Monday, May 16

STONER STORMS TO LE MANS WIN

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

HONDA’s Casey Stoner proved unbeatable in an action-packed French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 15, racing away to a huge win over Repsol team-mate Andrea Dovizioso after dominating every practice session as well as the qualifying session and the pre-race warm-up.

The race was marred by Honda riders Marco Simoncelli and Dani Pedrosa making contact, with the result that Pedrosa crashed and suffered another collarbone injury. The result of this was that Marlboro Ducati rider Valentino Rossi was then in a position to make a bid for the podium and when Jorge Lorenzo ran wide with four laps to go, Rossi needed no further invitation.

But Stoner was oblivious to all the drama going on behind him as he romped away to his second win of the year, smashing Jorge Lorenzo’s 2010 race record by 25.159 seconds in the process.

It was a consummate performance from the Australian, whose race winning pace averaged almost nine tenths of a second a lap faster than Lorenzo’s effort last year. Along the way, Stoner also managed to slice more than half a second off Valentino Rossi’s lap record, set in 2008, the last year of open competition between tyre manufacturer’s in motorcycle racing’s premier class.

All of which would have been more than satisfying for the 2007 World Champion but more importantly, due to the actions of San Carlo Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, and championship points leader Jorge Lorenzox struggling home in fourth place, Stoner jumped from third in the title chase to second, just 12 points behind Lorenzo.

So you could say it was an excellent day for the Australian.

That’s more than could be said for his other Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa who ended the day back in the medical centre with a broken right collarbone after he and Simoncelli tangled.

Race Direction considered Simoncelli’s passing manoeuvre was dangerous and ordered him in for a ride through penalty. By then Pedrosa, who had been running second, was back in the medical centre where his ‘good’ collarbone was discovered to be broken.

The 28 lap race started with Simoncelli getting the jump off the line after Stoner experienced a bit of clutch trouble but by the time the field made it to the first corner Pedrosa had the lead and Stoner sliced past Dovizioso for second.

The Australian sat behind Pedrosa for a lap, then made his move and from that point he was never headed, despite a very strong challenge from Pedrosa for the first ten laps. It was only then that Stoner got a gap which he managed to increase over the next five laps.

Pedrosa then fell back into the clutches of Simoncelli, a rider Jorge Lorenzo had criticised in the Spanish press prior to the Portuguese race as being dangerous. At that time, Pedrosa had nothing bad to say about the 2009 World 250 Champion, but after the Italian sliced across his front wheel and left him no where to go, the Spaniard may have a different view.

After the Simoncelli-Pedrosa incident, Stoner had an 8.6 second lead and after Simoncelli was called in for a ride through penalty, the Aussie was 14 seconds ahead of the new second place man, Dovizioso who was engaged in an absorbing battle for the second podium position with Rossi with Lorenzo a distant fourth.

Way behind Lorenzo, Yamaha team-mate Ben Spies got the better of a dice with Nicky Hayden but then had Simoncelli, who had made his ride through penalty, come whistling past to grab fifth.

The interest then was who would be second, Dovizioso or Rossi. In the finish, Dovizioso used his head, set up Rossi perfectly and dived through to take the second rostrum position.

Still, with Rossi finally on the podium, after starting from the third row of the grid after qualifying ninth, a big part of the 88,000 strong crowd went delirious with delight.

Stoner was surprised to see the Italian beside him in the parc ferme and it was then he heard about the Pedrosa-Simoncelli incident. Not only did Rossi benefit from this with his first podium of the year, it also meant that Stoner took over the runner-up spot in the title chase and moved to within 12 points of Lorenzo.

At the time Pedrosa and Simoncelli collided, Pedrosa was on course to take over the lead in the championship from Lorenzo, so perhaps Honda Racing Corporation Executive Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto is reconsidering the wisdom of supplying the San Carlo Gresini team with a works RC212V for the woolly-haired Italian this season.

Without that incident, Honda would have scored a first to fourth sweep of the race, would have had Pedrosa take over the championship lead and by pushing Lorenzo further back, would have moved Stoner even closer to the top of the points table.

But it wasn’t only Honda that had its troubles, Yamaha too had its share of concerns. These began when Lorenzo crashed in the pre-race war-up session in the morning and while he got up and ran to the bike, the engine, with the throttle stuck wide open, blew in a fiery display. Then in the race both Tech 3 Yamaha riders, Cal Crutchlow and Colin Edwards, crashed, and Spies was struggling. The Texan’s works Yamaha MotoGP experience is far from the convincing performance he gave when he scored Yamaha its first Superbike World Championship in 2009.

For full results, click on: http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2011/FRA/MotoGP/RAC/Classification.pdf?v1_c4ebe1bc