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MotoGP 2016 Valencia Preview
What will people reading this remember about the 2016 MotoGP season? A Marquez year, his third of many, for sure. The year Crutchlow won his first two races? The year Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales each won his first? The year Suzuki and Ducati and Australia broke their droughts? The year Yamaha started one of their own? My fave is the year nine different riders stood on the top step of the podium, some for the first time and some, perhaps, for the last.
Dorna big cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Great Leavening proceeds apace. The field has become more level, the notion of a win more plausible for the riders who aren’t Top Four or Five material; Jack Miller, currently residing in 17th place for the season, won in Assen. Though one goal going in had been to make MotoGP more affordable, a laughable proposition, it did serve its twin purpose of delivering more competitive racing front to back on the grid. It enticed Aprilia and KTM (wildcarding this weekend with Mika Kallio onboard) back into the fold. It got Ducati back into big boy pants.
Lap times haven’t changed much. It’s not as sexy as the custom ECU setup was, but I, for one, like it. More rider, (slightly) less technology. And next year, no wingies. You readers are making me into some kind of old school purist.
Lorenzo’s 2013 finale win was a hollow victory; having needed the win, he was unable to keep Marquez out of the top five, which he also needed to do, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez, who ultimately finished third. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth; this was back when they were getting along.
The 2014 race was wet-ish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race with six laps left. Marquez took the win, blowing kisses to his fans during his victory lap, and was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. We knew nothing about the trials 2015 held in store for him.
No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous week, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish. There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps. El Gato’s fans were delirious, but the rest of the world seemed ticked off.
Of the four riders formally-known-as-Aliens, Pedrosa has the best record here, with three wins and three podia in ten starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 16 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in seven premier class starts, has three wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win, a place and a show in three MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat; I’d like to see him race here when the pressure’s on. For those of you who insist, Cal Crutchlow DNF’d the 2013 race, got beat at the flag by Dovizioso in 2014 on his way to 5th place, and found himself in 9th position last year, 36 seconds off the pace. There.
Most of the intrigue this weekend will emanate from the middle of the grid. The civil war at Pramac Ducati is almost over; Petrucci has Redding by 16 heading into Valencia in the contest for factory GP17 next year. Ducati pilots Hector Barbera and Andrea Iannone are fighting furiously for 9th place for the season, with Barbera holding a one point advantage coming into the weekend. Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty, in his MotoGP swan song. will try to hold on to his single point lead over Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista in the fight for 12th place.
I have a thought that needs airing out. It may not be new, but it goes like this: Marquez, since clinching in Motegi, still wants to win and has attacked the last two races hard, but has crashed out of each. He had podium written all over him until he went down both times. This illustrates the subconscious effect mindset (between fighting for a title and playing out the string) has on one’s focus, judgment and even balance. Had he been in the midst of a title fight, I have no doubt he would have kept the bikes up.
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While I’m at it, I’ve had a second thought for a while. About how much fun it would be to listen to a digital recording from the inside of Valentino Rossi’s helmet during a race. Forty-five minutes of yelling, cursing, grunting, praying, and more cursing, all at high speed and pitch and, best of all, in Italian, so all you would understand are the names of the riders toward whom the invective is directed. Not sure what the F*word is in Italian (cazzo, actually), but I bet you would hear it in the recording once or twice. Possibly directed at Lorenzo’s mother.
What the heck. Dani Pedrosa, should he fulfill his final two-year contract with Honda, would become the Spanish Loris Capirossi. Long, distinguished careers without a single MotoGP championship. All that meat and no potatoes. And is it possible he might actually forego his final contract and call it a career, clearing the way for a Crutchlow vs. Miller tussle for the second Repsol seat? The fact that he will be in Valencia this weekend makes that notion doubtful, but stranger things have happened.
The weather forecast for greater Valencia this weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps in the low 70’s. The 2016 war being over, there is one last battle to be fought on Sunday. With so few of the riders having any skin left in the game, this one will be for bragging rights only. With the exception of Marquez, Rossi, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, many of the top ten are vulnerable to a drop in the standings, while some still have an opportunity to profit. For instance, if Pedrosa is unable to post for the start, Cal Crutchlow is likely to nab sixth place for the season. Great.
As to the results to come, I like Rossi this weekend. The guy still has a chip on his shoulder and is still fast. Marquez will compete for the win just for fun. Lorenzo says he wants a finish to his Yamaha tenure he can be proud of. Pedrosa will be in no shape to win but will still show up. The rest of the fast movers – the Dueling Andreas, Crutchlow, Vinales—are always up for a podium chase. My picks for the weekend? Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo. Yamaha ends it’s losing streak, Vinales primps for his big balls debut next season, the podium celebration is as awkward as possible, and Lorenzo leaves team Yamaha with his head held high. OK, but he’s still a triple world champion with them.
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