Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, 2010 Moto GP champ, staked his claim to a repeat performance with a brilliantly-judged race at the Losail Circuit in Qatar.His victory was his first at the mid-Eastern track, and the first in the new formula of 1000 cc Moto GP machines.
Although Lorenzo took the pole position, based on practice and pre-race times everyone was looking for Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner, the 2011 champion, to be the guy to beat. At first, everyone seemed to be right, as Stoner passed Lorenzo on the third lap (who’d taken the initial lead with a great start), opened up a gap, and relaxed, in control of the race.
Then in the last quarter of the race he slowed, and Lorenzo pounced. “I put everything I have, all my energy into the track, this victory is because I never gave up, I kept pushing and trying,” said Lorenzo. He dragged Stoner’s team-mate, and Lorenzo’s fellow Spaniard, Dani Pedrosa along with him; Pedrosa also got by Stoner in the last laps, but wasn’t able to match Lorenzo’s pace to the flag.
Stoner complained that he was slowed by “arm pump” that made holding onto the bike difficult. He also complained all weekend about chatter from his Honda’s front end, about the new electronic package, about the newly mandated brake lever protectors, about the Claiming Rule Class bikes, about anything else that came within view … business as usual for the whiny but fast Aussie.
Bridgestone’s new tires for this year were expected to create a whole new racing dimension; faster to heat up, they promised to be safer in the early laps, but paying for that in increased degradation through the race. It proved to be the case, with tire management definitely being a key to doing well.
The three front-runners dropped the rest, but it was still an excellent race to watch. The next two riders were the Tech 3 Yamaha teammates of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso, who hammered on each other race-long.
Crutchlow had qualified a career-best third, but had a bad start and ended up behind his team-mate. At about two thirds distance, he finally pulled a Hail Mary pass and managed to hang on for fourth (another Moto GP career best) with Dovi nipping at his heels the entire way. “That was a great way to start the season but it was a really tough race,” said the “I don’t give a sh*t” British rider. “I didn’t make a great start and lost a few positions and that is a bit disappointing.”
Behind them in close formation came Nicky Hayden on the first Ducati, then Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini satellite Honda, followed by Moto GP rookie Stephan Bradl (“rookie” only in the class, as he was the 2011 Moto 2 champion) on the LCR satellite Honda. It was a great race for Bradl in his first hit at the big show; he quietly and slowly went faster through every practice and qualifying session and looked very comfortable in the race, running as high as sixth at one point. He’ll be one to watch, for sure.
Hector Barbera on the Pramac Racing customer Ducati was next up; he was fighting with Hayden for top Ducati rights but pushed a little too hard and ran wide in the first corner to give up places near the end of the race. The top 10 was rounded out by Valentino Rossi, who clearly was having a horrible time with the new Ducati. You want to believe there will be soul-searching, fireworks, and highly vocal mayhem back at the Ducati works after this weekend.
Colin Edwards, on the Forward Racing Suter BMW, was the top finisher of the Claiming Rule teams. On the one hand, the rough and tumble Texan ace wasn’t all that unhappy with the way the bike was improving; on the other, his comments about the overall competitiveness were amusingly unprintable. Still, he was less than a minute behind the winner, which wasn’t too bad a show for the first time out.
The Moto 2 race was the usual example of a highly-entertaining contest resembling a closing-hour bar fight for the last beer, showing spectacular competition to the end. Despite the incredible chopping and pushing, it was a clean race until the start of the last lap, when Marc Marquez made a very rude and dangerous move on leader Thomas Luthi.
Basically, Marquez pushed Luthi right off the track as they approached the braking zone at the end of a kilometre-long straight; it was the stupidest and most blatantly dangerous move I can remember in years.
Luthi certainly agreed, as he took a swing at Marquez on the cool-off lap – justifiably so, in my opinion. I can’t believe Marquez wasn’t penalized for the move.
Second, and barely behind Marquez, was Italian Andrea Iannone, whose stature, attitude, and on-track antics reminds one of the highly-missed Marco Simoncelli. Big shoes, for sure – if Iannone can settle down a bit, he’s destined for the top. Same thing many said of Simoncelli …
Next event: April 29, Jerez, Spain.
Championship positions after one of 18 rounds
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 25 points
2. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 20
3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 16
4. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 13
5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 11
6. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati, 10
7. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Gresini Honda, 9
8. Stephan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 8
9. Hector Barbera, Spain, Pramac Racing Ducati, 7
10. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Ducati, 6