Alex Hofmann: Estoril Round Up

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Three races done this season – and three winners. This more than any other statistic tells the story of the 2011 MotoGP championship.

 It doesn’t stop there: the top two riders on the log, Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha, 65 points) and the Spanish reigning world champion’s compatriot Dani Pedrosa (Honda, 61), have three podium places apiece, although Jorge has a win and two second places to Dani’s one-two-three. Casey Stoner (Honda, 41) has a win and a third place to lie third.

The numbers prove how tough it is for all others, including Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden at PUMA’s partner team, Ducati.

Although it is too early to make solid predictions, I guess the smart money is on one of the two leaders to take the title, with things looking even better for Dani after his shoulder operation. His injury had hampered him, and the break brought about by the postponement of Japan’s race gave him the opportunity of having it sorted. His race result in Estoril today speaks for itself.

Dani played a superb waiting game in second, letting Jorge do all the work from pole after a good run to the first corner promoted Dani from third. It seemed he did not quite have the speed on the straights to take the Yamaha, and seemed gentler under braking, probably to nurse the shoulder.

Their cat-and-mouse game had the crowd on its feet, but the order seemed set to stay that way. Then four laps from the end Dani pounced, and it was all over. To rub it in he put in some fastest laps despite his tyres being past their best, leaving Jorge to reflect on what could have been. The three second gap between them said it all.

Casey Stoner on the second Honda came in third, four seconds behind the blue bike. Then it should have been Valentino taking a hard-earned fourth, but he lost the place by 25-thousands of a second to Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso. Of course Valentino was unhappy, but that’s racing and I’m surprised he didn’t learn from 2006, when he was also taken on the final run to the line here by Toni Elias - to lose a win.

Nicky had an even more frustrating day. Having qualified 13th, he discovered a gear selection problem on the sighting lap and the choice was swap bikes and start from the pit lane, or battle on from the grid. He chose the latter and with numerous crashes happening around him I guess it was difficult for him to get into a race rhythm.

The most important thing is that the team has shown real progress and put up its best showing in the dry this year. Equally encouraging is that both riders recorded the race’s top speeds, with Nicky hitting 305.8 km/h down the long straight, marginally faster than Valentino.

Talking about the weather, it was a lot better than forecast, and I hope it continues like this because the teams are testing here Monday/Tuesday. It is an important test because testing is heavily restricted in MotoGP, and Ducati have a lot of chassis and engine developments to try. Once you are behind it is very difficult to catch up, but catch up the team must as they can’t be happy having Valentino hanging about in fourth.

Now we have the race on 15 May at Le Mans, France to focus on before things get really hectic with six races in eight weekends. What a way to spend summer!