MotoGP: Motorland Aragon Post-Race Wrap-Up

Honda’s Dani Pedrosa scores runaway victory in Spain.

Pedrosa and Lorenzo at Motorland Aragon

Jorge Lorenzo leads Dani Pedrosa

After two long days of cold, wind and rain, the sun finally emerged, bathing Spain's Motorland Aragon in light and warmth. Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa streaked away from the Yamaha of MotoGP points-leader Jorge Lorenzo to win the 23-lap race, clawing back five points with four races left in the championship. Tech 3 Yamaha's Andrea Dovizioso completed the podium following a torrid, late-race scrap with teammate Cal Crutchlow. Ben Spies, on the second factory Yamaha, rounded out the top five.

Off-track, the action was just as hot. A controversial pay-per-view Italian TV deal has been signed, engine rev limits have been proposed, a spec ECU was announced and riders are playing their annual game of musical chairs. Wait, there's more: Are CRTs just a ploy, intended to bully the Japanese manufacturers into producing for-sale prototypes? Will the U.S. have three MotoGP races in 2013? Keeping up with paddock gossip is a full-time job!

I arrived at the circuit on Thursday afternoon just in time for the pre-event press conference. Seated at the front of the room were Lorenzo (six wins), Pedrosa (second overall, three wins), Crutchlow (fifth, third at Brno), Valentino Rossi (sixth, second at Misano) and Alvaro Bautista (seventh, third at Misano).

Thirty-eight points in hand aside, Lorenzo said he had not calculated where he needs to finish in the last five rounds to guarantee a second top-class title. “I don’t like to think about the points—the mathematics,” he said. “I like more to enjoy riding and try to be as fast as I can be in every situation.”

Fellow Spaniard Pedrosa refused to dwell publicly (at least in English) on the unfortunate circumstances at Misano two weeks ago that sent him from pole position to the back of the grid for the start (only to be knocked down by tailgating Hector Barbera on the opening lap) and likely destroyed his championship hopes. “If you think about the past,” he said, “you cannot move forward. Misano is past, and now, we are here for the Spanish GP.”

About the 3.155-mile circuit with its half-mile-plus front straight, seven right-hand corners and 10 lefts, Pedrosa was more upbeat. “Maybe it’s not the easiest for the fans when they come to watch because they cannot see all the track,” he said, “but it’s one of the nicest for riding.”

Would Rossi be able to back up his second-place finish at Misano with a podium at Aragon? “It’s a big test this weekend to understand better our level,” said the Italian. “Misano was a good weekend and a great race for us. Now, we have to understand here and in the next four races if, in reality, we made a step forward.”

Will Honda stay in MotoGP? Last week, Dorna outlined plans to introduce a spec ECU next season. Equipment and support will be provided free to all teams by the ECU’s developer, Magneti Marelli. Honda boss Shuhei Nakamoto has said his company will leave the series if it can not develop its own software. Dorna has called Nakamoto’s bluff. Now, the ball is in Honda’s court.

Rider opinions were mixed. Lorenzo said a spec ECU could be good for the series, especially for teams that don’t have access to or can’t afford the latest software. But rider safety can’t be compromised, he added. “We have to see if we still have the same security on the bike. The bikes are very powerful, with more than 250 horsepower, so we have to take care of mistakes.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Crutchlow. “You’re still going to see the same guys at the front. The guys who are fast in the championship are fast for a reason and not just electronics. I don’t think it’s going to suddenly make one guy in the back win the race.”

Dani Pedrosa

Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa

Hotels are in short supply in this part of Spain. So, like many of the GP paddock regulars, Cycle World Contributing Photographer Andrew Wheeler rented a flat in Beceite, a small town located less than an hour from the circuit. He offered me a room, home-cooked meals and a lift to and from the circuit every day. While that may seem like a long commute, Wheeler and his turbo-diesel rental made short work of the two-lane roads draped across fields of olive trees (Spain exports 300 tons of olive oil annually).

Oil on the track from a Moto3 crash delayed MotoGP practice by more than an hour. When the session finally began, only four prototypes—Nicky Hayden, Rossi, Barbera and Karel Abraham, all on Ducatis—ventured onto the damp track. A dry line eventually appeared, but, for most, the session was lost.

Second free practice was run in full wet conditions. Beginning the session with a setting he had used in similar conditions in Germany and Italy, Spies topped the time sheets with a 2:00.219 lap. Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Hayden and Dovizioso completed the top five. Lorenzo was the only rider to make more than one circuit in the 2-minute-flat range. Pedrosa posted the highest top speed, 205.372 mph, which was more than 3 mph faster than his closest competitor, Dovizioso.

“I wouldn’t say it was a shock to be quickest today,” said Spies, “but I was a bit surprised that we were as comfortable as we were. That’s important because we can’t tell what’s going to happen the next couple of days .

“I thought the track was going to be quite slick in the rain, but it was good and consistent. We didn’t change anything; we just did laps and got comfortable with the track. We have a good dry setting from when we tested here a couple weeks ago. So, either way, dry or rain, we have a good bike this weekend. Now, we just need to get the results on Sunday.”

I also spoke with Ten Kate Honda World Superbike star Jonathan Rea, a two-race stand-in for injured Casey Stoner. Eighth in his MotoGP debut at Misano, Rea is struggling to adapt to the Bridgestone tires. “The tires don’t give much feedback,” he said. “Their potential and performance is so high that you don’t actually understand where the limit is with the front tire. You have to push it so hard. You have to forget about everything you grew up learning and doing, and put so much trust in something that you don’t know what it’s going to give back.”

