Whether this is the last time MotoGP visits Indianapolis or not – the lack of an announcement on Sunday night suggests that this was the last time – the 2015 edition will certainly go down in history as memorable. Race day saw the biggest crowd since 2009 head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though in a facility this vast, anything less than a quarter of a million fans is going to look empty, and all 67,000 were treated to some genuine racing spectacle. An upside down Moto3 race, where those bold enough to gamble on slicks were duly rewarded; an old-fashioned Moto2 dogfight, where a group of evenly matched riders brawled from start to finish; and a pair of exceptionally tense duels in MotoGP, with championship positions raising the stakes even further.
The race of the day? Hard to say. All three had their own appeal. Rain and a drying track made Moto3 a weird contest, with massive gaps between the leaders, and yet still strangely exciting, because of the potential effects on the championship. Moto2 harked back to the halcyon days of Márquez, Iannone, and Espargaro, and reminded us of why we used to love the class. And MotoGP was more about tension than straight up excitement, brains kept busy calculating the ramifications for the championship as the front four swapped positions.
That Marc Márquez ended up winning the MotoGP race should come as no surprise. The Repsol Honda rider extended his winning streak, both at the track and in the USA. He has now won his last five races at Indy, making it three in MotoGP and two in Moto2, and he remains unbeaten on US soil in the premier class. Take his two Moto2 victories at Indy into account, and he has not been defeated in the US since 2010, when he was racing a 125.
Victory in 2015 did not come easy, however. Márquez, along with just about every other observer, had expected walk away with a comfortable victory. His pace during practice and qualifying had been relentless, and beyond the reach of anyone else. But on Sunday, Márquez found himself facing a formidable foe in the shape of Jorge Lorenzo, who got in front Márquez and tried to break his resistance, fending off his approaches almost all the way to the end. Only in the final laps could Márquez finally push into the lead and seize control of the race at last. Lorenzo took a lot more to vanquish than the Repsol Honda man had hoped.
"Honestly, I expected another race, because during practice I was able to ride high 1'32s, but it looked like Jorge was more 1'33s low. In the race he improved a lot," Márquez said during the press conference. He had intended to try to get in front early, and make a break, but Lorenzo's pace was too punishing to allow him to get past. He was forced to bide his time and wait for the end to launch his attack. It worked, and Márquez pulled out a slim lead to secure victory.
Márquez surprise at Jorge Lorenzo's pace was matched almost by Lorenzo's own. Lorenzo knew that Márquez was faster, and his only chance was to try to make a break early and press home his advantage. If he let Márquez get ahead, then he would not be able to follow. He had to prevent that from happening. "I knew Marc could do 1'32.5, but I was in front," Lorenzo said. But staying in front of Márquez was not easy. It took all the energy he had to push at a pace which left Márquez unable to pass. When Márquez made his final push, Lorenzo had nothing left in the tank with which to resist. "I was tired because with not the same pace as Márquez, I try to have the same pace as him or even better, that's why I used my energy during all the race, even if I am very fit. I put everything on the track, all the laps, all the corners, and Marc behind probably save a little bit more energy," he said.
Lorenzo's task was made even more difficult by having to perform mental arithmetic as he fought. He had one eye on his pit board for the man behind him, and the other on the position of Rossi. At the beginning of the race, when Lorenzo led and Rossi was fourth, the Spaniard had the prospect of gaining 12 points back in the championship, and cutting his deficit back to a single point. As Rossi moved forward and caught Dani Pedrosa, his gains were cut to 9 points, as long as he could stay in front of Márquez. Once Márquez got past, his advantage was just 4 points, though he was far enough ahead of Rossi and Pedrosa not to have to worry about being caught and passed by Rossi. Dani Pedrosa did all he could to try to get back past the Italian, but Rossi eventually prevailed.
Lorenzo was remarkably sanguine about the points he took back from Rossi. It could have been worse, he finished ahead of Rossi and that was his primary goal. "Nine points behind is better than seventeen," he said. With eight races to go, the championship is still wide open, and Lorenzo believes his time will come. "For sure in the future we will arrive at tracks where we can be more competitive." With Brno and Silverstone up next, the pendulum could be swinging back in Lorenzo's direction.
The battle behind the lead between Rossi and Pedrosa confirmed two important things about the championship. The first is that you can never count Valentino Rossi out, no matter how poorly he does in practice and qualifying. Rossi was seriously worried on Friday, well off the pace and lacking feel from the front under braking. He and his team made a big step forward on Saturday, then found another improvement during the morning warm up. That gave him the pace to chase, though qualifying down in eighth virtually ruled him out of contention for victory.
Though he had given up four points to Lorenzo, he was still content with how things had gone. "Sincerely, my bike in the race was good," he said. "I was able to do a lot of laps in the 1'32.8s, which was impossible in practice." He had come to Indianapolis knowing that it was a track he does not particularly like, and where the Hondas hold the advantage. "We know that here in Indianapolis we had to suffer," he said. He had hoped that it would not be quite as bad as it was on the first day of practice, but at least they had turned it around on Saturday. They had done so with some major set up changes. "We started from too far behind to find the right set up," he told the Italian media. "But I am happy, because did more than just make small changes, like we did at Mugello, but we had the courage to turn the bike upside down."
