2016 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Country For Old Men

2005. That is the last time Valentino Rossi was on pole at Jerez. Eleven years ago. If you wanted an illustration of just how remarkable Rossi's career is, then the dramatic way he snatched pole position on Saturday afternoon is surely it. At the age of 37, after the incredible emotional blow of 2015, Rossi reinvents himself for the umpteenth time, learns how to qualify better, makes it three front row starts in a row – for the first time since 2009 – and takes his fourth pole position since the start of the 2010 season. Motivation, thy name is Valentino Rossi.

We shall talk about how this happened later, but first, back to 2005. There are so many parallels with that weekend, it is impossible to resist the temptation to explore them. In 2005, there was this fast Spanish rider who dominated almost every session. It was only during qualifying that Rossi seized the initiative, putting nearly half a second into Sete Gibernau.

Race day was even more dramatic. Rossi on the Yamaha, and Gibernau and Nicky Hayden on two different factory Hondas broke away from the pack. Hayden could not match the pace of the two others, and had to let them go. A tense battle unfolded in the laps that followed, Rossi stalking Gibernau for most of the race, taking over the lead with a few laps to go, then handing it back after making a mistake into the Dry Sack hairpin on the last lap. The pair swapped positions with audacious passes through the fast right handers leading on towards the final corner.

Making history

There, history was made. Gibernau, confident of holding his line, left the door open going into the final hairpin. Rossi, determined and devious as ever, saw the gap, and jammed his Yamaha into it. Gibernau had not reckoned on Rossi being there, and tried to cut to the apex, and close the door. It was too late. Gibernau bounced off the outside of Rossi's Yamaha, went into the gravel, and handed Rossi victory. Rossi mounted the podium with Gibernau clutching his shoulder, and to boos from the Spanish crowd.

The parallels with 2016 are so obvious they hardly need making. All weekend long, a Spanish rider has dominated. In the background, though, Rossi has been lurking, ready to strike. His first opportunity came on Saturday, when he pounced, putting in a blistering lap to take pole from that Spanish teammate, Rossi's Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. A second Spanish rider tried to insert himself into the fray, but Marc Márquez came up just short, forced to settle for third.

Three go crazy

The three men were faster than the rest by a considerable margin. Pole man Rossi and third place Márquez were separated by just 0.155. Fourth place man Andrea Dovizioso was nearly seven tenths slower than Márquez, and the gap from Dovizioso to Loris Baz in twelfth was as large as the gap between Dovizioso and the leaders. It was a pattern repeated in FP4, when Lorenzo, Márquez and Rossi had a comfortable lead over Dani Pedrosa in fourth.

Examining race pace, the laps set in FP3 and FP4, a similar pattern emerges. Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi all have exceptional race pace, with Lorenzo holding the theoretical advantage. "What makes the difference is the pace of tomorrow," Rossi said on Sunday, playing down his pole position. Based on tire wear and pace in practice, it looks like being a battle between Lorenzo and Rossi, with Márquez trying to hang on for as long as possible until his tires give out.

Which sets up the possibility of another classic battle in the last corner of Jerez, the inappropriately named Jorge Lorenzo corner (Lorenzo's strength lies in the two fast preceding rights, which would better suit his name). The front row men were asked what the best position would be to enter the final corner, should they all arrive at the last turn together. "With a second advantage," Rossi quipped. "In third, to enjoy the show," countered Márquez.

Tire care

Will it happen? It is hard to say. Tire wear will be absolutely key on Sunday. Higher expected temperatures will make it much more challenging, with practice having taken place in much cooler conditions. When I asked Andrea Dovizioso if he thought the race would be over if someone got a way, he answered that he didn't. "Managing tires will be crucial. The rider who gets away will not necessarily be the rider who wins," the Ducati rider said. It will be a case of cosseting tires from start to finish, in order to push on at the end.

That gives Rossi and Lorenzo a positive advantage. Rossi has a lifetime of experience managing tire wear, and is adapting well to the Michelins. Lorenzo's style naturally places less stress on the tires. Márquez, on the other hand, is having to spin and slide the rear to turn the Repsol Honda, and to get the rear to hook up out of corners. That will keep him close to the Yamahas for a number of laps, but the Spaniard is under no illusions that he can keep that up all race long.

Others, too, hope to take advantage of the tire situation. Maverick Viñales was disappointed to not be able to follow the front three, but still had high hopes for the race. "We know that with the Michelin, sometimes you can get one tire that is incredible," He said. "So if we have the luck, it can be really good."

