Connect with us

SPORT

MotoGP Austin: Marquez is King COTA

avatar

Published

on

Austin as a venue for Grand Prix motorcycle racing is excellent; it’s large (obviously, it’s Texas), it’s colourful and the city itself is a great place to spend time.

As a track you either love it or hate it; it’s technical and incredibly physical but there’s a little bit of everything. If you’re looking for a racing spectacle, you won’t find it at COTA, but if you want to witness a display of utter dominance there’s nowhere else where it’s clearer.

Argentina took MotoGP’s natural thirst for drama to fever point and knocked everything out of balance. The World Champion Marc Marquez was roundly, and rightly, criticized for his actions at Termas after riding carelessly. Deliberately dangerous? No, just not quite engaging his brain.

After so much scrutiny there were really only two ways things were going to go; sink or swim. And anyone who thought it would be the first of those options clearly doesn’t know Marc Marquez.

The Circuit of The Americas is his domain, his kingdom if you will. Every year we’ve raced there he has won with ease. This year wasn’t going to be any different.

The only two hiccups in his total dominance this weekend came on Friday afternoon when Andrea Iannone topped the second free practice session and when he was given a 3 place grid penalty for impeding Maverick Vinales in qualifying.

His pole position will still go in the records as his 6th at COTA and 9th in the USA, as well as being number 46 in MotoGP on his 93rd start in the class. But he didn’t start from that prime spot on the grid, instead, he was heading the second row in 4th next to Valentino Rossi. But if you thought that would hold him back or make things more difficult, you were sorely mistaken.

When the lights went out, it was Andrea Iannone who got the best start, tearing forward from second on the grid as the riders made their way up the steep incline to the hairpin of turn 1. By this point, Marquez was already through into second, but the real miracle came when everyone made it through turn 1 safely and still onboard. Vinales had inherited pole from Marquez and slipped behind the World Champion into third as they made their way through the continuous changes of direction that weave from turn 2 to turn 9.

At turn 12, at the end of the back straight, Marquez made his move and passed Iannone for the lead, while two corners later Rossi and Zarco battled for 5th as the two almost came into contact with each other, which would’ve been the last thing this race needed.

On lap 3 Iannone decided to live up to his nickname of “The Maniac” and passed Marquez into turn 11, unsurprisingly he couldn’t quite keep tight to the line and Marc cut back into the lead. Realistically, Andrea knew the move wouldn’t stick but thought he’d try to keep things exciting anyway.

By the next lap, Marquez had pulled the pin and opened a gap of 1.3 seconds over Iannone. In previous years he’d been happy to stick around to stop the race feeling so long as he roamed at the front, but this time he was out to prove a point and he simply cleared off.

Vinales made the move into second past Iannone on lap 7, as he took the inside line into turn 1 and with 14 laps to go the podium was complete, while Marquez continued to pull away giving him a 4 second lead by the next lap.

Further back Cal Crutchlow passed Zarco for 5th but ran wide at turn 12 giving the Frenchman plenty of room to retake the position. Things then got worse for the British rider when he lost the front at turn 20, crashing out of position and his place as championship leader before he rejoined back in 19th.

Karel Abraham made the decision to pit at this point, after completing just 8 laps, due to pain. The Czech rider had crashed heavily in Q1 and was experiencing a lot of pain in his wrist, fingers, palm, arm and back. Karel was, unsurprisingly, struggling to turn or brake and his team told him to come in.

But while Abraham was forced to retire, there was a gladiator still on track, with Dani Pedrosa running in 7th despite breaking his wrist just 2 weeks earlier.

Hafizh Syahrin soon became the next rider to fall, as he lost the front at turn 1. Like Abraham, Hafizh wasn’t in perfect condition ahead of the race after he had a very hard and fast crash in the morning warmup.

He was soon followed by Alex Rins, who crashed out 3 laps later at turn 12, giving the Spanish rider 2 DNFs in 3 races, and a bitter followup to his first podium last time out in Argentina. Alex lost the front late in the corner, which left both him and his bike right in the middle of where riders were exiting the turn. Thankfully, due to some avoidance tactics from riders, including Jorge Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro, no-one else was caught up in the incident.

By this point, the top 4 were all having pretty lonely rides. Marquez was so far gone he was almost racing in Houston, Vinales had cleanly dispensed of Iannone, who in turn had a steady gap over Rossi. In 5th Dovizioso was chasing Zarco, but behind them, Pedrosa was exceeding all expectations, including his own, as he clung on in 7th.

