MotoGP 2012 Sepang Results

An edited version of this story will post on on Sunday or Monday.  Until then, enjoy the raw version.

Pedrosa streak continues; Lorenzo second in rain-shortened GP

Round 16 of the 2012 MotoGP championship might have been drawn up by Bubba Blue, everyone’s favorite character from Forrest Gump.  The Malaysian Grand Prix had every kind of rain imaginable—big old rain, flat rain, upside-down rain, you name it.  It was officially classified a wet race at the start, and was red-flagged after 13 laps at the finish. That’s a wet race.

In between, Repsol Honda bantamweight Dani Pedrosa claimed another empty victory, joined on the podium by Yamaha enforcer Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol’s Casey Stoner, who appeared sufficiently tuned up to compete for his sixth consecutive Australian GP title next weekend at Phillip Island.  Pedrosa shaved another five points off Lorenzo’s championship lead, which now stands at 23 points with two races to go.  The breathless writers at would have you believe that the race couldn’t get any tighter or more exciting.  The truth is, if Lorenzo beats Pedrosa next week, he will clinch the 2012 title and render Valencia moot.  Other than that, it’s as close as can be.

Today’s race was the story of the 2012 season in miniature:  Lorenzo and Pedrosa, and everyone else.  Despite not having raced here in two years, Pedrosa was fast all weekend in dry practice sessions.  Most of the prototype riders blew off FP2, the only practice session held in the wet.  Lorenzo was sharp, too, as were Stoner and the Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow.  But there had been essentially no practice time in wet conditions, conditions on Sunday having become so bad that the warm-up practice was scrubbed altogether.

Kind of a Wet, Fast, Violent Parade

My editors at hate it when I refer to some of these events as processions, so I use the word “parade” instead.  Despite having only one rider finish in the same position he started—Hector Barbera in seventh—the race had a kind of parade-like feel to it.  As per last week, Pedrosa and Lorenzo traded spots at the top midway through the race.  Tech 3 Yamaha’s Andrea Dovizioso, who had qualified third, found himself rolling sideways at the start and mired in ninth position after the first turn.  He quickly made his way back to fourth, only to crash on lap 10.  Although he re-entered the race, he finished 13th, not what he had hoped for at the start of the day.

So Stoner, who had qualified fourth, moved up into third and ran by himself most of the day.  He seemed to be gaining quickly on Lorenzo at the end, and might have done his teammate a favor had the race gone its full length.  Crashes removed Yamaha’s Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow from the proceedings—Spies may have injured his left shoulder in the process—leaving the way clear for those wild and crazy guys from Ducati, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, to slip into fourth and fifth places, respectively, for their best combined result of the season.

Crutchlow was the first of three riders to exit the race at turn 12 on lap 12, followed by Randy de Puniet and Stefan Bradl moments later.  As mentioned above, Barbera held onto his seventh spot.  Four of the next five finishers were CRT guys, led by Aleix Espargaro, who gained ground on teammate de Puniet for the CRT title.  James Ellison, who likes running in the rain, turned in his best result of the season in 9th place.

The Big Picture

Depending on how you look at it, Jorge Lorenzo’s lead over Dani Pedrosa has either shrunk or ballooned to 23 points with two races left.  The pressure on Pedrosa, despite his stellar recent results, has decreased not one bit.

Looking ahead to Phillip Island, assume, for the halibut, that Stoner wins.  Next, assume that Pedrosa and Lorenzo settle in to battle for the two remaining podium spots.  You had better record next week’s race, because the title could very well be decided in Australia, regardless of what Stoner manages to accomplish in his home swan song.  Stoner, for his part, with 16 points today and Dovizioso’s poor result essentially clinched third place for the season.  Dovi probably ought to get used to the bitter taste in his mouth, as he’ll likely be getting a steady diet of it for the next two seasons.

The second division of the top ten is fronted by Alvaro Bautista, who managed a low-maintenance sixth place finish today after qualifying down in 10th.  Rossi trails Bautista by six points and is hoping for rain from now until Christmas.  Cal Crutchlow, who once stood even with Dovizioso, sits huddled in seventh place, a mere 10 points in front of rookie Stefan Bradl, who has found the recent going somewhat more difficult than earlier in the year.  Americans Hayden and Spies round out the top ten.  Hayden, for what it’s worth, had one of his better outings today, finishing fourth after starting ninth.  He has finished in fourth place at Sepang an incredible six times.  That he would do so again today, in that light, is not so surprising.

Pedrosa’s Second Half

The second half of the 2012 season, starting actually at the Sachsenring at Round 8 has been, for Repsol Honda speedster Dani Pedrosa, a half season to remember.  In Germany, he qualified third and finished first, 15 seconds in front of Lorenzo.  At Mugello, he qualified on the pole but finished second to Lorenzo by five seconds on a very Yamaha-friendly track.  At Laguna Seca, he qualified and finished third, one of his worst results of the season, one which most of the riders on the grid would tell their grandchildren about.

Pedrosa won convincingly from the pole in Indianapolis.  At Brno, he qualified third, and edged Lorenzo by a fraction of a second for the win.  The decisive moment of his season, of course, occurred at Misano, with the jammed tire warmer, the last-row start, and ultimate take-down by Hector Barbera.  Undeterred by this chain of events, he led his team to Aragon, where he qualified second and again handily defeated Lorenzo for the win.  The last two weeks—two methodical wins over Lorenzo at Motegi and Sepang.  The first three-consecutive-wins streak in his career.

Who is the best rider on the grid in October of 2012?  Easy.  Who is going to win the 2012 MotoGP world championship title?  Not so easy.  In an interview this week Pedrosa acknowledged that he had been rather conservative early in the season, trying to avoid mishap and injury.  And while that strategy worked, it left him too far behind Lorenzo, after Misano, to mount an aggressive back nine charge reminiscent of Arnold Palmer in his day.

Still, I expect people will be talking about Dani Pedrosa’s second half in 2012 for a long time.

On to Phillip Island

Round 17 at Phillip Island this coming week, with the usual wind, cold temps and expected domination of Casey Stoner in what is expected to be his last MotoGP appearance at his home crib.  This track is friendly to the Ducatis and Yamahas, so the pressure on Pedrosa, rather than diminishing, will be sky high.  We’ll have the race preview for you on Thursday.

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