2015 Aragon MotoGP Preview: Rossi vs Lorenzo, And Championship Battles On The Line

From the coast to the high plains. From the hubbub of a string of seaside resorts along the Adriatic Riviera to the vast unspoiled mountains and hills of Baja Aragon. From the green and fertile Po basin to the arid olive groves and vineyards of the Maestrazgo. Contrasts don't get much greater than between Misano in Italy and Motorland Aragon in Spain.

The tracks, too, are very different. Misano is fairly slow, with a lot of tight first gear corners. Aragon is much faster, with some tighter sections, but a couple of seriously fast and flowing corners. Misano is pretty much flat as a pancake, where Aragon has its own version of Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, though not quite so precipitous, and a long, fast downhill back straight leading to a long double-apex left hander and a climb uphill to the finish.

The scenery may change, but the storyline in MotoGP remains the same. The championship remains a head-to-head battle between the Movistar Yamaha men, much as it has been since Le Mans. After Misano, the ball is very much back in Valentino Rossi's court, having extended his lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points. He will need that cushion, as the championship now arrives at Aragon, a circuit where Lorenzo arrives as clear favorite, having had some strong results here in the past. Rossi, meanwhile, is at one of his worst tracks, Aragon being one of just two tracks where the Italian has never won, Austin being the other.

What's wrong with that narrative? Though it accurately reflects the record books, it overlooks the messy reality underlying the statistics. Rossi may have only finished on the podium once at Aragon, but the circuit has only been on the calendar since 2010. That year, Rossi spent nearly all season riding with a bust up shoulder, having torn ligaments in a training crash. He spent the next two years riding fruitlessly behind the leaders, having made the error of signing for Ducati, and failing to find a way to make it competitive. He finally made it to the podium in 2013, though helped by Marc Márquez accidentally sabotaging Dani Pedrosa's traction control, clipping the Repsol Honda rider's rear wheel and slicing through a sensor wire. In the treacherous conditions which marked the 2014 edition at Aragon, Rossi touched the artificial grass, and suffered a nasty crash which saw him briefly hospitalized with concussion.

So is Aragon really a bogey track for Valentino Rossi? In reality, it is hard to say. This is not the Rossi of 2010, struggling with injury, nor the rider battling with the Ducati Desmosedici, or finding his way again once back on a Yamaha. Rossi has been competitive everywhere, only difficult conditions and poor judgment ending his streak of podium finishes with a fifth place finish at Misano. Aragon is a track where the 2015 Yamaha M1 should perform well, most of its weaknesses now either removed or at least mitigated. Rossi has reinvented himself, and can race at the very highest level at any track on the calendar. Even at Austin, where Marc Márquez seems to find an extra fifteen horsepower from somewhere, Rossi finished third, just three seconds behind the Spaniard.

So writing Rossi off would be foolish indeed, especially as he and Lorenzo spent two days testing at the circuit at the beginning of September. Both riders have a good set up for the track, and should start the weekend well. Incidentally, Aragon is a track where the winglets which made an appearance at Misano may actually make a difference, the combination of high speed and downhill gradient making the front go very light down the back straight. The winglets add several kilograms of force on the front wheel at high speed, Wilco Zeelenberg told us at Misano. That is enough to keep the front wheel on the ground, and prevent it from waggling uncomfortably down Aragon's back straight.

There is also the small matter of pressure. Rossi knows that he cannot give away too many points to his teammate, but Lorenzo really needs to start gaining points back on the Italian. This is a track where Lorenzo has done well, including a victory in 2014, albeit one handed to him once the two Repsol Hondas ruled themselves out of contention. In the other four editions, Lorenzo has finished on the podium three times, and just missed out on the series' first visit in 2010, crossing the line in fourth. On paper, Lorenzo holds the advantage, especially as this is another track close to his home in Barcelona. But MotoGP riders don't race on paper, they race on asphalt. And asphalt is notorious poor in respecting statistics.

