On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon in southern Spain, Marc Marquez took care of business, becoming the first polesitter to win in Jerez since Nicky Hayden in 2006. He is the first rider to win the first four races of the season since Valentino Rossi in 2002. He checked off Jerez on his list of Tracks Where I’ve Won Races, the last venue on the 2014 tour to make the list. He is undefeated since clinching the world championship at Valencia in 2013. In short, at age 21, he is the bomb-diggity of the MotoGP world.
Before getting into the race itself, which was a procession up front and a dogfight in the middle of the pack, consider for a moment what it must be like to be #1 in the world at anything at age 21. How about hitting .450 and winning the World Series? Earning a ring while canning 40 points a game in the NBA? Capturing the Grand Slam in the PGA? For the Canadians reading this, scoring 200 points per season and hoisting Sir Stanley’s trophy? Doing whatever it is they do at Manchester United really really well? You get the point. The question for Marquez is, other than the monotony of winning championship after championship for the next umpteen years, what’s left?
The 2014 Gran Premio bwin de España
Today’s race was riveting for perhaps the first half of the first lap, with Marquez on the Repsol Honda, Valentino Rossi and the desperate Jorge Lorenzo on the Movistar Yamahas, and dark horse Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati all leading the race for a few seconds. Things sorted themselves out fairly quickly, with Marquez taking the lead followed by Rossi, Lorenzo and, by Lap 2, Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa. Marquez then laid down a vapor trail and disappeared, leaving the other three Aliens free to slug it out all day for the less-cool spots on the podium. Things stayed this way until Lap 21, when Pedrosa finally managed to go through on Lorenzo, crushing his spirit on what had to be a miserable 27th birthday for the Mallorcan.
At day’s end, Marquez and Rossi appeared jubilant, Rossi having secured his second podium of the year. At the post-race presser, Pedrosa appeared tired and subdued. Lorenzo, naturally, was not invited to meet the press. Having a hard time imagining what it’s like to be on top of the world at age 21? Imagine what it must be like to feel past your prime at age 27. The 37-year-old Rossi appears rejuvenated, and pretty much announced today that he will remain in MotoGP after this year. Rule #1 in this game is beat your teammate, and Rossi is doing this. Good for him. Lorenzo’s sole consolation today was having been awarded the #1 brolly girl on the grid, a breathtaking long-stemmed brunette who made me regret once again not having studied Spanish in high school.
Elsewhere on the Grid
The battle for spots five through nine raged all day, with too many position changes to keep track of. Ducati Corse #1 Dovizioso, in the midst of a very good season, started sixth and held off a resuscitated Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda for fifth place. Bautista, who had qualified 10th after crashing out of the first three races of the year, bought himself a little grace with his respectable sixth place finish today. He will need to keep improving for the rest of the year to hold into his seat with the GO&FUN team next year.
Aleix Espargaro, the victim of another qualifying practice crash, started from the middle of the second row and finished seventh, not bad for an Open class entrant, but still disappointing after his stellar offseason. Once again, the two Tech 3 Yamaha guys, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, occupied consecutive spots at the finish, having traded places during the race from their starting positions. All this togetherness from the French team leads one to believe they sit down tout ensemble after races for some brie and a glass of sauvignon blanc, passing around their camera phones to compare photos and share a few laughs.
LCR pilot Stefan Bradl, on a factory-spec Honda, started seventh on the grid and finished 10th on a track where his dad won a race decades ago. He finished just in front of Hayden, Hiro Aoyama and Scott Redding, all of whom were riding “customer” Hondas. For would-be Alien Bradl, such stunning under-achievement will surely tarnish his reputation if it continues. Guter Gott allmächtig!
Pain and Suffering at the Back of the Pack
Three riders had forgettable days in Andalusia. Andrea Iannone, over-achieving on the Pramac Ducati all season, came crashing back to earth this weekend. After threatening for podiums at both Austin and Argentina, he qualified 15th on Saturday and retired out of 18th place during the race. We will keep an eye on him going forward to see which was the fluke, today or Rounds 1-3.
Cal Crutchlow, whose crash in Austin left him with a mangled right pinky and “bruised lungs”(?) missed the trip to Argentina and returned this weekend for three days of Churchillian blood, toil, tears and sweat. Fighting the pain in his hand, he could only qualify 14th and retired on Lap 6 with a braking problem, i.e., every time he applied the brakes he cried out for his mama. Welcome to Ducati Corse, big guy.
Finally, we turn to Colin Edwards, whom many of you hold in much higher esteem than do I. Having somehow made it into Q2, he spent most of the day running at the back of the pack with the likes of Michael Laverty and Broc Parkes before “retiring” on the final lap. One has to be careful with that word these days, as Colin is reportedly considering calling it a career before the end of the season, a rumor he denies. But the three days of testing at Jerez commencing tomorrow will apparently see Simone Corsi, late of Moto2, on Edwards’ #5 NGM Forward Racing Yamaha. Listen carefully, and you can hear the drumbeats off in the distance.
Tired of Tires
One of my least favorite subjects in this sport has to do with tires. The race announcers were banging on about tire conservation during both the Moto2 and MotoGP races; other than Pedrosa, no one had much to say about tires after the race. Rossi did credit his choice of the harder option front for his ability to hold off Pedrosa at the end, but tire selection and tire conservation are separate issues.
The biggest announcement of the week, that Bridgestone was bailing as the official tire supplier to MotoGP after next season, produced a shockwave throughout the paddock, with every rider quoted on the story professing their profound respect and affection for the company and its products they’ve spent the past few years bashing continuously. Dorna wants a single supplier, and has put out an RFP for same that expires in only a few weeks. Perhaps some aggressive manufacturer will step up, perhaps not. I, for one, would like to see MotoGP return to letting each team negotiate its own tire contract. Given the profusion of classes on the grid – Factory, Factory 2, Open, Mongrel – it seems a little silly for Dorna to require one manufacturer to come up with the range of compounds necessary to allow each team to maximize its on-track performance. Just sayin’.
|2014 MotoGP Jerez Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+1.431|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+1.529|
|4||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+8.541|
|5||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+27.494|
|6||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+27.606|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+27.917|
|8||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+27.947|
|9||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+29.419|
|10||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+32.872|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 4 Rounds|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||30|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|