Photo courtesy MotoGPEnlarge Photo
If Jorge Lorenzo's victory in the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail Circuit tonight is any indication, Yamaha Factory Team have got their act together, keeping the rear tire on Lorenzo's bike underneath him--even as every rider but one in the manufacturers' group chose hard Bridgestone rear tires and extra hard fronts.
This was the ninth race in Qatar and the sixth held under the lights, finishing close to 11PM local time.
It was also the first in MotoGP's new 1,000-cc and CRT (claiming rules teams) era, which brings new engines to the series and new blood, which has been sorely needed, particularly since Suzuki pulled out at the end of the year. The 22-lap contest, held on the 16-turn Losail circuit was bathed in lights, seemingly as well lit as a daytime race.
Lorenzo won the race--his first at this track--by 0.852 seconds over Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, who leapt from his seventh place starting spot to second on the first corner, surprising 2011 MotoGP champion and teammate Casey Stoner with the productive attempt. Stoner was third, 2.908 seconds behind the winner.
As Lorenzo precariously held the lead from the start, Stoner passed Pedrosa for second on the third lap and drafted past the Yamaha on the front straight at the start of lap four. From there, he pulled out a lead close to two seconds--never more--as the Mallorcan worked to stay within drafting distance of his Aussie competitor.
With five to go, Lorenzo began reeling in the Hondas and he was by Stoner, with Pedrosa in tow, just after the final corner on the 19th lap. Pedrosa needed another two laps to pass his teammate in the first turn and held on to earn the second podium spot.
“What an amazing race!" Lorenzo said. "I put everything I have, all my energy into the track, this victory is because I never gave up, kept pushing and trying. Casey was very strong at the beginning and opened a gap. Fortunately for us he struggled at the end and dropped his pace where I could keep mine so I managed to pass him. I am very grateful to Yamaha because they have made a big step this winter on the YZR-M1.”
Pedrosa was especially pleased with his result because the team "has been able to turn around all the problems we had during the weekend." He was a bit sad because he thought he had a bike that could win the race: "I had it in my hands for a while," Pedrosa noted. Teammate Stoner knew it was going to be "a tough race for us but in the end it came in the wrong areas. I suffered from really bad arm pump; after three or four laps I felt it but it gradually got worse. I couldn't hold onto the handle bars properly and it made things really difficult," he revealed.
The winner's teammate Ben Spies wasn't nearly as competitive as Lorenzo on the new Yamaha, experiencing chatter problems that dropped the Texan from his fourth place grid spot to a finishing position of 11th, just behind Valentino Rossi's Ducati. Spies' problem showed up in the warmup and there was no answer from the team for this race.
Behind the podium trio, it was an all Tech 3 Yamaha battle as Cal Crutchlow got the better of teammate Andrea Dovizioso at the close of the 22-lap contest. The Italian passed his British teammate early in the going but Crutchlow took fourth place back and held it to the end, equaling his best MotoGP result.
Nicky Hayden put on a great display of riding talent and intimidation, forcing Hector Barbera from sixth position when the Pramac Racing Ducati went off with two laps to go, giving the spot to the 2006 champ and his factory Ducati motorcycle. Hayden beat Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini) by an eyelash margin of 0.033 seconds while 2011 Moto2 titleholder Stefan Bradl (LCT Honda) made an excellent debut in the top class by taking eighth place. Barbera finished ninth with Rossi tenth.
It was no surprise to see Colin Edwards as the highest placing CRT rider on his NGM MObile Forward Suter--in 12th place--as he held off the closing challenge from Randy de Puniet on the Power Electronics Aspar ART.
The MotoGP troops have a three-week lapse before the next race at Jerez, Spain, where most everyone has tested extensively in anticipation of this race. They'll have a new spec Bridgestone front tire and increased allocation to 11 from the customary nine fronts for Jerez and the three rounds after race No. 2 as production ramps up.
The big questions remain as the MotoGP season begins to hit its stride. Can Lorenzo keep Stoner at bay? Is there anyone else who can knock these two titans from their perches? Will Valentino Rossi ever recover to be the rider whose championships were once a given?
We'll have to tune in to find out.