MOTOGP: Lorenzo surprises with Mugello triumph

It looked as though we knew how this was going to go even before the lights went out to start the race. But it turned out that some people – mainly Jorge Lorenzo – hadn’t been reading the script.

It wasn’t the best of qualifying sessions for the reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo. He could only manage fifth place in the rain-interrupted qualifying session on Saturday, which demoted him to the second row behind Casey Stoner, Ben Spies and Marco Simoncelli, and with Andrea Dovizioso next to him in fourth place. Given how resoundingly the Hondas had been beating the Yamahas in recent races – Spies surprise win last time out at Assen not withstanding – Lorenzo clearly wasn’t going to get much of a look in here.

The only question was whether Stoner would romp away with it, or whether Simoncelli would stay on the bike long enough without crashing into someone to pose a real challenge. Unless maybe Spies could pull off an upset again?

As the lights went out, Stoner duly swept off into the lead followed by Spies; it was less successful for Simoncelli, though, who stuttered at the getaway after having had trouble with his Gresini Honda at the start of the warm-up lap too. That gave Lorenzo a little room to work with, and he quickly passed Simoncelli on the run down to turn 1. By the time they got to the corner he’d managed to overpower Spies for second, and through the apex of the right hander he was even alongside Stoner for the lead – but on the outside line, and had to drop back.

By the end of the first lap, Stoner was pulling away from Lorenzo in second, with Dovizioso having overtaken Spies for third, followed by Simoncelli and Nicky Hayden, who promptly overcooked it on lap 2 and went off into the gravel. He was able to rejoin, but had to start all over again from dead last.

Lorenzo lost second place at the start of lap 8 after running too deep into turn 1 allowing Dovizioso an easy tighter line on the inside; that gave Honda a 1-2 and the result seemed a lock for the remaining 15 laps. But Lorenzo wasn’t giving up, and he was still right on Dovizioso’s tail, lunging at the slightest sign of an opening.

Midway through the move, Lorenzo lined up a lovely move on Dovizioso and passed him through Casanova, a move that Dovizioso just didn’t have an answer for. But Nor could Lorenzo pull away from him, while meanwhile the race leader Stoner was some three seconds down the road. The die really did look cast now.

But Lorenzo first started to nibble away at Stoner’s lead, and then tear huge chunks out of it: Stoner’s pace seemed to be falling off the proverbial cliff just as Lorenzo was breaking the lap record and pulling Dovizioso along with him: Stoner’s advantage was gone with six laps to go and Lorenzo then smartly repeated his move through Casanova and took the lead, leaving Stoner to deal with his own team mate Dovizioso – unsuccessfully, as it turned out, with the Italian not hampered by team sentiment in taking second spot off the Aussie seeing how it was Andrea’s home Grand Prix. He did it with a great move at the start of the final lap, where it seemed that Dovizioso had outbraked himself into turn 1 only to make the corner and neatly block Stoner and force him wide instead, making a counter-attack out of the question.

Afterwards at the press conference, a clearly dejected Casey Stoner sat in marked contrast to the beaming Jorge Lorenzo next to him. “I’m a bit disappointed with this race,” he admitted. “The potential of myself and the bike was a lot higher in my opinion.” The problem was the way that the tyres had heated up and then promptly lost grip, and with cool, showery conditions on Saturday the team hadn’t had enough time or data to react when Sunday proved sunny and blisteringly hot.

“As soon as I got not even halfway through the race, my grip just disappeared. As soon as the temperatures got up, the contact patch got smaller, I started losing the front. I couldn’t have any corner speed – as soon as I opened the gas, the rear started wanting to come round,” he said, describing the race from that point on as “pretty much damage limitation.”

Stoner and Dovizioso were at least comfortably assured of second and third, with Lorenzo’s team mate Spies embroiled in a prolonged battle swapping fourth place between them. Given Marco’s recent reputation, it’s a relief that there was no crash as they did so, and in the end Spies won the position and Simoncelli had to settle for a relatively subdued fifth place.

