Dark clouds hang over the MotoGP paddock at Aragon, and it's not just the ones from which the rain fell for most of the day. There is a sense of malaise, a black funk which pervades the paddock here, a lack of the usual sparkle and cheer which raises the mood at the racetrack. Maybe it's because all three championships are more or less sewn up; maybe it's because the excitement of silly season is mostly over; maybe it's the location: Motorland Aragon sits in of the most beautiful regions of Spain, if arid desolation is what you seek. Or maybe it's just me.
Most of all, what ails the paddock is a sense of uncertainty and a lack of direction. There is only one topic of conversation, but it is large enough to cast a pall over every discussion. What is uppermost in everyone's mind is the future of MotoGP, more specifically the introduction of a standard electronics package, the effect it will have on the series, and most importantly, when and even whether it will be announced.
That was a chaotic weekend. Two-and-a-half days lost to rain, then a bizarre series of hold ups and incidents on the start of the MotoGP grid that ended up eventually going a long way to deciding the championship. Fortunately for the series, the MotoGP race was preceded by two scintillating support races, and then the MotoGP race itself saw two very popular podiums.
To start with the biggest issue, the start and then the restart of the MotoGP race. There was a lot of confusion and head-scratching over what was going on - the riders had never seen the flashing amber lights on the starting panels, for one - but when the dust settled, it looked like everything had been run almost by the numbers, despite the protests from Dani Pedrosa's camp.
The sequence events seems to have been this: After the first warm up lap, the riders lined up on the grid ready to go, but after the starting lights had been shown, Karel Abraham had a clutch problem and put his hand up to indicate that his bike was not working. Once that had happened, Race Direction had no option to call off the start. They ran this by the book: flashing yellow lights were displayed next to the red lights, and yellow flags were waved. There was as short an interval as possible, before the bikes set off for the second warm up lap, and race distance was reduced by a single lap.
2012 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pedrosa vs Lorenzo, The Battle For 3rd, And Rossi's Helmet Explained
Finally it stopped raining. The light drizzle that has plagued the Misano circuit since Friday morning petered out around lunchtime, making way for the sun to dry the track out. Though the riders were glad to see the back of the rain, it left them with an awful lot of work to do. The set up work from the three lost sessions all had to be squeezed into the single hour of qualifying, leaving space for the mad fifteen minute scramble for grid positions. "It was a pretty tight session," Dani Pedrosa said after qualifying. "We had to test tires, set up, and get a feeling for the bike in just 60 minutes."
It had not been that much of a problem for Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man had looked strong throughout the session, leading for much of it and striking back whenever anyone else had the temerity to better his time. Jorge Lorenzo had come close, but had taken a little longer to get up to speed than Pedrosa, struggling to find his rhythm again after sitting out the first day and then putting in a very few very tentative laps on Saturday morning. In the end, he could not quite match the times of the Repsol Honda man, though Lorenzo's race pace matched that of his championship rival.
The main protagonist in Friday's action was the weather. Like a hormonal teenage girl, the rain simply could not make up its mind whether it was going to fall properly or not, light drizzle blowing in for ten minutes before blowing out again five minutes later. (Hormonal teenage boys, it should be noted, know exactly what they want, and apart from the obvious, what they want is the opposite of whatever they have just been told). The weather left the track in that awful half-and-half condition, too cold and damp for slicks, too dry for wets, and the track conditions left the MotoGP men mostly sitting in the pits.
Dani Pedrosa explained it best. "Too wet, so you cannot push, so the tire cools down immediately after you go out, and in or two laps you have to stop, because there is no temperature in the tire. And with the wets, it's completely the opposite, the tire is immediately out of the working range, and one or two laps and it is gone." Even in the short period you could go out, there was nothing to be learned, Pedrosa said. "If the tire has too much temperature or too little temperature, the bike feels completely different. There's no meaning in going out."
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.