The next real piece of excitement came on lap 16 when Jack Miller went in hard up the inside of Jorge Lorenzo at turn 1, forcing the Spaniard to sit up. There was definitely space at the entry of the corner, although things got a little tight as Lorenzo turned into the apex. There was no contact between the pair and while it was undeniably a hard pass, it was a fair one, and Lorenzo would’ve made the same move a thousand times if roles were reversed.

One lap later and Dovizioso made his move on Zarco down the back straight (hello horsepower) and gave no opportunity for the Tech 3 rider to fight back.

Apart from a late battle for 8th between Miller and Rabat, the rest of the field pretty much followed each other home, as Marc Marquez took the chequered flag 3.5 seconds ahead of Maverick Vinales. In reality, his gap was over 6 seconds, but he sacrificed that when he stood up to do a dance over the line.

Marquez had spent a bit of time in Brazil after the Argentina race, working with UNICEF and visiting a local school in Sao Paulo. The students shared some of their dancing with the World Champion, as part of the project that aims to use dance and music to boost education. Marc had told the kids that if he won, he’d dance for them, and true to his word, as always, he did.

Following him, eventually, to the chequered flag was Maverick Vinales who took his first podium finish since Australia last year and Andrea Iannone who secured his first top 3 with Suzuki and marked a return to the podium for the first time since Valencia 2016.

The cooldown lap then brought the moment of the weekend for me. COTA had done a great job remembering Nicky Hayden, naming the area under their iconic tower Hayden Hill and painting 69 onto the grass, and many riders had been carrying their own tributes to the Kentucky Kid as well. But as he made his way back round to the pits, Marc carried a 69 flag and brought it back with him to Parc Ferme.

Speaking about Nicky after the race, Marc said that honouring Nicky had been a special motivation and that he’d told his team he wanted Nicky’s flag at the end of the race. “He was a good friend.. I think this was the moment.. I enjoy a lot to make that lap for his memory”.

But Nicky wasn’t the only extra motivation for Marc Marquez this weekend.

After Termas, COTA was the perfect track to make a point. He changed his strategy to avoid having to spend time with other riders, going so far as to say “I didn’t have the confidence to battle”, and instead simply left them all for dust (which there was a lot of this year, thanks to the track grinding).

Marquez knew that he would be under more scrutiny this weekend. In Friday’s Safety Commission, riders were told that rules would be enforced more strictly from now on and that was demonstrated when both Marquez and Pol Espargaro were given 3 place grid penalties for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in the way of other riders in qualifying.

Now that rule isn’t new, it’s as old as racing itself because trust me you don’t want to see a fast rider hit a slower one from behind, and it would certainly have been a penalty in Moto3 after the rules were made stricter to stop them always cruising when looking for a tow. So, it’s right that it was also a penalty in MotoGP, we have to have consistency and parity in the rules and their enforcement. Marc had his attention on Iannone in front of him and didn’t realise Vinales was behind him until it was too late, but that’s no excuse, he’s a 6 times World Champion and he knows better.

But that extra scrutiny and the increased pressure that comes with it only served as more motivation for Marc. After qualifying Marc made an important comment “my style is my style, but I want to learn from my mistakes”. His riding style was questioned after Argentina when that wasn’t the problem, his lack of thinking was, and in Austin, he had a point to prove.

It took Marquez all of 12 corners to lead, and apart from Iannone’s brief moment of madness on lap 3, he was unchallenged from there to the chequered flag. If you want a definition of sheer domination, it would simply read: Marc Marquez in Texas. If you’re not already impressed, and you should be, he was actually a little bit ill this weekend so by his own admission wasn’t even performing at 100%.

Marquez is essentially a certainty for COTA, the only way he won’t win there is if he screws up and there was very little chance of him doing that on Sunday. But behind him, things weren’t so set in stone.

His team-mate Dani Pedrosa was performing miracles by even getting on the bike on Friday. He pushed himself to the limit in qualifying and then beat all expectations in the race. 7th place in MotoGP can be a hard fought position to take when fully fit, so 2 weeks after breaking his wrist and having surgery, it’s nothing short of incredible. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t particularly enjoy himself and he was struggling to control the bike towards the end, but he made it through 20 laps and 400 corners of one of the most physical tracks of the year and brought home some precious points thanks to painkillers and adrenaline (which is better than any analgesic). With more time to heal before Jerez, he should be feeling considerably better when we return to Europe. The Little Samurai is one tough cookie and for me it was the ride of the weekend.

