Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MotoGP 2011 Qatar Results Stoner holds off Lorenzo and Pedrosa for opening night win

The 2011 MotoGP premier class season got off to a predictable start at Losail on Sunday night, with four of the top five spots going to HRC machines. Casey Stoner, who has been fast since setting foot bum on his RC212V in Valencia last November, qualified on the pole, jousted with Pedrosa for the first half of the race, and then left the diminutive Spaniard in his wake for Honda’s first season opening win since 2003. Defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo ran about as well as he could, and seemed delighted to finish second. Was this possibly the entire 2011 season in microcosm?

As 2010 showed us, it is unwise to draw too many conclusions from one race, especially if that race is the season opener, run at night in some feudal middle east sheikdom, on a track that is similar to only two or three others on the entire circuit. (before I forget, what were the brolly girls shielding the riders from at 9:00 at night?) The MotoGP winter testing program had been pointing toward a successful campaign for Honda in 2011, and tonight’s race did nothing to dispel that notion.
Casey Stoner Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda Qatar MotoGP
As they did in the pre-season tests, Casey Stoner (27) and Dani Pedrosa (26) showed the Honda RC212V is the machine to beat this season.
Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa started from the front row and took the early lead, although Pedrosa didn’t show us his patented rocket-like start from last year. The three were quickly joined by Dovizioso and Simoncelli, and these five riders held onto the top five spots all the way to the finish. For a few laps it looked as though Pedrosa wanted to run away from the field, but Stoner reeled him in on Lap 12, and Lorenzo, fighting to stay relevant, came back from third position to pass Pedrosa on Lap 15. He did not appear seriously interested in trying to chase down Stoner, and so that was that.
Jorge Lorenzo Casey Stoner Qatar MotoGP
Defending the #1 plate will be a tall effort for Jorge Lorenzo with a resurgent Casey Stoner chasing him.

At the Top of the Food Chain, it’s All Honda and Yamaha …
Honda is LOADED this year, with at least four riders capable of the podium, compared to two at Yamaha and (perhaps) one at Ducati. Andrea Dovizioso, wearing Repsol orange, took all evening before finally outdueling Marco “Weird Al” Simoncelli, in his flashy San Carlo colors, for a more-than-usually-interesting 4th place finish. Dovizioso should have “Forgotten Man” stitched into the seat of his leathers this season, as Stoner and Pedrosa clearly have captured the world’s attention. However, I expect both Dovi and Simoncelli on a few podiums this season, assuming Simoncelli’s rugged riding style doesn’t land him in traction.
Andrea Dovizioso Marco Simoncelli Qatar MotoGP
Andrea Dovizioso (4) and Marco Simoncelli (58) were also competitive on Honda machines, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
The factory Yamaha team, in any other year, might feel very good about itself, but not this year. True, Lorenzo is his smooth, effortless self, and will likely battle Stoner, and Pedrosa, for the 2011 title all the way to Valencia. Teammate Ben Spies, who finished a respectable 6th tonight, is a keeper who will continue to improve this year, and will likely see a few podiums himself. One of the highlights of tonight’s race was Spies’ short battle with Valentino Rossi, won by the American.
Valentino Rossi Ben Spies Qatar MotoGP
Ben Spies (11) beat Valentino Rossi (46), the man he replaced with the Yamaha factory team, to finish sixth.

… while Trouble Abounds at the Bottom
The concerns surrounding the Ducati garages heading into tonight’s fray were fully intact coming out. Rossi, battling his still-healing shoulder as well as the Desmosedici, managed a 7th place finish, but appeared to be working terribly hard for such a, um, nondescript result. Teammate Nicky Hayden, far from challenging Rossi for supremacy in the factory garage, dawdled his way to a 13th place start, but managed to pass a few weaklings during the race, finishing 9th. Hector Barbera, on his newly painted GP11, found something in qualifying and started 6th, but steadily lost whatever it was and ended up 12th, finally getting aced at the finish line by happy rookie Cal Crutchlow in the Monster Tech 3 satellite Yamaha.
Nicky Hayden
Nicky Hayden had to come to a complete stop in avoiding running over a fallen Randy De Puniet. Though he lost a lot of ground in the incident he recovered to finish ninth.
Across the tracks at the Pramac garage, where last year someone thought it would be a good idea to drop Aleix Espargaro and Mika Kallio in favor of Randy de Puniet and Loris Capirossi, tonight’s race became a laugh riot early on. De Puniet attempted to go through rather aggressively on teammate Capirossi on Lap 1. In the process, he: 1) crashed heavily, getting a booboo on his knee, and 2) smacked the clutch lever on Capirossi’s bike, such that it embossed the fingers on his left hand, causing his eventual painful retirement on Lap 2. Rookie Karel Abraham, riding his dad’s GP12, did manage to keep it upright, and was the last rider to cross the finish line for what promises NOT to be the last time this season.

Rizla Suzuki Girls Qatar MotoGP
The Rizla Suzuki Girls wish Alvaro Bautista a speedy recovery.

As a result of Alvaro Bautista’s practice crash on Friday, in which he broke his thigh bone, tonight’s race was the first MotoGP premier class race since 1974 NOT to feature a Suzuki in the starting lineup. Bautista’s injury is potentially game-changing problem for shaky Suzuki program that was showing flashes of, um, hope in testing. Unfortunately, he had run 16th in FP1, 14th in FP2, and was 16th in FP3 when he crashed. (If he is prone to such acts, Loris Capirossi is probably sniggering in the general direction of his former Japanese masters. However, after running 13th, 15th and 10th in these same practices and qualifying 14th, ol’ Capirex doesn’t have a whole lot of room to snigger at anyone.) American John Hopkins has been tagged to fill in for Bautista while he recovers. Hopkins, who rode Suzukis in the premier class between 2003 and 2007, was last seen accumulating 57 points for Kawasaki in the 2008 season.
Random Thoughts
The one Honda rider who DOES NOT yet have it together this season is Toni Elias. Fresh off his inaugural Moto2 title last season, he regained his premier class seat this year with LCR racing, which chose him over Randy de Puniet. Despite his long history riding Hondas and his success at Moto2, he has been unable to generate any speed at all this year. Unsurprisingly, he qualified last on Saturday and crashed out of last place on Lap 19, putting an end to his misery for this night.
Speaking of De Puniet, it would be remiss of me not to note that he qualified (11th) ahead of where he finished again tonight (DNF).
Valentino Rossi Qatar MotoGP
Valentino Rossi has a lot of work to do before he can be competitive on the Ducati Desmosedici. Half of Italy is waiting with baited breath for the Doctor to get up to speed.
Early last season, when Rossi got hurt, I prematurely awarded the builder’s trophy to Honda, which they then promptly turned around and lost, again, to the Yamahas. Is it too early to award the 2011 trophy to Honda?
For those interested in the junior MotoGP classes, Stefan Bradl took the Moto2 contest in a strong effort, while Nicolas Terol, free from the mojo of Marc Marquez, who graduated to Moto2 after his 2010 title, took the win tonight in the 125 class.


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