The MotoGP website is somewhat predictably promoting this week’s tilt between Movistar Yamaha tough guys Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as “The Clash of the Titans.” Which, to an on-the-street local racing fan here, would naturally bring to mind Godzilla. If, in fact, the Motul Grand Prix of Japan gives us a replay of Mothra vs. Godzilla, I assume the indomitable lizard triumphs, suggesting that Rossi will play the role of Mothra. It is easy to envision Lorenzo on the top step this weekend, surrounded by Honda pilots, Rossi’s margin at the top of the 2015 heap vanishing in the haze.

You kids remember Mothra, don’t you? Giant moth creature? Friend of Godzilla’s? Think Pacific Rim but without the robots or CGI.

This is the way racing is supposed to be. It’s a relationship thing, really. Rossi and Lorenzo have known each other as friends and rivals for a decade. Together, they gave their present employer Yamaha the 2015 Manufacturer’s championship. They have a bazillion world championships between them, and Rossi’s current 14-point advantage. Lorenzo’s, um, demeanor when he came up as a rookie in 2008 was such that they built a wall down the middle of the garage and had to be kept separated. Since then, each has mellowed, Lorenzo has matured, and Rossi, somehow, remains humble, irrepressible and fast. Beating one another is one of their great pleasures in life.

Things seem to be less tense between Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi since the Doctor returned to Yamaha.

It doesn’t get much better than this. If you’re a Honda fan, you can still have a good time. You’ll just have to wait for next year to have a rider in contention for a world championship. This is The Year of the Yamaha.

Recent History at Motegi

Heading into the 2012 race, Yamaha Chico de Oro Lorenzo led Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa by 33 points, with Casey Stoner in third recovering from the ankle he trashed in Indianapolis. That day, Pedrosa beat Lorenzo and Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista (?) comfortably in as empty a win as you’ll ever see. During the race, Stoner had issues, as did Rossi, plodding on his Ducati. Ben Spies crashed off the factory Yamaha early, Crutchlow went off his Tech 3 Yamaha late. Pedrosa, with all the momentum, left Japan trailing the rock-hard Mallorcan by 28 points with two rounds left, the fat lady singing in the background.

Dani Pedrosa’s win at Motegi in 2012 came in the middle of his hottest streak in MotoGP.

The 2013 race was summarized elegantly by this publication, as follows:

Sick of all the attention the racing gods were getting in the run-up to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, the weather gods put on a show of their own. They sent Typhoon Lekima barreling toward the island on Thursday, summoned a 7.1 earthquake on Friday night, and topped it all off with Typhoon Francisco on Saturday, making a shambles of the weekend practice schedule. Undeterred by the weather, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo ran a perfect race on Sunday, winning against all odds, and setting up a meaningful season finale against [Marc] Marquez in Valenciana. Take THAT, weather gods!

Last year it was All Aliens, All the Time as Lorenzo led a pack of highly-paid pursuers to the finish line, with Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa all following on their factory machines, the time between 1st and 4th a mere 3.1 seconds. Though Andrea Doviozioso took the pole, the four Aliens were grouped from the 2 to 5 holes. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which arguably cost the Catalan the race. The Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat ironic, in that a number of fans might have been offended while most western observers were clearly stoked.

Marc Marquez clinched his second MotoGP title last year at Motegi.

Comings and Goings

The team lineups are beginning to shape up for 2016, the year of the “spec” ECU and Michelins. The four top factory teams will remain the same. A supposedly revived Gresini Aprilia team will feature MotoGP underachievers Bautista and Stefan Bradl. Brit Sam Lowes reportedly has a contract with Aprilia for 2017-18, meaning one of the two vets will have to go. My take on this is that Fausto has barely tolerated Bautista all these years since Simoncelli, and that Bradl hadn’t had enough time to get under his skin yet but surely will. Big changes will be underway for the Gresini team this offseason.

Tito Rabat will move up to the MotoGP class next season with Marc VDS.

The Monster Tech 3 team is to stand pat with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as expectations there continue to rise. Pramac Ducati gives Yonny Hernandez’s seat to Scott Redding, who needs all the grunt the Desmosedici can muster, to team with the ascendant Danilo Petrucci. (I’m not sold on Redding in the premier class yet, but am totally sold on Gigi Dall’Igna.) LCR Honda continues with the disappointing Cal Crutchlow, and Marc VDS signs Tito Rabat to a factory Honda, coming up from Moto2 to take Redding’s seat. The Most Blessed Jack Miller, the Anointed One, has a full ride with factory Honda and will land either on LCR or VDS.

Team Aspar, seriously negotiating a change from Honda to Ducati equipment for 2016, has signed Hernandez. Their second seat appears up for grabs, with incumbent Eugene Laverty enjoying no advantage going in. Deposed incumbent Nicky Hayden appears surely to be headed to World Superbike, where he can expect to contend for titles again.

Is this Nicky Hayden’s last season in MotoGP?

Avintia Racing stays with Ducati, Hector Barbera and the recently-signed Loris Baz aboard. The French Baz appears to have a surprisingly bright future at 6’3”, making the jet setters look like teenagers while whipping his cobbled-up Yamaha toward the top of the heap for open class riders.

Farther down the food chain, two of the remaining three teams looks to be out of business next season. Most likely to continue with Alex de Angelis is brave little Ioda Racing, hoping to field a two-man satellite Aprilia team, rider #2 as yet un-named. Forward Racing seems doomed, and Karel Abraham’s future with his dad’s Cardion AB team is in doubt as he seems to have permanent damage from a foot injury he suffered last season. Dude needs to retire.

