Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

That magical first time…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MotoGP

This past weekend brought about two big firsts, one for a series rookie and another for a series wildcard. Bravo to both for their successes. The other news was the exact opposite by being more of what followers of the series have come to expect.

First, the inaugural MotoGP race at the new Shanghai Circuit in China. The weather made things interesting by raining most of the weekend meaning that riders got their first shot at comparing the rain tires from Michelin and Bridgestone. In practice and qualifying, Valentino Rossi seemed to show and unexpected weakness in his armor, generally being mid-pack. The Hondas and Ducatis, presumably taking advantage of their power down the long straight, rose to the top. But some race time, things were different. The first surprise was the two Suzukis which both took turns leading the sodden race. After a few laps, however, things returned to normal as Rossi worked his way to the front and steadily pulled out a seven second gap. Behind him, the Honda teammates of Gibernau and Melandri seemed to settle into the final rostrum spots. But two riders soon started to charge forward…Kawasaki wild card Olivier Jacque (replacing Hoffman) and Honda wild card Jurgen van den Goorbergh (replacing Tamada). Since neither rider is racing the entire series, both were able to take risks that the other riders may not have been willing to take. Olivier Jacque ended up turning the fastest laps of the race and actually passed the Gresini Honda riders and close down the gap to Rossi. In the end, Rossi could undoubtedly have turned up his pace if he’d really felt threatened by Jacque but the fact that the Frenchmen closed the gap down to almost 1 second by the checkers was amazing. Sete appeared to have bike problems and slipped behind Melandri. Other riders to have bike problems were Nakano and Roberts. Hopkins ran off the wet track but stayed up right. Checa threw the Ducati away and Bayliss followed suit with his Honda. van den Goorbergh came home a credible sixth for the Minolta team. The final order was Rossi, Jacque and Melandri. The second podium finish for Melandri was great but Jacque getting his first MotoGP podium ever was even more spectacular. Jacque raced the big four strokes for two years without getting on the podium so it was an emotional moment. With Jacque also filling in for Hoffman at the French GP in a week, this had to be a fantastic boost to his confidence and a nice way for Kawasaki to offset the disappointment of Hoffman’s injury and Nakano’s mechanical.

Ben Spies testing at Fontana

The AMA doubleheader at Fontana California was similar but the thing which shook things up there wasn’t the weather but a series of red flags. Mladin and this all conquering Suzuki again led all the practice and qualifying sessions, usually nearly a second clear of the rest of the field. The two Ducatis both seemed to “come good” with Bostrom and Hodgson qualifying well. The Hondas were all still mired back in the pack, showing they still have a lot of work to do. And so it was the three Suzukis leading the way again. In race one, Mladin checked out, leaving his two teammates and Hodgson to battle it out for the podium. Then the race was stopped with a red flag. On the restart there was another crash and thus another red flag. With the clutches on the Superbikes not ready to take a third round of 200hp abuse, the mechanics had to do some hasty clutch replacements before the next restart. On the third waving of the green flag, it was again Mladin who pulled away and again the Ducati/Suzuki battle resumed for the rest of the podium spots. But with a few laps to go, both Spies and Mladin appeared to have bike problems. Spies momentarily slowed but then picked up again. Mladin, on the other hand, appeared to have a severe clutch problem and eventually rolled to a stop. That DNF left Spies and Hodgson unexpectedly fighting for the win. Hodgson made a mistake in turn one on the last lap and gifted the lead to Spies. Yates also passed Hodgson, making for a Suzuki 1-2 finish. The Brit got things back under control to fill out the podium. This first Superbike win for Spies was a fantastic result. For anyone to win at this level, against the dominant Mladin, in only his forth Superbike race is simply excellant. I’m sure this is just one of the many which are still to come for the talented Texan. In addition to the win, Spies also moved into the series points lead, so it was a double whammy.

In the second race, Mladin went about setting things straight. He pulled out a commanding performance, taking off from the flag to win by a substantial margin. As I predicted, there was a Suzuki sweep in one of the races and it was race two as Spies and Yates came home two-three. The two Ducatis came home in forth and fifth but with Bostrom leading a flu stricken Hodgson home in race two. Duhamel crashed in the race and finished outside the points, dropping him down in the points chase. At the end of the weekend, Spies still leads the Superbike series by three points. Yates is nine points back from Spies with Hodgson three behind Yates. Mladin’s DNF has really closed up the points battle, mainly because of the consistency of the other three riders.

My big winners for the weekend? Jacque and Spies, both breaking into the big time with a podium for the Frenchman and a win for the Texan. Both rode hard races and are plenty deserving of getting to spray some champagne.

The 250GP, Superstock, Supersport and Formula Xtreme races weren’t televised on Sunday to I’ll try to report on those later.

[image from the Superbikeplanet web site.]

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