wasn't a snoozefest and de Puniet didn't crash. Stoner leads the championship by 3 million points from Rossi, with Pedrosa in 3rd. Next weekend, the Japanese GP. Will Bridgestone have a massive advantage at their home race? Well, duh!


Rob said...

Cracking race wasn't it? Sadly, I think Motegi will see a return to Bridgestone dominance, although it has it's twisties, so perhaps Stoner will not escape again as has become the norm this season.
You missed out the awesome performance of the Dunlop quallies catapulting Tamada to 4th place without him actually doing much, only to slide, slowly and steadlily down the order in the race.
I liked the "Edwards got 10th despite losing time selecting the right excuse". Classic.

Jimmy said...

Yeah, I think Japan will be Bridgestone territory as usual.
And yes, I forgot to mention the Dunlops. There's usually something I forget in these review rants!