2014 Aragon MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Smart Heads vs Risky Manevuers For The Win.

What a difference a day makes. "There is no way to fight with the factory Hondas," Valentino Rossi had said on Saturday. Within a few laps of the start, it turned out that it was not just possible to fight with the Hondas, but to get them in over their heads, and struggling to hold off the Yamaha onslaught. By the time the checkered flag dropped, the factory Hondas were gone, the first RC213V across the line the LCR of Stefan Bradl, nearly twelve seconds behind the winner, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory M1.

What changed? The weather. Cooler temperatures at the start of the race meant the Hondas struggled to get the hard rear tire to work. The hard rear was never an option for the Yamahas, but the softer rear was still working just fine. From the start, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and the surprising Pol Espargaro were pushing the factory Hondas hard. All of a sudden we had a race on our hands. When the rain came, the excitement stepped up another notch. In the end, strategy and the ability to keep a cool head prevailed. The factory Hondas came up short on both accounts at Aragon.

The forecast for Sunday had been unstable all weekend. But conditions on Sunday morning were far worse than anyone had predicted. Heavy rain soaked the track, then thick fog blanketed the track in a cloak of gray, severely limiting vision at key points on the track. More importantly, the fog kept the medical helicopters on the ground. Without medical helicopters, there's no racing. Should a rider be seriously injured, the helicopters need to be able to get them to a hospital within 20 minutes. When the fog descends, that becomes impossible.

The rain and fog produced three radically different races, each of which had an effect on the championship. Moto3 started off with a narrow dry line, making passing difficult, which in turn caused controversy. Moto2 had the best of the conditions, racing on an almost completely dry track, producing a thrilling race. In MotoGP, the light rain which was falling from the warm up lap created overconfidence among the riders, eventually causing all too many to pay the price of hubris once the rain started to fall in earnest. It became a race of many halves, the situation changing so fast it was hard to keep up. In the end, strategy and intelligence won through, calculated risk rewarded and excessive bravery punished mercilessly. If ever anyone needed a lesson in just how capricious motorcycle racing can be, the MotoGP race was it.

The result of the race came down to pitting at the right time. The riders knew the rain was coming – they had been shown the radar images and discussed strategy with their teams ahead of time – but they were lulled into a false sense of security by the drizzle. Had it suddenly started raining, they would have taken the business of swapping bikes a good deal more seriously. However, with light rain spitting from the very start of the race, riders became a little too comfortable with the conditions. When the weather really turned, they got caught out by their own complacency.

Though Aleix Espargaro gambled best – the Forward Yamaha rider made up over ten seconds in the pit swaps, coming in a lap earlier than anyone else – it was Jorge Lorenzo who found the perfect balance. The Movistar Yamaha rider had taken the fight to the Hondas throughout the first sixteen laps of the race, but as the rain got a fraction heavier he started to lose ground. He had a choice, he said afterwards. "I thought my options were to fight for fourth or crash, or win or finish twelfth." With the Hondas disappearing into the distance, he gambled on the rain getting heavier, and pitted to swap to his rain bike.

When he exited, he thought everything was lost. Coming round at the end of his first flying lap after swapping bikes, he thought his lap board was telling him he was twelfth. It was not, Lorenzo's manager Wilco Zeelenberg explained. His team had tried to tell him he was P2, and +10 seconds to Marquez, but he misinterpreted. It did not matter, as the next time around, his pit board showed P1. Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were gone, caught out by a heavy rain shower which left the first part of the circuit soaked. The two Repsol Honda riders hit that part of the circuit on slicks, then hit the ground. The two men rejoined the race, but by the time they did, their chance of a result was over.

Lorenzo's victory had been a long time coming. Since the disaster at Assen, Lorenzo has not been off the podium. But four second places in a row were starting to be more than frustrating. The sense of relief at finally winning, his first since Valencia last year, was palpable. Lorenzo's demeanor can sometimes appear a little forced, but his win at Aragon freed him of all constraints. He was truly, unconditionally happy.

