There is nowhere left to hide. On Sunday, it is time for the men and women of Grand Prix racing to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and lend their eyes a terrible aspect. Much is at stake: a Moto3 title that really should have been wrapped up by now; a MotoGP title rendered complicated by the impetuosity of youth and old age; and just sheer thirst for glory in Moto2. Glory is what is at stake in all three classes, what young men and women dedicate their lives and sacrifice their bodies and their time to chasing. Sweet victory is there for the lucky few, the bitter draught of defeat for the rest.
It looked like the cards had already been dealt ahead of Sunday's race when the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Valentino Rossi's request to have his three penalty points suspended. Then Rossi came out swinging on Friday and Saturday, not his usual eight or ninth times, and a struggle to make it through to Q2, but strong pace from the outset and competitive times. "I've been impressed with how fast he's going," Nicky Hayden said of Rossi after qualifying today. "He's looked very solid. We know he's a nine-time champion because he's fast on Sunday, but he's come out of the gate, might not be breaking track records, but compared to a normal Friday, Saturday, he's looking strong."
Then came qualifying. Rossi had earned passage to Q2 by right, and had told us on Friday he would be treating qualifying the same as he had every weekend, pushing hard for a fast lap. Rossi seemed to have the upper hand going into Q2, especially as Jorge Lorenzo was clearly suffering with nerves. He forgot to take off a tear off in the pits, then spent long seconds trying to sort it out with his assistant, before finally leaving the pits in a bit of a fluster. Not a good omen, we all thought.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying for the final Grand Prix of the year at Valencia:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying:
We are creatures of habit in the paddock. After having had our biorhythms put out of whack by a wild and weird Thursday, having bikes on the track on Friday brought us all back into line, and restored a sense of normality to MotoGP. This was a race weekend once again, and the arguments and backbiting have been put aside for a moment.
Though the return of racing motorcycles going fast around a circuit brought some joy back to the paddock, the day was also tinged with sadness. Two events punctuated the day, celebrating two mighty monuments of the paddock, who depart for pastures new. At lunchtime, Nicky Hayden was inducted as a MotoGP Legend, with a ceremony and a brief press conference. In the evening, Bridgestone held an official soiree to take their leave of the paddock, as they ended their role of official tire supplier.
A Farewell to Arms
Hayden was given a warm reception, a full press conference room calling in to pay their respects to a rider who has gone through a tough couple of years. He went over all of the old ground and answered questions he has faced a million times with the same dignity he has shown throughout his time in MotoGP. Best moment? The championship in 2006, of course, when he captured the dream he had been chasing since he was old enough to know what he wanted to do with his life, become a world champion. The two wins at Laguna Seca, and victory at Assen, when Colin Edwards threw the race away in the final chicane.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Valencia:
Thursday at Valencia was one of the strangest days in MotoGP that I have known since I first started covering the sport professionally. Maybe it's just the fact that the usual schedule was disrupted. Every race weekend has a rhythm: on Thursday, it's a late start, then rider debriefs, then a press conference, then work; on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it's an early start, watch practice, rider debriefs/press conferences and then work.
That rhythm was wildly out of sync at Valencia. Earlier start, Moto3 press conference, HRC press conference, a couple of rider debriefs. Then an unnatural lull, as the riders headed into the press conference room for their meeting with the Permanent Bureau, consisting of Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta and FIM president Vito Ippolito addressed the MotoGP riders and their team managers. Ten minutes after the riders started streaming through the paddock on their way to the meeting, they were all heading back out again.
What happened in the meeting with the Permanent Bureau? The first rule of meeting with the Permanent Bureau is don't talk about meeting with the Permanent Bureau, apparently, as no one was willing to tell us about it, apart from some platitudes from Jorge Lorenzo about it being interesting to get different perspectives from people to get new ideas. Not that anyone truly believed that the riders came out with new ideas, but still.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone ahead of the final round of MotoGP this weekend at Valencia:
Press release previews from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
Here is the one thing which everybody has wrong about Valencia: the 2015 MotoGP championship isn't over by a very long chalk. Whether Lorenzo qualifies on pole or the front row, whether Valentino Rossi starts from his qualifying position or the back of the grid, the championship won't be done until the last rider gets the checkered flag. Everything is still to play for.
Why is the championship still wide open? Because Valencia is a fickle mistress, with a record of throwing up more than one surprise. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won here, and both men have lost championships here. Both men have dominated, and both men have crashed out. Races at Valencia are rarely straightforward, throwing up startling results more often than not. Throw in a spot of unpredictable weather, and anything can truly happen.
The cause of those surprises? Running a race at the beginning of November in Valencia means the weather is always a gamble. Even when it is dry and sunny, as it is expected to be this weekend, the cold mornings and strong winds can cause tires to cool, turning Valencia's right-hand corners – few and far between – into treacherous affairs. If it rains or is damp, the wind means a dry line forms quickly, turning tire choice into a gamble.
If what happened on lap seven at Sepang was bad for MotoGP, the events which have followed have made it infinitely worse. Rossi's single act of frustration has unleashed a tidal wave of insanity which has battered MotoGP, washing away the good and leaving it battered and stained. And every time you think it has finished, yet more madness emerges to engulf the sport, dragging it further down into the depths. It is a hard time to be a fan of the most exhilarating sport on the planet.
