Photography by Gold & Goose
The Qatar MotoGP 2014 will be a race that goes into the time capsule for years to come. The GP came down to the Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Honda’s Marc Marquez, the greatest champion of his era and the heir apparent to that title.
In the desert under the floodlights the epic battle ended with the young champion Marquez pulling out a flawless final lap to hold off the old lion to score the opening win of the 2014 MotoGP season. The margin of victory at the end was 0.259 seconds in this instant classic.
Marquez’ Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa ran a solid race to third; battling Alvaro Bautista much of the way before Bautista succumbed to the pace and crashed.
Defending race winner Jorge Lorenzo had a frustrating early end to his race, crashing out while leading on the first lap.
“My strategy was to try to open a gap on the first lap,” Lorenzo admitted as he watched the race. “The difference this year is that the tires are more hard. Maybe two hours later than practice the tire was colder. I didn’t think too much about all these factors, so I used too much and made a mistake. We lost a lot of points, but the positive thing is Valentino is making a great race and he can win so let’s see what happens.”
Aleix Espargaro overcame a difficult weekend, which saw him crash twice in qualifying, to rally and finish a strong fourth, outdoing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso. Espargaro was the top finisher of the Open class machines.
It was a good night for the Americans. Nicky Hayden finished eighth in his debut with the Drive M7 Aspar squad. He missed seventh by inches, losing out on a great last-lap battle with Greseni Honda’s Scott Redding. And Colin Edwards scored ninth on his NGM Forward Racing entry. That equaled the best result Edwards turned in in all of last year.
The race began with Lorenzo getting his normal flying start and from the second row squirted inside going into Turn One to take the early lead. Bradley Smith, Stefan Bradl and pole winner Marc Marquez fell in behind the Yamaha rider in a tight freight train.
Lorenzo’s reign at the front lasted for less than a lap. Entering Turn 15 Lorenzo low-sided his factory Yamaha, perhaps pushing too hard, too soon in an effort to break away. And it was over for Lorenzo, the winner of the last two Qatar Grand Prix events. A ticked off looking Lorenzo was seen later watching TV monitors, his left elbow wrapped in bandages.
Lorenzo’s fall left Bradl leading on the LCR Honda over Dovizioso, Smith and Marquez.
Pramac Ducati’s Andrea Iannone was the first of the riders to fall. He would not be the last. Michael Laverty was given a ride-through penalty, possibly for jumping the start.
In the early laps the top six riders ran nose to tail with Bradl continuing to lead, but much jockeying for positions going on directly behind him between Smith, Alvaro Bautista, Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa.
Rossi was the early mover, going from tenth on the grid all the way to the lead group by the second lap.
Bradl’s time at the front came to an end on lap nine, when he too crashed out of the lead, this one in Turn Six, the victim of another low-side apparently caused by hard tires on cool tarmac.
Bradl’s crash put Rossi into the lead.
At the halfway mark the top five riders all still ran together with Rossi leading over Marquez, Pedrosa, Bautista and Smith.
Marquez, in spite of his prediction yesterday that he would struggle late in the race due to not being fully fit from his broken leg of six weeks ago, was getting stronger as the race progressed. His choice of the hard compound over the other’s medium seemed to be paying off.
Marquez took over the lead with eight laps to go and even though he and Rossi would swap back and forth several more times, Marquez would ultimately hold the lead at start/finish for the rest of the race. The top two would trade running hot into a corner to lead, only to be repassed on the exit, with Marquez clearly more capable of quickly gaining back the lead temporarily lost.
Meanwhile there was a torrid battle for third between Bautista and Pedrosa, the satellite and factory rider trading the position.
In the closing laps Smith would crash out of fifth, having slightly lost touch with the leading quartet. Then with two to go it was Bautista who fell, yielding to pressure by Pedrosa.
Rossi took the lead from Marquez for a few turns with two laps to go, but the even more aggressive Marquez quickly came back to the front. Marquez seemed to save his best for last. On the final lap he was able to crack the whip and open just enough of a gap on Rossi to end any hope for the Italian to come back on him.
At the checkered flag it was Marquez, the defending champ opening 2014 with a victory – a sure sign that any hopes by his competitors that his broken leg would slow him is dashed. Marquez again is clearly the rider to beat.
“Honestly I’m very happy for the victory,” Marquez said. “because I didn’t expect it. Yesterday I felt very good, but for the race was a question mark, for the last laps. But anyway I choose the hard rear tire and I was a little bit worried for the beginning of the race, but I saw that it was OK. And then in the end I tried to push. The battle with Valentino was so great. I enjoyed a lot. The last lap I put in my 100 percent, but the lap before we were overtaking two or three times. Since last year I did have a battle on the last laps with Valentino. Last year he won and this year we did it. I hope to have some more battles in the future.”
Rossi also sounded like he enjoyed the race with Marquez.
“It was a great, great battle, but I enjoyed a little bit less than him because I arrived behind,” Rossi laughed. “But anyway it was great. My race was very fun. I enjoyed a lot because starting from the fourth row, at the beginning I have to risk, but I did all the right overtakes. It was great when I arrive in front. I was really very happy. The bike was very good and I have a potential to fight with Marc. I think I had some chance to win, but he was stronger than me and I arrive second. Anyway a great result to open the season and thanks to my team and to Yamaha. Now we have to continue like this and be competitive.”
Pedrosa seemed satisfied to finish on the podium after a sub-par beginning.
“I start not so well,” Pedrosa admitted. “In the first laps I was a little back in the group and some riders were crashing in the early laps as well as the middle. At the end with Alvaro and he also crashed. Just difficult conditions today, but anyway a good race for me I think on this track because I always struggle here. So to start the season on podium is great and I’ll just move on from here.”
Next stop is Austin, Texas, and the Circuit of the Americas in three weeks.
Results from the 2014 Qatar MotoGP at Losail, March 23, 2014 - Round 1 of 18
1. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 42m 40.561s
2. Valentino Rossi ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 42m 40.820s | +0.259s
3. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 42m 43.931s | +3.370s
4. Aleix Espargaro ESP NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 42m 52.184s | +11.623s
5. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 42m 52.720s | +12.159s
6. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 43m 9.087s | +28.526s
7. Scott Redding GBR Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RCV1000R) 43m 13.154s | +32.593s
8. Nicky Hayden USA Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) 43m 13.189s | +32.628s
9. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 43m 20.108s | +39.547s
10. Andrea Iannone ITA Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) 43m 23.921s | +43.360s
11. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) 43m 27.156s | +46.595s
12. Yonny Hernandez COL Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) 43m 27.249s | +46.688s
13. Karel Abraham CZE Cardion AB Motoracing (RCV1000R) 43m 31.142s | +50.581s
14. Danilo Petrucci ITA IodaRacing Project (ART) 43m 43.688s | +1m 3.127s
15. Broc Parkes AUS Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 43m 54.947s | +1m 14.386s
16. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 44m 13.154s | +1m 32.593s
17. Mike Di Meglio FRA Avintia Racing (Avintia) 44m 16.646s | +1m 36.085s
Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) DNF
Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) DNF
Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) DNF
Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) DNF
Hector Barbera ESP Avintia Racing (Avintia) DNF
Jorge Lorenzo ESP Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) DNF