Heading into the finale of the 2016 season, the atmosphere in Valencia was mostly celebratory. The title had been decided, the silly season was well over, and most of the riders were competing for pride alone. The Ricardo Tormo circuit here is one of the top venues in this sport, loved by the Spanish riders and most of the others, too. Bragging rights during the offseason are nice and all, but pale in comparison to a season finale with a title on the line such as we saw in 2013 and last year.

During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday one got the feeling that this one would boil down to a duel between Honda world champion Marc Marquez and Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, who is defecting to the factory Ducati team after nine years and three titles with Big Blue. Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season. Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.

Jorge Lorenzo’s victory at Valencia was his first since May 22.

In the end, it didn’t rain. El Gato fished his wish, while Marquez had to be satisfied with simply being king of the moto racing world. Jorge won the race, Marquez won the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating (like he had just won another world championship), and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he was crashing Lorenzo’s party. The third rider on the podium, Andrea Iannone, did nothing maniacal and sacked up with a t-shirt thanking Ducati for allowing him to break so many expensive motorcycles before getting shunted off to the Suzuki team for next year.

Jorge Lorenzo and Q2 on Saturday

Having been out of town all weekend, I was finally able to locate an internet connection in northern Arizona and catch Q2 late Saturday night. It may have been the most interesting 15 minutes of the weekend. Watching it, one inferred that Lorenzo was determined to start the race from pole.

Jorge Lorenzo had much to prove in his last race with Yamaha in what has been a difficult season.

After his out lap, he set a new track record with the first lap ever by a motorcycle under 1:30 in the history of the track. He pitted, changed his front tire, got up to speed on his second out lap and proceeded to set a second track record before heading back to the pits. Again, his crew put new rubber on his M1 and sent him back out. Again, after his out lap he set a third track record, claimed pole, and sent a message to the grid: Kindly stay the hell out of my way tomorrow, or my crew and I will convert you to a grease spot on the tarmac. Marquez and Valentino Rossi made up the rest of the front row, to the dismay of riders who had been entertaining visions of becoming the 10th rider to win a race this season.

Lorenzo vs. Marquez on Sunday

Jorge Lorenzo shot out in front early and nursed the lead to victory.

Though Marquez and Suzuki wonderkid Maverick Vinales were quickest in the morning warmup, while the factory Yamahas loitered in sixth and seventh, very few people could have been thinking this wasn’t going to feature the winners of the last four premier class titles battling hammer and tongs all day Sunday.

The race was over in ten seconds.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo, taking the hole shot, appeared to have been launched from a cannon, while Marquez, fighting inertia, gravity and a number of other laws of physics, found himself buried in the vicinity of sixth or seventh place in the first few turns, at a narrow, tight track that makes overtaking difficult. At the same time, Iannone materialized on Lorenzo’s back wheel, after having started seventh. The lead group formed up quickly, comprised of Lorenzo, Iannone, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, making a cameo after his seventh (!) collarbone surgery a month ago.

True, there was a bunch of jockeying around all over the track, but in terms of material effect there were basically three “events” today. First, Lorenzo got away and started laying down a series of 1:31 laps, riding on rails, the old Jorge back and in charge. The second occurred on Lap 19, when Marquez finally got past Rossi into second place, Rossi tuckered out from spending the entire afternoon jousting with Iannone. The third took place on Lap 29 when Iannone, who appeared to be out of energy and rubber several laps earlier, went through on Rossi, pushing The Doctor off the podium.

Andrea Iannone, another rider with something to prove, made good use of his final race for Ducati by scoring his fourth podium of the year.

It should be noted that Marquez was chasing down Lorenzo over the last four or five laps, closing the gap from over five seconds to under two seconds. Had the race lasted another two or three laps, there is no doubt here that Marquez would have won and avoided the aforementioned awkward podium celebration. The hard front tire Marquez had chosen appeared to have a lot more life left in it than Lorenzo’s medium, which appeared to be shedding in some super slo-mo shots late in the race. Just sayin’.

Bits and Pieces

Cal Crutchlow had a pretty good year, with two wins and a pair of runner-up finishes. Only three riders had better podium showings but six DNFs pushed him back to seventh overall in the final standings.

Cal Crutchlow, seemingly everyone’s favorite rider, took advantage of Dani Pedrosa’s crash on Lap 7 (which opened the door for a sixth-place finish for the year) by sliding off on Lap 17, apparently not wishing to kick a swarthy, diminutive Spanish rider when he’s down. And Jack Miller, seemingly everyone’s second-favorite rider, finished 15th and earned yet another point. Thanks to both for not messing with my assertion that neither is an Alien-class rider.

