Factory Yamaha kingpins Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, a mere nine points between them, would probably enjoy fighting things out for the rest of the season in a series of match races, going one-on-one on empty tracks for bragging rights in 2015. While attendance on Sundays probably would not decline by all that much, the rest of the grid, most notably Repsol Honda threats Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, would prefer to be involved. By “involved” I mean trading paint in tight spaces, hoping to disrupt things sufficiently for Marquez, at least, to have a shot at MotoGP title #3.
Sadly, as we saw last week in Indianapolis, 2015 has devolved, as pretty much every season does, to four Aliens and everyone else. My penchant for slicing the grid into five or six tranches has proven to be a waste of time. There are, in fact, only two tranches – the factory Yamaha and Honda teams, and everyone else. The glimpses of grandeur we witnessed early in the season from the factory Ducati contingent have become sparse. The hope we held for a return to racing glory by the factory Suzuki team is, at best, premature. The Gresini Aprilia team has not disappointed, but only because their prospects heading into the season were nil. The satellite Honda and Yamaha teams are respectable, but do not appear capable of winning anything anytime soon. And the open class, again in 2015, must be content to fight for points in ones and twos. In the words of Bruce Hornsby, that’s just the way it is.
Which brings us to Brno, the only place in The Czech Republic, other than Prague, any of us has ever heard of or can pronounce. I’ve been calling Brno a Yamaha track for years, despite the fact that Big Blue hasn’t won here since Lorenzo in 2010. Whether it’s a Yamaha track or not, it should be. It’s the Heidi Klum of MotoGP circuits – long and graceful, with gently undulating curves, perfect teeth, and a sexy Eastern European accent. Any mention here of 140,000 intoxicated Czechs wishing to get up close and personal would be entirely inappropriate.
Recent History at Brno
Round 12 in 2012 found Repsol mighty mite Pedrosa at the top of his diminutive game. Entering the race 17 points behind Lorenzo, he fought off a cabal of Yamahas, pipping Lorenzo at the wire, with Tech 3 malcontent Cal Crutchlow finishing a surprising third, six seconds ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Casey Stoner, Pedrosa’s teammate, sat this one out with the ankle he demolished at Indianapolis. Trailing Lorenzo by only 13 points on Sunday evening, Pedrosa would go on to run the table in 2012, other than his ruinous crashes at Misano (the stuck tire warmer debacle) and Phillip Island (pressing so hard he almost came out of his socks). Lorenzo beat him by 18 points for the championship, the closest Dani would ever get to a MotoGP title.
In 2013, rookie Marc Marquez, suddenly the king of the hill, won at Brno for a fourth straight victory, edging teammate Pedrosa by 3/10ths with Lorenzo another two seconds back. He ended the day leading Pedrosa by 26 points and Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left. A desperate Lorenzo got off early, hoping to run away from the field, but the Hondas gradually reeled him in, Marquez going through on Lap 16 and Pedrosa three laps later. The podium celebration was memorable, as the Spanish national anthem was followed by a recording of Don Meredith singing “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over.” MotoGP meets Monday Night Football behind the remnants of the Iron Curtain. (My memory of that afternoon may not be quite accurate.)
Last year, Brno was the site where Marquez’ amazing winning streak came to a curious halt, stopped, as it were, by Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi tout ensemble. Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that Marquez just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than forcing the issue. It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013. What had evolved over the course of the season was an “anyone but Marquez” mentality that seemed to grip the rest of the grid. That day, it was Andrea Iannone who tangled with Marquez twice early, with Rossi having volunteered to keep the rookie at bay later in the race. Not that it mattered, as the championship had been decided well before then. In 2014 it took a village to keep Marquez off the podium.
Rumor and Innuendo
Leading first with innuendo, Claudio Corti has to be the lamest of lame ducks this weekend. Imagine subbing on an open class Yamaha as the #2 rider on a team in such desperate financial straits that Round 11 is likely to be its last dance ever. Such is Forward Racing’s plight heading into the Czech Republic. Stefan Bradl has already bailed, and hard luck Loris Baz, who came out of World Superbikes to present a credible challenge for the open class title, will find himself homeless come Sunday evening. Bringing in Corti for the team finale reminds me of when we were kids on the 4th of July, lighting off ladyfingers one at a time until we finally realized just how lame we were and lit off the rest of the pack all at once. At least it will give the other half of the crew something to do besides gape at the brolly girls.
The most interesting rumor of the week has Bradl replacing Yonny Hernandez on the Octo Pramac Ducati next year alongside Danilo Petrucci. Hernandez was having a pretty good year early in the season but, like the Dueling Andreas of the factory team, has dropped off the pace of late. Bradl, who flirted with Ducati back in 2012, must feel that Aprilia is several years away from having a competitive bike. And while there exists considerable sentiment in the paddock around having a Japanese rider, some Brits and a German or two to build attendance and bolster marketing efforts, no similar sympathy appears attached to the Pride of Colombia. Hernandez could easily find himself a competitive ride in WSBK next year. He and Nicky Hayden could make a formidable pair fronting for Ducati.
Quick Hitters, and Your Weekend Forecast
After going seven for seven in the United States over the past three seasons, and in need of a snappy nickname, Marquez should consider Captain America. He, perhaps alone among all the riders, will be sorry to see Indianapolis fall off the calendar … Sito Pons, Chief Cheddar at Pons Racing, seems to have known what he was doing last year, signing ascendant rookie Alex Rins to a two year deal. This will shield the 19 year old from any temptation to jump to MotoGP for what is likely to be a very difficult 2016. I suppose the possibility exists that Pons may want to do a Marc VDS and put together his own MotoGP team for 2017, as the herd looks to be thinning over the next season and a half. Teams with real sponsorship issues include Forward Racing, LCR, Aspar, and Ioda; plenty of room on the grid for a well-financed Pons Racing team.
Not wishing to dwell on Heidi Klum any more than necessary (as if that’s possible), the weather forecast for this weekend is hot hot hot. As in temps in the 90s, pop-up thunderstorms a distinct possibility, more like Sepang than Brno. A layout favoring the Yamahas with conditions favoring the Hondas – a recipe for unpredictability. Q2 on Saturday is likely to tell the story once again.
The race goes off at 8 am EDT, and we’ll have results right here Sunday afternoon.