MotoGP: Grand Prix of San Marino Post-Race Wrap-Up

Lorenzo wins, Rossi podiums, Pedrosa crashes at Misano.

2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Anti-climax! Just when we had prepared ourselves to see a mighty Yamaha-vs.-Honda contest between series-leader Jorge Lorenzo and close-challenger Dani Pedrosa, circumstances first sent Pedrosa to the back of the grid and then knocked him out of the race. Lorenzo conserved his engine while playing keep-away from surprise second-place Valentino Rossi. The finish order was Lorenzo by 4.4 seconds over Rossi with Alvaro Bautista another 1.7 seconds back in his first MotoGP podium finish.

Friday practice had been wet, with top riders abstaining as CRT men topped the time sheets. “On days like this,” said Pedrosa, “it’s almost impossible to get any feedback from the bike.” He added that the weather was changing so quickly that riders going out on slick tires had to come back in when it started raining or had destroyed wets in a few laps because the track was drying.

Lorenzo took the opportunity to talk with visiting legendary world-champion racers Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read. “We didn’t even go out,” admitted Lorenzo. “We wanted to save engine life and also save energy. Today was not completely wet or completely dry—useless.”

Saturday morning’s third free practice initially was rainy, as well, but in its last 12 minutes, riders began to go out on slicks. Lorenzo did a number of laps on wets to know their behavior should the race also be wet. Even so, on a track whose lap record is in the 1-minute, 33-second bracket, Bautista’s chart-topping time of 1:42.393 was no faster than the top time set on Friday by satellite Ducati rider Karel Abraham, usually a mid-pack runner. The continued drying of the track left only the one-hour qualifying session for three essential tasks: 1) find a workable machine setup; 2) achieve a good pace; and 3) qualify well.

Regarding qualifying, polesitter Pedrosa said, “It is important to be on the front row because the first part is so tight. You need to get a good start and be in front.” No one wants to be helplessly stuck while the leaders pull away.

Maybe you’re wondering where Rossi and his Ducati came from to finish second. “Two weeks ago,” said the Italian, “we did a test here with some new stuff—a new chassis and swingarm with some modifications in the size and position and stiffness. We had two good days with quite good performance and feeling. Now, we have to understand if we have improved and how much together with the other guys. Our target is to do some good races from here to the end.”

Aha! Although Ducati had track time at Misano that others lacked, you couldn’t see it from qualifying. Rossi was back in sixth, which is what we have come to expect from Ducati, albeit only .762 of a second slower than Pedrosa, which is some improvement over the more-usual full second.

Qualifying:

1. Dani Pedrosa, Honda

2. Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha

3. Cal Crutchlow, Yamaha

4. Stefan Bradl, Honda

5. Alvaro Bautista, Honda

6. Valentino Rossi, Ducati

7. Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha

8. Ben Spies, Yamaha

9. Jonathan Rea, Honda

10. Nicky Hayden, Ducati

The fastest CRT was 1.9 seconds off pole, with the slowest example a real “slalom pole” at 6.2 seconds adrift. Will spec horns and rearview mirrors be next?

Bikes came to the grid for the race, and the prospect of a tight contest was soon smashed. Before the red lights could go off, Abraham had his hand in the air. Some riders rolled forward while others sat still. A restart was begun.

“It was total chaos at the start,” said Pedrosa. “It all began with the restart because the procedure was not at all clear. Nobody knew if it was one minute until the start or three minutes. We were also getting different information about the number of laps we would race—26 or 27. Suddenly, we were told it was one minute to the start of the race. The mechanics were rushing to prepare, and when they tried to take off the tire warmers, my front wheel was somehow locked. They tried to unlock it but weren’t able, and they put me to the back of the grid.”

This result asks a BIG QUESTION: Yes, there must be rules by which races are run, but in a time of shrinking grids, uncertain factory participation and declared need to maximize racing’s entertainment value, should procedures prevent a tremendous contest? In the moment that Pedrosa was sent to the back of the grid, the eagerly anticipated “clash of giants” vaporized.

At the 1989 World Superbike race at Brainerd, Minnesota, FIM officials seriously considered a protest that would have disqualified half the field. Rules have a purpose, but it is not to destroy racing.

Today, with Dorna apparently willing to risk losing Honda to put over its low-budget concept for MotoGP (Superbike engines in Moto2 frames, plus a coming rev limit, spec ECU and software), is it not essential to give fans at the track or watching on TV the spectacle of Lorenzo and Pedrosa racing heads up? At Misano, rules came first and the sport second.

