Honda’s Marc Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in Aragon. Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder now has momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and exiled Ducati pilot Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, dimmed somewhat.

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With an impressive win at Aragon, Marc Marquez now leads Andrea Dovizioso by 16 points.

Valentino Rossi: Genius at Work on Saturday

Some may argue that it was the Racing Gods themselves who put Yamaha‘s Valentino Rossi on the front row. There are plenty of men out there who take this kind of risk, with this kind of injury, for money. There are very few who, like Rossi, undertake such dangerous stuff for the sheer love of the game. After all, there is a 10th title waiting to be won; the $200 million and the rest of it will still be there after racing is over. It is no secret that The Gods find favor in men with such commitment to their calling, which helps explain why, at age 38, he can still play. Astonishing.

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In a stunning turn of events, Valentino Rossi – broken right leg and all – not only received medical clearance to race, he qualified on the front row.

Saturday gave us yet another example of why Rossi has more premier class racing trophies than any other rider ever. He is sufficiently competitive to ignore a twice-fractured leg, ride in four practice sessions, sail into Q2, and qualify on the front row, when any lucid mortal would be in traction. He gives himself a chance to gather points, even when he’s hurt. Quién es más macho?

Practice and Qualifying

Notable names that made the post-FP3 cut into Q2 included the factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati teams, as well as a sampling of interesting climbers – Mika Kallio, wildcarding on the third KTM (and showing up regular team rider Bradley Smith), Alvaro Bautista punching above his weight on the Ducati GP16, and an incredulous Andrea Iannone, who could not remember the last time he didn’t have to suffer through Q1 on the Suzuki (hint: it was Austria).

The lot in Q1 included Jack Miller, pimped at the flag by Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who, in turn, tailed Lorenzo, looking strong on the Ducati GP17, into Q2. Others failing to make the A team included Danilo Petrucci, a shaken, not stirred, Jonas Folger, cleared by the medical center to participate, with Three Brits Not Named Crutchlow bringing up the rear, as it were.

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Jorge Lorenzo fought his way through Q1 to earn a spot in Q2 where he impressively qualified second overall.

With Lorenzo and Zarco joining the lambs, Q2 was worth the price of admission. It divided itself into halves, with each team making a tire change. Marc Marquez won the first half convincingly, and was challenging to extend his lead with four minutes left in the second when he lost the front, resulting in a fifth-place start behind Cal Crutchlow and in front of  Pedrosa, who had been quick all weekend. The eventual polesitter, Maverick Viñales, edged a menacing Lorenzo, who had earlier edged Rossi (!) himself off the pole. A classic front row – something old, something new, something red… An all-Honda second row. The other championship co-leader, Andrea Dovizioso, looking unsettled all weekend, made it only to the top of the third row.

#93 – Mental Toughness on Display

Sunday would dawn with clear blue skies and hot temperatures, Honda weather in Spain, on a track finding favor with the Yamahas and Ducatis. Few riders had slept easily on Saturday night. On a personal note, during qualifying my tranches were shredded like confetti on New Year’s Eve and I had predicted Rossi on the sidelines. Order needed to be restored, somehow, on Sunday. Generally, it wasn’t.

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Dani Pedrosa demonstrated another strong performance under warm weather conditions.

The heat predicted early in the week arrived, and tire choices and wear became determining factors. A snapshot of this allegation shows Marquez on the top step having chosen a hard rear, Pedrosa on the second having chosen the medium, and Lorenzo on the third, having gone for the soft. Just sayin’.

Perhaps the strangest sensation today was watching Jorge Lorenzo, in red, looking kind of like the Lorenzo of old (minus the vapor trail) and leading from Turn 1 of the first lap until Lap 16, when Marquez eased through at Turn 12. Lorenzo’s first podium in 10 rounds must be rather encouraging. Still, at the post-race press conference I found myself wondering about the last time I saw the series leader flanked by challengers trailing by 172 points, collectively.

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Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez battled like they did in previous seasons before swapping the M1 for the Desmosedici.