Would Lorenzo have won if the Repsol Hondas hadn't thrown the race away? That is of course an entirely irrelevant question, as throw the race away they did. Why did they throw it away, rather than come in and swap bikes like the rest? On the lap before the crash, both Marquez and Pedrosa had been doing 2'03s, the same times they had been doing in the morning on rain tires. Both were thinking more of the time they would lose than the conditions on the track, and the sudden intense rain caught them out. The back section of the track was still manageable, but when they headed into the first section, it was suddenly a lot wetter, and the slicks had gotten a lot colder. Grip disappeared, and both men went down, Pedrosa crashing on the straight, and Marquez losing the front in Turn 2.

Both men owned up to their errors. "Today was completely my fault," Marquez said, Pedrosa agreeing that he had made a mistake. The decision had to be down to the rider, as only the rider can judge how much grip there is on the track, and sees the differing conditions in all of the corners. The team sees only the front straight, and must judge the rest from the TV, which can paint a deceptive picture of the state of the circuit. Their mistake had been to thinking about the opposition rather than the conditions. "I tried to stay out because I was thinking all the time about the distance to the second rider," Marquez said. "I was thinking about the race, and not about the risk of riding with slicks on the wet tarmac." Dani Pedrosa's reasoning was similar: "I was thinking about how much time I would lose in the pits and I decided not to come in and crashed." The two Hondas took their eye off the ball, and paid the ultimate price.

The Hondas weren't the only riders to get caught out by the conditions. Andrea Dovizioso suffered a similar fate, despite leading the chase in fourth. When he saw the rain coming, he thought he could stay out and claim victory, but instead he lost the rear and highsided out in the downhill Corkscrew section. It was a big crash, Dovizioso said, the rear sliding and gripping and throwing him off.

The situation was toughest on Pol Espargaro. He had been told by his team not to work the situation out for himself, but to watch the more experienced riders. "You are a rookie," Espargaro had been told, "follow the experienced riders." The Tech 3 Yamaha rider did exactly what he was told, but the more experienced riders in front of him were making the kind of rookie mistake Espargaro's crew were trying to protect him from. Espargaro had Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizoso ahead of him, and only Lorenzo managed to keep the bike on two wheels. Teaching young riders is important, but it is very easy to give them the right advice.

Bradley Smith had the benefit of experience of his own. In previous flag-to-flag races, he had tried to follow his intuition, but that had always ended badly, Smith explained. This time, he said, he judged it solely by the numbers: as soon his dash showed he would be lapping slower than 2'00 a lap, he made the call to come in and swap bikes. That was "the perfect call," Smith said, but the problem was the choice of tire. Both Tech 3 riders used the harder rain tire, expecting the softer wet tire not to last. Instead, the harder tire did not give the grip of the softer one, losing both Smith and Espargaro too much time when they came out of the pits.

Bradley Smith was not the only rider to benefit from his decision to head into the pits. Before making the switch, Smith had passed Cal Crutchlow, and the Factory Ducati rider recognized this was the right moment to copy Smith. His bike change was even better than Smith's, coming out ahead of Smith and pushing Aleix Espargaro all the way to the line. When Crutchlow recounted that Aragon would see him earn his first podium bonus, Smith quickly joked that he had demanded money off Crutchlow for showing him the right time to head into the pits.

Crutchlow took that rather well, perhaps because his sense of relief is even greater than Lorenzo's. Crutchlow has had a miserable time on the Ducati Desmosodici, and scoring a podium was big deal, despite owing it at least in part to the conditions. "I think we thoroughly deserved that for all the hard work we have put in this year," Crutchlow said. More important than the podium was the progress he was making on the bike. In Aragon, Crutchlow was battling with Stefan Bradl, Aleix Espargaro and Pol Espargaro, riders he has all too often been 20 seconds or more behind in the race.

