For the 20th time in 22 years, MotoGP steams into the season finale with the title already decided. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, fresh off his white-knuckled win in the Malaysian furnace arrives, title in hand, looking to break Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a season. The Twin Powers at Movistar Yamaha, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, have an appointment at Circuit Ricardo Torma to decide whom will finish second in 2014. But Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, having screwed the pooch (twice) in Sepang, may have some plans of his own this weekend.
Marquez, who clinched his first premier class title last year in Valencia with a strategic third place finish, comes back to Spain in 2014 confident, relaxed and ready to eclipse Doohan’s 1997 record. Generally, when the term “win or bin” is used in MotoGP, it’s an expression of desperation, i.e., unless I can find a way to win this thing I might as well pack it in. In Marquez’s case, it means quite the opposite. He has the freedom to go all out in pursuit of the win, with no real downside if he pushes his RC213V past the limit. Finishing second, in this case, gets him little more than a DNF; might as well go all out.
The battle for second place between Rossi and Lorenzo finds the Italian protecting a 12 point lead, with the Spaniard forced into the conventional “win or bin” posture while still needing help from the field. The most likely scenario in which tiebreakers would come into play would have Lorenzo winning the race and Rossi finishing fourth; other mathematical possibilities exist (Lorenzo finishes second, Rossi finishes seventh, etc.), but are so remote as to not deserve mention.
The bottom line: If Lorenzo wins and Rossi finishes fourth or worse, Lorenzo takes second place. Likewise, if Rossi crashes out and Lorenzo finishes fourth or higher, Lorenzo wins. In any event, Lorenzo needs a dominating performance, and/or Rossi must suffer a Pink Floyd-esque momentary lapse of reason for the Mallorcan to have any chance of salvaging second place in 2014. The smart money is on Rossi.
Whither Dani Pedrosa
For Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa, Valencia represents an opportunity for a bit of redemption after a miserable last quarter of the season. Engaged in a knife fight with Rossi over second place for most of the year, he won at Brno, giving him a 13 point lead over the Italian and a comfortable 49 point lead over Lorenzo with seven races left. At that point, a top three finish in 2014 appeared to be a lock.
After getting edged out of a podium finish by Rossi at Silverstone and an acceptable 3rd place finish at San Marino, the wheels fell of Pedrosa’s 2014 season. A bad decision at Aragon, bad luck at Phillip Island and a bad race at Sepang brought it all crashing down. At Aragon, he waited one lap too long to pit as rain came to the Spanish plain. He was the victim of terrible decision-making by LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl at Phillip Island, getting taken down from the rear with no warning or means of avoiding the crash. And he lost the front not once but twice on the hot, greasy Malaysian tarmac, thereby guaranteeing himself an unsatisfying fourth place finish for the year.
Other than having signed a new two year deal with Honda earlier in the year, 2014 has been forgettable for the diminutive Spaniard. This weekend’s fray, however, offers the opportunity for him to make a meaningful impact on the season itself, as follows:
- A win here, which would be his fourth in the premier class at Valencia, would deprive his irritating teammate of a record he would dearly love to secure. Take THAT, gran bateador.
- Similarly, a win Sunday would almost certainly deprive countryman Lorenzo of his slim chance to finish second this year, which has some appeal of its own.
- Finally, a fight with Rossi, with nothing on the line, could result in the Italian finishing far enough down in the order to miss second place for 2014 and lose a small sliver of his legendary luster.
Clearly, these are hollow goals for a professional as competitive as Dani Pedrosa. But as the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, the least you can do is make lemonade, even if you happen to be traveling 190 mph wearing a funny-looking leather jumpsuit.
Randy de Puniet and the Return of Suzuki
RDP was in the news this week, discoursing about the present and future of the Suzuki MotoGP program and his place in it. De Puniet, who has spent the past year testing and developing the new GSX-RR bike, will be a wildcard at Valencia. After putting in the yeoman’s work in developing the GSX-RR, he was rewarded with a racing contract – with Suzuki’s World Superbike program. He expressed some disappointment that he had not been tagged as one of the two factory team riders for 2015, but candidly admitted that both Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro are faster than him. He also suggested that Suzuki would be well-served by fielding a two bike satellite team going forward, as such are the source of the data contributing to the relative success of the factory Honda, Yamaha and, to a lesser extent, Ducati programs.
Call me cynical, but I’m thinking de Puniet must have floated this particular balloon past the suits at Suzuki corporate more than once without any positive response. Having failed in that, he apparently decided to go public with idea, in the hope of generating some pressure on his Japanese masters in excess of that which he was able to generate on his own. I suspect the chances of this idea getting adopted, with Randy on one of the satellite bikes, are two – slim and none. At any rate, it will be good to see him back on track at Valencia, as he has ridden there every year since 1999. And, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he qualifies higher than he finishes. Just sayin’.
The Best Race of the Weekend: Moto3
With Tito Rabat having clinched the Moto2 title last time out at Sepang, the only title still up for grabs is in Moto3. Season leader Alex Marquez, Marc’s little brother, holds an 11 point lead over young Australian overachiever Jack Miller, whom we were able to meet and chat with in Malaysia. The guy says all the right things, and is a legitimate threat to take the Moto3 title this weekend, if bad things happen to Marquez, which they are unlikely to do.
The set-up between Marquez and Miller is essentially identical to that of Rossi and Lorenzo, so there’s no point in going through the scenarios. The Moto3 battle up front in Malaysia was breathtaking start to finish, with neither rider, nor any of the top five finishers, showing any quit. Marquez can title by playing it safe, while Miller is squarely in “win or bin” mode, plus praying for help from the racing gods.
The weekend forecast for Valenciana is dry, so the finale should not get screwed up by the weather. The race goes off at 8:00 am Eastern time in the U.S., and we’ll have results, plus our annual literary reference summing up the season, right here on Sunday evening.