MotoGP Motegi Preview

© Bruce Allen

Marquez stands on cusp of fifth title 

And so the 2018 MotoGP season comes down to this, a showdown in The Land of the Rising Sun. Home MotoGP track, basically, for Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha; much face at stake. Two samurai riders, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Honda’s Marc Marquez, expecting to go one-on-one for a title so close Marquez can smell it. Much too early in the season for all this. Elsewhere, Yamaha will be watched closely for continuing progress from their recent knees-up in Thailand, or will it be back to the drawing board again? 

  • Center court. Match point. The first of four; he’s serving. Down love-40. On your heels.
  • Game seven, down three, top of the ninth, 0-2 count, two men on base, star closer on the mound, heart thumping like a piston. 63,000 fans going mental hating you.
  • Some soccer thing, leading scorer, limping, down two late in the game, etc. Wet field. Hooligans talking about your mother.
  • NBA game seven, 1.6 seconds left, down three, at the line shooting three. You’re a 70% free-throw shooter late in your career. Miss one and it could be all over. All over.

For those of you who, like me, know more about other sports than they do about MotoGP, these are presented to give you a sense of what I think it will feel like on Sunday for Andrea Dovizioso as he is aligned, clutch depressed, taching up, waiting for the red lights to go out. 237 furious horses beneath him and his chances of making it to a second match point appear thin; everything has to go right. The pressure is beyond comprehension, even for the usually-unflappable Italian. And there’s #93 over there, looking fast and relaxed, Bushido celebration ready in the wings.  

Recent History at Motegi

2015–Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair.  Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso.  Rossi and Lorenzo chewed up Bridgestone rain tires on a drying surface; Pedrosa, winless all season and dawdling in the middle of the pack for a while, came on strong at the end. This was the race in which Lorenzo dominated all weekend on dry track and finished 12 seconds back in the wet. Rossi left Japan leading the series by 18 points with three rounds left, a virtual lock for his 10th world championship—you know, the one that was purportedly unlocked by Marc Marquez on the melting macadam of Sepang and for which most of you have never forgiven him. Scoreboard.

2016–For the third time in four seasons, Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. Lorenzo’s forthcoming departure from the team after Valencia appeared to be a sound idea.

Last year, in a replay of their Red Bull Ring duel earlier that season, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez gave us another late-race blades-at-close-quarters wheezer, a ten-point spread in the 2017 standings at stake. And for the second time that season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of his earlier win in Austria. In winning the match, Dovi cut his deficit to Marquez from 16 points to 11 with two rounds left. (Marquez would employ the lesson he learned that day to win the same way last time out at Buriram.) Like Rossi in 2015, things would come unglued for Dovizioso at Sepang a week later. 2017, one reckons, might have been the high-water mark of Dovi’s career, likely destined to join Pedrosa as top premier class riders who coulda, woulda, shoulda, had it not been for Rossi/Stoner/Lorenzo/Marquez etc.

Marquez has clinched half of his four premier class titles in The Land of the Rising Sun. He is poised to make it three for five on Sunday. Leading by 77 points, the only thing the Catalan riding machine needs is to dispense with Dovizioso and he becomes, once again, MotoGP champion, gripping the world of grand prix motorcycle racing firmly by the sack and inviting it, in Castillian Spanish, to come play. As Elvis used to drawl so eloquently, “Oh man, it’s good to be The King.” Pronounced it “kang.” He was right.

Rins vs. Zarco

Rins Zarco Crutchlow

Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow. Anyone recognize the venue?

I’m hearing from a number of readers that the tranching of the Suzuki #1 and Tech 3 #1 riders should be reversed based upon, I suppose, 2018 body of work, recent performance, standings. How about performance in the second half of the season?

Rins:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         4

Points:                                      102

Position:                                    10th

Points since Sachsenring:      49

Zarco:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         1

Points:                                      123

Position:                                    8th

Points since Sachsenring:      35

Starting in Brno, both riders have finished every race. Rins had a terrible first half of the season—4 DNFs, including three of the first four rounds. Clean since then. Out-pointing Zarco. Sorry. Sticking with my rating. A certain amount of What Have You Done for Me Lately? gets into this, but not too much. Five second-half rounds seems like a reasonable comparison. It will be interesting to see how each finishes the season, with Zarco packing up to KTM, while Rins looks to stay put and partner with the up-and-coming Joan Mir starting next season. His masters at Suzuki need to get him some more grunt to go along with the sweet-handling GSX-RR.

Were I a gambling man, I’d take a substantial position on the wager that Rins will outpoint Zarco in 2019.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunday’s forecast, from a week out, looks perfect—sunny, just barely warm, with very low ambient radioactivity readings in both the air and water. No hot weather advantage for the Hondas, no moaning from Cal Crutchlow about overheating his front. This is a stop-and-go circuit, a point-and-shoot place if you will. Hondas and Ducatis will enjoy an advantage here. I’m thinking Marquez, Dovizioso and Lorenzo on the podium, but am unclear as to the order of finish, which matters a lot.

Here’s one thing I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see Jorge Lorenzo impeding his teammate in any way at any time during the race. Time for some team orders from Ducati Corse. Any Ducati rider impeding in any way Mr. Dovizioso’s chase for the win and continued life in the championship shall be drawn and quartered in Parc Fermé immediately following the podium celebration. Two year Honda contract or not.

We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results and analysis. And then again on Tuesday with a look ahead at Phillip Island. Dang.

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