Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Reigning MotoGP World Champion leads race from start to finish
Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner claimed his second race victory of the 2012 MotoGP season in typical fashion at the Grand Prix of Portugal at Estoril today after leading the race from start to finish and ahead of Jorge Lorenzo in second place for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and Stoner’s teammate Dani Pedrosa securing the final place on the podium.
Stoner got a great start from pole position with Pedrosa trying his best to get the holeshot with Lorenzo holding station in third place while Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammates Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso and the second of the Yamaha Factory Racing men Ben Spies all fought for 4th place; however, Spies ran wide on the second lap to fall back to 6th and one place ahead of Ducati Racing’s Valentino Rossi who made a good start from 9th to make it up to 7th within the first couple of laps.
I found some more pace and was able to bring it home for a great race win.
Stoner continued to build on his lead from Lorenzo who had Pedrosa breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, the San Carlo Honda Gresini machine of Alvaro Bautista was making moves and the Spaniard made his way passed Spies with Rossi holding station behind with MotoGP rookie Stefan Bradl giving another strong performance for the LCR Honda team just behind Rossi with Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera just behind them.
Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden didn’t start as well as he had in the two previous races and was in 11th at the early stages with the American being chased by Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham. The CRT machines were next along and being led by Aleix Espargaro for the Power Electronics Aspar team ahead of his teammate Randy De Puniet. Yonny Hernandez (Avintia Blusens) was leading Speed Master’s Mattia Pasini, Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini CRT), Danilo Petrucci, James Ellison (Paul Bird Motorsport) and Ivan Silva (Avintia Blusens) in last place.
With just over ten laps gone of the 28-lap race Lorenzo was beginning to reel Stoner in and the gap between the front two men had shrunk to under half a second with Pedrosa holding station in third. Dovizioso continued to lead his teammate Crutchlow in 4th and 5th while Bautista was doing his best to reduce the gap to the satellite Yamaha’s. Rossi continued to push as best he could in 7th with Bradl still chasing the seven-times MotoGP World Champion and Spies on his rear wheel in 9th.
Nearing the halfway stage , Silva retired his Avintia Blusens machine without anything mechanical appearing to be wrong with the bike and on track Pasini had a low-side crash and was not able to re-start his Speed Master machine. Barbera was still in 10th ahead of Hayden and Abraham in 11th. Espargaro continued to lead his teammate De Puniet in the battle for best CRT honors with, Pirro, Petrucci and Ellison all chasing each other with Hernandez crashing out making it a weekend to forget for the Avintia Blusens team.
The field had been well and truly stretched nearing the final quarter of the race with Stoner continuing to lead Lorenzo and Pedrosa while Dovizioso appeared to have gotten the best of teammate Crutchlow. Bautista was in a lonely 6th position and Rossi was doing his best to catch the Spaniard. Spies and Bradl were still locked in battle for 8th and no change either with Barbera ahead of Hayden and Abraham and the CRT riders next along without any change barring the misfortune of Ellison who retired with what appeared to be more mechanical woes on with his machine.
While Lorenzo seemed to be able to catch Stoner on some sections of the Portuguese circuit, the Australian was stronger on other parts of the track enabling him to stay ahead of the Spaniard while Pedrosa continued to set a steady pace in third. There was misfortune for Abraham with under 5 laps to go after the Czech rider crashed out of 12th place but he was able to re-join with a less-than-perfect Ducati GP12. Dovizioso and Crutchlow continued their fight for 4th until Crutchlow made a lunge on the 4th last lap giving his teammate some breathing space with the rest of the field holding station.
Back at the front and into the final stages, Stoner continued to lead Lorenzo to the checkered flag to secure his second win in a row for 2012 with Pedrosa in third once again and claiming his 100th podium of his career. Dovizioso managed to finish in 4th and one place ahead of teammate Crutchlow for the first time this year while Bautista managed his best finish of this season in 6th with Rossi crossing the line in 7th and Spies getting the best of Bradl and Barbera taking the final place in the top 10. Hayden had a race to forget finishing in 11th while Espargaro claimed top CRT rider ahead of teammate De Puniet with Pirro and Petrucci bring up the rear of the field.
Stoner was thrilled with his second win of the season and in doing so leads the championship by one point. He said, "In the end it was another fantastic weekend for us. This morning we were more confident but also a little concerned because yesterday afternoon when we had a very similar setting to FP3 the bike was a little bit worse in the warm conditions. In warm up we didn't have a big problem with chatter but then for the race, under the warmer conditions, we struggled a lot more. This was very difficult to ride with, in the first part of the race I was confident and attacking the track but I closed the front twice due to the chatter. From this point I backed off a little, tried to stay smooth and just wanted to stay in front of Jorge and Dani, but Jorge was coming strong.
I had to try and keep my pace and not make too many mistakes, I was changing the mapping to try and reduce the chatter problem. Towards the end of the race I began to understand how to ride around it, this made things smoother and I found some more pace and was able to bring it home for a great race win," Stoner added.
Lorenzo said he was happy with second after a number of problems with his bike. "I’m happy with this second position because I was expecting to fight for third or fourth and not the victory. The bike improved a lot from the practices so it was possible," said the Spaniard who continued, "I had two problems, at the start I used a lot of clutch and burnt it so for two or three laps it was burning and I lost a lot of distance from Casey. Also at the end Casey was very strong. After this everything was working well and I made a fastest lap, which is not very common for me. We are just one point behind Casey, hopefully we can improve something on the bike tomorrow and be in front again.”
Speaking after notching up his 100th podium of his career Pedrosa was very happy with his performance saying, "It's been a really tough race from the beginning, the pace was very, very high from the first lap to the final one. Casey did a good race, unbelievably strong. I had a big shake in the first braking area, Casey and Jorge overtook me and I lost 1.5 seconds on the first lap. During the race I had some issues in the middle of the corner, I was not fast with corner speed; each lap I tried to get a little better, to try and modify my riding style, the mapping, braking later, I tried everything, I managed to match the lap times but not to close the gap.
Three races on the podium is very good overall, but in three races we missed something, so let's try it again in the next one. To reach my 100th podium is amazing and shows how fast the time goes. I'm very happy for that and I want to thank all my teams and sponsors during this time and especially Honda because I've been with them for my whole career," Pedrosa added.
MotoGP 2012 continues on 20th May with round 4 from Le Mans, France. Stoner now leads Lorenzo 66 points to 65 with Pedrosa in third on 52 points.