Factory Yamaha pilot Jorge Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely needed to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains of Aragon. Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hasn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to take Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the diminutive Spaniard willfully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a winless year.
As expected, the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday featured Lorenzo and defending world champion Marc Marquez, looking fast and dangerous on the #1 Repsol Honda. Marquez shredded the track record in qualifying on Saturday, earning yet another pole. His start today earned a C from the judges as he exited Turn 1 in third place behind Lorenzo and Andrea “Ironman” Iannone, racing again with a recently dislocated shoulder.
Marquez went through on the Italian later in Lap 1 and set his sights on Lorenzo. Unaccountably, as he was closing on the Mallorcan on Lap 2, he lost the front in Turn 12, backdropped by the massive stacked stone wall that always makes me think of The Inquisition. For the fifth time this season, young Marquez ended up in the gravel, the result of an unforced error caused, one would think, by youthful exuberance, overconfidence, a feeling of invulnerability or, most likely, a combination of the three, the magic of 2014 clearly gone. Until he learns to manage his emotions more effectively (the same problem Lorenzo had in 2008) he will not win another world championship.
As strange as it sounds, the lessons of 2015 may end up serving Marquez well. If he learns he doesn’t need to use every ounce of the considerable speed he possesses during every single moment of every single race, he will keep the shiny side up and compete for the next 10 or 12 world titles. Again and again we’ve seen the veteran Rossi keeping his powder dry and his tires intact, looking for the ideal opportunity to pass a rival and earn points. Winning a race by 12 seconds counts no more than winning by 12/1000ths; points is points, a fact often overlooked by youthful combatants.
67,000 Fans Held Their Breath
With Rossi glued to Pedrosa’s tailpipes all day, the mostly Spanish crowd waited for the inevitable takedown, when Rossi would go through and begin thinking about Lorenzo. Pedrosa passed the wounded Iannone on Lap 3, Rossi on Lap 4. (Iannone’s expected late day fade, due to pain in his shoulder, never materialized, as he finished a very gutsy fourth today, some 16 seconds clear of Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso.) Round and round they went, Rossi never trailing by more than 4/10ths nor less than two, until Lap 19.
Over the last five laps, Rossi attacked the Spaniard no less than four times, going through briefly only to get re-passed in the next turn. He would try twice in Turn 1 and twice more in Turn 4, Pedrosa never conceding a thing. As the crowd began to turn blue from oxygen deprivation, Lorenzo took the checkered flag, with Pedrosa gasping his way to second and Rossi taking an exhausting third.
During the post-race press conference, Pedrosa acted surprised when asked how he was able to withstand Rossi’s repeated attacks, a measure of the confidence with which he still approaches his trade. As his tenure with the factory Honda team approaches its end, he will be an asset to one of the newer teams – Aprilia or Suzuki or KTM – anxious to retain his services once HRC bids him farewell. Despite never having won a premier class title, he has forgotten more about this stuff than guys like Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera have ever known. Even if you’re a big Nicky Hayden fan with a long memory, Dani Pedrosa deserves your respect.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Five riders spent the shank of the day fighting over fifth place. Borrowing from the book of Genesis, “in the beginning” it looked like Tech 3 Yamaha little brother Pol Espargaro enjoyed the inside track, until he went walkabout on Lap 4, falling from fifth to tenth place, ultimately finishing ninth. This sounds worse than it actually was, as he finished only two seconds behind Dovizioso in fifth, separated by big brother Aleix on the Suzuki Ecstar, LCR Honda hooligan Cal Crutchlow, and Tech 3 teammate Bradley Smith. Smith, notably, had a forgettable weekend, qualifying 10th and finishing 8th, though still managing to hold onto fifth place for the season. Lame duck Pramac Ducati rider Yonny Hernandez completed the top ten, pipping Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales at the flag, despite a slew of pre-race flyovers from the Spanish Air Force, one of the two F-16’s emblazoned with Vinales’ #25.
Non-finishers today, besides Marquez, included the hapless Alex de Angelis, crashing out on Lap 6, Pramac Ducati overachiever Danilo Petrucci, who lowsided on Lap 10 for his first time outside the points all season, and a visibly pained Karel Abraham, who retired his open class Honda on Lap 12, apparently having re-injured his troublesome left foot. Karel, buddy, do the industry a favor and give it up. You’ve got a law degree and a rich father. Go put on an expensive suit and take clients to lunch, and let this MotoGP thing go. 38 points in three seasons – dude, it’s just not happening.
The Big Picture
In two weeks, the ass-dragging, sweat-soaked Pacific flyaway commences in Japan, with three races in three weeks. 14 points now separate Rossi and Lorenzo, two of the most talented riders on the face of the earth, on the same equipment, sharing the same garage. Old and crafty versus young and fast; the fable of the tortoise and the hare on two wheels. We all know how that ended. Whether the same holds true in MotoGP remains to be seen. Personally, I have my doubts.
Marquez now leads Iannone by a meager 12 points in the battle for third place and looks vulnerable. If Iannone manages to capture third place for the year, I will be conferring Alien status upon him, certain that Gigi Dall’Igna will provide him a further-improved ride for 2016. Bradley Smith enjoys a four point advantage over Dovizioso for fifth place; it would be great to see the wide-eyed Brit finish the season in the top five. Whether Dovizioso will allow this to happen, if indeed he can do anything to prevent it, is yet another unknown. Pedrosa, now trailing Dovizioso by only ten points, could easily jump up to fifth place for the year based upon what he showed today, after having endured a wretched start to the 2015 season.
Ducati, Honda and Yamaha all have a dog in the fight for eighth place, as Petrucci, Crutchlow and Espargaro the Younger are separated by only five points. At the tail end of my attention span, the two Suzuki teammates are separated by a mere two points in the contest for 11th place. Certain Rookie of the Year Vinales, it would seem, has more on the line, in that ending the season as the #1 rider on the team would bolster his chances of securing a ride with one of the more established factory teams commencing in 2017.
As October approaches, we find one of the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers lighting candles for sunny skies and the other praying for rain. Is it even possible that the 2015 MotoGP championship hinges on the weather? The mind reels.
|2015 MotoGP Aragon Top 10 Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+2.683|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+2.773|
|4||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||+7.858|
|5||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+24.322|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Estar||+24.829|
|7||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||+25.367|
|8||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+25.503|
|9||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+39.516|
|10||Yonny Hernandez||Octo Pramac||+43.889|
|2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 14 Rounds|