Sunday’s Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón de MotoGP is unlikely to have a momentous impact on the 2017 championship standings. Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, playing cat and mouse at 200 mph and tied at present, will head for the Pacific flyaway rounds separated by, at most, 25 points. The man in jeopardy of losing touch is factory Yamaha prodigy Maverick Viñales. A crash this week could put him some 40 points behind the leader – whoever it is – with four rounds to go, not a good place to be, even on a YZR-M1.
Meanwhile, his teammate Valentino Rossi is trying to speed up his recovery time, looking to get medical clearance to race just three weeks after breaking the tibia and fibula on his right leg.
Recent History at Aragon
The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon was a flag-to-flag cluster that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center. Jorge Lorenzo somehow won in the rain – I know – but the big story was Aleix Espargaro who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth-place start to a thrilling silver medal finish over Cal Crutchlow, grinding his expensive British teeth once again on the factory Ducati.
In 2015, Lorenzo put on a clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card.
A year ago, Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.
Viñales won here in 2013 in Moto2. While riding the Suzuki, he managed 11th place the first year and a respectable 4th place last year. Lorenzo had two wins and a second here the last three years. On the Yamaha. This year he doesn’t see the podium. Who does see the podium are Marquez and Dovizioso, two masters at the height of their respective games (it just took Dovizioso much longer to get to this level than it did wonderkid #93), on machines with differing strengths and weaknesses. Dovi is having a career year, while Marquez is having a career career, working on his fourth title in five premier class seasons. Rossi is down and out, and Pedrosa, down but not quite out, never having done more than get close.
But Viñales. Before the season began, I had him slotted for four wins and four DNFs. The wins number is within easy reach with five rounds left. But the falls, the falls, are they going to happen, or can he keep it upright, and stay close to the current leaders? At this point, he needs me to be right, or conservative, about the wins, and over on the DNFs. And that’s before the Tech 3 guys started running out of fuel on their 2016 M1s.
Lots of Movement in the Tranches
After Round 12 Silverstone
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins, A. Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes
After Round 13 Misano
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi)
Tranche 2: Pedrosa↓, Zarco, Folger, Lorenzo, Petrucci↑, Rins↑
Tranche 3: Crutchlow↓, Barbera, Bautista↓, Baz, A. Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, P. Espargaro↑
Tranche 5: Abraham↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes
Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Bradley Smith all had solid results in Misano, in the rain. Should they repeat their credible performances this weekend, in the dry, they will be moving up in the standings, with Hector Barbera, Loris Baz and The Rider Formerly Known as The Maniac, Andrea Iannone at risk of getting knocked down. Iannone may lose his contract on the Suzuki altogether if the suits at Dorna and Suzuki have their way, Johnny Rae’s name being mentioned as a replacement.
Alex Rins, on the strength of his 8th place finish at Misano, is ensconced, at least for now, in Tranche 2 along with Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, Rookie of the Year honors undecided at this point. Other than a poor outing at the Red Bull Ring, Rins is showing steady improvement since his injury, with top tens in his last two races, under vastly different conditions. I’d like to see him on a factory Yamaha one of these days, but he’ll probably have to take a number behind Tech 3’s Frick and Frack.
This Just In
Last week, World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark was selected to “replace Valentino Rossi” on the factory Yamaha at Aragon.
Naturally, the thought of someone else riding his M1 has spurred the Doctor into action, jumping on a YZF-R1M for a couple of days of private testing at Misano. Rossi will undergo a medical examination Wednesday in hopes of being cleared to race this weekend, double-leg fracture be damned.
Your Weekend Forecast
It doesn’t appear to have rained in the greater Alcaniz environs for some time now, and the long-range forecast for the weekend calls for clear skies, plenty of sunshine to heat the track, with temps in the 80s and dust on the tarmac if you happen to find yourself off the racing line. These conditions favor the Repsol Honda team; Marquez likes sliding around in the hot grease, and Pedrosa can get enough heat into his tires to be able to compete, unlike last time out.
Speaking of Pedrosa, Alien cards get revoked when a rider develops a hole in his game. For Lorenzo, it’s rain. For Pedrosa, it’s becoming cold temps. (Dovi has been showing one around lately, but I heard one guy say it looked fake.) I think of Dovi as an Alien, although I cannot recall the date of his official entry into The Club. Rossi, Marquez, Viñales – they seem able to ride anywhere, in any conditions. Must be all that enduro and motocross training they do.
An irritating tendency of people trained in economics is to throw around the Latin term “ceteris paribus,” which translates to “all other things being equal,” which they rarely are. As for Sunday’s race, Marquez, Viñales and Dovizioso should end up on the podium, ceteris paribus. But Dani Pedrosa has an opportunity to make me eat my words. Jorge Lorenzo could go all Lazarus at a track he loves. Danilo Petrucci could FINALLY get that elusive first win. And when will Aleix Espargaro see everything fall into place, just once, allowing him to put the Aprilia on the podium?
As usual, the race goes off at 8 am on the US east coast and we’ll have results and analysis here ASAP.