Tuesday, June 10, 2008

MotoGP: Dani Disappears in Barcelona

Dani Pedrosa, the man who not only uses up all the superlatives in the thesaurus, but also all the synonyms for "short-arse". When he gets on a roll, he's unstoppable. The only thing that could fluster him is somebody giving him a bit of a shove as they overtake, and there was no danger of that in the Catalunya GP.

Dani vanished into thin air, breaking the lap record on his first flying lap and continuing to go faster and faster until he had concocted an 8 second lead. After that he calmed down and finished a mere couple of seconds in front of the chasing pack. Who said there was something wrong with spring valve engines? A lot of people, and they're all idiots. When the 800cc MotoGP rules were pushed through by Honda, everybody thought that Honda would dominate in the first couple of years, what with Honda being the best engine maker in the world, from lawn mowers to outboards.

It took them a while, but the Japanese factory have re-discovered their brilliance. Nobody else can build a spring valve engine that is so smooth, so efficient and so damned quick. That's why the others have all moved to air valves (or stuck with desmodromics in the case of Ducati.) "Oh, you just can't make the power with steel springs," they cried. Then when the Honda started getting ominously quick down the straights it was "Oh, you can make the power, but you'll drink so much fuel you'll never last the race."

Uh-huh. Really. That's odd, because it looked like little Dani on the steel-sprung engine disappeared into the wide blue yonder on a track where you need both flexibility and top end speed. Honda have said that they'll bring out the air valve motor just as soon as it's better than the spring valve version. There's no point using air springs just because they're the technology du jour. You use them when they're quicker than what you've got. Since the steel sprung Honda is quicker than the air valve Suzuki and Kawasaki, on a par with the air valve Yamaha, and just a few K slower than the awesome desmo Ducati, there's no way Honda are going to introduce their own inflatable motor until it's ready.

Of course, Nicky Hayden wants the air sprung engine because he doesn't get on with the steel spring version. In fact, he doesn't get on with the Honda at all. Not the way it handles, not the way it uses its tyres, not the way the electronics kick in, and definitely not the way his manly shoulders stick out past the fairing that was designed for Pedrosa's girlish form. What he really wants is Marco Melandri's seat for next year, and it's looking like a real possibility.

At Barcelona, Valentino Rossi rose from the ashes of 9th on the grid to drag his Yamaha to 2nd spot on the podium in front of Casey Stoner, the only guy who's in the same postcode as the Ducati. Rossi celebrated wildly, leading Randy Mamola to wisecrack that Rossi loves 2nd place almost as much as he does (Mamola having finished 2nd in the 500GP world championship no less than 4 times.) Valentino's daft leathers this weekend were an imitation of the Italian national football kit, with bright pink arms and knees showing. (Fittingly, Italy finished 2nd in their game against Holland in the Euro 2008 tournament, having been horsed 3-0. Yes, I'm days late writing this.)

I'm sure Stoner was complaining about something to excuse finishing in 3rd, but I wasn't paying attention. He was still a full minute in front of his team-mate on an identical bike.

Ummm, who else was good? Let's see, Dovi, Edwards and Toseland (who had never seen the Barcelona track before) in 4th, 5th and 6th respectively. Everybody else was pretty rubbish, though John Hopkins was riding a lot more injured than he let on, after a big practise crash. De Puniet crashed in the race (shock, horror) while Capirossi and de Angelis got tangled up like Dovi and Toseland did at Le Mans, with both Italians ending up in the gravel trap. Capirex has a nasty hand injury that may rule him out of Donington, though we don't know yet because he's an outrageously tough little psycho. Jorge Lorenzo didn't even start, after a very nasty crash in practise left him with a severe concussion. Word is that he thought he was still in China when he woke up. Luckily, he should have recovered by Donington, although he'll need surgery to place a skin graft on a grated finger.

Dani Pedrosa also managed to hurt himself in a testing crash on Monday, but should be OK with a bit of rest.

Conclusions. Pedrosa is stunningly quick when he gets out in front. Honda don't need to rush their pneumatic valved engine out. Rossi is still looking like a real predator.

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