The night race at Qatar produces a strange rhythm for the riders and teams, but it hits the media heaviest. The press are often here till 4am or later, filing stories ready for the next day's papers or to hit the web. Sunday night is the worst, as early morning flights leave you rushing to get things done before heading out to the airport.
So with my 8am flight just a couple of hours away, no time for a full round up of the day's events. Instead, the big things I noticed after this evening.
First and foremost, we got ourselves more of a race than we bargained for. We all expected the Repsols to battle over victory, we all expected Casey Stoner to come out on top of that scrap. What we did not expect is for Jorge Lorenzo to keep Stoner and Pedrosa in sight throughout the race, eventually beating Pedrosa and having a hint of a chance of catching Stoner. Lorenzo celebrated his 2nd place like a victory, and given the right royal kicking the Hondas had been handing out earlier to all and sundry, running with the Repsols is a real achievement. Once we get to tracks with less emphasis on speed and getting drive out of corners, Lorenzo looks capable of mixing it up with Stoner and Pedrosa.
One constant criticism of Casey Stoner is that in the past, he has lacked racecraft. He showed some of that here tonight, saying afterwards that he had been judging Pedrosa's pace, and once he saw Lorenzo closing, he decided to bolt. Stoner had the race under control, but he watched and adapted his plan to suit the race. He has an older, wiser head on his shoulders now, and he's had a few lessons in the past to learn from.
While all the talk at Qatar has been of Rossi's shoulder, the recurring problem with Dani Pedrosa's collarbone and shoulder could be more serious. Pedrosa broke a collarbone at Motegi, and afterwards suffered nerve problems which caused him to lose sensation in his arm. Pedrosa thought the problem had been solved, after scans and examinations failed to turn up nerve damage, but it seems like the problem is still there. Pedrosa had put in a couple of longer runs during testing, where he had felt a twinge, but nothing like this. Pedrosa was practically vomiting with pain once he got off the bike. He needs this problem to be solved, or he is in real trouble.
Valentino Rossi had a strong first race on the Ducati, finishing 7th and showing a strong turn of pace. Most impressive was his ability to hold off a perfectly healthy Ben Spies on the brakes, despite the Yamaha being the better bike of the two. Rossi's problem remains his shoulder, which is still lacking strength and endurance. The break between Jerez and Estoril will be a very big help in his recovery. "You cannot win on these bikes when you are not 100%," Rossi said. The biggest disappointment for the Marlboro Ducati rider was the loss of speed in the second half of the race. That had always been his strength, he said. The team is pretty happy though, as their focus is to make the bike rideable for all of the Ducati riders, not just for one. They're getting there, but they can't work miracles overnight.
Speaking of health issues, Casey Stoner was asked about his lactose intolerance. The problem was still there, and had been there since he was a child, he told the press, but they'd only recently figured out that he'd always had the problem. In the meantime, he was getting fitter and stronger every day. That is bad news for the rest of the field.
There was a minute's silence before the start of the MotoGP race, and Hiroshi Aoyama told me he had been very moved by the ceremony. His family and friends were OK, he said, though they were low on fuel and food, and suffered power cuts from time to time, but the biggest worry was the radiation. He said to thank everyone for the thoughts and best wishes they had been sending, and he felt comforted by all the support shown to the Japanese people.
I've mentioned FTR's "gaping maw" air intake a couple of times here, and can confirm that it works. Speaking to Kenny Noyes on Sunday night (he rides an FTR for the Avintia-STX team), the American said that the top speed was amazing. "I could pass Simeon just on the gas," he said. The chassis needs a little work on the front end, it seems, but it's pretty close.
The Kalex of Stefan Bradl is pretty good too. For a class that's supposed to have equal engines, Bradl made the rest of the field look underpowered. Bradl is turning into a real surprise package so far.
As for the 125s, Dorna may as well get the 2011 championship plaque inscribed with Nico Terol's name. He outclassed everyone all weekend, putting a second a lap on the rest in the first half of the race.
Marc Marquez got a lesson in Moto2 this evening. No doubting his sheer speed, but the Moto2 class is full of fully certifiable psychos. Jamie Whitham likes to call the World Supersport riders the ax murderers, but this lot are a mix between Viking beserkers and Jack Nicholson's character out of the shining. Marquez got swamped off the line, beat up on the first couple of laps, then crashed out early on. The kid learns fast, though, so he'll be back soon enough.
The desert air is beautiful, the sunset stunning, and the lights spectacular. Shame the whole circuit smells of diesel fumes, with generators (Volvo Penta engines in a Pramac generator package) dotted round the track to power the lights.
Enough already. I have three and a half hours to catch my flight. Time to pack up and leave.