Tuesday, 17 July 2012

MotoGP Thoughts & 'That' Pass...

A triple-header of MotoGP races, as well as taking us to the halfway point of the season, leaves us with much to mull over in this instalment of Straw Bales – premier class championship leads diminishing one race and extending the next, contentious over-takes, the continuing saga of ‘Silly Season’ gathering more and more pace but, in essence, going nowhere...and they still can’t get that bloody Ducati to work properly, although it is getting better!

The main talking point back in Assen was the outrageous first turn, brain-out lunge by Alvaro Bautista on championship leader Jorge Lorenzo. After such a fantastic showing in qualifying at Silverstone, Bautista’s kamikaze run in to turn 1 was ill-thought to say the least and somewhat out of character for the pristinely-coiffered Spaniard...well, in this class anyway! For a world class rider to make that kind of move that early in the race there could only be one outcome, he was immediately reprimanded and demoted to the back of the grid for the next round at Sachsenring, while Lorenzo was left nursing a sore ankle and a diminished championship lead as Casey Stoner returned to whinging...sorry...winning ways, by almost 5 seconds from Dani Pedrosa.

The golden boy of MotoGP however had a weekend to forget at one of his favourite circuits. Qualifying in his almost now customary position on the fringe of the top ten, severe issues with Valentino Rossi’s rear Bridgestone prevented him making any challenge to the guys ahead of him with hand-sized chunks de-laminating from the rear Bridgestone causing him to pull in for a tyre change and finishing a lap down on the field.

Sachsenring was, as has become almost the norm for MotoGP this season, wet/dry. It’s almost as though Carmelo Ezpeleta really is playing God these days, he’s even managed to engineer ‘changeable’ weather at almost every round so far to try and spice up the sadly lacking show!

He came up trumps yet again on Saturday afternoon with a wet to drying session that provided us with quite possibly the most exciting 5 minutes of qualifying in recent years. Three changes of Pole Position in less than a minute Hayden (not just because the track goes left a lot either!), Bradl, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Crutchlow (for 4.5 seconds!) all topping the timesheets, but when it really mattered Casey Stoner put in a final lap that took the breath of even some of his staunchest critics, just to remind us once again of his precocious talent.

A clean start this time (with Bautista right at the back out the way) saw Pedrosa take the hole-shot on a track that must be one of his favourites, he’s won there the previous 2 seasons, finished third in 2009 and crashing whilst leading by almost a week in the wet race of 2008. But it was Casey again that put on the move of the race round the outside on the never-ending left hander going up the hill – causing Eurosport’s Toby Moody to go apoplectic, hailing it as great a move as his stunning ‘Lorenzo’ on Lorenzo at Laguna Seca last year!

It was a battle between the two Repsol Hondas and was always going to go down to the last corner of the last lap...well it was until Casey slid off his RC213V at the bottom of the ‘Waterfall’ just two corners from home! An uncharacteristic mistake from the Aussie after taking 20 consecutive podiums, he admitted after the race that he planned to go all out for the win on the last turn...and in the light of recent events that would’ve been interesting to see!

Casey’s departure left Jorge Lorenzo in a welcome, if unexpected, second place to claw back 20 of the points he lost at Assen and the man quietly going about the business of securing a factory ride for 2013 Andrea Dovizioso taking his second successive podium on the Tech3 Yamaha M1 in third. Special mention must go to home rider Stefan Bradl, on pole for a couple of minutes on the Saturday and then equalling his best ever MotoGP finish (of fifth at Le Mans) on the Sunday. Definitely a talent for the future and making the least noise about it as well!

Which brings me up to date to Mugello *cracks knuckles* right where do I start! 

Firstly then, Mr Ezpeleta’s MotoGP micro-climate finally expired leaving us with almost unbroken cloud and 30C+ temperatures over the four days – just how a MotoGP weekend should be...outside of the Silverstone round of course!

