Having given the last three rounds of MotoGP some thought, more than they deserve, I have reached the following conclusion. It is advice I would give Rossi if I had a deep, dramatic Spanish accent to my English. Had I such an accent and delivery, I would say to Valentino, in that voice, “If, Valentino, in the few years you have left, you wish to avoid having an enraged young bull getting deeply in your SHIT on the racetrack, perhaps it would be wise not to wave a large red flag in his face and insult his integrity at the same time. Yes, perhaps that would be better.”
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Jorge Lorenzo seizes win, snatches 2015 title from Rossi
The record books will show that Jorge Lorenzo’s win today, together with Valentino Rossi’s 4th place finish, gave the 2015 championship to Lorenzo by five points. There will be documentation attesting to the fact that Valentino Rossi passed 20 riders in the first 10 laps, ultimately making it up to 4th place on the grid, at which point he was spent.
There will be no explanation, visual or otherwise, why either of the Repsol Hondas didn’t give Lorenzo a serious go on the last two laps; the term “team orders” has ceased to exist. The three points given Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang were, in the end, decisive.
The bells are not ringing in Tavullia tonight.
Setting the Stage
Jorge Lorenzo laid down “the best lap of my life,” in his words, on Saturday to capture pole in a race where getting away at the front would solve a lot of problems. Joined on the front row by Repsol Honda troublemakers Marc Marquez and the suddenly-hot Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo earned the best possible track to the title on Saturday.
Everyone know Rossi would be starting from the back row. Everyone had done the math about where Rossi would arrive when. Lorenzo knew, as we all knew, that winning the race meant Rossi’s eventual placement was less of a concern; anything outside of second would put the Italian in 2nd place for the season.
Thus, on a Honda-friendly track, in front of a sellout crowd and actual millions watching on TV around the world, Jorge Lorenzo exerted his will upon the field and his top competitors to win in Valencia. In a must-win situation he showed us his mental toughness and again brings into question why he bothered to get involved in the Rossi/Marquez tiff. Had he floated above the controversy, his title would shine a lot brighter than it does. He reminds me of my wife’s strong suggestion that I never resist an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.
On the Track…
…The Usual Suspects took their places, Lorenzo followed closely by Marquez, Pedrosa trailing and, eventually, Rossi occupying fourth, unable to do anything about the action so far in front of him. For Rossi to claim the title, he needed both Marquez and Pedrosa to treat Lorenzo rudely, going through to put the Mallorcan in third place.
Amazingly, Lorenzo led Marquez and Pedrosa at the end of Lap 1 and at the end of Lap 30, without having to withstand a serious challenge of any import along the way. This oddity, which also resulted in an all-Spanish podium, is a little fishy. The casual observer, if the top three wore the same livery, might deduce that #93 and #26 were protecting the back of #99. The world will never know.
The worst part of all of this, as we know, is that the specific sanction imposed upon Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang had a direct bearing on the outcome of the season. What if Race Direction had, in its wisdom, assessed Rossi a two point penalty, slapping him on the wrist but allowing him to qualify? Is it that hard to see him finishing second from a second row start on a day the factory Hondas were not getting froggy?
And with triple world champion Lorenzo in effect criticizing the penalty as too lenient, is there any reason to suppose the team won’t be building a wall down the middle of the garage again in 2016, the way it was in 2009? No warm and fuzzies here.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Pol Espargaro lashed his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to the line three seconds in front of teammate Bradley Smith to capture fifth place for the day, Smith just showing Andrea Dovizioso and his Desmosedici the shade. Aleix Espargaro brought his factory Suzuki across the line in eighth, with Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci bringing the LCR Honda and the Pramac Ducati, respectively, to the flag filling out the top ten.
Farther down the food chain, Maverick Vinales, Michele Pirro and Yonny Hernandez ended their year in the points. Vinales will continue with Suzuki in 2016, Pirro will continue to test for Ducati, and Hernandez moves to Aspar team but will remain on the junior class Ducati, teaming up with Eugene Laverty who stays with Aspar. Today, in his last MotoGP start, American Nicky Hayden finished 17th and out of the money, but he finished, as has been declared a MotoGP Legend, with three career wins and a championship to show for his body of work in the premier class. I hope he can find a competitive team and win a title in WSBK, one of the genuine nice guys in the industry.
Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl finished 14th and 18th today, and will begin practicing on the new Aprilia MotoGP bike on Tuesday in Jerez. Brit Scott Redding ended his generally fruitless association with Marc VDS Honda and will be suiting up for Pramac Ducati alongside Petrucci. (Scott, wouldn’t it have been easier just to lose 15 pounds?) Marc VDS will, in 2016, be bringing Tito Rabat up from Moto2 to ride alongside Jack Miller. Loris Baz will join top open class rider Hector Barbera at Avintia Ducati.
The top factory and satellite teams are standing pat, meaning some riders will not have seats for next season. This is life in the slow lane of MotoGP.
The Final Big Picture of 2015
Lorenzo edges Rossi for the title, with Marquez third and Pedrosa fourth; the Aliens remain unchallenged. Andrea Iannone outpoints Brit Bradley Smith by seven to claim fifth, with Smith the top satellite rider in sixth. Dovizioso slips to seventh place for the year, ahead of Brit Crutchlow in eighth. And Pol Espargaro pips Danilo Petrucci by a single point in the race for ninth place. The two Suzukis finish 11th and 12th, Espargaro outpointing his rookie teammate by eight.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
So MotoGP now has four respectable, competitive manufacturers, two of which have Alien class riders. The rule and tire changes for 2016 will shuffle the deck to a degree, but should not change the order of Aliens. Several junior class riders—Alex Rins and Miguel Oliveira among them—are soon going to be working in the premier class, along with some talented young Italian riders.
The Marquez-Rossi flap this season has exposed some weakness in the relationship between teams and sponsors, with some sponsors seizing upon the opportunity to back out of agreements going forward. Repsol is having a terrible year, courtesy of cheap crude oil prices, and was offended by the event, as was Honda, as was Movistar, as was Yamaha. There is no reason to expect that these types of incidents won’t continue to occur in the coming years.
Indianapolis is gone from the calendar, replaced by Austria, and the calendar is lengthened by a week. Testing this week at Jerez marks the beginning of next season, new bums on new seats. New tires. New electronics.
Goodbye to 2015
Each year, we try to find a quote that summarizes the season we’ve just seen. Without even doing the research, I recalled a statement from a movie several years ago that I believe sums up 2015 for Jorge Lorenzo. Heading into the season, there was faint hope that he would be able to compete with Marquez. As Marquez faltered, Rossi rallied, and Lorenzo was in a season-long dogfight.
