Interloper In Catalonia – MotoGP de Catalunya with Tug McClutchin (R18+)

When last we spoke, or at least I wrote, you read, I was heading off to a fiesta de cumpleaños at the behest of Jorge Lorenzo after his win in Mugello. I knew “fiesta” was Spanish for “party”, but I was unsure of what the rest meant. Thankfully, while on my way to Lorenzo’s motorhome I bumped into Cal, who was out giving Tito, his personal assistance Capybara, his now customary post race walk. “It helps him get over the stress of race day” Cal explained. I’m starting to seriously worry about Cal. He even talks to the bloody thing like he expects answers. I asked if he knew anything about Lorenzo’s parties.

Cal with his biggest fan

 

His eyes widened. “You get an invite?”

“Yeah, I’m scared.”

“You should be”. He grinned. It was that stupid grin he gets when he’s just thought of a joke and he knows it’s funny, and can’t wait to get it out. Then it’s never as funny to everyone else as it was in his head. You know the grin. You’ve all seen it in interviews.

Tito snorted. Little fat fucking rodent. Even he was laughing at me.

Cal explained that a fiesta de cumpleaños in Lorenzo’s motorhome was basically going to be Lorenzo and 17 other twenty-five year old shirtless Spaniards drinking cosmopolitans and re-enacting scenes from the movie 300. And me.

I sure as shit wasn’t going to be drinking Cosmopolitans, so I went back to the Media Centre and collected my last remaining bottle of The Macallan from my bag before that bastard Oxley could pilfer it, and headed for the big motorhome with the music pumping and the pink strobe lights blasting from the windows. It’s not like it was going to belong to anyone else.

Jack had a bad day. And he didn’t get an invite to Lorenzo’s party.

 

I knocked on the door. Lorenzo opened it enough to see who I was. He smiled. The music blared from inside. I think it was some George Michael crap.

He was already well pissed. Probably on his 3rd Cosmopolitan.

“Tug, you mad Aussie fucker! What is the password?”

“What.”

“The Password, Tug. What is the password?”

“Yeah, what. You just said, ‘what is the password’, so the password is what, you girly drink sipping, English as a second language muppet.”

“Aha! I see what you did there! No, Tug. The password can only be Butter or Hammer. Which one is it, Tug?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Butter.”

“No, Tug, you are wrong. You are always wrong about me! Today the password is Hammer!”

This is Sparta!

 

He really was pissed. He nearly fell down the stairs as he opened the door and beckoned me in, grinning like a fat copper at Donut King.

I climbed aboard and was literally assaulted by the sight of about 25 shirtless young men, all clutching Cosmos and gyrating to George Michael’s “Faith”.  I always just assumed it must have been a song about religion, but I doubt the Pope would approve of what these young blokes were doing to that song. I think one of them was an Aspargaro, but I can’t be sure. It was dark. Hell, I wouldn’t be sure even if the lights were on.

Bloody George Michael. At the end of every chorus they’d yell “Mugello is Lorenzo’s Land” and down their fairy drinks before yelling wildly. Weirdos.

It was like a bus full of half naked escapees from a high security mental asylum where all the inmates were stupidly good looking young men with hairless chests and no sense of how to treat alcohol with any semblance of respect. Rip the roof off the bus and it would have looked like a Mardis Gras float.

Lorenzo motioned to me to remove my shirt and tried to hand me a Cosmo. No way was I taking my shirt off. I have more hair on my chest than all of them combined, and most of mine is grey. I’d definitely stand out. And I didn’t want to appear in the background of any selfies looking like I was actually enjoying myself. I found a dark corner and swigged my scotch. I just hoped there’s be a story there somewhere. The things I do for you people.

As far as Grand Prix motorhome parties go, this was certainly the shittest I had been to. And I’ve been to lots.

Whether you’re racing or partying, you never want to get dinked home on a scooter.

 

Mick Doohan knew how to party. Especially during that period when Doctor Costa had sewn his legs together so the healthy one could try and help heal the really, really fucked up one. He partied like a man with nothing to lose. Except maybe a leg. 

Max Biaggi could bang. There was a certain magic in watching those ridiculously tall Italian supermodels constantly reject the Roman Emperor’s advances, but still give him just enough of a tease that he would keep feeding them free champagne and party drugs.

And don’t start me on Loris Capirossi. That man was an animal in his prime.

