A dramatic MotoGP season-opener reached its climax with a thrilling victory showdown between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi in Qatar.
Rossi began the race just tenth on the grid, but charged through the order to reach the rear wheel of Marquez's Honda by lap 6 of 22, when the pole sitter was running second to Stefan Bradl.
“Starting from tenth is very difficult, but we improved the bike very much from yesterday and I was so happy from the beginning of the race,” said Rossi. “I risked a bit in the first laps, but it was so funny! Like the old times, ten years ago - all of us together, making mistakes, but everybody on the same pace.
“I think the championship organisers achieved their goal because also on the bike it was fantastic.”
And there was plenty more edge-of-your-seat action to come.
Almost as soon as Rossi caught reigning champion Marquez the pair - separated by 14 years in age, but sharing an identical desire for no-holds-barred racing - began a back-and-forth tussle.
That soon became a victory fight when Bradl joined Rossi's Movistar Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in falling from the race lead.
“I knew I had to fight with Marc, because we were the guys with a little more pace. But I also didn't want to make any mistakes because I had Pedrosa and Bautista close behind and for me a podium was great,” said Rossi. “I don't remember exactly how many times we passed each other - all I remember is that unfortunately the last time Marc overtook me!”
That last pass came on the penultimate lap, when Rossi had twice dived under Marquez only for the Spaniard to lunge straight back. Rossi looked set to mount one last attack on the final lap, but Marquez kept just out of reach, winning by a mere 0.259s.
“I tried to play my card. I had my chance to win, but unfortunately Marc was too far on the last lap, his best lap of the race. He deserved the victory,” said Rossi. “Anyway it is a great result for me. I will try next time, but now the key is to continue like this, because last year this race was great for me but then I had more problems.
“Now I feel stronger. I can ride the bike in a better way and I work in a better way with the team. So from Austin I want to try to stay in front. We know it's difficult with the Hondas, with Marc, but we have to try.”
Rossi was also relived that the predicted fuel consumption issues were not a factor on Sunday. The Factory class has one litre less race fuel for 2014 and Rossi, who needed a lift back to the pits after claiming second ahead of Marquez one year ago, feared his M1 would lose significant power to compensate.
“I'm so happy. My engineer did a great job, because this year I can get back to pits, so the fuel consumption was better than last year. My bike was so fast. I could stay in the slipstream of Marc. Sometimes also go to the side. I tried to overtake but he was very strong in braking for turn one. For sure the slipstream helped me but I think Yamaha worked well on the fuel consumption.”
After last year's (distant) second place to Lorenzo at Qatar, seven time champion Rossi went on to claim one win and fourth in the championship.