Round 15 of the 2016 MotoGP championship is the first leg of the annual Pacific flyaway, three races in three weeks during which the title will be decided. Unlike 2013 and last year, this year’s finale at Valencia will not be the dramatic season-decider they love hosting in Spain in November. A question gaining traction in the paddock raises the issue of whether it’s the Honda winning the title or the Yamahas losing it. Big Blue hasn’t had a win this year since Valentino Rossi’s win over Marc Marquez at Catalunya back in early June.

After going four-for-four between Jerez and Catalunya, things have gone badly for the factory Yamaha team, their current winless streak their longest since, um, a long time ago. Factory officials deny any problem, giving us the “it’s just one of those things that happen some years…” explanation. Rossi continues to fight hard, the end of his career somewhere on the horizon. Jorge Lorenzo, since Mugello, has amassed 67 points out of a possible 200. Do people agree it’s a fair statement that most of the wins collected by the six non-Movistar winners have come at the expense of the Yamaha factory team, specifically Jorge? Is it possible he has, subconsciously, checked out? Seeing red, as it were?

Since Catalunya, Jorge Lorenzo has finished outside of the top 10 as many times as he has on the podium.

The 2016-2017 workout conducted by the Repsol Honda team at Aragon on 9/28, their fifth day of the five allotted to them this season, was characterized as fruitful.

All of which puts a little extra pressure on young Maverick Vinales heading into 2017.

Recent history at Motegi

The 2013 race, preceded by two typhoons and an earthquake, was won by, of all people, Lorenzo. Marquez and Dani Pedrosa followed, the only riders to finish within five seconds of the Mallorcan. A good idea of how Rossi’s day went is the fact that he ended up in sixth place behind Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.

The 2013 race also featured the memorable image of Michael Laverty pushing his bike across the finish line after running out of fuel.

In 2014 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 scant 3.1 seconds. Though Andrea Dovizioso took pole, the four Aliens were grouped 2 to 5. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and, in the process, clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which might have cost the Catalan the race, had it mattered. The second-world-title Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat overdone, testament to the belief of many that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Last year, Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair. Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso on the Ducati. Pedrosa would go on to win at Sepang. He recorded seven wins in 2012 to two in 2015; he is well along the back nine of his distinguished career. Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo stood at 18 points with three rounds to go. The title was his to lose.

Leading the championship after Motegi last year, Valentino Rossi appeared to be in full control. We know how that worked out.

Elevated Frustration Coefficients

Aside from Marquez, every rider on the grid is suffering from Elevated Frustration Coefficients (EFC) due to the circumstances of his 2016 season, the number raised by every piece of bad equipment, bad riding, bad luck and low rent under the sun. Here are a few:

  • Valentino Rossi: a slide-off in Texas, an engine in Italy, a careless fall at Assen stand between him and a title chase. He loathes his teammate. And he’s been caught on camera recently being somewhat crude. Hurts t-shirt sales. EFC unusually high.
  • Jorge Lorenzo: crashed in Argentina and Catalunya; made a hash of the middle of the season. Appears unable to compete on wet tracks. Starting to look like a short-timer at Movistar Yamaha. Trailing Rossi elevates his EFC.
  • Dani Pedrosa: disaster of a season somewhat revived by his stirring win at Misano. Continues to have grip problems on a bike being built to Marquez specifications. Giving feedback on new equipment while #93 stays on his 2014 frame. EFC somewhat dulled, along with expectations.
  • Maverick Vinales: on the cusp of greatness. Already being called an Alien – he’s not. But he soon will be on the factory Yamaha. With Rossi there to guide him until they become rivals – figure six rounds next season – he will have a steep learning curve, nothing he can’t handle. Less stressed than most.
  • Cal Crutchlow: in a perfect world he would be leading the championship series. Just ask him. As it is, he’s a midfielder with more quotes than podiums. He won his race this season. Will there be more? EFC gets raised by waking up in the morning.

