Sepang became the arena for the much-awaited battle between Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. It was also a moment of redemption for Dani Pedrosa, as he tried really hard, to shake the Aragon dust off his feet.
It has been a long time in coming – that battle. We have been expecting it, haven’t we? The way we expected the sizzle and hum of clashing lightsabers, as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought that first time. Hang on a sec. I never said Marc Marquez was the young Padawan.
Anyway, I was most definitely expecting a battle, especially after Jorge Lorenzo’s sarcastic comments during the pre-race press conference in Sepang. I will never really be able to recreate Lorenzo’s sharp-edged tone, or Marquez’s uncomfortable smile. Neither will I be able to describe, in succinct words, the other riders’ awkward laughs or the long silence as we waited for someone, anyone, to ask the next question. Catch bits and pieces of the conference here (and don’t miss Marquez’s look right at the end!).
But despite the post-Aragon, pre-race tension, the battle between Marquez and Lorenzo was everything we wanted it to be. They chased each other, throwing their bikes into the corners, swinging out and sliding, knee scraping the tarmac.
They raced wheel to wheel, touched a tad and then swung away. Lorenzo held on to his 2nd place, but Marquez was relentless. The 20-year-old was all set to take the championship; it was within his reach.
No, said Lorenzo. Not yet. And they raced on, fighting, gladiators in an arena packed with race fans, screaming, cheering and clapping.
Marquez passed Lorenzo and the champion returned the favour. The rookie waited and made his move again. Lorenzo wouldn’t have it. He swung in, made his move, swiping Marquez a tad. The commentators chortled – Lorenzo had just done a Marquez on Marquez.
Then, there it was. Marquez stalked Lorenzo, and waited to make his move. It happened with 12 laps to go. Marquez swung in and passed Lorenzo from the inside. It was an overtake that stuck till the end of the race.
I was out of breath, at the edge of my seat, waiting. My heart was slightly broken – Valentino Rossi was stuck at 4th (why, oh why?) and Cal Crutchlow way behind at 6th, battling Alvaro Bautista.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. After all, I had witnessed the Qualifying of my dreams. Rossi finally had the pace, and I was looking forward to phenomenal battle between the Italian master and the Spanish rookie.
I was denied that pleasure. The race started and immediately Vale fell back, as did Marquez. Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa shot forward from their second row spot, taking the lead. Lorenzo battled a bit, but Pedrosa was determined.
He was not going let this race slip through his fingers. Aragon had been bad enough, what with that teeny-tiny touch courtesy Marquez, and the high side crash. It couldn’t have helped that a rookie had practically stolen Pedrosa’s long-awaited championship from right under his news.
Anyway, Pedrosa grabbed the lead from Lorenzo and stayed at the helm throughout. He raced his heart out and even managed to put enough distance between him and his teammate. Marquez settled into 2nd place and decided it was safer to hold off Lorenzo.
Vale, after his dream Qualifying, stayed stuck in 4th and ended the race a little over 10 seconds behind his teammate. He said later, “Today was half and half for me. For sure we improved and made another step, improving the setting of the bike, and I was able to be very close to Jorge. It looks like today our competitors had an advantage here; they were able to keep a better rhythm than us. Starting from second, I hope to arrive on the podium, but I knew the top three guys were very strong. At the beginning of the race, I lost some time as I had a problem with the front brakes. We continue to work and push, and fight to be in with the top three.”
Cal Crutchlow, still having problems with his injured right arm, chased Alvaro Bautista. There was good battle there then, but it ended on the last lap, after Bautista made his move and took 5th place.
In all this, it was Nicky Hayden who had it worst. The Ducati has just been terrible for him. The Kentucky Kid ended up pulling up trackside, his bike spewing out smoke, or was it steam? Last seen, Hayden was stomping back, angry. And that is an understatement. If he were a dragon, he would be spitting flames at the Ducati garage!
On to Australia. I am excited. I have been missing the race, the past two years. I have always been busy with the Indian F1. Now, though, I will finally get to watch the race at Phillip Island live! I promise I will try not to boo Casey Stoner if I spot him! I wonder too if Marquez will finally be champion. I hope not. Fingers crossed, the Man of Steel and the Doctor decide they need to make the rookie wait just a little longer for his crown.
Sepang in Pictures