Monday, April 14, 2008

MotoGP Estoril: Lorenzo's New Land

The main feature of Jorge Lorenzo's personality has always been his startlingly high opinion of himself. After just three races in MotoGP, we are finding out that the young Spaniard is very nearly as good as he thinks he is, and that's saying something. Three races, three pole positions, three podiums. He won the Portuguese GP easily to take the lead of the championship, level on points with arch-rival Dani Pedrosa. (The Spanish pair are level on points and results, but Lorenzo's 3 pole positions give him the edge.)

On the formation lap, it started sprinkling rain onto the track. Colin Edwards seized upon this as an excuse for being slow early on. (What's Portuguese for "quelle surprise"?) The usual suspects at the front didn't seem to mind much about the brief shower, with Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi bickering amongst themselves for the lead. It was Lorenzo who eventually took the initiative, passing Rossi with a scary but clean move that required one million percent confidence, something well within the capabilities of the young Spaniard.

Lorenzo then proceeded to hold the following Pedrosa at arm's length until the end of the race, while Rossi trundled round in 3rd place on his dodgy Bridgestone tyres. Various people reckoned that Pedrosa would be furious that Lorenzo had stolen a world record from him. Unfortunately the record was for something stupid like youngest person to have 3 podiums in a row at the start of his MotoGP career, or something similarly pointless. Personally, I think Dani will be much more angry at losing the race than some crap statistic. The teeny-tiny Repsol Honda rider was hampered by a poor choice of top gear, and was banging off the rev limiter all the way down the main straight after an expected headwind didn't show up. It probably wouldn't have made that much difference, as his hated Spanish rival rode a faultless race.

Edwards plodded to 4th, while John Hopkins dragged the Kawasaki kicking and grumbling into 5th. (No, not screaming yet.) Casey Stoner took 6th after fighting for most of the race with a piece of camera equipment that Dorna had seemingly hired the Polaris World mechanics to fit to his Ducati. Flapping around in the wind, the little black box couldn't decide whether to jam the clutch or lock the steering, scaring the life out of the little Aussie by doing both at random times. Still, he showed his trademark stubbornness by battling to 6th. If you can win on your good days and finish 6th on your bad days, you don't have much to worry about.

Apparently some in the paddock have taken to calling Jorge Lorenzo by the nickname "Gorgeous George". Strikes me as a bloody stupid nickname for somebody whose name is pronounced Horhay, but there you go. For the first time in MotoGP, the youngster strode arrogantly out into a gravel trap and planted a "Lorenzo's Land" flag, as he did in many places during his run to last year's 250GP title. He also threw in a bit of 1980's nostalgia with a robotic dance. He should bring back the doppelgängers from his 250GP victory celebrations.

Yamaha have won a triple-rollover lottery jackpot with their signing of Lorenzo. The 20 year old was utterly dominant in 250GP, but there was always the nagging thought that his full-factory Aprilia missile was flattering him. Nope, he really is that good. Nobody jumps onto a senior-class GP bike and takes 3 poles, and 3 podiums including a win in the first 3 races. It's never been done since reliable records began in the 70's. Not by Rossi, not by anyone. In pre-season testing, Yamaha were worried about how Jorge would adapt to the 800cc 4-stroke machines, saying they would have to change his riding style. Whatever they did, it worked.

Crucially for Yamaha, now they have a serious contender who is likely to stick with them for a few years. Last year it looked like if Rossi jumped ship, Yamaha would be screwed. Now it looks like Rossi's contract negotiations will be very different. Without Valentino, Yamaha will still have one of the most explosive talents to arrive on the scene in years. The Doctor is no longer crucial to Yamaha's success, and there's no way his mind games will make his young "team-mate" lose a single z of his nightly sleep. After all, at Estoril, Lorenzo passed Rossi in the kind of place you'd hesitate to pass a backmarker, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the 7-time world champ.

In Dani Pedrosa's first year of MotoGP, Rossi slammed past him in a firm but fair move. Pedrosa started wailing to the media about the rough tactics. In Lorenzo's first race he didn't give two hoots about being slammed by Toseland, he just got on with it. Jorge knows most of the tracks intimately, has taken to the bike and tyres like a duck to water, and is leading the championship after 3 races. Just how good a debut year is this kid going to string together?


Nicebloke said...

The question for me is not "how well will Lorenzo adjust to MotoGP" but "how well will MotoGP adjust to Lorenzo?"

How many people is he going to piss off and how many column inches of Spanish newspaper will he consume?

Jimmy said...

How many people is he going to piss off? All of them!

How many column inches in Spain? Millions!

Shaun said...

I'm starting to warm to Lorenzo, yeah he's arrogant but he looks to have the talent to back it up and isn't a sullen cry baby like Dani.

Was a very impressive move he put on Rossi too.

Jimmy said...

I didn't hate Lorenzo when he was in 250GP. Most people did. I actually thought some of his big-headed celebrations were pretty funny, especially the one where two guys in identical Jorge Lorenzo crash hats and leathers appeared in a gravel trap with guitars, and Jorge started miming into a microphone.