Sunday, July 13, 2008

MotoGP: Bridgestone Over Troubled Waters

Well, we expected Casey Stoner to win the MotoGP race at Sachsenring, but we certainly didn't expect it to play out like this. With rain pouring onto the German tarmac it wasn't a snoozefest, but it was a Bridgestonefest. Valentino Rossi finished 2nd to grab the lead in the championship table, while reluctant regenmeister Chris Vermeulen bagged the final podium spot.

Dani Pedrosa had flown off the start line into the lead, and German jaws dropped as he stormed through the storm, lapping a good second a lap faster than anybody else. He was more than 7 seconds ahead of second-placed Stoner when it all went horribly wrong. At the end of the start-finish straight, Dani wrapped his little paw around the brake lever a fraction too hard. The front folded instantly, chucking the teeny Spaniard down the road at well over 100mph. After doing his impression of a miniature bouncing bomb, he got up and staggered away with a fractured finger as Stoner's Ducati splashed into the lead.

He wasn't the first guy on the floor, as Jorge Lorenzo had thrown away a decent position by demonstrating his trademark dodgy throttle control with his trademark highside. It was raining cats and dogs and MotoGP riders for the rest of the race. Often when there is a high attrition rate, commentators joke that someone should go out on a roadbike / 2-seater Ducati / paddock scooter (delete as applicable) and pick up a few points. Well, this time the weather was so horrible that you'd have to borrow an old U-boat from one of the locals if you wanted to nick the points for 14th.

While Stoner can't have been too surprised at hitting the front, there were a few guys surprised at hitting the floor. The hapless Marco Melandri had just set fastest lap when he threw the Ducati at a gravel trap. Colin Edwards had been looking good as top Michelin runner when he launched his Tech 3 Yamaha at an air fence. After the race he said that the conditions were so bad that he hadn't even been using enough throttle to make his traction control kick in. Ant West was looking good when he dropped the Kawasaki. He leapt back on, and managed to finish 10th, but really should have stayed on and taken another couple of spots on a day like this.

It was a nightmare for the guys who finished behind Westy. Toseland had a great start but drifted back to 11th with major setup and/or tyre choice problems. Toni Elias looks nearly as far off the pace on the Alice Pramac Ducati* as Melandri does on the factory bike. (*No longer a D'Antin Ducati, as team boss Luis D'Antin has been toppled in some sort of bloodless coup that nobody cares enough about to investigate.) Nicky Hayden was the final finisher in 13th after pitting for a new rear tyre.

Man of the race (well, apart from Stoner, obviously) was Sylvain Guintoli, whose excellent 6th place finish on his Alice Pramac Ducati was even better than it seemed. The Frenchman revealed after the race that his traction control had failed at the start and he was forced to switch it off and rely on "Old School" traction control (his wrist). He admitted that he had been helped by a new engine mapping passed down from the factory Ducati squad that makes the fire-breathing V4 engine much more manageable.

Dovizioso finished a comfortable 5th, while his fellow rookie Alex de Angelis fought to the line with Vermeulen but had to settle for 4th place, a tenth behind the torrentially-talented Australian.

Vermeulen is known for hating the wet but being very quick in it, and he didn't disappoint. It was a well deserved 3rd place for the Suzuki rider.

Valentino Rossi had been around 5 seconds behind Stoner and unable to close the gap when he was baulked when lapping Toni Elias, turning around and waving an arm in disgust at the little Spaniard. Still, this result puts Vale in the championship lead, 16 points ahead of Pedrosa and 20 ahead of Stoner.

Casey Stoner kept his head when Pedrosa first flew off into the distance, then flew off into a gravel trap. He can win on fast circuits, slow circuits, in the dry and in the wet. This was his third victory on the bounce, and if he keeps this kind of form up he's favourite for the championship.

In the post race interview with BBC pitlane reporter Matt Roberts, Casey revealed that he had been feeling sick all weekend. At one point in the interview the little Aussie turned green and for a moment it seriously looked like he was about to chuck up his breakfast all over Roberts, who took a sudden step back. (BBC commentator and notorious joker Steve Parrish opined that Roberts should have stood his ground like a man.) It is incredible that Stoner could win with such apparent ease when he was so obviously ill, and in conditions where a millisecond's loss of concentration would have you sliding down the road before you had time to think "Oops..."

He might have picked up a couple of his early wins last year thanks to the Ducati's straight-line speed, but not today. This kid is the real thing.

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