2016 MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault. In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish. Round 17, the Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?”

Before landing in Sepang, Marc Marquez visited the Sentul circuit in West Java to coach young Indonesian racers.

Recent History at Sepang

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas. Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Lorenzo other than beating Rossi. Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia. Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

Dani Pedrosa walks off after one of his two crashes at Sepang in 2014.

I was there in 2014 when Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. The samurai celebration at Motegi the week prior, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling. Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race. Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

Sepang 2015 remains one of the most controversial races in recent history. People continue to argue over whether Rossi actually kicked Marquez.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa won the race. Nor for the fact that Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship. Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter. Those of you unable to forget are not alone.

Strong in the Second Half

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez have scored the most points in the second half of the season but Cal Crutchlow has been a surprise, just a couple of points behind them.

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria:

Valentino Rossi 105
Marc Marquez 103
Cal Crutchlow 101
Maverick Vinales 98
Andrea Dovizioso 78
Jorge Lorenzo 70
Pol Espargaro 45
Hector Barbera 19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right. Same with Maverick Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender. And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous by scoring the most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez. He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Hector Barbera has scored 19 points since Austria. In that same span Michele Pirro has scored 17 while competing in only three of seven rounds.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level. But he had management fooled, too. They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Andrea Iannone’s GP16 instead of Ducati test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine. Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door. Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team. Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda. That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

His youth and potential make Jack Miller a strong candidate to replace Dani Pedrosa. His Red Bull sponsorship doesn’t hurt either.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning in to the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision. A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long. Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least Nov. 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend. Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

While the MotoGP and Moto3 champions have been crowned, the Moto2 title is still up for grabs. Johann Zarco has the inside track on defending his championship with a 22-point lead over Thomas Luthi and 25 over Alex Rins.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual. Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so. Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales. Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet. Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself. The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off once again in the middle of the night. We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

Footnotes

Airbags mandatory beginning in the 2018 season. Rossi is allegedly all over this business and will need another pole barn on his ranch to store the euros he has flowing in.

Karel Abraham is coming back to MotoGP – and to an invitation to the big boys’ press conference at the Brno circuit (which his father happens to own.)

Karel Abraham, or rather his sponsor money, takes Yonny Hernandez’ seat with Aspar for next season after a year of penance in WSBK. The economics of MotoGP remain challenging and, in the lower tranches, you can still buy a seat. No evidence exists to support the idea that Abraham is a superior rider to Hernandez.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    I think one would need to dominate for a couple of seasons at least before being considered an “alien”. Winning one or two races isn’t enough in my opinion.

    • Bruce Allen

      This is my point about Crutchlow, just expressed better.

  • Old MOron

    Rain all three days? Rock on! As you point out, that will make the battle for 2nd less interesting if El Gato (TM Starmag) still can’t swim, but it would make the battle for 3rd (and the other battles in the top 10) riveting. I can imagine Maverick pushing like heck, and Jorge tiptoeing around, praying that people ahead of him fall off their bikes.

    Rain will also enhance the already gritty battle for the Moto 2 championship. Zarco has had a couple of opportunities to put himself out of reach, but has failed to capitalize. Rain will make things more urgent.

    • Ian Parkes

      El Gato really works doesn’t it? Cats can swim, quite well, apparently. They just really don’t like getting wet.

      • Old MOron

        Agreed. And as I indicated, that appellation was trademarked by Starmag. He should be checking in here pretty soon.

  • Old MOron

    Colin Edwards coined the term “aliens”? No, don’t think so.

    I went and looked at David Emmett’s story. He asserts that Colin Edwards coined the term based on an interview published on November 7, 2009.

    But here is an interview dated June 12, 2009, five months earlier, wherein Randy De Puniet calls them “aliens”. http://www.motogp.com/en/news/2009/06/12/de-puniet-satisfied-behind-the-aliens/150146

    And here is a quote from Marco Melandri, dated May 11, 2007, wherein he uses the term “alien”. http://www.motogp.com/en/news/2007/05/11/melandri-runs-the-rule-over-rivals/143579 This is more than two years before Edwards’ usage.

    Since you’re his friend, you might want to bring this up with Mr Edwards.

    • Bruce Allen

      It appears that when I refer to “our (fictitious) crack research team here at MO” we’re actually talking about you. This is good to know. And when I say “friends,” he may not actually know that we’re friends, other than on FB. Although we did sit together in the pressroomm at Indianapolis in 2008 for three days. I asked him where he came up with the nickname Kropotkin.

      • Old MOron

        Cheers, Brucey. I lost interest in David’s website when he and everyone there began congratulating themselves for having the most intelligent forum discussions on Moto GP. I still think his insights are far-reaching, but I prefer our MOronic discussions by a mile.

