Probably the best-known aphorism in motorcycle racing - or racing of any sort, for that matter - is that the first person you have to beat is your team mate. Your team mate, after all, is on exactly the same equipment with the same support, and so there are no excuses. If you beat him you're the better rider, if he beats you, he is. No argument.
Reality is always a little more complicated than a simple aphorism, of course. Just because you're in the same team doesn't necessarily mean that your bike is the same as your team mate's; development parts filter through at different rates. You may be on the same team, but like riders, not all team members are equal; your crew chief might be a genius or he might be just very, very smart, which can be the difference between finding three tenths of a second during the warm up on Sunday and losing the race because you're a tenth a lap too slow.
All the more reason to beat your team mate, then. After all, if you do so regularly, then it is you who will get the pick of the development parts, use of the genius crew chief and hopefully, a serious chunk of the team budget. You get the glory, but more importantly, you get the power. The bike is developed to your tastes rather than anyone else's, so that the bike naturally suits your style. This in turn allows you to get the most out of the bike, more than anyone else, increasing your advantage over your competition - and especially your team mate - and further tipping the balance of power in your favor.
It is this goal which has been driving Jorge Lorenzo since being beaten by Valentino Rossi at his home race in Barcelona. His contract with the Fiat Yamaha team comes to an end this season and talks on its renewal are in full swing. There are a lot of reasons for Lorenzo to stay with the squad - the bike is clearly the best on the grid, the team is probably the best run team in the paddock, and Yamaha's R&D department are dedicated to building a motorcycle that riders can win on, rather than a winning motorcycle - but there is one major downside: At Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo is the number two rider, not the number one.
For a young man as ambitious as he is talented, that is not good enough. Lorenzo wants to be number one, and the drawn out negotiations, the posturing, the flirtations with other manufacturers, all are aimed at securing that undisputed number one status, preferably with Yamaha. The one minor obstacle in his way is that at Yamaha he shares a garage with a rider who has 101 victories, 8 world titles and 6 MotoGP championships under his belt. Receiving preferential treatment over the man widely reckoned to be the greatest motorcycle racer ever is a very serious, and rather presumptuous, demand to make. There is only one way to ensure that such a demand is heeded: by beating your team mate, and beating him regularly.
Over the past few races, Jorge Lorenzo's intention to do just this has been increasingly clear. The young Spaniard has gone out at every practice and laid down a ferocious pace, challenging Rossi - and anyone else - to follow. He has demonstrated emphatically that Jorge Lorenzo is the fastest man on the track, and as such, is the man to beat.
Yet that is just what Valentino Rossi keeps doing. At Catalunya, The Doctor put a tough move on Lorenzo to beat him in front of his home crowd; At Assen, Rossi dominated to take his 101st victory; At Laguna, Lorenzo came away the moral victor, having only been narrowly beaten despite carrying a seriously injured collarbone; But at the Sachsenring, Rossi beat him again in another frenzied last lap. Finally, at Donington, both Lorenzo and Rossi fell, but the Spaniard came away with a DNF, while Rossi got back on his miraculously undamaged bike, and powered his way forward to 5th, extending his championship lead in the process.
With the season dragging on and Lorenzo's contract options running out, the necessity of beating Rossi straight up is becoming increasingly imperative. Lorenzo had told the press after the race in Germany that he knew he had to beat Rossi, and since then, he had lost yet more points to his team mate. So once he hit the track at Brno, the Spaniard stepped up his pace another notch, destroying the race lap record during free practice, and getting to within a few thousandths of the old pole record during qualifying. However, the holder of that record - set on a 990cc bike using super sticky qualifying tires - managed to better it, Valentino Rossi setting a new record a few hundredths under the old one. Once again, Lorenzo had been foiled by his team mate.
