MotoGP Season Review
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With the return of Rossi, Yamaha once again fields its strongest team Though just missing the title, Lorenzo scores the most season wins
In the season that would see Jorge Lorenzo going for his third MotoGP title, he is joined by former teammate Valentino Rossi, winner of seven world championship titles in the premier class. In the season opener they score a one-two finish in a great start towards winning a second consecutive MotoGP title. But they faced a strong rival team with a pair of top riders, and then came the injuries that proved a major setback for Lorenzo mid-season. At one point it looked as if Lorenzo was hopelessly out of the title race, but things couldn’t end that way. Still believing that a miracle could happen, Lorenzo and Yamaha battled on...
Lorenzo and Rossi triumph in the opening round
but struggle against the rival team’s new pair
Yamaha entered the 2013 MotoGP season with two teams fielding four riders in all. Riding for Yamaha Factory Racing were defending champion Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, who returned to the Yamaha camp after spending the past two seasons afield. Riding for the Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team were last season’s 7th-ranked Cal Crutchlow and young rider Bradley Smith, who had been competing in the Moto2 class last season. All were riding the “YZR-M1,” a machine that has won a total of six MotoGP championship titles so far.
As with previous seasons, the opening round was a night race in Qatar, and was held on April 7th this year. However, the qualifying system was changed for 2013. After the three free practice sessions, the ten fastest riders would be seeded through to Qualifying Practice 2 (QP2) and those from 11th position and down to Qualifying Practice 1 (QP1). QP1 was to be run first and its two top finishers would then join the ten riders seeded for QP2 to compete for pole to 12th. Each Qualifying Practice would consist of 15-minute sessions with riders making 3-4 time attack laps to decide their positions on the grid. It was Lorenzo who emerged from this tight competition with the first pole position of the season. What’s more, Crutchlow took 2nd position, while Rossi qualified in 7th. Lorenzo’s momentum then carried over into the race, where he showed a stunning display of speed as he ran unchallenged from pole position to the checkered flag and the win. His teammate Rossi finished 2nd, while Crutchlow finished 5th behind Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.
However, from the second round of the season, Lorenzo would not be able to get another win for some time. Pedrosa and his new teammate Marc Marquez proved to be exceptionally strong. In the pre-season testing held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the venue for the Americas GP, the track had already proven to be a difficult one for Yamaha riders to take top positions at. After finishing 3rd in the race, Lorenzo commented, “Yesterday [in the qualifying] we were so far from Marc and Dani...today third position was the best we could do.” Finishing in 4th behind Lorenzo was Crutchlow, and Rossi finished in 6th place. MotoGP then moved to Europe with the Spain GP at Jerez and the France GP at Le Mans, two tracks where the YZR-M1 has always done well. Still, Lorenzo was not able to perform at his best. At his home race at Jerez, he was able to take pole position but then suffered from deteriorating tire grip during the race and finished 3rd. At Le Mans he did well in getting 2nd position in the qualifying, but when suddenly faced with full wet conditions for the race, he was unable to get a good machine set-up and ended up finishing 7th. At this stage in the season, Pedrosa was leading the standings with two wins and Marquez was in 2nd. Lorenzo stood in 3rd place, 17 points behind Pedrosa.
Looking back at the race results at this point in the season, the Yamaha riders’ qualifying times were basically equal to those of their rivals. In the races however, they would have trouble getting a good match between the machine set-up and the tires, and tended to struggle. The team was already hard at work gathering and analyzing the data and trying a variety of solutions for problems to break free of the factors hindering their performance. At the fifth round, the Italy GP, those efforts finally began to pay off. In the first day’s free practice session, Lorenzo, Rossi and Crutchlow recorded the three fastest times. In the qualifying, Lorenzo barely lost pole position to Pedrosa, but pulled away in the race to win by over five seconds. He also moved into 2nd position in the standings ahead of Marquez, who no-pointed in the race. After the race, team manager Wilco Zeelenberg commented that the championship was open again.
Lorenzo takes a fall just after regaining form
The point gap gradually widens to as much as 44
With the sixth round, the Catalunya GP, Lorenzo won again and closed to within seven points of standings leader Pedrosa, and his title chances were beginning to look brighter. It was then that an unexpected mishap would occur. During a free practice session at round seven, the Dutch TT in the Netherlands, Lorenzo highsided and broke his collarbone in the crash, requiring him to undergo emergency surgery. Unwilling to miss a round, a courageous Lorenzo was unbelievably there on the starting grid in 12th position for the race 36 hours later. From the early stages of the race, he charged forward and succeeded in climbing up to 4th position. Although he would drop to 5th place at the finish, he had still managed to win a valuable 11 points. After the race, a proud Lorenzo said, “This 5th position is better than any victory I have had in my career.” His team director Massimo Meregalli added an emotional comment that this was going to be an unforgettable weekend for him.
In the place of injured Lorenzo, it was Rossi who rose to the occasion in magnificent form. Starting from 4th position on the grid, he steadily moved up and by only the fifth lap he was in the lead. Rossi ran on from there to take his 80th GP victory and his first win of the season. Also in fine form, Crutchlow finished 3rd and took his third podium of the season.
