Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Grand Prix’

MotoGP Motegi Results

October 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Relentless Marquez Dominates Japan 

It is now clear that Honda’s 2019 MotoGP champion Marc Marquez has his sights set on the single season points record of 383 set by The Rider Formerly Known as Jorge Lorenzo with Yamaha in 2010. Why else bother winning the Motul Grand Prix of Japan when a win would mean so much more to any number of other riders? Winning motorcycle races is in #93’s DNA, much they way it was with Nicky Hayden. He just can’t help himself.

With the real action behind him all day, and discounting Dovizioso, who has second place for the year by the throat, most of the attention today focused on young Fabio—could this be his week?—Vinales, Rins and Petrucci, all of whom have a dog in the fight for third place for the year. One rider who doesn’t, after today, is aging rock star Valentino Rossi, who crashed out, unassisted, of the race and the top tier of riders for 2019. Anyone feeling bad for Rossi is advised to feel bad instead for Lorenzo, who limped home in 18th place today, out of the points, no longer relevant in the premier class. It wasn’t that long ago that they were The Factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, capable of going one-two on any given weekend. C’est la guerre.

Practice and Qualifying

Valentino Rossi just snuck into Q2 on his last lap in FP2, knocking 7/10ths off his best previous lap on soft front and rear. Rain was in the forecast for Saturday. After FP2, Moto3 leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta was overheard whispering “I kicked your ass today, pendejo,” to second-place Aron Canet, having nosed him out of 11th by .001 second. FP1 and FP2 in Moto3 leave more to the imagination than do the same sessions in MotoGP. All those guys with foreign-sounding names on what seem like hundreds of teams. Matt and Steve earn their money herding cats, staying on top of Moto3. I can’t keep up yet.

On Friday in Moto2, series leader Alex Marquez was having his way with the likes of Brad Binder (KTM), KTM rookie Jorge Martin—finally—and Luca Marini, with Sam Lowes punching above his weight in fifth.  [Someone got in Alex’s ear during the last off-season and changed his outlook on life. Someone he respected had to have said to him, “Look. You need to sack up. You’re a freaking Marquez and have always practiced well against Marc. He thinks you can dominate Moto2 and earn a 2021 contract with the factory team of your choice. You’ll be 25. At which point he looks forward to kicking your butt. But you need to stay on the effing bike and quit effing around. You’ve got the bike and the team, now you need to blow these guys away.” And away, it seems, in 2019 he blows goes.

In MotoGP, after FP2, there were four Yamahas in the top six, joined by Marquez and Dovizioso. Why the Yams were doing so well here I had no idea, other than to remind myself and everyone else that Friday is Friday unless it rains on Saturday. We need the weather gods to make this one more interesting. Everyone wants to see Fabio bust his cherry. Son of Rossi and all that. One door closes, another opens, etc.

Sidebar: So our boy Cal Crutchlow is warning new teammate/temp Johann Zarco that the 2019 RC213V is harder to ride than the 2018 version. Just sayin’. One wonders why Cal doesn’t insist on using the 2018 chassis with the 2019 engine, the way Marquez did in 2015 when that year’s Honda MotoGP bike was unrideable. Marquez switched back to the 2014 frame and won the second half of the 2015 season going away. Coulda saved Lucio some money, too. It’s not like they’re doing a ton of development work at LCR.

Crutchlow and Rins escape Q1, on to Q2, while the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo would start 19th on Sunday, 1.8 seconds behind Crutchlow, up from last on the last two laps. A shadow of his former self. Tentative. Hurting his team. Dude needs to renounce second year of his contract and hang them up. He’s got enough money for several lifetimes. Time to rest on some laurels.

FQ and MM have taken 13 out of 15 poles 2019. Nakagami wounded but showing toughness in front of his homeys. The announcers pointed out what we’ve been saying here for some time—any weather is Marquez weather. He took his first premier class pole at Motegi on Saturday, closing the loop, having now poled at every circuit on the calendar. Franco Morbidelli and Quartararo join Marquez on the front row, making my pre-race prediction look less ridiculous, Miller back of the second row, together with Crutchlow and Vinales. As a postscript, Rossi would start tenth.

