I’ve been told you can put a frog in a pan of cold water and set it on a low fire, allowing the water to heat up gradually until the frog, just sitting there minding his own business, is cooked. Playing the role of the frog at present and wearing #93 is defending world champion Marc Marquez, trailing series leader Valentino Rossi by 49 points as the 2015 season passes the one third pole. Marquez fans around the world are going all Nelly, suddenly aware that “it’s getting’ HOT in here.”
No one was sweating the curious 5th place finish at Losail, where weird things often happen. The win at Austin showed relieved fans that all was, indeed, well with the Repsol Honda wunderkind. The careless crash in Argentina seemed like a bump in the road, until the fourth place finish in France, which had people scratching their heads. When the expected comeback at Mugello ended in disaster on Lap 18, those of us anticipating a decade of Marquez titles were jarred by the realization that a third consecutive title in 2015 would require a fairly complete collapse by the entire Movistar Yamaha team and has become, to use my friend Kevin’s term for bad movie plots, “unlikely.”
Not impossible. A win in Barcelona coupled with a bad weekend from the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team could put Marquez back in third place by Sunday afternoon. Misfortune, as everyone knows, can strike quickly in this sport, especially at places like Assen and The Sachsenring, up next on the calendar. But the fact that, for Marquez, the 2015 title now depends on Valentino Rossi AND Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of a race or two is vastly different from the scenario we’ve seen over the past two seasons. Marquez morphed from dark horse to contender in 2013 when teammate Dani Pedrosa and rival Lorenzo broke collarbones in The Netherlands and Germany. During his serene 2014, in which he barely broke a sweat winning the first ten races of the season, he could afford to ignore Lorenzo and Rossi and focus on dreaming up entertaining post-race celebrations. The samurai ritual at Motegi last year was especially notable.
Now, a year later, Marquez, sitting in fifth place, has lost control of his season. The eventual outcome of the 2015 championship is in the veteran hands of Rossi and Lorenzo, both of whom look capable of winning. The Yamaha and Ducati factories have given their riders much better machinery than they’ve enjoyed in years past, leveling the field, if not tilting it in their favor over the Hondas.
Personally, I can see Andrea Iannone blowing up in the second half of the season, going highside and recording a handful of DNSes; he is perhaps the most aggressive rider on the grid seated on a bike fast enough to enter a low earth orbit. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso rarely crashes and manages his tires, but has a single career win, at Donington Park back in 2009. But, you say, Nicky Hayden won the 2006 title with only two wins; those days are long over. Rossi, and especially Lorenzo, are riding as well as they ever have; the notion that both of them will suddenly fall off the chart is almost laughable. Yet, for Marquez to win in 2015, that’s pretty much what needs to happen.
Catalunya – The Heart of Lorenzo’s Land
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, closest to Jorge Lorenzo’s birthplace off the coast of Spain, is one of his favorite tracks. Over the last nine years he has recorded eight starts, four wins, three seconds, and last year’s outlier, a fourth place finish in the midst of his half-season malaise. He stomped the field in 2012, outraced Dani Pedrosa by 1.8 seconds in 2013, and suffered last year while Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa rode the wheels off their bikes, Rossi sneaking into second place after Marquez and Pedrosa traded paint late in the day. Last year’s race was one of the best of all time, probably one of the most satisfying wins of Marquez’ young career.
Lorenzo, coming off a hat trick at Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello, will be the favorite on Sunday. Hopefully, by then the locals will have sobered up from the celebration of their football team’s world title this past Saturday. For sports fans in this part of the planet, having Barca put it to Juventus, followed by Lorenzo putting it to everyone eight days later would be the equivalent of having home teams winning the Super Bowl and the Final Four in the same week. And while Marquez and Pedrosa and the rest of the Spanish riders will all spend some time this week talking about the pleasures of racing at home, most of the locals, and all of the frontrunners, will be rooting for Jorge.
A Quick Golf Analogy
Many of us read this week the startling figure that Valentino Rossi, leading the championship after six rounds, has led a total of four (4) laps all year, while teammate Lorenzo has led 91. Looking at these two numbers in a vacuum, one would assume that Lorenzo would be leading Rossi by a country mile. Not so.
As it turns out, the only lap that is important to lead is the last one. The comparison to golf is irresistible. This, I suspect, is why you read this column on a regular basis – the never-ending and always enjoyable links to other sports. Football, baseball, and now golf. Golfers have an expression that captures the essence of the counterintuitive 91 to four ratio … wait for it…
Drive for show, putt for dough. You’re welcome.
Has Arm Pump Surgery Become a Status Symbol?
Avintia Racing’s Hectic Hector Barbera is the latest victim of the nasty arm pump syndrome. Having undergone surgery this past week – think splitting the casing on a kielbasa and then sewing it back together – his participation this weekend is described as “doubtful.” Every year it seems like half a dozen riders go under the knife for this repair. These are some of the toughest guys on the planet, so the pain must be immense.
Your Weekend Forecast
It looks like there’ll be warm temps and plenty of rain in the Montmelo area between Friday and Monday. Good news for the Ducati riders, as the Desmosedici has always been surprisingly stable in the wet. Bad news for most everyone else, making setup difficult and raising the possibility of a hair-raising flag-to-flag affair. Rain is one of the wildcards that can shake up a championship, as it raises the likelihood of crashing and forces riders to be more conservative than usual.
For Marc Marquez and his ornery RC213V, the prospect of a wet weekend must seem like the racing gods are just piling on. But, to the extent that weather could toss a spanner into the works of the factory Yamaha team, he has no choice but to embrace the elements and make them work for him. If the Bruise Brothers end up on the Catalan podium and he ends up in the kitty litter his 2015 season will be poached.