The worst-kept secret in motorcycle road racing finally saw
the light of day after the Czech Moto GP at Brno Sunday, August 15.
Yamaha announced that Valentino Rossi was leaving their team, then Rossi
himself issued a glowing and poetic paean to Yamaha and his M1 race bike, and
finally Ducati announced that the nine-time world champion (in 125, 250, 500,
and Moto GP classes) would be joining their team for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Slightly awkwardly, the Monday after the race is the last
testing day of the season, so it seems likely that any good stuff Yamaha has to
try out will go to Jorge Lorenzo, and possibly Ben Spies, who’s 99.9% certain
to take Rossi’s place. That won’t make the rest of Rossi’s chase for 2010 victories
any easier, if his bike is one step behind that of the guy on the other side of
It’s not been announced, but it would be something of a
shock if Rossi’s team-mate at Ducati is anyone but Nicky Hayden. The popular
American has teamed with Rossi before, at Honda in 2003, and they get along
well – at least in part because on form to date, Hayden isn’t likely to be
beating his team-mate.
The big question now is, where will Jeremy Burgess end up?
Burgess, the team manager behind the success of the likes of Wayne Gardner,
Mick Doohan, and now Rossi, is as much of a genius at developing a bike and
running a team as Rossi is at riding one. He’s said he’d be glad to finish out
his career at Yamaha, but of course, Rossi said the same thing not that many
months ago. The two work extremely well together; in fact Burgess and several
of the other team people left Honda to join Yamaha when Rossi did, so it’s hard
to imagine them splitting. No doubt time will tell, as they say.
Oh, there was a Moto GP race the same day as the
announcement, although it got pretty overshadowed by the hype on Rossi’s new
contract. Frankly, it was a race worth overshadowing; pretty processional stuff
other than some mid-field action that approached the qualities of a brawl more
than once (get a bunch of Italian, Spanish, and French racers together who’ve
been knocking heads with each other since they were teens and it happens). Once
again, Jorge Lorenzo stroked away to take his Fiat Yamaha (oh, that’s another
thing … Fiat’s likely to take its sponsorship to Ducati from Yamaha) to a
fairly easy victory more than five seconds ahead of pole-sitter Dani Pedrosa.
Pedrosa tried hard early on but led only for the first few hundred metres of
the race after his customary incredible start (the guy only weighs about 45
kilos, which helps). Spies got past him first, then Lorenzo got past them both,
and while Pedrosa got back by Spies fairly quickly and hounded Lorenzo for a
few laps, he never looked threatening.
Third went to Ducati’s Casey Stoner (who’ll be going to
Honda in 2011) while fourth was another excellent result for Texan Moto GP
"rookie" Ben Spies on the Monster/Tech 3 satellite Yamaha. Spies came within a
hair of taking pole, only being relegated to second by Pedrosa’s final qualifying
lap, and looked strong in the top three for the first half of the race until
Stoner got by. After that he drifted back a bit, finally coming in a couple of
seconds behind the Australian.
After the race the American said, "I got a good start and
was staying right with Jorge and Dani for a few laps and had a comfortable
pace. But after about lap seven I starting having problems with the front that
I hadn’t experienced all weekend. It’s a shame because while I know I
definitely didn’t have anything to fight Jorge with because he is riding so
well, maybe I could have stayed close to Dani (and ahead of Casey)."
Probably the most remarkable ride of the day, however, was
from Randy de Puniet on the LCR Honda. The Frenchman broke both bones in his
lower right leg four weeks ago – he was off pain-killers in four days, walking
without crutches in 10, and rode a Honda superbike a week ago to see how he was
feeling, turning competitive times in the process. He said before the race he
was aiming for eighth, and was just one second out of taking that spot. Now
that’s one tough dude.
Lorenzo’s win truly solidified his lead in the world
championship chase; he’s now got a 77-point lead and is looking more
comfortable at the front every weekend. Barring some major catastrophe, he’s
going to take his first Moto GP crown this year. Pedrosa is well back in
second, while Stoner moved into third place at Brno after Pedrosa’s team-mate
Andrea Dovizioso lost the front end and crashed while chasing a podium finish.
Rossi still holds fifth.
Next race: Indianapolis, Indiana, August 29
Current World Championship standings after 10 of 18 races
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Fiat Yamaha, 235 points; 2. Dani
Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 158; 3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Marlboro Ducati,
119; 4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 115; 5. Valentino Rossi, Italy,
Fiat Yamaha, 101;
6. Nicky Hayden, USA, Marlboro Ducati, 99;
7. Ben Spies, USA, Monster/Tech 3 Yamaha, 90; 8. Randy de Puniet, France, LCR
Honda, 75; 9. Marco Melandri, Italy, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 61; 10. Colin
Edwards, USA, Monster/Tech 3 Yamaha, 57.