There were plenty of points in the season where Lorenzo could have given up. In response to one, he went on a four race win streak. He kept it close until the very last week of the season, and had enough left to seize the day when the opportunity presented itself. He kept the faith.
It could have been Jorge Lorenzo that the young proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was speaking about when he observed,
“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out,
it is not yet the end.”
We look forward to bringing you MotoGP again next season.
© Bruce Allen
Over the years, my approach to race day and, for the past four or five years, race weekend has changed. The first few years, when I knew more about humor than racing, I could work up story lines during the week, regardless of what actually occurred in the race. Since then, I’ve had to study hard, and struggle to keep up with my readers.
• I need to go to Mass on Saturday afternoon;
• I need to peruse the other half dozen major MotoGP sites to make sure I’m not missing something;
• I have to watch Q2;
• I can’t miss the Moto2 race or the half hour before the big bikes go off, when Nick and Matt give us deep background on the riders, etc. This is a problem during the Pacific swing when the races go off at, like, 1:00 am.
• I need to regret I’m no longer a rider;
• I get up to speed back as far as 2012, but rely on the announcers beyond that.
It is not a problem developing a Point of View about this stuff. If you’re paying attention, and depending greatly on your country of origin, you will adopt a contender about whom you feel passionately. Others, such as myself, tend not to boost a favorite, instead pulling for a competitive season. Like this one. The comments on the website suggest I’m a closet fan of one of the Aliens involved in this thing. I’m really not. Just no parades and a meaningful Valencia is all I ask.
Watching the mandatory Q2, it’s becoming a soap opera. Lorenzo obliterates the field on the way to pole, while Rossi crashes at the very end and walks gingerly off. As if things just couldn’t get any worse for Vale…
I consider the thought that even if Lorenzo gets away, we could have a final two laps involving Rossi and Marquez, which would be worth watching, Rossi needing second place to secure the title.
Lots of recent history between the two. Both feeling significant constraints and pressures. Together, the temperament of warriors, suffering equally from the sin of pride, they elect to do battle, or walk away, the outcome of the season at stake. Both feeling that they’ve been wounded by the other. Marquez out of contention, Rossi at the sharp end of it. Running glued together on the last lap of the race, Marquez in the lead. Aspettalo…aspettalo…a.s.p.e.t.t.a.l.o. Into the last turn. What an easy image to conjure. The fourth physical confrontation of the year between the two, the first three won, at least on some level, by Rossi.
Such a confrontation, in reality, would be one for the ages. I believe most people at the race would be pulling for the crafty old man. I do believe Marquez would be happy to tangle with Pedrosa, but not so much with either Lorenzo or Rossi. He doesn’t want to be the one blamed for keeping The Doctor from his tenth world championship, instantly developing a huge devoted group of haters. In a season going nowhere, it is probably, for Marquez, a rare opportunity to stand aside, wave your hat, bow, and admit you STILL want to ride like Vale.
Memo to Marquez: Nothing stupid. Nothing dangerously aggressive. Nothing to impede. If Lorenzo wins, all Rossi’s fans will ever remember is you keeping Him from His 10th title. If Rossi takes the championship, no one will remember how easy it was for him to go through on you, whose tires were worn to the rims. In this scenario, Lorenzo fans are disappointed, Rossi fans are elated, and your fans are neutral, as some prefer on or the other of The Bruise Brothers. No one is seeking blood. It’s all good.
It’s Saturday morning in Indiana. Even I have a lot to think about.
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
45 Minutes to a Championship
The two weeks leading up to the deciding moment of the 2015 MotoGP title have been unsatisfactory. Unsatisfactory in the extreme. For only the third time in 24 years, the premier class title will be decided in Valencia. But title contenders and factory Yamaha teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have gotten wrapped around the axle in a dispute with Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez that has stolen the spotlight from the race and shifted it to, of all places, an obscure courtroom in Switzerland.
This is so 21st century. A high-stakes sporting event engenders controversy on the track, the organizing body fails to fully resolve it to the satisfaction of the principals, and the lawsuits start flying. Deflategate on two wheels. Rossi fans are outraged. Marquez fans are outraged. Lorenzo and his fans, firmly in command of the low moral ground, insist Rossi should have been black-flagged on Lap 7 in Sepang, effectively handing the 2015 championship to #99.
Actually, it’s probably a good thing this is happening in the 21st century rather than the 19th, when Italy might have declared war on Spain.
Not having a dog in this fight, as well as being on deadline, I just wish for the whole thing to be settled. Now. Let Rossi’s penalty points be removed. Make him start from the back of the grid. Whatever. Just please don’t kick the can down the road and leave it to be fully adjudicated until next year. We, the fans of MotoGP, need closure. Preferably before Friday. As I’ve said before in this space, right now would be fine.
Recent History at Valencia
In 2012, Jorge Lorenzo had clinched his second premier class title at Phillip Island two weeks earlier and had nothing at stake in this one. The weather was, like a decent rosé, semi-dry. It had rained before the race, and was spitting at the start, but would end up dry, the worst possible conditions for the riders. A select few, including Lorenzo and Yamaha test rider Katsayugi “Catman” Nakasuga, took to the grid on slicks. Four others, having made their sighting lap on wets, would change over to slicks and start from pit lane. The remainders enjoyed one of the flag-to-flag affairs that almost always scrambles the results.
By the end of the day, Lorenzo had experienced a highside courtesy of pokey James Ellison, Dani Pedrosa had run away from the field, and The Catman, in the upset of the decade, occupied the second step of the podium between Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, who had run the last race of his first career. (Rumors floating around have him reuniting with Ducati for 2017, which I’ll believe when I see it.)
The 2013 finale was won by Lorenzo in a hollow victory, having failed to keep Marquez out of the top five, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan all day sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth. The Order of Aliens at season’s end was Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi, an accurate reflection of their body of work over 18 rounds. Had Marquez not tagged Pedrosa’s traction control cable in Aragon, things might have worked out differently.
Last year’s race was, again, wettish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo crashed in the rain with six laps left as Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.
Of the four Aliens, Pedrosa can claim the best record here, with three wins and three podia in nine starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 15 starts since 2000, but the most recent of these came in 2004 when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in six premier class starts, has two wins and a third place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win and a third in two MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat either time. Based upon history, one would expect the two Repsol Honda pilots to end the day on the podium, joined by a factory Yamaha rider to be named later.
A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma
For the factory Yamaha team, preparing for the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana must feel like preparing for a wrestling cage match against, like, six different guys. One thing is certain: should Lorenzo outpoint Rossi by seven or more points, the title is his. Six points or less, the Italian walks away with his record-tying tenth world championship.
