31 Jul 2012

Stoner Summons Some Scintillating Pace at Laguna - Race Review

At such an iconic track, the racing was always going to be something to behold - regardless of the number of incidents or on-track mêlée. The Corkscrew, one of motorsport’s most fearsome challenges would have to be tackled a daunting 32 times before the chequered flag awaited them.

Lorenzo had put his Yamaha on pole position for the third time this season with the two Repsol Honda’s of Stoner and Pedrosa lining up beside him. Spies headed the second row, continuing his rich form in qualifying and the two Tech 3 Yamaha’s were closely beside with Crutchlow pipping Dovizioso. Bautista, Hayden and Bradl continued their strong display of pace - whilst Rossi(10th) could only manage a time three tenths faster than the quickest CRT(dePuniet). The CRT in question was from the Aspar team who have been notably the quickest out of the ‘secondary’ tier of the series. Edwards qualified ahead of a recovering Abraham whilst an unusually slow Ellison rounded out the field. Attempting a wildcard for the weekend was Steve Rapp, a legend within the AMA series of which Spies had so successfully risen from, however unfortunately for the 41 year-old it wasn’t the swansong he was looking for and his qualifying time failed to meet the 107% time set by Lorenzo.

Heading into the first corner Lorenzo had had the strongest of starts and maintained the lead, whilst behind Pedrosa attempted to reclaim 2nd after an unusually slow getaway which allowed his team-mate through. Spies was one notable climber as the field filtered through the sharp left hander whilst towards the back, Team Gresini’s Michele Pirro made contact with dePuniet and ended his race in the gravel trap. A tough weekend for the team after both Pirro and Bautista seemed unable to get to grips with the tough Californian circuit.
At the end of lap one it was Lorenzo that led from Pedrosa and Stoner. Spies sat fourth with the two Tech 3’s still nipping away at his heels, which coincidentally were not 100% after a fall in qualifying; luckily for Ben however they did not bite too hard, content with scuffling between themselves. Hayden resumed hostilities with Bradl whilst Rossi was left to hang onto their coat tails behind in ninth position.

It was at this point that the race lost a stand-in rider, Toni Elias who had taken over duties with the Pramac Ducati team after Barbera suffered an injury which has afflicted many a sportsman over the past few years, a fractured tibia and fibula which was as a result of a training incident. Elias was unhurt, although the state of the bike was unknown as a result of on-track action.

Notably, the air horns were out as Stoner blasted past his team mate heading into the second corner. It was a cheeky move, although it was an infamous place for the Australian as he had adopted it as ‘his’ corner whilst feeling the need to edge Pedrosa across the curb towards the sun-baked gravel. A few laps after passing Pedrosa, Stoner managed to apply a certain amount of pressure onto his Spanish rival and pulled a move similar to the one we saw last year heading into the first corner. A suspected missed gear was the cause of Lorenzo’s lack of grunt out of the final corner and thus Stoner managed to sweep up the inside to take the lead.

Back to the incidents, Ellison had quite a hefty crash heading into the second corner. Luckily, once again the rider was unhurt although the same could not be said for his Aprilla which ended up in the air fence. However, perhaps most notable of all the incidents was that of Ben Spies as he was heading down the corkscrew. The BBC commentators “um’d” and “ah’d” over whether the crash was due to a mechanical failure with the bike, although we now know the faulty part was the swing arm. The 5 foot 10 American was left to skid down the track, shortly after riding the tail of his Yamaha. After already hobbling to his bike prior to the race, his commitment is unquestionable and with the aid of painkillers he didn’t look too unsteady getting to his feet.

Perhaps the only other incident which rivals that of Spies was Valentino Rossi’s crash shortly before the corkscrew. It appeared as though the front brakes locked, completely throwing the nine-time world champion to the tarmac and at the mercy of the track’s surface as he surfed along in his leather’s at speeds in excess of 100 mph. He got to his feet just before the gravel trap, shoulder pad slightly torn and airbag inflated; looking more confused than wounded. Although his body may be intact, it is a question of how strong he is mentally after such an event. Then again, with such a wealth of experience it’s hard to doubt that the Doctor wouldn’t have something prescribed for himself.

In conclusion, the race kept alive the title aspirations of Stoner on his swan song year before retirement from the series. The Australian’s pace at such a level that Lorenzo appeared contented with a three second gap for second. Pedrosa, as resilient as ever, rounded out the podium and the ever energetic pairing of Dovizioso and Crutchlow came home in another strong showing for the Tech 3 squad. Hayden grabbed a very appealing looking sixth ahead of Bradl who had an easy cushion of 22 seconds back to Bautista in eighth. Next up was the quickest CRT, Espagaro, who finished over a lap ahead of his team-mate, dePuniet after that first lap collision. Rounding out the top 10 was Abraham, with an impressive showing upon his Cardion AB Racing Ducati; the Czech looking forward to some more recovery time before heading into the three week break before Indianapolis.  dePuniet, Hernandez, Edwards and Silva rounded out the finishers.

Although the ‘new’ machine may not unlock all of the answers the Repsol pair needed to reply to the dominance of Lorenzo, the pace looks to be there. It’s all we can hope for if there is to be a rider other than Jorge holding that trophy aloft at the end of the season in Valencia, or earlier.