Just one week after the Spanish GP, Casey Stoner went from pole here in Portugal to take his second win of the season, pursued to the line by Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and team mate Dani Pedrosa. Like the Spanish GP, free practice this time began with unsettled weather, but brightened for Saturday and Sunday. Stoner made best time in both warm up and qualifying, and kept up this pace to pull off a fine win. Honda was able to achieve consistently better times in this race, although many issues remain to be fixed. The Honda team were really not sure they could pull off a second successive win, and were immensely grateful to Casey Stoner for his superb ride, showing all the strengths of a true champion. After the Spanish GP, HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto commented "It was Casey who won this one for us." Here in Portugal, he had much the same to say "To tell the truth, we hardly helped at all. It was all Casey. I hope we can start doing our part soon and fix his issues with the bike." Dani Pedrosa, in 3rd place, could only salute the inspiring turn of speed displayed by his team mate. Under less than ideal conditions, the Repsol Honda team won their second out of three races, continuing their run of two riders on the podium each time. Team Principal Nakamoto talks to us about the Honda team's second successive win of the season.
Yes, he certainly showed his best strengths in this race. Watching the gap behind him all the time, he really built up a good pace. Casey maintained a lead of around 0.5s until the final laps, when, sensing Jorge creeping up on him, he really upped his pace and drew away. He rode a somewhat similar race in Spain, but this time it was easier to see the tactics Casey was using. One problem this time, as people watching TV would have seen clearly, was that he suffered from some really bad tire chatter. Casey himself said that it was the worst he'd ever experienced. And yet even so he pulled off this fine win for us. So yes, once again we have to say thanks to Casey for the result.
He didn't suffer too much chatter at the start, but it got gradually worse after lap three, and that's when he says he started feeling arm pump too. After that, he experimented with various tactics to suppress the chatter. As he succeeded in getting the chattering under control, the problem of arm pump also lessened. We now clearly see the connection between chatter and arm pump so we'll be doing whatever it takes to fix that for him. This race followed just one week after the last, and with unsettled weather, although not as bad as in Spain, and because of the weather on Friday and Saturday we had no time to try out the new parts. And yet, Casey still won the race for us. Our two wins so far have really been almost entirely thanks to Casey.
Casey took pole, but that didn't mean he felt the race was in his pocket. In qualifying, a crash toward the end of the session meant they were stopped by a red flag. The session restarted with only 10 minutes left, so all the riders set off in a rush, determined to make good time. That's why a lot of them never got a clear lap, including Dani, and Jorge ended in the second row because he never had a chance for a good attack. So, luck really played a part in giving Casey pole position. I don't think there was really much in it between them. Casey lost time in the last half of the course, in the high speed section at the final corner. In contrast, that was where Jorge was fastest. This repeated the same pattern as last year, and probably has something to do with Casey's riding style. Another reason would be the unpredictable Saturday weather that didn't allow him to get a proper feel for the changing surface conditions. Those were the conditions in which the Repsol Honda team took first and second place. Actually, at the end of qualifying, I thought Dani was looking a better bet than Casey.
Dani is always good at Estoril, and this course suits both his riding style and his bike's setup. So I rather thought that Dani would be the better of the two here at bringing out the performance of his bike. But that unfortunate moment on the first lap knocked him back to third position, and I think that's the only reason he didn't win the race. His pace throughout was the same as Jorge's, so I think that if he had managed to stay ahead of him he could have been sure of second place. But however you look at it, Casey gave it his all this time and dominated the race. Jorge and Dani were putting everything into chasing him all the way, though. If Dani had won this one, then I think Casey would have been second and Jorge third, a result that would have given all of them exactly the same championship points. Part of me was tempted by the thought of these three riders starting their battle over again from scratch after three races.
Yes, this coming test is very important for us. Now we have figured out what's causing Casey's arm pump, we'll be doing our utmost to find a proper solution. The trouble is the weather – it just refuses to give us a chance. We have the parts ready, but we keep on getting days where we can't test them. It's not just Casey – Dani has made a lot of requests too, and we really want to get their bikes set up better for them. The continuous poor weather is very frustrating. This race puts Casey in the lead for the championship, but in fact a difference of just one point isn't really what I'd call a lead. We've now had three races. They've all been held under tough conditions, but thanks to the efforts of our riders we've managed to stay neck and neck with Jorge. We're still at a point where just one mistake by our riders, engineers or staff could have a big impact on our championship chances, though. Rain is forecast for Monday, so yet again maybe a decent test won't be possible. However it turns out, I'll be making sure the whole team keeps working to give our riders the support they need to overcome these problems. I hope we can count on the support of all our fans too.
* Repsol Honda Team cancelled the May 7 Estoril Test due to rain.