I have racked my brains. Truly, I have. I have done it all – chewed my nails so even the manicurist threw his hands up in despair, paced my room, listened to Mozart, and watched reruns of the race at Aragon. I have asked myself the same question, again and again, in different ways, using a variety of synonyms: What was different about Aragon? What were the moments?
You would think it would be easy peasy. After all, it did seem like the biggest news would be the weather. But no, it wasn’t. There were perhaps four moments that defined the race at Aragon, but there was one that has stayed in my mind. Not for sheer brilliance in racing or a stunning win, but for the deep sense of fear it left behind.
It happened at the 2nd lap. Nicky Hayden had a good start, moving past teammate Valentino Rossi and Jonathan Rea. He kept moving, trying the catch up with the pack. But at Turn 16, he spun off the track. Hayden tried slowing down passing the gravel and heading straight for the low wall – the advertising boards. “He’s going to jump off,” the TV commentator said. Yes, I told myself, jump off. Why aren’t you jumping off? He struggled to keep the bike upright, but the collision was inevitable. Hayden hit the wall and flew over the boards, landing on the other side. The doctors have said he is fine. It does seem like #69 will be back on track in Japan. Hayden later said in a press release, “The rear brake wasn’t working great from about halfway around the lap, maybe because I overheated it. I was trying to keep the group in front of me in sight, but I pushed the front in the last turn. I was able to pick it up, but I came up on that wall really fast. I thought I might hit it headfirst if I jumped off, so I let go right before impact. I’m sorry to tear up the bike, but I’m thankful for great safety equipment and to be okay.”
The sheer horror of that moment doesn’t diminish even as you watch reruns of the crash. It drives home what we often forget in the passion of every race – that every lap done upright is a lap when our riders are safe.
Up and Down
23 laps: That’s how long the race was. 22 laps: That’s how long Vale had, to climb his way up from the very end of the pack, the last place. It was a disappointment, no doubt. After all, the last time we saw Vale was on the podium at Misano. There was hope then that this time too, he would be a podium runner. But it wasn’t to be. Vale made a mistake on the 1st lap, going off track to avoid Rea. He later said in a press release, “…he braked a bit earlier, I went to the right. He couldn’t see me and pushed me close to the curb, and I went straight to avoid him. I should have gone to the inside, not the outside.” The mistake was enough to kill any podium hopes, much less a good finish. Vale re-entered the race at the last spot, fighting his way up. It was a masterful feat. As the laps counted down, time was running short.
But Vale kept pace, working his way past the CRTs to finish 8th. He said later that changes were made to the bike after the warm-up, a move that helped him lap consistently. The result wasn’t too bad, giving the incident. After all, this was, he said, one of the “most difficult” tracks for the team. Things are looking up, he says, for Motegi. Here’s hoping there is another Vale podium.
They have been one of the most exciting teams this season. They have made the front-runners sweat and work for their podium finishes. They have given us incredible battles and have also been a source of inspiration for their sheer determination and perseverance. The fight, at Aragon, was for the 3rd spot on the podium and it was a delight to watch. Dovi climbed up to the 4th slot from the back of the 2nd row. He passed Cal, who went wide, grabbing the 4th slot. Ben Spies was in 3rd, speeding ahead. But the podium eluded him yet again. Dovi passed the American to take 3rd. Cal was biting at Spies’ ankles, looking for a way out and past him. But Spies held on. Five laps to go to race-end and Cal made it past and sped towards Dovi. There were three laps to go and time was running out. Cal tried to find a spot, a gap that would take him to the podium. It was an incredible fight as the riders changed places, fought nose to wheel and side-by-side, the identical black fairings glinting as the two raced to the finish.
There were moments; twice actually, in the last two laps that it seemed we would see Cal on the podium. But they were brief as Cal found it difficult to keep to his line, going wide. They were gaps Dovi grabbed. The finish line loomed large as the two raced towards the end. But Dovi took the 3rd position by one-10th of a second. Cal later told MotoGP.com, “Today, I was close to the podium and last year struggling to be in the top 10…I can go into the last four races with a lot of confidence and hopefully enjoy some more good battles with Andrea. I tried my best to beat him today, and didn’t quite manage it, so hopefully next time we are in a fight like that, it will be me that comes out on top.”
Andrea Dovizioso will be moving to Ducati next season and Cal Crutchlow will stay on at Monster Yamaha Tech 3. The bikes and teams will be different. There is hope too that, there will be many a similar battle, perhaps even for the 1st spot on the podium.
The Winner Takes It All
It would be a disservice to completely by-pass Dani Pedrosa. For, it was a good, clean fight with a win that was much deserved. It started with Jorge Lorenzo taking pole with Dani slotting into the 2nd spot. But Dani kept his cool initially, making a tentative move occasionally at the 1st spot. Finally, at lap 7, Dani moved past Lorenzo, and tried to create a large enough gap. Then came a huge Lorenzo wobble at lap 9. The gap increased 15 laps later to 4 seconds. It was enough to take home a podium victory – the perfect birthday package. It has been a good season for Dani, moving out from the shadow of his championship-winning teammate. Casey Stoner returns for the next race. Here’s hoping Dani continues his winning spree. There are 4 more races to go and the championship is still within reach. It would make a fine end to a spectacular season.