Pedrosa wins as Marquez takes giant step towards title


dani-pedrosa-sepang-motogp-fp4-2013Dani Pedrosa claimed his first victory since the French Grand Prix in May but the Malaysian Grand Prix marked another step towards for Marc Marquez towards his first premier class world title.

The Repsol Honda duo dominated the weekend and topped the times in every session with the Yamaha’s of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi not capable of matching their speed or consistency. On Friday Rossi admitted that he feared Honda dominating this race:

“I think the main advantage they have is with corner entry and braking on the edge,” said Rossi. “Our bike is fantastic but it has the behaviour of a normal bike. We are very fast in the longer corners like turns five and six, I was behind Dani and I was faster than him. But Honda find something special for the small corners and they are able to make different lines. The bike always turns and follows the inside and they always cut the kerb inside…sometimes they have the problem that the bike turns too much! Our bike has very good balance and with the seamless gearbox we don’t lose a lot in acceleration but it is a more normal bike. We need more metres to make the corner and the Honda is more tight and can use the acceleration.”

Changeable qualifying conditions meant that Pedrosa, the pacesetter throughout the weekend, was forced to start from the second row alongside Lorenzo but when the red lights went out the Spanish duo shot into the lead at turn one. Marquez had qualified on pole position but the championship leader made poor start and fell back to fourth before barging past Rossi at turn two:

When asked about the race start Rossi said:

“I wasn’t strong enough in the first braking and Jorge braked deeper than me. Marquez in the second corner was very aggressive and I had to go wide but it’s normal in the first two corners. He risked a bit but he didn’t make any problems so it was alright but I lost a bit.”

Behind the leading quartet Alvaro Bautista was fifth with a fast starting Bradley Smith jumping in front of his Tech3 teammate, Cal Crutchlow, and Andrea Dovizioso. The Englishman’s strong start however would fall back in the next lap with Crutchlow overtaking him due to his continued struggle to adapt to a full fuel load. It’s a complaint that Crutchlow has also had this year but Smith has made improvements throughout his rookie season and continues to adapt to this element of race craft:

“I still need to work with full fuel,” said Smith. “We made some improvements this weekend but we’ve got some ideas. It’s not getting it stopped it’s about getting it transferred to the rear and accelerating out of corners. It’s about using the brand new rear grip on the initial gears and gaining a little bike length here and there.”

At the front of the field Rossi’s best start of the season had seen him stay with the race leaders and at the turn ten hairpin he dived down the inside of Marquez and momentarily was into third position before the Spaniard’s superior traction allowed him to retake the position. It was hard and aggressive riding from both on the opening lap with no quarter given but it was clean and fair.

The opening lap saw costly jump starts for Colin Edwards, Hector Barbera and Michael Laverty. After the race both Edwards and Laverty admitted it was the first time that both had jumped the start in their careers and having flinched before the red lights went out their chances of solid races were ruined.

From the start Pedrosa looked menacing with the Honda rider able to close up at will to Lorenzo and looking incredibly confident under braking and able to take chunks out of his rival in some of the heavier braking zones. Pedrosa, who won his first world title ten years ago in Malaysia, was content to sit behind Lorenzo and bide his time.

Alvaro Bautista, running in fifth position, came close to hitting the rear of Rossi’s bike into turn one at the start of lap five. Afterwards the Spaniard admitted that he had suffered from a brake problem with the front brakes not able to perform correctly. As a result the Gresini rider fell back towards the clutches of Crutchlow in sixth and the pair would then enjoy a spirited fight throughout the race to finish as the leading satellite rider:

“It was a difficult and hard race but I made a good start and stayed with the front group,” said the Spaniard. After five laps I had a problem with the front brake and I missed some stopping power and then I couldn’t push because I couldn’t brake like I want to. I started to battle with Cal and it was fun and in the end fifth place was not too bad. I’m happy with the place but without the brake problem I could have stayed closer to the first group.”

Having bided his time and waited for the tyres and brakes to come up to temperature Pedrosa started to look more impatient and eager to get past Lorenzo and into the lead. Standing the bike up on the exit of the penultimate corner he used the Honda power to sail past Lorenzo on the 1km long back straight. Lorenzo tried to attack and win back the position and looked to have touched the rear wheel of Pedrosa at the corner apex. Forced to shut off the throttle momentarily Marquez was now in position to attack over the start finish line.

