by Dan Gruchala
For three nights, the hills of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain were filled with the sounds of motorcycles, campfires, music and other essential noises of a good revelry. Unlike some places where only a smattering of people attend the early weekend practice sessions, the Jerez GP—the opening round of the European segment of the MotoGP schedule—is akin to a weekend-long national holiday.
Over 111,000 people attended the race, most of them seemingly traveling by motorcycle; the massive parking lot specifically for two-wheeled conveyances was packed like a can of sardines.
MotoGP has always been wildly popular in Spain. It also doesn’t hurt that three of the top four riders are Spaniards. Defending series champion Jorge Lorenzo, the diminutive Dani Pedrosa, and the young phenomenon Marc Marquez qualified on the front row in that order—an all Spanish front row for a raucous crowd of appreciative compatriots.
As is often the case, Pedrosa’s slightness helped him to secure the holeshot and assume the lead into Turn 1. Lorenzo, however, quickly showed he had no interest in biding his time as he swooped through on the inside of his rival in Turn 2 to take the lead.
Five laps into the 27-lap contest, Pedrosa took the lead back from Lorenzo and would hold it for the rest of the race, in the process giving a master class on how to ride with a lead while also conserving tires on a slippery track. It was a brilliant performance, if unexciting for the casual fan.
Shortly thereafter, the effects of the greasy track, with which the riders had been struggling all weekend, began to reveal themselves. Lorenzo could clearly be seen missing his lines and running wide in the corners. Mistakes which, under normal conditions, the super-smooth Lorenzo simply does not make.
Marquez and Valentino Rossi made hearts flutter when for a few moments when, in the opening two laps, it looked like they would rekindle the exciting battle they had in Qatar. This one, however, would not last long. After Rossi made it past Marquez in the final corner of the opening lap, Marquez returned the favor in Turn 6 of the next lap and proceeded to pull away from the Italian.
It did not take Marquez long to chase down Lorenzo, but getting past him proved more difficult. The two-time MotoGP World Champion is one of the best at keeping opponents behind him. He had to use every ounce of those skills to keep young Marquez at bay, but Lorenzo did, at least until the end.
As the two riders approached the final turn of the circuit—named after Lorenzo on Saturday, his 26th birthday—Lorenzo left a window open on the inside. Marquez saw it and, though he was arguably too far back to responsibly attempt the maneuver, dove down to the inside while carrying too much speed to avoid running wide. As Marquez drifted toward the outside of the turn, Lorenzo was on his way back to the inside. The two riders clashed with Marquez pushing Lorenzo to the outside of the track while he bounced off and sped toward the finish line to claim second place.
Rossi received some pressure from Yamaha Tech 3′s Cal Crutchlow in the early laps of the race, but for the most part had a lonely ride to his fourth-place finish. It was a disappointing end to the weekend for the six-time premier-class Jerez race winner. The Yamahas were expected to do better at a track that has typically allowed the M1 to shine.
Afterwards Rossi expressed his disappointment: “We have to work very hard – especially because Lorenzo is faster than us – so we have to find the right balance and work together with Yamaha because in this race we expected to be stronger than the Hondas but in the end we have finished behind them, so we have a lot of work to do.”
After leading the preseason test at Jerez, Crutchlow had hopes of a podium finish. But his two crashes in consecutive sessions on Saturday—a day that also saw Rossi and Pedrosa go down—and the lack of confidence with the greasy track, no doubt affected his Sunday performance.
Next up for the fourth round of the championship is Le Mans, France, a track at which the Yamaha has traditionally done well and will provide Rossi, Lorenzo, and Crutchlow with another solid opportunity to excel.
Five riders crashed out of the race, most notably LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl whose early season struggles continue, now having crashed out of two of three races. Pramac Racing’s Ben Spies followed the advice of his doctors and chose not to participate in order to continue his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery.
Marquez was expected to bring a lot of excitement and aggressive racing to the premier class. As the headlines from the first three races of the season demonstrate, he has not disappointed. Three races into his rookie campaign, the Spanish phenomenon is the overall leader in the championship standings with 61 points, not to mention barging past reigning World Champion Lorenzo (in his namesake corner, no less) on the final lap of the Spanish GP.
Pedrosa’s win pushed him past Lorenzo and into second place with 58 points, a single point ahead of Lorenzo in third. Rossi remains in fourth place, but with only 43 points he is now 14 behind Lorenzo. If things don’t change for The Doctor, he will soon be too far back to be a realistic threat for the championship. Crutchlow rounds out the top five, with (appropriately) 35 points.
That’s three races done, three Spaniards on top of the podium. If they are to be unseated, it will likely have to come from someone on a Yamaha. Bradl and satellite Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista don’t appear capable of challenging for the podium let alone race wins, and the Ducati teams are still trying to figure out how to claw their way back to respectability in dry conditions.
The prevailing wisdom held that Jerez would see a resurgence from the Yamahas. It says the same about Le Mans. With any luck, Rossi and Crutchlow will be battling at the front of the pack in France. Heck, if it rains, you may even see a Desmosedici in parc ferme.
Jerez Grand Prix full results:
1. Dani Pedrosa
2. Marc Marquez
3. Jorge Lorenzo
4. Valentino Rossi
5. Cal Crutchlow
6. Alvaro Bautista
7. Nicky Hayden
8. Andrea Dovizioso
9. Aleix Espargaro
10. Bradley Smith
11. Michele Pirro
12. Hector Barbera
13. Michael Laverty
14. Danilo Petrucci
15. Colin Edwards
16. Bryan Staring
17. Claudio Corti
18. Hiroshi Aoyama