The 2015 MotoGP championship season that was, back in April, a marathon is now a sprint. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa helped his employer avoid potential disgrace at the hands of Yamaha, his win today (actually brilliant, I think, in a world of routine overstatement) under difficult conditions and well under the radar. In the process, he threw some more dirt on what has become Yamaha factory stud Jorge Lorenzo’s grave – bad things happen to Lorenzo on wet tracks.

Motegi on this Sunday was cool and damp, the track wet, a light drizzle falling. The riders all put rain tires on their race bikes and had their #2 bikes set up for the wet in case something untoward were to happen during the sighting lap. Once it was complete, the teams re-set the bikes for the dry in anticipation of an expected flag-to-flag cluster. The riders appeared more tense than usual as they lined up on the grid. Everyone wanted to talk to the Bridgestone people.

A wet track forced teams to carefully consider their tire strategies.

For Lorenzo and, to a lesser extent, Rossi, today’s conditions were too wet for drys and too dry for wets. Each chose rain tires, a hard front and a medium/soft rear. The 2015 Yamaha YZR-M1 is clearly a better bike than the 2015 Honda RC213-V, but one of its weaknesses was exposed today. On a wet but drying track, the M1 now behaves more like a Ducati in terms of tire degradation. The Bridgestones on most of the factory Ducatis lasted until Lap 14, when three riders left the race involuntarily. For Lorenzo and, to a lesser extent, teammate and series leader Valentino Rossi, it appeared more rain today would have been helpful.

Even I have trouble with that last thought, insofar as the championship discussion itself includes only the two Yamaha pilots. As much as some people try to deny it, Jorge Lorenzo and rain is now A Thing. Had it rained hard, Lorenzo would have still lost four or five points to Rossi. The relative result likely wouldn’t have changed. (I suspect Lorenzo would have lost more ground to Rossi on a truly wet track, as all of the Italian riders seem to be mudders. Surprising to see Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone crash, as the Ducati handles well in the wet. Left to ponder the tires, always the tires…)

Normally one of the front runners, an injured Marc Marquez found himself battling Andrea Dovizioso for fourth.

In a nutshell today, Pedrosa came from out of nowhere to win the race, trailing at the end of Lap 7 by almost 9 seconds as Lorenzo was running away. Pedrosa had struggled all weekend in dry practice sessions but won the wet WUP. As his fuel load dropped, he watched the Yamahas and Ducatis grind their Bridgestones to powder on the drying surface of the racing line. Then, on Lap 8, he began reeling in Ducati #2 Andrea Dovizioso (Lap 11), then Rossi (Lap 16) and finally Lorenzo on Lap 18. On Lap 19, both riders on the rims, Rossi gave Lorenzo the slap, taking him from what, most of the day, would have been a 5 point lead and jumping it to 18, which is a lot with three rounds left. Pedrosa laughed his way to his first win of the year, the 50th of his career, and his 139th career podium, third in wins in the history of MotoGP.

A garage full of trophies and not a premier class title to show for it.

Dani Pedrosa has reason to celebrate, winning his first MotoGP race in over a year. Jorge Lorenzo, however, lost ground in his chase to catch teammate Valentino Rossi.
Jorge Lorenzo’s expression shows what he thinks about his third-place finish.

This is now two races in a row in which the post-Stoner, pre-Marquez Aliens hogged all three steps of the podium, with Pedrosa lately appearing as rejuvenated as Rossi has all year. Lorenzo, as we know, usually wins due to his tactics, i.e. get out in front of everyone and never see another bike all day. Rossi, and Pedrosa, are more strategic in their approach, more patient; it seems they can afford to be patient while Lorenzo can’t. Lorenzo’s tactics chewed up his front tire, which is usually not an issue for him, appearing to get less than his full attention until it was too far gone.

Usually it’s not an issue for either Yamaha rider. Today, however, it was an issue.

Years from now, scruffy motojournalists will be looking up race results and see at the bottom of this one “wet track” and that Rossi took another four points away from Lorenzo, and think “ok, this again. Lorenzo couldn’t ride in the rain.” Given the way this one went, he can be forgiven for thinking that. Let’s not forget, class, that we’ve agreed that the weather will be a determining factor in this year’s championship. In fact, it just has.


Elsewhere on the Grid

Soon to be former world champion Marc Marquez managed fourth place today despite a difficult start from the front row and a broken left hand. He passed the tireless (!) Dovizioso on his way down from third to fifth place, where he just edged out LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, on his way to winning the Battle of Britain against Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith by a scant 4/10ths . Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki “Katman” Nakasuga, on a full factory bike, claimed eighth place today, satisfying but not nearly as satisfying as his second place finish at Valencia last year, other than this one having been on his home turf. Hectic Barbara drove the Avintia Racing Ducati to the top open class spot in ninth, with Scott Redding taking no chances on the Marc VDS Honda to complete the top ten.

