As qualifying for the 2015 Grand Prix Monster Energy de Catalunya closed on Saturday, one got the sense that The Usual Suspects might not make it to Sunday’s podium. The ascendant Suzuki Ecstar team had crashed the party, seizing the first two spots in Row 1 (for the first time since 1993), while Aliens occupied spots #3, 4, 6 and 7. The upstart Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone were mired in 5th and 12th places, respectively. On Sunday, eight riders failed to finish, but when the smoke cleared, the Alien Class of 2012 – Yamaha mandarins Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa – climbed the steps, the cheers of 97,000 Spanish fans ringing in their ears.
Whatever faint hopes double defending world champion Marc Marquez held for a third consecutive title ended on Lap 3 of today’s race when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he ran way hot into the sharp lefthander at Turn 10, left the racing surface and dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done. With Lorenzo having jumped into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early.
The eerie stability of the Yamaha YZR-M1 this season, together with the frightening instability of the Honda RC213V, a hot, greasy track and the pressure on Marquez made this crash all but inevitable. For young Marquez, two years of fried chicken has given way to a year of feathers. Such is life in the upper reaches of the premier class.
Moto racing fans have now endured the pleasure of watching Lorenzo lead 103 consecutive laps, reduced to admiring the sponsor decals on his machine, as he has taken four consecutive wins for the first time in his premier class career. Though he was shadowed by teammate Rossi over the last 19 laps of the race, there was never any real doubt as to the eventual outcome.
Rossi was once again the victim of his inability to master the “new” (2½ years old) qualifying format in MotoGP, having barely snuck into Q2 where he again foundered, starting today’s race from the third row. Had he started from the front, as he did for over a decade prior to The Ducati Years, he stood a puncher’s chance of winning today’s race (and Le Mans as well). Apparently, even for one as sublimely talented as The Doctor, old habits die hard. With his lead in the championship reduced to a single point, the prospect of a 10th world title is getting smaller every week.
The odd assortment of riders scoring points today was brought about mainly by the carnage among a startling number of top tenners, including Marquez, Cal Crutchlow (second round in a row, on Lap 1, with an assist from Aleix Espargaro), Pol Espargaro, Andrea Dovizioso (second round in a row), and, sadly, polesitter Aleix Espargaro, racing two miles from the house where he grew up, crashing out of fourth place on Lap 21. Consistent point scorers Iannone, Bradley Smith and certain rookie of the year Maverick Vinales ended the day in spots four through six, while less certain (or downright dubious) riders Scott Redding, Stefan Bradl (?), Danilo Petrucci and Alvaro Bautista (?????) completed today’s top ten.
May the sports gods deliver me from the agony of listening to Bautista earnestly explain how, based upon today’s fluke of a result, he is convinced the Aprilia program is making great progress. Seven of today’s eight casualties would have certainly finished in front of him (the lone exception being his downtrodden teammate Marco Melandri), putting him back in 17th place where he typically resides. If Karel Abraham, injured in an impressive highside in FP4, had started and finished, 17th place would have become 18th, not exactly worthy of a humble, bright-eyed interview.
Today’s premier class procession, the tedium of which was interrupted only by the fingernails-on-blackboard screeching of breathtakingly expensive motorcycles grinding their way through gravel, paled in comparison to the heart-stopping action offered up in the junior class tilts. In today’s first race, Brit Danny Kent padded his 2015 Moto3 championship lead with a brilliant series of toe-curling last lap maneuvers to steal victory by 3/100ths of a second over second place finisher Enea Bastianini, the top six finishers separated by less than a second.
The Moto2 race was a three man affair, with defending champion Tito Rabat, rookie Alex Rins and series leader Johann Zarco battling savagely over the last ten laps. Rabat, desperate for a win to put himself back in the conversation for a repeat title, led most of these, dogged by Rins, until mistakes by both riders allowed Zarco the win, with Rins taking second and Rabat third. Again, the top three finishers were separated by a single second. Frenchman Zarco appears to have the inside track to this year’s title, but it is still early, and the gaggle of blueprinted 600cc bikes flying into the first turns of the world’s great racetracks virtually guarantees bedlam, as Sandro Cortese, Axel Pons and Xavier Simeon discovered the hard way today.
For the factory Yamaha team, Round 7 of 2015 was a lucky #7, as it afforded both riders the opportunity to separate themselves from the field. With Lorenzo and Rossi essentially tied, momentum clearly in Lorenzo’s favor, they lead #3 Ducati wild man Iannone by over 40 points. Iannone, in turn, leads teammate by 11 points since Dovizioso, whom I pointed out last week never crashes, has now recorded DNFs in the last two contests. For Marquez, life has gotten so bad that he must now traffic with the likes of plucky satellite Yamaha Brit Smith, whom he leads by a single point after crashing out of three of the first seven rounds of the season. Marquez is learning what my old friend Darby shared with me decades ago – good things come in threes, while bad things come in the millions.
17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes must have had Rounds 8 and 9 in mind when he wrote in 1651 that the natural condition of mankind (presumably, MotoGP pilots toiling at Assen and The Sachsenring) is “nasty, brutish and short.” [For complete accuracy, he should have added cold and damp.] The annual MotoGP calendar has two sets of outliers – the cool, wet tracks in England, Holland and Germany, and the hot, humid and jetlagged venues in the annual Pacific flyaway. The next month may prove adventurous to riders on early and out laps on cold tires in the narrow confines of Assen and Saxony.
The clear advantage the 2015 Yamahas enjoy in their ability to maintain corner speed will be minimized over the next month, a rare opportunity for the Hondas, Ducatis and, now, Suzukis to make some hay. Lorenzo, a creature of rhythm and consistency, has both going for him by the truckload, and appears untouchable anywhere, from the rickety Wild Mouse rollercoaster on the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The next two tracks on the schedule are his least favorites. If anyone is going to challenge him for the 2015 title, now is the time.
|2015 MotoGP Catalunya Top 10 Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+0.885|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+19.455|
|4||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||+24.925|
|5||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+27.782|
|6||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki ECSTAR||+29.559|
|7||Scott Redding||EG 0,0 Marc VDS||+36.424|
|8||Stefan Bradl||Athinà Forward Racing||+42.103|
|9||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Ducati||+49.350|
|10||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+52.569|
|2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 7 Rounds|