Jorge Lorenzo has been insisting that the championship is far from done. Just 23 points separate him from Rossi, and Lorenzo will win the title if he wins the next five races. He can even win three out of the five, and finish second in the other two, as long as he finishes ahead of Rossi in every race. Add a wild card like Marc Márquez into the mix – and wild card is arguably the best possible description of the reigning world champion – and all of those calculations go up in smoke, the added complexity throwing a spanner into the works of the difference engine.

The championship will not be decided at Aragon, but the result of the race will be crucial. The rider finishing ahead here will carry that momentum into the three flyaway races in Japan, Australia and Malaysia. Turning the season around in that intense and hectic period is twice as difficult as normal. If Rossi extends his lead, it will be doubly difficult for Lorenzo to close the gap again. If Lorenzo gets a fistful of points back, he will put Rossi under an ocean's worth of pressure overseas. So much of motorcycle racing is mental. The Aragon race will test the mental resilience of both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to the very maximum.

Standing clogs in hand, ready to cast them into the cogs of the championship machinery and destroy the plans of the Movistar Yamaha riders are Repsol Honda's dynamic duo of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa. If ever there was a Honda track, it is surely Motorland Aragon, the RC213V and its predecessor, the RC212V, having dominated here in the past. Dani Pedrosa took second behind Casey Stoner on the Ducati in 2010. Stoner had switched to Honda the next year, and he and Pedrosa wrapped up a one-two. Stoner's injury meant Pedrosa was left to defend Honda's honor on his own in 2012, the Spaniard winning ahead of a swarm of Yamahas. 2013 saw Marc Márquez take victory on the Honda, and it would almost certainly have been a Honda one-two again if Márquez had not destroyed Pedrosa's race by disconnecting a sensor. Only hubris – the kind of hubris which crippled the Movistar Yamaha team at Misano – held the Hondas back at Aragon last year, both riders crashing out in the rain after staying out too long on slicks.

Can Honda win this year? No doubt the changes to the bike for 2015 will once again hamper the ability of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa at a couple of key points. Braking for the crucial overtaking spot at Turn 12, under the iconic wall which marks out the circuit, will be more difficult, making them easy prey for the Yamahas, and even Ducatis. But with such a strong record in the past, it would be foolish to write them off entirely. Marc Márquez has already won four races this season, and his only goal for the rest of the year is to win still more. Teammate Dani Pedrosa is due a good result – it has been over a year since he last won a race – and has a strong record at the track. One, or possibly even both, are going to be engaged at the pointy end. Nothing would please the Honda men more than to spoil the Movistar Yamaha party. Beware the Repsol Honda riders.

All this focus on Yamaha vs Honda makes us forget there are other factories involved. Aragon could be the kind of track to suit the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, with high speed straights, strong uphill acceleration and only a couple of long and fast corners. With Andrea Iannone having reinjured his shoulder, dislocating it while training, Andrea Dovizioso will be left to shoulder the burden. That will not necessarily be easy. Dovizioso has finished on the podium here, taking third in 2012, but he has also managed to crash out of three of the five editions of the race. The bike should suit the track, and Dovizioso can be competitive here, but the question is mostly whether the Italian can stay on. It should not be too difficult, given the forecast is for dry weather. If he does, then Dovi will be up at the front mixing it with the Yamahas and Hondas.

Over at Suzuki, things will be much tougher, given the high speed back straight and fast, uphill corner onto the front straight. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales are desperate for some good results on the GSX-RR, and the bike should suit the twistier parts of the circuit. There have been rumblings that Suzuki could being a new engine to the track soon, and possibly even a seamless gearbox. The pre-race press release makes no mention of any upgrades, but that is no guarantee that there will be nothing here. There is still a lot of work to do on the Suzuki, but having more acceleration and more top speed would be a massive step in the right direction.

Much further down the field, Nicky Hayden's participation at Aragon is far from certain. The American fell while riding minibikes in Italy, injuring his right thumb in the process. He will of course be trying to race on Sunday, but riding with a fractured thumb is painful at the best of times. Fracturing the right thumb is even worse, as the right hand gets no respite. The front brake and throttle means that the right thumb is always being actively used, making riding with a broken thumb a painful experience.

