The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others. For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them. The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia.
2016 MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault. In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish. Round 17, the Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?”
Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided. Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win. Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Cal Crutchlow.
For the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship. He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team – Jorge Lorenzo and the legend Valentino Rossi – choked on their own bile, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. This unlikely confluence of events is responsible for, among other things, the very pedestrian championship celebration prior to the podium. Nothing like the Bushido spectacle we watched in 2014.
Round 15 of the 2016 MotoGP championship is the first leg of the annual Pacific flyaway, three races in three weeks during which the title will be decided. Unlike 2013 and last year, this year’s finale at Valencia will not be the dramatic season-decider they love hosting in Spain in November. A question gaining traction in the paddock raises the issue of whether it’s the Honda winning the title or the Yamahas losing it. Big Blue hasn’t had a win this year since Valentino Rossi’s win over Marc Marquez at Catalunya back in early June.
Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales, Jorge Lorenzo and, finally, Valentino Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014.
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.
The picturesque Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli welcomes the 2016 round at a critical point in the season. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez sits on the cusp of clinching his third premier class title, with the Movistar Yamahas of Vale Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in desperate pursuit. Four non-Aliens have won the last four rounds. Parity has set in. The Suzuki, factory Ducati and LCR Honda teams are legit. The Aliens finally have company – the premier class is no longer just their sandbox.
A red flag on Lap 1 lead to a 19-lap race on Sunday in the British midlands. For the first time since 2007, a Suzuki won a premier class race, Maverick Vinales ending his day standing on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow, who kept another streak alive, and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who fought Marc Marquez tooth and nail for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez leaves Britain leading the season by 50 points, having gotten some angry juju out of his system.
With three wet/dry races in the last four rounds, MotoGP fans should be getting accustomed to strange results. Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda. Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring, but was joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso. Today, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez. Cosmic justice prevailed – the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series.
After getting schooled by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team in Austria, the fast movers at Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda look to get even this week in The Czech Republic. These ambitions appear justified, in that the Automotodrom Brno has a healthy number of what are called “turns,” whereas the Red Bull Ring is more of a long straight with a couple of kinks in it. It will take a heroic effort from the Ducs to convince the racing world that Sunday’s historic result wasn’t an outlier.
By any measure, today’s Austrian Grand Prix was an eventful race. The starting grid featured an all-Italian front row for the first time since Motegi in 2006. Andrea Iannone, late of the factory Ducati team, won his career first premier class race, several whiskers in front of teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati bikes finished 1st and 2nd for the first time since Phillip Island in 2007. But once the celebration dies down, the Bologna factory may need a reality check, as explained below.
Based upon the test results after Round 9, it appears MotoGP Chief Cheddar Carmelo Ezpeleta has finally located a circuit at which the Ducati teams can compete for a win, their first since 2010. The two-day test, at which the Repsol Honda and Tech 3 teams were AWOL, found seven of the top eight times on Tuesday clutched by Ducati pilots. Wednesday, it was the top four and six of the top ten, with the factory Yamahas and Suzukis claiming fifth through eighth.
Occasionally in this world, team sports produce individual accomplishments that stay etched in people’s minds for years. We know that Marc Marquez qualified on pole at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time. We know that he won at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time. We know that in doing so he became, at age 23, the seventh winningest rider in MotoGP history. It is important, however, to acknowledge the work of his crew that made all of these sevens possible.
Misfortune having found Movistar Yamaha icons Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last time out in Assen, Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez looks to be getting away with the 2016 MotoGP championship. For the riders currently trailing Marquez, i.e., everyone, the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland couldn’t come at a worse time.