So, 2017 has all come down to this – a technical showdown between Repsol Honda studmuffin Marc Marquez, gripping a 21-point lead, and a determined Andrea Dovizioso, virtually hopeless onboard the Ducati GP17, for all the marbles on Sunday. Even if Dovi wins, Marquez has to finish worse than 11th in order to choke this one away. To clarify, it is a showdown in only the most technical, theoretical sense. It will take a Dovizioso win and direct intervention by the racing gods to keep Marc Marquez from MotoGP title #4 on Sunday.

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A lot of things have to go right for Andrea Dovizioso to have a shot, and a lot of things have to go wrong for Marc Marquez as well.

Decades ago a nominally Catholic friend of mine came up with a premise as to which team eventually wins the NFL Super Bowl each season, The Blessed Quarterback Theory. Each year it’s just the blessed quarterback’s team that wins, regardless of anyone’s skill or resume. Paging Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. Works the same way in MotoGP. You look at the saves Marquez has made since coming up. Jorge Lorenzo was blessed in 2015. If Dovi somehow pulls it off on Sunday – millions hope he will – it will be because he, not Marquez, was the blessed rider in 2017. Otherwise, it’s status quo ante.

Recent history at Valencia

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Marc Marquez capped off a record-setting 2014 season with a win in Valencia.

The 2014 race was wet-ish and the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race late in the day. Marquez took the largely decorative win joined on the podium by Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in his first two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Lorenzo won from pole while loathed championship rival and “teammate” Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous round, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish. There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.

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Fighting his way to finish fourth in 2015, one wonders how the championship would have shaken out had Valentino Rossi not been forced to start from the back of the grid.

Last year, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season. Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration. Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone, who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Of the Aliens or former Aliens, Pedrosa has three wins and three podia in 11 starts in Valencia. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 17 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marquez was 11 years old. Lorenzo, in eight premier class starts, has four wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Viñales has bupkus, but this is a Yamaha track. Or used to be.

Marquez can boast a win, two places and a show in four MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat. Just once, I’d like to see him race here in anger with something on the line. Back in 2012, he won the Moto2 race here after starting 33rd. As for the factory Ducati team, you have one rider who desperately needs to win on Sunday and his currently winless teammate who has dominated at Ricardo Tormo in recent years.

This could get interesting. What is that term again? Team orders?

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If there’s one potential wildcard that may help swing things in Andrea Dovizioso’s favor, it’s Jorge Lorenzo.

A Word About Valentino Rossi

“You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing.”
–A.J. Hinch, Manager, World Champion Houston Astros

Over long periods of time, we all evaluate what these riders have done. The coach was referring to his leadoff hitter, and I’m talking about the folks who expect #46 to win his 10th, and last, MotoGP title in 2018. With Rossi, an objective assessment of what he’s done since his last title in 2009 suggests he peaked around 2008-2009. But the folks who wear goofy yellow wigs and set off smoke bombs and bombard me with constructive criticism believe in what Rossi can do – they’ve watched him do it for years – not what he’s doing. He is arguably the best MotoGP rider of all time. Just. Not. Now. Now, he is competitive – highly tranched, but not realistically expected to win titles. Unless you’ve got the wig and the smoke bombs and the Kool-Aid…

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How much more does Valentino Rossi have in the tank?

Final 2017 Tranches

After Round 16 – Phillip Island

Tranche 1: Marquez
Tranche 2: Rossi, Viñales, 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

After Round 17 – Sepang

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

After Sunday’s race we will compare the above tranching to the actual results, i.e., how many of the riders were in the correct group according to the final points. Jonas Folger, a top tenner all year, will get hosed, but that’s the way it goes. He would likely be a 3.

(Wonder how Johann Zarco and Folger feel about moving UP to the 2017 Tech3 Yamaha M1 next season. Wonder if they’ll ask to stick with the 2016 iteration.) Zarco’s bank account gonna get laced in 2019 fo’ sho’.

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Johann Zarco is the top rookie in the MotoGP class this year, but how much more can he prove with Tech3 Yamaah next year?

Final Thoughts and Weekend Forecast

Perhaps the reason Valencia is awarded the last race each season is the weather. Not that it’s always great, but because when it is great, it’s really great. The long-range forecast for the weekend is sunny, breezy, dry and perfect, with daytime temps reaching 70° F. Enough sun to warm the track and tires for the riders, and paradise for the teams and fans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the best thing that could happen to this race would be for Marquez to blow an engine, slide out or go walky out of the points in the first lap or two. This would eliminate any touchy, don’t-be-the-guy-who-cost-Marquez-the-title riding around him, which ain’t nobody need.