Johann Zarco can clinch the Moto2 championship with a victory this weekend.

All of which suggests that KTM, upon their entry to the grid in 2017, may bump a team out of the chase, in addition to skimming a couple of up-and-coming riders, perhaps on their way up from Moto2. The chase is intended to be more competitive due to the standard ECU, which writers elsewhere have described as something of a target-rich environment for tampering behaviors similar to those admitted to recently by Volkswagen. Regardless, MotoGP continues, at its core, to be rather biblical, as you will always have the poor with you, the “privateer” teams that struggle every season but can’t pull themselves away easily. Those of you who have stood or rode on the tarmac understand the juice that drives these behaviors. I should be nicer to these guys.

The Thing is…

Everybody tells me the tires are everything. Whomever adjusts to the new Michelins most quickly will take the lead in the championship next year. It is probably going to be the worst year in MotoGP history to bet on the outcome. Though it could easily last only for a season, or even part of a season, there could easily be a shakeup in the Aliens lineup come 2016 as the older riders becoming most vulnerable. Suppose Rossi decides to go out on top. Suppose Yamaha begins flirting with Marquez.

It promises, at the least, to be interesting.

Your Weekend Forecast…

Jorge Lorenzo won the last two races at Motegi and finished second the two years before that. Valentino Rossi finished third last year but will need to do better to hold off his teammate.

…couldn’t be worse for most teams. Sunny on Friday and Saturday with a 90% chance of rain on Sunday. I was going to suggest people “plan to listen to the Spanish national anthem after the race, not the Italian.” But if it is a wet race, all bets are off on the outcome, with Rossi clearly holding the upper hand. Once again the weather gods appear poised to influence the standings.

Mothra may be feeling pretty good about the rematch.

  • Old MOron

    Excellent preview, Bruce! Interesting and illuminating perspective.
    I like how you tied Volkswagen into next year’s ECU charade. Just one thing: no mention of Jorge’s shoulder injury? I really do hope that this year will be more like 2010 than the years in between. I can’t wait for Rossi to duff up Lorenzo. It would be so sweet if he could send Jorge crying to Lin Jarvis like in 2010, but that’s too good to hope for. Oh well, will Friday’s practice never get here?!

    And as for Nicky, I sure hope he gets a better bike than Honda’s in WSB!

    • Bruce Allen

      I was hoping Dennis would cover my deficiencies with his captions, the way he usually does. Seems that he, along with me, got too excited by the whole Godzilla thing. It doesn’t appear Lorenzo’s shoulder will present much of an issue. Marquez’s hand injury, though, could keep him out of the front group and minimize his threat to either of the Yamaha brutes.

    • with crappy tires coming next year! the rise of the under dogs!

  • spiff

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • spiff

    The spec ecu you speak of. Before every outing there should be a random way to hand them out, and they are turned in after the bikes are in the garage. That wouldn’t work though. They would just create some sort of Power Commander. Oh well, it ain’t cheatin till you’re caught.

  • Vrooom

    It if’s wet Lorenzo doesn’t stand a chance, he might qualify well in the dry, but won’t finish that way. Should Rossi finish first and Lorenzo mid-pack, that will make the path to his championship mighty steep. Nice preview!.

  • DKing

    Let’s go rain! ahem..I mean…let’s go Rossi!

  • JMDonald

    Looking forward to these last few races. I don’t want to jinx anyone so may the best man win.

  • Bruce Allen

    Lorenzo looking very machine-like early, working with a very good machine. Pedrosa follows, Marquez and Rossi having issues on Friday. Ducati doing well; an unlikely win in Japan might be enough to rid them of these embarrassing concessions. They need to take off the training wheels, man up. They’re here.

    • Old MOron

      Well, Marquez we can forgive since he just had an operation on his hand. Vale looks to be about 3/4 of a second behind Jorge. Maybe Vale is working on his rain settings!

    • Old MOron

      That whole thing about Lorenzo wearing his arm in a sling, I wonder if he was sandbagging. Just for that, I’m routing for a guy with a real injury. C’mon, Maniac Joe!

  • Old MOron

    Oh man, I just love the Japanese time frame. Guess what happens at 5:00 PM pacific time? Moto 3 FP3. Guess what goes on until about midnight? All of Saturday’s practice and qualifying! Man, I’m going to get home after work and unwind with some awesome Moto 3,2,GP action.

  • some parts of the montegi track are amazing for lean angle lovers. rossi is to big for this circuit. last few races sparks have been flying of rossi’s boot, he cant fit between the pavement and the bike.
    but there is almost nothing in this circuit. between the top riders last year.
    the difference between sections a mere 0.1 or 0.2 seconds

  • Old MOron

    Wow, what a qualifying session! Trading fast laps, only .08 separating the Bruise Brothers at the end. Fabulous. Can’t wait for the race.

  • Bruce Allen

    Dude, it’s gonna rain. All Italian podium? 99 and 46 need to stay vertical. No crashing. The weather is working for Rossi, doesn’t need any set-up time.

    • Old MOron

      Yeah, incredible. Vale shows in FP4 that he doesn’t need the rain (very much), but it’s going to rain anyway. I wonder how conservative 99 and 46 will be. Jorge knows that Vale goes well in Australia, so he needs to push now.

    • Old MOron

      Aw man, there’s heavy mist over the track, and the medical helicopters are grounded. So everything is on hold. Oh, the drama!

  • Old MOron

    Okay Brucey, have fun writing that one up. We’ll be waiting.

  • Bruce Allen

    It’s 7:30 am in Indiana. I’m gonna go to church and pray over this article, then come home and tell you clowns what REALLY happened today in Japan. 🙂