After the debacle at Misano, factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo observed that capturing the 2015 MotoGP title requires only that he win the remaining five races. His Plan A, which to many seems unlikely, could give way this weekend to Plan B, which would have teammate Valentino Rossi crashing out of a race or two. But Rossi, on average, crashes maybe once a season, most recently at Aragon a year ago. Lorenzo, who loves racing on the dusty Spanish plain, needs to make some hay on Sunday; beating his teammate has never been so important.
Since Lorenzo’s four-round winning streak ended at Assen, Rossi has outscored the Spaniard by 22 points, half of which came last week with his somewhat disappointing fifth-place run in the rain of San Marino. Rossi’s reliability is one reason he’s fighting for a championship at age 36. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, he has started and finished all but three races to Lorenzo’s five. Both are consistent, but Rossi has the edge.
The main thing Lorenzo has going for him this weekend is the venue; Rossi simply hasn’t been very good in five outings at Motorland Aragon. Granted, during two of those years he was wrestling a pre-Dall’igna Ducati, which explains some of it. But while Lorenzo has gone 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd and 1st, Rossi has finished 6th, 10th, 8th, 3rd and not at all last year. For Lorenzo, that’s the good news. The bad news is that anything other than a solid win this weekend will put him in the trick locker, a nice working definition of the term “pressure.”
I have failed to mention double defending world champion and factory Honda wonderboy Marc Marquez, who won last time out and is likely to be a major fly in the ointment for Lorenzo on Sunday. The young Catalan figures to be in the middle of things this weekend, complicating life more for Lorenzo than Rossi. Let’s just call a spade a spade and suggest that Lorenzo needs to beat both Rossi and Marquez at Aragon. Almost any other order of finish works in Rossi’s favor, and the grueling Pacific swing beckons.
Recent History at Aragon
In 2012, Round 14 was Dani’s Revenge, as Pedrosa, whose season went up in smoke following his last-row-start-first-lap-crash at Misano two weeks previous, won comfortably. Lorenzo finished a conservative, relatively risk-free second that day, while Monster Tech 3 scrapper Andrea Dovizioso pushed his satellite Yamaha to the limit on his way to a gratifying third place finish (joyfully pimping teammate Cal Crutchlow at the flag) and subsequent “promotion” to the factory Ducati team in 2013. Over the last half of the 2012 season, Pedrosa epitomized the “win or bin” metaphor so often spoken of in racing (generally by Brits) by winning six of his last eight races and crashing out of the other two. Despite piling up his highest career point total in 2012, Pedrosa would end the year 18 points behind Lorenzo, a short, swarthy bridesmaid once again.
In 2013, rookie Marc Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, took Lorenzo’s best shot, and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez. The rookie phenom’s 39-point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez went on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.
Last year’s Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Rossi finished the day in the medical center, having run off the track on Lap 4 into a bog which grabbed his front tire, held it fast, and ejected him into the tire wall, concussed, dazed and confused. While Lorenzo won going away, the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who drove his satellite Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Crutchlow, pipped once again, and his factory Ducati. In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing project, now in tatters, desperately trying to finish the season, its owner under indictment and Toni Elias now occupying the #2 seat behind poor Loris Baz.
Austria Yes, Indiana No
The odds finally caught up with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to Misano, when the provisional 2016 calendar was released. Gone was the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, voted the best round of the season just the previous year. In its place will be the Austrian Grand Prix, to be run at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, roughly 100 miles southwest of Vienna. With but nine turns per lap, it seems likely to favor the Yamahas and Ducatis. The Hoosier in me is screaming “not a very interesting layout,” but we shall save that observation for next year.
A second transatlantic crossing, with Laguna Seca having been scratched from the calendar in 2014, has always been expensive, and has seemed a long way to go for not much. The Motor Speedway is cool if you enjoy watching four-wheeled vehicles going fast and turning left, but the infield section, flat as a board, was never great for bikes. Despite drawing 60-70,000 fans, the stands always looked three- quarters empty, due to the fact that they were always three-quarters empty. The real shame in all this is that it undoubtedly means the demise of the MotoAmerica round in Indy.
If Carmelo Ezpeleta has his way, the calendar will grow to 20 rounds later this decade. If the United States were a better market for the manufacturers, promoters in this country would figure out a way to put together a three race American round consisting of Laguna, Austin and Indianapolis early in the season, with the Pacific flyaway bookending it in the fall. Instead, the grid is likely to find itself schlepping to places like Thailand, Finland (???) and even ultra-ambitious Kazakhstan. Yikes.
Your Weekend Forecast
As of Tuesday evening, the chances for rain in metropolitan Alcañiz this weekend are zero, with temps hovering around 80°F. With no rain in the forecast, the Aliens are likely to control things, as much as things can be controlled at 200 mph on two wheels. Look for Rossi to lay back a little to watch Marquez and Lorenzo beat each other’s brains in. With Marquez hungry and Lorenzo desperate, Rossi can play tortoise, keeping his eye on the big picture. With autumn coming into view, Jorge Lorenzo enjoys no such luxury.