For the fourth time in five premier class seasons, Honda’s remarkable Marc Marquez stands on the cusp of a championship. His win in Australia last week left him with a short to-do list this week in Malaysia: 1) Try to finish no worse than second. 2) Try to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 3) If both #1 and #2 fail, lose to Dovizioso by seven points or less. Otherwise, he will have to return to Valencia in two weeks for some kind of decider. Probably the best thing for #93 would be to euthanize this title chase Sunday under the cover of darkness, many time zones removed from home, setting up a triumphal fait accompli return to Spain. We couldn’t disagree more.

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Up 33 points on Andrea Dovizioso with just two rounds remaining, Marc Marquez is in good position to win his fourth MotoGP championship in five years.

Recent History at Sepang

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. Though the title had already been settled, the grid was taking the competition seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to finish. Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl somehow finished fourth, coming close yet again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

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The 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez was the most controversial racing incident in recent memory.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race. Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship. Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter. Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others. For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them. DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

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Andrea Dovizioso needs a repeat of last year’s win to put himself in a final round showdown for the title with Marc Marquez at Valencia.

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15 Motegi

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Vinales, Pedrosa, Rossi, Zarco, Lorenzo, A, Espargaro, Petrucci
Tranche 3: Rins, Folger, P. Espargaro, Iannone, Baz, Bautista
Tranche 4: Crutchlow, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16 Phillip Island

Tranche 1: Marquez
Tranche 2: Rossi, Vinales, Dovi↓, Pedrosa, Zarco, A. Espargaro, P. Espargaro↑
Tranche 3: Petrucci↓, Rins, Iannone, Redding↑, Miller↑, Crutchlow↑, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Baz↓, Bautista↓, Smith↑, Abraham↑, Rabat
Tranche 5: Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

I can tell from here that whatever problem Ducati experienced at Phillip Island translated into these rankings. All six riders who dropped a spot ride for Ducati. But Scott Redding and Karel Abraham each climbed a notch, again on Ducatis. I can’t think of any rider who belongs with Marquez in Tranche 1 at the moment. Sepang, where the title race will probably be decided, will be the last round fought in anger, and thus the last round for ranking the riders.

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Last weekend was one to forget for all the Ducati riders.

I welcome any and all readers to argue with my assertion that Marquez currently is in a class by himself. All too often we hear riders talking about “having a good rhythm,” which, watching carefully, one can understand. I recall Crutchlow commenting that if you got out of shape in Turn 2 at COTA you would be screwed all the way through Turn 9. Marquez seems to have found his rhythm this year at Catalunya, since, other than the engine problem in England, he hasn’t been off the podium since and has racked up five wins in the process. Perhaps it takes four or five races to get fully acclimated to a new Honda RC213V each year. At present, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the bike stops and Marquez starts, so closely are they intertwined.

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

My reflexive response to this question is, “Nobody.” That’s probably an overstatement. Rossi will still be in the mix. Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales should improve next season and, depending on the speed and handling of next year’s M1, may push Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso my have another career year with Ducati, but our confidence in his abilities this season has been shaken.

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Johann Zarco has had his moments this season but to truly contend, he’ll need a full factory ride.

Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Jonas Folger will not become serious title threats, if ever, until they secure factory rides. Danilo Petrucci needs to learn how to be fast in dry conditions. Jorge Lorenzo will, I’m pretty sure, simply serve out his sentence at Ducati and go looking for a better gig starting in 2019. The young guns coming up from Moto2 – Taka Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Thomas Luthi and Xavier Simeon – present no real threat in 2018, other than to the riders they may collect crashing out of their first few races.

One thing is certain. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and KTM are going to engage in a hellishly expensive silly season next year positioning themselves for 2019. There is a rumor going around that KTM has offered Marquez a blank check to defect after next season.

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An improving KTM squad and continued progress for Aprilia and Suzuki would make for a more competitive MotoGP class in the years ahead.

A final word about next season. Most MotoGP people I know are excited about the improvements visible in the Aprilia and KTM bikes, while Suzuki took a while this season before starting to show renewed signs of life. All three figure to be stronger next season. Even so, it would take a miracle, in my opinion, for any of them to contend seriously for a championship before 2020. Conversation for another day.

Your Weekend Forecast

Before I go to Weather. com to confirm, let me guess that weather conditions in central Malaysia will be brutally hot with a chance for torrential downpours at any given moment. Yes. Temps will approach 90° each day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms all weekend and, from the looks of it, the rest of the year. There will be some gruesome stuff growing inside those leather racing suits by Sunday evening.

As for who will do what, I’m lacking any real insight, as the last few rounds of the MotoGP season remind me of the last few games of the NBA season which, for non- playoff-bound teams, is generally garbage time. I am virtually certain that Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. If it’s a wet race I expect to see a Ducati on the podium as well, perhaps Petrucci. The third spot on the podium is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with Rossi, the default choice for a podium every single week.

We will post results and analysis sometime on Sunday. Enjoy the race.

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Can Marc Marquez clinch the 2017 MotoGP championship this weekend at Sepang?
  • spiff

    Tranche 1: Marquez — Agreed, nobody is at his level.

    The podium (dry): Marquez 1st with Rossi and Zarco fighting for second. Vinales is there, but off the steps.

