There was an air of anticipation over the Jerez track as the light went out. After a qualifying period that saw weather play havoc with the riders, both local heroes rocketed from the first row to establish early dominance.
Lorenzo becomes embroiled in a fierce battle with Pedrosa for the lead, joined by the strong charging satellite Yamahas. Reigning champion Casey Stoner drops to the tail end of the lead pack as factory rider Spies is seamless by the field.
Lorenzo takes the lead from Pedrosa who in turn mounts an unsuccessful counter, only to be attacked by Crutchlow and forced to defend his position for the duration. Lorenzo in turn loses position to Stoner.
Stoner ekes out a modest lead but is unable to pull away. While his Honda slides around in characteristic fashion, laying dark stripes across the rumble strips, Lorenzo looks planted. The lead remains within a second.
Anticipation turns to deja vu as Casey's lead begins to crumble. In a few short laps Lorenzo is on his tail pipe, hounding him for every inch of available track. Even an uncharacteristic mistake by the Mallorcan rider offered no reprieve as he was back on Casey's tail in under a lap.
By the end of the day Jorge would come to the realization that he is in for the fight of his life if he hopes to regain the championship and keep the momentum that he has built at the start of the season going into Estoril. The realization would not have come during the final laps as he fought impotently to retake the lead, or during the final meters as Casey began to pull away, corner by corner, despite Lorenzo riding a seemingly perfect race at the edge of disaster with Casey seemingly unable to shake him. It would not even have been watching his closest rival take the checkered flag on perhaps his worst track and one of Lorenzo's best after impossibly pulling a one second lead in the final lap.
The full import of the victory would only fall later during interviews when Casey revealed that he had suffered arm pump during the race which forced him to lower his pace and almost fall prey to Lorenzo. Again. The health of the rider was a topic of much debate amongst commentators during the race, with the Euro team quoting Casey as saying that it had been persistent enough to force him to adjust his riding style to mitigate symptoms. Honda currently deals the benefits of this development, however the problem is severe enough that surgery is a very real possibility. Estoril's close proximity to the Jerez event ensures that Casey will get only a minimum amount of rest before putting his skills to the test again. His spirits are buoyed however by the fantastic result obtained under less than perfect conditions.
For his part, Lorenzo feels strongly that he would have taken the victory had he not made a seemingly costly mistake on his tire choice. The huge fluctuations in weather left the track damp at best for the start of the race, so the team opted to go with the softer tire choice. This left Lorenzo with a bit of a deficit in terms of performance, a disparity highlighted by the brilliant performance of both satellite bikes. However Lorenzo will not dwell on the 2nd place that he obtained at Jerez. He goes into the weekend with a 4 point lead over Stoner, and Estoril has historically been a very strong track for him. Any sign of weakness from Casey, who admits that the arm pump injury is something that needs to be addressed in short order, could see Lorenzo capitalize massively to extend his lead.
On the other side of the Yamaha garage, Ben Spies enters the weekend in a very unhappy place. He started Jerez one step back but made some headway before the start of the race. Then it all fell apart for the Texan as he plumetted through the pack in a race that he describes succinctly as "pathetic". The candor may be refreshing in a world of politically correct corporate statements, however the man best known for his pies will need to find the sharp end of the pack quickly - preferably starting this weekend - orfurther risk losing his ride to any of the riders waiting in the wings by season's end at worst, or be vastly overshadowed by the rising star that is Crutchlow at best.
And what a star it is! After a difficult start to his maiden season, Crutchlow finished 2011 strongly and performed well at the season opener in Qatar. Both satellite Yamaha riders mentioned podium potential in the pre-Jerez interviews, but no other non-alien came even close to fulfilling that promise as Cal did. Battling with the front pack for the length of the race at a "seriously hard" pace, Cal's performance was marked equally by daring (though fair) passes and a dogged hounding of the factory Honda of Pedrosa for the final podium position. Though Pedrosa would ultimately come out ahead at the end, there is little doubt that he knew he was in a race after crossing the finish.
Further afield, a formerly dejected Valentino Rossi may be entering the Estoril weekend with a refurbished lease on life. A truly new lease may require more significant changes to the package, such as a rumored new engine designed to work with the twin spar frame of his version of the GP12 which still uses the engine designed for the frameless chassis. In the meantime, after working with a setting based on Nicky's but tweaked slightly and adjusting his style during the race, Rossi was able to turn a lackluster qualifying into a decent result just behind is teammate. He admits to wanting to try the settings before the race but was unable to because of weather. With the settings in place, and flying "blind" for the first few laps, Rossi apparently found something during the race that he hopes the team can capitalize on for the weekend despite pressure from... various sources... as his rivalries come home to roost.
Completely off the field, DePuniet became the first rider to publicly assault his CRT ride and came close to kicking the machine, probably repeatedly, on camera. After a relatively good start and exciting race that included short dices with the full on prototypes, Randy saw his chance at a top CRT finish evaporate when his Aprilia machine died just two laps from the finish. The Frenchman's disbelief and disappointment were obvious as he coasted the bike to side and placed it, less than gently, against a berm. However he can enter the weekend's race schedule proud of the fact that he qualified ahead of some of the full prototype machines and has begun to prove that the CRT machines are not the rolling blocks that many feared they would be.