MotoGP // LORENZO RETURNS IN ESTORILMotoGP went into Sunday’s race at Estoril, Portugal with nothing but gigantic question marks to go by. All five practice sessions were marred by rain in one form or another. Friday’s morning session had only a single timed lap, by Hiroshi Aoyama. The rest of the riders wisely decided the rain was too heavy. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning practices happened on schedule but were only slightly less wet, Sunday’s warmup wasn’t rainy but the track was still plenty damp. Worst of all, the all-important Saturday qualifying was cancelled completely for all classes. Grid positions were determined by the riders’ best times in the sessions that actually took place... [read more]

Positions were as follows: Jorge Lorenzo, Nicky Hayden, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Ben Spies, Marco Melandri, Andrea Dovizioso, Randy DePuniet, Colin Edwards, Marco Simoncelli, Aleix Espargaro, Dani Pedrosa, Loris Capirossi, Alvaro Bautista, Hector Barbera, Hiroshi Aoyama and Carlos Checa. Ben Spies would have a crash on the warmup lap on Sunday morning, dislocating his foot and ruling him out of the race.

The cruelest joke of the weekend, however, was the weather gods deciding to dispense with all the rain silliness just in time for the actual race. This may sound like good news but nobody had any dry practice. As a consequence, teams could only shrug and make guesses about fuel mapping and bike setup. It was in this endless sea of unknowns that Sunday’s race took place.

Lorenzo got a good start, beating the crowd down into turn one as Rossi, Stoner and Hayden piled up alongside each other. Rossi was forced to stand the bike up and lost a few positions as a result. Dovizioso took advantage of the chaos to sneak past all three of them and slot in behind Jorge. Lorenzo led the lap while a group consisting of Dovizioso, Hayden, Rossi, DePuniet and Stoner jockeyed for position behind. DePuniet took himself out of this group on the next lap going into turn one, it was a favorite place for going in too deep and standing the bike up all weekend. Lap two saw a lot of action as Hayden took the front spot from Lorenzo, Rossi passed Dovizioso then Lorenzo, Lorenzo and Dovizioso re-passed Rossi, Rossi re-passed Dovizioso just as Stoner passed them both and then Rossi immediately got back around Stoner. They crossed the line into lap three as Hayden, Lorenzo, Rossi, Stoner, Dovizioso but by the end of the straight, ½ km later, it was Lorenzo, Rossi, Stoner, Hayden, Dovizioso. You get the picture, it was a chaotic first few laps. Enjoyable though.

Just now, a resurgent DePuniet and Simoncelli added themselves to the front group, now totaling seven. Lorenzo and Rossi then decided this was too much and began to drop the five behind them. Lap four saw Rossi sneak by Lorenzo at the chicane (slowest corners in MotoGP apparently) to take the lead. Rossi began to pull a gap on lap five just as Stoner began catching up to Lorenzo. Stoner then promptly chucked it into the gravel coming through the parabolica that leads into the front straight, ending his race and any aspirations at second in the championship.

Hayden, meanwhile, was riding a lonely third as the fight for fourth place started to become the point of focus. Simoncelli had quietly moved his way up and finally passed Dovizioso on lap eight into fourth, Pedrosa and DePuniet lurking behind them. On lap twelve Lorenzo suddenly began to chip away at Rossi’s lead, which was then up near two seconds. Going into lap 17, Jorge made his move, drafting Rossi and taking him into turn one. Rossi tried to answer but Lorenzo stayed ahead as the two of them just took off into the stratosphere. Lorenzo would eventually best Rossi by eight seconds but Rossi was 18 seconds ahead of third place. The Fiat Yamahas really nailed it.

At the same time Hayden began to succumb to his tires and drop back into the group of five behind him with Simoncelli passing him going into lap 18. Dovizioso passed both Pedrosa and Hayden that same lap to slot in behind Simoncelli and begin the hunt for the final podium spot. Dovizioso passed him on lap 21 but Simoncelli got him right back. The quartet of Hayden, Edwards, Pedrosa and DePuniet were meanwhile tussling back and forth not far behind. Dovizioso and Simoncelli would trade third place another five times in the last few laps with Dovizioso narrowly taking third and preventing Marco Simoncelli’s first MotoGP podium. Nicky Hayden followed that group closely, finishing fifth.

Lorenzo’s win was his eighth of the season but only his first since Brno, which was all the way back in August. It was also his third consecutive win at Estoril from pole position. The Fiat Yamaha 1-2 also sealed the rider/ constructor/ team trifecta for Yamaha the third year running.

Extra, extra special mention has to go out to Marc Marquez, the 17 year old frontrunner in the 125cc class. Marquez went into the weekend with a 12 point championship lead. Due to the lack of a qualifying session, Marquez started the race all the way back in 11th place, his closest rival, Nico Terol, on the front row in 4th position. At the start Marquez quickly made it up to 2nd before the race was stopped for impending rain. Marquez was due to restart the race in that spot but on the sighting lap before the restart, Marquez fell and damaged his bike. He made it back to pit lane but did not make it back out before the pits closed. This meant Marquez would have to restart from 17th place, all the way at the back of the grid. He made an absolute rocket start and was into 4th place before even going into turn one of the 9 lap restarted race. He then waged an epic battle with Nico Terol and Bradley Smith to take what can only be described as a jaw-dropping victory. True, his fall was a product of inexperience but the rest showed a coolness rarely seen in riders of any age. Well done, Mark. That was a real treat to watch.

Photo: MotoGP
Editorial: Jeff Winterberg

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