Under a flawless blue sky in northwest France, 88,000 MotoGP fans witnessed the laying of another brick in the wall of fame being built by Marc Marquez. The 21-year old Spaniard overcame a dicey start to become the youngest rider in this history of the sport to win five premier class races in a row. Having shattered the all-time lap record at Le Mans in practice, the Repsol Honda phenom is re-writing the record books every time out. Today, it appeared, was just another day at the office.
Without wishing to suggest a conspiracy amongst the other top riders, the conventional wisdom for beating Marquez seems to have coalesced around the concept of “roughing him up” at the start of a race, pushing him back into pack traffic, allowing one of the other Aliens to jump out to a lead, and then praying collectively that he runs out of time going through the field. This “anyone but Marquez” approach worked perfectly today, as he got off to a poor start – the sole remaining flaw in his otherwise flawless game – got pushed wide by Jorge Lorenzo early, and finished Lap 1 in 10th place. The thought crossed my mind that in order to make it interesting he occasionally allows this to happen, enjoying slicing and dicing the field on his way to the win. Today at Le Mans it looked like this:
|Lap||Starting Position||Victims||Finishing Position|
|2||10th||A Iannone (crash)||9th|
|3||9th||A Bautista, D Pedrosa||7th|
|7||6th||J Lorenzo, A Dovizioso||4th|
So, with six consecutive poles under his belt dating back to Valencia last year, he breaks the record set by Mike Hailwood in 1962 to become the youngest rider ever to take five premier class wins in a row. Next up: Casey Stoner’s record seven poles in a row set in 2008. Next after that: Mick Doohan’s incredible 10 wins in a row in 1997. Once Marquez learns how to start these things quickly – recall Lorenzo was a terrible starter when he came up in 2008 and has become one of the best since then – he will have to find something else to hold his attention during races. Capable of turning lap times over half a second faster than his nearest competitors – half a minute in dog years – he will be competing with himself for the foreseeable future.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Valentino Rossi, who led the first half of the race and appears thoroughly rejuvenated, claimed his third 2nd-place finish of the year and his 10th premier class podium at Le Mans. Expect an announcement at Mugello that Yamaha has signed the Doctor for two more years of chasing Marquez around the world. The most surprising result today was the 3rd place finish of GO&FUN Honda pretty boy Alvaro Bautista, taking his third premier class podium ever and first since Motegi in 2012. Starting seventh, Bautista quietly moved up the standings until Lap 12 when he went through on LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl into fourth position. He then turned his attention to the surprising Pol Espargaro, who had placed his Tech 3 Yamaha on the first row of the grid and looked podium-worthy, going through on the rookie on Lap 18. For me, seeing Bautista on the podium is about as jarring as seeing John Daly winning a golf tournament.
The two Honda surgical convalescents, Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa and LCR’s Bradl, fared surprisingly well today, less than two weeks after surgeries on their forearms. Pedrosa, one of the toughest guys in MotoGP, spent a good part of the day in ninth position before his fuel load dropped, allowing him to recover to a respectable fifth place finish. Alas, his string of eight consecutive podia came to an end today in a gutsy performance. Bradl, seeming less affected by his own medical issues, spent a good part of the day in the top four before fading to seventh place at the flag.
Sandwiched in between the two Hondas at the end was Jorge Lorenzo – remember him? – who started and finished sixth, never appearing as much of a threat to anyone anytime. Last year at this time, Lorenzo had two wins and four podia in five starts for 91 points and trailed series leader Pedrosa by 12. This year, Lorenzo has appeared on the podium once, has managed 45 championship points, and trails Marquez by an unfathomable 80 points. He is routinely getting schooled by teammate Rossi, and appears to have had his iron will broken by the untouchable Marquez. Lorenzo desperately needs something – hypnosis, EST, perhaps a visit to a Jamaican voodoo practitioner – to get his fighting spirit restored. He appears to be in a PTSD-like trance, and needs someone to slap him, piss him off, and get him to stop feeling sorry for himself. Lorenzo needs to get mad; sad isn’t working.
Farther Down the Food Chain
The hapless Nicky Hayden – if it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all – got tangled up with Andrea Iannone early in the first lap and saw his day come to an early end. Iannone apparently failed to escape unscathed, as he went down himself on Lap 2, followed shortly by the increasingly irrelevant Hector Barbera. With Ioda Racing’s Danilo Petrucci sidelined with a broken wrist, the battle for 16th place raged all day, eventually won by Michael Laverty on the PBM nag. The saddest sight of the day was Colin Edwards pushing his bike, Fred Flintstone-like, across the line with his boots, having apparently run out of gas late on the last lap.
If Le Mans is the least abrasive racing surface on the MotoGP tour, Cal Crutchlow has become its most abrasive rider. Crutchlow, who apparently believes the world owes him fame and fortune, barely got out of Q1, qualified last in Q2, started 12th and finished 11th. He did manage to whip his factory Ducati to finish in front of Pramac’s Yonny Hernandez and three Honda “customer bikes”, winning the Taller Than Danny DeVito award again this week. At my deadline, no explanation is available for how teammate Andrea Dovizioso managed to go from leading the race early from a front row start to an eighth place finish on a non-abrasive racing surface. Praying he doesn’t attribute it to understeer, one of the hallmarks of the Desmosedici. (Imagine an NFL quarterback attributing his five interceptions in a single game to the opposition having put 11 defenders on the field to cause him problems.)
On to Mugello in two weeks, one of the shrines of MotoGP racing, a track where Valentino Rossi could conceivably give Marquez a run for his money. Rossi’s home race, on a Yamaha-friendly layout, with the crowd solidly behind him … Wishful thinking? Perhaps. One of the few remaining obstacles to Marquez running the table in 2014? Unthinkable, sure, but the word is rapidly losing its meaning as the Catalan onslaught continues.
|2014 MotoGP Le Mans Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+1.486|
|3||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+3.144|
|4||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+3.717|
|5||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+4.077|
|6||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+7.088|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+11.527|
|8||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+22.103|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+22.626|
|10||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+23.108|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 5 Rounds|
|8||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||37|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|