Maverick Vinales had made some substantial steps forward with the electronics that were letting him ride in a more aggressive way, something that suits “Top Gun” and the benefits were evident as he took the flag in 2nd and showed the closest pace to Marquez at COTA. He’s found a good feel on the bike and while there’s still work to do, both with the electronics and the front feel, he’s ready for Jerez. Interestingly, he feels that his season will really start after he’s had some testing time to devote purely to setup, and the next test is immediately after the next race.

The other Yamaha was brought home in 4th by Valentino Rossi. It was a good weekend for The Doctor overall and the Italian showed pretty decent pace in the cooler practice sessions. But it was the heat on race day that prevented his podium aspirations as he struggled with the front tyre. He had been given little option but to run the medium as the harder compound simply didn’t work for him, but he felt the balance of the bike might have contributed to some of his issues so there’s still work to do.

Regardless, the Yamahas are definitely making progress and moving in the right direction. It hasn’t been the ideal start to the season, especially for Rossi, but the return to Europe promises more to come from the boys in blue.

It was back to back podiums for Suzuki, although with different riders as Andrea Iannone secured 3rd after his excellent start. Andrea seems to look happier and calmer this season, and he reaped the benefits in the race as he stayed sensible (mostly) and brought the bike home. He’d shown good pace throughout the weekend and was the only rider to beat Marquez in a session. He didn’t have enough to hold off the World Champion or Vinales but it’s a very good result as he looks to prove his worth to Suzuki ahead of contract-talk time.

For Alex Rins it was a bumpy fall from the highs of his first podium at the last race. He struggled for much of the weekend; lacking confidence and feel, although he had felt better on Friday when the track was very dirty and grip levels were low. He was obviously disappointed to crash but keen to point out the positives of Iannone showing that the bike was working well.

5th went to Andrea Dovizioso, who had another weekend of damage control. Ducati expected to struggle in Austin and their concerns over turning proved true. Their issues with turning and wheelie when accelerating from low speed out of corners led to Dovi joining Lorenzo in running the aero fairing and he felt that it had definitely been the right decision. The concern for Dovizioso and Ducati is that much like last year they’ve shown that there are tracks where they struggle, and the thing that really held Dovi back in 2017 was not being on the podium when he couldn’t win. On the other hand, he goes to Jerez leading the championship, albeit by 1 point, which puts him in a much better position than last season, the flipside of that being that there are even more strong riders than 2017.

There was no such optimism on the other side of the Ducati garage though, as Jorge Lorenzo finished in 11th and called it a “race to forget”. The 2018 chassis proved to be more unstable over the bumps for the Spaniard and while over one lap he was able to put in a good time, with used tyres his pace simply wasn’t good enough, which is what ultimately held him back in the race as he struggled with spinning from the tyre. We are now heading to more Jorge-friendly circuits and with just 6 points from 3 races the improvements need to come fast.

Johann Zarco brought his Tech 3 Yamaha to the line in 6th after a tricky weekend that never really saw him looking comfortable. He didn’t have a particularly good start, and while his pace was pretty constant it simply wasn’t fast enough, especially when he came under pressure from Dovizioso, but he did secure the position of the top independent rider.

His team-mate Hafizh Syahrin definitely had a worse time though as he lost the front on the brakes and crashed. He had lost time in warmup due to crashing so was forced to run his setup from practice, which in the higher temperatures proved to be a little too soft. It was a rude awakening for the rookie who had otherwise been pretty impressive so far this year. Hopefully, it doesn’t knock his confidence and he can come back strong in Jerez.

Tito Rabat had a great race to finish 8th, a good improvement on his grid position of 14th. He’d taken a risk choosing the hard rear tyre but made it work. Tito had to make some hard overtakes but enjoyed the battles, especially with Jack Miller towards the end.

Avintia team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 20th after lacking confidence at the start but found a decent rhythm later on. Every lap is still good experience for Simeon who hasn’t had the easiest transition into the premier class and he’s the first to admit that he’s still holding back slightly to avoid making mistakes and crashing.. understandable but at some point, he’s going to have to lay it all on the line.

The star of Argentina, Jack Miller, took the flag in 9th after being beaten by Rabat late on due to a mistake he made that made him lose the front, but the Aussie had ridden a strong race and did well to make up so many places after starting 18th. It’s a 6th consecutive top 10 for Jack and with him looking so much more comfortable onboard the Ducati the season should only continue to get better.

Fellow Pramac rider Danilo Petrucci had a difficult weekend and lost time in the beginning as he struggled with his harder rear tyre and was ultimately disappointed with 12th place. The track might have been a tricky one for Ducati, but finishing behind Rabat, Miller and Lorenzo won’t have sat well.