Should Rossi’s penalty points stick, his mission becomes clear. Starting from the back of the grid will force him to throw caution to the wind, put his head down, lay on the horn, and make every possible effort to emerge close to the front, assess where things stand vis à vis Lorenzo, and go from there. If the penalty points are thrown out or “deferred” in some fashion (gag me), his predicament will then resemble that of Lorenzo, as expressed so eloquently back in the early 70’s:
“I can’t make decisions, I don’t know which way I’m gonna turn.”
–Ray Davies, The Kinks
Acute Schizophrenia Blues
This is not a “win or bin” situation for either rider. Assuming Pedrosa and Marquez qualify well and become part of the front group, Lorenzo, and perhaps Rossi, must then engage in an exercise economists refer to as “game theory.” Neither can afford to crash, yet Lorenzo must figure out a way to keep Rossi behind him and a few other bikes between himself and Rossi. What Rossi does will affect Lorenzo’s strategy, and vice versa. One mustn’t go slow, but going too fast is risky, too. And it’s all complicated by the fact that the Ricardo Tormo circuit suits the Repsol Honda riders far better than it does the Yamaha duo. All of which ignores the agendas of a number of non-Aliens on the track as well.
Two points here: Dani Pedrosa is on a very hot streak and is likely to have a material effect on the outcome. And this weekend, perhaps more than any in recent history, the pit boards are likely to tell the story.
Most of the articles I’ve read about this weekend’s race steeply discount Rossi’s chances if he is, indeed, forced to start from the back row. That Marquez was able to win a Moto2 tilt from the exact same spot several years ago is, at this moment, almost poetic. The putative Greatest of All Time may have to approach, at age 36, a feat his likely successor accomplished while still in his teens. And while it’s arguably harder to slice through the entire MotoGP grid than a Moto2 grid, it is not beyond reason to suggest that Rossi, if anyone, can pull it off.
The weather forecast for the weekend is, at this writing, idyllic. Every ticket has been sold. The riders and their teams have aired their dirty linen. The CAS is sifting through facts and allegations. The camaraderie between Rossi and Lorenzo that developed between 2013 and now is history. Lin Jarvis and Livio Suppo are as nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee. The table is set, and the guests are on their way. Warm up your DVR, because this is one you may want to watch again.
We’ll have race results and analysis right here on Sunday morning
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Rossi and Marquez clash; title up for grabs in Valencia
The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race. Not for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. Today will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his emotions to get the better of him, such that putting Marc Marquez in the weeds and out of the race became a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.
A one-sided war of words had erupted between Rossi and Marquez during Thursday’s press conference, when Rossi, unprompted, went off on Marquez for pretty much everything he could think of outside of halitosis. While a number of the top riders have criticized Marquez for his occasionally reckless riding style, up until this week no one had made things personal, which Rossi did. Slinging a bunch of defamatory accusations at a fellow rider is not against the rules, but it showed surprisingly bad form on Rossi’s part. Many of us thought it was purposefully overstated, Rossi playing mind games with Marquez, snubbing his teammate and championship rival Lorenzo, and/or putting the race stewards on alert for any misbehavior on Marquez’ part that could work to Lorenzo’s advantage.
Looking back, Rossi’s comments now appear genuine and perhaps even understated. What had gotten personal in the pressroom became personal on track today, with ramifications both immediate and forthcoming. The only good news resulting from today’s antics is that the season finale in Valencia has moved up the intensity chart, from “relevant” to “riveting” to, now, “epic.”
Business as Usual at the Start
Thanks to a fast final lap in qualifying on Saturday, Rossi climbed up to the front row of the grid, pushing Lorenzo back to fourth, with the thoroughly revived Dani Pedrosa sitting on pole after the fastest lap in Sepang history on a motorcycle and the ever-present Marquez sitting second. When the lights went out, Pedrosa took the hole shot and led heading into the first turn, trailed by Marquez and Rossi, Lorenzo having been swamped at the start. No worries. Midway through the lap, Lorenzo sliced past both factory Ducatis into fourth place, setting up an Alien encounter for the ages.
On Lap 2, Lorenzo went through on Rossi into third place while factory Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone was experiencing a mechanical failure that would end his day. In Turn 4 of Lap 3, Marquez (intentionally?) ran wide, allowing Lorenzo through, at which point Pedrosa and Lorenzo got away from their teammates and the drama that would follow. It appeared that Lorenzo, staying out of the fray in the media, was simply pushing hard to put some track between himself and Rossi. At this point we can’t know whether Marquez allowed this to occur or not. Matt Brit, the color guy on the announcing team, did ask, “How often do we see Marc Marquez going backwards in the standings?”
Four Unforgettable Laps
Lap 4 started with Rossi going through cleanly on Marquez, at which point it seems Marquez must have changed the setting on his dashboard from, like, “3” to “Get that Italian bastard.” Lap 5 was simply ridiculous, as the two went through on each other perhaps six or eight times, seeming to get more aggressive each time. The action continued on Lap 6 as Rossi, having passed Marquez once again, made a hurry-up signal with his left hand that I read as, “Come on, stronzo, you want some more of this?” Marquez, unafraid with his dad and brother in the garage, responded in the affirmative, setting up the events of Lap 7.
In a vivid example of the notion that reality is subjective, people will have wildly differing opinions on what actually occurred midway through Lap 7. Rossi, in the lead, appeared to drift wide in a fast right-hander, running slower than expected. As Marquez approached on his left, the Italian looked to his left once, then again, then appeared to slow down even more while veering farther left off the racing line. Marquez, expecting Rossi to accelerate, found himself with a Yamaha M1 closing in from his right and the curb approaching from his left. The two made contact, Marquez’ right front with Rossi’s left rear, causing Marquez to collapse the front and end up in the gravel. Rossi, having disposed of his new nemesis, went on to finish third; the last 13 laps were uneventful. As in, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
FIM Rule Changes and Race Direction
Immediately after the collision, it was announced that Race Direction would be reviewing the incident. After the race, it was announced that Rossi had been assessed three penalty points for intentionally causing contact with another rider, similar to the penalty Hector Barbera had received in the morning for carelessly putting Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro in the gravel during the warm-up practice. The automatic appeal from Rossi’s people was unanimously declined.
Please bear with me while I go David Emmett for a minute. The three points, by themselves, would not have resulted in any kind of sanction for Rossi either today or at Valencia in two weeks. However, Rossi had received a penalty point at Misano earlier in the year for slow riding in the racing line during practice. It is this seemingly innocuous fourth point that is going to cause Rossi some major heartburn at the finale. FIM rules state that once a rider reaches four penalty points in a calendar year, he must start the next race from the last position on the grid.
