MOTOGP: Stoner floats above the rest at a wet Silverstone

Casey Stoner was uncharacteristically cautious at the start of the British MotoGP, but he was over that by the end of the first lap and moved back into the lead to take an unassailable lead over his Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso, as trouble hit Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli and Valentino Rossi.

Cold, grey, windy – and very wet. Yes, it could only be a major sporting event in Britain in the middle of June, and sure enough this was the situation at the start of the British MotoGP at the newly revamped Silverstone complex.

Getting wet on the starting grid was another depleted field for the second race in succession. While Colin Edwards was back from his collarbone injury in Spain, we were now missing his Tech 3 team mate Cal Crutchlow who had unbelievably broken his own collar bone in a practice accident here at Silverstone on Saturday.

And we’re still missing Dani Pedrosa, almost a month after his own collarbone-breaking clash with Marco Simoncelli at Le Mans; why he should still be sidelined when Edwards is back a week after surgery is giving rise to some speculation that Pedrosa may have exacerbated the original injury with another fall in a fitness training session.

But collarbones were far from anyone’s minds as the MotoGP field lined up on the sodden starting grid at Silverstone: there was a long hold on the lights, and Simoncelli looked oddly unsettled in second spot and sure enough got off to a slightly delayed, distracted start which allowed Jorge Lorenzo to sweep across from the outside of the front row to pinch Casey Stoner into turn 1 and take the lead, while Simoncelli found himself undercut on the inside by Andrea Dovizioso.

Dovizioso’s move even gave him the better line into turn than Casey Stoner has, and he duly passed his former world champion team mate to take second spot and to lead the Honda fight on Lorenzo – which didn’t take long. The first time through the sadly deserted old start/finish straight and both Dovizioso and Stoner were past the Yamaha; and by the end of the Hanger Straight Simoncelli also smoothly slipped past Lorenzo as well.

Going into turn one for the second time, Stoner decided that he had the wet track figured out and coasted past Dovizioso for the lead; but he wasn’t able to pull away from his team mate, while behind them Simoncelli was closing fast to make it a three-way battle. Even Lorenzo was starting to feel a bit more confident and cut the gap to the leading trio, and it was looking like an exciting battle might be on store.

Then at the start of lap 4, Simoncelli had a major wake-up call: running into some standing water on the start/finish straight, the Gresini Honda had a massive moment and threatened to buck Marco straight off. He controlled it by taking to the run-off area, and then rejoined right in front of Lorenzo coming close to colliding with the world champion as he did so.

Stoner was pulling away in front ow, leaving Dovizioso under intensive new pressure from Lorenzo who in turn had Simoncelli gathering his wits together and pressing for his third place back. But then suddenly on lap 9 there was no meat in the Honda sandwich: Lorenzo’s Yamaha lost the front into Abbey and threw Lorenzo off into a violent high-side form which there was no chance of recovery. Lorenzo skidded to a halt, ran over to the Yamaha – but the exhaust sticking out perpendicular to the body of the bike told its own story: it as going no where now. Lorenzo was firmly out of the race.

And so was his team mate, Ben Spies, who just seconds earlier had exited the race and ended up through a gravel trap and into the tyre wall. Spies reported some back pain and was taken to the medical centre, but no injury was found. Meanwhile, a third accident happened independently almost at the same time when Hector Barbera went down, but in his case he was able to recover the bike and rejoin the race, albeit stuck in last place for the rest of the afternoon.

Any normal person would have taken this as a warning sign that conditions were deteriorating and to take extra care: Marco Simoncelli took it as a sign to attack Dovizioso at every opportunity. Two laps later, he paid the price: he ran into standing water down the start/finish straight – exactly where he’d had the major moment on lap 4 – and this time there was no lucky escape. The bike went down and skidded into the gravel trap, the bike too damaged to even try to pick up.

That left Stoner massively in the lead – 15s ahead of Dovizioso in the end, and lapping Barbera and Randy de Puniet which is highly unusual to say the least o suck a long circuit as Silverstone. Dovizioso was equally safe from Colin Edwards who had inherited the final podium position

Valentino Rossi finished sixth behind Alvaro Bautista, which in one respect is a good recovery from a 13th place on the starting grid – but it’s still pretty appalling, especially as his lap times late in the race were far off even those of his Ducati team mate Nicky Hayden who finished in fourth place, finishing with a late charge that was not quite enough to displace Edwards from the podium.

Stoner’s victory coupled with Pedrosa’s crash means that for the first time this season, Stoner is in the lead. Lorenzo’s “safety first, think of the points” approach had kept him in the lead despite Honda having a clear hardware superiority over the Yamaha, but at last the true balance of power has bled through into the championship standings and Casey takes a strong points lead, while Lorenzo suddenly has the prospect of being demoted to third place in the standings by the increasingly impressive Andrea Dovizioso who is making the most of Dani Pedrosa’s ongoing absence.

The situation is by no means the sort of foregone conclusion that we’re seeing with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull in F1 – one injury, one serious crash can can things upside down in motorbikes – but it’s tending that way. Unless his rivals can come up with an answer in the next few weeks, Casey Stoner looks to be on his way to another world championship in 2011.

Race results

Pos  Rider             Team/Bike          Time/Gap
 1.  Casey Stoner      Honda            47m53.459s
 2.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda             + 15.159s
 3.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha     + 21.480s
 4.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati            + 26.984s
 5.  Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki            + 35.569s
 6.  Valentino Rossi   Ducati          + 1m04.526s
 7.  Karel Abraham     Cardion Ducati  + 1m32.650s
 8.  Toni Elias        LCR Honda       + 1m51.938s
 9.  Hiroshi Aoyama    Gresini Honda   + 1m52.350s
10.  Loris Capirossi   Pramac Ducati   + 2m03.312s
11.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati        + 1 lap
12.  Randy de Puniet   Pramac Ducati       + 1 lap

Retirements:

     Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda       10 laps
     Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha               8 laps
     Ben Spies         Yamaha               7 laps

Championship standings

Pos Driver           Pts   Pos Constructor Pts
1.  Casey Stoner     116    1. Honda       145
2.  Jorge Lorenzo     98    2. Yamaha      114
3.  Andrea Dovizioso  83    3. Ducati       76
4.  Valentino Rossi   68    4. Suzuki       28
5.  Daniel Pedrosa    61    
6.  Nicky Hayden      60    
7.  Hiroshi Aoyama    43    
8.  Colin Edwards     37
9.  Ben Spies         36
10. Karel Abraham     33
11. Marco Simoncelli  32
12. Hector Barbera    31
13. Cal Crutchlow     30
14. Toni Elias        28
15. Alvaro Bautista   22
16. Loris Capirossi   22
17. Randy de Puniet   10
18. John Hopkins       6
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