Words by Dan Gruchala
Though Freddie Spencer had to see it coming, it still must have been painful to watch the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas despite COTA’s widely praised exquisiteness. Marc Marquez replaced Spencer’s name in the MotoGP history books for the second time in as many days when the 20-year-old became the youngest rider ever to win a premier-class race, just 24 hours after supplanting Spencer as the youngest to qualify on pole.
However, the race did not start ideally for the Spanish phenomenon. Marquez ran wide in Turn 1 to start the race, allowing his Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, to take the lead and LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl to assume second place while Marquez was forced to settle for third heading into Turn 2.
Bradl’s time pursuing the leader didn’t last long.
Marquez made it through on the inside of Bradl’s Honda in Turn 12 of the opening lap, and then proceeded to chase down Pedrosa.
It took until Lap 12 of the 21-lap contest, but Marquez finally made it through on the inside of Pedrosa in Turn 7 to claim the lead.
He would not relinquish it. Pedrosa finished in second place, 1.5 seconds behind MotoGP’s newest prodigy. And therein lies the biggest takeaway from this weekend’s action, aside from Marquez’s cemented legitimacy. With only two teams and four bikes having a realistic chance to win races, the differences between the factory Hondas and Yamahas have never been clearer.
From the first session of the private COTA test one month ago, it was plain to see that the track’s layout—with its many hairpin turns and areas where quick acceleration is needed—suited the Honda’s seamless-shift gearbox and seemingly greater power much more than it did the Yamaha.
By contrast, the Yamaha excelled in the first race of the season at the Losail circuit in Qatar, a track that features only one hairpin and many long, sinuous bends. It is a track seemingly constructed with the smooth, flowing Yamaha in mind. Fittingly, the factory team finished with Jorge Lorenzo on top of the podium and Valentino Rossi in second.
Lorenzo has not been shy about stating his desire for Yamaha to develop an answer to Honda’s seamless-shift gearbox. His appeals will likely grow louder as his third-place finish in Austin was the first time he has placed outside of the top two in his last 18 finished races. Until Yamaha heeds Lorenzo’s pleas, the M1 will continue to lose time to the Hondas on the tighter, more technical tracks. If Yamaha manages to match Honda’s power delivery, they may be unbeatable.
Cal Crutchlow impressed yet again with his fourth-place finish. After spending a good portion of the early part of the weekend lamenting his absence from the private test, Crutchlow finished ahead of Bradl and Rossi, both of whom did attend.
It appears Bradl might have some numerological bad mojo to overcome. He finished the Austin race in fifth place. He also finished the warmup in fifth. Qualifying? Yup, fifth. The same with two of the four free practices. It goes on. He finished fifth-fastest in qualifying, warmup and two of the four free practices in Qatar. Had he not crashed out of the opening round, it’s safe to assume in which position he would have crossed the line.
It won’t be easy for Bradl to move up the finishing order now that Crutchlow is nearly as strong as the factory Yamahas. To break his numerological confinement, he and his factory-supported RC213V need to find a few more tenths somewhere, possibly from increased rider aggressiveness.
Sadly, the two Texas-raised riders, Ben Spies and Colin Edwards, had forgettable homecomings.
Spies finished in 13th place, 24 seconds behind Yamaha Tech 3′s Bradley Smith in 12th. Afterwards, Spies stated that his surgically repaired shoulder was feeling much better than in Qatar, but a new malady—a “twinge in [his] chest,” that felt like he “had a knife in [him]“—had taken its place. The wretched luck that hounded Spies all last year shows no sign of abating in 2013.
Not even the Texas-sized Stetson Edwards sported on the grid could help MotoGP’s elder statesman provide an impressive showing for his home crowd. A technical issue with his NGM Mobile FTR-Kawasaki forced him to retire from the race with 10 laps to go. A broken sprocket forced a retirement from Edwards in Qatar. At this point, Edwards’ goal may be to simply finish a race.
Marquez’s victory gave him 41 championship points on the young season, good for a tie with Lorenzo atop the leaderboard. Pedrosa is third with 33 points followed by Rossi with 30 and Crutchlow with 24.
Look for the Yamahas to once again gain the upper hand when the MotoGP traveling extravaganza kicks off its European leg at the next round in Jerez, a circuit much more similar to Losail than COTA.
Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas full results:
1. Marc Marquez
2. Dani Pedrosa
3. Jorge Lorenzo
4. Cal Crutchlow
5. Stefan Bradl
6. Valentino Rossi
7. Andrea Dovizioso
8. Alvaro Bautista
9. Nicky Hayden
10. Andrea Iannone
11. Aleix Espargaro
12. Bradley Smith
13. Ben Spies
14. Randy de Puniet
15. Yonny Hernandez
16. Michael Laverty
17. Hiroshi Aoyama
18. Hector Barbera
19. Claudio Corti
20. Bryan Staring
21. Blake Young