The throaty roar of an inline-four, the swish of a chequered flag, the camaraderie of riding together, and the legends and their greatest hits.

Chills, Thrills and Spills

If you are anything like me and follow the world of motorsports in an obsessive manner, then you know what I mean, when I say this summer break has been interminably long. What better way then to ring in the return of racing season, than at the Indianapolis circuit? It’s enough to give man and machine heartburn – technically challenging, 4.168 km long, 16 turns, and 28 laps.

But I could have done without the excitement last weekend threw at me. As far as thrills are concerned, I prefer those of the quick overtakes and fast riding variety. Instead, we got horrifying crashes – heart-in-mouth and scary.

It began with Hector Barbera during Friday’s practice session. As he took the final corner, Barbera lost control, flying over his motorcycle, landing heavily, and fracturing his vertebrae.

The mishap-ridden weekend continued. Saturday came around and the riders readied themselves for Qualifying. The surprise came with Dani Pedrosa, pushing his Honda hard, reaching for the limit. It was unmatched as he broke Casey Stoner’s previous record of the fastest lap, setting a phenomenal time of 1’38.813. Stoner, who has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons (namely his comments on Valentino Rossi’s move to Yamaha), was determined to outdo his teammate. But he suffered a horrendous crash at Turn 13 and suffered small marginal fractures and torn ligaments in his right ankle. Meanwhile, it was a focused Ben Spies who hit the track, pushing to break Pedrosa’s record. It was during a fast lap, at Turn 14 that Spies crashed. He hurt his shoulder but was lucky to walk away.

Valentino Rossi ran a lonely, but fast race finishing 7th. Image used with permission from Enel (This image is property of Enel and Dorna Sports; http://www.flickr.com/enelsharing)

Nicky Hayden fell at that same turn in a monstrous crash. He lay unconscious as the medics rushed up to him with a stretcher. I let out a deep sigh of relief when I saw him raise his arm to wave at his fans. He suffered two fractures in his right hand and was declared unfit to race because of a concussion. Vale, while on a fast lap, got a scare at that turn, as he wobbled, but then managed to stabilize the Ducati. He later said, “On the last fast lap, I had a big risk in the same turn where Nicky crashed. This track has strange asphalt that has less grip, than what we are used to, but that still wears the tyres. For that reason, we have tyres with stiffer carcases at our disposition here.”

Pedrosa almost echoed Vale as he said of the circuit, “It felt that you could control the slide, but suddenly many riders found themselves on the floor. It was crucial to keep the concentration on our riding and not make any mistake, and achieve the lap time.”

Race day dawned bright and sun-shiny bringing with it much promise and also a touch of unexpected ballsiness. Stoner was back, on painkillers, supported by crutches, and determined to race.

Front-runner: Dani Pedrosa had the perfect weekend rounding it off with a much-deserved win. Image courtesy Repsol Honda Team

The race itself wasn’t too memorable. Vale played safe, even as Pedrosa pulled away from the pack, taking on the role of race leader, with ease. It seemed like his only competition would be Spies, battling a troublesome shoulder, but determined to win that elusive podium. It was not meant to be. Spies started off strong, flying past Pedrosa and then allowing the Spaniard to take lead. The American got comfortable at 2nd position, when his bike gave way at lap 6. His bike slowed down, billowing smoke, reducing visibility and ending any podium hopes. He said, “We had a big crash yesterday and I honestly didn’t know if I could ride at 100 percent today. I got a lot of sleep and great physio from the clinic guys who did an amazing job. We got off to a good start and felt great. When Dani passed me, I could see he was using the rear tyre more than I was, so the plan was to let him get a maximum 3 seconds ahead and start reeling him back in at the end. As soon as he passed me, the bike started to slow down, I wasn’t sure what was happening, then all of a sudden it blew up, so I tried to get off the line as quickly as possible.”

Lady luck eluded Cal Crutchlow too, as he lost the front end of his bike at turn 4 and watched the rest of the race from the garage.

But the star at Indianapolis was without doubt, Casey Stoner. It was a race against pain, one that involved sheer grit, determination, and will power. Stoner, tanked up on painkillers, pushed his way to the top row. He started 5th on the grid, but pushed his way past Alvaro Bautista in a stunning move, and then Stefan Bradl. Spies’ engine blowout however pushed Stoner back, dropping him behind Andrea Dovizioso and Bradl. But before long, Stoner managed to make his way to 3rd spot, behind frontrunners Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Man with a mission: Casey Stoner held off Andrea Dovizioso for as long as he could. Image courtesy Repsol Honda Team

Stoner later said in a Honda press release, “…We had a rough start and got pushed back some positions and had to fight our way back through. As soon as we did, unluckily Ben had a bike failure and I found myself in the middle of the smoke, unsure where I was going and what I might hit and we lost positions again.”

Stoner’s strength was flagging and Dovizioso was hard on his heels. The Italian soon overtook Stoner, waving almost apologetically after passing him. Stoner said, “At the end of the race it was almost impossible to maintain the pace. The painkillers I took to dull the pain gradually wore off at around the halfway point and as I was compensating for my injury with the other side of body, I simply had no energy left.”

It wasn’t evident. Dovi may have overtaken Stoner, but the Australian was still hard on his heels, tyre to nose, hounding him. Stoner ended the race with a phenomenal 4th position in what was, for him a formidable race. He pulled into the garage and slumped over the tank, exhausted. At that moment, he was truly a man of steel.

BITS AND BOBS

Win-Win: Dani Pedrosa. Image courtesy Repsol Honda Team

This has been a highly successful season for Pedrosa. He celebrated his longest sequence of successive podiums in MotoGP. It was also a perfect weekend – he scored a pole position, new circuit record, and a victory – all at one circuit.

Lorenzo is still in the lead with 225 points, but Pedrosa has now closed that up with 207 points. Stoner is now in the 3rd spot with 186 points.

Yonny Hernandez scored the highest CRT points in his maiden outing at Indianapolis, coming in 9th spot in a well-fought race. It looks like that improved chassis and swing-arm is finally paying off.

FORZA JOAN

Albert Llovera posted an incredible video of Joan Lascorz. While posting the video on Facebook, he said, “Visiting my mates at the Guttman Team, Andreu, Pep… and Joan Lascorz, who you are going to see here doing his first try at accelerations and steering control. He seems talented, what do you think? ;-).” Forza Joan! You can watch the video here.

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