What it would do is make for an astonishingly meaningful race if Dovizioso is at or near the front with one or two of the other fast movers. Teammate and homeboy Lorenzo, who desperately wants his first win on the Ducati and has team orders to “help” Dovi. Homeboy Dani Pedrosa, untitled in the premier class, with team orders to beat Dovizioso. Homeboy Maverick Viñales, whose bike historically loves a dry Ricardo Tormo and who needs to fulfill my preseason prediction of four wins. Cal Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone. Sam Lowes. Someone.

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No matter what happens this weekend, 2017 has been the best year of Andrea Dovizioso’s career, setting personal records for most points and wins in a MotoGP season.

So, as the sports seasons – football, basketball, hockey – start getting juicy in the United States, MotoGP is preparing to call it another year. Reason #644 in my book 1000 Reasons MotoGP is Invisible in the United States, subtitled “Another Reason I’m Not Rich and Famous.”

We are looking forward to a memorable race on Sunday, and will have results and analysis right here sometime, um, Sunday. Probably earlier if it is revealed that Andrea Dovizioso is the blessed rider of 2017. “Dog Bites Man” can wait until later in the day.

  • JMDGT

    I wish all the riders well. What will be will be. Marquez will not throw the championship away. Dovi will try his best. You never know when it comes to racing. Dynamics for a real sport.

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  • Starmag

    If Dorna made Eminem ride with his left arm tied behind his back he would still finish higher than 12th. In the rain. With knee saves. Which assumes a inconsistant Desmo Dovi outright win which is no given.

    Maybe a blindfold would do it.

    Good luck Dovi and #93 haters, you’ll need it.

  • Gruf Rude

    I remember MM’s berserker charge from last on the grid to win that Moto2 race; somehow he made it seem like it was all pre-ordained . . . Just magical.
    Unless he simply NEEDS to run away from the field to avoid being taken out by over-excited traffic, I expect him to ride a cerebral and safe race to the championship. Too bad . . .

    • One might say that MM Valencia 2012 was his announcement to the gentlemen in the premier class that he would be a heller on the RC213V soon and for a long time.

      • Old MOron

        LOL, hell of a front row, eh?

        • I loved how Nick and Matt were ruminating early in qualifying as to how Marquez would feel if, say, Zarco and Iannone were to join him on the front row. Farewell to Nick Harris. I, for one, will miss him.

  • Kos

    Seems kind of foregone, but then again……racing.

    Thanks for a great season of writeups, Bruce!

    • As mechanized racing fans, vs. horses or dogs, we must be satisfied with seasons and performances that takes 8 months to thicken and then resolve and which only rarely provide a truly heart-pumping finale. Compare us to Horse Racing Fan, who, on some race days, gets his heart pounding in his throat seven or eight times, and who can have hundreds of race days a year. We give a shit about who finishes eighth or ninth or tenth; they look at the top three only. We have piles of brightly-painted fiberglass shards; they have bupkus.

      • Vrooom

        Almost lyrical there Bruce!

  • Shlomi

    Regards Rossi, he was very close in 2015, to say he actually gave the championship away to Lorenzo, in order to teach MM a lesson.
    Something happend to the factory Yamaha bikes the second part of the season. I will not be surprised if they come up with some conspiracy theory.

    • Starmag

      Lessons:
      1. How to let your man-wife talk you into conspiracy theories
      2. How to start at the back of the grid
      3. How to throw away one of your last best chances at a championship with unnecessary MX injuries.
      https://i1.wp.com/www.asphaltandrubber.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/luke-yoda-marc-marquez-valentino-rossi-star-wars.jpg?w=798&ssl=1
      It’s a good thing Luke didn’t absorb some of Yoda’s lessons.

      • Old MOron

        Upvote for the picture!

    • He may indeed have taught MM a lesson in 2015, that some Italians get so bent out of shape over slights, real or perceived, that they will kick away a world championship in order to vent their spleen. Or maybe he was simply satisfied one-upping the old US sitcom Eight is Enough. That the M1 sucks in the rain–most bikes do– suggests that Suspension Tweak Memo #67842 didn’t work, and that perhaps they should return to #59355, which worked well in 2015.

      • Shlomi

        Perhaps we all get it wrong. Rossi might think 9 is certainly enough, and he only ride for fun and big bucks. Throwing MM to the dirt gave Rossi fun, and good publicity (as there is no bad publicity) . Face it he is not at his peak old enough to be a dad of Vinales, and still 4th in the champions. Now how many ex and current GP riders have that in their records?

  • HeDidn’tWeDid

    MotoGP races are insanely entertaining to watch. Moto3 makes me cringe because of the speed at which those riders swap places, swap paint, and fight for every inch of the track. Moto2 and MotoGP though have also provided the same intense level of riding that the Moto3 races have during this season. I gladly pay the US $100/yr to watch the MotoGP races. I wish there were still competitive American riders at this level of racing.

