After an age, there was a race which held the audience at the edge of their seats until the chequered flag was waved. For the second time in a row, Stoner was beaten fair and square. While last time at Assen, Spies’ maiden victory dwarfed Stoner’s dominance, this time around under the Tuscan sun shine, reigning champion Lorenzo made his presence felt with a heavy thud by winning the Italian grand prix at Mugello.
Lorenzo was clearly a cut above others in the race, which was a mild surprise, since his qualifying position and warm up times were not tipping the scales in his favour. Local stars Dovizioso and Simoncelli’s pace was formidable with either of them looking promising to go for the kill, circumstances aiding. Spies, too, was a strong contender to add full 25 points into his bag. Stoner’s pace was a given and it would only take a grave mistake from the Australian to bump himself off the victory equation.
The newest pack of Aliens got a clean start and dispatched the rest of the field into a distance in a jiffy. Dovizioso, in search of home spotlight, hunted Lorenzo down with dogged perseverance and earned a provisional second as a result of his pass on the home straight. But the plucky Spaniard won the position back around the corners and never relinquished it again. The moment Stoner established an early lead; winner’s name should have been a foregone conclusion until Lorenzo started reeling him in and sliced substantial chunks out of the lead in every sector. Degrading tyres vitiated Stoner’s form and Lorenzo started to close in. From then on it was a matter of when Stoner would be dislodged from the lead. The defending champion attempted a move on Stoner at the same place where he snatched second place from Dovizioso and made the pass stick, too.
Rossi is always lumbered with great anticipation no matter which track he heads to but the weight of it reaches a new high when the Italian lines up on Mugello grid, his home grand prix. With an army of Rossi’s and Ducati’s fans thronging the circuit, the pressure to perform either gives a fillip or breaks the rider down. In Rossi’s case, though, the notoriously demanding Ducati seems to wear him down albeit slowly. Despite pointing fingers at Stoner for steering the development in the wrong direction, the Doctor does not have cure to Ducati’s illness nor has he been able to inject the available dose of medication as a work-around.
The pangs of languishing down at a circuit where he is god must be unbearable for Rossi with the winner from 2002 to 2008 was seen fighting for a top six finish, a spectacle that should have left a bitter taste in the Italians’ mouth. Technical woes and rain affected weekend meant Rossi was the most affected as the dry sessions didn’t seem to help them make much headway in setting the bike up. To add to the lingering difficulties, Rossi was hamstrung by Burgess’ absence as he was left in the lurch by the Australian as he had to attend to a personal emergency back at home.
Still, sixth, behind Simoncelli, remains a position Rossi could have best hoped for especially in the light of the yawning gap between fifth and sixth and the sheer pace of top five. Despite starting down the order, Rossi, the killer he always is, scythed through a frail mid pack and emerged triumphant in the battle for sixth. Despite being the top Ducati rider, Rossi had to overcome a rampant Hector Barbera as the pair swapped places time and again only after which was Rossi able to win the position back, broke clear and held on to it at the line, but a worrying 26 seconds down on Lorenzo.
Spies, who lost initial ground to the front runners, was never a podium threat as the top three broke away hurriedly. But having a partner in Simoncelli to spar with presented a scant consolation. Having tasted his maiden GP victory last weekend at Assen in conjecture with Yamaha’s 50 years of racing commemoration, he was tipped to challenge for victory battle, the rationale behind which is purely understandable as he started from P2 alongside Stoner. First phase of the race has never been his forte and the weakness came to the fore as he surrendered third position to Dovizioso early and kept fading backwards markedly. Simoncelli suffered similar setback and fell into the clutches of the Assen winner, who were later engrossed in a battle of their own.
Lasting the course was Simoncelli’s primary aim and of course, refraining from committing amateurish mistakes. Come race day, he was successful in converting a P3 into fourth, finally starting to deliver results much to the relief of Gresini, his team owner. His scrap with Spies added spice to the already action filled event as the pair traded places before Spies dived inside under late braking into turn one in the last lap, a move that fetched Spies a hard fought fourth relegating Simoncelli to fifth. The Italian’s battle with the American was clean and it was sad the pair could not up their pace to rough the top three up. With almost half the season wound up and having displayed ruthless form, it’s surprising to note Simoncelli’s still in search of the fabled podium.
Dovizioso seems to be a very interesting proposition at Honda. Clearly, his class is few notches below his team mates’ and his factory seat was also snatched by him citing contractual reasons. But he’s been a silent performer and sits third in the standings, theoretically, a championship contender. This reminds me of Hayden in 2006, who wielded the weapon of consistency and capitalized on Rossi’s bad luck and mistakes to lift the trophy for Honda. We could see a similar event unfolding this year if Stoner and Lorenzo get too lost in their own battle ignoring a modest Dovizioso camouflaged behind the Aliens, waiting to ambush should the chance arise. On the other hand, he’s been doing a neat job at Honda consistently finishing in top four in all but one round this year. He is there at the podium if two of the Aliens are blighted by issues and even otherwise, he’s seen fighting for the podium. He’s surely upheld Honda’s image during Pedrosa’s absence.
The rest of the field fails to impress again this weekend. Pedrosa’s comeback has been low-profile and given the amount of surgical procedures he’s undergone, eighth is a commendable position. An injured Capirossi had to miss his home race, something that’s failed to pack the starting grid to its fullest size of seventeen. Crutchlow, who qualified a praise-deserving seventh, was besieged by a tyre problem and forced himself into the pits second time in as many races. Having said everything, with Stoner failing to win the last two rounds, Lorenzo’s emphatic win today and Spies’ last weekend seem to suggest Stoner was elevated beyond he was supposed to. Perhaps Stoner’s dominance was a little overstated amid few factors that remained shrouded in darkness. Who knows, let’s see if Stoner proves us right or wrong in two weeks’ time at Sachsenring circuit, Germany.