With championship rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales having a generally rough day, and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi exchanging his crutches for handlebars, Marquez took advantage, creating some breathing room between himself and Dovizioso (-16), Viñales (-28), Pedrosa (-54) and Rossi (-56). Though not a crushing, decisive loss, both Viñales and Dovizioso struggled all day at a track they might dominate in different conditions.

What Does It All Mean?

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Valentino Rossi validated his efforts for a quick comeback from injury, qualifying third and finishing fifth.
  1. Rossi is, simply stated, a freak.
  2. Dovizioso and Viñales must move into carpe diem mode. This is undoubtedly Dovi’s last best chance to win a MotoGP championship; Viñales will get his chances. Marquez says he has felt great since Catalunya and continues to feel great. For both riders, for the rest of the season, there can be only one mantra: Beat Marquez. Never mind beat your teammate. Nothing else matters. Beat Marquez or wait until next year.
  3. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, each Aliens at various points in their careers, now have holes in their games: Lorenzo gets the yips in the rain, and Dani cannot heat his tires in cold/wet conditions. In perfect conditions such as today they will continue to push for podiums. True Aliens can race in any conditions. Some might argue that Dovizioso is only truly competitive in cool or damp conditions.
  4. Aleix Espargaro tied his best result on the Aprilia, a 6th place finish in Qatar, and, in the process, continues to make the Sam Lowes defenders of the world look demented.
  5. Mika Kallio finished 11th and, in the process, continues to make Bradley Smith look sick. Some KTM fans want Kallio in and Smith out now.
  6. My ranking tranches took a beating today. I need some time to digest the results, and will post new tranches in the Motegi preview. Apparently the Espargaro brothers want a word with me, while I could use five minutes of Alex Rins’ time to discuss how my Tranche 2 rider manages to finish 17th.

Provisional Rider Lineup for 2018

Provisional 2018 MotoGP World Championship Rider Lineup

  • Aprilia Gresini – Aleix Espargaro, Scott Redding
  • Ducati Corse – Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo
  • Octo Pramac Racing Ducati – Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci
  • Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati – Karel Abraham, Alvaro Bautista
  • Reale Avintia Racing Ducati – Tito Rabat, Xavi Simeon*
  • LCR Honda – Cal Crutchlow, Takaaki Nakagami*
  • Repsol Honda – Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa
  • Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS – Thomas Luthi*, Franco Morbidelli*
  • Red Bull KTM – Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith
  • Team ECSTAR Suzuki – Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins
  • Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – Jonas Folger, Johann Zarco
  • Movistar Yamaha – Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales

With the signing of Xavier Simeon from Moto2 to be the second rider at Reale Avintia Ducati, for whatever reason, the 2018 grid is now complete. Three riders – Loris Baz, Hector Barbera and Sam Lowes – were shown the door. Three more – Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat – believe a change of premier class scenery next season will improve their prospects. And four riders were promoted up from Moto2 – Tom Luthi, Franco Morbidelli, Takaaki Nakagami and Simeon.

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Currently in his eighth season in Moto2, Xavier Simeon currently sits 21st in the championship. The last time he saw the podium was July 2015 in Sachsenring. Does Reale Avintia Ducati $ee $omething we’re not $eeing?

My question at present is this: What does the Reale Avintia Ducati team expect in 2018 from Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon? Less than they get this year from Barbera and Baz, in my estimation. Xavier Simeon, really? I mean, Rabat has amassed 28 points in MotoGP this year, while Simeon has managed but 16 in Moto2. Compare this to Baz with 39 and Barbera 23. The X-Man must have a wheelbarrow full of sponsorship money in his garage.

Next Stop: Asia

Three weeks to Motegi, with Marquez leading and feeling froggy. Three weeks for Dovizioso and Viñales to figure out what on earth they must do to catch this guy. Three weeks to contemplate what Marquez might do to them on a bike he doesn’t have to wrestle all day.

Three weeks to figure out how they might be spending the next five months.

  • spiff

    Bruce, no mention of Marquez picking up that low side? That is why he stands out from everyone else. He is the only guy that can ride just a bit too hard, and save it. That is the difference of 0 points vs the 25 he put in his pocket.

    • I know. After five years of watching him make impossible saves, it has become, sadly, a little routine. And the way he invariably laughs about them in post-race interviews is one of the endearing things about him. It feels like MotoGP is working when Marquez is doing well. Can’t help myself.