Aleix Espargaro took the final place in the top 10 on his Aprilia after working hard to make up positions early on. Aleix felt the bike was working well, something that would’ve been a great relief after he said he barely recognised it on Saturday due to chattering and lack of traction, but he ran out of rear grip towards the end and couldn’t fight for higher positions.

Scott Redding brought the second Aprilia home in 17th after lacking rear grip, an issue that was influenced by the work they had done on improving the front-end of the bike.

The other Espargaro brother finished 13th with Pol bringing the KTM home in a pretty good position despite having issues with the changes of direction that make up so much of COTA. Pol felt the setup could’ve been a bit better and the soft front tyre might not have been ideal, but he had looked like they’d made good improvements on Saturday so hopefully, they can carry that forward.

Bradley Smith ended a few places behind his team-mate in 16th after his front tyre gave up and left him battling understeer from lap 12. Until then he’d had good pace and had made up a lot of places, but the British rider will be disappointed to just miss out on the points.

LCR’s points came from rookie Taka Nakagami on Sunday as the Japanese rider took the flag in 14th. He had hoped for more but experienced a difficult race. While his team-mate Cal Crutchlow could only manage 19th after rejoining following his crash and was obviously not happy ending an otherwise good weekend with decent pace that way.

Alvaro Bautista took the final point for the Angel Nieto team in 15th, despite lacking rear grip in the race. That issue had largely been the consequence of improving the turning, which in turn affected traction on corner exit. Team-mate Karel Abraham was unable to finish after retiring due to pain.

18th went to Tom Luthi who lost a lot of places at turn 1 as he got caught up in the group, before then having issues with front grip from the halfway point that made it difficult for him to negotiate COTA’s many turns.

The final finisher was his fellow Marc VDS rookie, Franco Morbidelli, in 20th. The Italian found himself struggling to ride the way he wanted to and put the focus on the need to get the setup to suit him and his style better.

At the end of the day, the Circuit of The Americas is almost provisionally marked down as a Marquez win as soon as the calendar comes out. He certainly doesn’t take it for granted that he will remain undefeated on US soil but no-one has brought forward a real challenge yet and 2018 was his 6th win at the track and 10th in the US in MotoGP.

This year he had a point to prove and he did it in the best way he knew how; by obliterating the rest of the field.

When asked what makes Marc so successful at COTA, Andrea Iannone responded “he’s more strong than everybody, it’s simple” and it really is. Austin goes left which suits him and he tames the challenging circuit in a way almost unheard of in motorsport.

Marquez remains the undisputed King of COTA and to those that boo him, he has one simple message “another motivation, that’s it”. If you think that you’ll break him, you picked the wrong rider. It will only make him stronger and quicker. Your act of stupidity is self-defeating. It marks you out as a fool and is blatant disrespect to every single rider that risks their life every time that they go out on track. Silence would suit you a lot better.

MotoGP now heads back across the ocean to Europe. This is the meaty part of the season. The tracks are often as narrow as they are familiar and we get closer and harder racing with battles for positions up and down the grid. It’ll be another 11 races before we leave the continent again and by then things could look very different. Next up: Jerez, and I can’t wait.

Fire it up in the comments below:

NEWS

One Year On: Remembering Nicky Hayden

avatar

Published

on

The news that Nicky Hayden passed away was devastating to the whole of the motorsport family.


This article first appeared on Motofire on May 22nd 2017. We’ve republished it here today to commemorate the anniversary of Nicky Hayden’s passing.


Nicky was a champion to his core; from the way he raced to his fierce devotion to his family and the way he made time for everyone. He fought for every single position on every lap of every race and never once gave up. He was firm, leaving no room for doubt on track, but he was always fair and he was one of the hardest workers you’ll ever know, even in a world that includes nothing but riders who push themselves to the limit constantly.

In every way, Nicky was a shining star; images of his tear-stained face when he won his championship in 2006 will forever be ingrained in the collective MotoGP memory, his joy was so tangible that you could have wrapped yourself up in it. And that was Nicky, always inclusive. Whether it was a quick-witted remark in that wonderful Kentucky drawl that we’ll miss so much, his easy manner that made him a friend of everyone who knew him or the way he never turned someone away when they wanted a photo or an autograph. Nicky came from a racing family and he became an integral part of an even larger one.

Losing anyone is always heartbreaking but the loss of a rider when they were out training, doing something as everyday as cycling, makes Nicky’s death at just 35 years old even harder to comprehend.

Nicky holds a place in the MotoGP Hall of Fame, his status as a Legend firmly cemented long before he left for World Superbikes. But he holds something even more valuable; a spot in the collective heart of the entire motorcycle racing family.

