Monday, May 19, 2008

MotoGP Le Mans: Rossi Resurgent

Valentino Rossi is back. All the doubters will have to crawl back into their holes after seeing The Doctor put his opponents out of their misery in the French GP at Le Mans. It was a Yamaha 1-2-3 as Jorge Lorenzo and Colin Edwards filled out the podium.

I think we can safely say that Rossi and his engineer Jeremy Burgess pretty much understand Bridgestone tyres now. The decision to switch from Michelin seemed pretty daft in the first couple of races this season, but in the last couple it has seemed like a work of genius. Former Bridgestone blue-eyed boy Casey Stoner just isn't as quick as Rossi on the same tyres, which was Valentino's plan all along.

In the past, when Rossi was winning all the time, he used to toy with his prey before dispatching them with a display of brilliance, or occasionally violence in the case of Sete Gibernau. With a long winless streak having just ended, Rossi was in no mood for messing around, pulling out a lead of more than 10 seconds before backing off and winning by a mere 5. It was a crushing defeat for the opposition, and it puts Vale back on top of the championship table.

This win equalled Angel Nieto's record of 90 GP wins, second only to Agostini, and to everyone's amazement, the little Spanish 13-time world champion (all on the baby-sized 50cc and 125cc bikes) showed up in a helmet and leathers by the side of the track. Nieto hopped on the Yamaha and rode it back to parc ferme with Rossi on the back carrying a flag that read "90+90" to indicate the number of wins they have between them. Just to add to the number of plus signs, I'll point out that being a good superstitious bike racer, Nieto always claims to have won 12+1 titles, not 13. Rossi's next target is Giacomo Agostini's record of 68 wins in the top GP class.

Hardman Jorge Lorenzo continues to add to his He-Man reputation after breaking his ankles in a hideous highside in China. He can't even walk without crutches, but he fought through the field to 2nd place from about 9th. What can you say about this kid? He's incredible. Two big crashes in practise had led everybody to claim that he was finally showing the pain of his injuries and wouldn't do well in the race. Well, it turns out that slamming his head into the tarmac and slamming his ankles into the gravel didn't do him any harm at all. He's tied for 2nd in the championship race with Dani Pedrosa, the pair of Spaniards having just 3 points less than Rossi.

Professional nearly-man Colin Edwards defied his doubters (me, for instance) by actually staying on the bike and staying on the tarmac. He had been pipped for pole by Pedrosa, and his good start had commentators asking, "Could this be Colin's big day?" and me answering, "No, of course not, you idiots!" Although it was harsh at the time, the Eurosport commentators did manage to live up to my groundless slur by not only failing to spot Colin make an excellent pass on Pedrosa, but also failing to notice the position change for about 3 laps, at which point they suddenly got very excited. C'mon, guys. Let's have at least one of you glancing at the monitor from time to time!

Tiny Pedrosa could only manage 4th, while Casey Stoner looked like he was in with a great chance of a podium when the Ducati suddenly conked out. He managed to get the thing back to the pits and swap bikes, taking advantage of the white flags. (For a while, the French marshals were waving so many white flags that I though the Germans were invading again, then I remembered it means that it's raining so you can swap to a bike with wet tyres on.) It was a horrible weekend for Ducati, with a mechanical failure for the only guy who can ride the bike, and standard rubbish finishes for everyone else. John Hopkins had a breakdown too, when the chain fell off his Kawasaki. Oops. Toseland got a taste of his own medicine when Dovi slammed the door on him and tipped him into a gravel trap. The young Italian can expect to get slammed out of the way by Toseland in the next few races.

So, the quack is back. No, not Dr Costa, who has become a member of Jorge Lorenzo's entourage. The Doctor, Valentino Rossi. He's looking ominously good. Can Pedrosa challenge him when the air-valve engine eventually appears? Can Lorenzo's ankles hold out long enough for him to take the championship in his first year? Can Stoner return to his boring ways? I mean, winning ways? Let's forget that last year happened, because MotoGP has returned from the dead.

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