The Man With The Plan
So the Spaniard lined up on the grid more determined than ever not to be beaten. He could not afford to let this trend continue and knew he had to do something to turn the tide. Lorenzo knew he had the pace - his long runs done in race trim had been a couple of tenths faster than anyone else, and over a second faster than most of the field - it was just a matter of getting himself into a position to be able to run that pace unhindered. His objective was simple: Get to the front of the race, and start cranking out the laps in the low 1'56s, just as he'd been doing all throughout practice. Nobody, not even the great Valentino Rossi, would be able to follow him.
Best of all for Lorenzo would be to get a great start and escape from the front. Without the need to fight his way forward, he could lay down the law from the off and have the race sewn up by half distance. But as the starting lights dimmed and the diminished fifth howl of seventeen MotoGP bikes powering off the line filled the Bohemian hillsides, Lorenzo's Plan A failed. Letting out the clutch, Lorenzo bogged his engine off the line, and the hordes from the second row of the grid started to fly past him on the run into the first corner.
Making things worse was Valentino Rossi's start which had been impeccable, launching down the front straight and on towards the first turn with a comfortable lead. Rossi was faster off the line than even that normally lightning fast starter, Dani Pedrosa, though Pedrosa got past him on the brakes into Turn 1. Behind Rossi, Toni Elias was past Jorge Lorenzo, who had recovered some of the ground he had lost off the lights. The Fiat Yamaha man tried his trademark "porfuera" move around the outside of Elias at Turn 1, but Lorenzo had to settle for 4th, with Andrea Dovizioso and Colin Edwards jostling impatiently behind him.
Rossi did not take kindly to being beaten on the brakes by Dani Pedrosa, and immediately put the Spaniard back in his place into Turn 3, taking the lead as he sailed past under braking. Behind him, Jorge Lorenzo was repeating the demonstration of the Yamaha M1's stability on the brakes by flying past under Toni Elias and into 3rd in the same corner.
Even though Lorenzo was past, Elias had plenty more company behind him. Andrea Dovizioso was crawling all over the back of the Gresini Honda, and Loris Capirossi joined the fray after slotting past the American duo of Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden on the run into turn 5. But the Spaniard's attention was ahead of him, and Elias focused on trying to latch on to Lorenzo, and try to stay with the leading trio.
An admirable objective, to be sure, but the trio that Elias was trying to stay with were the three remaining Untouchables, a man down now that Casey Stoner had been forced to withdraw due to health issues. Less than a lap later, it was crystal clear why Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo are being labeled the Untouchables, for the trio were dropping their pursuers by over a second a lap. Just 5 laps in and the podium was already settled.
Its composition may have been known, but the order was very far from being finalized. Rossi led the way, but that was all he was doing. Pedrosa followed closely, hounded all the way by Lorenzo, the Mallorcan keen to get past and after his team mate. Pedrosa was still close on lap 2, but on the third lap, the merest hint of a gap started to open between the Repsol Honda and the Fiat Yamaha at the head of the field. This gap was enough to spur Lorenzo on to further action. Rossi must not escape, at any cost, and so Lorenzo redoubled his efforts at getting past Pedrosa.
For the possessor of such a small frame, Pedrosa knew how to make his motorcycle seem as wide as a truck. Round Brno's broad track with its multitude of esses it should have been easy to pass, but Pedrosa would not concede lightly. It took a lap of total pressure and foiled attempts, but on lap 4, Lorenzo managed to get past his compatriot. He had probed Pedrosa severely through the stadium section, but Pedrosa had kept the door firmly shut. But that probing had been a dress rehearsal, taking a wider line through Turn 10 at the bottom of the hill, Lorenzo got drive from the extra speed he was carrying and stuffed his Yamaha M1 up the inside of Pedrosa's Honda on the entry into Turn 11. The uphill right of Turn 12 which follows immediately helped him slam the door in Pedrosa's face and turn his attention forwards, to the other Fiat Yamaha ahead of him.
One Down, One To Go
Once Lorenzo was past it became apparent just how much Pedrosa had been holding him up. Lorenzo was on the back of Rossi within half a lap, but Pedrosa was starting to lose touch. As the Fiat Yamahas upped the pace past Casey Stoner's lap record and headed off on a journey into the 1'56s, Pedrosa was stuck in the mid 57s, watching Rossi and Lorenzo recede into the distance. The factory Honda RC212V is much improved of late, but not enough to stay with the Yamaha M1. Especially not when that M1 is being piloted by two men bent on one mission: To beat the other.
Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo's need for speed was insatiable. As each lap passed, they upped the pace and dropped their lap times, shaving tenths then hundredths of a second off the lap record every other lap. First Rossi pushed on, stretching his lead agonizingly slowly up to half a second, but once it exceeded that, Lorenzo started to reel the Italian in again. The gap had grown to 0.6 seconds on lap 10, and two laps later it was back to 0.2, the lead negligible at best.
Rossi pushed again, but by now, Lorenzo was in assault mode. The Spaniard had learned his lesson at the Sachsenring, where he had followed Rossi around and felt he had the pace to pass, but had left his attack until too late. This time, he was determined to get ahead earlier and see how much Rossi had left in the tank.
The first part of that plan should have been the hardest, but Lorenzo was simply unstoppable. He fired a warning shot on lap 14, smashing the lap record once, before doing it again on lap 16. By now he was so close to Rossi that the Yamahas were singing a crossplane crank duet, the flat baritone rumble filling the surrounding pine forests. A pass was inevitable, as was the place Lorenzo would attempt it. Carrying more speed through Turn 1, Lorenzo was virtually touching Rossi's rear wheel as the flicked left through Turn 2. On the run into the first of the left-right combination of Turn 3 and 4, Lorenzo whipped out of the draft to jam his Yamaha ahead of his team mate's, and complete the block pass as they flicked back right for Turn 4.
Passing The Doctor is not the same as staying ahead though, and Rossi employed the lesson he had first learned from Troy Bayliss. If somebody passes you, the first thing you do is pass straight back before they have chance to regain their composure. Lorenzo, like Rossi, is a fast learner and had already attended that class, one given by Rossi himself. So when the Italian lined Lorenzo up at the next corner, the tight downhill right, Lorenzo was waiting, and braking later than usual to prevent Rossi's egress up the inside.
His first attack parried, Rossi sat back to consider his options. The Italian crawled all over the back of Lorenzo, probing for a sign of weakness. Down to the bottom of the circuit and all the way up Horsepower Hill he was on Lorenzo like a piece of old chewing gum on a school locker, but he could not pass. Over the line and into Turn 1, and the mirror image of the previous lap, Lorenzo blocking the apexes, Rossi carrying more corner speed. Up and over the crest and into Turn 3, and Rossi tried where Lorenzo had succeeded before him. Lorenzo, of course, was expecting this, and knowing that Rossi was coming, the Spaniard held off braking later and sat out wider than ever, ready to turn in and block Rossi's passage, to try and hold the line and hold the lead.
But wider was too wide, and on a part of the track which hadn't had rubber laid down on it during practice the grip was less, much less than Lorenzo needed. The front folded and down Lorenzo went. Two races in a row, determined to beat his team mate and force his contract negotiations, Lorenzo had asked too much of his front tire. Both times his disappointment had been evident, but this time Lorenzo was furious, with himself mostly, though he took it out on his bike and the gravel trap.
Afterwards, Lorenzo told reporters that he knew he was taking a risk, but that he needed to win and decided the risk was worth it. He had gambled, and he had lost. He accepted that he had made a mistake, apologized to his crew, and laid it aside, choosing to concentrate on the next race at Indianapolis. Lorenzo showed a huge amount of maturity, but it could not mask the fact that he had been trumped once again, and another corner of his bargaining position had just been crumbled away. He really, really didn't need this.
It was exactly what Valentino Rossi needed, though. With Lorenzo out, the necessity to maintain the ferocious pace that Lorenzo had forced upon him was gone, and next lap Rossi was a second and a half slower than he had been with Lorenzo on his tail. The margin that the Fiat Yamaha pair had built up over Dani Pedrosa had reached nearly 15 seconds, and with 5 laps to go Rossi had time in hand. The Doctor dropped his pace and cruised to victory, taking his 102nd win and his 160th podium, beating Giacomo Agostini's record.
