Heading into Mugello two weeks ago, the world appeared to be Movistar Yamaha matinee idol Valentino Rossi’s oyster. Sure, he was sitting in third place, courtesy of his slide-off in Austin. But he was within striking distance of both Repsol Honda nemesis Marc Marquez and teammate/rival Jorge Lorenzo. His sense of the moment led many to expect a dramatic win at his home crib. Instead, a blown engine on Sunday has put him squarely behind the eight ball, the not-so-magic eight ball that had falsely predicted something grand in Scarperia.
His immediate problem, of course, is Round Seven, the fast-approaching Spanish Grand Prix #2, otherwise known as Barcelona, Catalunya and, to the Spanish riders who love her like eight year-olds love their mothers, Montmelo. With three wins in the last four outings here, Jorge Lorenzo would marry her tomorrow if she were, you know, human. Marc Marquez, the holder of the fourth win during this period, his only one here in three premier class outings, has nothing against older women, and would gladly whisk her away to Monaco for a long off-season weekend, were such a thing possible.
Rossi, winless here since 2009 and no big fan of anything Spanish, normally wouldn’t give her a second look. He would disrespect her father and call her mother a filthy puttana. Unfortunately for The Doctor, he has to make nice this weekend. Mistreat Montmelo and she will bite you in the ass, leaving a mark. She prefers Spanish men, having given all 25 points of herself to them for four years running. If you’re Italian and have designs on a 10th world championship, you had better bring flowers, a little something frilly for her mama, and be on your best behavior during qualifying and on race day. Montmelo has not given herself to Rossi since 2009, and, not being fooled by the roses and lace, she would like nothing better than to kick his culo Italiana down the road to Assen.
Recent History at Catalunya
Back in 2013, Factory Yamaha #1 Lorenzo won a number of battles at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya. He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marquez to the line for his second consecutive win of the season and his second in a row at Montmelo. He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars, and the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive. Disaster lurked just around the bend, however, as he crashed heavily at Assen the next time out, and followed that with another brutal off at The Sachsenring, opening the door for rookie Marquez to take his first premier class title that fall.
Catalunya 2014 took place during The Year of Marquez, as the sophomore sensation first went hammer and tongs with Yamaha mullah Rossi, followed by a knife fight with teammate Pedrosa. Marquez ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi after Pedrosa, forcing the issue late in the day, touched tires with Marquez and got the worst of the encounter, finally settling for third. Those of us who thought we had seen the best of MotoGP at Mugello two weeks earlier were treated to an even more compelling race that day, as both Rossi and Pedrosa looked capable of winning.
Whatever faint hopes double defending world champion Marquez held for a third consecutive title in 2015 ended on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he ran way hot into the sharp lefthander at Turn 10, left the racing surface and dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done. With Lorenzo having jumped out into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early. At the end of the day, he trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68. Game over.
Catalunya was one of six DNFs suffered by young Marquez last year. And though he’s solved that particular problem, at least for now, he has yet to solve the acceleration and handling issues that have plagued the factory Honda for the last two years. He is being forced to override, testing the limits of Michelin adhesion, every week. His present 10-point deficit to Lorenzo is due to a crash at Le Mans while he was riding as if possessed; though he finished the race, he had but three points to show for his efforts that day. At a track like Montmelo, such comportment can be hazardous to one’s health and well-being.
Scott Redding Selects a Role Model: Cal Crutchlow
Quoting from an article published Tuesday in a reputable racing publication, “Crutchlow denied that his confidence was down, and does not believe that backing off to ensure he finishes races is the answer.” Which is exactly what he was, um, “encouraged” to do by LCR management at Mugello, probably along these lines: “Listen, Cal. Is that short for Californicate? Whatever. Wreck another of our bikes during today’s race and it’s your bollocks. You will be limping to the unemployment line tomorrow. We will tear up your contract and the lawyers you hire to enforce it. You’ll never ride in MotoGP again, because you won’t be physically able to climb up on the saddle. We are SICK and TIRED of your mouth and your crashing out of every bleeding race. Finish the effing race. Or else.” The article went on to capture Cal using a LOT of conditional verb tenses:
“At the end of the day, you put me on a Yamaha, I’ll hammer the two guys that are on the satellite Yamahas, there is no shadow of a doubt.”
“You put me on the satellite Ducati, I’ll hammer them guys as well.”
“I am pissed off at this situation but I can’t get myself out of this situation. What can I do?” Well, Cal, you could go postal in the media, light a fire under your employers, and watch your contract not get renewed. Is there anyone reading this who expects to see Crutchlow riding for LCR again next season? Having previously given the finger to both Yamaha and Ducati, if someone were to film his racing biography it would have to be titled Burning Bridges: The Cal Crutchlow Story.
Not to be outdone, Scott Redding, of Octo Pramac Ducati and with a full 16 points to show for his body of work this season, in the same publication, expressed his intent to remain with the Pramac team next season while acknowledging his disappointment at not having been tagged for the factory Ducati seat next to Jorge Lorenzo. Sounding like Pramac would be damned lucky to keep him.
He then launched into a whinefest, reminding me of my five-year-old grandson when he suspects his big brother receives an incrementally larger slice of cake for dessert: “To do the contracts so early is a bit unfair and all the top guys keep changing around in the factories so it doesn’t give the younger guys the opportunity,” he said. He continued, “I am 23, I’ve got maybe two years here and then try again, who knows what could happen in the future.” One thing that could happen in the immediate future, Scott, is someone like Johann Zarco or Franco Morbidelli or Lorenzo Baldassarri could take your seat at Pramac and send you trundling off to World Superbike.
Seriously, I am not anti-Brit. I’ve happily visited the country several times, have friends who live there, hope, for their sake, they stay in the European Union, love fish and chips, the whole lot. I would love to see these guys taking podiums; the steady diet of Spanish and Italian riders (paging Aussie Casey Stoner) gets a little old after a decade or so. But these two, speaking as if they are God’s gifts to motorcycle racing, need to shut up and take some points. They need to look at the scoreboard and acknowledge they will be lucky to be riding for ANYONE next season. They are in Tranche Five, wallering, as we say in Indiana, in the muck at the bottom of the MotoGP food chain.
They should NOT be getting quoted anywhere popping off about what they’re going to do, or could have done, or would have done. In Tranche Five, the only people to whom you dictate terms are the crew guys going out to pick up lunch.
The race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S. We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.