Jorge Lorenzo held off the charge of Repsol Honda to win the Catalan Grand Prix on Sunday. The reigning world champion led home and all Spanish rostrum in defeating Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to claim his 26th premier class victory.
The victory also allowed Lorenzo to draw level with his championship rival Pedrosa in the all time winners list; Catalunya marking his 47th win.
It was a trademark victory for Lorenzo with the Yamaha rider hitting the front at the first corner and never being headed thereafter. This race was always expected to be dominate by the riders ability to nurse their Bridgestone tyres through the 25 lap race and from the start it was clear that this would be a challenge.
The high temperatures, over 30C air temperature and 50C track temperature, meant that the surface was exceptionally greasy and able to catch out any rider. The first lap saw this illustrated at turn ten where Alvaro Bautista and Michael Laverty both crashed out of the race with Michele Pirro running through the gravel trap having taken avoiding action when Yonny Herhandez had some difficultly under braking.
For Bautista the crash came hot on the heels from his opening lap crash at Mugello where Valentino Rossi also crashed as a helpless victim. After Mugello Rossi shrugged off the incident as a simple racing accident with two riders looking to get to the same piece of road…Sunday however was different. The Italian did not mince his words after the race having been very lucky to avoid a repeat of his Mugello crash:
“In Mugello he did a mistake and fucked my home Grand Prix and we could have had big pain [in the accident]. But one mistake can happen… He said he didn’t see me. But doing the same at the next race, another time with me, is very stupid I think. He tried an impossible braking. Fortunately I released the brake and went wide, otherwise we would have crashed together again today. It was a useless overtake, because I was a lot faster than him and we were in the right position.”
The crash happened at turn ten after Bautista tried to outbrake Rossi in their fight for fifth position. Bautista had good drive down the straight and pulled out of Rossi’s slipstream to start the move but very early it was clear that it would not be possible for Bautista to scrub off enough speed to still make the apex and the crash looked inevitable. Racing in front of his home crowd Bautista was clearly fired up this weekend and his second row qualifying effort was impressive but in the race it was hard not to feel that he let emotions get the better of him by trying to make an overtaking move always likely to end in tears.
“It is such a shame,” said the former 125cc world champion. “We have had a great weekend and this was the last thing we needed. After the start I felt like the guys in front of me were holding me up and in an effort to stay with the lead group I tried to get past them and I crashed.
“Maybe with a hard tyre on the front I could have been a bit more careful but I was worried about losing touch and I went for it. In hindsight it would have been better to wait but in racing these things happen. I feel sorry for the team because they have done a great job here and I want to apologise to all the guys, who are giving 100% and deserve a different result. Now we just have to look forward to the next race and try to stay calm.”
With Bautista being so impatient it is hard not to draw the conclusion that he was trying to get to the front and that even though he has not enjoyed the best of times in MotoGP that he is still a potential front runner. For Rossi however the time for patience and understanding is clearly over and he made his feelings about Bautista clear after the race:
“For me, when Bautista sees me, Lorenzo and also the other top guys he becomes a little bit crazy,” added Rossi. “Last year with Lorenzo [at Assen], in Valencia 2011 with me and Mugello with me. It is like he has to demonstrate that he is better than us. What happened today, can happen [in racing]. But two times in a row – another time with me – is not very clever I think.”
The early stages of the race saw Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Crutchlow and Rossi break away from the rest of the pack where Nicky Hayden, Andrea Dovizisio and Andrea Iannone were enjoying a spirited all Ducati fight for seventh place. Hayden got to the front of this fight and the American was looking set for a decent finish in these early stages.
Having qualified on the second row, and thinking the he had the pace to be a front row starter, it was clear that the “Kentuky Kid” was in good form this weekend. However on lap seven, having just overtaken Stefan Bradl for sixth, Hayden’s race was over at turn ten. The American was another victim of a lowsider at the hairpin and his promising weekend yielded no points.
“It’s such a disappointment because until the crash, it had been my best weekend of the year so far,” said Hayden after the race had finished. “I got a pretty good jump on the start, but some guys overtook me going to turn one. I had to make a few passes, but once I got into fifth I thought I had the grip to do a solid race. Unfortunately, I went into a corner a bit deep, stayed on the brake too long, and went down. It was my fault, especially with the track being so hot and greasy, and I apologize to the team because they had given me a bike that was working pretty well. There’s nothing to do but take it on the chin and try to shake it off.”