But this? This was different. Very 2018.

Iannone hung around at the front long enough to remind everyone he was still racing, before dropping like a rock. 

 

Lorenzo sidled up to me and sat down, and put his arm around me. “You know what I love about you, Tug? You are always saying the truth in your head, even though you are always very wrong about Jorge. What do you stupid Aussies say, you have a dick on your head!”

“No, it’s dickhead, George. I called you a dickhead in my column, remember?”

“Yes, but now I have won, and you have the dick on your head, like a Unicorn.” He laughed, and some of his pink cocktail came out of his nose. He looked like a sweaty, moustached Carrie Bradshaw with a bad haircut.

“OK, George. But are you going to win again?”

“Yes, I will win in Catalunya, Tug. Easy. Today was the butter. Catalunya will be the hammer. I am a Majorcan, Tug. These other Spaniards, Marquez, Vinales, Pedrosa, they are all Catalans. They think they will beat me on their home track. They think they can win in Catalunya and at Aragon too, because they are Catalans. Fuck them Tug. Fuck the Crown of Aragon. And fuck the Catalans. I will show them that I am the true Spaniard. This is fucking Sparta, Tug.”

“Yes, mate. Fucking Sparta. So if Rossi was still on the Ducati, could he win too?”

“Yes, Tug. Now that they have shaped the tank to fit my giant testiculos, I can finally ride the bike without hurting my sperms. Rossi could ride it now too, because he also has big testiculos.” All the boys in the bus laughed. I think they’d all seen Rossi’s balls. “And next year, Tug, I will win on the Honda too”.

“Wait, what? The Honda?”

“Ssshhh, Tug. Nobody knows. But that crazy Marquez fucker is going to shit himself when I build a wall in his pit.”

Seems pretty happy with 2nd place, no?

 

So I discovered Lorenzo was going to Honda, which by now, you all know as well. I bade Jorge farewell and thanked him for his hospitality and bolted, carefully checking to make sure nobody saw me leave his bus. I’d have to do some kind of shady deal with Crutchlow later to keep him quiet. Write a column about him being a “contender” or some such patent bullshit. That usually keeps him happy.

I then went door knocking on motorhomes and found out where the rest of the silly season jigsaw puzzle fell. It seems way too early in the year for this stuff, but then, it seems to be happening earlier and earlier every year.

So Petrucci is moving to Lorenzo’s seat. That will make for a pretty inefficient mix at Ducati. Try as he might, Dovi is just a tiny, tiny bit below the level of the really big guns, as Lorenzo has shown at Mugello and now at Catalunya, where he did just as he told me he would do a fortnight ago and won. Won well he did, too. Even rode the warm down lap with a plastic hammer, like he was fucking Thor. But when the big guns are “on”, Dovi is just that little bit behind them. Always has been, really. He was number 2 to Pedrosa at HRC, and became number 3 when Stoner arrived. Petrucci will be even further behind him for the most part. He’s good, but outclassed by the top 3 or 4.

The GP of Catalunya was remarkable for a number of reasons. Many watching may have seen it as a pretty boring race out front, but it was anything but. This race told us a lot about the top riders, and it also raised a lot of questions, firstly about the remainder of this year, but also about next year.

We pray to the God of Hamamatsu, Lin Jarvis, to find this man a Yamaha to ride next year.

 

Much has been made of Jorge smashing out lap after lap in the low 1.40’s, with commentators everywhere trying vainly to put the word “metronomic” onto a sentence that actually made sense. And it was true. If you discount the first lap because of the standing start, Lorenzo only dropped outside the 1.40’s once, on his last lap. He was the very model of consistency, getting the best out of his soft tyres right until the end. But we already knew he’d be fast on them, as he ran a low 1.40 in practice on a tyre that had done more than race distance.

Marquez’ timesheet was similar though, and despite running the hard Michelins front and rear, he ran in the 1.40’s all day too, except for 3 laps at the end when all he cared about was finishing the race and keeping Rossi behind him. From a championship point of view, losing a race to Lorenzo probably doesn’t matter that much. But could that be a mistake? We’ll get to that soon. Could Marquez have run with Lorenzo and even beaten him? He says no, Lorenzo was too fast, but he’s magnanimous like that. Truth is he believed he didn’t need to beat Lorenzo, and with the memory of probably his fastest ever front end lose/save from earlier in the weekend fresh in his mind, he would have been happy enough with second this weekend. If it were a choice between another 5 points or ending up face first in the gravel, he made the right choice. Dovi crashing out would have helped with that decision.

