Valentino Rossi’s short winning streak was chopped off at the knees at Catalunya in Spain on the weekend, as Repsol Honda’s darling Spaniard (and home-town favourite) took the lead off the line and simply motored off into the distance.
He was completely on his own for the entire race; definitely in a different zone from everybody else. He was joined on the podium by Fiat Yamaha star Rossi and Marlboro Ducati’s Casey Stoner, the defending world champ.
That puts Pedrosa only five points behind Rossi in the series; he actually almost seemed to manage a brief smile in the press conference, although of course it might have been a grimace instead.
Missing in action was Jorge Lorenzo, still third after the weekend, who was sidelined for the weekend after a nasty practice crash. Since he’s still riding with broken bones in both ankles it’s probably time he took a few days off anyway.
Rossi qualified and started poorly, but at about 1/3 distance started one of his patented charges through the field. He and Stoner swapped positions several times in the last few laps; great stuff. The two closed up on Pedrosa, a seven-second lead dropping to three at the end, but no doubt Pedrosa was cooling it a bit as well.
With only 13 finishers and 16 starters, things looked a bit sparse out there. Andrea Dovizioso impressed again on the JiR Scot Team Honda with a fourth, holding off the Tech 3 Yamaha team-mates of Colin Edwards and James Toseland. Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda), Shinya Nakano (San Carlo Gresini Honda) and John Hopkins (Kawasaki) rounded out the top 10.
Hopkins has been seriously and publicly unhappy for the last three events, and is clearly regretting his decision to leave Suzuki for the Green Team. He was also riding hurt, again, after injuring his back in a practice crash. “We still have a lot of work to do with the bike, and hopefully we can be in a good condition for the next race in Britain."
Hayden was also dispirited, after a great qualifying effort put him on the front row. The 2006 champion is having a tough year making the Honda work for him: "Something in the set-up is hurting tire life, it’s quite frustrating. We were in there early and thought we might be on for a good result and then we lost touch and went backward. The rear brake went out towards the end which didn’t help things.”
The next race is at Donnington in the U.K. June 22.
Closer to home, Elkhart Lake featured changeable weather which caused lots of problems in the AMA event last weekend, although both Superbike events got off in the dry.
The finishes were — once again — hardly a surprise, with Yoshimura Suzuki team-mates Ben Spies and Mat Mladin trading wins and second places, and the improving Kawasaki of Jamie Hacking third in both contests.
Suzuki has been making noises about not racing at all in the U.S. next season, being seriously displeased with the new owners’ plans to radically revamp the class structure.
Spies may be leaving for Moto GP, but that would still leave a very expensive contract for Mat Mladin to be paid, so it doesn’t seem like a lot more than sour grapes at this point.