    • Welcome to the conversation. Please get the sports-minded people in the U.S., all 300 million of them, reading this column, so they, too, will gladly get held up by Dorna for $120 a year to watch the best pure racing on earth.

      • HeDidn’tWeDid

        Still cheaper than attending one MotoGP race day at COTA. I attended the Sunday MotoGP races at COTA in April. Loved every minute of it. It was a spectacle for sure and got my money’s worth. But lettuce be realistic…can you watch every MotoGP race on traditional cable TV? No. Is motorcycle racing ‘big’ in the US? No. We can’t even get good live coverage of homegrown motorcycle racing.

      • Ozzy Mick

        You wouldn’t get us Aussies to cough that up.
        We save our hard earned for The Ashes, cricket’s MOST EPIC series between Australia and the old enemy, England. This year is the first Ashes clash in 4 years. Only costs $30 for SEVEN hours of excitement sprinkled with a good dose of boredom, screaming, snoozing, consumption of the amber fluid…a good day out. Bummer is you don’t get a refund if it’s washed out. But you can always come back another day. Each match takes five days.
        Cheers for your rants and raves, Brucey. Should be even more exciting next year if KTM, Suzuki and Aprilia come good, not to mention the change in riders.

        • You guys are the best. No shit. Cricket. Right. White suits and derbies, white shoes, pitches in the dirt, with a touch of croquet thrown in to keep everyone prancing. Where’s my mallet? 😉

  • Old MOron

    Going to don my yellow wig one last time for 2017. I’ve gone through all my smoke bombs, otherwise I’d lob one your way, Brucey. 🙂

    I’d say thanks for the memories and the MOronic analysis, but it’s too early for that. Here’s looking forward to a great race, and a great race (and season) review after that.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    Mark Rypien. Good Canadian boy. Shame he wasn’t man enough to play hockey.

    As for Rossi?

    God!

    Genuflect whenever you even think his name!

    • Used to be the best every year, now he’s just the best ever. Welcome to the conversation. May I freshen up your Kool Aid?

      • AM

        Why Rossi best ever? Which title does he have other then most GP starts that nobody has? Poles? No. GP wins? No. Most win in a season? No. Most Championship? No. Here is what he has most: Flags and hats sold at GP racing and GP starts. Dream on. Best ever in your head only!

        • Um, okay, but it’s not just in MY head.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Heck, I said to genuflect, and I’m not even an RC! So, that’s saying something.

        • spiff

          To find a true GOAT is tough. Just finding a common measuring stick is difficult. Does one need to be good at everything, or exceptional at just a few? Who was faster in their prime? Who had what machinery? Who raced better competition? Who had the grit to overcome the lows? Yada yada yada. There is but a small group that qualifies for this conversation.

          Rossi has beat more than one qualified opponent, both on the track and mentally. On different bikes: 500cc, 990, 800, 1000. He has done this on differnt brands as well. Forgive him for not doing it sooner, it has taken almost 20 years in the premier class to do so. He is 38 years old, and is still a threat on race day. He belongs in this conversation.

          Is he the GOAT? There is a good argument for him and a handful of others. If Marquez keeps it together he will also be a part of the convention. If he wants to impress us, he should

          • Gruf Rude

            Rossi, Agostini, Hailwood, Joey Dunlop, GOAT is a REAL tough call . . .

          • spiff

            I think Roberts and Doohan have also been tapped.

          • Gruf Rude

            Indeed they have – and Roberts has done the most to keep our current crop of racers alive with his organizing for safer venues. GOAT? Many a pint could fuel that discussion.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Eddie Lawson.

          • Ozzy Mick

            As long as they were riding different bikes on different tracks on different tyres against different opposition, it’s impossible to bestow the GOAT on any one rider, IMHO.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            What about Casey Moaner?

          • spiff

            You don’t qualify if you allow your wife to keep your balls in her purse. He is a great talent, but GOATs are in it for the long hall. Can’t have a moment of greatness then go home.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Look. For me, the list starts and stops at number forty-six. Il dottore. He’s the boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho, number one…

            I was just offering other suggestions.

        • Mad4TheCrest

          Between 2001 and 2009, Rossi won 7 out of 9 GP titles, with 5 of those titles consequtive. In the last 8 seasons Marquez and Lorenzo between them have taken 7 of 8 titles, with Marquez taking 4 of the last 5. That means 3 riders have won 14 of the last 17 GP top class titles. Rossi’s record still stands as the more impressive but Marc is rising with a bullet. But whoever history annoints as GOAT, we are witnessing greatness every season.