Rossi's pace had come as a real surprise to Dani Pedrosa. "Valentino was way faster than in practice, like 0.6, 0.7 faster," he said. "To improve that much is quite impressive. Sometimes you can do it at the beginning of the race, but he stayed quite strong all the race." Pedrosa had hung with Márquez and Lorenzo in the early part of the race, but had soon been dropped. When Rossi caught him, he could hold the Italian off for quite a while. Rossi had used up most of his tire catching the Repsol Honda rider, but was still capable of getting past. Pedrosa believed that he had the better of Rossi, and was faster than him in the last few laps, but he made a couple of mistakes that handed the lead back to Rossi. By the final lap, he was back with Rossi, but beating Rossi to the line proved to be impossible. "You know Rossi is always strong in the last lap," Pedrosa said.
Pedrosa is clearly getting better and better, and becoming more of a factor. The surgery on his arm is a success, and though it is still not completely normal – after such radical surgery, you wonder whether it ever will be – it is no longer a distraction, and Pedrosa can ride without worrying about arm pump. This time, Rossi made sure he did not have Pedrosa between himself and Lorenzo, but that may not be so easy at other races, for neither of the two Movistar Yamaha riders. Pedrosa is going to end up taking points from one or even both the championship contenders. At the end of 2015, there will be one race we will point out and say, if the runner up had not finished behind Pedrosa there, he would be champion.
Could the four points Rossi lost to Lorenzo turn out to be crucial? With eight races to go, it is far too early to say. But Rossi's season-long podium streak continues, the Italian veteran maintaining the kind of consistency that you need to win a championship. Rossi may have won three races, the same number as Marc Márquez, yet he leads the Spaniard by 56 points. That is the difference between standing on the box week after week, and pushing for victory when the bike is simply not capable.
The problem for Rossi is that Jorge Lorenzo is now starting to show the same kind of consistency. After two races with tires he did not like, he came to Indianapolis knowing that those same tires would be in the allocation, but he got on with the job in hand and made the best of what he had got. His approach and attitude have changed since Jerez, he and is crew following a different schedule. Longer runs and fewer exits, less fiddling with the bike and more trying to extract the maximum out of the rider. Ultimately, it is the rider which still makes the difference in motorcycle racing. Long may it remain so. And may it be the deciding factor in the championship.
What Indianapolis also demonstrated is that the top four are clearly a step ahead of the rest. Fifth place man Andrea Iannone finished twenty one seconds behind the winner, much to the dismay of the Ducati rider. "It was a really difficult race," Iannone lamented. "I start really good, but after two or three laps, I understand that I don't have a good pace to follow the best riders. I push every race at 100%, and more than 100%, but it is really difficult." However hard he pushes, the gap to the leader keeps growing. The last three or four races, Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, the other man on a factory Ducati, had been incapable of doing anything about the leaders. All they could do was sit and watch them disappear into the distance.
What has happened to the Ducatis? Why has the gap grown so large, after the Desmosedici GP15 had such a strong start to the season. Andrea Dovizioso had a lucid explanation. "I believe at the beginning that the competitor wasn't really at 100% like us, to use the potential of the bike," he said. "I don't believe that they improve the bikes by 20 seconds. It's impossible. So I believe is a mix of many things."
The huge improvements MotoGP's Fab Four had shown are inherent to motorcycle racing, Dovizioso said. "On the bike, this can happen, because the riders can make a difference. It is not like in the car, for the drivers is easy to put the car on the limit. On a bike? No, it is not like this, it will never be like this. This is the positive things of our sport."
It isn't just that the Fab Four have gotten better, it is also that despite the massive step forward the Ducati has made in 2015, it is still far from perfect. It does not have a single massive weak point as it did in the past, but is still badly in need of refining. "We don't have a big limit, we have a small limit in a few areas, and the mix of that is the gap we have," Dovizioso said.
Dovizioso's own race was over in the second corner, where he was run wide by Cal Crutchlow. Not that he blamed Crutchlow, as the LCR Honda man had been forced to sit up when Bradley Smith had cut across his path. The problem for Dovizioso was that he had been caught up behind the two Englishmen because of his poor qualifying. "Very unlucky situation, because I didn't make anything wrong, but is a consequence of the other riders, and is a consequence of starting on the fourth row," he said.
The Ducatis may have the soft rear tire to help with qualifying, but at Indianapolis, it was more of a hindrance than a help. Having the soft rear left them to race the medium, where Hondas and Yamahas could all use the hard rear tire. The lack of the hard rear had nearly cost Iannone his fifth place, when the hard charging Bradley Smith had caught him at the end of the race. "In the last seven laps, the situation is really difficult for me, especially on the left side of the bike, the grip is really less, and long corners have a lot of slides, and for me it is impossible to control this," Iannone said. In the end, the difference to Smith would be just a couple of tenths.
Bradley Smith was once again the best satellite rider, putting in yet another solid ride to finish in sixth. Smith should have signed a contract with Tech 3 for another year by now, but it seems that he is pushing to extract guarantees from Yamaha over the level of support he will have in 2016. His primary goal has always been to beat his teammate, which he is doing convincingly this year. Smith may fear that the contract Pol Espargaro has just signed with Yamaha will provide him with better material than Smith will have at his disposal. Smith believes he deserves better than that. His results so far this year back that up.
Though MotoGP provided plenty to talk about, both Moto2 and Moto3 were more than worthy of attention. We will cover those in part two of our Indianapolis round up.
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