Casey Stoner gambled on bike setup and tire choice for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Spain and won his first MotoGP race at the Circuit of Jerez. Last year’s race-winner and series points-leader, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, applied heavy pressure, closing within 0.177 of second with two laps remaining in the race, which took place under dark skies on a mostly dry track. Stoner pushed back, increasing the gap at the checkers to nearly a second.
“This is something special for us,” said Stoner after the race. “We didn’t have a good qualifying, and we weren’t so happy with our pace in the dry conditions.” The Australian spoke of arm pump but didn’t mention tire chatter, a combination of which cost him top honors three weeks ago at the season opener at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
“[The arm pump] was nowhere near as bad as what we had in Qatar,” he admitted. “I was struggling to grip the bike, especially when I exited a tight corner, had to accelerate and then change directions to the left. I had no power, no grip to change direction. It was tricky to deal with, and I was making some silly mistakes.”
Stoner made just one lap of the wet-in-patches, 2.748-mile track during the 20-minute Sunday morning warm-up to scrub in a set of rain tires, but he was unable to test dry-setup changes made overnight to his factory machine. Stoner’s Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, led the session.
Rain stopped the Moto2 race after 18 of 23 scheduled laps, but the 27-lap MotoGP race was declared “dry” minutes before the start, with all riders on slick tires. Stoner was on the second row of the grid, his qualifying time uncharacteristically only fifth-quickest. Lorenzo had pole, with Pedrosa and Ducati’s Nicky Hayden filling out the front row.
Stoner was leading by the third lap. “Once we [got to the front],” he said, “I just kept going with the pace I had and realized [Dani and Jorge] weren’t really very close. We were able to take small advantages each lap and hold the gap. I made a couple of small mistakes, and Jorge was able to arrive very close to me, but we held on for the win.”
Deciding factor in the race may have been tire choice. Both Stoner and Lorenzo went for the same softest-available combination: Medium front and Soft rear. After the race, however, Lorenzo was seen taking a long look at his worn front tire.
“I knew it was a very important decision on the grid to choose the soft or the hard [tire]. Finally, we chose the soft one, and we were wrong. It’s a pity, because with the hard one, we could win this race with quite a little advantage.”
The feverish on-track battle between Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso continued at Jerez, with the British rider outqualifying his Italian counterpart and fighting with a charging Pedrosa throughout the race for the final podium spot. Dovizioso was a distant fifth.
Crutchlow was the only rider in the top five to use Bridgestone’s new Hard front slick. Only two examples were available to each rider at Jerez. “Most riders selected the new-specification front slick tire in the Hard compound for better durability,” said Bridgestone engineer Masao Azuma, adding that Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa went for the Medium front for its better warm-up performance and ability to remain in the optimal temperature range in the event of rain.
What was the difference between Pedrosa’s Honda and Crutchlow’s Yamaha? “More acceleration,” said Crutchlow, “but that’s always the case with the Honda. I feel we had a better package through the corners. He was faster in Sectors 1 and 3, so I spent 2 and 4 catching up; it was like an elastic band.”
Dovizioso is still adapting to the Yamaha M1 after leaving Honda. “I have to completely change the line,” he said. “The past three years, I was always working to have the best exit. With the Yamaha, this doesn’t work. You make the lap time in the entry and the middle of the corner.”
Hayden, who also chose a Medium/Soft tire combination, said that while his early top-three laps were good, he abused his tires too much. When their performance went down, his Ducati lost grip and he could no longer turn the bike. “After seven or eight laps,” he said, “it wasn’t too much fun any more. Eighth place isn’t very good after starting on the front row.”
While Hayden went backward, his teammate, Valentino Rossi, 13th in qualifying, moved up, eventually finishing ninth, six seconds behind Hayden. On Saturday, Rossi said he was unable to “enter the corner with the right speed, and I lose a lot.” In the race, he used a setup that was new to him but similar to what Hayden has run for some time, and he said it “gave some positive signs.”
Americans Ben Spies and Colin Edwards struggled mightily all weekend, finishing 11th and 16th after qualifying sixth and 21st. “I don’t really know what happened,” admitted Spies. “I got off to a pretty good start, but after that I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike. We need to find something because the Yamahas are working well, but my feeling with the bike is not great.”
Aleix Espargaro inherited top CRT honors after his Power Electronics Aspar teammate, Randy de Puniet, suffered a mechanical problem on the final lap of the race.
Next stop for the MotoGP World Championship is May 4-6 in Estoril in Portugal, a circuit also known for its unpredictable weather.