Rain is the great equalizer, they say, and so it proved at the French Moto GP May 20, the fourth of 18 Moto GP races for 2012.
The rain was bucketing down at the start and tapered off as the race progressed, but the track stayed soaking wet the whole way.
The only rider who didn’t seem bothered was Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, who got a rocket start from the second row, collecting the lead from Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa on the first lap, then easing away to a comfortable victory. It was a virtuoso performance from the 2010 world champion.
Behind him Pedrosa slipped down the order, with his Repsol Honda team-mate Casey Stoner chasing Lorenzo but unable to close. Pedrosa was quickly swallowed up by the Tech 3 riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, and to the fans’ delight by the Ducati of Valentino Rossi, looking like his old self for the first time since swapping to the Ducati squad last year.
Dovi, Crutchlow, and Rossi had a slam-bang race for many laps until first Crutchlow, then Dovizioso, lost the front end and crashed. Both recovered to finish, but it left Rossi alone in third.
Late in the race, Stoner got held up slightly by a backmarker and Rossi closed up. The last three laps were frantic, with the two passing and re-passing, Rossi finally making it stick on the last lap to collect second, his best finish since moving to Ducati.
No doubt there will be press making hay over the fact that Rossi finally got his Ducati ahead of Stoner’s Honda on the weekend that the 26-year-old Aussie announced his retirement, but the weather was the issue, not any lack of commitment from Stoner. Some of the shakes and wobbles his Honda handed him in the final laps were terrifying, but he fought to the flag.
Stoner said, “I enjoyed the battle with Valentino at the end, there was clean overtaking and we swapped positions a few times but in the end we knew that Valentino had better pace than us and after he passed there was no way I could stay with him. We did everything we could today and to come away with a podium is a good result.”
Rossi was over the moon with his best-ever finish on the Ducati, plus the fastest race lap. “I want to race in places where it rains a lot!” he joked. “I know in these conditions I have a special chance to try for the podium.”
Farther back there was lots of mayhem, with riders riding off left, right, and centre. Probably the most embarrassing off was Randy de Puniet, who crashed on the grid when the lights went out for the start. Yamaha’s Ben Spies nearly joined him on the pavement, and several other riders on the same side of the track also had trouble starting.
Both Spies and de Puniet had horrible races; de Puniet starting on his spare bike, then crashing out, while Spies continued the season from hell with a couple of big moments, then pitting with visor problems, and finally finishing a lowly 16th. That for sure isn’t the stuff that Yamaha is looking for from its number two rider, nor what Spies is expecting from himself.
Behind Pedrosa, who cruised to fourth after the two Tech 3 riders crashed, came Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda. The young German has had a sparkling debut in Moto GP, this fifth being his best result so far.
He finished a few 10ths ahead of Nicky Hayden on the second factory Ducati, who in turn headed the Tech 3 boys, Dovizioso coming out ahead of Crutchlow in their inter-team rivalry.
The final spots in the top 10 went to Hector Barbera on the Pramac Ducati and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda.
The Moto 2 race fell to Swiss Thomas Luthi, his first win of the season. Conditions seemed to be wetter than the Moto GP event, and Luthi had to survive a hard race in bad conditions, with many riders falling. Among those was Spaniard Marc Marquez, series leader coming into the race.
His crash handed the overall lead to Pol Espargaró, who led much of the race but ran off late, recovering to finish sixth and take a one-point lead in the championship.
Second in the race went to Claudio Corti, his first Moto 2 podium, while third fell to Brit Scott Redding.
World Championship Point Standings (after 4 of 18 races):
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 90 points
2. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 82
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 65
4. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 45
5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 44
6. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 42
7. TIE, Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, and Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Gresini Honda, 35
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 33,
10. Hector Barbera, Spain, Pramac Racing Ducati, 26
Next race, June 3, Spain, Catalunya circuit.