Andrea Dovizioso was similarly pessimistic of being able to follow Rossi, Lorenzo and Márquez, but had not given up hopes of catching them at a later stage of the race. "It depends how all the riders will manage the tires," the Ducati rider told reporters. "It’s not like the past, when you have some pace in the practice it’s easy to do in the race. This year with Michelin everything can happen. We don’t have the speed of the first three but we have to keep our mind open to any changes that could happen."

The record books speak

Back to Rossi vs Lorenzo. Rossi's pole was a sensitive blow to Lorenzo. After the Spaniard had taken his 62nd pole position at Qatar, giving him one more pole than Rossi, and making him outright record holder, Lorenzo had trumpeted the achievement. Rossi's pole at Jerez drew him back level with Lorenzo. But as impressive as their tally is, it pales when put into the context of Marc Márquez. Yes, the Repsol Honda rider has just 60 poles, two fewer than either Rossi or Lorenzo. But Rossi amassed his total from 333 race starts, and Lorenzo from 235 starts. Marc Márquez has racked up 60 pole positions from 135 Grand Prix starts. That means he starts from pole almost every other race.

Lorenzo was irritated after qualifying. They had run a two-stop strategy, planning to put in three fast runs to get their best shot at pole. It was a gamble they felt would pay off, as Lorenzo had managed to be blisteringly fast right out of the pits during practice. When he jumped onto his second bike for his second run, he felt a vibration with the rear tire, however, giving him just two runs in which to set his best time. Lorenzo laid the blame squarely on Michelin. It was clear he was far from happy with the situation.

That has made for a stark contract with Valentino Rossi. After the first three races, in which he appeared to have been maintaining a state of quiet rage throughout every moment of the weekend, Rossi turned up at Jerez looking positively cheerful. He did not even particularly appear to mind sharing a stage with his two arch enemies during the qualifying press conference. Rossi appears to have rediscovered some joy in racing. This is a good thing: the simmering anger and resentment had not carried the Italian far in 2016.

Support

If qualifying for MotoGP was intriguing, it was positively breathtaking for Moto2. Sure, Sam Lowes was on pole, the Englishman looking comfortable all weekend, and positive he can get the job done on Sunday. But his advantage is small, and the field is tight behind him. Very tight: one second covers twenty riders, and a quarter of a second separates Lowes in first from Simone Corsi in eighth. Lowes is confident of pulling a gap – a small gap, but a gap nonetheless – especially with his main rivals for the title struggling further down the field. Alex Rins may catch Lowes starting from seventh, but reigning world champion Johann Zarco will find it much tougher, starting from a lowly sixteenth spot on the grid.

Moto3 saw a double victory for Valentino Rossi. Alongside his own pole, the Italian saw Nicolo Bulega take his first ever Grand Prix pole for the Sky VR46 team. Bulega rides for Rossi's Moto3 team, and is part of the VR46 Riders Academy. They had recruited him three years ago, and brought him to Moto3 after winning the CEV title. He had delivered on his early promise, winning his first pole position at age 16, in just his fifth Grand Prix. His boss Rossi took eleven Grand Prix to snatch his first pole. Looking like a cross between a young James Hunt and Mick Jagger, Bulega is a marketers dream. You had the feeling that a star was being born on Saturday. Sunday will surely confirm that.


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Total votes: 92
Total votes: 95

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Comments

What a great job by Vale and his crew. The Michelin rubber is holding up well for times over distance, and the track is not eating up tires. Marquez seems the exception, not the rule, with he and the Honda eating tires. The Gigi Ducati mounted riders must be hoping for warmer temperatures tomorrow to get some drive grip.

We are in for some great battles, hoping it stays safe.

Hey David - does Vinales have the fully seamless going or no?

Total votes: 89

Rossi seemed to be doing like a surprise bday, but instead of bday it was surprise I can beat you to pole. I just knew Marquez was going to get pole as he finished and Rossi was celebrating.

Rossi just keep on showing he has a mind to adapt where so many others stay stuck. Kudos to him. The race tomorrow may be a different story. But I think this may turn out to be a race for the ages judging from how many egos need to be fed.

Total votes: 75

I'm seeing a lot of giant egos this, uncontrollable egos that. These guys are here to win and if you choose to do something you should do it properly. It's why they are the best riders in the world in the first place. 

Total votes: 78

This pole from Rossi bodes well for the Championship.  It means there are still 3 different riders that can win on any given Sunday.  You can't count any of them out.

