MOTOGP: Round 14 – Estoril, Portugal – 4 October

Jorge Lorenzo blew the MotoGP battle wide open with a triumphant, peerless win in Portugal today. And Casey Stoner celebrated his return to active duty with a strong second place firmly putting the sceptics in their place.

All of the front row – Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Stoner – got good starts, but as usual it was the diminutive Spaniard Dani Pedrosa starting from 4th who blitzed them all and rocketed past into the lead for the first corner, while Rossi and Stoner had to resist an early lunge from Colin Edwards from 5th.

Lorenzo was not impressed at losing the lead and immediately started to fight back, and a few corners later he negated his compatriot’s initial advantage and muscled his way past to reclaim the lead. And no wonder he was in a hurry to get it done: once past, he was clearly faster and easily pulled away from Pedrosa.

Rossi meanwhile found himself under attack from a revitalised Stoner, and predictably the Ducati was faster down the long start-finish straight at the end of lap 1. Stoner couldn’t quite pull off the overtaking move there, but he kept up the pressure through the subsequent corners and Rossi was finally forced to concede the third position.

That freed up Stoner to go after Pedrosa, who faded a little in the early laps and quickly surrendered the second position to the Aussie. Stoner was then able to pull away and make minor in-roads into Lorenzo’s lead, but by the halfway point it was clear that Lorenzo was utterly in another class and Stoner – struggling with a damaged foot rest after going over the kerbs while overtaking Pedrosa – accepted that second was as good as it was going to get. He had to keep a watchful eye on Pedrosa, who picked up form again as the race went on, but in the end it was a comfortable ride to the line for him with no sign of the extreme fatigue that has seen him sidelined for the last two months. All in all, a very successful and popular return to form for Ducati’s number one driver.

But what about Valentino Rossi? Although he dropped to fourth early on, surely this was just the usual Rossi strategy of looking after the bike and the tyres to stage a charging run through the placings as the race wore on? Umm – no. He showed no signs of the pace of the leaders, and toward the end was lapping more than 1s slower than his own team mate up front. The team could only speak vaguely of ‘handling problems’, but it was a very lacklustre and underpowered display from the championship leader by how own high standards.

Further back, Colin Edwards held on to 5th place throughout but came under pressure toward the end from Tony Elias who had a stellar race to climb from 13th on the grid to finish 6th after he out-powered Andrea Dovizioso through the final corner to nick the position on the finish line by a slender few inches.

Nicky Hayden had a frustrating race, battling and mainly losing places during the afternoon and coming to terms with the fact that Casey’s return demoted him into the Ducati second-string also-rans once again. Chris Vermeulen won a race-long duel with Randy de Puniet who had dropped like a stone from 6th on the grid, but their incredibly hard and close fight provided most of the racing entertainment in an afternoon which saw the leaders well spread out and static from quite early on.

Marco Melandri and Niccolo Canepa also had a good scrap, but that was for the last-but-one position with only Gabor Talmacsi behind them, far in the distance. Mika Kallio – back in the Pramac team after subbing for Casey in the works team – returned to reality with a literal dump when he washed out on lap 6, the weekend’s only MotoGP crash; and Alex de Angelis and Loris Capirossi also retired during the race, crawling back to the pits with electrical and engine problems respectively. Loris had been competing for 9th with James Toseland at the time, giving the departing British rider a top ten finish on a plate.

But really, it was all about Jorge Lorenzo today – which is just how Jorge likes it of course. Looking very chic in his spaceman-themed livery (a combination of a Fiat-sponsored advertising campaign combined with Lorenzo’s own idea to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings) and wasting no opportunity to “moonwalk” his way to planting his traditional Lorenzoland flag in a gravel trap on the warm-down lap, he savoured every minute of it.

In a series which can boast the top four motorcycle riders in the world at the moment, Lorenzo had just made everyone else look very, very slow.

Race results

Pos  Rider             Bike                Time/Gap
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha            45m35.522s
 2.  Casey Stoner      Ducati              + 6.294s
 3.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda               + 9.889s
 4.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha             + 23.428s
 5.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha      + 32.652s
 6.  Toni Elias        Gresini Honda      + 35.709s
 7.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda              + 35.723s
 8.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati             + 38.830s
 9.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha      + 44.093s
10.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki             + 52.863s
11.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda          + 55.698s
12.  Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki  + 1m04.515s
13.  Niccolo Canepa    Pramac Ducati    + 1m04.538s
14.  Gabor Talmacsi    Scot Honda       + 1m27.299s

Retirements:

     Loris Capirossi   Suzuki           22 laps
     Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda    9 laps
     Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati    6 laps

MotoGP championship standings

Jorge Lorenzo’s emphatic victory – and Valentino Rossi’s odd slump in pace – means that Valentino’s previous 30pt is slashed back to 18pts with three races remaining. What had looked like a comfortable cruise to the title for Rossi is now looking alarmingly tight.

Moreover, the manner of Lorenzo’s victory this week gives him the psychological advantage and momentum going into the final races. That’s presumably why Lorenzo pushed so hard to chalk up such a massive win – to really lay down a marker and put Rossi in his place.

Of course, Rossi can still win the title just by coming second in the three remaining races even if Lorenzo won every time. But that would hardly be Rossi’s style, and with the likes of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa around it’s clear that even 4th is a “good” result these days.

And Stoner is back at just the right time to spark the battle for 3rd place into life – only 3pts divide him from Pedrosa despite Stoner’s three-race sabbatical. It should make for a very entertaining and hard-fought secondary battle in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia as the season reaches its climax.

Pos Driver  Points
1   Valentino Rossi     250
2   Jorge Lorenzo       232
3   Daniel Pedrosa      173
4   Casey Stoner        170
5   Andrea Dovizioso    142
6   Colin Edwards       134
7   Loris Capirossi      97
8   Randy de Puniet      93
9   Marco Melandri       91
10  Toni Elias           90
11  Chris Vermeulen      90
12  Alex de Angelis      88
13  James Toseland       85
14  Nicky Hayden         81
15  Mika Kallio          51
16  Niccolo Canepa       38
17  Gabor Talmacsi       14
18  Sete Gibernau        12
19  Yuki Takahashi        9
20  Aleix Espargaro       8
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      330
2   Honda       236
3   Ducati      211
4   Suzuki      126
5   Kawasaki     91
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