MOTOGP: Round 4 – Mugello, Italy – June 6

There was, perhaps inevitably, a deflated feel to the 2010 Italian MotoGP, caused by the sudden, shocking absence of the star performer: Valentino Rossi’s crash in practice on Saturday had robbed the race of a key appeal.

But if Rossi’s team mate Jorge Lorenzo was thinking that it left the race (and the championship) his for the taking, then he was about to have a wake-up call. Rossi might not be around, but there were plenty of rivals eager to take advantage of the opportunity and ensure Lorenzo didn’t have it his own way.

Chief among them of course was polesitter Dani Pedrosa, who as usual was able to blast off the grid and claim the initial lead. Lorenzo’s own start was perfectly acceptable, and certainly better than Casey Stoner’s; while others further back including Ben pies and Marco Melandri had the best starts of the day.

The surprising thing was that Lorenzo never really made any in-roads into Pedrosa’s lap time advantage. Instead, he had his hands full keeping second place from Pedrosa’s Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso, who clearly had designs on outbraking Lorenzo down the start-finish straight into turn 1, and three laps into the race – after two unsuccessful moves down the inside – Dovizioso finally claimed the move around the outside instead.

But almost the minute Dovizioso did this, the balance of power seemed to change and now it was Lorenzo who looked stronger. He was soon poised to take the position back two laps later, beautifully outbraking the Honda at the same turn. However the interregnum had given Pedrosa the chance to scamper off out of sight in the meantime – his lead was some 4.5s. And he was still pushing hard, stretching that out to over 7s at one point before finally feeling secure enough to coast in for the final few laps once he was sure Lorenzo had nothing in reserve. Indeed, Jorge only managed to pull out a slender margin over Dovizioso in third – enough to be safe from attack, but far from impressive.

With the podium positions now locked, attention turned to a thrilling multi-way battle for 4th place, some distance behind Lorenzo and Dovizioso. Stoner had originally fallen back from 4th, getting overtaken by an impressive Ben Spies on his first outing at Mugello. Inevitably Spies couldn’t hold that pace for long, however, and Stoner was soon back into 4th; only to then get overtaken around the outside of the sweeping turn 1 by the storming Marco Melandri at the start of lap 8.

Stoner found himself in an uncomfortable sandwich between Melandri and Randy de Puniet, and would have been relieved to get past Melandri through the turns after Casanova on lap 9. Melandri then ran wide and gifted fifth to de Puniet, seemingly putting an end to his charge for the day, but things were not over yet: Melandri was soon past de Puniet again and was in fine position to benefit from Stoner running wide into turn 1 at the start of lap 13. De Puniet followed him through, and suddenly Stoner was faced with having to get past them both to recover 4th again.

He bided his time, however: Stoner held station through till the final lap, benefiting from Malandri’s slipstream to pass de Puniet into turn, and then winning a hard fought, thrilling battle with Melandri himself to take fourth; Marco fought back, briefly retook the lead, then Stoner got past again and to maintain the advantage across the finish line by the narrowest of margins.

Stoner’s battles with de Puniet and Malandri – fine riders both, but not ones with hardware that would normally give Ducati much of a problem – proved that the marque was still battling with some serious performance issues: Casey put it down to set-up mistakes after conditions proved hotter than planned for. And the same handling problem that had dumped Stoner out of two races already this season also loomed large in the crashes of Nicky Hayden and Mika Kallio who both had ominously similar front wheel wash-outs. Hayden had been battling Melandri for fifth at the time, on lap 6, when he went into the gravel in front of the Ducati stand.

With Ducati clearly struggling, and Yamaha deflated with the absence of Valentino Rossi, it seems that the team benefiting the most today was Repsol Honda – with Pedrosa dominating a race by a greater margin than we’ve ever seen, and Dovzioso coming third to make it the first time the team has had two riders on the podium since the German MotoGP in 2007. All of a sudden they have a genuine shot at the world championship titles – providing that Rossi stays away and Lorenzo can be tamed.

Race results

Pos Driver            Car/Engine  Time/Delay
1   Daniel Pedrosa    Honda       42:28.066
2   Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha      + 4.014
3   Andrea Dovizioso  Honda       + 6.196
4   Casey Stoner      Ducati      + 25.703
5   Marco Melandri    Honda       + 25.735
6   Randy de Puniet   Honda       + 25.965
7   Ben Spies         Yamaha      + 28.806
8   Aleix Espargaro   Ducati      + 40.172
9   Marco Simoncelli  Honda       + 41.394
10  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki      + 42.107
11  Hiroshi Aoyama    Honda       + 43.095
12  Hector Barbera    Ducati      + 43.363
13  Colin Edwards     Yamaha    + 1:14.393
14  Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki    + 1:24.389

Retirements

    Mika Kallio       Ducati      Lap 8     Retirement
    Nicky Hayden      Ducati      Lap 5     Retirement
    Valentino Rossi   Yamaha                Withdrawn

Fastest lap: Daniel Pedrosa, 1'49.531 (172.389 mph) Lap 5

MotoGP world championship

Pos Driver            Points
1   Jorge Lorenzo     90
2   Daniel Pedrosa    65
3   Valentino Rossi   61
4   Andrea Dovizioso  58
5   Nicky Hayden      39
6   Randy de Puniet   36
7   Marco Melandri    32
8   Casey Stoner      24
9   Marco Simoncelli  23
10  Ben Spies         20
11  Hector Barbera    19
11  Colin Edwards     19
13  Hiroshi Aoyama    18
14  Aleix Espargaro   16
15  Loris Capirossi   13
16  Mika Kallio       12
17  Alvaro Bautista   8

Pos Constructor       Points
1   Yamaha            95
2   Honda             77
3   Ducati            52
4   Suzuki            19
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