MotoGP World Championship Grand Prix 2014
Repsol Honda RC213V rider Marc Marquez opened the defence of his debut-season MotoGP World Championship in the style of a champion – returning from injury to claim a fighting victory after a fierce battle with Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) that lasted all the way to the end of the 22-lap race, held under floodlights at the Losail circuit in Qatar.
Already the youngest ever premier-class title winner, Marquez was back on a bike for the first time in six weeks at Qatar after breaking his leg in a training accident. In spite of missing the final tests, he was soon up to speed, qualifying on pole position for the opening round – the only race of the year to be run after dark, to avoid searing daytime desert heat.
Last year, aged 20, Marquez made his MotoGP debut at Qatar, finishing a sensational third. The Repsol Honda RC213V rider would finish on the rostrum in all but two of the races, where a crash and a black flag resulted in no scores, claiming six wins on his way to a stunning rookie title win.
Repsol Honda RC213V team-mate Dani Pedrosa made it a double podium for the HRC team, finishing a close third after a well-judged race, taking the benefit of his experience at one of his least favourite circuits. Pedrosa bided his time while several riders crashed on the treacherous track, and came away with the reward.
It meant a strong start also for the veteran Repsol Honda rider's title campaign. The former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion is in his ninth season with the HRC team.
Marquez's ride was the highlight of an exciting race – not only first of the season, but the first run under new rules with “Factory Option" and “Open" machines competing under different technical rules. The greater leveller, however, was the tricky 5.38-km Losail circuit, with several riders falling victim to the treacherous surface, where a slippery coating of sand awaits any rider who strays too far off line.
The first victim was fast starter Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha), who took the lead into the first corner, but did not complete the first lap. Then LCR Honda RC213V rider Stefan Bradl took over for the first eight of 22 laps, only for the German to suffer the same fate.
After ten laps, there were still five riders within one second of new leader Rossi. By now Pedrosa had moved to third, while Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Gresini Honda RC213V) and Bradley Smith (Yamaha) were close behind.
Smith would also fall, and then Bautista as well, after mounting a strong attack on Pedrosa.
Marquez led over the line for the first time on lap 14, and over the last two laps he and Rossi engaged in furious combat, changing places repeatedly until the Honda rider gained a small advantage he was able to hold to the line, winning by 0.259 seconds. Pedrosa had been a close spectator, and was happy with a safe third place.
Bradl and Bautista escaped injury in their tumbles, and had to take comfort from the erstwhile strength of their performances; Bradl leading the race and Bautista a major protagonist in the rostrum fight. Bautista has a supplementary role, as race-tester for Showa suspension and Nissin brakes, made by Japanese companies with strong links with Honda.
Four more of the new Honda RCV1000R production racing machines competed under the new “Open" rules. The best of them laid on an exciting race-long battle for seventh, finishing only three hundredths of a second apart. Winner by inches was class rookie Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing Honda RCV1000R), defeating 2006 Honda World Champion Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R).
The other pair of new Hondas also finished in the points, with former 250cc World Champion Hiro Aoyama 11th on the second Drive M7 Aspar machine, and Czech star Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing Honda RCV1000R) 13th.
In the all-Honda-powered Moto2 class, Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex rider Esteve “Tito" Rabat claimed the narrowest of victories after a typically close and exciting race - with all entries powered by identical race-tuned CBR600 engines supplied by the organisers, the margins are reliably small.
The Spaniard, third overall in last year's championship, was a nail-biting 0.040 seconds ahead of early race leader Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), with second Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex rider Mika Kallio just one second adrift.
With last year's top two riders gone to MotoGP, Rabat's first-race win (his fourth in the Moto2 class) reinforces his position as pre-season favourite. The narrowness of the win however bodes well for a tense season to come.
After the race, a shock: technical inspection found an infringement concerning the air filter on Nakagami's bike, and he was disqualified. The team appealed, without success.
Not far behind, former 125cc champion Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2 Suter) had come through to fourth on track, barely half-a-second clear of class rookie Maverick Vinales (Pons HP 40 Kalex), winner of last year's Moto3 World Championship. Both were promoted one position by the disqualification.
The pair had caught and passed long-time fourth-place rider Simone Corsi (NGM Forward Racing Forward-KLX), more than one second behind at the flag.
The second high-placed rookie was grand prix first-timer Sam Lowes (Speed Up), in an excellent sixth. Lowes moved into MotoGP as reigning World Supersport Champion.
