After two days of miserable weather at Aragon, race day dawned dry, sunny, though still a little cool. Paddock regulars who had spent the last two days scurrying from pits to hospitality to shelter from the rain poured out into the paddock to catch the warmth of the sun which they had just about given up on previously.
The blue skies brought out some great racing, at least in Moto3 and Moto2, as well as some fantastic displays of riding in MotoGP, though the excitement in the premier class was to be found in the battle for the final spot on the podium rather than in the fight for victory. But there were also a few signs of improvement in the near future.
The race of the day was undoubtedly Moto2, which turned into a display of what motorcycle racing is supposed to be. The class is currently blessed with three riders who despise each other enough to do almost anything to win, but with the intelligence to understand the very thin line between hard and dangerous riding. Pol Espargaro, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all swapped places and fairing paint in a good old-fashioned barn burner of a race. The action was fueled by the most intense rivalry in MotoGP at the moment, between three young men all hell-bent on winning.
All three men deserved to win, but it was Pol Espargaro who employed the best strategy, taking over at the front very late after a race-long battle. Espargaro was able to pull just enough of a gap to almost cruise home to victory as Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone focused all their energies on tripping each other up rather than working together to make a break. Scott Redding took advantage to grab a podium, getting past Iannone on the final lap while the Italian was worrying about Marquez.
Redding's podium was a lot braver than it looked: the young Englishman had had carpal tunnel surgery shortly after Misano, and was not even certain he would be able to ride at Aragon. As he battled for the podium, he felt the scar open at the surgery site, and he ended the race with the wound bleeding into his glove. "I hope it's OK, but I keep going to the end, because that's what I've been brought up to do from being with the team," Redding told the media afterwards. Sensible? Probably not. Brave? Unquestionably.
In Moto3, consistency and calmness brought Sandro Cortese a big step closer to the championship, assisted by some ill fortune for Maverick Vinales. Vinales never made it to the end of the warm up lap, his Honda being struck with an ECU problem which saw the engine die completely on him. Despite suffering with a cold, Cortese fought all the way to the line to take 2nd behind Luis Salom, the young Spaniard once again impressing and taking his second win of the season.
The Moto3 race had been a real thriller too, the action due in no small part to the massively long straight which meant that any attempt to get away was doomed to failure. The chasing pack would simply draft each other until they caught the breakaway, swallowed them up, and then the process would start all over again.
Though Salom's victory meant that the home crowd - much sparser than last year, no doubt made worse by the awful weather during the weekend, as camping is the main accommodation option for those wishing to attend - got to hear the Spanish anthem three times over the weekend, the fact that there were also two Germans on the podium (or a German and an Italian, if you ask the Italians in the paddock) is a hopeful sign. There is plenty of young Spanish talent in the junior classes, but the Red Bull Rookies series is starting to produce a much more international field of young riders who are entering Moto3. This weekend, another German, Florian Alt took the 2012 Red Bull Rookies championship, while a Belgian, Livio Loi, and a Czech, Karel Hanika, made the biggest impressions on the spectators.
With Casey Stoner absent, MotoGP is an entirely Spanish affair, at least in terms of victory. The race between Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa was over very quickly, Lorenzo's resistance lasting until lap six when it crumbled under the onslaught from Pedrosa. Pedrosa is maturing and improving as a rider, proving to be both more aggressive and more calm. The sight of Pedrosa sliding the Repsol Honda around the track while reeling off a string of laps in the low 1'49s was deeply impressive, and the gap which Pedrosa had over Lorenzo does not reflect the dominance of his victory.
The spectacle at the front, however, is almost non-existent, beside the awe-inspiring if rather clinical display of riding by MotoGP's aliens. Dani Pedrosa hinted at the problems facing the class when he said afterwards that he had been so focused on riding fast and smooth that he had actually forgotten he was in a race until the final four laps. When the race winner forgets he is involved in a race, there is something seriously wrong.
There was plenty of entertainment for 3rd, with Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow slugging it out for the final podium spot. Crutchlow, too, put his finger on the problem when he talked about the risks he took when trying to pass his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate. "We were too closely matched," Crutchlow told reporters, "so you have to take a lunge. But not there's not many people taking lunge risks like that, so I thought I might as well." That kind of risk invariably means that if it doesn't work, you lose out.
Fortunately for MotoGP, there is some fresh new blood coming, in the shape of Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone. Both men have been brought up in Moto2 to believe that taking risks is the only way which will provide results, meaning that the two youngsters should liven up the show considerably next year. There are many in the paddock who consider Marquez to be a danger, a liability once he gets onto a MotoGP bike. He will certainly be brave, and he will certainly be fast, but his growing maturity has seen him race more and more cleanly as the season has progressed, though he just as aggressive as he ever was. Andrea Iannone is not wanting for aggression, though some coolness might improve his results. 'Crazy Joe' does not do calm, however, so expect fireworks from the young Italian.
The MotoGP race also saw a bizarre accident involving Nicky Hayden, who clung on to his bike after nearly crashing in the fast final corner. The American ran wide, but because his trajectory took him across a long gravel trap and then a stretch of grass, Hayden could not shed enough speed to get stopped before the tire wall at the edge of the track. He hit the wall at a relatively low 60 km/h, but that was fast enough to see him flipped over the wall.
Was the wall too close? At over 100 meters from where Hayden lost control to where he hit the barrier, you would not ordinarily think so. It should be possible to get the bike stopped, and in most cases the rider would have fallen earlier anyway, shedding all of his speed and not hitting anything worse than some slightly larger than normal gravel.
But Hayden tried to stay on, and that is where the lack of hard standing prevented him from braking properly. The event was truly a one in a million, and it proves that racing crashes can turn out differently than you think. A simple solution is at hand: if that stretch of the wall had been fitted with air fence, then anyone crashing there, even in such a bizarre pattern as Nicky Hayden's, would have hit the air fence, which would have absorbed so much of the energy that the rider would not have been catapulted over the fence.