And so on and so on. The lead that Marquez has built, one brick at a time, along with the drought at Movistar Yamaha, along with the startling EFC data, suggest he will have to be suckered into losing the 2016 title. The only thing that can hurt him now is crashing out of a round or two. People praying for a close premier class finish must necessarily pray for rain, otherwise it appears to be smooth sailing for Marquez and his third title in four seasons.

Last season is looking more and more like an anomaly in Marc Marquez’s winning ways.

Here’s what 2017 looks like in Tranches 1-4:

Same Equip New Equip
Marquez (1) Lorenzo (2)
Rossi (2) Vinales (2)
Pedrosa (3) Iannone (3)
Crutchlow (2) P. Espargaro (3)
Dovizioso (3) Rins (3)
Barbera (4) A. Espargaro (3)
Redding (4)
Bautista (4)
Petrucci (3)

The changes at the top of the food chain – Lorenzo to Ducati, Vinales to Yamaha, Iannone and Rins to Suzuki – appear to weaken Marquez’s 2017 competition, as all of these guys will be on new equipment. Rossi remains the exception, and will continue to press the detested Spaniard. The 2017 Yamaha M1 is being advertised as a quantum evolution of the bike; one assumes Honda engineers have something going on to give the RC213V more grunt coming out of turns. Can Yamaha improve their bike by more than enough to compensate for the growing realization that, mano á mano, Marquez, today, probably beats Valentino on identical equipment? Can Lorenzo and Vinales crack the top five consistently on new rides? What if it rains? Is Crutchlow an Alien?

We’ll be keeping an eye on how Maverick Vinales handles the transition to Yamaha and being Valentino Rossi’s teammate.

Here We Go Again

The MotoGP season is beginning to resemble a Red state/Blue state map of the racing world. Both Honda and Yamaha (joined by Ducati) have tracks where they are expected to win, due to layout, design, average speed, average corner speed, etc. Austin for the Hondas, Mugello for the Yamahas, etc. Red and blue states if you will, where holding serve is imperative. This, then, leaves the “battleground states,” the tracks where neither manufacturer enjoys a distinct advantage. Teams fight desperately for wins in those battleground states, as they typically decide the title when things go according to form. They also present opportunities for upsets – see Assen over the years.

Marquez, with four wins and ten podiums, has scored points in blue and red states. Starting to smell a landslide.

Riders Returning

Andrea Iannone is expected to make his return in Japan.

Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Factory Ducati), and probably Jack Miller (Marc VDS Honda) will return to the track from injuries, following Loris Baz, who came back for Avintia Racing at Aragon. All the regulars should be out for practice on Friday. Thank you very much to Alex Lowes, Michele Pirro and Nicky Hayden for helping to fill up the grid of late.

We’ll have results and analysis right here later on Sunday.

  • Old MOron

    Bravo, Brucey! I like the EFC analysis. As for your question:

    “Do people agree it’s a fair statement that most of the wins collected by the six non-Movistar winners have come at the expense of the Yamaha factory team, specifically Jorge?”

    No, I don’t think so. “Jorge Lorenzo has finished outside of the top 10 as many times as he has on the podium.” It would be different if he’d been pipped at the line, but he’s been nowhere on many occasions. So he has mostly himself to blame.

    Now for your 2017 tranches, did you omit Zarco just to annoy me?

    • Bruce Allen

      My mistake was not in leaving Zarco out. My mistake was including an untested Rins. He could be the next coming of Marc Marquez. He could also be the next coming of Tito Rabat. Zarco will probably start out in Tranche 3, as will Rins. Folger and Lowes will start in 4.

      • Old MOron

        Ha ha, the next coming of Rabat.

      • BDan75

        Tito seems like a super nice, insanely hard-working guy who’s no doubt in the 99th percentile of racers in the world, but I can’t help feeling that, unlike non-silent Cal, he just doesn’t have the chops to compete at this level. Yeah, Moto2 world champ…but still.