But two weeks later, Lorenzo fell again in free practice during round eight, the German GP. A hard blow to his still mending shoulder made another operation necessary. This time Lorenzo withdrew from the round to “try to recover and be back as soon as possible.” This round was won by the 20-year-old rookie Marquez and catapulted him to the top of the standings past Pedrosa and 11 points clear of Lorenzo. Still, there was a good chance for a come-from-behind title win. But one thing no one had anticipated was Marquez’s rapid progress. As Lorenzo took time to get back into form after returning to the competition at round nine, the U.S. GP at Laguna Seca, rookie Marquez out-raced the likes of Pedrosa and Rossi to win four races in a row. By the end of round 11 at the Czech Republic GP, Marquez’s lead over Lorenzo in the standings had grown to 44 points.
Still, the only one who could stop Marquez’s awesome momentum was Lorenzo. The venue for round 12, the Great Britain GP, was Silverstone, a track that had been very good for Lorenzo. He took two wins and one 2nd-place podium finish in the three races held there since 2010. Having recovered from his injury, Lorenzo took the fight to Marquez right from the qualifying sessions. Although he missed getting pole position by 0.128 sec., Lorenzo prevailed in the thrilling race with Marquez that went down to the last lap and saw Lorenzo take the checkered flag by a mere 0.081 sec. It was his first win in six rounds and after the race, an excited Lorenzo said, “This was one of the best races I’ve ever had.”
As long as there is hope, the challenge goes on!
Lorenzo’s dramatic comeback in the closing rounds
The fair winds continued to blow Lorenzo’s way. For round 13, the San Marino GP, the YZR-M1 was fitted with a new seamless gearbox. After qualifying 2nd here, Lorenzo got the hole shot at the start of the race and began to run away in the lead. Never giving Marquez or Pedrosa a chance to get close, he scored his first runaway victory in some time.
However, Marquez and Pedrosa took wins at round 14, the Aragon GP, and round 15, the Malaysia GP. The point gap grew to 43 points again. With just three races remaining in the championship, almost everyone was sure that the title race was all but decided and the season was effectively over. But round 16, the Australia GP, brought an unprecedented turn of events. The newly re-surfaced track at Phillip Island had stronger grip than expected and caused much faster wear on the tires. Concerned about the safety of the riders in such conditions, the race officials decided to shorten the race to just 19 laps. They also required that all riders make a pit stop to change to a machine with fresh tires after the ninth or tenth lap of the race. Under these rules, pole-sitter Lorenzo took the lead and held it until he made his pit stop after nine laps, and then continued on unchallenged to take his 50th GP win. On the other hand, after running in 2nd position, Marquez was disqualified from the race for making his machine change after lap 11. With this, Lorenzo suddenly found himself just 18 points behind Marquez in the title race.
Another unexpected set of circumstances arose for round 17, the Japan GP. With a typhoon approaching, a heavy fog set in over the circuit that prevented use of the medical helicopter and resulted in the cancelling of all the free practice sessions for safety reasons. To compensate, the qualifying sessions were extended to 75 minutes and Lorenzo won pole position again. The race was held in the first dry conditions of the race weekend, bringing worries about machine settings. But true to his pre-race statement that he had nothing to lose and could take more risks, Lorenzo took the lead and kept the trailing Marquez and Pedrosa at bay all the way to the finish line for a second consecutive win. This gave Yamaha a total of 200 victories in motorcycle road racing’s pinnacle classes of GP500 and MotoGP.
Finally, the championship was down to the last race, the Valencia GP. The point gap between Lorenzo and the leader Marquez now stood at 13, but Lorenzo was positive, stating that “We are still in the fight...” Starting from 2nd position on the grid, Lorenzo raced into the lead and then he put into action a bold plan to get the comeback title win. It was the same strategy that Kenny Roberts had used against Freddy Spencer in the 1983 season. While maintaining the lead, Lorenzo deliberately slowed the pace to try and let the pack close in, hoping that enough competitors could get in the mix to drop Marquez back to 5th place or lower and give him the point difference he needed to win the title. But after Marquez came out ahead in a fierce battle with Pedrosa, Lorenzo knew that he couldn’t keep the pace down anymore. He took off at full speed and opened up a safe lead of nearly four seconds over the closing stage of the race. He went on to take his eighth victory, the most of any MotoGP rider in 2013, and finished the season ranked 2nd just four points behind Marquez.
As for Rossi, he came in 4th that day and also ranked an impressive 4th for the season with his win at the Dutch TT—his first win in two years and eight months—and one 2nd-place and four 3rd-place finishes. Crutchlow also had an impressive season, showing awesome speed in qualifying sessions to start seven times on the front row, and delivered two 2nd-place finishes and two 3rd-place finishes for a total of four podiums. All this secured him 5th in the ranking, the highest of any satellite team rider. His teammate and MotoGP rookie Smith finished 6th in three races and achieved his goal of ranking 10th for the season.
Crutchlow will be leaving Yamaha next season, but 2013 Moto2 Champion, Pol Espargaró will take his place, and along with Lorenzo, Rossi and Smith, four Yamaha riders will compete next season. We hope everyone will be looking forward to even greater results from these competitors in 2014 and beyond.