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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
|2015 MotoGP Motegi Top 10 Results|
|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|