Rea tested the RC213V at Aragon in early September, completing 131 laps over two days. “I ended the test feeling like a GP rider,” he said. “If the race is dry, I’ve got a setup that we’re comfortable with. It would just be nice to have some dry laps under my belt to get my brain up to speed again with the GP bike.”

I joked with Rea that he might have 20 minutes on Sunday morning to get a feel for the bike in dry conditions. He smiled politely.

Bridgestone brought asymmetrical rear slicks to Aragon for the first time this year. According to a company spokesperson, the rubber on the left side of the tire is only one step harder than that used on the right. In practice, some riders, including Rea, were asking for greater stability from the treaded wet front. Bridgestone doesn’t make an intermediate tire.

Saturday morning’s third free practice was a repeat of FP2—cold and wet—with Pedrosa posting the quickest lap (2:00.490), followed by Lorenzo (2:00.624), Spies (2:00.712), Dovizioso (2:00.727) and Stefan Bradl (2:.00.823). This time, Spies was only rider to knock out more than one lap (four) in the 2-minute-flat range. Neither Pedrosa nor Spies was able to duplicate his best lap time from Friday afternoon.

Repsol Honda's Pedrosa

Dani Pedrosa on the podium

Qualifying was cool and windy but, finally, dry. With dark clouds looming overhead, a fast early lap was critical. “The radar said there was supposed to be some rain about 2 o’clock,” said Hayden. “So, it was just get the quickest lap possible without thinking too much about race setup.”

Pedrosa fell almost immediately. He was unhurt but his bike and leathers were damaged. Bradl stormed to the top of the order but was soon displaced by Lorenzo and Crutchlow. Then, Spies took the top spot, his soft-option Bridgestone visibly spinning and sliding under acceleration.

Crutchlow was the first rider into the 1:49-second bracket. “The track was really dirty,” he said. “At the start of the session, I caught the Ducatis of Valentino, Abraham and Nicky, and I thought someone was shooting bullets at me.”

Rossi struggled, crashing midway through the session on a cold front tire. “It was the first flying lap and first right corner,” he said. “I lose some important time, but I am okay.”

Rea was seventh, nearly a half-second quicker than Rossi and Hayden. “I was riding a bit scared in the beginning,” he said, “staying off the curbs and white lines. I also had an electrical problem. We didn’t have data from the first outing, so I wasn’t sure how to improve. I had to go out blind again, and we wasted some time.”

Spies finished the one-hour session fourth-quickest ahead of Bradl and Dovizioso, one of just four riders in the 1:49-second bracket. “We didn’t leave a whole lot out there,” said the American, “but I never felt like I attacked a full lap and nailed it down.”

Hayden crashed late in qualifying, his first outing of the weekend on Ducati's latest aluminum chassis. "I was having a lot of problems in the last corner with the bike not turning once I released the brake," he said. "I lost the front pretty big and was lucky to save it. But when I picked it up, I was going straight for the wall pretty fast. With slicks and wet grass, you don't stand much of a chance." He was gridded for the race alongside Rea and Rossi on the third row.

Crutchlow looked set to win his first pole until Lorenzo “took the watch—again.” Pedrosa was second, just .088 of a second back. “It was difficult to get on the pace at the beginning of practice,” admitted Lorenzo. “We struggled a lot. With the last qualifying tire, I pushed a lot and made pole position.”

Lorenzo also led morning warmup on Sunday, his best lap of 1:49.404 just .018 of a second quicker than Spies, with Pedrosa third. Bradl posted the highest top speed of the weekend: 211.276 mph. With track temperature higher than it had been all weekend, riders began to show interest in the harder of the two Bridgestone front slicks. For the race, all but three chose the harder option; everyone went for the softer rear.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo and Pedrosa split. Rossi ran off track, and within five laps, Hayden, BQR CRT rider David Salom and Bradl had crashed. The American hit an unprotected wall head-on and was catapulted over the handlebars.

Spies held off Dovizioso for 14 laps; Crutchlow came past three circuits later. “We were just a tenth off on the last five laps,” he said. Spies had a front-row seat for the gloves-off battle for the final podium spot between Dovizioso and Crutchlow. “Cal tried more than normal and was quite aggressive but clean,” said Dovizioso. “So, it was nice to battle with him.”

Rea finished seventh, 32 seconds behind Pedrosa, sandwiched loosely between Bautista and Rossi.

Lorenzo led six laps before being passed by Pedrosa, who opened a gap that grew to nearly 6.5 seconds at the checkers. Putting Pedrosa’s performance in perspective, Lorenzo managed six 1-minute, 49-second laps. Crutchlow did two, Spies and Bradl one each.

Pedrosa did 15.

“I knew sooner or later my bike would start to spin a lot and I would lose performance,” said Lorenzo. “Dani was faster today. I tried to follow him, and I have this mistake and almost crash. I say, ‘Okay, second place is good.’”

Pedrosa’s concentration was so intense that he almost forgot he was in a race. “When you get this focus so high, you are above everything,” he said. “You don’t think about anything else but riding. It’s like a different dimension.”

Alien? Indeed.

Pedrosa and Lorenzo at Motorland Aragon

Jorge Lorenzo leads Dani Pedrosa

Dani Pedrosa

Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa

Jorge Lorenzo

Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo

Honda's Dani Pedrosa

Dani Pedrosa wins at Motorland Aragon

Repsol Honda's Pedrosa

Dani Pedrosa on the podium

Umbrella girl

Lovely MotoGP Umbrella Girl