Scott Redding and his man bun finished tenth.

One rider whose day had its ups and downs was Factory Suzuki operator Aleix Espargaro. Starting the day in a solid seventh place, he was running in sixth when he went walky at Turn 1 of Lap 6, dropping back to 18th place, from whence he whipped his GSX-RR to a disappointing 11th place finish.

That’s a whole lot of work for 11th place.

Johann Zarco clinched the Moto2 title after winning his seventh race of the season.

The Big Picture

Rossi leads Lorenzo by 18 points with three rounds left: Phillip Island and Sepang looming on the horizon and Valencia closing things up. He will likely have a magic number in his mind – 25 – heading into Sepang. If Rossi can manage to depart Sepang with a lead of at least 26 points, it will be over.

We will look at each Alien rider’s recent history at these upcoming tracks in Wednesday’s previews. Unlike the world of stocks and bonds, in MotoGP past performance IS an indicator of future results. Pedrosa’s fifth premier class win at Motegi gives testament to that one.

Alex De Angelis remains in critical condition with intracranial bleeding following a crash during practice.

Marc Marquez, in a season of feast or famine, sits solidly in third place, enjoying a 25 point lead over wounded Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone, whose crash today cost him in the standings. And now trailing Dovizioso by only 18 is the resurgent Pedrosa, with 45 points in the last two rounds. His his arm pump surgery in the spring having cost him three full races and parts of two others, Pedrosa sat in 13th place with 23 points after Mugello. Pedrosa appears now to be approaching 2016 with his Alien status intact, a rider capable of winning if not every time out, then many times out.

Today, Pedrosa was the best rider on the track. He appeared to enjoy himself immensely. With absolutely nothing to lose, and familiarity with the upcoming tracks verging on intimacy, he is a threat to podium for the rest of the season. This, in turn, puts more pressure on Lorenzo, as now he must not only beat Rossi, but keep Pedrosa out of the lead, to have a chance for his third world championship in 2015.

How ironic if the greatest MotoGP rider never to have won a title ends up depriving a double world champion of his third? Or a seven time world champion his eighth?

Valentino Rossi moved another step closer to his eighth 500cc/MotoGP championship.
2015 MotoGP Motegi Top 10 Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda
2 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +8.573
3 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha +12.127
4 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda +27.841
5 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +35.085
6 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda +37.263
7 Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 +37.667
8 Katsuyuki Nakasuga Yamaha Factory Racing +44.654
9 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +48.572
10 Scott Redding EG 0,0 Marc VDS +50.121
2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 15 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 283
2 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 265
3 Marc Marquez Honda 197
4 Andrea Iannone Ducati 172
5 Dani Pedrosa Honda 154
6 Bradley Smith Yamaha 152
7 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 150
8 Cal Crutchlow Honda 98
9 Danilo Petrucci Ducati 93
10 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 88
  • spiff

    This was a fun race to watch. I have never been a Pedrosa fan, but after Germany I found a soft spot for him. He was so sincerely happy after that race I forgave all my previous prejudices. (Check out the selfie Rossi took of the podium with a Gopro.) Anyway, enough with the fanboy crap. Rossi! Rossi! Rossi!…by 18.

  • Old MOron

    “How ironic if the greatest MotoGP rider never to have won a title ends up depriving a double world champion of his third? Or a seven time world champion his eighth?”

    A man who can perceive irony amidst the adrenaline, you’re a good commentator, Bruce.

  • if there was one person deserving of a championship win that would be danni.
    but now his is like massa to alonso. I had been suspecting team orders.

  • Bruce Allen

    No short, swarthy bridesmaid today! Forget Estoril 2006 and raise a glass to Dani Pedrosa, Karl Malone, Carl Yastrzemski and Fran Tarkington, all world class athletes who never won a ring.

  • JMDonald

    The dynamic of tyre choice. Important it is. Here’s to the sprint. Dani is a great racer. Lang may yer lum reek! Mr. Pedrosa

    • Old MOron

      Och aye!

  • Shlomi

    Its amazing that the first 3 riders are from the era of 250CC. The Moto2 is very tight racing, but seems as the talent coming out of it is not as par as the 250CC era. One exception is Marques but he still rode the 2 strokes 125CC. Danny is a great rider he does not need a ring to prove it. 50 wins in premiere class, give the guy the respect he deserves.