Crutchlow was only slightly irked that he could not take second instead of third. He had been hunting down Aleix Espargaro all race, and looked close enough to attack. He had to wait until the last corner, but Aleix just held his line in front of the Englishman. The two came together, blocking Crutchlow's ability to build speed, as he could not shift gears up from third to fifth. Despite the position, Crutchlow was still positive. "We still have some great morale in this team," Crutchlow said.

Despite crashing out, Marc Marquez still has a comfortable lead in the championship. Marquez bagged less than a handful of points, while Pedrosa gave yet another point away to Marquez. Valentino Rossi also suffered badly, forced slightly offline and then off the track. He hit the astroturf, then a wet patch in the run off, and found himself being tossed from the bike. The crash looked ugly, but later on, he found that he came away almost unscathed. Rossi banged his head during the fall, which rendered him momentarily unconscious. A CT scan revealed no further problems, though he was still a little unsteady on his feet after the event.

It is only Jorge Lorenzo who made real hay at Aragon. The Spaniard closed the gap from 112 points to just 90. Marc Marquez can still wrap up the title at Motegi by finishing ahead of his three main rivals. If he gives away positions and points, he will raise the hopes of Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo that they still have a mathematical chance. End in Japan with a single point more than his rivals, and the 2014 crown is his.

Total votes: 59
Total votes: 163

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Comments

This wasn't covered on the TV at all and I still want clarification on some things :
1. What did Hector Barbera do when the rain came in? Did they change the tyres on his bike? Did he stay on slicks? Did he switch to the FTR-Kawasaki?

2. Now that Ducati has one 2nd and two 3rd placed finishes, do they have part of their concessions taken away?

Total votes: 109

Only podiums in the dry count towards Ducati's concessions, so only Dovi's podium at Circuit of the Americas would count against them.

Total votes: 102

Hector Barbera pitted at the end of lap 19 (2'54), lap 20 shows a time of 4'17, then 2'14 and 2'10-ish for the last two laps. So, I assume they changed to wets (Only one bike?).

Total votes: 102

Yup. Ducati only brought 1 bike for Barbera this weekend. The commentators spoke about the concern earlier in the race, that if it were to start raining, Barbera would be in trouble with no second bike to switch over to. But later when it actually rained, they never spoke about it.

Total votes: 94

Marquez & Pedrosa are taking this defeat unnecessarily on themselves when in reality it was the team that let THEM down.

When Lorenzo re-entered on lap 20 he was 23 seconds behind. He immediately began running 2:02-3 laps. On lap 20 MM had just run a 2:15 & was slowing. Espargaro did a 2:04 on lap 19, so they were aware of what Lorenzo would be capable of.

Surely SOMEONE on pit lane should have done the math that JL would have caught both MM & DP regardless & their only choice was to ORDER them to pit.

Sure, the riders are more aware of conditions at a particular location, but the team is responsible for relaying information to the rider they aren't aware of, & the riders couldn't possibly have know Lorenzo's pace.

Total votes: 131

The riders know the pace they're capable of on wets, which has to be very close to the pace of the other top riders in the wet. Certainly within a second of each other. The Repsol boys knew Lorenzo's pace on wets - very close to their own. They know what lap time they're currently running. They know what the grip level is. They were briefed by the team beforehand. The team can't make them come in.

Marquez and Pedrosa screwed up, plain and simple. The choice was on them, and they made the wrong one.

Total votes: 98

Marquez more or less waved Lorenzo through at one point. What was that all about? I haven't heard any real explanation.

Total votes: 96

was that Marquez saw the drops on his visor and was more than happy to let Lorenzo play the role of the canary. Made for some intrigue, for sure.

Total votes: 112

I kept wondering what the hell was that all about. My guess is that Marq wanted a tow from JL. Maybe he wanted to see when will lorenzo pit in to swap to his wet bike. Something which he mentioned at the Sachsenring post race interview that. 'He wanted to follow the experienced riders to see when exactly they will swap the bikes.

