Jorge Lorenzo became the 2012 MotoGP world champion at the penultimate round of the series this past weekend at Phillip Island in Australia. It is his second premier-class title.
At the start of the race, Lorenzo got away first, just as he has done in the last two events, but he was passed on Lap 2 by polesitter Casey Stoner and championship contender Dani Pedrosa. As the group entered Turn 4—the Honda Hairpin—Pedrosa crashed. “It was nothing strange,” he said. “I just went wider on the corner. I had some chatter and lost the front. Maybe the tire was not warm enough, but it’s like it is.”
Pedrosa’s remark that he ran a bit wide and encountered chatter that cost him essential front grip suggests the active role riders play in controlling that bane of their existence: chatter. Here is the fast line, but over here is the chatter-free line. Here is how I would enter this turn if chatter were not a concern. But because it is a concern, I ride slightly differently. In machine setup during practice, it is often the case that what works against chatter may have undesired side effects, as well. Then, it is up to the rider to find a way.
Lorenzo needed only three points to overcome the maximum Pedrosa might earn by winning the final GP of the season at Valencia, Spain. He rode conservatively, finishing nine seconds behind winner Stoner and five seconds clear of the third-place finisher, Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow.
Stoner led every practice session despite highsiding 20 minutes into qualifying. “I was on my out lap on a hard tire,” said the Repsol Honda rider, “and the thing just decided to flip me.”
Stoner adjusted himself, catlike, while in the air so as not to come down on his injured ankle. “I was very fortunate I didn’t come down on my foot,” he said. “If it was the other way, it would have been a different story.”
Stoner’s qualifying highside and Pedrosa’s Lap 2 lowside—both in the same turn, both in the first two minutes of operation—suggest a cold tire was involved. This emphasizes a central truth of racing in Phillip Island: Tire warmup is slow in cool conditions, and it’s easy to make a mistake.
After his highside, Stoner walked back to the pits, went out on his “B” bike and set pole.
1. Stoner 1:29.623
2. Lorenzo 1:30.140
3. Pedrosa 1:30.575
4. Crutchlow 1:30.763
5. Bradl 1:30.798
6. Dovizioso 1:31.200
7. Bautista 1:31.490
8. Rossi 1:31.661
9. de Puniet 1:31.667
10. Hayden 1:31.681
After qualifying, Lorenzo said, “Well, Casey is unbeatable this weekend if nothing strange happens, so for everybody, it’s our target to be as close as possible to him. But I’ll mainly try to win second place. We’ll try to keep calm and not make any mistakes.”
For the race, every rider chose the softer front option, and all but one, LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, chose the softer rear. Bridgestone’s Motorsport Tire Development Manager, Shinji Aoki, said, “The weather was better today but still quite cool, meaning that softer-compound slicks were preferred by almost every rider for the race. Morning warmup gave some riders the opportunity to test the harder slick options both front and rear, but it was still too cool for these options to work effectively.”
Speaking of the rapid weather and temperature changes that occur on Phillip Island, a TV commentator said, “You get all four seasons in a day in Melbourne, but on Phillip Island, you get all four in the space of an hour!”
Stoner made no mistakes in the race, sliding visibly in fast turns in a mysterious style others yearn to understand. He made his fastest-ever Phillip Island lap—a 1:28.665—back in 2008. He did that lap on an 800cc Ducati.
Crutchlow raced as part of the second group—Alvaro Bautista, Bradl and Andrea Dovizioso—until Lap 7. Then, evidently sure his tire was in prime condition, Crutchlow left the others behind at three-quarters of a second per lap. By Lap 12, the Brit was 3.5 seconds clear of them.