MotoGP // STONER GIVES BLOWOUT PERFORMANCE IN AUSTRALIAPhillip Island, Australia is one of a handful of really special tracks on the MotoGP calendar. It’s been around in one form or another since the 20s but has only hosted GP racing since 1989. Much of the track was made up of natural roads so the track has a natural, flowing feel to it. It is also quite fast. Therefore, it rewards not only the brave but also the more creative riders. It’s no coincidence that Valentino Rossi has been on the podium twelve of the thirteen races previous to this weekend. Some of his most memorable races have been won here. Similarly, Casey Stoner has won Phillip Island the last three years in a row. It is a thing of true beauty to watch him slide both tires coming out of some of the track’s huge, sweeping turns... [read more]

After Jorge Lorenzo taking the title one week ago in Sepang, all the attention is now focused on who will come in second place. Dani Pedrosa occupied that spot coming into the weekend by a margin too large for him to lose it just yet. Dani, fresh off a nasty collarbone break in Japan, actually flew all the way to Australia and took part in practice but ultimately felt he was not up to the task of racing. Rossi, Stoner and Dovizioso are all mathematically eligible for the runner-up spot and probably breathed a sigh of relief at the news Pedrosa was out.

In all three practice sessions, the man to beat was undoubtedly Stoner. He topped all sessions except for the very first (very wet) practice session on Friday, where Lorenzo beat him by 0.334 sec. Lorenzo was the only person who would qualify within a second of Stoner in the end. Valentino Rossi struggled through every practice, he never placed any higher than seventh place. He would qualify in eighth, just in front of Andrea Dovizioso. If they were going to mount an attack on second in the standings, they would have a mountain to climb. The wet/dry/wet/dry oscillations kept most riders from really nailing in their settings, frankly. All except Casey Stoner, who was maddeningly (for everyone else) always fast, no matter what the weather was like. The final starting order was: Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli, Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden, Randy De Puniet, Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Melandri, Aleix Espargaro, Mika Kallio, Hiroshi Aoyama, Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera.

Casey Stoner surprised absolutely nobody by tipping into turn one in first place. Jorge Lorenzo thought he was right behind him but Ben Spies had the line and narrowly edged him. It didn’t last long as Lorenzo put in a tough pass going into the very next turn, forcing Spies to stand up and lose three places instead of just the one. Unsurprisingly, Stoner had built up a visible lead halfway through lap one, he crossed the line for the first time 1.5s clear of Lorenzo. They were followed by Hayden, Simoncelli, Dovizioso, Spies, Edwards, Melandri, Rossi and De Puniet rounding out the top ten.

Lorenzo did a good job of keeping himself clear of the fighting pack behind him while at least making an attempt at sticking with Stoner. Rossi, in the opening laps, languished around where he began the race, he was keen to change that however. As of lap three, Rossi began to claw his way through the pack, much as he did one week ago in Sepang. At the same time, Andrea Dovizioso began to go backwards fast. He had a problem with his steering which would eventually put him out of the race. By lap four a battle was forming for third place between Hayden and Simoncelli which would soon also draw Spies and the ascendant Rossi into its orbit. This would comprise the most exciting action of the entire race. Going into lap six, Rossi passed Simoncelli going into the scarily fast turn one, he was now in fifth place. One lap later Rossi passed Hayden going into turn ten with a move that was tough, but not unsportsmanlike. Hayden did his best to keep his composure but Simoncelli squeaked through on him as he was regrouping. Rossi wasted absolutely no time in going after Spies, he passed him, again into the treacherous turn one.

As the three behind Rossi re-grouped and shuffled around, Stoner and Lorenzo continued to clear out. As boring as Stoner’s march at the front could be, the camera would sometimes cut to him sliding through the turns, obviously having fun. It was good consolation. Meanwhile, going into lap ten, Nicky Hayden had gathered himself and passed Simoncelli down the front straight to take fourth and hunt down Rossi. He seemed intent on avenging Valentino’s move on him a few laps earlier. The laps ground down, Nicky shadowing Rossi closely, but on lap twenty Hayden turned it up a bit and began to look to threaten to take third in a real way. Spies and Simoncelli had dropped back but they were in a similar battle to the two in front of them, Spies took fifth, down the straight again, going into lap 23. He would pull away and keep the spot til the end. On lap 25, Hayden finally made his move on Rossi, at the turn four hairpin, and made it stick. Valentino also refused to be gapped and shadowed Hayden immediately, sniffing around for a pass but unable to put one together. Rossi stuck to his rear for two more laps as fans breathlessly waited for him to make another move. It finally happened, again at turn four, when Rossi stuck it up the inside of Hayden and forced him wide, enabling Valentino to sneak past. Hayden tried valiantly to repay the favor but narrowly missed the podium, again.

Casey Stoner’s fourth straight victory in Australia was yet another demonstration of just how dominant he can be when he is on his game. It begs the question of his unevenness though. He started 2009 and 2010 strong, dropped off precipitously and then came back with some decisive wins. His move to Honda next year is a gamble for sure but he has proved over and over that he can beat anyone when it’s his day. Jorge Lorenzo has been phenomenal all year, winning the title and only finishing off the podium twice. He is also the only rider to score points in every race this season. However, he has not won a race since Brno, back in August. While this has no bearing on the title, Jorge will be keen to clock one more win before the season’s end, just to put an exclamation point on his amazing season. Finally, there is Valentino Rossi. He has had the toughest season of his career so far and he is still within a shout of second place. More importantly, keep in mind that almost every thrilling battle of this season (not to mention the last decade) have involved the Italian, who some regard as being past his prime. Add Dovizioso, Spies (who clinched the “Rookie of the Year” title Sunday) and Simoncelli, who have all been in great form, to this and next year is looking pretty rosy. Despite the dwindling grid numbers, that is.

2010 Australian Grand Prix // Complete Results:

1. Casey Stoner
2. Jorge Lorenzo
3. Valentino Rossi
4. Nicky Hayden
5. Ben Spies
6. Marco Simoncelli
7. Colin Edwards
8. Aleix Espargaro
9. Marco Melandri
10. Randy De Puniet
11. Mika Kallio
12. Alvaro Bautista
13. Hiroshi Aoyama
14. Hector Barbera

Photo: MotoGP
Editorial: Jeff Winterberg

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