MOTOGP: Round 3 – Le Mans, France – 23 May

Jorge Lorenzo scored his first ever back-to-back MotoGP win, putting his team mate and world champion firmly on the back foot – but it was Casey Stoner who was the biggest loser at Le Mans.

We’re used to seeing Dani Pedrosa blast off into the lead from the start of any MotoGP event, so it was rather a surprise to see him somewhat subdued here. Sure, he displaced Jorge Lorenzo from second place, but there was never ever any serious challenge to polesitter Valentino Rossi’s lead, after the world champion put in one of his better starts of the year.

Lorenzo saw off a brief challenge from the Ducatis, and then a few corners later took care of the lacklustre Pedrosa to reclaim his second place, slotting in behind the leader. He didn’t look to be struggling to hold on to the back of his team mate; indeed, Rossi seemed to be holding him up and giving Pedrosa a chance to stick with them both. But Lorenzo was in no hurry to take the lead either, having learned from experience that the most dangerous place you can have Valentino Rossi is right behind you – watching, waiting, learning and plotting.

Further back, Casey Stoner was briefly overtaken by his team mate Nicky Hayden, but soon took the fourth position back for his own. he then set the fastest lap and looked to be getting his momentum up, when suddenly he was down and out into the gravel, losing the front end into the La Chapelle corner, the bike ending up on its back and out of commission. It seemed like a recurrence of the handling problem Ducati had experienced at Qatar that had put Stoner out of the season opener, and all the work they had put into tracking down and eliminating the elusive problem had achieved nothing. As a result of this disastrous start to the 2010 campaign, Stoner now finds himself in 13th on a paltry 11pts – disastrous. No wonder Stoner was disconsolate when interviewed back in the pits.

We also lost Loris Capirossi and Ben Spies on lap 7 when they fell within seconds of each other at the same part of the track – Spies losing the front end, possibly distracted after seeing Capirossi tumble.

By this point, Lorenzo’s patience – never in particularly plentiful supply – was wearing thin, and he wanted that lead. He made a move on Rossi into turn 1 on lap 8 and around the outside going into the Dunlop Chicane, but Rossi countered and blocked with brutal efficiency forcing Lorenzo to heel. It convinced Lorenzo to wait a while longer and continue his studies of the world champion, and by lap 11 he had formed his new, improved master plan, taking to the inside into the chicane this time and slicing past Rossi with surgical efficiency. This time there was nothing Rossi could do, and the lead was Lorenzo’s.

Now we had proof that Rossi had been holding Lorenzo up, because Jorge started putting in fastest laps to stretch Valentino and see if Rossi had anything left in the tank. He tried to stick with Lorenzo for a few laps, the two of them pulling away from Pedrosa who had been able to keep close behind till that point, but it was too much: whether Jorge was genuinely too fast for him today, or whether Valentino’s shoulder injury was causing him problems, that fact was that Lorenzo was in a class of his own at Le Mans and duly disappeared into the distance, finishing over five and a half seconds ahead of the rest of the field by the chequered flag.

Rossi’s second was still secure, however, as Pedrosa’s pace was faltering – unlike that of his team mate Andrea Dovizioso, who had slipped past Nicky Hayden for fourth when the Ducati rider was impeded by his team mate crashing out on lap 3. Dovizioso got better and better, finally closing on Pedrosa and overtaking him at the start of the final lap. But by then, Dani clearly had some serious handling issues and he was running wide all over the place, making it easy for Hayden to take fourth place from him as well and salvage something for Ducati after the disaster of Stoner’s early accident.

Further back down the field, there was a lovely overtake by Hector Barbera on Colin Edwards on lap 24 for ninth place, Edwards strangely off the pace here; just minutes before Barbara had overtaken Hiroshi Aoyama in a move that had so surprised the Japanese rider that he had almost lost control of his Honda altogether, wrestling with the machine and pulling off the save of the afternoon as he took to the slip road.

But there was no doubting the winner today, and Lorenzo duly marked the victory with one of his staged celebrations – a chair and popcorn waiting for him in front of the biggest LED screen on the track so that he could sit and watch the highlights. Not quite as thrilling as his lake antics at Jerez, and indeed much the same could be said of the race itself.

But in terms of significance, this weekend was huge. Stoner’s second crash in three races is a huge setback, while at Yamaha we have to ask whether Rossi’s dip in form is simply down to his ongoing shoulder injury, or whether we really are starting to see an eclipse of the enduring world champion by the next generation.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team                 Time/Gap
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha             44m29.114s
 2.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha               + 5.672s
 3.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda                + 7.872s
 4.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati               + 9.346s
 5.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda               + 12.613s
 6.  Marco Melandri    Gresini Honda       + 21.918s
 7.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda           + 29.288s
 8.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati        + 33.128s
 9.  Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati       + 33.493s
10.  Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda       + 33.805s
11.  Hiroshi Aoyama    Interwetten Honda   + 34.346s
12.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha       + 37.123s
13.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati       + 55.061s

Retirements:

     Loris Capirossi   Suzuki             6 laps
     Ben Spies         Tech 3 Yamaha      6 laps
     Casey Stoner      Ducati             2 laps

Championship standings

Pos Driver            Points
1   Jorge Lorenzo     70
2   Valentino Rossi   61
3   Andrea Dovizioso  42
4   Daniel Pedrosa    40
5   Nicky Hayden      39
6   Randy de Puniet   26
7   Marco Melandri    21
8   Colin Edwards     16
9   Marco Simoncelli  16
10  Hector Barbera    15
11  Hiroshi Aoyama    13
12  Mika Kallio       12
13  Ben Spies         11
14  Casey Stoner      11
15  Aleix Espargaro   8
16  Loris Capirossi   7
17  Alvaro Bautista   6

Pos Constructor       Points
1   Yamaha            75
2   Honda             52
3   Ducati            39
4   Suzuki            13
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