As the 2015 MotoGP season approaches the halfway mark, the factory Yamaha team of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the Bruise Brothers in Blue, have had things pretty much their own way. Between them, they’ve won six of the seven races to date. Double defending world champion Marc Marquez and his Honda RC213V have appeared, in the words of Led Zeppelin, dazed and confused. The annual visit to the Cathedral, the Motul TT Assen, could interrupt several recent trends.
Despite having camped out on the podium all season, Dr. Rossi has watched his lead over his Spanish teammate shrink from 29 points on the road to Jerez to a single point, as Lorenzo has hogged the top step of the rostrum for the last four rounds. Momentum is clearly in the Spaniard’s favor. But Assen, with its unpredictable (read: damp and cold) weather and stop-and-go traffic, has been a Rossi fave over the years – six premier class wins – while Lorenzo has only managed a single win here since 2008, during his first championship season in 2010. Since then, the Dutch TT has been a train wreck for #99, as follows:
- 2011 – Marco Simoncelli, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, from whence he pedaled his posterior off to salvage a 6th place finish.
- 2012 – Alvaro Bautista, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, this time putting Jorge down for the count. His 25 point lead heading into Holland evaporated in an instant, and he left tied with Casey Stoner for the series lead. Though he would eventually take the 2012 title, the Lorenzos and the Bautistas would not exchange Christmas cards that year or ever again.
- 2013 – Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone. His gritty 5th place finish that day presaged further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another dramatic highside destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the start of a new racing legend.
- 2014 – a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left. Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.
Meanwhile, The Doctor is Cool, Calm and Collected
Valentino Rossi, the ageless veteran, has things just about where he wants them at this point. He can afford to praise the ascendant Lorenzo, his teammate, while keeping his powder dry for what is a long, twisty season. He can be generous in his remarks toward the suffering Marquez, playing the role of the eminence grise, fully aware that Marquez will likely succeed him as the king of the sport, but not this year. And he can applaud the efforts of Ducati Corse and its two current heroes, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone. Nationalism runs a close second to Catholicism in Italy, where Rossi is a venerated icon.
In short, Rossi has positioned himself as a father figure to the rest of the top six riders on the grid, including Bradley Smith, who is making a name for himself on the Tech 3 Yamaha. And just in case the young guns start getting cocky, Rossi, more than any other rider on the grid, instills fear and despair when, after his usual mediocre start, he suddenly appears on pit boards – Rossi +1.4 – and begins charging back to the front. He may be old, but he is still very dangerous on race day. He does not beat himself, and if you want to beat him, you need to run a perfect race.
How cool must it be to be Valentino Rossi?
The Trial Continues for Marc Marquez
As cool as it is to be Vale these days, it must be a pain being Marc Marquez in 2015. The lily has been rudely un-gilded this season, to the extent that he is flirting with his 2014 chassis in an effort to re-discover the magic of the past two years. The racing press has been hounding him since Austin, the almost invincible air of the past year and a half having left the balloon. That he would not win the title in 2015 might have been anticipated, especially after the second half that Lorenzo turned in last year. But to fall so far so quickly has taken everyone, undoubtedly including Marquez himself, by surprise.
As has been pointed out elsewhere, the margin between glory and gravel in this sport is very thin. A good time for my annual apology to the back third of the grid, upon whom I tend to heap abuse, despite the fact that they lap only a couple of seconds slower than the Aliens. Marquez, at the ripe old age of 22, is giving an object lesson in one of my favorite expressions of all time:
Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
The engineers at Honda will get the RC213V straightened out before too long, although doing so might not precede the RC214V. Marquez will learn from this year, the particularly acute lessons having been delivered in Argentina, Mugello and Catalunya. His “win or bin” mentality is being hammered, right before our eyes, into a “discretion is the better part of valor” approach, one in which 20 or 16 points are seen as far superior to zero.
The venerable Nick Harris, who has been calling MotoGP races since the earth cooled, rarely mentions points in his broadcasts without inserting the adjective “precious”, an attitude I believe Marquez discounted until this season. With a more stable bike beneath him, and a more mature attitude toward the competition itself, Marquez is bound to win a great many more titles before he hangs up his leathers.
This and That
Having apologized to the have-nots of the MotoGP grid, I must admit that my favorite news clip since Catalunya featured Marco Melandri, who, fronting for the Gresini Aprilia fiasco, is 0-for-2015. He disclosed in an interview this week that he is “optimistic” following the installation of a new swingarm on his RS-GP. I suppose that reducing the likelihood of getting lapped in a grand prix motorcycle race conforms to some notion of optimism.
Nicky Hayden, the last American standing, announced his intention of finishing as the top open class entry this year, which will necessitate doing something about Loris Baz, Jack Miller and Stefan Bradl.
Finally, the weekend forecast, which includes a good chance of rain and temps in the high 60s and low 70s. Unable to predict the weather, I can predict that Valentino Rossi will leave Assen still in first place for the year. I’m not sure who will win on Sunday – weird things happen in The Low Countries – but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Jorge Lorenzo. We’ll have race results right here on Saturday evening.