2012 Sachsenring MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Who Dares, Wins. Sometimes...
Bold and fearless or brash and ill-advised? There was a lot of that sort of thing at the Sachsenring on Sunday, in all three classes. The most obvious example begging that question was what would have been Casey Stoner's last-corner lunge past Dani Pedrosa, had it not gone horribly wrong as he lined the pass up the corner before. We'll come to that later, but with a Moto3 race run in drying conditions and a Moto2 race where one of the favorites had to start from well down on the grid, there were plenty more to choose from.
Moto3 turned into the usual war of attrition among the more psychotic contingent of the paddock - or more precisely, teenagers on fast motorbikes - with the coolest head of the front runners eventually prevailing. With Luis Salom and Alexis Masbou pushing Sandro Cortese down to the wire, it could have gone horribly wrong, but Cortese had saved his tire for the last few laps, pushing to break his two wild-eyed pursuers before he crossed the line, and preventing any late lunges which could have ended in tears. It was a race worthy of a champion, by Cortese, despite the massive pressure on him at his home round. In the press conference, he thanked his team manager Aki Ajo, for bringing some Finnish coolness to calm Cortese's Italian heritage.
In Moto2, Marc Marquez gave his usual masterclass, though he did not have it easy. Andrea Iannone pushed him hard in the first half of the race, before crashing in the style that has earned him the nickname Crazy Joe, pushing too hard and losing the front. Mika Kallio then stepped up the pressure, but the Finn (Sunday was in some small way a Scandinavian day in Germany) did not have the pace to seriously threaten Marquez. Further back, Pol Espargaro took it right to the limit in his pursuit of points, even sticking his toes over the edge at one point, having a massive moment round the fast right hander at the top of the Waterfall, running off and through the gravel, rejoining having lost some of the places he had lost. In the end, he crossed the line in 5th, an astounding result given that he had been forced to start from 17th on the grid in the ultra-competitive Moto2 class.
But MotoGP is where the most talked about incidents occurred. Casey Stoner's crash was a typical coin-toss affair: he felt he had the pace to beat Pedrosa, he had a plan to pass his teammate - lunging up the inside of Turn 12 and getting the drive across the line, the ideal pass at the Sachsenring, giving your opponent no time to respond - his only miscalculation, perhaps, was the fact that Dani Pedrosa was in the process of setting his fastest lap, and Stoner had already been forced to push hard to catch Pedrosa again after making a mistake earlier on the final lap. When he tipped in a little harder than in previous laps and let off the brakes, unweighting the front, down he went and into the gravel.
Why would you risk a move like that, when you are in a position to take the lead in the championship over a rival who has proven to be extremely formidable this season? Especially after having profited from Lorenzo's misfortune, when the factory Yamaha man was taken down by Alvaro Bautista in a bone-headed move at Assen? You and I may have hesitated, and chosen to settle for the points, but that is not Casey Stoner's philosophy. Win races, and the championships will come of their own accord, Stoner believes, and his two world titles would suggest he knows what he is talking about. More fundamentally, however, it is a question of attitude; Stoner loves to win races, and after his championship in 2011 told reporters that the rush from winning races was far better than that of winning a title. A title is a slow and complex process, and as motorcycle racing is primarily and adrenaline-driven sport, many riders choose to go for a win in the heat of the moment. At the heart of the matter, it remains that Casey Stoner is not like you and me; indeed, he's not that much like many other motorcycle racers, whose passion for the sport would have kept them racing, rather than retiring at the tender age of 26. To me, Stoner's crash trying to beat Dani Pedrosa to the line was a rash and foolish move. Casey Stoner doesn't agree. But then he's the one with the world championships, and another on the line, while I'm just an idiot with a keyboard.
While Stoner was happy to accept the blame for crashing out while challenging Pedrosa, he was less than happy with the conduct of the marshals. According to the Australian, the marshals would not help him try to bumpstart his RC213V, to allow him to rejoin the race and grab a few points. It should have been relatively easy, Stoner said, but they simply refused. "There was nothing wrong with the bike, but they said no," Stoner said. "This is disappointing, when at different tracks they'll help different people, and then won't others."
