Honda and Casey Stoner were supposed to have an easy lock on the 2012 world Moto GP title, but things aren’t working out exactly as pre-season testing indicated.
With two wins in the last two races in vastly different conditions – heavy rain in France and dry and cool in Spain at Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit (albeit with rain threatening) – suddenly Yamaha’s star rider Jorge Lorenzo is looking very, very strong, 20 points ahead of Stoner at almost 1/3 distance in the title chase.
His win in Spain in front of a home crowd – not only was it in Spain, but at the circuit in the town he now lives in – gave him a strong lead in the series and although he worked hard for it, it also looked relatively easy. That’s a hard combination to explain, perhaps best covered by saying the Yamaha is still the best all-rounder in the field, while the Honda has incredible horsepower but still struggles to get it down and often suffers from chassis issues, usually a severe chatter.
While top Honda rider Casey Stoner is still usually the fastest in practice and qualifying, lately he’s been having trouble carrying that forward into race wins, as shown by the points standings. At Catalunya, his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa got his usual demon start, leading on the first lap from the second row. He was closely pursued by a resurgent Ben Spies, who’s had the year from hell so far, with Lorenzo following and Stoner quickly falling back into the clutches of the satellite Yamaha Tech 3/Monster riders of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso.
Spies, apparently back on form after a horrible start to the year, looked to have Pedrosa’s measure and pushed for a pass on the third lap – then ran wide and fell, continuing his 2012 disasters. He remounted and eventually finished 10th, an impressive comeback ride, but the expression of Yamaha racing manager Lin Jarvis when the incident occurred wasn’t conducive to Spies’ continued career as a factory rider. It’s shame; the guy has the parts and the speed, but indeed has been subject to a terrible start to the year. One can only hope that it turns itself around into some results.
With Spies gone, Lorenzo started stalking Pedrosa, and after a couple of back-and-forth passes, moved away to an eventual win with a comfortable five-second cushion. Pedrosa maintained a close watch until the final laps but couldn’t stay with the Majorcan’s pace. Behind them, Dovizioso maintained some room over Stoner and his Tech 3 team-mate Crutchlow; although Stoner mounted a strong chase in the last few laps, Dovi held on for Tech 3’s first podium.
The Ducatis continue to improve; while neither Rossi nor Hayden were delighted with the day, the difficult and wayward Desmosedici seemed better behaved this weekend. Although seventh and ninth don’t sound that impressive, Rossi in seventh was actually within sight of Stoner, which is a HUGE improvement.
Behind Lorenzo, Pedrosa, and Dovizioso, the top 10 were completed by Cal Crutchlow, Álvaro Bautista, Valentino Rossi, Stefan Bradl, Hayden, and Ben Spies. Top CRT honour went to local rider Aleix Espargaró on board his Power Electronics Aspar machine.
Next race, Silverstone, U.K., June 17.
World Championship Point Standings (after five of 18 races):
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 115 points
2. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 95
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 85
4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Tech 3/Monster Yamaha, 60
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech 3/Monster Yamaha, 56
6. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 51
7. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Gresini Honda, 45
8. Steven Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 43
9. Nicky Hayden, USA, Marlboro Ducati, 40
10. Hector Barbera, Spain, Pramac Ducati, 31