His accent will forever raise a smile, at least for me, and his own superstar grin will now bring with it an indescribable sadness. But remember Nicky as he would’ve wanted; that fierce big-hearted champion who pushed himself and everyone around him to be their very best and as that young man who brought so much joy and who left us far too soon.

My thoughts are, of course, with all of the Hayden family, Nicky’s fiancee Jackie, his friends and his teams both past and present.

Now, I’m going to wipe away the tears and watch Valencia 2006 again. I hope you join me to remember Nicky Hayden; a champion, a gentleman and a star that can never truly be extinguished.


This article first appeared on Motofire on May 22nd 2017. We’ve republished it here today to commemorate the anniversary of Nicky Hayden’s passing.

Fire it up in the comments below:
Continue Reading

SPORT

MotoGP Le Mans: Marquez destroys the competition, but is he destroying the sport?

avatar

Published

on

Saturday at the French Grand Prix saw the excitement of the home fans ramped up to fever pitch; Johann Zarco had hit the first milestone of a perfect home Grand Prix by qualifying on pole.

As a French rider with a French team, wearing French leathers and helmet and riding on French tyres, pole position at the French Grand Prix seemed to be written in the stars. It was race number 5 and so is he.

La Marseillaise echoed around the Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix race circuit as the riders sat on the grid, but would we be hearing it again at the end of 27 laps and would we see the return of the flipping Frenchman to the top step?

The short answer is no.

In sunny Le Mans, where we lay our scene (that’s the only Shakespeare reference I promise), the excitement level of the record number of fans packed into the grandstands was as high as the track temperature (44 degrees).

When the lights went out, things had immediately not gone to plan for Zarco as he essentially went backwards as those around him got better launches off the line. Jorge Lorenzo tore off like a demon from 6th and led into the long sweep of turns 1 and 2. Zarco then made an incredible move on the brakes into turn 3 as he moved up the inside of multiple riders and sat up Marc Marquez before slotting into 2nd, while the World Champion was left unsettled by the move and dropped back a couple of places.

It was a crash-heavy weekend in France, with 109 over the 3 days and 28 on race day across the classes, something largely attributed to the high level of grip from the surface; great when it’s there but when it goes it disappears suddenly. The first in MotoGP came just 6 corners in when Andrea Iannone slid out of the race as the rear of his Suzuki came around on him.

“A win without risk, is a triumph without glory”

Over the line to start the second lap and Lorenzo led from Zarco and Dovizioso, with Petrucci, Marquez and Rossi not far behind. The other Yamaha of Vinales was back in 11th, while both Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro had made good progress on lap 1 and had each moved up 7 places to 8th and 11th respectively.

Back at the front and Zarco was chasing down Lorenzo and his hopes of home glory, but was visibly getting out of shape, unsurprising considering that he often struggles with a full fuel tank. The next two crashes of the race came in quick succession with Alvaro Bautista falling at turn 6 and Tito Rabat crashing out at turn 8.

Lap 3 and Zarco ran wide at La Chapelle (turn 6) which gave Dovizioso an opportunity he wasn’t going to ignore as the Italian moved through into second behind his team-mate. Dovi then spent a lap chasing down Lorenzo, before getting close enough to make his move on lap 5.

Dovi took the inside line at turn 3 and took the lead, but it was one that was destined to end almost as soon as it began. Coming into turn 6, Dovi was just a little wide and had a slight bobble. It may have been minor but it was enough to disrupt the contact between tyre and asphalt, and before he knew what was happening Dovizioso was sitting in the gravel at La Chapelle looking completely baffled.

Lorenzo found himself in the lead once more ahead of Zarco and Marquez, while behind them the second group of Petrucci, Rossi and Miller were closing the gap to the front.

On lap 7 at the ‘S’ Bleus, Marquez made his move on Zarco, with an inch-perfect pass up the inside in the change of direction. He wasn’t able to keep 2nd for long though as at turn 3 on the next lap, Zarco again passed the Championship leader up the inside, although slightly less aggressively this time.

5 corners later at Garage Vert, Zarco hit the floor and in turn blew Marquez’s championship hunt wide open. Zarco had come into turn 8 just a little hot and wide and simply lost the front.

There would be no French winner at Le Mans in 2018 and the fans who have taken Zarco to their heart were understandably devastated. But there’s a French proverb that says “A vaincre sans peril, on triomphe sans gloire”, which basically means that a win without risk, is a triumph without glory. Zarco had to go for the glory on Sunday. This wasn’t about the championship, it was all about winning at home. Unfortunately, the risk didn’t pay off.

