MOTOGP: Round 12 – Indianapolis, United States – 30 August

After two consecutive races crashing out while in a top position, Jorge Lorenzo has been getting a bit of a reputation: hot headed. impulsive. Accident prone. Fast, but not able to stay the course. So imagine the surprise at a race where it’s Jorge who keeps his head while his much more experienced chief rivals lose their grip instead.

It didn’t look promising at the start, when Lorenzo had a poor getaway from the grid and got swallowed up by the pack as Dani Pedrosa raced away in front with Valentino Rossi struggling to hold on to him in second. But Lorenzo went into some effective damage limitation, pulled a brave outside line to carve through the riders who thought they had him pegged, sneaked past Carl Edwards in third and emerged at the end of the first lap on Rossi’s coat tails somewhat against the odds.

At this point it still looked like it was Dani Pedrosa’s race: he’d been faster throughout the practice and qualifying sessions by some margin, and the only surprise was that he wasn’t initially able to drop Rossi and Lorenzo quicker than he was doing. But by the end of lap 4 the trio were stuck together, Lorenzo trailing a bit but looking stronger with each passing lap as they all pulled away from Edwards in fourth place.

And then Pedrosa lost the bike: it simply slipped away under him into the final turn onto the start-finish straight. A slow, undramatic affair in itself it seemed unreal at first, but there was Pedrosa in scuffed leathers trying with all his might to hoist the bike upright again to check for damage. By the time he finally got a push start from one of the marshals, he was dead last and very far away from scoring even a single solitary point.

That left the Yamaha duo free and clear on front, and Lorenzo was in the familiar position of staring at the back of the world champion’s bike for lap after lap. The smart play would have been to let Rossi continue to circulate in front, watch his lines and wait for mistakes; but Lorenzo’s not that type of racer, and by lap eight he was starting to surge and test Rossi’s pace down the main straight and found it wanting. He finally made his move on lap 9, and Rossi – either unprepared or not wanting to fight too hard this early on – watched him power his way past into the lead. Now, surely, Rossi would do what Rossi always does – play the smart game, wait a few lap, and then teach the young pup a lesson or two at the optimal moment.

What definitely wouldn’t happen would be that Rossi would crash out. Absolutely not. That’s a Lorenzo thing to do. And so it caused widespread shock and disbelief when Rossi did exactly that on the following lap. He drifted out of position and took a corner wide, meaning he was deeper in the next than he had been on any previous run through; whether it was intentional (playing mind games with Lorenzo, feinting different moves? Testing different strategies for his move a few laps down the line?) or purely a mistake, it put Rossi on virgin tarmac that wasn’t wild about being broken in. The Yamaha snapped away under him and bike and rider went down heavily on the right hander and then slid onto the grass.

Rossi picked himself up and got the bike moving again faster than Pedrosa had down five laps earlier. But it was clear that all was far from well, and a few laps later the scuffed and tattered Pedrosa sailed past Rossi at high speed to put the world champion dead last, and he knew the race was over for him. The throttle wasn’t responding, and if he stayed out he’d just finish up getting lapped. Time to call it a day.

All of which left Lorenzo out in front by over 12 seconds over Edwards, who was fading as the race went on and who found himself overtaken first by Alex de Angelis, then compatriot Nicky Hayden and finally Andrea Dovizioso as he sank to a fifth place finish. Lorenzo on the other hand was able to ease off massively and concentrate on simply finishing the race without any terrible errors. And he did exactly that, cheekily starting the wheelies on the penultimate lap in front of an Indianapolis crowd that appreciated his brazen showmanship and Captain America outfit.

Dani Pedrosa also deserved kudos for hauling himself up through the field to finish tenth place after that early crash. He was helped by a series of incidents, including Niccolo Canepa parking up the Pramac Ducacti with technical problems on lap 23 and Marco Melandri crashing heavily on lap 25 suffering a major high-side while battling James Toseland for 6th place.

Pedrosa was also presented with some easy prey by the clash between Toni Elias and Aleix Espargaro that sent both bikes onto the grass on lap 1, also involving Chris Vermeulen in the process; and by the uncharacteristically poor pace of Randy de Puniet’s LCR Honda.

All in all, it proved a very odd podium: all credit to Lorenzo, de Angelis and Hayden but it did seem as though we were watching a race where the main stars – Rossi, Pedrosa and of course Stoner – had been replaced by understudies for the day. Not that Lorenzo will mind in the least, because he won this one fair and square and the victory slashes in half the championship lead Valentino had enjoyed coming into Indy.

But now the show moves on to Rossi’s home ground in San Marino in just a week. And Rossi will be looking for payback and redemption.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team             Time
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha           47m13.592s
 2.  Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda    +   9.435s
 3.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati           +  12.947s
 4.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda            +  13.478s
 5.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha    +  26.254s
 6.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha    +  32.408s
 7.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki           +  34.400s
 8.  Mika Kallio       Ducati           +  34.856s
 9.  Toni Elias        Gresini Honda    +  45.005s
10.  Daniel Pedrosa    Honda            +  45.377s
11.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki           +  45.478s
12.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda        +  52.294s
13.  Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati    +1m03.552s
14.  Gabor Talmacsi    Scot Honda       +1m15.086s

Not classified/retirements:

     Rider             Bike             Laps
     Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki   25
     Niccolo Canepa    Pramac Ducati     23
     Valentino Rossi   Yamaha            12

Fastest lap: Lorenzo, 1m40.152s on lap 4

MotoGP Championship Standings

Valentino Rossi had built up a lead of 50pts over Jorge Lorenzo – equivalent to two races’ worth of maximum points. And in one fell swoop, that lead has been slashes in half. We came into Indy with the championship looking a done deal, and we come away with game very much on.

Dani Pedrosa’s recovery to 10th place means he salvages a few points from the day, but it could have been so much more. He still hasn’t overhauled the absent Casey Stoner, and leaves the Aussie with the prospect of a close battle for 3rd place in the championship when he returns to racing at Portugal in October.

Pos Driver              Points
1   Valentino Rossi     212
2   Jorge Lorenzo       187
3   Casey Stoner        150
4   Daniel Pedrosa      141
5   Colin Edwards       123
6   Andrea Dovizioso    120
7   Alex de Angelis      88
8   Loris Capirossi      86
9   Randy de Puniet      84
10  Marco Melandri       79
11  Chris Vermeulen      77
12  Nicky Hayden         73
13  James Toseland       72
14  Toni Elias           70
15  Mika Kallio          42
16  Niccolo Canepa       32
17  Sete Gibernau        12
18  Gabor Talmacsi       10
19  Yuki Takahashi        9
20  Aleix Espargaro       3
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      280
2   Honda       204
3   Ducati      182
4   Suzuki      109
5   Kawasaki    79
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