This article originally appeared on Late-Braking MotoGP.
Now that Repsol Honda comet Marc Marquez has secured another premier class title – his sixth in seven seasons – we will be paying more attention to the goings-on in the “lightweight” classes. Marquez has announced his intention to assault the all-time single season points record, but it’s just not the same. Look at track records – Marquez holds none past Round 14. Subconsciously, perhaps, he takes a whisker off the throttle with the championship won. The season becomes a ham ’n’ egg breakfast; Marquez goes from being the pig, who is committed, to the chicken, who is interested.
Honda also might want to consider relieving Jorge Lorenzo of his duties for 2020 and going with Stefan Bradl, who has been testing for them for a few years. Bradl does well enough on the latest RC213V on his wildcard weekends and can continue to provide feedback; he knows the drill. He also knows who is #1. Lorenzo is a basket case who needs to get away from the sport while he can, without further damage to his legacy. They will need to identify a new #2 in 2021; there will be a world of candidates at that time.
Meanwhile, ex-KTM rider Johann Zarco will replace Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda for the last three rounds of the season. Nakagami, meanwhile, will compete in his home race at Motegi, but will then undero shoulder surgery. Honda Racing Corporation announced a one-year contract extension with Nakagami this week to stay with LCR, so his immediate focus is getting healthy for next season. Zarco may be getting a chance to prove he’s still a capable rider, but Nakagami’s extension closes one of the few remaining spots available for next season. The only MotoGP ride left to be filled is the one he just left with KTM.
Little Brother Alex Marquez (Kalex) is starting to look invincible, needing only to stay in the points from here on out to claim his first Moto2 title. He is what my boy, Boyd Crowder, would call a “late bloomer,” haven taken his own sweet time to title in Moto2 after an impressive Moto3 title at age 18 in 2014. (This was the story of 2014, Marquez edging, as it were, fellow teen Jack Miller by two points in a barnburner of a season that I largely missed. Miller got promoted the following year directly to the Pramac MotoGP team, skipping second grade entirely. He dipped below the curve for a few seasons on a slow Honda, then on a year-old Ducati, before currently appearing on the upswing, looking forward to full factory equipment in 2020. The insolent Aussie seems to have designs on the #1 seat on the factory Ducati team by as early as 2021.)
Young Marquez’ closest pursuers, generally sucking canal water, include Augusto Fernandez (Kalex), Brad Binder (KTM), Tom Luthi (Kalex), Jorge Navarro, (Speed Up). It is at points like this in the story where I hope to someday insert a humorous insight or two regarding one of the chasers. Binder has had his ticket punched to the satellite Tech 3 KTM MotoGP team for 2020. The two hot-blooded young Spaniards Fernandez and Navarro crave the title and are, as we used to say, packing the gear, bucking for promotion. Swiss rider Luthi, a MotoGP retread, is older, turning wrenches, making a living at 200 kph, living large, his star on the wane.
Until last week, the championship had been a tight two-man race between Italian heart throb Lorenzo dalla Porta (Honda) and KTM’s ink-laden Spaniard Aron Canet. Canet got skittled by an overly-aggressive Darryn Binder (KTM) in Thailand and now trails dalla Porta by 22 points with four rounds left. Things being rather unpredictable amongst the 250cc set, dalla Porta is not a lock for the title, but he’s getting close, seemingly by default. Young Tony Arbolino (Honda) looks, at times, like the fastest rider out there. And your boy Romano Fenati (Honda) is out injured, trying to scare up a Moto2 ride for 2020 that will heat his blood.
2016 – For the third time in four seasons, Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship. He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team – Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi – choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. Lorenzo’s forthcoming departure from the team after Valencia appeared to be a sound idea.
In 2017, in a replay of their Red Bull Ring duel earlier that season, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez gave us another late-race blades-at-close-quarters wheezer, a ten-point spread in the season standings at stake. And for the second time that season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of his earlier win in Austria. In winning the match, Dovi cut his deficit to Marquez from 16 points to 11 with two rounds left. (Marquez would employ the lesson he learned that day to win the same way the following year at Buriram.) Like Rossi in 2015, things would come unglued for Dovizioso at Sepang a week later. 2017, one reckons, was probably the high-water mark of Dovi’s career, likely destined to join Dani Pedrosa (and, in all likelihood, Maverick Viñales) as top premier class riders who coulda, woulda, shoulda, had it not been for Rossi/Stoner/Lorenzo/Marquez etc.
The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt a year ago in a gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of Dovizioso who, chasing Marquez for the series lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez last year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it was, and is again.
Dorna announced this week an addition to the 2022-2026 calendars of Rio de Janeiro for the Grand Prix of Brazil. Carmelo Ezpeleta follows the money, imposing demonstrable hardships on the teams in his vast conspiracy to dominate the international motorsports space. With the struggles in F1 and NASCAR I’d say he’s doing pretty well. But adding the previously confirmed Finland and Brazil to an already brutal travel schedule, extending the season, is hard on everyone. Worse yet, it makes when a rider gets hurt a matter of luck as to whether he misses a single race or misses three. More back to backs, an early Brazil/Argentina/COTA swing likely.
Brazil will contain the first post-Rossi generation in, well, generations. My bet is that Brazilians will have a lot of red #93 on their hats. Probably selling a lot of small motorcycles when they’re not busy clear-cutting the rainforest.
Judging from radar maps, it appears Motegi might have gotten hammered by the typhoon last weekend. The forecast for race weekend is cool – 60s – with rain in the area, likely on Saturday. Riders, notably the Hondas, need to pay attention on morning out laps on cold tires.
This, I suspect, will be one of Fabio Quarataro’s three best opportunities to win a race, since Marquez will not take any crazy risks. The track is a point-and-shoot, stop-and-go kind of place, riders don’t spend much time in 6th gear, while acceleration appears to be at a premium. A Honda/Ducati kind of place. Yet Quartararo has proven of late that he can ride pretty much anywhere. There will be some motivated riders out there on Sunday; some will have more on the line than others is all. Personally, I’d like to see Franco Morbidelli score a podium.
All I care about in the lightweight classes is that the chases tighten up. These early-season wins in MotoGP suck. Moto2 and Moto3 need to take us further into the calendar.
So that’s it, then. Young guys. Quartararo for the win, Morbidelli third, and the ascendant Jack Miller second. Assuming, that is, they hold the race at all. If they do, we’ll be here sometime Sunday with results and analysis in all three classes. Hopefully, we will not be discussing what could be the worst podium prediction of all time.