Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers and we're happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.GERMAN THRILLER
Finally, a MotoGP race to really get excited about! While a lot of the top riders may be rather critical of the tight and twisty Sachsenring layout, Sunday's tension-packed nail-biter had me wishing we had a Grand Prix there every week. The biggest surprise of the round? Without a doubt, Dani Pedrosa. To put in that type of performance in only his second race back from surgery was simply amazing. I've said it before, but since his calculating win in Portugal earlier this year he's been a different rider.
He now knows he doesn't have to blast to the front on lap one and lead the whole race. He knows he can sit back and watch the guys in front and then up his pace when the opportunity presents itself. More and more, it's apparent that if he hadn't been taken out by Marco Simoncelli at Le Mans, he'd be giving this year's championship a real nudge. As long-time GP fans will be aware, there used to be a time when he struggled with worn tires towards the end of races and started to fade. Not any more, it seems.
Amazingly, it's now Casey Stoner who appears to be having serious rubber issues towards the latter half of races. I can't explain why this is. Maybe the team are struggling for a bike set-up that performs over the whole race distance. Maybe Casey's running less traction control than Dani, and this is causing his tires to wear faster. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, he needs to sort it out fairly quickly if he wants to retain his championship lead. I still maintain my position that Casey is the fastest rider out there, but he needs to start converting his unquestioned raw pace to race wins once again.
One thing's for sure, Jorge Lorenzo won't wait for him to make the adjustment and will be quick to capitalize on any weakness. In fact, if you look closely at the Yamaha, you'll notice that it conserves the rear tire towards the end of races better than any other bike out there. It might lack a few extra high-tech goodies compared to the Honda, but it is still clearly a very formidable machine in the right hands.SUPER SPIES
Having been stuck on a plane somewhere between Sydney and Barcelona during the running of the Dutch TT a few weeks back, I've finally had a chance to view a replay of Ben Spies' maiden MotoGP win. It was a super impressive performance and one I think Ben really needed to get under his belt after a fairly indifferent start to the season. Clearly, it was a weekend where everything just clicked and he was able to run at a pace that no one could match.
Of course, Simoncelli did him a huge favor on lap-one by taking out Lorenzo, who I think would have been the only rider capable of challenging him for the win. Would Ben have beaten Jorge fair and square? We'll never know. The big question now is, can Ben follow it up with more wins? Can he become a consistent MotoGP front-runner? I think it's possible, but it will be a very tough assignment. Tellingly, he found things a bit tougher the next time out at Mugello and was quite a way from the race for the lead.
He also found it hard to match his World Champion teammate in Germany, although it's true his health wasn't the best. At this point, I think it's clear that guys like Casey, Dani, Jorge and even Dovi still have the clear edge in ability and consistency. With that in mind, I think Ben will do it tough to win another one this year, although next week's round at Laguna Seca will be his best chance of doing so. He may have to wait until 2012 to make the next big step, but we'll just have to wait until then to see if he has what it takes to be a true championship contender.