by Tracy Hagen
Last week Yamaha factory rider Ben Spies beat Team Honda at Assen, this week it was teammate Jorge Lorenzo’s turn to show the MotoGP world that it’s too early to count out the blue bikes. The reigning world champion rode a flawless race under a sunny sky in Mugello, Italy. Lorenzo’s Yamaha that held a steady line all race long while the rest of the field struggled to find grip from their tires over the second half of the race.
Second was Repsol Honda rider Italian Andrea Dovisioso, to the obvious delight of the partisan crowd, with teammate and championship leader Casey Stoner a close third.
Stoner converted pole position to an early tear-away lead that looked unassailable over the first half of the race, growing to almost 2.5 seconds by mid-race. Then, slowly, the lead began to contract as Stoner’s tires began to slide, spin, and do everything else they are not supposed to. By lap 17 of 23 Lorenzo was taking time from Stoner in big chunks, as the announcers were no longer faking their excitement about the race. The pass came on lap 18, with Lorenzo riding up along the outside of Stoner on a right-hand turn which put the Spaniard in a perfect position for the left-hand turn that immediately followed. All Stoner could do was watch. Ouch.
Stoner’s championship points lead over Lorenzo was 28 going into the race, and 19 coming out of it.
Fourth was Spies. The Texan went from front row to fifth place and lost touch with the leaders over the opening laps. Then Spies found a rhythm that made him the fastest rider on the track on laps 11 and 12. That brought Spies up to Marco Simoncelli, the factory Honda rider on double-secret probation. The Italian’s deep-braking and flailing legs tactics kept Spies from passing in the turns, so Spies did a Daytona draft pass on Simoncelli down Mugello’s generous front straight at the start of lap 15. Simoncelli went inside at Turn 1 to re-take the position, but ran wide and Spies shot through. Three laps later Simoncelli was back into fourth, and kept Spies behind despite slowing the pace. As the race wound down to a couple corners to go, the Spies passed Simoncelli as easily as Lorenzo had done to Stoner earlier.
Sixth was a surprise: Valentino Rossi, who struggled all through practice and qualifying on the “not quite a 2012” Ducati, methodically picked off slow riders like he used to on fast riders when he raced a Japanese motorcycle. The Italian superstar was a second off the pace during practice, qualifying, and the race. In terms of top speed, Dovisioso’s Honda was the only factory bike faster than Rossi’s Ducati; in terms of lap times, only the Alvaro Bautista’s Suzuki and Nicky Hayden’s Ducati are factory bikes slower than Rossi’s.
Ducati satellite team rider Hector Barbera was a close seventh to Rossi; in fact, Barbera led Rossi over the first half of the race. Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa finished eighth in his comeback race after breaking a collarbone following a collision with Simoncelli at Le Mans on May 15. Colin Edwards finished ninth, his Yamaha proving to be slow on the straights, fast in the corners – just the opposite of Rossi’s Ducati.
Tenth went to Hayden. His race effectively ended when he reached the end of the front straight the first time, and the factory Hondas and Yamahas smoothly turned into the right-hand Turn 1, while Hayden’s Ducati went straight into the gravel. More evidence that factory Ducatis do not turn.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) and Karel Abraham (Ducati) finished an unremarkable eleventh and twelfth, respectively. Alvaro Bautista finished thirteenth, his Suzuki showing good form in sixth or fighting for sixth all the way until lap 16. A near-crash due to loss of front tire grip resulted in a loss of 12 seconds and a handful of positions.
For the second race in a row, Monster Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow pitted early with motorcycle troubles after riding the wheels off of it.
Next race: Sachsenring, Germany, July 17, followed by Laguna Seca.