Sandro Cortese was a brave seventh at the head of a close group. The Dynavolt Intact GP Kalex rider suffered a fracture in his leg after qualifying on the front row, missed morning warm-up, but returned for the race. Jordi Torres (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2 Suter) was inches behind in eighth, with Anthony West (QMMF Racing Team Speed Up) almost alongside. Another second down, French SAG team rider Louis Rossi completed the top ten.
In the Moto3 class, where rival manufacturers battle it out using 250cc four-stroke engines, Honda claimed two out of three podium places. The company's revised RS250FW missed victory in the first race of the evening by a mere 0.233 of a second, in a last-lap brawl that put the first five riders over the line within 0.369 seconds, the last podium slot decided by a photo-finish.
Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Marquez led over the line for 17 of the 18 laps, though changing places out on the track now and then with Australian Jack Miller (KTM). Second Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Rins, who started from pole position, had led a small group up to catch the leaders by the end.
Results were in doubt until the final yards after a hectic final lap. Miller was first, Marquez almost alongside in second, with a photo-finish giving third to SaxoPrint-RTG Honda rider Efren Vazquez, by five-hundredths from Miguel Oliveira (Mahindra). Rins was dropped to fifth, a tenth adrift, in the final scramble.
The rest of the group was still close, with Alexis Masbou (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) a strong seventh in the thick of it.
New Honda rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Ongetta-AirAsia Honda) finished 18th.
The next race, the GP of the Americas, is at Austin, Texas in the USA, on April 13. There are 18 rounds in the World Championship, which concludes in Valencia in Spain in November.
|1||Marc MARQUEZ (Repsol Honda Team)||F|
|2||Valentino ROSSI (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)||F|
|3||Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)||F|
|4||Aleix ESPARGARO (NGM Forward Racing)||O|
|5||Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Ducati Team)||O|
|6||Cal CRUTCHLOW (Ducati Team)||O|
|7||Scott REDDING (GO & FUN Honda Gresini)||O|
|8||Nicky HAYDEN (Drive M7 Aspar)||O|
|9||Colin EDWARDS (NGM Forward Racing)||O|
|10||Andrea IANNONE (Pramac Racing)||O|
|11||Hiroshi AOYAMA (Drive M7 Aspar)||O|
|12||Yonny HERNANDEZ (Emergy T.I. Pramac Racing)||O|
|13||Karel ABRAHAM (Cardion AB Motoracing)||O|
|14||Danilo PETRUCCI (IodaRacing Project)||O|
|15||Broc PARKES (Paul Bird Motorsport)||O|
* F=Factory option, O=Open category
|1||Esteve RABAT (Marc VDS Racing Team)|
|2||Mika KALLIO (Marc VDS Racing Team)|
|3||Thomas LUTHI (Interwetten Paddock Moto2)|
|4||Maverick VIÑALES (Pons HP 40)|
|5||Simone CORSI (NGM Forward Racing)|
|6||Sam LOWES (Speed Up)|
|7||Sandro CORTESE (Dynavolt Intact GP)|
|8||Jordi TORRES (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2)|
|9||Anthony WEST (QMMF Racing Team)|
|10||Louis ROSSI (SAG Team)|
|11||Jonas FOLGER (AGR Team)|
|12||Ricard CARDUS (Tech 3)|
|13||Randy KRUMMENACHER (IodaRacing Project)|
|14||Luis SALOM (Pons HP 40)|
|15||SYAHRIN Hafizh (Petronas Raceline Malaysia)|
* Takaaki Nakagami took the checkered flag as the 2nd place finisher but was disqualified from the race for a violation of the regulation on his machine which was found after the race.
|1||Jack MILLER (Red Bull KTM Ajo)|
|2||Alex MARQUEZ (Estrella Galicia 0,0)|
|3||Efren VAZQUEZ (SaxoPrint-RTG)|
|4||Miguel OLIVEIRA (Mahindra Racing)|
|5||Alex RINS (Estrella Galicia 0,0)|
|6||Jakub KORNFEIL (Calvo Team)|
|7||Alexis MASBOU (Ongetta-Rivacold)|
|8||Isaac VIÑALES (Calvo Team)|
|9||Niccolò ANTONELLI (Junior Team GO & FUN Moto3)|
|10||Francesco BAGNAIA (SKY Racing Team VR46)|
|11||John MCPHEE (SaxoPrint-RTG)|
|12||Romano FENATI (SKY Racing Team VR46)|
|13||Danny KENT (Red Bull Husqvarna Ajo)|
|14||Karel HANIKA (Red Bull KTM Ajo)|
|15||Brad BINDER (Ambrogio Racing)|