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GP Week : Issue 180
E very season carries high expectations. Seldom do they live up to it. 2013 might be different, if the omens of the desert night are to be trusted. The excitement wasn’t exactly as expected. Testing had seen a battle between the two top Spaniards, Dani Pedrosa for Honda and Jorge Lorenzo for Yamaha. Surely the first race, and the rest of the season, would be primarily about them? Well, Lorenzo won it, superbly if undramatically. Dani faltered disappointingly. But the story of Qatar came from their team-mates. Rossi was back on his beloved M1 Yamaha and determined to wipe out the stain of two years of failure with Ducati. Marc Marquez was the new kid with a fearsome reputation and a factory Honda. Between the two of them, they shone bright enough to put to shame the spotlights of the only night race of the 18-round season. Rossi’s return was already a big talking point. He’d come back to Yamaha cap in hand to take the junior role alongside defending champ Lorenzo. He’d been quick in testing, but only for the odd lap, while Jorge reeled off whole strings of them at more or less the same speed. Then he was bamboozled by the now-or-never new qualifying, ending up on the third row. The questions remained. Was Rossi, at 34, a faded hero clutching at straws? Marquez had arrived dripping with the blood of his victims in 125 and Moto2, but with plenty to learn – full electronics, Bridgestone tyres. And of course how to get the most out of more than double the horsepower he was used to. Didn’t seem to take long: he started almost as fast as team-mate Pedrosa, and by the end of testing was quite often faster. The confrontation came late in the race and went to the last lap. Had it started earlier would surely have lasted until then as well. And it was a clash to remember: two giant talents, at opposite ends of their careers. one possibly jaded by years of domination, the other tipped to be his successor as the next great giant of MotoGP. Marquez rides a lot like Stoner: dominating the bike and forcing it to do extraordinary things. Rossi rides like .... well, Rossi. Fierce and swaggering, but at the same time smooth and accurate. Both were very aggressive. This time, Rossi won. By two tiny tenths. Racing can hardly wait to see what will happen next. Rossi’s feat was flawed – in that he’d clipped the back of Dani’s bike after misjudging his rival’s speed, and damn near crashed on lap two. It was salutary in what happened next – he was stuck in seventh for a while, but when he got free he rode “like a devil” to close down on the two Hondas and hot-to-trot Crutchlow ahead. Only Marquez was able to go with him. The thrill of the chase quite left Lorenzo in the shadows. Most unfairly. He did everything just spot on all weekend, leading away from pole and pulling remorselessly clear. Rossi happily acknowledged “I couldn’t have beaten Jorge today. He was perfect.” Overshadowed again, and not a good omen for the future relationship of the team-mates. But with the major consolation of 25 perfect points. Pedrosa was overshadowed too, and will need to man up pretty quickly if he is not to become a spare part in the factory Repsol team. He blamed poor rear grip. Crutchlow was clearly best of the rest – as fast as anybody, but eventually pressured into a mistake by Rossi. But for that, he deser ved better than fifth. Bautista took a worthy sixth, carrying an injured hand; second satellite Honda man Stefan Bradl was ahead of him when he fell off. Bradley Smith, making a so-far-solid debut on the second satellite Yamaha, also crashed out, rather further back at the time. Some sort of miracle for Ducati sadly fizzled out in racing conditions. In qualifying Rossi replacement Dovizioso had set sparks flying, only knocked off the front row at the last minute. Started well, but in the end was two seconds adrift of Bautista, bedevilled with the familiar understeer. Marlboro team-mate Nicky Hayden manfully caught him up by the flag. It was better than last year, but not good enough. The red bikes have a way to go. Ben Spies had a tough Ducati debut in the new factory B-team. His shoulder still far from full strength, he had a thumping fall in free practice, but soldiered on to tenth, some way adrift of Pramac team-mate Andrea Iannone, impressive in his debut but slowed by arm-pump at the end. Aleix Espargaro had been ahead of Spies, and was 11th, top CRT bike again. The season could hardly have asked for a better start. Next week, the new circuit at Austin. In factory tests there the long straight as well as hard acceleration out of several slow corners played to the Hondas ... but it was Marquez fastest, and Dani going home with a literal as well as figurative pain in the neck. "THE SEASON COULD HARDLY HAVE ASKED FOR A BETTER START." MOTOGP >>> QATAR 29 GPWEEK.com // 29 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: