Finally, after all the hype, all the waiting, the seemingly incomprehensible rule changes, new presenters and new paint jobs, MotoGP 2014 started with a bigger bang than anyone expected. The fuss on social meeja over the who’s who of the commentary team has been a nice filler while we waited for the racing to start, but I suspect now that there’s some actual racing worth talking about, bench racers will douse the flames on their pitchforks and get on with the important business of shouting at the riders. For what it’s worth, I think Melanie Sykes will improve as the season progresses. Imagine having your first day at school scrutinized by two million school prefects, the job of pleasing everyone isn’t something you’ll nail in one take. If you’re in any doubt about that, Google ‘Suzi Perry F1’ and read about how much she’s struggling. This is a lady who for 13 years had the balls of MotoGP in the palm of her hand and yet she’s struggling for traction in the F1 paddock. Like I said, there’s more important stuff to talk about now, like Bradley Smith.
I’ll be honest and admit that I spent most of the pre season tracking Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow. I’ll also be honest and say that I’d labeled Bradley as the kind of racer that takes one too many laps to hit his stride, finishing races far stronger than he started. It was something that he used to do on the 125 that seemed to be compounded by his Moto2 ride. Granted, qualifying on the front row of a MotoGP would sharpen the senses of any racer, but Bradley was on fire. Watch the replay of the start, his was flawless, as were the next few laps. We all know the end result, but I hope he was smiling while he picked the gravel from his teeth, at this rate, a podium can only be a matter of staying in front of the best riders on the planet for a little bit longer than he did yesterday.
It seemed almost inevitable that Marquez would slice his way to the front, but it certainly didn’t seem to be with the usual ‘Hulk Smash!’ grace that he deploys. Maybe he should have been at home with a pot on his leg, laughing at James Toseland’s new hair but he wasn’t, because that’s not what world champions do. I know we’re all still a little race starved, but did anyone else feel that there was something special about the way Marquez and Rossi set about each other? Marquez said afterwards that the last lap was the best lap he’s ever put together in is entire career. Imagine how hard he would have had to ride against a 2009 spec Valentino, one that can remember what it’s like to be at the front of a MotoGP race.
“I’m very happy with the result today. The 25 points are important but it’s also been an important race, because I was coming back from an injury that caused me to miss most of the pre-season. Also, this weekend there were a lot of riders up at the front, all with a great pace, and seeing how the race went, this win is a big one. The battle with Valentino was the best part of the race besides the win, I really enjoyed it!”
I think what happened last night, is that we were largely entertained by just two riders. Imagine if Lorenzo had stayed on, what about if Bradl and Smith had stuck with them and Crutchlow hadn’t had a really bad day at the office? I’ve decided that the perfect race for me isn’t one where I get to see two amazing riders going at it all the way to the flag, I want to see seven of them, holding their breath until they’ve seen the photo finish. Regardless of how the new regulations pan out, I can’t see it happening, as nice as it’d be.
The highlights of the race for me were seeing Bradley hanging in there at the front. At one point Bautista stuck him up the inside, the old Smith would have stepped back and waved him through, the 2014 spec Smith got on the gas and leant on Alvaro all the way round the corner, desperate not to lose an inch, let alone a place. Obviously watching Rossi and Marquez was great as well, but I expect that of them. Man of the night for me was BT Sport newbie Neil Hodgson. It began with the onboard demo lap of the circuit on a BMW HP4. He did exactly what he should have done which was start and finish his lap at 160mph on the back wheel. He made it feel exciting to ride a big bike round a big circuit and put us in the seat perfectly. When he collared a justifiably frustrated Cal Crutchlow after the race, he showed the kind of subtle understanding that makes great racers great and wouldn’t let him off the hook. I think Neil assumed that Cal had ran out of fuel, when in actual fact the electronics on Cal’s bike were half a lap behind his actual track position from lap five onwards (traction control that thinks you’re in the middle of a second gear corner when you’re flat out in top on a straight…), Cal was wearing the kind of face that Matt Roberts would have ran a mile from, Neil tucked in behind the sponge on his massive microphone and waded in for a comment. Like Cal’s on track performance, Neil’s was ballsy and it paid off. The final highpoint was seeing Rossi swearing live on air, I’ll never get bored of that.
I think the race was won with over half a lap to go, with Rossi unable to close that tiny gap, let alone make a move. But those last four laps? If they’re an indication of the season to come then I’m in.
Words: @Johnatsuperbike Images: 2Snap