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OPINION - PUBLISHED ON JULY 7TH 2010
Toby Moody

Catalunya's crashes were a warning for the future
There were some huge crashes and lucky escapes during the MotoGP weekend at Catalunya. Toby Moody explains why lessons need to be learned before it's too late

Barcelona was probably the hottest weekend I've ever spent at a European race meeting since I started commentating on MotoGP in 1996. Jarama 1998 comes pretty close, but it wasn't the kind of heat I felt in the pitlane on Saturday morning – yes, morning. The first umbrella girl fell over at 10:30, while the hot black ashpalt grilled the underside of my feet to a medium-well finish.

Just how the riders coped with it is obvious - they're young, in full fitness (well, most of them) and are distracted by the concentration of trying to thread 240bhp down the straight at 205mph.

The home straight and Turn 1 were a point I raised over Friday and Saturday conversations in the paddock. Moto2 always had that inevitability of tears into the first corner. It's a long ol' way from the grid to where they peel into the right hander and some lunatic was always going to think it a good idea to leave his braking 15 metres later than on his best lap in qualifying on an empty tank. And that's just what happened.

In reality, it was worse than that when the experienced, but injured, Alex Debon was that man up on the right hand side, getting squeezed as everyone else peeled in. Debon started deep on the grid and was at his home race in front of his home sponsors - braking on the grass wasn't even the start of it.

Debon had flipped the previous weekend in Holland, breaking his collarbone. But he was allowed to start in Barcelona with it recently plated, and with two broken fingers. Yes, you did read that correctly.

From the helicopter camera view, it was no wonder he couldn't hold on as the accordion effect kicked in. The others had no chance. It was just like 2006 in the MotoGP race, or like 1998 in the 500cc race when Fujiwara did exactly the same thing on his Suzuki. That day he took out the pole man and local hero Alex Criville, and Jean-Michel Bayle. The 2006 melee was triggered by Sete Gibernau's brake lever tagging the back of Loris Capirossi. Gibernau was never fully fit again, while Capirossi arguably lost a chance of the title there and then.

Already-injured Alex Debon (upside down) triggered the Moto2 Turn 1 crash © LAT

I predicted there'd be carnage because it was the furthest run to the first corner of the year, and the speeds would be the greatest - never mind the fact that there were 42 of them all trying to fit. It just doesn't happen.

The biggest loser on Sunday was Shoya Tomizawa, who would have coped brilliantly on worn tyres towards the end of the race. But he was in the sand pit before the others had even got into Turn 3.

Two minutes later and the pack arrived on the scene with yellow flags waving, someone overtook, totally oblivious to the yellows. It was the man of the moment, Andrea Iannone, who slotted past Thomas Luthi, so nearly bringing with him Julian Simon - the Spaniard just, just stopping himself at the last moment upon seeing the flags.

True, Iannone was ahead of the accident on the first lap so didn't know it had happened, but he's a racer and should know the rules, especially as though a pile up was more on the cards than not. If he or the team didn't discuss that, they need to next time. Like, next time, at the Sachsenring.

Iannone was eventually handed out the new penalty of 'could you possibly give the place back to the guy you passed under yellows, please, there's a good chap' rule that was missed by the majority of the paddock when it was brought in.

This was to be shown to Iannone from the start/finish line by the circuit officials for five laps, but they didn't hold out the board during one pass of the Italian over the line, so he didn't get it for the full five laps (if the team was being picky). He then got his ride-through penalty and the equlibrium was balanced out. I say this because passing under yellows is no small matter as by the very definition there are marshals tending to another rider who's crashed, and one day that may well be you, Andrea, in the gravel.

Iannone later said he thought it was for the Niccolo Canepa fireball crash, but he was convinced he hadn't done anything wrong at that point on the track. Indeed he hadn't, but he was probably being a bit economical with the truth about why he thought race direction were on to him.

Rightly or wrongly, if you have a penalty you've got to do as you're told as it's easier to just do it than think your brain out there is better than all the hundreds of others watching replays in the paddock.

The long run down to the first corner at Catalunya © LAT

He said he 'thought' about giving the place back to the guy then in second, Yuki Takahashi, but decided he'd argue the toss later with the stewards. Just where do riders get these ideas from? American 'save the world' blockbuster movies?

I write this in frustration because Iannone is riding one of the most amazing seasons, now the Fimco 'Speed Up' team has got the measure of the bike. It's the old Aprilia 250 mechanics running the garage with an awful lot of never-raced-Aprilia Moto2 technology in the bike, a crossover of 250cc domination of recent years and World Superbike Championship-leading RS4 know how.

There are some very clever guys in that pit and it's showing to Iannone's favour, while all the others ahead of him the championship are either losing confidence (Elias), breaking collarbones (Luthi), losing early season speed or having two non-scores (Tomizawa). Iannone is riding like the wind, possibly even better than Marc Marquez and easily better than anyone in MotoGP considering this is a one engine championship.

Ten races remain and he's 41 points behind Elias, the leader. Even with this set back at Catalunya, he can still do it - but boy it's going to be a hell of a scrap for that first Moto2 title.

Meanwhile, at the front, Yuki Takahashi won his first Moto2 race on a chassis that was welded up in the paddock on Friday night by Guy Coulon - two large aluminium plates being added onto the side of the Mistral chassis in the back of the truck, just like the good old days…

Then the spine chilling accident. Kenny Noyes and Carmelo Morales were battling for seventh place following American Noyes' fight back through the field from 28th on lap one after he had to take to the gravel trap at Turn 1 because of the Debon accident.

Noyes: "Man, that was one hell of a last lap. We passed each other four times but my best one was when I did a Rossi into the last corner. I just ploughed the front through there, all the way. But I got him to the line. I had no idea he tagged the back of me."

Morales clipped the back of the Harris chassis and fell, clattering to the ground at over 150mph, veering to the left against the wall. Then the bike hit the stricken Spaniard over the back of the neck while the speed was being scrubbed off.

It all happened in front of us, as the commentary box at Catalunya is all glass-fronted and overhangs the grandstand and front straight, so we had the widescreen of all widescreen views. I really did fear the worst, but amazingly Carmelo was out of hospital in a couple of hours and eating in the team's hospitality.

The first three in Moto2, Yuki Takahasi, Julian Simon and the injured Thomas Luthi © LAT

Grand prix racing is lucky to have got away without anything more serious than the injuries sustained on Sunday at Barcelona, but sooner or later it'll catch up with the sport.

Sure, it's a dangerous thing, riding motorcycles - as we saw with the Morales accident - but surely the powers that be have the biggest question to answer in letting one of the most experienced riders in the field ride with injuries and weaknesses that may well have triggered that first corner incident.

If someone had lost their life in that first corner melee, fingers would have gone towards those who signed off the guy to ride. Let's never get to that point, but instead have some stricter fitness tests for the sake of saving someone's life.

  FEATURES FROM JUL 1, 2010 - JUL 7, 2010
Why FOTA is in debt to the fans
By Dieter Rencken
How moveable rear wings will affect racing
By Tony Dodgins
European GP technical review
By Gary Anderson
Bamber's Week
By Jim Bamber
Catalunya's crashes were a warning
By Toby Moody
The British GP preview
By Edd Straw
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