MotoGP Season Review
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Lorenzo and the New 1000cc YZR-M1
Reclaim the MotoGP Championship!
A change in the MotoGP regulation raised the engine displacement to 1000cc for motorcycle road racing's premier class. Riding the YZR-M1, Yamaha Factory Racing's Jorge Lorenzo was among the leaders battling for the win at every circuit and ended up with an incredible record of six race wins and ten 2nd place finishes to clinch his second season title after 2010. Here we look back on the drama that played out over the 18 rounds of this exciting season.
Lorenzo wins season opener,
leads standings through series' early stages
In 2012, four riders from two teams competed in MotoGP on the Yamaha YZR-M1 factory machine. Riding for Yamaha Factory Racing were last season's 2nd ranked Jorge Lorenzo and 5th ranked Ben Spies. The Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team fielded new rider Andrea Dovizioso and the 2011 Rookie of the Year, Cal Crutchlow. Of these four, the 2010 MotoGP champion Lorenzo is naturally the center of attention. After having settled for 2nd place in the ranking in 2011, he is determined to win back his championship crown.
Yamaha had been steadily developing the new 1000cc YZR-M1, and it was showing very competitive results in its winter tests before the start of the season. Lorenzo and the other riders felt confident with the results of the machine development and went into the opening round with high expectations.
Then on April 8th at round one, the Qatar GP held at Losail Circuit, Lorenzo defeated the previous year's champion Casey Stoner and his later championship rival Dani Pedrosa, to take his first win of the season in the opening round. Seemingly overwhelmed with emotion, Lorenzo said, "I am very grateful to Yamaha because they have made a big step this winter on the YZR-M1." For Lorenzo, having overcome the previous season's injuries and returned for a fresh start this season, it was surely a momentous race.
From Qatar, the series moved to Europe for the full-fledged start of the "Grand Prix Circus." For Lorenzo, round two at Jerez (Spain GP) was his home race and round three at Estoril (Portugal GP) was on a favorite course he had triumphed at three times in the past. This year, bad weather in the free practice and qualifying meant the machine settings were difficult to finalize. Nevertheless, Lorenzo was able to put his experience to work and run smart races to finish 2nd in both rounds and broke his record for consecutive podium finishes. In the meantime, however, his rival Casey Stoner had taken two consecutive victories. At round four, the France GP, Lorenzo would have to play catch-up after qualifying 4th and expected it to be a difficult challenge for the win. However, in the wet conditions on race day, he took the lead in the first lap and maintained his concentration as he built his lead. Finishing more than 10 seconds ahead of the field, Lorenzo took his second victory of the season and returned to the top position in the standings.
In round five, the Catalunya GP in Spain, and round six, the Great Britain GP at Silverstone, Lorenzo continued to battle fiercely for the lead with his rivals Stoner and Pedrosa. In both cases, as he described in his own words, Lorenzo "waited calmly for [his] opportunity" and with cool precision, made it three victories in a row with brilliant racing. He was now 25 points ahead of 2nd-place Stoner in the standings.
The good and bad behind falls
In motorcycle racing, there is always the risk of taking a fall, and that risk only increases for the top riders who are fighting for the lead in every race. After leading the series brilliantly with four wins in six races, that risk finally caught up with Lorenzo too. It happened in round seven, the Dutch TT in the Netherlands. Lorenzo was hit from behind by a machine that had fallen going into the first turn after the start, and he was thrown off the track in a rough fall. Fortunately, Lorenzo was not seriously injured by the fall, but his machine suffered considerable damage and he had to retire from the race.
The winner of the race was Stoner. Having already announced that he would be retiring from racing at the end of this season, Stoner was out to win one more championship title before he bowed out, and this win instantly erased all of Lorenzo's 25-point lead in the standing, putting the two rivals tied in the title race. Still, Lorenzo used his strength of will to keep control. After the race, Lorenzo hid his disappointment and looked forward with conviction, commenting: "Luckily for us we had a 25 point advantage or we would now be far behind. ...the Championship is long so let's see what happens."
However, his misfortune didn't end at Assen. With his ankle injury still unhealed and trouble getting the machine settings down in the rainy first two days of race weekend at the following round eight, the German GP, Lorenzo could only place 5th in the qualifying. The track was dry for the race and Lorenzo was running alone in 3rd position, having given up the lead to pole-starter Stoner and his teammate Pedrosa, unable to close the gap. The race seemed all but over when Stoner unexpectedly fell on the last lap while running in 2nd place. This enabled Lorenzo to finish 2nd and take the lead in the standings once again.
Afterwards Lorenzo commented: "well, things can change completely in one race." Lorenzo was now alone atop the standings with 160 championship points at the end of round eight, while race winner Pedrosa moved up to 2nd position with 146 points and Stoner fell to 3rd position with 140. In another unexpected turn of events, from this round, Lorenzo' primary rival for the season title would now become Pedrosa instead of Stoner. In round nine, the Italy GP, Lorenzo and Pedrosa finished 1st and 2nd respectively, while Stoner only finished 8th. In round 11, the Indianapolis GP, Stoner suffered a terrible fall in qualifying, and despite still riding to a 4th place finish there, the injury would take him out of the competition from round 12, the Czech Republic GP and another two races.
