Most of the 131,800 fanatics who attended Sunday’s Czech Grand Prix at Brno – hoping to boast to their grandkids that they were there the day Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez broke the record for consecutive wins to start a season – were reduced, at best, to bragging they were at the race Marquez lost in 2014, when he went 17 for 18 on the way to his second premier class title in two seasons. With Yamaha studs Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi joining winner Dani Pedrosa on the podium, it was just like the good old days, before the annoying Marquez came along, in 2012, when the three of them used to win everything.
Pedrosa’s last premier class win came at Sepang in October of 2013. He has had a strong history at Brno, but in the pre-race chatter one kept hearing about and considering Yamaha bruise brothers Lorenzo and continuing marvel Rossi, who reduced his own chances of winning on Sunday by crashing out unassisted in FP4 and damaging his left pinky, a bad place to get hurt in his profession, despite the fastest time on the FP4 grid. Could the factory Yamahas and Ducatis push the gifted and impudent young Honda rider hard enough early in the race to implement the “anyone but Marquez” strategy that had silently emerged at the top of the grid since April?
The notion that Brno is a Yamaha-friendly track appeared to have been blown up in qualifying on Saturday with the emergence of the Ducati contingent in spots two and three, leaving Yamaha prototypes in 4th, 6th. 7th and 9th positions. Ducati Corse now has the Desmosidici working, if one will forgive yet another golf analogy, tee to green, but must continue to work on its short game. The Ducati is capable of laying down a single hot lap in qualifying but unable to keep pace at race distance due primarily to tire wear. Thus, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, found themselves qualifying in the front row along polesitter Marquez, but did not figure to be around come podium time. Not this year. Driving for show, putting for dough as it were.
One of the topics we explore periodically is that of “team orders”, which we swear don’t exist in this class of the profession. Yet, it is easy to envision this imaginary private conversation between Livio Suppo, HRC Director of Racing, and Dani Pedrosa after the last team meeting of the day on Sunday morning:
LS: “Dani, as a seasoned pro and teammate you know that the streak young Marquez is on is remarkable. I know you and I both support him continuing the streak as long as possible.”
DP: “Yes, sir.”
LS: “That the streak can end, but it can’t be you that ends it?”
DP: “Yes, sir.”
LS: “So then I can assure our masters in Japan that you will not keep Marquez from his place in the record books, and that, as an effective wingman, you will help, if necessary, fight off Lorenzo and Rossi so as to keep that record intact? Knowing I may have to commit ritual suicide if anything else at all were to happen?”
DP: “Yes, sir.”
LS: “Good. Thank you. Good luck this afternoon.”
As it happened, it was Pedrosa, indeed, who ran off with the 2014 Czech Grand Prix, tailed by a determined Jorge Lorenzo and the hurt-not-injured Vale Rossi, with Marquez running a puzzling fourth. A recently re-signed Pedrosa telling Honda Racing that they have, indeed, not just one rider capable of winning races but two. A determined pro at the top of his own game, constantly kept from a premier class title by a cabal of legends owning MotoGP during his career. A rider who will not, at this stage in his career, take team orders. Pedrosa appears to have learned how to say “yes” and mean “no” from his own masters, who are legendarily good at it.
The premier class version of top-to-bottom competition typically devolves a collection of little races-within-a-race for a variety of finishing positions. So it was early today as Pedrosa and Lorenzo tangled up front, dogged by Rossi and Marquez. Andrea Iannone gladly took on the odious task of getting in Marquez’s grill early in the day, the result being that the two bikes touched twice on Lap 5. While Pedrosa and Lorenzo went off to do their business, Valentino Rossi hung around to keep Marquez humble, and it worked.
At the end it included the Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Iannone tangling for fifth place, Iannone prevailing. LCR ex-pat Stefan Bradl finished a ho-hum seventh place. NGM Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro claimed eighth in front of the recently re-signed and relaxed Bradley Smith, who qualified in 4th place but could only manage 9th at the finish. Note to Smith: The one year contract means you were the default accomplice to rising star (and today’s crasher) Pol Espargaro. They hope to replace you next season.
The Big Picture Doesn’t Change
Marc Marquez today fell from legendary to simply dominating, his winning streak besmirched, his temporary invincibility finally dismissed, without the expected fight for the winning shot. In the beginning of the race there was too much bunch with the field, and he fell from the pole to something like sixth place. Both Pedrosa and Lorenzo got up to speed early, while Marquez would have to fight his way past Dovizioso, Iannone and Valentino Rossi if he were going to at least podium in a contest that seemed, somehow, to get away from him early, without some unforgettable and memorable attempt to capture the lead, an effort that had appeared in numerous contests over a year and a half. No sign of it today.
