Alex Hofmann: Indianapolis Round Up

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“Must improve”. There simply is no other way of describing the performance of PUMA’s MotoGP partner team Ducati in the weekend’s Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Those aren’t my words, but were, in fact, spoken by Ducati’s team manager Vittoriano Guareschi, who after the 28-lap race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added, “Today was very challenging for our team and riders, and despite their typical great efforts, we struggled to bring home a few points."

All in it was an extremely disappointing race, particularly as Ducati’s own Nicky Hayden, born just across the state border in Kentucky, had high hopes for his home round. Valentino Rossi also aimed to do well here after the GP11.1 showed such improvement in the last few races, particularly in the last round in Brno.

Nicky went home to the US during the two-week summer break, and did some promotional work at the circuit, which uses a portion of the banking combined with a squiggly infield section. The track had been resurfaced from Turn 5 to 16, and although Nicky rode it on a road bike while there and gave it a cautious thumbs-up, it turned out to be rather different on a racing bike, with a lot of slip-sliding being the result.

But that alone was not the reason for the disappointing performance because the track surface was the same for all bikes. Simply put, Valentino looked uncomfortable all weekend, with a crash early in qualifying and a gearbox problem adding further to his woes. He managed to salvage a point by finishing tenth almost a minute off winner Casey Stoner, while Nicky placed 14th after being the sole starter on medium tyres, probably as he thought he had little to lose.

The gamble did not come off, and he paid the price for it in front of his home crowd by coming in last. But, if you don’t risk, you’re not a real racer, and Nicky certainly is that at heart.

The result, with Casey and Dani Pedrosa taking a 1-2 for Honda, means Stoner is now odds-on favourite for the championship with six races of the original 18 remaining. He now has a lead of 44 points on reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, which is effectively two wins in hand. Basically Jorge and Yamaha need to win the next two races - with Casey failing to score - simply to get on equal terms with the flying Australian.

On Casey’s present performance that is a long shot, while Dani seems more likely to grab points off Casey even if he is less of a title threat after sitting out some rounds due to injury, and Ben Spies beat team-mate Jorge in this race. But there is still some way to go, and in MotoGP anything can happen before the season is finally over.

Looking ahead we go straight into Ducati’s heartland in Misano this weekend – making it two rounds of European/US back-to-backs in less than two months (!) – and then it’s off to Aragon in Spain ahead of three eastern races in four weeks: Japan (at either Motegi or Suzuka following the earthquake/tsunami, a final decision is expected shortly), Australia and Malaysia. The final takes place in Valencia on 6 November.