Who’d have believed watching a MotoGP race would actually be fun? A quick look at the final results, showing a 25 second gap between first and fifth, might indicate that the French MotoGP at the tedious stop-and-go Le Mans Bugatti circuit was a tedious snooze. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Casey Stoner on his Repsol Honda had utterly dominated practice and qualifying sessions, and he got a good start in the final but not as good as his team-mate Dani Pedrosa, hardly a shock as the tiny Spaniard weighs about as much as your average pet Spaniel.
Fresh from a surgery that seems to have finally cured six months of agonizing rehab on his broken left collarbone from last season, and buoyed from a win at the last race in Spain, Pedrosa easily grabbed the lead at the lights.
Stoner grabbed the lead back on the next lap, but Pedrosa hung on closely. Behind them, the other Honda riders, Andrea Dovizioso on the third Repsol bike and fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli on the San Carlo Gresini bike (also supposed to be a factory-spec machine) were engaged in a battle with 2010 MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo, the Majorcan feeling a bit desperate on the only Yamaha able to keep the resurgent Hondas in sight.
Close behind – no doubt to Lorenzo’s dismay – was his former team-mate, nine-time world champ Valentino Rossi, pushing the ever-improving Ducati Desmosedici to its best showing yet since he joined the team.
The antics started in earnest at about 2/3 distance, as Simoncelli broke free and slowly caught up to Pedrosa. The two exchanged passes, then Super-Sic made an outside braking attempt on Pedrosa, ending up with Pedrosa in the gravel.
The move has already generated considerable online controversy – to this observer, it was a hard but fair manoeuvre, with Super-Sic leaving a metre of pavement on the inside for his Spanish rival.
Opinion on the other side, for Pedrosa and his fans, says that Simoncelli cut across Pedrosa’s line; the Repsol rider then straightened up a touch, hit the rear of Simoncelli’s bike, and was down.
Worse, much worse, Pedrosa was later diagnosed with a broken collarbone – with his left finally okay, he’d now broken the right one. Meanwhile, Race Control deemed Simoncelli’s move too aggressive, and gave him a ride-through penalty. Losing time riding through the pits put the Italian back down the field, but he charged back up to collect fifth in the end.
Meanwhile, Rossi and Dovizioso had both dispatched Lorenzo (and all credit to the Majorca native, who was the only Yamaha rider to keep near the front all race long) and were banging on each other for second and third spots. Rossi, desperate to get a podium after his switch to the notoriously hard-to-ride Ducati this season, was on a mission and barely managed to hold onto the bike to manage third. He passed Dovizioso on the second-to-last lap in a breathtakingly dangerous move, a result that the team was ecstatic over.
There were a lot of crashes and run-offs. Randy de Puniet crashed on the first lap, after also being involved in a practice piss-up that ended up with Casey Stoner being fined €5,000 after punching de Puniet for riding slow in on the race line. Both Tech 3 Yamahas crashed, Colin Edwards rejoining and Cal Crutchlow not. Pedrosa, of course, was part of the deal. Loris Capirossi ran off, and one or two others in desperate battles down the field had near-misses as well.
The final results left Lorenzo still in charge of the Moto GP championship, but with a narrow margin over Stoner and Pedrosa. If Pedrosa can’t make it to Barcelona in three weeks, that’s going to significantly change the title chase.
And of course, Yamaha has some engine improvements that are awaiting the right time for insertion – blame the current asinine ‘number of engines’ rule for that one.
The rules are a pain in the ass in many ways, the people who make the calls often seem to be gross amateurs who shouldn’t even be running local club races, but the professionalism of the riders and teams is still providing some good racing in this, the last year of the generally God-damned 800 cc class.
Next event June 5, Spain, Catalunya.
Standings after four of 18 races
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 78 points;
2. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 66;
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 61;
4. Andrea Doviziosio, Italy, Repsol Honda, 50;
5. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 47;
6. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 39;
7. Hiroshi Ayoyama, Japan, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 36;
8. Marco Simoncelli, Italy, San Carlo-Gresini Honda, 22;
9. TIE, Colin Edwards, U.S.A., Tech 3 Yamaha; Hector Barbera, Aspar Team Ducati; Cal Crutchlow, Tech 3 Yamaha, 21.