In Moto2, Luca Marini took pole, followed by Augusto Fernandez, BadAss Baldassarri, Alex Marquez fourth, Navarro fifth. Moto3 would start Sunday with a front row of Niccolo Antonelli, Alonso Lopez, and Tatsuki Suzuki. Series leader Dalla Porta starts from sixth; his nearest rival, Aron Canet, from eighth.

As little as qualifying means in the premier class, it means even less in the lightweights.

The Undercards

In Moto3 today, in a nutshell, series leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the race while his nearest pursuer, Spaniard Aron Canet on the KTM, crashed out of seventh place on his own, the 2019 Moto3 season having thereby been effectively decided on Lap 14 at Motegi. LDP sits with 47 points on Canet with three rounds left. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. For the record, Celestino Vietti, who turned 18 last week, captured the third step on the podium, his first, certainly not his last, on the dash to the flag. Onions.

In Moto2, Italian fast mover Luca Marini won his second consecutive race, putting himself in the conversation for second place for 2019 but, alas, not for first, as Alex Marquez, by fighting hard for a difficult 6th place finish, conserved his 2019 margin at 36 points, with second place now belonging to Luthi, who is, somehow, still in the game. If Marquez can avoid a DNF, which he narrowly accomplished several times today, he will win the title. A fall, and all of a sudden it’s a real race again. Oh, and his save during FP3 will go down as perhaps one of the greatest EVER.

The Big Pictures

MotoGP—Nothing here. People fighting for third and fourth. Rossi and Lorenzo on the back nine heading for the clubhouse. Fabio is The New Kid in Town.

Moto2—Alex Marquez will spend another year in Moto2 next year before heading off to the greener pastures of MotoGP in 2021. There are fast movers everywhere you look in Moto2, just not many who appear ready to make the leap to MotoGP. Which is why guys like Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham can still find rides year after year.

Moto3—With Dalla Porta seemingly a lock to move up to Moto2 next year, there are a number of fast young Italians joining the usual cast of Spaniards in the 250cc class. The impact of Valentino Rossi’s ranch is being felt in all three classes, especially in Moto3.

MotoGP Tranches

After Buriram:

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Motegi: Normalizing the Distribution 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Next Up: Phillip Island 

Other than the wind chill factor, Phillip Island is one of most everyone’s favorite tracks. The MotoGP season’s leaves are all changing color now; winter is closing in. Dalla Porta has his first break point this weekend. Alex Marquez is likely to have his in Sepang. We will be there, bringing you the contrived victory celebrations that make watching this part of the season worthwhile.

Local Color

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Greater Motegi metro area.

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The end of the Moto3 race.

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Stoppie.

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MotoGP 2016 Motegi Results

October 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez – 2016 Campeón Mundial! 

For the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marc 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 legend Valentino Rossi—choked on their own bile, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error.  This unlikely confluence of events is responsible for, among other things, the very pedestrian championship celebration prior to the podium.  Nothing like the Bushido spectacle we watched in 2014. 

Notes from Practice and Qualifying 

Repsol              FP2–Pedrosa out; Aoyama in.  Pedrosa needs to think about retiring before he starts to resemble Quasimodo.  Second serious injury suffered here by “The Master of Motegi.”  The break, which left his right collarbone in four pieces, was described by the rider’s surgeon as the “least serious” of all of Dani’s collarbone breaks.  Right.

Ducati                   Iannone out; Barbera in.

Avintia                  Barbera out; Mike Jones in.

Yamaha                 Katman Nakasuga wildcard

Lorenzo, Dovi, Marquez and Vinales were quick on Friday.  Smith and Miller returned from injury, young Jack needing to get some laps in before fighting for the win at Phillip Island next week–in his head.  Smith is lapping very slowly on Friday and appears to be saving himself for KTM.  Miller starts 14th, with Smith alongside him in the last spot on the fifth row.

Rossi somehow took the pole everyone in the joint expected would belong to Marquez, with #93 second and Lorenzo somehow completing the front row.  An international second row formed up on the top Ducati qualifier, Italian Andrea Dovizioso, joined by Brit Cal Crutchlow and Spaniard Aleix Espargaro, who whipped his Suzuki hard, pushing teammate Maverick Vinales, in seventh by 4/100ths of a second, to the third row and feeling pretty good about it.

If nothing else, Mike Jones, the replacement for Barbera at Avintia, won the battle of “Who Gets to Wear #7?”, beating Hiro Aoyama who, denied his usual number by some guy named Mike Jones, went with #73 and a long story as to why.

Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez each have 64 poles across all classes.  Rossi’s been at it 21 years, Lorenzo 15 and Marquez nine.  And, by the way, 64 is the all-time record, which will get broken a number of times every year for the next decade at least.  Is this the Golden Age of motorcycle racing?  Possibly.

The Race 

The 2016 Japanese Grand Prix was, itself, a conventional, low-drama affair.  Early on, the Yamahas asserted themselves, as the front group consisted of Lorenzo, Marquz, Rossi and Aleix Espargaro, who, along with his teammate Maverick Vinales, discovered how much the Suzuki GSX-RR does love itself some Motegi.  Rossi took a couple of swings at Marquez early but couldn’t get anything to stick, while Lorenzo was riding with “bumps and bruises” suffered on Saturday morning that would leave most mortals lying in a hospital somewhere.  Marquez went through on Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 4.  Rossi crashed on Lap 7.  Lorenzo crashed on Lap 20.  Season over.  Oh, and Dovizioso claimed second while Vinales took third.

Historians will argue for years weeks as to where this race was actually won, or lost.  Some will insist it was at Turn 10 on Sunday when Rossi went lowside, unforced, for the third time this season.  Some will say it was at Turn 9 on Sunday, where Marquez went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 and where Lorenzo lost his grits on Lap 20, the moment at which Marquez effectively clinched the title.  Some will say it was Turn 2 on Saturday, when Lorenzo crashed heavily in FP3 and was airlifted to the local hospital, only to return in time for FP4.  After Lap 4, when Marquez took the lead for good, the only drama concerned whether the 2016 trophy would be awarded to Marquez in Japan or Australia.

Random Thoughts Before The Big Picture 

  • The pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi, especially, had to be immense while the riders waited for the red lights to go out. Rossi, who suffers notoriously from jetlag, can’t have been feeling great sitting on pole, while Lorenzo had been in a wheelchair with an IV drip barely 28 hours earlier.  It was pressure for one and pain for the other that forced the errors.  It also extended the Yamaha non-winning streak to 8.
  • Riders at Motegi spend 30% of their time on the brakes. Looks like the fabled braking power of the Yamaha M1 may be overrated, as Pol Espargaro was the top-finishing Yamaha 19 seconds behind Marquez.
  • In the Redding vs. Petrucci cage match going on at Pramac Ducati, Scott Redding exercised his “rope-a-dope” strategy to perfection, staying on teammate Danilo Petrucci’s rear wheel all day and conceding a single point to the Italian. Not sure what the official score is in the garage, as Petrucci was penalized by management for his takedown of Redding in Aragon.
  • Today’s race attendance was just over 52,000. Back in the late 70’s I was sitting in a friendly nickel-dime-quarter poker game one night and drew three cards inside to a straight flush for a $2.00 pot.  Marquez today probably felt at least a little like I did that night long ago, taking the world championship thousands of miles from home in front of a small crowd in the middle of the night.
  • What is the Repsol Honda team going to do with all the props they’ve packed away for the Phillip Island championship celebration? 

The Big Picture

With three races left, we turn our attention to the MotoGP undercards and the Moto2 title fight.  Johann Zarco gave himself some breathing room over challenger Alex Rins by taking second place today while Rins finished out of the points, presumably the result of a crash or a leisurely walkabout in the kitty litter.  Zarco’s 21-point cushion with three rounds left make him the odds-on favorite to become the first repeat Moto2 champion since the category came into existence.

The undercards in the premier class:

  • Rossi and Lorenzo recorded DNFs; Rossi’s margin over Lorenzo in the battle for second best remains 14.
  • Maverick Vinales leapt over the injured Dani Pedrosa into fourth place for the season with his 16 points today, to the delight of Team Suzuki.
  • Andrea Dovizioso’s podium today pushed him past Cal Crutchlow into sixth place. Crutchlow, for his part, rallied from a non-descript start to finish fifth and blamed disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field for his poor start.
  • Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro claimed 10 points today, breaking the tie for eighth place with the idle Andrea Iannone.
  • Suzuki pilot Aleix Espargaro, on the strength of his formidable fourth place finish today, cut Hector Barbera’s lead in the race for 10th to two points. This despite the fact that Barbera had a shiny new Avintia Racing GP16 to crash today, which he took full advantage of on Lap 9.

