I have realized that heart-pumping, adrenalin-racing races can be just about as exhausting for the fans as it is for racers. Case to point: the Le Mans MotoGP.
It was supposed to be just another MotoGP race with the usual suspects on the podium. But 10 minutes into the race, my cup of tea lay forgotten. I was down on the floor, face right up against the television, screaming, shouting, and pumping my fist into the air. “Valeeeee. “C’mon Valeeeee,” I screamed as Valentino Rossi battled current world champion Casey Stoner for the second spot on the podium. They fought hard and true. It was like those battles of the MotoGP past, reminiscent of Laguna Seca in 2008, but perhaps more treacherous.
The first hint of an unusual race came with the wet conditions. We all know it, and the Ducati techs have been scratching their heads over it, for some reason the Ducati Desmosedici GP12 is incredibly fast in the wet. Looks like all of us Rossi fans collectively prayed to the rain god, baked him cookies, and did rain dances in his honour. So as the red lights went on, Randy de Puniet dropped his bike and was forced to restart with the spare bike. Jorge Lorenzo took a phenomenal lead and a determined Rossi swung past Cal Crutchlow to a 4th spot. Dani Pedrosa started out at pole but slipped down the ladder. Casey Stoner took the 2nd spot, while Rossi moved into the 3rd. There were still 21 laps to go.
I felt my pulse speed up. Would it finally happen? But the Monster Yamaha team did not give up. Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso were focused and stayed on Rossi’s tail. Overtaking maneuvers in dry conditions are exciting. But they are nothing short of breathtaking in the wet. Back and forth they went until Crutchlow slipped and fell at lap 19. He lost 34 seconds, but got back on his bike racing through to finish at the 8th position. Dovizioso continued to hound Rossi until he crashed at lap 25, recovered, and finished 7th. But the battle actually began in the last three laps.
It’s difficult to recreate the battle between Rossi and Stoner, to describe the way the two rode, swapping positions, wobbling ever so slightly, hanging on, and fighting for that 2nd position. Rossi finally overtook Stoner in the final lap and took 2nd spot. It was racing at its best.
It was sweet victory for many of us Rossi fans. We have been waiting for this moment a long time, Rossi gave us exactly what we wanted, and in style. It was Rossi magic through and through. Later, he said in a Ducati press release, “We knew we had a special opportunity in the wet today, so I tried to ride perfect and not throw it away. I started well and immediately made up some positions, and then I passed the two Yamahas to get behind Stoner. I was able to match his pace, but then my visor started to fog and I had to slow down for a couple of laps until I was able to clear it by lifting it a little. Once I could see again, I re-passed Cal and then Dovi. When I realized that I could really push hard and that it was possible to catch Stoner again, I went for it. It was a great race and a nice, fun battle with Stoner to the last lap.” Here’s the complete release.
Meanwhile NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Chris Vermeulen struggled to finish the race on the new Suter-BMW. He’s standing in for Colin Edwards who is recovering from an injury. But it was Paul Bird Motorsport’s James Ellison, who shone through scoring his first points for the season and finished first in the CRT category at 11th position. “We think we have found a setting that works in the wet or dry. It was a tough race and I’m just glad to get one for the team…” he said in a press release.
So, even though Jorge Lorenzo won easily, the race left us feeling a lot better about this season. Was this just a one-off Rossi magic on the Ducati? Or will there be more magic in sunny Catalunya? Guess we need to wait a week to find out!
(Of course, none of my MotoGP posts are ever complete without these amazing pictures from Migue.)
The Big Stunner
But the craziest news this race weekend came in the form of a bombshell courtesy Casey Stoner. At a pre-race press conference, the current world champion announced that he would retire at the end of the 2012 season. (Mean aside: If you ask me, it’s a lot like Michael Schumacher. Remember how he said he would retire if someone faster came along?) But mean comments aside, Stoner laid out his reasons: “After so many years of doing this sport which I love, and which myself and my family made so many sacrifices for, after so many years of trying to get to where we have gotten to at this point, this sport has changed a lot and it has changed to the point where I am not enjoying it. I don’t have the passion for it and so at this time it’s better if I retire now.” Read the entire interview here.
Rossi however put an end to all those retirement rumours (Ha!). He said at the press conference, “For me, it’s very difficult to understand where the news starts because I never speak about my retirement, and I want to race in MotoGP for the next two years for sure.” So there, all ye doubters.
ALL PICTURES COURTESY Migue Moreno, taken at the Qualifying, Le Mans. Please do get in touch with him in case you would like to reuse any of the images. Thank you Migue 🙂