What is likely to be the final Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix today produced two memorable shootouts. Up front, defending Honda world champion Marc Marquez dogged Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo for 24 laps before stealing his lunch money at Turn 1 of Lap 25 and holding the Mallorcan off for the final three laps. The undercard featured Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa in an equally riveting daylong battle for third place. Rossi prevailed after half a dozen lead changes over the last 10 laps, keeping his string of 2015 podia intact and his lead over teammate Lorenzo at nine points.
The 2015 edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race has come and gone, and while the event doesn’t hold the same prestige it once did, there was still plenty to talk about this year. The racing was as dynamic as ever, but also interesting were the bikes, teams and characters that show up to this event. Nearly every rider who has spun a lap around Suzuka sings its praises, though most of them also acknowledge how dangerous the circuit can be with its lack of runoff (just ask Casey Stoner). Still, this year’s race has offered plenty of talking points, and now that I’ve had some time to absorb everything the iconic Japanese race has to offer, here are my Top 10 storylines surrounding the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours.
The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast this weekend they seemed to exit the space-time continuum, re-entering in 2014 amidst a rewind of last year’s German Grand Prix. Marquez, loving himself the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, comfortably led every practice session. As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to also-ran status. Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season.
Heading into the 66th annual Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, Movistar Yamaha poohbah Valentino Rossi held the championship lead, teammate Jorge Lorenzo had the momentum, and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez was mired in an existential crisis. Rossi shed his Alan Iverson-like disdain for practice, was quick all weekend, and qualified on pole. Lorenzo, whose recent history at Assen has been horrific, never looked completely comfortable. And Marquez, desperate for a return to his winning form over the past two seasons, arrived on a hybrid 2014/2015 model RC213V, looking for answers. At the end of the day, all three stood on the podium, but only Rossi was happy about it.
As qualifying for the 2015 Grand Prix Monster Energy de Catalunya closed on Saturday, one got the sense that The Usual Suspects might not make it to Sunday’s podium. The ascendant Suzuki Ecstar team had crashed the party, seizing the first two spots in Row 1 (for the first time since 1993), while Aliens occupied spots #3, 4, 6 and 7. The upstart Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone were mired in 5th and 12th places, respectively. On Sunday, eight riders failed to finish, but when the smoke cleared, the Alien Class of 2012 – Yamaha mandarins Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa – climbed the steps, the cheers of 97,000 Spanish fans ringing in their ears.
For the third round in succession, Movistar Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead, switched on the autopilot on his YZR-M1, cranked up Kings of Leon on his MP3 player, and never broke a sweat in winning the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM. What was suspected after Le Mans has now been confirmed at Mugello – Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat for the 2015 MotoGP championship. The only way things could get any worse for Honda’s double defending world champion Marc Marquez would be if Lorenzo were to steal his girlfriend.
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.
The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered for a number of things in years to come. The 54,543 Italian fans in attendance experienced the ecstasy of watching their idol, Movistar Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy since Misano in 2009. They witnessed the annual crash of the impertinent Marc Marquez, who laid his Repsol Honda down going perhaps 35 miles per hour in Turn 4 of Lap 10. They saw their national motorcycle, Ducati, place two riders in the top five. And, for the first time since The Renaissance, they could head home feeling their country may have turned the corner after 500 years of uninterrupted decline.
In a déjà vu of Assen two weeks ago, chaos reigned at the start of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. Hard rain was quickly giving way to clearing skies, and crews were rolling the dice on tire choices. After the sighting lap, 14 bikes started from pit lane after changing from wets to slicks, including all four of the factory Honda and Yamaha machines. At the end of the day, though, it was Marc Marquez leading a Honda 1-2, joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.