      • spiff

        It kind of reminds me of Carmichael in Supercross/Motocross. He would ride hard enough that he would break away, or force someone into an error.

        • Shlomi

          He does fall a lot in practice. So far he has been very lucky to not get seriously injured.

          • It wouldn’t surprise me if he hasn’t spent some time practicing falling off the bike. Lowside stuff only. Guy rarely goes ragdoll.

      • spiff

        I think his riding style helps. Watch some of the slow motion shots they take of him. He looks like a perfectly placed sidecar. If it lets loose he is already in position to save it.

        • Please don’t start with that whole nuru thing again. Here we are talkin’ racing and all of a sudden you go all sidecar. Dude.

          • spiff

            NURU. Yeah, I forgot about that.

  • Starmag

    Master class by the Slip Sliding Spaniard. Unless something weird happens, he’ll take it all.

    With four Motogp wins and none recent, Vinales is no alien. Aliens to me are Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa (despite no championships, still, loads of wins), Marquez. Even Dovi, who’s been around a while only has 6 wins. It’s a shame he had a bad day today.

    Gutsy performance by Rossi.

  • JMDGT

    And the wind cried Mary.

    • spiff

      Jimi at his finest.

      • I suspect you don’t react well to change, and the passing of the torch from Rossi to Marquez (via Stoner and Lorenzo) is just too much to bear.

        • JMDGT

          It is for me.

        • Old MOron

          Oh Bruce, I know that MotoGP is the stuff of dreams, but we have to keep one foot in reality. Stoner and Lorenzo are aliens, yes, but the title of GOAT never crossed their paths. Stoner wasn’t around long enough, and Lorenzo just doesn’t qualify.

          • Yo, I wasn’t referring to GOAT, just Top Dog for the year, or a number of years. Rossi owned the world during most of the first decade of this century. Marquez is in charge now. Stoner and Lorenzo are/were multiple world champions. Not every dog has his day, but all these guys have.

          • Old MOron

            When the term “aliens” was coined (by Randy DePuniet or Marco Melandri depending on whom you believe), it referred to people who could ride a MotoGP bike on another level, people who could ride beyond the capabilities of mere Earthlings. In that sense, Pedrosa and Dovi might qualify.

          • Old MOron

            PS: I remember it was Randy who coined the term. I’ve done some googling, and David Emmett seems to confirm my memory. But more to the point, Dani Pedrosa is an original alien, going back to 2009.

  • spiff

    It was kind of weird watching the race today. I was happy to see Lorenzo pulling it all together, but was rooting for Marquez to pass him. I never root for either of them. What is happening?

  • spiff

    Kallio deserve a factory seat. Sorry to Smith, but Kallio gave Red bull positve more air time today than they have had in 5 races.

    I read something to the effect that Aleix was jealous of the money KTM is spending. The way I see it is Red bull KTM wants to be iconic like the Repsol Honda. Redbull is all in, and it shows.

  • Kos

    An absolute riding clinic put on by Marquez:

    1. Recovering from an early race mistake.

    2. Catching the front wheel (probably multiple times — just once on camera).

    3. Cleanly taking the lead at the appropriate time — not too early.

    4. Getting a decent gap again, after getting maybe just a wee bit complacent.

    !!! GO ROSSI !!!

  • HeDidn’tWeDid

    Marquez may have won the race, but Rossi won another rung on the ‘Legend’ podium.

  • Old MOron

    Great race recap, Brucey. It was as good to read your evaluation just now as it was to watch the race at 05:00. I’ll be interested to see how your tranches shake out in a few weeks.

    • I’ll be interested in how my tranches will shake out as well. Thinking about reducing from five to three–Aliens, Back Markers, and The Rest. All this moving guys around from week to week is exhausting. Not the way I had hoped it would work.

      • spiff

        Aliens exist, or they don’t. It’s not a set number. That said, I think there are only 3 right now. Rossi, Marquez, and Vinales (in order of date joined). Lorenzo cashed his pass in on a big contract (Rossi did to, but he earned a new one), and Pedrobot’s fell out of his pocket during a scuffle for 20th (we aren’t sure which scuffle).