Thus, the season finale finds the two top riders separated by a mere seven points, with the leader starting from the ninth row, while the challenger, Lorenzo, is likely to start from the first. I remember watching Marquez win a Moto2 race at Valencia starting from the back of the grid in 2012, and thought it was one of his most amazing feats. It is simply inconceivable that a rider, even a Valentino Rossi, can pull something like that off in the premier class. The question, then, becomes how far in front of Rossi Lorenzo can finish, assuming both finish the race. The last time I saw one of the Aliens start from the back row—Pedrosa, after an issue with a jammed tire warmer several years ago—he crashed out on Lap 1 grinding his teeth to dust trying to get back up front. Before moving on, let me remind you that Lorenzo holds the tiebreaker due to his having won more races this season than Rossi. Rossi’s seven point lead is actually six.
A Shocking Loss of Perspective
Today should have been a celebratory day for Valentino Rossi, as he became the all-time leader in grand prix racing starts with his 329th of a scintillating career. Today could have easily set up a spaghetti Western finish in Valencia, with the two rivals actually or effectively tied, facing one another, guns holstered and safeties off, at high noon in the middle of the dusty street. Instead, Rossi, the consummate veteran, the professional’s professional, allowed Marquez to get under his skin sufficiently to, in all likelihood, cost him a world championship.
Thus far this season, Rossi and Marquez have gotten physical three times. The first, in Argentina, left Marquez down and out, the first indication we received that his third premier class title might not be automatic. The second, in Assen, resulted in Rossi cutting the corner while Marquez ran wildly wide, giving Rossi his first win since Rio Hondo, the irony steadily building. Today’s clash left Marquez once again in the gravel as Rossi rode merrily on. The merriment, however, was short-lived.
Nothing gets sports fans going like a good blood feud, and we’ve got one now between two of the best ever, one at the tail end of his career, the other just beginning his own. Normally, it would be the younger combatant losing his cool and learning an important life lesson. Today, it was the grizzled veteran receiving a vivid reminder that one needs to keep his emotions off the track, that simply being annoying is not a violation of the rules, but administering an etiquette lesson at 100 mph is.
Looking forward to joining you all in Valencia in two weeks.
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Lorenzo, Rossi seek momentum in Malaysia
Movistar Yamaha teammates and rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have taught us a few things about themselves as this riveting 2015 season blazes into The Pacific Rim for Round 17 at Sepang International Circuit. Rossi prefers rain, short, pudgy tracks where he can record lots of qualifying laps, and applying pressure from the rear, as it were, on race day. Lorenzo likes things bone dry, prefers longer tracks to shorter ones, and strongly prefers running from the front, as roughly half of his premier class wins have come in races in which he’s led every lap. Conditions here on race day are a pure lottery; the race could as easily be decided on Saturday as Sunday.
Assuming the weather conditions don’t interfere, Lorenzo would appear to have an advantage over Rossi on Saturday, as Rossi’s qualification maladies continue to hurt him, more so at long circuits like Sepang. Sepang had been dominated by Yamaha and Ducati for most of the ten years leading up to 2011. Since 2012, however, Hondas have captured the checkered flag here every year, and look fully capable of doing so again this year. The Honda RC213-V likes a racing surface that is hot, slick and greasy, kind of a young-John-Travolta racing surface, if you will. The problem for the non-Italians on the grid is the afternoon rainstorms that pop up most days–Rossi, Dovizioso and Petrucci are all mudders.
Once again, we believe Lorenzo is under more pressure than Rossi. Lorenzo not only needs to beat Marquez, he needs to beat Rossi and hope Marquez beats Rossi too, in order to have a realistic crack at the title in Spain come November. Rossi needs to podium and not worry too much about anything else. If he’s feeling reverent, he can pray that Marquez and Lorenzo take each other apart, leaving the door open for him to win and clinch. But unlike in years past, God’s Bishop of Rome is now Hispanic, taking away the spiritual home court advantage enjoyed by Italians like Rossi for decades.
Conceivably, God could be pulling for Lorenzo this time around.
Recent History at Sepang
In 2012 it rained pitchforks and hammer handles on Sunday, with 30% of the 20 bikes that started the race failing to make it to the red flag that fell at the end of the 13th lap. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, on a futile hot streak, with no real way of catching Jorge Lorenzo for the year, managed another win, followed by Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and ol’ Nicky Hayden, who drove his Ducati to a solid fourth place finish. Rossi, enduring the second year of his perdition with Ducati, wrestled his Desmosedici to a just okay fifth place, not what The Doctor had been used to for most of the previous decade. (Pedrosa would crash out the following week at Phillip Island, effectively handing the title to his Mallorcan rival.)
Pedrosa won again in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas. Pedrosa, you will recall, had been clipped by Marquez at Aragon two weeks earlier, crashing out shortly thereafter. This week Pedrosa was not having it, going through on Marquez on Lap 5 and never looking back. Marquez, the 2013 title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for Lorenzo other than beating Rossi. Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia. Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.
Last year Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling. Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race. Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a second premier class podium, to go along with his second place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.
Rossi’s Challenge: Qualify on the Front Row
As one of the longest circuits on the calendar, Sepang brings its own special set of problems to the riders during Saturday’s qualifying sessions. The amount of time it takes to turn a lap means the riders can only manage two qualifying runs, rather than the three they often attempt at shorter tracks. Rossi, for all his gifts and extraordinary skills, has yet to master the 15 minute qualifying format. Which is why we suggest Sunday’s race, even the 2015 title, could be decided on Saturday.
If Lorenzo and Marquez qualify up front and Rossi gives us another of his 8th place starts, we’re pretty much assured of a shootout at Valencia in two weeks. If qualifying produces results like this, AND the rain stays away for the race, it is not beyond comprehension to suggest that Lorenzo could lead the way heading back to Spain.
Rossi’s history here is deceptively, well, deceptive. Although he’s enjoyed six premier class wins here since 2000, the most recent came back in 2010. Perhaps it’s fair to say he USED to be brilliant here. Recently, not so much. But Lorenzo’s history is even worse—not a single win at Sepang in the premier class since 2008. And although he finds his way to the podium most years, he absolutely needs to win on Sunday, or hope for a mistake by Rossi. A third place finish behind Rossi this week would render Valencia moot, as Rossi, needing only to finish, say, in the top seven, could accomplish that with his eyes closed.
