With Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez relentlessly closing in on the 2014 MotoGP championship, attention is gradually turning toward the 2015 grid, where confusion reigns. Players in this evolving Keystone Kops comedy include Scott Redding, Fausto Gresini, Mika Kallio, Aprilia, Honda and Marc van der Straten. Out on the horizon, teenagers Alex Marquez and Alex Rins are plotting their own invasion of the premier class in the not-too-distant future.
Let’s face it. The battle for the 2014 premier class title is over but for the huzzahs. Marquez enjoys an 89-point advantage over teammate Dani Pedrosa with six rounds left. He picked up 12 points winning at Silverstone, as Pedrosa could manage only a fourth place finish. From here, it looks like Marquez and factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo will slug it out until Marquez clinches, while Pedrosa and Lorenzo’s teammate Valentino Rossi appear consigned to battle over third place – Rossi is currently trailing the diminutive Spaniard by 10 points. In any event, barring the remote possibility that Marquez lands himself in a hospital anytime soon, he will clinch at either Motegi or, at the latest, Phillip Island, leaving the remaining rounds of the 2014 season as an extended testing period for everyone.
Seriously, can 2015 come soon enough?
Keystone Kops Revisited
Fausto Gresini, owner/manager of the satellite GO&FUN Honda team, has two things everyone wants – a factory spec Honda RC213V and rider Scott Redding—and two things no one wants – a customer Honda RCV100R and rider Alvaro Bautista. He also has a financial problem, in that his main sponsor, Italian energy drink company GO&FUN, has had enough of bankrolling a hugely expensive and largely unsuccessful MotoGP team and will not be back next year. Thus, Redding’s expected graduation to the RC213V is suddenly in jeopardy, to the extent that Gresini is allegedly negotiating with Aprilia to run its seriously underfunded factory team in 2015. Where Redding and the factory Honda end up is, at this point, anyone’s guess. Where Bautista and the customer Honda end up, no one really cares.
Enter Marc van der Straten, owner/manager of the wildly successful Marc VDS Moto2 team, currently featuring campaign leaders Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio. Van der Straten is trying to round up the financing to field a Honda MotoGP team that would, ostensibly, feature Redding (who rode for him in Moto2 until this season) on the factory Honda. All this, while simultaneously maintaining his deluxe Moto2 team in 2015, with Rabat and Marc Marquez’s little brother Alex signed and the hard luck Kallio kicked to the curb.
Kallio, who trails Rabat by a mere 17 points heading into Misano, must be one highly motivated Finn. Imagine contending for a world championship and having your ride commandeered by the – literally – second coming of Marc Marquez. Kallio’s options for 2015 appear terribly limited, as most of the competitive seats in MotoGP are already spoken for, while the Moto2 teams have to submit their proposed rider lists to Dorna by the Aragon round at the end of the month. In my mom’s words, Mika is between the devil and the deep blue sea, while deserving far better.
Should Kallio end up on the Pramac Ducati – where he previously served a two-year sentence in 2009-2010 – he will be making the best of a bad situation and placing his racing future in the promising hands of Gigi D’alligna. “Promising,” in this instance, does not mean full of potential. It means D’alligna has made a lot of promises to a lot of people, most of whom will be at least mildly surprised if he is able to field a competitive set of bikes in 2015. Especially at Pramac, the ‘Second Hand Rose’ of team Ducati.
Note: Do not lose sight of one Alex Rins, who will be joining the Pons Moto2 racing team next season. I read an article several years ago which suggested that Alex Marquez is faster than big brother Marc, and Rins faster than little brother Alex. Spain’s economy may be in the toilet, but they continue to churn out impossibly fast motorcycle racers.
Recent History at Misano
The little jewel of a racetrack, sparkling on the shores of the Italian Riviera Adriatico, with the Alps and the ghost of Marco Simoncelli looming in the background, has been Jorge Lorenzo’s personal playground for most of the past six years. He has won here each of the last three years, preceded by three narrow second place finishes, losing to Rossi in 2008 and 2009 and Pedrosa in 2010.
In 2012, pandemonium reigned at the start of the race, initiated by a stalled Karel Abraham, and necessitating a rare yellow-flagged restart. Dani Pedrosa, who entered the weekend trailing Lorenzo by a mere 13 points, became the victim of a jammed tire warmer as the restart approached, and was forced to start from the last spot on the grid. In his haste to return to the front, he got involved with Hectic Hector Barbera and his Pramac Ducati, crashing out of the race and the 2012 world championship chase in one appalling first-lap moment. Lorenzo was joined on the podium that year by then-Ducati icon Valentino Rossi and, of all people, Alvaro Bautista, who somehow managed to beat Andrea Dovizioso’s Tech 3 Yamaha to the finish line by 3/1000ths of a second. Ohi!
Last year, Marc Marquez arrived in San Marino leading teammate Dani Pedrosa by 30 points and Lorenzo by 39. Lorenzo gave us one of his patented machine-like performances, taking the lead early, putting his head down, and recording 27 smooth, fast laps, with Marquez unable to get any closer than three seconds once he went through on Pedrosa on Lap 18. At the end of the day Marquez had lost the race but won the war, increasing his lead to 34 points with but five rounds left in the season.
While Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta waits impatiently for the construction of a new track in Wales, the eventual home of the British Grand Prix, Donington Park has stepped in to fill the breach created by the financial woes apparent at Silverstone. Donington has secured the 2015 race and may host again in 2016, as construction delays brought about by the customary 350 days of rain per year in Wales could easily forestall its debut until 2017. In Wales, it’s said, you can find 40 different shades of green, 37 of which are molds and mildew. Why Dorna wants to stage a race in this odd little country – quick, someone name the capital – is well beyond me.
The last American standing in grand prix motorcycle racing, Nicky Hayden, is being held out of this week’s tilt as his surgically-repaired right wrist continues to heal. The day is not too far off when there will be no (0) Americans riding in this sport, which cannot be good for Dorna’s efforts to market the product in the U.S. With Josh Herrin recently having lost his Moto3 ride and Colin Edwards getting shown the door by his former NGM Forward Racing team, the manufacturers are going to have to find another way to promote their machines in the biggest retail market on earth; as a theme, success in grand prix racing is not going to work. There is no truth to the rumor that Ducati is planning a Buy One Diavel, Get One Free campaign for all of 2015.
This weekend marks Marc Marquez’s – that’s called alliteration – first attempt to tie Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a single season. Waiting here in Indiana for the tornados to drop from the sky and whisk me away to Points Unknown, I’m inclined to place my imaginary wager on Jorge Lorenzo this week. He gave Marquez all he wanted last time out; with no chance left to run the table, and plenty of easy rounds left to eclipse Doohan, this might be one the defending champion will be willing to let get away.
Again this week, the race goes off at 8 am Eastern time. Our report on the race results may be slightly delayed, as the editorial staff in Toronto has already started its annual Two Weeks of Boozing in gleeful anticipation of the autumnal equinox.