It’s like they say in the Capitol, “May the odds be ever in your favour”.
But it wasn’t just the odds. There was gritty determination, perfect strategy and unlikely mistakes, all of it enough for the hunter to become the hunted on that sunny Sunday afternoon in Argentina.
And then there was that man – all of 36, who looked at the cards he had been dealt, and then raced – simply raced, charging through the pack, hunting. *Hit play on the Jaws theme now*.
So it started with a surprise decision from Marc Marquez; he would be riding with the hard compound rear slick, softer than the extra-hard option being favored by the folks over at the Yamaha garage. The qualifying hadn’t been very promising – with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone making up the first three on the grid. Jorge Lorenzo had managed a 5th place, but teammate Valentino Rossi had been relegated to 8th position.
It was sort of becoming obvious that we would soon be seeing an intense charge up front a la Marc Marquez, with the Spaniard then spending the rest of the race running at a lonely 1st even as the rest of the pack played catch-up.
Things more or less played out as per script. Aleix Espargaro aboard his Suzuki took the lead at race start, but briefly. Marquez swooshed past and proceeded to extend the lead slowly, but gradually. He started with .802s ahead of Jorge Lorenzo who had managed to sneak in behind him.
It didn’t matter who was behind Marquez. The Spaniard pulled away, steadily with every lap, on top of his game, focused on getting away so that tyres would not be an issue towards the end of the 25-lap race.
It was all pell-mell behind him. Lorenzo had to make way for a charging, determined Cal Crutchlow by the 2nd lap, and the CWM LCR Honda rider stayed on course till lap 7. But he soon had Dovizioso to deal with and succumbed to the Ducati by lap 8.
Further behind, Rossi had had an inauspicious start and was at 8th place at the end of the 1st lap. But not for long. Rossi reached 5th place by the end of lap 6, after passing his struggling teammate. Suddenly, the podium was no longer a dream.
“When I saw Marc start with the red one, I knew that he would try to push at the beginning. I made a great start but on the first corner Iannone pushed me on the outside. Step by step I came back, and when I arrived in second Marc had a little more than four seconds lead,” Rossi later said in a Yamaha team press release.
Rossi had caught up to Marquez by the end of lap 11 who was 4.151s ahead of him. After that, it was like watching a masterclass in action. With every lap, Rossi shaved off time, chipping away at Marquez’s lead. Suddenly, his choice of rear tyre seemed like a bad one. It was a long race, and Rossi was determined.
“It was interesting, because our tyre choice was different from Valentino’s as I felt we were not as competitive the hard compound. The strategy was working out well for us – it’s just a pity about the last two laps. When I saw that he was closing in on me, I decided to conserve the tyres a little. On the final laps, I wet back to riding in the low 1’39s to check that the tyres were still in good shape, and knew that we would be fighting to the end,” Marquez later said in a Repsol Honda press release.
The gap continued to drop…2s, then 1s… and then finally at the end of lap 23, 0.134s. Rossi could see Marquez, he was right there in front of him.
“I knew the race was long, so I knew he could have some difficulty. Catching him lap by lap, I could see him far away but coming closer and closer, it was a great taste! I overtook him in braking, but he is a rider who is all or nothing, he touched me in the corner, then he touch me again as I was accelerating, I think he made a mistake and he crashed. It’s a shame because it could have been a great fight on the last lap,” Rossi said in the team press release.
Marquez said in the Honda press release: “When he caught me, we fought for a few corners and unfortunately we touched and I crashed. I’ve always said that he’s my idol and my reference, so you always learn things from him.”
And there it was. Rossi crossed the finish line to the tune of a roaring crowd that had been cheering him throughout the race. The 9-time world champion had made up 5 seconds in 13 laps – a phenomenal feat. Race direction looked at the video feed and deemed the clash a racing incident with no further action to be taken.
Rossi had won, and justly so.
Behind him, Dovizioso took the 2nd place on the podium. Behind him though was another scrap, that gave us a surprise winner. Iannone had been holding on to his place and with Marquez gone was looking at a 3rd place on the podium. But it wasn’t to be. Crutchlow was determined to take his piece of the podium pie. Just as Iannone crossed the final corner, Crutchlow passed him stealing the 3rd place from right under his very nose.
As they say in the Capitol: May the odds be ever in your favour.