Spanish pain in Spain
Boris Mihailovic talks Jerez MotoGP – Illustrated by the wonderful images of Andrew Northcott
There really is nothing like spanking the home team on home soil. And in chalking up his 113th MotoGP victory, Valentino Rossi did just that.
But it was not so much a spanking as a brutal, brilliant and utterly dominant belting – a belting that will leave scars for some time.
No-one expected Rossi to win. No-one expected him to even qualify well. Qualifying well has never been the Italian’s calling-card. And after all, Marquez and Lorenzo were racing in front of their home crowd. The younger of them was always stupid fast at Jerez, and the older one was the reigning world champion with a fresh, multi-million dollar Ducati contract in his pocket.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you bothered listening to Lorenzo after the race, you’d know that a lot could and did. Apparently, his tyres (which were the same as everyone else’s) weren’t up to the demands he was making on them, and as a result he wasn’t able to win by the “big margin” he felt he deserved to win by.
“Now Michelin have to find out what’s going on,” he said, as he waited for a phone call from an angry Frenchman who would have told him that the only thing going on was that Jorge was not riding fast enough.
Marquez, on the other hand, just manned up and said he couldn’t ride fast enough.
“Honestly, today Valentino was on another level,” he said after the race.
And what a level that was.
The Italian had looked dangerous throughout practice, and when he qualified at the front of the grid for the first time in ages, it should have sent his team-mate a message. But Jorge obviously doesn’t respond to any outside input if it concerns Rossi. This explains why he is blaming his tyres rather than his ability to ride faster than Rossi for coming a distant second. I’m also convinced that Jorge thinks that by saying that he’s putting a little worm of doubt into Rossi’s head about his win. Sadly, Jorge is a child when it comes to playing mind-games against the greatest player in the game. And being bitched on Spanish soil by a team-mate he actively despises will bother him a lot more than his fantasies about tyres is going to bother Rossi.
Essentially, Rossi led from start to finish. Lorenzo and Marquez tried to keep up, and did in the opening stages of the race. Lorenzo even managed to pass Rossi halfway through Lap Two, but that lasted less than a second, as Rossi immediately fought back.
Pedrosa was also in the mix on Lap One, when a great start saw him shove his Honda into third, but Marquez passed him on Turn Six the following lap and Dani just faded away.
From that point on, it was over. Rossi was consistently lapping a half a second faster than the blokes chasing him and the race became a processional grind, which was nonetheless fascinating to watch.
Behind him, Marquez tried very hard to pass Lorenzo, but ended up finishing more than five seconds behind him in third.
Once again, the Ducati pit garage was awash with anguished tears, some of which might have actually leaked onto Andrea Dovizioso’s rear tyre. The chronically unlucky Italian lasted until Lap Nine, then idled back to the pits, making this the third race in a row he didn’t finish. Still, it must have made a nice change being gently taken out by a faulty water pump, rather than being blindsided at 200km/h by his team-mate Iannone or a shamefaced Dani Pedrosa, which is what happened to him in the last two races. Dovizioso now lies 11th on the championship table, which is a fair old way from the second place he occupied after Qatar.
Most of the hard-racing action was in mid-field, where Pol Espargaro and Eugene Laverty battled for seventh, as Crutchlow and Iannone diced for tenth. Pedrosa had to work to keep the hard-charging Suzuki-mounted Aleix Aspargaro from taking fifth.
Aussie hope, Jack Miller was back with his recently broken leg, but could only manage 17th. Still, he did beat former Moto2 champion Tito Rabat, who is struggling to find his way in his MotoGP rookie year, after being such a dominant force in the lower class.
Rossi performed his traditional wheelie over the finish line, clearly ecstatic with his win. He kept smiling on the podium, and even applauded the two blokes he’d beaten. By comparison, Jorge looked like sooky thundercloud, and stood with his arms folded as the Spanish crowd, his crowd, cheered the leaves off the Spanish trees when Rossi held the winner’s trophy aloft.
The Turning Point
It’s entirely possible the race’s pivotal moment actually occurred before the race. Seeing Rossi qualify first must have raised a few eyebrows and signalled just how serious his intentions were.
As they speared off the line, Rossi led them into Turn One with a doubtlessly determined Lorenzo a hair’s breadth behind him, aiming to pass him as soon as possible, and thus dictate the race from the front as he is so fond of doing.
But it just wasn’t to be. Rossi turned on a staggering turn of speed from the start, and even though Lorenzo did pass him once, his time in the sun lasted only until the next corner when Rossi immediately took back first place, and then proceeded to churn out laps that were half-a-second faster than anyone else was able to produce. He led from start to finish, and would have win by six seconds, but slowed down to do wheelies, so only won by two and a bit.