Having just finished production on the 2015 MotoMatters Motorcycle Racing Calendar, the 2014 season has been on my mind quite a bit over the past several weeks. So I thought I’d take look back at the MotoGP images I contributed here at Asphalt & Rubber and add a bit of perspective to each one.
The status of the Spanish championship has received yet another boost. After the Moto3 championship was run under the auspices of the FIM in 2014, from 2015, the category is to be renamed the “FIM CEV Repsol Moto3 Junior World Championship.”
The CEV Moto3 championship will be run over eight rounds, six of which will take place in Spain, with the championship kicking off in Portugal at Portimao, and the CEV Moto3 class appearing as a support class at the French MotoGP round at Le Mans.
The two classes comprising the Spanish championship, Superbike and Moto2, will also get a status upgrade. For 2015, the CEV Superbike and CEV Moto2 championships will also be part of the European Championship. Superbike and Moto2 will have only seven events, however, the two classes not travelling to France to join the CEV Moto3 class.
The stated intention of the changed status is to help prepare young riders of all nationalities to make their mark and enter Grand Prix racing. That has increasingly been the role of the CEV Moto3 championship, with the champions in the Spanish series moving up into the Moto3 World Championship paddock.
With testing now over, Jack Miller has joined the ranks of riders undergoing surgery in the off season. Flying back from Sepang to Barcelona, Miller had an operation to remove four loose screws from his right collarbone, the aftermath of an old injury sustained at Indianapolis in 2013.
That injury was fixed with a plate, but preseason crashes on the KTM Moto3 bike caused a number of complications for the Australian.
With testing completely, Miller now has time to have the remaining screws removed from his shoulder, and allow it to heal. Miller will be unable to train for five days while the scar heals, but will be able to resume his training program after that.
From the cool of Melbourne it was on to the heat and humidity of Malaysia, for the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit.
Clare and I arrived into Malaysia on Tuesday evening. For our first two nights we had decided to stay in downtown Kuala Lumpur, and picked a hotel close to the Petronas Towers to give us easy access to the rest of the city.
We had treated ourselves to a room with a Twin Towers view and what a view it was. I think you would struggle to find a better view of the towers anywhere in the city.
After spending Wednesday exploring Kuala Lumpur, we met up with Stephen and Trev who arrived from Melbourne. Trev and Clare stayed in the city for a bit more sightseeing and Stephen and I headed to track to collect our credentials.
I’d not found the heat of downtown Kuala Lumpur to bad, it was hot but I was coping okay. The area of the track was a whole different ball game.
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.
It has been four-and-a-half years, or 87 races between Valentino Rossi’s 49th pole position and his 50th. The last time Rossi started a race from the first spot on the grid was at Le Mans in 2010, where he just pipped his teammate Jorge Lorenzo into second by 0.054 seconds.
At Valencia on Saturday, he was two tenths faster than Lorenzo, but this time, he had Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa between him and his teammate.
There were plenty of parallels to the 2010 season visible at Valencia. Just as five seasons ago, Rossi is engaged in a struggle with Lorenzo for supremacy in the championship. Back in 2010, it was just the third race of the season, and a fierce battle was emerging as Jorge Lorenzo started to gain the upper hand in the team, and in the championship.
Now, the fight is over second in the championship, rather than first, but it has grown increasingly intense over the past few weeks. Signs of tension have been starting to emerge in the last couple of races, but they became a little more public after qualifying at Valencia.
The reason for the dispute is simple. On his second and final run in qualifying, Valentino Rossi made a slight mistake, and was forced to slow down to restart a final run at the pole. At that moment, Jorge Lorenzo flew past on his fast last lap, and Rossi slotted in just behind him, not so much benefiting from Lorenzo’s slipstream, but using Lorenzo as a target to aim for.
The last race of the season is always a little bit special. They are even more special when riders are still scrapping over the spoils, battling for titles, for positions, for honor.
There is much at stake at Valencia: a Moto3 title, second place in the MotoGP and Moto2 championships, and the team championship in MotoGP. Above all, though, there is victory, the glory of joining the elite band of Grand Prix winners. At the end of the day, that is what motivates motorcycle racers most on any given Sunday.
Top billing at Valencia is the race which is first, but with the most at stake. On Sunday, Jack Miller and Alex Marquez will slug it out for the 2014 Moto3 World Championship. The race at Sepang set up a fantastic season finale, with Miller riding an intimidating race to cut Marquez’s championship lead. Just 11 points separate the two men, putting Marquez easily within reach of the Australian.
Time of day is no escape from the heat and humidity of Malaysia, and it’s no different here at Sepang on race day. I could wax-poetic about how the extreme temperatures here at the track change the smell of the four-stroke exhaust fumes.
Or, how the humidity, which leaves you with a constant layer of sweat on your skin, changes the thunderous sounds of the 1,000cc MotoGP engines, but it would be a lie. It’s just hot here, and your body braves its exposures to the outside world only if you make it the future promise of air conditioning.
I have no idea how the fans pack the stands here at Sepang International Raceway on race day, but they do. They come in droves, and many ride here. Large convoys of bikers make the trek from nearby countries even.
Southeast Asia is rampant for GP racing, and it shows. Attendance on Friday is non-existent, Saturday is modest, at best, but the come Sunday, 80,000+ Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Burmese, and countless other ethnicities line the track. It’s a spectactle, to be certain.
How big a deal is MotoGP in Asia, and especially in Malaysia? There were officially 81,896 spectators at the Sepang International Circuit on Sunday for the races. That is a lot. To put it in perspective, it is the seventh highest attendance of the year, more than either of the US rounds of MotoGP, more than Silverstone, more than either of the Italian rounds.
There were 4,400 more spectators at Sepang than at Mugello. That is quite a turnaround: in 2000, the second year MotoGP was held at the circuit, only 32,375 people attended the race, spread over all three days. The three-day total is now close to 131,000.
It is testament to both the growing wealth of the region and the growing popularity of the sport. In the podium press conference, Valentino Rossi reflected on the change. “For a long period, we have no people on Sunday,” he said. Little by little attendance had grown, until now, it is a race with an atmosphere all of its own.
“Now it is full, the atmosphere on the main straight is like Barcelona or Mugello. The guys are crazy for MotoGP.” It was a great victory for the sport, he said. Given that those 82,000 people are mostly sitting outside, in tropical temperatures of 36°C and humidity of over 50%, those guys (and gals) must indeed be ‘crazy for MotoGP’.
Their efforts were amply rewarded on Sunday, with three superb races. They saw records equaled in MotoGP, a richly-deserved title tied up in Moto2, and an exhilarating and incident-packed battle in Moto3, which sets up a grand finale for the Moto3 title at Valencia. Reason enough to come back again in force in 2015, with the added benefit of seeing the circuit fielding its own team in Moto3 next year.