Under a blistering Malaysian sun so hot the track itself was sweating, Repsol Honda champion Marc Marquez returned to his winning ways, claiming his 12th win of the 2014 season and tying Mick Doohan’s 17 year-old record. The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, joined young Marquez on the podium in the festival-like atmosphere of Sepang, suddenly one of the great venues of MotoGP.
With the 2014 title having been decided two weeks ago at Motegi, there was less than usual at stake today, but you couldn’t tell from the way the riders were flying around the circuit and falling off their bikes. Eight of the 22 starters failed to finish today, including Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who saw his slim chance of a second-place finish in 2014 evaporate on Lap 2, when he lost the front chasing Lorenzo for the lead. Pedrosa re-entered the fray in last position and worked his way back as high as 11th when he crashed again, this time on Lap 12, for the benefit of those fans who had missed his earlier gaffe. For the ninth consecutive year, Pedrosa finds himself tasting ashes at season’s end, misfortune his constant companion.
If Pedrosa was today’s biggest loser, the day’s biggest winner, aside from Marquez, was the inimitable Valentino Rossi. With grip issues plaguing him during practice, and starting from the six hole, Rossi found something extra early in the session. In the first turn of Lap 1, Lorenzo and Marquez came together, Lorenzo getting the better of it, pushing Marquez wide and back into the pack, while the Mallorcan emerged at the end of the lap leading the race. Once Pedrosa crashed, Rossi and Marquez soon fell in line behind him, and the first group took shape.
Both Marquez and Lorenzo had been fast in practice, so it was no surprise to see them running up front. But as we’ve seen all year, once the lights go out, Rossi, at age 35, still seems to get a sufficient adrenaline boost to lower his lap times by a few tenths, which is all it takes for him to challenge for the lead.
By Lap 9 things had gotten tight up front, with Rossi beginning to actively attack Lorenzo while defending against Marquez. On Lap 10, first Rossi, then Marquez went through on Lorenzo who appeared to be losing front grip. The next time around, Marquez went through cleanly on Rossi, at which point the day’s top three matched the year’s top three. Over the next seven laps, both Rossi and Marquez were running at the absolute limits of adhesion, Rossi refusing to concede, Marquez refusing to surrender. It was only on Lap 18 of 20 that my notes read “VR broken.” Marquez would eventually win by three seconds, with Lorenzo closing to within a second of Rossi at the finish.
At the end of the day, life amongst the Aliens saw little change. Champion Marquez had tied one record and set a second – most poles (13) in a single season. Rossi added some margin to his lead over Lorenzo in the fight for the vice-championship, and will be lugging a 12-point lead to the finale in Valencia. Pedrosa is likely to complete his season in Spain with his lowest win total (1) since entering the premier class in 2006. One must feel a little sympathy for the man with the third most career podia in MotoGP history, but who has never experienced the joy of winning a premier class title.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Pramac Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone, who knocked Pedrosa out of the race at Phillip Island last week, earning a penalty point for his trouble, mixed it up in the rain with Marquez during FP2 on Friday and crashed again, damaging his arm and shoulder and giving him a DNS today. Afterward, Marquez took the blame for the incident while Iannone took the contusions. Other riders failing to finish today included GO & FUN Honda sketcher Alvaro Bautista, who collided with hard-luck Aleix Espargaro on Lap 2, factory Ducati #2 Cal Crutchlow, retiring with mechanical issues on Lap 5, and Drive M7 Aspar pilot Nicky Hayden, who crashed on Lap 7, thus avoiding a post-race interview with yours truly. Karel Abraham, Danilo Petrucci and Alex de Angelis all found their way from the bottom of the food chain to the gravel run-off areas of Sepang.
LCR Honda refugee Stefan Bradl started and finished fourth today, taking the spot usually reserved for Hayden at Sepang. Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso started fifth and looked strong early until he was seen coasting on the back stretch with a pair of Vise-Grips in his gloved hands, trying to adjust his front brake, eventually finishing down in eighth place. The two Tech 3 riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, spent most of the day together, Smith ultimately edging out his teammate for fifth and taking another point out of Espargaro’s lead for sixth place for the year. Espargaro gets a gold star for effort, as he raced today with a broken bone in his foot, courtesy of having done a Zarco in FP4 on Saturday – setting his bike on fire and going high side a moment later. A tiny shard of glass embedded in his oil cooler was later discovered to have been the culprit.
A Few Final Thoughts on Race Weekend in Malaysia
From start to finish, it was a pleasure being one of a small group of American journalists invited to attend the 24th running of the Malaysian Grand Prix. As gracious as our hosts have been, it must be said that the GP itself is an endurance race. During the post-race press conference, it was acknowledged by the Big Three, and Tito Rabat, who secured the Moto2 championship today, that conditioning is as important as set-up in this race.
It was roughly 100°F in the shade today trackside, and there wasn’t any shade; the tarmac registered 58°C, which, I’m pretty sure, is a lot (ed.: 136°F!). The riders, encased in their leathers, had to be suffering as the grid lined up before the race. The crews working in the garages, the marshals and the fans all got a healthy dose of life near the Equator. If there is a race where the local riders enjoy a home advantage, it is Sepang. Without question, it takes more than a few days to become acclimated to weather like this.
On the positive side, the people are friendly and helpful; almost everyone speaks English and is happy to do so. The food everywhere was sensational and safe to eat. Kuala Lumpur is a thriving metropolis, with enormous buildings going up seemingly on every other corner. The American dollar is strong these days, and a vacation here is relatively inexpensive. One hears a jumble of languages and accents on the street. Although it is a Muslim-majority country, there is no hint of prejudice against Westerners; tolerance seems to be the nature of the locals.
One thing that is almost impossible to find here in Malaysia is pork sausage. Chicken sausage, beef sausage, lamb sausage – no problem. If this works for you, there are plenty of worse places to go for a holiday or a racing weekend. If, on the other hand, this one item is a deal breaker, then by all means spend a week at your local Bob Evans restaurant.
“Visit Malaysia” is not just the theme of the country’s tourism program. It’s a good idea.
|2014 MotoGP Sepang Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+2.445|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+3.508|
|4||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+21.234|
|5||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+22.283|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+34.668|
|7||Yonny Hernandez||Energy T.I. Pramac||+38.435|
|8||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+48.839|
|9||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+50.792|
|10||Scott Redding||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+59.088|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 17 Rounds|
|8||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha *||117|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|