The small fleet of 747s that is the MotoGP Moving & Storage Company lands this week in Barcelona for the second of four Spanish rounds. The track, recently reconfigured for safety reasons, has been roundly criticized by the riders as no longer fun or “MotoGP-worthy.” Blah blah blah. By the time Friday rolls around, every rider with a drop of Spanish blood in him will be banging on about the history of Montmelo and overflowing with optimism about his team’s prospects. Business as usual amongst the yachting class.
Maverick Viñales and his factory Yamaha M1 sit on top of the world, stiff-arming half a dozen wannabe chasers, learning his trade and thinking seriously about a world championship. He had nothing substantial to gain from any effort to track down eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso on Sunday; 20 points was plenty that day. There were Ducatis everywhere. The Hondas appeared to offer but two settings, “SLOW” and “DANGEROUS.” If only that pesky Danilo Petrucci hadn’t been on his back the last third of the race, he could have relaxed a little.
Alvaro Bautista had a memorable day, flogging his Ducati GP16 to a solid 13 points. And Tito Rabat’s game is so messed up that on a day when the rest of the Hondas were simply trying to stay shiny side up, he finishes 11th for the second round in a row, his best outcomes since Brno last year, four spots ahead of Jack Miller, second only to The Great Marquez amongst the Hondas.
Recent History at Catalunya
Catalunya 2014 took place during The Year of Marquez, as the fearless sophomore sensation first mixed it up with Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, followed by another close encounter with teammate Dani Pedrosa. Marc Marquez ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi after Pedrosa, forcing the issue late in the day, touched tires with Marquez and bounced wide, allowing Rossi through, ultimately settling for third.
Whatever faint hopes Marquez held for a third consecutive title in 2015 ended on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Jorge Lorenzo from second place, he dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and title aspirations done. With Lorenzo having leaped into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early. At the end of the day, he trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68. Game over for Marquez while the war between the factory Yamaha teammates continued, as the Brits say, to hot up.
Last year’s classic featured a struggling but gritty Lorenzo getting “Iannone’d” on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez to slug it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed after a challenge from Marquez subsided when his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.” Pedrosa finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki.
A brief review: Rossi, Lorenzo, and Marquez have enjoyed victory here recently, while Pedrosa and Viñales have been sniffing around. Everyone is saying the new layout favors everyone but them. Other than Viñales, the Aliens will be pressing this weekend. After Mugello, Pedrosa and Lorenzo have some splainin’ to do concerning the status of their Alien cards.
This re-ranking is tempered by the fact that the tires played a distinct part in Sunday’s results. That, and the fact that it’s all totally arbitrary to begin with.
After Round 5:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Dovizioso
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham, Smith
Tranche 5: Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)
After Round 6:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso↑
Tranche 2: Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Pedrosa↓, Petrucci↑
Tranche 3: Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone, Bautista↑
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat↑
Tranche 5: Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)
My sense of symmetry is offended by the presence of only two active riders in Tranche 5. I keep wanting to put someone like Karel Abraham in there. Also, Tranches 2 and 3 are, unfortunately, over-booked; according to FAA regulations, one rider needs to move down a notch from each. We’re asking for volunteers…
Michelin Still Pedaling Hard to Keep Up
Readers, your boy Cal Crutchlow has been running his mouth again, after Sunday’s disastrous outing at Mugello. Claims the tires brought by Michelin had been designed for the Ducatis, that even the hard option was way too soft for the Honda riders. Also used the term “ruthless” to describe Dani Pedrosa’s riding style, which I think is a bit of a reach.
Same old problem for the Hondas in Italy – having to put too much load on the fronts during braking to make up for the absence of acceleration on the back side of the apex. Marquez said much the same thing. Not sure why things appear to be a puzzle every week for Michelin with a year’s experience under their belts. The Lorenzo/Ducati contingent won the hard vs. soft carcass debate which, with a medium front/soft rear configuration, works like crazy for the Ducs, as we saw Sunday, when it’s not too hot on the track. Let’s just say that starting next year in Mugello I don’t want to hear the Honda contingent wailing anymore. Michelin can’t be the tire of choice for two manufacturers and the tire of last resort for the other four. Another full year is plenty of time to sort this out.
Upcoming Weekend and Calendar Issues
Sunday’s race is the first of three in the next four weeks before the overly long summer vacation. While Montmelo will likely remain a rider favorite, and Assen as well, not too many guys like The Sachsenring. All too often the cold, wet conditions in these latitudes play an oversized role in the world championship. Except for 2015, the races at Assen have been pivotal. We’ll take a closer look at The Sachsenring stuff next time.
The long-term forecast for metropolitan Barcelona is for clear skies and warm temps over the weekend. Honda weather. Honda needs some weather, some juju, something cosmic going for it this weekend. If I were Marquez I would seriously be lobbying to be allowed to use my 2014 frame again. This machine he’s on is not competitive. He shouldn’t have to work as hard as he (and Pedrosa, and Crutchlow…) have to in order to get some kind of drive out of the corners.
This is a Honda-friendly track, more so, if you believe Valentino, than it was before the new turns. Marquez will be pressing, and the weather appears to be favorable. I have him winning the race, Viñales second, and Johann Zarco third. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Were I to follow my heart, I would have Marquez, followed by Zarco, Crutchlow, and Rossi, with Viñales walking back from a gravel trap, shaken, not stirred. Cal simply for the entertainment value. I also confess to finding myself pulling for Marquez, as a man of his obvious skill – never mind how you feel about him as a competitor/Lorenzo-lover/Rossi-rival – should have more bike suitable to his prodigious talents. Honda does NOT want him looking around in 2019.
As usual, the race goes off at 8 am EDT in the U.S. and Canada, in likely addition to some locales in eastern South America. We will have results and analysis right here in a jiffy thereafter.