MOTOGP: Round 7 – Catalunya, Spain – 4 July

Another MotoGP, another victory for Jorge Lorenzo from pole – the first time anyone’s achieved this in three consecutive races since 1986, meaning not even Valentino Rossi has had such a dominant run. Given also that last year’s Catalunya event saw a titanic struggle between Rossi and Lorenzo for the win, Valentino’s absence was keenly felt here.

That’s not to say that the race was dull, or even a foregone conclusion. Lorenzo had a battle on his hands for the first half of the race and looked unlikely to run away with the victory, but as the afternoon wore on so incidents ate away at the competition and left Lorenzo supreme and unchallenged by the time the chequered flag came out.

Lorenzo got a good start, but as usual Dani Pedrosa proved deadly form the second row and zoomed into the front going into turn 1. But Dani was suffering from vibration that upset his brakes, and he sailed off the track at the first corner into the run-off area. He managed to get the bike under control and back onto the tarmac, but he’d blown his start – he was back at the bottom of the top ten by the time he filtered back in.

Not that the pressure was off Lorenzo. At the end of the first lap, the top three – Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso – were as close on the track as it’s physically possible to be, just inches separating them. Lorenzo was temporarily relieved when Stoner and Dovizioso started battling between themselves, but once it was resolved in Dovizioso’s favour Jorge was alarmed to find the Italian gunning for him – and ultimately succeeding in passing Jorge for the lead at the start of lap 4, the Honda simply overpowering the Yamaha down the start finish straight.

For a few moments it looked as though Dovizioso had the pace to pull away from Lorenzo, who in turn was now coming under threat from Stoner. But halfway round lap 5 the balance of power changes, Lorenzo pulled off a sublime move through the twisty midfield section and the spell was broken: Dovizioso never had a good chance to retake the lead after that and the win looked increasingly assured.

Still, it was a close run affair between the trio until the start of lap 6, at which point Stoner outbraked himself into turn 1 not unlike Dani Pedrosa’s own first lap miscue, and dropped off the leaders and back to fifth place by the time he recovered back to the track.

Dovizioso stayed with Lorenzo until the middle of the race, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to keep up the pace and he was on the ragged edge: finally he went over it at La Caixa, pushed just that little bit too hard, and the bike went down in a low-side. Dovizioso picked himself up and raced to the fallen Honda which fortunately was still running; he rejoined the race and ended up a lowly 14th, but at least it was a couple of championship points salvaged.

Now Lorenzo really was untouchable, over six seconds ahead of anyone else out there and able to cruise to the finish. And in second place, in a remarkable bit of damage limitation, was Dani Pedrosa: despite that first corner disaster, Pedrosa had recovered to fifth by the end of the first lap, subsequently overtaken Randy de Puniet for fourth and then benefited from the mistakes of Dovizioso and Stoner to end up in a surely unexpected second place, with Stoner recovering from his own run-off to claim the final podium position just behind him.

De Puniet ended up an isolated fourth, after a poor start saw him squeezed out into turn 1 by the Suzuki pair of Alvaro Bautista and Loris Capirossi, who seemingly from nowhere found impressive pace after a dire season so far. Bautista finished a strong fifth – a career best in MotoGP for him – while Capirossi was beaten for sixth by Ben Spies when he ran wide with three laps to go.

Marco Melandri came an impressive ninth despite last week’s dislocated shoulder and cracked sternum previously leading him to dismiss this weekend as being nothing more than a “training race”: he was just beaten out of eighth place by Nicky Hayden with two to go, the Ducati driver having a strangely downbeat day as he toiled around making little impact for most of the afternoon.

Aleix Espargaro’s impressive weekend came to a disappointing end when he crashed on lap 6 coming out of turn 10; Marco Simoncelli was on course for an easy sixth when his bike also ended up in the gravel on lap 14.

Up front, it couldn’t have been better for Jorge Lorenzo: not only does he claim maximum points, but his nearest rival Dovizioso ends up barely scoring. Lorenzo now has a 52pt lead over Pedrosa who rises to second in the championship, up from a ‘mere’ 47pt lead coming into the weekend. He really is taking the best possible opportunity from the absence of his team mate, Valentino Rossi, whose injury is now seeing him plummet down the championship positions.

Yet what’s this whisper we hear? Talk of Rossi eyeing up a return at Germany in just two weeks? It sounds astonishing that he could be back so soon, just six weeks after his accident and the open fracture to his tibia; and questions would have to be asked about what sort of fitness and form he could possibly have. But there’s no question that MotoGP has been missing its master performer, and his return can’t come soon enough. For everyone except Lorenzo, that is.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team                  Time/Gap
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha              43m22.805s
 2.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda                 + 4.754s
 3.  Casey Stoner      Ducati                + 4.956s
 4.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda            + 18.057s
 5.  Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki               + 21.361s
 6.  Ben Spies         Tech 3 Yamaha        + 21.503s
 7.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki               + 24.181s
 8.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati               + 27.941s
 9.  Marco Melandri    Gresini Honda        + 28.046s
10.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati         + 32.439s
11.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha        + 38.406s
12.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati        + 58.257s
13.  Kousuke Akiyoshi  Interwetten Honda  + 1m09.348s
14.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda              + 1m32.402s
15.  Wataru Yoshikawa  Yamaha             + 1m35.237s

Retirements:

     Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda      13 laps
     Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati      5 laps

MotoGP championship standings

Pos Driver            Points
1   Jorge Lorenzo     165
2   Daniel Pedrosa    113
3   Andrea Dovizioso  91
4   Nicky Hayden      69
5   Randy de Puniet   69
6   Casey Stoner      67
7   Valentino Rossi   61
8   Ben Spies         59
9   Marco Melandri    39
10  Marco Simoncelli  39
11  Colin Edwards     39
12  Hector Barbera    34
13  Aleix Espargaro   28
14  Alvaro Bautista   25
15  Loris Capirossi   25
16  Mika Kallio       24
17  Hiroshi Aoyama    18
18  Kousuke Akiyoshi  4
19  Wataru Yoshikawa  1

Pos Constructor       Points
1   Yamaha            170
2   Honda             137
3   Ducati            97
4   Suzuki            37
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