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MotoGP Trendspotting: Grand Prix of Spain

Dani Pedrosa of the Repsol Honda Team won the Grand Prix of Spain on Sunday, May 5, the third 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.

Pedrosa Wins But Can't Win: This was only the third race of the season, but crunch time already had arrived for Dani Pedrosa entering the Grand Prix of Spain.

Pedrosa was beaten by his rookie teammate at the Repsol Honda Team, Marc Marquez, in the first two races. Whispers started to gather into a steady din that Pedrosa, in his eighth MotoGP season, might never win a world title now that his new teammate already had the edge within their garage.
That muffled talk grew into a war of words last week when 1993 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz said in an interview with European media that Pedrosa needed to drop his prickly and sometimes controversial manager, Alberto Puig, if he ever wanted to win a world title. Former 500cc racer Puig fired back immediately, saying he had lost all respect for Schwantz.

Pedrosa erased any doubt about his ability to lead the Repsol Honda Team and contend for the World Championship this season with a masterful ride to victory Sunday at Jerez after an early joust with reigning World Champion and rival Jorge Lorenzo. Pedrosa earned his first victory of the season by 2.487 seconds.

But unfortunately for Pedrosa, no one was talking about his brilliant, controlled ride after the race.
All chatter centered on the last-corner bump between Marquez and Lorenzo. Marquez hip-checked Lorenzo out of second place in the final corner, ironically named after Lorenzo this week in a pre-race ceremony, and Lorenzo ended up third at the finish.

Lorenzo refused to shake Marquez’s hand or clink champagne bottles with Marquez on the podium, giving a professorial finger wag each time.

Marquez Is Legit: Marc Marquez entered MotoGP as the most hyped rookie in the premier class since Jorge Lorenzo in 2008, and he fulfilled those expectations by finishing third at Qatar and winning at Austin.

But some paddock doubting Thomases weren’t convinced Marquez could maintain that speed consistently, insisting that he would return closer to Earth once the series arrived at Jerez, one of the “classic” tracks that has been on the schedule for many years, unlike Qatar and Austin.

So much for that.

Marquez finished second in the Grand Prix of Spain to go 3-for-3 for podium finishes so far in his young MotoGP career. He also took the lead in the World Championship by three points over Pedrosa and four over Lorenzo.

But those are just numbers. The method in which Marquez beat Lorenzo to second place today at Jerez indicates he has refused to change his aggressive style honed in 125cc and Moto2 one bit now that he races against the gods of the sport.

Marquez lunged hard into the final corner on the final lap in a final attempt to pass Lorenzo for second. The only way he could pull off the move was to bump reigning and two-time World Champion Lorenzo. Many other riders would have flinched.

Not Marquez.

He simply twisted his right wrist and powered away from the bewildered and incensed Lorenzo.

Game on.

Father Time Visiting Rossi? Many questions were asked about Valentino Rossi’s return to the Yamaha Factory Racing team this season after two disastrous seasons at Ducati in which he was winless and earned just three podium finishes.

Can Rossi contend for his eighth premier-class World Championship? Can he handle racing in the same garage again with Jorge Lorenzo, with whom he had a Cold War from 2008-10? Can Rossi win races again?

The one question that almost never was asked, mainly out of respect, was if Rossi, 34, was too old to take the mental risks to race with 20-something superstars such as Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
Maybe that question should start to be asked now.

Rossi is far more relaxed in his return to Yamaha than during his two years of darkness at Ducati. But it appears he may not have the pace anymore to keep pace with younger “aliens” Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Marc Marquez.

In three starts this season, Rossi’s closest gap to the race winner is 5.990 seconds, at the season opener in Qatar. Since then, he has finished 16.6 and 8.9 seconds behind the winner.

Qualifying is the truest barometer of raw speed, and Rossi also is a step behind there. He has qualified seventh, eighth and fifth in the first three races this season, being outpaced by Yamaha satellite rider Cal Crutchlow during qualifying in all three races.

Valentino Rossi remains the most popular motorcycle racer on the planet, by a mile. But his imperious days of cantering to World Championships and winning a half-dozen races or more per season appear to be over.

Many forget this is Rossi’s 18th season as a professional Grand Prix rider. That’s more than half of his life in this meat grinder of a life that often chews and spits riders within five years.

Hayden’s True Grit: American Nicky Hayden finished seventh at Jerez on his Ducati, 10 seconds behind sixth-place Alvaro Bautista and 16 seconds ahead of eighth-place Ducati teammate, Andrea Dovizioso.

It was a lonely ride for Hayden, quite a contrast from the battles taking place for nearly all other positions all over the Jerez Circuit. But the finish was Hayden’s best of the young season and a true badge of courage.

2006 World Champion Hayden showed up at Jerez suffering from painful tendinitis in his right wrist. He underwent surgery in early March to correct the problem, but it flared up again last week just before arriving to Jerez.

Hayden took a few cortisone shots to the wrist and continued through the weekend in a display of the quiet tenacity that has kept him on factory bikes for his entire 11-year MotoGP career.


TOP FIVE FINISHERS (Grand Prix of Spain, Jerez, Spain):

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

American finishers: Nicky Hayden, Ducati Team, seventh; Colin Edwards, NGM Mobile Forward Racing, 15th; Ben Spies, Ignite Pramac Racing, did not race due to injury.

TOP FIVE POINTS:

1.    Marc Marquez    61
2.    Dani Pedrosa    58
3.    Jorge Lorenzo    57
4.    Valentino Rossi    43
5.    Cal Crutchlow    35

American points: Nicky Hayden, eighth; 24; Ben Spies, 13th; 9; Colin Edwards, 20th, 1.

NEXT RACE:

Grand Prix of France, May 19, Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix Circuit, Le Mans, France


***


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