Marquez fends off Rossi challenge in Losail thriller
Crashes, overtakes, intense battles and some more crashes: the thrill-and-spill-a-minute Losail GP saw the world champion come out trumps after a hard-fought battle with The Doctor
There really couldn't have been a better way to kick off the 2014 MotoGP season. After all the hoopla surrounding the new Open class rules, Aleix Espargaro's stunning rise to the top in the practice sessions and a closely-contested qualifying session, we knew the Losail circuit on Sunday would be host to some high-octane action. What followed, was a race that could hardly have been more dramatic to watch.
When the lights went out for the first premier class race of 2014, Tech3 Yamaha's Bradley Smith took a surprise lead, leaving Marc Marquez and co. in his wake, but before he could lean into Turn 1, Jorge Lorenzo had already shot from fifth to first, and looked like he meant business. However, before one could realise what had happened, Lorenzo lost the front-end of his M1 and careened into the gravel trap, his bike being reduced to scrap. He'd complained about the new heat-resistant Bridgestones over the weekend, and ultimately, it was a combination of the new set of rubber and a beginner-level error that put Lorenzo out of the race on the first lap.
Lorenzo's loss was Stefan Bradl's gain - at the end of the first lap, the German was leading the pack, and he continued to hold first place until Lap 9, which is when he too suffered a low-side crash. Who took over the mantle of race leader after that was a name that would've pleasantly surprised many.
Valentino Rossi, having started the race from tenth, rode tremendously well to find his way to second place, and once Bradl fell, he was on course for his first MotoGP victory since Assen last year. He would've, too, had it not been for the undying will of Marc Marquez. The 21 year-old, who hasn't completely recovered from a recent accident, was hot on Rossi's heels all through, and after a series of position swaps towards the end, pulled out a lead big enough to stay untroubled by The Doctor's attempts at pulling off an encore of last year's opening race.
Bradley Smith continued to battle with Alvaro Bautista, the duo switching positions many times, before Smith crashed out with less than five laps remaining, leaving Dani Pedrosa and Bautista to sweat it out for the last spot on the podium. The Gresini Honda rider ran Pedrosa to the ragged edge, but on the penultimate lap, fell off his bike, which meant two podium finishers for Repsol Honda.
The many crashes meant Aleix Espargaro, who endured a rather difficult Qualifying session on Saturday, finished in a career-best fourth place ahead of Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. Of the two debutants, Scott Redding had a promising start to his MotoGP career with a seventh place finish, while Pol Espargaro retired after his bike developed technical problems, capping off a hugely disappointing day for Tech3 Yamaha.
Winning the race with an iffy leg and by defying a resurgent Valentino Rossi only shows the kind of hunger Marc Marquez possesses at the moment. Even when he's not at 100 per cent, he can notch up magnificent victories like this one. It's only the start of the season, though. Rossi will take heart from his second place finish, and the fact that the Open class bikes gave the Factory bikes a run for their money promises hotly-contested races for the rest of the season.
The action continues in Austin, Texas, three weeks from now. Circuit of the Americas is also the circuit at which Marquez took the first of his many victories last year. Will it be yet another win for the Spaniard, or does CotA have a surprise in store for us?
1. Marc Marquez
2. Valentino Rossi
3. Dani Pedrosa
4. Aleix Espargaro
5. Andrea Dovizioso
6. Cal Crutchlow
7. Scott Redding
8. Nicky Hayden
9. Colin Edwards
10. Andrea Iannone
11. Hiroshi Aoyama
12. Yonny Hernandez
13. Karel Abraham
14. Danilo Petrucci
15. Broc Parkes
16. Michael Laverty
17. Mike Di Meglio