Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez sits atop the grand prix motorcycle racing world with expectations growing at a geometric rate. Heading into Round 5, he has captured the last five poles, dating back to Valenciana last season, and has won every contest in 2014. He has topped the timesheets in most of the practice sessions. Aside from his boyish good looks, all he has going for him is timing, balance, reflexes, intelligence and a really good bike. The only hope for the rest of the grid this weekend is rain and plenty of it.
Luckily for the grid, the flying circus will be performing in France, where the last two races have been declared “wet.” (When it’s raining pitchforks and hammer handles, having a marshal flashing a sign reading “WET RACE” is like watching Heidi Klum strut down a runway with some dweeb in the first row waving a sign reading “SUPERMODEL.” Not exactly necessary. Just sayin’.)
Recent History at Le Mans
The most recent dry race at the legendary Bugatti Circuit took place in 2011, when Repsol Honda chieftain Casey Stoner got away early on his way to a) the win, and b) that year’s championship. Behind him, pandemonium reigned, as Marco Simoncelli put Stoner’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa out of the race and into the hospital with an ill-advised passing attempt on Lap 17. Repsol #3 Andrea Dovizioso took advantage of Pedrosa’s misfortune to steal second place from Valentino Rossi, who put his Ducati Desmosedici on the podium for the first and only time that year.
In 2012, factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo ruled Le Mans in the rain, beating Rossi to the finish by 10 interminable seconds. Rossi, in turn, punked Stoner on the last lap, relegating the Australian, who had announced his surprise retirement that weekend, to third. Afterwards, it was hard to tell whether Rossi was more jubilant over making it to the podium or sticking Stoner’s you-know-what in the dirt.
Last year was Dani Pedrosa’s One Shining Moment, as the diminutive Spaniard, who had struggled all weekend and started out of the six hole, put the hammer down at the start and led the last 23 laps of the very wet race, launching himself into first place for the season. Cal Crutchlow, in his final (competitive) year aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha, managed second place, despite having his entire body held together with Bondo® and strapping tape. Rookie Marquez made it to third place after a three day escapade during which he spent roughly as much time in the runoff areas as on the track. The two factory Ducati bikes managed fourth and fifth, unable to shake the cursed “mudder” label.
Feast or Famine for Rossi at Le Mans
In his last six visits to the Loire River valley, Valentino Rossi has experienced the highs and lows of his chosen profession. He followed up his win in 2008 with the comical flag-to-flag outing in 2009 in which he finished 16th. In 2010 he finished second to Yamaha teammate Lorenzo, and podiumed in both 2011 and 2012 while wrestling the Ducati. Last year, back again with Yamaha, he crashed out of third place in the middle of the race under pressure from Crutchlow and ended up finishing 12th.
Some years chicken; some years feathers. After watching his teammate Lorenzo get overtaken late in the day in Jerez by Mr. Pedrosa, Rossi is probably looking forward to a little payback this weekend, especially with Dani coming in at less than 100% fitness.
Latest Honda Fad – Arm Pump Surgery
Last week both Dani Pedrosa and LCR Honda strongman Stefan Bradl underwent surgery to repair muscles in their forearms that want to bust out of their casings like bratwursts on a hot grille. Pedrosa, whom we weren’t aware was having any physical problems on his way to another solid third place finish in Jerez, might simply miss going under general anesthesia, as it’s been almost a year since his last collarbone surgery.
Bradl, it will be remembered, had problems in Jerez that indicated something was wrong; now we know what it was. Although both riders have been cleared to race this weekend, Le Mans is one of those stop-and-go joints that demands a lot of hard braking. Pedrosa will have his work cut out for him to keep his own personal string of eight consecutive podium finishes alive.
There is no truth to the rumor that Alvaro Bautista requested permission to have surgery on one of his forearms, in order to do a little bonding with the factory Honda riders who aren’t embarrassing themselves this season. Bautista is not having arm pump issues, just every other issue imaginable.
This Just In – Cal Crutchlow Frustrated with Ducati
Last year, after four rounds, a fractious Cal “I’m Good Enough for a Factory Ride” Crutchlow sat in fourth place for the season with 55 points. Later in the year, he achieved his goal of becoming a factory team rider, abandoning the Tech 3 Yamaha squad and hooking up with Ducati Corse to take on the badass Desmosedici. Sure, the Big Red Machine was widely seen as a career buster. Sure, even the Doctor was unable to get it to work right, suffering through two of the worst years of his life. But, it was argued, Cal is big and burly and strong enough to bend the Ducati to his will. He was going to show the world that it wasn’t just about the money.
Um, no. Heading into Round 5, Cal sits mired in 16th place, a mere two points ahead of Karel Abraham, for God’s sake, with ten (10) championship points to show for his season thus far. He’s now mouthing off in the media about the junk he’s being forced to ride. He is the least productive of the four Ducati pilots, two of whom aren’t making “factory” money. At this point, Cal needs to man up and start running with teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who podiumed in Austin and currently sits in fourth place for the year. Having made his bed, the Brit needs to lie in it and STFU. As they say back home, “Hard cheese, old boy.”
New Rubber Coming in 2016
Having grown weary of being the whipping boy for every rider from Valentino Rossi to Gabor Talmacsi since 2009, Bridgestone has announced that it will no longer be the sole supplier of tires to MotoGP after next season. This leaves the field open for the other three candidates – Pirelli, Dunlop and Michelin – to step up to what is a thankless job. Never mind all the data the company collects and then ostensibly uses to improve its retail lines. Not a race goes by without some rider or 12 whining about grip, deterioration, etc. From what little I’ve read on the subject, Michelin appears to have the inside track. Similarly, there seems to be little debate that the change in tires will have a greater impact on the sport than the forthcoming changes in the ECUs.
What About the Weather in France This Weekend?
Glad you asked. As of Tuesday afternoon, the forecast is surprisingly good, calling for fair skies and mild temps, with next to no chance of rain. Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it. If it turns out to be a dry race, I suspect there’ll be more Yamahas on the podium than Hondas. If it’s wet, expect Andrea Dovizioso to find his way to the rostrum. The race goes off at 8 am EDT on Sunday, and we hope to have results right here that afternoon.