Into turn one the championship leader claimed second position from Lorenzo but the reigning world champion was in no mood to let his compatriot simply take the position, and crucial championship points, from him. He barged back past at turn one when Marquez ran slightly wide and the pair rode side by side into turn two with Marquez coming out in front. It was a hard fight and the pair would continue to battle for the next five laps.

With Lorenzo having been a stern critic of Marquez’ aggressive riding style it was almost inevitable that they would fight one another on track in Sepang. On Thursday Lorenzo had sarcastically said that Marquez’ aggressive riding should be rewarded but on Sunday he was more than willing to fight wheel to wheel and faring to faring with his rival.

In the pre-even press conference when asked about Marquez receiving one penalty point on his racing licence Lorenzo said:

“For me it was unfair or too much because Marc made some mistakes in Moto2,” said the world champion. “He has some little problems with Wilairot and with some other riders, as in MotoGP when braking. But [it was] just inexperience no? For me one point on the licence is unfair. For me the right thing is to put one point more in the championship, because like this the other riders in Moto3 and Moto2 can take example from this riding style and they can do the same. 

We can have a better show in our sport because the safety of the riders doesn’t matter so much, the important thing is the spectators enjoy the show. The Jerez action was a great show, looking at the marshals [scattering] like chickens in Silverstone [to avoid Marquez’s bike] was a great show. In Laguna Seca he overtook Valentino outside of the track, it was a great show. So they should provide an incentive for these types of actions.” 

With the Honda clearly the faster package Lorenzo knew that his only chance was to make sure that Marquez never had a chance to stretch his legs in front of him and Lorenzo barged past him at turn four to retake the position but the combative Marquez would not cede and out of the hairpin he had better drive and moved back into second position at turn 12 but straight away Lorenzo dived back underneath the Honda to try and retake the position.  With Marquez on the apex of the corner contact was inevitable with Lorenzo hitting his rival. It was ironic given Lorenzo’s comments and criticism of Marquez but far more than that it was a fantastic battle for second and at turn one Marquez ran in too deep under braking when overtaking Lorenzo and the champion easily slipped back past him.

While the scrap for second was raging Rossi had fallen adrift of them in fourth position with Bautista now firmly in the clutches of Crutchlow. THe Englishman over took his rival on lap seven and for the rest of the race they would trade positions on numerous occasions. Bradley Smith was running in seventh with the Ducati of Nicky Hayden closing in fast and looking very steady in seventh position. Having struggled so much this season it was an encouraging start for the American but on lap eight his race was over with an engine failure.

The Ducati motor blew on the exit of the last corner with smoke and steam pouring out the back of his bike. The Kentucky Kid was clearly incensed by the failure and afterwards he explained why:

“The race wasn’t going spectacular,” admitted Hayden. “But it was better than the last ones and we were pulling away from Dovi and closing up on Smith when I had an engine failure. It was making some bad noises and I had just caught Smith at the last corner and I heard a noise. It was the closest I’d been to him in the whole race so I hoped that maybe it was his bike but when I opened the bike on the exit it was clear that it was smoking and the engine was done.

We’ve looked at the engine but don’t have the tools to look into it so we’ll send it back to Bologna and see what happened. It was my freshest engine and it’s unfortunate and we just can’t catch a break at the moment. Starting from pitlane is a possibility but we’ll obviously look at what we have available. I’ve used all my engines so we’ll go back and see the mileage on them. I was hoping to get to the end of the season on these two engines. I know I’ve got one engine with some life but I don’t know if it’s enough to do three more races.”

While Hayden’s race was run the goose was also cooked for Lorenzo. Marquez was able to take advantage of a slight mistake by Lorenzo and move back ahead of him into turn 14. The Repsol Honda took the normal racing line towards the exit kerbs and Lorenzo was forced slightly wider but over the kerbs.

