Monday, April 4

LORENZO KEEPS HIS HEAD

Jorge Lorenzo (File Pic)
LORENZO KEEPS HIS HEAD WHILE ALL ABOUT HIM OTHERS ARE LOSING THEIRS
By Michael Esdaile

JORGE Lorenzo was always going to be in the hunt for a podium at Jerez for the second round of the 2011 MotoGP Championship, but even he would not have predicted a win in front of almost 124,000 loyal Spanish fans.

As at the opening round at Qatar, the Repsol V4 Hondas of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa had set the pace through practice and qualifying, ending up first and second on the grid while Lorenzo turned in a mighty effort on the Yamaha in-line four to take the last place on the front row of the grid, the only other rider to get under 1m 39s in qualifying.

Lorenzo’s Yamaha team-mate Texan Ben Spies squeezed out a 1m 39.390s qualifying lap to head row two from Marco Simoncelli on the factory bike he’s riding under the San Carlo Honda Gresini banner. Andrea Dovizioso was sixth fastest on the third Repsol Honda, just ahead of Randy De Puniet (Pramac Racing Team Ducati), Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamahas.

Having crashed from losing front tyre adhesion on the Marlboro Ducati early in Saturday’s qualifying, nine times world champion Valentino Rossi was 12th on the grid, bested by not only De Puniet, but also Marlboro team-mate Nicky Hayden.

But qualifying on a dry track with a surface temperature of 30°C was far different from the conditions on Sunday, when it rained. In the Sunday morning warm-up session, the track temperature was 17°C and wet, but Stoner was again fastest. However, the surprise was Rossi, second fastest on a damp track. Behind the Ducati rider was Dovizioso, who had won the 2009 British GP at a rain-soaked Donington, with Hayden and Lorenzo next quickest in the damp.

By the time the MotoGP bikes went out on the sighting lap, it was raining steadily, but as the riders gridded up, the rain eased, but the track temperature was just 15°C. Not surprisingly, everyone was on rain tyres. Stoner made good use of his pole position to holeshot the race and lead into turn one, with Pedrosa alongside him briefly. Then the Spaniard dropped down through the field as he worked to find traction, and get his confidence up, and completed the lap in ninth place just behind a charging Rossi.

Out front Stoner led from Lorenzo with Simoncelli up to third place mid-way through the first lap, chased by Dovizioso, Spies, Hayden, Edwards and Rossi. The Marlboro Ducati may have been a handful in the dry, but whatever fuel/ignition map the crew had chosen for the wet was definitely working, Rossi making up ground everywhere in his rush toward the front. At the end of the second lap he dived inside team-mate Hayden and before the third lap was over he had got past Spies and Dovizioso.

Stoner was still leading narrowly from Lorenzo with Simoncelli closing in at a great rate, chased by Rossi, then Dovizioso, Hayden and Spies. But Simoncelli was definitely a man on a mission, diving past Lorenzo at turn one, then nipping under Stoner shortly after to lead. Shortly after, there was drama almost all through the field.

Firstly Rossi nipped under Lorenzo for third then a lap later he decided to come from a long way back to pass Stoner on the brakes in the right-hand turn one. But, as Stoner was to observe later, “his ambition outweighed his talent.”

Clearly Stoner had given the Italian plenty of room, and Rossi dived in, lost the front under brakes, went down and his sliding Ducati took the Australian out. Both jumped to their feet, got their bikes untangled and upright, and a group of Spanish marshals gave Rossi a shove and he was away. Not so for Stoner, the Australian later fuming about what he saw as favouritism to Rossi. He reported the Honda was undamaged and he could have got going too, with a similar effort from the marshals.

This was eight laps into a 27 lap race, and as events were to unfold, there is no question Stoner could well have scored some good points had he been able to re-join. As it was, before that lap was over, Rossi had already passed last-placed Toni Elias and was working his way back toward the front again.

The departure of Stoner and Rossi from second and third put Lorenzo into second place, with Hayden third, then Spies and in a terrific come-back Dani Pedrosa was fighting his way toward the front and was now fifth. Two laps later he passed Spies and at the same time his Repsol Honda team-mate Dovizioso began experiencing tyre problems, running wide in corners and going backwards.

