Misano. The delightful little circuit on Italy's Adriatic coast, loaned to the tiny principality of San Marino for the purposes of motorsport, has only recently returned to the MotoGP calendar. The scene of Wayne Rainey's career (and nearly life) ending crash back in 1993 understandably lost favour with the Grand Prix crowd until some safety improvements were made. But with those changes, including a change in direction to slow the approach to a couple of corners, in place Misano burst back onto the scene. It's a nice circuit - not especially complicated but sufficiently demanding as to keep riders on their toes. Continual improvements have made the safety margins wider without robbing the circuit of its essential character. Which makes the fatal collision during Sunday's Moto2 race all the more freakish. I'll not go into any more details here. It was an unlikely and tragic combination of circumstances that resulted in the death of Shoya Tomizawa, and we all naturally send our best wishes to his family, friends and fellow racers.
Free practice wasn't really dominated by anyone in particular, both Pedrosa and Lorenzo taking the honours in the two sessions. Rossi, Stoner, Dovizioso were all there or thereabouts, and Colin Edwards came and made his presence felt near the front as well. Ben Spies did OK, though by his standards it was a lacklustre performance as he only managed to reach sixth in the first session. Which by anyone else's standards is still pretty impressive. Anyway, all free practice really does is gives the riders a chance to get dialled in to the circuit, gves the technicians a chance to get a setup that might work and sorts out any real issues thta may occur. Obviously people will fall off as they push themselves and the bikes in order to find their limits. Ideally, of course, they find the limit from the safe side and back off as they reach it. But occasionally a rider will sit in the gravel and think "Well, at least I know how quick I can take that corner/how hard I can brake there/what happens if I try a different line..." In this case it was Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, Loris Capirossi, Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri who experienced varying degrees of gravitational embarrassment in the two session, happily without injury.
Qualifying, of course, is a different matter entirely. With no Superpole in MotoGP, this single hour long session is critical for the whole race. Because with the bikes so closely matched on performance, running the same tyres and with riders of a broadly similar ability, overtaking is never easy. Casey Stoner pushed extremely hard on the Ducati, overcooking it and crashing out. Some nifty repair work in the Ducati pit saw him back on track and still in contention. But the real fight was a straightforward slugfest between the two real championship rivals, Spaniards Lorenzo and Pedrosa. For a while it looked as though the Yamaha pilot had it, but in the dying moments of the session Pedrosa scorched through to take pole by a relatively massive three tenths of a second. Lorenzo, though, maintained his record of starting every race this season on the front row. And Casey Stoner showed that he does indeed still have some fight left in him as he muscled the battered Ducati to third, the final place on the front row. Which demoted local boy and multiple World Champion Valentino Rossi to fourth, heading row two. Disappointing for a man who has won, I think, ever time he's raced here. Next to Rossi, the man who has his ride next year, Ben Spies. And closing off row two, Randy de Puniet who would have been looking forward to anything better than Indianapolis, which was a nightmare for him. Row three was headed up by Colin Edwards from Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli, another local boy hailing from Cattolica, about three miles away. And row four was headed by Marco Melandri from Capirossi and Barbera. Nicky Hayden, horrifyingly, was starting from fourteenth after a session in which he was unable to get the bike working the way he needed.
As is usual around this neck of the woods, race day dawned clear, sunny, dry and hot. Very pleasant, and a lovely day to go racing. Warmup was uneventful until the last few moments, when Marco Melandri slid out but walked away unharmed. Pedrosa was fastest, ahead of Lorenzo, but as the session is used for trying setups, checking both bikes and generally making last minute adjustments, the times really don't count for anything much.
And so on to the race itself. Obviously, before the MotoGP race the Moto2 race took place, and we know what happened there. But when the riders lined up on the grid and went out on their sighting lap they didn't know the outcome, only that there had been a crash.
So. Lights out and it will come as no susprise to hear that Dani Pedrosa got a briliant start and pulled away immediately, with Lorenzo and Stoner slotting in behind. Almost as soon as the race had started it was over for Hayden and Capirossi. Hayden went down the inside of turn two, where there is plenty of room, but as he started to accelerate Capirossi, as it seemed was normal on the Suzuki, tightened his line to get set up for turn three, and as a result the two touched and went down. Hayden was able to continue, though the bike was sufficiently damaged that he had to retire almost immediately, but Capirossi ended his two hundredth GP in the medical centre after his hand got trapped under the bike as it slid. The Italian veteran underwent surgery on Monday and will make a full recovery, though what that means for the rest of this season is another matter entirely.
Stoner's initially strong start faded as the Australian's perennial problem with a lack of feel from the front came to the fore again, and though he tried to hold position both Rossi and Dovizioso got past as they fought to be highest placed Italian.Because unless something went horribly wrong up at the front, there was no way that Pedrosa wasn't going to win. Dovi and Rossi carried on fighting for a few laps, though they never swapped position, before Rossi seemed to tire of the game and effortlessly extend a lead over the Honda rider. Up at the front, Pedrosa was two seconds clear of Lorenzo. Behind, the only real action of the race was taking place as Bautista, Barbera and Espargaro had a good tussle, no doubt reliving their 250 days.
But that was it, really, in what may well qualify as the most undramatic MotoGP yet. The laps counted down, nobody did anything special apart from Mika Kallio who pitted in and threw his toys spectacularly out of the pram, storminhg off with the general suggestion that he didn't think much of the bike. Probably - I don't speak Finnish or Italian, but the body language said it all. Ben Spies rode a good race, with some excellent early overtakes, ultimately sliding past his team-mate to take sixth place.
So the championship has closed up a little, with Pedrosa clawing back another five points. Rossi is now tied with Stoner for third but ahead on race wins, with Dovizioso coming un der pressure for third place from Rossi. Statisically, Rossi needs to win all the next races and Lorenzo can't get any more than nine points if the champion is to retain his title. It's possible, but unlikely. But if Lorenzo keeps finishing on the podium, even if Pedrosa wins all the other races, the championship is his.
I just hope the racing gets more interesting for the rest of the season...
San Marino MotoGP Results
1. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
5. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
6. Ben Spies (Yamaha)
7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
8. Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki)
9. Hector Barbera(Ducati)
10. Marco Melandri (Honda)
MotoGP standings (after twelve rounds)
1. Jorge Lorenzo 271
2. Dani Pedrosa 208
3. Andrea Dovizioso 139
4. Valentino Rossi 130
5. Casey Stoner 130
6. Ben Spies 120
7. Nicky Hayden 109
8. Randy de Puniet 81
9. Marco Melandri 67
10. Colin Edwards 66