After the race Lorenzo complained about the move from Marquez while dismissing the obvious contact earlier in the race:

“It was fun, until the last overtake from Marc,” said Lorenzo. “Until then the fight was really clean, with no touching. In that [last overtake] there was no touching, but he didn’t leave me as much space, so I had to close the throttle. I don’t know. We passed I think three, four, five times and I don’t think we touched. But if we did it was just a little bit. I didn’t feel a big touch. It was different [to the pass where they did touch] because then he left me room and I thought I have to try [on the inside]. But at Turn 14 he didn’t leave me space and if I didn’t close the throttle we could have touched. The other passes were clean.”

That they touched was clear from the television coverage but Lorenzo’s recollection of the battle was of little concern to Marquez who smiled and said:

“In one overtake I felt some contact [from Lorenzo],” said the championship leader. “But it was ok. Like this is racing, no? He overtook me on the inside. I didn’t expect it. We had some contact, but you know in that moment it was so exciting.” 

Having come under such sharp criticism from Lorenzo earlier in the weekend many riders in Marquez’ position would have risen to the bait during the press conference but the Honda rider’s decision to accept it as racing was another sign that he is just as willing to be on the receiving end of hard riding and he to being to one applying the pressure. Armed with a 43 point championship lead over Lorenzo however he is clearly very comfortable with his riding style so far in 2013!

While Marquez was squabbling with Lorenzo Pedrosa was free at the front of the race and had a comfortable lead  of almost two seconds at half distance. With Pedrosa, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi all in a position to keep a watching brief on each other but unable to attack the front runners would run in formation to the flag.

Having waited since May to finally stand atop the rostrum Pedrosa was delighted to have put his Aragon misery behind him. The 28 year old had come to Malaysia clearly still angered by his retirement and resultant injuries but having taken painkillers to get through the gruelling 20 lap race in the Malaysian heat he admitted this was a special victory after seeing any realistic championship chances end at Aragon:

“I am very happy with this win, as it is very special. My level of riding today was very good and the victory comes after a difficult week – in which I was laid up in bed and could hardly move,” he said.
“To come here and win is fantastic, so thanks to all my team.
 It hasn’t been the best week but we can’t look back any more. It’s just a shame because we had a similar pace at the last race at Aragon so it could have been two in a row.”

Having taken the lead at the end of lap five he would eventually finish 2.7 seconds ahead of Marquez with his teammate unwilling to risk a safe 20 points at this crucial stage of the season.

“Today was a good day. We had a good pace and I enjoyed a lot riding at the front. My bike was working well. Both tyres were slippery but I could ride well all weekend. The first laps are always key, but I wanted to check the track a little and see how it feels. After that Jorge was also going fast but I tried to go in front and make a gap. I felt confident and had a good lead by the end, so I could manage and control the pace. The tyres were sliding a lot. It was nice!”

Sepang has been a difficult circuit for Marquez with a crash in 2011 resulting in an eye injury that put paid to his chances of winning the Moto2 title as a rookie. On Sunday however he took a giant step towards winning his first MotoGP crown:

“These twenty points are very important and I’m really happy with how the race went today,” said the 20 year old. “I had a nice, fun battle with Lorenzo, but at the same time I could see that Dani was opening up a gap. When I finally managed to overtake Jorge and make the pass stick, I tried to reduce the distance that Dani had put between us. However, I saw that it was too risky to do so. From that moment on, I decided to focus on keeping Lorenzo at bay, because the goal here was to finish the race ahead of him. We did what we came here to do, so we are very happy!”

Rossi’s strong start saw him net yet another fourth place finish but this was one of his stronger races having been able to finish within three seconds of Lorenzo. Having struggled with qualifying early in the season he now feels that he has figured out the new for 2013 regulations. Braking has been an issue for Yamaha this year and it’s still the main area where they need to find improvement but after the race Rossi was pleased with his weekend:

“I’m happy because this weekend we improved the setup of the bike and I am fast on new tyres,” said Rossi. “I started in second place and after qualifying being a problem at the beginning of the year it’s three races in a row that I have been competitive. I was less than one tenth from the fastest lap of the race, just like Aragon and Misano, so it means that in the beginning of the race I am strong and I’m happy about this. Now we have to continue to work because in the second half of the race I struggle too much with the tyres.

