MotoGP: Pedrosa accepts the challenge from Márquez

Márquez himself said during the preseason that Pedrosa would be a rival he would be watching closely…that prediction has apparently come to fruition

motogp, 2017 motogp, dani pedrosa, jerez, marc marquez, repsol honda
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa was in dominating form at Jerez, easily holding off his teammate Marc Marquez in both qualifying and the race. That Pedrosa has already won his first race of the year so early in the season may be a harbinger of his competitiveness in '17.Photo courtesy of Michelin

On Saturday, after landing pole by grabbing it at the last minute from Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa surprised the press conference with the phrase: "OK, I accept the challenge." It was the way the Spanish rider made it clear to his teammate—who was sitting next to him—that he was going to ignore what is considered the "natural order" in the Repsol Honda Team box since the arrival of Márquez to MotoGP in 2013: Márquez is the leader, the example, and Pedrosa is the B rider. And as if it wasn’t clear the first time, he repeated the phrase several times during his answers to questions from the press. “I decided to accept the challenge...”

This phrase with a clearly defiant tone was the result of an episode that occurred in the waning minutes of Q2: with Márquez at the top of the timesheets, Pedrosa came out onto the track in search of a fast lap... and surprisingly, Márquez settled behind his teammate's wheel. Pedrosa noticed and slowed his pace to let his teammate pass, but Márquez stopped behind him, signalling that he had no intention of overtaking him. Pedrosa turned and they both looked at each other. "Okay, I accept the challenge," Pedrosa said to himself.

That challenge meant to try for the pole while towing the three-time MotoGP world champion along in his wake, and we all know what that means: a nearly impossible mission, as it becomes easier for the following rider to use the rider in front as a target. But not in this case.

motogp, 2017 motogp, dani pedrosa, jerez, marc marquez, repsol honda
Think Pedrosa doesn't show emotion now? The Spaniard was nicknamed "Pedro-bot" during his early MotoGP career by some journalists due to his lack of emotion, but not many knew it was because he was a very shy person.Photo courtesy of Michelin

In a surprising demonstration, Pedrosa scored the best lap of qualifying on the next lap, pulling away from Márquez on the track and leaping to the top in the timesheets. This was a determined attempt to gamble on an absolutely crazy return...and he won. A year and a half since last starting from pole—his last pole position was Malaysia in 2015—Pedrosa was on pole again. And things being what they are in Jerez, Márquez was destined to feel the pain twice in one weekend.

On Sunday, Pedrosa wasn’t given much choice about his race strategy. At a circuit where he had climbed onto the podium in 9 of the last 10 events, Pedrosa arrived at the first corner in the lead. Now facing a clear track—which the former 125 and 250cc GP world champion prefers—he swiftly pulled away to his 30th MotoGP victory. He drew from his experience, explaining after the race, "I quickly opened a second, second and a half difference. I could have tried to go even better, but I knew I had to conserve the tires for the second half of the race because I knew that Marquez would try to catch he did. But when Marc attacked, I used precisely what I had in the reserve to control the difference."

Pedrosa has already completed his "GP of the year"—it has been 12 consecutive years that he has won at least one race per season—and now it's time to see if Jerez has been the one annual win or the first of many. For his attitude, for the arrow he threw to Márquez with his "I accept the challenge," it seems that Pedrosa is aiming much higher this time. Remember what Márquez said during the preseason tests when we asked him who his rivals for 2017 would be? "Dani is doing a quiet but good preseason. I'm there in the box and I see how he's out for Dani." The upcoming race at Le Mans in two weeks could help clear up any question about this. A rival has suddenly appeared which Pedrosa didn't expect; And this time the rival is in his own box.