Many years ago the wonderful flowing Brno circuit was the scene of what turned out to be an important race result. Young Valentino Rossi stood on the top step of the podium for the first time after a Grand Prix, winning the 125cc race here in 1996. It's fair to sayt that he hasn't really looked back since...
Brno is, as I have said already, a wonderful, flowing circuit. Is is ferociously demanding on riders and machinery, with serious elevation changes and a lot of chicanes to really test brakes and acceleration, as well as having all those fast changes of direction to really give the riders a workout. Bizarrely, of all the circuits we visit, Brno is very close to the top of my liost of tracks I'd like to ride properly. Because it's nothing if not interesting. There's also plenty of room to pass, which is important. Obviously.
Practice was dominated, as we have seen so often this season, by Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo is currently regarded as the next Rossi, rumour has it even by Rossi himself, and we expect great things from him. So sitting at the top of the timesheets ahead of his countryman Dani Pedrosa, Rossi himself and Colin Edwards (presumably making the most of his experience around here) was no big surprise. What was a bit of a surprise was to see Nicky Hayden joined by Mika Kallio on the second factory Ducati, while Michel Fabrizio was drafted in from SBK to fill Kallio's Pramac seat. Casey Stoner, fighting this mystery infection for the last few weeks, seems to be getting worse rather than better. So the decision has been taken to give him a two month rest in the hope that either someone can work out what's the matter with him or he can get back to being fit again. Obviously it rather blows his world championship aspirations for this season, but it's better he comes back in 2010, fully fit and back on form.
With Lorenzo as the man clearly on form, qualifying was a bit of a foregone conclusion. Except, of course, that this is MotoGP where things rarely, if ever, pan out exactly as expected. And it was Valentino Rossi who, despite a crash in the last throes of the session, took pole position from his young team-mate by just five hundredths of a second. Pedrosa was the inevitable other bike on the front row, with Toni Elias, Colin Edwards and Andrea Dovizioso on row two. Row three saw saw Nicky hayden sandwiched between Alex de Angelis and Loris Capirossi, while Mika Kallio rounded out the top ten. James Toseland continued his disappointing season, unable to manage better than fourteenth on the grid, just ahead of the struggling and frustrated Marco Melandri.
Race day dawned, as had the rest of the weekend, clear and sunny. Personal experience says that it gets really hot at Brno. Track temperature can easily exceed forty degrees, and in fact race control report that today it was forty five degrees. That makes a big difference to tyre wear and grip, especially in the early stages when tyres get up to temperature really fast and towards the end as they wear out.
So as the riders lined up for the off, the pressure was obvious. Rossi was sat there with a full race win's worth of points as a cushion over Lorenzo, while Pedrosa had found his form but was a long way off the title chase. Stoner, of course, would be noticed by his absence.
Lights out and it was Rossi who got the holeshot while Lorenzo was caught napping and dropped back to fifth. Despite Rossi's alacrity off the line, Pedrosa made full use of his light weight and out-dragged the Yamaha rider to the first corner and took the lead very neatly. Not for long, though, as Rossi executed a beautiful block pass in the first chicane just a few seconds later. At the same time, Lorenzo slipped past Elias to reclaim fourth and start his race properly. Colin Edwards made a lousy start, dropping back, while both Nicky hayden and Loris Capirossi did rather well, gaining a few places.
Up at the front, Rossi had his head down and was really pushing to extend a lead and break the pursuing Spaniards. And it worked, too, after a fashion. Four laps in, Lorenzo slipped past Pedrosa in another block pass, the Honda rider dropping back quickly as the pace was clearly too much for him. Lap seven saw Michel Fabrizio retire with arm pump and exhaustion. When you bear in mind that Fabrizio is currently third in the SBK championship and is a pretty physical rider, perhaps that will give you an idea of the levels of fitness required for a MotoGP rider. Arm pump, by the way, is the result of braking hard - your arm muscles get cramped and constrict blood to your hands, resulting in pain in the arms and numbness in the hands, a dangerous and unpleasant combination. And the big carbon brakes on MotoGP bikes really do mean that you brake very hard indeed.
Things really settled down for a while now. Rossi and Lorenzo, split by under a second, opened an ever increasing gap from Pedrosa. Pedrosa pulled clear of Elias, Dovizioso and Capirossi, who were fighting hard for fourth, with Colin Edwards hanging grimly onto the back of the group before gradually fading away and being swallowed up by Nicky Hayden's Ducati.
Everything got turned upside down on lap sixteen, as Lorenzo pulled a master stroke, block passing Rossi into a chicane and, though having to work hard for it, making it stick. After half a dozen laps of nothing more exciting than seeing the two leaders exchanging lap records, this was good news. The big question, of course, was whether the Spaniard could say in front for the remainder of the race. Or perhaps even open a gap. No, was the simple answer. Less than half a lap later it was all over. Rossi was back in the lead and Lorenzo was testing the new Dainese airbag jacket in the gravel by the first chicane. An unforced error saw him run wide and as he turned in the front tucked and down he went. The airbag saved any injury but the championship now looked very dodgy indeed.
Two laps from the end, Mika Kallio appeared to have a sudden rush of blood to the head as, having been passed by Melandri on the inside he then proceeded to turn tighter and torpedo the Italian square on. Both riders ended up in the gravel, handbags drawn, ready to be split up by the marshals.
And so Valentino Rossi won his one hundred and first grand prix. At the circuit where it all started for him.
Pedrosa was elevated to second, while Toni Elias was thrilled to hold off a robust attack by Loris Capirossi and a race long challenge from Andrea Dovizioso to take the last podium slot. Nicky Hayden did his career a world of good with a solid sixth place on the Ducati, while Colin Edwards made another good finish in seventh. Alex de Angelis was well clear of ninth placed james Toseland, who got the better of Randy de Puniet, who is struggling with a broken ankle but still managed a tenth place.
In general not the most exciting race, but certainly good to watch the master at work. We're back across the Atlantic to Indianapolis next. Let's hope conditions are better than last year...
Brno MotoGP Results
1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
3. Toni Elias (Honda)
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
5. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki)
6. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
8. Alex de Angelis (Honda)
9. James Toseland (Yamaha)
10. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
MotoGP standings (after eleven rounds)
1. Valentino Rossi 212
2. Jorge Lorenzo 162
3. Casey Stoner 150
4. Dani Pedrosa 135
5. Colin Edwards 112
6. Andrea Dovizioso 107
7. Randy de Puniet 80
8. Marco Melandri 79
9. Loris Capirossi 77
10. Chris Vermeulen 72