The conditions confronting the riders and teams at the 2014 Iveco Daily TT Assen couldn’t have been worse. It had rained off and on all weekend, and race day featured everything from bright sunshine to hail (hail!) prior to the Moto2 tilt. The MotoGP teams were confounded by tire choices as the flag-to-flag contest unfurled. But when the rain and smoke cleared, Repsol Honda sophomore Marc Marquez had made it 8-for-8 in 2014.
Round Eight of the 2014 season provided perfect conditions for upsets amongst the usual suspects. Jack Miller, leading the Moto3 league, crashed out of his race on Lap 2, leaving the door open for Marc’s little brother Alex Marquez to win again today and significantly tighten the 2014 race. In Moto2, the feel good moment of the year occurred as Ant West, the grizzled field horse, doubled his career win total by prevailing on a drying track, winning for the second time in his grand prix career at the site of his first win back in 2003. As this goes to press, our crack research team is hunting down the “longest period between wins, career” stat in the archives.
Qualifying on Friday was a cluster. GO&FUN Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and factory Ducati Brit Cal Crutchlow had managed to sneak through Q1. Though the track for Q2 was dry, rain was fast approaching. The riders knew they would need to get their flying laps in early, the result being that the session looked like a race, with most of the 12 riders grouped together up front. Marquez appeared to have streaked to the pole with perhaps eight minutes left. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha flew across the start/finish line, 1.4 seconds better than Marquez for the first pole by a non-major factory rider in over a decade. The eight minute qualifying session ended with Espargaro, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on the front row, Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone, Crutchlow and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Bradley Smith on the second, and a dazed Jorge Lorenzo funking around in 9th place.
Wet at the Start, Dry at the Finish
Rain was falling as the big bikes lined up on the grid, the sky a patchwork of blue skies and black rainclouds. Factory Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati wannabe Yonny Hernandez were the only riders opting to start the race on slicks. Rossi changed his mind on the sighting lap, opting to start on rain tires from pit lane; having qualified 12th, he wasn’t giving up that much. Hernandez stuck to his guns, resulting in two (2!) tire changes during the race and a 19th place finish, a lap down to Marquez and company.
As is usually the case at the start of a race, the qualifying order became jumbled immediately. Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez jumped out in front of Pedrosa, Espargaro and pesky overachiever Iannone. By Lap 2, Lorenzo had worked his way up to 6th place as the rain, which had been pouring down minutes earlier, pretty much stopped. For the Ducati riders, wet tracks are the great equalizer, as the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas drops down to where the Ducati runs all the time. Thus, at the end of Lap 4, the top six riders included Dovizioso in second, Iannone in fifth and Crutchlow in sixth. Alas, the rain stopped spitting, and the Aliens, or at least most of them, began heading for the front of the pack.
By Lap 6, Dovizioso was again sniffing Marquez’s rear, and it was time to switch bikes. The leaders pitted, did their Pony Express thing, and exited pit lane on slicks. During this Brief Shining Moment, Lorenzo held the lead with Nicky Hayden, who had managed to qualify 22nd, occupying second place. The two would ultimately finish 13th and 17th, respectively; Assen’s reputation as The Cathedral would be incomplete without a few martyrs.
Drama on Lap 7
Pushing hard on his out lap, Marquez ran wide, briefly went walkabout, and re-entered the fray trailing Dovizioso by four seconds, with Aspar plodder Hiro Aoyama sandwiched between the two fast movers. By then, the sky was mostly black, and it appeared another Pony Express change was in the wind. Had it occurred, with a number of the riders, including Aoyama, still on their rain tires, the results could have easily gotten scrambled.
Marquez, along with his other traits, proved today that he is highly adaptive to changing conditions, and just plain lucky. Lucky, in that the rain held off, allowing him to methodically track down Dovizioso on Lap 16 and ultimately win by almost seven seconds. Early on, while the race was being delayed, neither he nor his team appeared excited or anxious while confusion reigned. Again, we were reminded of the words of Kipling, who wrote of being able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Crew chiefs were turning purple yelling instructions at their mechanics, and riders were running back and forth to the bathrooms. During all this, Marquez appeared relaxed, almost bored. I found myself wondering how often he shaves, if ever. With his smooth chin and easy smile he looks like a high school kid waiting for his date to finish doing her hair.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Aleix Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa fought a day-long duel for third place, with the racing world pulling hard for Espargaro, but it was not to be. Rossi, a mile behind the eight ball at the start, rode the wheels off his Yamaha YZR-M1, ultimately finishing fifth ahead of amico Iannone in fifth. Bautista managed not to cause any mayhem and moved up from 10th at the start to seventh at the close, followed by Smith, Crutchlow and LCR Honda’s Stafan Bradl.
The Big Picture
Marquez, now at 200 for 200, leads Pedrosa and Rossi by 72 points. Dovizioso sits in fourth, with a thoroughly messed up Jorge Lorenzo suffering in fifth place. Aleix Espargaro jumped ahead of brother Pol, who crashed twice today before retiring. Bradl, Iannone and Smith complete the top ten.
The Good News and the Bad News
If there is any good news for the riders at the top of the standings not named Marquez, it is that they are all relatively healthy. No broken collarbones sticking out like at this time last year, no ankles held together with screws and adhesive tape. The bad news is that The Sachsenring, next up on the calendar, is one of the two most Honda-friendly circuits on the tour, along with Motegi.
There is no reason to believe that Marquez will fail to repeat his win there last year, which would leave him undefeated at the halfway point of the season. With MotoGP’s annual summer vacation kicking in after that, the grid will have to deal with a rested and refreshed #93 when racing starts up again at Indianapolis in August. Awesome.
Since March, the concept of The Undefeated Season has shifted from Impossible to Implausible to Unlikely to Possible. If it continues, we will be forced to reverse our linguistic field, returning to Impossible on the eve of Valencia in November.
It could happen.
|2014 MotoGP Assen Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+6.714|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+10.791|
|4||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+19.199|
|5||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+25.813|
|6||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+29.003|
|7||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+30.882|
|8||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+30.985|
|9||Cal Crutchlow||Ducati Corse||+44.031|
|10||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+48.662|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 8 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||67|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|