2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on set up. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up. The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get set up right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.
That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row. At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn't won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory. They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way.
And then there's Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place. The rear tire Michelin have brought uses the more pliable carcass which was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo's strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.
And so the 2016 MotoGP season is nearly at an end. Though the major honors have been awarded, there are still the final few t's to cross and i's to dot. We have our three champions, Johann Zarco the last to wrap up the title in Moto2 at Sepang. Honda are hot favorites to win the constructors' championship, while Movistar Yamaha hold a narrow lead in the team championship. Cal Crutchlow has a commanding 17-point lead in the battle for top independent rider. Second place in both Moto2 and Moto3 is still up for grabs.
In reality, these don't matter all that much. Once the championship is settled, the riders on the grid race for pride. And given that we are talking about the best professional motorcycle racers in the world, there is an awful lot of pride at stake. So the battle at Valencia will be just as fierce as anything that has come before. If anything, it will be even more fierce, given that nobody has very much to lose.
They will need an extra dash of abandon at Valencia. The circuit is pushed up against a hillside, and encircled by grandstands, cramming a serpentine four kilometer track into a very tight space. Reaching the required Grand Prix length requires a lot of corners, and that drops the average speed. Valencia is the slowest circuit on the calendar, and with so many tight corners, passing spots are few and far between. Turn 1 is an obvious candidate, a hard-braking left turn at the end of a long straight. Turn 6, another sharp left hander after a short straight. And a final dive up the inside into Turn 14, after the long and glorious left at Turn 13.
Press release previews of the last race of the year at Valencia:
Marquez and Pedrosa reunited for Valencia 2016 season finale
Following a three-race absence, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa will return to the MotoGP paddock this weekend for the 18th round of the 2016 season.
He may be 2016 MotoGP world champion but Marc Marquez still has two important duties to perform at Valencia
You would think that Marc Marquez will be under no pressure this weekend. The 23-year-old wrapped up his third MotoGP title in Japan last month, so presumably this Sunday’s season-ending Valencia Grand Prix will be a heroic homecoming, a chance to glad-hand his Spanish fans and enjoy himself, free of any real concerns.
Not quite. Marquez will be under some serious pressure from Honda, because while he may have won his title, he hasn’t yet won Honda its prize. Honda currently leads Yamaha by 21 points in the constructors' world championship, so it’s not over yet.
Dani Pedrosa is in his eleventh season in MotoGP. Throughout that period, he has seen many changes in the premier class. He raced in the last year of the 990s, then throughout the 800 era, and saw the return of the 1000cc machines. Only Valentino Rossi has been in MotoGP for longer, or raced, and won on, a greater variety of machines.
Pedrosa arrived in MotoGP being heralded as the next big thing, the prime candidate to challenge Valentino Rossi for the title. He started strongly, winning races in his first season, and clearly being competitive. But the focus would shift in his second year to his former 250cc rival Casey Stoner, who took the factory Ducati ride and blew the competition out of the water in 2007.
In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo came to strengthen the top of MotoGP, creating the narrative of the four MotoGP Aliens. When Stoner hung up his helmet at the end of 2012, Marc Márquez stepped into his boots and upped the level of competition even further.
The level of competition Pedrosa has faced has meant he has not received the recognition he deserves for his incredible record. In eleven seasons, Pedrosa has won 29 races in MotoGP, putting him in 8th place on the all time winners list. His win at Misano, after a very difficult start to the season, laid any doubts to rest over his motivation, and his ability. Pedrosa remains capable of winning any race he lines up on the grid for.
On Tuesday, November 15th, the 2017 season starts in earnest. The biannual session of bike swapping commences two days after the final MotoGP round at Valencia, as riders, crew chiefs, mechanics, press officers and many others swap garages to join their 2017 teams. It is often something of a disappointment, with only a few riders moving from team to team, but the coming season sees some big names switching bikes, as well as an important new arrival in the shape of KTM. So to help you keep track, here is who will be testing what at Valencia on Tuesday.
All eyes will of course be on the factory Ducati garage, where Jorge Lorenzo is due to get his first outing on the Desmosedici. The Bologna factory has been working flat out on getting their 2017 bike ready, Michele Pirro giving the GP17 its first test after Aragon. The test was so important that Pirro was unable to fly to Motegi to replace the still recovering Andrea Iannone.
How will Lorenzo fare? We will have some idea on Tuesday. That is, if it doesn't rain, which the (notoriously inaccurate) long-range forecasts show it might. More important, perhaps, than his first test on the bike may be the relationship he establishes with new crew chief Cristian Gabarrini. The Italian worked previously with Casey Stoner, and so is used to working with complex characters. Tuesday and Wednesday is the day Lorenzo and Gabarrini get their first chance to get a feel for one another.
Maybe not, because this season’s thrillingly unpredictable racing has much to do with the moment of transformation in MotoGP’s technical environment
Nine different winners in one season – something that’s never happened before in a championship that started shortly after the end of the Second World War. Amazing stuff.
But do the historic successes of Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales prove that we are now in a new era of enjoyably chaotic MotoGP racing that will continue for the foreseeable future?
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after a soaking Malaysian round:
Andrea Dovizioso scores a superb win in the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang. DNF for Andrea Iannone who crashes out on lap 13