After the drab action of Indianapolis, Brno delivered this past weekend — and then some. The Czech Republic GP was a rehearsal of sorts for what is to come at the next few races and beyond, and signs look promising.
As suspected, Casey Stoner's injury from Indy required surgery. The title race is over for the Australian, much as it had appeared that a fairytale ending was on the cards earlier on in the campaign. The reigning champ will be pushing for a comeback as soon as possible, but in my opinion his focus should be on resting up for Phillip Island —the one GP at which victory is the only option and at which he can create a moment to go down as one of the finest in premier class history.
Without him, however, we were left with a reduced number of options for a race victory in the Czech Republic. Up stepped Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, and the sweeping circuit squeezed a bit of a classic battle out of the two Spaniards.
The back-and-forth tussle from practice and qualifying carried over into the race, and we were treated to a fight that had a bit of everything: two riders with different skill sets and strengths, going for a win that could prove pivotal to the title chase, with the best display of counteracting machinery characteristics since the Ducati vs. Yamaha duels of 2007.
It was a real plus for prototype racing as a whole, in fact. To see the nuances of each bike being used to its utmost advantage —be it the superior drive of the Honda RC213V or the nimble cornering of the Yamaha M1- and almost inseparable times being clocked with two different strategies, showed that competitiveness still isn't always a result of all equipment being uniform. It's a simple narrative that can be explained easily to the casual fan, and this time there was enough of a balance to make both bikes look strong.
Pedrosa has continuously faced criticism for his perceived inability to win out in livery-to-livery battles, but that hasn't been entirely true this year. On paper, it is logical that he would be less capable of adjusting position and maneouvering a 1000cc machine around than his rivals, due to his diminutive stature and low body weight. What often happens is that his most potent weapon is his pace, and for the majority of situations one pass and then the establishing of a gap is enough for the Spaniard.
The pace of Lorenzo and the need to beat him meant that there could be no settling for second, which is usually enough to keep up the pressure in the title chase. Also, Pedrosa was so close that backing off wasn't really an option if he was to maintain his speed. Coerced into conflict, he provided us with the most talked about last lap since Barcelona 2009 — a race which sent Dorna into reverence and hyperbole overdrive due to us having finally been treated to a close 800cc contest.
This race had the threat of more passes, but in the end we saw just three for the lead. Expect to see all three frequently before Misano, in OnBoard laps from each bike, aerial views, courtroom judge pastel drawings and through the medium of mime (possibly not the last two).
Pedrosa and Lorenzo have been first and second on the podium 17 times in the premier class. Pedrosa has finished in front on eight of those occasions and none have been as close contests as this past weekend. Brno's track layout helped tighten things up enormously, but the Repsol Honda rider will need to repeat his dogged challenge to the Yamaha man at possibly every round remaining. With Lorenzo only once outside the top two (when taken out by Álvaro Bautista at Assen) and 13 points ahead, the Czech GP might have been an isolated incident, rather than a glimpse of the immediate and far future. Second won't cut it, Stoner won't be around to break up the dominance, and the races are ticking by.
Lorenzo will be up there, Pedrosa will be pushing him. Can they give us six more phenomenal race days in 2012?