Marc Marquez has ended the year on a win, beating the reigning AMA Flat Track champion Jared Mees in a thrilling final. The two men got caught up in traffic when Thomas Chareyre, who got the jump at the start, forced them wide.
That gave the lead to Kenny Noyes and Gerard Ribalta, but Marquez and Mees soon chased the two down, passing Bailo with ease, Noyes with difficulty. Marquez had gained enough of a cushion to keep Mees at bay, finally getting revenge for his loss to Brad Baker in January this year, at the inaugural event.
Noyes went on to score a respectable 3rd, ahead of Bailo and Ribalta. The 16-year-old British rider Oliver Brindley gave an outstanding account of himself, finishing in 6th, ahead of Bradley Smith, who got caught up in the first lap incident, and Chareyre, who caused it.
Saturday night is the last chance to see the stars of motorcycle racing turning a wheel in anger.
On 13th December, the cream of both the MotoGP and AMA flat track paddocks meet for the second running of the Superprestigio, an indoor invitation dirt track race, at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona.
The setting is a classic location: the Palau Sant Jordi is part of the former Olympic park, set atop Montjuic, scene of many legendary motorcycle races of the past.
For those who could not make it to Barcelona themselves, they need not despair. The event is to be broadcast in several countries around the globe, as well as streamed live online.
Many years ago, when American riders first burst onto the roadracing scene, and immediately dominated Grand Prix racing, dirt track racing was seen as a key part of their success.
Training on the hardpacked dirt, where pushrod twins have far more power than they can ever transfer directly into drive, translated very well into racing 500cc two strokes, which had the same excess of power over grip.
As tire technology advanced, and as the number of racers coming out of the US to race on the world stage declined, dirt track fell out of favor. Styles changed back towards keeping the wheels in line and carrying as much corner speed as possible, a skill learned in 125s and 250s, and taken up to 500s and MotoGP.
The advent of the 800cc bikes, which caused a quantum leap forward in electronic control, emphasized this even further.
The dirt track mindset had not disappeared completely: both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden cut their teeth racing on the dirt, and carried that style into MotoGP. Hayden suffered once the series switched to 800cc bikes, especially as Honda switched their development focus to corner speed, and the European 250cc style.
Stoner used his dirt track skills to control the fearsome Ducati Desmosedici, the bike which destroyed the careers of so many other riders. Stoner’s switch to Honda coincided with Shuhei Nakamoto’s changed approach at HRC, putting more emphasis on rider input, putting more control of the rear tire back in the hands of the rider.
After the resounding success of the Superprestigio indoor dirt track event back in January this year, the race is to return. On December 13th, the Sant Jordi stadium on Montjuic, the hill south of Barcelona, will host the second running of the Superprestigio, featuring the cream of motorcycle road racing taking on some of superstars of American flat track racing.
Reigning Superprestigio champion Brad Baker will be back in Barcelona once again, to defend the honor gained back in January. He will be joined by reigning AMA flat track Grand National champion Jared Mees, the two Americans defending the reputation of the home of dirt track, and the country the sport originated in its current form.
They will have their work cut out for them: they will face some the best circuit racers in the world, with reigning and former champions taking to the short indoor oval. All three Grand Prix champions – Marc Marquez, Tito Rabat, and Alex Marquez – will be lining up in Barcelona, the three avid practitioners of the art.
They will be joined by legendary former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss, now spending his retirement racing dirt track and running his own invitational dirt track event, the Troy Bayliss Classic, which will run on January 17th next year. Another world champion will also be taking to the dirt, with Supermoto S1 world champ Thomas Chareyre also joining the fray.
“This year’s machine is not easy to ride,” HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto said of the 2014 Honda RC213V. “More difficult than last year.” Given the utter dominance of Marc Marquez in the first half of 2014, that seems hard to believe. It certainly left the journalists gathered for the special press conference convened by Honda to review the season befuddled.
“But Honda bikes are always easy to ride!” declared one surprised reporter. “Our bike is very easy, I can ride it, but I don’t get under two minutes,” Nakamoto said. “But to find the last one tenth, two tenths is very difficult,” he remarked.
