So Jorge Lorenzo’s move from the factory Yamaha team to the factory Ducati team is now old news. Maverick Vinales appears set to abandon the Suzuki team to take Lorenzo’s place. We don’t know which of the current Andreas laboring for Ducati will be dislodged next year, but Sam Lowes has been tagged to move up from Moto2 to unseat either Alvaro Bautista or Stefan Bradl on the Gresini Aprilia. Dani Pedrosa’s seat with Repsol Honda appears to be in play; Suzuki is said to covet him or Andrea Dovizioso for 2017-18. With several up-and-comers expected to graduate from Moto2 along with Lowes – Alex Rins and Johann Zarco first and foremost – the silly season is becoming more interesting than the 2016 championship season itself.

Especially if Repsol Honda’s luminous Marc Marquez strolls out and dominates Jerez this weekend. Which is entirely possible, after what he’s shown us recently in Argentina and Texas. He appears to be, ahem, back. The looming question as the season rolls into Round Four: who will be Marquez’s teammate starting next year?

Oh yeah, there’s still a race this weekend.

Recent History at Jerez

Dani Pedrosa won a close 2013 affair after going through on polesitter Lorenzo on Lap 6, Marquez running third. The three spent the next 20 laps in that order, coloring in between the lines, but the heat began to take a toll on Lorenzo’s tires, and he appeared to be struggling as the race wore on. Pedrosa and Marquez, on the other hand, looked fresh and, on Lap 27, the rookie began lining up Lorenzo as if he wasn’t a defending double world champion. The two traded positions in Turn 6, Lorenzo refusing to yield. But in the Jorge Lorenzo Corner, of all places, its namesake ran a smidge wide and Marquez, lizard brain calling the shots, dove inside. As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, the Mallorcan being forced wide into third place for the day and the season. To say he was unamused in Parc Fermè is a serious understatement.

Then a rookie, Marc Marquez battled Jorge Lorenzo hard in their first meeting at Jerez.

The 2014 race featured an incandescent Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10. Valentino Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the young 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 indication that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the Mallorcan’s year. Coming on the heels of his crash in Qatar, a flailing 10th place finish in Austin and a desperate 3rd in Argentina, Lorenzo’s 2014 season was over before it had fully started.

Jorge Lorenzo topped the Jerez podium last year, followed by Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi.

Last year’s race was pure vintage Lorenzo. Qualify on pole, get out in front early, attach bike to rails, press “Go,” and keep the last 26 laps within half a second of one another. Regular as a piston, as dad used to say. The resulting procession left Marquez (nursing a broken pinkie on his right hand) alone in 2nd and Rossi likewise in 3rd. Cal Crutchlow managed a respectable 4th place on the Come What May LCR Honda, with Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro closing out the top five. My prediction of having two Ducatis on the podium was met with derision, as Maniacal Joe Iannone topped the Italian effort in 6th place, teammate Dovizioso having gone walkabout on Lap 2 on his way to a disappointing 9th.

The Big Early Contract Effect

From our Department of Undiluted Speculation comes this idea that riders signing big fat new contracts early in the season go on to underperform that year. While our crack research department is looking back at earlier instances of this, we have in front of us two credible examples, with a possible third in the works:

Vale can’t hear you, Bruce. He’s got millions of euros stuffed in his ears.
  • Valentino Rossi re-ups with Yamaha weeks ago and is assured of a sweet ride through the end of 2018. Coincidentally (?) he’s off to his worst start since 2001, ignoring the lucrative Ducati dumpster fire of 2011-2012.
  • Bradley Smith, late of the satellite Yamaha team and moving on to richer pastures with the nascent factory KTM project next season, has amassed 16 points thus far this year. In 2014 he had 20; last year he was at 26. Something has interrupted his trajectory, and I think it’s the money, a semi-conscious effort to avoid crashing before the big payday arrives.
  • On Monday it was announced that Lorenzo had signed his deal with Ducati, in exchange for wheelbarrows full of euros, 12-15 million at last estimate. The end of the 2015 season left the proud Spaniard’s ego bruised, with Yamaha unable to celebrate his championship in a “suitable” fashion while Rossi fumed and spat about a Lorenzo/Marquez conspiracy to deprive him of the title. Jorge chalked up seven wins in the last 15 rounds last season. It says here he will fall short of that mark this year. On some level, conscious or otherwise, he may wish to punish Yamaha for their reverence of his rainmaking teammate and rival. Saving himself for his new love and avoiding risk this season would manifest such desire; a rejuvenated Marquez would increase the possibility.
Maverick Vinales is showing lots of potential. But whose colors will he be wearing when he becomes a superstar?

Maverick Vinales may prove the exception to the rule, as he is still trying to earn his Alien card and likely feels a good deal of loyalty toward the Suzuki team that sent his star rising. If and when he signs his deal with Yamaha, I would expect him to keep pushing for podiums and wins, which may be within his reach at some circuits on the calendar. He’s young enough not to fully appreciate the risks inherent in his sport, and has, as far as I know, not a single gram of titanium in his body. Compare this to Pedrosa, 20% of whose body weight is metal. When Dani goes through airport security, klaxon horns blare and the lights start strobing.

