On a cloudy, cool Saturday afternoon in Haga District, Tochigi, Japan, 21-year old Repsol Honda pilot Marc Marquez clinched his second world championship in the premier class of MotoGP. This follows earlier championships in the Moto2 and 125 classes, giving him four titles in five years of grand prix racing. We at Motorcycle.com are impressed.
Grand prix motorcycle racing fans often speak about the Alien class of riders, typically comprised of the four savants that make up the factory Honda and Yamaha teams. In almost every round of every season, it is these four souls from which the three podium celebrants emerge. This lack of variety is one of the shortcomings of the sport, at least in the premier class. In the two underclasses, the concentration of power is more diluted, and the result is more exciting, less predictable races.
Heading into today’s race at Motegi, all four of this year’s Aliens had a part to play in the drama which unfolded. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and Movistar Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi were responsible for keeping young Marquez from securing the title by whatever means necessary; one or both had to beat him to keep the chase alive heading to Phillip Island next week.
Jorge Lorenzo, who has fairly dominated the second half of the 2014 season after a calamitous first half, was under no such pressure, having been eliminated from title contention weeks ago. For him, the war was over, despite having several battles left to wage. An accidental collision with Marquez, however, would not be the worst thing for his factory Yamaha team on this day. Such things are, after all, possible on two wheels in close quarters at high speeds. And a possible explanation for the presence of Yamaha factory test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga as a wildcard entry on a factory spec YZR-M1 for Divine Wind Racing. Just sayin’.
Disorder at the Start
Being on the wrong side of the International Date Line, qualifying at Motegi took place locally on Friday, with the resulting grid finding all four Aliens in the middle of a Ducati sandwich, factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso having qualified brilliantly for his second career pole, and Pramac Racing overachiever Andrea Iannone starting from the six-hole. The special status Ducati enjoys in the premier class, somewhere between factory and open specs, allows the Dueling Andreas to qualify on pillow-soft rear tires that would not last a third of a race, but which are great for front row starts.
The start of every race, when the red lights go out and 20-some guys release their brake and clutch levers at the same time, is the most dangerous 20 seconds of the entire day. The mad dash to the first turn results in a substantial amount of contact between riders. In the lower classes, especially Moto3, it is not surprising to see half a dozen riders leave the macadam, stomping their feet and shaking their fists at one another. On the big bikes, riders generally trade a little paint and keep on trucking, occasionally falling back in the pack but staying upright.
Thus, it was not surprising today to watch #5 starter Lorenzo veer into #4 starter Marquez heading into turn one, causing the defending champion to briefly rise up and lose two or three spots. He would regain them in the next half lap, by which time Rossi led the field, followed in close disorder by Dovizioso, Iannone and Lorenzo. Marquez and Pedrosa were, at this moment, kind of lost in the sauce, an increasingly frequent problem for Pedrosa in 2014. But by the end of Lap 1, the leaders were Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Pedrosa. Two minutes into the race, one must guess Marquez had but three things on his mind: Must. Catch. Rossi.
Marquez Seeks Out #46
The rest of the afternoon was, in hindsight, fairly predictable. On Lap 4, Marquez passed Iannone into 4th place, with Pedrosa doing the same to the Italian the next time around. Lap 5 was noteworthy as Lorenzo went through on teammate Rossi into the lead he would maintain for the rest of the day. On Lap 6 I noted that Pedrosa was running alone in 5th place watching his season end in front of him.
On Lap 9, Dovizioso ran his Ducati a bit wide in one of the mid-lap turns, allowing Marquez through into 3rd place with the blue and yellow of #46 now directly in front of him. Rossi’s pit board immediately informed him that, in essence, the weight of the world now rested squarely on his shoulders, that it was up to him to hold off the young Spaniard for 15 laps or else turn out the lights on the 2014 season. As we now know, it was too much to ask for the 35-year old nine time world champion, or anyone else for that matter.
Marquez Finds #46
Lorenzo, by this time, was in his private place, leading by roughly 3 seconds and laying down fast laps one after the other; sadly, aside from his team, no one seemed to care too much. The 43,000 fans in attendance were focused on the contest for second place as Marquez gradually, inexorably tracked down his idol, closing the gap steadily until Lap 15, when the two briefly traded positions, Rossi surviving the first challenge. The second would come on the following lap, as Marquez smoothly, cleanly and effortlessly went through on the Yamaha and made it stick. Both Rossi and Pedrosa would push their machines to the absolute limit for the remaining 10 laps in a doomed effort to overtake Marquez.
It wasn’t happening.
And that was that. The day ended with Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi on the podium for the fourth time this year. The celebrations in both the Yamaha and Honda camps seemed just a shade muted, as Yamaha claimed a double podium on a day in which they were eliminated from the title chase, while Honda locked down another world championship but was denied the pleasure of seeing Marquez on the top step of the podium.
Young Marc did claim the mantle of utter coolness by virtue of the gold helmet he wore for his victory lap and the elaborate Samurai ceremony staged to honor him as a new member of the esteemed warrior class of ancient Japan. In it, Marquez unsheathed the sword of honor and used it to cut the string that tethered a white balloon with the #1 stenciled on it, releasing the balloon toward the heavens and securing the young Spaniard’s place in his adoptive country’s ancient tradition of sledgehammer symbolism and truly whacked out honorifics.
On to Phillip Island
MotoGP now confronts a month of anticlimactic denouement. True, the contest for second place for the year could not be closer, with Rossi and Pedrosa tied and Lorenzo trailing the two by a mere three points. We’ll see a few wildcard entries, with Suzuki scheduled to make a cameo appearance at Valencia prior to its full-fledged return to the premier class next year. We’ll catch you up on the last sips of the silly season and forthcoming news from the Marc VDS and Gresini Aprilia teams. A measure of the existential crisis confronting the rest of the premier class season is the growing anticipation of the post-race testing slated for Valencia in November.
How fitting is it that the sun should begin to set on the 2014 season in The Land of the Rising Sun? Congratulations to world champion Marc Marquez!
|2014 MotoGP Motegi Top Ten Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+1.638|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+2.602|
|4||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+3.157|
|5||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+14.353|
|6||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Racing||+16.653|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+19.531|
|8||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+19.815|
|9||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+23.575|
|10||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+35.687|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 15 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha *||117|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|