Sometimes the pundits are right: the race weekend at Miller Motorsports Park turned out exactly as predicted, with a convincing double victory for Carlos Checa. The Spaniard put in a repeat performance of last year, with the crucial difference that on Monday, he avoided the technical problems that left him stranded by the wayside in both races. Checa was a little slow off the mark in race 1, taking all of 6 laps to take over the lead and run away with the race, the Althea Ducati rider treading carefully in the still chilly and uncertain conditions. Race 2 was a different matter altogether, Checa taking the lead into the first corner and out of sight by the end of the first lap. The Spaniard barely put a foot wrong all weekend, his only mistake being to slip over in the mud while trying to pick up a Ducati flag from a fan to celebrate victory in race 1.
But while Checa's record is impressive - six wins out of ten starts, with two more podiums thrown in for good measure - his 61-point championship lead is down to more than just his own dominance. Number 2 in the championship is Marco Melandri, who had a very mediocre weekend at Miller after a strong outing at Monza. In 3rd place is Max Biaggi, who seems determined to do everything in his power to lose his #1 plate in the most heartbreaking way possible this year.
A drop or two of rain always adds an extra dimension to motorcycle racing, and Sunday at Miller saw more than a drop or two of rain. That rain had a pretty big impact on the order, with riders such as BMW's Leon Haslam, who had struggled in the dry, suddenly finding themselves near the very top in the morning downpour, then dropping back as the conditions improved a little.
In fact, the rain may have inadvertently highlighted BMW's problem: In the dry, Corser was going strongly while Haslam struggled. In the wet, Haslam positively flew while Corser dropped down the order. As the conditions improved, the fates of the two men reversed, Haslam knocked out of Superpole 2 - crashing while trying to push - while Corser secured a spot on the second row of the grid. The settings of one appear not to suit the settings of the other, and that may go some way towards explaining why the development of the S1000RR has been erratic. The electronics, especially, have been the BMW's bugbear, with the complex system that BMW has developed in-house causing the riders, team and engineers plenty of headaches.
Carlos Checa picked up on the first day at Miller where he left off after last year's race: running at the front but plagued by technical problems. The Spaniard dominated here last year, but was forced to pull out of both races when his Althea Ducati packed up. So it was a little bit worrying for Checa when, after blitzing straight to the top of the timesheets in FP1, Checa's 1198R packed up on him, with what was apparently diagnosed as an electrical problem. Going out on the second bike, Checa continued to dominate, until his bike packed up a second time in the same session, this time reportedly with gearbox problems.
Despite the painful echoes of 2010, Checa was back out in the afternoon, this time ending the first session of qualifying without any technical dramas, but with an advantage of nearly eight-tenths of a second over the nearest competition. The Spaniard was merciless from the start: his first flying lap during qualifying was faster than any other rider had managed during FP2, and he got quicker from there, eventually getting to within a couple of tenths of the race lap record. If the bike stays in one piece, it's going to be hard to beat Checa at Miller - if the weather stays dry, of course.
2011 MotoGP Le Mans Sunday Round Up: Impetuosity, Or How The Best Passes Are Saved Until The Last Lap
There has been much lamenting of late that the MotoGP paddock has been full of talk and not much action. There have been plenty of complaints about the dangerous riding of certain riders, and not much evidence to back the accusations up with. Well, that certainly changed at Le Mans.
But before we get to the controversy - and there was plenty of it, and this time, it was real, not artificially stirred up by the media (mea culpa) - it behooves us to talk about the race. For there was a lot of interesting data that got buried under the polemic, which may prove key for the rest of the season.
The winner was entirely predictable, though the difficulty Casey Stoner had in securing the win, at least for the first third of the race, was rather less expected. Stoner, he said, had had about as near a perfect weekend as it was possible to have, blitzing every session and going on to win the race by an obscene amount - though obviously assisted by the removal of Dani Pedrosa and Marco Simoncelli from the proceedings. The Casey Stoner we saw at Le Mans this weekend was the Casey Stoner that most pundits had backed at the start of the year, after he had dominated much of preseason testing. With the 2011 Ohlins forks now working for him, Stoner looks like being a very hard rider to catch.
If you switched on for the last 10 minutes of qualifying at Le Mans this afternoon, you were in for a treat. A thrilling finale to qualifying reminded everyone of why MotoGP doesn't really need Superpole, as exciting as that can be on a World Superbike weekend. Casey Stoner finally secured his third pole of the season by just 0.059 seconds, or fractionally more than a bike length. Marco Simoncelli had been using his lanky frame to muscle the San Carlo Gresini RC212V around the track in pursuit of Stoner's time, but the Italian came up just a fraction short. With Simoncelli this close in qualifying, it should be a pretty close race, right?
