With the championship already decided, what was there left for fans to root for in the MotoGP finale at Valencia? How about Pol Espargaro earning his first ever premier class podium? How about him doing it on a KTM machine, giving the Austrian factory their first MotoGP podium as well? How about Álex Rins giving Suzuki four podia in a row for the first time since 1994 and establishing his dominance over your boy Johann Zarco?

Embed from Getty Images

Pol Espargaro and the Red Bull KTM team celebrate the Austrian manufacturer’s first MotoGP podium.

Practice and Qualifying

Three wet practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning found an interesting group headed directly into Q2. A few names you’re used to seeing – Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Rins. And a few you rarely see – Danilo Petrucci, big man on campus, heading the list, Dani Pedrosa, in his Swan Song, and the Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, together again, still shoving their respective stones up the mountain. Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi were nowhere to be seen in the spray, and the Q1 field was mostly full of guys with no reason to ride hard today. Alvaro Bautista. Jorge Lorenzo. Bradley Smith. Scott Redding.

Embed from Getty Images

Dani Pedrosa sets out for qualifying for the final time in his MotoGP career as a full-time rider.

As if it needed to be less important, qualifying took place on an almost dry track. Andrea Iannone and Viñales led the Q1 lot, leaving Lorenzo (13th) and former world champion Rossi (16th) pondering cosmic questions. Marquez went down at the infamous Turn 4 on his first flying lap and re-injured his left shoulder. He was wheeled into the medical center, his left shoulder assembly unbolted, a new, pre-homologated shoulder module ratcheted on, whence he saddled up again and went back out with six minutes left. He could do no better than the middle of the second row. He has also used up his allotment of replacement joints for 2018. The front row of Viñales, Rins and Dovizioso looked strong, although I’m never fully convinced about The Maverick.

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez took a hard tumble during qualifying, dislocating his shoulder. Despite the injury, he came back to qualify fifth.

The Three Races

History was made today in the Moto3 race. If you would like to find out how, without any nasty spoilers, check the in-depth coverage of the race tomorrow at MotoGPforDummies.com.

Embed from Getty Images

At 5 years and 119 days old, wild card entry Can Öncü set a new record for the youngest rider to win a Grand PRix race, accomplishing it in his first career race. The previous record belonged to Scott Redding who accomplished it in 2008 at Donington Park at the relatively ancient age of 15 years and 170 days old.

Today’s Moto2 tilt, the last of the 600cc Honda era, featured a multi-rider crash on the first lap that removed several notables from the festivities. The herd having been thinned, the field was cleared for the eventual winner, making the season’s final standings appear closer than they actually were. If you would like to find out more, check the in-depth coverage of the race Tuesday at MotoGPforDummies.com.

The first MotoGP race of the day was red-flagged after 13 laps when the rain, which had been annoying all day, went all Bubba Gump mid-race, forcing a re-start featuring 16 riders and 14 laps. By that time, both Espargaros, Jack Miller, Michele Pirro, Petrucci, Tom Luthi and Marquez were already down; Pol Espargaro and Pirro were allowed to re-enter the race and started the second go.

Embed from Getty Images

Heavy rain brought out the red flag after 13 laps. The restarted race was reduced to just 14 laps, with only 16 riders able to take part.

Dovizioso, Rins and Rossi quickly re-established a lead group after Viñales, who had been solid in the first race, crashed on the opening lap, with Rossi going through on Rins on Lap 7 and setting his sights on Dovi. The magic of a decade ago once again failed to materialize for The Doctor as he crashed off the podium for the second round in a row.

Embed from Getty Images

Officially, Álex Rins was leading when the race was halted. After the restart, Rins remained in the lead group with Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi.

At that point, it was clear sailing for Dovizioso, Rins found himself on the second step, and Pol Espargaro, coming unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and probably not the last, time, in KTM colors. Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray afternoon postscript. If you like watching high-side crashes, be sure to catch the replay at MotoGP.com later in the week. A dreadful conclusion to a dreadful season for Team Yamaha, as Repsol Honda clinched the triple crown – rider champion, team champion and constructor champion. After the race, Lin Jarvis looked nauseous.

Embed from Getty Images

History made, for KTM.

As for the reference to change, today’s race found riders named Rins, Espargaro, Taka Nakagami and Hafizh Syahrin in the top ten, and riders named Lorenzo, Rossi, Bautista and Petrucci on the outside looking in. We eagerly anticipate the arrival of Mssrs. Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo from Moto2.

