Freddie Spencer’s 30-year-old record of youngest GP rider to take a pole or win a race just got pretty thoroughly binned at the new Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track near Austin Texas. 20-year-old Spaniard Marc Marquez used his Repsol Honda to dominate practice, get the pole, then shadow his experienced team-mate Dani Pedrosa for about 2/3 of the Moto GP race.
A perfect clean pass got him into the lead, and then it was bye-bye. Pedrosa tried to get back at his “rookie” team-mate but eventually gave up a few laps from the end and settled for second. Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, winner of the season’s first race at Qatar and defending world champion, was a lonely third and reasonably content with the spot – “Today third position was the best we could do. I want to congratulate Cal (Crutchlow) who didn’t give up until the end and also Marc, he’s the youngest rider in history to win a Grand Prix; he is a phenomenon.”
Marquez said, “It went better than I expected and I am very grateful to the team … Our battle is not the one for the championship, but rather taking it race-by-race and enjoying every moment.”
Perhaps the best ride of the race, or at least winner of the non-existent Hard Charger Award – not trying to take anything away from Marquez’ accomplishments – was talented and amusingly cranky Brit Cal Crutchlow. He was scary-fast on his satellite bike, pushing hard for fourth (“top six is all we can hope for this weekend”, he said), making an error and falling back to sixth, then crunching his way back up to fourth, only a couple of seconds behind Lorenzo.
It was an inspired race, and Crutchlow, who’s adamant he should have the factory bike Valentino Rossi is on, made a point of waving to the Yamaha factory pit on his last lap as he passed by – two positions ahead of Rossi.
The entertaining Brit said, “To finish fourth and be behind Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo is a great achievement for all of us and I want to say a massive thanks to my crew. We qualified well and I rode very well in the race and the most pleasing aspect was my consistency.”
Marquez’ accomplishment was pretty spectacular. He’s been at the sharp end of every riding session since his first time on a Moto GP bike at the season-opening test at Sepang in Malaysia back in February, and Honda Racing Director Shuhei Nakamoto said at the time he expected Marquez to be winning races in this, his first season. No pressure, then.
Other than one crash in practice at COTA on cold tires, the kid’s been perfect, belying his Moto 2 reputation of being on the wild and crazy side. Everyone’s impressed (except maybe Crutchlow …); even Rossi said in response to questions about the kid being the new Rossi – “maybe he’s better than me, I crashed in my first Moto GP race, he didn’t! I think we better try to beat him before he gets used to these bikes.”
Too late, Vale. After today, Rossi said – “He is very fast and it will be very hard to beat him, for sure.”
Moto 2 and 3
As has been common the last couple of seasons, the Moto 2 and 3 races were far more entertaining than the relatively processional feature event. The Moto 3 race in particular was quite something; four, then three, then two riders were locked in battle for the lead, with the balance of the field doing their usual bar-room brawl stuff farther back.
Then a crash brought out the red flag, but it wasn’t quite 2/3 distance, so the rules saw the field regridded for a five-lap sprint race. It was nuts, great to watch, and in the end it worked out for the guys who’d worked so hard up front in the “first race,” as an all-Spanish podium saw Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, and Luis Salom finished in that order, same as they’d been at the red flag. It was Rins’ first win in the class, and he looked comfortable doing it.
Rins and Salom are tied at 41 for the Moto 3 series lead, with Vinales one back at 40.
The Moto 2 race was a bit different, as Nicolas Terol (Spain) checked out early after quickly passing pole-sitter Scott Redding and ended up with a comfy three-second -plus lead that he nursed for most of the race. Behind him Redding, Esteve Rabat, Mike Kallio, and Dominique Aegerter traded positions like they were flipping cards across a table, while farther back the fight for sixth through 10th was intense enough to give a seasoned watcher stomach pains – superb stuff.
In the end, Rabat got Kallio for second in the last corner of the last lap when the experienced Finn ran a touch wide, with Aegerter and Redding rounding out the top five. That leaves Redding leading the championship with 31 points, with Terol, Rabat and Kallio tied at 27 and Aegerter one back at 26.
Close series? You bet.
Moto GP Championship Point Standings (after 2 of 18 races):
1. TIE, Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda / Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 41 points
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 33
4. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 30
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 24
6. TIE, Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Go & Fun Gresini Honda / Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, Italy,18
8. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati Team, 15
9. Andrea Iannone, Italy, Energy T.I. Pramac Racing Ducati, 13
10. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 11
Next race May 5, Spain, Jerez Circuit.