From pussycat to predator: Pedrosa’s return to form at Aragon
Sunday’s Aragon MotoGP race was the 240th of Dani Pedrosa’s World Championship career, and I can’t recall in any of his previous 239 appearances where he has raced with such aggression and tenacity.
In the last five laps, Pedrosa went from pussycat to prowling predator and, in an instant, cast off a reputation as a timid combatant that has hung around his neck like a boat anchor since he moved to MotoGP in 2006.
It wasn’t the manner in which Pedrosa suddenly unleashed a long absent aggressive streak that most caught the eye. It was more about who was on the receiving end that made Pedrosa’s performance all the more startling.
You’ll see Halley’s Comet more in a lifetime than you’ll see Valentino Rossi being outmuscled on the last lap. The Italian is imperturbable under pressure, a master of improvisation and intimidation in battle, and chillingly ruthless in executing his plan of attack. So when Sunday’s race pitched Rossi’s strongest point against Pedrosa’s weakest, history pointed to there being only one winner.
When Rossi passed Pedrosa for the first of six times in the last five laps, he must have thought four more precious points were his, with teammate Jorge Lorenzo’s scintillating speed and unparalleled concentration making his Movistar Yamaha just a blue blur on the horizon.
This time there was no retreat and no surrender from Pedrosa. He retaliated swiftly at the next corner when Rossi first pounced. But you still always felt like Rossi would make one pass stick.
He tried three more times before the final lap and each time Pedrosa hit back immediately, setting up a dramatic and tense conclusion. All I could think was "Rossi never loses on the last lap, does he?"
I am sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, when Rossi lunged up the inside at turn five again, that Pedrosa’s valiant challenge had finally buckled.
How wrong can you be?
Pedrosa then produced a brilliantly clinical pass on Rossi at turn seven and survived a move of desperation by the 36-year-old at turn 15 to take easily the best second-place of his career. It was the 50th time that Pedrosa has finished runner-up and the 38th time in his MotoGP career. And for me those stats sums up Pedrosa’s MotoGP career.
He’s phenomenally gifted, small in stature but colossal in heart, with talent only dwarfed by his pain threshold and desire to overcome cruel luck, injury and adversity. But he’s also the nearly man, the bridesmaid, the man destined to be known as the fastest rider in history never to win the premier class title. As much as I hate to say it, I can’t see him ever winning the title that’s eluded him for the last decade.
He turned 30 on Tuesday, and while Sunday showed he’s still a member of the exclusive ‘alien’ club, it is nearly 14 months since his last win and 16 months since his last pole.
There’s always been somebody around just that one-tenth per lap faster and one percent more talented, be it Rossi, Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and now Marc Marquez. Perhaps the story would have had followed a different plot with more performances like he showed on Sunday.
Pedrosa won’t be the only man hoping he can deliver more performances like Aragon in the last four races.
Pedrosa’s success over Rossi was huge for Lorenzo in terms of the title race, with the advantage cut to just 14 points. The four points Rossi lost could prove pivotal, but the great thing about him is that he still laid it all on the line in those last five laps in Aragon when he had much more to lose than Pedrosa.
Pedrosa himself had seemed surprised when I spoke to him after the race that Rossi was willing to risk so much. It’s what makes Rossi such compelling viewing.
Sunday showed there’s still plenty of fighting to be done in this World Championship battle.
There’s still plenty of fight left in Pedrosa too after all the major doubts following his career saving arm pump surgery at the start of the season.
And what of Rossi? Well, he’ll fight like a man possessed down to the last corner in Valencia.
In Aragon though, The Doctor got a taste of his own medicine.