Monday, September 20

STONER RULES IN FRONT OF THE SPANISH KING


By MICHAEL ESDAILE


AFTER some major set-up changes to the factory Ducati Desmosedeci GP10 V4, Casey Stoner dominated the Gran Premio A-Style de Aragon, taking his first pole position since the first GP of the season and scoring a flag-to-flag win – while King Carlos of Spain and 70,000 plus spectators looked on.

Underscoring the Aussie’s strength in being able to quickly come to grips with new race circuits is the fact that of the top factory riders Stoner was the only one who did not familiarise himself with the new Spanish circuit on a sports bike.

Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo both familiarised themselves with the track layout on Yamaha YZF-R1 sports bikes, Rossi joking that he liked the layout so much he got 50 laps in. Both Repsol Honda riders, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso got some laps in on Honda CBR1000s and Nicky Hayden lapped the track on a Ducati 1198R.

The reason they rode sports road bikes is because the MotoGP rules forbid teams and riders from testing with their race machines at other than designated test days.

But Stoner did not bother going to ride around the Aragon Motorland circuit on a street bike a week before the race.

The forthright Aussie’s view was that it was a waste of time riding road bikes around the circuit as they so far removed from a MotoGP machine, nothing useful would be gained.

Certainly his lack of circuit knowledge did not hold him back in practice. He was fastest in the wet second practice session after being fourth fastest in the dry first session, then topped the third practice session before blazing off the only sub 1m 49s lap in qualifying, topping the time sheets with a blistering 1m 48.942s effort, three tenths of a second faster than champion-elect Jorge Lorenzo and a staggering half a second faster than team-mate Hayden.

And where was Valentino Rossi, the supposed set-up guru of MotoGP? More than a second down on the Aussie, who was perhaps determined to show the Italian a thing or two after Rossi’s earlier comment that Stoner had not been trying hard enough on the Ducati this year.

In fact, Rossi was out-qualified by MotoGP rookie Ben Spies on the satellite Yamaha from the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage.

“We’ve been trying different things for the last few weekends to try and get the bike more competitive without making really big progress,” Stoner said on Saturday, “but it looks like we might have found something here. We’ve changed the weight distribution a little bit and it has given me more grip and confidence. Maybe it’s just the fact the bike suits this place but either way we’ve got to be happy to be back on pole for the first time since Qatar. I also like riding at new circuits – when you haven’t already done a million laps around a place it’s always refreshing. We have to wait and see how the race pans out and see if I can run with these guys because we’ve had a few false dawns already this season so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but we feel good in race trim and I’m looking forward to it.”

Not even another front-end lose in the morning warm-up seemed to daunt the Aussie and he made good use of his pole position, sweeping into the left-hand first corner in the lead before briefly swapping places with Lorenzo. But Stoner was in no mood to be dicing for the lead in the second corner. He dropped the hammer and pulled off into a lead he would not relinquish for the entire 23 laps.

Normal holeshot hero Dani Pedrosa got into the first turn perhaps a little hot, got slightly sideways – “I almost crashed” he said later – and was back in fifth place.

But the factory Honda V4 is a potent package and Pedrosa made good use of it, motoring by Spies for fourth at the end of the first lap, then passing Hayden, then Lorenzo on successive laps to arrive in second place with 20 laps to go. Stoner by then was almost 1.6 seconds ahead, and despite Pedrosa digging deep to set fastest lap after fastest lap, Stoner responded by matching the Spaniard’s every move and towards the finish, when Pedrosa said his tyres were starting to lose grip, Stoner stretched away to finally win by a little more than five seconds. It was the Aussie’s first win since Malaysia last year.

With Pedrosa well clear of Lorenzo, who ran third for most of the race, the close quarter action was back in the field. Hayden stuck to Lorenzo looking for an opening, while not far behind, Spies was holding off an increasingly frustrated Andrea Dovizioso on the second Repsol Honda.

