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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

MotoGP 2014 – Aragon: Round Up

Oh shit…. What was that!

That is exactly what went through my mind as I watched the race, especially the second half of it. It was a race where the results depended on something much bigger than a riders’ skill, the motorcycle, the setup and even the tyre choice. The weather played its part perfectly and kept the riders guessing all throughout whether or not to go in and when! The results were quite dramatic and truly unexpected for some.

Ever since, reactions over the internet about the race have been mostly hysterical especially on Pedrosa’s and Marquez’s strategic decisions on when to change to wet weather bikes. Indeed, it turned out to be one of the most interesting races of this season given how the results came about to be, even though personally I was left heavily disappointed (and worried) after Rossi’s terrible crash. What the hell was the artificial grass doing on the runoff area, by the way?! Many have wondered in the last couple of days or so.

Practice and Qualifying were a mixed bag for the riders. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi struggled throughout the weekend and were off the pace quite badly (about a second on an average) compared to the factory Hondas of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Rossi had even said on Saturday “There’s no way to fight with the factory Hondas”. When the qualifying ended, it was Marc Marquez on pole followed by the team mate Dani Pedrosa in 2nd and Ducati’s Andrea Iannone in 3rd completing the first row. Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro led the row 2 in 4th, factory Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow in 5th and Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi at outside of row 2 in 6th. Rossi’s team mate Jorge Lorenzo started the race from the 7th position in row 3. As per the times in Qualifying, both Rossi (1’48.226) and Lorenzo (1’48.246) were over one second off the pace of Marc Marquez (1’47.187).

On Sunday, the race was declared dry but it started under the cloudy skies. It is important to note that for the race, factory Hondas were equipped with hard rear tyres while Yamahas were on soft rears. Low track temperatures meant that Hondas couldn’t break away and Yamahas were able to launch their attack early on.

As the 23 laps race went underway, Andrea Iannone took the whole shot and assumed the lead into turn 1 and through to the first lap. Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and Rossi all followed. Going into lap 2, Marquez took the lead from Iannone but the Ducati rider didn’t give up and put up a good fight in the following corners. However, in the same lap Iannone went off the track, onto the artificial grass and eventually had to let go off his bike. The bike tumbled several times and looked like it might even hit the Italian. Luckily it didn’t. Unfortunately, Iannone’s could not rejoin the race.

With the help of low track temperatures, the Yamahas (including Pol’s) were giving tough fight to the Hondas from the beginning. In 3 laps, the front runners were in the following order – Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi. The 9 times world champion looked strong enough and was close enough to attack Pedrosa, but disaster struck in lap 4 when Rossi was forced to take the outside line on one of the turns as he was too close to Pedrosa and had to go off track in to the runoff area. Sadly, there was a small patch of artificial grass in his way which was still wet because of the rain early in the morning. It resulted in a terrible high side and Rossi ended up hitting his head on the ground and slid across the gravel. When he eventually stopped, he did not move and appeared unconscious. It was reported that the Italian did lose consciousness for some time and had to be carried away on a stretcher. However, he regained consciousness soon enough but was, obviously, taken to the local hospital for a CT scan which later came out to be clean. Yesterday, Rossi was able to give a small interview in which he said “I am fine, everything is ok and this is the most important thing… ”.

In the following laps, Marquez and Lorenzo indulged in a good dogfight as they both exchanged passes and led each other. Dani Pedrosa remained close to both of them all this time, close enough to take advantage of any mishap but didn’t join in the fight. Slowly the rain drops were beginning to appear on the camera as the fight for the front continued. Around halfway in the race, the weather intensified and the first signs of rain appeared in the form of drizzle. Eventually, the white flag was shown signaling that the riders could come in and change to the motorcycles with wet weather tyres. Nobody went in and riders continued to ride on slicks for some time since the rain wasn’t in full swing and the track was still quite dry. The teams had readied the wet weather bikes though.

The rain progressed so slowly that many riders (in confusion) did not come into the pits. With around 7 laps remaining, Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro was the first one to enter the pits and change his bike, the decision that proved quite fruitful for him.