Marching to Pretoria

Round 16 launches this next week at Phillip Island.  As such, it kicks off the dreaded Epilogue section of the season, the three races (and three previews) we here at MO need to spice up to maintain your interest and engagement once the title has been decided.  (Not that our usual work has all that much to do with motorcycle racing anyway.)  Rest assured that we’ve kept our own powder dry and are fully prepared to speculate on things at least remotely related to MotoGP in Australia, Malaysia and Spain.

As Arlo Guthrie admitted in the folk classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” I’m not proud.  Or tired.

MotoGP 2015 Motegi Results

October 11, 2015

© 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.

pedrosa-marquezMotegi 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.

2015 AliensMarc 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?

Samurai Marc Marquez seizes second consecutive premier class title

October 12, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Motegi Results by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

On a cloudy, cool Saturday afternoon in Haga District, Tochigi, Japan, 21-year old Repsol Honda pilot Marc Marquez clinched his second world championship in the premier class of MotoGP. This follows earlier championships in the Moto2 and 125 classes, giving him four titles in five years of grand prix racing. We at Motorcycle.com are impressed.

Victory signGrand prix motorcycle racing fans often speak about the Alien class of riders, typically comprised of the four savants that make up the factory Honda and Yamaha teams. In almost every round of every season, it is these four souls from which the three podium celebrants emerge. This lack of variety is one of the shortcomings of the sport, at least in the premier class. In the two underclasses, the concentration of power is more diluted, and the result is more exciting, less predictable races.

Heading into today’s race at Motegi, all four of this year’s Aliens had a part to play in the drama which unfolded. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and Movistar Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi were responsible for keeping young Marquez from securing the title by whatever means necessary; one or both had to beat him to keep the chase alive heading to Phillip Island next week.

Jorge Lorenzo, who has fairly dominated the second half of the 2014 season after a calamitous first half, was under no such pressure, having been eliminated from title contention weeks ago. For him, the war was over, despite having several battles left to wage. An accidental collision with Marquez, however, would not be the worst thing for his factory Yamaha team on this day. Such things are, after all, possible on two wheels in close quarters at high speeds. And a possible explanation for the presence of Yamaha factory test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga as a wildcard entry on a factory spec YZR-M1 for Divine Wind Racing. Just sayin’.

Disorder at the Start

Being on the wrong side of the International Date Line, qualifying at Motegi took place locally on Friday, with the resulting grid finding all four Aliens in the middle of a Ducati sandwich, factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso having qualified brilliantly for his second career pole, and Pramac Racing overachiever Andrea Iannone starting from the six hole. The special status Ducati enjoys in the premier class, somewhere between factory and open specs, allows the Dueling Andreas to qualify on pillow-soft rear tires that would not last a third of a race, but which are great for front row starts.

The start of every race, when the red lights go out and 20-some guys release their brake and clutch handles at the same time, is the most dangerous 20 seconds of the entire day. The mad dash to the first turn results in a substantial amount of contact between riders. In the lower classes, especially Moto3, it is not surprising to see half a dozen riders leave the macadam, stomping their feet and shaking their fists at one another. On the big bikes, riders generally trade a little paint and keep on trucking, occasionally falling back in the pack but staying upright.

Thus, it was not surprising today to watch #5 starter Lorenzo veer into #4 starter Marquez heading into turn one, causing the defending champion to briefly rise up and lose two or three spots. He would regain them in the next half lap, by which time Rossi led the field, followed in close disorder by Dovizioso, Iannone and Lorenzo. Marquez and Pedrosa were, at this moment, kind of lost in the sauce, an increasingly frequent problem for Pedrosa in 2014. But by the end of Lap 1, the leaders were Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Pedrosa. Two minutes into the race, one must guess Marquez had but three things on his mind: Must. Catch. Rossi.Rossi 2014

Marquez Seeks Out #46

The rest of the afternoon was, in hindsight, fairly predictable. On Lap 4, Marquez passed Iannone into 4th place, with Pedrosa doing the same to the Italian the next time around. Lap 5 was noteworthy as Lorenzo went through on teammate Rossi into the lead he would maintain for the rest of the day. On Lap 6 I noted that Pedrosa was running alone in 5th place watching his season end in front of him.

