Room for one more on top?

Catalan MotoGP, Catalunya, 14th June 2009
Words by Simon Bradley, pics As credited

Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi at play. Not the best of mates, but you really have to trust someone to get this close...Catalunya is one of the stalwart events of the calendar. The circuit is nice enough and it has some interesting corners and complexes, but there's nothing that really leaps out and says that, as a circuit, it's an absolute must-see. And yet it has hosted some of the most memorable races in recent history, and continues to give us true edge of the seat nailbiting stuff. The atmosphere helps, of course. The locals sure do love their racing, and they are particularly vocal in their support of either their local heroes (and although Catalans are fiercely independent, they'll adopt Spanish riders) or their proxy local - Valentino Rossi. So there was always going to be plenty to cheer for. As an older circuit on the calendar, Catalunya also has plenty of overtaking opportunities, some of which favour the brave while others merely require a faster bike. It's a good racing circuit, there's no doubt about it. I just can't tell you why.

The factory Yamaha pairing of Rossi and Lorenzo put their stick in the ground at the opening of free practice, keeping the locals happy as they exchanged places at the top of the leaderboard in the brilliant sunshine. And they stayed there throughout all the practice sessions, with hardly anyone else even gettinga look in.

But of course free practice means, in the overall scheme of things, precisely nothing. Qulaifying, on the other hand, is rather more important. And qualifying gave us one of the tightest grids in recent history, with Lorenzo snatching pole from Rossi by just thirteen thousandths of a second. Stoner was a full third of a second further back from Rossi, as good a demonstration of just how quick the Yamaha pairing are. And also, it's fair to say, a fine demonstration of just how good Stoner is as the Ducati really wasn't working well, bucking and sliding all over the place and generally looking as though it actually wanted to hurt the young Australian. Row two, anyway, was headed up by Andrea Dovizioso from Toni Elias and ColinEdwards, while de Puniet, Pedrosa and James Toseland in his best qualifying of the season made up row three. Surprising us all in their poor qualifying wee the Suzuki pairing of Capirossi and Vermeulen in eleventh and twelfth places and Nicky Hayden, Little races within races were going on throught the field. Here JamesToseland comes off worse in a scrap with Chris Vermeulen and Mika Kalliowho had been happy with the Ducati at the beginning of the gig but wound up thirteenth.

Anyway. Qualifying is terribly important as it essentially defines just how big a mountain each rider has to ride, but it pales into insignificance when the lights go out on race day. And in the blazing Catalan sunshine it was local (well, adopted local) Jorge Lorenzo who made the most of his pole position, slipping into the first corner just ahead of Rossi, Stoner andRandy de Puniet, with Dovizioso and Pedrosa in close tow. Capirossi made a brilliant start to bring the Suzuki straight into the action, while Toseland threw away his hard work with a truly awful start that put him back into fifteenth.

It took a couple of laps for everyone to settle down , by which stage the lead pair had extended no lead whatsoever over Stoner, whose considerable talents appeared to be concerned solely with remaining in the seat as the Ducati continued to behave like a horse with chili powder under its saddle. But the three of them were opening a lead over the rest of the field. Indeed, while at the end of lap three there was just under two tenths of a second between first placed Lorenzo and Stone rin third, there was a gap of over a second back to fourth placed Pedrosa, who in turn was nearly half a second clear of de Puniet .

Up at the front it was a real elbows knees and fairing panels battle between the three best riders in the world. For a while it looked as though Lorenzo would prevail, but Rossi took the lead on the fourth lap, getting his head down and successfully opening a massive gap of nearly half a second on lap thirteen, immediately before surrendering the lead back to the youngSpaniard. And all the while Stoner was there to pick up the pieces, fighting the Ducati all the way. Lorenzo now dug in and gave it all he had, and for a while it looked as though that would be enough. But three laps from the end, Rossi again slipped past and again was unable to make the break he hoped for. Lorenzo came back by using thepitlaneat the beginning of the last lap, and though Rossi pushed For most of the race, this was as far apart as they got...incrediblyhard his young team-mate showed immense maturity, holding his line and denying the World Champion the space he needed. The very last corner at Catalunya is a doube apex right hander, with a straight of maybe ten metres in the middle. Somehow, just as we had all written him off, Rossi got immense drive out of the first part of the corner, blasted past Lorenzo and took the drag to the finish line by just ninety five thousandths of a second. Stoner, so exhausted from fighting the Ducati for twenty five laps that he couldn't stand unaided in parc ferme, came in a creditable third, over eight seconds behind the lead pair, but crucially about five hundredths in front of Dovizioso, who had been hunting him down for the last few laps.

Those few sentences really don't do justice to one of the closest fought, most exciting and frankly sporting MotoGPs I have ever seen. It was truly thrilling.

Pedrosa's early promise faded as his old injuries proved too much for him, and he eventually finished sixth after being devoured by the on a charge Capirossi, who made the most of the slightly underpowered Suzuki's fine handling to make a last minute surge and take the place. Colin Edwards was some way behind, but going well, while de Puniet wrecked his tyres in the first few laps and faded for the rest of the time.

In short, this was truly one of the best races ever. If you've recorded it, keep it and show your children when they're old enough to recognise true greatness. The top three in the championship are now each on the same points. So in many ways the season starts at Assen in a fortnight's time. All of them have history there and Lorenzo in particular will be out to make a point. And regain the lead...

SB

He didn't win, but for sheer effort Casey Stoner deserves this picture. He's trying quite hard here, too...Catalan MotoGP Results

1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Jorge Lorenzo(Yamaha)
3. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
5. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki)
6. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
8. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
9. Mika Kallio (Ducati)
10. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)

MotoGP standings (after six rounds)

1. Valentino Rossi 106
2. Jorge Lorenzo 106
3. Casey Stoner 106
4. Andrea Dovizioso 69
5. Dani Pedrosa 67
6. Colin Edwards 54
7. Marco Melandri 50
8. Loris Capirossi 49
9. Randy de Puniet 42
10. Chris Vermeulen 42




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