The Kentucky Kid Gains Traction

Nicky Hayden earned his first WSBK podium, finishing third at Assen.

Nicky Hayden earned his first WSBK podium, finishing third at Assen.

Fans of Nicky Hayden will note that he recorded his first WSBK podium this past weekend at Assen, pushing him up to fifth place for the season. Having watched him jump on a cruiser and immediately break the rev limiter at the AMA Indy Mile a few years ago, I thought Superbike would be a walk in the park for a guy who’s been riding since he was three. Not so. But he seems to be figuring it out, and few North American racing fans can be sorry to see him doing better. You’ll not find a nicer, more accessible guy in the paddock than Nicky Hayden.

Your Weekend Forecast

As of this writing, the weekend forecast for Jerez de la Frontera is pretty much ideal – dry with temps in the mid-70’s. They’ve been racing bikes at Jerez longer than at any other circuit outside Assen, though her glory has faded somewhat in recent years as the Spanish economy bottomed out. Having attended the race in 2010, when Lorenzo came from WAY back to overtake Pedrosa on the last lap, I would be reluctant to count Jorge out this weekend. My personal forecast is for an all-Spanish podium, one which includes Maverick Vinales.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT. We’ll have results and analysis later in the day.

  • Old MOron

    Alright, Bruce! I knew you wouldn’t make us wait until tomorrow. Here’s a question for you: Wow, when was this picture taken? Is that the Texas Tornado I see in the center? And your boy, Crutchlow on the red bike? When was this?
    http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/marc-marquez-of-spain-and-repsol-honda-team-leads-the-field-during-picture-id488164681
    Aw shucks, the picture is not posting down here. It’s the 2nd one in your story.

    I didn’t know Sam Lowes is already connected to Aprilia. It’s kind of the same situation as Maverick and Suzuki, eh? Well, I hope it works for him. He’s a good racer. What does your Department of Undiluted Speculation say about who will take Dani’s seat? Jarvis has already said he wouldn’t put a Moto 2 guy straight on Jorge’s factory seat. That means Repsol stands a good chance of landing Rins, if he wants to ride for Honda, or Zarco, if they find him desirable. But they could also promote Killer Miller or Tito Rabat. If Miller can score some good points this year, he stands a good chance.

    Of course it’s possible that Resol will scoop up the Maverick. Everyone is saying that Maverick is destined for Yamaha, but if Repsol give Dani the boot, why shouldn’t Maverick land in his seat?

    • TroySiahaan

      You know, I kinda hope Maverick stays with Suzuki. Pull a Schwantz and override the hell out of that Suzuki all the way to the top step of the podium. Switching to Yamaha kinda seems like the easy way out. Not that I would blame the guy if he made the switch, however.

      • Old MOron

        I agree! But I wonder if it’s possible to override bikes nowadays.
        Marquez tried to override the Honda last year, and look what happened to him. Vale tried to override the Yamaha two weeks ago, and look what happened to him. Crutchlow and Miller tried to override their bikes, and look what happened to them.

        The bikes and software are so good now. I don’t know if a rider can make up the difference. Even ten years ago, look at John Hopkins trying to override the Suzuki. They’re from different eras, but I don’t think Maverick is a better rider than Hopper was.

    • Bruce Allen

      Dennis Chung finds and posts these excellent images; given his attention to detail, I’m pretty sure the big group shot is from Jerez, probably 2013. Crutchlow on the Ducati? Hopefully Dennis will weigh in with the details. I don’t know about Rins going to Honda because he and the Marquez/Rabat cabal do NOT get along. I can’t see Miller or Rabat; too early to tell if either has Alien potential, and Rabat is kind of long in the tooth for an Alien card. Vinales could be the dark horse in all of this, as Honda has just as good a shot as Yamaha. But Phillip Morris has those deep pockets, and they support Yamaha in addition to Ducati. I’d entertain theories if any readers have them. Insights would be even better.

      • Starmag

        Who does the captions? I suspect Mr. Burns. Or does he delegate it to Smithers?

        • Bruce Allen

          Mr. Chung is the man. His caption on a shot of Crutchlow after COTA was priceless: “Crutchlow blamed his crash today on the following paragraph.”

      • Old MOron

        Well, I clicked on the image, and it took me to the Getty page. Looks like it was taken a Jerez 2014. Wow, was Colin riding on a regular team in 2014, or was that a wildcard ride? Oh well, as usual Dennis chose an excellent shot.

  • BDan75

    What do you mean by “break the rev limiter”?

    • Bruce Allen

      I was new to the sport at the time, and Nicky grabbed one of the big bikes while the rider was being interviewed. Hayden wound it all the way up and took off around the track while the rider got on the PA and freaked out about him breaking his goddamned rev limiter. I’d have to defer to you or one of the editors if this doesn’t make sense.

  • schizuki

    Now hopefully the cable listings for BeIn will be correct and I won’t have a soccer game on my DVR instead of the race.

