Monday, May 6

ROOKIE MARQUEZ LEADS MOTOGP!


By MICHAEL ESDAILE

THREE rounds, three Spanish winners and a rookie leading the world championship for the first time since 1998.  

That was the situation following the Gran Premio bwin de España at Jerez de la Frontera on May 5 when Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa scored his first win of the season, and his first MotoGP win at Jerez since 2008.

The season opened at the gritty, sand-blasted Losail circuit outside of Doha, capital of the State of Qatar in Persian Gulf, on April 7 with defending World MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo opening his 2013 season account by taking pole position then racing away to a convincing start-to-finish win.

Lorenzo’s Yamaha team-mate, the 34-year Italian veteran Valentino Rossi, finished second at Losail after losing time early in the second lap.  He clipped the rear of new Ducati man Andrea Dovizioso, ran wide and dropped to seventh, saved from crashing by the handlebar-end brake lever protectors that are now mandatory.  He then worked his way forward and with three laps to go, got by class rookie Marc Marzuez (Repsol Honda) to nail down second place, almost six seconds behind the defending champ.

Shortly before Rossi passed him, Marquez had been in a race long match with the vastly more experienced Dani Pedrosa and had finally got the better of him.  Then the Italian went by.  But in his first race in the MotoGP class, Marquez finished on the podium.

ON TO TEXAS
From one oil state to another, the motorcycle grand prix competitors regrouped at the brand new Circuit of the Americas outside Austin in Texas a fortnight later.  As in the pre-season tests at the new track, Marquez was fastest in every practice session and put the number 93 Repsol Honda on pole.  For more than half of the 21 lap race, the 2012 Moto2 champ shadowed fast-starting Pedrosa but with nine laps to go he took the lead and went on to win by 1.5 seconds.

While the Repsol Hondas had put on a convincing demonstration of close formation flying out front, Lorenzo chased hard in third but had no answer for the V4 Honda’s superior acceleration off the slow corners and eventually came home 3.3 seconds adrift.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Cal Crutchlow was another 3.3 seconds back after getting past the LCR Honda of 2011 Moto 2 champion Stefan Bradl around the halfway mark.  Bradl hung on to fifth and finished four seconds ahead of Rossi on the second factory Yamaha. The veteran Italian blamed a braking issue for being beaten by two satellite bikes and finishing ten seconds behind his Yamaha factory team-mate.

Ironically, the next man home was Dovizioso on the first of the Ducatis.  He finished six seconds behind the man who led the development of the Ducati the previous two seasons.

SHERRY COUNTRY
After the two oil states, MotoGP then moved on to Jerez de la Frontera, a city in the province of Cadiz,  south-western Spain famous for its well established fortified wine (sherry) industry.  More recently it has been described as the most indebted town in Spain, at the forefront of Spain's impending economic collapse and there were beggars in the streets for this year’s race weekend.

Before the race, Rossi said the race would be “very important,” and added, “I believe and hope that we can be very fast, as we were in testing.  We will have to work well and aim for the podium.  We still have something to do, especially with the setup of the bike, but we have some ideas.  Furthermore, on Monday after the race we will be testing there and we'll have the opportunity to try different things.  Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello are all circuits that are favourable to us and where we will be fine.”

Certainly his Yamaha team-mate had been fast at the three day pre-season IRTA test at Jerez, Lorenzo running a race simulation the final day in which he clicked off 22 laps in the mid to low 1m 40s bracket – the same pace he set chasing the shy, retiring Casey Stoner for the win the previous year.

In Free Practice, Lorenzo was one of the first to break the 1m 40s barrier, doing a succession of laps in the 1m 39s range.  He then put the Yamaha on its second pole of the year with a searing 1m 38.673s lap, 1.1 seconds faster than his 2012 pole time but still not matching the record he set in 2008 when, in his rookie season in MotoGP, he set a 1m 38.189s lap.

However, Dani Pedrosa had been shadowing Lorenzo’s times, and although not quite as fast on his qualifying hot lap, was running 1m 39s in the fourth Free Practice session fairly comfortably at a time when Rossi was struggling to break out of the 1m 40s range.

With high track temperatures predicted, tyre management would be crucial in the race, and so it proved.  Lorenzo took the lead with Pedrosa close behind, the pair down into the 1m 39s range on the second lap.  They ran two more laps at that pace to break clear then eased back to the low 1m 40s range.  However, Pedrosa sensed this was his time to make a move, dropped back into the 1m 39s, took the lead then pulled a one second gap over Lorenzo in just three laps.  From there Pedrosa slowly stretched away and had the gap out to 3.6 seconds before easing off to win by 2.5 seconds.

Lorenzo struggled with front tyre grip and fell into the clutches of the precocious Marquez, who had dispatched Rossi with apparent ease on the second lap.  The second Repsol Honda man then closed in on his next Yamaha victim over the final five laps before barging past in the final corner – named after Lorenzo a few days earlier – to claim the second spot on the podium for a second Repsol Honda 1-2 in successive races.  Surprisingly, for a corner notorious for last lap inside passes, Lorenzo left the door open, which was all the invitation Marquez needed.

As a result, we have a MotoGP rookie leading the world championship for the first time since Max Biaggi in September 1998.

Going into the Jerez race, Marquez and Lorenzo had been tied on 41 points at the head of the table, Pedrosa next on 33, with Rossi fourth with 30 points.

After jumping Lorenzo and grabbing the 20 points for second place at Jerez, Marquez jumped to 61 points, ahead of team-mate Pedrosa’s 58 with Lorenzo next on 57.

Had Lorenzo not left an opening, and had Marquez not grabbed it, Lorenzo would have 61 points and Marquez would have 57…  Still, there are 15 more races in this year’s championship, so there is plenty of time for Lorenzo to turn things around.

Rossi, complaining later of ‘front-end problems’ finished fourth, 3.9 seconds behind his Yamaha team-mate with Crutchlow fifth on the satellite Yamaha a similar distance back again. 

Alvaro Bautista was the first satellite Honda home in sixth place after passing Stefan Bradl early on.  A lap later Bradl crashed to gift Ducati’s Nicky Hayden seventh place, which he held to the flag, finishing 25 seconds behind Pedrosa.  However Hayden was 15 seconds ahead of Dovizioso, the first time he had beaten his Italian team-mate thus far this season.

For full results and all the statistics, click here