Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images
Cal Crutchlow's performances in practice and qualifying were pleasant surprises in Qatar.
More competitive racing up front has been the fondest desire of MotoGP fans for some time. So, to see Crutchlow finish Free Practice 4 with the fastest time, and then finish second-fastest in qualifying gave hope that there would be one more rider capable of challenging for race wins.
Challenge he did, at least initially.
For the first 17 laps of the 22-lap contest, Crutchlow was entrenched in a battle for second place with the factory Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez.
With only five laps to go, he was caught from behind by the surging Valentino Rossi. Once Rossi was past, Crutchlow followed too aggressively and ran off the track in turn one.
Despite that single mistake, Crutchlow showed throughout the weekend that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Crutchlow's absence from the private COTA test will be to his detriment, but if he can acclimate himself quickly, there is no reason to believe he won't be back at the front, fighting for the podium.
His teammate, rookie rider Bradley Smith, had a much less auspicious start to the 2013 season, but no worse than one would expect from a rookie in his first race.
Smith, somewhat surprisingly—considering his pace throughout the practice sessions—qualified ninth-fastest for the race, ahead of Andrea Iannone and Nicky Hayden.
Then, only five laps into the race, he lost the front end in Turn 7 and crashed out.
Smith chalked it up to a learning experience, of which there will be many more before the end of the 2013 season. He is on a very good bike, but Austin is too soon for the young Brit to finish inside the top eight or nine.