“I had a problem today that in the beginning of the race I had a problem with the front brake when I was behind other guys. The front brake gets too hot and it becomes difficult to stop the bike. The front three guys are already very fast and with this problem it becomes more difficult. I’m happy because I was just three seconds from Jorge and it’s a small distance and it means that I rode well for all the race but at the end starting front row I had hoped for a podium. The Honda’s were very strong and could use their tyre in a better way than today and to stay more constant with the rhythm. Me and Jorge had a similar race and when we started to struggle with the tyre we couldn’t stay with the Honda’s.”

Crutchlow got past Bautista with four laps to go but having struggled for the last two races with an underpowered engine he was once again hamstrung in his fight with the Honda rider. After the race the Tech3 rider commented that he struggled all race with his rear tyre spinning on corner exit due to the warmed track conditions and greasy surface. The spinning robbed him of any forward momentum and made him a sitting duck to the Honda on the long straights of Sepang:

“In qualifying we ran a strong power map and I was happy with it but the track was a lot cooler,” said Crutchlow. “I wanted to use that power map again in the race but we had a lot more power from corner to corner so we just spinning the rear tyre. As soon as we went to push we had too much torque but we’ll learn from that. At Aragon we were so slow in a straight line that we had to try something here. On the exit of the corner it never worked so I changed the map once to calm it down but it was still more than the other Yamaha’s.

“Basically we were just spinning too much but I was pleased with the braking and we seem to have done something there. We finished so far back because me and Alvaro were fighting so much. The distance was big to the winner and I think that the distance could have been better to Valentino but with our power control setting from corner to corner it was never going to happen because we were just lighting up the rear tyre.”

Behind Crutchlow his teammate, Bradley Smith, was able to focus on the fight for fifth and enjoy arguably the strongest weekend of his MotoGP career. It might have been a lonely race for Smith, comfortably ahead of Dovizioso but behind his teamamte, but the rookie was pleased with his performance:

“It didn’t feel like a lonely race because I could still see Cal and Bautista in front of me at some places so it gave me something to push towards and it gave me a focus point,” said Smith. “Even though it was eight seconds the layout of the track meant that I could see them. Also seeing the pitboard go up with a second a lap to Dovizioso behind me it allowed me to work off those two things. We lost less at the beginning of the race than we usually do. We improved that area this weekend but we’re still lacking a bit because I couldn’t match Cal when he passed me but the laptimes were quite close.”

Aleix Espargaro had expected to announce his departure from Aspar at the end of the season this weekend but that has been delayed but the Spaniard was once again the leading CRT runner in ninth position. The Spaniard was pleased once again to lead home the sub-category within MotoGP:

“I am very happy,” said Espargaro. “This is a difficult circuit we achieved a great result here today. At the beginning of the race we were very strong and I had fun riding with the Ducati riders. After Dovizioso pulled away, I kept up with him for a few laps. But when the rear tyre performance decreased, it was hard for me to stay with him, because the bike was sliding around a lot. I believe that we should be satisfied with our result this weekend, because we were the CRT winner at a tough circuit for us.”

Without his jump start penalty Edwards thought that he had the pace to match Espargaro within the CRT fight but the American ultimately had to settle for a solitary point in 15th position after overtaking Danilo Petrucci at the final corner:

“When you look at the lap times we could have been top CRT and it was probably the best race I ever had here,” said the Texan. “We had the bike working week and the team worked their asses of to get the electronics and chassis right. I just want to get out of here and get to Australia.”

When asked about the jump start, Edwards was clearly annoyed with himself for making such a costly mistake:

“It was the first time that I ever jumped the start. I don’t know what happened. I think that I blinked and then I flinched and I knew as soon as the light went out. I did my ride-through and then gave it everything I had. Once I got by Barbera and Petrucci the last lap and a half at turn seven I was trying to put a couple of metres to the guys behind me and the bike completely tucked and I was about to let go of it but I went across the astroturf, the concrete and then back across the astroturf but they both had got around me. At the last corner Petrucci ran a bit deep and I got past him so at least we got a point. I had a good race pace so it’s disappointing”

MotoGP moves on to Philip Island in Australia next weekend and with three races remaining, and 75 points available, Marquez can be crowned champion with two races to spare should he claim eight more points than Lorenzo. It is now inevitable that the 20 year old will become the youngest ever world champion and the first rider since Kenny Roberts in 1978 to claim the title in his rookie season.

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