Factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo won a number of battles today at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya. He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to the finish line for his second consecutive win of 2013 and his second in a row at Montmelo. He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars. He beat the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive. So why does he seems destined to finish second in 2013?
Race weekend 2013 in greater Barcelona was sunny, warm and confusing. There was a different leader in each of the free practice sessions leading up to Saturday’s qualifying, in which series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Pedrosa took the pole – his first ever here – in his 200th grand prix start. The front of the starting grid today was weirdness itself:
- a first row comprised of Pedrosa, Yamaha Tech 3 overachiever Cal Crutchlow and Lorenzo.
- a hilarious second row featuring satellite Honda jug head Alvaro Bautista, factory Ducati #2 Nicky Hayden and Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez; and
- an all-Italian third row of factory Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, satellite Ducati comer Andrea Iannone and factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso.
One of the areas in which Lorenzo has improved his game over the past few years is starting races. Back in 2010 and 2011, he would routinely qualify brilliantly, only to enter the first turn of races in, like 6th place. This, in comparison to rival Pedrosa, who generally started races as if he had been launched by the catapult on an aircraft carrier. Again today, in a repeat of his performance at Mugello two weeks ago, Lorenzo entered Turn 1 aggressively ahead of polesitter Pedrosa, a critical move that would make his win today possible.
25 Laps of High Anxiety
By the end of the first lap, the top five consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Crutchlow and a frisky-looking Rossi, who appeared capable of a podium, if not a win. Rossi has enjoyed six career wins here, but another poor qualifying practice, in a season full of them, consigned him to a fifth consecutive off-the-podium finish after his triumphant second-place result in Qatar. More on Rossi later.
The next 24 laps reminded me of playing Bingo in a church basement, which offers players a unique combination of boredom and anxiety. The only change in the top four positions occurred when Cal Crutchlow, heavily jinxed by me in last week’s preview, slid off the track and out of the race on Lap 6 for his first DNF of the season. As in Mugello, Lorenzo desperately fended off the determined Pedrosa until his fuel load dropped, at which point he was again able to breathe, while not actually “breaking” Pedrosa until the last three laps.
What broke Pedrosa today was less Lorenzo than teammate Marquez, who spent his entire day in third position. Late in the race, when it became clear Pedrosa was not likely to overtake Lorenzo, the rookie decided to make a run at him. He spent most of the last three laps of the race attached to Pedrosa’s pipes, like a terrier on a pants leg, until the last lap, when he had a “MotoGP moment” during a last-gasp move on Pedrosa that forced him to stand the bike up and concede second place (by 6/100ths of a second). Marquez is a baller, with five podiums and a DNF in six rookie starts. He will file today’s race under “Lessons Learned in 2013”.
Don’t be surprised if this is the last time Pedrosa ever tops Marquez in Catalunya.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Alvaro Bautista, onboard the FUN&GO Gresini Honda for what has to be the last season, once again exhibited his low racing IQ for the world to see. Dude qualified fourth and had an outside shot at a podium. But, heading into Turn 10 on Lap 1, he seemed to take aim at Rossi, went in hot, lost the front, and slid out, barely missing the Italian’s rear wheel and a repeat of their conjoined debacle in Mugello last time out. Another bonehead move on cold tires, reminiscent of Assen last year where he almost wrecked Lorenzo’s season. I join Fausto Gresini in wondering what the hell is up with this guy.
Riders enjoying a productive day today included LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, who salvaged 11 points after starting in 10th place, and Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Bradley Smith, who held on for sixth place in his best outing of the year. Andrea Dovizioso managed seventh today despite running on the rims as he crossed the finish line. Aleix Espargaro was again the top CRT rider, ending the day in eighth place.
Normally we ignore much of what happens in the lower tranches of MotoGP, but today we make two exceptions. We congratulate Colin Edwards, on the NGM Forward Racing CRT, who, in 9th place, managed his first top ten result since finishing 5th at Phillip Island in 2011. And we salute 10th place finisher Michelle Pirro for his versatility. So far this season, he has been a test rider for Ducati. He has been a wildcard on the Ducati “Lab Bike.” He has been a substitute rider for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati. Today, though, he was onboard the Lab Bike wearing Pramac colors, the third, and hopefully last, permutation of a second-stringer for Ducati Corse. Will we ever again see Ben Spies in MotoGP?
As The Sun Sets on Valentino Rossi
Barring rain at a layout like Aragon, it’s possible Valentino Rossi has won his last race in the premier class of MotoGP. The guy who defined the sport for most of a decade has lost a step, as was clear today. Sitting alone in 4th place after Crutchlow’s crash, The Doctor was unable to mount any kind of challenge to Marquez over the next 19 laps.
He appeared to be hoping for something bad to happen to one of the leaders, which would have elevated him to a cheap podium. As we’ve said here before, most knowledgeable MotoGP observers say it’s 80% rider, 20% bike in this league. If you buy that reasoning, you may also buy the idea that Rossi is done as a championship contender. The following graph shows Rossi’s wins per season since joining the premier class in 2000.
The Big Picture
After six rounds, Dani Pedrosa still leads Jorge Lorenzo by seven points. Marquez trails Lorenzo by 23, with Crutchlow 22 points behind the rookie. Barring crashes, which is like barring respiration, it is a two man race again this year. Pedrosa’s lead is actually larger than it looks, for two reasons:
- There are only a couple of Yamaha-friendly circuits remaining on the 2013 calendar.
- Lorenzo is currently working engine #4, while both Pedrosa and Marquez are on their second powerplants. With a statutory limit of five engines for the season, the likelihood that Lorenzo will have to start from pit lane in several races cannot be denied.
True, Lorenzo’s primary gift is his consistency, supplemented by his patience and tire management skills. Scrawled on his helmet today was his mantra “Constant as a Hammer”. He’s a polished professional at the top of his game, getting everything possible from his Yamaha M1 But the smart money is saying it’s not going to be enough in 2013.
2013 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After Six Rounds
|1||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||123|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||116|
|3||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||93|
|4||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||71|
|5||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||60|
|6||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||59|
|7||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||45|
|8||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||41|
|9||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||38|
|10||Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar||36|
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