2014 Indianapolis MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Is A Marquez Win Still A Spoiler?
Marc Marquez winning ten races in a row is starting to cause a problem for us here at MotoMatters.com. You see, we have a strict no-spoilers policy on the front page, meaning that we do our very best to write headlines for race and practice results which do not reveal the the winner. That can sometimes result in rather convoluted headlines, trying to convey the sense of the race without giving away who won it.
This is where Marquez is causing us headaches. After winning his tenth race in a row, and all of the races this season, we are starting to wonder whether announcing a Marquez win is actually a spoiler any more. The deeper Marquez gets into record territory – and he is in very deep indeed, matching Giacomo Agostini for winning the first ten races of the season, and Mick Doohan for winning ten in a row, and Doohan, Valentino Rossi, Agostini and Casey Stoner for winning ten or more in one season – the harder it gets to write headlines. It is hard to sum up the story of a race, when the story is all about Marquez and the record books.
So how did Marc Marquez make it ten in a row? It certainly didn't look as easy as some of the other races he has won this year. A poor start left him behind Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso, and battling with Jorge Lorenzo. With track temperatures warmer than they had been all weekend, Marquez found the feeling with the front end not as good as during practice. After a couple of scares, he decided to take his time in the early laps, and follow Rossi around. On lap 11, an unmissable opportunity presented itself. Rossi led into the first corner, with Lorenzo diving up the inside of Marquez to take second. Marquez decided to strike back, and seeing Rossi run just a fraction wide on the entry to Turn 2, stuffed his bike up the inside of the Italian. The gap Rossi had left was big enough for Lorenzo as well, who then tried to hold the inside through Turn 3. That left him on the outside of Marquez for the left hander at Turn 4, and Marquez was gone.
It took him a long while, though, and Marquez' margin of victory was rather modest. In sixteen laps, he could only put a couple of seconds on second place finisher Jorge Lorenzo, and that was after Lorenzo complained it took him too long to get past Valentino Rossi. In the last nine laps, Lorenzo was pretty much on the same pace as Marquez, but the 2013 world champion already had the win in the bag by then. That was causing Marquez some concern. "Here, the Yamahas were stronger that expected, really close to us," Marquez said. "If they are closer here, I expect they will be really close in Brno."
Brno and Silverstone could be the first tracks to cause a real threat to Marquez' winning streak this year. "Now we go to Brno, and later Silverstone, which are two tracks where last year we struggle a little bit more, " Marquez said. "Yamaha was so strong there." Marquez is right to be concerned. Last year at Brno, Marquez had trouble shaking off the Yamahas, and only just managed to hold off his teammate Dani Pedrosa. At Silverstone, Lorenzo managed to get ahead of Marquez on the very last lap, producing a thrilling win for the Yamaha man.
Could Lorenzo do it again? Indianapolis was a sign that the Spaniard was finally turning his season around. He rated the race as his best of the season, on a par with the race at Mugello, where he was just beaten to the line by Marquez. Lorenzo spent his holiday working on his physical fitness, and training hard, swapping between time in the gym and time out on the mountain bike, something he has only just taken up. Riding a mountain bike means he gets outside, and is much more enjoyable than the time he was spending on the stationary bike in the gym. That is providing more motivation, and more motivation means more fitness.
Most of all, Lorenzo regained some of his confidence. It was that which had taken a beating in the first half the season, with the low point coming at Assen. The race at Indy was a little easier for him, the early laps coming on a fully dry track, rather than one which is still damp. That meant Lorenzo could push harder earlier, and build his confidence. He had a poor start, but that meant he had to fight his way forward, something which gave him confidence in the bike and in his ability. He had taken longer than he wanted to get past Rossi, as Rossi was stronger on the brakes, he conceded. By then it was too late to catch Marquez, but his confidence was restored. "It is the first time in a long time I recover positions [in a race], I recover the confidence, and I recover the attitude," Lorenzo said.
Though Valentino Rossi finished third, he was still a happy man, he said. He was happiest of all at having got a rocket start, "like Ron Haslam in the past," Rossi said. How happy? "When I arrive in front in the first corner, I get an erection!" Rossi joked. He knew that Marquez was faster, as he had been all weekend, but being in front was his best hope of beating the Repsol Honda man. He battled long and hard, but in the end, he had to surrender. Despite that, Rossi was happy enough. "This track for me is the worst, or one of the worst, so to get a podium is good," he said afterwards.
Such a strong result at Indy bodes well for Brno. The Czech circuit has been one of Rossi's best tracks in the past, the Italian saying that his results there have often played a crucial part in his championships. Things have not gone so well for Rossi at Brno in recent years, but 2014 could be different.
Where Marquez gains most over his rivals is in sheer consistency. While he keeps winning, Rossi, Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa all take turns on the podium, giving away handfuls of points to Marquez. Before Indianapolis, it was clear that if he kept winning, he could tie up the championship at Aragon. By winning at Indy, and with Pedrosa coming fourth, on a weekend where he never felt comfortable, Marquez expanded his advantage to 89 points. If Marquez keeps winning, and Lorenzo comes second, it would only take one bad weekend for both Pedrosa and Rossi to hand the title to Marquez at Misano.
