It was the last lap and I was sitting nose-to-screen in front of the television. I didn’t care about the first two podium spots. I only cared about the 3rd. The battle for the 3rd began towards the end of the race at Motegi, Japan. A phenomenal fight, fairing-to-fairing, wheel-to-nose, by two determined riders equally talented.
Alvaro Bautista moved past Cal Crutchlow, but the Brit moved in right away, seeking an opening towards the inside line. Bautista fought back, overtaking him. Crutchlow continued the attack. The camera moved with them, as the two exchanged places. It was the last lap. The camera moved to the front-runners, Dani Pedrosa had run a clean race and was heading for a 1st, Jorge Lorenzo close behind at 2nd. The camera and I waited for Bautista and Crutchlow. I wanted the fight to continue. Bautista zoomed by. Where was Cal? The Yamaha Tech 3 slowed down losing power, as Cal pulled to one side. He was out of gas!
No, no, no, I shouted, waving a fist at the television screen. Cal slumped over his tank, disheartened. It was a heartbreaking sight. But that’s the thing isn’t it? Races are always the most unexpected. Bautista made it past the chequered flag to finish 3rd. It was a well-deserved victory – the culmination of a brilliant, if short-lived fight.
For Cal though, Motegi turned out to be yet another frustrating race for a podium that was within reach, yet elusive. He later said in a press release, “We knew fuel consumption was going to be critical. I was very fast and for almost the whole race, I was on my own with no slipstream, so I used more fuel. I’ve proven again though that I can fight with the best in the world…”
“…There is no denying that I am disappointed as well because I was confident I could have passed Alvaro on the last lap. It wouldn’t have been easy because he was riding very well and it was a very enjoyable battle with him. I had a lot of fun and I’m sure he did too, and it is just unfortunate that we couldn’t take the fight right to the very end,” he added. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso took the 4th spot.
It was an eventful end to a race that began with a series of crashes – Randy de Puniet crashed, but re-joined the pack. Then, it was Ben Spies, who I must say has been having a series of unlucky races this season. Yonny Hernandez followed and suffered a dislocation.
But the race evened out as the riders found their pace and their own personal battles. The focus was on the fight for the 1st spot, with Lorenzo fighting to maintain the gap in the championship points, even as Pedrosa closed in. There were 13 laps left to go when Pedrosa made his move, swept past Lorenzo and took the lead. He ran a clean race, steadily increasing the gap between the 1st and 2nd, going on to grab the podium. His teammate and former championship contender Casey Stoner, returning after an injury, took the 5th spot, in a race that was difficult and painful, yet brave. He said in a press release, “Then as the race progressed my body started to suffer and ache in ways I didn’t expect. We had the pace to run a lot higher and be on the podium, but unfortunately I couldn’t manage it physically today.”
It was a disappointing race for Ducati however, though Vale did say at the end, that they had managed to find consistency. But the pace was just not there. Even as Vale struggled to catch Dovizioso and then Stefan Bradl. He ended the race at 7th while Nicky Hayden finished 8th. It was eventful though for Colin Edwards who finished 13th, as the second best CRT. But the race was far from comfortable. Four laps into the race, as Edwards put down his knee to take the corner and was “nearly ripped off the bike”. He had no kneepad. He said in a press release, “I don’t remember hitting a curb or anything. Initially I was thinking I had to pull in because I ride like a tripod, put my knee down, and let the bike work underneath me. I just thought about the Bootcamp, feet up, use your body, be smooth.” It worked. Even as Pedrosa laid claim to his trophy, it was Bautista who sported that big grin. His was, after all, a well-deserved 3rd spot.
The battle for points now moves to Sepang, Malaysia. There is a lot at stake here. The race could go two ways. Lorenzo could grab the first spot and lay claim to the championship throne, for the rest of the season. Or, Pedrosa could win, again, and decrease the gap. He is now the sole contender and is showing every sign of catching up to Lorenzo who leads with 310 points. But Pedrosa is nearly there with 282 points. There are three more races to go and Malaysia could very well be the decider.
But this is Sepang and it has been looming over the calendar since the start of the season. For, it has now been a year since Marco Simoncelli’s passing. The weekend started in his honour, remembering the man who courted controversy, yes, but also demonstrated such immense talent. The racers, the teams, and the pit crew moved together towards Turn 11, the place where Simoncelli crashed. For that moment, the battles, the championship, and the races – all were forgotten. There was just that moment. San Carlo Honda Gresini team owner Fausto Gresini walked towards the turn and placed a permanent plaque in his honour, followed by a moment’s silence. There, perhaps, couldn’t have been a more poignant tribute.
Later, at a press conference, Vale paid tribute to Super Sic, a rider who was also a very good friend. He said, “It was like always – very strange. But everyone in the paddock came to Turn 11 where Marco crashed last year, so it was very deep (emotional). It’s already one year, but when these things happen it’s difficult to understand the time – it’s always like the first day, also, because during the normal day, especially in the paddock, we miss him a lot.”
We still miss you Super Sic. R.I.P.