If you’re Marc Marquez, it just doesn’t get much better than this. The young Spanish champion brought his amazing game to Mugello, where team Yamaha has had its way for most of the last decade. Jorge Lorenzo, having won the last three races here, led 21 of 23 laps this afternoon. But when the checkered flag fell, it was Marquez and the Honda, making it six in a row in 2014 and looking invincible.
The last seven laps of the 2014 Gran Premio d’Italia TIM were championship motorcycle racing at its absolute finest. Premier class races in MotoGP often devolve into a leader entering a low earth orbit, leaving the rest of the field fighting over scraps. In Moto2 and Moto3, and even more so in AMA oval track tilts, one often observes two, three, sometimes four riders going hammer and tongs for the win. Today the big imports gave us a clinic in shoulder-to-shoulder racing at mind-numbing speed, with the final outcome decided by 12/100ths of a second, at one of the historic venues on the circuit. People will remember today’s race for years.
Looking over the notes I made during the race, there wasn’t a whole lot going on for much of the day. Pramac Ducati pretender Joe Iannone found himself in the middle of the front row at the start, the best ever qualifying performance by a satellite Ducati, sandwiched between Marquez on the pole and Lorenzo in third position. The top ten qualifiers were separated by half a second, putting less emphasis on starting position and more on racing performance.
Exhibit A for this last statement was Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, who started 10th after a poor tire choice for QP2. By Lap 4, Rossi was sitting in 3rd place behind leader Lorenzo and stalker Marquez, having driven the partisan Italian crowd into a foaming frenzy slicing through the field into podium contention. True, Rossi could drive an Italian crowd into a frenzy changing a tire on his car, but Mugello crowds come to see The Doctor eat up the competition. Sadly, in 2014, it’s not ALL the competition, just most of it.
Iannone, virtually alone on the soft rear tire, stayed amongst the leaders for a surprisingly long time, eventually finishing seventh. But the first 16 laps featured Marquez snapping at Lorenzo’s heals, Rossi alone in third, and some great action farther back in the field. Between Laps 3 and 4, three high profile riders crashed out of the race. Bradley Smith, having qualified a Tech 3 Yamaha well in seventh place, crashed out on his own late in Lap three. Moments later, Cal Crutchlow folded the front of his factory Ducati, which went down and out, taking an innocent Stefan Bradl and his LCR Honda along with it. Bradl, who had crashed hard in the morning’s warm-up practice, “walked” off the track looking like Harley Staggers after a long night.
Iannone, Pol Espargaro on the other Tech 3 Yamaha, Ducati heartthrob Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa spent a good part of the day fighting over fourth place, with Pedrosa eventually prevailing. That he wasn’t among the top three, contending for a podium, could be attributed to a poor start from the four hole, an increasingly familiar sight in 2014. I’m sure there were some interesting tussles for spots farther down the food chain, but cannot muster enough interest to analyze the timesheets.
For those of you who complain that I don’t pay enough attention to the dregs of the premier class, let it be noted that Michel Fabrizio, a late substitution on the Ioda Racing entry, retired with mechanical issues, and Hector Barbera, about whom virtually no one cares, crashed out of the race, continuing his 2014 odyssey toward World Superbike and/or oblivion. And Nicky Hayden’s woes continued this weekend, as he was forced to return to the U.S. for surgery on his arthritic wrist, leaving Hiro Aoyama to represent the sagging Aspar team on his own today.
The Battle Up Front
Today’s race was about Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. It pitted experienced composure and a Yamaha on a Yamaha circuit against a precocious raw talent aboard a Honda RC213V that is competitive anywhere. It was a throw-down between iron-willed determination facing a terribly difficult season and a prodigious young talent about whose potential nobody can know the limits. It featured the two best riders in MotoGP at the top of their respective games. And, like it or not, the better man won.
For most of the day, it appeared Marquez was once again biding his time, choosing the time and place at which he would blow Lorenzo away and calmly claim yet another effortless win. He went through on Lorenzo for the first time on Lap 17, and many of us watching the proceedings thought that was that.
Lorenzo, iron will in control, fought back again and again, taking the lead at least six more times between Laps 18 and 21, sometimes for mere seconds. Marquez, rather than playing the cat to Lorenzo’s mouse, suddenly seemed to be in a genuine fight. Lorenzo, completely unwilling to concede anything, held onto the lead until finally, at the first turn of Lap 23, Marquez went through for good.
In the post-race presser, Marquez was understandably jubilant, having kept Team Yamaha winless for 2014 at one of their home cribs. Lorenzo, keeping the glass half full, seemed surprisingly optimistic, looking ahead to more battles with the young usurper. And Rossi, the master of the media, spoke about his pleasure at again making it to the podium in front of his home fans. Looking forward, there appear precious few venues where the Movistar Yamaha team will enjoy homecourt advantage more than they did today. If Marquez fails to run the table in 2014, it will be due to a mistake, either one of his own or, more likely, by another rider, a Crutchlow or Bautista who takes him out early in a race.
Had you gone to one of the British racing books that accept wagers of this nature, what odds do you suppose you might have received on a bet that Marc Marquez would go undefeated in 2014? 1,000 to one? 10,000 to one? A zillion? The mind reels.
On to Barcelona
Two weeks from now the show goes on in Spain at Catalunya, the scene of some tremendous battles over the years. The optimists in the crowd will be hoping for another contest like todays at a circuit that has been known to favor the Yamaha riders. The pessimists may fear yet another Marquez win in what is becoming an eerily predictable season. For me, just the idea of a rider running the table in 2014 is bizarre in the extreme. As a Lorenzo fan for a number of years, and as one who detests frontrunners in any sport, I still find myself quietly rooting for the young Catalan wonder to pull it off. Surely, if he does, he will establish a standard that could stand for decades. Or, until he does it again. In any case, what we are watching these days is truly remarkable.
Perhaps reMarcable is a better description.
|2014 MotoGP Mugello Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+0.121|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+2.688|
|4||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+14.046|
|5||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+15.603|
|6||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+17.042|
|7||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+17.129|
|8||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+27.407|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+41.886|
|10||Yonny Hernandez||Pramac Ducati||+45.212|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 6 Rounds|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||44|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|