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Friday, November 14, 2014

MotoGP 2014 – Valencia: Round Up and Season Review

The dominance of Marc Marquez, the resurgence of Valentino Rossi… and the Moto3 championship decider!

The 2014 MotoGP season has come to its end with the last race held in Valencia, Spain. Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, was the host of the last round of Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. It’s a place that is treated as home by every Spaniard rider on the grid and one of the very likeable and demanding tracks as well, at least when it comes to the tyres.

So as the curtains fall on this year’s racing, we are here to not just reflect on the last race but to look back at what was possibly the best season of MotoGP since 2010. And what a year of racing has it been, absolutely amazing and truly inspiring in more than one way. We are going to talk about it all, but first, the race.

With the attendance of over 100,000 people, Valencia saw one of the biggest crowds on the MotoGP calendar on the race day. Though Marc Marquez had won his second championship at Motegi already, the last race is always a special one and the big crowd was only one of the many proofs of it. For one, irrespective of how the whole season had gone for the riders, each one of them would still want to finish the last race with the best possible result. Whether they are going to continue with the same team or going to join a different one for the next year, everybody wants to end their current campaign with a happy face.

Take Cal Crutchlow for example, his season aboard the factory Desmo Ducati hasn’t been quite fruitful, but he nonetheless had a fairly positive second half of the season. At the rain fed Aragon, Crutchlow finished third only nano seconds behind Aleix Espargaro. That was a race where many riders just didn’t quite finish where they wanted to or simply didn’t finish at all. Then at Phillip Island, he was well on his way to finish second behind Valentino Rossi but fell only in the last lap and a DNF. Still, it was his best race riding a Ducati till that time in the season. And finally at Valencia, though Crutchlow finished fifth, his battle with this team mate Andrea Dovizioso for fourth was intense and fun as both riders later said.

Another reason that made this last race special was that Marc Marquez had the chance to take his total number of wins to 13 (out of 18 races). And last but not the least, the final battle for the runner up spot between team mates and arch rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo of Movistar Yamaha. Also, Suzuki decided to enter as a wild card entry with Randy De Puniet aboard the GSX-RR. So many things were there to look forward to and the excitement was hardly any less. The ultimate race at Valencia was going to be anything but a mere season finisher.

And to further cement the fact that the last race was so special, Valentino Rossi had a perfect qualifying after waiting for four and a half years and got his 50th pole position. His previous pole position was at Le Mans way back in 2010. Accompanying Rossi on the front row was Andrea Iannone in second on the satellite Ducati and Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa in third. Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo led the second row in fourth position while Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro were on fifth and sixth positions respectively.

On Sunday when the time had finally arrived for the fastest riders to come on the track, the weather started to change. The clouds were looming on the horizon signaling that rain might join the party. But the race is not a wet race unless the rain actually appears; hence all riders went out on slicks though the teams were ready to prepare the wet weather bikes. Some non factory riders opted for the asymmetric front tyres for the race. For the uninitiated, an asymmetric tyre is made up of two rubber compounds – one side of the tyre is softer than the other side and the middle part. The race was going to be a long one with 30 laps and with 12 points advantage over his team mate Lorenzo, Rossi was in the best position on pole to finish second in the championship.

As the race started under the changing weather, both Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone got good start but Iannone took the whole shot and led everyone into turn one. Rossi followed in second and Marc Marquez had a decent start from fourth as well and slotted himself behind Rossi in third. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were in fourth and fifth respectively as the first lap progressed. 

In the early stages of the race, Andrea Iannone carried extremely good pace and developed a small gap into the lead. However, the weather intensified a bit further on lap 2 and rain drops started to appear at different locations on the track. Ducatis are known to perform better in damp/wet conditions and Iannone seemed to be taking full advantage of that even with slick tyres on. The teams started to prepare bikes with wet weather tyres and soon the white flag was out signaling that the riders could come in to change bikes. One of the riders who were facing much difficulty adapting to such weather conditions was Jorge Lorenzo. He was overtaken by the factory Ducati pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow and got relegated to seventh spot. Crutchlow even overtook Pedrosa for fourth at one point but couldn’t hold it for long. The threat of rain soon subsided though and drops stopped falling. The track eventually started drying up and the top riders in the championship began to up their pace.

