While Hayden hits bad luck again
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa put in a dazzling wet weather performance in his 100th Grand Prix as heavy rain-affected round five of the MotoGP World Championship at Le Mans.
The Spaniard finished as the top runner on Michelin tyres
in fourth place and on lap 23 and 24 of the 28-lap Grand Prix of France Pedrosa's pace was only bettered in the torrential conditions by eventual race winner, rain specialist Chris Vermeulen.
The race started with a dry track although, with very light rain falling as the riders formed on the grid, the race was declared ‘wet' before the lights went out. Pedrosa initially slipped back through the field to 15th at the end of lap one, but the 21-year-old set about quickly scything through the field. By lap four he was in tenth and at the end of the ninth lap Pedrosa had rocketed to a remarkable second place. With rain beginning to fall heavily at the 4.180km (2.597-mile) circuit from then onwards the riders began to enter the pits to change to machines with rain tyres and wet weather settings.
Pedrosa emerged in fourth place, dropped to seventh in the treacherous conditions before demonstrating a new-found excellence in the rain to overtake riders including former World Champion Valentino Rossi and finish the race in a confident fourth place. The strong result keeps Pedrosa in third place in the World Championship with 62 points.
Nicky Hayden also looked set for a strong finish as he skilfully guided his RC212V through the constantly worsening weather. The 25-year-old World Champion was himself holding fourth place and was the top Michelin runner with three laps to go when misfortune struck again and he suffered a high speed fall as be began braking at the end of the back straight. Though the American walked away from the accident, he was taken for precautionary x-rays at the circuit clinic which showed bruising to the ribs but no bone fractures.
Race winner Vermeulen on a Suzuki was followed home by Marco Melandri's Honda and Casey Stoner's Ducati.
“Well I'm really happy with the result because this was a very hard race and we came through strongly. We learned a lot from the previous wet race in Australia last year and this time the change of bikes was very quick which meant I could keep ahead of the riders who were behind me as I came into the pits. My team did a great job so thank you to them. At the start of the race I think many of the riders in front of me were using hard tyres because I was able to move forward quickly in the first laps. Once the rain came it just got heavier and heavier, yet I was still able to improve on every lap. It was a case of just trying to get used to the situation because when I swapped to the other bike with the wet set-up, the gears, suspension and obviously the tyres were all unfamiliar. Although it's only fourth place I'm very happy today because I needed a good result like this in the wet and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
“That's a shame for sure. We were holding a pretty solid fourth place with just a couple of laps to go and the bike was feeling pretty good in the wet. But then as soon as I touched the brake at the end of the back straight it folded on me. I hadn't even started back-shifting yet and before I knew it I was just picking up speed as I hit the ground – it was a rough ride. It sucks, but it seems like no bones are broken and that's a good thing, though I've damaged some cartilage in my ribcage. It's just hugely disappointing for me and the team but I can't blame it on anybody but myself today. The bike was not bad in the wet – for sure it was moving around a little bit and some of the other riders took off, but we definitely didn't deserve that today. I guess that's how it goes sometimes so we'll just keep working at it and come back hard at the next race in Italy.”
Makoto Tanaka – Repsol Honda Team Manager
“This was a very good job by Dani in wet conditions and I'd like to say thank you to him. After the race in Jerez in March he tested on rain tyres and today that work really paid off because he had a good feeling and was able to ride fast and consistently today in very difficult conditions. This experience will be very valuable for him because there will always be some wet races in a season and previously this hadn't been the strongest part of his riding. Nicky was also riding well but he was unfortunate to fall near the end of the race, but it's good that he isn't badly hurt. The results were mixed today so the team will keep working hard to get to where we need to be.”