In the balance: can MotorLand tip the scales?
From the Rimini Riviera to the arid landscape of Aragon, Misano and MotorLand Aragon hail two very different challenges for the grid – in two very different settings. Winding up from the coast of Catalunya into the province of Teruel, the blue of the Mediterranean fades as the spectacular town of Alcañiz comes into view. Here, racing is woven into the history of the town – and MotorLand Aragon is its modern outpost. Technical, challenging and world class, it’s a canvas that has been splashed with both incredible victory and unassailable defeat, and one that once again could stage one of the tipping points of the season in 2017. Equal points, equal wins, and everything in the balance.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) showed he could walk on water last time out at Misano, edging along the tightrope between glory and gravel to perfection and taking his fourth win of the year heading into the track he considers his true home venue. That victory puts him equal with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) on both points and victories at the top of the standings, so supremacy is marked by second place finishes. Therefore, it’s Marquez who heads onto home turf at Aragon with the Championship lead – and an unrelenting record at the venue. The reigning Champion has points of attack throughout the season chalked on the calendar even before the first laps are raced, and Aragon has a target on its back.
As well as it being home turf, that’s because Marquez is the man to beat at MotorLand and has been since he first raced there. His record isn’t perfect – a crash in the wet in 2014 and in the dry in 2015 see to that – but the number 93 has been on pole position for six of the last seven years, in every category, and has the kind of pace to threaten his rivals even before arriving at the track. Marquez’ backyard and one of his favourite circuits, Aragon is 93 territory through and through. But this is 2017, and every weekend writes its own rules – something the Italian right beside him in the standings will be hoping remains true.
Dovizioso took his first podium at Misano this season and played it safe for P3 – saying he knew pushing forward was too big a risk given his feeling on the bike. It could have proved an easy temptation, but the number 4 instead banked another good haul of points to ensure he remains toe-to-toe with Marquez in the title fight. MotorLand turns the tables with ‘DesmoDovi’ behind enemy lines – and it would be a big scalp and boost for the Borgo Panigale factory rider to take the win. He has been on the podium before at MotorLand, and was the first win to win four races this year, so now the target shifts to number five.
Dovizioso’s teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, is the man who bested compatriot Marquez in both 2014 and 2015. Suffering a tough start to the year in 2014 saw Lorenzo back on the top step at the venue in the wet for his first win of the year, and 2015 was a classic victory from the ‘Spartan’ to win clear at the front. That year also saw a masterclass from the man who took second – Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team).
Misano was a tough one for the number 26, but Aragon will surely see him back on his incredible midseason run of being on the podium more often than not. Struggling to get heat in the tyres made the San Marino GP expensive for the ‘Baby Samurai’ in the wet, but winning a stunning duel with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) in 2015 was one of Pedrosa’s most memorable rides, and the Repsol Honda rider is also a previous winner at the track in 2012. The number 26 will be one to watch.
This year sees Rossi likely remaining on the sidelines after breaking his leg before Misano. His teammate Maverick Viñales will be spearheading the fight for factory Yamaha team, and he’s another riding on home turf. Dovizioso will likely be surrounded by local heroes at the front, and one of them is sure to be Viñales – with Yamaha having seemed to have got to grips with some tyre issues that plagued them earlier in the year. He acquitted himself well in the wet in the San Marino GP despite limited experience in the conditions, but he’s also the man who needs to gain a little on the two man at the top, with the added incentive of defeating Marquez at a track the rider from Cervera wishes to make his own. And with no Rossi, there will be a new face on the other side of the Yamaha garage.
Michael van der Mark is the man Yamaha have chosen to ride the M1 at Aragon. 2014 World Supersport Champion, multiple WorldSBK podium finisher, three-time Suzuka 8H winner and the first Dutch rider to take a pole position in World Superbike, ‘Magic Michael’ comes into the event off the back of a stunning first visit to the rostrum for Yamaha at Portimao – and that off the back of another victory in the Suzuka 8H earlier this summer. It will be a weekend to remember for the Rotterdam resident, who goes into the event with no knowledge of the bike, but good knowledge of the track.
The Independent Team ranks are also full of home heroes, including Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team). Espargaro is also a former podium finisher at the venue, in 2014, when he fought Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) to the line in a wet weather duel behind winner Lorenzo. Both men crashed at Misano although Crutchlow remounted for points, and both will not plan on making the same mistake at MotorLand. On the other side of that coin is Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), who will want a rerun of another incredible result at Misano; on the podium once more back up at the front.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was the top rookie at Misano, and the Spaniard is getting back into the groove after being sidelined due to injury earlier in the season. He’s a winner at MotorLand in Moto3™, too, and it’s a true home track for the Spaniard – having grown up close by. Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) is another rookie who will be eager to race there, having won at the track last season in Moto2™ in incredible style. The man who lost out last time out is another rookie looking to bounce back – Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) – after the Frenchman ran out of fuel and was forced to push it to the line. But he’ll be back at Aragon, as will teammate Jonas Folger; both of whom already count on podium finishes in the premier class this season.
Red Bull KTM Factory racing will be buoyed by their results in the San Marino GP. With Bradley Smith taking his first top ten for the team and teammate Pol Espargaro just behind him in P11, it was another impressive finish for the Austrian factory in their first season – despite the lack of wet weather data. The story has been going even better in the dry, and the team and riders have data from Aragon, having tested there more than enough to feel confident that they can cut the gap once again.
Every race is worth 25 points, but some victories are more than a mathematical effect on the title fight. Whatever happens at MotorLand, it’s unlikley the balance of the scales will remain the same. So who will reign the old Kingdom of Aragon this season?
Practice gives us a first glimpse on Friday, before the race turns the lights out on Round 14 at 14:00 (GMT +2).
MotoGP World Championship Classification
1 – Marc Márquez (SPA – Honda) 199 points
2 – Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) 199 points
3 – Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) 183 points
4 – Valentino Rossi (ITA – Yamaha) 157 points
5 – Dani Pedrosa (SPA – Honda) 150 points