The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered for a number of things in years to come. The 54,543 Italian fans in attendance experienced the ecstasy of watching their idol, Movistar Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy since Misano in 2009. They witnessed the annual crash of the impertinent Marc Marquez, who laid his Repsol Honda down going perhaps 35 miles per hour in Turn 4 of Lap 10. They saw their national motorcycle, Ducati, place two riders in the top five. And, for the first time since The Renaissance, they could head home feeling their country may have turned the corner after 500 years of uninterrupted decline.
During the practice sessions leading up to today’s race, one could sense that defending world champion Marc Marquez wasn’t eating his Wheaties. He failed to top any of the practice sessions on his way to qualifying fourth, his first time off the front row since Catalunya last year. Meanwhile, the Ducatis and Yamahas were enjoying themselves immensely, the Ducatis dominant in the rain on Friday, the Yamahas – Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo – looking frisky and dangerous in the sunshine. Both qualified on the front row, sandwiching the increasingly impressive Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati; both would finish on the podium, joined by a dejected Dani Pedrosa, who struggled all day on his way to finishing third.
At the start, Lorenzo, whom we had picked to win today, jumped into the lead, with Rossi and Marquez filling out the first group. Marquez, looking as strong as ever, traded places twice with Rossi on Lap 3. Both he and Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 as the Mallorcan, the only Alien having chosen the hard front tire, lacked the edge grip enjoyed by his two rivals. By Lap 6, Lorenzo had faded slightly, leaving Rossi towing Marquez around the circuit and summoning recent memories of their head-to-head battles at Qatar and Catalunya earlier in the year.
How many times in the past few years have we watched the Repsol Hondas double-team a factory Yamaha into ruin? Today the tables were turned, as Rossi and Lorenzo had Marquez covered front and rear. Suddenly, in the slow Rio corner, Rossi sailed through, but Marquez slid into a slow motion lowside, barely marring the paint of his RC213V and narrowly avoiding a close encounter with the trailing Lorenzo. What ensued were perhaps 60 of the most frustrating seconds of young Marquez’ career as he tried over and over to restart his bike, the marshals finally helping him do so, after which he was roughly 90 seconds down on the Yamahas, his day effectively over. The predominantly Catholic crowd might have been tempted to remind Marquez that he was in Italy, that there is only one infallible person in that country, and his name is Francis.
Not too much happened for the remainder of the race, reminding some of us of the interminable processions we so often saw in 2009 and 2010. By this time, two of the usual back markers – Mike di Meglio and Danilo Petrucci – had crashed out early on, joined in the kitty litter on Lap 7 by LCR Honda ejectee Stefan Bradl, whose season continues to disintegrate since his announced departure to NGM Forward Racing several weeks ago. Cal Crutchlow ran another very low risk race today, apparently determined to join his new LCR Honda team in November at the Valencia test with his body in one piece. And Aleix Espargaro, routinely getting schooled of late by little brother Pol on the Tech 3 Yamaha, made an uncharacteristic rookie mistake today, crashing out on the last lap and thereby ceding sixth place for the season to Pol.
Fittingly, the day belonged to The Doctor, whose sense of theatre has been finely honed by years of celebrity and national recognition. At the relatively advanced age of 35, in his home race, he would pick up his 107th career grand prix win. He would notch his 81st win in the premier class. And, he would surpass 5,000 career grand prix points, the only rider ever to achieve such supremacy.
Parenthetically, he would prove a point I’ve been making here since 2009 – regardless of what anyone tells you, this is Italy. Call it what you want – San Marino, The Riviera di Rimini, Most Serene Republic of San Marino (!), braunschweiger, whatever you want – this is Italy, these are Italians, and Vali is right up there with Pope Francis and the holy trinity. Somewhere, Rossi’s late friend and understudy Marco Simoncelli, for whom the circuit is now named, is smiling down on his friend, saying, “ben fatto, fratello.”
Today was an important day for Yamaha Racing, as it got an enormous monkey off its back. The prospect of going 0-18 against Honda Racing Corporation had to be giving company executives in Japan a collective case of hives. Even if Yamaha wins out, which it won’t, 2014 will be regarded as a disastrous year for the once-dominant Iwata factory.
Ducati Corse, on the other hand, is seeing substantial progress in its MotoGP program. Although still running a distant third to Honda and Yamaha, the margin between the top Ducati finisher and the winner of each round is narrowing. In addition, this past week Ducati signed a deal to provide machinery for the Avintia team for next season, bringing the number of Desmosedicis on the grid to six, assuming Pramac Racing continues in the fold.
Clearly, despite his disappointment at Brno and today’s mistake, Marc Marquez is going to win the 2014 title, relegating the rest of the Aliens to battling for second place. In this residual fight, Rossi picked up nine points on Pedrosa, leaving him only one point out of second place for the season, with teammate Lorenzo trailing the Honda pilot by 37. Rossi has stated that his main goal for the season, aside from winning races, is to finish second; Lorenzo has made it clear that his remaining motivation in 2014 is to simply win a race. Dani Pedrosa, who has been mostly mute on the subject, assumedly shares Rossi’s objective, but must keep an eye on Lorenzo who, with four consecutive second place finishes, is eating into his margin. None of the three, who are so competitive they would want to whip your ass in tiddlywinks, can be very happy about battling over second place.
And so it’s on to Aragon, the last stop before the brutal Pacific flyaway rounds that precede Valencia. Marquez’ second consecutive coronation suffered a delay today, and now looks more likely to take place at Phillip Island. But delay is by no means defeat.
|2014 MotoGP Misano Top Ten Results|
|1||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+1.578|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+4.276|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+5.520|
|5||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+11.771|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+18.999|
|7||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+23.100|
|8||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+36.458|
|9||Cal Crutchlow||Ducati Corse||+38.480|
|10||Yonny Hernandez||Energy T.I. Pramac Ducati||+45.878|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 13 Rounds|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha *||92|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|