breaking the duck

MotoGP Estoril, Portugal 1st May 2011

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics as credited

Cal Crutchlow, undoubted man of the match (Pic: Yamaha)Estoril, near Portugal's capital Lisbon, is about halfway up the country's Atlantic coast. It's a beautiful, modern track with a sinewy layout offering both long fast straights and curves and tight, demanding, technical sections. Indeed it has one of the longest and fastest straights on the calendar and the slowest corner - a first gear chicane which catches out the unwary, especially on the exit. The weather can be unpredictable here, as befits its location. In fact all the elements are in place for guaranteed exciting racing. Which is strange, because there hasn't been a nailbiter here since 2006 when Toni Elias and Valentino Rossi duked it out to the line, the latter losing out by fractions of a second and also losing the five points that would have won him the world championship that year. Anyway, maybe this year would be better.

The weather, certainly, made things interesting from the off as showers passed through making some sessions wet, some dry and some just damp. The first two practices were dominated by Marco Simoncelli, fast and consistent in the dry, ahead of Stoner in session on and Lorenzo in session two. Rossi continued to improve on the Ducati, getting it up to fourth in the second session, while Alvaro Bautista brought up the rear on his return, just six weeks after breaking his leg badly in practice in Qatar. The third session was wet, and several riders sat it out including Bautista and rookie Cal Crutchlow. Loris Capirossi made a rare foray to the front of the timesheets, ahead of Lorenzo and Hayden with Rossi just behind. The Ducati really does seem to work quite well in the wet, now if they could just make it faster...

The start, showing just how thin the MotoGP grid really is... (Pic: MotoGP.com)Qualifying was dry though humid and with damp patches on the track from the earlier rain. Lorenzo set his stall out early, taking the fastest lap and then immediately beating it before being overhauled by Stoner. Then it was Lorenzo again for about a tenth of a second before Pedrosa clocked a faster time. Cal Crutchlow put the Tech3 Yamaha on top briefly before being passed by Simoncelli. It then became a challenge to see who could knock the tousle-haired Italian off the top. Every time someone managed he'd just bounce right back, with Stoner and Pedrosa both taking a turn before Simoncelli really dug in and reeled off fastest lap after fastest lap. Then with just a five minutes of the session to run Lorenzo took a turn at the top. On the very next lap, running a third of a second faster at the second intermediate, Simoncelli crashed out and had to concede pole. The press conference was amusing, as Lorenzo and Simoncelli's 250 rivalry, re ignited at the end of last season when the new World Champion had a coming together with the Honda rider, started off again with needling going on that was more reminiscent of a pre boxing match session than anything to do with motorsport.

Final grid positions were Lorenzo, Simoncelli and Pedrosa all sharing the love on the front row, Stoner, Spies and Dovizioso a relatively civilised row two, Edwards, Crutchlow and Rossi a positively friendly row three and Barbera, Aoyama and Abraham on row four. All credit to Bautista, by the way, who qualified on the back of row five but ahead of Elias and de Puniet. Hayden, by the way, had a dismal qualifying ending up thirteenth.

Race day dawned grey and wet, and warmup, if it could be called such a thing, saw Colin Edwards go fastest, ahead of Stoner and Rossi with Hayden fourth and Simoncelli and Lorenzo behind. But naturally things changed by the time the 125s and Moto2 races had finished. The sun had come out, a breeze had got up and the circuit was drying nicely though still not especially warm.

Lorenzo leads Pedrosa. Feel the love. (Pic: Yamaha)Lights out, then, and it should be no surprise to hear that it was a Spaniard who made the holeshot off the line. Jorge Lorenzo muscled the Yamaha to the front, followed immediately by Pedrosa and Stoner. Simoncelli exited on the second or third corner - a left hander which, with that side of the tyres still being cold, was just asking for trouble. Fourth place to gravel trap in a tiny movement of the wrist, which was a shame because I was looking forward to a scrap between him and Lorenzo. A second later, Barbera highsided his Ducati into the parts bin on the same corner. Happily neither rider was hurt. All this, coupled with some extraordinary riding, elevated Rossi and the Ducati to fourth place ahead of Dovizioso and Spies. The Texan wasn't having a good weekend, as a mistake on the next lap saw him run wide and drop back to tenth where he would play catchup for the next half a dozen laps before crashing out, again unhurt, as he pushed the misbehaving Yamaha just that little bit too far beyond its limits. Before that, though, Karel Abraham would take an early bath, leaving another Ducati in the gravel.

Up at the front. Lorenzo and Pedrosa pulled a gap on Stoner who in turn pulled a gap on Rossi and Dovizioso. Capirossi showed brief signs of a return to his old form before fading dramatically, while Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow both pulled the Tech3 Yamahas up the table, Edwards making a comfortable gap behind himself and Crutchlow fighting a race long battle with Aoyama, decided in the Japanese rider's favour on the last lap as fatigue got the better of the Brit. To be fair to Crutchlow he has only just returned from surgery on his arm and isn't fully fit yet, but it was an outstanding effort. Dovizioso and Rossi's race long due, led throughout by Rossi, was turned on its head just three corners from the end when the Honda rider made an audacious pass. Rossi got back in front but it left Dovizioso in a good position for the drag to the line, and Honda power won the day by just twenty five thousandths of a second in a finish that must have been awfully reminiscent of that 2006 defeat,

At the very front, four laps from the end Pedrosa drafted past lorenzo at the end of the straight, got the Honda stopped and turned, and simply rode off into the sunset finishing three whole seconds clear to take his first win at the Portuguese circuit.

That's it. I would love to tell you about the exciting scraps throughout the field, the close racing and the excitement, but there wasn't much really. The next round is Le mans. Maybe that will be more entertaining.

ResultRossi leading Dovizioso. (Pic: Ducati)

1 Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3 Casey Stoner (Honda)
4 Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
5 Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
6 Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
7 Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda)
8 Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
9 Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
10 Randy de Puniet (Ducati)

Championship Standing after three rounds:

1 Jorge Lorenzo 65
2 Dani Pedrosa 61
3 Casey Stoner 41
4 Valentino Rossi 31
5 Nicky Hayden 30
6 Andrea Dovizioso 30
7 Hiroshi Aoyama 28
8 Cal Crutchlow 21
9 Colin Edwards 18
10Hector Barbera 14



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