    The podium (wet): Petrucci 3rd, Marquez and Dovi fighting for the top step.

    • Gruf Rude

      Yamaha has been having real rear grip issues when the temps rise; unless they (or Michelin) has found something new, Rossi and Vinales are going to struggle. Last year’s Yamaha works OK in the heat and Zarco will throw everything he’s got at it; expect him, in Rossi’s word, to be “stupid.” Ducati will show better in Sepang; don’t write them off in the dry.

      • spiff

        Who do you see on a dry podium?

        Innone is the new wild card. He finally is getting a feel for the Suzuki. What will he be able to do with more downforce?

        • Gruf Rude

          Marquez and Dovi – after that is tough. I don’t see Iannone doing anything but crashing into people and screwing up more worthy riders’ races. If Zarco can calm down and save enough tire for the last few laps, he could podium.

          • spiff

            Well, I wondered about Dovi’s head. Apparently he has it screwed on straight. That is as of fp2.

  • spiff

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • Starmag

    Spot on. I can’t find anything to argue with there, darn it. Maybe Old MOron will have something to enrage, amuse, or perplex you.

    • Old MO is giving me his “feedback” on my blog at motogpindy.wordpress.com. I put the raw copy up there a day or two before MO posts it on their site. He says I’m 100% right on everything I say. Love that guy.

  • JMDGT

    Marquez Sucks.

    • spiff

      Lol, haters gonna hate hate hate.

  • I’m surprised none of you found the error in which I stated all that stands between Alex Rins and consistent contention is a factory bike. I guess I meant a PROMINANT factory bike. Like KTM.

    • Ozzy Mick

      Speaking of KTM and their rumoured blank cheque (check) offer to MM, the latest goss is that Honda will double whatever MM writes on the KTM cheque. Just sayin’ 😝

      • spiff

        He already has to much money. This is his chance to be part of a new era… him not on a Honda. Does he have the stones to make a move. Red Bull through KTM will give him what ever he wants. He could bring KTM a very early championship. That would cement any career at age what 27 give a year or so.

        • Kos

          Marquez should definitely go to KTM for continued success.

          Look how Rossi’s move to Ducati panned out.

          Just sayin.

          • spiff

            Hey man, your killing my buzz.

          • Kos

            No, no, just playing.

            Go Rossi!

            End transmission!

      • Starmag

        Holey dooley. Must be aces to be king.

      • Old MOron

        Gee, with all that money they could be buying up Morbidelli, Binder, Mir, Fenati, and anyone else who comes along. But one Marquez is prolly worth all of those put together.

        That reminds me. I wonder if the younger Marquez is going to come good next year. It will be his fourth year in Moto2. To be fair, Zarco didn’t do too much in Moto 2 until he got on a good team. Next year will be Alex Marquez’s second year with the best team in the series. Time to live up to the hype.

        • spiff

          You can buy the whole field, but if Marquez is faster…

    • Old MOron

      Heh, we may have missed your error, but
      we read your sarcasm, “loud and clear.”

  • Drop the IRRITATING Nokia ad

    • I’ll get right on that. Welcome to the conversation.

  • Vrooom

    I”m going out on limb, and to make Valencia meaningful I’ll say Marquez eats 200 meters of pavement, and it’s Dovi, Rossi, Vinales on the podium. Not a chance in hell, but it would make Valencia fun.

    • Gruf Rude

      Heck, with Zarco and Iannone crashing into Marquez, it could happen.

    • spiff

      He just needs to foul a plug.

  • Old MOron

    Well, FP1 is in the books. The Ducs look pretty good. So does Marky Marc.
    C’mon Deathwish Dovi!

    • spiff

      Marquez is the only good Honda after FP2.

  • spiff

    So I have a question. Ducati is considered a horsepower bike. Are they better at making power, or are they better at putting it down?

    • Old MOron

      IIRC, last year they were catching everyone near the end of the long straights. That would indicate that they were better at making power than putting down right on the exit. But this year, they seem to pass other bikes just about anywhere, so they’re probably good at putting the power down, too.

      • spiff

        So riddle me this. Is their chassis able to put more power on the ground, is the engine making a more useable power, or a combo all?

        • Old MOron

          Ducati are using a 3rd party vendor to make better use of the unified software.

          From an inferior but nevertheless informative website:

          MegaRide, an academic spin-off of UniNa honoured by Shark Bites at the National Innovation Prize with the title of innovative start-up of the year, has announced an exclusive partnership with the Ducati Team that will run until the end of the 2018 MotoGP season. The agreement will see MegaRide supply the team with its software, which predicts and simulates tyre behaviour, useful in evaluating grip and wear and allowing the team to define set-ups and race strategies in preparation for MotoGP rounds.

          • spiff

            I think this is at least part of their advantage in this area.

  • Kos

    Maybe a Tranche 1.1 for Dovi? Didn’t he best MM twice, when it was crunch time?

    I guess he just has to be there for that to pan out. Not the case last week.

  • Old MOron

    Wow, what a session Q2 was! Every time it seemed that pole position was settled, someone fired in a faster lap. Dovi on the front row. Marquez on the 3rd. And all of the same corner bashers from last week up there with them. This is going to be great!

  • Old MOron

    Put him back in Tranche 1, Bruce.
    Go, Death Wish Dovi!