Qualifying showed us a multitude of things, not least that it’s still the most exciting part of a race weekend – that Tissot watch must be worth as much as a win, either that or they’re promised to family members who are getting increasingly impatient...

Jorge had been supreme through all three Free Practice sessions with the questions forming on everyone’s lips ‘Who’s going to come second on Sunday?. However the course of a MotoGP weekend rarely runs true and on his final flying lap, showing Red at every timing split, he suddenly pulled on to pit lane and aborted the lap! Fuel? Tyres? Couldn’t be arsed? None of the previous, the bike switched to a default setting on his flying lap as prior to that he’d taken the short cut back on to the home straight and the bike lost its position on track - such is the complicated way-beyond-my-understanding nature of MotoGP electronics - and wouldn’t deliver the power where he needed it most...and the Lorenzo of old reared his ugly head as he stropped his way down pit lane to the post-qualifying press conference. 

Championship dark horse Pedrosa took pole, from Lorenzo and a politely surprised Hector Barbera. Although he was regularly fastest through the speed-trap, the caravan put a lap together all on his own and credit to him, it was a fast one – he should try this a little more often in a lot of people’s opinion. Nicky Hayden held up Ducati Corse honours with a fine fourth place, six places ahead of his illustrious team-mate who was again...erm...tenth, although his race pace on harder tyres belied his qualifying position and this was Mugello after all so it was always going to be about the race for Italy's darling..

King of Sachsenring qualifying, Stoner, struggled all weekend with the continued front and rear chatter of his Honda – not to mention the nerve of a massively slower CRT bike being on the very piece of tarmac he wanted to be on as his superior power propelled him out of the first chicane, therefore feeling the need to hard-pass in to the next left-hander...yet another show of petulance, and not the last of the weekend either!

The race began as predicted with Jorge bringing his ‘hammer’ to the first half of the race before changing to ‘butter’ but keeping the ominous ability to change back at will well in reserve. I remarked to a good friend on Twitter after qualifying that ‘Lorenzo is going to smash them tomorrow’ I know, no prizes for stating the obvious but it was a master-class of a race if not the most exciting. Dani kept his potentially best-yet season going with second and Dovi took yet another podium for Tech3 Yamaha, further strengthening his bid for a factory ride ahead of his team-mate. Bradl went one better than Sachsenring taking a stunning fourth in an amazing last lap dust up that saw Nicky Hayden’s potential fourth place reduced to seventh at the flag by Bradl, VR and Cal Crutchlow.

Now to the crux of a couple of issues...if you are anti-Stoner please keep reading...go on, you know you want to!

Much has been made of Casey’s tough move on Bautista, not least of which is that he’d be the first to complain if the Alpinestar was on the other foot and I completely agree, however, the thing that has really got my goat yet again this weekend is the vitriolic abuse that we have to endure on Twitter. People were calling for a race ban, points deductions, grid penalties anything that would hinder Casey Stoner’s season because he’s a total this that or the other. Really, the pass wasn’t that bad was it, hard yes, but the massive over-reaction from the mainly VR fans that flooded my timeline with ridiculously unjust chastisement just because of who it was, yet again disappointed me massively.

Marco Simoncelli got a ride through at Le Mans last year (thanks @MotoPodMart & @IntheGravel) for knocking off Dani Pedrosa, causing him to re-break his collarbone, in a move very reminiscent of Bautista at Assen. He himself got a grid penalty as we mentioned earlier as he was unable to continue, but I’m sure a ride through would have followed had he continued. Nobody fell off in the Stoner incident, but with the reaction you’d think he’d kicked him off in to the gravel and stood on his head triumphantly!