While the championship fight remains close in MotoGP, Aragon could see the Moto2 title settled on Sunday. Johann Zarco needs to finish seven points ahead of Tito Rabat to rule the reigning champion out of contention, while ensuring he does not lose ten points to Alex Rins. Given Zarco's impressive run of form recently, finishing ahead of both Rabat and Rins should well be possible, but gaining seven points on Rabat is out of his hands. Though it would be nice for Zarco to wrap up the title before the flyaways, it is far from crucial. Zarco has one job on Sunday, making sure he doesn't crack under the pressure and make a mistake. So far this season, that is precisely what he has excelled at.

While Rabat is the biggest threat to Zarco's chance of a championship, the biggest challenge for victory at Aragon will surely come from Alex Rins. The HP 40 Pons Rider lives some 20 km from the Motorland Aragon circuit, in the small village of Valdealgorfa. It is a small, no-name town with a big passion for racing. Rins will want to perform at Aragon.

Things are closing up a little more in Moto3, though Danny Kent is still the clear favorite to take the title. His plan to wrap it all up at Honda's home round at Motegi has gone a little awry recently, the blame for which lies in no small part with the Englishman. Though his team made a mistake at Indianapolis, taking too long to swap tires, two weak races at Brno and Misano, where he lost touch with the leading group trying to hang on to its tail, proved very costly for Kent's title campaign. Kent has been criticized in the past for lacking aggression, and in sight of his first championship, he appears to be trying to play it safe once again. If he wants to win the 2015 Moto3 crown, he will have to go out and seize it, and that means taking charge of the race from the beginning, and not getting caught up in the melée behind the leaders. A third place finish in 2014, in a small group ahead of the chasing pack bodes well for this year, but every race is different.

The biggest challenge to Kent is the rise of Enea Bastianini. The Italian has been closing in on his first win for a very long time, and to finally get it at Misano will have a big impact. The first victory can often liberate a rider from the shackles of pressure, allowing him to ride more freely and more naturally. Bastianini is already showing huge improvement this season, and he will only get better in the future. He will be a threat at Aragon, and Kent needs to focus all his efforts on finishing either directly behind the Italian, or preferably in front. This is the toughest part of the season for Kent, and Bastianini has nothing to lose. Aragon should provide the first stage in a thrilling climax of the Moto3 season. Kent may yet wrap the title up at Motegi, but he will have to fight with every fiber in his being if he is to do so.


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Total votes: 115
Total votes: 66

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Comments

David, thanks for the insight. The tension is really coming to a boil this season. Your writings help me from going crazy between race weekends.

Total votes: 88

I think this is one of the toughest races for both riders, and the stats say that it is Jorge's best chance of getting points back on VR. Over 5 years VR has 40 including a DNF last year and Jorge has taken 94 out of 125 points. That, apparently, clearly shows JL has a significant advantage, but as David says one season was with injury and two were on Ducati. I feel that this is one is the title decider. If VR can lose, say, less than 4 or 5 points to JL, then with some of his favourite tracks to come PI and Sepang and the likely Honda victory at Motegi, then it will be very hard for JL to come back. The one thing that has come out of this years championship is that we certainly should not expect the expected.

Total votes: 83

If Rossi finishes one of the next five races ahead of Lorenzo and in the other four remains on his tail (regardless of actual race finish positions) then the championship is won. Depending on those positions, he may even be allowed a single Lorenzo-Marquez-Rossi scenario, in which he loses 9 points to Lorenzo.

Silly speculations I know but it is one thriller of a championship and I just can't help it.

All factors taken into account and given the above pre-requisites, I think the championship is more than achievable for Rossi.

Total votes: 108

The championship is already decided IMO.

In generic terms, Lorenzo is no match for Rossi in pressure situations. We need a Marquez right there actually - young, fast, fearless, what not, and, most importantly, in the right mental space as Rossi.