The incident itself was ugly, but it can hardly have come as a surprise. When Valentino Rossi launched his surprise attack on Marc Márquez in the press conference, accusing the Spaniard of trying to prevent him from becoming champion, a reaction from Márquez was inevitable. These are the two biggest egos in the MotoGP paddock, and with some justification. Rossi is the legend who both raised the profile of the sport and has dominated the sport for longer than any other rider in history. Márquez is the prodigy who set about smashing the record books on his entry into MotoGP, and is the man set to usurp Rossi's place in the history books. Neither man is willing to step aside, both feel they are deserving of exceptional respect.
So two angry men took to the track on Sunday, and inevitably, once their paths crossed, bad things happened. Márquez, apparently furious at being attacked on Thursday, raced Rossi as if it was the last lap of the race and the title depended on it. Rossi, unable to beat Márquez outright, lost his cool and ran the Spaniard wide and caused him to crash. It seemed like the lowest point in MotoGP for a very long time, but much worse was to come.
In the ongoing controversy surrounding the incident between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at Sepang, Honda Racing Corporation have found it necessary to issue the following press release, in which HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto gives Honda's side of the events.
Q&A with Shuhei Nakamoto, HRC Executive Vice President
“First of all, we would like to state that we believe it is very important to speak about the facts, not about assumptions. A fact is a fact and there is only one interpretation. Assumptions can be translated in different ways, depending on which side you are. For the good of our sport, we would like everybody to just consider the facts that occurred and these are clearly the following:
– Marc Marquez won the Australian GP, overtaking Jorge Lorenzo on the last lap, and therefore taking away 5 points from him in the Championship.
– On Thursday prior to the Malaysian GP in the Pre-Event Press Conference, Valentino Rossi accused Marc of racing against him in Phillip Island to help Jorge Lorenzo.
– In the Malaysian GP, Rossi intentionally pushed Marc out of the racing line which caused him to crash. Race Direction gave him a penalty for this action, confirmed by FIM.
Valentino Rossi has lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the penalty imposed upon him at Sepang for his role in the incident between Marc Marquez and himself. Rossi has asked the CAS to issue a stay of the penalty, effectively suspending it until the full case can be heard before the court. A ruling on the stay is to be issued by 6th November.
The penalty was imposed on Rossi after he and Marquez collided on lap seven of the Sepang round of MotoGP, causing Marquez to crash. At the time, Race Direction ruled that Rossi was to blame for the crash, and imposed three penalty points on Rossi. That brought his points total to four, meaning that he must start at Valencia from the back of the grid, regardless of the position he obtains in qualifying. Rossi immediately appealed against the penalty to the FIM Stewards, who sit in judgment at every MotoGP round to rule on Race Direction penalties.
With the Race Stewards upholding the Race Direction penalty, Rossi could no longer take his appeal any further within the FIM. However, he did have the possibility to take the case to the CAS, which rules on conflicts between interested parties (usually athletes) and the international federations and governing bodies of sports. Rossi had five days to submit an appeal, deciding to go ahead with the appeal on final day.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
The Sepang incident
I wish Hunter S Thompson was still alive for many reasons. I particularly wish he had been at Sepang, because no other writer could have written better about MotoGP’s weirdest weekend.
Thompson’s most famous novel – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – had his alter-ego Raoul Duke covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race outside Las Vegas. Thompson also did newspaper work, covering the Watergate hearings that led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
On the Watergate job the gun-toting acid casualty spent most of his time in the hotel swimming pool, doing lengths and occasionally stopping at one end, where he had placed a portable TV and a bottle of bourbon. The hearings were broadcast live, so whenever the coverage suggested things were about to get interesting, Thompson made his way over the road to the courtroom and took his reserved seat, no doubt scaring colleagues with his fumy breath.
What would Hunter have made of Sepang? The weekend had everything that got him excited: speed, paranoia, a fight and explosions (at up to 16,000 a minute).
Seven days ago, we were talking about how the 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, with the Australian Grand Prix as its glittering highlight. A week later, we saw its low point. There were some truly remarkable and admirable performances in all three classes. Dani Pedrosa confirmed his return to form with a formidable victory, his second of the season. The arm pump surgery has been a huge success, and if Honda can resist the temptation to build an unrideably powerful engine, Pedrosa will be back in title contention again next year. Johann Zarco proved once again he is the class of the Moto2 field, stalking Tom Luthi all race and riding to the very limit of physical endurance to snatch victory from what seemed like a foregone conclusion. And Miguel Oliveira demonstrated that he is capable of dominating the second half of the Moto3 season the way that Danny Kent dominated the first half, denying the Englishman the title and taking the championship to Valencia.
The trouble is, those stunning performances were overshadowed by one of the ugliest weekends of racing we have seen in a very long time. The tragedy may not have been physical this time, but it was tragic nonetheless. Three great champions let their masks slip at Sepang, revealing the egotism, spitefulness and petty rivalries that underly their success. And the fans added insult to injury, booing at a result they did not like.
So we shall skip past the victory by Dani Pedrosa, failing to shower him with the praise which he deserves. We shall overlook the stunning ride by Jorge Lorenzo, passing riders at will and subduing everyone but Dani Pedrosa. Instead, we must focus on the battle for third, the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez. On the breathtaking battle that went sour, after Rossi finally lost his cool at Márquez' provocation and unwillingness to surrender, and precipitated Márquez' crash.