This weekend The Park has again been host to the very finest of motor-cycle racers, enthusiasts and fans for the British round of MotoGP 2007. Over 100,000 visitors grace this Leicestershire race-track when the engines roar, and they come with love in their hearts for the great Tom Wheatcroft who rescued DP in the 1970s and made it into a world-famous venue. 1993 took the track into the headlines as Ayrton Senna drove to victory in what has been described as one of his best ever drives in a Formula One car - in rain that current MotoGP commentator, former tin-top driver and all-round top Aussie Charlie Cox, would describe as being of “biblical proportions”.
MotoGP arrived here earlier this week and I took time out yesterday to see what the boys were saying about the first sessions and watch an extremely exciting qualifying session. Naturally, there was no criticism of the circuit - it’s a fabulous race-track with no hugely long straights to favour horse-power, and only a little bit of the mickey-mouse stuff that is now de rigueur in high-speed motor racing of any sort. The Craner Curves must rate up there with any pieces of tarmac that these boys race on (except maybe the “Corkscrew” at Laguna Seca - the most truly heart-in-mouth place on the racing calendar). Redgate and Coppice are pretty exciting too, and it’s no surprise that “old” pro Valentino rates the circuit up near the top of his favourites. However, young Casey had a lot to say about the condition of the tarmac. Reckoned it was slippery, like riding on a greased track - as Mr Parrish said, that’ll be all the oil and fat from the burger vans then! We understand that at the latest music bash (as much as motor-sport, Donington is about music - big, loud music) the food wagons were stationed on the track itself. Well, it didn’t stop the Texas Tornado (Colin Edwards) from blasting to his second pole of the season, and our boy Vale (he has a home in London) nicely rounding out the 1-2 for Yamaha. The boy-wonder Stoner could only finish in 5th, on the second row of the grid.
On Sunday afternoon, with rain hammering it down outside my window, I rather hoped for similar weather down south. A totally wet race was bound to be exciting - they always are. A disappointment then, to find the worst sort of conditions prevailing. Drizzling rain, the track wet enough to demand full-cut wet tyres, but all signs that during the 30 laps, it would begin to dry. However, there’s always a chance of surprises at the first corner, and we did get a few. Edwards was off from pole like a harpoon but Rossi got a bit duffed up while Nicky Hayden (reigning World Champ) made up places - before chucking it off at Coppice a few laps later. Others binned it as well, including Loris Capirossi - who had been going very nicely, and GP debutant Anthony West, coming in to Kawasaki for the injured Olivier Jacques. West got back on, and having only had a couple of days testing on a GP bike, hauled himself back to 11th by the end. I think we’ll see him back for the next race.
With 15 laps to go, Edwards seemed to allow Casey Stoner past without a fight. Tyre problems beginning to bite had led to a small mistake, but it would only have been a matter of time. No one could match the Wizard from Oz on his Ducati today, and in the closing stages another Aussie, Chris Vermuelen mugged Rossi for the final podium place.
All in all, it was a bit of a damp squib of a race compared to the preceding 7, but it’s possible that we have seen the changing of the guard. Stoner rode like the veteran he most certainly is not, but it seems, this season, that he can take everything thrown at him, and answer back in spades.