Three races, three championships drawing closer to their conclusions, but not all of them brought the excitement we might have hoped for. The first race of the day was a good start; Terol ran away at the front of the 125cc race, but behind him there was a tense battle for 2nd and a monster fight for 5th. The Moto2 class delivered the most spectacular race of the day, with every rider in the top 20 finishing with tire marks on his leathers somewhere, until Marc Marquez seized control of the situation and finally got a gap. And the MotoGP race provided the typical 800cc anticlimax that we have come to expect since 2007, with Casey Stoner settling the race in his favor before the first lap was over.
First to the 125s. Nico Terol was up to his old tricks once again at Aragon, getting away early and setting a pace that no one else could follow, though his teammate Hector Faubel certainly did his best. Worthy of note was that Johann Zarco appeared to have learned the lesson of Misano, keeping his cool and resisting his urge to look back for threats from behind which cost him the victory at the previous round. Instead, he kept his cool while Faubel lost his, pushing too hard to get past Zarco into the first of the final pair of corners and sliding out of a certain podium.
Faubel's error - the Spaniard is now 28, too old 125cc class next year, and forced to look for a seat in Moto2 - was Zarco's gain, the Frenchman limited the damage to Terol, and still in with a shot at the title this year, though it gets more and more unlikely with each passing race, especially each race he fails to win. Zarco now trails Terol by 36 points, and must win each race and hope that another rider can beat Terol as well every time out, as Terol needs only to finish 3rd or better everywhere to secure the title. Given Terol's domination of the 125cc class this year - having won 8 out of 13 races - that seems extremely unlikely. The fat lady may not have sung yet, but the orchestra has already started.
The Moto2 race was a reminder of what makes motorcycle racing so exciting, with a group of six or so riders battling it out for the first half of the race. A recap is simply impossible to give, without running to twenty or thirty thousand words, so I strongly recommend you go watch the race. But the heady mix of youth, ambition, talent and overeagerness produced the kind of riveting display that has turned Moto2 into the main event for many fans. Passes were made anywhere and everywhere, cleanly, brutally and fearlessly.
In the end, the race came down to the two best men in the field, after Stefan Bradl's tire spun on the wheel. Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone established themselves at the front of the pack, and if they had cooperated, they would have left the rest for dead. But the Spanish-Italian rivalry proved too strong to allow them to work together, so they spent their time getting in each other's way, holding each other up and allowing those following the illusion that they had a chance.
The way the battle was settled spoke volumes about the difference between the Italian and Spanish schools of riding. Andrea Iannone, desperate to keep Marquez from escaping, attempted to dive up the inside of the Spaniard at Turn 1, outbraking himself and running wide. Marquez seized the opportunity with both hands, pushing hard as soon as he realized that he had a gap over Iannone. A lap later, and he was clear, going on to win convincingly and cut the deficit to Bradl in the championship from 23 points to just 5. Iannone had fought fiercely, attacked, never given up, but an excess of zeal had overcome strategy, and the Italian had lost out. Marquez, though just as fierce in his attack, had shown the tiniest fraction more restraint and thought, and exploited Iannone's mistake when it came. The discipline imposed by the Spanish championship - ruled with an iron rod by Dorna - paid off when the Italian's impetuosity got the better of him.
At the beginning of the season, Stefan Bradl won 4 of the first 6 races. But since his crash in Assen, the German hasn't won another race. Marquez, on the other hand, started the season with three crashes - two of his own making, and one through no fault of his own - and has won every race except Brno since Assen. The Dutch TT at Assen was a turning point in the season, and the momentum is very much on Marquez' side. Unless the Spaniard starts throwing points away, the title is his for the taking, and he can move on to other things.
While the first two races provided plenty of entertainment, the MotoGP race was a downright snoozer. Casey Stoner had the race in the bag by the time they exited the final corner on the first lap, the first two podium spots already decided before the two Repsol Hondas of Stoner and Dani Pedrosa crossed the line. Behind Stoner and Pedrosa, the race turned into a battle of attrition and tire management, the Bridgestone tires having trouble lasting, despite being the same compound that was used at Aragon last year. Ben Spies lost that particular battle to his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo and San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli, Lorenzo taking third and keeping his title hopes alive, though only just barely.
Stoner's win brought his season total to 8, and his overall total to 31, equal with Eddie Lawson. If the Australian wins the remaining four races, he can match the record set in a single season by his great idol Mick Doohan. But when asked if that was the goal he was aiming for, he once again expressed his dislike of statistics. Firstly, he told reporters, winning the remaining four races would be incredibly hard. Jorge Lorenzo was not just going to roll over and give up, handing him the wins. Dani Pedrosa is a real threat everywhere, but especially at Sepang and Valencia. Even if he did match the number of wins, his achievement would not be equal to Doohan's. Doohan won 12 in a season with only 15 races, not the 18 that Stoner will race this year.
Nor was matching Lawson's record a genuine goal, Stoner reiterating that it is impossible to compare different riders in different eras. Lawson raced even fewer races a season, on totally different tracks. Each achievement should be viewed in the light of the era that a rider competed in, and not in an imaginary arena where like cannot be compared to like.
Though the front of the MotoGP race was tedious, there was plenty of interest elsewhere. That, however, will have to wait for tomorrow, and part 2.