The 2013 MotoGP championship chase has now come down to the annual Pacific Swing, sandwiched between Aragon and Valenciana. A mere five rounds left for all the marbles in the premier motorcycle series on Earth. Seven weeks for Honda little big man Dani Pedrosa or defending Yamaha champion Jorge Lorenzo to erase the 34 point gap Repsol rookie Marc Marquez has built over the past six months. Good luck with that.
Many followers of the sport, myself included, feel it is actually a two man race, that Pedrosa has been spiritually broken over the last six rounds. He had ruled at the top of the heap after Round 7 at Assen, with two golds and three silvers, and led challengers Lorenzo and Marquez by nine and 23 points, respectively. Having re-broken his left collarbone in practice at the Sachsenring, he has given up 57 points to his rookie teammate since mid-July. His body language these days gives the impression of a beaten man. His are the brooding eyes of a contender who has, once again, fallen short of the prize.
Two time and defending world champion Lorenzo, on the other hand, seems to have found a second wind since Brno. By winning at Silverstone and again at Misano, he has clawed back 10 of the 44 point deficit he faced in late August. Although it will take a minor miracle, and some rookie mistakes by the relaxed Marquez, to put Lorenzo within reach – say 10 points – of the title by the time Valenciana rolls around, he will concede nothing. He is probably not going to make it. From Lorenzo’s vantage point, he may run out of time, but he will not have lost. His are the eyes of a champion.
Here’s the thing. Marquez has proven, among a host of other things this season, that he is a rapid learner. As good as he has become since April, he is only going to get better, and faster, over the rest of this decade. What he has accomplished this season – six poles, five wins, and 12 podiums in 13 rounds – he has done almost purely on instinct. Add experience and maturity to the mix, and he appears likely to emerge in a class by himself.
HRC management is going to keep a death grip on Marquez’ services and provide him with the finest equipment on the grid until he quits the game. 2013 could be the last realistic opportunity for Lorenzo to secure his third world championship. No wonder he’s pressing; if we can see the writing on the wall, surely he can, too. One mistake, though, and it’s over.
A Brief History of MotoGP at MotorLand
A last-minute substitution for the failed Balatonring circuit in Hungary in 2010, MotorLand Aragon is an anomaly: a Yamaha-friendly circuit at which Jorge Lorenzo has never won. Casey Stoner won easily that year on the Ducati, joined on the podium by Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden, who punked Lorenzo on the penultimate turn of the race for his annual post-2006 rostrum. The race in 2010 was memorable for having had two Ducatis on the podium, the last time that is likely to happen in my lifetime.
Stoner won again in 2011, this time for Repsol Honda, followed at some distance by teammate Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Marco Simoncelli. Valentino Rossi, befouled by the new six engine rule that year, became the first rider ever forced to start from pit lane for going over budget on his engines on his way to a 10th place finish.
Last year, Pedrosa, in the midst of his white-hot finish to the 2012 season, blistered the field and fended off all four Yamahas, with Lorenzo and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Andrea Dovizioso joining him on the podium. Stoner sat out with the injury suffered at Indianapolis three rounds earlier, and his sub, journeyman Johnny Rea, acquitted himself nicely with a gratifying 7th place finish onboard the Repsol Honda.
Let’s review. Since 2010, Pedrosa has a gold and two silvers. Lorenzo has, in order, a 4th, a 3rd and a 2nd, an encouraging trend if ever there was. Young Marquez crashed out of the 125 race in 2010, won handily in Moto2 in 2011, and finished second to Pol Espargaro last season in a Moto2 classic, with the top four riders crossing the line within 2 seconds of the winner. MM ♥ Aragon.
I’m not going out on a limb predicting that these three will end up on the podium on Sunday afternoon. After all, they’ve hogged the top three spots seven times this year, including the last four rounds. Alien Emeritus Rossi, meanwhile, has four consecutive 4th place finishes going for him. His frustration has reached such a high level that he announced this week he’s forming a Moto3 team for 2014, perhaps giving some thought to what life will be like after his racing days are over. His winning days are largely behind him already. MotoGP is a young man’s game; there are no Peyton Mannings in MotoGP.
Musical Chairs in the Lower Tranches
Expect the announcement this weekend that Hayden will be joining the Aspar Power Electronics team for 2014 with enhanced involvement/investment from the Aprilia factory. Don’t expect his teammate to be Randy de Puniet, who appears likely to take 2014 off to test for Suzuki prior to returning to the grid in 2015.
Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is reportedly torn between remaining with Aspar or taking his act to the NGM Forward Racing team to join the ancient Colin Edwards on Yamaha-powered FTRs. With Scott Redding having signed with the GO&FUN Gresini team and slated for one of the new Honda “production” RCV1000R bikes, there appears to be a seat available for someone at either Aspar or Forward Racing. I’d like to hear some ideas as to who might end up where, as Claudio Corti has failed to impress as Edwards’ teammate. Laverty’s brother Eugene has expressed interest in the Aprilia MotoGP program, apparently anxious to whip up on brother Michael. Not to mention quadrupling his salary.
At the bottom of the food chain, Michael Laverty is getting a bit of a promotion on the PBM team, moving from the PBM ART to the ART ART in a dazzling display of acronyms. Yonny Hernandez, as we mentioned last time, is taking over for Ben Spies on the Pramac Ducati, with Spies insisting his contract is in no jeopardy for 2014; we’ll see about that. Australian Damian Cudlin, last seen subbing in MotoGP in 2011, will apparently replace Hernandez on the PBM team for the last five rounds of 2013.
Karel Abraham has cashed out for the year, with his Cardion AB seat being taken, at least this week, by Former Ferracci MV Agusta Rider Luca Scassa. Scassa, onboard a Kawasaki, is sixth this season in World Supersport, not exactly a threat to crack the top ten at Aragon.
Honda Weather for Round 14
Temps are expected to rise into the 80s and 90s this weekend at Motorland, such conditions favoring Pedrosa and Marquez. But Lorenzo is overdue for a win here, having tasted victory at the three other Spanish venues. Has Pedrosa thrown in the towel? Can Lorenzo keep his streak, and his championship dreams, alive? Will Marquez provide another last lap thriller? Tune into Fox Sports 1 at 8 am EDT for live coverage of the Gran Premio Iveco de Aragon. We’ll have results right here on Sunday evening.