We've been privileged to receive some great reports and fantastic photographs from Scott Jones of Turn2Photography, who has been attending the race at Donington, and today is no exception. He sent us his view of the race, including more great pictures, as well as a series of shots capturing James Toseland's crash at Redgate. We hope you enjoy his report:
The View From Redgate Grandstand
Instead of rain, Sunday’s dominant condition was wind, and so much of it that the 125s were at the mercy of the strong gusts on certain parts of the track. The morning warm-ups for the 125s and 250s were brief as the skies cleared and the threat of rain seemed to evaporate. But as the weather can change so quickly at Donington in June, the premiere class riders warmed up first on bikes set up for rain, then on bikes set up on Friday for dry conditions. We watched the warm-ups beside the final braking marker for the Melbourne hairpin, then moved to our seats at the Redgate grandstand.
This is the only covered grandstand at Donington, and while it would’ve kept us fairly dry had it rained (we were in the third row), the wind that lashed at the material over our heads fairly ripped through the structure from behind. Even in the ‘sheltered’ area it was cold and very windy. Unattended cups and dislodged hats and caps regularly blew toward the track from the rows of blue plastic seats. Fans watching Turn 1 from the ground in front of the elevated grandstand huddled together and women with longer hair looked desperately for ponytail holders to save their eyes from their wildly whipping hair.
The main victim of the winds was Iannone, who according to the track announcers got blown off the track at Craners. 15-year-old British rider Scott Redding had been closing in on the Iannone when the Italian got caught by a gust that took him off track and out of the race. Redding found himself in first place and finished the race with admirable maturity, taking a lap with the Union Jack in tow to huge applause as the first British winner of a GP event in quite some time.
In the 250s, a great race at the front almost reached a satisfying conclusion as Bautista and Simoncelli traded the lead again and again after the Spaniard chased and caught the early leader. The Mugello incident fresh in my mind (where Simoncelli knocked Barbera off between the final turn and the finish to win his first 250 race, claiming that he was simply trying to dodge Barbera’s drafting attempt), I feared for Bautista. Just after Kalio joined the duo to contest the podium spots, Simoncelli pushed Bautista wide at the completion of the penultimate lap, handing the race to Kalio and taking Bautisa from first to third. After crossing the finish, Bautista made plain to Simoncelli what he thought of the move. How I wish I could’ve been in the stairway leading to the press conference when those two headed for the interviews!
The Main Event
You expect a rider in his home Grand Prix to feel some degree of nationalistic pressure. And sometimes being on home turf amongst family, friends and countrymen brings out in an athlete a higher level of performance than one usually sees. Scott Redding was a good example of that this weekend, just as Nicky Hayden was at Laguna Seca. Many, many people in the stands were hoping for such a performance from James Toseland, who was sporting helmet and leathers proudly wearing the red cross on white background of the flag of England. The two-time World Super Bike champion had proven that he could win against top competition, and this year’s Yamaha is as good as any bike in the MotoGP paddock. Though JT was not contending for the championship in his rookie season, could being on home soil lift him that extra bit to produce a victory from the back of the starting grid?
Before the 800 race, several riders were interviewed in pit lane, one of them being Toseland, who apologized to the crowd for the previous day’s qualifying session, when he had fallen twice without achieving a satisfactory position on the grid. In the interview, he seemed to me to be a man feeling intense pressure from every direction. Among the huge crowds lining the track, thousands of large Toseland and England flags crackled in the wind. Toseland hats and shirts seemed to be on every other spectator. And as he spoke over the loudspeakers, JT clearly felt terrible about his qualifying performance, both with bitter disappointment and with the aches and pains of two hard crashes. I doubt he could have blocked out entirely the way the track announcers never strayed far from their main subject of hoping for a Toseland victory, even as they discussed other topics related to the race. Their comments always seemed to come back to Toseland after a few minutes.
So when he asked too much of cold tires in the first corner and high-sided into the gravel, it seemed at the same time unbelievable and inevitable. He got up off the ground torn between what appeared to be a distinct pain in his wrist and a profounder sense of disbelief and need not to let the day end like this. As track marshals helped set his bike back on two wheels, Toseland’s attention went quickly back and forth between the pain in his wrist and his stunned incredulity that he had crashed in the first corner. The latter dominated the former, and the crowd at Redgate cheered proudly as Toseland remounted and rode off after the pack. He received a cheer every time he passed Redgate until the end of the race.