On the same lap as Hayden crashed so too do did Cal Crutchlow. The Tech3 rider started the race from the front row but dropped to fourth behind the quick starting Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Marquez. It seemed in these early stages that Crutchlow did not have the pace to challenge the race leaders and would have to settle for a top five finish and a comfortable haul of points.
He battled with Rossi in the opening seven laps and looked very comfortable until he came to turn seven and the front end tucked causing his first retirement of the season. Afterwards Crutchlow admitted that it was a “stupid mistake” that caused his crash but Catalunya was another positive weekend for the former World Supersport champion.
“Obviously I am disappointed that a great weekend ended with a crash and I have to hold my hands up and say it was a stupid mistake on my part,” said Crutchlow. “Like last season and again in the first few races of 2013, I have been struggling to stop the bike in the early laps with a full fuel load. I was giving it my all to stay in the battle with the top three and unfortunately I hit the kerb on the inside and crashed.
“It was a silly mistake and I am sorry to the team because I am confident I could have stayed in the fight for the podium right to the end. We have got to understand why we don’t have so much grip at the start of the race but I can take some big positives out of the weekend again. I was on the front row, I was fastest in the warm-up and I was battling for the podium in the race. Now we can go to Assen confident that I will have good speed and be in the rostrum fight again.”
With so many riders crashing during the race it was clear that the combination of the track conditions and the Bridgestone tyres were a somewhat dangerous cocktail. After his crash Laverty said that “it was greasy and very easy to catch you out” and with Bautista, Laverty, Iannone, Crutchlow and Hayden all crashing it was clear just how difficult it was for the riders on Sunday.
After the race Lorenzo commented about the tyres:
“The front tyre was probably too soft,” he said. “In every race we are trying to ask Bridgestone to give us harder compounds on the front but for the moment it’s not arriving. Hopefully for the next tracks it will arrive because in some braking zones it’s a little bit dangerous.”
In the second half of the race the fights calmed down and the riders battle shifted to adjusting to the high wear rate of the rear tyre and trying to nurse it through to the end. Briefly it look as though Pedrosa was capable of bridging the gap to Lorenzo making the champion fight for his race win but ultimately Lorenzo was able to reassert his lead and hold off the Repsol Honda’s to win by almost two seconds.
With Lorenzo having confirmed his pace to Pedrosa the Spaniard was forced to shift his attention from in front to behind. Marquez was coming alive in the closing stages. With the tyres well past their best the rookie was getting more and more comfortable as the race proceeded and with the sliding under acceleration he eased himself towards the exhaust of his teammate. Marquez was ready to pounce on any mistake by his teammate but ultimately it would be a mistake of his own that would settle the fight for second.
Having come very close to Pedrosa with a handful of laps only to outbrake himself and have to sit up to avoid a crash it was clear that he was riding on the limit but on the penultimate lap he overstepped the limit and was exceptionally lucky that his race did not end at turn four.
Having gotten great drive through turn three, the long third gear right hander, Marquez was in position to challenge his teammate but with Pedrosa braking precisely on the limit Marquez left his braking a touch to late and the front end buckled and the bike weaved with the Spaniard hanging on like a bucking bronco.
Marquez somehow managed to collect himself and stay upright but having lost some time it seemed that Pedrosa was now out of range but it was hard not to remember what Cal Crutchlow said on Thursday, “He’s like a cat-he can save anything and he always lands on his feet.”
While most would have taken this as a warning sign and settled for third Marquez once again showed the determination that has won him a legion of fans and admirers. He was immediately back to riding on the limit and trying to overtake Pedrosa. Ultimately he came up short by a hairs breath with Pedrosa claiming second but this was another important race in the development of Marquez.
After the race Pedrosa looked at the positives of adding another 20 points to his title haul but it was clear just how difficult this race had been for the riders:
“Today was a bit of a strange race,” said Pedrosa. We could not get maximum performance and physically it was very hard, because of the heat of the bike and the tyres. When I tried to open the throttle the bike wobbled in the front and I had to be very careful. We three front runners were battling the track conditions today. It was a bit disappointing not to be able to push more, since the differences between us all was minimal.
