With six races remaining this season it’s safe to say this year’s MotoGP
World Championship is Casey Stoner’s to lose. The Repsol Honda rider is on fire as of late, having won three races in a row and seven this season. Even more impressive is how badly he waxed the field in Sunday’s MotoGP race at The Brickyard. Although his margin of victory was only 4.8 seconds, Stoner was riding at a level that no one could match. After struggling with some set-up problems earlier in the year it appears that his team has got the Honda RC212V dialed-in well for a variety of different tracks.
“We've just got to make sure that we keep our heads down and try to win races,” said Stoner, who currently has a 44 point lead over reigning champ, Jorge Lorenzo. “That's what I enjoy the most, and that's what we're here to do every weekend. These last two races have been difficult until now. I was struggling a lot with the grip and didn't feel comfortable, but I suppose in comparison with everyone, we felt pretty good.”
As Stoner alluded to, he was one of the loudest critics of The Brickyard’s recently re-surfaced track. Like the rest of the riders, he was pleased with how much smoother it was but the fresh asphalt lacked grip having not had a whole lot of motorsports activities on it since the re-pave.
“Obviously without the bumps from previous years the track is performing a lot better,” continued the ’07 World Champ. “But the lack of consistency in the grip levels are causing issues. Everyone is losing the front and it doesn't give you a lot of confidence. When you hit these patches the bike just seems to drop away from you.”
Even though he only qualified fourth, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa put in a solid effort at Indy proving how important it is to get out in front early on in a race. After nailing the holeshot from the second row, Pedrosa led the first few laps before eventually relenting the position to his teammate Stoner.
“To finish second is unbelievable for me here,” commented Pedrosa. “We did a good job from yesterday to today. We did a good rhythm. I think the bike was working quite well. After the disappointment of Brno, second place is quite good. I'm happy. Of course, I'm looking forward to winning again a race. But second place is fine."
The only other rider that stood a chance at running with Stoner during Sunday’s 28-lap race was Ben Spies. While the factory Yamaha rider wasn’t able to match Stoner’s pace during qualifying, in the race he strung together a series of fast laps that were comparable to the Aussie’s while he sliced through the field in an attempt to get to the front.
“That's always the story,” said third place finisher, Spies. “It could have been different if something else happened. The race is what it is. My actual start wasn't too bad. Just a couple of people got into Turn 1 too hot and I got bottled in. I think Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso] came across in front of me in Turn 4 and I was just glad to stay on the bike. I never even saw him. After that happened we just had to pluck away and not get ahead of ourselves. We rode well but just needed to be up there in the first four turns. I rode as fast as I could.”
If Lorenzo hopes to secure another world title he’s going to have to start winning races and hope for some bad luck for Stoner. Having finished off the podium this weekend put a serious dent in his championship hopes. Like many of the riders Lorenzo wore out his front tire early in the race which made it impossible to ride at the maximum.
“I thought I could reduce my gap with Casey at Indy but since the first practice I have had many problems with the asphalt and the front tire,” remarked Lorenzo. “I've tried everything with my team to fix it, but we couldn't. After four or five laps the front tire was destroyed. I saw the other three front riders and their tires were perfect. I don't know if it was because of the track and I'm not the only one complaining. Now the Championship is much more complicated, but hope is the last thing you can lose.”
The Rizla Suzuki team saw a glimmer of hope at Indy with Alvaro Bautista finishing in sixth position—his best finish on a dry race track. Bautista put in a spirited ride and slowly made his way through the field dicing with many riders including Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards and Marco Simoncelli on the satellite Honda.
“I am happy with today's position because this weekend we didn't have the same rhythm as we have done in the last couple of races,” noted Bautista. “I had a good qualifying session, but I was not quite on par with the top guys and that meant I couldn't really stay with them and fight in the race. I made a decent start and overtook a couple of riders, but I just couldn't keep up with the front group. We struggled a bit more at this track because we just couldn't get the bike to turn how we wanted it to and I think we were not quite at the same level as some of the others around here. I was consistent throughout the whole race and had a couple of good battles with other riders - especially with Edwards.”
Indianapolis is a race that the factory Ducati team hopes to forget. Both Hayden and Valentino Rossi had big problems with Rossi hitting the ground once during Saturday’s qualifying. Both riders competed on the newer ’12-spec prototype Desmosedici platform but continued to have difficulties with the front end. To compensate Hayden ran a softer compound front tire during the race which ultimately wore out forcing him to pit toward for a replacement before the end of the race. As usual, Hayden showed persistence finishing the race albeit in last place.
“It was a really tough day,” revealed Hayden. “We thought the soft front tire could be a good option for the race, but unfortunately it only worked for seven or eight laps. Then I began to steadily lose ground until it even began shaking on the straightaways, and I had to come in. Since you've got to finish to get points, I went back out, and it was actually worth getting two points. Sorry to all my U.S. fans and the Ducati fans here who came to support us, but we'll try again next week."
While Rossi netted a better result at Indy he still was well off the pace and based on his body language it was quite obvious that he’s having difficulty riding the Ducati. Said Rossi, “A number of things happened this weekend that contributed to making this a particularly difficult race: the crash yesterday in qualifying, which robbed some confidence and was part of the reason we had to start so far back on the grid, and today there was a problem with the gearbox. The bike stuck in neutral six or seven times, and the first two caused me to go straight and lose time. I found myself in last place, but I decided to do what I could to at least get some points. In this morning's warm-up, we had made a small change that let us improve the pace a little, but the race was really difficult. We know that we have to work hard. Ducati is doing that, and my team and I are as well, because we must try to not let up and to get the bike ready while we wait for technical updates."