The 800th MotoGP premier class race in history started today in conditions resembling the first, held in 1949 as the Isle of Man TT – cloudy, damp and cool. When the weather here is dry, the place looks like something straight out of Mad Max; the only things missing are the sidecars and tanker trucks. When it rains, anything can happen, as today’s results demonstrated.
The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon started under cloudy skies with a dry track, and had the makings of a typical all-Alien rout. Despite being hosted by the primary factory Yamaha team sponsor, both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo struggled all weekend, unable to find any grip or pace in practice. That they would qualify 6th and 7th, respectively, was actually something of a pleasant surprise, with Rossi having had to go through Q1 to get there. Meanwhile, the Repsol Hondas were blistering the tarmac, with putative champion Marc Marquez qualifying on the pole and teammate Dani Pedrosa second. The rest of the grid spent Friday and Saturday blowing engines, setting bikes on fire (Hector Barbera’s shiny new Avintia Ducati 14.2 converted into a smoking pile of black ash) and sliding off all over the place.
Of special note prior to the start were the efforts of Ducati Corse and Magician-in-Chief Gigi Dall’Igna to provide machinery for every taste and budget. The result of their frantic preparations found factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso and rising Pramac star Andrea Iannone seated on the new GP14.2, and Avintia’s Barbera on a GP14.2 equipped with the spec ECU and open class software (providing a glimpse of 2016.) Pramac’s luckless #2 Yonny Hernandez and factory defector Cal Crutchlow were left to wrestle standard GP14s, hoping for rain. That their prayers were eventually answered shows the fickle nature of the racing gods, as follows.
A Dry First Half
The race announcers referred all day to “the mist”, an apparently British form of precipitation that had been thundering down on the track early in the morning, yielding to the more common form later in the day. And while it was officially declared a dry race at the start, the grass and runoff areas were bogs.
At the start, Iannone shot to the front from the #3 hole, followed in close order by Marquez, Lorenzo – on fire out of the #7 hole – and Pedrosa, with Rossi and Pol Espargaro not far behind. Iannone and Marquez traded positions twice on Lap 2 before Iannone, in the lead, ran wide and left the racing surface, something we have seen riders do hundreds of times.
Typically, riders in this particular pickle run into the grass, slow way down, and eventually get things turned around, returning to the track down a few positions but otherwise intact. But as Iannone and, on Lap 4, Rossi discovered the hard way, today’s off-track conditions were anything but typical. Once they hit the grass, in almost identical postures, their bikes virtually stopped, throwing them over the handlebars, rider and machine then going ragdoll until coming to rest next to the wall. Iannone walked off, but Rossi was removed on a stretcher, reported later to be okay with the exception of a possible concussion. Thus, at the close of Lap 4, the leaders were Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Pol Espargaro and Dovizioso.
By mid-race, Lorenzo and Marquez had traded positions a few times, Pedrosa sat in third awaiting disaster in front of him, the rest of the field trailing, with Dovizioso having taking over fourth place from Espargaro the Younger. At this point, the racing gods yielded to the rain gods, and Round 14 of the 2014 season, #800 of all time, became perhaps the most memorable contest of the year.
The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain
By Lap 16, the mist had become something stronger, what we Americans call “rain”, with Race Direction waving first a white flag, then a white flag with a red cross taped to it, indicating the riders could return to the pits to swap out their machines for #2 bikes set up for the wet. Marquez and Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo, the expectation at that point that all three would pit together, with the Repsol teammates then going mano-a-mano to the flag, leaving Lorenzo a demoralizing third. Lap 17 saw Pedrosa and Marquez exchange places at least five times, leaving HRC kahuna Livio Suppo gasping for breath and Lorenzo dropping off the pace.
On Lap 18, Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro became the first rider to enter the pits followed in quick succession by pretty much everyone but the three remaining Alien leaders, who were still surfing around the circuit on slicks. Dovizioso crashed out on Lap 19, reducing the second GP14.2 to an engine, two wheels and a pile of recyclable materials. On a crucial Lap 20, Lorenzo pitted and Pedrosa crashed out of second place, got up, ran what seemed like a quarter mile to his idling RC213V, got it up and running and headed gingerly for the pits.
What did NOT happen on Lap 20 was Marquez entering the pits. For whatever reason – youthful exuberance, inexperience, a sense of infallibility – the defending champion rode past pit lane, his crew gesticulating wildly and thoroughly ignored. This single decision, reminiscent of his unfortunate DQ at Phillip Island last year, when he also pitted too late, cost him the win today. Inevitably, later in the lap, Marquez, now hydroplaning, lost the front, went down, and paid the price for his willfulness.
On Lap 21, the rain having become a downpour, Lorenzo found himself in the lead, with Marquez, still on slicks, still ignoring his team, acting like a stubborn child, his bike in tatters, dropping like a stone in the standings, finishing the lap in 10th position. Finally, on Lap 22, Aleix Espargaro having taken over second place, and Cal Crutchlow having miraculously materialized in third, Marquez entered pit lane, traded bikes, and returned to the track. Ultimately, he and teammate Pedrosa would cross the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Perhaps “disrespectively” would better describe their conditions at the end. Amazingly, while their day was ruined, their seasons were essentially unaffected by the day’s debacle.
The Big Picture
The most noteworthy occurrence at the 2014 Aragon GP was the historic performance of Aleix Espargaro, who deservedly became the first open class rider to secure a podium finish, providing, along with Barbera’s machine, a glimpse into the MotoGP world of 2016. The defiant Crutchlow proved little else but that the Desmosedici can be competitive in the rain; on a normal day, he would have finished no better than sixth.
Remarkably, the standings at the top remained essentially unchanged. Marquez, who deserves to be taken to the woodshed by his ever-present father, came to Aragon leading Pedrosa by 74 points and left leading by 75. Pedrosa’s lead over Rossi for second place jumped from one to three points. Lorenzo was the big winner, gaining 25 points on his teammate, whom he now trails by only 12. Marquez’s magic number heading for the Pacific flyaway rounds is one, but it looks to be a dogfight for the next three positions for the 2014 season. MotoGP fans, I’m sure, join us in hoping Valentino Rossi is good to go for Motegi and beyond.
Postscript – The podium celebrations today were marred by the first ever, at least in my memory, appearance of a podium GUY. Usually, we are treated to the sight of two long-stemmed local beauties getting sprayed with champagne after the trophies have been handed out and the Spanish national anthem hummed. Hopefully, this appalling display of gender equality will, in the future, be confined to the workplaces and legislative chambers where it belongs. I, for one, am not ready for a big photo spread in this publication of Motorcycle Hunks.
|2014 MotoGP Aragon Top Ten Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Racing||+10.295|
|3||Cal Crutchlow||Ducati Corse||+10.312|
|4||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+11.718|
|5||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+29.483|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+29.686|
|7||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+29.763|
|8||Hiroshi Aoyama||Drive M7 Aspar||+37.841|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Drive M7 Aspar||+42.957|
|10||Scott Redding||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+53.937|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 14 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha *||112|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|