MotoGP Indianapolis 2013 Preview

Three races, three weeks, three contenders

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Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa was quoted last week as saying he thought the 2013 MotoGP championship would be decided in the next three rounds. His teammate, rookie Marc Marquez, sits squarely in the driver’s seat, leading Pedrosa by 16 points and factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo by an imposing 26. Should young Marquez avoid DNFs over the next three weeks and record a win or two, the 2013 title appears to be his for the taking.

Recent History at Indianapolis

Though the race winners at Indy since 2008 haven’t been terribly surprising, the podiums have usually hosted at least one dark horse. During the inaugural race in 2008, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, at his peak, methodically tracked down then-Repsol Honda pilot and local fave Nicky Hayden during Hurricane Ike in a race that was ultimately red-flagged due to the weather. Indy that year was one of Hayden’s two podium appearances, with third place going to Rossi’s rookie teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

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Valentino Rossi was the winner of the inaugural Indianapolis Grand Prix in 2008. Besides making him the first MotoGP racer to kiss the bricks, the victory was the 69th premiere class win for Rossi, pushing him past the great Giacomo Agostini as the new all-time leader.

Rossi looked ready to repeat in 2009 until an ill-advised crash on Lap 9 handed the win to Lorenzo. In August of 2009, Rossi had the championship title in the bag, and could have easily coasted to a podium finish. Instead, he went balls to the wall, his usual style, and left the door ajar for Lorenzo, the eventual 2009 runner-up. Joining Lorenzo on the podium in 2009 were Alex de Angelis on a satellite Honda and homeboy Hayden on the Ducati Desmosedici. For both de Angelis and Hayden, Indianapolis marked their only podium appearances of 2009.

The mid-American weirdness continued in 2010, as Pedrosa won on a brutally hot day, joined on the podium by Monster Tech 3 Yamaha polesitter Ben Spies and Lorenzo, who lost the battle that day but would win the war and his first world championship later that year. In August of 2010, Spies’ future could not have looked any brighter. He started on the pole and gave Pedrosa all he wanted that day, during a week that saw him anointed as the next factory Yamaha star for 2011-12.

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Ben Spies returns to action this weekend at Indy. The Texan hasn’t started a MotoGP race since April 21 in Austin.

[In retrospect, this was probably the high water mark of Spies’ MotoGP career, despite his stunning win in Assen the following season. Since 2010, Spies has gone from The Great American Hope to a historical footnote, working his way down from factory Yamaha, to satellite Ducati, to completely irrelevant this year. He returns to the fray this week after missing the last seven races. Spies is articulate, thoughtful and self-effacing, but his MotoGP career is circling the bowl. We wish him well.]

Pedrosa’s win in 2010 marked the first of three consecutive wins at Indy for the factory Honda team, as Casey Stoner cruised to victory in 2011 and Pedrosa repeated last year, again in brutally hot conditions. Indianapolis is, without question, a highly Honda-friendly track, with the tight infield portion having much more to do with who wins than the orgasmic long main straight bisected by the start/finish line. During the last two races, the podiums have become somewhat more predictable, as it was Stoner-Lorenzo-Andrea Dovizioso (on the Repsol Honda) in 2011 and Pedrosa-Lorenzo-Dovizioso (on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) last year.

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Andrea Dovizioso has reached the podium in two-consecutive races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’ll be hard pressed to do it again this year with Ducati.

My sole prediction for Sunday: Andrea Dovizioso will not appear anywhere near the podium. Take that to the bank.

Crash.net speculated this past week that Marc Marquez may be the best premier class rookie ever. While our crack Research Department mulls that one over, I would be reluctant to argue the point. In my 2013 season preview, I had him figured for 4th place this year, with eight podiums, two wins, 4 DNFs, and 220 points for the season.

Should Marquez extend his performance thus far over the second half, he would finish with six wins, two DNFs, 14 podiums, 326 points and a world championship. Which would virtually duplicate his 2012 season in Moto2. And he appears fresh as a daisy, none the worse for wear, compared to his main rivals Pedrosa and Lorenzo, both of whom are amongst the walking wounded.

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It’s rare for any young athlete to live up to the hype but Marc Marquez has done that and more, leading the MotoGP championship at the halfway-point of the season.

We know three things on this subject as the second half of the season gets underway. The Repsol Honda likes hot weather, the hotter the better. Marquez, for whatever reason, seems to perform better in the second half of seasons than the first. And, he is greatly familiar with pretty much every circuit left on the 2013 calendar. (This last point is rather moot, in that he won both times he’s confronted a track for the first time, at Austin and Laguna Seca.)

Marquez simply doesn’t ride like a rookie. His balance and reflexes are incomparable, Stoneresque, God-given gifts; he appears to be doing what he was put on Earth to do. Now that we have virtually guaranteed his first coronation this year, it remains to be seen whether the Motorcycle.com jinx will rear up to bite him on the bum (paging Cal Crutchlow.) If not, fans need to get ready for a decade or so of watching him effortlessly win races, championships, and the hearts of Spanish racing fans.

The world appears to be his oyster.

The Yamaha Magic Gearbox

Our friend David Emmett over at MotoMatters.com is convinced Yamaha was using their version of the seamless shift gearbox during the recent private testing sessions held at Brno. By measuring oscilloscope readings of sound recordings made trackside, he deduces that the “magic gearbox” decreases shifting time for the Yamaha YZR-M1 by some 143% compared to the conventional version. This enhancement is significantly less than that provided by the Honda box, but still represents a major improvement.

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Jorge Lorenzo faces a difficult challenge to repeat as champion. A near seamless transmission will help but will it be ready in time?

Apparently, some reliability concerns remain, as there has been no announcement of a change in equipment for the Yamaha factory bikes as yet. But Big Blue needs to get this system installed sooner rather than later, as the Honda RC213V is clearly superior at tracks with lots of low-gear turns, i.e., Austin, Laguna Seca and, most likely, Indianapolis. Marquez and Pedrosa are going to be fast everywhere they go, whereas Lorenzo and Rossi need to dominate at tracks like Losail and Aragon and hold on for dear life at the tight, slower circuits.

[As things now stand, Ducati Corse hopes to have their version of the magic gearbox ready to go in time for the 2036 season, while the sober folks at Suzuki profess no belief in magic at all. The riders who will be testing this stuff for the two B-level factories haven’t actually been born yet. Just sayin’.]

Great Expectations

If you look up the word “optimist” in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a wildcard rider discussing his chances in an upcoming MotoGP tilt. This time, it’s Blake Young, last seen trashing his Kawasaki-powered Attack Performance bucket at Laguna Seca, along with one James Rispoli, who will be making his Moto2 debut in Indy with the GPTech team on a Tech 3 frame. Such competition reminds me of a garage band entering a Battle of the Bands against Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and R.E.M.

Give the guys credit for showing up. While you’re at it, please support their sponsors, who could likely get a better return on their investments tossing wads of $100 bills out of a helicopter.

Finally! Your Weekend Forecast

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway is under contract to host MotoGP through to 2014 but the circuit reportedly has an opt-out clause for next season.

Indianapolis has enjoyed a remarkably temperate summer, and it looks to continue this weekend. Skies are forecast to be fair, with temps in the high 70’s and low 80’s. As this is probably your last chance to see MotoGP at the IMS; if you can come to town for the race, please do so. (Next year you may have to travel to Argentina instead.)

As of this weekend, Fox Sports 1 will be the new home of MotoGP on TV. Live coverage of all three classes starts Sunday at 11 am Eastern, with the big bikes going off at 2 pm. We’ll have MotoGP results right here on Sunday evening.

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