“We rode practically the entire race without any overtaking. It was very easy to make a mistake and in fact, on the closing laps, Marc made one and I had a slide, but in the end we were able to take a very important second place. We expected to do better after yesterday, but we now have an extra 20 points and we continue to lead the standings.”
For Marquez this race offered him yet another insight into what he needs to do to improve as a rider in the premier class. He has shown that he has the speed to be a race winner but adding experience to his talent is what is now needed. Having learned about wet races in France this was his first time riding the bike where tyres were the limiting factor in performance.
The intelligent rookie however soaked up everything and will be looking to put those lessons to the test at the next Grand Prix in Assen.
“It was a difficult race,” said Marquez. “We expected it to be tough, but we never imagined that we would be fighting for the podium with Jorge and Dani and I’m very happy with this result! It gives us confidence after a slightly tricky weekend, as in the end we found the ideal setup.
“During the race I learned a lot from riding behind Dani, trying to figure out how to ride a MotoGP bike at this track, and in the end we did quite well. We knew it would be difficult to finish in the top five, but we managed to get on the podium. I can only say I’m thrilled with the result. Now we look to Assen and we’ll see if we can improve anything for that race during the test at Aragón”
This weeks tests will be the first time that Pedrosa and Marquez will be able to test the 2014 Honda and the test could have a huge impact on the championship this year given that team officials having said that they will use the updated bike in future races if it proves to be reliable.
Stefan Bradl had a quiet race to finish fifth and with the German having shown progress at Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya he clearly seems to have turned a corner and is riding very well at the moment. The same could be said for Bradley Smith. The Englishman took advantage of the retirements to finish a career best sixth for Tech3.
Having badly damaged his hand in Mugello this was always going to be a tough race for the former 125cc race winner but he adapted well in Montmelo and showed a lot of promise. Smith overcame a Friday crash to quietly build his speed as the weekend progressed and afterwards he was very pleased with his race:
“Obviously today was a much more positive result for me, even if sixth position looks a bit better than it really is,” said Smith. “But at the end you have to finish the race to score the points and I did that in difficult conditions while not at my 100% physical best. So it is a great result for the team and me. I really focused on the first eight laps trying not to make any mistakes and trying to stay as close to Dovizioso and Bradl because I knew they should have been more or less on the same race pace as me.
“I tried to attack Espargaro as quick as possible so I didn’t lose too much time and I managed that. Finally to be in a fight with Andrea towards the closing laps of the race, knowing that he has been always very strong during this part of the race, was obviously something special and makes me feel proud. And to finish 32 seconds behind the winner is another great step and I just want to continue like this until the summer break. My team did a fantastic job to help me on the YZR-M1 and we really turned around a difficult Friday to have a great result on Sunday and that makes me really happy.”
Smith has viewed finishing 30s behind the race winner as a key point in his development. Once he can crack that margin team members have said that “anything is possible” for him. Smith will have a skin graft in Barcelona this week for his injured left hand.
His team boss, Herve Poncharal, was pleased with Smith’s performance:
“Bradley did an outstanding job. He pushed non-stop right from the start and to see him catching a factory Ducati with Andrea on board, who was on the podium with us here in 2012, was something really special.”
“We knew it was going to be difficult on this track, due to the layout and the bike’s pumping, but it was worse than we thought,” he said. “I really didn’t think I’d do such slow lap times, but with the heat, the performance became worse and worse every lap as we lost grip. It’s just more confirmation that we’re still a long way back, and that we have a lot more work to do.”
Aleix Espargaro claimed the CRT honours in eighth position but it was the performance of Colin Edwards that was arguably the most impressive in the sub class; the Texan finished the race in ninth position ahead of the prototype Ducati of Michele Pirro.
Javier del Amor claimed the final point. The Spaniard, replaced the injured Hiroshi Aoyama on the Avintia Blusens bike, only made it on track for the first time during FP4 but performed well to qualify for the race. The Spaniard is the team’s official test rider.