In the first Grand Prix meeting of the 2014 season, the Moto 3 race saw five riders within 3/10 of a second at the finish. The Moto 2 race saw a wheel-width win of 4/100 of a second. And the Moto GP race was packed with falls, thrills, chills, and a dramatic battle to the wire between defending champion Marc Marquez and nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi.
Truly, a weekend of racing action doesn’t get much better than the first Grand Prix of this season. There was drama all through practice and qualifying, with the new oddball rules assortment, leading to an interesting shuffling of the pack. Aleix Espargaro and his NGM Mobile Forward Yamaha was fastest by far of anyone all through practice, but managed to crash twice in qualifying, the second time on a lap when he’d set three fastest-sector times and was on track for the pole.
In the end, Marc Marquez (six weeks after breaking his leg and only five days after starting to weight-bear on it) put his factory Repsol Honda on pole, but the rest of the heavy hitters from the factory teams– Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Valentino Rossi – were back as far as row four among the plebs.
Marquez was joined on the front row by Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Alvaro Bautista (Go&Fun Gresini Honda). Smith got a terrific start, but so did Jorge Lorenzo from the second row, passing Smith in the first corner and leading the first lap – until he made a rare unforced error and crashed out before completing the lap. Smith led briefly until Stefan Bradl (Givi LCR Honda) got by and led for several laps before crashing. That left Marquez in the lead, where he looked set to stay for the rest of the race.
Until, that is, 35-year-old veteran Rossi caught up from his 10th dramatic battle in the last few laps, exchanging the lead at several different corners, including twice on the second-last lap. On the final lap Marquez dug deep, put in his fastest lap of the race, and took the win by 2/10s of a second.
Behind the two at the top, Smith fell, then Bautista and Pedrosa battled over third until Bautista fell, leaving the second Repsol rider in a secure spot to take the last podium spot, albeit three seconds behind Rossi.
Marquez said, “I enjoyed a lot the last lap with Valentino; last year we had a battle on the last lap and he won it [to finish second] and this year it was another battle on the last lap, which was so great: I hope we can have some more battles in the future.”
Rossi said, “I risked a bit in the first laps, but it was so funny! Like the old times, 10 years ago – all of us together, making mistakes, but everybody on the same pace … I don’t remember exactly how many times we passed each other – all I remember is that unfortunately the last time Marc overtook me!”
Fourth went to Espargaro, making a great recovery from his fourth-row start, while the next two spots went to the Ducati team, Andrea Dovizioso leading Cal Crutchlow across the line (Crutchlow’s bike was in serious trouble, and he barely made it to the finish). Next up were the customer Hondas of Scott Redding (Go&Fun) and Nicky Hayden (Drive M7Aspar), while Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Yamaha) and Andrea Iannone (Pramac Ducati) rounded out the top 10.
Pole-sitter Esteve (Tito) Rabat had a horrid start, jammed well back in the grid on the first lap, but recovered with an excellent ride to beat Takaaki Nakagami by a wheel-width after a terrific battle.
Sadly, the Japanese rider (who led about half the race) was later disqualified because of a “non- regulation” air filter. That moved Rabat’s Marc VDS Racing team-mate Mika Kallio up to second, followed by Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2), the Swiss rider a mere 3/10 second ahead of 2013 Moto3 World Champion Maverick Viñales (Pons HP 40) who made an excellent Moto2 debut to collect fifth (fourth after Nakagami’s disqualification).
Another newcomer to the field, World Supersport champion Sam Lowes, also had a great day, carding sixth in his first Moto 2 event, while perhaps the most impressive ride of the field came from Sandro Cortese, riding to seventh with a broken ankle from an accident at the end of Saturday’s qualifications.
The Moto 3 race started, continued, and finished as they often do, as reminiscent of a closing-hour bar-room brawl as a motorcycle race. It ended up with the first five finishing within 3/10 of a second, with 19-year-old Australian Jack Miller grabbing his first Grand Prix victory. Alex Marquez (Marc’s younger brother) led most of the race but made a mistake in the last few laps; pushed down to fifth, he managed to batter his way back to second at the flag.
If this action keeps up, there’ll be a few race fans needing difibrilators before the season is done.
Moto GP championship standings after 1 of 18 rounds
1. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 25 points
2. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 20
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 16
4. Aleix Espargaro, Spain, NGM Mobile Forward Yamaha, 13
5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 11
6. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Ducati Team, 10
7. Scott Redding, U.K., Go&Fun Honda Gresini, 9
8. Nicky Hayden, USA, Drive M7 Aspar, 8
9. Colin Edwards, USA, NGM Mobile Forward Yamaha, 7
10. Andrea Iannone, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 6
Next race: April 13 Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas
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