MOTOGP: Round 10 – Donnington, Great Britain – 26 July

Dark clouds and spitting rain loomed over a tense MotoGP grid at the sport’s final appearance at Donnington Park. There was a sense of “anything can happen”: and it did. The final result was nothing anyone could have possibly predicted going in.

You’d have expected Dani Pedrosa to stage his trademark leap off the start line to take the lead, but Dani hates the rain and even struggled to get underway on the formation lap, stalling on the grid and getting a muted start to the race proper. Instead it was Valentino Rossi who flew off into the first turn, looking in charge of proceedings.

Except that a couple of corners later and Jorge Lorenzo staged a no-holds-barred raid on the lead. And a few laps later we had both Yamaha drivers ambushed by Toni Elias who shot past everyone from 8th on the grid and took over the race: yes, that’s right, Toni Elias. Who’da thunk it?

But this was only the start. As the riders started to get a feel for the track conditions, and tyres got up to speed, and the rain increased a little and then eased a bit, the relative fortunes of the riders similarly ebbed and flowed.

Elias fell back, and Lorenzo retook the lead followed by Rossi; then the Honda riders of Andrea Dovizioso and Pedrosa took 3rd and 4th even though it was clear Pedrosa was deeply unhappy and hanging on for dear life at some points. Elias fell back to 5th, but on lap 8 he started to come on strong again.

Unfortunately Elias’ early form had bred a deadly over-confidence and he allowed his Gresni Honda to stray onto the white line. Where the asphalt was able to soak up the water droplets with ease, the moisture was sitting on top of the white paint and it was deadly. The back wheel slid out from under him and Elias was high-sided out of the race.

It should have been a salient warning for the rest of the field, but someone wasn’t listening – race leader Jorge Lorenzo committed the same error just a lap later, and met the same end. It’s a lack of experience for the young Spaniard, who had been looking remarkably strong up to that point and in command of the race, exactly the sort of showing he needed to pull himself back onto an equal footing with Rossi in the championship standings.

But if Rossi thought that he was going to have the race gifted to him on a plate, then he was very much mistaken – Andrea Dovizioso was staying right on the back of the Yamaha and refused to be shaken. The two of them were streets in front of Pedrosa, who was in a prolonged battle with Randy de Puniet. The two of them traded placed multiple times over multiple laps, until finally the rain increased and predictably Pedrosa’s confidence waned.

Conditions were becoming increasingly difficult at the mid-point of the race, but it was still not wet enough for the full wet tyres. Which was very bad news indeed for both Ducati riders, who had made a huge gamble in choosing to start the race on full wets. It was a courageous decision by Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden; which is to say, a completely stupid one. It simply was never wet enough, and by the point of the race that the conditions became borderline it was far too late, the Ducatis having lost so much time that the leaders were lapping them, and the tyres now so thoroughly roasted and melted that they couldn’t perform even if the rain did bucket down. The decision was a humiliating one for team and the two ex-world champion drivers.

With Stoner dead last, Lorenzo out and Pedrosa riding like a scared kitten, this was looking like the perfect day for Rossi in the championship. All he had to do was stay in the race and his lead would be hugely extended; he could afford to take it easy and let Dovizioso take the race win if he wanted. A rider of Rossi’s huge talent and boundless experience wouldn’t make the rookie mistake of Lorenzo by chucking it all away, after all.

Except: he did. Rossi is human after all. He pressed too hard and had the back end slip out from under him through a chicane on lap 20, sending him sliding off into the grass. Rossi was quickly up and hauling the bike upright, and some remnants of luck were with him – it was still ridable, and there was no major damage. He rejoined in 11th place looking grass stained and shop worn, now looking at damage limitation rather than romping away into the series lead.

He was helped when an increase in the rain a few laps later lured some of the midfield riders – Chris Vermeulen, Loris Capirossi and Mika Kallio among them – to come in and jump onto wet tyres. That dropped them out of positions ahead of Rossi and helped him back up the running order, and then the rain obligingly eased off again so that the full wets weren’t the huge boost that they might otherwise have been.

Up at the sharp end, Dovizioso had inherited a huge 10s lead after Rossi’s crash, but as the race matured he was taking things carefully – and his lead over Randy de Puniet was being slashed. De Puniet had his own problems, with Carl Edwards coming from 12th in the early laps to third place as conditions worsened, and indeed proved too strong for de Puniet to hold off in the final lap.

Dovizioso’s lead was down to just over a second, but once he senses the threat from behind he cranked up the pace again and held everyone at bay to the chequered flag to record his maiden MotoGP win.

A podium of Dovizioso, Edwards and de Puniet? Lorenzo out, Stoner at the back, Rossi falling and having to battle to salvage 5th place (just pipping local hero James Toseland for the position in the final corners)? It’s really not what the form book said we should get, nothing like.

It’s what makes MotoGP so much fun. And of course, a little drizzle now and again certainly spices things up and keeps everyone guessing, too!

Race result

Pos  Rider             Bike               Time/Gap
 1.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda            48m26.267s
 2.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha    +   1.360s
 3.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda        +   1.600s
 4.  Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda    +   8.958s
 5.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha           +  21.622s
 6.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha    +  22.465s
 7.  Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki  +  35.284s
 8.  Niccolo Canepa    Pramac Ducati    +  38.769s
 9.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda            +  42.112s
10.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati    +  45.845s
11.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki           +  53.190s
12.  Gabor Talmacsi    Scot Honda       +1m12.315s
13.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki           +    1 lap
14.  Casey Stoner      Ducati           +    1 lap
15.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati           +    1 lap

Retirements:

     Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha           8 laps
     Toni Elias        Gresini Honda    7 laps

MotoGP championship

Pos Driver           Points
1   Valentino Rossi     187
2   Jorge Lorenzo       162
3   Casey Stoner        150
4   Daniel Pedrosa      115
5   Colin Edwards       103
6   Andrea Dovizioso     94
7   Marco Melandri       79
8   Randy de Puniet      74
9   Chris Vermeulen      67
10  Loris Capirossi      66
11  Alex de Angelis      60
12  James Toseland       55
13  Nicky Hayden         47
14  Toni Elías           47
15  Mika Kallio          34
16  Niccolò Canepa       28
17  Sete Gibernau        12
18  Yuki Takahashi        9
19  Gábor Talmácsi        5
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      230
2   Honda       164
3   Ducati      156
4   Suzuki      89
5   Kawasaki    79
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