Dani Pedrosa has something of a reputation. Blisteringly fast when out on his own, but put him under pressure and he crumbles. Once passed, he is history, and he will trouble you no more.
There has never been that much truth to that accusation, and the MotoGP race at Brno should drive the final nail into its coffin, for what the diminutive Spaniard displayed on Sunday was the heart and courage of a lion. The race did not have much passing - just three passes for the lead in the entire race - but it was a genuine thriller nonetheless.
Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa broke away early, despite the best efforts of Cal Crutchlow to hang on - and impressively, he hung on for a remarkably long time - and the stalking began. Pedrosa hung on Lorenzo's tail for 12 laps, then Lorenzo gave way, needing a breather. The roles where reversed, this time Lorenzo snapping at Pedrosa's tail, waiting for an opportunity to appear.
It came in the very final lap: through the tightest part of the stadium section, Lorenzo used his line to cut under Pedrosa and take charge of the race. Pedrosa had seen him coming - he'd been catching glimpses of Lorenzo's fairing throughout the last lap or so - but was unprepared for where Lorenzo attacked. Down the hill to turn 10 there was nothing Pedrosa could do, but he knew he had an opportunity in the final chicane. When Lorenzo moved over to prepare the wide racing line, Pedrosa was past on the brakes, leaving Lorenzo to hang on to as much corner speed as possible in a desperate if fruitless attempt to take the position back on the run into the final corner. Pedrosa took victory, one of the best of his career.
The racing may have been tense, but three passes for the lead are not a lot. The lack of passing, both Pedrosa and Lorenzo agreed, is because they are so close to the limit all race long that there is simply no margin for overtaking. Jorge Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg begged to differ: Pedrosa had spent the first twelve laps probing at Lorenzo in the hope of forcing a mistake. "He was thinking, 'if I'm up his ass enough, he might make a mistake, he might drop it' and then he gets a whole bunch of points, not just the five extra for a win". He went on to add that Lorenzo had been thinking along exactly the same lines, hoping to force a zero for his opponent.
But when it came down to it, both men were willing to risk everything for the sake of pride, however. Dani Pedrosa used his wits and his courage to attack, Jorge Lorenzo used his guile and his skill to defend. Both men rode like true champions today. Even Valentino Rossi was impressed: "We need a fight like this in MotoGP."
With two wins in a row, and his third of the season, Pedrosa has started to swing the momentum of the season his way. Could this be a psychological turning point? Maybe, but Wilco Zeelenberg isn't getting worried yet. "Worried? We're 13 points ahead, not 13 points down!" Zeelenberg was keen to point out that Pedrosa really needs to win all of the races for the rest of the year if he wants to be champion. "This is only the third time that Dani has beaten Jorge," he said.
It was a big day for Cal Crutchlow too, though the Englishman was looking positively sanguine about it. It had been coming for a while, he said, but what he was more happy about was his pace. He had made just a single mistake - running wide at Turn 3 on the seventh lap - and his pace had been good enough to stay within sight of Pedrosa and Lorenzo for most of the race. "I think finally we didn't have the full pace of them guys, but we weren't that far away. This is a long track, and if you lose in a couple of areas, you're never going to get it back in some other areas," Crutchlow told reporters. He was watching the Spaniards closely, however, aware that this would be the first British podium for 12 years, but also aware that if they took each other out, he would be the first Briton to win a race in the premier class since Barry Sheene. A very, very long time ago.
Was the fact that he finally had a new contract anything to do with his podium? Crutchlow was insistent that it wasn't: "Everyone's always always going to say that I got the contract sorted and before it was on my mind but it doesn't matter to me." Like every sportsperson at this level, he had learned to compartmentalize and focus, Crutchlow explained. "I don't mind blocking stuff out, I've had other things I've had to block out as well over the years of racing, you learn to deal with it, same as the other riders do. Jorge has had the same, on and off the track, he's learned to block it out. It's just part of what we do."
After his strongest weekend for a while, Valentino Rossi did not have the race he had been hoping for. He got off to a good start, but on the second lap, his Ducati blew out a cloud of smoke, oil which had been dumped into the airbox, leaving oil all over his boot and footpeg. This made riding difficult for a while, and meant he lost ground on Dovizioso, and then had to let Stefan Bradl pass. Around lap 7, his rear tire started to slide too much, a problem that Rossi has had with the Desmosedici since he joined Ducati, and which setup changes have failed to solve. The Italian was positive about the weekend overall, but it felt like he was putting a brave face on it.
For Ben Spies, it is well past the stage of putting a brave face on things. Another race, another weird problem, this time with an overheating clutch which lost him a lot of ground in the first couple of laps. As soon as Spies snicked his bike into second gear, the engine hit the rev limiter, and Spies knew exactly what the problem was. After the race, when his crew looked at his data, he did nothing out of the ordinary at the start that might have overheated the clutch. The clutch plates looked normal, with no signs of damage or wear. Normally, it took a couple of practice starts in a row to cook the clutch, but he hadn't done anything like that.
Once his clutch had recovered - and Spies had recovered at least some of his composure - the Texan decided he would catch the group ahead of him and take 5th or nothing. It turned out to be nothing, pushing the front and lowsiding as he tried to chase down the guys ahead. Spies' season is a bona fide disaster, and he has no idea where to look for solutions. Any solution would do: "Does anyone have a chicken with them we could sacrifice?" He joked to reporters as they filed into his media debrief....
Ducati have now packed up and gone to Misano, where they will run a private test on Tuesday and Wednesday, but most of the rest have all stayed on. Joining the Repsol Honda team is Johnny Rea, fresh from a very tough weekend at the Moscow round of World Superbikes. Rea is being rewarded for his loyalty, his effort, but most especially, for winning the Suzuka 8 hour race for Honda, a race of massive importance for HRC. Rea is to replace Casey Stoner at the next few rounds - Misano and probably Aragon, at the very least - and some are whispering that it is also an audition for the Gresini Honda ride. However, sources close to the negotiation say that that deal could already be wrapped up by the time we get to Misano, giving Rea precious little time to show his potential. It won't stop him from trying, though.