“With emergence of Pedrosa to winning ways and Simoncelli’s not-so-insane races (touchwood), second half of 2011 will prove to be a thrilling and closely contested affair”
As far as my memory serves, this is the first race of this season, even before the start, which was touted to be a thriller by riders themselves with the top six separated just by a whisker. The Hondas and Yamahas were the ones expected to battle for win and podium. Ducati, instead of taking fight to them, is dwelling in a duel of its own refereeing an ongoing battle between the GP11.1 which is fitted with the de-stroked version of next year’s engine.
As predicted ahead of the race, the top three remained closely grouped for the majority of the race. Until the last lap, all the three had a realistic shot at victory. Stoner, even though had his victory hopes intact, had been playing a dual role of hunting Pedrosa down and staving off Lorenzo from snatching second. The eternal second-fiddle player, Dovizioso, also looked fit to fight for victory but the searing hot pace of the top three meant both Dovizioso and Simoncelli had to maintain their distance with the leading trio. Assen winner, Spies, again struggled to build his pace in the first phase of the race and looked powerless to stick to the leading group of five riders.
The good news this weekend was Pedrosa was seen scorching the track mocking the recovery phase he’s currently undergoing. Even though his one-lap pace was at the sharp end, his physical state ruled him out of victory. Once the lights went off, the petite Spaniard made the scene look rather usual by catapulting himself into the lead as has been the case mostly. Pedrosa was usually not seen as a wonted racer with close racing seemingly taking a toll on his rhythm, but today, he had an answer to everyone’s moves. He was constantly stalked and was overtaken. But he retaliated in kind and relied on his trademark drive out of the corners to blast past both Stoner and Lorenzo in two different occasions to take the lead. Even though Pedrosa remained perilously close to the chasing pack of Stoner and Lorenzo and remained susceptible of an attack, the pair let him break away effortlessly as the importance of second outweighed the fight for victory and Pedrosa cruised to take the chequered flag by a substantial 1.5 seconds. Pedrosa was the unequivocal star of the weekend. Not only was this win taken amid his recuperation period, his best race lap (his’ was the only one to dip under 1:21s) bettered his own and others’ qualifying lap on softer compounds barring Stoner’s.
The defending champion, Lorenzo, has been in a rejuvenated mood post his victory at Mugello and openly resurrected his title hopes by making clear his package’s ability to fight for the crown. Lorenzo, today, displayed he possessed nerves of steel as he was the lone Yamaha sandwiched between a swarm of Honda riders, but remained unflustered throughout the course of the race and beat everyone but Pedrosa. Stoner’s preemptive moves during the last lap and the accompanying mistakes opened the door for Lorenzo to sneak in and usurp second position, which was uncharacteristic of Stoner but was characteristic of Lorenzo. This decisive move not only fetched him a laudable second; it also helped him claw four valuable points away from Stoner’s advantage, which now stands at fifteen. This must be as good as a win for Lorenzo as long as he eats into the points’ advantage of Stoner.
Rossi grabs headlines no matter what he does and this week was a typical example of that. Thanks to injured Capirossi and stand-in rider Guintoli’s presence, Rossi made headlines for wrong reasons this time by qualifying sixteenth out of a meager seventeen riders. Had Capirossi been there, Rossi would have qualified dead last, which Rossi himself acknowledged, jokingly, though. The GP11.1, which Rossi considers to be his cerebral product, has yet to strike chord with the engine. From being the best, Rossi’s seen fighting for “best of the rest”, something he’d at least been winning till now. But today, he not only lost to his team mate, but also to Bautista on the leagues-behind Suzuki. Full credit to the Spaniard for such a valiant ride downing the factory Ducati duo earning a well deserved seventh.
Rossi’s position need not be taken as how it seems. While he’s in pursuit of a solution to at least fight for podiums, if not wins this season, he’s clearly moonlighting this season as a harbinger to next year’s by shoehorning the de-stroked version of next year’s engine on to next year’s chassis ditching package used by Stoner last year. But the results seem to show the door for the GP11.1 version of the Desmosedici. When the season commenced, Rossi was not expected to work magic by even his staunchest fans partly owing to his shoulder injury and partly due to the universally known unwieldiness of the Ducati. But even the critics could not reject the vision of Rossi starting to become a podium regular and starting to target wins heading into the second half of the season. But with exactly nine races into the season, which marks the half-way mark, Rossi’s position aboard the Ducati remains as indecipherable as it was. The hope once present seems to be dwindling. It’s surprising to note the glorious triad of Rossi, Burgess and Preziosi has been left wandering in search of a solution for this long.
The rider who deserves richest of praises this weekend is undoubtedly the Suzuki rider Bautista. Despite riding bike run by a shoe-string budget, Bautista was clearly on the rise in each of the sessions reaching as high as fourth in warm-up, partially indicating he was in fine nick to battle even for podium. But during the race, as expected, podium remained out of reach but the spotlight remained on him as he spent major part of the race dueling with the factory Ducati of Hayden. Things heated up when Rossi launched himself into fight for seventh and was expected to win it with ease. But a spirited Bautista made full use of a chaotic move made by Rossi through the last series of corners to finish ahead of both Hayden and Rossi plastering a zingy smile in everyone’s face at Suzuki’s garage.
Spies and his warring partner Simoncelli, though, did not engage in a fierce battle at length like in Mugello, but briefly engaged in fight for fifth as the American illustrated his sheer pace on worn rubber. Having spent majority of the race few seconds behind Dovizioso and Simoncelli, Spies suddenly came from nowhere and launched a surprise attack on Simoncelli when he left the door wide open in the last corner. The battle for fourth could have been hotter had Spies hauled himself into contention few laps earlier. Dovizioso was his usual self at the garage visibly remaining content, rather crowing with joy in securing fourth position. While Lorenzo and Stoner are fighting for the crown, despite being on equal footing on the equipment front, Dovizioso must be eyeing third spot and looks pulling out at all stops in consolidating that position.
Unlike usual weekends, several positions were decided at the line, which was the sole reason why this was a humdinger of a race. Riders formed prominent packs and stuck to each other slugging it out and swapping positions till the very end providing a brilliant spectacle much to the delight of German crowd. The best part was that surprising names came out trumps out of each battling pack. Pedrosa’s win was a surprise plainly because of his physical state. Not even in a wildest dream would one imagine Bautista beating Rossi. Even Hayden pipped Rossi at the line meaning ninth was the best Rossi was worth today.
Now that Pedrosa is back to his winning ways, Rossi is sure to be robbed of fourth position in championship standings in a while. Spies’ consistency should also play a role in elbowing Rossi off his current position. As predicted during Mugello weekend, Stoner’s dominance, even though still present, isn’t as threatening as it once was. Having been denied victory for the past three races, points have been clawed back on a regular basis by the title and race protagonists. This goes on to prove title battle will not be walk in the park for the Australian as portrayed by events that occurred in the beginning of the season. With emergence of Pedrosa to winning ways and Simoncelli’s not-so-insane races (touchwood), second half of 2011 will prove to be a thrilling and closely contested affair.