Lorenzo needs to make it happen on Saturday and again on Sunday. This is a track he should own, and a race in which he needs to assert his will on the field as he’s done many times before. If it rains, it will simply be that much more difficult. This is not the time of the season when double world champions go around making excuses. They either get done what needs to be done, or they don’t. These are defining moments in one’s career; it will be fascinating to see how both Lorenzo and Rossi approach their work on Sunday. The subplot, of course, will involve the likes of Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone, who have what it takes to make life even more difficult for the two Yamaha studs.
Let’s hope that Mark Neale, the producer of several in-your-face films about MotoGP, most recently “Hitting the Apex,” has a crew in Malaysia on Sunday. Mark does for MotoGP what NFL Films does for professional football. If he’s doing a profile of the 2015 season, and I deeply hope he is, this weekend could play a key part. The promoters of Round 18 at Valencia are praying for Lorenzo this weekend, and for the chance to host a magical event in two weeks.
We have secured a copy of the American release of “Hitting the Apex,” and I’ll be reviewing the film here before Round 18. If the trailer is any indication, “Hitting the Apex,” which follows MotoGP from 2007 to 2013, will be another classic racing film, comparable to the grainy, beautiful “Senna” from several years ago.
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Marquez wins thriller Down Under; Rossi fourth
Today’s Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for every taste and budget. Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to seize the victory from Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, trailing teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 points coming in, was blessed today by a statement performance from factory Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading to Sepang.
One of the problems with MotoGP over the past decade is that the races were often non-competitive high-speed processions. A second problem has been the title often being decided with two or three rounds left on the calendar, reducing those races to beauty pageants. No such problems exist in 2015, and neither was relevant to today’s battle. Four bikes were in it all the way through; the results left the championship very much in doubt with but two rounds remaining and the announcers gasping for air.
Saturday’s qualifications produced a front row comprised of Marquez, Iannone and Lorenzo, followed by Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow (strutting his stuff in the former British penal colony) and ROY lock Maverick Vinales on the factory Suzuki Ecstar, with Rossi mired in seventh. As the lights went out, Iannone beat Lorenzo to the first turn—a relief to everyone but Jorge—and took the early lead until Lorenzo flew past him in Turn 8. Iannone came back at Lorenzo on Lap 2, despite colliding with a seagull midway through the lap, littering the racing surface with breakfast cereal—shredded tweet—and punching a fist-sized hole in the Ducati’s fairing. [One shouldn’t consider what might have happened had the overconfident bird collided with Iannone’s helmet, packing the throw weight of a high-speed brick.]
The four riders spent the first half of the race in a tight knot, with everyone but Rossi enjoying some time in the lead. As the riders approached the halfway point, they separated into a Noah’s Ark two-by-two kind of thing, Lorenzo and Marquez the lead pair followed by the two Italians. Things closed back up with three laps to go, thanks in part to a sensational double pass by Iannone, who watched Rossi go through on Marquez, and then blistered past both Aliens into second place. At the end of Lap 25, my notes showed Lorenzo leading, followed by Iannone, Rossi and Marquez, Lorenzo praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Marquez to push Rossi to fourth. Which is how Lap 26 ended, setting up one of the great closing laps in MotoGP history, or something equally hyperbolic.
One for the Ages
Early in the final lap, Rossi went back through on Marquez, leaving the Catalan champion in fourth place, Lorenzo’s dream finish and nine point gain intact. Marquez quickly returned the favor, now in third, in time for the following sequence. Marquez goes through on Iannone. Rossi goes through on Iannone. Iannone goes back through on Rossi. Finally, Marquez goes through on Lorenzo very late in the lap, tires shredded, having turned his fastest lap of the race on the final lap. The four riders—three Aliens and Iannone, bucking for promotion—cross the finish line separated by just over one second. Marquez, in a demonstration of things to come next year and beyond, went from fourth place to first in less than a lap, making the two future Yamaha hall of famers look old and slow, respectively. And so Marc Marquez took a turn hammering Lorenzo similar to the way his teammate Pedrosa thumped Rossi in Japan, leaving 11 points separating the two Yamaha veterans with two rounds to go and the Boys in Blue looking suddenly vulnerable at season’s end.
Marc Marquez, for those of you who consider him to have been a flash in the pan, asserted his will on the grid today and was not going to be denied a win (his 50th across all classes) he needed more for psychological reasons than professional. His first premier class points in Australia illustrate, for those of you goofing off in the back of the class, the old “on any given Sunday” adage so often attached to the NFL. Jorge Lorenzo, who appeared to have things his way early on AND late in the day, ingloriously surrendered five points to Marquez that, before the season ends, he may wish he had back. Iannone will probably be a full-fledged Alien next season, riding the next iteration of Gigi Dall’Igna’s handiwork. And Valentino Rossi—poor old Valentino Rossi, leading the 2015 championship by double digits—gave up fewer points today than his effort justified. Had Lorenzo held off Marquez at the flag, Rossi’s lead would be down to six points, a virtual toss-up in this fascinating 2015 season.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa ended a nondescript weekend in fifth position, nothing like his performance last week in Japan. Maverick Vinales tied his best result of the year in Catalunya with an impressive sixth place finish, some 13 seconds in front of veteran teammate Aleix Espargaro in ninth. Cal Crutchlow brought his LCR Honda across the line seventh, followed by Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro. (Pol takes a slightly different approach to the “always beat your teammate” rule, substituting the word “brother” for “teammate.” Which he did again today.) Meanwhile, brother Aleix, focused on whipping his little brother, needs to watch out behind himself, as Vinales trails by only four points. Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith topped off an unproductive weekend by getting tweaked at the flag by Aleix, completing the top ten.
For the record, substitute rider and homeboy Damian Cudlin retired with a mechanical problem on Alex de Angelis’ bike, and Nicky Hayden became the only crasher today on Lap 10. The so-called “race to the bottom,” featuring Ant West on Karel Abraham’s Honda and Toni Elias on the #2 Forward Racing Yamaha, was taken by West, who finished 23rd, two and a half seconds behind Elias.
The Big Picture
As noted earlier, with two rounds left Valentino Rossi leads Jorge Lorenzo by 11 points, a margin capable of disappearing, or reversing itself, in an instant in the heat and humidity of Malaysia. Marquez and Iannone appear set to finish the season third and fourth, respectively. Dani Pedrosa maintains a seven point lead over Bradley Smith for fifth place, the highly motivated Brit still not out of it, even on satellite equipment. Factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso trails Smith by a mere five points, but a disconcertingly poor showing today—13th place, 29 seconds out of the lead—suggests he may have cashed in his chips for this season, looking ahead to 2016, new tires, and a chance to put young Iannone back in his rightful #2 place. The biggest surprise in the top ten for the season is Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci, a single point ahead of Pol Espargaro for ninth place, and only 10 points in arrears of Crutchlow. Petrucci has a bright future in this sport.
