Originally published by Julian Ryder on Monday, July 03, 2006
The Spanish national anthem is, I believe, unique in that it has no words. We heard it three times today at Donington Park to back up three Spanish poles – Bautista, Lorenzo and the astounding Dani Pedrosa were the men in question. Another unique occurrence, it’s never happened before in the whole history of GP racing. Spaniards did achieve this hat-trick at Rijeka in 1988 when Sito Pons won 250s and Aspar Martinez did the 80 and 125cc double in the old Yugoslavia but this was a new level of domination.
In the first half of the season, Pedrosa’s method was to ease into the weekend. You hardly noticed him on Friday but by the time qualifying came round he was on the pace. He was the first man of the year to get two poles, now he’s got three. The only obstacle to his progress today was a cussed Marco Melandri who was so difficult to pass that Dani actually ran wide at the Melbourne Loop trying to get past early in the race. Once he was through, that was game over. He disappeared leaving Melandri to fight with Roberts, Hopkins and Stoner.
Nicky Hayden had a tough race. He got up seventh from his twelfth on the grid before running straight on at the chicane on lap seven; that put him back to eleventh and he took the rest of the race to get back to where he had been. Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi, who had started alongside Nicky on the fourth row worked his way stealthily to the group. Melandri survived an enormous moment at Coppice, the fast double-apex right that leads on to the back straight. He ran up the curb, ripped the knee of his leathers and lost three places. His race was no less amazing than Pedrosa’s. Two weeks ago he was unconscious in the Catalunya gravel with a dislocated collarbone and sundry other nasty injuries. This week he fought tooth and nail with Rossi for second place. Valentino got it, but only after a braking duel on the last lap during which Marco ran wide on the penultimate corner.
Rossi’s achievement was remarkable, the rostrum a week after cracking a bone in his right wrist, but it seems commonplace alongside some of the miracles he has produced over the years. It meant he closed the gap to points leader Hayden from 42 to 35.
Up until now it’s Rossi and Hayden we’ve been talking about as the championship contenders but now Dani Pedrosa is only 26 points back of Hayden. He and Melandri (and he’s only four points behind Rossi) are the only men to have won two races, and Pedrosa is now the outstanding qualifier of the year. And he’s a rookie.
Worryingly for Yamaha, Rossi couldn’t find a set-up for Donington, a circuit they have never regarded as a problem. Is it a sign that they haven’t really cured their problems? If so, does it matter?
Now MotoGP gets a weekend off after three races in a row. It feels like the balance of power has silently shifted over the past fortnight. Rossi is carrying the worst injury of his career, Nicky is still on the development bike, and all of a sudden Pedrosa looks as if he has taken just half a season to learn everything he need s to know about MotoGP. Expect more wordless celebrations.