It was a bizarre Moto GP in Australia, with only 14 starters and 10 finishers. The Yamaha factory team didn’t start at all, both riders out with injury before the race.
That opened the door for Casey Stoner to win the race, take his second world title, and award himself the biggest birthday present he’s ever likely to get. All of which he did, handily.
In all fairness, regardless of who was on track Stoner was the class of the crowd all weekend, fastest in practice sessions and getting his 11th pole of the year (a Moto GP record), before splitting from the start and taking a second a lap advantage until backing off to maintain a six-seven lead most of the race for his ninth victory of 2011.
He said, “I don’t think anyone could plan things to happen better than they have today! The race was incredibly difficult … I basically ran into a wall of rain, there wasn’t any warning at the back part of the circuit and I came into the last turn and the rain started hard. I nearly lost control … and thankfully brought it home for the win, but it was a little bit nerve-racking for sure.”
The numbers make it sound like a boring race, but actually there was tons of drama. Unfortunately, both Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies of the Yamaha Racing squad didn’t start, Spies with a concussion and heavy bruising from a 270+ km/h practice crash, and defending world champ Lorenzo with a badly damaged hand from a warm-up fall (there was a slightly grotesque air to all that, as track workers scoured the gravel trap looking for a finger-tip …). With Lorenzo gone, all Stoner had to do was cruise to sixth to get his second title.
Spies expects to be fine in a day or two, while Lorenzo has already had what’s termed a “successful” operation and is expected to retain full use of his hand and the damaged finger.
Another one who didn’t start was Aussie star stand-in Damian Cudlin, riding for the Aspar Ducati team in place of the injured Hector Barbera. Cudlin went off hard in practice and wasn’t able to start.
Then in the race itself we had the spectacles of Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Alvaro Bautista all crashing, mostly the victims of a hard rain shower that hit the track four laps from the finish. Until then the racing had been as good as we’ve seen all year, once you allowed for Stoner vanishing into the distance to become world champion.
Behind Stoner, Marco Simoncelli, Andrea Dovizioso, and Dani Pedrosa had a great scrap for the remaining podium positions, finishing in that order and giving Honda the first four spots. Colin Edwards was fifth after a lonely race on his Tech 3/Monster Yamaha, while Randy de Puniet was the first Ducati home after the rest of the field had a mad scrap for most of the race.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was dramatic to watch. Honda also claimed its 60th Constructor’s World Title – probably more important to the company than the rider’s title.
World Championship Standings after 16 of 18 races
1. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 325 points (new World Champion);
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory racing, 260;
3. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 212;
4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 208;
5. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Yamaha Factory Racing, 156;
6. TIE, Marco Simoncelli, Italy, San Carlo Gresini Honda / Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 139;
8. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 132;
9. Colin Edwards, U.S.A., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 109;
10. Hiroshi Aoyama, Japan, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 94.
Next race, October 23, Sepang, Malaysia.