On Lap 9, Dovizioso ran his Ducati a bit wide in one of the mid-lap turns, allowing Marquez through into 3rd place with the blue and yellow of #46 now directly in front of him. Rossi’s pit board immediately informed him that, in essence, the weight of the world now rested squarely on his shoulders, that it was up to him to hold off the young Spaniard for 15 laps or else turn out the lights on the 2014 season. As we now know, it was too much to ask for the 35-year old nine time world champion, or anyone else for that matter.

Marquez Finds #46

Lorenzo, by this time, was in his private place, leading by roughly 3 seconds and laying down fast laps one after the other; sadly, aside from his team, no one seemed to care too much. The 43,000 fans in attendance were focused on the contest for second place as Marquez gradually, inexorably tracked down his idol, closing the gap steadily until Lap 15, when the two briefly traded positions, Rossi surviving the first challenge. The second would come on the following lap, as Marquez smoothly, cleanly and effortlessly went through on the Yamaha and made it stick. Both Rossi and Pedrosa would push their machines to the absolute limit for the remaining 10 laps in a doomed effort to overtake Marquez.

It wasn’t happening.

And that was that. The day ended with Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi on the podium for the fourth time this year. The celebrations in both the Yamaha and Honda camps seemed just a shade muted, as Yamaha claimed a double podium on a day in which they were eliminated from the title chase, while Honda locked down another world championship but was denied the pleasure of seeing Marquez on the top step of the podium.

victory helmetYoung Marc did claim the mantle of utter coolness by virtue of the gold helmet he wore for his victory lap and the elaborate Samurai ceremony staged to honor him as a new member of the esteemed warrior class of ancient Japan. In it, Marquez unsheathed the sword of honor and used it to cut the string that tethered a white balloon with the #1 stenciled on it, releasing the balloon toward the heavens and securing the young Spaniard’s place in his adoptive country’s ancient tradition of sledgehammer symbolism and truly whacked out honorifics.

Samurai celebration

On to Phillip Island

MotoGP now confronts a month of anticlimactic denouement. True, the contest for second place for the year could not be closer, with Rossi and Pedrosa tied and Lorenzo trailing the two by a mere three points. We’ll see a few wildcard entries, with Suzuki scheduled to make a cameo appearance at Valencia prior to its full-fledged return to the premier class next year. We’ll catch you up on the last sips of the silly season and forthcoming news from the Marc VDS and Gresini Aprilia teams. A measure of the existential crisis confronting the rest of the premier class season is the growing anticipation of the post-race testing slated for Valencia in November.

How fitting is it that the sun should begin to set on the 2014 season in The Land of the Rising Sun? Congratulations to world champion Marc Marquez!

MM victory continues

MotoGP 2012 Motegi Preview

October 10, 2012

The pressure on Dani Pedrosa grows at Round 15

It is with divided loyalties that MotoGP blows into The Land of the Rising Sun for the first round of its annual three-round Pacific swing.  Fans excited by the prospect of a meaningful final tilt, a Game 7, in Valencia are virtually forced to project bad karma at factory Yamaha numero uno Jorge Lorenzo.  Unless he suffers some major misfortune, it will be almost impossible for him not to clinch the 2012 championship before returning to Spain in November. 

In my half-baked Theory of MotoGP, the numbers are working so hard against Repsol Honda hope Dani Pedrosa that he will be forced to press.  In order to have a thought of knocking off Lorenzo in Valencia, Pedrosa must virtually run the table.  Win three rounds and place at Phillip Island ahead of Lorenzo in third.  Meanwhile, let’s say Lorenzo loafs his way to a second and two thirds heading to Valencia.  A fifth place finish there would close out the title.  However, as many of you continue to remind me, a lot can happen on two wheels at 160 mph.

So, not only must Dani Pedrosa approach perfection for the rest of the year, he must hope for bad luck, i.e., mechanical issues, for Lorenzo.  The resulting pressure to perform, so to speak, is so intense that most riders fold.  Unless Dani Pedrosa is simply faster than everyone out there for the remaining races, he is going to have dogfights coming at him from not only Lorenzo, but teammate Casey Stoner, who has only a handful of races left to cement his legacy, the occasional Valentino Rossi, and the Bobsey twins over at Tech 3 Yamaha, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow.  Think Honda rookie Stefan Bradl wouldn’t like to punk Dani Pedrosa, the legendary Dani Pedrosa, in his award-winning first season?

