Dani Pedrosa raced from pit lane in dreaded “mixed” conditions—not wet, not dry—to win the final race of the 2012 MotoGP World Championship at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain. Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, stand-in for injured Ben Spies, was elated to finish second. Casey Stoner rounded out the podium in his final MotoGP appearance.
Only 14 of the original 22 starters completed the 30-lap race. Of those, just seven finished on the lead lap. An equal number of riders, including Valentino Rossi in his last appearance for Ducati and early race leader Aleix Espargaro on an Aprilia CRT machine, were lapped. Espargaro’s teammate, Randy de Puniet, and Hiroshi Aoyama were lapped twice. Colin Edwards was passed by Pedrosa three times. By mid-race, the event was becoming a farce.
Why did Pedrosa start from pit lane? Having observed on the warmup lap that much of the racing line was dry, he, like fellow prototype riders Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista, pulled in to change bikes, trading full-wet setups with steel brakes and ultra-soft, treaded Bridgestones to firmed-up machines wearing carbon brakes and the softest-option slicks.
MotoGP permits only two types of tires: slicks and rains. Intermediates are no longer an option.
The rush to slicks was led by newly crowned world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who completed two, rather than the usual one, sighting laps—one on wets and the second on slicks.
“We imagined that it was very difficult to go with slick tires,” said the Spaniard. “So, Ramon [Forcada, Lorenzo’s engineer] told me, ‘Go very quickly when they open the track to make two laps.’ I see with rain tires that the track was for a slick. Then, I stopped, changed the bike and go to not get penalized. I changed to slicks because I knew I could have big advantage. I had to be careful at the start, but I knew with patience I could be leading the race.”
In fact, Lorenzo worked his way from eighth at the end of first lap to the front three circuits later. But the Spaniard crashed spectacularly just shy of half race distance attempting to lap Paul Bird Motorsport rider James Ellison.
“He looked back, saw me and entered the good line again,” said Lorenzo. “I knew that if I didn’t overtake him quickly in two or three corners, I would lose all of my advantage to Dani, so I tried to overtake him in the chicane. I had to take a little more wet line, and…big highside.
“More than ever, we needed the collaboration of the lapped riders. But it was the opposite. Today, only Valentino [moved over]. The rest didn’t do anything. That cost my race, my win. But if it helps to improve the championship, I forget it.” Lorenzo was credited with 18th place.
On the narrow racing line, traction was good enough for Pedrosa to lap within 2.2 seconds of the new circuit lap record he set Saturday in qualifying—the only dry session of the weekend. Off line, as Lorenzo and many others discovered, grip was unknown.
Hayden was one of the earliest fallers. “To pass anyone, you had to go off line,” he said. “I was behind Danilo Petrucci and really couldn’t find a hole. In the last corner, I went a little bit wide to square him up. I was on the brakes, hit a patch and went down. [The track] was so shiny. It was hard to see the wet spots.”
Hayden had topped Friday’s opening practice, was third-quickest that same afternoon, fifth in FP3 Saturday morning and qualified seventh for the race. He described the crash as a “huge disappointment. With the weather, I thought we could do something good here to end the season, but it didn’t happen.”
Pedrosa led 17 of 30 laps and turned the quickest lap of the race, a 1:33.119, on Lap 12 while trailing Lorenzo.
What setup did the second bike have? “I did not even ask,” admitted Pedrosa. “I just said, ‘Which tires do I have?’ Soft, soft and go. I think the setup was completely dry—like we had [for qualifying]. Yesterday, we had the hard front. This time, because of the mixed conditions, soft front.
“First lap, I just tried to clean the tires and see how the track is. But at the same time, I tried not to lose too much time. Already, Jorge had one lap with heat in the tires. But, immediately, I was fast.
“The line was so thin, and [the CRT riders] were braking, and I was in the middle and didn’t want to touch another guy or somebody from behind. So, I tried to get a breath and get away with clean overtakes.”
Did the line widen during the race? “A little,” he said, “and not everywhere.”
Even with a half-minute lead on Nakasuga, Pedrosa couldn’t slow down. Doing so would have allowed his tires to cool, reducing their performance. He finished second in the championship, 18 points behind Lorenzo.
About Nakasuga’s second place, Lorenzo said, “I’m very happy for his result. He was patient, really quick and stayed on the bike. It was the best result for a Yamaha rider apart from me this year.
Regarding Spies’ departure, Lorenzo said, “It’s a pity that he is leaving Yamaha. In the future, he could get much better results than he showed this year. Maybe he will try the Ducati and finish better. In racing, everything is possible.”
At the crowded post-race press conference, the newly retired Stoner received a standing ovation. The Australian secured his podium position by slipstreaming past Bautista on the penultimate lap. He admitted being terribly nervous before the race.
“I wasn’t riding like myself,” he said. “I wasn’t loose and free like I normally would be. I’ve been warned about the difficulties I could have if I injure my foot again. I was trying to ride as quickly as possible without pushing any limits.”
Like most of the field, Stoner started the race on rain tires, expecting to pit for a bike swap at some point. “There was a bit of miscommunication with the pit board,” he said. “I was expecting them to tell when the slick tires started to be faster than the wets. Then, Jorge came past on the slicks and I was like, ‘Oh, great, already one or two laps before that, I could have been on the slicks.’ Anyway, we ended up making the right choice. We never thought it would be possible to get near the podium.”
I asked Stoner if track conditions changed during the race. “For me, the first five to eight laps sort of changed a bit, then it stayed the same; the lines weren’t getting wider. Then, maybe the last five laps, they started to change again. I think people were starting to push limits more and going onto those wet patches, and that’s why we saw so many crashes.”
Testing for the 2013 MotoGP World Championship—Rossi back on a factory Yamaha, Andrea Dovizioso moving to Ducati and Moto2 World Champion Marc Marquez taking over Stoner’s Repsol Honda—begins on Tuesday.