MotoGP‘s annual Pacific do-si-do begins this week in oppressively hot Sepang, Malaysia, home to the Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Combining high-speed racing and mind-numbing heat, it is the Pacific Rim’s answer to biathlon, the ridiculous Nordic merger of downhill skiing and sniping. Irrepressible soon-to-be World Champion rookie Marc Marquez needs only to hang around close to the front and stay on the podium from here to Valenciana to rule the big bike class of MotoGP in 2013.
No skis or high-powered rifles necessary here. Overcoming 39 points with four rounds left is a tall order, even for two time champion Jorge Lorenzo. His Yamaha, with its new seamless transmission, is improving. As he showed us at Brno and Misano, at some tracks, the M1 is going to do well. At others, like Sepang and Motegi, not so much. For those of you keeping score at home, Marquez clinches if he leads by 26 heading into Valencia, or 51 steaming into Japan. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Lorenzo will still have a chance heading to Australia. Whether it will be meaningful, or simply mathematical, depends.
Meanwhile, on the Mudville side of the Repsol Honda garage, Dani Pedrosa will likely be riding with a bigger-than-usual chip on his often-broken shoulder this week, as his championship hopes came to a violent end last time out in Aragon, courtesy of maybe a small little bump from compatriot and teammate Marquez on lap six, an inadvertent but predictable result of Marquez’ riding style and general mentality.
Until he himself gets hurt because of his aggressive style, Marquez will continue to “force the issue”, the way he did on the last lap with Lorenzo at Jerez, and on lap six with Pedrosa at Aragon. He seems to like this casual contact, secure in the knowledge that, as the initiator in most cases, he can react more quickly and keep his bike upright more easily than can his competitors. Race Direction dithers and wrings their hands, and nothing serious happens to him. Eff a whole lot of penalty points when you’re toting the trophy.
Perhaps Lorenzo yielded to Marquez in Aragon recalling what happened in Jerez.
At 200 mph on two wheels, Marquez will have to have to learn a few things the hard way. It may be prescient to observe at this moment that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Today, Marquez feels unbeatable. He needs to manage his exuberance and stay within himself for the next few rounds. Marc, pretend to be a full-grown man until you actually ARE a full-grown man, the prospect of which is frightening to fans of competitive MotoGP racing. Lord, what will you be like at 25?
Recent History at Sepang
In 2009, Casey Stoner took his Ducati for a stroll in the park, hammering Repsol Honda stalwart Pedrosa by some 14 seconds, with Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi a relaxed third. Rossi’s podium finish clinched the 2009 title for the Italian.
In 2010, it was Rossi, still on the Yamaha, fighting his way back from injuries earlier in the year, edging compatriot Andrea Dovizioso on the Repsol Honda for the win. Lorenzo closed out the podium, with Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Ben Spies finishing 4th.
2011 was, of course, the year the race was cancelled following the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli. Repsol Honda stud Stoner had clinched the premier class title the previous time out at Phillip Island, so there was really nothing to race for. It is interesting to note that the track was in bad condition all through the weekend, with standing water in a number of corners. Marquez had difficulty seeing one of those in practice on his Moto2 bike and endured a brutal high side that left him with blurred vision for six months. Yet Simoncelli’s crash appeared to have nothing at all to do with the conditions. Just one of those things.
Last year, Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda dominated in the rain, and things were red-flagged after 13 laps. Pedrosa was joined on the podium by Yamaha champion-in-waiting Lorenzo in second and a recovering Casey Stoner in third on his Repsol Honda, warming up his act for a sixth consecutive win at Phillip Island the following week.
As for the rookie, he’s only actually finished the Malaysian Grand Prix once, in 2010, when he won in the 125 class. Otherwise, bupkis. His expectations for the weekend cannot be overly high, beyond, say, winning by 10 seconds as he blows kisses to the ecstatic Malaysian fans there to witness the birth of a racing legend.
Telling any of these guys – grand prix motorcycle racers – to take it easy out there, go slow, no rough stuff, is like telling a rodeo bull to hold back a little, let the guy stay on for a few seconds when that gate opens up. For a young rider like Marquez, you might as well tell him to change his eye color. He’s spent the last 15 years of his life learning to go fast, and he’s not going to change that now. He knows only one way to go. Will he crash out? Maybe. Does it really matter? Probably not.
Still No Announcements
Still nothing official from Nicky Hayden or Aleix Espargaro. I read that there is high-level engineering talent poaching/exchange going on between Audi/Ducati Corse and the Aprilia factory, which is having an effect on the riders, as well as the entire Aspar team, which now seems poised to fall completely in the Aprilia camp with Hayden and Espargaro aboard, or perhaps hook up with Honda and field a couple of its RCV1000R production bikes.
Aprilia seems more likely, since Aspar has lost their main sponsor for 2014 and needs the money.) Fallout from the Ducati-Aprilia bidding war is impacting the job searches of not only Hayden and Espargaro, but also lesser riders such as Claudio Corti, Eugene Laverty, Bryan Staring and Danilo Petrucci.
Which of These Guys is Still Motivated?
Late in the season, not all the riders have as much at stake as they may have had earlier in the year. Certainly, Marquez and Lorenzo are motivated by the chance of winning on any given Sunday, with a world championship still at stake. I would guess that Pedrosa and Rossi aren’t terribly stoked about racing in Malaysia this week. Not much on the line for either, as each is under contract for 2014, and they can each put a fork in 2013.
Cal Crutchlow has absolutely nothing to do other than not crash from here on out, on his way to Ducati for two years of well-paid anguish. Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista, the two underachieving satellite Honda riders, are signed for 2014, with Bradl standing 10 points up on the Spaniard. Bautista would definitely like to beat Bradl for the year. My money is on the German.
Dovizioso and Hayden, the factory Ducati team, are separated by 10 points in their vicious fight for eighth place. Hayden would like to kick management on his way out the door by out-pointing his Italian teammate for the year. It could happen. Hayden will probably end up with Aspar next season on an Aprilia, but there’s lots going on behind the screen. Hayden is motivated, Dovizioso resigned.
Bradley Smith and Espargaro head for the end of the season in a default kind of rivalry brought about by the Spaniard’s overachievements and the Brit’s underachievements on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Both riders are highly motivated, Espargaro wanting a new contract and Smith wanting NOT to lose out to a CRT bike for the year.
Farther down the line, no one really has a guarantee for 2014. Yonny Hernandez has a solid chance to impress on the satellite Ducati, building a case for deposing Ben Spies in 2014. Karel Abraham is switching to a Production Honda next year. Aprilia needs to step up and sign some deals before all the good riders are signed elsewhere.
Sunday’s race runs live at 4:00am Eastern time on Sunday morning. Needless to say, you’ll want to record it. We will have results right here on Sunday evening.