MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives. Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year. Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together. Right now would be a good time to do so.
On a picture-perfect afternoon in the French countryside, Movistar Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez: anyone even hallucinating about a world championship in 2015 will need to go through them. Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez last time out, took the early lead and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career victory in MotoGP. Rossi had to slice his way through several Ducati GP15s to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to last year. Meanwhile, it was another forgettable Sunday for Repsol Honda.
MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage to France’s Loire River valley for Sunday worship services at Le Mans, one of the shrines of motorsports. The main combatants in this week’s tilt – Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez – have won the last three rounds of an intriguing season. If it rains as per usual, the fourth Alien, Andrea Dovizioso, on the factory Ducati, a known mudder, could contend as well.
An idea struck me after reading Tom’s Top 10 lists about 500cc/MotoGP and World Superbike champions. There are so many great riders who come through both series, and yet, at the end of the year, only one of them can be crowned champion. The rest? They get the unfortunate distinction of bridesmaids (hence the lead photo above from the movie with the same name). It’s often said in professional sports that nobody remembers second place, but in this Top 10 I’m doing just that – paying tribute to the top riders who were never able to bring home a world title.
First it was Dani Pedrosa, after a disappointing season opener in Qatar, announcing that his chronic arm pump issues would require immediate surgery, keeping him out of the saddle indefinitely. Then, just the other day, we learn that teammate and Supreme Intergalactic Potentate Marc Marquez smashed the little finger on his left hand to bits in training, necessitating a delicate surgery and some hurry-up physio. Pedrosa is out, and Marquez has been deemed “questionable” for Round 4 this weekend. Several Italians smell blood in the water.
One year ago, heading into Round 3 in Argentina, I was pretty sure of two things: 1. Marc Marquez was going to win a second MotoGP world championship in 2014, and 2. Valentino Rossi’s alien days were behind him. Going 1-for-2 is great in baseball, not so much in the world of motorcycle prognostication. As it turns out, Rossi may offer the biggest obstacle to Marquez’ quest for a third consecutive title. And Andrea Dovizioso’s application for membership in the alien club has now been approved, at the apparent expense of Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa.
For the second year in a row, The Grand Prix of Qatar delivered a riveting race with unexpected results. The 2014 edition saw putative race favorite Jorge Lorenzo dump his Yamaha M1 on the first lap, paving the way for a cage match between teammate Valentino Rossi and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez in which Marquez prevailed by a quarter second. A year later, it was the favorite Marquez going walkabout on Lap 1, setting up a night-long rumble between the factory Yamahas and the factory Ducatis (what?) in which Rossi eventually pipped Andrea Dovizioso at the flag.
I’ll admit, I was one of the many who thought the 2015 MotoGP season would be a fight for second, with the phenom that is Marc Marquez destroying the world’s supply of elbow sliders en route to yet another title. If yesterday’s MotoGP season opener in Qatar was any indication, however, I should have remembered that Sundays are the only days that matter in racing. Here now are my thoughts on the race and the season to come.
There is a reason 36 year-old Valentino Rossi is still the most revered motorcycle racer on the planet. In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi, on the factory Yamaha, delivered a dazzling performance in the 2015 season opener, going hammer and tongs with factory Ducati #1 Andrea “DesmoDovi” Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths of a second to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.
All of the story lines leading up to the 2015 MotoGP season boil down to one: who has the stones, and the bike, and the team, and the vision to take the title away from Marc Marquez? Is it only Marquez himself, some suddenly reckless version way different from the 2013 and 2014 champion, who crashes early and often and digs himself a hole that Jorge Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi or maybe Dani Pedrosa or possibly one of the Andreas from the factory Ducati team rushes to fill…
Technically, and by that I mean according to the way in which the vehicles here are registered through the DMV (except Texas, but more on that later), each of these three-wheelers qualifies as a motorcycle. In California, at least, a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license to legally operate them is not required, and the two with seatbelts eschew the state’s helmet law. Still, without a more explicit category available and the law being what it is, “motorcycle” becomes the default label for this trio.
In the modern era of MotoGP, no rider has crafted a season comparable to Marc Marquez in 2014. Among the records he established this season are most wins in a single season, becoming the youngest rider to repeat as world champion, and claiming the most poles in one season. At age 21, the MotoGP world is his oyster. As announcer Nick Harris asked repeatedly during today’s contest, where will it all end?
For the 20th time in 22 years, MotoGP steams into the season finale with the title already decided. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, fresh off his white-knuckled win in the Malaysian furnace arrives, title in hand, looking to break Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a season. The Twin Powers at Movistar Yamaha, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, have an appointment at Circuit Ricardo Torma to decide whom will finish second in 2014. But Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, having screwed the pooch (twice) in Sepang, may have some plans of his own this weekend.
After the carnage in Phillip Island, the prospects of the various Aliens have changed significantly. If pending 2014 champion Marc Marquez is to challenge Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a season, he needs to win here. Dani Pedrosa, having spent the bulk of the season in second place, now finds himself fourth, looking up at both of the factory Yamahas, who made hay at his expense Down Under. Jorge Lorenzo, who many gave up for dead back in May, could finish the season in second place. As could teammate Valentino Rossi, who, at age 35, is entering the realm of “timeless elegance,” the finely crafted Swiss watch of motorcycle racing.
Simply looking at the final results, the 2014 Tissot Australian Grand Prix appears to have been a clear Yamaha triumph. In fact, it was a demolition derby in which the winners managed to survive, rather than dominate, the proceedings. True, at the end it was an all Yamaha podium, featuring Valentino Rossi on top, followed by Jorge Lorenzo and first-timer Bradley Smith. But with nine riders having crashed out or retired, the phrase “you need to be in it to win it” has never been more true.