Rumble in the Jungle Next Week
The 747s are winging their way to Kuala Lumpur for another grueling Malaysian Grand Prix. We were there last year, and the equatorial heat is so punishing it’s hard to breathe, much less race motorcycles. The brolly girls will earn their money next Sunday, in stark comparison to the slackers in Assen, who basically just stand around looking delicious.
Rain is always a threat at Sepang, with thundershowers almost every afternoon. If we’ve learned one thing about this season, it’s that Jorge Lorenzo likes things dry and Valentino Rossi likes things wet. We’ll keep an eye on the forecast with the expectation that each will get some of what he likes. Personally, I’d like to see Lorenzo pick up at least seven points again next week, setting up what could be yet another Race of the Year in Valencia. May the racing gods give us more like today!
Postscript–The images of the riders heading down the main straight at Phillip Island with the ocean in the background never fail to remind me of my favorite picture of Marco Simoncelli racing there the week before his death, when he finished on the second step of the podium. In it, he is hurtling down the straight, the water and the horizon in the background, heat and shock waves emanating from his bike, head down. Such a shame he’s not in the mix on days like today.
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Lorenzo needs to win big this week and next
Movistar Yamaha idol Jorge Lorenzo, he of the two fairly recent world championships, has a steep hill to climb to set up a climactic finale to the 2015 season in Valencia. Which, in turn, necessitates opening a can of whupass on his legendary Italian teammate and rival, Valentino Rossi this week in Australia and next time out in Malaysia. It’s hard to envision Rossi, at this stage of his career, allowing an 18 point lead to disappear in two weeks. Sure, I know, that’s what Marquez almost did last year; my money’s on the old guy anyway.
Recent History at the Australian Grand Prix
2012. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, pressing, trailing Lorenzo by 23 points with two rounds left, in full “win or bin”
mode, crashed early, his day and season over in one fell swoop. Stoner won for the sixth consecutive time at Phillip Island. Lorenzo finished a comfortable second and clinched the title, becoming the first Spanish double world champion. Other than Stoner’s Honda, it was two/three/four for Yamaha, as Lorenzo captured second, Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 Yamaha took third, and his Tech 3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line fourth.
2013: Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw Rossi beat Crutchlow by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini Honda pilot by .053 seconds, the blink of an eye. The first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium. Marquez took the cheap DQ when he failed to pit in time, as Bridgestone struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface. Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.
2014: Marc Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to glass. 23 riders start the race; 14 finish. Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan wonder, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium. Ever. None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.
A Little Perspective
That Phillip Island is a Yamaha-friendly track is virtually beyond dispute, now that Casey Stoner has retired. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have enjoyed success in Australia, Rossi’s mainly coming in the pre-Stoner days until winning last year. Jorge Lorenzo is capable of winning at any track in the world. He is MORE capable of winning at a circuit like Phillip Island so well-suited to his riding style. If he gets out in front on Sunday, and the creek don’t rise, he’ll probably take an easy win. Rossi doesn’t need to win; he just needs to figure out how to stay close to the front. In front of Lorenzo, as always, is better than behind Lorenzo.
It is easy to imagine this being a race Marquez wants to win badly. After a ho-hum fourth place finish in Japan on Sunday, Marquez remains winless at Motegi in the premier class, followed this week by Phillip Island as the only two venues where he has yet to win in the MotoGP class. At Motegi, the story was the weather. This weekend the story will probably be the track, as Phillip Island is the fastest track on the calendar, and the Yamahas love it here. The intra-team battle at Movistar Yamaha promises to overshadow any other considerations. Beyond the weather, it will pay to watch tire degradation, as the Yamahas suffered last time out. The new surface at Phillip Island is highly abrasive; the Hondas, especially the minute Pedrosa, may enjoy an advantage late in the day when fuel loads have dropped and tires are going south.
In dry conditions, it still seems that the Aliens—Lorenzo and Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa—continue to dominate the proceedings. Pedrosa made Lorenzo’s job harder last week by winning at Motegi, taking the win away from the Mallorcan and pushing him to shred his front tire early, allowing Rossi to go through late in the day.
Up until Sunday, Lorenzo was telling the world that all he needed to do was to win the remaining rounds to be world champion. Now, even that daunting task will not be enough, as he needs a Repsol Honda between him, winning, and Rossi, dropped to third place in this scenario, the only one that presents a realistic shot at this thing. Unless Rossi crashes… In short, Lorenzo has now lost control of his destiny. He needs to run the table and hope Rossi suffers some misfortune.
I can’t speak for everyone here, but what I want this season is for Lorenzo and Rossi to head to Valencia tied. Winner take all in Spain. The neatest, most simple way for this to occur is for Lorenzo to win, Marquez or Pedrosa to place and Rossi to show in each of the next two Pacific rounds. I don’t want Lorenzo (or Rossi, for that matter) to arrive in Valencia with some mathematical chance of winning, any kind of slim possibility or puncher’s choice.
I want them going there dead even.
That would be a race.
All of which means Lorenzo needs to win in Australia and hope for help from one, or both, of the Repsol Honda guys, who are clearly capable of providing such help. They’re equally capable of winning the daggone race, which would make Lorenzo’s job even harder, trying to stretch 20 points to reach as far as 25 would go. As is almost always the case, all Lorenzo can really do is go out and try to win the race. Any effort to control what might be going on behind him, by, for example, coming back to the pack, is unlikely to pay great dividends.
Alex de Angelis
After watching Alex de Angelis go handspringing through the gravel in practice at Jerez in 2010 along with the remnants of his bike, I thought he was indestructible. (Search YouTube for “Alex de Angelis practice crash Jerez 2010”) And he walked away from that one. We read yesterday that his condition following his crash in FP4 at Motegi is now rated “critical,” and that he has blood on the brain, broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and more.
These guys risk their lives every time they suit up. We have noted in this space often in the past that the difference between the best and the worst in this sport is razor-thin, a couple of seconds per lap. This is the chosen profession of every rider out there; only a handful get to compete at literally the highest level in the world. Alex de Angelis has been one of those men. Add him to the list of people we must try to be nicer to.
We presume that Alex will recover and return to racing, if not this year then next, and send our sincere best wishes to his family, his team and his fans.
Your Weekend Forecast
High temps will be dropping from the 90’s on Thursday to the low 70’s on Sunday, with the best chance of rain on Saturday. The wind, as always, will be blowing hard from a different direction each day of the weekend, possibly becoming yet another factor in a pivotal contest.
