The return to Misano was always going to be an emotional affair, the first time MotoGP has returned to Marco Simoncelli's home circuit - now renamed in his honor - since the Italian fan favorite was killed in a tragic accident at Sepang last October. Though Simoncelli is being remembered in many different ways during the weekend - nearly all of the riders in all three classes joined for a lap of the track by bicycle this evening - the remembrance has been cheerful rather than mawkish, a celebration of his life rather than mourning at his death. Fans, riders, mechanics, photographers, journalists, many have made the pilgrimage to Coriano, Simoncelli's home town just a few short miles from the track, paid their respects and headed to the circuit feeling better for the experience. Simoncelli's ghost may haunt the paddock at Misano, but happily, he does so in the guise of Casper rather than Banquo.
There is more than enough to keep the minds of those present engaged. Uppermost in most people's minds is Ben Spies decision to go to Ducati to race in the Ducati junior team to be run by Pramac. Both of the 2013 factory Ducati riders welcomed the signing of both Spies and Andrea Iannone, with Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden saying it was a good decision by Ducati. Both Spies and Iannone had proven their speed, and Spies experience at the factory Yamaha team would be very valuable to Ducati in helping to develop the bike. There was surprise at Spies' decision - "I thought he would go to World Superbikes" Dovizioso told reporters - and both men were interested to see how he would perform on the Ducati.
Coming into the last lap of 2012 Czech Republic Grand Prix many fans fell back in love with MotoGP series. It does not happen very often, but victory at Brno was still to be decided with just a single lap to go. Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were pushing each other using not just every MotoGP riding trick they had, but also everything they learnt since the pair were still young and wild 125 class riders.
If you are a true road racing enthusiast and love the action on the track, whatever the national flag a race winner may be carrying on the lap of honor, I am sure you really enjoined the battle at Brno between Pedrosa and Lorenzo. After all, if watching a MotoGP bike and rider perform at their maximum is a pleasure on its own, watching two fighting for victory on the last lap definitely brings some glorious memories back, including Roberts-Spencer, Gardner-Lawson, Rainey-Schwantz, Doohan-Crivillé or Rossi-Biaggi as some of the toughest encounters on the track.
The battle between Pedrosa and Lorenzo at Brno was great racing but, with the unfortunate absence of Casey Stoner and the Aussie’s plans to retire at the end of 2012 season, this battle left the pinnacle of road racing in the hands of Spanish riders too, as has been happening with Moto2, 125 or Moto3 series in the last few years.
To say that Ben Spies has caused a few surprises in 2012 is one of the larger understatements of the year. Sadly for the Texan, though, those surprises have not come in the form of podiums and race wins, as he himself may have hoped. Rather the opposite, and often through no fault of his own, Spies' 2012 season has been dogged by bad luck, unusual mechanical failures and mistakes.
The surprises reached their apogee the week before the Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, when Spies announced he would be leaving Yamaha at the end of the 2012 season. That he should be leaving Yamaha was unusual enough - the factory Yamaha ride is probably the most desirable seat in the MotoGP paddock, as the M1 has proven to be the most competitive bike this season - but his choice of media was extraordinary: a post on his Twitter feed, followed by a more conventional (if unusually timed) phone call to Superbikeplanet to explain his decision in a little more detail.
Dani Pedrosa has something of a reputation. Blisteringly fast when out on his own, but put him under pressure and he crumbles. Once passed, he is history, and he will trouble you no more.
There has never been that much truth to that accusation, and the MotoGP race at Brno should drive the final nail into its coffin, for what the diminutive Spaniard displayed on Sunday was the heart and courage of a lion. The race did not have much passing - just three passes for the lead in the entire race - but it was a genuine thriller nonetheless.
Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa broke away early, despite the best efforts of Cal Crutchlow to hang on - and impressively, he hung on for a remarkably long time - and the stalking began. Pedrosa hung on Lorenzo's tail for 12 laps, then Lorenzo gave way, needing a breather. The roles where reversed, this time Lorenzo snapping at Pedrosa's tail, waiting for an opportunity to appear.
2012 Brno MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Small Differences Making A Big Difference, And The Last Of The Contracts
Up until the start of MotoGP qualifying, it looked like Dani Pedrosa had the race at Brno just about wrapped up. The media center joke was that they might as well start writing his name on the trophy, so much faster was the Repsol Honda man. And then he crashed in qualifying, and started going an awful lot slower, in a tale that has echoes of Casey Stoner's time at Ducati.
The crash was relatively simple - "maybe I was on the limit too much," Pedrosa said, and Brno with its long corners, some flat and some downhill, means the riders are pushing the front for a lot of the time at the circuit - but the consequences were serious. Pedrosa returned to the pits, got on his second bike, and immediately had much worse chatter than before. Despite the setup being identical on both bikes. This is the kind of thing that Casey Stoner used to suffer at Ducati, two identical bikes that felt different, an issue that he never suffered at Honda. But the problem with hand-built prototypes is that apparently, even tiny deviations can cause a difference in feel, especially when pushed to their very limits by riders as sensitive as Pedrosa.
Friday would prove to be an eventful first day of practice at Brno. Thrills, spills and plenty of flag waving, mostly of the red variety, as crashes played havoc with the day's schedule. It started in the morning, during FP1 for MotoGP, when Valentino Rossi ran wide in the final corner and his rear wheel kicked up a couple of sizable rocks. The rocks hit Dani Pedrosa, on the top of his foot and the front of his fairing, destroying the screen. How fast was he going when he was hit by the rocks, one intrepid reporter asked? "I don't know my speed," Pedrosa quipped, "but the rocks were going like they were shot out of a gun."
