The 2014 MotoGP season returned last weekend with a supercharged electrifying classic race in Losail Circuit Qatar. Reigning world champion, Honda Repsol’s Mark Marquez, held off the amazing and dogged challenge of Movistar Yamaha rider, and nine-time world champion, Valentino Rossi, to win the opening race of 2014.
In an exhilarating finish Rossi attacked again and again, twice taking the lead only to have it snatched back by the 21-year-old Spanish champion. Marquez was riding through the pain barrier after having broken his leg a mere few weeks beforehand and showed considerable bravery to even get on a bike after his injury. Amazingly his fastest lap of the weekend was on his final run-in to prevent Rossi from taking the podium.
Marquez’ teammate Dani Pedrosa finished in third while there was huge disappointment for the other Yamaha factory rider, Jorge Lorenzo, who crashed at the fifteenth corner of the first lap after shooting into the lead from a second row start on the grid. Lorenzo, who had chased Marquez relentlessly but ultimately unsuccessfully in last year’s championship, will see this as a major dent in his championship campaign, and with the levelling off of the field due to the new regulations, this season could be tighter than ever.
Lorenzo was not alone in hitting the tarmac, young British rider Bradley Smith came off his bike while riding in fourth with only a few laps to go, Stefan Bradl also could not handle life at the top along with serial crasher Alvaro Bautista who had started in second place just behind Marquez on the grid.
Impressively Rossi was way back in tenth place on the grid and moved up to finish in second place.
Cal Crutchlow had to will his Ducati over the finish-line as a technical problem caused the bike to lose power coming into the final straight but somehow he managed to hold onto sixth place. His teammate Andrea Dovizioso dropped to fifth place after being second fastest in qualifying. Scott Redding managed a credible seventh place in his rookie race and Aleix Esparagaro was fourth for NGM Forward Racing. With the new regulations much is expected of the elder Esparagaro brother and he is the major contender for the new “open” classification as he was CRT champion last year.
The “open” classification is as a result of new regulations which have been introduced to help close the gap between the big factory teams and the other satellite teams. Yamaha, Honda and Ducati are said to have a distinct advantage in resources over all the other teams so race organiser Dorna Sports have done much to level the field.
Firstly the factory bikes are only allowed to carry twenty litres of fuel compared to the open bikes which can carry up to twenty four litres. The factory teams will keep their own software while the rest of the field will now be running off the Magnetti Marelli spec software; they also must use Bridgestone tyres in hard and medium compound while the open bikes have the medium or soft selection.
It is all very confusing and technical at the moment but as can be seen from last weekend the riders were all very close to each other in lap times and the top four had to work a lot harder to hold onto their positions.
There is a three week break now to the Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Texas on April 13th. Marquez should be closer to full fitness and will be even harder to stop, Lorenzo will be the man looking to prove a point; Pedrosa is the forgotten man of Honda since the emergence of his superstar teammate so he too will have something to prove. All the while the doctor will be sitting with a smile on his face ready to pounce on any sign of weakness.
The next three weeks will seem like a long time.
Gary Guilfoyle, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Smudge 9000 from North Kent Coast, England [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.