Mika Kallio rode his KTM machine well for much of the day before retiring with electronics issues. Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro look to have a long year in store for themselves in 2017, but I, for one, expect KTM to make great strides in the next few years. Despite being a low budget operation in MotoGP, they have that Austrian engineering thing working for themselves; a little early success next year would be great. Most folks are dazzled by the progress shown by Suzuki over the past two seasons. KTM (and Aprilia) will benefit from the concessions available to non-race winning brands. Assuming they can manage the finances, it would be great to have five or six competitive constructors filling the grid in a few years.

KTM made its much anticipated debut at Valencia. Mika Kallio retired with an electronics problem, but expectations remain high for next season.

Today’s win put a halt to the disturbing victory drought that has haunted Lin Jarvis since Barcelona. Losing Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati is bad, true, but gaining Maverick Vinales, The Next Great Rider, is good. Better, perhaps, given the eight-year difference in their ages.

Happy Trails to You

Marc Marquez may have finished second but he had much to celebrate after winning his third MotoGP title in four years.

The most interesting season in recent memory is now history. More than half of the top riders will be on new equipment starting Tuesday, which supports my contention that next year’s title fight will be primarily between Rossi and Marquez. I spent the last few days driving a rented Ford Expedition around Arizona and can assure any of you still reading that I would have been faster and more comfortable in one of my own smaller, slower, more familiar cars. One must assume that the same is true in grand prix motorcycle racing.

We end the 2016 campaign the same way we end every campaign, by disinterring some dusty chestnut of a quote that captures the essence of the season in a few words. This seemed appropriate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

For young Marc Marquez, five-time world champion at age 23, the clear, ringing answer is, “Kicking their butts all over the playground. Dominating their sport, living their dreams. And waiting for my beard to come in, so I can look more badass, like Hector Barbera.” Perhaps this is not the response Dr. King sought, back in the day. It is, however, The Truth.

See you next spring.

Here are your 2016 Grand Prix World Champions, Brad Binder, Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco.
2016 MotoGP Valencia Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha
2 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda +6.603
3 Andrea Iannone Ducati Corse +6.603
4 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +7.668
5 Maverick Vinales Suzuki Ecstar +10.610
6 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +18.378
7 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +18.417
8 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki Ecstar +18.678
9 Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 +25.993
10 Alvaro Bautista Aprilia Gresini +35.065
11 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +36.425
12 Danilo Petrucci Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +42.415
13 Stefan Bradl Aprilia Gresini +49.823
14 Scott Redding Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +52.035
15 Jack Miller Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +55.625
16 Eugene Laverty Aspar Ducati +58.254
17 Tito Rabat Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +58.555
18 Loris Baz Avintia Ducati +1:06.164
Not Classified
DNF Mika Kallio KTM 11 Laps
DNF Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda 14 Laps
DNF Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 24 Laps
DNF Yonny Hernandez Aspar Ducati 26 Laps
2016 MotoGP Final Standings
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Honda 298
2 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 249
3 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 233
4 Maverick Vinales Suzuki 202
5 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 171
6 Dani Pedrosa Honda 155
7 Cal Crutchlow Honda 141
8 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 134
9 Andrea Iannone Ducati 112
10 Hector Barbera Ducati 102
11 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki 93
12 Alvaro Bautista Aprila 82
13 Eugene Laverty Ducati 77
14 Danilo Petrucci Ducati 75
15 Scott Redding Ducati 74
16 Stefan Bradl Aprilia 63
17 Bradley Smith Yamaha 62
18 Jack Miller Honda 57
19 Michele Pirro Ducati 36
20 Loris Baz Ducati 35
21 Tito Rabat Honda 29
22 Yonny Hernandez Ducati 20
23 Katsuyuki Nakasuga Yamaha 5
24 Alex Lowes Yamaha 3
25 Hiroshi Aoyama Honda 1
26 Nicky Hayden Honda 1
27 Mike Jones Ducati 1
28 Mika Kallio KTM 0
  • Gruf Rude

    Smiling as he casually elbows Ionnone aside, Marquez thinks to himself, “I don’t need to look bad ass . . .”

  • Starmag

    Other than Mr. Smooth of yore running away at the front, this was a good race. It might have been better if MM didn’t have wheelie problems at the start and have to fight though some traffic. If not for that, he would have made a good gamble on the hard front. Lots of passing in the group behind JL.

    Suzuki appears to have made the best choice possible, but it will be harder to root for The Maniac than it was for Maverick. Suzuki might need to double up on spares for T-Bone.

    Thanks for the laughs and coverage this year Bruce.

    How long is it until next season? I can’t wait.

  • Old MOron

    Ha ha ha, you can warm yourself all winter with the smug feeling that you were right about Cal. And while you’re entitled to remind us or your superior analysis, I think you short-changed your review by distilling the FANTASTIC battles behind Lorenzo down to “basically three ‘events’.”

    Oh well, we appreciate your effort from the far-off reaches of the Arizona desert. I already can’t wait for tomorrow. Can’t wait to see how everyone debuts on his new bike.

