Motegi changed everything. Casey Stoner, who is leaving Ducati for Honda, won over Andrea Dovizioso on a Honda. The two of them pulled away from the previously ascendant Yamahas of Valentino Rossi, who is leaving for Ducati, and Jorge Lorenzo, who is heading for a world championship this year.
Might this put an end to Honda’s long years “in the wilderness” of having more horsepower than technology for applying and using it? Remember, Honda has won only one championship since 2003. In this view, when HRC manager Shuhei Nakamoto said a year ago, “Next year, new concept,” he was talking about Honda’s development of its own new electronic systems and software. As part of this technology push, Honda hired software-writer Andrea Zugna and two others away from Yamaha. In just the last few races this year, the Honda has begun to look more stable and manageable, and Dani Pedrosa has looked less like an action hero hanging on by his teeth. Now that Pedrosa is out with a broken collarbone, Dovizioso has shown that whatever is different now about the Honda also works well enough for him to hold off the Yamahas.
And, speaking of the wilderness, could Stoner’s wins spell the end of Ducati’s handicap with inadequate warning in the D16’s front end? No one can explore the edge of the Grand Canyon in total darkness—the penalty for error is too great. The usual symptom of lack of front-end feel is either caution from the rider (which we have seen from Stoner through most of this season) or a series of impressive laps followed by a sudden loss of the front and crash, which we have also seen. Other makers in this position have resorted to desperate measures, like sawing out chassis crossmembers or adopting “controlled looseness” for certain engine bolts. No one knows what Ducati has done, but something is working!
In any case, the Ducati seems to have “come good” just in time for Rossi’s switch to that brand, and the Honda to have done the same just in time for Stoner. That leaves Lorenzo and future teammate Ben Spies to hope that Yamaha comes up with something comparable. The architect of Yamaha’s 2004 turnaround, engineer Masao Furusawa, retires at the end of this year.
Rossi, still recuperating from a leg break and shoulder injury, made a strong statement by being unwilling to let current teammate Lorenzo take third from him at Motegi.
A new pattern will emerge from all this change. What will it be?