  • Vrooom

    To be fair, Rossi was in first in the title race for what, 6 weeks? Sure breaking a couple of bones takes you out of it, and as an old dude, I know they break easier and take longer to heal, which is exactly what keeps you out of your prime. I’m buying a beer for anyone who might beats Marquez relevating him to a completely improbable 12th. MotoGP with the same champion every year isn’t as interesting (depsite a fun season), that was true when Rossi was winning too. If I may borrow from Spiff, go Dovi, end transmission.

  • JSTNCOL

    The only thing I’m anticipating more than this race is the next silly season, I think it’s gonna be a doozy.

    • Allison Sullivan

      Oh, agreed. That’s going to be epic.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Yes, KTM will be stealing some top talent with Red Bull’s money and a well-sorted RC16 GP bike.

      • The progress you predicted from KTM for the season has occurred. KTM appears to be developing a “dirt bike” that would be a perfect fit for Marquez. See the way P Espargaro throws the rear end into turns. KTM a Top Four OEM by 2019. Marquez onboard could be a nightmare for everyone.

  • disqus_9GQw44dyM0

    Please explain to me how theoretically, Rossi could win the Championship. 🙂

    • If you have a flux capacitor nearby, stick it in your De Lorean and set it for 2009.

      • Gruf Rude

        Or he may have mis-read your article and did not realize you had noted that 2018 might be the (very unlikely) last chance for Rossi.

        • disqus_9GQw44dyM0

          No, I was just hoping that if you got deep enough into the math (and a rabbit’s foot) and if the top six riders all dropped out…that there was still a way for him to win. 🙂 Also, if I should pay to subscribe to watch it this weekend.

      • Starmag

        LOL. Great stuff.

  • Can’t deny Marc Marquez has earned this one. Would still be psyched to see underdog Dovi win it on Sunday. I’d anticipate a bad taste in my mouth Monday morning, knowing the best rider came second… oh well. Might be a couple years before we have anyone other than MM looking at the title in Valencia again.

    • Old MOron

      Hmm, now that you mention it, in 2017:
      Dovi has won more races the Marc, and Dovi has beat Marc every time in one-on-one battle. Why do you imply that Marc is the best rider?

      • Joan Carlos

        They are tied at six wins each (http://www.motogp.com/en/Results+Statistics/Statistics/winners) and one is 21 points ahead of the other. That’s not enough evidence?

        • Old MOron

          You’re right. They both have six wins. I’ve been playing so many scenarios in my head. I was already awarding the Valencia win to Dovi. Any way, I was just stirring the pot.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Speaking of pot, come visit me next summer in Kanadastan. Government run pot shops open on Dominion Day. The feds have already announced their tax plans. lol

      • Be nice. Other than the blown engine this is already over. But Dovi gets my vote for “Best Season, Career.” A journeyman rider for years suddenly wins half a dozen races and makes the hardest run at Marquez since 2013, schooling him in shootouts. His best season ever, by far.

  • DeBee Corley

    Somehow, a Honda blew up, making this possible.
    However, after seeing MM recover from an impossible situation, made me realize, he is waaay better then everybody else.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      No way! You should have seen my buddy on his Katana. That guy was amazing.

  • spiff

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • Deryl Clark

    So after the quailing…………..
    If there is such a thing as karma………….
    Iannone takes out Marquez on the first lap, (yes you know that is more than possible)
    Marquez gets back on his bike and is fighting his way thorough the field and is taken out a second time by Miller while trying to pass Rossi. If it is really sweet karma Pedrosa and Lorenzo take each other out while trying to slow the pace. If it is double sweet karma the Frenchman wins the race, just to take everyone in Spain mind off of the Catalonia thing.

    • Of the ten Spanish riders on the grid, seven are Catalans. They’re not going to forget their hatred of Spain because of a race, no matter how fusterclucked it is. It’s like the Irish with the Brits–they’ll loathe them forever. “Let’s dig up Cromwell and KILL HIM AGAIN!” (Old Irish drinking song lyric.)

      • Deryl Clark

        Having an Irish Grandfather (that is where the e in Deryl comes from ) I dig what your saying. That being said the Spanish/Catalans and Italians see Moto GP entirely differently than we do. We American love to win but we also can live with giving it your best shot and coming up short, because in the back of our mind we know we will come back and get you next time. We can also easily root for some one from another country if we see them in a positive light. The Spanish and Italians they ain’t like that at all, sure they show great respect for a good competitor, but winning for them is a matter of national pride beyond anything we can understand. My Reader’s Digest degree in Psychology tells me this has something to do with the out come of WW II.
        So in a nut shell I still see the Spanish an Italians doing every thing they can to help a fellow countryman (even Lorenzo despite what he says).

        Just to stir the pot some more, if Marquez wins out, it is time for him to switch teams and show he can do it on another brand of bike. I think KTM would be the perfect choice make his stake for immortality.