After one long month and MotoGP is back in action at Estoril, Portugal. While ardent racing aficionados were left brooding over this irritably long hiatus, a few riders cashed in on this reprieve to go under the knife, nurse injuries and focus on the rehab.  With MotoGP field on the cusp of diminishing to bare minimum numbers, it can only be said almost all the riders savoured the inaction.

Friday brought MotoGP back to its fiery best in the form of FP1. This was Good Friday again for whom MotoGP was religion. Some riders right after the scalpel experience were trying to gauge their fitness levels; some were right on to fine-tuning their steeds to the track’s needs; some were engaged in a battle to get their base-setup right; and the remaining were doing an assortment of all these.

Despite being cock-a-hoop at resumption of action, there was nothing surprising about the weekend. The usual suspects set the pace as expected and  having known about lap time’s unimportance on Friday, our eyes still introspected the timing chart to the exact thousand’s accuracy.

MotoGP weekends are usually not dull and this one was no different; a tinge of controversy did surface in the form of Lorenzo’s caustic remarks about Super Sic’s dangerous racing lines, which the latter eventually laughed off. The usually media shy Stoner was also in the news for lambasting Rossi for deliberately getting a tow to register a faster lap time. This accusation being true or not, riders latching onto faster riders’ draft is not a new thing. Whether Rossi was badgering Stoner by remaining irritably close or Stoner was still nursing animosity indirectly because of Jerez mishap remains a puzzle.

The Race:

The lights went off to mark the beginning of the 1st of the 28 lap race and pole-sitter Lorenzo got the hole-shot and maintained the lead through the 1st corner. It was bizarre to see someone other than Pedrosa to lead into the 1st turn. There was hardly any change in the order of top 5 till the climax was reached.

Rossi uncharacteristically got off to a flying start and stuck himself  behind his on-and-off -track foe Stoner in 4th. Right from the 1st lap it was glaringly evident that Lorenzo and Pedrosa would set the tone of the race and they did, in an imposing fashion. The Spaniards broke away slowly yet consistently and formed a separate group of two only. They exchanged blows in the form of fastest laps and the pair remained incredibly close throughout.

Estoril’s home straight might not be the longest but it was indeed long enough for riders to slipstream past someone. With a heavier Lorenzo on the visibly slower M1, a feather-weight Pedrosa shooting past on his Honda was inevitable. But what happened was the polar opposite of what was expected – Pedrosa was neither getting his signature drive out of corners nor was he able to come within striking distance of Lorenzo. What ensued for the remainder of 24 laps was a rehash of all other laps. No wonder Pedrosa remained relatively at the bottom of the top speed heap during the race by recording a mere 315 clicks while his team mate Stoner achieved a very healthy 324kmph.

Some of us had personally written off Pedrosa’s victory chances. Such was the reputation of his. He regularly fades away towards the end while Lorenzo grown in strength. Pedrosa will be in his element when alone but does not fare to well in wheel-to-wheel racing. The odds were certainly stacked heavily against him.

While this pair looked more intent on increasing the gap to Stoner, the compatriots Rossi and Dovizioso were engaged in the fight for fourth and didn’t want to disturb the top three. Rossi brilliantly fended off Dovizioso despite taming a stubborn Ducati and nursing a recovering shoulder. Rossi looked to have befriended the Ducati better but loads of work  is round the corner to take the fight to the Yamahas and the Hondas on a regular basis.

Two riders in pursuit of the Alien tag, who earned a DNF in Jerez, unfortunately held the record intact at Estoril, too. Simoncelli, impatient to get to warm the tyres up, tasted the gravel in the very first lap. We’d been repetitively underscoring his brilliance if only he could master the art of race-craft better. Spies is the other who was out to make amends for his Jerez mistake. But his rotten luck continued at Estoril and ensured that he had to wait one more year to banish his memories and finish the race in Portugal. This time, it was no mistake of his. A brake adjustment tool was inadvertently left in the bike which later distracted Spies big time. Spies, for a brief moment, did attack the tool instead of riders, and as a result, took a few off-track excursions as well. But finally, the combat too proved to be too intense and the tool brought  him down with more than 10 laps remaining.

Monster Yamaha was the happiest satellite team this weekend with both their riders finishing ahead of factory Ducati rider Hayden. Edwards made the most of Spies’ absence by being the top American and satellite rider. Despite maintaining a low-profile Crutchlow remains the second top Yamaha in overall standings. It’s worth mentioning that Crutchlow has beaten Rossi over one-lap race (Qualifying) in all the three rounds. The only Brit on the grid seems to be learning the ropes as expected.

On the 25th lap, Pedrosa put an end to the cat-and-mouse game. He relied on slipstreaming and out braking to slip past Lorenzo for the first time and from then on, Pedrosa never looked back. He was on song and with no one in front of him, slipped into his time-trial mode. He hammered out a series of fast laps and finally took the chequered flag by over 3 seconds. This gap does not justify Pedrosa’s pace as he took just 3 laps to do so and set the fastest lap on the 27th lap.

Pedrosa has got to be the happiest but most importantly an extremely relieved man for several notable reasons. With this win, he has chucked Lorenzo off the top step of the Estoril podium after 3 years. He was also able to narrow the points’ gap down to 4 on Lorenzo. He had beaten recent Honda recruit Stoner fair and square and substantially consolidated his position at Honda. Finally, the operation to remove the collarbone plate proved extremely productive as the numbness was not to be seen at all. On the contrary, he grew in strength and energy while Lorenzo’s energy sagged, which would usually have been the other way around.

While the Spanish pair traded positions with less than 5 laps to go, the Italian pair did the same at the line on the very last lap. Estoril’s final turn seems to be Rossi’s Karma corner. Dovizioso, aware of Rossi’s adamancy in letting people past, didn’t’ want to eschew the opportunity and stole fourth by getting out of Rossi’s draft beating him by just a whisker. That move was reminiscent of Elias’ last gasp pass on Rossi in 2006 that apparently fetched him contract with Honda for 2007.

With the Estoril race providing a pleasant spectacle the prospect of a great race even at Le Mans looms large. Cannot wait for the weekend of 14th and 15th May.  Till then have fun.