        • Gruf Rude

          Vinales is very good, but his crisis of confidence this year doesn’t seem ‘Alien’.

          • spiff

            You might have a point, it all depends on how he deals with the lows.

          • My vote remains with “completely arbitrary.”

          • First year on a new bike. Compared to #99 in the same position, he’s kicking it. He will give MM all he can handle next year and for some time thereafter.

      • Old MOron

        Three tranches should be much easier to manage. But you’ll still have a few incongruities, for example, Rabat and Simeon who get jobs ahead of other riders.

        • Three tranches would also look like this: 3 or 4 Aliens; 3 or 4 consistent Sam Lowes types, and 16 middlers. It has the advantage of not changing much during the season. It has the disadvantage of being pretty much completely obvious.

          • Old MOron

            Hmm, I see what you mean. It’s more fun to divide the middlers into three groups: the aliens in waiting, the journeymen, and the sinking ships.

  • Deryl Clark

    Right now nobody can tap dance on top of the flag pole better than Marquez but his sweet spot in that flag pole is mighty small. Dovi dances milliseconds slower but his sweets spot is bigger.
    The thing to remember is the Spaniards not so long ago ganged up on an Italian for national pride, pay backs can be a bitch, and a wounded lion is a very dangerous thing.

    • Welcome to the conversation. Most of the conspiracy theorists around here go to bed early, FYI.

      • spiff

        I’m still up.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Are you a conspiracy theorist?

          • spiff

            I don’t do theorys. The b.s. that come out of my mouth is truth. Lol

          • He’s a conspiracy theorist. BTW, so are you. 😉

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Just wait and see. Then I’ll be able to say “I told you so”.

  • Just want to point out that in my Big Finish, paragraph 3, I used the word “conditions” in four consecutive sentences. This poor writing is the reason electronic journalists like me have trouble getting credentials from Dorna. Most of our competitors do stuff like this on a regular basis. We do it once a year. Someone needs to call me out, Sean.

    • spiff

      Yeah Sean, you suck! Poor Bruce.

      Bruce, see you at COTA (I need to get the time off from work), if Dorna won’t take care you I will. First beer is on me.

      • I just might go on my own dime and have Sean’s travel agent book him a heavy guilt trip. For me, COTA depends on a lot of pieces falling into place in April. Still, I should try to book a room now. Wouldn’t want to have to sleep in the barn. It could happen, in which case I could pick up the second beers.

    • Kos

      Meh. As long as you didn’t use it twice in the same sentence, we’ll give you a bye THIS time.

      I like the idea of three tranches.

  • Vrooom

    I was thinking you were premature moving Rins to Tranche 2, but I didn’t think it would blow back that badly Bruce. Dovi really seemed out of it from the start. Suprised Rossi was able to keep pace with Vinales as the race wore on.

    • Years ago the story was that Alex Marquez was faster than Marc, and that Rins was faster than either of them. I believed it. I was wrong.

      • Old MOron

        Young Rins is probably better than he’s showing right now.
        He’s not getting any guidance at Suzuki, and they probably don’t have much to give, anyway.

        On the other hand, Vinnie probably didn’t get much guidance in 2015 and 2016, either. But he fared better.

        Oh well, I’m not surprised that people touted Rins. Everyone wants to be the first guy to spot the next sensation. As a result, we have to suffer some false positives.

        • Exactly, which is what I told my wife when I lost the job at the hotdog stand over some jacked-up random urinalysis. They happen all the time!

  • Lucid_American

    Where is the Harley Davidson factory bike? LOL

    • Old MOron

      bringing up the rear in AFT.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You mean the Ducati?

      • Gruf Rude

        He meant Harley, but he’s a bit confused. Harley doesn’t compete in GPs, just Rallies – you know, like Daytona, Sturgis, etc.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          I thought he meant the Harley Davidson factory bike after it acquires Ducati.

  • spiff

    I wonder if Rossi would have faired any better in this race if he didn’t have the leg issue?

    • Gruf Rude

      I suspect he’d have beat his teammate. On the other hand, I sometimes think Rossi uses a challenge to beat his own expectations just because after all these years, he’s a bit bored.