Sorry. We arrive at Round 13 of 19 in the heart of the 2019 MotoGP season, at one of the iconic racetracks in all of Europe, jocking the amazing sport that is grand prix motorcycle racing, trying to stifle a yawn. The 2019 title, all over but the shouting, fans left to gape at perhaps the most accomplished rider of this or any other generation, is not up for discussion. We must focus on other things. With seven races in the next nine weekends there should be plenty of chatter to keep us occupied.
One item that is up for discussion concerns the seating arrangements for the 2020 KTM season, Johann Zarco having departed from the factory team for points unknown, Brad Binder getting bumped up from Moto2 to take Hafizh Syahrin’s seat on Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 satellite team. Speculation, which I share, is that Miguel Oliveira will move to the factory team, leaving a sizeable hole in Poncharal’s effort. A reader recently took time out of his busy schedule to excoriate me for not knowing that Alvaro Bautista was already in place to take the factory seat vacated by Zarco. Bautista did leap, but within WSBK, from Ducati to Honda, whining something about Ducati having abandoned him etc. If you want to talk about this stuff, all you must do is agree to Jim Rome’s admonition: Have a take, and don’t suck.
Crickets. Talking about Alvaro Bautista.
Lots of people are talking about Fabio Quartararo, who may, indeed, be The New Kid in Town. He casually turned a 1:31.639 during the recent Misano test, a full hundredth off the official track record of 1:31.629, Jorge Lorenzo’s 2018 pole lap, and almost half a second in front of Danilo Petrucci. That Yamaha filled four of the top five positions shows how meaningless these tests are. If they do the same thing on Sunday I’ll eat that one. But at this point, there is no denying that young Fabio is a fast mover. I worry for him, that such sudden success may cause him to take more risks than he should.
Valentino Rossi, it now seems certain, will stick around for 2020 to fulfill his final contract with Yamaha, a 20-round victory lap blowing kisses to the yellow hordes. It is hard to believe that his last career win came at Assen in 2017 at a time when we thought we would live to see another half dozen top steps for the Italian legend. His legion of followers insist he has enough gas left in the tank for another win before he hangs it up. Unlikely. I will gladly eat this one, too, if the day comes.
Recent History at Marco Simoncelli
In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.
2017 saw Marquez deliver a last lap destined for his career highlight reel. He devoured a gutsy Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Andrea Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on what could have been his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch a generational rider perform at the height of his formidable powers.
2018 will go down in Bologna as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third behind Dovi and Lorenzo. When ‘that Spanish stronzo Lorenzo’ stunned the 97,000 ravenous fans by sliding out of second on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another discouraging 8 points to his 2018 lead. Rossi finished the day in seventh; Lorenzo in the gravel. For the year, Dovi took over second place, followed by Rossi and Lorenzo, with Marquez cruising in clean air. It was “Welcome once again to the Marquez Era.”
Sudden Sam Lowes has signed a contract to join the Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2 cadre in 2020, riding next to Alex Marquez. Sam, as is his wont, is wildly optimistic about his title chances in 2020, as per usual. These loudmouth Brits – Lowes, Ca Crutchlow, Scott Redding – keep me chuckling when they fail to back up all the talk, year after year. Sam is the worst, expecting to dominate in MotoGP, expecting to dominate in Moto2. Getting thoroughly faced in both. Destined for British Super Bikes.
The weather in San Marino this weekend is expected to be perfect – sunny and warm, not too hot – which is bad news for the grid, as it needs unsettled conditions (snow, locusts, biblical rain, etc.) to slow down the Marquez express. Misano is one of the tracks where the Ducati works well, so the Italian contingent – six Ducatis, plus Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Francesco Bagnaia – will be on their “A” game.
French rookie sensation Quartararo is being jocked in the racing media as the rider most capable of challenging Marquez for the win on Sunday. My advice to punters, however, is not to expect to hear La Marseillaise during the podium celebration. I feel compelled to urge young Fabio to avoid going down the road paved by Bautista who, in recent years, had apparently paid more attention to his hairstyle and tats than winning in MotoGP.
Current odds, as posted at Bruce’s MotoGP Spacebook, show Marquez with a 5% chance of clinching the 2019 title at Aragon, a 35% chance of clinching at Buriram, and a 60% chance of clinching at Motegi.
For some strange reason, readers continue to urge me to take a stand and predict the top three finishers at each venue. I’m reluctant to do so, inclined to adhere to the old adage that it’s better to let people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. Nonetheless, in my perpetual effort to keep readers satisfied, I can see a Spaniard, an Italian and a Frenchman on Sunday’s podium. It would be poetic if Marquez were to be joined by Rossi and Quartararo; the rostrum would personify the metaphorical Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow meme. But it seems almost certain that a Ducati pilot will find his way into the top three, thereby upsetting my poetic intentions.
Whatever. We’ll be back on Sunday with results and analysis. Ciao for now.