Photography by Gold & Goose
Marc Marquez didn’t make it easy on himself at Le Mans. In front of 88,222 fans on a beautiful Sunday in northwestern France, Marquez suffered an absolutely terrible start on his factory Honda at the French Grand Prix and ran as far down as tenth on the first lap. But then Marquez recovered and made a methodical charge through the field. His march to the front came to completion on lap 13 when he took over the lead from the rider he’s been compared to so many times, Valentino Rossi. From there he pulled away to his fifth-straight victory of the season.
At the end it was Marquez marching away to a 3.389-second margin of victory over Rossi.
Alvaro Baustisa scored his first podium of season in third. It marked the first podium since 2012 for the Go&Fun Honda Gresini rider.
Just a quarter of a way through the 2014 campaign and people are already beginning to wonder if Marquez could pull off an undefeated season. On this day the 21-year-old Marquez broke a record held by Mike Hailwood for the youngest rider to win five straight GPs, a record Hailwood set in 1962. Marquez also becomes the first rider since Giacomo Agostini in 1972, riding an MV Agusta, to win the opening five races of the year in the premier class.
Runner up Rossi reached a milestone of his own. It was his 150th podium in the premier class, the third of 2014.
Marquez, with a perfect 125 points, now has a 42-point lead on second-place Dani Pedrosa in the world championship standings. Rossi is third, now just two points behind Pedrosa.
At the start of the race Andrea Dovizioso was first into turn one and held the lead over Stefan Bradl and Rossi. Marquez had an uncharacteristically bad first lap, pushed wide in a few turns and was stuffed in a couple of other and ran 10th after the first lap. Marquez explained what happened on the first lap and the joy of battling his way to the front.
“I enjoyed quite a lot, especially after that first lap,” said Marquez, who earned his 11th career MotoGP victory. “On the first lap I was maybe too calm. I know that my rhythm was so good, so maybe I have too much confidence. Then when Lorenzo overtake me I go a little bit wide and I go off side of the track and then many riders pass me. After that I start a great overtakes – I enjoyed it a lot. Then I saw that Valentino start to open a small gap and then I was pushing my 100 percent. And then when I catch him I expect a little bit more battle, but he did a small mistake and he went wide and after that I saw that was a time to move and open the gap. I’m really, really happy for my fifth victory in a row. We must enjoy the moment, because it looks easy, but is so difficult.”
Nicky Hayden was down very early, crashing after appearing to get his front wheel chopped by Andrea Iannone rider. Hayden escaped unhurt. Hector Barber and Iannone also both crashed out early as well.
Rossi began moving on his factory Yamaha. He went from third to second on the brakes past Bradl. Then twice on lap four he passed Dovi, only to be immediately repassed. But the third time was a charm as the ever so aggressive Rossi took over the lead. Pol Esparagaro came through to second in a tight three way battle for second with Bradl and Dovizioso.
At the same time Marquez was driving steadily through the field in spite of appearing to struggle with front-end grip. By lap seven he was up to fourth, getting by rival Jorge Lorenzo. At this point he was about 2.2 seconds behind leader Rossi and closing quickly on Bradl and Pol Espargaro.
On lap nine Marquez made a picture-perfect pass on Bradl braking into the Dunlop chicane to take third. Then he was up to his old Moto2 & Moto3 rival Pol Espargaro, the pair running only a second behind Rossi. Then on lap 10 Marquez made the pass on Espargaro at the exact same spot he’d passed Bradl the lap before.
Now Marquez was just a half-second behind Rossi and closing. It seemed inevitable that the young champ would catch Rossi.
On lap 13 it happened. Marquez made the pass on Rossi for the lead at the Blue Esses, after Rossi ran wide going into the right-hand section of the set of turns. Marquez then gradually built on his lead.
Rossi explained his race.
“Today it was more difficult with the front (tire), maybe because the asphalt was more hot,” Rossi explained. “I tried the maximum and my pace was not so bad. After I waiting for Marc, for Jorge and Dani and especially for Marc. When he arrive I tried to push a lot, to stay in the 34.0 (lap time) to make his work difficult and not easy. But unfortunately in the crucial moment of the race I did a mistake in braking. I brake a little bit too deep and I go wide. It is a great pity because it was too easy for Marc. If not we can fight a little bit, because today I was not so bad. Difficult to beat, but for sure more fun. I hoped that he waiting for me, but no, he don’t wait. I’ll have to wait until Mugello and try to fight with him another time.”
The attention just after the midway point of the race was mainly on the battle for the final podium spot between Espargaro and Bautista. With 11 laps to go Bautista made the move and took over third with an inside braking maneuver.
In the closing laps a typical Lorenzo-Pedrosa battle was waging. What was unusual was they were fighting over fifth. With nine laps to go Pedrosa moved by Lorenzo to take fifth. At that point he was about 1.5 seconds behind Pol Espargaro.
Cal Crutchlow ran wide in a turn and took the escape road, but rejoined fairly behind his battle with Aleix Espargaro, Dovizioso and Bradley Smith.
In the end Marquez celebrated with yet another victory with Rossi and Bautista joining him on the podium. Espargaro held off Pedrosa to take fourth. Lorenzo was about three second back from Pedrosa to finish sixth. Bradl was a lonely seventh and Dovi edged Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith to round out the top 10.
Colin Edwards’s NGM Forward Racing Yamaha quit running and he coasted across the line in 17th, losing out on a points-paying finish he’d worked so hard for.
Earlier in the day 2013 AMA Superbike Champion Josh Herrin finished his first Grand Prix, 22nd in the Moto2 race.
MotoGP next moves to Mugello in Italy on June 1.
MotoGP results from Le Mans, France – May 18, 2014
1. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 44m 3.925s
2. Valentino Rossi ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 44m 5.411s
3. Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) 44m 7.069s
4. Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1)* 44m 7.642s
5. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 44m 8.002s
6. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 44m 11.013s
7. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 44m 15.452s
8. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 44m 26.028s
9. Aleix Espargaro ESP NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 44m 26.551s
10. Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 44m 27.033s
11. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 44m 29.705s
12. Scott Redding GBR Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RCV1000R)* 44m 43.448s
13. Yonny Hernandez COL Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) 44m 46.469s
14. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) 44m 46.661s
15. Karel Abraham CZE Cardion AB Motoracing (RCV1000R) 45m 0.569s
16. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 45m 18.048s
17. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 45m 23.648s
18. Broc Parkes AUS Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART)* 45m 34.859s
19. Mike Di Meglio FRA Avintia Racing (Avintia)* 45m 38.446s
Andrea Iannone ITA Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) DNF
Hector Barbera ESP Avintia Racing (Avintia) DNF
Nicky Hayden USA Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) DNF