Dovizioso used the sheer speed of the Honda to range alongside Spies, the Yamaha slightly slower in a straight line, and at the five kilometre Aragon Motorland track that can be crucial as the main straight is almost a kilometre long.

However, Spies is one hard riding Texan and he wasn’t about to give up his fifth place without a fight. So as just as Dovizioso got a bike length on him, Spies took a deep breath, braked later and slammed across the nose of the Italian.

Dovizioso did not give up, pressing the point time and again. But Spies countered his every move in a clinical but very forceful way and eventually the Italian’s emotions seemed to get in the way of good sense, and he crashed out on the last lap.
Fifth place was Spies' ninth top six finish of a stunning rookie campaign and he remains firmly in contention for a top four overall finish in the championship. The Texan now has 131 points and sits behind Dovizioso (139) and Rossi (140) with Stoner now further out of reach on 155.

“I wasn’t giving that away after holding the place so long,” Spies said later. “We had a hellacious battle and then Dovi got in too hot, lost the front and slid off.”
"That was a really good race. I like racing like that and I told my crew that even if I'd finished sixth it would have been the funnest race of the year for me. Dovi and me started going at it with four laps to go and it was fun. I wish it didn't end with him crashing and I'm sure he's mad he fell down but we were having a blast. We kept it clean and close and he just made a small mistake on the last lap. I must admit I wasn't too far away from making one myself because it was getting pretty hectic. On the last lap I got him at turn one and then he got me back at turn eight. Going into turn 11, I passed him but got in deep and when we went back to turn 12 I was ahead of him but I didn't have the right line. So he had to go around me but unfortunately he fell and that's a shame because he rode great. I did too and for a while I was pulling back Nicky and Jorge but fifth is still a great result. I wasn't far behind Jorge and I beat Valentino and I was the top non-factory rider again. And the points are good for my championship, so I'm looking forward to this big final run of races with a lot of c onfidence."

Just ahead of him, Hayden finally put a forceful move on Lorenzo – also on the last lap –snatching third away from the Spaniard. In taking his first podium since Indianapolis last year, Hayden also ended Lorenzo’s incredible record of finishing on the podium at every race this year. Not only that, it brought to an end an impressive run of 47 consecutive podiums for the Fiat Yamaha team, with either Rossi or Lorenzo on the podium at every race since Valencia 2007.
Lorenzo’s advantage at the top of the championship was cut to 56 points and he now leads with 284 points to Pedrosa's 228. Stoner’s victory lifted him to third on 155.

Asked afterwards what the win meant to him, Stoner said “a big relief actually.”

“We had the first race (Qatar) looking wrapped up and then we lost it. The Ducati team has worked incredibly hard looking for some answers and this weekend we tried something completely different and it seems to have been the answer. Sorry it took so long.”

Meantime Pedrosa said that he tried everything he knew to catch Stoner “but I had a big slide on the first lap in the first corner and when I recovered, I had some riders in front of me. By the time I got passed them, Casey had a good lead and we ended up doing the same lap times, so I could not get close enough. Then I started struggling for grip.”

Hayden couldn’t stop smiling on podium or in the press conference later. It had been a long time since the ‘Kentucky Kid’ had been on the podium and he enjoyed every moment of it.

“The bike is working real good this weekend,” he said. “It’s nice to be on the podium. Big thanks to the team.”

Hayden had benefitted from the switch to a different aerodynamics package – featuring a larger front fairing – that proved helpful with the Aragon circuit featuring the longest straight on the MotoGP calendar. The American is taller and slightly wider across the shoulders than Stoner so he needs a different fairing in order to get fully tucked in.

Behind the podium placegetters, Lorenzo was fourth, Spies fifth and Rossi inherited sixth courtesy of Dovizioso’s last lap exit.

Full results: http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/xx/2010/ARA/MotoGP/RAC/Classification.pdf?v1_d7897f3e