The season-finale MotoGP world-title fight at Valencia offered up a ‘Remembrance Sunday’ far less important than is normal at this time of year, of course, but one that brought on a similar intensity of goose pimples.
After paying my mid-morning respects to the heroes of world-war conflict, I settled back into – well, trembled on the front of – my high-mileage, well-worn-but-comfy armchair to watch a different breed of heroes at work. Which of the factory Yamaha riders would be taking home motorcycle racing’s biggest and shiniest trophy: Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo?
The Italian, already seven times a top-class title winner, was seven points ahead but he’d be starting at the back – a penalty for taking out Honda rival and outgoing World Champion Marc Marquez in the previous round in Malaysia. Spaniard Lorenzo, meanwhile, had stuck the YZR-M1 on pole, giving himself a head start that measured the full length of the grid.
The anticipation ahead of the 30-lapper at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, which has hosted the big-boys’ bike finale every year since MotoGP replaced the 500cc formula in 2002, was shivery. After the Sepang debacle – when Rossi allegedly put Marquez on the floor with his left foot in retaliation for what he believed to be title-obstructing tactics in Australia the week before, and duly landed the aforementioned penalty for Valencia – it seemed likely, given the animosity within the ‘big four’ (Lorenzo, Rossi, Marquez and team-mate Dani Pedrosa), that dark forces might come into play.
Whatever your take on the Rossi/Marquez spat, it had generated big and bold headlines for MotoGP, such that many believed two-time champion Marquez might choose to help fellow Spaniard Lorenzo to the title rather than see Italian foe Rossi clinch a seventh top-class crown.
The #99 Yamaha took off into the lead, with the two Repsol Honda RC213Vs giving chase. Rossi, meanwhile, fired the #46 Yamaha off the back row and scythed through the pack as though he’d accidentally joined the Moto3 support race.
‘With Rossi and Lorenzo staying put at Yamaha and Marquez and Pedrosa doing likewise with Honda, the 2016 season may well have boiled over already…’
He got up to fourth before half distance, and if you watched the race or have since read about it you’ll know that’s where he stayed, some way off the lead trio, headed throughout by Lorenzo. To be sure of the title, The Doctor had to finish second to his race-winning team-mate – or third to Lorenzo’s second.
In the end, Rossi fell short by just five points. The 36-year-old had finished no lower than fifth in all 18 races and ridden out of his skin all year. Who can forget his winning the Dutch TT at Assen on Saturday June 27 and then wowing the Festival of Speed crowd on a special bike liveried in Yamaha 60th anniversary colours a day later. For many, me included, his riding through the massed ranks of flag-waving well-wishers and up a ramp into Goodwood House, before appearing on the balcony for an interview, were among the greatest few minutes in 22 years of FoS history.
Sadly, those dark forces did rear their ugly heads after the celebrations at Valencia. Rossi was vociferous in his condemnation of Marquez, believing the 22-year-old had acted as rear-gunner for Lorenzo, shadowing his every move (i.e. not overtaking him), in case Rossi arrived snapping at their heels.
Whatever colluding or gamesmanship went on, MotoGP 2015 was cracking motorsport entertainment from start to finish and it’s a pleasure to be able to watch the current top guys, who between them have 166 MotoGP wins and 11 world titles on their CVs, routinely cracking 200mph-plus and hanging off their 250bhp-plus, 150kg rockets.
With Rossi and Lorenzo staying put at Yamaha and Marquez and Pedrosa doing likewise with Honda, the 2016 season may well have boiled over already…
Photography courtesy of Yamaha and Honda