I’ll admit, I was one of the many who thought the 2015 MotoGP season would be a fight for second, with the phenom that is Marc Marquez destroying the world’s supply of elbow sliders en route to yet another title. If yesterday’s MotoGP season opener in Qatar was any indication, however, I should have remembered that Sundays are the only days that matter in racing. Here now are my thoughts on the race and the season to come.
Be warned: if you haven’t seen the race yet, stop reading and go watch it. The rest of this piece will have spoilers. Or, you can check out Bruce Allen’s race recap for full results (but really, go watch the race).
Where else do we start than with Valentino Rossi? After qualifying in eighth, getting pushed back two places at the start, then fighting back brilliantly for the win in classic Rossi style, the Doctor put on a show for the ages, showing he’s still fired up as ever to be racing motorcycles at the highest level. Speaking of ages, Rossi is 36! Father time will catch up with him eventually, but for now Rossi is showing that age ain’t nothin but a number.
In post-race interviews, Rossi commented about how much he still enjoys battling for the win instead of simply leading a procession at the front. He lives for moments like this, and the fact the Yamaha has weaknesses in certain areas – top speed, mainly – gives him a challenge each race weekend that he looks forward to overcoming.
When talking about overcoming adversity, the work Gigi Dall’Igna has put into the GP15 Ducati is nothing short of remarkable. Having only ridden the bike for the first time 35 days prior to the Qatar race, Dovizioso was 0.174 second away from winning in its debut! Plus, he set his fastest lap on the last one trying to chase down Valentino. The cherry on top is Andrea Iannone rounding out the podium. I had a feeling Dall’Igna would be a force for good at Ducati, but few would have predicted a turnaround like this from Borgo Panigale. Let’s hope the boys in red can keep the momentum for the rest of the season.
If Rossi and Ducati were the feel-good stories to come from Qatar, then Jorge Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda team are the big mysteries. After a strong first half of the race, which saw Lorenzo battle for the lead and have the pace for a victory, the Spaniard faded back to fourth in the closing stages, claiming a helmet defect was blocking his vision and slowing him down. Indeed, an image on MotoGP.com shows the inner liner on Lorenzo’s HJC helmet hanging freely in front of his eyes, severely limiting his view. This surely isn’t good PR for HJC.
Then there’s the Repsol Hondas. Marquez got bumped wide in the first turn, reentering the course in last place. This wouldn’t have been the first time he’s clawed back from last place to win, but even if he hadn’t run off course at the start, a win was anything but certain this time around. Throughout the race, MM’s pace was on par with the leaders, never significantly faster. In fact, his fastest lap of the race was only fifth fastest overall. The other four to go faster? Lorenzo, Iannone, Dovizioso and Rossi.
Perhaps the most troubling story of the weekend was Dani Pedrosa. On the surface his quiet sixth-place finish seems lackluster at best, especially considering he qualified second. The troubling part came during post-race interviews, when he revealed he suffered from massive arm pump during the race. Pedrosa has had two previous surgeries to try and remedy this problem, neither of which have worked. This explains why he can put in one flying lap during qualifying but then fade during a race.
He sought the opinion of numerous doctors during the off season, all of whom advised against a third surgery. Dani is running out of options, he and the team know this, and nobody knows what to do next. Considering he basically rode his RC213V with one hand, a sixth place doesn’t seem so bad now.
Granted, one race is too early to make any sort of predictions about the season. The Losail circuit is historically a Yamaha track, and one Rossi has done well at since his return to Yamaha. Let’s see how the Doctor performs at Honda tracks like Austin, Rio Hondo, and Jerez, the next three races on the calendar. The Ducatis look to be a threat for race wins during the season, but let’s see how they perform at tracks the team have never tested at before.
As for Lorenzo, HJC is likely going through his helmet allotment and making sure he’ll have zero helmet issues going forward. And of course you can never count Marquez out of any race. The real question mark is Pedrosa. Is his career over? Time will tell, but if the Qatar season opener was any indication, the 2015 MotoGP season could very well be the most competitive in years, and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. On to Austin!