Dani Pedrosa returned after the victory with his team (Repsol Honda) in the circuit Estoril (Spain) yesterday session, the riders have had to get ready again, face the ferocity Le Mans Circuit (France), who is the fastest rider this time? we are waiting for their heat race on 15 May 2011.
Some spectacular verbal sparring off the track, the emergence of a new talent to challenge the established stars and the tantalising prospect of a fully fit Valentino Rossi. All this and the next race, in a week’s time, will be at Le Mans in France.
Casey Stoner has been integral to almost everything that’s been great about MotoGP so far this year. The straight-talking, fast-riding Australian won first time out on his new Honda at the season-opener in Qatar, and has looked frighteningly fast throughout every race weekend since – and, unlike last season on the Ducati, without looking like he’s on the brink of an accident. The sweeter-handling chassis of the Honda, combined with a new gearbox which takes the shunt out of every change, is being well used.
Stoner was at the centre of a breathtaking second round at Jerez, even though for much of the race he stood in the gravel trap making rude gestures to Rossi, who had just knocked him off.
It was the sort of bash and tumble that crops up in every form of bike racing and, frankly, Stoner should have been the one receiving all the sympathy. But upon receiving a face-to-face apology from Rossi (strictly speaking it was helmet to face as Valentino admitted he feared for his safety…), Stoner replied with a grin that “your ambition outweighed your talent”. Now that may be outrageously disrespectful, or entirely justified and true – but the simple fact is that every golden era has thrived on such rivalries and the sport is the healthier for it.
Suspecting that the spotlight isn’t shining as brightly on him as a reigning world champion might expect, Jorge Lorenzo also joined in the verbals, sparring with Marco Simoncelli in the press conference prior to the last race at Estoril. Lorenzo had berated the sprawling Italian’s aggressive riding, and Simoncelli called Lorenzo to order. Like a highly trained mafia lawyer he stared icily at Lorenzo and pulled him up on a technicality.
Simoncelli didn’t dispute the fact he was a dangerous rider – he just thought Lorenzo had used an incorrect example. Lorenzo threatened that if he rode like that again, “there will be a problem”. Simoncelli shrugged his response: “… and I will be arrested?” The assembled journalists laughed heartily, Lorenzo was peeved, and another grudge match was born.
Even better, Simoncelli has the speed to back up the swagger. It really looks like he’s learned how to make his factory Honda work, and save for an occasional failure to get the best from his fickle Bridgestone tyres, he’s now a genuine front-runner. After the Estoril race there was a supplementary test day, and rather impressively Marco finished it on top. There might just be a race win in him this year.
Then there’s Rossi. Make no mistake, the Stoner incident will have fired him up no end. The weakened shoulder, which has let him down in heavy braking areas and extended right-hand cornering, is almost healed. The first new parts he and his wizard-like crew chief Jerry Burgess have ordered for the Ducati have arrived and seem to be working – principally the problems have been a throttle that can’t be manipulated delicately at low revs and a recalcitrant front end that shies away from corners.
With a seventh and two fifth places so far, you can put your money on a podium for Rossi at Le Mans – then brace for the big show until the season’s end. He’s back.