Jorge Lorenzo has made the decision. After growing speculation and a worsening struggle to regain confidence and form on the Repsol Honda, the 32-year-old five-times World Champion is to call it a day
He made the announcement at a special press conference on the eve of what will be his final race, the Valencia GP on Sunday. It is the circuit where he secured the first of two 250cc titles in 2006, the last of three premier-class titles in 2015, and where he secured four of his 47 premier-class wins, out of a career total of 65 in all classes.
Lorenzo spoke at length and with clarity to the packed room, where riders joined press and team officials. He kept his emotions in check, but for one brief moment of dignified pause, only tearing up slightly at the end of a tribute film shown, celebrating his achievements since his debut, one day after his 16th birthday, at Jerez in 2002.
The germ of the decision had come, he said, “while I was rolling through the gravel at Assen”. He suffered two spinal fractures in that crash in practice. It came just days after another heavy high-speed crash in tests at Montmelo after the Catalunyan GP, in which he had also crashed, and taken out Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso.
It was an unfortunate and premature climax to his first year with Repsol Honda, where he had signed up for two years alongside Marc Marquez, to make what was hailed as a dream team.
He at first had trouble finding the front-end confidence that his smooth, high-corner-speed style requires … a difficulty familiar to other riders of Honda’s feisty RC213V, which this year only Marquez has been able to ride consistently fast. But he felt he was making progress, before the crashes at Montmelo and Assen.
“I kept working with the team, thinking it was only a matter of time. Then when I was starting to see the light came the bad crash at Montmelo.”
After that and the Assen crash, Lorenzo missed four races before returning as a shadow of his former self. His struggles in the seven races since then have yielded just six points for three 14th-place finishes.
After his two 250 titles in 2006 and 2007, Lorenzo had joined Yamaha alongside Rossi for “nine years, probably the best time of my career. But I felt I wanted a change to keep full commitment and motivation, and that is why I went to Ducati.
“That gave me a big boost, even though at first the results were bad, and we kept working until that beautiful first win at Mugello [in the second year], in front of all the Ducati fans.”
Before that win, however, Ducati had been baulking at renewing his contract, rumoured to be worth a record 10-million Euros for two years; and he had already reached agreement with Honda.
“I remember talking to Alberto [Puig – manager of Repsol Honda] at Mugello, telling him: ‘Be sure you don’t make a mistake signing the wrong rider’.” He thanked Puig for the faith he had shown and the efforts he had made, and publicly apologised to him and Honda for deciding to abandon the quest. Had it been successful he would have become only the fourth rider in history – after Hailwood, Lawson, Mamola and Capirossi – to win races on three different makes.
“Signing with Honda gave me another boost, and I achieved a dream, riding for the factory Honda team and for Repsol. But unfortunately the injuries came, and I wasn’t able to be normal. I had problems to be competitive.”
After the doubts following the Assen crash, he had decided to return to try again, but he had not been able to find the motivation. “I love this sport, but I love also to win, and when I realised it was not possible, so …”
He spoke of having worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices for his career, “but I realise that without being in the right place at the right time, it would not be possible. I have raced against a lot of people who had a lot of talent, but they were not able to continue like I have done.” He thanked racing bosses from Derbi, Aprilia, Yamaha, Ducati and Honda, as well as his family and other supporters.
Asked what was his best memory, he said: “I think the most important was winning the MotoGP title in Malaysia in 2010 – but there were five other moments: my first win in 125 in Brazil in 2003; the first 250 title in Valencia in 2006; my first MotoGP win at Estoril in 2008; Assen in 2013, when I did something incredible [returning to race to fifth 48 hours after breaking his collarbone]; and the last title in 2015.”
Asked about future plans, he replied: “I have always said that life is not only about bikes, but I didn’t think yet what I will do in the future. I will have a long vacation somewhere sunny this winter.”
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was alongside Lorenzo at the conference, and thanked Lorenzo for showing “how important is the human part of our sport”.
Footnote: Lorenzo’s retirement follows growing speculation not only that he would quit, but about who would take his place on the factory Honda next year.
The prime candidate is Johann Zarco, who himself baled out early from a two-year contract with KTM after failing dismally to come to terms with the bike. After turning down a test-rider from Yamaha, the double Moto2 champion has raced at the last two rounds and will again on Sunday on the 2018 factory-supported LCR Idemitsu Honda left vacant by Takaaki Nakagami, who has undergone shoulder surgery at home in Japan.
WORDS Michael Scott