Rossi was pretty much the same. Every lap in the 1.40’s, except one. Just like Lorenzo. Crutchlow too only dropped into the 1.41 bracket on 4 occasions, and he did a lot more fighting for position than those who finished ahead of him. Pedrosa was also in the 1.40’s on every lap except 2, which dropped into the 1.41 bracket. He too was fighting for position on numerous laps.

Even Tito Rabat did 13 of his 17 laps in the 1.40’s before he crashed out, and he was struggling to stay in the top 10.

So lets not get too carried away with talk of precision, metronomes and swiss watches. They were all consistent, and all fast. Just to slightly different degrees.

Old dog, old tricks.

 

What the race proved is that the Barcelona circuit can be difficult to pass on, and that the bikes are more even than they’ve been in a long time.

The difference at the front this weekend was that Lorenzo needs to win. Marquez would be happy with his second, and Rossi very happy with his third. It’s all a question of motivation sometimes.

But can Lorenzo win the title from here? As Rossi said after the race, you’d be an idiot to rule it out. After two straight wins he now sits on 66 points, equal to his teammate Dovizioso who has now crashed out twice in a row. At almost 50 points behind Marquez, he would need Marquez to have a DNF or two, which is entirely possible. And Jorge would need an exceptional season from here on in, which is also possible. Rossi is currently second in the title chase on 88 points, and if the cards fall as they could, may even become the first man in a million years to win a title without winning a race. It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible.

Next round we are off to Assen for the Dutch TT, the scene of Rossi’s last win. Yes, it’s been a year since he won a race.

Rossi sits 27 points adrift of Marquez, and since consistency wins championships, just maybe he has learned from the one he lost to Nicky Hayden all those years ago. Yamaha may well come up with something in the back half of the year that will give him the spark he needs to actually fight for a win or four, and in the meantime, racking up solid points every weekend is vital if he’s to give himself a chance at the end of the season. He’s riding a very good championship so far.

As for what this weekend tells us about next year, there are two things that stand out for me. Firstly, will Lorenzo master the Honda? Many speak of the HRC machines as being the best things in the paddock. They are far from it. The Honda is a difficult bike to ride at the pace required to win, and only Marquez can really do it, and he can only do it on the hard Michelins. They no longer have the power advantage they had a few years ago. Even the Suzuki can foot it with them in a straight line now. The riding style the current Honda requires doesn’t work so well with soft rubber. And Lorenzo likes the soft Michelins. He likes high mid-corner speeds. The Honda doesn’t. He doesn’t like braking ultra late and slamming the bike on its side while its rear wheel is still in the air. The Honda loves it. He likes to ride smooth, sweeping lines. The Honda is very much a point and shoot kind of bike. Can Lorenzo change his trademark style? Or can Honda build him a Yamaha? I’m looking forward to the Valencia test straight after that last round to see what unfolds.

And here’s the other massive question mark for me hanging over 2019. Will Pedrosa retire now that he’s lost his HRC gig, or will he end up on a Yamaha? The thought of Pedrosa on even a satellite Yamaha (rumours persist of a Petronas backed team for next year) makes me salivate. Dani is one of the most talented riders on the grid. Casey Stoner once said if Dani had the size and strength of the other guys, Dani would beat them more often than not. Since the switch to Michelin tyres he has struggled to generate heat in them early in races due to his light weight, making it difficult for him to compete early in races. And for his entire MotoGP career he has found himself perched on the Honda, the bike that has during that entire time loved being thrown around and spanked rather than being gently fondled and caressed onto the podium, which would suit him much better. He’s been on a Honda since his junior days in 2001 on a 125, and won 54 races for them in his time with them. It’s kind of sad that Honda has chosen to pension the 32 year old off now, when he is still fast. The current bike doesn’t suit him at all, and he does well on it in spite of that.

Pedrosa on a Yamaha though? The bike that relishes smoothness and a gentle hand? The bike he should have been riding for the last ten years? That would be a thing to see. If Dani can score a couple of years on a competitive Yamaha, we might see a resurgence in his career. I’d like to see that. Maybe even a Pedrosa championship tilt.

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