    Oh, and as usual, my dog, Zarco, kicked everyone’s butt. I wish he were going to Zuzuki instead of Rins. But since he isn’t, I really hope Yamaha support him at Tech3. Ben Spies is the only rider ever to be promoted from Tech3 to the factory squad. It seems like a fluke rather than a natural progression. I hope Zarco can do it. Maybe when when Valley retires – some day.

    • Vrooom

      I think in Spies time there was a rule preventing rookies from getting a factory bike? Not positive, it just rings a bell.

      • Old MOron

        Yup, as a matter of fact some people call it the Ben Spies Rule. It was repealed the very next year so that Honda could bring Marquez from Moto 2 directly to its factory squad.

  • JMDonald

    Here’s to this year. Here’s to next year. Moto GP and the TT.

  • Kos

    Great race, and great reading, Bruce!

    Thanks for a great season of analysis and humor.

    Editors, please sign Bruce up for a couple of off-season pieces.

  • Barry_Allen

    With a couple of wins and as many podiums and a pole besides, maybe next year Crutchlow can get more support from Honda than just being a test monkey for the parts Marquez doesn’t want.

    And yeah, we do like Cal, as does most of the paddock. We’re always being told by the announcers what a nice, lovable guy he is without his game face on. Rossi, who’s never pleased with second, was genuinely happy for Cal at both wins. As for alien status, at this point it’s like a twelve year old who says he wants to take up golf and be like Tiger Woods. Cheer him on as much as you like, but secretly you know the reality is, he’s already too old. But I’ll keep rooting for Cal on the track, and keep getting a good laugh from his interviews. Sometimes because they’re so outrageous and sometimes because they’re the kind of brutal truth that you’re not supposed to utter in polite company. He’s basically that nice, but slightly edgy guy that you loved hanging out with in high school that you never had over to your house because you just knew he’d cuss in front your mom. He did finish the season on the top of the “Peasant’s Podium,” but he’ll tell you himself that being the best player on the second string is not the accomplishment that well meaning consolationists make it out to be.

    And i second the motion for more Bruce in the off-season. Tomorrow’s testing would be a nice start.

  • Ozzy Mick

    Adios, Ciao, Cheers…until next year Brucey. Thanks for the laughs and occasional astute observations and analyses
    Like others here, I’m looking forward to watching the outcome of riders in new teams which, I imagine, will give you even more opportunities to abuse and amuse.

  • Vrooom

    Thanks Bruce, we’ll miss you. The battle for second between Rossi and Iannone was really fantastic. I got the impression Rossi had some tire issues at the end, but perhaps he just settled for fourth having little to prove with 2nd cemented. I dunno, Lorenzo seems quite happy to have lil’ pookum Marquez on the podium with him. I’m just going out on a limb (which given my race prediction was awful is probably not worth much) and say I’m guessing Vinales will manage to make the battle for the championship next year a 3 way. He figured out how to be competitive on the Suzuki right away, despite some top speed problems. Meanwhile the Ducati has a serious acceleration advantage over the Yamahas and of course Hondas.

  • Vrooom

    After day 1 of practice it’s Vinales, Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez at the top of the practice session. Same riders, different ponies (for some anyway).

    • Old MOron

      Too bad they don’t have the whole practice analysis. But here are the best lap times: http://www.motogp.com/en/testResults/MotoGP+Valencia+Test+2017#ssid_1

      So far Tech3’s rookies are doing the best.
      Poor Aleix Espargaro is a full second behind Iannone who is riding his old bike.
      Lorenzo’s first ride on Ducati is a good one.
      Maverick’s first ride on the Yam is even better.

  • Ian Parkes

    Thanks Bruce, it’s been legendary. Lorenzo isn’t the only one who feels short-changed by bad weather this season. I was looking forward to seeing a Bruce Allen banner at Phillip Island. Next year I’ll take one over myself in case Ozzy Mick decides to stay tucked up indoors again. Aussies aren’t used to rain like we are.

    • Bruce Allen

      There will be some fascinating shuffling at the top next season; we could be looking at six or eight competitors to finish second. I will continue to do my best to be a pain in Sean Alexander’s side until he comes up with a junket to Australia, or at least Austin, for me. I mean, it’s not like he has to cover my health benefits.

  • spiff

    Race wasn’t bad, i wonder if Marquez blew the start so he could give the win to Lorenzo, and still ride hard. Yeah, probably not.

    I am excited for next year. See everyone in the spring.

  • Old MOron

    Very interesting. It seems that on the second day of testing almost everyone made significant improvement in his fastest lap time. Notable exceptions are Valentino and Jorge. I wonder if they’re being very serious about testing and not going for a fast time, or if they kind of hit a brick wall.

    Day 1: http://www.motogp.com/en/testResults/MotoGP+Valencia+Test+2017#ssid_1
    Day 2: http://www.motogp.com/en/testResults/MotoGP+Valencia+Test+2017#ssid_2