For Repsol Honda super soph Marc Marquez, who flirted with perfection for much of the season, there remain but three goals for the 2014 MotoGP championship. First and foremost – win the title, which is pretty much a done deal. Second – stay out of the hospital, which is to say take no unnecessary risks in a sport which is, by its very nature, risky. Third and last – break Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a single season.
You and I would probably reverse the first two, which is one reason we’re not out there competing for world championships in anything. I was once told that to be successful in advertising, one must lack the ability to recognize life-threatening situations. This goes without saying in motorcycle racing, where the trajectory of one’s life can change in an instant. Thus all the wheelchairs one sees at AMA events. And while we are consistently hard on the so-called back markers in the premier class, it must be admitted that all are hugely talented and courageous beyond belief. The difference between The Aliens and the Wannabees is on the order of three to four seconds per lap. All of which validates the second of my tired clichés this week – the difference between good and great, in anything, is about 2%.
Marquez, with a 70-some point lead over teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, can clinch the title at Phillip Island with a couple of top two finishes between now and then. Not a tall order at all for the uniquely gifted young Spaniard. With 11 wins under his belt already, it is hard to imagine he won’t at least tie Doohan. And, should he tie Doohan with, say, two or three rounds left on the schedule, I expect he will go for the record. Despite the fact that he experienced the most serious crash of his career at Sepang in 2011, it would be tempting to go for history in the Honda-friendly Malaysian heat.
Recent History at Aragon
Motorland Aragon was only added to the MotoGP calendar in 2010 as an emergency replacement for the still-born Hungarian circuit, but there have been some great performances there in the years since. The track itself is gorgeous; the stacked stone wall looks like something straight out of the Inquisition, while the giant electronic billboard at the other end provides a stunning contrast, from medieval to ultra-modern. Too bad it’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere, 150 miles west of Barcelona. Not as remote as the Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, but not exactly convenient. To anywhere.
Back in 2011, Honda stalwart Casey Stoner, on the way to his second premier class title, arrived at Aragon leading defending champion and Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo by 35 points. At the start, Stoner and teammate Pedrosa went off to play by themselves, leaving Lorenzo to fiddle around with the likes of Gresini Honda pilot Marco Simoncelli and Yamaha teammate Ben Spies, both of whom he ended up beating soundly. Stoner took the top step on the podium and essentially clinched to 2011 title that day, leaving Lorenzo time to start getting accustomed to being referred to as “former champion.”
In 2012, it was Dani’s Revenge, as Pedrosa, who trailed the incandescent Lorenzo by 38 points on the heels of his last-row-start-first-lap-crash at Misano two weeks earlier, won comfortably. Lorenzo claimed second that day, playing it safe, while Monster Tech 3 climber Andrea Dovizioso pushed his satellite Yamaha to the limit all day on his way to a satisfying third place finish and eventual promotion to the factory Ducati team. Pedrosa epitomized the “win or bin” mentality so often spoken of in racing, generally by Brits, by winning six of his last eight races that year and crashing out of the other two. Despite piling up his highest career point total in 2012, Pedrosa would end the year 18 points behind Lorenzo, a bridesmaid once again.
Last year, rookie Marquez, not having been informed that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, took Lorenzo’s best shot, and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the two year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 12 seconds behind Lorenzo. Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the chippy DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, he clinched his first premier class title with a strong second place finish at Valencia on the last day of the season.
The Bottom Line
Marquez has now proven himself mortal, with his off-the-podium finish at Brno and the super slo-mo crash last time out at Misano. He doesn’t need to be sensational to achieve his #1 remaining 2014 goal, just good. He mustn’t lose concentration as the season winds down, in order to achieve his #2 goal. And, he will have several opportunities to secure his #3 goal, and further cement his place in MotoGP history, during the remaining rounds.
This week’s race would actually be a good place to take a crack at #12, as Aragon is not what they call a terribly “technical” layout. With two wins here in the last three tries, he can go for the pole, check the competition in the first few laps, and decide mid-race whether conditions warrant a run for the win. Moreover, he need not worry too much about what Lorenzo does, as the “threat”, such as it is, resides in Pedrosa and Rossi.
This is the time of year when Gresini Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista typically rises from the dead. Since joining the Italian team in 2012, he has accumulated the bulk of his points in the second half of the season, narrowly averting a rough dismissal each year. This year, the team is leaving him; say hello to the factory Aprilia team, Alvaro. Perhaps Michele Pirro will become your teammate. He can certainly ride the Ducati, which means he can ride anything.
KTM has announced it will join the grid in 2017 and begin testing at the end of next season. Six manufacturers will certainly be more interesting than three, although it probably won’t have much to do with goings-on at the top of the food chain.
Nicky Hayden returns to the sluggish Aspar customer Honda this round, quelling the doubts of those who feared we might never see him again.
Eugene Laverty, in a Field of Dreams moment, announced he will join the premier class next season, but that he doesn’t actually know, just now, with whom. Staging the announcement before signing the contract is the moto equivalent of “build it and they will come.” Can two Lavertys be any more exciting than the one who has already accumulated three points this year? Just sayin’.
Weather.com says it will be sunny and in the 70’s in Alcaniz this weekend, but Weather.com doesn’t know squat. The race goes off again this week at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results later on Sunday, as the editorial staff will have sobered up and returned to their customary post-equinox stations by then.