All season long, we at MO have been chanting the mantra, “Let Valencia Decide.” With the title unsettled heading into the weekend, the opportunity for a riveting finale existed (if only mathematically), Marc Marquez holding a 21 point lead over Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso as the riders lined up on the grid. The math caught up with Dovi on Lap 25 when, desperate to get past insubordinate teammate Jorge Lorenzo, he ran hot into Turn 8, ultimately laying his GP17 down gently in the gravel. And so the 2017 title was awarded at Valencia, having been decided some weeks earlier.
Practice and Qualifying
All weekend, the MotoGP world appeared to be owned lock, stock and barrel by a sublime Marc Marquez. He spent Friday and Saturday zipping around the Ricardo Tormo circuit, seemingly without a care in the world. His approach to racing is unique and reflects his high racing IQ: He finds The (elusive) Limit on Friday and Saturday, then goes out and manages it on Sunday. As a result, despite hitting the deck 27 times over the course of the season, he crashed out of only two races.
Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso, The Great Italian Hope of 2017, was having problems coming to grips with the short, tight circuit that is Valencia. FP3, for Dovi, was a mess, and almost forced him to endure the ignominy of going through Q1. Q2 was little better, as Marquez laid down the first sub 1:30 lap of the weekend early in the session while Dovi could do no better than the back of the third row. The good news for him, if any, was that Marquez was joined on the front row by Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone, both of whom have been intemperately endowed with gobs of reckless abandon.
Despite the dreadful company on the front row, Marquez appeared buoyant all day Saturday, and the weekend had anticlimax written all over it. The racing god in charge of qualifying, facing ridicule Saturday evening from the other racing gods, was heard to say, “Bollocks. You guys wanted Dovi on pole and Marquez 9th? No idea how I got that switched around. Bloody hell.” And, before we get started, let me raise the ire of some readers while I mention needlessly that Dovi and Marquez, the last two left standing, received stunning upgrades in the brolly girl department. (By comparison, Jorge Lorenzo’s brolly person was 6’3” tall with long dark hair and an Adam’s apple.)
As the red lights went out on the 2017 season, the two Repsol Hondas of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa jumped out front, which was big. Zarco, starting well, dispatched Iannone on Lap 1. Gaining confidence on the great 2016 Yamaha M1, he went through on Pedrosa on Lap 2 and was allowed through by Marquez on Lap 4, as expected. Marquez, he of the high racing IQ, had a rabbit in front and a wingman behind him; he couldn’t want for more. With a loosely gathered lead group of five, the race proceeded, um, processed this way for the bulk of the day.
Marquez Being Marquez
Lap 24 would prove instructive. Zarco continued to lead, visions of his first MotoGP win, and the first ever win by a satellite Yamaha, dancing in his head. But Marquez, rather than maintaining a safe gap between himself and the leader, began inching closer to Zarco, appearing to be lining…him…up. Lining him up, when the title was sitting there on a platter. But with Dovi stuck back in fifth…
MM’s lizard brain took over on Lap 24 and #93 went through fast on Zarco at the end of the main straight, executing another transcendent save before riding through the turn, the run-off area and a large expanse of gravel, practically needing to purchase a ticket to get back in the race. He re-entered in fifth position and finished on the podium after the factory Ducati team imploded.
Was this part of the Marquez team strategy? To let someone take the lead, wait until late in the race, see what’s up with Dovi and, unless he’s leading, go for the win and if it doesn’t work out oh well? Must be, since second place was there for the taking. Unlike Lorenzo, Marquez seems to stick with the plan.
Drama in the Ducati Garage
Jorge Lorenzo – expected, at a minimum, to stay out of Dovi’s way while the Italian tried to make his way up front – inexplicably and blatantly blocked him for the first 12 laps. On Lap 13, JLo received the first of three notorious dashboard alerts – Mapping 8 – code directing him to allow Dovizioso through. All of which he ignored. After having said he hadn’t seen the exact same messages at Sepang two weeks earlier.
By Lap 20 he had also ignored three clear pit board directions to allow Dovi through. My notes on Lap 21 included “insubordinate.” Lorenzo was, finally, gracious enough to crash out on Lap 25, clearing the way for Dovi who, as excited as an Iowa farm boy in a Vegas whorehouse, almost immediately ran hot into Turn 8, entered the gravel trap, and fell victim to river rock, the 2017 championship chase with him, dusted and done.
The post-race meeting between Lorenzo, his team, and the visiting suits from Bologna promises to be interesting. And all this, after Dovi declared just a month ago what a fine teammate Lorenzo has been in 2017, especially in comparison to The Maniac he shared the garage with last year.