Valentino Rossi did his level best to wrestle something out of the 2011/2012 hybrid Ducati and did impressively well to fight his way up from twelfth place on the grid to sixth by the end in a series of eye=catching and thrilling overtakes through the field – the end result of sixth place still lowly by Rossi’s standards, but above and beyond the bike’s current pace if truth be told.

“I think the problem is quite clear and we have to work – on improving the setting of this bike, but also on making something else to make a bigger step,” said Rossi.

He was rewarded with a hero’s welcome as the track flooded post-race with Rossi disciples, but it was interesting just how many Simoncelli fans were starting to sprout up here at Rossi’s home race strong hold: the King still leaves, but it appears that the subjects are preparing for the inevitable future nonetheless.

Dani Pedrosa – back from six weeks off with a problematic collarbone break following his clash with Simoncelli at Le Mans – qualified a disappointing eighth and then – in the inverse of his normal trademark flying starts – then dropped five places on the first lap before finally finishing the race where he started, showing that his injury is still a huge problem.

The only retirement was Cal Crutchlow who was worried about tyre wear for the second successive race after failing to find a good enough set-up during the rain-affected practice sessions, and didn’t want to take the risk of crashing out and exacerbating his recent collarbone injury.

Alvaro Bautista was having an excellent race and climbed as high as sixth in one of his best showings in MotoGP, only to lose the front end and have the bike go into neutral which dumped him down to 13th by the end.

But the day belonged to Lorenzo, who was doing his best Cheshire cat impression after the race at this unexpected reversal of fortunes. He hadn’t been expecting any sort of a win – there were none of the usual “Lorenzoland” elaborate celebrations planned. As a result this came over as Lorenzo’s most assured, most mature and most confident race win since he became world champion.

Has Yamaha turned a corner, after two consecutive race wins? Or is this just a stumble for Honda that will be corrected at the next MotoGP?

That’s two weeks away, before the next race at Sachsenring in Germany on July 17. It’s been confirmed that Loris Capirossi will still be absent after suffering rib and shoulder injuries at Assen; he will be replaced on the Pramac by Sylvain Guintoli.

Race results

Pos  Rider             Team/Bike          Time/Gap
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha           41:50.089s
 2.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda           +    0.997s
 3.  Casey Stoner      Honda           +    1.143s
 4.  Ben Spies         Yamaha          +    8.980s
 5.  Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda   +    9.076s
 6.  Valentino Rossi   Ducati          +   26.450s
 7.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati    +   28.745s
 8.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda           +   32.043s
 9.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha   +   33.421s
10.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati          +   34.724s
11.  Hiroshi Aoyama    Gresini Honda   +   37.359s
12.  Karel Abraham     Cardion Ducati  +   43.964s
13.  Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki          +   47.654s
14.  Randy de Puniet   Pramac Ducati   +   48.840s
15.  Toni Elias        LCR Honda       + 1:15.199s

Retirements:

Cal Crutchlow   Tech 3 Yamaha   6 laps

Championship standings after race 8 of 18

Pos Driver            Pts    Pos Constructor  Pts
1.  Casey Stoner      152    1.  Honda        185
2.  Jorge Lorenzo     133    2.  Yamaha       164
3.  Andrea Dovizioso  119    3.  Ducati       99
4.  Valentino Rossi   91     4.  Suzuki       36
5.  Nicky Hayden      77     
6.  Ben Spies         74
7.  Daniel Pedrosa    69
8.  Hiroshi Aoyama    56
9.  Colin Edwards     53
10. Marco Simoncelli  50
11. Hector Barbera    44
12. Karel Abraham     37
13. Toni Elias        35
14. Cal Crutchlow     32
15. Alvaro Bautista   30
16. Loris Capirossi   22
17. Randy de Puniet   12
18. John Hopkins      6
19. Kousuke Akiyoshi  3
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