© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead
Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014.
Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap. Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.
The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions. A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.
Disorder at the Start
As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today. Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7. From there, he went like this:
Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5
Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7
Passed Vinales on Lap 10
Passed Rossi on Lap 12
It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process). Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez. One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.
Off the Podium
Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance. Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10. Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.
In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say. Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury. Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals. Bravo Nicky!
Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati
The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away. Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season. They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.
In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much. Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2. (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.) Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.
Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season. No more whining. He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one. He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns. As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50. May the better man win. But please, no more takedowns.
In the Junior Circuits
Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans. (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder. The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens. I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.) BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group. At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds. Give the people what they want—close racing. Screw the displacement.
In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia. This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane. To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title. Very impressive performance.
Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco. By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point. Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head. Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.
The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific
All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing. The rest of the contenders break down nicely. Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second. Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth. Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth. Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth. And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th. People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.
Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang; 26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today. The math is easy.
Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders. No rest for the wicked. Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading. Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.
MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.