MotoGP has been cleared for landing at historic Brno, nestled in the rolling Moravian region of the Czech Republic and host to the most widely-attended GP on the calendar. Five riders have formed the first group, tight as ticks, but the next two races favor the Yamahas and Ducatis. If Marc Marquez can hold serve this week and next, his chances of a title in 2017 will take a great leap forward. Chápeš? ¿Entiendes?
Recent History at Brno
Brno was where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying. #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole. Again. Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief. It was Dani Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Jorge Lorenzo by a few tenths and Valentino Rossi by five seconds. Those were the days when Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.
The 2015 race gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started. One of these was polesitter Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year. Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day.
Last year: With three wet/dry races in the previous four rounds, MotoGP fans had been getting accustomed to strange results. Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda. Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso. At Brno, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Rossi and Marquez. Cosmic justice prevailed – the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series. It did allow Crutchlow’s inclusion in the following chart:
|Rider Performance: 1ST Half vs. 2nd Half|
|*World Champion **Moto3 ***Moto2 ****After 9 rounds|
Better second half than first half. It should be noted that Marquez had the sandbox to himself in 2014 and 2016 and had no need to push during the second half of those seasons.
If Dovi finishes ahead of Rossi this year it will be a passing of the torch. Not necessarily to Dovi, but surely from Rossi. Vale, I fear, will be enticed to keep racing a year or two past his sell date. Perhaps schooling some Italian Moto2 grad on his own Sky VR46 team (a Suzuki satellite team perhaps?) without having to get out of the saddle. Until the student starts schooling the teacher. Paging Pecco Bagnaia. (BTW, Dovi’s second half has been worse than the first in three of the last four years. Rossi will probably beat him. Just sayin’.)
Pedrosa’s best days, too, are behind him. Andrea Iannone needs a different bike. It’s too early to say for Alex Rins. Lorenzo looks lost. Talk of Danilo Petrucci replacing Lorenzo in 2018 is rampant. #09 is a hot ticket these days.
Silly Season in Motion
Alex Marquez and Joan Mir will team up together next season in Moto2 with Estrella Galicia Marc VDS. Should be formidable from jump street. Franco Morbidelli takes over for Tito Rabat at Marc VDS’ MotoGP squad, Rabat said to be negotiating a contract with Avintia or Aspar Ducati, whatever. Same with Miller, now signed with Pramac, moving Scott Redding along. It appears Loris Baz is toast, as Johann Zarco is the new and improved token Frenchman. Taka Nakagami, moving up from Moto2, may be a done deal as the number two Honda rider for LCR alongside Crutchlow. Nakagami’s results have been so-so, but his nationality is perfect.
Herve Poncharal stands pat at Tech 3 Yamaha – who wouldn’t – as does Lin Jarvis at the factory Yamaha team and Livio Suppo at Repsol Honda. LCR keeps Crutchlow and adds Nakagami. Marc VDS drops Rabat, Honda shows Miller the door, and the team adds Morbidelli plus one more. Most every other team either has an opening for next season or appears willing to create one if the right rider comes along. This includes the factory Ducati team which, it is said, covets Petrucci in the worst way. Possibly enough to pay JLo to go away. Ahem… Enough to buy JLo out of his current contract. That’s better.
The answer, in my opinion, is for Lorenzo and Petrucci to switch teams for 2018, both keeping their current contracts and crews. Petrucci is able to give much better data than Lorenzo, and Ducati would have its competitive all-Italian team of Dovi and Petrux in place, finally. Lorenzo will come around or he won’t before leaving for greener pastures in 2019.
Alvaro Bautista looking credible at mid-season, will stay with Aspar in 2018. The excitable Romano Fenati moves up to Moto2 looking super-fast, highly volatile, and very special. Redding is in the wind, feelings bruised. Rabat is lining up a new deal. Barbera and Baz are hoping. Aprilia looks to stay put, as will KTM. Iannone must be gone at Suzuki, to be replaced by someone from Moto2; Rins stays. Lorenzo spends another year with Ducati in purgatory as Dovi fights for titles. The candidate to succeed Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda team will soon emerge; it is no longer Miller. It could conceivably be Mir or little brother #73 Alex Marquez, who is finally getting Moto2 figured out. One of the wildcards for 2018 is Rins, who could be nothing or could be, on a faster bike, a top ten threat.
Your Weekend Forecast
I can’t fully believe I’m saying this, but this could be the week Tech 3 gets its first MotoGP win. This is a good track for the team, and Folger came pretty close to winning in Germany. No meteorological weirdness to juggle the outcome.
This part of the world is in the midst of a prolonged hot, dry spell, and the long range weather forecast is for those conditions to continue, to the delight of the Honda contingent. The top four – Marquez, Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi – should be rated more-or-less evenly heading into the race. They’ve all won, they’ve all crashed, they’ve all led the 2017 season, and they all REALLY need to avoid a bad start to the back nine. Plenty of pressure to go around. Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow like it hot on their Hondas.
Bring it on. The race goes off early AM on the US east coast, and we’ll have results here as soon as the fog clears for our weekend editor.