It was the second of Agostini's records he has beaten, and leaves him two more major records ahead, for MotoGP championships and wins in all classes. Lorenzo's crash allowed Rossi to extend his championship lead to 50 points, and with just 6 races left to go, Rossi now has at least one finger, and probably part of his thumb, on his 7th title. With another year to go of his contract, the Italian is edging ever closer to another of Agostini's records.
Dani Pedrosa had ridden a lonely race, dropped by Rossi and Lorenzo after lap 5, but clearly faster than the following pack, and came home in 2nd with a comfortable 9 second margin of his own. The gaps between the Untouchables and the rest of the field was vast, but the lead which Rossi held over Pedrosa at the end showed that some riders are more Untouchable than others.
Pedrosa simply didn't have the pace to follow Rossi and Lorenzo, but he still picked up some very useful points for the championship. With Stoner out with illness and Lorenzo out of grip, Pedrosa reeled the two men in by 20 points, going from completely out of touch to within reach of third, and only another mishap away from 2nd.
Pick Me! Pick Me!
Behind the Untouchables, whose battles seemed to take place on another planet, the usual close and exciting battle for places had raged. The fight over what had been 4th place before Lorenzo crashed out had been very tight indeed, with Andrea Dovizioso pushing Toni Elias every inch of the way, every lap of the race. Loris Capirossi had followed closely, not quite fast enough to challenge, but close enough to stay in touch.
Capirossi was about to get a little help, however. Just before Lorenzo crashed, Dovizioso had passed Elias, but as the pair crossed the line, they saw that they had been promoted, and they were now fighting not for 4th but for 3rd, and the final podium spot. Without a contract for 2010, and having just learned that the seats at his current San Carlo Gresini team had been filled for next year, the prospect of a podium spurred Elias on to redouble his efforts. The Spaniard quickly pushed back, passing Dovizioso going into Turn 1, but getting in a fraction too hot and running a fraction too wide allowed Dovizioso back underneath. Just barely, though, as the Italian saved his Repsol Honda from a front and back end slide on the exit.
Elias closed all through the stadium section, and on the run into the long, wide hairpin of Turn 10 he put his trademark sideways corner entry to good effect, jamming his Gresini Honda inside Dovizioso's Repsol and taking back 3rd. The Italian tried to fight back, chasing Elias to the line, but he could never get close enough to put a move on Elias which would have stuck.
His audacious passing and ferocious defense saw Toni Elias finish 3rd, giving him the podium boost he needed in his search for a new contract. After the race Elias gave vent to his irritation at being left on the sidelines, pointing out that he managed to score at least one podium a year, and other riders with far less impressive results seemed to be have no trouble finding contracts. With the seats in MotoGP filling up rapidly, Elias may finally find that despite his ability, his luck may have run out.
After the ecstasy of victory at Donington, Andrea Dovizioso was back in his usual position, crossing the line to finish 4th, the fourth of the year for #4. More importantly, he was back with the mortals, not up with the Untouchables, and despite the fact that he looks set to sign a new two-year contract with Honda, that must be a very worrying position.
If the fight between Elias and Dovizioso had allowed Loris Capirossi to catch the fight for 3rd, he had been unable to join in. The upgrades which Suzuki had brought to Brno had clearly helped, drastically slashing the distance to the rest of the bikes, but the GSV-R is still just a little way off the pace. Suzuki was due to test more parts on Monday, so the bike might finally get more competitive just as the season draws to a close.
A Nation Divided
Some four seconds off the podium battle, an American Civil War saw Ducati's Nicky Hayden pitted against the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha of Colin Edwards. The pair had tangled with each other from the very start, Edwards getting the better of the first half of the race, while Hayden led for the second half. In the end, it was Nicky Hayden who crossed the line to take 6th place, leaving Edwards down in 7th.