Motegi apart, rest of the tracks are the worst for Lorenzo too. He's never been too good at Aragon or Philip island or Sepang or Valencia. This is as good as done and dusted.

I have no disrespect or bad will towards Lorenzo, but sincerely he needs a better plan while sparring with singular bastards like Rossi or Marquez.

Total votes: 106

93 points out of 125 available is a great record at Aragon 4-3-2-2-1, and at Motegi 4-2-2-1-1, 1-2-DNF-DNS-2 at PI so how did you get the facts to back that statement? I am a great VR supporter but please try to get the facts right about JL. JL-96 vs VR-81 vs MM-71 over the last 5 races in 2014. Check out http://www.motogp.com/en/Results+Statistics for more accurate info.

Total votes: 97

Absolutely agree, but a second thought - in comparison with other tracks (previous ones this year except for Motegi, i.e) for Lorenzo?

His last and only win was directly due to 3 of his main competitors crashing.
Right now, what he needs is wins everywhere so the probability of a win seriously influences the involved thought process.

In particular, I would note the 4th in 2010 when Lorenzo/Yamaha combination was at their pure best.

Anyway I'll take another look at the stats...I could be wrong.

Total votes: 84

the stats only say who won and came second, first you have to finish to finish first. Crashing is part of racing, nul points. Vale only won cos, Mick would have been around etc. JL is more frail mentally in pressure situations and close racing, but it only takes him the first 10 seconds of a race normally to get into a winning position. If he gets away, he wins - generally.

Total votes: 99

Can't wait for the weekend...hell it starts tomorrow :)

Total votes: 96

we don't predict crashes when forecasting races. So, I think Vodka has a point. Especially when you figure that Jorge's pace in 2014 wasn't too good.

Then again, if Rossi hadn't tried going around Pedro, he probably would have won based on the Repsol boys decisions in that race.

Then again, why bother thinking about all this stuff, because it probably won't happen anyway.

All that matters is what happens Sunday afternoon when the lights go out.

Total votes: 91

93 out 125 sounds good until one remembers there have been only four truly competitive bikes on the grid the last five years. Given that situation, JL's performance at Aragon is only average.
PS - my calculations actually produce 94 points, but considering Einstein screwed up the Cosmic Constant, let's not quibble about it.

Total votes: 87

All this focus on Yamaha vs Honda makes us forget there are other factories involved.

That pretty well sums it up.

Total votes: 92

Bradley is best of the rest and as far as Ducati go the satellite teams are winning the battle. Ducati are as far behind in time as they were last year, they breached the time gap of last year, yet the other teams moved on by a similar time. They gave the feel good factor at the start of the season and apparently made good progress, then Yamaha and Honda moved the goalposts to a different division.

Total votes: 92

It would be an absolute shame for either one of the yams to succumb to a mechanical DNF at this point and when was the last one that Yamaha had? Thinking it was during Ben Spies run of terrible luck...

That would be heartbreaking.

Total votes: 88

I've read several articles this week that have cited Rossi's zero win record at Aragón as a relevant factor in predicting this week's results without context or scrutiny. You're the only writer I've seen who has bothered to point out the probable meaninglessness of this stat. It's one of the most recently added tracks, introduced at the nadir of Rossi's career. Rossi 2010-2012 doesn't offer much predictive insight for Rossi 2015.

Again, you demonstrate the value of quality analysis over high volume fluff churned out for no other purpose than to generate clicks. Someone please call me out if I'm not a site supporter by next Thursday (when I get paid

Total votes: 110

The lead sentence of paragraph 7 is, "There is also the small matter of pressure."

IMO, pressure is THE matter, not a small one. In the past Rossi has been peerless in this regard, though JL shows a large amount of maturity and resilience to pressure himself. Should be interesting to watch who is the one who will crack. Or, whose chances will be cracked by other riders.

Total votes: 79

The last (only) time Rossi had to fight for the title until the last race of the season he made an unforced error, crashed, and lost the title despite entering the weekend with a points lead.