As Zarco arrived back at his box with his damaged Yamaha M1, Dovizioso was sitting in the Ducati garage with his head in his hands. Both had the chance of fighting for a win at Le Mans, both had pushed too soon and paid the price.

Back on track, Marquez took the lead from Lorenzo on lap 10 at La Chapelle, with a hard, but ultimately fair, move up the inside. Lorenzo then dropped back to 3rd one lap later as Petrucci passed him at the Musee corner at turn 7. Scott Redding crashed out moments later at the same corner, marking another difficult weekend for the British rider.

Lap 13 and this time it was Valentino Rossi passing Lorenzo with a perfect move up the inside of Garage Vert that left no room for retaliation. It continued to get worse for Jorge as on the next lap he was also passed by Jack Miller, dropping the factory Ducati rider back to 5th.

Out front, Marquez lost the front at turn 3 but was able to save it on his elbow. Something he attributed to his crash at the same corner in FP3 saying that it had meant he’d entered that corner “always careful” and that he’d kept his body stiff and used his elbow “like a stick”.

Behind him, Petrucci had also seen the incident, saying “I saw Marc lose the front and I say oh, maybe he’s in trouble. He was so in trouble that the lap later he did his best lap! He is incredible”.

And Petrux was right. The lap after that mistake at turn 3, Marc put in the fastest lap of the race and increased his gap back to Petrucci by almost half a second.

Further back, there was a battle of the rookies as Morbidelli and Syahrin fought it out for 12th place, while Cal Crutchlow was putting in the ride of a warrior as he passed Pol Espargaro for 10th on lap 19.

From this point, everything stayed pretty calm, or as calm as it gets in MotoGP when riders are racing around at over 300km/h on used tyres. Marquez continued showing terrifying consistency out front, Vinales made it up to 7th after passing Aleix Espargaro and Rins, and Dani Pedrosa took 5th from Lorenzo with a lovely pass at turn 8.

Jack Miller found a bit of late pace and tried to close in on Rossi, but was unable to make any meaningful progress on the Italian, while Crutchlow was able to make it pass Aleix and Rins for 8th in the late stages.

On the last lap, Marc Marquez looked back over his shoulder as he came out of turn 10 and unsurprisingly found no-one there as he now had a 2.3 second lead over Petrucci, while Rossi was a further 3 seconds behind.

As the current World Champion and championship leader wheelied over the line to take his first 3 in-a-row since 2014, he cemented his lead in the standings and gave the RC213V a well deserved “good job” rub.

On his 95th MotoGP start, Marc Marque took his 64th Grand Prix victory and equalled Casey Stoner on premier class wins with 38. It was also his 106th Grand Prix podium, his 67th in MotoGP and he now leads the championship by 36 points.

In recent years the Honda has struggled at Le Mans, and this time last year Marc was so unhappy that he told his team that he wasn’t enjoying racing. This year the work that Honda has done, particularly on acceleration, paid dividends and the thing that should scare the other riders on the MotoGP grid is when Marc says he’s in a “very sweet period with my bike”.

He was the only rider to run the hard rear tyre, with everyone else choosing the soft compound, and after running it in morning warmup he knew it would take a few laps before it was ready to push, so he stayed patient. He didn’t panic, he didn’t try to make moves his tyre wasn’t ready for and when he did hit the front, he left everyone else behind.

Following Marquez to the chequered flag in second was Danilo Petrucci who had a good weekend in Le Mans and took his 6th podium in MotoGP. Qualifying on the front row was crucial as the Italian tends to struggle with his starts but he kept a strong, consistent pace and now heads to his home race in Mugello on good form.

Jorge Lorenzo is still finding the Ducati too tiring to ride

Completing the podium in third was Valentino Rossi, which for the home fans seemed to make up, at least slightly, for the fact that Zarco crashed out. After qualifying 9th, Rossi had set his sights on the top 5 and wasn’t overly optimistic as the Yamaha team continue to struggle technically. But they made some changes to setup that gave Valentino a little more grip and improved acceleration. Paired with a decent start, he was able to maintain a good pace throughout the race and it’s an important podium at a difficult time. And just because the numbers never stop being impressive, it was Rossi’s 229th Grand Prix podium and his 193rd in the premier class, on his 370th Grand Prix start.

Around a second behind Rossi came Jack Miller, who had a strong race and was able to stay close to the front group consistently. He was a little disappointed not to be able to get closer to Rossi but 4th is an excellent result for the Australian and with Petrucci on the podium, it was a great weekend for the Pramac team.

