One of the most boring Moto GP races of the season concealed a great deal of behind-the-scenes drama.
To get the results out of the way quickly, Dani Pedrosa was the star of the weekend, barely putting a wheel wrong (except for a scary missed shift in the race that nearly pitched him off the track) on his way to pole, a lap record, and his second victory of the season, closing the gap slightly on Spanish rival Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo’s Yamaha wasn’t the match of Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda, handicapped in part by Lorenzo’s last-minute gamble on using the softer of Bridgestone’s two rear tires. None of the other front-runners used it, and it handicapped him during the race.
“We thought that the soft tire could finish the race well, said the Majorcan, “so we took a risk with it. At the beginning it wasn’t so bad and I could follow Ben and Dani … [but] Dani was a little step forward today and had a tire advantage in the end … [I] was basically just spinning.”
Third went to Tech 3 Yamaha’s Andrea Dovizioso, after a hard-fought battle with Pedrosa’s team-mate Casey Stoner, last year’s champion. It was a seriously gritty performance from Stoner, who was on crutches walking to his bike after a hideous qualifying high-side that left him with broken bones and ripped ligaments in his right ankle. The stoic Aussie filled up with pain killers, got a bigger boot to fit the swelling, and just gave ‘er. It was a sobering example of how tough Moto GP riders can be.
He looked set for a podium up to about 2/3 distance, when the pain killers started wearing off and he started feeling the exhaustion of using his upper body to turn the bike in compensation for not being able to shift his weight as he’d like.
Stoner was only one of three top riders caught out in the long, fast T-14 in qualifying. Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, who calls Indy his “home” race since he and his family live only three hours away, had a similar accident to Stoner’s at the same place, although in his case he lost the front first, then everything went all CMG as the bike regained traction and pitched him. He hit hard and was unmoving, unconscious until the medical team got to him.
He was relatively lucky in that he ended up with “only” a major concussion and two bones broken in his right hand. He couldn’t race, and is doubtful for Brno in the Czech Republic next week.
The other top rider to have a huge off in that same corner was Yamaha’s Ben Spies. Having the year from hell, with everything going wrong from food poisoning to faulty tires to a broken swingarm, has been hard on the Texan, but he was in swinging this weekend, grabbing the lead from Pedrosa on the first lap despite a lot of pain in his shoulder and lower back from the qualifying crash.
He was looking strong until Pedrosa got by, and the Yamaha rider drifted back slowly until finally his engine dramatically exploded on the start-finish straight, Spies doing a great job to keep it upright and off the line before pulling off.
Spies said, “We got off to a good start and felt great and when Dani passed me I could see he was using the rear tire more than I was, so the plan was to let him get a maximum three seconds ahead and start reeling him back in at the end.
“As soon as he passed me the bike started to slow down, I wasn’t sure what was happening then all of a sudden it blew up.”
The relationship between Spies and Yamaha isn’t great at the moment, as every single odd problem that’s happened this year has been to Spies, and he’s obviously delighted to be leaving at the end of the season.
The top 10 was rounded out by Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda, Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, Valentino Rossi on the sole factory Ducati, Karel Abraham on the AB satellite Ducati, and the CRT bikes of Yonny Hernandez, Kawasaki-BQR/FTR, and Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia-ART.
In Moto 2 action, Marc Marquez extended his lead in the series ahead of Pol Espargaro, the rivals followed to third by countryman Julian Simón for an all-Spanish podium. The Indy track doesn’t seem to lend itself well to the Moto 2 bikes; as in 2011 the first few laps showed typical wild Moto 2 action, then it settled down into a bit of a procession, not unlike the Moto GP race.
Marquez has a healthy lead in the championship and looks almost certain to take the title with him when he moves to the Repsol Honda Moto GP team in 2013.
World Championship Point Standings after 11 of 18 races
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing,225 points
2. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 207
3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 186
4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 137
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K. Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 106
6. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 94
7. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Gresini San Carlo Honda, 92
8. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 91
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 84
10. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Yamaha Factory Racing, 66
Next race, Brno, Czech Republic, August 26.