MotoGP: 2012 Phillip Island
Clash of the Titans Almost the embodiment of power, the Titans were the elder gods of Greek mythology - though not the oldest. Before them came the planetary deities whom the Titans overthrew to gain power. Then, as the circular pattern of time time unwound, they themselves were overturned by the younger gods. As the 2012 season spirals to an unpredictable conclusion the gods and demi-gods of the sport raise arms once again to do battle. The older gods are seemingly already dispatched, with Valentino Rossi the final icon on the field. Which of the new breed will hold sway can only be decided in the sweat and tears of competition. Jorge Lorenzo Calculating, methodic, precise - the words that best describe the former champion and current championship leader are as sharp as his riding through the season has been. While the field of competition has changed through the course of the season Lorenzo the man has remained steadfast, facing off against first Casey Stoner and the Dani Pedrosa as the light of one star set and the other rose. Lorenzo has been seemingly composed through the title fight, winning with aplomb and settling for position where prudent. Yet the mature facade has been seen to crack in places. Pedrosa's RC213V has seemingly surpassed Lorenzo's M1 in development, the Honda prototype using fewer engines and displaying much better power management. The frustrations that Lorenzo has experienced in the recent string of races, where his ability to use the Yamaha's peerless maneuverability to out-corner the RC hasn't been enough to keep his rivals at bay, has spilled over into comments to the press that Yamaha must supply more power to the bike. Additionally the normally risk averse Mallorcan has been taking chances usually reserved for other riders, using the optional soft rear tire in Malaysia being a prime example. The result was a near disaster for Lorenzo's season, with viewers the world over gasping as the title contender made a Herculean save as his bike toppled over under braking into the final corner during the closing seconds of the race. Tire performance had already gone, and Lorenzo was already losing ground in exponential increments to 3rd place Casey Stoner when heavy rain began pouring into the back of the track and Lorenzo began calling for the race to end. Fortunately for Lorenzo his gamble paid off - prior to his escapade amost half the field had crashed out, including all other Yamahas. Had Lorenzo not risked serious injury by throwing out his leg to catch the bike then the final tally would have no Yamahas making it back to the paddock in one piece. Yet the mantra of "if wishes were horses" holds true; Lorenzo took the risk to save the bike and stay out, race direction called off the race, and a very relieved Lorenzo remains in the lead with 23 points. Whether he can contine to "race smart" for the remaining 2 races, accumulating points towards the championship win, or will take unnecessary risk to fight for a chance of winning will determine whether he will be once again the former, or now the 2-time, MotoGP champion. Dani Pedrosa Dani Pedrosa has had a roller coaster ride in the premiere motorcycle racing series. Leaving the 250cc supporting class as a world champion he was ushered directly onto the Repsol Honda factory squad, one of the most decorated racing teams in competition and certainly one of the most high pressure environments in the sport. Right away he did not disappoint, displacing to-be world champion and team veteran Nicky Hayden as lead rider and immediately contesting for podiums and wins. Then he became a villain overnight as, in one brash move that (perhaps in hindsight) can be attributed to youthful exhuberance he crashed into Hayden and removed both bikes from the race and virtually destroyed his title chances. The American would remount a challenge to seal his championship, but Pedrosa's public image took a beating that lasted for years. At its lowest point, Honda and Pedrosa were publically booed at US venues. Yet that brash riding would hardly prove to be the Spanish rider's only - or even greatest - weakness. Pedrosa's GP career has been plagued with injury. Outside of that opening season, Dani has routinely had at least one major crash that removed him from competition partway through the season. In a time of giants, he remains the only rider of "alien" status to have never won a premiere class championship. Yet it could all change this year. 2012 has come to represent many firsts for the Spanish rider. For the first time he has been injury free for the close of the championship. For the first time he has been on a winning streak - winning not just 3 in a row (another first) but also the lion's share of races in the second half of the season. Unsurprisingly, he is also currently in his strongest position to wrest the championship for himself that he has ever been. There are no "mathematical possibilities" in this go around; a single slip from Lorenzo (which very nearly occured) can see the championship standings turned on its head. It has taken a long time for Pedrosa to turn the jeers almost universally to cheers. Now the Repsol rider must continue the press to have any hopes of a 2012 title. Casey Stoner It takes a special kind of talent to confound a world champion rider so that he admits that he doesn't understand just how you do what you do on a motorcycle, despite access to data telemetry and technical support from the factory. It is, perhaps, the greatest compliment for Casey Stoner's raw ability on a motorcycle. When he brought that talent to Respol Honda there was no question that he would be a force to be reckoned with. At a time when Honda's RC213 appeared to be a step behind Yamaha's M1, Casey was able to find the missing something to put his wheel in the mix with Lorenzo. It is not a stretch to say that, had it not been for his ability to ride around whatever problems existed with the Honda early on, the season would have gone much differently as he forced a points split with the more dominant Lorenzo. Yet before the mid-way point to the season the rider once tipped as being a future dominant force in the paddock experienced a catastrophic failure when he high-sided to injury. The crash was nothing short of spectacular, the motorcycle impacting the ground several times while Casey was still airborn. Against the backdrop of such violence it is a near miracle that he was not more seriously hurt. However the accident no doubt underscored the dangers of the sport for the riders and reinforced his decision to retire at the end of the season to spend time with his new wife and child. The season, however, is not yet over and Casey has returned to the paddock after a brief respite of healing. No-one can believe for a moment that he is close to full fitness - despite a podium finish in Malaysia the Australian was in obvious discomfort, hobbling on the steps and seemingly having problems standing. How much this will affect him this weekend is likely the most pressing question on each of his competitors' minds. Casey Stoner has been beyond alien at Phillip Island, with no rider able to come close to matching his pace at any time since he slung a leg over his first factory Ducati. This is also, officially, his last race at the Island aboard a MotoGP machine. Will he finally fall prey to the clutches of the chasing pack? Many may hope so, but Casey will be gunning to leave them with a lasting reminder of just what has made him special.