  • well one thing is for sure it is now mathematically impossible for Marquez to win this championship.

  • Bruce Allen

    Those of you kind readers not from the US–who is the best athlete in your country who never won a championship?

    • Goose

      In motorcycle road racing I’ll nominate my fellow south SF bay boy; Randy Mamola. Randy was second 4 times but never got a 500 CC title.

      • Old MOron

        Ha ha, for years you NoCal types wanted to bust up California.
        Now it seems you want to secede form the Union!

        • 12er

          There is norcal, then there is the “Jeffersonians.” Norcal just wants to split so we can water our lawns, Jeffersonians want to uh er, join Texas or something.

        • Goose

          I am at a loss to understand why referring to a guy from Santa Clara, California as a south SF bay boy constitutes a desire to secede from the union.

          • Old MOron

            Because, my dear Goose, Bruce very clearly invited “readers not from the US” to respond. Since you replied to his question, I had to infer that you don’t consider your half of California to be part of the United States.

            I could’ve inferred that you were in a hurry and misread his question, but that wasn’t as funny.

            For the record, I lived on the Peninsula for about seven years. Very much enjoyed it up there.

          • Goose

            That means I have poor reading comprehension, not a desire to secede.

          • Bruce Allen

            You two got me going this morning. Thanks.

  • Vrooom

    Interesting that Rossi and Dani seemed to pick a wet line in the straights at the end, whereas Lorenzo took a dry one. Might have preserved Rossi’s tires just a bit. It appeared that way to me anyway.

  • Goose

    Am I the only one who see irony in this being a replay of the 2006 season but Rossi is now playing the part of Nick Hayden and Lorenzo paying Val’s part? We even have Pedrosa playing himself and acting as a spoiler.

    Nobody ever said Hayden was as fast as Rossi but he was/ is plenty fast, smart and as consistent as sunrise. Now it is the great but pretty old Rossi who keeps on getting podiums and capitalizes on Lorenzo’s inconsistency just like Nicky did to him 9 years ago.

    • Old MOron

      Yes, I can kind of see it.

  • Michael Mccormick

    The pressure is finally on Vale at the seasons end, and he loves it. It’s why he races. He’ll put his head down and win another championship. Congrats early

  • methamphetasaur

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think your statistics are not exactly correct. You say “Pedrosa laughed his way to his first win of the year, the 50th of his career, and his 139th career podium, third in wins in the history of MotoGP.”

    Now by ‘history of MotoGP’, I assume you mean 2002 onwards top class wins and not ‘Motorcycle Grand Prix racing’ in general, or he would be 8th on the list of wins. But in >’02 GP class wins he has 27 wins- which would be fourth [not third] behind Rossi with 73, Lorenzo with 39, and Stoner with 38.

    • Bruce Allen

      The “information” was part of the videocast on the website. (Any errors are mine.) The guys generally include all three classes in these numbers. I was scribbling madly at the end of the race and may have garbled them. Thanks for the correction.

      • methamphetasaur

        no worries, boss.

        but that’s why i looked up the numbers in the first place. it says 3 in gp, but uses wins across all [including not gp class] classes- skewing the statistics. so i decided to count my own statistics.

        of all wins (50) he would be 8th [agositini 122, rossi 112, nieto 90, hailwood 76, lorenzo 60, doohan 54, read 52, pedrosa 50]. for only 500cc/motogp wins (27) he would be 9th [rossi 86, agostini 68, doohan 54, lorenzo 39, stoner 38, hailwood 37, lawson 31, spencer 27, pedrosa 27]. for just gp class (27) he is 4th [rossi 73, lorenzo 39, stoner 38, pedrosa 27]

        and in my mathing i found and also nominate for the bridesmaid award- ralf waldman- 20 wins and not a single championship in any class. the most wins by a non champion.

        • Bruce Allen

          You’re doing more research than I do, dude. Hold out for more money from MO. (The announcers were probably thinking premier class wins but referring to the career number.)

          • methamphetasaur

            This is the age of the internet. It’s not like I was poring over microfilm for hours in a library- my “research” came from comparing numbers on a single wikipedia page. It probably took me longer to type it than find the information.

            And plus lists of statistics amuse me- as well as getting elbow deep in wikipedia blue words. This ‘research’ is the kind of stuff that I do anyway when I can’t sleep.


  • Old MOron

    So Lorenzo hurt his shoulder before the race, right?
    He even kept his arm in a sling when he wasn’t riding.
    Then he tops every practice and gets pole position.
    Was he sandbagging about his shoulder?

    What is Cal trying to say?
    Ha ha ha!