Posted by Martin:
Coming into Shanghai, the main concern for the race was the fact that the Ducatis were up 20 horsepower on the competition. Normally, this doesn’t mean a whole lot in the world of two wheels when compared to four wheeled racing, as a smooth and consistent power delivery is much more important to successful corner speeds than raw power. However, the Shanghai track has two of the longest straightaways in the MotoGP Circuit. And what does that benefit? Horsepower. The critics were calling for the Italian bike to sweep up all the podium spaces it could grab. After all, with those kilometer long straightaways, who could keep up?
So what happened? A race is what happened. And, more importantly, something that did’t quite fit the expectations a lot of people.
At the end of the race, Casey Stoner took the win on the Ducati as expected, giving him a 15 point lead over Valentino Rossi in the World Championship points standings. Rossi finished second, with Suzuki’s John Hopkins finishing third, marking the first time the American has been on the podium. Not the Ducati sweep people were expecting.
The first lap saw some Turn 1 carnage again as an echo of Turkey. This time, it was Toni Elias. While I admire the man for his complete disregard for safety when it comes to his riding style (in an age of smooth cornering and conservative lines, Elias is more than willing and able to slide the back end out and blast through a corner), his eagerness to make up for his poor qualifying position was without pardon. Watching it from the aerial camera, Elias apexes extremely early, putting his line squarely into the line of bikes mid-turn. Unfortunately, that path intersected squarely with Current World Champion Nicky Hayden who was knocked off track, and luckily was able to rejoin, albeit at the cost of several positions. It would seem that nothing can go the way of the young American this season, and his fortunes will need to turn around rather sharply in order to become a contender for the championship again. Also involved with Elias’ hot-dogging was Alex Barros, who managed to get his Ducati bump-started after being forcefully stopped by Elias’ fallen bike (not a small task).
With Rossi having taken the Pole during qualifying, it became readily apparent that the Ducati’s advantages weren’t all that great. As such, Rossi would have to get in front of the flying Australian on his Italian bike before the Ducati could regain ground with the horsepower advantage on the straights. Unfortunately, this was not the case. While Rossi was in the lead, he was unable to make any siginificant ground on Stoner, which would inevitably result in the Ducati taking the lead once again once the track unkinked itself. This little dance continued for the majority of the race, with Rossi having to brake later and later in order to maintain any sort of advantage over Stoner. Unfortunately, this caught up to him at the hair pin on Lap 16, where he gambled, lost, and ended up in the weeds, allowing Hopkins to take second.
With Rossi off track and a multi-second gap behind him, Stoner’s first place position was cemented. However, still up in the air was the way the last to podium positions would play out. Coming back on track now a few seconds behind Hopkins, Rossi set some blistering laps and managed to regain the nearly two seconds he lost to the American in the span of three laps, retaking second place. It was in this order that they crossed the line.
The season continues to be full of both great racing, as well as some drama to get one involved. Whether you’re rooting for the Australian phenom to take a championship his first season out, the best rider in all of the sport to retake the top spot, or only to see if the current American World Champion can get back in the game, MotoGP is well worth watching.