Watching Marco Melandri’s race was somehow even harder than watching Toseland’s disappointment. Toseland at least won the crowd’s affection by courageously battling on, obviously in pain and on a possibly damaged machine. Melandri just seemed to find a new, lower level of Hell at Donington.
As several good battles between riders on different constructors’ machines were happening at the front, Melandri drifted ever backward. Before long, the reigning championship team was simultaneously in first place, running away from the field and in last place among those riders who hadn’t crashed. As Stoner pulled away from the Rossi-Pedrosa battle for second, Melandri drew ever closer to Stoner, but in the wrong direction. Had the race gone a bit longer, one factory Ducati would’ve lapped the other: Melandri was entering Turn 1 as Stoner exited Goddards to take the victory.
Braking into Turn 1, Menaldri reminded me of the bull riders we have in the US, men who mount enormously powerful animals that have been made so uncomfortable they kick viciously as soon as they’re released from the gate. Melandri’s Ducati seemed to be intentionally fighting back under braking, the handlebars twisting in his hands as the tires wondered which line they were intended to follow into the corner. Stoner, however, looked as smooth as silk, completely the master of his machine both into Redgate and accelerating over the slight crest toward the Craner Curves. When Melandri managed to get on the gas, noticeably later into the corner than Stoner, it was not with confidence but with what seemed to be extreme wariness, if not a little fear. It was difficult to believe both men were riding the same machine, and I kept wondering how long a rider of Melandri’s talent and ability on a Honda can remain riding for Ducati. And will his ego survive the disappointment of moving to the reigning championship team only to find himself unable to cope? It was, as I said, painful to watch.
Watching Ben Spies slip from ninth on the grid to the rear of the pack was a bit disappointing, though even he passed Melandri and ended up closing in on Guintoli toward the end of the race. I reminded myself, however, that I had praised Spies’ patience and maturity, and was likely seeing those qualities again. Spies, is, after all, very well paid to win the AMA Superbike Championship for Suzuki, and as he is currently leading that contest, the worst thing for him to do would be to crash and injure himself here at Donington. He wasn’t here, after all, to contest the Championship or even the race, but to get some time on the GP bike and, more importantly, to show the MotoGP world that he has good judgment as well as good speed. I think he did just that, even though as someone so accustomed to seeing him leading races, I wanted to see him mixing it up a bit.
Crossing the finish line, Stoner did a long, high wheelie of celebration, clearly elated to have returned, at least for the day, to 2007 form. Almost immediately, however, fans just past the finish line ducked under the fences, which at Donington generally stop about a foot from the ground, and raced onto the track. Several riders got through before fans reached the tarmac, but most of the field reached the finish line to find it blocked by spectators and course marshals trying to clear the way for a race that had not been completed. It might have been very bad if any riders had been battling for position through the final corner.
Toseland received a huge ovation when he paused to take on one of his fan flags for a lap intended to salute the crowd. He was forgiven and still adored. Melandri disappeared, and somehow I doubt that the mood in any rider’s trailer was grimmer than his.
After the race we got very lucky with the traffic and escaped the park in a matter of minutes. A friend didn’t fare as well, and it took him over an hour to get several hundred yards to the parking area exit and onto a country road that was similarly congested with exiting traffic. But for me it was a fantastic four days of MotoGP. The Day of Champions and its access to the paddock and pit lane was a great opportunity to see riders and team members at work and even to talk to some of them. The weather was dramatic but not miserable, at least for spectators. The track itself is good for watching the action, with many elevated areas and good views onto the track. The British fan is hearty and undeterred by rain or wind, and generally the atmosphere was fun and friendly, and very appreciative of the efforts of the local heroes. The track and its facilities have an old school feel that’s nice when one thinks of high-tech facilities like Shanghai. Motorsport is full of traditions and rich history, after all, and it’s great that a modest track like Donington, not ‘blessed’ with having millions spent on it to chase Formula One revenue, stays on the MotoGP calendar. I hope Donington Park hosts MotoGP for many years, and I hope to come back soon.
My deepest thanks to friends who drove, hosted and fed me, arranged tickets and held umbrellas while I shot photographs. And a special thanks to Kropotkin for posting my photos and comments. It’s an honor to be included on my favorite MotoGp-related website.
Our thanks to you, Scott, for sending in these reports, and allowing us to publish these fantastic photographs. If you're interested in seeing more of Scott's work, head on over to his website at http://www.turn2photography.com/