|2014 MotoGP Brno Top Ten Results|
|1||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+0.410|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+5.259|
|4||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+10.454|
|5||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+17.639|
|6||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+17.834|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+23.819|
|8||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha||+29.621|
|9||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+30.364|
|10||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+37.639|
Elsewhere in MotoGP
Our suspicion concerning the situation with the “customer Hondas” at Gresini, Aspar and Cardion AB has been confirmed, with the announcement that the 2015 Open Honda teams would be getting upgraded to this year’s RC213V engine, complete with pneumatic valves. A radical increase in power for a bunch of riders who know how to ride but haven’t had a fair chance to compete owing to a lack of top-end speed. With this issue now resolved for 2015, the top ten scrum should include several more competitive bikes, i.e. Aspar’s Nicky Hayden (2015 Customer Honda), Gresini’s Scott Redding (2015 factory RCV), LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (2015 factory RCV), the second Gresini bike (2015 Customer Honda) and a second LCR bike (2015 Customer Honda) currently on offer to Jack Miller in a rumored jump/shift from his KTM Moto3 team to the premier class.
What would it take to tighten the 2015 field like the one we see in Moto3, where eight bikes often fight in the front group? As we’ve seen, the Yamaha Open class bikes (factory rides equipped with last year’s engine) themselves appear to be 98% competitive with the factory entries; the teams just have to struggle with the financial side of the equation. If Honda hits 98% next year in its customer bikes, the grid will tighten considerably. If Dalligna’s 2015 Ducati improves its short game, it’s handling in the turns and tire consumption …
If Suzuki emerges from its lengthy layoff with a two rider team competitive with the Alien forces … If Aprilia, as rumored, moves its unofficial 2016 graduation to the premier class forward to 2015 rather than the Michelin tire change year, with some kind of low budget program sufficient to not lose face, and finds a rider or two – I’m thinking here of a Hector Barbara – willing to sacrifice body and soul to help get a program competitive, beginning next season … How does the grid not expand to 25 or 26 entries?
Nor do I know why it shouldn’t, other than some obscure language written into a contract with the tire supplier. One hears that the Paul Byrd Motorsports team will withdraw from MotoGP to form a new two-bike team in World Superbikes, and the Ioda Racing team, being held together with clarinet reeds and duct tape, could go the way of all things next year. Certainly Danilo Petrucci plans to do better in 2015.
The Big Picture
It appears to be a very good year to be any kind of Moto rider these days, as guys like Jonny Rea and Eugene Laverty are being flown in to interview for assorted Open class and minor factory rides. Most of the bottom third of the grid appears to be in conversation with these teams, suggesting a number of the “slower” riders – Broc Parkes, Michael Laverty and Petrucci among them – will continue to have seats in 2015.
That teams like Avintia and Ioda Racing can financially continue to mount any kind of meaningful 2014 campaign is a miracle of marketing for those suits selling the sponsorship “opportunities”. Think of standing under a cold shower, tearing up hundred dollar bills, or grinding them in a food processor with some water; sponsoring a back bench MotoGP team must be like that. Lots of outlay, not much in return. Expensive parties at the tracks to celebrate a team’s top finisher in 16th place. Stuff like that. Tepid applause. Big bills.
Avintia has announced its intention to replace its current two entry Kawasaki powerplants with the new and improved Honda engine available in the 2015 customer bikes. As my dad used to say, “It should live so long.”
Let’s see what happens at Silverstone, San Marino and Aragon, where Marquez and Lorenzo dueled all last year. Let’s see whether Marc Marquez continues to push at the front, or whether he somehow decides to sit back and play defense from here on in. With a 77 point lead and seven rounds now left, playing it safe could be the smart way out.
With Marquez, one expects to see levels of effort and accomplishment characteristically higher during the next several rounds. That his teammate prevailed today is one of those facts he must appear, by contract, to be happy about which, in the absence of his professional and contractual obligations, he would quietly loathe and despise coming from a teammate on the back side of his own career. The presence of the two Yamahas was undoubtedly less objectionable. The obstructionism of the Ducatis was expected. The only change in the year-to-date standings had older brother Aleix jumping over crashed-out brother Pol Espargaro in the battle for sixth place.
Marquez is nothing but a well-coached young gentleman. He will have nothing but good things to say about Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi, and that is one reason HRC loves this guy. He will promise to do his best at Silverstone, which must give the other riders cold chills. He is on his way to a remarkable career.
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 11 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||85|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|
Silverstone’s likely last MotoGP appearance on the calendar comes up in two weeks. Starting in 2016 the British Grand Prix will be held in Wales, at a remote town no one can pronounce, at a location offering, if possible, worse weather conditions than the recently refurbished British track near Bletchley Park, the capital of the Allied decoding efforts against the Germans in WWII. New tires, new affiliations, new rivalries will exist in 2016. The British GP will have to be run somewhere in 2015; meanwhile, the last British GP as we’ve know them takes off in two weeks. We’ll be there.