Waiting for the first race of a season is sort of like reading a brilliantly written murder mystery. The build-up is immense, and you more or less, can guess the killer. No, you can’t skip to the end. That’s against the rules of how to read a murder mystery. Well, anyway, there are usually two ways that this love affair ends. The first, of course, is if the dear reader is bang on, when it comes to the end. The book then, leaves you with mixed feelings (oh, why did I buy it? Sigh, what has happened to this author? Damn, I’m good. Maybe I should write a book et al). The other, often unlikely, scenario is that the end blows you away. Ergo, you have stayed up late into the night turning the pages in a feverish manner, and are left with a sense of longing (i.e. damn, this book has finished already? Why did I have to read so fast?).
What does this have to do with the races? Gosh, it’s simple isn’t it? Either you know who is winning, or bam! You are hit with a double whammy end, which leaves you gasping for breath, wanting more. So which one was Qatar? I mean it should have been one of the two. Right? RIGHT?
One thing’s for sure. The build-up was pretty darned amazing. There was so much hope in the air; you could almost cut it with a knife (I know, I know, I’m mixing my metaphors). If you were supporting Valentino Rossi (like yours truly), chances are you fell splat on your face. Bah! I am still recovering, and the race was post-midnight in India, so there you go. But then, disappointment was held off at an arm’s length, if you were also waiting to watch a kick-ass beginning to the season (like yours truly).
All things said the setting was perfect for any MotoGP fan with romantic inclinations. Three thousand floodlight bulbs lit up the 5.4km track on the Losail circuit in Qatar. It was a full moon night (couldn’t help but notice that, thanks to the channel airing the live telecast). The sweet roar of prototype MotoGP bikes filled the air. Cal Crutchlow went off for a little wander after getting his bike to the grid. Rossi looked tense, but then gave a cheery, yet Rossi-cheeky wave at the camera.
And then it began: The first race of the season. Dani Pedrosa shot through from the third row, right up to the top 3, battling it out with Jorge Lorenzo at pole and 2011-world champion Casey Stoner. Lorenzo set the pace, pulling away from Stoner with ease. But soon, it became apparent that the fastest bike this season is the Honda. Before we knew it, Stoner was in the lead, pulling away, and opening up an impressive gap. It was impressive enough for most of us to yawn and sigh. Would this be a repeat of the 2011 season?
The scene of battle soon shifted to Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso, racing for 4th position. Close, closer, and then Dovizioso would pull away, again and again. Meanwhile Nicky Hayden fought his way up the ladder, pushing his Desmosedici to its limit. Teammate and former seven-time world champion Rossi was stuck in the back, struggling, and posting abysmal timings. It broke my heart. It looked like the 2012 kick-off in Qatar would be predictable. Stoner was just too fast, Lorenzo wasn’t fast enough, and Rossi was stuck in the back.
But then, remember what I said about brilliantly, awesome murder mysteries? There’s always a twist, and it’s a twist that always catches you by surprise. With the last few laps to go and suddenly, Stoner started slowing down, as he started suffering from a bad arm pump. Lorenzo shot in front of him, and within seconds, teammate Pedrosa overtook as well. Meanwhile on the 17th lap, Crutchlow passed his teammate and held on to 4th position. Hayden grabbed the 6th slot and Rossi the 10th.
The Qatar race proved that the Yamaha and Honda machines were fast, technically sound, equally matched and 2012 ready. It will be a battle for the first.
The CRTs were just as promising. Colin Edwards racing for NGM Mobile Forward Racing posted the fastest times in the CRT bracket. The Suter chassis bike with a BMW S1000RR engine proved to be more powerful than the Power Electronics Aspar riders with the ApriliaART.
The Doctor’s troubles however did not end with the start of this season. They just got worse. After the race though, there was a sudden outburst from the former world champion. Fans saw, for the first time perhaps, a disheartened and upset Rossi. He told the Italian Mediaset, “I can’t ride this bike well, even in comparison with my fellow Ducati riders… this Ducati has problems: I gave indications over where to intervene, but we didn’t solve our problems… We ran out of hope last year. More than hope we need a better bike.” It’s obvious that Ducati’s problems are far from over. But it’s also obvious that there’s trouble in the Rossi camp.
The season definitely holds much promise. And yes, there is change in the air. How will it all play out? We may get more clues in Jerez, two weeks from now.
Photograph courtesy: Migue Moreno