It was another useful finish for Hayden, and a sign of more progress with the Ducati, something that the Kentucky Kid desperately needs. All weekend long, his times had been held up against those of his temporary team mate, Mika Kallio, and dissected, weighed and evaluated for signs of who would get the factory Ducati seat for next season. When it counted, Hayden held the upper hand, beating Kallio by a couple of seconds, until the Finn was taken out in a last-lap incident between Kallio and Marco Melandri settling the issue for good. Kallio's debut on the factory Ducati had been promising, though the difference with the results he had scored on the satellite Pramac bike were not as significant as he might have hoped.
The incident between Kallio and Melandri - which both blamed each other for, but was an incident typical of Brno, with one rider trying a block pass through the esses, and the other holding the tighter, faster line - worked out very conveniently for Alex de Angelis and James Toseland. Both men are chasing Toseland's current Tech 3 ride, and De Angelis finishing in 8th ahead of JT will have tipped the scales in the San Marinese rider's favor.
After his podium triumph last time out at Donington, Randy de Puniet had turned to training, unfortunately breaking a leg while riding a motocross bike. He returned to Brno having to be carried to his bike, and obviously in severe pain, but he still managed to score important points, coming home 10th. He'll be back at Indianapolis, and he should be stronger again.
Where Loris Capirossi was fighting for the podium, Chris Vermeulen was struggling in the nether regions of the field, eventually coming home in 11th. The Australian heard this weekend that Alvaro Bautista would be filling his spot in the team next season and this clearly did not sit well with him. But if Vermeulen is to have a chance at another ride in MotoGP he will have to finish much further forward than this.
Niccolo Canepa finished 12th, happy to be back at a track that he knows and riding better than at earlier rounds. He still finished way down the order, but his deficit was now just respectable, no longer embarrassing.
Last across the line was Gabor Talmacsi on the Team Scot Honda. Talmacsi is still learning his way around the RC212V, but he needs to start finding some pace soon. Though his future may be secure in MotoGP thanks to the sponsorship he brings to the team, unless he can pick up a second a lap it will look more like he is buying his ride than that he has it on merit alone.
The first rider to withdraw was Kallio's replacement at Pramac Ducati, Michel Fabrizio. The Italian World Superbike star put his early exit down to pain in his shoulder, something he picked up here at Brno three weeks ago when he punted Ben Spies off the track. But before Fabrizio pulled out of the race, his lap time dropped by 10 seconds, and he pulled into the pits on a bike that sounded like it was about to expire. With only 5 engines left to last for the remaining 7 races, on pain of a 10 point penalty, the priority for wild card riders is to bring the bike back in one piece for when the regular rider returns.
You Have To Beat Your Team Mate
When Jorge Lorenzo joined Yamaha, he had guarantees of equal treatment with Valentino Rossi and was hailed as the future of the brand once Rossi retired, which at the time, everyone expected would be at the end of 2010. But - in part thanks to Lorenzo - Rossi has found the fire in his belly again, and is relishing the battles he is having with the young upstarts challenging his authority, and enjoying doing it on a bike which is now more than competitive. With Rossi showing no signs of wanting to end his career, Lorenzo is growing tired of the role of The Future of Yamaha, and is trying to ensure that he is seen much more as Yamaha's Present.
To force Yamaha's hand in this question, and swing the balance of power in the contract negotiations back in his direction, he knew he had to beat his team mate. And after failing to do so since Mugello, he was prepared to take a risk, regardless of the outcome on his championship standing. Lorenzo showed he was capable of matching Rossi's pace, and passing the Italian on equal terms. But in his attempt to beat the Doctor, he placed a bet in the wrong column, hitting not pay dirt, but just plain dirt.
In two weeks' time, Lorenzo gets another chance. At Indianapolis, he will be going through the same process all over again. Assisted this time by a big money offer from Ducati, he will try and force Yamaha's hand once again by beating his team mate in a straight fight. But his team mate will still be Valentino Rossi, and faced with the tricks and racecraft that Rossi brings from his 6 MotoGP titles, Lorenzo's task will be as difficult as ever. Lorenzo is learning, though, and he never gives up.