Losail Circuit, Qatar – Defending Moto GP champ Jorge Lorenzo had kind of a rough start to the season, despite having done everything right.
Fastest at most of the pre-season tests, scary-fast in race-long simulations, at the top of the standings at the first race practices, taking pole and then grabbing the race lead at the start and comfortably pulling away to the chequered flag – he still wasn’t getting any attention from the fans or media.
The return of Lorenzo’s former teammate Valentino Rossi to Yamaha after two disastrous years at Ducati, and the entry of Moto GP “rookie” Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda team are the events that have gathered all the attention.
It really isn’t fair. Lorenzo has been perfect so far this season, and his performance in Qatar at the first race was superb. He got the start, he rode away, and nobody ever saw him again. It was sobering and impressive, particularly at a long fast track with long straights that you’d think would suit the Hondas with their horsepower advantage. But the sweet-handling Yamahas were the bikes to have.
Even the secondary team Tech 3 bikes were right there, with Cal Crutchlow just pipped for a front-row start by thousandths at the end of qualifying, and grimly holding on to the factory Hondas in a fantastic display of riding until Signor Rossi scooped by him and pushed him back to an eventual fifth-place finish.
Still, it must be admitted that Marquez and Rossi earned their marquee attention. Rossi, after two years in the wilderness, was eager to see if he still had it – and proved he had. Marquez, brand-new kid on the block under incredible pressure, showed that the expectations weren’t out of line, holding second against his experienced team-mate Dani Pedrosa for much of the race until Rossi appeared on a mission, after qualifying ninth and getting pushed back to seventh after an early charge.
The Doctor and The Kid dueled hard for the last four laps with several passes, with the nine-time world champ Rossi taking over for good on the final go-around. Classic stuff, and a podium for Marquez in his first-ever Moto GP race has to have all his opponents rolling their eyes. At the press conference Marquez said it was an honour to be there with Lorenzo and Rossi, and added he planned to learn “from all those faster than me today.” Look out, world.
Rossi was as excited as a kid at finishing second. “I’m more than happy … To arrive on the podium at the first race was my target from November and I put all my effort to arrive at the maximum here … I made a mistake [and was stuck behind Bradl] and thought I see my podium go ‘bye-bye’!
“In the end there was a great battle, especially with Marc for the second place. I’m so happy for me, for my team, for my friends and all my fans also for Yamaha, to start the season with first and second place is not so bad!”
Yamaha is as much over the moon as Rossi and Lorenzo are – Lorenzo for starting his title defence so strongly, Rossi for proving to himself and the world that he still has it, and Yamaha for taking first and second in the first race. Also fifth after the two factory Hondas, in the person of hard man Crutchlow.
Honda has to be over the moon with Marquez, less so with the overall performance of their bikes at Qatar. Both Marquez and Pedrosa had trouble getting the bikes turned all weekend, something that hadn’t showed up in earlier tests.
Ducati has to have mixed feelings. On the one hand it’s got to be totally embarrassing that Rossi was winning before they hired him, was mired mid-field during his two seasons there, and is able to win again now that he’s back on a Yamaha. On the other hand, new hire Andrea Dovizioso was able to qualify an amazing fourth, although he dropped back fairly quickly as the race went on.
Still, a seventh wasn’t bad for his first race with the team, leading the other Ducatis of Nicky Hayden, ‘Crazy Joe’ Andrea Inonne and Ben Spies to complete the top 10, Hayden on Dovi’s tail and the other two a long way behind.
Top CRT finisher was Aleix Espargaro on the Power Electronics Aspar Aprilia, taking up where he left off after taking the second-tier crown in 2012.
The Moto 2 and Moto 3 races, unlike the premiere class, featured dog-fights for the lead, albeit with only a few bikes – the chainsaws-in-a-bar fights were still there, but farther back in the pack.
In Moto 2 Pol Espargaro (brother of Aleix) hung tough with Brit Scott Redding, the two never more than a metre or two apart for most of the race as they split from the pack.
Espargaro was leading on the final lap, and Redding tried two impossible passes, riding brilliantly not to take either or both of them out, but not quite making either one.
In Moto 3 it was an all-Spanish front end. Early-season favourite Luis Salom beat Maverick Vinales to the flag by less than half a second, while Vinales was ahead of Alex Rins by less than a tire-width with a 0.006 second space. Eight of the top 10 were on KTMs (all factory bikes except for one Kalex chassis).
Next race, April 21, Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas.
World Championship Moto GP Standings after one of 18 races:
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 25 points;
2. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 20;
3. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 16;
4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 13;
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech III Yamaha, 11;
6. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, G0 & Fun Honda Gresini, 10;
7. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 9;
8. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati Team, 8;
9. Andrea Iannone, Italy, Energy T.I. Pramac Racing, 7;
10. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Ignite Pramac Racing, 6.