From round 10, the United States GP in Laguna Seca, the one-on-one competition between Lorenzo and Pedrosa intensified. At that race, Lorenzo couldn't win but he did beat out Pedrosa to finish 2nd. This increased Lorenzo's lead in the standings to 23 points. However, the situation became more difficult when Pedrosa turned the tables to win in round 11 at the Indianapolis GP and round 12, the Czech Republic GP. Both of these had been tightly contested races between the two into the latter stages of the race with Pedrosa coming out on top. At this point there were six races left in the series. There was still no telling how this rivalry would turn out.
At round 13, the San Marino GP, the desire of the two rivals to finish in front of the other was evident from the qualifying, where Pedrosa won pole position but Lorenzo qualified just 0.018 seconds behind to take second position beside him on the front row of the grid. In the race, however, the victor between the two was decided by misfortune. Machine trouble just before the start caused Pedrosa to have to start from the last position on the grid. Although he made a valiant effort to fight back into contention, he took a fall when his machine bumped against one behind him and was forced to drop out of the race. Meanwhile, Lorenzo had made a good start and gradually opened up a gap to take a run-away victory. With this, the point gap between the two rivals suddenly opened to 38 points. This meant that Lorenzo no longer had to take any unnecessary risks in order to win races. At the Aragon, Japan and Malaysia GPs, Pedrosa won three straight races, but Lorenzo held on to 2nd each time. They went into round 17 in Australia with Lorenzo still leading the title race by 23 points. This was the GP where Lorenzo had lost the title race to Stoner a year before by being unable to compete due to injury. This time Lorenzo would of course be guaranteed the title if he won the race, but he could also clinch it by scoring two points more than Pedrosa.
The moment of clinching the title came in an unexpected way. On only the fourth lap of the race, Pedrosa took a fall while running in the lead. Lorenzo finished the race in 2nd place and commented: "What a day! I'm very happy, it was easier than I expected.... I wanted to keep with Casey [after Pedrosa's crash] but he was so strong. Today all I had to do was finish the race and I have become World Champion for the second time."Yamaha Factory Racing's Team Director Massimo Meregalli commented in this way about Lorenzo's potential: "Jorge has really delivered an amazing season for Yamaha and again today we saw his trademark consistency and dedication to deliver second on the podium. From the first race in Qatar his consistency and dedication have been that of a champion so we fully expected he could achieve the best result possible."
Nakasuga stars in the final round
Great progress for the Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team
Relieved now from the pressure of having to win the title, Lorenzo could now concentrate on simply winning the final round, his home race at the Valencia GP in Spain. The track condition was damp on race day. Having chosen slick tires, Lorenzo took the lead from lap four and was increasing his lead in what looked to be a run-away victory, but in the middle stages of the race he was forced to leave the dry line to get around a back marker and took a fall. Later he commented: "Maybe if we had arrived here without the title decided it could have been another story...."
It turned out to be the substitute for Ben Spies, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, who came on unexpectedly strong here at Valencia. It was the second MotoGP entry of the season for Nakasuga, a multiple All Japan Road Racing champion in the JSB1000 Class as well as a test rider for the YZR-M1. Despite the difficult track conditions, Nakasuga concentrated and expertly controlled his machine. When the race was over he had finished on the podium in 2nd behind Pedrosa. On the other hand, for Spies, who had to miss the Australia and Valencia rounds due to injury, it was a season of one misfortune after another right from the opening round. Although he performed well with 5th and 6th place finishes in the qualifying, he had been consistently unable to get similar results in the races, finishing back in the pack. For three rounds beginning from the sixth, the Great Britain GP, he was able to finish consistently in the top five and looked to be out of his slump, but in the latter stages of the season he repeatedly crashed out of races. Eight times he no-pointed, including the two races he missed to injury. When the season ended he was ranked 10th.
Another important development that has to be mentioned about this season is the amazing performances by the Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team. After joining the team this season, Dovizioso quickly got accustomed to the YZR-M1 and began to perform like last year when he finished the season ranked 3rd. He mounted the podium five times in 3rd place and accumulated 218 points to finish the season ranked 4th. Competing in the MotoGP for the second year, teammate Crutchlow shone in the qualifying, winning front-row starts no less than seven times during the season. In the races he mounted the podium twice with 3rd-place finishes and won 151 series points to be ranked 7th at the end of the season, a big jump from 12th the year before. Well matched in talent, these teammates were often competing with each other in the races for a spot on the podium. Unfortunately, Dovizioso will move to another team in 2013, but Crutchlow will be with the team again next year, and with his increasing consistency he will surely be the No. 1 threat to the championship's factory team riders.
Of course Lorenzo will be riding for Yamaha Factory Racing again next year as the defending champion, and he will have his former teammate Valentino Rossi back on the team for 2013 in what will undoubtedly be a very strong card. We hope everyone will be looking forward to a season even more exciting than the 2010 season when these same two riders competed down to the line for the championship title.