The three front runners – Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo continued to eat laps on slick tyres but they were all seemingly getting slower. Pedrosa eventually passed Lorenzo as they all struggled with the changing weather and the Yamaha rider eventually began to slip back in 3rd. By the end of 18th lap, Lorenzo decided not to continue and came in to change his motorcycle for the wet weather. Right then, as Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the line to bring the remaining laps down to 4, Pedrosa lost the grip and experienced a nasty crash on the main straight. He was safe and was able to get up, go to the pits and complete the race on the wet weather bike.

Marquez still decided to go on (probably thought that he would be able to complete the remaining few laps). Experience teaches everyone and as immensely talented as he is, Marquez simply misjudged the situation eventually losing the front of his bike with 3 laps remaining on the second or third corner after the main straight. Marquez also was able to remount his bike and rode to the pits where he finished the remaining race on the second bike with wet weather tyres.

Had it started raining quickly the riders would have simply gone to the pits as the situation would be crystal clear then. But it seemed that the drizzle that took its time to change into a decent rain (still not heavy but enough to make riding conditions impossible on slick tyres) led to great confusion among the riders. And it appeared that at least “two riders” waited a bit too long.

Lorenzo eventually rode to his first victory in the conditions given. It is the best result this year for the two times premiere class world champion and Yamaha’s first on the Aragon track. A good result for the Spaniard on the 800th GP race.

With Marquez and Pedrosa relegated to the back due to their terrible strategies, it was Aleix Espargaro and factory Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow who eventually fought for the 2nd position with Espargaro winning the battle by a whisker! Cal Crutchlow got the 3rd position to his own delight. Ducati’s generally go much better in such wet conditions than in dry, unfortunately Crutchlow’s team mate Andrea Dovizioso experienced a race ending crash in the final stages.

In their respective post-race interviews, Marquez acknowledged his mistake and simply put it down to his lack of experience of such a situation where the rain was not completely there for a prolonged period of time. He said “Today's race was difficult because I, like many other riders in MotoGP, had never experienced track conditions like this before. It was a shame that it started to rain; if it hadn't, then I think that Dani, Jorge and I would have made the end of the race really exciting for the fans,” reflected Marquez. I think that we did a good job all weekend - it was just a pity about the crash. I tried to hold on because there were only a few laps remaining, but today I learned that in these situations it is better to use a different strategy.”

Pedrosa also admitted his misjudgment of the situation and said “It was a difficult race in extreme conditions, but we were able to ride a good first part and were in contention for the win. I made the wrong decision about when to come in to change bikes and didn't make the switch on the lap that I should have. My tyres couldn't hold out any longer and I crashed. Luckily I was able to remount and pick up two points from this race.”

Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa eventually finished in forgettable 13th and 14th positions respectively.

Still, Marc Marquez enjoys 75 points lead over his team mate Dani Pedrosa in the championship standings. Below are the race results and championship standings after the Aragon grand prix.

MotoGP Aragon Results 2014 
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 
2. Aleix Espargaro (Forward Yamaha) 
3. Cal Crutchlow (Ducati) 
4. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 
5. Bradley Smith (Yamaha) 
6. Pol Espargaro (Yamaha) 
7. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 
8. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 
9. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 
10. Scott Redding (Honda) 
11. Danilo Petrucci (ART) 
12. Alex De Angelis (Forward Yamaha) 
13. Marc Marquez (Honda) 
14. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 
15. Yonny Hernandez (Ducati) 
16. Michael Laverty (PBM) 
17. Mike Di Meglio (Avintia) 
18. Broc Parkes (PBM) 
19. Hector Barbera (Ducati)

MotoGP Championship Points 2014 
1. Marc Marquez, 292 
2. Dani Pedrosa, 217 
3. Valentino Rossi, 214 
4. Jorge Lorenzo, 202 
5. Andrea Dovizioso, 142 
6. Aleix Espargaro, 112 
7. Pol Espargaro, 108 
8. Andrea Iannone, 92 
9. Stefan Bradl, 87 
10. Bradley Smith, 85

Text by: Sachin Sen
Image Credits: MotoGP.com
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Item Reviewed: MotoGP 2014 – Aragon: Round Up Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal
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