I came off the Qatar race on an absolute high. Vale had made a comeback in a blast of glory, giving us a fight to remember. Marc Marquez was beginning to prove to the world that he was truly brimming with talent. Sure, Jorge Lorenzo had won the race, but the kick-off to the 2013 season was spectacular. The second race couldn’t come soon enough. MotoGP was making its premiere at the stunning Circuit of the Americas – perhaps the only track in my book that Hermann Tilke got right.
My hopes were high, but I was realistic. Vale wasn’t so sure of his success at COTA, but there was promise in the air of tremendous battles. The three Americans – Nicky Hayden, Ben Spies and Colin Edwards were keeping their fingers crossed. This would be the first battle on home ground this year and nobody wanted to disappoint fans.
Come Monday morning (actually wee hours on Monday morning in India), I was prepared. The television volume was on a low, but the thrum of the MotoGP bikes still audible. A record had already been set: Marc Marquez at 20-year-old was the youngest pole-sitter in the premier class. There was disappointment in the air at the Rossi camp. Vale was struggling. He was mulling over a puzzling braking issue and ended up qualifying 8th. Lorenzo admitted that the Hondas was faster and had to be content with a 3rd spot on the grid.
And so it began – the fight to the finish.
It was soon obvious that the Hondas were quicker than everyone else. Dani Pedrosa took off at the speed of light, even as Lorenzo found himself slipping down the grid thanks to a bad start. Stefan Bradl seized the day though grabbing 2nd place. But he couldn’t hold on to it for too long. Marquez came charging through, displaced the German and proceeded to chase down his teammate. It was obvious. Pedrosa was not going to get away that easy.
Elbow and knee scraping the track, corner after corner, Marquez patiently followed Pedrosa, waiting for a moment, the right moment. It came on the 13th lap at turn 7. Marquez swooped into the inside and snatched up the first place. Pedrosa spent the rest of the race playing catch-up, but his teammate took victory by 1½ seconds. Marquez broke another record as climbed on to the podium to break open the champagne bottle. He became the youngest rider to win a Grand Prix.
Lorenzo followed way behind at 3rd in a lonely ride to the podium, even as Cal Crutchlow took up the 4th place. It was obvious though. COTA was going to be the Honda playground this year. Lorenzo though celebrated his 100th podium and later said, “Yesterday, we were so far from Marc and Dani, but this morning in the warm-up, we found something. The hairpin corners we normally take in first gear, we made in second, so it improved a lot, the feeling and acceleration, but it was not enough. Just a little bit more, maybe two-tenths quicker and I could have fought with Dani and Marc. Today, 3rd position was the best we could do.”
Vale too conceded defeat reconciling to a measly 6th position. “This is a difficult track for us,” he later said in a press release. “We expected to do better, but I had a lot of problems in the race, because I had a problem with the brakes. I had a vibration in braking because I lost one part of a disc so this didn’t help. We knew that we had to defend here; we know that we cannot attack, we need to try and arrive in the top 5, but today it was 6th.”
The Americans too were struggling. Nicky ended his run at a disappointing 9th spot, way behind his teammate Andrea Dovizioso who finished 7th after a brilliant battle with Alvaro Bautista.
Edwards was hoping he could give his fellow Texans something to talk about, but ended up retiring after 10 laps. He just didn’t have the best package.
Ben Spies was struggling too. He thought he was recovering from last year’s shoulder injury. But, he started suffering from severe chest pains during the pre-race warm-up session. Spies continued to race, struggling with the pain and ending at 13th place. He will now go through intensive rehab and will return to racing in time for Le Mans.
COTA revealed many successes and weaknesses. In so many ways, it has set the tone for the season. Pedrosa is desperate to regain top spot, while Lorenzo will hope to defend his championship even as Rossi seeks to dust off the COTA disappointment. But they have all tipped their hats to a rising talent – Marc Marquez. He has shaken up the nicely organized grid of the past and promises to set 2013 on fire.
There is so much to do. And the season has only just begun!
Two races down, the top 3 positions are all Spain with Marc Marquez leading with 41 points, tied to Jorge Lorenzo (41 points). Dani Pedrosa takes the third place with 33 points, followed closely by Rossi at 30 points. Cal Crutchlow rounds off the top 5 with 24 points.