    • John A. Stockman

      The first years that beIN had WSBK, sure they offered 4-5 hour time slots and no commercials during the races, but the scheduling and program guide listings were not updated until the day of the racing. It only got worse, but they still aired every WSS race. As they added Superpole coverage, they started to edit out about half of the Supersport laps, then entire races were not shown. Last season, hardly any WSS racing and even that was just highlights. As the rights holders for the North American market, beIN elected to not show WSS while the only American in the whole paddock, PJ Jacobsen, was doing so well that season against literal hard-hitters like Cluzel and Sofuoglu. Don’t show the American market their only rider in the whole series. Now beIN has been able to lock out every broadcast network, including internet streaming from previous providers FansChoice and MotorTrend OnDemand. Exclusive rights. I know folks all over the country and many cannot get beIN Sports from their cable company. The extra cost for me to get beIN is over my monthly budget, as those costs go up every year even for the basic package I have. Fox Sports is available on every provider in lower-tier, lower cost line ups, along with CBS Sports (former home of AMA Pro and MotoAmerica) and NBC Sports. I can get free Comcast cable where I live; being free, it’s their most basic, lowest-cost channel line up and FS1, CBSS and NBCS are part of the channels. Seems contradictory to what Dorna and MotoAmerica have said about wanting to expand the fan base and garner more viewers by going with a network that a lot of people can’t even get and those that can have to pay more just for that channel. MotorTrend OnDemand told me they won’t be able to stream/show any MotoAmerica this year because of the exclusive rights that beIN Sports now has in this market. Known WSBK bunglers, beIN Sports has wrapped up the major road racing series in this country, reducing the amount of viewers in one fell swoop. As the principles of MotoAmerica and Dorna are slapping each other on the back about what a great thing they’ve done with this agreement, an untold amount of true enthusiasts who’ve followed these series for decades now have no way to actually watch. It does not however take away any of the huge respect I have for guys like Wayne Rainey and Chuck Aksland, but beIN is first and foremost a SOCCER network, so any concerns about how FS went over MotoGP for nascar or baseball is mild compared to what beIN has done regarding soccer matches and their previous track record with WSBK and soccer programming. One thing is said, yet something completely different is DONE, and we all know what happens when words and actions do not match.

  • Starmag

    Good one Bruce, thanks for mentioning Nickey The Lone American, even though you’ve said WSBK isn’t your forte.

    I personally hope Mav stays with underdog Suzuki, but money talks and BS walks.

  • spiff

    I think you nailed the podium; Lorenzo, Marquez, then Vinales.

    Ho hum… Go Rossi!

  • Vrooom

    Wow Bruce, great stuff. “The Department of Undiluted Speculation” , “the lucrative Ducati dumpster fire of 2011-2012”, “klaxon horns blare and the lights start strobing”. I’m starting to think you have a certain je ne sais pas, great stuff. If Iannone can avoid crashing he might push one of those guys off the podium. It’s kind of hard to image Jorge ever being mad at his lil pumpkin Mark.

    • Bruce Allen

      “L’il pumpkin Mark”–more great stuff. Wish I’d thought of it.

    • Allison Sullivan

      This whole article made me giggle.

  • Fausto Carello

    Hi Bruce, very good article. The press in Italy say that “The Doctor” will be happy to share the pit with Vinales next year. And as you now when the Doctor suggest something…….

    • Gruf Rude

      VR46’ll be happy to share the pit until Maverick starts beating him . . .

  • Fausto Carello

    sorry …as you know…

  • http://facebook.com/ East South

    Marquez will win this season. MM just matured so much these past few races. Just pushing enough on the limit.

  • JMDonald

    Silly season is right. The dynamic MotoGP teams,rules, tires, machines is almost to much to fathom. It is still a great pleasure in one’s life is it not? That and Umbrella girls.

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, slow start for Vinales. But how about Hector Barbera? He’s on a bike that’s several generations old!

  • Old MOron

    Ha! Valentino starts from pole position. Bring on the race!

  • spiff

    Pole! Never doubted him for a second.

    • Bruce Allen

      It appears to be a three man race. The rider who ends up winning will be the one who conserves his tires and keeps his emotions in check. While Rossi is a master of the former, I’m not sure about the latter. My gut says Marquez will find a way to win, especially if Rossi can keep Lorenzo from getting away.

      • Old MOron

        Oh man, you’ve got my hopes up:

        The three on the front row break away from the rest of the pack.
        They ride a measured pace for about 20 laps, preserving their tires and hoping the other guys’ will degrade. Then the last four laps turn into a three-way knife fight in a phone booth. Of course Valentino wins!

        Oh, please! Oh, pleasssse!

      • spiff

        I don’t know Bruce. Argentina and Assen last year. I don’t think there are emotions at that point. I think it is adrenaline. Rossi relishes the moments when he is on par, and will act like he is 24. I hope Lorenzo doesn’t get away early.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, it wasn’t the knife fight in a phone booth I’d hoped for.
    https://youtu.be/j7leQB_Oe_k?t=24s

    • DKing

      I sing that song to my kids almost daily…lol