MotoGP 2012: 5 Things We Learned from Round 15 in Motegi, Japan
The Twin Ring Motegi is a rider favorite despite being physically demanding with brutally hard-braking zones and quick changes of direction that force riders to be much more physical in lifting their bikes up out of the corners than other tracks with longer, larger-radius bends.
It is also the only race in Japan, making it the home GP for both Honda and Yamaha though a little more so for Honda as they built the track in 1997 and still maintain ownership.
At the end of the race one of these manufacturers would be quite satisfied, the other not so much.
Fans witnessed brilliant riding, a disappointing effort from one of the championship leaders, a crash explained away by an excuse that strains tenability and a heartbreaking ending for a rider who deserved better.
I'll start with the heartbreak.
Cal Crutchlow Can't Catch a Break
Cal Crutchlow had been riding brilliantly all race long—the only rider aside from the two race leaders to lap in the 1:45's.
After riding in third for 19 of the race's 24 laps, he lost the position to Spaniard Alvaro Bautista on an aggressive—some might say overly aggressive—inside move with only five laps to go.
Crutchlow tried to take the position back with an inside move in the next corner—a left-hander—but Bautista held his line just close enough to the apex to prevent him from getting through. Crutchlow took the high road and chose not to force his way through as Bautista had just done to him.
Two laps later Crutchlow got past Bautista with a much cleaner inside move than the one Bautista executed against him.
Crutchlow would not hold the position long, however. Three corners later he made a mistake and pulled a big wheelie which allowed Bautista to zip by him on the inside.
Bautista then ran a little wide through the next right-hander leaving the tiniest of openings which Crutchlow tried to fit through but Bautista closed the opening on his exit from the corner which caused him to rub against Crutchlow's front tire. Thankfully, both riders stayed upright.
Crutchlow stayed right on Bautista's rear tire for the next lap and a half until, unfathomably, his bike ran out of gas with only half a lap to go.
It was the best battle of the race. Both men deserved to stand on the podium. But, unfortunately for Crutchlow, instead of 40,000 adoring fans, as the race came to an end all he saw was the top of his gas tank as he laid his head there in despair.
Casey Stoner Is Not Yet Himself
Still suffering from the ankle injury he sustained in Indianapolis, Casey Stoner fought through the pain and finished commendably in fifth place.
Motorcycle racers use their legs to change their body position on the bike because to use their arms would upset the front end. This, obviously, is made much more difficult when one is dealing with a fractured bone and torn ligaments in one of his ankles.
Unfortunately there will not be much rest for Casey Stoner as the first practice session for the next round happens on Friday, October 19.
Ben Spies Will Continue to Mystify
When thinking of Ben Spies' 2012 MotoGP season I can't help but think back to Tony Elias' 2011 season. Both riders—proven world-class riders—suffered one wretched failure after another.
Elias and his LCR Honda—a famously good machine—just never got along. For whatever reason he couldn't get any grip from the rear tire. As a result he seemingly spent as much time sliding across the pavement and walking back to the pits as he did on top of the bike.
Likewise, Spies and his Yamaha M1 have been at odds for most of the 2012 season. In fact, Ben Spies has crashed out, been forced to retire or finished in eighth place or below in 10 out of the 15 races this year.
There is no question that Spies bears a large part of the blame. There have been times this season when he has ridden badly.
To his credit, Spies has taken the blame when he felt it was justified. After the second race of the season he said he ran "a pathetic race," and after the third race he said he made "four or five big mistakes."
But bad luck has certainly played a role too—from the broken swingarm at Laguna Seca to a blown engine at his home race in Indianapolis.
What happened in Motegi is perhaps the most perplexing of all Spies' mishaps this season. Motegi is notoriously hard on a bike's brakes. No one denies that. But anyone's brakes overheating in the first turn of the second lap is difficult to believe.
Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. What is undoubtedly true is that Ben Spies has nowhere to go but up.
Alvaro Bautista Finally Shows What He Is Capable of
His overtaking maneuver of Cal Crutchlow was questionable in its legitimacy, there's no doubt. But overlooking that, Motegi saw Alvaro Bautista's best performance of 2012.
With Casey Stoner not yet 100 percent, and Valentino Rossi still unable to master the Desmosedici, the "four aliens" of years past are now down to two—Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. In Motegi, Alvaro Bautista was the best of the rest.
This is where many of us thought he and his San Carlo Honda Gresini would be from the start of the season but inconsistency has plagued him.
Before the race, Bautista signed a new contract to race for the Gresini team in 2013. Perhaps it was the peace of mind this contract provided that allowed him to put in such a strong performance.
If that is the case, we might see even better things from Alvaro Bautista before the season ends.
Jorge Lorenzo Content to Not Crash
I understand it.
If he doesn't crash out of a race he is going to win the championship no matter what Dani Pedrosa does.
From a certain point of view, he would be foolish to take any unnecessary risks.
But from another point of view I would ask this question: Is a championship that is backed into as meaningful as one that is fought for?
I say keep fighting. If you crash and lose the championship, so be it. Worse things could happen. But if you fight until the end and you still win you can hold your head up a little higher when you accept the trophy and you can look the fans in the eyes after the race.