Tuesday, 23 April 2013
March pre-season testing set the scene for the inaugural Austin MotoGP. That the Repsol Hondas and Stefan Bradl lead the way over the factory Yamahas was not a surprise. What was a surprise was that it was rookie Marc Marquez who topped the timesheets, not his 7th MotoGP season veteran Dani Pedrosa. While Marquez played down his pace, in deference to the then team leader Pedrosa it was an ominous sign of what was to come.
The Circuit of the Americas is a strange track. Fast sweeping corners and serious elevation changes make for a great TV spectacle, however most riders complain that despite its aesthetic beauty it does not flow properly, making it difficult to find the right lines and tiring to ride. Unlike truly flowing tracks like Phillip Island, corner exits do not naturally lead to the next corner entry, making the right line difficult to find. But it's the number of first gear corners (something like 40% of the lap is spent in first) that gives the natural advantage to the Hondas. It was always up against Yamaha to overcome the hp and seamless shift transmission deficit.
Fast forward to qualifying and Marquez once again stole the limelight. Pole for the 20 year old ahead of Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Crutchlow made him the youngest pole sitter in 500GP/MotoGP history. Marquez did his best to tone down the hype but the prospect of eclipsing Freddie Spencer's record (youngest premier class winner) was the sole topic of conversation amongst the press and paddock. With the natural advantages held by the Honda's, Sunday was looming as a two way shootout between the Spanish Repsol twins.
While Qatar had a metronomic leader disappearing ahead of an intense battle for second, Austin had an epic battle for the lead followed by relatively lonely rides for those behind. A split tyre strategy where Marquez backed himself on the harder tyre posed more questions than answers early in the race. Pedrosa did what was necessary, leading into turn 1 and was relentlessly stalked by Marquez, as in Qatar biding his time, waiting for his time to strike. Try as he might, Lorenzo's inch perfect laps could not close the gap, although the differential was less than many expected. Behind, Crutchlow put in his most impressive ride in MotoGP, challenging Lorenzo until a mistake put him off the track and into the pack with Bradl, Rossi and Bautista. Impressively, however, as quickly as he was in the dogfight, he had cleared off again into a lonely ride for fourth.
Speaking of Rossi, after his Qatar heroics I was expecting him to charge the through pack and be competitive with Lorenzo (or at least Crutchlow). But the Doctor had no remedy for a lack of confidence at a track with which he struggled to get to grips (and brakes) with. Rossi revealed he lost a chunk of his brake disc after the race, but it is unlikey he would have challenged even without the problem
So back to the main show. After losing the lead into the first turn, Marquez held station behind his team mate, waiting for his opportunity to make the move back. At no stage was Pedrosa able to pull a gap, despite being on the medium rear tyre, versus Marquez on the harder option. As in Qatar, it was only a matter of time befor Marquez shoved it up the inside on lap 13, and try as he might, Pedrosa struggled to keep tabs. Riding at 11/10ths, he made a mistake with a couple of laps to go, fulfilling Marquez's destiny to break both of Freddie's record in one weekend.
On the in lap, the congratulations from the entire field showcased the arrival of the next era of MotoGP. Rossi, in particular, made a special effort to congratulate him. Greatness recognises greatness.