Chris

Total votes: 89

Yea, that's the ONLY time Rossi's had to face any pressure over his entire career. It's been a total cakewalk for him!

Puuuuuhleeeeeeze.

Total votes: 85

I'd say throughout his career Rossi has been much more in the position of applying pressure to other riders than in reverse. For years his technique was to ride around on someone else's rear tire and force them into an error. And it usually worked.

Unfortunately it is still true that in the only case where the title came down to the line he made an unforced error and lost it. That is a hard occasion to ignore yet does not take away from his other vast successes.

Chris

Total votes: 97

I'm not a huge Rossi fan (his early antics turned me off) but Stoner raises an interesting point on that last race of 2006. Stoner himself was massively dicked by Michelin: practice and set up the bike for a certain tyre, only for Michelin to say "No , you will use THIS tyre" on race day. Just bollocks, and it happened repeatedly, hence his early crashes on the LCR Honda.

Remember Rossi was quick all weekend, put it on pole, but come the race and inexplicably he goes backwards, before finally crashing.

Stoner thought that looked all too familiar. The 'States is a huge market and Hayden could put MotoGP (and Michelin) on the map.......

Total votes: 103

How many DNFs did VR have in 2006? I am not going to look it up but memory tells me that he was even in contention for the WC was a testament to his ability and mentsl toughness to keep clawing back.

Just saw Strain's comment. Sorry to double up.
And not for nothing - can't look past Toni Elias that year. To NH69 point and often cited comment here - that's why we line up on Sunday v

Total votes: 83

DNFs are part of racing and one was a crash, the rest were mechanicals. But if you have a dodgy engine you have to act accordingly. How many times did Hayden smoke a prototype clutch on the start? And back in 2006 there was no Lorenzo, Pedrosa was a rookie, Stoner was on a customer Honda with 3rd rate Michelins and Marquez was in diapers. The rest of the competition was a noticable step below Rossi.

But all that does not matter. I point out one situation where Rossi folded under pressure and the yellow police chastise me for not recounting enough of his victories. I guess I forgot that posting a comment is more trouble than its worth. Back to lurking.

Chris

Total votes: 92

Get sick of trying to push an anti-Rossi agenda?

To be honest you sound like a broken record.

Whilst not down to the last race, 2001 and 2004 were extremely pressurized seasons, particularly on the 500. 2009 was also no cakewalk, and let's not forget the station facing him mid season at Laguna 08.

Many love to remember 2006, particularly if they are from the states. A little tid bit or two, Rossi had no less than 4 little or 0 points scoring rounds that season due to no fault of his own. Having his engine blow at Le Mans whilst holding a large lead was probably the most spectacular. 2006 actually was one of his greatest comebacks, to be in the lead of the championship at any point that season for Rossi was remarkable. And the sepang round that year was one of the best races of the modern era, in my opinion.

Total votes: 91

"If Lorenzo gets a fistful of points back, he will put Rossi under an ocean's worth of pressure overseas."

Great line. I gotta become a supporter of the site. You shall be rewarded for your work.

Total votes: 94

I'm gonna donate when I get home. also this is the only website that I have Whitelisted in my adblocker. I think you do ads well.

Total votes: 77

While JL needs to pull back some points, 4 or 5 will be sufficient, not getting 9 will be ok. No need to pile on too much pressure.

Total votes: 90

Conspiracy theorists be like "Yamaha will manipulate the results by interfering with X bike" or "Dorna will bring those awful tyres" or maybe "The US Government is changing the climate yet again so that it rains in Aragon"

Gotta love it.

Total votes: 106

I think Marc Marquez will win both Aragon and Phillip Island. Marc loves Aragon and he is great on this track and Phillip Island, well a win eludes him two years in the row, so this year could be it.

Total votes: 86

David, that article is EXACTLY why I paid to become a site supporter. The intelligence and the insight is why MM is the top MGP news site for me.

Personally, I think 46 will be happy(and maybe lucky) to podium at all.

Im loving the tension in this years title fight....

Total votes: 98