I appreciate it’s people’s opinion but really, how balanced is that opinion? Had another rider committed that pass, for example one with a bright yellow 46 on the front, then some would’ve been cheering and whooping in awe at yet another God-like pass from the master... How short in memory some people are when necessary.  Jorge Lorenzo at Motegi in 2010, Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca in 2008, Sete Gibernau at Jerez in 2004, passes that could be considered far more dangerous than what we witnessed on Sunday and all going unpunished, and even though Vale was at fault for all three he still went on to win two out of three of those races and took third at Motegi, safely protected by Race Direction. If those incidents were to be repeated these days I think we would see a very different outcome. These are the most high profile of his incidents but there have been more, Valentino is renowned for ‘hard’ (dirty?) passes when necessary and as I said, Casey is testament to that after Laguna Seca. So really, think about it – was it really that bad a pass in the grand scheme of things...? Or was it just hard, if a touch naughty, racing...after all it’s not like Stoner had any previous with Bautista, no score to settle or mind-games to play or just to show who owns the playground like other multiple champions have in the past...

Phew I feel better now! I won’t rise to the bait on twitter as mainly 140 characters aren’t enough, and I’m not the cyber police, far from it, but as @PaddockChatter posted after a particularly blinkered tweet (yes from a VR fan, sorry) accused them of being Stoner fans – which misses the point of PC completely ie they’re all RACE FANS - ‘If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’.

Saying nice things brings me smoothly on to the subject of Cal Crutchlow and his relentless pursuit of a factory ride in whatever colour scheme he can get his hands on. Cal has been incredibly vocal about being courted to the point of being offered a verbal contract by Ducati Corse, something that comes across as a little ungrateful to his current employers – and is leaving them more than a little unimpressed with his actions so far. Cal truly has the talent to gain a factory ride, and on his start to this season no one can deny him his dream. However to come out and state he ‘deserves’ a factory ride is, for me, little mis-guided.

Although he was regularly out-scoring the factory Yamaha of Ben Spies and his Satellite Yamaha team-mate Andrea Dovizioso over the first third of the season, they’ve both outscored him over the last three races even though he’s out-qualified both over the same period, with Dovi taking a hat-trick of podiums in the races and we all know points make prizes.

Clearly the Yamaha is a competitive package, even in Satellite form as Dovi, and Cal are proving, so why would you be so open about potentially moving to a bike that he has out-qualified and out-pointed at almost every race this season and which could quite literally destroy his MotoGP career if it goes wrong and he burns his bridges with his actions and words?! Tech3 have shown their hand already by offering another two year deal on the same terms his current contract, which I’m sure is a fairly lucrative one even for a satellite team especially when bonuses from the team, and Cal's personal sponsor, Monster Energy kick in. But as yet, apart from qualifying front row this year to underline his potential, we’ve yet to see Cal debut on the podium on a regular basis like his team-mate – who as I said earlier, is in a far stronger position to gain a Factory seat than Cal and I would venture to suggest that with Marquez confirmed alongside Pedrosa for 2013/4, Dovi potentially looking at Gresini for 2013 and Ben Spies most likely to keep his Factory seat at the Yamaha top table, it looks like Ducati is Cal's only factory option. Is it his best option to secure podiums and race wins or best option to secure his financial future..?

For me, Yamaha is the better option for the Englishman, the team gel well, he’s comfortable on the Yamaha and there is less pressure and expectation to perform than a on a frontline Ducati that is almost crucifying a nine time world champion. I’ll support Cal wherever he goes just as I always have since the R6 Cup days, I just question his motivation and conduct in getting where he wants to be, after all we didn’t hear Casey or Valentino talking up their moves to Honda and Ducati respectively did we? And no other riders in this silliest of silly seasons are making as much noise as Cal,, some of whom are far more qualified to do so...

Last but not least mention goes to the future of MotoGP, some fantastic racing over these last three weekends from the axe-murderers of Moto3 – top notch, clean-ish racing from the likes of Cortese (like I said, clean-ish) Vinales, Kent, Fenati, Antonelli etc make it an absolute joy to watch.

Ive taken up enough of your time, I’m sure you’ve something more productive to do!

Thanks for reading and don’t be offended if you’re a Stoner Hater, it’s just my balanced opinion...