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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.