Lap by lap Rossi and Marquez started closing the gap on leading Iannone. In doing so, Rossi set a fastest lap of the race on lap 5 which followed by number of fastest laps by Marquez. With 10 laps down into the race and the pair of Rossi and Marquez was breathing down the neck of Iannone. Marquez soon overtook Rossi and in quick succession he passed Iannone as well. But Iannone has been known to not give up easy and he put up a great fight against the current world champion for number of corners. Eventually, Marquez was successful in stopping any more overtaking maneuvers from the satellite Ducati rider. Iannone was soon passed by Rossi as well for second who didn’t face much difficulty in doing so. Pedrosa also didn’t take much long either in passing Iannone for third and soon developed a decent gap as well.

In the following laps, the leading trio of Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa had settled in their respective positions. Behind them, racing was a bit closer between Iannone, Crutchlow, Dovizioso and Lorenzo as they kept each on their toes more or less and most of the time. Pedrosa in the meantime reduced his gap to Rossi and came within half a second of the Italian rider. Going by things, it did appear that Pedrosa was carrying more speed but he could never really get close enough to fight with Rossi for the second position. 

Meanwhile in the following group, Lorenzo had fought off the factory Ducati pair and Iannone for the fourth position and tried to close his gap to the front runners. Unfortunately, the threat of rain started lurking again at midway of the race with drops falling at different parts of the track like at the beginning. Once again, Lorenzo became the victim to this condition as he started to lose positions one by one and came down to seventh. After the race, Lorenzo stated that the tyres didn’t perform up to the level and this gave him no confidence at all to push like others were able to. Pedrosa was affected as well as he started to lose touch with Rossi but still had a comfortable gap to remain safe in third.

Rossi, on the other hand, had quite a consistent pace even in these tricky conditions and appeared to reduce his gap to Marquez as the Repsol Honda rider was also finding it difficult to maintain his fast lap times. Fortunately for the current world champion, conditions again improved as the rain drops stopped falling and never came back. Marquez was able to up his pace again and remained unchallenged for the remaining race. But while the conditions were a bit wet, Lorenzo took the risk and went to the pits to change to the wet weather motorcycle. Unfortunately for him, this move didn’t turn into an advantage and when the conditions started to turn dry again the Yamaha rider just couldn’t keep up with the rest and started lose nearly 5 seconds per lap. The wet weather tyre equipped M1 started to lose the performance at a rapid pace. Eventually, with 5 laps remaining Lorenzo pulled into the pits and decided not to finish the race.

Another rider who went into the pits and changed to the wet weather motorcycle was Andrea Iannone. He experienced a similar drop in his performance like Lorenzo but remained on the track to finish the race eventually finishing last in the 22nd position.

At the front, Marc Marquez took the win nearly three seconds ahead of Valentino Rossi who finished in second. Dani Pedrosa finished in third quite comfortably. But behind him, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow were indulged in a dogfight of their own for the fourth position. Dovizioso came out on top of this battle while Crutchlow finished fifth just behind his team mate. For Suzuki, they had a pretty disappointing weekend with two engines blown during practice and a DNF for Randy DePuniet in the race due to some technical issue in lap 12.

In their post race interviews, Marc Marquez was naturally pleased with his performance throughout the year that won him his second successive world title in a very dominant fashion. Also, Marquez’s last win took the tally of total wins to 13 and earned him another record of winning most number of races in a year. Such performances are never forgotten. The Marquez family had another extremely good reason to be happy. The younger brother, Alex Marquez, won his first Moto3 championship by finishing third in this last race at Valencia.

