First it was Dani Pedrosa, after a disappointing season opener in Qatar, announcing that his chronic arm pump issues would require immediate surgery, keeping him out of the saddle indefinitely. Then, just the other day, we learn that teammate and Supreme Intergalactic Potentate Marc Marquez smashed the little finger on his left hand to bits in training, necessitating a delicate surgery and some hurry-up physio. Pedrosa is out, and Marquez has been deemed “questionable” for Round 4 this weekend. Several Italians smell blood in the water.
First and foremost of the shark-ish Italians would be Valentino Rossi, sponsored this year by Fountain of Youth Waters. Rossi leads the title chase, having accumulated three podia and two wins thus far, making the application of the adjective “wily” almost unavoidable. He has shown speed, strategic thinking, consistency and sound judgment all year, and is, suddenly, a viable contender for his first premier class title since 2009. Our crack research department is looking into the last time a premier class champion suffered five years in between titles (ed: Never. The current longest gap between championship belongs to Casey Stoner who won in 2007 and 2011.)
Next in line is Andrea Dovizioso, #1 on the factory Ducati team, trailing Rossi by six points after three mostly brilliant outings on the new Desmosedici GP15, with three silver medallions to show for his efforts thus far. His wingman, Andrea Iannone, sits in third place some 20 points behind Dovizioso but still leading double world champions Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. With a third, a fifth, and an achingly narrow fourth place finish in Argentina to his credit, Iannone is thinking podium again this week.
Sitting in 12th place with but 10 points to his name, Pedrosa’s season lies in ruin, offering him no reason to come back from his injury prematurely. Marquez, whose 36 points to date put him in fifth place, had likely been hoping to take over third place this weekend, the first of four Spanish rounds. Now, it appears he will be lucky to post at all, his customary whackadoodle riding style mostly out the window with a titanium splint on his left pinkie. The double defending world champion, one must think, will be content to line up on Sunday’s grid and capture some points while in healing mode. There is a word to describe the pressure on the wounded Marquez, after his ill-considered encounter with Rossi in Argentina; I just can’t think what it is. Immense? Indescribable? Intergalactic?
— Marc Márquez (@marcmarquez93) April 29, 2015
Some of you may wish to point out that Marquez trailed Pedrosa by 30 points after six rounds in 2013 and still managed to win the title. This was due in no small part to both Pedrosa and Lorenzo having been sufficiently genteel to suffer broken collarbones at Assen and The Sachsenring. Valentino Rossi, on the other hand, has been absurdly healthy during his entire career. Starting his 16th season in the premier class, the Italian has recorded a DNS exactly four (4) times, all of which occurred in 2010 after his brutal crash in practice at Mugello.
Trailing the virtually invulnerable Rossi by 30 points is vastly different than trailing the snake-bit Dani Pedrosa.
Recent History at Jerez
Factoid, courtesy of MotoGP.com: Rossi, with six premier class wins here, the most recent in 2009, is one of only three non-Spaniards ever to occupy the top step of the MotoGP podium in Jerez, along with Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi.
The Jerez round in 2012 was memorable, with defending world champion Stoner trimming Lorenzo by a second and Lorenzo punking Pedrosa at the flag by 4 /10ths. With the podium separated by a mere second and a half, one could be forgiven for thinking this had perhaps been the Moto2 race. Nicky Hayden, who qualified his Ducati third on Saturday, would fondly remember this race as the last he would start from the front row.
Dani Pedrosa won the 2013 affair which, too, was memorable if for entirely different reasons. Jerez 2013 was the day rookie Marc Marquez sprouted some premier class whiskers, as described here:
“As the riders crossed the start/finish line for the last time, Marquez re-appeared on Lorenzo’s pipes. Lorenzo, who had struggled all day with front grip, appeared to be in trouble, but continued blocking Marquez, other than a momentary exchange of positions around Turn 6. Finally, though, at, of all places, the Jorge Lorenzo corner, its namesake went a shade wide and Marquez, lizard brain firmly in control, dove inside. As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, with Lorenzo being forced wide into third place both for the day and the season.”
Last year’s race featured Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10. A jubilant Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the season; at that time we had no idea he would end up on the rostrum 13 times on the way to finishing second for the year. Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late in the day for the last podium spot, another harbinger that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the 2010 and 2012 champion’s year.
With Honda and Yamaha having split the last eight races here, this weekend’s tilt would have been considered a Japanese crapshoot under normal circumstances. The abysmal health of the Repsol Honda riders, a white hot Rossi, a desperate Lorenzo and two suddenly competitive Ducatis suggest there may not be a Honda on the podium come Sunday afternoon. CWM LCR Honda pilot Cal Crutchlow may have something to say about this, after an encouraging ride at Rio Hondo, but his history at Jerez has been, um, undistinguished up until now.
Compared to recent years, the first weekend of May 2015 must be termed anything but normal.
More Rounds, New Tracks on the Horizon
Dorna released word this week suggesting that the MotoGP season may find itself extended up to perhaps 20 rounds in 2017, with the Red Bull Ring in Austria definitely on the way, along with the possibility of another Asian round. I read elsewhere that a Finnish track is nearing completion, and that the owners have told F-1 to kindly pound sand, wishing instead to host a MotoGP round in the foreseeable future. As if England and German aren’t cold enough. What could possibly be next? The Siberian GP?
Your Weekend Forecast
Weather.com says the weather in Jerez this weekend will be hot and dry, normally a good thing for the Repsol Honda team. Whether it will be hot and dry enough to help Marquez remains to be seen. Perhaps conditions will allow Crutchlow to find his way back onto the podium for a second consecutive round, but I don’t think he has too much experience on the RC213V when the track is melting and oozing grease. If nothing else, broiling temps will give him something to complain about.
One would have to be silly not to pick Rossi to win on Sunday, especially after Marquez suggested this may be his last opportunity to do so. (I’m not sure about the wisdom of throwing down on The Doctor with your hand in a cast.) Anyway, I expect to see Dovizioso second on the podium, with Lorenzo, Iannone and Crutchlow slugging it out for third. The lights go out at 8 am EDT, and we’ll have results, commentary and analysis right here later in the day.