This article originally appeared on Late-Braking MotoGP.
If MotoGP were tennis, the trophy match would be incandescent Repsol Honda marvel Marc Marquez vs. The Motorcycle Racing Industry. Marquez is leading in sets 2-0 and is serving 40-0, the first of at least three match points, up 5-0 in the third set, the hapless Andrea Dovizioso nominated by the grid to return serve. Assuming Marquez holds serve on Sunday, what do we do then?
We here at Late-Braking MotoGP, competition junkies that we are, will focus, for the first time ever, on the “lightweight” classes in Moto3 and Moto2. Our mailbags here at the station are literally overflowing with requests that we turn our attention and name-calling to the actual chases taking place on the “undercards.” Personally, I just want to meet someone willing to stand in front of a 765cc Moto2 bike in full froth and shout to the rider that he is a lightweight.
Long-time readers will recognize this obvious stall as how I wrote about MotoGP in 2009, when I knew less than nothing about the sport in general. I faked and juked my way to this lofty editorial position in which I can decide what I want to write about. The choice, then, is between molar-grinding competition or weeks of flag-waving and kiss-blowing to the adoring crowds of the premier class, 6 titles in 7 years, The Marquez Era in full bloom, dull as dishwater…
All this is my way of saying that I probably know less about Moto3 and Moto2 than most of you who bother to read this stuff. As a highly-paid professional I see my ignorance as a simple work-around until such time as all three titles are decided, at which point we could very well test readers’ loyalty by arranging live video coverage of a Chinese checkers tournament in lower Szechuan province. With snappy, insouciant subtitles.
If, a year ago, you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the venerable (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted. Wins like that sell a lot of hats.
Should Sunday be a replay of last year, the championship will be done and dusted. 101 is the magic number heading to Motegi for the start of the swing. Were I Marquez and clinched in Thailand, I would hold at least one fake press conference to announce he is taking the next three rounds off, going to play golf on Mallorca, and leaving things in the more-than-capable hands of shell-shocked three-time premier class champion Jorge Lorenzo. Three races in three weeks. Glowing in the dark in Japan, freezing one’s cojones off in the howling winds of Australia, then frying ’em up in Malaysia. A week of hydration before the drunkathon that is Valencia on those years where everything’s already decided. On Sunday, riders get to pretend that there is no Marc Marquez, happily running fifth, and can slug it out with each other for the win at one of the classic European racing venues. As if it really matters more than as an historical footnote or contract bargaining chip. By November, all of us will be looking forward to testing and 2020.
Here goes. 250cc bikes, mostly Hondas and KTM machines which will, as I understand, become Husqvarna equipment in 2020. There are some elite teams – Leopard Racing, Valentino Rossi’s SKY Racing Team VR46, Red Bull KTM Ajo – and a number of others. Over 30 bikes usually start each race. Despite the relatively light displacement the best motorcycle racing on earth takes place in Moto3. Many of the riders are teenagers, some as young as 16. Impulsive, impervious, intuitive, temperamental risk-takers, they put on amazing shows on an irregular basis, as they crash a lot, too. No big surprise there.
Check the standings at Motogp.com and see how the top ten is full of Italian and Spanish hotshots. Lorenzo dalla Porta, 22 year-old Italian on Honda leads Spaniard Aron Canet (20) on his KTM by a cumulative score of 184-182. Tony Arbolino (19) appears to me to be the fastest teenager out there. Scotsman John McPhee, old at 25, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, is usually in the lead group late in the race. Jaume Masia is 18. Can Oncu turned 16 this summer.
Moto3 2019 is, at least, a two-man race, which is a real race, and which we look forward to each week despite its ungodly broadcast time in the middle of the night.
All bikes are fitted with a 765cc Triumph firebreather, with everything else done a la carte; frames by Kalex or Speed Up. KTM has also built bikes around the Triumph engine, but announced they will drop out of Moto2 to focus on Moto3 and their struggling MotoGP program. Anyway, Kalex seems to be the preferred provider, as seven of the top ten riders sit astride their equipment.
From out of nowhere, younger brother Alex Marquez (23), who struggled in Moto2 since entering the mid-class category in 2015 after winning Moto3 in 2014, leads the championship by a somewhat-comfortable 213-175 margin over Jorge Navarro; 38 points with five rounds left. Navarro himself is being hounded by the likes of Augusto Fernandez, and your boy Tom Luthi. Directly behind Luthi in the standings sits South African Brad Binder, he of the large teeth and brilliant smile, on his token KTM, his (spotty: read “good for a KTM”) performance having already punched his ticket to a 2020 MotoGP ride with the satellite team. Tech 3 was apparently having a hard time finding riders, as KTM appears to be earning the reputation of a career-killer (formerly held by Ducati, now a career-booster for many).
It is worth noting that just recently Alex Marquez said in an interview that, as a kid growing up, he hoped someday to be brother Marc’s mechanic. One could perhaps argue that having a pro-active father, as the brothers do, can occasionally help little brothers discover gifts they didn’t know they had. I heard a comment back in 2012 that Alex was faster than Marc, and that Alex Rins, who competed with them growing up, was faster then either of them. This seems to have changed.
Anyway, as is true with all three MotoGP classes, if you want to know what actually happened in a race, you need to watch the race. Unfortunately, the best way to watch the race, and practice, qualifications, etc. is to subscribe to the video feed from those greedy bastards at Dorna. Fortunately, with the Euro taking a beating, the subscription costs less in dollars than it did three years ago. Very high quality stuff, no commercials, worth it. Also a bit of high humor if you enjoy listening to Matt and Steve trying to sound as British as humanly possible, in order to provoke tender feelings from you the listener. Lots of “dearie me,” “getting naughty in the corners,” and “I need a lie-down in a dark room after that.” Overall, they do a much better job than BeIN Sports TV announcers.
The weather in Thailand this time of year – any time of year, actually – will be brutal. Hot, humid, those damnable “pop-up” thunderstorms in the afternoons, 10-minute frog-stranglers that ratchet up the heat to a virtual sauna, humidities often reaching over 100%; one needs gills. In the premier class, as is true with any weather conditions, this is Marquez weather; he likes it hot, enjoys sliding the bike, and can execute a flag-to-flag changeover as well as anyone. If he finishes in front of Dovizioso it’s likely over for 2019.
As to the lightweights, I have no earthly idea. I expect the two leaders for the Moto3 championship to slug it out, but it doesn’t often work out that way. In Moto2, I find myself rooting for Alex #73 somewhat out of pity, which is weird. He is staying in Moto2 next season awaiting a premium ride in MotoGP in 2021. Conceivably alongside his brother at Repsol Honda. Not likely, just possible. He, as everyone else, would do better on a Suzuki or Yamaha than on the RC213V, a roman candle with carbon brake discs capable of low earth orbit but notoriously difficult to handle. Food for thought.
We will return sometime on Sunday with results and analysis. I’ll be watching the races on Pacific time and will probably, at my advanced age, need a nap.