Slipping stealthily underneath the radar of fans and pundits alike, Dani Pedrosa made it a remarkable eight-different-winners-in-eight-consecutive-races in MotoGP when he took a surprise victory at the San Marino GP in Misano last time out. As the race got under way, Pedrosa was down on the third row of the grid in eighth, and featured in very few experts’ tips for the win.
He made an excellent start, a once failsafe part of his ammunition, and after ending the first lap in sixth, gradually picked off the riders expected to run out victorious one by one. Viñales on lap five, Dovizioso on lap seven. His team-mate Marquez came next on lap 14, before he squeezed through on the factory Yamaha duo of Lorenzo, then Rossi to claim a first win since the drama of Sepang last year.
In doing so he kept up his run of having won in every single season he has competed in MotoGP – that’s 29 victories since his premier class debut in 2006. In fact, before Misano he was in his most barren spell since the last time he went a campaign without winning a race -in his debut as a 15-year-old rookie in 2001.
The diminutive Spaniard boasts some impressive stats, and is without a doubt the nearly-man of the motorcycling elite. His two worst finishes in the championship in all those years have been his rookie terms of 2001 (8th in 125cc) and 2006 (5th in MotoGP). A triple world champion (125cc in 2003, and 250cc in 2004/5), he has been runner-up in the MotoGP championship three times, and only outside the top-four once (that debut season), which is exactly the reason why he has continued to win himself a Repsol Honda contract year-on-year.
The Sabadell-born rider has often been bizarrely pilloried by some fans because of his stature. Whereas a 5’2” frame perhaps offered some advantage in the lower classes, the brutal physicality required to pilot a MotoGP bike has more often than not been found wanting for Pedrosa at crucial moments, so perhaps he should be lauded for overcoming the challenge.
He has never been a demon braker, and so struggles in head-to-head battles, which is why to see him block-pass his way through the order in Misano was so impressive. Whilst he may have some advantages in terms of mass under acceleration, in recent seasons this has meant he struggled to generate heat in the rear tyre.
The rule-changes at the start of this season were expected to work in Pedrosa’s favour, so much so that I remember one of his camp urging me to put money on his title chances for 2016. However, Pedrosa and Michelin have a chequered past. In 2008 he made a shock switch mid-season to Bridgestone tyres, ironically after their performance at the San Marino GP and this season he had limped to just two podium finishes.
That is perhaps more of a reflection of the Honda’s capabilities this year than the tyres however, but in choosing a soft front in Misano, Pedrosa found the key to unlocking his potential. There has been a lot of crossover in tyre performance for Michelin this season, whereas with the Bridgestones we would see most riders opt for a similar compound.
In recent races the front tyre choice in particular has been crucial. Where Iannone and Viñales had stuck their neck out to win previously, Pedrosa was the only rider apart from Pirro to go with the soft front in Italy. Most intriguingly, he made this choice coupled with the decision to not run with the winglets, something he also chose to avoid in the last two races.
My Spanish colleague Manuel Pecino, esteemed journalist for Solo Moto, puts this down to the physicality required with wings attached. And seeing the multi-winged Ducati riders like Iannone struggle with arm-pump recently, and Dovizioso taping his hands up like a pro boxer, there is clearly a ring of truth around that.
My question is with the wings banished in 2017, is Pedrosa able to keep progressing through the remainder of 2016 to get his Honda in shape to be a title contender again next year? He has already decided to switch his crew chief for next season, from Ramon Aurín to Giacomo Guidotti, currently Scott Redding’s main man. Having tested the 2017 Honda for the first time following that Misano success, it could well be that the pocket-sized Catalan is playing the long game.
Photo by CormacGP