Motegi Twin-Ring Circuit, Japan – At a circuit owned by Honda and commonly acknowledged to suit that firm’s Moto GP bikes, Jorge Lorenzo took his Yamaha to the lead off the start and led to the finish to keep his championship hopes alive.
It was an amazing and perfect ride from the defending world champion, overcoming a typhoon with heavy rain and fog that washed out Friday and half of Saturday, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, and of course the ominous and powerful Repsol Honda duo of Mark Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
Lorenzo’s ride was so good as to make his victory ride almost boring. In contrast, the Moto 2 and 3 races were their usual chain-saw massacre-like events, the Moto 2 race stopped on the first lap after a horrendous multi-bike accident that called out a red flag, and the Moto 3 race seeing both the leaders in the championship high-side themselves out of the race.
Lorenzo’s win was his seventh in 2013, and means that the Moto GP title goes down to the last race. That hasn’t happened since 2006, when Nicky Hayden won his title. The Majorcan said, “We chose the soft [rear] tire and the others chose the hard tire, we knew that at the end of the race we might have problems … to take this win at the home of Honda makes me very happy.”
It was Lorenzo’s fourth pole position of the year, and he, the Repsol Honda duo, and Lorenzo’s Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi rapidly pulled away from the following horde. Rossi had trouble braking early on – something that’s been an issue for him all season – and made two errors; lucky not to crash, he rejoined in 11th after the second incident and worked his way back up to sixth at the finish, running times that were equal to the leading trio.
“I made a great start but on the second lap when I arrived at turn 11 I had not enough power on the brakes and I went too deep and lost two positions.” said Rossi. “On the next lap it was the same. It was my mistake then because I should have remembered from the lap before that I didn’t have enough on the brakes … My pace was quite good and think I could have been in fourth place but it wasn’t enough to get on the podium.”
Behind the leading trio – Lorenzo was never headed, and at about half-distance Marquez dropped back after nearly crashing in a couple of out-braking attempts and Pedrosa simply faded back – came Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl (making four Hondas in the top five), with Rossi a distant sixth. Big credit has to go to Bradl, the German only two weeks away from breaking his ankle at Sepang in Indonesia. Not only did he ride, but was fastest in the morning warm-up – the first dry track time of the weekend – and raced hard with Bautista the whole race.
Behind Rossi came the Tech 3 Yamahas of Cal Crutchlow (moving to Ducati next year) and Bradley Smith. Smith led his team leader for much of the race and is looking more and more confident every race. He’s going to be a danger in 2014, as he returns to the Yamaha satellite squad.
Next up were the usual dueling Ducati pair of Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso, Hayden grabbing ninth and holding on just a few laps from the end. The Kentucky Kid actually qualified on the front row thanks to the wet conditions on Saturday, the team’s best result of the year, but the dry conditions on race day put things back to normal.
The 2006 world champ said, “We knew it would be a different story today in the dry … I don’t know what happened on the start, but the bike didn’t accelerate; it looks like it may have been something with the clutch. That’s a shame because all the work from yesterday was gone by the time I got to Turn 1.”
The result was Yamaha’s 200th premier class race victory and sees Lorenzo move to within 13 points of Marquez with just the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana remaining.
Pol Espargaro and Scott Redding have been back and forth for the Moto 2 title all season. Redding broke his left wrist in a nasty practice crash only a week ago in Australia, but elected to try racing this weekend. Sadly for him, he was caught up in a nasty first-lap multi-bike crash, and although he avoided damaging his wrist any farther, was far too beat up otherwise to make the re-start. Also out was Espargaro’s team-mate Esteve ‘Tito” Rabat, only other rider with a mathematical chance to beat Espargaro. Like Reddding, he was too banged up to make the restart, but like the other riders in the crash was generally okay.
On the restart, Espargaro made a superb jump, passing first-time pole-winner Mika Kallio (Redding’s team-mate) on the first lap and leading to the flag. Kallio held on in second hoping for a chance to help his team-mate, and Swiss rider Tom Luthi, having a great second-half to the season after recovering from a nasty pre-season injury, collected the final podium spot.
The win gave Espargaro a well-deserved title for Moto 2 in 2013, a nice exit for him as he moves up to join Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha Moto GP team in 2014.
The Moto 3 racing couldn’t have been scripted. The least of the many surprises was Alex Marquez claiming his first World Championship race victory. Title contenders Luis Salom and Alex Rins both suffered crashes, neither scoring points, and at the finish Estrella Galicia’s Marquez beat Maverick Viñales by just two hundredths of a second.
Despite being pipped at the line by half a bike-length, Vinales, a distant third going into this weekend, is now only two points behind Salom, with Rins another three points farther back. The final race in Valencia, with all three Spanish riders playing to a home crowd, is going to be awesome.
Series leader Salom’s problems started on the first lap, when he went a bit wide and Isaac Vinales (cousin of Maverick) and Australias’ Jack Miller both went inside. Vinales ended up with nowhere to go, had to overbrake, and highsided right over top of Salom, who collected Vinales’ bike and crashed himself. He managed to restart and was carving up through the field, desperate to score any points at all, and finally over-rode himself and high-sided out of the race, fortunately unharmed.
Meanwhile, up front Rins and team-mate Marquez were trading hammer-blows with Vinales. At one point after a particularly close call between the team-mates, Rins made a rude gesture to Marquez, who acknowledged with a knock to his own helmet! They held station like that for some time, then Marquez made a clean pass on his team-mate to chase after Vinales, Rins shortly after crashing himself out of the race.
The leading duo traded spots in the last two laps, with Vinales’ drafting pass attempt to the line short by a heartbeat.
Any of Salom, Vinales, or Rins can win the title in Valencia – it’s going to be good.
Moto GP standings after 17 of 18 rounds:
1. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 318 points
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 305|
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 280
4. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 224
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 188
6. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Go&Fun Gresini Honda, 160
7. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 146
8. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Racing Team, 133
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., 118
10. Bradley Smith, U.K., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 107