With Stoner out and Dovizioso in trouble, Honda’s hopes now rested on Simoncelli in the lead, and Pedrosa in fourth. On the 11th of 27 laps, Pedrosa took third away from Hayden and started closing on Lorenzo. A lap later Simoncelli lost the front and crashed out, putting the patient Lorenzo into the lead. Pedrosa took the fight too the Yamaha man, but after a few laps it was clear he was just not able to get the job done, so he wisely elected to consolidate second.

However, having left Hayden trailing in his wake, Spies picked up the pace and slowly but surely reeled Pedrosa in while Tech 3 Yamaha’s Crutchlow was making similar advances on fourth placed Hayden as Tech 3 team-mate Edwards maintained a watching brief a little further back. But Crutchlow also sucuumbed to a loss of front tyre traction, crashing on the 20th lap but managing to re-join.

Meantime Spies continued on his mission to make it a Yamaha 1-2, taking the runner-up spot away from Pedrosa on lap 24 while not far behind, fellow Texan Edwards was starting to put the pressure on Hayden for fourth.

Then ‘wham’, in the blink of an eye, Spies was down – off into the gravel after a sudden loss of front-end traction. It happened so fast he had no warning.

“As soon as I passed Dani I knew that we had second place under control, he wouldn’t be able to get back by but I needed to not make any mistakes,” Spies said later. "Every corner after I passed him I slowed down, taking it easy then all of a sudden I was on the ground. Obviously it was my mistake, but looking at the data, I was going slower than I had all race. It was one of those things; I think the tyres were the limiting factor today.”

With Spies out, Pedrosa was back into second and Edwards passed Hayden, so it was looking like a Yamaha-Honda-Yamaha finish. But on the last lap, the fuel pump in the Tech 3 Yamaha failed, and Edwards rolled to a frustrated stop.

Thus Nicky Hayden scored his first podium since Aragon in mid-September last year by staying out of trouble and finishing strongly. The same could be said of Jorge Lorenzo, although in his case, he was always in the leading group, and in the final analysis, led way more laps (16) than anyone. It was fitting reward and to underline his mastery of the very tricky conditions, he finished almost 20 seconds in front of Pedrosa, with Hayden another 10 seconds astern. Fourth was Hiroshi Aoyama on the San Carlo Gresini Honda and a surprise fifth was – Valentino Rossi! The Italian had shown great pace in the wet, but his cause was also helped by other riders crashing ahead of him. After he re-joined the race and got past Elias, he tagged onto the back of a four bike group and was promoted a place when Dovizioso pitted to change his rear tyre.

Then he got past Loris Capirossi and stand-in Suzuki rider John Hopkins at about the same time Randy de Puniet crashed. So with 10 laps to run, Rossi was tenth. From there he eventually got the better of Hector Barbera, gained another place when Crutchlow crashed out of fifth, and two more places courtesy of the exit of Spies and Edwards. Lorenzo though showed all his world championship winning class on the Yamaha.

Not only did he win the race, he also took the MotoGP Championship lead after two rounds, with 45 points. Second on the points table, as in the race, was Pedrosa (36) while Stoner’s 25 points from his win in Qatar keep him third on the points ladder, just ahead of the Marlboro Ducatis of Hayden (23) and Rossi (20). “We made a good start to the race and the bike felt good for the first few laps, then the tyres seemed to move a little so we tried to conserve them in case it rained again,” Stoner reported afterwards. “I really wanted the chance to fight the Spanish riders here in a dry race, so it was disappointing for me that it was wet.

However, we were competitive here in the wet and dry and this is very important for us - at a track that hasn't been that great for me in the past. After so much hard work I hate to have a race like this because the team did a great job all weekend and now we go home empty-handed,” he added. Describing the incident in which Rossi cleaned him out, Stoner added, “I heard Valentino closing in but I wasn't worried about anyone passing me at that point in the race so I gave him plenty of room.

It was a racing incident and there's not much we can do. What is more frustrating is the reaction of the stewards and their assistance for Valentino and not for me; it was unbelievable. I want to just get to the next race now in Estoril, where I'm sure we can be competitive again.” Lorenzo was delighted with his win, but said, “I think everyone wanted a dry race, but at the end it rained, so we had to race.” He added that he found it “really difficult to keep the focus, the concentration.”

He said that toward the end, every lap the tyres were in worse and worse shape as the treaded wets were chewed up on a drying track. “So every corner you have to slow down a little bit more, every lap but keep the concentration. And when you see the others crashing around you, it is not so easy. And so it was a long race. But we keep on the bike and we win the second time here in Jerez, which is the best circuit in the world."