After what seems like months the 2014 MotoGP season heads for the back nine, beginning at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez has been basking in his ridiculous domination of the grid, a bunch of other riders have been busily defecting, or getting ejected, from their current teams such that the 2015 grid will have a much different look to it. None of which will prevent Marquez from continuing to treat the premier class like his own personal sandbox.
For those of you who’ve slept since Round 9 at The Sachsenring, a rapidly-drying track there resulted in pandemonium at the start, with nine bikes comprising the grid and the other 14 wedged into pit lane, having changed from wet tires to slicks at the very last minute. Stefan Bradl, on the grid with a factory spec Honda and slicks, looked as though he might enjoy a cakewalk to his first premier class victory and an escape from the “underachiever” label he’d earned in two and a half seasons of virtually podium-free premier class racing.
Alas, Bradl was let down by his team, which neglected to change his suspension settings from wet to dry, resulting in a bitterly disappointing 16th place finish, the straw that broke the camel’s back of HRC Racing Director Livio Suppo’s patience. But while Bradl will be riding for NGM Forward Racing next season, Suppo’s young warhorse Marquez calmly sliced and diced his way through the field en route to his ninth win in a row. He was joined on the podium by teammate Dani Pedrosa, who stalked him all day, and Movistar Yamaha’s tarnished star, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s wingman Valentino Rossi, who had podiumed in four of the previous five rounds, slipped to fourth and out of a tie with Pedrosa for second place year-to-date.
Very Recent History at Indianapolis
Last year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix brought into focus the fact that then-rookie Marquez had more than a puncher’s chance of winning the 2013 title. He swept all four practice sessions, qualified on the pole, recovered easily from a less-than-stellar start and won going away for his third consecutive win that year. He remained undefeated on American soil and, counting his two seasons in Moto2, has won at Indianapolis the last three years. Indy is one of those narrow, slow tracks that tend to favor the Honda, if one ignores the huge main straight where Andrea Iannone is likely to enter a low Earth orbit this weekend on the Pramac Ducati.
With the exception of Nicky Hayden, who will miss both this week’s race and next week’s tilt in the Czech Republic, all of the top riders are as healthy as possible, compared to last year when both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were coming off broken collarbones. No matter. If someone can conjure up a scenario in which Marquez fails to make it ten in a row this weekend, contact the author at Motorcycle.com. In the subject line of your email, please type “MARTIANS ARE EXTRACTING THE MOISTURE FROM MY BOXER SHORTS” so I’ll know to delete your message before it clutters up my own thinking.
Crutchlow 2, Ducati 1
The annual charade of Bums Seeking Seats and Seats Seeking Bums goes into overdrive annually at this time of year, owing, in part, to Dorna rules that preclude some forms of tampering until after July 31. Without question, the most amusing and admirable job of moving from the outhouse to the penthouse this year was pulled off by burly Brit Cal Crutchlow. Recall how barely a year ago Crutchlow sold his soul to the devil, abandoning the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team that had been so good to him for the filthy lucre of a factory Ducati ride to hell. Sure enough, he got paid, then proceeded to amass a grand total of 28 championship points in the first half of this season, compared to the 225 of Marquez and the 48 of Bradley Smith who appears to be (unsuccessfully) trying to get fired from the same Tech 3 team.
For the last two months, Crutchlow has been slamming Ducati Corse management, comparing his GP14 to a 1952 John Deere Model D Spoker, and generally making himself as unpopular in Bologna as any man alive. All the while, he has been seeking a change of venue, wishing to take his game, such as it is, pretty much anywhere but his current residence, to no avail. Once it appeared there was nowhere else to go, he put on a stiff upper-lipped smile and, to management’s horror, agreed to honor his contract and stay with Ducati for the 2015 season. By this time, management had pretty much decided, correctly, that they love Andrea Iannone and wanted him to race alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2015, dueling Andreas on an all-Italian, occasionally competitive factory team capable of restoring a hint of pride to a national identity that has taken an incessant pounding since the 1930’s.
Suddenly, though, LCR Honda, and their new (British) sponsor CWM (Come What May?) Financial washed their hands of Stefan Bradl and decided they could do worse than having Crutchlow head their two bike effort in 2015. And here’s the best part: Ducati found themselves having to pay Crutchlow to leave in order to make room for Iannone, as three man factory teams are a no-no since Honda last tried it in 2011. Crutchlow scores big twice, with a significant financial boost and resurrection from the Desmosedici to a factory-spec Honda upon which he probably thinks he can attain Alien status. Ducati takes yet another financial bath, but has their ϋber-Italian team in place for the first time in recent memory. The Bologna factory has been down so long it looks like up to them, and probably views all of this as a win.
There is plenty of other news pertaining to Suzuki and Aprilia and, suddenly KTM, with names like Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Eugene Laverty and even Alex de Angelis in the wind, but we’re out of room this week. Certainly, a number of loose ends, notably Jorge Lorenzo’s, will get tied up this weekend in Indianapolis, and so we’ll pick up where we left off next week in our Brno preview.
Weather and Assorted Other Hoosier Predictions
Sunny and warm conditions are expected to prevail in Indianapolis this weekend, a summer notable for its lack of extreme heat and abundance of rain. The infield portion of the track has been slightly re-configured and repaved, so lap times should be somewhat lower and the number of complaints about tire wear significantly so. It’s still too narrow, and the race runs in the wrong direction; the layout would probably work better if they ran clockwise, the way it was originally designed for F-1. Whatever.
Marc Marquez is almost a mortal lock to take win #10 for the season, and I expect him to be joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Valentino Rossi’s only win here came in 2008 in the midst of Hurricane Ike. For you locals, if you want a peek at some of the riders during down time, head over to Lino’s Coffee or Dawson’s on Main in Speedway and be on the lookout for some short, tightly-wrapped guys with heavy foreign accents and lots of logos on their shirts. Don’t bother looking for MM on Friday night – he’ll be over at the State Fairgrounds grand marshalling the AMA Indy Mile which, if you have the time, is another great way to spend an evening.
The race goes off at 2:00pm EDT, and we’ll have results right here later Sunday evening.