And they weren't small rocks either. Asked what size they were, Pedrosa held up both hands, touching thumbs and forefingers together to make a circle. "Like this," he said. About the size of a grapefruit, then. Pedrosa said he had been worried that the impact had broken a bone in his foot, and the Spaniard was limping visibly as he got off his Repsol Honda, but the pain subsided as the session continued, reassuring him that there was nothing broken, just banged up and bruised.
Indianapolis is not given to great racing - a lack of use on the infield road course means that the track is usually fairly dirty once you get off line - and Sunday was no real exception. The MotoGP and Moto2 races were tactically brilliant and masterful displays of crushing the opposition, but neither was particularly entertaining to watch. Fortunately, nobody had told the Moto3 riders about the lack of great racing, and the youngsters got the day off to a fantastic start, with the race decided in the last sector of the track.
Luis Salom's victory was well deserved, from any number of perspectives. The Spaniard had stalked Sandro Cortese and Maverick Vinales all race long, and knew he would have to capitalize on any mistakes the front runners made. That mistake turned out to be a preoccupation with one another, both Cortese and Vinales spending all their time worrying about each other and their battle for the championship. On the run into Turn 10, Salom dived inside the leaders and took over at the front. That threw Vinales and Cortese enough of a curve ball for Salom to lead the race to the line, taking his first ever victory in Grand Prix, a win that has been coming for some time now.
But the win is also just reward for the team: the RW Racing GP team has been an asset to the series, since Roelof Waninge took over the team from Arie Molenaar. RW Racing is a team of modest means, but they try to live within them, getting everything they can out of what they have, rather than throwing money they don't have at a problem in the hope of fixing it. Sticking with Luis Salom has been sensible: this is now the third season that the Spaniard has worked with crew chief Hans Spaan, and the stability of his situation is paying off. Salom is still a long way from the title fight, but looks like playing more of a role from this point forward.
2012 Indianapolis MotoGP Friday Notes: The Love-Hate Relationship For Indy, And How Hondas Love Going Left
MotoGP has a love-hate relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: most of the paddock love the place, the rest hate it. The way those feelings are divided is what is really interesting, though: the admirers of the track include most of the media, the teams and many, many fans. Those that hate the track are a small but well-defined group: anyone either wielding a camera or a racing a motorcycle have very few kind words for IMS.
So why the schism? It really depends on what you are doing at the track: the circuit has some of the best facilities of any circuit the MotoGP circus goes to all year, and making the life of the media, the teams and the fans exceptionally easy. The photographers, on the other hand, hate the track because of the fences. As a circuit that mainly hosts car races, there are high chain-link fences all around the circuit, to prevent debris from wrecked four-wheelers from flying into the spectators. At a few selected spots on the circuit, there are openings in the fences for photographers to poke their lenses through, giving them an unobstructed view of the circuit. There are lots of photographers and relatively few camera holes, leaving gaggles of photographers gathered around the available shooting spots like narwhals around a breathing hole in the arctic icesheet.
So what are we to make of Valentino Rossi's not-so-shock decision to leave Ducati and go back to Yamaha? The initial reaction from fans and media was that the biggest losers from the move are Ducati as a manufacturer and Rossi's reputation as miracle worker when it comes to bike development. There is some merit in both those arguments, but perhaps it is not quite so clear cut as that. Rossi's two years at Ducati have done a lot of damage to both parties - as well as to MotoGP's popularity and TV income - but in the end, this move could have some very positive long-term repercussions.
Kissing A Frog
Valentino Rossi's honeymoon period with the Ducati lasted just a few laps. From the very beginning, Rossi realized that this was not the bike he had been expecting. The bike had no front-end feel, an excessively aggressive power delivery and a seating position that would not allow him to shift his weight as he needed. Three days after finishing third in the race at Valencia, Rossi ended the test 1.7 seconds slower than Casey Stoner, the man whose bike he was now riding. Rossi looked stiff and awkward, a shadow of the rider he was a few days earlier on the Yamaha.
After shoulder surgery and development over the winter, Rossi was not much faster. At the final test ahead of the season opener at Qatar, he was 1.4 behind the leader, Casey Stoner. In the 14 months since then, the gap has been roughly halved, but Rossi on the Ducati is still some seven or eight tenths behind the leaders, and looking only marginally less stiff, awkward and uncomfortable than he did back in November 2010. On a good day, he finishes 6th, telling reporters "this is our potential."
Valentino Rossi's imminent return to Yamaha - to be announced on Friday morning, Yamaha and Ducati having been forced to move the schedule forward once news of the switch leaked - will accelerate the final movements in MotoGP's silly season, with the still open grid slots on prototype machines likely to be filled in very short order once the Rossi announcement has been made. Rossi's return to Yamaha will be heralded much as his departure from the factory for fresh pastures at Ducati was, only this time the roles will be reversed. First, Ducati will issue a release thanking Valentino Rossi for his time with the factory, and shortly after - minutes, rather than hours, - Yamaha will issue a press release welcoming Rossi back to the fold. The difference, perhaps, is that this time a love letter such as the one Rossi wrote to Yamaha after he left in the middle of 2010 is unlikely to be forthcoming.
With Rossi at Yamaha, that leaves five prototype seats still open: The factory Ducati left vacant by Rossi's switch to Yamaha; the as-yet unfilled second Monster Tech 3 Yamaha seat (the first seat is for Bradley Smith, who will be moving up from Moto2 as provided for in the contract he signed with Herve Poncharal in the middle of last season); the San Carlo Gresini Honda bike currently being ridden by Alvaro Bautista; and the Ducati junior team seats, in a yet-to-be-decided structure with one or more yet-to-be-selected teams. So who will be filling those seats? And where does that leave the riders left standing once the music stops?