        And now that I’ve thought about it for a while longer, Colin Edwards is widely credited for tagging Valentino Rossi as the GOAT. (It is also said he borrowed the name from U.S. motocross.) I’m pretty sure it was Melandri or De Puniet who came up with “aliens”.

        • spiff

          Yup, Carmichael is the original GOAT.

  • Ian Parkes

    I think I agree with your mate Dave Emmett, Bruce. The alien appellation doesn’t seem to work at present. I know the most successful aliens would be indistinguishable from actual humans until they have built sufficient numbers or their super ray gun, or whatever it is they are waiting for before they take over, but aliens on motorbikes should be more obvious. Maybe Marquez is the only one left. And, as you already have him in a tranche of his own, maybe your trancheing tool is the best sorting hat available at present.

    • BDan75

      I still think of Rossi as an alien. But apart from him and Marquez…maybe not so much these days. Stoner’s gone, Pedrosa’s more machine than man now (if I were in his shoes I’d already be retired to the beach), Lorenzo has hydrophobia, Vinales is wait-and-see, and Andrea “If I Only Had a Brain” Iannone, well…yeah.

      Gotta say, I worry a bit about Mark. I mean, the guy’s incredible, but at some point “binning it” catches up to you, in more ways than just the championship battle. He’s already been pretty lucky a couple times.

  • Ian Parkes

    Does Zarco have the inside track? Maybe but somewhere back in the pack. He’s going to have to do a lot better than on his last few outings to hold onto that lead.

    • Bruce Allen

      Zarco is good in the rain, I think. He needs to race hard in one of the two last rounds. Given the forecast, Valencia is more likely. Can’t imagine him giving up the title to Luthi, a relative journeyman, in two weeks.

  • Vrooom

    It’s hard to imagine Lorenzo winning another championship. Don’t know what happened this year, maybe he’s just saving it for Ducati, but especially his rain skills are desperately lacking. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Rossi, Crutchlow, Vinales, Iannone (should he actually participate) and Marquez.
    Yeah I’m one of those people who will never cheer Marquez again, even if he wins 100 championships and saves a puppy from a burning building. After watching hours of video of that incident with Rossi, I concluded Marquez made contact with Rossi’s leg first and was probably going down anyway in his apparent attempt to run interference for Lorenzo that race. Dorna felt differently. Hell I won’t even buy a Honda, and I’ve got 8 bikes and buy and sell ’em all the time, zero Hondas.

    • Mikael Mattson

      I’m trying to be objective and I still totally agree with you.
      Also had a lot of bikes, but never a Honda and have a threshold of ever buying one.

      For this race: Track surface has changes and the conditions are always demanding. So it’s probably an interesting race!

      • Vrooom

        I’ve owned a few VFR’s and an XL, all good bikes. They don’t really have anything on my list right now, save perhaps the African Twin, so I can resist parting with my money on their behalf.

        • Vrooom

          And boy were my predictions bad. Rossi was the only close one.

  • BDan75

    I think Jack and Cal are pretty good mates, so doubt the latter would have much negative to say about JM taking the factory seat. Personally, though (and this isn’t just sour grapes about his taking out Hayden last weekend), I don’t see what all the hype is about with Miller. I mean, look at the guy’s stats: For one reason or another he hasn’t completed SIXTEEN of the 34 races since he came to MotoGP. Yeah, injury; yeah, he skipped Moto2; and yeah, the Honda is hard to ride…but still. His average placement in the 18 races he’s finished is 14th. I’m not seeing how that justifies handing him the Repsol gig.

    For comparison, Karel Abraham didn’t finish 15 of 36 races his first two MotoGP seasons, and had an average placement otherwise of 10th.

    • Bruce Allen

      I don’t know what the big deal is about Jack Miller either, other than perhaps Honda sees him growing into the next Casey Stoner, a charming young Aussie racer who can sell lots of motorcycles to the locals down under.

  • Old MOron

    Gee, the forecast was full of rain, but I’m watching Moto3 FP1, and it’s sunny skies. Okay, the track is still damp, and the times are slow, but there’s not a cloud in the sky. Darnit.

  • JMDonald

    May the best racer win.

  • Old MOron

    We-he-hell, the first day of practice was a bit of a wash (pun intended). There was a little bit of somewhat dry time, and Marquez cleared off during that spell. Then the rains came, and things seemed to be more of a lottery. The contest I’m watching most closely is Maverick versus Jorge. Based on day one, I’d say advantage Maverick. But I’m not counting any chickens yet. Bring on day two!