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MotoGP Trendspotting: Grand Prix of Qatar

Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha Factory Racing won the Grand Prix of Qatar on April 7, the first of 18 events in the 2013 MotoGP World Championship that includes the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 16-18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But it’s time to take a look beyond the results sheets for trends after this race.

Lorenzo Remains The Punisher: Dani Pedrosa entered the 2013 MotoGP season as the razor-thin favorite to win his first World Championship, as he led the first preseason test at Sepang and ended the 2012 season by winning seven of the last 11 races on his Repsol Honda.

But Jorge Lorenzo served notice at Qatar that he will defend his World Championship with power and speed. Lorenzo led all 22 laps from pole to win this event for the second straight year. He beat teammate Valentino Rossi by 5.990 seconds.

Lorenzo ripped off eight laps in the 1-minute, 55-second range, showing his trademark punishing consistency. Rossi managed only five laps in the 1:55s on an identical Yamaha M1 motorcycle. Third-place finisher Marc Marquez was in the 1:55s on only two of his 22 laps.

Rossi Is Back: Whispers and questions surrounded seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi as he made his return to Yamaha after two years in an uncompetitive Ducati wilderness.

There would be no excuses if Rossi didn’t perform. He was on the well-refined and developed Yamaha M1 that Jorge Lorenzo rode to the World Championship last season. If Rossi failed, whispers would multiply into a cacophony that maybe “The Doctor” was too old at 34 to compete with the young, fearless supernovas of the sport such as Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez.
Rossi silenced all doubters with his fantastic second-place finish, 5.990 seconds behind Lorenzo.

Italian Rossi showed all of the charisma and swashbuckling style that has made him a motorcycle idol of millions worldwide. He climbed from sixth place early in the race to edge Marquez in a scintillating late duel, teaching a lesson to the Wonder Child of the premier class.

Marquez Is For Real: Rookie Marc Marquez backed up all the hype entering his first premier class race, finishing third after a crackling duel with seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi.
The battle with Rossi was flush with symbolism. The old master edging the new kid on the same bike upon which Rossi won his first three world titles, a factory Honda. The past champion digging deep to beat an almost certain future champion.

It’s very early days, but Marquez should place extreme pressure on teammate and team leader Dani Pedrosa all season. He gained the early upper hand in the Repsol Honda garage on Pedrosa, who finished fourth.

Spanish teammates Marquez and Pedrosa appear to be on great terms now. But it only will take one flashpoint – or Marquez continuing to beat Pedrosa – for their relationship to become almost as frosty as the legendary big chill between Jorge Lorenzo and Rossi at Yamaha in 2009-10.

Crutchlow Is A Ticking Time Bomb: Tech 3 Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow could resemble a hot-water heater with a broken pressure relief valve at an upcoming race, exploding under pressure.

Such an eruption would be understandable.

Crutchlow dragged his satellite-spec Yamaha M1 to the middle of the front row in qualifying and led the race day warm-up even though he claims his bike is at least two to three specifications behind the factory Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

British rider Crutchlow battled for a podium position for most of the race, finally running wide in Turn 1 on Lap 18 while trying to defend against a dicing-and-slicing Rossi. Crutchlow still recovered to finish fifth.

But Crutchlow’s mistake illustrates a dilemma he will face all season. The factory Honda and Yamaha machines swallowed his lower-spec Yamaha on the straightaways, forcing him to brake late and try to carry huge speed through the turns to compensate.

Still, the strong performance makes one wonder what Crutchlow could do on a factory bike.

Frantic Practice: The new two-segment qualifying format created thrills Saturday, as Lorenzo edged Crutchlow in a frantic shootout. Most riders only got about four hot laps, tops, in the 15-minute session.

One of the interesting side effects of the new qualifying format is that it created a hell-bent third practice session, with most riders going all out to ensure they could get a spot in the top 10 overall and earn a bye straight to the second qualifying segment.

The final practice was a welcome change to the more sedate pace of pre-qualifying practices in years past.

TOP FIVE FINISHERS:

1.    Jorge Lorenzo      Yamaha Factory Racing
2.    Valentino Rossi    Yamaha Factory Racing
3.    Marc Marquez      Repsol Honda Team
4.    Dani Pedrosa       Repsol Honda Team
5.    Cal Crutchlow      Monster Yamaha Tech 3

American finishers: Nicky Hayden, Ducati Team, eighth; Ben Spies, Ignite Pramac Racing, 10th; Colin Edwards, NGM Mobile Forward Racing, not classified.

TOP FIVE POINTS:

1.    Jorge Lorenzo      25
2.    Valentino Rossi    20
3.    Marc Marquez      16
4.    Dani Pedrosa       13
5.    Cal Crutchlow      11

American points: Nicky Hayden, eighth; 8; Ben Spies, 10th; 6.

NEXT RACE:

Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, April 19-21, Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas


***


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