Race day came in Barcelona, and we had one-and-a-half exciting races, and one-and-a-half snoozers. The 125cc and part of the Moto2 race was pretty good, while the lead in Moto2 and the entire race in MotoGP - with the exception of a highly entertaining between three satellite Ducatis for 9th place - was a complete procession.
The 125 race was the best one of the day, with Nico Terol facing an attack from a different quarter than in Le Mans, this time the Frenchman Johann Zarco. Zarco pushed Terol all the way to the wire, passing the Bankia Aspar man on the exit of the final corner, then giving him a little elbow for good measure and forcing him off the track. From the initial footage it just looked like a racing incident, but the front angle showed the move to have had some intent, with Zarco leaning on Terol to push him aside. The move earned Zarco a 20-second penalty, taking his hard-earned victory from him and bumping him back down to 6th. The Frenchman protested his innocence, though one senior journalist in the paddock said the team told him that Zarco had admitted his mistake behind closed doors. Rossi said of the incident that it reminded him of Max Biaggi's move on him at Suzuka, and so it was the right decision to penalize the Frenchman.
The 20-second penalty would not be the only time that Race Direction decided to act on Sunday. In the Moto2 race - which Stefan Bradl won with stultifying ease - Kenan Sofuoglu hammered into the back of Julian Simon, both men going down and Simon breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg. Sofuoglu immediately apologized - indeed, afterwards, his manager was trying to obtain Simon's mobile number so that Sofuoglu could send Simon a personal message of regret - but Race Direction decided to call both men in to speak to them at Silverstone next weekend. With Simon unlikely to be able to attend, that means only Sofuoglu will appear, where no doubt he will receive a dressing down and be told to behave himself.
Though inexcusable, Sofuoglu's overeagerness was also understandable. The reigning World Supersport Champion - and a man who had never finished behind Michele Pirro in his life in WSS, even when they were on identical bikes - suddenly finds himself qualifying outside the top 20 regularly, and struggling to score points. When he finally got back near the front of the race, he was unable to contain his enthusiasm, with dire consequences for innocent bystanders such as Simon.
The battle for 2nd provided a good deal of entertainment, with Aleix Espargaro (who lives just a stone's throw away in Granollers) battling hard first with Simon, later with Marc Marquez. Marquez eventually got by, and his 2nd finish in Moto2 was another podium, this time a 2nd place. Espargaro, elated, ended up on the final spot on the podium, his first in his Grand Prix career.
The MotoGP race was dull, with the exception of the battles at the back. When asked why he thought it was, Ben Spies explained that the riders entered Turn 2 in more or less the same order they'd been in during practice all weekend. So everybody got a little bit of clear track to run the kind of lap times they were capable of. Casey Stoner's lap times were best - as they had been all weekend - but Jorge Lorenzo put up a much stiffer fight than expected. When the rain came (very briefly, but it came nonetheless) it looked like Lorenzo might catch Stoner, but once the weather lifted again, Stoner was gone.
Ben Spies bagged his first podium of the year, finally putting it all together to score a result. The team switched to the 2011 Ohlins forks, and that worked out nicely for the Texan, promising more podiums to come this year. Andrea Dovizioso finished 4th, which seems to be the natural order of things, while Valentino Rossi took 5th ahead of Simoncelli. Simoncelli started from pole, but bogged his bike off the line and lost a lot of places. From that point on, he never really recovered his composure, and consequently never looked like threatening for 6th.
Valentino Rossi was pleased and frustrated with 5th, happiest most of all with the gap to the winner. Rossi said they had halved the gap to Stoner, but he was still 7 seconds slower than the Australian over the entire race. He felt that a podium had potentially been possible, had they not taken the setup gamble forced on them by the wet warm up session.
Overall, the bike is better, Rossi said, but they still had a long way to go. The bike needs some improvements, but he, too, needs to change his style to ride it, and this is a process that is also taking time. They had come a long way in fixing the front, but they were still struggling for traction at the rear. One person with knowledge of the situation said that Ducati have a whole heap of new stuff in the pipeline, but it was taking time to produce. Rossi, too, said he was waiting for another new chassis, but the carbon fiber simply took a long time to produce.
Rossi emphasized that he did not think that Ducati needed to drop their current design, incorporating a small sub-frame at the front connected to the engine which serves as a stressed member. He believed that he and Burgess could make it work, but there was still a lot of changes to make. A podium was now a realistic possibility, but a win was another matter altogether. That would not come any time soon.
The combined award for bravery and hilarity must go to Colin Edwards. After having his collarbone plated yesterday, Edwards turned up at the circuit for a medical exam hoping to be passed fit to at least make a start, and keep his streak alive of 141 consecutive starts. He had hoped to be given the chance to start, put in a couple of laps, then pull in out of harm's way, but the circuit doctors wouldn't let him.
Fortunately - for Spanish TV viewers at least - this moment was captured by a canny TV producer. As Edwards exited the circuit medical center, he first demonstrated that he still had some strength in his arm by performing the classic international symbol for "up yours". When asked by the reporter what the doctors had said, he replied "they told me I had the wrong name. I wasn't called Valentino Rossi." Insinuating cruelly - and probably correctly - that if Rossi had been in a similar situation, the doctors may have arrived at a different decision.
Edwards' determination to race so shortly after breaking his collarbone raised questions about the fitness of Dani Pedrosa. The ugliest rumor about Pedrosa was doing the rounds of the Spanish press, suggesting that Pedrosa had injured his collarbone again (see separate story). That explained his complete absence from the circuit, the gossip insisted, as Pedrosa was thought to be back in Switzerland. The gossips also insisted that Pedrosa was seriously considering taking a long period off, sufficient to recover fully before coming back to ride. That may take until after the summer break at the earliest, but some were suggesting he would not be back until 2012.
If that were true - and there is plenty of reason to doubt it - it would be a huge blow to the championship. Pedrosa has been the only man capable of really pushing Stoner this year, though events have conspired to award Lorenzo the championship lead - rightly, as the Spaniard is once again a paragon of consistency. Without Pedrosa, Barcelona could well end up as a template for the year. And though Stoner may deserve it - he passed Kevin Schwantz in the all-time premier class win table at Barcelona - that wouldn't be very entertaining for the fans.
There was more - on engines, especially - but that can wait until tomorrow.