As 2010 showed us, it is unwise to draw too many conclusions from one race, especially if that race is the season opener, run at night in some feudal middle east sheikdom, on a track that is similar to only two or three others on the entire circuit. (before I forget, what were the brolly girls shielding the riders from at 9:00 at night?) The MotoGP winter testing program had been pointing toward a successful campaign for Honda in 2011, and tonight’s race did nothing to dispel that notion.
As they did in the pre-season tests, Casey Stoner (27) and Dani Pedrosa (26) showed the Honda RC212V is the machine to beat this season.
Defending the #1 plate will be a tall effort for Jorge Lorenzo with a resurgent Casey Stoner chasing him.
Honda is LOADED this year, with at least four riders capable of the podium, compared to two at Yamaha and (perhaps) one at Ducati. Andrea Dovizioso, wearing Repsol orange, took all evening before finally outdueling Marco “Weird Al” Simoncelli, in his flashy San Carlo colors, for a more-than-usually-interesting 4th place finish. Dovizioso should have “Forgotten Man” stitched into the seat of his leathers this season, as Stoner and Pedrosa clearly have captured the world’s attention. However, I expect both Dovi and Simoncelli on a few podiums this season, assuming Simoncelli’s rugged riding style doesn’t land him in traction.
Andrea Dovizioso (4) and Marco Simoncelli (58) were also competitive on Honda machines, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
Ben Spies (11) beat Valentino Rossi (46), the man he replaced with the Yamaha factory team, to finish sixth.
The concerns surrounding the Ducati garages heading into tonight’s fray were fully intact coming out. Rossi, battling his still-healing shoulder as well as the Desmosedici, managed a 7th place finish, but appeared to be working terribly hard for such a, um, nondescript result. Teammate Nicky Hayden, far from challenging Rossi for supremacy in the factory garage, dawdled his way to a 13th place start, but managed to pass a few weaklings during the race, finishing 9th. Hector Barbera, on his newly painted GP11, found something in qualifying and started 6th, but steadily lost whatever it was and ended up 12th, finally getting aced at the finish line by happy rookie Cal Crutchlow in the Monster Tech 3 satellite Yamaha.
Nicky Hayden had to come to a complete stop in avoiding running over a fallen Randy De Puniet. Though he lost a lot of ground in the incident he recovered to finish ninth.
The one Honda rider who DOES NOT yet have it together this season is Toni Elias. Fresh off his inaugural Moto2 title last season, he regained his premier class seat this year with LCR racing, which chose him over Randy de Puniet. Despite his long history riding Hondas and his success at Moto2, he has been unable to generate any speed at all this year. Unsurprisingly, he qualified last on Saturday and crashed out of last place on Lap 19, putting an end to his misery for this night.
Speaking of De Puniet, it would be remiss of me not to note that he qualified (11th) ahead of where he finished again tonight (DNF).
For those interested in the junior MotoGP classes, Stefan Bradl took the Moto2 contest in a strong effort, while Nicolas Terol, free from the mojo of Marc Marquez, who graduated to Moto2 after his 2010 title, took the win tonight in the 125 class.