The most encouraging sight for Ducati fans was Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone in the early laps. Dovizioso led early, and Iannone challenged hard, until Iannone's Pramac Ducati stopped on him. Ducati have suffered far too many technical problems in 2014, with Cal Crutchlow the main victim. But Iannone has also lost his fair share of engines, with four being permanently shelved so far. The engine Iannone used at Indy was one of the new spec, with a bit more power and slightly more torque, and losing that one would be a major annoyance. We won't find out if he has until Brno, however.
In the end, the performance of the Ducati is mitigated by the tires they have to run. The concessions to Ducati – more engines, more testing and a softer rear tire – are both a blessing and a curse, and the rear tire is often a problem. While they allow the Ducatis to push hard in the early laps, once they go off, they quickly lose ground, as happened to Dovizioso, who went from fighting with the front group, to finishing nearly 21 seconds off the winner. Cal Crutchlow, who is far less comfortable pushing in the early laps as he cannot carry the same lean angle as Dovizioso, loses all of his time when the tire is new. Compare the times of Dovizioso and Crutchlow, and you see that while Crutchlow gives away over 11 seconds in the first ten laps, he concedes just 4 seconds in the last ten laps. Three of those seconds were lost in two laps where Crutchlow was behind Scott Redding, with whom he battled all of the race. Redding could follow the pace of Crutchlow easily enough, but when he passed the Ducati rider, the top speed deficit of his Honda RCV1000R meant the pair lost a lot of time.
Crutchlow's times on the old tires show the potential of the Desmosedici when the tires are shot. Dovizioso's times on new tires show the potential of the bike in the hands of someone with a year of experience. The bike isn't as bad as it has been in the past, but it remains a scary beast when on new tires. That takes plenty of getting used to.
What is wrong with the bike? Jeremy Burgess was at Indy, his first visit to a race since being sacked by Valentino Rossi. The fact that Burgess was sporting a #46 cap spoke of the fact that Burgess had taken it well, and the fact that everyone commented on how well, and how relaxed Burgess looked speaks of exactly how unhealthy and mentally draining working in the pressure cooker that is the Grand Prix paddock is. Burgess spoke to a few journalists present, including Dennis Noyes. Burgess told Noyes that the problem with Ducati was one of philosophy: they built an engine with as much power as possible, then tried to control it with electronics. Yamaha and Honda had a different strategy: they tried to build an engine with easily manageable power characteristics, and then set about boosting the power without ruining the ridability. Given the number of race wins and championships of the three factories since Ducati entered MotoGP in 2003, the best strategy is plain to see. If Gigi Dall'Igna's new engine, coming at the beginning of 2015, favors ridability over top end, Ducati will have solved one big part of the puzzle.
For Crutchlow to be battling Redding all race speaks both of Crutchlow's struggle with the Ducati, and of Redding's outstanding weekend at Indianapolis. They had made a step over the summer, Redding said, though the Gresini Honda rider remained frustrated by the lack of top speed. Redding will have to wait until next year, when he will finally get on the RC213V, and get the horsepower he has been missing so far.
A number of crashes and mechanical problems meant that only fifteen riders finished, all of them in the points. Leon Camier was unlucky to run into problems with the electronics – something which has happened a couple of times this season, the Honda production racers not taking kindly to the spec Magneti Marelli ECU – but has already made his mark. Despite his DNF, there were a lot of teams discussing his prospect for 2015 after Indy. Camier has at least one more race to make an impression, subbing for Nicky Hayden while the American recovers from his injuries.
The other American bade an emotional farewell to his fans, Colin Edwards riding his final race in the USA at Indy. The Texan will be sorely missed when he is gone, though frankly, more for the color he brings to the sport, rather than his results in recent years. After the race, the Forward Racing team put out one of the most confusing press releases I have ever read. The press release announced Edwards retirement with immediate effect, but Edwards claimed he will be riding at Silverstone, and possibly at other races. Silverstone looks to be a dead cert, but beyond that, we simply do not know.
If the MotoGP race consolidated Marquez' stranglehold on the MotoGP championship, the Moto2 and Moto3 races had very different effects. Mika Kallio won a restarted Moto2 race by a comfortable margin, but his margin would have been much, much larger if the first race hadn't been red-flagged after an incident with Mattia Pasini, who crashed and briefly lost consciousness, though he was quickly found to be healthy. With championship leader Tito Rabat only managing to finish fourth, Kallio cut his deficit to Rabat to just seven points. Kallio had said that the season really starts at Indy. With his third victory of the season, Kallio is staking his claim. It is to the credit of the Marc VDS Racing team that they see no need to intervene in the championship race. Though frankly, Rabat and Kallio have such an advantage over the riders behind them that there is no need to get involved.
The Moto3 race was as epic as you might expect, with ten men fighting for the win. As expected, the first rider into the final corner was destined to lose, with Efren Vazquez blowing by Romano Fenati to take his first victory in the class. Jack Miller crossed the line in third, having lost touch in the back straight as he scrapped over the right to chase Fenati and Vazquez. Though Miller was frustrated not to win, he still extended his lead in the championship by finishing ahead of Alex Marquez. Miller is leading the Moto3 championship by the same tactic that Marc Marquez is in MotoGP: Miller always beats whoever is closest in the title race, while his rivals spend too much time scrapping among themselves.
Ride of the day has to go to Alexis Masbou in Moto3, the Frenchman who finished fourth. Masbou got caught up in first lap tangle, and crossed the line in 31st. He blasted his way through the field during the race, catching the leaders and finishing just behind Miller. An extraordinary ride for the Ongetta rider.