Monday, March 10, 2008

MotoGP Qatar: Back to the Future

So, little Casey won the Qatar GP at Losail, did he? Well, I'll be damned. Never saw that one coming. He had to fight for it, but the Aussie ended up disappearing into the distance, just like last year. What was different from last year was that there was a decent race, plus the whole thing happened under floodlights.

The bikes were magnificently shiny under the artificial lighting, with the Ducati looking so gorgeous you just wanted to peel the stickers off and eat it. (Make up your own gratuitous reference to Adriana here.) Stoner didn't have it all his own way. His Bridgestone qualifying tyres were poor compared to the Michelins. Technogeezer Neil Spalding reckoned this might have something to do with Michelin winning last year's British Superbike championship in the freezing cold (last summer sucked, dammit!) Anyway, Stoner and Rossi were the only two people to get anything out of the Japanese tyres all weekend.

Yamaha had taken an amazing 1-2-3 in qualifying, the amazing thing being that none of them had a dayglow yellow number 46 on the front. Pole position sitter was Jorge "so breathtakingly arrogant he's hilarious" Lorenzo with the brand new trick air-valve Yamaha. James Toseland made a monkey of Colin Edwards for the first of probably many times this year by taking 2nd spot on the grid with the wheezing steel-sprung Yamaha, while Colin Edwards snatched 3rd to leave Stoner 4th. Valentino Rossi was 7th despite shearing off most of his hair to reduce wind resistance. (Apparently donating it to 250GP rider Simoncelli, whose enormous mop of hair is now strangely fascinating). Pedrosa could only manage 8th.

Tiny genius Dani Pedrosa managed to stop bitching about his team-mate long enough to get an incredible start and lead into turn one, from the 3rd row of the grid! Lorenzo, Toseland and Dovizioso were all near the front, while Stoner and Rossi looked on in bemusement. Toseland pulled out a hilarious World Superbike move on Lorenzo at one point to take second, slamming the Spaniard out of the way in much the same way as the average English tourist on the Costa del Sol would do to one of the natives.

When Stoner finally decided to turn the wick up and win the race, he passed everyone and effed off into the desert, but Lorenzo was in close pursuit for a while. Pedrosa stayed in there for 3rd, just to annoy Rossi. (Dani had clipped the Italian in practise, launching the Honda into a gravel trap, or jaggy boulder trap to be more accurate, and re-hurting his tiny little arm.) The funniest thing that happened on the last lap was when Valentino Rossi got shoved aside by young Dovi on the Honda. Take that, Doctor. At least it'll fire Vale up for the season. Toseland finished behind Rossi, well in front of Edwards, who lost touch with the leading pack for a change.

So what can we deduce from the first race? Well, firstly that we can't deduce anything from a race in the dark on a freezing track. Secondly that Stoner is going to win the championship again. Thirdly that the rookies are quick and don't care who they have to trample to prove it. Lorenzo is as quick as he thinks he is, Toseland is as hard as he claims not to be, Dovizioso isn't scared of guys like Rossi. Melandri finished about 3 days behind Stoner on identical kit. Marco's basically finished now. Sure, he'll keep going for years, maybe snatch a victory or two, but Stoner has pretty much ruined the Italian's life. It turns out the Ducati #2 position is a poisoned chalice, and Marco took a few long gulps out of it before he caught the faint whiff of almonds.

The air-sprung Yamahas are quick and agile, the steel sprung Yamahas are slow and agile. The 2008 Honda is a damn sight better than it seemed. The Suzuki and Kwaka bikes are as mediocre as ever. The Ducati is a rocket-powered truck that doesn't go round corners unless Casey Stoner says the magic word. Stoner makes the Bologna Bullet unbeatable, but nobody else can even pretend to make it look like a decent bike. Certainly not Marco.

It looks like being an interesting year, even if Stoner looks as strong as ever.

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