5th went to Dani Pedrosa, who finished 7.4 seconds behind his victorious team-mate. It had been a difficult weekend for the Spaniard, especially as he continued to struggle physically after his huge crash at Jerez that left him with a lot of pain and swelling in his hip. While his pace wasn’t the quickest, he stayed consistent and was able to improve his setup over the 3 days.

After a demon start, it was the Desmo that ultimately held Jorge Lorenzo back as he crossed the line in 6th. Jorge is still finding the Ducati too tiring to ride and expressed the need for more support from the fuel tank, especially in the braking zone. He’s able to go fast at the start of the race, despite that being when the bike is at it’s heaviest, but as the physicality of riding the GP18 drains his energy he’s unable to keep the pace and drops back. If you have any doubts just how difficult gripping onto a MotoGP bike for 45 minutes at over 300km/h can be, squeeze a beachball as hard as you can between your thighs for an hour and you’ll still be nowhere near understanding.

23 seconds behind Marquez and 13 behind Lorenzo was Maverick Vinales in a lonely 7th place. He was more than understating when he said it was “not the race I hoped for” and other than the technical struggles he said that it had just taken too long for him to pass riders in the earlier stages of the race and then just couldn’t close the gap once he’d made into 7th despite pushing at the limit. From a dominant 2017 race when no-one could touch the factory duo (until VR fell off) to finishing 23 seconds behind the winner, the higher temperatures at Le Mans this weekend stopped Vinales’ hopes of taking advantage of a track that normally suits the Yamaha.

8th went to Cal Crutchlow, who only left the hospital on Sunday morning after his horrendous highside in qualifying. After a night at the Centre Hospitalier du Mans where he was kept under observation and put through multiple tests during the night, with some concern over internal injuries, as well as a contusion to his pelvis and hip area, he was passed fit by the circuit medical team (although whether you should be able to ride after spending the night in the hospital is possibly debatable) and started from his qualifying position of 13th. The British rider had remained cautious at the start of the race in an attempt to avoid further crashes and after a brave ride thanked his team for giving him a great bike that he, unfortunately, couldn’t take full advantage of.

Aleix Espargaro achieved his initial target of seeing the chequered flag as the Aprilia rider crossed the line in 9th. Aleix had lost time and positions at the first chicane and had to push hard to recover but was held back by a large amount of front chatter. Despite that, he was able to keep a decent pace and really just finishing was the important thing. For his Aprilia team-mate Scott Redding it was another weekend to forget as he crashed out after struggling with his front tyre. Had Redding seen the flag he would’ve been given a 1.9-second penalty for taking a shortcut, but despite feeling “ok” with the bike during the race, he still hasn’t found the setup and feel he’s looking for from the RS-GP.

Alex Rins rounded out the top 10 after a tricky weekend that saw the Suzuki rider trying to find the right balance during the race. 10th is a decent result, especially following his 3 DNFs so far this year and we’ll soon be back at tracks he’s ridden on the MotoGP bike so should hopefully see some improvements, because he has the pace. Continuing the trend of only one Suzuki seeing the flag was Iannone as he followed his back-to-back podiums in Austin and Jerez with a DNF. Andrea was unsure why he crashed, just saying that he lost the rear but it’s possible he just pushed too hard too soon, a shame considering the good pace he’d shown.

11th went to the first of the KTMs and Pol Espargaro. It had been a decent start for Pol who made up a lot of positions early on but he lost touch with the group and couldn’t make further progress. Despite finishing 32 seconds behind Marquez, Pol was upbeat that they’d finished “almost 20 seconds faster than we were last year”. Bradley Smith had brought the second Austrian machine home in 14th and was happy with his race despite losing quite a bit of time fighting for position at the start.

Hafizh Syahrin won the battle of the rookies for 12th despite having a bad start and getting stuck in the group. He found a good pace, regained some of his confidence after some big crashes and again learnt a lot. It was a good race from the Tech 3 rider.. and that’s more than can be said for his team-mate.

Johann Zarco takes home 0 points from his home race after having a bad start but recovering in the chicane, before entering turn 8 a little fast on lap 8 and losing the front. The French rider had felt good on the bike but with a still reasonably full fuel tank and the medium front tyre he just pushed too much too soon. Despite his anguish at throwing away at least a podium, he was able to look at the positives that he’ll be able to “take home very nice memories with the pole position” and he got a lot of love from the French fans and those moments are ones he won’t forget any time soon.

Franco Morbidelli crossed the line in 13th after an ok race that saw him eventually have to slow down because of the rear tyre, while his Marc VDS team-mate Tom Luthi finished in 16th after losing time at the start and not having the best front feel before improving slightly towards the end.

