Valentino Rossi made his decision to return to Yamaha for 2013 after two dismal years with Ducati to determine if he could still be competitive amongst the fastest motorcycle road racers in the world.
His preseason test performances indicated that he would be, but the first race action loomed as the true test of Rossi's abilities.
Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez is the most highly touted MotoGP rookie since reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo. Marquez's 2013 competitiveness was assured, but perhaps not until he had a few races under his belt, and even then, only if the notoriously aggressive rider was able to stay on his bike.
Both riders started the opening race of the 2013 season from less-than-ideal positions, as the new 15-minute qualifying session did not work out well for either of them. With so little time to set a fast lap, both riders found themselves mired in traffic and unable to post a lap time reflective of their true capabilities. Rossi qualified seventh fastest, Marquez sixth.
Still, Rossi's pace throughout the weekend indicated an ability to run with the leaders if he could get past the slower riders starting in front of him.
He passed two of them by the first corner.
One lap later, however, Rossi suffered what should have been a podium-dashing setback. Heading into Turn 1 of Lap 2, he attempted to take third place from Ducati factory rider Andrea Dovizioso who was directly in front of him. Rossi's move inside was successful, but after he got by Dovizioso he very nearly ran into the back of Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa who was carrying much less speed.
Rossi was forced to pick up his bike to avoid hitting Pedrosa's back tire, which of course made him run wide, lose a bunch of time and three positions. After more than a full lap and a lot of hard work, he was right back where he started the race—seventh place.
Marquez suffered no such setback in his drive toward the front.
On the second lap, Marquez followed Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow past the already fading Dovizioso for fourth place.
Then, on the straight to finish the second lap and start the third, Marquez blew by Crutchlow—illustrating conclusively the superior power of the Honda—for third place.
Meanwhile, Rossi was stuck behind LCR Honda's Stefan Bradl for four laps. He was finally able to make it past the German on the eighth lap of the race then quickly pulled away from him.
For the next seven laps Rossi was on an Island, pulling away from Bradl and Dovizioso while inching closer to Crutchlow, Marquez and Pedrosa, who were all battling for second place.
With six laps to go, Marquez pulled past Pedrosa for second place on the start/finish straight.
One lap later, Rossi had caught and passed Crutchlow on the straight for fourth place. The British rider fought back, but unwisely, as he carried too much speed into Turn 1 which forced him to sit his bike up and run off the track.
With Cruthclow having no chance of catching up, Rossi set his sights on Pedrosa and the podium finish that only minutes before seemed to be pulling farther and farther away from him.
One lap later, he had it.
Pedrosa took a slightly wider-than-necessary line through a left-hander which allowed Rossi to slide by underneath and put himself in line for the podium with only four laps to go.
He was not done. On the very next lap, Marquez made the same mistake—this time in a right-hander—and Rossi took full advantage, sliding underneath the Spanish phenom to take second place.
It was thought by many that Marquez, surely trying to quell his reputation as an overly aggressive rider, would not fight as tenaciously as he had in the past during the first few races of his rookie premiere-class campaign.
Thankfully for everyone, that was not the case.
Marquez gave his RC213V all it had down the straight to start the penultimate lap and was able to pull even with Rossi as the riders approached Turn 1.
Marquez was on the outside of Rossi as both riders tipped their bikes into the turn. Rossi ran a little wide, and Marquez saw the window. He ducked his Honda underneath Rossi's Yamaha in the middle of the corner and accelerated past the Italian icon to reclaim second position.
Three corners later, Rossi pulled along the inside of Marquez as both riders prepared to lean into Turn 4. Rossi was in position for the inside line, and accelerated through the corner, past Marquez, and back into second place.
Marquez stayed close throughout the final lap-and-a-half of the race, but was unable to mount another overtaking attempt—Rossi shutting all the doors before they swung open wide enough to let Marquez through.
Jorge Lorenzo won the race on his factory Yamaha. He started from pole position and led the entire way.
As uninteresting as that was, race fans were nevertheless treated to a classic battle between the most famous motorcycle road racer of all time, and the young lion poised to take his place.
It appears MotoGP once again has its "four aliens."
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