Dani Pedrosa continued his relentless chase of Moto GP title leader Jorge Lorenzo with another victory in the red-flagged rain-shortened Malaysian GP at Sepang. But Lorenzo again managed second to minimize the damage, taking a 23 point lead into the final two races.
The race started wet and got worse, with seven of the 20 starters not making it to the early finish. Stefan Bradl, Cal Crutchlow, Randy De Puniet, Ivan Silva, Colin Edwards, Ben Spies, and Roberto Rolfo all ended up on the pavement in the changeable wet conditions.
Jorge Lorenzo nearly joined them on what turned out to be the last lap of the shortened race, barely saving himself from a huge front-end crash that would have put the injured Casey Stoner into second place. Despite his injured ankle and fears of making things worse, the Aussie rode a gritty race to grab the final podium spot although he’d considered not riding at all out of fear for further injury. He’s still aiming for a win at his final home race in Australia next week before his retirement.
No less a personage than Moto GP hero Valentino Rossi agreed that stopping the race early was the right choice. “Of course I would’ve liked to finish the full race, but there was really too much water,” he said. “I think the decision to stop was correct because in these conditions, the bikes can aquaplane and you can go down in any corner.”
The conditions were compounded because most of the leading riders had completed only a handful of wet laps during practice, and some none at all.
From the start, Lorenzo and Pedrosa soon broke away from the pursuing pack, pushing six seconds ahead of next bestCasey Stoner by the halfway stage of the 20 laps. As in recent races, Pedrosa made his winning pass at about half distance and eased away from the Yamaha rider, just as the rain began to intensify.
It was Pedrosa’s first win in the wet, his third in a row, and his fifth in the last six races. Clearly, he and the Honda have started working very, very well together.
Next up were the two Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi. Fourth-place Hayden said, “Those were really tough conditions. I got a good launch, but when Dovizioso got sideways in front of me, I shut off the throttle and lost positions. I was able to recover, but I lost some confidence when the rear tried to come around a couple times … It was clearly the right decision to call the race. There was a lot of water those last couple of laps, and it was almost impossible to see.”
The rest of the top 10 survivors, er, finishers, were Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Gresini Honda), Hector Barbera (Pramac Ducati, Aleix Espargaro on the top CRT bike (Aprilia-Aspar/ART), James Ellison (Aprilia-PBM/ART) in by far his best finish of the year, and Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Ducati).
Oddly, Lorenzo was the only Yamaha rider not to crash. Ben Spies suffered a nasty high-side to continue his season from Hell: “What a shocking race, the water on the track was incredible … That was one of the wettest races I’ve had in a long time, my shoulder’s really sore from the fall but thankfully nothing too serious so I’ll be able to ride in Australia.”
A typically mad Moto 2 race was made even wilder than usual by the rain. Andrea de Angelis grabbed his first win in the class ahead of Anthony West and Gino Rea. Championship leader Marc Marquez crashed out and second-place Pol Espargaro could only manage an 11th place, so the title chase will continue at least until the next round in Australia.
In the Moto 3 event, Sandro Cortesi nailed down the first-ever title in the best way with a win. One has to wonder about the absence of Maverick Vinales, who walked away from his team in a huff and flew home to Spain on Friday, an action that’s bound to have repercussions on his career. You’d hate to think that his association with Paris Hilton – who was a partial sponsor of the team in 2011 – had anything to do with his hissy fit.
Next race, Philip Island, Australia, October 28.
World Championship Point Standings after 16 of 18 races:
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 330 points
2. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 307
3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 213
4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 195
5. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 154
6. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 148
7. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 135
8. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 125
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 114
10. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Yamaha Factory Racing, 88
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Spies is out of Australia. Shoulder surgery for the bump in Malaysia.