Although that happened after the sighting lap.

Total votes: 103

1.) Maybe anyone can help me out with this one. What is the difference between a dry and a wet race? I vaguely remember some difference in rules whereby one or the other would be run to completion regardless and the other would be called at 2/3 race distance or something. Can somebody break that down for me?

I ask because I fail to see the point of declaring a race "wet" or "dry." Why not just make every race flag to flag unless conditions are so bad that a restart or 2/3+ completion is required? In other words, if it's wet at the start of the race and dries out, riders can come in and get their dry bike. If it's dry at the start of the race and starts raining, riders can come in and get their wet bike. So what's the point of classifying the race as one or the other?

2.) David, what happened with Miller's and Marquez' meeting with race direction?

3.) Haven't read an engine usage update in a while. Are any riders/factories in trouble, especially in light of all the crashing this weekend?

Total votes: 113

1. The The 2/3rd race distance rule has nothing to do with it being Dry or Wet. Under flag-to-flag rule riders may swap the bike at their discretion when the race status changes to wet/dry. The 2/3rd rule is that if 2/3rd of a race distance is run, full points will be awarded for the race. Anything less than 2/3rd and only half points are awarded.

I think your confusion comes from the pre-2005 rules where the race was restarted with lower number of laps if it started to rain mid-race.

2. Racing incident, no further actions.

Total votes: 106

Your answer to the first question is kind of what I thought. Which again begs the question: Why is it even necessary to declare a race wet or dry if all races are, essentially, flag to flag races?

As to question 2: Good. That's about how it looked to me.

Total votes: 80

You're way of thinking is correct in MotoGP class because riders have 2 bikes. In all other classes riders have but 1 bike and they have to chose tyres and set-up before the race. If a race is declared dry and it starts to rain, the race has to be stopped and restarted (less laps) if 50% of the race distance isn't covered. If the race is declared wet, the race will not be stopped for changing conditions. Thats why you have to declare a race dry or wet, GP racing is all the same sporting rules (only that in MotoGP 2 bikes are allowed).

Total votes: 93

You're right about that. All MotoGP races are "flag-to-flag" today, if you go by the meaning of the word. But in general, the term "flag-to-flag" is only used in context of rain, to convey that the race will be continued without interruption with a "wet race" status.

It does make sense, because it IS possible (even today) for a race to be stopped if the rain is too heavy/visibility is too limited and the race direction decides it's too unsafe to continue racing.

Total votes: 104

only in wet races you are allowed to change bikes, and you are only allowed to change to a bike which has at least one different tire on. The flag-to-flag race is mainly invented to keep the race whithin the programmed television time, not for security of the riders. So if it is a dry race, there is no need to swap bikes, as swapping bikes is also a possibility to swap a crashed bike for a good one. Even if it's perfectly dry and you put on only 1 wet tire, you still have a good bike that can lap pretty fast for a couple of laps (before the wets get destroid). By that time, you may have made it to the end, or maybe your other bike is repaired and you could swap again for an all-dry bike.

There is no racing series where it is ok to use more than one bike/car to make it to the end of the race, only in bike-racing it takes time to swap tires/wheels so they thought it would be better to swap bikes. Otherwise riders wouldn't come in thinking they would loose to much time to the others who do not come in. from this point of view it's a safety measure.

Total votes: 93

actually in the FIA sanctioned electric single seater series they change cars mid race, safer than disconnecting and changing batteries I suppose, but then again there is a mandated maximum power output for the race and also a social media 'fan boost' thing which gives someone +40hp for 5 seconds, so calling it a racing series is a bit of a stretch IMO, but its probably what Motogp will look like in 10 years time

Total votes: 101

Anybody remember the Seinfeld episode where George wants "T-bone" to be his nickname, then everybody saw him behind a glass door waving his arms and jumping up and down because he was upset about something and it reminded someone of a monkey who could talk named "Cocoa" so George's nickname became "Cocoa"?