Valentino Rossi, enjoying life with the lead, can afford to be strategic this weekend. No need to ride the wheels off his bike to take a win unless it’s Lorenzo in front of him and he just can’t help himself. For Jorge Lorenzo, the playoffs begin this week. Staying close to the front is no longer an option. He needs to run the table, praying for good weather and all things Spanish.
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Pedrosa’s first win of the season puts a hurt on Lorenzo
The 2015 MotoGP championship season that was, back in April, a marathon is now a sprint. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa helped his employer avoid potential disgrace at the hands of Yamaha, his win today (actually brilliant, I think, in a world of routine overstatement) under difficult conditions and well under the radar. In the process, he threw some more dirt on what has become Yamaha factory stud Jorge Lorenzo’s shallow grave–bad things happen to Lorenzo on wet tracks.
Motegi on this Sunday was cool and damp, the track wet, a light drizzle falling. The riders all put rain tires on their race bikes and had their #2 bikes set up for the wet in case something untoward were to happen during the sighting lap. Once it was complete, the teams re-set the bikes for the dry in anticipation of an expected flag-to-flag cluster. The riders appeared more tense than usual as they lined up on the grid. Everyone wanted to talk to the Bridgestone people.
For Lorenzo and, to a lesser extent, Rossi, today’s conditions were too wet for drys and too dry for wets. Each chose rain tires, a hard front and a medium/soft rear. The 2015 Yamaha YZR-M1 is clearly a better bike than the 2015 Honda RC213-V, but one of its weaknesses was exposed today. On a wet but drying track, the M1 now behaves more like a Ducati in terms of tire degradation. The Bridgestones on most of the factory Ducatis lasted until Lap 14, when three riders left the race involuntarily. For Lorenzo and, to a lesser extent, teammate and series leader Valentino Rossi, it appeared more rain today would have been helpful.
Even I have trouble with that last thought, insofar as the championship discussion itself includes only the two Yamaha pilots. As much as some people try to deny it, Jorge Lorenzo and rain is now A Thing. Had it rained hard, Lorenzo would have still lost four or five points to Rossi. The relative result likely wouldn’t have changed. (I suspect Lorenzo would have lost more ground to Rossi on a truly wet track, as all of the Italian riders seem to be mudders. Surprising to see Petrucci and Iannone crash, as the Ducati handles well in the wet. Left to ponder the tires, always the tires…)
In a nutshell today, Pedrosa came from out of nowhere to win the race, trailing at the end of Lap 7 by almost 9 seconds as Lorenzo was running away. Pedrosa had struggled all weekend in dry practice sessions but won the wet WUP. As his fuel load dropped, he watched the Yamahas and Ducatis grind their Bridgestones to powder on the drying surface of the racing line. Then, on Lap 8, he began reeling in Ducati #2 Andrea Dovizioso (Lap 11), then Rossi (Lap 16) and finally Lorenzo on Lap 18. On Lap 19, both riders on the rims, Rossi gave Lorenzo the slap, taking him from what, most of the day, would have been a 5 point lead and jumping it to 18, which is a lot with three rounds left. Pedrosa laughed his way to his first win of the year, the 50th of his career, and his 139th career podium, third in wins in the history of MotoGP.
A garage full of trophies and not a premier class title to show for it.
This is now two races in a row in which the post-Stoner, pre-Marquez Aliens hogged all three steps of the podium, with Pedrosa lately appearing as rejuvenated as Rossi has all year. Lorenzo, as we know, usually wins due to his tactics, i.e. get out in front of everyone and never see another bike all day. Rossi, and Pedrosa, are more strategic in their approach, more patient; it seems they can afford to be patient while Lorenzo can’t. Lorenzo’s tactics chewed up his front tire, which is usually not an issue for him, appearing to get less than his full attention until it was too far gone.
Usually it’s not an issue for either Yamaha rider. Today, however, it was an issue.
Years from now, scruffy motojournalists will be looking up race results and see at the bottom of this one “wet track” and that Rossi took another four points away from Lorenzo, and think “ok, this again. Lorenzo couldn’t ride in the rain.” Given the way this one went, he can be forgiven for thinking that. Let’s not forget, class, we’ve agreed that the weather will be a determining factor in this year’s championship. In fact, it just has. Again.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Soon to be former world champion Marc Marquez managed fourth place today despite a difficult start from the front row and a broken left hand. He passed the tireless (!) Dovizioso on his way down from third to fifth place, where he just edged out LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, on his way to winning the Battle of Britain against Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith by a scant 4/10ths . Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki “Katman” Nakasuga, on a full factory bike, claimed eighth place today, satisfying but not nearly as satisfying as his second place finish at Valencia last year, other than this one having been on his home turf. Hectic Barbara drove the Avintia Racing Ducati to the top open class spot in ninth, with Scott Redding Taking No Chances on the Marc VDS Honda to complete the top ten.
One rider whose day had its ups and downs was Factory Suzuki operator and big brother Aleix Espargaro. Starting the day in a solid seventh place, he was running in sixth when he went walky at Turn 1 of Lap 6, dropping back to 18th place, from whence he whipped his GSX-RR to a disappointing 11th place finish.
That’s a whole lot of work for 11th place.
The Big Picture
Rossi leads Lorenzo by 18 points with three rounds left, Phillip Island and Sepang looming on the horizon. He will likely have a magic number in his mind—25—heading into Sepang. If Rossi can manage to depart Sepang with a lead of at least 26 points, it will be over.
We will look at each Alien rider’s recent history at these upcoming tracks in Wednesday’s previews. Unlike the world of stocks and bonds, in MotoGP past performance IS an indicator of future results. Pedrosa’s fifth premier class win at Motegi gives testament to that one.
Marc Marquez, in a season of feast or famine, sits solidly in third place, enjoying a 25 point lead over wounded Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone, whose crash today cost him in the standings. And now trailing Dovizioso by only 18 is the resurgent Pedrosa, with 45 points in the last two rounds. His his arm pump surgery in the spring having cost him three full races and parts of two others, Pedrosa sat in 13th place with 23 points after Mugello. Pedrosa appears now to be approaching 2016 with his Alien status intact, a rider capable of winning if not every time out, then many times out.
Today, Dani Pedrosa was the best rider on the track. He appeared to enjoy himself immensely. With absolutely nothing to lose, and familiarity with the upcoming tracks verging on intimacy, he is a threat to podium for the rest of the season. This, in turn, puts more pressure on Jorge Lorenzo, as now he must not only beat Rossi, but keep Pedrosa out of the lead, to have a chance for his third world championship in 2015.
