Alex Hofmann: Aragon Round Up

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Last year Aragon delivered one of Ducati’s best performances, so PUMA’s partner team was looking forward to an improvement in fortune following some challenging recent performances. After a win and third place here in 2010, both Valentino Rossi - having his first ride for Ducati at the complex in central Spain - and Nicky Hayden, travelled to the circuit in a confident frame of mind.

Although they both finished in the points, with Nicky finishing seventh and Valentino tenth, I think it is fair to say the entire team was thoroughly disappointed with the outcome, particularly after the team had introduced enough technical developments to warrant Val’s chassis being referred to as GP11.2.

The revised engine mountings required for the new chassis design, which incorporates a lot more aluminium in place of carbon-fibre, was to cause its own issues, for after crashing in qualifying it meant that a change of chassis would also entail a change of engine, tipping him over the limit of a maximum of six engines used in a season. Having qualified an eventual 13th, he elected to take the knock and start from the pit lane, which meant he suffered an immediate handicap.

Nicky, who placed third here last year, at least salvaged the team’s pride by putting in a spirited ride to seventh, but it is clear that much midnight oil needs to be burnt by the boys in red before the Desmosedici is on terms with the factory Hondas and Yamahas.

Casey Stoner looked absolutely unstoppable to more than make up for his slight slump in Misano a fortnight ago. These things happen, and I guess he was just more susceptible to travel lag than others after flitting to and from the US in less than a week, then facing the rigours of the San Marino Grand Prix weekend within hours of landing.

Of course, it’s never over until it’s over, I think it is fair to say that Casey, who won the world championship for Ducati in 2007, has a firm grip on his second title. When a rider makes it look as he does it is a sure sign that he’s on top of his game, and all Jorge Lorenzo and Yamaha can do to successfully defend their championship is hope that the Honda rider suffers the effects of travel to Japan, Australia and Malaysia over the next month. Given that Dani Pedrosa, also Honda-mounted, finished second ahead of Jorge in Aragon, that Motegi is Honda’s own track and that Casey hails from ‘Down Under’, that’s a long shot...

I must confess to having travelled to Aragon with a sense of foreboding, simply because the place is so far from anywhere. Forget ‘middle of Spain’; at times it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere! We stayed in a tiny village about 35 kilometres away, but I guess everything in life happens for a reason because we discovered the most incredible restaurant near our hotel. Talk about serendipity: The food was simply fantastic, probably the best I have tasted anywhere – and we are fortunate enough to eat in some pretty good establishments across the world.

After the Misano round I stayed on in the Adriatic region to put in some testing work as part of my contract with Aprilia’s Superbike team. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Also lapping on the day was Tony Elias, testing for BMW Team Italia, and I was very pleased to note I was able to stay with a current MotoGP rider on what is a very technical track.

‘Not bad for a fat, out-of-condition commentator, eh?” I ragged him afterwards...