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?
MotoGP’s traditional Valenciana finalé, in years like this, resembles a boxing match in which the undercards are vaguely entertaining, and the main event is moved from late Saturday night to Tuesday afternoon and closed to the public. Sure, it would still be great to have a ticket. Even with all three championships decided, you could still get solidly buzzed, maybe work on your tan, and stoke a few adrenaline rushes of your own for your €100. Get your picture taken with a bunch of bored fashion models, too.
For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marc Marquez. Álex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era.
With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Valentino Rossi & Maverick Viñales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso – the next top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left after Marc Marquez secured the championship in Japan – have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season.
Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, a mell of a hess.
And so the 2018 MotoGP season comes down to this, a showdown in The Land of the Rising Sun. Home MotoGP track for Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha; much face at stake. Two samurai riders, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Honda’s Marc Marquez, expecting to go one-on-one for a title so close Marquez can smell it. Much too early in the season for all this. Elsewhere, Yamaha will be watched closely for continuing progress from their recent knees-up in Thailand, or will it be back to the drawing board again?
In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a “by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around.
The 2018 MotoGP season grinds on, a feeling of inevitability having settled over the grid. Marc Marquez will secure his fifth premier class world championship on the Pacific swing, followed by some locally-themed, over-the-top celebration prepared in advance. He has guys for that. Meanwhile, the rest of the grid is flailing away at a top-something finish; in the higher tranches, that would be top three. In the lower tranches, perhaps top ten. What can one say? It’s The Marquez Era.
Since Sachsenring, Marc Marquez had grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo are, how they’ve been making a chump out of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. Today, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Dovizioso in front of his home fans, assuring them that he may be many things, but one of them is not a chump.
Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third.
The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon.
You know things are rough in the upper tranches of MotoGP when riders are reduced to praying for inclement weather as a means of slowing down Honda’s putative 2018 world champion Marc Marquez. Iconic Silverstone is the first of a quartet of races that should bring Marquez’ magic number into view. While the weather figures to be a factor, it may not be enough to slow down the Catalan savant.
Austria’s Red Bull Ring, home of this weekend’s eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, is the closest thing to the Bonneville Salt Flats of any track on the MotoGP calendar. For those riders, ahem, who have trouble getting their bikes to turn this place is like heaven. The weekend looks like it’s going to be a Ducati clambake, but looks can be deceiving.
15 years ago, if you happened to find yourself in the lead late in a MotoGP race, the last person you wanted materializing on your rear tire was #46, Valentino Rossi. That was, at the time, a portent of almost certain doom – for you – as Rossi was king of the jungle, until impudents like Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo came along. Today, the guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you is Marc Marquez, all hunkered down on his Honda RC213V to where you can barely tell where he stops and the bike starts. Turning laps four tenths faster than you, with plenty of tire left.