Any doubt that Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez is giving Movistar Yamaha star Jorge Lorenzo anxiety attacks was erased roughly two seconds before the start of today’s Grand Prix of the Americas. Lorenzo, desperate to regain some momentum after a disastrous performance in Qatar, jumped the start as badly as a teenaged bridegroom on his wedding night. Confusion at the start gave way to a fairly predictable outcome in this, the season of Jorge Lorenzo’s discontent.
What was expected to be a Repsol Honda clambake in Texas turned out to be just that, as Marquez and teammate Dani Pedrosa obliterated the field, propelling Honda to the ninth win in their last nine races on American soil. Notably, Marquez became the first premier class rider since Mick Doohan in 1995 to start and win the first two races of the season from pole position. If there was any disappointment for HRC it concerned LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, who was unable to hold onto his third place start and lost out on a second career podium to, of all people, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati with an asterisk, a mediocre Factory bike made competitive only by its Open class fuel load.
Lorenzo’s faux pas at the start also appeared to ruin the day’s prospects for Aleix Espargaro, who had qualified fourth on the NGM Forward Racing Open class Yamaha. While Lorenzo was busy earning a ride-through penalty, Espargaro appeared glued to the tarmac as the lights went out, and dropped like a brick from fourth place to 12th. From there, he would eventually finish 9th, providing a mirror image of his results in Qatar, where he started ninth and finished fourth. Oh, and turning my speculation concerning his podium-worthiness to sheer nonsense.
While Marquez and Pedrosa were going off on their own for a ride in the country and a picnic, the battle for the third podium spot raged on. For most of the day, it was the property of one Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati, as strange a sight as we’ve seen in MotoGP for years. Crazy Joe must have literally ridden the tires off his Desmosedici, as he faded badly late in the day, ending up in seventh place.
Early in the race, Iannone held off challenges from Cal Crutchlow, Bradl, and Valentino Rossi, causing me to think he might actually do the impossible, given his miserable rookie year in 2013. During the last half dozen laps, though, he could only watch as Dovi, Bradl, Bradley Smith on the satellite Yamaha and, finally, Smith’s rookie teammate Pol Espargaro went by. Nonetheless, he had the satisfaction of crossing the finish line ahead of Rossi, his countryman and idol.
Rossi, for his part, joined Lorenzo in the Yamaha pity party after the race. Although he was laboring during the practice sessions on a track ill-suited to his bike’s strengths, he kept up this chatter all weekend, wanting us to believe he and Jorge had a little something up their sleeves that would throw sand in the Repsol team’s seamless gearbox. Alas, it was not to be.
Rossi finished Lap 6 3/10ths of a second out of third place, looking like The Doctor. By the end of Lap 11 he was sitting eighth, a full five seconds off the podium. He ended his day in eighth position, 25 seconds off the podium, looking like he NEEDED a doctor, in one of the first six races of 2014 he describes as crucial in determining whether to continue in MotoGP next year or not.
Paging the REAL Jorge Lorenzo
While Rossi’s day was troubling, Lorenzo’s can only be described as bizarre. For years, he has been Mr. Consistency, Mr. Unflappable, churning out one fast lap after another, seemingly oblivious to the struggles of those around him. Now, in a contract year, he crashes out of the lead in Qatar and makes a rookie mistake – a Moto3-sized rookie mistake – in a critical situation in Austin, where he would have needed a virtually flawless performance just to podium. For the season, he currently resides in 16th place, trailing the likes of Hiro Aoyama, Yonny Hernandez, rookie Scott Redding and the ancient, soon-to-be-retired Colin Edwards, in the hunt for the 2014 title.
For a number of reasons mostly having to do with his professional comportment and disciplined approach to his work, Jorge Lorenzo is maybe my favorite single rider on the grid. It pains me to have to say it, but it ain’t gonna happen this year, Jorge. Your success in even-numbered years has come to an end. I suspect your Japanese masters are equally concerned about your future with the team. As Yogi Berra once observed about big league baseball, 90% of the sport is 50% mental. Marquez, it seems, has made his way under your skin, and he is six years younger than you, in a young man’s game. The Catalan problem is here to stay.
Elsewhere on the Grid
In addition to the miserable days enjoyed by Messrs. Lorenzo and Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, piloting the factory Ducati he so fervently sought, had what some might describe as a very Ducati day himself. The good news – he managed to avoid the electronics issues that have plagued him off and on since the beginning of the year. The bad news – the bike was performing so poorly early on that he found it necessary to pit on Lap 10 to change from the medium to the soft rear tire. Rejoining the party in last place, he pushed his new, cold, soft rear tire too hard, experienced a violent low-side crash, and had to be carried off the track with apparent damage to his right hand or wrist.
Riders having had a positive outing in Austin, in addition to Dovizioso, who came from 10th place at the start to his podium finish, included Bradley Smith (started eighth, finished fifth) and rookie Pol Espargaro (started 11th, finished sixth.) The “Taller than Mickey Rooney” award today was shared by Crutchlow (top Ducati qualifier in seventh) and Nicky Hayden (top Customer Honda finisher in 11th position). For Hayden, who started the race mired between rookie Redding and Pramac Ducati rider Hernandez, World Superbike must be looking better every day.
Two Weeks to Argentina
The playing field gets leveled for Round Three, as the MotoGP grid takes it on the road to South America for the Gran Premio Red Bull de la Republica Argentina. From the air, the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo seems to be one of the flowing layouts that have typically been friendly to the Yamaha set. But the issues confronting the Movistar Yamaha garage – Lorenzo’s mental Mardi Gras, Rossi’s advancing age – combined with the extra-terrestrial performance of the Repsol Honda team render any apparent advantage moot.
One of the things my wife hates about the NFL (and there are plenty) is when game announcers gravely describe a week three game as “critical” for some team. Yet, in an 18 round MotoGP season, it’s safe to say that the Argentine Grand Prix represents a critical juncture for team Yamaha. A third outing to start the 2014 season that finds Marquez and Pedrosa standing on the top two steps of the podium may force Fox Sports 1, which has expanded its U.S. coverage of the sport to two hours on race days, to air re-runs of The Simpsons, rather than more images of Lin Jarvis holding his head in his hands.
|2014 MotoGP COTA Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+4.124|
|3||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+20.976|
|4||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+22.790|
|5||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+22.963|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+26.567|
|7||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+28.257|
|8||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+45.519|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+47.605|
|10||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+49.111|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 2 Rounds|
|5||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||20|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|