Shortly after the restart, Hector Barbera ran into the rear wheel of Pedrosa’s Honda, and both men were out. As Barbera was led away by corner workers, Pedrosa held up his arms as if to ask Barbera what he could have been thinking.

“I tried to remain focused,” said Pedrosa, “not make any mistakes on the first lap and make clear moves to overtake riders. I was eighth or ninth by the sixth corner when Barbera hit me from behind, and that was it.

“Now, the championship is obviously more uphill for me, but I will continue. It’s not over for me.”

Lorenzo had led off the grid, followed by Rossi, LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl and the Tech 3 Yamahas of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. Abraham highsided violently on cold tires, followed by a tumble from Mattia Pasini. Four laps in, Crutchlow was off the track, as well.

“I could see I was catching a little,” said Crutchlow, “but he is a demon on the brakes, and I was having a problem stopping the bike with a full fuel load. I wanted to pass him at the first corner, but as soon as I got in the middle of the corner, I lost the front.”

This highlights what has apparently become a real issue for riders in this series: how to make the transition from corner entry—with maximum weight on the front tire squashing it out to form a huge footprint—to a mid-corner transfer of weight back onto the rear tire without losing the front as its footprint shrinks.

Lorenzo now led by two seconds, as Rossi worked to keep Bradl back. After 15 laps, Rossi was still barely ahead of Bradl, but Bautista on a Gresini Honda and Dovizioso had caught up, making a tight group all dreaming of third or even second. On Lap 17, Bautista, riding with the energy of desperation, took third. Ben Spies came up to chew into the back of this group. First Dovi and then Spies got past Bradl for fourth and fifth. Here’s how they finished:

1. Jorge Lorenzo

2. Valentino Rossi +4.398

3. Alvaro Bautista +6.055

4. Andrea Dovizioso +6.058

5. Ben Spies +7.543

6. Stefan Bradl +13.272

7. Nicky Hayden +40.907

8. Jonathan Rea +43.162

9. Randy De Puniet +1:09.627

10. Michele Pirro +1:13.605

Bautista and Dovizioso were very close at the checkers. “I had a problem with the front and could not brake hard and enter the corners like during the practice,” said Dovizioso. “That meant I had to change my lines, and I was not as fast as I expected and could not catch Valentino and push. I just had to ride smooth and, at the end, my feeling improved a bit because I could at least fight for the podium. It is a pity I couldn’t take third from Alvaro, but I ran wide exiting the final corner.”

Rossi was delighted with second place. After honoring the late Marco Simoncelli, for whom the Misano World Circuit is now renamed, he said, “I’m very pleased because we did a dry race at a high level, always with a fast pace and with a limited gap to Lorenzo. The new frame and swingarm allow us to make more changes to the geometry and, in fact, here the feeling with the front was improved, and the bike also seemed to be better balanced on acceleration. The setup that we found was also good, as I managed to be fast and consistent for the whole race.”

In post-race celebration, the Ducati crew, including embattled engineer Filippo Preziosi, were as carried away as if they had won. Rossi chattered on, only remembering to say the magic word “Ducati” at the very end. A look at the lap times shows that they remained constant over the latter two-thirds of the race, not deteriorating as has been usual. The Ducati is changed for the better.

Spies, after most of a season of bad luck, said, “I know we didn’t get on the podium, but I’m glad we were able to finally just have a normal race.”

Lorenzo summed up the event in his usual graceful way. “It’s been a very tough weekend because Dani and I had been very close in qualifying and warmup. Unfortunately, today, he had really bad luck—first with the lights at the beginning of the race, and then Hector took him out. This was really unfortunate for him. In Holland, we were unlucky, and today, he was unlucky. Anything can happen in these races. We have to be happy with our result and the point advantage we now have. For sure, we are much more calm now than before the race!”

Championship points:

1. Lorenzo 270

2. Pedrosa 232

3. Stoner 186

4. Dovizioso 163

5. Crutchlow 122

2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Jonathan Rea gets his thoughts in order before his MotoGP debut. The craziness is about to start.Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Bridgestone kingpin Hiroshi Yamada and four-time 250cc World Champion Max Biaggi enjoy a light moment.Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Believe! And the tires shall grip. Jorge Lorenzo leads Valentino Rossi just after the start.Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Ben Spies leads Alvaro Bautista. The Spaniard would go on to earn his first podium.Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

Lorenzo works to create a cushion between himself and the rest of the field.Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

This is more like it! Valentino Rossi is second?in the dry!Mark Wernham
2012 MotoGP Misano

2012 MotoGP Misano

It?s nice to have a 38-point lead. Later, Lorenzo can be ?more calm.?Mark Wernham