In all likelihood, Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez thought he would cement the 2013 premier class title in Australia. The well-publicized fiasco surrounding the tires and the mandatory mid-race pit stop put that vision on hold for a week. How fitting would it be for the boy wonder to recover from the embarrassing Australian flap by winning his first 1000cc championship in front of the factory brass on their home turf?
For the young Catalan, last week must have been like waking up on Christmas morning, preparing to sneak downstairs, only to be told by his parents that Christmas had regrettably been pushed back a week. The Grinch, in this case, was a composite of Bridgestone, who thought it unnecessary (!) to test their tires on the new Phillip Island racing surface, and Race Direction, which must have had several penalties to select from, and chose the most draconian option available. Marquez’ Repsol team was also in the mix, as it appears they were trying to take advantage of the technicality that their garage actually sat in front of the start/finish line.
No matter. What’s a week in the life of the 20 year-old Marquez, who sits on the cusp of what could be a decade of premier class domination? Without wishing to venture near any conspiracy theories, there must be a contingent of Dorna and Honda executives who would prefer to see him win it all at Motegi. They will probably fish their wish.
Recent History at Motegi
In 2010, Dani Pedrosa trashed his Repsol Honda in practice when the throttle stuck open, fracturing his collarbone and basically handing the 2010 title to Yamaha’s ascendant Jorge Lorenzo. Casey Stoner wrestled his Ducati to the win, followed by Andrea Dovizioso on the #2 Repsol Honda and Yamaha Bruise Brothers Valentino Rossi and Lorenzo. The race had originally been scheduled for the spring, but was moved back six months by the volcanic eruption in Iceland that disrupted air travel in Europe for a few weeks.
In 2011, Rossi crashed out early on his Ducati, leaving the way open for Pedrosa to cruise to an easy home win. He was followed to the flag by Lorenzo and Stoner, completing 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. (Simoncelli would finish second at Phillip Island two weeks later, only to be lost to us forever the following week in Malaysia.) Honda riders occupied four of the top five slots at the finish.
Last year, Pedrosa again whipped Lorenzo, with satellite Gresini Honda pilot Alvaro Bautista coming in third. Honda’s 2011 Motegi domination continued, with four of the top six finishers riding for the home team. This year, the factory Yamahas will bring their version of the seamless shift transmission to The Land of the Rising Sun. But the Repsol Honda team will bring its shiny new counterweight – Marc Marquez.
Marquez, as is true pretty much everywhere, generally does well at Motegi. He won his last 125 race there in 2010, finished two seconds behind Joe Iannone in the Moto2 class in 2011, and won again last year. The 2013 Japanese Grand Prix figures to be a Repsol Honda clambake; Marquez need only finish third* to eliminate Pedrosa, and can clinch the 2013 title with a win. Pedrosa could win the race and still find himself eliminated at the end of the day, giving meaning to the expression winning the battle while losing the war.
*Marquez would have 314 points, which Pedrosa could conceivably reach, however Marquez holds the tiebreaker based upon more wins.
Let’s get real here. Barring calamities befalling both Marquez and Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa is not going to win the 2013 title. This leaves defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo as the last obstacle remaining for Marquez. Assuming Lorenzo could find a way to win this week and again in Valenciana – a super-sized assumption – what would the rookie need to do to hold on to his lead?
He would need to accumulate 33 points in the next two rounds, as Lorenzo would hold the tiebreaker. Oddly, there are not many ways to accumulate 33 points in two MotoGP rounds, assuming no wins. He would need a second and a fourth or better, which could be a little tricky. But not as tricky as Lorenzo winning this weekend. The oddsmakers have installed Lorenzo at 2:1, which to me seems WAY low. If I were managing a gambling book, I would put him at closer to 10:1, given Pedrosa’s recent history at Motegi, Marquez’ season to date, and the layout of the track, which is as unfriendly to the 2013 Yamaha M1 as any circuit on the tour.
Enough Already. What About the Other Riders?
The only factor that will have a material effect upon the standings among the top eight riders concerns the condition of LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl’s broken ankle. He tried it at Phillip Island and was no go, no question. He will try it again this weekend. Not knowing the extent of the damage, it is safe to say only that he will be in a lot of pain if he ends up racing at all, and is unlikely to find himself in the top six. Sure, you’re thinking, Colin Edwards podiumed a week after breaking his collarbone in 2011, but ankles are far more critical to riding these machines than are collarbones.
Glancing quickly at the standings, Rossi will end the year fourth, Cal Crutchlow fifth and Bautista sixth. Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden, the factory Ducati contingent, could sneak up into seventh and eighth places, respectively, at Bradl’s expense. CRT top dog Aleix Espargaro is likely to do better this weekend than Tech 3 Yamaha’s #2 Bradley Smith, and could challenge for a top ten finish for the year. Espargaro is a baller, and will be even tougher next year on the Forward Racing production Yamaha, especially with little brother Pol on the grid snapping at his heels.
You’re Probably Wondering About the Weekend Weather
Determined to avoid any tasteless references to radioactivity or riders glowing in the dark, the weather at Motegi could present a challenge. The forecast, courtesy of Weather.com, calls for rain and cool temps on Friday and Saturday, perfect conditions for early lap high sides during practice. Sunday is expected to be sunny, with highs in the 60s after dipping down into the 40’s on Saturday night. Expect plenty of complaining, especially from the Ducati guys, about the difficulty of finding settings in wet practice sessions that will work in a dry race. All of which we’ve heard before. The three riders who end up on the podium will have had to deal with the same conditions, but will find ways to be successful. Poor carpenters blame their tools.
As the 2013 season approaches its finale, I’m in the mood for a little predicting, which drives the editors here mad. Too bad. I like Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, in that order. If I’m right – stranger things have happened – Marc Marquez will wrap up his first premier class title on Sunday, and everyone can relax on the way to the anticlimactic season ender in – go figure – Spain.
We’ll have Motegi results here on Sunday evening. Enjoy the race.