Repsol Honda Magic
With five laps left, Zarco led a menacing Pedrosa and a distant Marquez. The last lap of 2017 took shape between Zarco and Pedrosa, not the matchup many of us expected, but a good one nonetheless. The grizzled veteran and the impudent rookie. The Frenchman with nothing to lose and the Spaniard with nothing to gain.
Pedrosa made short work of Zarco at Turn 1 of the last lap and easily held him off on the way to his second win of the year, with Marquez gaining the third step on the podium. His win, and the Ducati debacle, delivered HRC a rare triple crown in MotoGP – top rider, top team and top constructor. It also saved Yamaha from finishing outside the top two OEMs for the first time since the earth cooled.
Key Moment of the Season
Unfortunately, there is no obvious event one can easily point to as being the decisive moment of the 2017 campaign. Marquez says it was winning at Sachsenring and Brno, finishing the first half and starting the second half strong. Others might say it was the collection of impossible saves (races in Assen and Valencia, practices in Brno, Mugello, Motegi and, famously, the Save of the Century during FP4 at Sepang). Personally, I think it was Phillip Island, where Marquez’s win and Dovi’s dumpster fire fanned an 11-point lead into a virtually insurmountable 33 with but two rounds left.
The Last Word
Despite the fact that a sizable portion of the MotoGP fan world dislikes Marc Marquez, there can be little argument that he is the best rider in an age of strong riders and relative equity in the distribution of quality bikes. I never thought I’d say anything very complimentary about Carmelo Ezpeleta, the big cheese at Dorna, but his goal, begun years ago, to level the playing field and lower costs for the teams is working out, at least the first part. There is more and better competition these days, and what used to be a sharp line separating the haves from the have nots has become blurred. Much more proletarian, with the exception of the party leaders at the very top.
Listening to Marc Marquez discuss the championship in the post-race press conference, it became clear just how much mental energy he devotes to his craft. Yes, he has the entire package of physical attributes and a great company behind him. He freely admits to practicing crashing on Fridays and Saturdays, learning to avoid injury and allow the possibility of re-entering a race. (See Joan Mir’s performance in today’s Moto3 finale. Dude has Alien written all over him.)
Six world championships at age 24. Valentino Rossi holds the record of nine at age 38. There was once a day where it appeared inevitable a young Tiger Woods would eclipse Jack Niklaus’ career-record 18 wins in major tournaments, and many of you know how that worked out. Granted, there is a world of young talent out there readying itself to take on Marc Marquez in MotoGP. They’re all fast. But do they have the will, the mental discipline, the determination found in few athletes – Tom Brady and Peyton Manning come readily to mind – it takes to string together world championships like a daisy chain at such a young age?
Only time will tell. For now, the motorcycle racing world has a perfectly adequate example of excellence at work in the premier class of MotoGP.
Thank you to the handful of readers who put up with this nonsense year after year. It is a pleasure delivering it to you and laughing out loud at your comments.
I’ll be taking a glance at testing on Tuesday and Wednesday on my blog, motogpindy.wordpress.com, where I occasionally post during the offseason. I’m discussing covering both MotoGP and WSBK next season with The Powers That Be at MO, so be forewarned. I will try to talk them into ordering a 2017 Season Recap for a few weeks from now. Otherwise, I look forward to your constructive criticisms and hysterical comments again next year. Peace.
|2017 MotoGP Valencia Race Results|
|1||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||46:08.125|
|2||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+0.337|
|3||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+10.861|
|4||Alex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||+13.567|
|5||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+13.817|
|6||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||+14.516|
|7||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+17.087|
|8||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||+17.230|
|9||Michele Pirro||Ducati Corse||+25.942|
|10||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+27.020|
|11||Bradley Smith||Red Bull KTM||+30.835|
|12||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||+35.012/td>|
|13||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+38.076|
|14||Karel Abraham||Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati||+41.988|
|15||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+47.703|
|16||Loris Baz||Reale Avintia Ducati||+47.709|
|17||Michael van der Mark||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+52.134|
|DNF||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM||5 Laps|
|DNF||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||5 Laps|
|DNF||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati Corse||6 Laps|
|DNF||Sam Lowes||Aprilia Gresini||8 Laps|
|DNF||Alvaro Bautista||Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati||16 Laps|
|DNF||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Ducati||26 Laps|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||27 Laps|
|DNF||Mika Kallio||Red Bull KTM||28 Laps|
|2017 MotoGP Final Standings|