How ironic if the greatest MotoGP rider never to have won a title ends up depriving a double world champion of his third? Or a seven time world champion his eighth?
© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Round 15: The Bruise Brothers Square off in Japan
The MotoGP website is somewhat predictably promoting this week’s tilt between Movistar Yamaha tough guys Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as “The Clash of the Titans.” Which, to an on-the-street local racing fan here, would naturally bring to mind Godzilla. If, in fact, the Motul Grand Prix of Japan gives us a replay of Mothra vs Godzilla, I assume the indomitable lizard triumphs, suggesting that Rossi will play the role of Mothra. It is easy to envision Lorenzo on the top step this weekend, surrounded by Honda pilots, Rossi’s margin at the top of the 2015 heap vanishing in the haze.
This is the way racing is supposed to be. It’s a relationship thing, really. Rossi and Lorenzo have known each other as friends and rivals for a decade. Together, they’ve already given their present employer Yamaha the 2015 Manufacturer’s championship. They have a bazillion world championships between them, and Rossi’s current 14 points advantage. Lorenzo’s, um, demeanor when he came up as a rookie in 2008 was such that they built a wall down the middle of the garage and had to be kept separated. Since then, each has mellowed, Lorenzo has matured, and Rossi, somehow, remains humble, irrepressible and fast. Beating one another is one of their great pleasures in life.
It doesn’t get much better than this. If you’re a Honda fan, you can still have a good time. You’ll just have to wait for next year to have a rider in contention for a world championship. This is The Year of the Yamaha.
Recent History at Motegi
2012. Heading into the race Yamaha Chico de Oro Jorge Lorenzo led Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa by 33 points, with Stoner in third recovering from the ankle he trashed in Indianapolis. That day, Pedrosa beats Lorenzo and Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista (?) comfortably in as empty a win as you’ll ever see. During the race, Stoner has issues, as does Rossi, plodding on his Ducati. Spies crashes off the factory Yamaha early, Crutchlow off his Tech 3 Yamaha late. Pedrosa, with all the momentum, leaves Japan trailing the rock-hard Mallorcan by 28 points with two rounds left, the fat lady singing in the background.
The 2013 race was summarized elegantly by this publication, as follows:
Sick of all the attention the racing gods were getting in the run-up to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, the weather gods put on a show of their own. They sent Typhoon Lekima barreling toward the island on Thursday, summoned a 7.1 earthquake on Friday night, and topped it all off with Typhoon Francisco on Saturday, making a shambles of the weekend practice schedule. Undeterred by the weather, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo ran a perfect race on Sunday, winning against all odds, and setting up a meaningful season finale against Marquez in Valenciana. Take THAT, weather gods!
Last year it was All Aliens, All the Time as Lorenzo led a pack of highly-paid pursuers to the finish line, with Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa all following on their factory machines, the time between 1st and 4th a mere 3.1 seconds. Though Diviozioso took the pole, the four Aliens were grouped from the 2 to 5 holes. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which arguably cost the Catalan the race. The Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat ironic, in that a number of fans might have been offended while most western observers were clearly stoked.
Comings and Goings
The team lineups are beginning to shape up for 2016, the year of the “spec” ECU and Michelins. The four top factory teams will remain the same. A supposedly revived Gresini Aprilia team will feature MotoGP underachievers Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl. Brit Sam Lowes reportedly has a contract with Aprilia for 2017-18, meaning one of the two vets will have to go. My take on this is that Fausto has barely tolerated Bautista all these years since Simoncelli, and that Bradl hadn’t had enough time to get under his skin yet but surely will. Big changes underway for the Gresini team this offseason.
The Monster Tech 3 team is to stand pat with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as expectations there continue to rise. Pramac Ducati gives Yonny Hernandez’s seat to Scott Redding, who needs all the grunt the Desmosedici can muster, to team with the ascendant Danilo Petrucci. (I’m not sold on Redding in the premier class yet, but am totally sold on Gigi Dall’Igna.) LCR Honda continues with the disappointing Cal Crutchlow, and Marc VDS signs Tito Rabat to a factory Honda, coming up from Moto2, to take Redding’s seat. The Most Blessed Jack Miller, the Anointed One, has a full ride with factory Honda and will land either on LCR or VDS.
Team Aspar, seriously negotiating a change from Honda to Ducati equipment for 2016, has signed Hernandez. Their second seat appears up for grabs, with incumbent Eugene Laverty enjoying no advantage going in. Deposed incumbent Nicky Hayden appears surely to be headed to World Super Bike, where he can expect to contend for titles again.
Avintia Racing stays with Ducati, Hector Barbera and the recently-signed Loris Baz aboard. The French Baz appears to have a surprisingly bright future at 6’3”, making the jet setters look like teenagers while whipping his cobbled-up Yamaha toward the top of the heap for open class riders.
Farther down the food chain, two of the remaining three teams looks to be out of business next season. Most likely to continue with Alex de Angelis is brave little Ioda Racing, hoping to field a two man satellite Aprilia team, rider #2 as yet un-named. Forward Racing seems doomed, and Karel Abraham’s future with his dad’s Cardion AB team is in doubt as he seems to have permanent damage from a foot injury he suffered last season. Dude needs to retire.
All of which suggests that KTM, upon their entry to the grid in 2017, may bump a team out of the chase, in addition to skimming a couple of up-and-coming riders, perhaps on their way up from Moto2. The chase is intended to be more competitive due to the standard ECU, which writers elsewhere have described as something of a target-rich environment for tampering behaviors similar to those admitted to recently by Volkswagen. Regardless, MotoGP continues, at its core, to be rather biblical, as you will always have the poor with you, the “privateer” teams that struggle every season but can’t pull themselves away easily. Those of you who have stood or rode on the tarmac understand the juice that drives these behaviors. I should be nicer to these guys.
The Thing is…
Everybody tells me the tires are everything. Whomever adjusts to the new Michelins most quickly will take the lead in the championship next year. It is probably going to be the worst year in MotoGP history to bet on the outcome. Though it could easily last only for a season, or even part of a season, there could easily be a shakeup in the Aliens lineup come 2016, the older riders becoming most vulnerable. Suppose Rossi decides to go out on top. Suppose Yamaha begins flirting with Marquez.
It promises, at the least, to be interesting.
Your Weekend Forecast…
…couldn’t be worse for most teams. Sunny on Friday and Saturday with a 90% chance of rain on Sunday. I was going to suggest people “plan to listen to the Spanish national anthem after the race, not the Italian.” But if it is a wet race, all bets are off on the outcome, with Rossi clearly holding the upper hand. Once again the weather gods appear poised to influence the standings.
Mothra may be feeling pretty good about the rematch.