Just when it looked like the three Grand Prix championships were getting closed to being wrapped up, along came Aragon. The three races at the last European round before the Pacific flyaways left the title chase still open in all three classes. The outcome in both Moto2 and Moto3 still looks pretty much inevitable, but a win by Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP meant that the battle for supremacy between the Spaniard and Valentino Rossi is anything but over. The Moto2 and Moto3 crowns may end up being handed out at Motegi, Phillip Island or Sepang, but the championship fight for MotoGP will most likely go all the way to the last race in Valencia. That may be hard on the fans of the two riders involved, but for MotoGP as a series, it is great. The pressure and the tension go up with every race, and makes watching an ever greater joy.
Jorge Lorenzo's victory at Aragon was taken exactly as he has taken his previous five wins: the Movistar Yamaha rider got the jump off the line, led in to the first corner, and tried to make a break. The timesheets bear witness to just how hard he was pushing. Breaking it down into the four timed sectors which go to make each lap, Lorenzo set his fastest split times in the third and fourth sectors on his first lap, and followed that up with his fastest splits in the first and second sectors at the beginning of lap two.
If his intention was to intimidate the opposition – and clearly it was – then it worked. Marc Márquez, who had got caught up off the line behind Andrea Iannone, stuffed his Honda RC213V past the Italian's Ducati into Turn 7 on the first lap, then pushed to close the gap to Lorenzo on the second lap. He caught the Yamaha as they powered through the long left hander which comprises Turns 10 and 11. Trying to make up ground he pushed a little too hard, losing the front on the way into Turn 12. The only man who had looked like he had the pace to match, and perhaps even beat Lorenzo at Aragon, had taken himself out of contention. Now Lorenzo was left to ride, and to reign, unopposed.
Did Lorenzo's tactic come as a surprise? It shouldn't have. He practiced this on Friday, in his last run during FP2. He came steaming out of pit lane, was on record pace by the time he hit the third sector of his out lap, then went on to get close to the outright lap record on his first flying lap. Of his six victories this season, all of them have been won on the first lap. Jorge Lorenzo has led every lap of every race he has won, and plenty more besides. If he gets a gap, he is a hard man to beat.
What Lorenzo knows is that his rivals know this too. That, perhaps, is why Lorenzo believed he had to push so hard from the start. He knew that Marc Márquez had the pace to beat him, and that his only chance was to lure the Honda rider into making a mistake. Lorenzo spent a long time in the press conference beating around the bush, trying not to say he had been attempting to force Márquez into a mistake. Read between the lines, however, and the message was clear. "I knew Marc was very strong here," he told the press conference. "Especially after the warm up which he made the fast lap in the last lap with the old tire. I knew he was very strong especially in the second part of the race. So it will be very, very complicated to beat him today."
Lorenzo's solution? "It has been key today to be so fast in the race, especially to be quite a bit lucky about Marquez’s crash, Marquez’s mistake. Probably my first or second lap has helped a little bit for him to try to recover these meters in the braking and push so much on the front tire." So hard did Márquez have to push that the front simply let go, and down he went.
Márquez himself owned up to the mistake. "I already said to the team and the fans, I’m sorry because it was completely my mistake," he said. "It was not necessary because in one lap I already caught Jorge and was already really close to him. I lost the front and I’m sorry for my mistake. But on the other hand I’m really happy for the team because this weekend we worked really good and I feel we have enough pace, set-up and everything to fight for the victory."
The Repsol Honda rider categorically denied his crash had anything to do with the character of the Honda, saying it was all on him. Cal Crutchlow – a man who knows a thing or two about how hard the Honda is to ride – was less convinced. Was he surprised to see Márquez crashing out? "No. Not at all. Because I nearly did it a lap after. And I was so close to going on the floor, you cannot believe. We're pushing the front so much because we have no rear grip. It's as simple as that. That's why Marc crashed, evidently." The aggressive nature of the engine means that the rear has no grip, either spinning or wheelying. The front brake is excellent, though the unpredictable nature of engine braking means that the riders can only rely on the front tire. "Honestly, in the braking zone, in one corner, I was taking 0.4 out of Dovi and Aleix," he said, but he was losing that time in acceleration as the rear span up without gripping.
That wheelie and tire spin is also why the bike is so poor off the line. Once upon a time, Dani Pedrosa was a demon off the line, winning the drag race to the first corner every race. Those days are long gone, disappeared at the beginning of last year. "If you look categorically, Marc's starts are terrible as well," Crutchlow explained. "Dani three years ago, he got the holeshot every race. But you've never seen him make a good start all year. [This bike is] really difficult to get off the line." Trying to compensate for the 2015 RC213V's weaknesses has cost Honda riders dearly this year. Marc Márquez has now crashed out of five of the fourteen races so far this year, each time from a podium position.
That doesn't mean the Honda is unrideable, however, as Dani Pedrosa so ably demonstrated. Lorenzo may have been out of reach and riding with implacable perfection, but the battle for second behind him was fierce. Dani Pedrosa had inherited second place once his teammate had crashed out, but he had Valentino Rossi for company. Rossi was on a mission to limit the number of points he would lose to Lorenzo. The difference was worth the extra effort: finish second, and he would give up five points to Lorenzo. Finish third, and he would lose nine.