Embed from Getty Images

Dani Pedrosa retires after an 18-year Grand Prix racing career, with three world titles, 49 pole positions, 54 wins and 153 podiums.

We said goodbye to Dani Pedrosa after a distinguished career, ignoring for now the whole ship pilot’s license fraud tempest and the tax stuff. And we wish the best to the other riders leaving the premier class after today, including Alvaro Bautista, Scott Redding, Jordi Torres, Bradley Smith and Tom Luthi.

In Retrospect

Embed from Getty Images

Here is your big turning point for the 2018 season.

Our friend Old MOron, in a letter to my advice column that I wrote for him, inquired as to my opinion regarding a key point in the season, perhaps The Turning Point of 2018. In my humble opinion, the turning point of the season occurred between May 6th and May 20th. Heading to Jerez, Dovizioso led Marquez by a single point, with both Viñales and Cal Crutchlow right there with them. Leaving Le Mans, Marquez led Viñales 95 to 59, with Zarco at 58 and Rossi at 56. The big crash at Jerez, which violently removed Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa from the proceedings, was the key crash in a season full of them. Dovizioso’s second consecutive out in France sealed things for him; 2018 wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2017. Someone else would have to beat Marquez this season, and that someone turned out to be no one.

Marquez was in front of the maelstrom in Spain and went on to win the race. He won again at Le Mans; 50 points in two rounds. Meanwhile, the people who would be trailing him after Round 5 scored as follows:

Up until Jerez, one might have argued that any of four or five riders had a legitimate shot at the title. My prediction that Marquez would accrue fewer than 298 points looked like a brick. Overlooked in all of this was his mental Mardi Gras in Argentina which resulted in a bizarre out-of-the-points finish, a performance unlikely to be repeated in this life cycle, at a race he could have easily won. Had he done so – he dominated practice – he would have accumulated 346 points and completed one of the highest scoring seasons in MotoGP history, winning the title by a margin of 102 points over Dovizioso.

Embed from Getty Images

MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez is flanked by Moto2 Champ Francesco Bagnaia (left) and Moto3 champion Jorge Martin (right).

The stalling of Marquez’ bike at Rio Hondo, perhaps, saved 2018 from being, from a competitive standpoint, one of the worst seasons in recent memory. Pity. Pity for guys like Dani Pedrosa and Alvaro Bautista. Pity for the fans in Valencia, who ended up with a kind of JV game. Plus, in a final slap in the face to the author, no new track record was recorded here this weekend, putting us 8 for 14 for the year. Further analysis will be available on the blog.

Marc Marquez: New Kid in Town

This year’s inspirational text, intended to evoke the arc of modern MotoGP fan history, is borrowed from the Eagles’ song “New Kid in Town.” These days, that kid is Marc Marquez. Marquez this, Marquez that. There have been Lorenzo and Stoner and Rossi and Hailwood and Rainey and Roberts and Lawson, on down the line. Each had his reign. Each was considered the eighth wonder of the world in his day. And each will fade, or has already faded, inexorably into memory, some more vividly than others; the changing colors and numbers in the sea of pennants at races over the years attest to this.

Embed from Getty Images

The Golden Age of Marquez continues.

Back in 2011, I wanted to post these words in a salute to the late Marco Simoncelli, as an editorial on the fragile nature of life and fame. It got red-penciled.

The rider who can regularly beat Marc Marquez isn’t in MotoGP yet. But he’s coming. And when he arrives, these words will be running through my head.

“There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.
People you meet, they all seem to know you.
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new.
Johnny come lately, the new kid in town.
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down…

There’s talk on the street; it’s there to remind you
that it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you.
They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.
Where you been lately? There’s a new kid in town.
Everybody loves him, don’t they?…”

If you’d like, you can listen to the entire song here. Crank it up and sing along, if that’s how you roll.

Thanks to all of you gearheads and grandpas who make it a point to read this stuff during the season. I look forward to your comments every time out. I hope to be covering MotoGP for Motorcycle.com next year. But if, as Huey Lewis used to sing, “this is it,” after ten years, I will miss the pageviews but will continue to flog away at what has become my favorite sport at the MotoGPforDummies.com blog until it becomes work or I keel over.

Embed from Getty Images

See y’all next season!