We need to talk about Johann Zarco. For a rookie to lead his very first race on a MotoGP bike is not just unusual, it has never been done before. To do so for six laps is beyond remarkable, and a sign that something rather special is happening.
To put this into perspective, it is worth noting that not only did Zarco lead the race, but he also set the fastest lap in his first race. The last rookie to set the fastest lap during their first race? Marc Márquez, Qatar 2013. Before that? Valentino Rossi, Welkom 2000. And before that, Max Biaggi, Suzuka 1998.
Zarco’s downfall came at Turn 2 on Lap 7. Quite literally: he got a little off line, hit a dirtier part of the track, and down he went. There is no shame in crashing out of your first MotoGP race.
Valentino Rossi crashed out of his first premier class Grand Prix too. On the other hand, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa all finished on the podium in their MotoGP debut race. Max Biaggi actually won his first 500cc race at Suzuka.
In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here’s a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.
Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.
But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt.
Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.
Take Marquez out of the equation – an almost impossible exercise, admittedly – and Smith looks a lot better. Map Smith’s season against that of Stefan Bradl in 2012, and the Englishman’s performance looks much better. Smith finished his year with 116 points, while Bradl took 135 in his first year.
The 89th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is well underway this weekend, as the three days of practices sessions have now concluded, and teams are preparing for the race on Sunday. With the paddock abuzz that 2011 will be the last year that the hill climb will have a dirt section, things were shook up even further in the 1200cc motorcycle class as PPIHC rookie rider Carlin Dunne from the Santa Barbara Ducati team took the pole position with a qualifying time of 5:35.937 (each classes qualifies on only a single section of the race course, with motorcycles qualifying on the lower section this year). Vying for the top spot on the time sheet, Dunne had stiff competition in the 1200c race class, namely from Spider Grips Ducati riders Gregg Tracy, who crashed during the qualifying session.
Battling with Dunne, Tracy’s off occurred due to the cold tarmac conditions, thus losing valuable time. Tracy’s practice times from earlier in the day were favorable though, posting a 5:48.798 in traffic earlier in the morning. Dunne’s rookie pole debut is a rarity on The Peak, though traditionally it predicts a top-step finish for the rider (no pressure, right?). In order for that to happen, the Santa Barbara native will have to keep Tracy and his teammate Alexander Smith at bay, along with a very fast Mark Cernicky (who writes about motorcycle occasionally). Also in the hunt is Glenn Cox on his KTM SuperDuke R, though Joe Kopp’s Triumph Speed Triple has been relegated to an exhibition class, as it falls outside the 1200cc & 7500cc class rules (the 1200cc class is for v-twins only…draw your conclusions on that as you will).