MotoGP 2016 Aragon Preview

Bruce Allen
by Bruce Allen

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

Photos by Getty Images; Lead image by Yamaha

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere. In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished. It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in. Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

Motorland Aragon is known for its iconic stone wall which forms a dramatic backdrop for many a racing photo.

It’s getting crowded up front

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable. Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011. When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Having more racers capable of winning a race and stealing points gives points leader Marc Marquez the luxury of being more conservative.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks. His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race. The forecast is for dry and warm conditions. He has everything going for him and should win the race. As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez. The rookie’s 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Aragon race proved to be the pinnacle for Forward Racing and MotoGP’s “Open” class era.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Rossi finished the day in the medical center, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall. While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain – I know – the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati. (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece. By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Loris “Too Tall” Baz.)

Winless since May, a return to Aragon where Jorge Lorenzo has won the previous two years may be just the thing to turn the defending champion’s season around.

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani held off repeated assaults from Vale over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.” This is not meant as criticism. It might explain why Honda so willingly signed him for another two years. If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even. And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Dani Pedrosa proved he’s still got it with his win at Misano.

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

  • Rossi – 69
  • Crutchlow – 54
  • Marquez – 53
  • Vinales – 53
  • Pedrosa – 49
  • Lorenzo – 40
  • Dovizioso – 40
  • Iannone – 33

My original idea for the Misano race summary – a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow – which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers. (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help. Nor did the outburst that followed.) The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish. My apologies. I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

After giving it to Cal Crutchlow for much of the season it’s only fair to give him the last laugh on our snafu.

As for Rossi, the world is correct. An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia. (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore. You can have 16 strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider. Then count points. A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season. It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha – his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice. Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.

Nicky’s back!

Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems – just a flesh wound – but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule. And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off. The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend. It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas. Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days. Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Dovizioso. Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS. I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT. We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.

Bruce Allen
Bruce Allen

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2 of 21 comments
  • Kos Kos on Sep 22, 2016

    "Throw out the high and low scores for each rider. Then count points." Bang on! +5 points for Bruce.

    Nicky returns! +5 points for everybody, just because it brings an infinitesimal (Google it) chance of upsetting the balance of things.

    LBJ quote. Good, well known quote, but still, minus 5 points for AGAIN bringing politics in any form to an otherwise great series of columns (you're still up by 5 points).

  • Old MOron Old MOron on Sep 23, 2016

    So based on today's practice, it looks like the race pace will be in the high 1'48 range. The usual crew are there, except maybe Jorge.
    But tomorrow could bring changes. We'll see.