The final point went to Takaaki Nakagami in 15th who despite being injured after a crash earlier in the weekend felt ok and had a better feel with his bike than he’d experienced back in Jerez. After 15 laps Taka struggled with the front tyre but it was an important point for the rookie.

Number 17 Karel Abraham finished in 17th (I like a bit of symmetry) after a hard weekend and simply said: “I’m doing my best and it seems, for now, it’s not enough”. While the second Angel Nieto bike of Alvaro Bautista ended it’s race early on in the gravel after Bautista lost both the front and rear at the same time. Alvaro said that he’d felt comfortable on the bike and thought he could’ve fought for the top 10 if he hadn’t crashed out.

Unless Marquez has a disaster couple of races and someone else has an overnight revelation, they should be afraid, very afraid

The final finisher in 18th was Xavier Simeon who struggled in the race and had a lot of pain in his right arm during the 27 laps. Despite that, he was happy to have found a good setup in the warmup which he hopes will prove useful in the next races. Team-mate Tito Rabat crashed out after using a different line into the corner to defend his position, which caused him to lose the front and summed it up simply by saying “I screwed up”. Aside from the result, there were some promising moments from Tito during the weekend.

Then there’s Dovizioso, who was as disappointed with himself as he was confused about the crash when it happened. Andrea simply went wide, got a little unstable and lost the front, an easy mistake to make but one that Dovi branded “unacceptable”, particularly considering his title aspirations. Dovi showed some of the best pace over the weekend and was expected to be Marquez’s closest rival on Sunday but after a DNF in Le Mans and his DNF in Jerez, things aren’t looking so pretty despite his obvious pace and ability.

The championship is still a pretty tight fight, but only if you ignore Marc Marquez. He is 36 points clear of Maverick Vinales in second, who has that position less because of performance and more because he hasn’t crashed out of a race so far this year (to finish first, first you must finish). One point back is Zarco, with Rossi a further 2 behind and in turn 2 ahead of Petrucci. From 2nd to 9th the riders are split by just 13 points, with Pedrosa in 10th 17 points behind Dovizioso who’s in joint 9th place with Crutchlow and 49 points behind Marc.

If the rest of the field weren’t already feeling that Marquez was uncatchable; after 3 wins in-a-row and after showing almost unmatchable pace and with a huge championship lead, they probably do now. Unless Marquez has a disaster couple of races and someone else has an overnight revelation, they should be afraid, very afraid. Destroying the sport? Don’t be ridiculous. Destroying the competition? Absolutely.

And just because the message still isn’t getting through the incredibly thick skulls of some spectators (not fans) I’ll say it again.. your booing and jeers are as unwelcome as they are ineffective. You’re not bothering him, you’re just pissing the rest of us off. He’s not slowing down and regardless of which rider you support he’s beating them. If you can’t be nice, be quiet. After all, even Valentino applauded him on the podium.

But as marvellous as Marquez was, he’s not my rider of the weekend. That goes indisputably to Jakub Kornfeil. In the Moto3 race as the riders came around to start the last lap, Enea Bastianini crashed and Kornfeil found himself faced with the belly-pan of a Leopard Honda. Now normally in this situation, if you can’t avoid it you hit it and pray for the best. But not this time. Kornfeil did hit the Honda, but rather than it catapulting him from his bike so that he could join Enea in the gravel, it acted as a ramp and he got some big, big air. That was the spectacular part for viewing, but the skill came next. As he landed in the gravel he bottomed out the suspension (which isn’t necessarily designed to take a Moto3 bike landing after going that high in the air) but rather than getting bogged down he took the racer route: if in doubt, gas and he was miraculously able to rejoin, albeit while seeming a bit awed at what had just happened. I’m not sure if we need to give him a showjumping rosette or a motocross trophy but he deserves something because I am still watching it and shaking my head.

There’s now 2 weeks until the next race, which is at one of my favourite places on Earth; the beautiful Mugello. But the work hasn’t stopped as both Moto2 and Moto3 have a 1-day test at Le Mans, while MotoGP head to Barcelona on Tuesday to try out the new surface before the race there next month.

And a final note to end on. The 22nd May, marks the 1 year anniversary since Nicky Hayden sadly passed away following a cycling accident. The Kentucky Kid is still universally missed so keep him and the wonderful Hayden family in your thoughts tomorrow.

Let’s get it.

Fire it up in the comments below:
Continue Reading

On Fire...

Copyright © 2018 Motofire Limited