It was in Motegi that the war was lost. It was in Motegi that the king was crowned. The Japanese Grand Prix was a tale of the inevitable, when Marc Marquez became the uncontested 2014 MotoGP world champion. But the battles were far from over.
If you thought that the masters of MotoGP would roll over and quietly wait for the end of the 2014 season, then you were badly mistaken. The race at Phillip Island was stuff that makes MotoGP special; it was the reason why people still swear by Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It had all the drama of an Oscar-winning film – complete with unpredictable twists and turns that lasted till the very end of the 27-lap race, till the last bike crossed the finish line.
The Qualifying saw Marquez ruling the time sheets as always, looking forward to smashing through a few more records. The surprise package was the uber-talented Cal Crutchlow who has had an incredibly horrid season a la Vale during those Ducati days. He found a place for himself on the front row, giving hope to many a Honey Badger supporter!
But race day was a different story. And what a story it was!
Valentino Rossi stuck at 8th place on the grid was determined to make his 250th Grand Prix race a success. A podium would be the best gift of them all. A win was perhaps out of the question – Marquez and Lorenzo would be dicing up ahead, while he had a long way to go.
The lights went out and they took off down the breathtakingly scenic Phillip Island circuit. Rossi stuck behind the determined Monster Yamahas managed to rise up to the 6th place, even as Marquez wiggled his way past determined Lorenzo to take the lead.
Rossi managed to ditch the rest of the pack, riding slowly, but not too slowly, through the ranks, edging his way closer and closer to his teammate. Lorenzo was trying hard to keep up with Marquez, but the freshly crowned champion was just a little faster.
Disaster struck on lap 7. Dani Pedrosa was trying to get out of the crowd, trying his best to make the Australian weekend a memorable one. Andrea Iannone was just as eager, just as competitive. He hit Pedrosa in the rear, while trying to make a move and crashed. Pedrosa tried to continue with a buckled rear wheel rim, but it was too late. His race was over. Later, Iannone said in a Pramac Racing press release, “The crash was caused not only by me braking very hard, but also due to the first gear not shifting in. I’m sorry I didn’t finish the race, and I’m also sorry for stopping Pedrosa race.”
By lap 9, the incident was forgotten – at least by the fans. There was too much happening. Rossi had closed in on his teammate. And the dance had begun – the ones like the battles of the old. It was watching masters at work, a duel that left absolutely no room for error. The two changed places, once, twice, three times. Marquez was getting away, but this battle was too important, too exciting to be ignored. They swapped places for 7 laps, back and forth, until Rossi came out in front. The pulse quickened as Rossi tried to close in on Marquez, tried to stay ahead of Lorenzo.
But like any good crime novel, there was a twist of the unexpected sort.
Marquez crashed on lap 18. It was a bad day to be a Honda rider. Marquez later said in a team release, “We were having a good race, right up until the crash. It was a pity that I went down at a time that I was not riding on the limit or faster than the lap before. It was a race where there were many crashes, and almost all happened the same way: the front wheel locking up. The temperatures were down a lot, something that was also a factor today.”
The podium was more or less settled, as Rossi set a comfortable gap. Lorenzo was struggling with his front tyre. But the third spot was still up for grabs, and Cal Crutchlow was determined to take it. He caught up to the flagging Lorenzo, passing him expertly to take 2nd place.
Meanwhile disaster struck once again on lap 19. Stefan Bradl hit the rear of Aleix Espargaro’s bike and crashed. The German was unhurt. But, several corners later, Espargaro was forced to come to a halt. His bike was too damaged. Race Direction gave Bradl one penalty point.
The race was coming to an end. But it wasn’t over. The pulse had barely slowed when Pol Espargaro showed signs of podium dreams. He tried to catch up to Lorenzo and take 3rd place, but crashed.
The dust hadn’t settled.
It was the last lap, and as Rossi inched towards the finish line, Crutchlow crashed. Stunned and incredulous, he got up and looked around, even as the commentators shouted. But it was forgotten in the cheers that went up as Rossi crossed the finish line and took a well-deserved, hard-earned victory.
Lorenzo took 2nd place. Surprising everyone, including himself, Bradley Smith took 3rd place on the podium, a first for him in MotoGP.
It was stuff of Yamaha dreams, especially since this was the first all-Yamaha podium since Le Mans 2008. For Rossi, the win was more special. He said in a team release, “I’m so happy because Phillip Island is one of the most important and most beautiful tracks of the season. I won here many times in the past, but over the last few years I was only able to get onto the podium without winning the race. To comeback and take the first position after 10 years is great. It’s also great to see three Yamahas on the podium! The race was tricky. The work that we did during the weekend with the team was very important. We did a fantastic job and made the right tyre choice. Marquez was no too far in front of me but he had a two second gap, so I decided to focus on my pace and on Jorge. He was very fast during the whole weekend, but for the second position in the championship, it was very important to finish in front of him. When I was in front, Marquez crashed, and I said to myself “victory!””
It was a victory that pushed Rossi into the second place of the championship standings. It was also enough to send a strong message to all his nay-sayers, the ones that pop out of the woodwork ever so often. It was a message that said, loud and clear… I can still make them sweat!