An edited, slightly less entertaining version of this article appears on Motorcycle.com.
Stoner wins! Pedrosa crashes! Lorenzo clinches!
In the 41 minutes it took to run the 2012 Australian Grand Prix, a number of pressing questions were resolved. Would Repsol Honda top gun Casey Stoner be able to make it six wins in a row at his home crib? Could teammate Dani Pedrosa make it four in a row for 2012? Would factory Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo pick up the three points on Pedrosa he needed to clinch the 2012 championship? And, finally, would one of the local wallabies hop through the infield prior to the race as a reminder we were on the other side of the planet? In order, the answers were: Yes. No. Yes, and Yes.
In front of 53,000 delirious fans, Casey Stoner, as is his wont, ran away from the field for his sixth consecutive premier class win in Australia. Being the fastest rider on the fastest bike at the fastest track on the tour, there was little question that Stoner would go out in grand style in front of his homeys. He was at the top of every single timesheet all weekend and never seriously threatened during the race itself. Although he didn’t enjoy a great start, he oozed past Lorenzo on a decisive second lap into the lead and ended up winning by some nine seconds.
Want a good definition of the word “dominant”? Over the last six years at Phillip Island, Casey Stoner led 160 of 162 laps. Does that constitute perhaps the greatest home field advantage in the history of sports? Tough question. But the only good news about Stoner’s impending retirement—I read he’s moving on to automobile racing starting next year—is that someone else will have a chance to stand at the top of the podium next year at Phillip Island.
Pedrosa Finally Cracks
Dani Pedrosa came into the race today needing to make up 23 championship points in two races, an almost impossible task unless Lorenzo were to make some kind of uncharacteristic gaffe. Despite having won five of the last six races, Pedrosa was unable to gain much ground on his consistent countryman. As Pedrosa kept winning, and the deficit to Lorenzo shrank ever so slowly, pressure continued to build on the diminutive Spaniard. Today, it found its release.
Starting from the front row, the three Aliens had good starts, with Stoner settling into third position while his tires warmed up. Pedrosa put the pedal to the metal (?) and went through on Lorenzo into the lead midway through the first lap. On lap two, Stoner went through on Lorenzo, and was dogging his teammate when Dani lost the front in a slow, arcing lowside that looked eerily like Simoncelli’s crash last year at Sepang. Although he was able to re-mount his damaged bike, he entered pit lane moments later, his day, and year, suddenly over.
On the back nine of his MotoGP career at age 27, the brooding, introspective Pedrosa appears to be on his way to becoming one of those eternal runners-up. Entering today’s race, he, Stoner and Lorenzo each had 44 career wins, a statistical anomaly of the first order. But Stoner and Lorenzo have now each won two world championships, while Pedrosa has a fourth, three seconds, two thirds and about a pound of titanium plates and screws to show for his efforts since 2006. I’m reminded of Fran Tarkington and Jim Kelly, both stellar NFL quarterbacks with 0-4 records in Super Bowls. I’m thinking of Karl Malone, who played second fiddle to Michael Jordan all those years; in terms of championship rings, it ended up Jordan 6, Malone 0. The difference between being a great athlete and a world champion often comes down to timing, luck, and karma, none of which Pedrosa seems to enjoy to any great degree.
From the Department of Idle Speculation, we believe next season may be his last to capture a world championship. He will have Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to deal with on the factory Yamahas—ugh—as well as his new teammate, Alien-in-waiting Marc Marquez, who himself clinched the Moto2 title today. Pedrosa should be able to contain Marquez during his rookie season, but the New Kid in Town looks ready to start winning premier class titles sooner rather than later. And Lorenzo, hard as nails and regular as a piston, is two years younger than Pedrosa, who will turn 30 during the 2014 season.
Winning a title is not going to get any easier for Dani Pedrosa.
Jorge Lorenzo—First Spanish Double World Champion
As dominant as the Spanish riders in all three classes are these days, it’s surprising to me that Lorenzo is the first to win two premier class titles. The secrets to his success are, in my opinion, consistency and a crystal clear understanding of what he is capable and incapable of doing on a Yamaha M1. He has matured greatly since joining the premier class in 2008, and in mid-career is at the top of his game. Assuming he podiums in Valencia, he will set a new MotoGP record by recording 17 podium finishes in one season. That, folks, is consistency.
In several respects, Lorenzo’s Yamaha has some disadvantages compared to the Repsol Honda RC213V, most notably the Honda’s superior acceleration coming out of turns. This is not to say that the factory Yamaha is a tortoise compared to the Repsol hare. But it does back up the assertion by many knowledgeable MotoGP people that grand prix racing is 80% rider and 20% bike.
Congratulations to Jorge Lorenzo on a stellar 2012. I’m pretty sure this will not be his last world championship celebration.
Cal Crutchlow, who had failed to finish four of the last six races, spent a lonely, productive day in third place for his second career premier class podium. His post-race comments about the inadvisability of going after Lorenzo today were a hoot…Andrea Dovizioso spent his day fighting with satellite Honda pilots Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista, finally going through on both simultaneously late in the last lap for a well-earned fourth place finish…Two of the best battles of the day were intra-team affairs. Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden played grab-ass all day long, with Rossi prevailing for another ho-hum seventh place finish. And Power Electronics’ Aleix Espargaro essentially clinched the imaginary CRT championship by out-racing teammate Randy de Puniet for an 11-point lead heading back to Spain. De Puniet would have to finish, like, sixth at Valencia for any chance to outpoint his teammate, and THAT’s not going to happen.
On to Valencia
And so the grid heads back to Europe for the annual Valenciana Anti-Climax, with nothing on the line, as usual. Rather than running another meaningless season-ending parade, I think Dorna should organize Valencia as a series of three lap match race heats, with the winners facing off for a five lap finale:
- Stoner vs. Lorenzo vs. Pedrosa
- Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso
- Hayden vs. Rossi
- Bautista vs. Bradl
- Barbera vs. Abraham
- Espargaro vs. de Puniet
Let the winners of each heat compete for a big cash prize, and start them on the grid in the reverse order of their finishing times in the heats, handicapping the field so even Abraham or de Puniet might have a chance to win. Something like this, it seems, would be a more interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon on the Iberian peninsula than watching 21 guys compete for a title that has already been decided.