Round 16 of the MotoGP 2013 world championship was all about the track. The new racing surface, installed at the cost of millions, provided outstanding grip for the riders, but was chewing up tires at an alarming rate during the practice sessions leading up to the race. Race Direction was putting out one-time rule changes at a dizzying rate. The last of these ensnared Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez, resulted in his disqualification, and left the title up for grabs for at least another week.
Usually, the Australian Grand Prix is a 27 lap affair won by Casey Stoner. With Stoner having retired after last season and the racing surface replaced in the interim, it looked like business as usual following last week’s tilt in Malaysia. But once the practice sessions started at Phillip Island on Friday, Bridgestone, the official tire supplier of the premier class, realized it had a problem on its hands. The riders were putting up great lap times, but the tires were disintegrating at an alarming rate.
After a series of meetings with Dorna officials, it was announced on Saturday morning that the race was being shortened to 26 laps, and that riders would have to make a mandatory pit stop to change bikes by the end of Lap 14. Such an announcement had never been made in the history of the series. But the trouble didn’t stop there. After qualifications, and more discussions, it was announced that the race was being limited to 19 laps, and that riders would have to make a mandatory bike change by the end of Lap 9 and no later than the end of Lap 10.
Marc Marquez’ team apparently missed the email. It was his team’s failure, not the rider’s, which led to mayhem, a black flag for the series leader, and at least another week before the 2013 title can be settled.
The teams were undoubtedly up late into the night devising their strategies for the race. They would all be using two bikes, each with a soft front tire, half a tank of gas, and no worries about tire conservation. After the pit stop, they would be re-entering the race on cold tires. There were concerns about entering the track from pit lane with on-track bikes running around 200 kph at the entry point.
Enough about the Rules – What about the Race?
With a front row of defending world champion and Yamaha strongman Jorge Lorenzo, series leader Marquez, and fading star Valentino Rossi, the race got off to a clean start. Lorenzo stormed into the lead, followed closely by the Repsol duo of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, and a wild first lap featured contact between all three. By the end of Lap 1, it was Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa up front, with a second group comprised of Rossi, Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Bradley Smith, FUN&GO hazard Alvaro Bautista and Smith’s teammate Cal Crutchlow. By Lap 5, Smith had dropped back, and Marquez appeared to be lining up Lorenzo for a potentially championship-clinching pass.
At this point, as the riders approached the start/finish line, the pitboards started putting up reminders about the number of laps remaining before the riders had to enter the pits and change bikes. The riders were maintaining their respective positions, but by Lap 9 only 2/10ths of a second separated leader Lorenzo from Pedrosa in third place. It soon became apparent that Team Yamaha was better prepared for what was to happen than the Repsol Honda crew.
As Lap 9 ended, Pedrosa entered pit lane, changed bikes, and got caught speeding coming back onto the track, which would later force him to allow Marquez through and, at the end of the day, amount to nothing. As Lap 10 was ending, the entire place expected to see Lorenzo and Marquez enter pit lane. The veteran Lorenzo, with his experienced crew, veered left as expected, while Marquez unaccountably kept right on going. The poor British race announcers, Gavin Emmett and Nick Harris, were suddenly on their feet shouting, prancing about, and speculating wildly as to the possible consequences of Marquez’ error. A ride-through penalty? More points on his license? A back-of-the-grid start at Motegi?
As Marquez re-entered the track on what was now Lap 12, he veered into Lorenzo’s line, and Lorenzo gave him a good smack, knocking a piece of Marquez’ brake lever/cover flying, and allowing Pedrosa through. The race, and the speculation, continued, with Marquez going through on Pedrosa on Lap 14. Finally, on Lap 15, the dreaded black flag appeared, and #93 was done for the day.
In the end, Lorenzo won comfortably by 7 seconds over Pedrosa, while Rossi eventually vanquished both Bautista and Crutchlow for another tarnished podium. Today’s top ten finishers looked like this:
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||29:07.155|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+6.936|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||+12.344|
|4||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||+12.460|
|5||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||+12.513|
|6||Bradley Smith||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||+28.263|
|7||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||+32.953|
|8||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+35.062|
|9||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||+35.104|
|10||Randy de Puniet||Power Electronics Aspar||+37.426|
The Big Picture
Not much has changed in the 2013 standings, despite the dramatic turn of events Down Under. Lorenzo now trails Marquez by 18 points, and needs to thump the rookie pretty good at Motegi to have a puncher’s chance of repeating as world champion in Valencia. Dani Pedrosa’s fortunes hang by a thread, and are out of his control. Trailing Marquez by 34 points and Lorenzo by 16, he needs a world of woe to befall both riders in Japan to have anything beyond a mathematical chance of winning his first premier class title in Spain next month. In all likelihood his championship hopes will expire next week.
Although Jorge Lorenzo gets plenty of props, has a room full of trophies and a distinguished body of work to show for his MotoGP career, one of the things he doesn’t seem to get much credit for is his mental toughness. At the start of today’s race, with Repsol Hondas banging into him right and left, he was giving as good as he got, conceding nothing. When Marquez got in his way on Lap 12, he brushed him aside, as if he weren’t going well over 100 mph on two wheels.
In a race in which he had nothing to lose, Lorenzo put the hammer down, damned the torpedoes, and went for all the marbles. When today looks hopeless and there’s no tomorrow, many of us will throw up our hands and surrender to the inevitable.
There’s no surrender in Jorge Lorenzo.
Top Ten MotoGP Standings After 16 Rounds
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||298|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||280|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||264|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||214|
|5||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||179|
|6||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||147|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||135|
|8||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||127|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||111|
|10||Bradley Smith||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||99|
A Look Back at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix
The big loser today was, of course, the Phillip Island Circuit. The track operators invested heavily in re-paving the entire course, and now have an un-rideable track on their hands. In the big money world of MotoGP, no one wants fingers pointed at them, blaming them for conditions or circumstances that can have a material effect on the outcome of an entire season. Such is the state of Phillip Island.
Perhaps the most picturesque circuit on the MotoGP calendar, attendance today was under 32,000 – about what you get at an average Boston Red Sox game – and the operators are facing a massive “Now what?” Re-pave the track again? Sue the contractor (which is what we would do here in the U.S.)?
A weekend that started under brilliant sunshine produced a flawed race run under leaden skies and that ended, somewhat appropriately, in the rain. Phillip Island, which should really be re-named Stoner Island, is, for now, the venue for Round 18 on the 2014 MotoGP calendar. Unless the owners find a solution to avert another cluster that was today’s race, we may find ourselves back to an 18 round season next year.