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.
The entire weekend devoted to the GoPro British Grand Prix seemed to be accompanied by a sense of foreboding due to the weather. One had the sense that dry practice sessions and a wet race could lead to carnage and confusion; Exhibit A occurred near the end of FP4. In the end, the carnage and confusion was restricted mainly to the race organizers, sponsors and rider Tito Rabat. After hours and hours of hemming and hawing, the British round of the 2018 MotoGP season was scrubbed.
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.
For the third year in a row, MotoGP riders have tried to dislodge Ducati Corse from the pronounced advantage they enjoy here in Austria. In 2016, it was Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo who failed to flag down Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Last year, it was Honda’s Marc Marquez trying valiantly and ultimately failing to overtake winner Dovizioso. Today, it was Marquez losing again by a tenth, this time to Lorenzo, in a last lap duel that was entertaining, if not riveting.
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.
Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marc Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. With factory Yamaha pilots Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP makes the turn heading for the back, um, 10 starting at Brno in August.
If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the 2018 MotoGP championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino Rossi, but to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.
The Cathedral of Speed gave the 105,000 crazed Dutch fans in attendance a memorable liturgy today – the most closely grouped top 15 in MotoGP history, 16 seconds separating the lot. The action at the front – six different riders led at one point or other – was so intense it reduced the announcers to mere stuttering and grunting during the last three laps, panties in a full twist. At the end, the incomparable Marc Marquez put his stamp on a signature win, one of his best ever.
The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.