MotoGP: Grand Prix Of Japan Wrap-Up

Marc Marquez wins second consecutive premier-class world title.

2014 MotoGP World Champion Marc marquez shot

To become MotoGP world champion on Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi, Marc Marquez did not have to win. All he needed was to make his points position unassailable. In finishing second to Jorge Lorenzo, keeping Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa behind him, Marquez is premier-class champion for a second time.

Marquez fans should take pleasure in this, for it shows he is not a win-centered automaton but a rational being. In Japan, things were going very well for Lorenzo, while Marquez had a few setbacks and pole position went to Andrea Dovizioso on the improving Ducati version 14.2.

Saturday afternoon Marquez said, “It looks like this weekend everything is more difficult! I don’t know why. Yesterday with the brake problem and then today the problem in FP3. In the afternoon, I was able to fight for pole, but in the first run we had another small problem.”

In Friday’s FP1, the 21-year-old Spaniard had run off the track after losing his brakes to a head shake or “vibration.” One drawback of today’s much stiffer inverted forks is that the only structure linking the two sliders is the axle itself. Cornering on rough pavement or any violent front oscillation can wiggle the front wheel and cause the brake discs to knock back the pads. When the rider goes for the lever next time, it comes to the bar.

Then in FP3 Marquez had gone out with a new engine in his “A” bike, only to have to pull off with, presumably, either a warning light on his dash or an unusual engine noise or vibration. He was soon back up to speed on the “B” bike.

Where has Dovizioso come from? The Italian had careful praise for new Ducati race manager Luigi Dall’Igna. “He had many things to do, maybe too much,” Dovizioso said. “But he was able to manage, and step by step we have improved.”

Marc Marquez race action shot

It’s hard to know just what Ducati’s problems have been in the past, but based on the buzz, two leading contenders are inaction and a theory-based methodology. All of us who have functioned within organizations know how easy it is for difficult problems to be simply ignored. With motorcycles, every change must aim at giving the rider confidence, and Dall’Igna knows this. But Formula 1’s data-centered development is attractive to engineers. Also, it is easier for engineers to understand each other than for them to understand riders and their needs.

Dovizioso also said, “I like how Gigi works because he is really logical. Everybody can speak with him easily.”

MotoGP’s distinguished photogrammetrist, Neil Spalding, has shown that the main physical difference between Ducati’s versions 14 and 14.2 is that the new bike (which Dovizioso rode this weekend) is notably narrower at the front of its seat, which may have required some narrowing of the rear cylinder head. Why this difference? Spalding speculates that this may make it easier for the rider to assume the “Marquez position,” with upper body alongside the machine, low on the inside, allowing the tires to be kept off their tender edges. (Don’t forget the remark of veteran Öhlins technician Jon Cornwell: “Edge grip is a wasting asset.”)

Motegi requires heavy braking, last year leading to a decision to mandate 340mm-diameter front discs (instead of 320mm) at particular circuits.

Andrea Dovizioso race action shot

Lorenzo set top time in FP1, then second-fastest in FP2. He had won in Japan last year, and this time faced no major problems in getting to a good pace. At one point, he commented that Yamaha has made some improvements to the bike, which have helped. Because Motegi calls strongly for Yamaha's shortcoming, braking stability, we can speculate that this has been a major subject of development.

After qualifying fifth (a mistake cost him 0.20 seconds), Lorenzo said, “My feeling on the bike is probably the best it’s been all season. So let’s hope that tomorrow it doesn’t rain and that we can show our potential.”

Showing that he constantly evaluates the performance of his rivals, Marquez said that, among the top riders, Lorenzo had the best pace. So it would turn out.

On the other hand, another idea, that Rossi is now riding better than he ever has, is getting a lot of play. When he was winning one championship after another, the narrative goes, he was among rivals more easily deflated by Rossi’s psych-war arsenal. There was poor Sete Gibernau, manfully swirling his muleta and passing the bull ever closer, while Rossi clowned, laughed, and won races. So, too, with Max Biaggi, who could all too easily be baited into losing his cool. Even that mysterious wizard Casey Stoner was not immune to Rossi’s penetrating rays.

Jorge Lorenzo race action shot

Now, the argument goes, Rossi is among tough, imperturbable equals: Marquez, whose style is like water, finding every pathway; Lorenzo, so narrowly on the human side of perfection; Pedrosa, unrewarded by the lime light yet always studying, always improving. All credit to Rossi for remaining interested in this set of problems and doing the most difficult thing, changing his style to remain on the pace. So very few have been capable of this. Think of the men who have left the series because their unchanging styles could no longer bring tires to temperature. Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri, both of whom went on to success in World Superbike, come to mind. Style is security; change is risk.

When asked if he thought his Ducati’s Open-class 24-liter fuel allowance was an advantage, Dovizioso said, “Maybe they are on the limit. But usually in FP4 everybody is riding with the same power settings as for the race, so we have already seen the pace.”

Pedrosa noted that if race-day temperature were down, consumption would be affected. Engine power is proportional to intake density, and cooler weather, by increasing air density, also requires increased fuel flow. Race-day track temperature was down almost 17 degrees Fahrenheit from Q2 but fuel problems did not appear for the Repsol Hondas.

Dovizioso finished the race fifth but with a fair gap to the leading four. As Dall’Igna has said, Ducati must now concentrate on making tires last the distance. When the 17-inch wheel rule comes in 2016, he noted, that will restart the tire learning curve on an equal footing.

There are now three mostly separate races within each MotoGP event. One is among the top four, the next sorts out the Ducati and lease-a-bike group, and the third is for the 10 or 12 grid packers that formerly chuffed around on the embarrassing CRTs.

Where were the Espargaro brothers, Pol and Aleix, who so often shot up to high practice positions earlier this year? Eighth and 11th on a course congenial to Yamahas suggests that the laptop lads had orders to make sure no upstart took points from factory men. Now that the championship is decided, those keyboardists can go back to Pac-Man.

Off went the race, and Lorenzo found himself able to pull away modestly, winning by just 1.6 seconds. Marquez, once having passed Dovizioso, Pedrosa, and Rossi, ran lap times fully comparable with those of Lorenzo. Sense dictated “staying quiet” and letting the championship come to him. It did.

Japanese GP MotoGP race start.

Jorge Lorenzo won at Motegi.

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.

Rossi and Marquez battle.

Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.

Marc Marquez.

Factory Yamaha teammates Rossi and Lorenzo.

Nicky Hayden.

Dani Pedrosa.

Andrea Dovizioso.

Marquez leads Rossi and Pedrosa.

Aspar Honda warm-up crash damage.

Pedrosa examines qualifying crash damage.

Nicky Hayden on the grid.

Marquez signs autographs.

Lorenzo and Rossi ran out of fuel on the cool off lap.

Fresh rubber for Marquez.

Parc ferme celebration.

Podium shower.

Lorenzo podium leap.

Repsol Honda team portrait.

Number 1 again.

Marquez podium leap.

Honda RC213V.

Mick Doohan on his title-winning Honda NSR500.

Kevin Schwantz.

Gresini dog wear.

Japanese Lorenzo fans.

Motegi pass control.

Umbrella girl.

Monster girl.