© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Rossi reigns in Spain
Just when we thought we knew what to expect from the 2016 MotoGP season, today happened. The practice sessions leading up to the (first of four) Spanish Grand Prix found the factory Yamaha team consistently at or near the top of the charts. Repsol Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez was competitive while struggling with rear grip. Valentino Rossi waited until the last lap of Q2 to lay down the fastest lap of the weekend, for his first Jerez pole since 2005. Today, The Doctor made a house call on Lorenzo, “administering a dose of his own medicine” in winning at Jerez for the first time since 2009.
Today’s race was a reversal of form in several ways. How many times have we seen Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Marquez get out front, try to leave the field behind, only to have #46 materialize on their rear tire looking for a way to steal their lunch money? Today Rossi took this approach, withstanding an early challenge from Lorenzo on Lap 2, surrendering the lead for roughly 50 meters, before striking back and leading the rest of the race. My trusty Dial-A-Cliché tool suggests “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” would fit well here. (Look for the quotation marks this tool generates, much like a watermark.)
For the first half of the race, Lorenzo dogged his teammate, seeing red, personal animosity vying with grudging professional respect, looking desperately for a way through which never appeared. Marquez, likewise, tailgated Lorenzo for many of the first 14 laps and looked to be lining his countryman up for what would have been a risky pass. Having learned the hard way last year that “discretion is the better part of valor,” he decided to settle for third place, in front of his home fans, a bitter pill to swallow which left him leading the 2016 race “at the end of the day.”
Viewing the 2016 championship from a distance, the dynamics of the Honda/Yamaha rivalry have changed dramatically over the past few years with the reunion of the Bruise Brothers at Yamaha and the gradual fading of Dani Pedrosa on the #2 factory Honda. On a personal level, the loathing existent between Rossi and Lorenzo, and Rossi and Marquez, has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Between 2011 and 2013 it was Lorenzo routinely getting double-teamed by the Hondas. In late 2013 and 2014 it was Marquez’s turn to get doubled by Lorenzo and Rossi. Now, the personal having overshadowed the corporate, it is Rossi expecting resistance from Lorenzo and Marquez. During the podium ceremony, if you just watched Marquez and Lorenzo, you would have sworn Rossi wasn’t even there, the body language of the three screaming contempt, Latin-style.
All sports thrive on rivalries. Team sports are far more predictable than individual sports like MotoGP because teams, despite the pronouncements of commentators, really don’t have personalities. Highly competitive individuals, notably the three occupying the front row of today’s grid, most assuredly do. These rivalries become more intense as they become personal; at this point they appear to be driving the 2016 season, “much to the delight” of the fans.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Readers of a certain age will recognize the blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William Bell, the best version of which was recorded by Cream back in the 70’s. Factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso should consider having the main lyric—“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”—stitched onto his leathers.
Dovizioso, who could easily occupy one of the top three spots for the season, finished a strong second in Qatar. But he got flattened by teammate Andrea Iannone in Argentina while running second, and was pancaked by Pedrosa in Austin while contending for yet another podium. Today, having qualified fourth, with the entire Ducati contingent struggling, he was running seventh when his bike emitted a puff of smoke, causing him to pull off onto the shoulder, turn on his flashers, and call AAA, his day over “through no fault of his own.”
Dani Pedrosa managed another low impact 4th today, a complete non-factor after Lap 6 despite a decent start. The Suzuki Ecstar team, “on the other hand,” made it happen, with Aleix Espargaro taking 5th place, two seconds ahead of soon-to-be-Yamaha hotshot Maverick Vinales. Ducati’s Andrea Iannone enjoyed an atrocious start, falling from his qualifying slot in 11th to 14th place by Lap 5. His hard front tire, installed while he sat on the tarmac and untested all weekend, finally warmed up, and he clawed his way back to 7th at the flag.
Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro, the rider NOT joining the factory KTM project next year, kept his ride vertical again for an 8th place finish, falling from 4th to 5th for the season as Pedrosa stole his spot. Eugene Laverty, overachieving yet again, finished 9th as the #2 Ducati behind Iannone, with Hectic Hector Barbera completing the top ten on another second-hand Duc.
At the bottom of the premier class food chain today were two Marc VDS Hondas, Jack Miller, he of the splintered ankle and redneck facial hair, and Tito Rabat, getting consistently KO’d “punching above his weight.” By far the saddest sack of the day was Scott Redding, who finished last, over a minute behind Rossi, the optimism of an outstanding offseason having become but “ashes in his mouth.” Having announced this past week that his ultimate goal was a seat on a factory Ducati, he backed it up with perhaps his worst performance ever in the premier class. Gigi, one assumes, was not overly impressed, much as my wife is when I announce that my ultimate goal is to get jiggy wit’ Heidi Klum. Not sure which aspiration is less likely, though my wife does not suffer such uncertainty.
While I steal liberally from race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt, both of whom “have forgotten more about MotoGP than I’ve ever known,” I need to register a protest over their oppressive use of the adjective “precious” when discussing championship points. Points are important. Points are, well, the point of competing for a championship. Points are never refused—“No thanks, I’ve got plenty already.” But “precious,” other than its alliterative value, is best reserved for describing babies—kittens, puppies, penguins, etc. Banging on about the precious 13 points Dani Pedrosa earned today, or Cal Crutchlow’s first five of 2016, makes me long for an American announcing team, who would probably refer to them as “points.”
A Look Ahead
The grid returns to the historic Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in two weeks, the standings at the top somewhat tighter than they were yesterday. Tomorrow’s test at Jerez may offer an opportunity for the Aliens to work on the rear grip problems they all complained about—loudly–after today’s race. The three Brits—Smith, Crutchlow and Redding—need to work on doing more racing and less talking. Gigi Dall’Igna needs to give some thought to upgrading the machines on loan to Laverty and Barbera. Finally, with Lorenzo looming on the horizon, the two Andreas of the factory Ducati team “need to fish or cut bait.”