I always think of that when I see Miller waving his arms and looking around because someone had the audacity to hold his line and didn't just automatically get out of Miller's way.

Every time I replayed The Incident, Marquez seemed to hold his line, while Miller seemed to cut to the left into Marquez. The audacity of Marquez. Not bowing to the great Jack Miller. Of course he started gesticulating. Again.

I think I'll start calling him "Cocoa."

Total votes: 96

I enjoy Millers antics but he took himself out. Marquez (rightly) held his line.

Total votes: 96

i don't think he, or anyone for that matter, cares what you call him. but 3 stars for playing.

Total votes: 93

Brilliant write up David. I will save the long comment for later. But I will say this, if someone on here thinks that was a weak race. Give up watching motor sports as a whole, because if you cannot enjoy that race, you do not enjoy racing.

Total votes: 89

...but I think it was the races fault, not mine. Races that involve meteorology and dice don't seem as much fun as races that involve racing.

And what the heck was going on with the podium? When did they change the fundamental requirements for a podium girl? Please don't tell me I should have enjoyed that, too.

Total votes: 102

Personally I prefer the wet races in preference to the factory bike processions which occur all too frequently in the dry. The changing conditions add drama, varied tactics and styles, gambles and the faint possibility of a satellite victory.
I don't usually bother to watch the podium celebrations - did something exciting happen during the ceremonials?

Total votes: 102

'... did something exciting happen during the ceremonials?...'

Not so much, unless you get excited about male opportunities in traditionally female dominated fields. One of the podium girls was a guy. Very troubling stuff.

Total votes: 104

But there was plenty of racing before the meteorology came into effect. As far as the podium. Maybe that was for Lorenzo. He sprayed the podium boy and not the podium girl. (jokes man... just jokes)

;)

Total votes: 100

Dry races are great. Wet races that stay wet are fine. Wet races that become dry are fine. Dry races that become wet pretty much suck. They compell the riders to make critical on track decisions with inadequate data (otherwise known as 'guessing') with serious safety implications. Seems like a race organization that pretends to be concerned about rider safety could find a more graceful way to manage the deteriorating weather scenario.

Maybe one-way pit to rider weather related comm during a wet race so they can have more useful info than can be provided by those stupid boards they ride by at high speed just beyond the pit entrance they might have just wanted to use if they had known what was on the board.

It's just hard to find reasons to enjoy watching that kind of race. If they had live streamed the '79 Fastnet race, that would have been similarly hard to watch.

Total votes: 90

yes there was some action on and off track but I wouldn't say this was among the most exiting races of the year

Total votes: 120

...can make races really interesting or really boring. This one was was really interesting. Although seeing Rossi flying and landing and his bike narrowly missing him was scary, then seeing him just lying there left me sick to my stomach. And being carried off the track on a stretcher? I thought we'd just witnessed a watershed moment. I kept waiting for that announcer who always says "absolutely" to say "he's absolutely all right," but he never did, even when they showed Rossi standing at the side of the track.

And every time Marquez and Pedrosa went past pit in, well, even my wife said, "There's ten minutes left. It's just going to get worse. What are they thinking?" They were going down like ten-pins in the Moto3 race, and that was "just" a drying track.

It was a captivating race, but I'm glad most races are dry.

Total votes: 88

Was Pedrosa's nasty crash just after the pits and did he then run backwards to the pits to get his wet equipped bike, hence completing all laps on a bike and being a finisher?

Total votes: 87

Fantastic question, and I was wondering the same thing. The crash was just before T1, so after pit entrance. The camera then shows Pedrosa running back to the pits. Thing is, he didn't leave the pits until much later. So here's my theory: He ran back to the pits to get his wet bike, they told him that he'd have to ride the other one around before he could swap bikes, so he went back and got the crashed bike, rode it around, hopped on his wet bike, and took off.