Usually there is a reason why the marshals won't help some riders. It really depends on where you crash. Race Direction keeps a watchful eye on all crashes around the circuit, and if a bike ends up in a hazardous place, then Race Direction can tell the marshals to clear the bike as quickly as possible, rather than trying to help restart it. The bottom of the hill at the Sachsenring, with the fastest approach to a corner anywhere on the track, could probably be considered as a hazardous location.
Of course, Stoner rightly pointed out, if we didn't have a limited engine allocation, then this would not even be an issue. The bikes cut out automatically, immediately during practice and after a few seconds during the race, to stop the engine from destroying itself if the bike runs while it is laying on its side. But Stoner laid the blame for introducing engine allocations firmly at the door of Dorna, despite it being public knowledge that the request for limited engines came from the factories themselves, in casu, Honda. With the Japanese factories flying engines back to Japan for complete revisions every race, mileage being between 300 and 500km an engine, the MSMA proposed introducing a maximum of six engines a season. Once the initial redesign was completed, required to give the engines the necessary durability, costs have been saved. Engines now stay in the race trucks, instead of being flown to Japan at great expense, where an expensive crew of engineers carefully stripped and rebuilt the motors. This is exactly the kind of regulation which Stoner refers to when he says that the rule changes are making him lose his passion for the sport. That is understandable; what is not understandable is why he refuses to lay the blame at the actual culprits, rather than the party he views as the villains of the piece.
Stoner's move was not the only act of bravery or hubris, depending on which view you take. Cal Crutchlow did something similar, though the Englishman was rather more colorful in his mea culpa. "In all honesty, it was a stupid race, where I should have done so many things differently," Crutchlow said. He had the pace to run with Lorenzo, Crutchlow believed, but he had sat behind his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, with a plan to pass him with five laps to go. Crutchlow's problem was that he had no speed on the straight, and so he had had to risk more going into Turn 1. So much more that he ended up running straight on, into the gravel, and losing six places. He did not understand why he was so much slower than his teammate, he said, but the answer perhaps lies in Dovizioso's history on the Honda. When talking about the switch between the two, Dovizioso has continually said that the Honda's biggest strength is drive out of the corners. The Italian spent four years trying to capitalize on that strength, using the drive to catapult himself out of the corners. Now that he is on the Yamaha, Dovizioso has retained that skill, driving the bike forward more quickly than the other Yamaha riders and making it hard for Crutchlow to catch him along the front straight.
For an act of cold, calculated cunning, look no further than Valentino Rossi. The Italian had got mixed up with Nicky Hayden and Hector Barbera, and decided against spending all his time battling with the two Ducatis. The setup change his team had tried - a reversion to the settings used at Estoril and Barcelona, and away from the slightly more Ducati-driven settings of Silverstone and Assen - had worked out well, allowing Rossi to run a consistent pace, a little slower than otherwise, but at least keeping his tire in one piece. As the end of the race drew near, Rossi made his move, disposing of Hayden and Barbera with relative ease. He was even lining up Stefan Bradl for a pass at the bottom of the hill, but Casey Stoner thwarted his plans, the yellow flags from the Australian's crash making a pass at that point of the track illegal. Still, this was the best result in the dry for Rossi and Ducati this season, and signs of progress were good.
More is obviously needed, Rossi said, as the problems can't all be solved using setup. The Mugello test would be crucial, he repeated. Help could be coming his way from Audi; senior Audi management was at the track on Sunday, and met with Rossi to share their plans with him. They were extremely enthusiastic about Ducati's MotoGP project, Rossi said, and were keen to have the Italian involved. They had not discussed any details, but Audi had made clear to Rossi that they were willing to make resources available and make the changes necessary for the bike to be fixed. Valentino Rossi, it appears, took a step closer to renewing his contract with Ducati at the Sachsenring.
Rossi's decision to switch from Yamaha to Ducati is yet another of those decisions which are either brave or foolhardy, depending on your point of view. Unlike Stoner's overly optimistic move on Pedrosa, however, Rossi doesn't get another shot at it next week. That kind of hubris is much, much longer term, but if it pays off, it will be the stuff of legend. The trouble is, that's a very, very big if.