For most of the race, the battle resembled a Mexican stand off. Pedrosa pushed to open a gap, Rossi pushed to follow, neither man able to make an impression on the other. Rossi closed in the second and third sectors, but lost ground down out of Turn 15 and down the back straight. The gap yoyoed back and forth for fifteen laps or more, never growing beyond a couple of tenths. On lap seventeen, the impasse was broken, Rossi attacking to go for the lead.
Dani Pedrosa does not have much of a reputation as a fighter, but he had no intention of just rolling over for the Italian. He countered Rossi's first attempt at Turn 4 by striking back straight away at Turn 5. Mildly surprised at Pedrosa's resilience, Rossi bided his time for a couple of laps, before trying again, this time into Turn 1. Pedrosa countered, so Rossi struck again, only to be rebuffed for the second time that lap.
This was turning out to be tougher than Rossi had counted on, but that left him undeterred. On the penultimate lap, Rossi tried again into the first corner, only to run wide and see Pedrosa come back past again. His last hope was the final lap, and the Italian gave it all he had, and a little bit more. "I played all the cards I have," Rossi said afterwards, "also one extra, that I did not expect I had." That attempt at the final chicane was countered with as much ferocity and determination as all of the others, Pedrosa hitting straight back, as he had seen Rossi do in battles so many times before. In the end less than a tenth of a second separated them as they crossed the line, but it was Pedrosa who emerged victorious.
Was is his greatest battle, Dani Pedrosa was asked in the press conference? It was, he acknowledged, not just for the way he had done it, but because of exactly who it was he had beaten. "Sure it's one of the best battles, because of the rider," he said. "Normally you can have a good battle with many riders, also I had in the past in another class. But Valentino is a master of these situations. Normally he’s so comfortable in this moment and he has so much confidence. He can play a lot with the bike and change lines and do different moves, change braking points and he picks point to turn the bike. So normally he’s super comfortable in that and it’s one of my weakest points so I’m really, really happy about that achievement today."
All too often, Pedrosa has been accused of being incapable of fighting. Given his physical stature – too small to do much battling on a MotoGP bike – it has sometimes been justified. But at Aragon, he showed exactly what he is capable of when everything goes his way. The arm pump surgery had been enough of a success for him to ride without pain, and be able to concentrate on the mechanics of riding, rather than having to skirt around the issues with his forearm. It is a sign that there is much more to come from the Spaniard.
It was a costly four extra points which Pedrosa took from Rossi. Instead of being eighteen points, the gap between Rossi and Lorenzo was cut to just fourteen. With four races left, the championship is still wide open. Lorenzo can wrap it up simply by winning every race from now until Valencia, but winning is no longer a necessity. As long as Lorenzo finishes ahead of Rossi, two second places and two thirds would be sufficient for the Spaniard to take the title. For Rossi's part, he needs to gain 11 points on Lorenzo to grab the title before Valencia, or finish ahead of Lorenzo at one race, and directly behind Lorenzo at the rest, and the title should be his. It is far from an ideal situation for either of the Yamaha teammates. But it is outstanding for fans of exciting racing.
Five seconds behind Pedrosa and Rossi, Andrea Iannone rode perhaps the race of the weekend to finish fourth. Normally, fourth would be considered a rather modest result, but in Iannone's case, it was very far from that. After dislocating his shoulder while out running last week, Iannone was in a lot of pain. It was visible every time he spoke to the press, the Italian holding his shoulder as if in a sling, but either too proud or too stubborn to actually use one. After painkilling injections, Iannone tried to fight for the podium, but came up a couple of tenths a lap short. Given just how tough it was for the Italian, finishing fourth, nearly seventeen seconds ahead of his teammate is an incredible achievement. Iannone has completely outshone Andrea Dovizioso for most of the season, and Aragon was the most glaring example of his supremacy.
A long way behind Iannone, Dovizioso crossed the line in fifth, but very unhappy. The GP15 was a much better bike than its predecessor, he told the media, turning much more easily and holding a line. But it was a very long way from perfect, and sacrificing in some crucial areas to help the bike turn. Braking stability, in particular, was a personal bugbear of Andrea Dovizioso, normally one of his strongest points. Dovizioso had gone from perhaps the toughest braker in the paddock to a rider who had trouble fending others off on the brakes. Without braking stability, there was little he could do, opined Dovizioso.
The saving grace of the Ducati was its immense power, the bike's rivals bandying the phrase "rocketship" around. The Desmosedici was hammering the chasing Suzukis, Hondas and Yamahas down the back straight, the speed differential rising to as much as 20 km/h at certain points. That left Aleix Espargaro struggling to get past the Ducati, that only possible in few corners around the track. Getting past did not last long, however, the Ducati blasting past Aleix Espargaro before the Spaniard had even clicked fourth gear. The new engine and exhaust Suzuki had brought at Aragon had helped, but the gap to the rocket Ducati remained.
Beside the MotoGP race, there were two more fascinating races at Aragon. More on them tomorrow, but the championships are still far from over, despite the mathematical superiority of championship leaders Danny Kent in Moto3 and Johann Zarco in Moto2. It ain't over till it's over, that much is clear. And what is equally clear is that it is still a very long way from over in MotoGP. And that is good for fans everywhere.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2015 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.