As pretty much everyone expected, Casey Stoner strolled to a convincing win in the season’s first Moto GP, taking his Repsol Honda to a 3.4 second margin of victory.
What was unexpected was that he had to work for it; his team-mate Dani Pedrosa led several laps and was on Stoner’s pace until he started fading from half-distance, eventually finishing third.
That left second for 2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo on the unsponsored factory Yamaha; Lorenzo was by far the most excited of the field by his finish.
He and the team had struggled a lot in the pre-season, especially during testing at Qatar’s desert Losail Circuit the week before the race, so being on form in the race was a treat. The way he punched the air taking second place you’d think he’d just won another world title.
Fourth and fifth went to the two other factory Hondas, Andrea Dovizioso edging fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli by a second and a bit.
These two had an aggressive and entertaining back-and-forth race, started when Simoncelli put a very hard pass on Dovi; in the on-camera from Dovizioso’s bike you can see him shaking his head.
Dovizioso has the third Repsol bike, while Simoncelli supposedly has the same equipment but runs under the Gresini San Carlo banner.
Sixth and seventh also provided a good tussle, with Valentino Rossi (Ducati) and Ben Spies (Yamaha) mixing it up hard. Spies finally made a pass stick and pulled away in the last few laps as Rossi’s still-healing shoulder forced him to ease off.
Rossi said, “For sure we’re not here to get seventh-place finishes, but there are also positive things from this race, starting with the times, because we were lapping pretty quickly … at the end of the race, I’m no longer able to ride like I have to. I’m not referring to the Ducati because even last year, after I hurt my shoulder, I had the same problems in the latter parts of the races, and since the two bikes are so different, it means that it’s really a matter of me not being physically right.”
Pedrosa is also still suffering from a 2010 accident. It seemed his badly-broken collar bone, with some associated nerve damage, had healed completely, but in the latter stages of the race he said that he wasn’t able even to use the clutch lever, and was in such pain after the finish he looked on the point of throwing up.
Suzuki wasn’t represented in the race at all, the first time the manufacturer had not been in a 500 GP or Moto GP race since 1976. Sole rider Alvaro Bautista had a nasty femur fracture in practice, and a back-up rider couldn’t be obtained in time. That meant there were only 16 starters, and with three DNFs, a sad 13 finishers.
Tony Elias had a horrible week on his LCR Honda, finally crashing on his own at about 2/3 distance. “I feel sorry for the crash. I want to cancel this bad weekend and start again in Jerez.,” said the Spaniard.
The other two DNFs were both members of the Pramac Ducati team; Randy de Puniet reinforced his wild child reputation by high-siding out on the first lap, colliding with his team-mate Loris Capirossi and hitting him hard enough Capirossi retired, fearing he had some broken bones in his left hand.
Everyone’s looking forward to Jerez on April 3 – particularly the Yamaha team, who’ll be hoping the circuit’s tight nature will nullify some of the Honda’s obvious power advantage this season.
Honda is pulling out all the stops to win this last 800 cc Moto GP season, however, with more power, a much-improved chassis, and a magic new gearbox said to be worth half a second a lap.
Moto GP standings after one of 18 races
1. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 25;
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha, 20;
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 16;
4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 13;
5. Marco Simoncelli, Italy, Gresini San Carlo Honda, 11;
6. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Yamaha, 10;
7. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 9;
8. Colin Edwards, U.S.A., Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 8;
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 7;
10. Hiroshi Aoyama, Japan, Gresini San Carlo Honda, 6.