Total votes: 82

Rossi's P1 was impressive, but Lorenzo's FP4 looks ominous.

Total votes: 76

Could this be where we find out whether Marquez has learn how to settle for third or, if his tyres don't last, even lower?

Or was his comment tongue in cheek and he will surprise us with sustained race pace?

Total votes: 86

I wouldn't count Marquez out. He might be well behaved and more mature during the press conference, but when the lights go out he's all all in. 

Total votes: 74

"Rossi's pole at Jerez drew him back level with Lorenzo. But as impressive as their tally is, IT PALES when put into the context of Marc Márquez. Yes, the Repsol Honda rider has just 60 poles, two fewer than either Rossi or Lorenzo. But Rossi amassed his total from 333 race starts, and Lorenzo from 235 starts. Marc Márquez has racked up 60 pole positions from 135 Grand Prix starts. That means he starts from pole almost EVERY OTHER RACE."

Enough said.

Don't forget and never doubt Marc Marquez is The GOAT.

 

Total votes: 120

...stressing what David had already stated? And why discount VR great quali? At the end of the day I would bet all my money on the fact that ANY rider prefers more victories than poles.... not the other way round.

Total votes: 95

Don't be daft. Marquez has phenomenal talent, and may eventually turn out to be the GOAT, but he needs to win a few more championships yet. On a different brand of bike. Over more than a couple of seasons.

Total votes: 95

According to the stats. on motoGp.com ( which would appear to need updating!) for motoGp/500cc exclusively

The top scorer - is Mick Doohan, with 58 poles/136 starts:  42%

Next, is Valentino Rossi: 52/289 starts ( though I may have counted that incorrectly, it's a huge number!): 17.99%

Third, Casey Stoner: 39/115 starts: 33.9%

Fourth: Jorge Lorenzo: 36/141 starts: 25.5%

Fifth: Marc Marquez: 32/57 starts: 56%

Marquez's stats are just blinding!.

Total votes: 87

"...over more than a couple of seasons."

It is precisely because of what Marquez has accomplished in "a couple of seasons" - where others have taken SEVERAL seasons - that makes MM93's status as The GOAT an argument that is difficult to refute in any IMPARTIAL or OBJECTIVE manner (and when the cult of personality is removed from the equation).

Unless his risk-on approach or the Valeban gets him, it stands to reason Marc will take every record he has yet to take. After all, he's only 23 and owns many, many lines of the record books already.

You don't have to agree, I'm just putting it on the record for posterity, so kindly don't be offended as I'm just giving an opinion on the facts as stated in this latest article of David's.

Total votes: 105

You aren't giving your opinion, you are demanding that everyone believes the same as you. Marquez has had an incredible career so far but he has a very, very long way to go before he is in Valentino and Giacomo terrority. 

Total votes: 94

Marquez has all the characteristics for being one of the possible GOAT, or the absolute GOAT, but objectively not in case Valentino keeps beating him in the championship.
 
Marquez was impressive in 2014, but it is from 2014 that Valentino has an increasing trend. So the game is open, and we must understand if the true Marquez is the Marquez of 2014, or if Valentino has improved to the level of Marquez and Lorenzo, as it seems up to date.
 
Total votes: 65

Marquez stats should be seen in context. He took two titles where there were essentially three manufactuerers in MotoGP. When one was still focused on ruining its riders careers, Ducati. Yamahah only introduced a seemless clutch towards the end of the second season of Marquez dominence. Unique in the MotoGP garage, Honda had one rider, unable to beat his team mate, unless he made a huge mistake or crashed. 

Although talented, last year with more competition is a better measure of Marquez talent. Marquez fans won't be convinced but it is the case. His stats flatter the environment within which he has raced in MotoGP. 

Rossi has never focused on qualifying for most of his career because of his enjoyment and primary motivation, racing. However now he is older, he cannot afford to play catch up, hence the renewed focus on quali. 

Total votes: 83

Marquez's stats are quite amazing, but no, it is not as straight forward as you willingly making it out to be. Yes, these are very impressive facts, but another fact is that Marquez has to prove his consistency over the years to be referred to as truly the greatest one. And you may not like to believe that's important, but it is, and that is why Rossi is still an inspiration for Marquez.

He may bypass Rossi's records sooner if he continues like this, and that's it, if he continues like this. If he doesn't he'll remain one of the greats which he already is.

Longevity (and consistency) is possibly the most important quality for one to be qualified as the GOAT.

Total votes: 80