My half-baked theory closes with the observation that Lorenzo excels at just the type of work he must do for the rest of the year.  Turn consistent, efficient laps, don’t take any extra risks, play the percentages, and take home the 2012 trophy.  Back when he first came up, he was reckless, impatient and headstrong, and spent a lot of time in hospitals.  These days, he has matured and mostly overcome his Latin excitability.  Lorenzo might not have won the title had Casey Stoner remained healthy all year.  But then, as they say, if bullfrogs could fly, they wouldn’t bump their asses so often, either.

Recent History at Motegi

2009 was the year of Fiat Yamaha domination, and it was on display at Motegi that April. Lorenzo edged Rossi by a second ahead of Pedrosa, Stoner and Dovizioso.  The race that year was early in the season, too early to provide any sense of direction as to how it might proceed from there.  How it proceeded was with Rossi easily winning his 9th overall title and 7th in the premier class.

In 2010, Pedrosa crashed hard in practice when his throttle stuck open, fracturing his collarbone and basically handing the 2010 title to Jorge Lorenzo.  Casey Stoner drove his Ducati to the win, followed by Dovizioso, Rossi and Lorenzo.

In 2011, Rossi crashed out early on his Ducati, leaving the way open for Pedrosa to cruise to an easy win.  He was followed to the flag by Lorenzo and Stoner, who completed the podium.  In the best run of the day, Marco Simoncelli piloted his Gresini Honda to fourth place, sneaking past Dovizioso and his factory Honda by 14/100ths of a second at the flag.

Home for Honda

Motegi is without question home to Honda Racing Corporation; the oval ring was built by the Honda car people in order to figure out how to run on Indy Car ovals.  The road layout, a series of hairpin turns connecting a handful of mini-straights, puts a premium on corner exit speed, at which the RC213V excels.  Not a place where you spend a lot of time at top speed, if you ever hit it at all.  In short, a place where Honda should dominate.

But they don’t.  Over the past six years each of the big three manufacturers has won twice here.  Given the standings, I think Pedrosa and Stoner may manage to get away from Lorenzo and the Yamahas on Sunday.  Lorenzo will want to finish on the podium, but not in any particular position.  Just showing up in the top three every week will make Pedrosa’s job virtually impossible. Finally, I can’t wait to hear Casey Stoner complaining about stuff again.  To think I actually missed a month of his rants.  What will next year be like?

Musical Chairs in CRT Land

Rider news at the lower reaches of the MotoGP food chain.  Ivan Silva, rudely dismissed by Avintia Blusens earlier in the year, was warmly welcomed back after the team had watched his replacement, David Salom, pedal around Aragon and Misano, with only a DNF and a 15th to show for his trouble…Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet re-upped with their successful Power Electronics Aspar team for another season, after trouncing their CRT competitors and occasionally putting it to the likes of Karel Abraham and Hector Barbera in 2012.

SpeedTV.com reported former Moto2 rider Roberto Rolfo will replace Mattia Pasini on the Speed Master ART machine…Team Yamaha announced it is bringing back factory test rider and fan fave Katsuyuki Nakasuga for another weekend of racing.  The KatMan has amassed 11 championship points during the past two MotoGP campaigns doing hometown cameos and emergency fill-ins.

News from Deep In the Heart

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) announced recently that they will be filling one of the two April holes on the provisional 2013 calendar with the inaugural…what?  Texas Grand Prix?  Another U.S. Grand Prix, This One in Texas?  Anyway, the event, the first of a ten year deal, kicks off the weekend of April 21.  It will be interesting to see how the art of racetrack design has improved over the last generation.

The other hole in the provisional calendar occurs the preceding weekend, in what is expected to become Round Two.  If you believe what you read, that event will end up being held in Argentina, India or Portugal. Any such an arrangement would produce another hellish week of travel.  If nothing gets worked out, there will be a bit of an early season holiday, after Round One in Qatar.

MotoGP needs fewer press conferences announcing new locations, and more new locations.  Argentina and India would be sensational markets for this sport, which is heavily Euro-centric at a time when European economies are struggling.  A third U.S. round is great, as the U.S. is fertile turf for grand prix racing.  A new country, and a venue that could hold 150,000 fans on Sunday, would be exactly what this sport needs.

Let’s Not Even Bother with the Weather

Am I the only one who misses having the Rizla Suzuki team in the house?


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