Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third.

I have given this last statement a bit of thought. Finishing second is vastly different in the sports of motorcycle racing and, say, boxing. Finishing second for the year in MotoGP is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just more forgettable. Unless, of course, it’s decided at Valencia. Not this year.

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“I’m number one. The rest of you are number two.”

Recent History at Aragon

In 2015, Jorge Lorenzo put on an M1 clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result for what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card. Looking back on it, this was the year Rossi’s fans learned to loathe #93, allegedly blocking for his countryman, later in the season. Much the same might have been said about Pedrosa here.

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Dani Pedrosa edged out Valentino Rossi by just 0.09 seconds to take second and deny the Doctor an extra four championship points. Rossi would eventually fall five points short of Jorge Lorenzo. Of course, the incident at Sepang and the ensuing penalty at Valencia had a larger bearing on the championship but those additional four points would have been useful as well.

In 2016, Repsol Honda’s suddenly-cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

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It was an all-Spanish podium last year, with Marc Marquez joined by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in 2017. Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder gathered momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Pedrosa and the then-exiled Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

History Aside, Here We Are

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Andrea Dovizioso trails Marc Marquez by 67 points with six rounds left to go. It’s not an impossible task, catching Marquez, but everything has to go absolutely right for Dovi and catastrophically wrong for #93.

As fall approaches in the U.S., where virtually no one reads this, the 2018 MotoGP championship chase hangs by a thread. The top chaser, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, conceded the season to Marquez publicly last week; possibly playing head games, probably not. The rest of the contenders – Rossi, Viñales, Lorenzo – are either too inconsistent, too over-the-hill, or too under-horsed to mount any kind of a real challenge this year. Even in the unthinkable case that Marquez would allow himself to crash out of two of the remaining six rounds, that would only put things back in play for maybe one of the three. And it would be a long row to hoe from there.

As our British friends observe, there are 150 points “on offer” in the last six rounds of 2018. Marquez has 67 points “in his pocket” and probably holds every tie-breaker known to man. Which translates, roughly, to one of the three main chasers winning, like, five of the last six races (!!!) while Marquez goes all Aleix Espargaro and fails to podium once for the remainder of the year. This, then, is what one finds when looking up the term “unlikely” in one’s online dictionary.

MotoGP Track Records
Track Rider Year Manufacturer
Losail 2018 Marc Marquez Honda
Rio Hondo1 2014 Marc Marquez Honda
COTA2 2015 Marc Marquez Honda
Jerez 2018 Cal Crutchlow Honda
Le Mans 2018 Johann Zarco Yamaha
Mugello 2018 Valentino Rossi Yamaha
Catalunya 2018 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati
Assen 2015 Valentino Rossi Yamaha
Sachsenring 2018 Marc Marquez Honda
Brno 2016 Marc Marquez Honda
Red Bull Ring 2016 Andrea Iannone Ducati
Silverstone3 2017 Marc Marquez Honda
Misano 2018 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati
Aragon 2015 Marc Marquez Honda
Chang 2018
Motegi 2015 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha
Phillip Island 2013 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha
Sepang 2015 Dani Pedrosa Honda
Ricardo Tormo 2016 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha
1 Weather
2 Track conditions poor
3 2018 race cancelled

Ten eligible rounds this year – dry races on suitable surfaces – with seven new all-time records. 70 percent, year-to-date, with Thailand’s Chang International Circuit, by definition, in the W column. With the highly-criticized Michelins and common control ECU. The remaining records this year are not terribly recent, with Marquez’ at Phillip Island recorded in 2013 when he was a rookie. Lorenzo’s records late in the season are impressive and endangered. He is also the only rider to record track records on different bikes. Also impressive. Not endangered. Investigative journalism like this is why MO pays me the big bucks. I know you were wondering.

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Marc Marquez holds the lap record at Aragon, laying down a time of 1:46.635 during qualifying in 2015.

Here’s what I’m wondering, wishing I had access to MotoGP historical numbers I could manipulate to back up my otherwise-baseless assertions. I think the big deal about winning pole is vastly overrated, should be and is treated like its own little “mini-accomplishment,” on jelly-soft tires with no gas for one lap, torpedoes be damned. Win a big tricked-out BMW. I suspect qualifying on the front row doesn’t significantly hurt one’s chances of winning the race compared to winning pole. Just sayin’ qualifying on the front row should be the emphasis. Not pole. Pole is mostly a notch on a bedpost. Other than in places like Misano, where it is a curse; no winner from pole in nine years.

Wondering about the correlation between winning pole and winning the race. About winning the pole and securing the podium. About the correlation between qualifying second and finishing first or second. About the correlation between qualifying third and finishing on the podium. Someone with better abilities to manage data from online sources please do the math over the past 20 years and provide the analysis in the COMMENTS section below. Some poor guy in, like, Bali is holding his breath.

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Did we mention you also get one of these neat Michelin caps for qualifying on the front row?

Track records are, in my opinion, a big deal. The vast majority are pole laps. To the extent that winning pole produces a new track record, I’m down. Otherwise, it’s just a big Beamer. Marquez has a barn full of them and lets little brother Alex drive one whenever he wants. They both know poor Alex will never have one of his own.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast for the three-day weekend in metropolitan Alcañiz calls for sunny skies and hot temps – real hot on Friday, hotter on Saturday, and hellish on Sunday. And dusty. These races favor the leader, especially one on a Honda RC213V, since conditions will add an additional layer of stress for all the Marquez chasers, notably the Yamahas. With their mathematical chances of a premier class title in 2018 approaching the abscissa, they must nonetheless exude confidence, risking life and limb in a heroic but mostly symbolic attempt to pull off the impossible, and live up to the mythic expectations of teams, families, fans, sponsors and, ultimately, owners. Lots of constituents. Lots of pressure. Lots of pressure not to let the pressure show. Never let them see you sweat.

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CAPTION.

I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not. Even if Dovi beats Marquez to the flag it will be a big-picture win for #93, as he would drop only 5 points to Dovi with but five rounds left, four of which are in those pesky Pacific time zones where things can go from bad to worse. Things like Marquez clinching in Australia. Things like that. As for third place, probably a Cal Crutchlow on the Honda in the heat.

A new track record at Aragon, however, would be very cool. Marquez recording some kind of DNF would add interest to the next round in Thailand. We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday.