If you had watched only the first six laps of today’s Indianapolis Grand Prix, you might think the Marquez magic had ended back in July. It was an absolute dogfight, with Italians on Yamahas and Ducatis holding the upper hand, or hands. Ultimately, though, as the day wore on, the natural order of things in the premier class was restored, and Marc Marquez secured his 10th win in 10 tries in 2014.
One thing at the Brickyard has definitely changed, and for the better. The reconfiguration of the infield section of the track and the new racing surface therein has switched Indy from a “Honda track” to “Yamaha track.” Compared to past years, there is much more flow, and less stop/start, such that Marquez’ qualifying time on Saturday fell by more than six seconds from last year, though the circuit is barely 50 meters shorter than it had been. Further proof is evidenced by the fact that all four Yamaha prototype bikes finished in the top six today, with a double podium to boot. And if the IMS folks were to just throw up their hands and run the GP on the 2½ mile oval, it’s possible one of the factory Yamahas could actually beat Marquez’ Repsol Honda.
Otherwise, as they say in New Jersey, fuggedaboudit.
Italians Fast While they Last
Polesitter Marquez enjoyed a rather leisurely start to the race, slipping from first to fourth or fifth in the first few turns. As the leaders de-bunched, it was Valentino Rossi leading the Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, with Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo a bit farther back. Lap 1 also saw Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac Ducati and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda get tangled up and out of the race. Though it was never shown on the broadcast, I’m willing to believe that it was Bautista who tagged Hernandez, especially after watching the Spaniard go all ragdoll in a spectacular FP4 highside on Saturday.
Though it would be unfair to argue that the Ducati contingent has not shown noticeable progress this year under the hand of Gigi D’alligna, there are still plenty of issues to be sorted out at Ducati Corse. The first is that they devour tires; the modified Open option they somehow cajoled from Dorna has its downside. Thus, they are often very quick early, but can also be counted on to fade later in the day, unless racing in the snow at Assen. Dovizioso started the day challenging for the lead and ended it 21 seconds behind Marquez. Secondly, they have this annoying tendency to just stop running, leaving riders (in today’s case Iannone) leaning casually against a wall a mile from the pit area wanting to punch someone in the throat. Cal Crutchlow has enjoyed this experience more than once this year, and it needs to stop. One basically never (never) sees this from the Hondas and Yamahas.
As for the King of the Italians, Valentino Rossi looked frisky and fast leading the first five laps, until he and Dovizioso touched on Lap 6, running them both wide and allowing Marquez to sneak from third place into first. Lorenzo, running at the absolute limit all day, went through on Dovizioso into third place. And although Rossi would go through on Marquez again briefly on Lap 8, by Lap 12 Marquez was running in clean air with Lorenzo in hot pursuit. Rossi spent the last 15 laps making sure Dani Pedrosa, who had both qualified and selected his race tires poorly, didn’t snake him for the last podium spot, spoiling, in the process, my prediction for the podium result today. What’s up, Dani?
Elsewhere on the Grid
As we often see in the midst of the so-called silly season, riders whose fortunes are changing, or whose fortunes have been changed for them, often approach their final days with their current teams in different fashions. Today’s examples, class, are Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl and Scott Redding.
Crutchlow, who forced Ducati management to pay him to leave town, is understandably less committed to absorbing bodily injury than he was when it appeared he would be wearing red for another year. His practice sessions were undistinguished, and it was only a single fast lap at the end of Q1 that got him into Q2, where he promptly finished 12th and last. The only reason he managed a respectable eighth place finish today was that four of the riders who usually beat him like a drum – Iannone, Aleix Espargaro, Bradl and Bautista – retired from the scrum. Cal probably didn’t even need to shower after today’s race, just got dressed and headed for the plane and another half-assed effort next week.
Bradl is showing much of the same lack of competitive spirit. He qualified a rousing 10th despite a white-hot lap in FP3, and was loafing in 9th place on Lap 12 when he completely lost focus and rammed the back of Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Racing Yamaha, taking himself out of the race and leaving the Spaniard well out in the runoff area with an annoying insurance claim to deal with.
Compare these two to rookie Scott Redding, who has been stuck all year paying dues on a very slow customer Honda on the Gresini team. Redding, who by now must know he is inheriting Bautista’s factory spec prototype next season, attacked Q1, moved through to Q2 where he spanked Crutchlow, and rode his ass off today, eventually finishing 7/10ths of a second behind his countryman, whose factory Ducati can go roughly twice as fast as his own Honda plodder. Redding showed character, fire and determination, and Fausto Gresini is going to love this guy on a real motorcycle starting next year. If it were me, I would put him on the RC213V next week, but that’s just me.
Farther Down the Food Chain
There was joy in the Paul Byrd Motorsports (a bit of an overstatement, in my opinion) garage today as both Broc Parkes AND Michael Laverty scored championship points. On the same day! Leaving the team with a grand total of nine (9) points for the year. What a pleasure it will be next year watching a new factory Suzuki outfit rather than this operation.
Homeboy Colin Edwards, in his final appearance in a MotoGP race on American soil, managed to score a coupla points, which was nice. What was touching was watching him and his wife together during the national anthem, both visibly moved by the moment. Edwards has announced his intention to race at Silverstone and Valencia before calling it a career. Journeyman Alex de Angelis will be taking his place at the remaining events, which is always good for a laugh.
Next Week: Brno
After sitting around for a month, MotoGP goes for three races in four weeks, with next week’s tilt at the financially desperate Brno circuit in the Czech Republic. This will likely be the last visit to Brno for the foreseeable future, which the Yamaha contingent, at least, will regret, as it is one of the tracks in the Yamaha column on the calendar. Marquez will have the chance to break another all-time record by starting the season with 11 consecutive wins. Personally, I like his chances.
|2014 MotoGP Indianapolis Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+1.803|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+6.558|
|4||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+10.016|
|5||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+17.807|
|6||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+19.604|
|7||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+20.759|
|8||Cal Crutchlow||Ducati Corse||+39.796|
|9||Scott Redding||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+40.507|
|10||Hiroshi Aoyama||Drive M7 Aspar||+55.760|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 10 Rounds|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||77|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|