        I mean, people must have noticed that Nicky (granted, a guy with tons more experience) came in and equaled TR’s performance in one weekend on a new-to-him bike, after a season riding glorified Fireblades, when he had no real incentive to push very hard. And then went on to a points finish in the race while Tito crashed out.

        • Bruce Allen

          Good answer. Nicky has forgotten more about MotoGP than Tito has ever learned. In Moto2 TR looked like one of The Annointed ones. I’ll never forget the 2014 photo of The Three Amigos, Alex Marquez hoisting the Moto3 trophy, Rabat the Moto2 and #93 the MotoGP. Best buds, train together for years, etc. Only MM has done anything since they were crowned that day. Oh, and Rabat and Alex hate Rins, who, having disposed of the younger Marquez, now will set about dusting TR.

          • Old MOron

            I can’t wait for the Rins-Marquez rivalry to hot up in Moto GP. I really, really hope the Suzuki is close to the Honda.

  • Starmag

    I can live with any recent Rossi crudeness (haven’t seen what you’re talking about) since I can be a bit foul myself. Rossi’s bad move last year was to try to bury MM in a presser in front of peers before Motegi. Anyone who has been through a management course will tell you that bad mojo will follow such foolishness. Last year might have been his best last shot. We’ll see, he’s an amazing individual.

    I checked the weather ahead of time for Mr. Smooth Except In The Rain Lorenzo and it’s 90 percent for Sat. and 10 percent for Sun. which doesn’t bode well for El Gato.

    One more win for MM and it’s a wrap. My perception is that he’s riding the shit out of a bike that’s generally inferior to the Yamaha’s this year. He has matured and is being more careful but I long for the insane fearlessness he showed his first year, sliding BOTH ends on his way to the championship in his rookie season.

    • Old MOron

      “I’d better be more careful. I don’t want to spend the rest of my like looking like Schumacher.”

  • JMDonald

    With so many different outcomes this year anything out of the ordinary would be fine with me. May the best rider win.

  • Vrooom

    I must be confused, I was thinking there wasn’t a race till the 16th? That’s what the MotoGP calendar shows. Are they racing this weekend? Best comment of the article, Crutchlow: EFC gets raised by waking up in the morning. No Crutchlow’s not an alien.

    • Old MOron

      Oh, no! Not racing until next week? Bloody hell.
      Oh well, I’m happy to have Bruce’s commentary in the meantime.

    • Bruce Allen

      The race is on the 16th and this is a week early. Nobody would have noticed a thing if you wankers hadn’t spilled the beans. Certainly I got my calendars scrambled. Whatever.

      • Old MOron

        Wankers? You’re even sounding like Cal now!

        • Vrooom

          You’ve cut Bruce to the bone on that one!

  • BDan75

    I’m hesitant to ask what’s probably a really dumb question…but what the heck. Has anyone ever considered trying to add ballast to Dani himself? I don’t mean sending him to the buffet at Sizzler five times a week; I mean building him a special suit or something.

    • Bruce Allen

      Michelin has offered a set of “Bib” leathers for Pedrosa that would make him resemble their mascot and add roughly 8 pounds to his GVW. Repsol is concerned that a crash could end up with Pedrosa actually rolling over a tire fence, taking people down like ninepins along the way. Probably won’t happen.

      • BDan75

        Especially now that he’s broken what’s left of his right collarbone.

  • Bruce Allen

    Suzukis seem to like Motegi. The weather should be perfect. Anybody’s race–Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales.

    • Old MOron

      If you look at their last outings, several people seem to be capable of doing mid 1’45. http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2016/JPN/MotoGP/FP2/Analysis.pdf
      But I think everyone was on soft tires for their final run. It’s going to be interesting to see who can get his set-up correct, either to make the soft tires last the race distance, or to find some speed with the harder tires.

    • Old MOron

      Hey Brucey, what time is it in the midwest? Did you watch qualifying?

      Hey Spiff, where’s your, “Go, Rossi”?