Lorenzo leads into silly season


Nicky Hayden has a bad weekend.

With Valentino Rossi out until
mid-August at the earliest, his Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo
has quietly moved to the top of the Moto GP ladder, taking his fourth
win out of six races at the classic Assen track in the Netherlands
last weekend. Lorenzo was fastest in every session, took pole, got
hounded for a bit by Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and a resurgent
Casey Stoner on the Marlboro Ducati, but then as his harder rear tire
came in he simply motored off into the distance.

Stoner pounded on Pedrosa for a while
but couldn’t get past, finally fading back to finish third, his first
podium of the year.

Stoner and Pedrosa both benefited from
great starts, while Ben Spies on his Tech 3 Yamaha also got a superb
jump, quickly moving into second behind Lorenzo and holding up
Pedrosa and Stoner for several laps. He eventually finished an
excellent fourth, proving that his podium third place in the U.K. the
previous weekend was no fluke.

With a 47-point series lead at the
one-third point in the series, Lorenzo is looking strong for the 2010
title, particularly with Rossi out of the picture indefinitely and
nobody else able to consistently match his pace.

A dark horse for "most improved
rider of the year" has to be Randy de Puniet, on the LCR Honda
team, the smallest and most cash-strapped team on the circuit. De
Puniet was near the top of the time sheets both at Silverstone and
here at Assen, and had a wrestling-match style battle with Repsol
Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso in the last few laps for sixth. Despite
obvious traction problems from badly worn tires, de Puniet passed the
factory bike several times, and only just missed out on fifth in the
last corner, to his obvious fury and frustration.

Nicky Hayden, on the second Ducati, had
his worst outing of the year, finishing seventh. He had an okay start
but got blocked in the first turn and lost a lot of time both there
and getting past the blockers, and by then he could do nothing about
the leaders despite running at nearly their pace.

Silly season has started early this
year, with chit-chat and rumours about 2011 taking more blog and
magazine space than the actual racing. All four of the "aliens"
— Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, and Stoner — have contracts ending
this year, as in fact do many of the other riders. That makes the
game of musical chairs even more active than it usually is.

The latest rumour is that Stoner has
decided to leave Ducati for Honda, who are desperate for somebody who
can win consistently (Pedrosa and Dovizioso just haven’t delivered
the goods). Honda sponsor Repsol insists on a Spanish rider, so
Pedrosa’s seat is probably safe, except that Ducati has been chasing

Over at Yamaha, Rossi has been asked to
take a big salary cut of several million euros as part of an
austerity budget. He was apparently willing to consider it until he
found out that his cut would go to double Lorenzo’s salary; now he’s
not a happy camper. Back in Italy, Philip Morris (Marlboro
cigarettes, Ducati’s main sponsor) would kill to get Rossi on a
Ducati, and have reportedly offered him 15 million Euros to join the
squad. If Rossi does that, suddenly Pedrosa is more or less stuck
with Honda, unless he moves to Yamaha. But since he and Lorenzo don’t
get along …

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