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Of sportsmanship and misfortune

Of sportsmanship and misfortune

Marquez may have ran away with yet another victory in Austin, but the race will be remembered for very different reasons by Matthew Birt.

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

The image of Marc Marquez performing a celebratory stand up wheelie over the line to revel in a fourth straight victory won’t be the most endearing of last weekend’s Grand Prix of the Americas for me.

It is the sight of a remorseful Dani Pedrosa apologising to the luckless Andrea Dovizioso not once but twice that will be my abiding memory of Texas.

At a time when there has been widespread calls from some of the most powerful figures in motorcycle racing for respect and sportsmanship to prevail after the acrimony that overpowered the end of the 2015 campaign, Pedrosa showed he might be small in stature but gigantic in character and heart.

Powerless to prevent his Repsol Honda RC213V being turned into a bright orange torpedo at the Circuit of the Americas’s unique first corner, Pedrosa quickly set about righting the wrong in a way that deservedly won him admiration around the world.

As a shell-shocked Dovizioso tried to absorb a second collision in seven days in which he was entirely the innocent party, Pedrosa’s first thought was not to get himself back into the fray as quickly as possible, but to check the jinxed Italian was uninjured.

Pedrosa was so contrite that on retiring from the race, he had barely offered an explanation to his own crew at Repsol Honda, when he completed a walk of shame into Ducati to make a further peace offering and give a more detailed account of the cause.

Pedrosa has been in World Championship racing long enough to know it’s a dangerous enough vocation without taking ridiculous risks.

Dovizioso’s cruel exit at the penultimate corner of the Termas de Rio Hondo race in Argentina was the result of Andrea Iannone thinking more about reward over risk rather than vice versa.

Iannone went for a gap that clearly didn’t exist and committed the cardinal sin of wiping out his teammate when only a third double Ducati podium since Aragon in 2010 was less than 50 metres away from being accomplished.

Last Sunday was another case of wrong place, wrong time for Dovizioso.

Pedrosa didn’t make a hash of an ill-conceived overtake. He made a mistake, owned up and was genuinely full of regret.

As he came over the crest at the top of the 41metre climb to the Circuit of the Americas first corner, he’d locked the front.

He desperately reacted to try and control a Honda underneath that had turned into a rodeo bull. But it was beyond salvaging. Down he went, collecting Dovizioso in the process to complete an instantly forgettable week for his former HRC colleague.

Martin Luther King, Jr once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Well, Pedrosa stands among giants. Last Sunday was not the first time he has fully accepted the blame for an incident he had no intention of instigating.

It is nearly a decade since he took out teammate Nicky Hayden in Estoril when the American almost had one hand on the MotoGP™ title.

Pedrosa was vilified but he did not hide. He was a big enough man to visit a distraught Hayden in his motorhome to apologise and shake the hand of a man whose lifelong dream he almost crushed.

That could not have been easy. Hayden’s anger in the gravel trap had given way to anguish later and I recall his voice straining under emotion numerous times in a media debrief that was one of the most memorable I’ve ever attended.

As for Dovizioso, he was left to reflect on rotten luck and good fortune.

Another podium opportunity was taken from him but the outcome could have much worse.

If he was looking for any consolation it was the fact that the brutal hit he took from Pedrosa’s sliding machine resulted in no nasty injury.

With both factory Ducati seats open for 2017 and the paddock full of rumours as to who may fill them, Dovizioso’s misfortune comes at an inconvenient time. His Argentina howler aside, the smart money is still on Iannone to retain his place, though you can’t imagine there being a shortage of takers for Dovizioso’s signature on the evidence of the first three races.

Twenty-points is scant reward for his performances so far and he could have easily expected to replicate his run of three successive podium finishes at the start of 2015 had circumstances been different.

He would certainly be the closest challenger to Marquez in the early title chase had it not been for the mistakes of others. Pedrosa, Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have all surrendered crucial points with their own mistakes. Dovizioso has been denied a potential 36-points in the last two races without putting a foot wrong.

Racing is an unpredictable beast and that’s why we love it. You never know what’s coming next.

It was after Pedrosa wiped him out in Estoril that Hayden coined the famous phrase: “This is MotoGP, anything can happen. That’s why we line-up.”

And we all know what happened at that last race in Valencia 10 years ago.

Like Hayden did in 2006, Dovizioso will bounce back. Pedrosa will too.

You can’t keep two good men down for long.

MotoGP, 2016, RED BULL GRAND PRIX OF THE AMERICAS, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda Team, Ducati Team

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