Valentino Rossi pulled off a sensational display of riding to claim victory in at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.
The nine-time World Champion rolled back the years to provide MotoGP fans with a thrilling finish to the first round of the season, as he battled for the race win with the Desmosedici GP15 of Andrea Dovizioso. Rossi, who started from 8th on the grid, picked his way through the field before chasing down the leading trio of Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Dovizioso with 14 laps to go.
The Italian moved into 2nd place with just three laps remaining, before commencing an epic duel with the resurgent Ducati Team GP15 of Dovizioso. In an enthralling finish to the race, both riders were constantly overtaking each other as they fought tooth and nail, but it was Rossi on the Movistar Yamaha YZR-M1 who came out on top to claim the 83rd MotoGP™ win of his career. Rossi, chatting to motogp.com after the race, claimed: “This was my best battle ever!”
The 36 year old went on to say: “In the last three seasons I always rode solid races and arrived on the podium but to come back with a victory is another thing. I am so happy because we suffered a lot during the practices and also the tests, but we worked very well for the 22 laps race and I was very strong. First of all you have to be lucky, but especially the work that we do with the team during the weekend makes the difference for my pace in the race.”
Andrea Dovizioso finished just 0.174s behind Rossi in 2nd place, after proving that the new GP15 bike is more than just a “one lap wonder,” although he admitted he was gutted to miss out on the win: “Actually I am not that happy, as to finish one-tenth behind Valentino…I mean were so close so we wanted the victory. But we have to think about the reality of the bike, we have hardly put any kilometres on it, so to finish so close to the leader, it was a special moment for us.” The Italian went on state just how important it was for the team to be back challenging for a race win: “This is a special result for Ducati and for me, after everything we have been through in the last few years, and it rewards the work that we have done together to arrive at this point."
His teammate Iannone made it two Ducatis in the top three as he finished 3rd, completing an all-Italian podium in Qatar, after seeing off the challenge of Jorge Lorenzo. It was the first MotoGP™ podium for the man who made the move to the Factory Ducati Team this season, and you could tell he was pleased: “It’s my first podium, and so I am very emotional. I am very happy, because we were very strong in the race and I have a very good feeling with the bike.” He also seemed to be confident for the season ahead: “I am sure that the GP15 has good pace and it’s fantastic at the moment, a lot of riders thought we would be quick on the soft tyre, but we hardly used it all during testing.”
Jorge Lorenzo was involved with a race long battle with the two GP15’s as he struggled to cope with the straight-line pace of the Ducatis: “On the speed and in braking the Ducati was much stronger than our bike, but we could recover on corner speed while the acceleration was similar.” Lorenzo was in the mix for the race win before he faded towards the end and having to settle for 4th, explaining that: “I was feeling better and better, but suddenly there was something wrong when in the top part of the helmet the foam came loose and came down so I lost half of my vision. I couldn‘t see the corners very well and couldn‘t concentrate or ride like before and I was losing half a second or more per lap.”
Reigning MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez got the defence of his title off to the worst possible start as he ran wide at the very first corner, and had to make his way back through the field, after rejoining the race in last position. In typical Marquez style he didn't mess about, and managed to claw his way back to a credible 5th in an effort to lessen any damage done to his championship hopes. He said: “We should be happy because we have salvaged eleven important points, when we could easily have left here with none. It was a tough race, in which I made a mistake at the first corner and dropped back to last place. This meant that I had to make a comeback, pushing hard all through the race, but in the end I saw that I could not catch the group at the front.”
Dani Pedrosa finished behind his teammate in 6th place, over 10 seconds behind Rossi, and made an announcement after the race which may have dramatic consequences on his championship aspirations: “Basically in this race I had an arm pump issue, which has been there for a whole year. I started to have lots of problems here. Last year I struggled in every race, I couldn't really perform well and my results haven't been that good due to this fact.” The Spaniard went on to reveal that he will take some time out to seek medical advice on how to solve the problem, and is now a major doubt for the Americas GP on 12 April.
British rider Cal Crutchlow recovered from his disappointing qualifying, where he crashed out and had to start the race from the 4th row of the grid, to finish as the top satellite rider in 7th. Crutchlow was left lamenting a few early errors: “I made it hard for myself with some mistakes early on in the race, but my pace was consistently good. If I had have got away with the guys in front I could possibly have been around fourth or fifth.” Still, Crutchlow seemed happy enough overall with his performance, as he admitted: “It was a good start to the season considering I don't have any experience racing the Honda.”
The two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro were in 8th and 9th repeatedly, with Smith stating: “I am slightly disappointed as we were so close to being the top satellite bike at Qatar. This is our ambition for the year, so to miss this opportunity is a bit annoying.”
Yonny Hernandez finished in the top 10 for the first time in his MotoGP™ career after mixing it with the big boys for the first few laps, and said that todays race inspired him on to want to perform like this more regularly: “Managing to stay and fight in the group made by the 4 leading racers for the first laps felt great besides being an incentive to continue to work hard.”
In their return to the MotoGP™ class Team Suzuki Ecstar riders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales finished in 11th & 14th respectively, with Hector Barbera the top Open class rider on the Avintia Racing Ducati in 15th.
The next race in the 2015 MotoGP season is the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas on 12 April.
Grand Prix of Qatar – Final Classification:
1. Valentino ROSSI – (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) 42'35.717 2. Andrea DOVIZIOSO – (Ducati Team) +0.174 3. Andrea IANNONE – (Ducati Team) +2.250 4. Jorge LORENZO – (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) +2.707 5. Marc MARQUEZ – (Repsol Honda Team) +7.036 6. Dani PEDROSA – (Repsol Honda Team) +10.755 7. Cal CRUTCHLOW – (CWM LCR Honda) +12.384 8. Bradley SMITH – (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) +12.914 9. Pol ESPARGARO – (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) +13.031 10. Yonny HERNANDEZ – (Pramac Racing) +17.435 11. Aleix ESPARGARO – (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) +19.901 12. Danilo PETRUCCI – (Pramac Racing) +24.432 13. Scott REDDING – (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) +32.032 14. Maverick VIÑALES – (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) +33.463
Riders World Championship top ten after GP of Qatar:
1. Valentino ROSSI - 25 2. Andrea DOVIZIOSO - 20 3. Andrea IANNONE - 16 4. Jorge LORENZO - 13 5. Marc MARQUEZ - 11 6. Dani PEDROSA - 10 7. Cal CRUTCHLOW - 9 8. Bradley SMITH - 8 9. Pol ESPARGARO - 7 10. Yonny HERNANDEZ - 6