well that was, ummm . . .

MotoGP Catalunya, Spain, 5th June 2011

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics as credited

Cal Crutchlow on his way to a storming qualifying on a track he's never seen before (Pic: Yamaha)Catalunya is one of those circuits that somehow never delivers what it could in terms of truly exciting racing. I mean there's always a bit of drama and there's always something to slightly upset the pundits but the racing itself tends to get a bit stretched out and, dare I say it, processional. This year things were livened up a bit by the weather. It rained in Spain, but not predictably, not constantly and not even reliably. Which is a bit of a nuisance, really.

Practice was completely dominated by Casey Stoner for the second time in as many meetings. The former champion sat firmly at the top of the scoreboard for each session, followed by Simoncelli in the first two sessions and Lorenzo in the third. Dovizioso and Spies were the only other regular visitors to the top five, with Crutchlow, Rossi, Hayden and Colin Edwards all bumping along just below. Colin Edwards made a dramatic exit from the first practice session, highsiding the Yamaha and breaking his left collarbone. Despite his valient attempt to persuade Race Control to let him ride, he was deemed unfit and thus broke his unprecedented streak of one hundred and forty one MotoGP starts, this being the first he's missed since first coming up from SBK back in 2003. Dani Pedrosa, of course, was already ruled out by his broken collarbone, sustained in the controversial crash with Simoncelli at Le Mans.

Qualifying, of course, is a much bigger deal. It was cool and dry but threatening rain as it had been all day, and grip wasn't quite as consistent as you might hope. It started off with a bit of a surprise as Toni Elias took the top spot before eating himself to take it again. Then Jorge Lorenzo came along to restore order, also beating his own time before being usurped by Andrea Dovizioso who was on top for a few seconds until Stoner beat him. There was then a long pause before Stoner beat his own time, looking unassailable until, with just fiftee seconds of the session left, Marco Simoncelli edged him out to take the first pole of his career. So the front row ended up as Simoncelli from Stoner and Lorenzo. Ben Spies headed row two, with Dovizioso and Crutchlow behind, just three quarters of a second off pole at a circuit he's never seen before. Row three was headed by Valentino Rossi after another disappointing qualifying session, ahead of Nicky Hayden with Alvaro Bautista in one of his best qualifying results to date. And the top ten was rounded off by Hector Barbera on the Ducati, ahead of Hiroshi Aoyama and Randy de Puniet.

Lorenzo leads Stone out of the first corner while Simoncelli tries to work out what just happened.... (Pic: Yamaha)Warmup was wet. No, really. It was properly wet and gave every indication that the slicks would be staying in the truck for the race. Marco Simoncelli was quickest, followed by the Ducati pairing of Rossi and Hayden, Rossi coming in just a tenth of a second behind the Honda rider. Dovizioso was next, followed by Crutchlow ahead of Stoner. Now this could spice things up a bit...

But it wasn't to be. The rain stopped and the track dried out farily quickly with the assistance of the 125s and Moto2 races that went beforehand. Which meant that the results of the morning counted for nothing at all. Not that warmup results actually count for anything anyway, but you know what I mean.

Lights out and the real surprise was that someone appeared to have substituted Marco Simoncelli with a meek and mild Sunday afternoon rider. Because rather than the full-on attack we'd normally expect , whoever it was on the Number 58 machine instead pulled away gently after checking his mirrors, indicating and doing a lifesaver. All that was missing was his flourescent vest. OK, so perhaps I'm exaggerating a little, but the San Carlo Honda rider certainly didn't capitalise on his pole position. Instead it was Jorge Lorenzo who got the holeshot, charging through to the front from Stoner and Ben Spies, while Valentino Rossi made a brilliant start to come up to fourth by the first corner, ahead of Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden. Dovi passed Rossi halfway round the lap, and further back Simoncelli closed up behind Hayden, while Capirossi and Crutchlow slotted in behind him.

Lap two saw Lorenzo edged off the front by Casey Stoner in a neat pass while Rossi got back ahead of Dovizioso and Crutchlow passed Capirossi. Lap three put Dovi back into fourther place, while lap four saw the departure of de Puniet and Aoyama as a result of an uncharacteristic error by the likeable Japanese rider.

Believe it or not, the next twenty one laps saw virtually no position changes, no real scraps and precious little in the way of excitement. Simoncelli did revive briefly to make a spectacular pass on Hayden, but that really was it. At the front, Stoner rode an inch perfect race and continued to extend a lead over Lorenzo, who also rode perfectly but was outgunned by the Honda. Spies, of course, couldn't catch his team-mate while Dovizioso had lost too much time duelling with Rossi in the early stages to leap the gap and get beack in contention. Rossi had the corner speed but lost out in a straight line so couldn't get back past the Honda and gradually dropped back as, presumably, his tyres went off.

There was a threat of excitment around the mid point when the white flags came out indicating that it was raining somewhere on the track and that riders could swap bikes if they wished. Nobody did so, though, as the rain never amounted to anything and a swap to wets would be a disaster. Though it would have made the race more entertaining.

The end result, then, could have been predicted from lap five. Stoner finished comfortably ahead of Lorenzo and Spies, both split by a comfortable margin and well ahead of fourth placed Dovizioso. Rossi was nearly two seconds further back, while Simoncelli was four seconds behind him, followed by Crutchlow fifteen seconds later, Hayden seven seconds behind him and the only actual race - Capirossi and Abraham - ten seconds back and split by just a few hundredths of a second.

So that was it. Honestly, it would have been as exciting watching golf. There was no spectacle, no real action. I can't wait to get rid of the 800cc machines and go back to 1000's, preferably with less electronics to make the riders actually work for their results. Because the 800s with identical tyres and their massive corner speeds have killed racing as we knew it.

Anyway. Silverstone next week. A more exciting circuit, that's for sure. But with just fifteen or sixteen bikes on the grid it's going to be ever so spread out, and that may well make the racing just as tedious and processional as it was today.

Hope not...


ResultIf only it had carried on like this... (Pic: MotoGP)

1 Casey Stoner (Honda)
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
4 Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
5 Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
6 Marco Simoncelli (Honda)
7 Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
8 Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
9 Loris Capirossi (Ducati)
10 Karel Abraham (Ducati)

Championship Standing after five rounds:

1 Jorge Lorenzo 98
2 Casey Stoner 91
3 Andrea Dovizioso 63
4 Dani Pedrosa 61
5 Valentino Rossi 58
6 Nicky Hayden 47
7 Ben Spies 36
8 Hiroshi Aoyama 36
9 Marco Simoncelli 32
10 Cal Crutchlow 30



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