Spoiler Alert: France MotoGP results below
Following Casey Stoner’s dominance of Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying there was little doubt he would be in the hunt for a race win today at Le Mans, the fourth round of the 2011 MotoGP season.
The biggest concern for the Australian was going to be getting through the first turn upright, and then husbanding the first few laps until the field spread a bit. With Marco Simoncelli’s impressive last lap charge in Saturday qualifying-which brought him within a breath of Stoner and granted him another front row start – Stoner certainly was probably most concerned about the Italian-who has been criticized for dangerous riding – getting in the middle of what was shaping up to be a dice with MotoGP teammates Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso.
Simoncelli, as it turned out, would in fact end up playing a key role in how the race ended up. Fortunately for Stoner the mayhem took place behind him.
As the opening laps unfolded Stoner and Pedrosa were running one and two, close enough to throw a blanket over them. Both riding the venerable Respol Honda, they were perfectly matched in speed on the straights and carried virtually identical lap times. Stoner began to open up a slight advantage as Simoncelli, running in third, closed in on Pedrosa.
The young Italian MotoGP rider went for a very questionable pass on Pedrosa, cutting across the nose of the Repsol bike, clipping the front end and sending the Spaniard into the gravel. When Pedrosa got up he immediately grabbed his right collarbone.
Several laps later race direction flagged Simoncelli for a ride through penalty for the move, which dropped him from second to sixth, re-entering the race just behind Ben Spies, whom he eventually overtook for fifth.
The Simoncelli/Pedrosa incident-and subsequent penalty-dramatically changed up the running order, putting Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi into third and fourth.
Meanwhile, reigning MotoGP Champion, Jorge Lorenzo was relegated to fourth and appeared to be having trouble, most likely the result of injuring one of his fingers in a morning practice fall. Rossi and Dovizioso battled back and forth for the remainder of the race, Rossi getting through at one point, but fellow Italian Dovizioso taking the spot right back.
Casey Stoner went on to snag his first ever victory at Le Mans, a win that has eluded him. This brings his career premiere class wins total to 25. At the finish he had a 14-second lead. Dovizioso, scoring second, proved once again he is perhaps the most under appreciated rider on the grid. Despite the Honda rider’s consistency he seems to be slightly invisible to the fans and press (when compared to the coverage and hoopla other riders-finishing behind the Italian-receive).
In my opinion he is the guy to be watching for both this MotoGP season, and especially next. Valentino Rossi brought the Ducati across the stripe for third, earning his first rostrum of the season. Traditionally, Rossi merely builds on his successes, so anyone would be foolish to bet against the affable Italian to put the Ducati on the top of the box this season.
After the top three podium positions it was Lorenzo (4th), Simoncelli (5th), Spies (6th), Nicky Hayden, on the Ducati (7th), followed by Horoshi Aoyama (8th). A nice little battle lasted the entire race between Hector Barbera (9th), Karel Abraham (10th), Toni Elias (11th), and Alvara Bautsita (12th). Colin Edwards came across 13th after crashing and then remounting, whereas local boy Randy de Puniet’s hopes for a solid finish on home turf ended with a crash, as did Cal Crutchlow and Loris Capirossi.
In closing: Pedrosa just can’t seem to catch a break. Just as the Spaniard was showing he was finally near peak physical shape after several injuries and surgeries, he gets thrown into the gravel and breaks yet another bone.
The fact that the incident and requisite injury happened because of questionable riding by Simoncelli-an incident that may have just cost Pedrosa a shot at the title this year-reeks of injustice. The fallout from this is that Pedrosa has been relegated to third in the points with 61, to Stoner’s 66, that puts him in second. Stoner’s win, and Lorenzo’s fourth (now with 78 points), has narrowed their MotoGP point gap to just twelve.
2011 Le Mans MotoGP: Results and World Championship point standings
- Casey Stoner (sits 2nd/66 pts)
- Andrea Dovizioso (4th/50 pts)
- Valentino Rossi (5th/47 pts)
- Jorge Lorenzo (1st/78 pts)
- Marco Somincelli (8th/22 pts)
- Ben Spies (12th/20 pts)
- Nicky Hayden (6th/39 pts)
- Hiroshi Aoyama (7th/36 pts)
- Hector Barbera (10th/21 pts)
- Karel Abraham (13th/18 pts)
- Toni Elias (14th/17 pts)
- Alvaro Bautista (16th/7 pts)
- Colin Edwards (9th/21 pts)
There are several weeks before the next round, hopefully Pedrosa will mend and be back to fighting form by Catalunya (June 3rd) and be granted the opportunity to fight for the title, as he deserves.
Simoncelli, meanwhile, is quickly becoming the man riders don’t want to be next to on the track. The Italian needs to be careful, it’s one thing to be accused of rough or dangerous riding, that’s just racing.
But when fingers continuously get pointed at the same rider, by more than one rival, controversy and animosity usually follow. The Italian is obviously world caliber material, hungry for a win. He just needs to learn to be patient-perhaps the hardest thing a young racer can do.