Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Crash, boom, bang…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

I don’t know how you say “crashfest” in Japanese but for the third year in a row the Japanese GP has been defined by the crashes as much as by a victory…unlike the past two years, the big crash this year didn’t occur in the first turn.

I’m getting ahead of myself. From the time the MotoGP teams arrived in Japan one name was consistently at the top of the time sheets: Ducati’s Loris Capirossi. As we saw last year the Bridgestone tires are perfectly dialed in for the Motegi track and the massive horsepower of the big Italian V-4 matches up nicely with the stop/start quality of the the circuit. In practice and qualifying, Capirossi was able to power the Duc to top times and was the only rider to consistently turn laps in the 1.47 range. This continued in qualifying where the diminutive Italian turned in a pole time nearly a half second faster than anyone else. The next surprise, as well as the next point of pride for Bridgestone, is that the second place position on the grid was taken by Suzuki’s John Hopkins. The front row was filled out by Marco Melandri who kept Honda from being shut out of the top three at their home track. The other notable story from qualifying was Rossi who never seems to do wrong…well, he did wrong with bad setup and a poorly timed tire change, both of which conspired to leave the championship leader down in 11th for the start of the race.

When the bikes lined up for the race on Sunday all eyes were on Capirossi. This went double for watching him go into turn one after the green flag fell since it was Loris that caused the huge pile-up there in 2004. Fortunately, he and everyone else made it through safely but it didn’t take long before the track started to inflict its damage on the field. On the first lap, Naoki Matsudo ran off the course on the Moriwaki bike. The high speed trip through the gravel trap apparently damaged the bike and he retired soon thereafter. Motegi 1, riders 0. A couple of laps later, Alex Hoffman hit Roberto Rolfo and sent them both into the kitty litter. Hoffman ended up with a broken ankle and Rolfo missed the chance to get more track time, something he needs if he’s going to impress anyone enough to earn him a better ride next year. Motegi 3, riders 0. Next up was a mechanical problem for Tohru Ukawa, sub’ing for the injured Troy Bayliss on the Camel Honda. Not only did this bring the DNF tally up to 4, it also took out another Japanese rider. The bad news for the local riders continued when Shinya Nakano’s Kawasaki blew its motor. Nakano threw the bike down in disgust. The spirit of Motegi laughed its evil snicker and chalked up the DNF tally to five and sent the Kawasaki team packing. Honda was the next to feel some more pain as first Sete Gibernau and then Alex Barros both crashed out. Since this is Honda’s home track, having two of their star riders visit the kitty litter undoubtedly furrowed the brows in the corporate boardroom. It also meant Camel Honda left with a big goose egg for their effort. The final crash, and the most shocking of the year, was on unlucky lap 13 when a hard charging Valentino Rossi spaced on his late braking in an attempt to pass Marco Melandri which resulted in the Yamaha ramming into the back of the Honda. Both riders went down and Marco took a footpeg through the foot sending him to the hospital. Final tally: nine riders out of the race by half distance. Camel Honda, Movistar Honda, Kawasaki, D’Antin Ducati and Moriwaki all having a complete wash out with their riders exiting the race prematurely. With James Ellison already out (and no replacement used in Japan) and with Team KR not showing up, that meant only eleven riders finished the race.

Having a race with only 11 finishers may be the norm for a rain race but not a dry one. From a PR perspective this has to be considered a disastrous round. Seven crashes, two with injuries serious enough to take the riders out of the next race, are never good for business. A race where people pay $50 or more per ticket and yet only has a handful of bikes still running at the end is a great way to piss off fans. Having the championship battle clouded by an accident is just the icing on the dog crap cake. I suspect the tremors, as well as the legal complaints, from this weekend will be felt for the rest of the season.

Loris Capirossi jumps for joy at Motegi

But crashes aside, it was actually a pretty interesting race up front. After the Rossi/Melandri crash, Max Biaggi took over the lead. Biaggi is very motivated to do well at these last few races because the current rumor is that Dani Pedrosa will be taking his seat on the factory Honda Respol team next year. Strong results from Max, like adding yet another second place championship finish to his resume, could shift the attention of the Honda bosses to the performance of his teammate Nicky Hayden. Unfortunately for Max, Loris Capirossi really wasn’t going to be denied at Motegi. Having made it through the first turn, avoided the riders crashing left, right and center around him and then parking his Ducati on the back tire of Biaggi’s Honda, he was able to execute the plan he had been building all weekend…namely, being able to consistently turn laps faster on the Bridgestone tires than anyone else could possibly run regardless of their tire brand. Biaggi ran wide in a turn, Capirossi shot through the opening and then just steadily ground out fast lap after fast lap to pull a gap over his fellow Italian. Third place, meanwhile, was nailed down by Makoto Tamada on his Honda.

With a Japanese tire manufacturer winning the race, Honda coming in 2-3 at their home track and Konica-Minolta getting the bike they sponsor onto the podium, it was a good day to be Japanese. (Unless, of course, your name ends in Nakano, Ukawa or Matsudo). Biaggi’s second place earned him enough points relative to Rossi’s DNF that the title chase will stay alive for another race. Capirossi’s win helps rejuvenate both Ducati and Bridgestone with the idea that just a little more work may yet put them on par with Honda and Yamaha and their Michelin tires. Tamada’s podium shows that he has finally recovered from the wrist he broke earlier in the year and may be a serious threat for the rest of the season.

As for Rossi, he may or may not be penalized for his crash. The FIM, a predominantly Italian group, rarely penalize Italian riders and are particularly loathe to do so when a penalty may affect the championship battle. I may talk about my take on the crash and possible penalty in a seperate blog entry later this week. It also remains to be seen whether Rossi and Melandri maintain their friendship after this or whether this drives a wedge between the two of them similar to the break that occurred between Rossi/Gibernau last year. Finally, the chance of Rossi wrapping up the title this coming weekend in Malaysia is a bit less likely since his DNF means that Biaggi gained a few points so the gap between first place Rossi and second place Biaggi is now 112 points.

Expect the air to be thick in Malaysia and the heat to be oppressive…and I’m not talking about the weather.

[image from the Motosport web site.]

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