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.
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
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.
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?
A Word About Valentino Rossi
–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…
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’.
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.
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.