A look at the timesheets from the test, or a chat with Marc Marquez or Dani Pedrosa about the 2015 Honda, and you understand the problem. On the last day of testing at Valencia, Marquez and Pedrosa finished first and second, but the satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding were a little way off the pace.
Crutchlow was eight tenths slower than Marquez, while Redding was struggling 1.6 seconds behind Marquez. In the last race of the 2014 season, Stefan Bradl’s fastest lap was just under a second off the fastest race lap, and Alvaro Bautista a fraction slower. The Honda is obviously fast, but it is not easy to go fast on.
Too aggressive, too hard to master, a bike with a lot of potential, but extracting that potential takes insight, experience, and the willingness to push an aggressive bike to its limits. It really demands the kind of dirt track background of Casey Stoner or, well, Marc Marquez.
It is a good job the post-race test at Valencia is three days long. The weather in Valencia in November is usually very good, but it can turn, and you can lose track time to rain. That was certainly the case on Tuesday, rain starting early in the morning, and coming in waves all day.
It meant the track was wet throughout Tuesday, only the depth of water on the track varying. The heavy rain meant that most riders decided to sit out the day, only ten riders putting in any laps.
With the track the way it was, the finishing order was not really relevant. What was more important was gaining time on the track, and for several riders, getting to grips with Bridgestone’s wet tires. Eugene Laverty, Loris Baz, and Marco Melandri, all of whom have moved over from World Superbikes, needed to adjust their minds to the Bridgestones.
Despite being exhausted from a full weekend (make that a complete season) of testing, the entire MotoGP grid was once again out in force on Monday, turning the first laps of the 2015 preseason (full times here).
All except Nicky Hayden, that is, as Honda have brought only one RC213V-RS to Valencia, and there was no point for Hayden to spend more time on the RCV1000R, as that bike will be replaced by the new RS for next season. Hayden gets his turn on the bike tomorrow, weather permitting.
There was both old and new on display at the test, some things virtually unchanged, others radically different. New riders joined the grid, as well as two new factories, and a reshuffling of riders and crew between the garages.
The biggest change was at Suzuki, which saw Aleix Espargaro move from the Forward Yamaha team into the new Suzuki squad, where he was joined by Maverick Viñales, fresh from Moto2. Both riders were very impressed with the GSX-RR, praising its handling and the bike.
It was a fitting finale to one of the best season in years. The arrival of Marc Marquez in MotoGP has given the series in a boost in the arm. Not just in the premier class, the influence of Marquez reaches into Moto2 and Moto3 as well.
Tito Rabat’s move to the Marc VDS team completed his transformation from a fast rider to a champion, but the schooling and support he received from the Marquez brothers at their dirt track oval in Rufea made him even stronger. And Marc’s younger brother Alex brought both talent and Maturity to Moto3.
It made for great racing at Valencia. The Moto3 race featured the typical mayhem, but with extra edge because there was a title on the line. Tito Rabat tried to win the Moto2 race from the front, as he has done all year, but found himself up against an unrelenting Thomas Luthi.
And in MotoGP, Marc Marquez set a new record of thirteen race wins in a single season, despite being throw a curve ball by the weather.
Marquez was the first to downplay his taking the record of most wins in a season from Mick Doohan. “Doohan won more than me,” Marquez said. “He won twelve from fifteen races. Thirteen is a new record, but not so important.”
Though it is admirable that Marquez can put his own achievement into perspective when comparing it to Doohan’s, that is not the full context. Doohan actually twelve of the first thirteen races in 1997, making his win rate even bigger. Then again, Doohan had to beat Tady Okada, Nobu Aoki and Alex Criville, while Marquez has had to fend off Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
Even Doohan’s win rate pales in comparison with those of John Surtees and Giacomo Agostini, who both had perfect seasons in 1959 and 1968 respectively. But the 1959 season had only seven races, and the 1968 ten races, a good deal less than the current total of eighteen.
What this really highlights is the futility of comparing records: different eras saw very different riders facing very different competitors on very different bikes. Trying to compare one with another requires the use of so many correcting factors as to render such comparison meaningless.