Fresh off his fantasy weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, rookie Marc Marquez leads Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa and the rest of the grid to eastern Europe for the bwin Grand Prix České republiky. Between 2007 and 2011 the winner here went on to win the premier class championship. Pedrosa put an end to all that last year, edging eventual factory Yamaha champion Jorge Lorenzo by 2/10ths of a second. Will the race revert to its historical pattern in 2013?
Now that Marquez has established himself as a legitimate title threat in his first premier class season – how crazy is that? – let’s take a moment to review his year-to-date performance. Other than Assen, where he lost by two seconds to a resurrected Valentino Rossi, he has won at the tracks where the Honda RC213V thrives – Austin, the Sachsenring, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. At Jerez, he lost to Pedrosa by 2+ seconds, back when he was still deferential to his veteran garagemate. He took thirds at Losail, Le Mans and Catalunya, all of which are Yamaha-friendly layouts.
Brno is generally considered to favor the Yamaha, with few first-gear turns. But Honda has taken the last two Czech rounds, and Marquez has thrived here, too, with a win and a razor-thin second place in two Moto2 tries. Were it not for Honda’s “magic box” transmission, Brno this year would appear to be a toss-up. (This is like speculating how a bullfrog might fare if he had wings.) One thing is certain – both Pedrosa and Lorenzo are going to push to the max to keep the rookie behind them this weekend. Otherwise, we’ll soon be talking about the magic number for Marquez to clinch the title.
Recent History at Brno
Back in 2009, Lorenzo crashed out of the lead, leaving the win to Rossi, followed at some distance by Pedrosa, with Toni Elias – remember him? – a distant 3rd on the Gresini Honda. Lorenzo had 4 DNFs that year and still managed second place. Rossi, who crashed only once – at Indianapolis – won the 2009 title by 45 points. A 16 year-old Marquez drove his 125cc KTM scooter to a run-of-the-mill 8th place finish at Brno that year. At age 16, many of us were just earning our licenses; Marquez already had corporate sponsors.
Recall 2010. Lorenzo’s first championship season featured an easy win at Brno over Pedrosa, with Stoner in 3rd on the Ducati, having put Ben Spies away late in the day. Rossi, still recovering from leg and shoulder injuries suffered in a cold tire wreck at Mugello early in the season, finished 5th. The 148,000 fans held their breath when Andrea Dovizioso, piloting the factory Honda, went lowside, leaving him standing on the tarmac facing riders coming directly at him in 5th gear. Although he avoided getting creamed, his second off a few laps later ended his day. 17 year-old Marquez, on a 125cc Derbi, had one of his worst outings of the season, finishing 7th, but went on to win the title anyway.
In 2011, Casey Stoner won easily for Honda, demolishing the field after Pedrosa left the premises. Dovizioso came in 2nd, followed by Marco Simoncelli, Lorenzo, and Ben Spies, back when Spies had a bright future. Pedrosa crashed out of the lead early, after qualifying on the pole, with the fastest bike in the joint (cue the music, from Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason.) Stoner would win the title that year. Marquez, having moved up to Moto2, lost by 16/100ths of a second to Italian Andrea Iannone in a vintage Moto2 race to the flag.
2012 saw Pedrosa “pip” Lorenzo by 18/100ths, one of Pedrosa’s finest races ever. Yamaha qualified four bikes in the top five, but Pedrosa out-dueled the series leader in a fantastic last lap to remain in the conversation for the 2012 title. (It would prove to be a short stay, as he crashed out the following round at Misano.) At Brno, however, he wrecked my theme for this week, that whoever wins at Brno wins the championship. Lorenzo would repeat in 2012, despite Pedrosa taking six of the last eight rounds.
Meanwhile, Marquez, still a teenager, won a thriller in Moto2, barely edging Thomas Luthi who, in turn, nosed out Pol Espargaro, who punked Iannone, the top four riders finishing barely half a second apart. (If the premier class could conjure up that kind of action at the front, attendance across the globe would double.)
A Season on the Brink
Watching young Marquez seize the attention of the motorcycle racing world has got to be a hard thing for Jorge Lorenzo. A double world champion, at age 26, Lorenzo should be sitting on top of the heap, in his prime, the top dog for the iconic Yamaha racing brand. Yet here he is, his body and his pride wounded, perhaps wondering if he’s won his last title. He came out in the media this week sounding impatient, stating for maybe the first time his opinion that Yamaha needs to expedite the move to their own magic transmission, and that they otherwise can’t really compete with the Hondas at this point. A true company man and Yamaha loyalist, he must really be feeling the pressure to level even veiled criticism at his Japanese masters.
And as hard as it may be for Lorenzo, imagine what it’s like being Dani Pedrosa in the summer of 2013. Early in the season, it appeared this would be his year; time, finally, for his first premier class title after years of distinguished service and too many surgeries to count. Though he will only turn 28 next month, he’s an old 28, with the scars to prove it. When you see him, unaware that the cameras are on him, he looks dejected, scowling, downcast. In a scant four months he has gone from being the alpha male at the top factory team in the game to simply Marc Marquez’ teammate. In the garage area at Indianapolis at noon on Sunday, the crowd assembled outside the Repsol garage vanished as soon as Marquez came out, jumped on his scooter, and headed off for lunch, with Pedrosa still inside.
You can’t really blame Pedrosa for feeling cursed. As good as he is, he’s had to deal with Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo his whole career, and now Marquez. Scott Redding is coming up next year, and looks to be a load with 1000ccs under him. And teenagers Alex Marquez, Marc’s little brother, and his buddy Alex Rins are getting it together in Moto3, heading for Moto2 and MotoGP in a few years.
There’s simply no relief in sight for Dani Pedrosa. The guy can’t catch a break.
Brazil to Join Argentina in 2014
Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Big Cheese at Dorna, left Indianapolis on Sunday evening and flew to Brazil, where he held a press conference to announce that there will be not one, but two, rounds in South America beginning next season. The Brazilian GP will have to await FIM homologation – if you don’t know, don’t ask – before it’s official, but it sounds like a done deal, which is great.
The announcement does raise the question as to which venues will get booted off the schedule, now that Indianapolis is certain for next year. Certainly, one of the Spanish rounds is likely to go away. If I had to guess, I’d suspect the German Grand Prix might go on hiatus, as the Sachsenring is out in the middle of nowhere and most of the riders dislike both the circuit and the food.
The Czech Grand Prix lifts off at 7 am Eastern time in the United States on Sunday. Fox Sports 1 is the new home of MotoGP on TV, but has not yet released their broadcast schedule for that day. We will have race results here later on Sunday.