For the first time since 2006, and only the second time in over two decades, the fast movers of MotoGP head to the season finale with a championship on the line. Against all odds, Yamaha rider and defending champion Jorge Lorenzo has a puncher’s chance of repeating, the first rider to do so since teammate Valentino Rossi won the championship in 2008 and 2009. The problem facing Lorenzo: Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez who, at age 20, looks ready to dominate the premier class for the next decade.
Lorenzo’s mission this weekend is to blow away the field, win going away, and hope that something, or someone, causes Marquez to finish worse than fourth. With 13 points in hand, fourth or better gives Marquez the title, regardless of Lorenzo’s result. Conversely, if tragedy should strike and Marquez crash out, Lorenzo would need to finish fourth or higher to steal the championship (though it’d be hard to picture a scenario where Lorenzo would not appear on the podium with Marquez out of the picture.) A fourth-place finish for Lorenzo and a DNF for Marquez would actually put both riders in a tie at 318 points, but Lorenzo would get the title on the basis of win differential.
While “on any given Sunday” undoubtedly applies to MotoGP, the oddsmakers currently have Marquez at 1 to 5 and Lorenzo at 5 to 1. Clearly, the betting world expects Marquez to seize the first of his many titles this weekend in Valencia.
Marquez has dominated the discussion this season, with a rookie campaign that has thoroughly eclipsed those of the current and former Aliens. Neither Rossi, Lorenzo, Casey Stoner or Marquez’ hard luck teammate Dani Pedrosa, as rookies, came within 100 points of what Marquez has already achieved this year. He has set rookie records for points, poles, and wins, and probably a dozen other categories. He has walked away from a number of crashes that would have put other riders in traction; in this regard, he seems overtly blessed. His baby-faced good looks mask the heart of a champion and the competitive constitution of a honey badger.
Back in the day when I was clearing the bases playing slow-pitch softball, one of my more annoying teammates used to taunt the opposition with the sing-song chant “it hurts with two out, don’t it?” Come-from-behind wins aren’t just wins; they are spirit-breaking insults that give opponents the sense that no lead is safe. Of Marquez’ six wins thus far in 2013, most have come late in the day, giving the impression that he enjoys loafing near the front until his fuel load drops, and lowers the demoralizing boom on the leaders only when it suits him. As if he’s playing a game of cat-and-mouse at 200 mph, toying with his opponents. The truth is, absent a ridiculous gaffe by his team at Phillip Island which got him DQ’ed, he would have already clinched the title, and this weekend’s tilt would be another meaningless ring around the Valenciana rosey.
Recent History at Valencia – Bah!
I’m not going to bother rehashing the past few years of the season finale, as this year’s race is fundamentally different from the last few. A great deal of the chatter in cyberspace this week has centered on the roles to be played by each team’s #2 rider – Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa on the Honda. Conspiracy theories abound, with a number of vicious suggestions out there regarding what Rossi should do to Marquez and/or what Pedrosa is likely to do to Lorenzo.
The sole fact supporting these shameful ideas is that the riders have no fear of earning any laughable MotoGP “points on the license” in the last round of the season. Fans of the two combatants might enjoy entertaining such thoughts, but they truly range from the ridiculous to the sublime. These men have known each other for years, and will have relationships for decades into the future. There is no real chance that anyone on the grid is going to intentionally sabotage either Lorenzo or Marquez. Sure, accidents happen in the heat of battle, but in truth none of the other top ten riders on the grid has much skin in the game at this point.
It pleases me to observe that Jorge Lorenzo and I have something in common these days. His approach to the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana is the same as my plan for retirement: work like a dog and hope for the best. The odds of Marquez and Lorenzo actually tangling the way they did at Jerez and again at Sepang are remote, as Marquez has nothing to gain and everything to lose by engaging in handlebar-to-handlebar combat with the Mallorcan. One should expect Marquez to avoid contact with anyone on Sunday, with the possible exception of Alvaro Bautista who, earlier this year and in years past, had a tendency to get over-excited when running up front and inadvertently taking an Alien or two out with him.
What to Expect This Weekend
Simply stated, look for Lorenzo to follow what has become his only strategy of late, jumping out to as large a lead as possible and hanging on for dear life as the Repsol Hondas try to track him down. I envision Marquez settling into third place, allowing teammate Pedrosa to go after Lorenzo if he so chooses, and staying clear of the inevitable Valentino Rossi in fourth place. Marquez will only need to up his pace in the event the Italian feels like mixing it up, and while this possibility exists, Marquez has had the pace all year to put down a vapor trail and leave the aging Rossi gasping in his wake.
Despite its reputation as a sun-drenched Mediterranean paradise, Valencia can be kind of English countryside this time of year, and weather, of all things, could play a part in the weekend’s festivities. The forecast for Friday through Sunday calls for highs in the mid-50’s, lows in the low 40’s, with the chance for rain ranging between 30% and 60% all three days. A wet race or, perish the thought, a flag-to-flag affair could easily throw a spanner into Marquez’ works. It has been observed elsewhere that Marquez is not a strong in the wet as he is on slicks. How ironic would it be that a season dominated by youth and injuries could be decided by something as mundane as the proverbial rain in Spain.
One of my many failings covering this sport is the complete lack of attention I pay to the lower classes. This weekend, however, I intend to make an exception, because the Moto3 race on Sunday promises to be epic. The three leaders – Luis Salom, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins (teammate of Alex Marquez, Marc’s hermanito) – are all young Spaniards, all riding KTM machinery, and are separated in the standings by a mere five points. As interesting as the MotoGP race promises to be, the Moto3 tilt should be one for the ages. Unless your cable provider offers more channels than mine, you’ll have a hard time finding the Moto3 race on TV.
The MotoGP race goes off at 8 am Eastern Standard Time. So far, I’m not finding it on Fox Sports 1. Rest assured, however, that we’ll have results of the Grand Prix of Valencia, and a wrap-up of the entire 2013 season, right here on Sunday afternoon.