Track Map Courtesy of Brembo Brakes
Track Map Courtesy of MotoGP.com
LENGTH: 5.4 km / 3.34 miles
CORNERS: 6 left - 10 right
WIDTH: 12 m. / 39.37 ft.
LONGEST STRAIGHT: 1068 m. / 3503.94 ft.
[tr][td]Red Flag Finish[/td][td]16 (3/4 of laps)[/td][td]13 (2/3 of laps)[/td][td]12 (2/3 of laps)[/td][/tr]
[tr][td]Total distance[/td][td]118.4 km / 73.5 miles[/td][td]107.6 km / 66.8 miles[/td][td]96.8 km / 60.1 miles[/td][/tr]
The Emperor's Broken Toys
History, or - to be more precise - the mercurial dream that is the generational memory of humanity, has always glorified the image of the stalwart Gladiator. In scultpture, painting and film, he stands proud at the gate before entering the Colosseum to thunderous applause. He raises high a sword - light from the sun glinting along its honed edge - or a mace, adorned at its crown with cruel spikes and a chain tail. These are purpose made tools, savage and barbaric to some, the only means of salvation this day. He offers his blood to crowd, to their pleasure, and braces himself for the onslaught. At the end of the day, weary but triumphant, he departs. Later there will be women who sneak in to run their fingers along the sinew of his muscles, or an audience with those who offer their favor; but in the moment there is only victory.
But there is another story, often untold. In this story the arm raised for battle is not so high, the poorly healed tears from a lion's claws pulling it stiff. The gladiator does not dance across the arena, nor does he saunter into it glibly. There is a hesitation to his step, one not born of fear. On his thigh an ugly scar, likewise his chest and back. These are his trophies, his rewards for surviving the days before when others did not, his promise for daring persevere again.
The days of the gladiator are past, yet the spirit of their pain lives on, anchored in the souls of a different breed of prizefighter.
Honda's promotional video of Marquez's return to action over the winter break is played to a backdrop of upbeat, inspiring music. It is easy to lose oneself in the mystique of Marquez navigating a practice track on an undersized bike as he regains his moto-bearings. Yet, if you can look past the glitz of the flash-photo visuals and the roar of the RC's engine, a haunting image remains. Blink at the wrong time and you'll miss it, and the editors could have easily cut it out. Yet it was left there, its inclusion signaling its importance. As Marc prepares to swing his leg over a two wheeled vehicle for the first time in weeks, he pulls off a hooded sweatshirt bearing his signature 93 up and over his bare torso, muscles taught in a way assured to make certain fans swoon. Yet before a new coat in black synthetic can obscure it, obliterate it from memory, the flashes and the viewer is afforded the briefest glimpse of puckered, pink flesh in a line running the length of his shoulder.
Marquez has been an incredibly successful racer. You could easily run out of digital paper in the foolhardy attempt to list his accomplishments, and the shelves of his home are filled with monuments to his accomplishments. This newly minted scar, the latest of many, is simply the most recent token of the price that Marquez has had to pay for his success at the highest levels of racing. The question now becomes how badly he remains broken at the dawn of the new season. He was 2nd at Qatar last year, 4th in 2017 and 3rd the year before, all while qualifying on the front row. With his should injury still so fresh, his his showing here will likely set the tone for the remainder of the season.
There are some notable absences from the media gallery on MotoGP's site. One would be the collection of umbrella models that was formerly housed under the auspicious title of "Grid Girls". The second is Cal Crutchlow's gallery under "Riders". It could be argued that, owing to Crutchlow's irreverent penchant for sass and piss-taking that he was somehow caught up in the #MeToo movement and had him images removed accordingly. Looking at the above however, and trying not to wonder how hot it must be to cause someone to nonchalantly put ice on their boys, I - for one - doubt it.
Picture, if you will, a conference room filled with motorcycle racers. Each one, adorned with the colors of their sponsors, the consummate professional and symbol of class. Then there's that one guy in the corner who's likely to make a fart joke and crack everybody up. Now imagine that guy gone for 12 months.
That was, in a sane world, the reality that MotoGP fans should be facing following Crutchlow's spectacular crash during practice for the 2018 Phillip Island weekend. 12 months is what the doctor's said it would take a heel (heel... get it?) the multiple fractures in his ankle. Yet barely a quarter of the way into that and Crutchlow is returning to action. With a known penchant for abandoning a race in favor of jogging around the track while his bike reclines to sun-bathe, Crutchlow is taking a serious risk of re-injury by returning so early. His record at this track isn't doing him any favors either. A 4th place finish after qualifying 4th in 2018 would seem promising, but it is marred by consecutive DNFs in the previous two years. The Phillip Island injury ended what was shaping up to be an excellent season for Cal, and still ended on a relatively high note points-wise. A DNF here might have far worse consequences.
The Dark Horse
Have you ever seen one of those cheesy rom-coms where the main character has been chasing the girl who's been hard to get all through the movie, then he does the thing
that makes her fall for him? There is no mood to chase away the darkness outside. A soft, orange glow from the street lights is filtered and refracted in the light mist from an earlier rain shower, adding to the sense of romance as they stand awkwardly at her door. She hesitates, and then in a rush of passion she kisses him. They gaze at each other, questions and expectations hanging between them. She takes his hand, half guiding and half urging him into her doorway. Then, just as he crosses the threshold, he shatters the fourth wall by looking at the camera with a shit-eating grin.
Well I haven't seen one of those either, but I imagine that's a look similar to the one Lorenzo was wearing at the end of 2018. The start of his sophomore season with Ducati looked very much like his freshman year. He was uncomfortable, slow and for the most part looked significantly less than average. Some people called him washed up, claimed that he'd lost the hunger, and Lorenzo himself admitted that he was considering retirement after the Ducati contract was up
. Then a truly wonderful thing happened. Gigi Dal'Igna woke up from a fever dream with a bolt of inspiration, something-something fuel tank, and suddenly Lorenzo was winning again. And not just winning, but crushing it. Give him a lead and he was liable to scamper off. Tussle with him and he was up for a good dog fight. He was a man renewed, and had that s-eating grin to show for it. Right up until he was tossed off the bike and shattered his wrist in Thailand. That one put him in the recovery room with Crutchlow instead of on track in Australia. Not to be outdone by the upstart Englishman, however, Lorenzo exacerbated his healing injury over the winter break in a motocross accident during training. That took him out of testing, and deprived him of much needed ramp up time aboard his new steed. Now he will have to prove his worth with less track time and brand new bike.
Lorenzo's history at Qatar is excellent... if you ignore the last two years. A DNF and 11th place finish do little to inspire confidence, but you should take into account that it was aboard the notoriously hard-to-ride Ducati and before Gigi had truly worked his magic. Just the year before, aboard his trusty Yamaha, Lorenzo took both the pole and the checkered. The Honda isn't the Yamaha (a fact that I'm sure he's thankful for given that team's
results of late), but it's no Ducati either (which I know
he's thankful for given his results for a year and a half). With so many of the top contenders hamstringed by injury, machinery, or team changes, he may still have a chance to blow the field away.
Unless Dovi has something to say about it. But that's another story.