The final Moto3 race was absolutely crazy from the start to finish. Before the race, the championship could go to either Jack Miller or Alex Marquez. However, Alex was at an advantage with more points in the table. For Miller to win the championship, he needed to win the race and also required Alex to finish off the podium. He did win the race and tried his absolute best to create a situation that would have Alex finish worse than third but things didn’t really go according to the plan. Alex and Miller both rode brilliantly in their own ways but Marquez finished high enough in third to clinch the title. The Moto3 race had everything, aggressive moves, uncountable overtakes, multiple contacts and chase downs. In Moto2, Tito Rabat is the new world champion.

Valentino Rossi was also pleased with his performance in this season especially after finishing second in the championship with a total of 295 points. In turn, he also finished as the best Yamaha rider on the grid. This has been a redefining season for Rossi even when he hasn’t won the title. He has worked harder than he has in years and we can see that in his efforts and results. His 2013 season with Yamaha wasn’t very positive as he and many had hoped for but this year, Rossi managed to turn a new leaf in his performance and this has showed in his results. His team worked harder to improve the M1 further and he worked harder to change his riding style even more to adapt to his motorcycle. We can see that he hangs a bit more now from his motorcycle in many corners. And though he managed only 2 race wins this year, his determination to arrive at the top has led to many podium finishes by his own merit and some extremely competitive racing. His spirit is as high as ever and it doesn’t look like he’s taking it easy. In fact, he said after the race that he will try to perform better next year. Finishing second this year doesn’t really leave any room for guessing what better means!! While praising Marquez on his overall performance, Rossi joked, “My bad luck is called Marc Marquez, because without him I can win the championship and lots of races.” At 35, the number 46 bearer is as high in his spirits as he has ever been.

I stated at the beginning of this article that this has been the best MotoGP season since 2010. And I rightly believe so for the reasons shared above and more. The arrival of a rider like Marc Marquez is very good for the sport and it has proven to be. His riding style is extremely impressive and fun to watch. His personality is quite likeable and he is an extremely good sport. Last year, Marquez did win his first MotoGP title in the very first year but he also did more mistakes and learned a lot. He has learned to control his aggression and when and how to use it. And he came back even stronger this year with one year of experience. I personally believe that the arrival of Marc Marquez has also given the extra motivation for Rossi to perform better among other things. They both like each other and complement one another graciously after each race. 

The 2015 season already looks promising for the things mentioned above and guarantees intense racing that we have not seen for years. This year was quite great for racing and we are looking forward to the next season already. But it can’t come any sooner. There will be testing, but right now the riders deserve a much needed break. They are to rest, escape for some time, enjoy and celebrate.

Bye bye 2014!

MotoGP Valencia Results 2014 
1. Marc Marquez (Honda) 
2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 
5. Cal Crutchlow (Ducati) 
6. Pol Espargaro (Yamaha) 
7. Aleix Espargaro (Forward-Yamaha) 
8. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 
9. Michele Pirro (Ducati) 
10. Scott Redding (Honda) 
11. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 
12. Danilo Petrucci (ART) 
13. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 
14. Bradley Smith (Yamaha) 
15. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 
16. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 
17. Karel Abraham (Honda) 
18. Alex De Angelis (Forward-Yamaha) 
19. Michael Laverty (PBM) 
20. Broc Parkes (PBM) 
21. Mike Di Meglio (Avintia) 
22. Andrea Iannone (Ducati)

MotoGP Championship Points 2014 
1. Marc Marquez, 362 
2. Valentino Rossi, 295 
3. Jorge Lorenzo, 263 
4. Dani Pedrosa, 246 
5. Andrea Dovizioso, 187 
6. Pol Espargaro, 136 
7. Aleix Espargaro, 126 
8. Bradley Smith, 121 
9. Stefan Bradl, 117 
10. Andrea Iannone, 102

Text By: Sachin Sen
Images Courtesy: www.motogp.com
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Item Reviewed: MotoGP 2014 – Valencia: Round Up and Season Review Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal
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