As I settled down in front of the television last Sunday, ready for the red lights and the growl of MotoGP bikes, I couldn’t help but feel a teeny-tiny pang of nostalgia. I closed my eyes and I felt myself reliving every minute of the madness that is inevitable before race-start. The only difference is that my memories were that of Mugello.
Whatever anyone may say, there can be nothing more exciting, nothing that can give you that rush, that adrenalin kick, as watching a race live, as it happens. The cheer and shouts of a crowd, 91,000-strong, the mad hubbub in team garages, the last-minute tweaks to bike set-up, the silent march of the grid girls as they walk on to the start-finish line, the way the ground under you vibrates as the bikes start up, the click-click of shutters as photographers take pictures of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa. That is racing. And you can never get enough of it.
Last Sunday though, I put aside the tiny pang and settled down, my fingers crossed, as I nervously watched the riders line up at the grid. There he was, Jorge Lorenzo in his special helmet in front of his home crowd, as were Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez. The young rookie was eager to make up for Mugello. Just like Valentino Rossi. The Italian hasn’t had the easiest of all seasons; his big comeback marred by a single podium finish in Qatar and more recently a racing accident in front of his home crowd. The Catalunya weekend began great for our Italian warrior, the high being the 2nd practice session that saw Vale lead the pack at 1’42.297. Qualifying turned out to be a complete disappointment though as he ended up on the third row at 7th position. And that was how it was as the lights went on and the riders went blasting down the steaming hot Catalunya circuit at the start of the 6th race of the season.
Before we knew it though, Lorenzo had wiggled past Cal Crutchlow and Pedrosa to grab himself the lead, even as Vale swung by to settle in at 5th place. His nemesis Alvaro Bautista, who had managed a 4th during Qualifying, but found himself at the back, gave Vale quite a scare. Heart in mouth, I watched at, what seemed to be, a repeat of the Mugello ‘incident’. Lucky for Vale, and us the maestro managed to avoid Bautista, going wide and continuing on, even as the 28-year-old Spaniard crashed into the kitty litter. He tried to get back into the race, but couldn’t.
Phew! We all breathed a sigh of relief, even as the race continued. But Catalunya wasn’t done with our riders. Michael Laverty went down, as did Karel Abraham. Then, Cal Crutchlow and Nicky Hayden followed suit, even as the Kentucky Kid walked off the track, waving his fist at the heavens. Hector Barbera, Andrea Iannone and Randy de Puniet joined the club. The riders were dropping like flies.
Meanwhile up front, Jorge Lorenzo was riding the perfect race on the blistering track. Pedrosa and Marquez followed close behind even as Vale found himself in a lonely 4th place after the Honey Badger’s exit.
I was waiting for those moves, the miracle. But the race continued at a staid pace. It almost seemed like no one was taking any chances. The thought had barely crossed mind, and I had reconciled to a regular race, when suddenly Marquez made his move. It was nearly a staid race.
Tyre to tyre, bike to bike, Pedrosa and Marquez took the curves with precision as they battled for position. Marquez tried to pass, but Pedrosa shut the door immediately, again, again, and yet again. It was a masterful race.
I stopped breathing. The din around me became a muted buzz in the background. I waited and watched as Marquez stalked Pedrosa. Closer and closer, but Pedrosa had caught on to his younger teammate’s tricks. He outpaced and out-tricked his every move. Marquez pushed and ended up making a mistake. It was a gigantic wobble that nearly took him out at the closing stages of the race.
I leapt out of my chair, but the scream died before it had even begun, as Marquez found his balance and got right back into the race.
In the end though, it was all-Spanish podium. As I watched Lorenzo take the podium, sharing his win with Anna Vives, the young girl who designed his helmet, I realized that the 2012 world champion had indeed become a mature, masterful racer. It was a clean win – perfect. He later said that the win was totally unexpected. “It was really difficult physically, as it was the hottest race of the year. I kept pushing 100% because any mistake would have been a disaster,” he said. But there was no mistake. And I admit, I felt a little tug in my heart as I watched Lorenzo hug Vives, who has Down syndrome and truly an inspiration.
There is no doubt that the race has whittled down Pedrosa’s lead in the championship. A mere 7 points separate him from Lorenzo. But Marquez isn’t far behind with 93 points. Don’t discount him. He is no doubt my rookie of the year, and he is learning every step of the way. He took a 3rd after starting 6th on the grid, and as he says it himself, “learned a lot from riding behind Dani”.
Bet that statement makes Pedrosa really uncomfortable!