MotoGP turns its sights on stunning San Marino once again, returning this weekend for Round 13 minus Valentino Rossi, who, as everyone knows by now, badly broke his leg in a training accident last week. Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, perhaps the Italian erede apparente, leads the now diminished 2017 chase pursued by three Spaniards. He and the two youngsters, Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales, can only feel relieved that the yellow 800-pound gorilla has left the room. Dani Pedrosa, the fourth challenger, his prospects now marginally improved, hangs in contention by a thread.

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Misano just isn’t the same without the Doctor.

If it turns out that this season was, indeed, Rossi’s last flirtation with a title, it will mark the end of an astonishing era. Even if he returns to racing this year and again in 2018, his more lucid fans cannot realistically expect him to compete for a tenth world championship. He would simply be honoring his contract with Yamaha, in his inimitable style. And so it goes amongst the yachting set.

Yamaha announced on Monday that no replacement would take Rossi’s spot on the grid at Misano. My guess, that Yamaha’s best test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, would take Rossi’s place was, not surprisingly, wrong. (Some readers will remember the Katman’s samurai performance at Valencia in 2012 when he ended up, after some weirdness, on the second step of the podium.)

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If there’s one thing we’ve learned, however, it’s to never count Valentino Rossi out.

It saddens me to consider the possibility that, one day, we will have watched Valentino Rossi race a MotoGP bike for the last time. But over the years we’ve learned not to write him off. He will likely ride again this year and, as regards returning for Yamaha in 2018 (drum roll please… wait for it…) Let Valencia Decide.

Recent History at Misano

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini saw Movistar Yamaha homey Rossi win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time on quasi-Italian soil since San Marino in 2009. The fans immensely enjoyed watching the loathesome Marc Marquez crash his Repsol Honda out of the proceedings at around 50 mph. Two Italian riders on Ducatis claimed spots in the top five. All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.

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Watching riders swapping bikes as quick as they can may be exciting but it can lead to some surprising results, as we saw in 2015.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory. When the smoke cleared, Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. Some folks lost a lot of money betting on Vale for the championship at that point of that season.

Last year, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career and winless in 2016, busted out on the picturesque sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, worked well enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.

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Misano offered the lone bright spot to Dani Pedrosa’s season last year. With 148 points so far this season, Pedrosa is already just seven points short of matching his total from 2016, with six races left to go.

To the casual observer, the Marco Simoncelli Circuit at Misano would appear to be Honda-friendly, with two wins in a row for the Repsol team. Series leader Dovizioso has started here nine times in the premier class, has finished every race, and has never podiumed. But that was then, and this is now. The long-range forecast for the weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps heading well into the 80s on Sunday – Honda conditions. But as we’ve seen numerous times this year, more and more tracks are becoming Ducati-friendly. DesmoDovi, with a lead to protect, needs a podium this time around. A third consecutive win would be totally convenient. At that point we might have to reconsider the entire concept and discuss tracks that are “rider-friendly,” Austin and Marquez leap to mind. And, interestingly, there is a Misano Man, Jorge himself, in the field.

Let’s Tranche Again!

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, A. Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucci, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rins, Redding
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Rabat, Smith Lowes

After Round 12:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2 Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins↑, A. Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller↓, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

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It remains a small sample size yet, but Jorge Lorenzo has looked better since switching to Ducati’s new aerodynamic fairing design.

A word or two of explanation is in order. Jorge Lorenzo and Scott Redding are up one week and down the next; perhaps they deserve their own Tranche Yo-Yo. The Espargaro brothers are a conundrum. I want to keep Aleix in #2, as he is clearly improving and getting more from the Aprilia than Moto2-bound Sam Lowes. His demotion is due to two poor outings in a row. Finishing 11th and punking Tito Rabat at the flag last time out on the KTM, Little Brother Pol would have easily earned a promotion to Tranche 4 had he not crashed on the warm-down lap, which is sufficiently embarrassing to leave him where he is.

Jack Miller, Ducati-bound next year, just doesn’t give a rip anymore.

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A healthy Alex Rins can help Suzuki salvage what has been a disappointing season thus far.

I would like to see Too Tall Loris Baz on the Ducati GP16; I think he has the juice to climb into Tranche 2 if he had a better bike. And Alex Rins (9th at Silverstone), now more or less fully healed, is making great strides on his Suzuki and could find himself in #2 as early as next week, especially if, as is his practice, Lorenzo follows up his positive result at Silverstone with a stinker at Misano. Memo to the Zarco and Folger jocks out there: I still think Alex Rins is going to be a baller in MotoGP.

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After seven years in Moto2 (plus three more in its predecessor, the 250cc class) Thomas Luthi gets a shot with the big boys.

Finally, a word of congratulations to veteran Thomas Luthi on having earned a promotion to MotoGP (with the Marc VDS team) after seven years of loyal service in Moto2. He turns 31 this week, and will team with Franco Morbidelli on what is expected to be a satellite Honda. His Moto2 seat is being taken by a humbled Sam Lowes, sufficiently remorseful about his abrupt dismissal from the Aprilia MotoGP program to immediately announce his intention of winning the Moto2 title in 2018. Dude has stones; not so sure about the chops or the IQ.

Thailand? Thailand.

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Chang International Circuit started hosting World Superbike racing in 2015; the Thai circuit will make its MotoGP debut next year.

It’s official – MotoGP will start traveling to Thailand’s Chang International Circuit next year, with Finland coming onboard in 2019. The Powers that Be have announced that next year’s provisional calendar will be released soon. Many of us are wondering what this addition will do to the annual Pacific flyaway rounds. I’m thinking that four races in four weeks, most of them in grueling hot conditions, could push several teams, and a number of journalists covering MotoGP, to the brink. God forbid MO gets invited to send someone to Thailand next year, because that someone would probably be me, and the trip to Malaysia in 2014 put me in the hospital for three days afterwards.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunny and hot weather. No #46. Cubic miles of thick yellow smoke pouring from the grandstands of the faithful. Major pressure on Dovizioso and Viñales, the sole factory Yamaha rep this weekend. Both Repsol Hondas on the podium. Dovizioso on the podium.

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Maverick Viñales will be the lone Movistar Yamaha rider this weekend.

Just for the sake of cosmic symmetry, let us assume that Sunday’s results find Pedrosa repeating his win from last year, Marquez second, Dovizioso third, and Viñales fourth. This would produce the following Top Five heading for Aragon:

Misano projected points totals:

  1. Dovizioso: 3rd place – 183 +16= 196
  2. Marquez: 2nd place – 174 +20 = 194
  3. Viñales: 4th place – 170 +13 = 183
  4. Pedrosa: 1st place – 148 +25 = 173
  5. Rossi: DNS – 157 + 0 = 157

Am I projecting a Honda 1-2? Seems that way. We’ll have results and analysis here as quickly Sunday as possible. Ciao.

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Andrea Dovizioso leads Marc Marquez by just nine points. The stakes will be high this weekend at Misano.