There's an old saying in racing: "When the flag drops, the production of bovine fecal matter stops." Though the phrase "production of bovine fecal matter" is usually replaced by something a good deal more succinct, colorful, and likely to get blocked by some internet filters. So once the bikes rolled out onto the track for a full day of timed practice, the bellow of MotoGP bikes finally silenced the complaining that had been going on on all sides since the bikes were rolled back into the trucks on Monday night after Estoril.
There's certainly no place to hide from the Hondas at Le Mans. HRC came to what has traditionally been regarded as a Yamaha track and has wiped the floor with the opposition. On Friday morning, the four factory Hondas (three Repsols and one San Carlo Gresini) took the top four slots on the timesheets, the nearest non-Honda (the factory Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo) over a second behind fastest man Casey Stoner. In the afternoon, Marlboro Ducati's Nicky Hayden helped disrupt the party, snagging 4th ahead of Lorenzo, demoting Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso down to 6th. The Ducati and the Yamaha even closed the gap on the top Honda, from over a second to just under nine-tenths of a second.
After Estoril, the MotoGP circus has washed up at Le Mans - though your humble narrator is not at the track, for reasons which I have laid out in a blog post elsewhere - with the prospect of some genuinely interesting developments at the circuit. After all, Le Mans is the first race after the one-day Estoril test, held on the Monday after the Portuguese Grand Prix, which saw a number of riders make some big steps forward; the revised front subframe / chassis on the Ducati GP11 worked well for both Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden; Jorge Lorenzo went back to some settings he used in 2010, and immediately found the confidence on the brakes he was missing during the race; and Casey Stoner had finally got the 2011-spec Ohlins forks to work on his Honda without them chattering in the corners.
But of course the first order of business was the soap opera that the 2011 MotoGP season has become. Valentino Rossi appears to be the main instigator, the Italian leaving Estoril with a few parting shots about MotoGP riders being "pussies" and like children, as we recounted in the post-test round up on Monday. Things got stirred up even further over the World Superbike event at Monza, when rumors emerged that Rossi was claiming to have been blocked and run off the track by Casey Stoner at the Estoril Monday test - which took place after the TV cameras had been removed after the race. Rossi further fanned the flames, rather ingeniously, by both confirming the incident and playing it down when he attended the opening of an Enel store at Milan earlier this week.
Winning a world championship requires several key ingredients: talent, skill, hard work, intelligence, courage, and a little bit of luck along the way. The ratio of each of those ingredients may vary for each individual champion - with the exception of hard work, the level of dedication to the sport remaining the same for everyone - but the factors involved are always the same.
That skill, talent and bravery are necessary is obvious to even the most casual observer. But the most underestimated of all these qualities is surely intelligence. Yet intelligence is the difference between a race winner and a champion: bravery, skill and luck may win you the odd race, but only intelligence applied over the course of a season will secure you a championship.
The necessity of intelligence in motorcycle racing was manifest during the Monza World Superbike round. For in both the Superbike and the Supersport races, decisions were made which could end up having a profound effect on the championships, and in both cases, the question boils down to a lapse of judgment, and a lack of intelligence used in the decision making process.
Three hundred and thirty-four point eight kilometers per hour. Two hundred and eight miles per hour. By any conceivable measure, that's fast, and the fact that Max Biaggi's lap time of 1'41.745 is nearly two-thirds of a second faster than the man in second place, Eugene Laverty, and four-tenths faster than anyone else has ever gone at Monza merely underlines the Roman Emperor's dominance at the Italian circuit, which sits in the suburbs of Milan.
A large part of the credit for that lap must go to the Aprilia RSV4; the combination of big HP numbers, a tiny frontal area and a small rider mean that the Aprilia has a serious advantage at the high-speed Monza circuit. But that does not do justice to Max Biaggi's role in the lap, the Italian putting in a clean, precise lap to take pole. Given the fact that Biaggi took the double here on the Aprilia last year, you would be forgiven for pronouncing Biaggi the winner before the race has even been run.
From the Cathedral of Racing to the Temple of Speed; the World Superbike circus has left Assen behind and rolled up at Monza, the high-speed track in the middle of a former royal park. While horsepower is a factor everywhere, at the scorching pace that Monza generates, it moves from being important to fairly decisive at the legendary Italian track.
So no surprise that the four cylinders are dominating at Monza, nor that the horsepower kings have come out on top. The BMW of Leon Haslam posted the fastest time of the day on Friday, with Max Biaggi's Aprilia a blink of an eye slower round the circuit. If anyone were foolish enough to doubt the top speed of the Aprilias, then Biaggi's new top speed record of 332.5 km/h - that's 206.6 miles per hour - should dispel them. So fast is the Aprilia that Ducati test rider Franco Battaini told GPOne.com recently that while he was testing the Ducati Desmosedici GP11 MotoGP machine at Mugello, Biaggi - also on track testing the Aprilia RSV4 - was staying with him effortlessly down Mugello's front straight.