It's the only explanation I could think of for why Marquez was able to pick up his crashed bike, start it, ride it all the way around the track, and still leave pit row ahead of Pedrosa, who should have been long gone had he just ran back to his garage and grabbed his wet bike.

Anyone have a better explanation?

Total votes: 100

Is that when he came to a stop he was looking back to the pits - perhaps thinking of running there - then the marshall pointed down at his bike in the kitty litter and he ran all the way down there, remounted and completed the lap on it, then switched. Although an epic fail, it was totally legal.

Total votes: 98

Okay, so when they showed him running, it was just back to his bike, not the pits? That makes more sense.

Total votes: 111

Watching Lorenzo pull those lean angles on wet tires was something else! I was on the edge of my seat every time they showed Jorge diving into the corners. Amazing bike control.

Total votes: 91

Anyone else thinking of MM's difficulty last yr deciding when to come in for the mandatory "Bstones compound can't last a race on a green abrasive tarmac" change? I enjoy that he is still young and hungry, the kid just gets really excited out there. Full of life and joy. Enjoying his gusto. He was clearly not happy with himself coming across the line.

Loved his waving JL into the front to the canary position. Sad to lose VR and AI to a wee over-riding conditions. MM blatantly disregarding conditions, odd! Don't see that much!

Total votes: 118

>>"Dry races that become wet pretty much suck. They compel the riders to make critical on track decisions with inadequate data"

Data is always inadequate and the art of racing is making critical decisions in that state. In this case they have their lap times on the dashboard and they can do the math (40 seconds to pit divided by the number of laps remaining) for some guidance.

Bradley Smith set a threshold and stuck to it - that worked. Marquez first looked to Lorenzo and then to Pedrosa instead of making his own decision - that did not work out so well.

MM has mad skilz and is absolutely fearless, but unless he learns to hold himself back a tad, he is not going to continue writing records.

Total votes: 105

Perhaps one thing that we're all missing about the Marquez mindset is experimentation? He has the championship realistically in the bag, he keeps saying he doesn't like to ride for consolation (especially not this year). My personal take is he is still exploring boundaries and Aragon was another one to explore.

How long can I push it, how much can I ask of my slicks in cold/wet conditions. These seem to be questions that are only answered at the maximum. He banks the answers and weaponizes them another day.

Yes he made a mistake, but I firmly believe he went looking for that mistake. He's not some golly shucks accidental tourist of a motorbike rider. He's world champion and clearly not satisfied!

Total votes: 89

That's a good line for the official MM biography - #93 as brave selfless explorer of unknown regions of gravel.
Personally I just think he wanted to win in front of his home fans, and soak up the adoration.

Total votes: 91

of wanting to win at home and seeing just how far he could go. Man, he even crashes well. I mean, he looked like he was about to start lifting the bike up by the handlebars while he was still sliding when the gravel yanked it from his hands.

Total votes: 99

From GPone:

" It 'was completely my fault - takes the blame Marc - I had a meeting with my team before departure and we decided it would be just my decision when to return. Even with the slick was not so slow, but I underestimated the risks I was taking, I was just focused on the timing. I'll remember that next time"

Total votes: 86

Did you catch his comments after the race? He was testing the limits, but also knew he had a big points lead (best time to experiment). Next year, the raceS/WC will be much tighter and its better to learn and experiment WITH A huge lead. If anyone thinks this 'kid' does things 'willy-nilly', they are under estimating his IQ. He will not make this mistake again.

Total votes: 92

I thought he was riding a little more carefully (while it was dry) this weekend, not nearly as crazily as at Misano, where he looked like he was in a bin it or win it mode. It's a shame neither VR nor DP were able to capitalise though, it'd only have take one more poor result in the next race or two to possibly make a race of it come Valencia.

Total votes: 94