Toni Elias Predicts the 2017 MotoGP Champ—and It Isn’t Who You Think

Notes from a world champion

toni elias
We caught up with Toni Elias (who was happy to talk with us) at this year's AIMExpo in Ohio.Seth Richards

Following a dramatic campaign on the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000R, Toni Elias was crowned the 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion. During a quick photo op with the champ at this year's AIMExpo in Columbus, Ohio, I somewhat cheekily asked him who he thought would win the 2017 MotoGP title on the eve of the Aragon round. Elias, who enjoyed a long tenure in the MotoGP paddock and was the inaugural Moto2 champion, excitedly gave his prediction and shared his thoughts.

“I think Andrea Dovizioso. He and I were in California for one week. We went to training and did some motocross, some dinners, and, look, it’s amazing, no, how everything is. Even he didn’t expect. And when we talked, it was like, the bike needs to improve a lot. Ducati is realizing that they were thinking that [their rider and three-time MotoGP champion Jorge] Lorenzo would win everything, and it’s not like this, so now [Ducati] has to work with the bike. But look now!”

Indeed, the Ducati has proven a well-rounded machine for 2017, and Desmo Dovi is living up to his name. While the Honda has been able to take advantage of low-grip conditions and the Yamaha's best attributes come to the fore in high-grip conditions, the Ducati has shown that it fits somewhere in between. It may not be the best at every track, but it's always in contention.

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Elias won the MotoAmerica Superbike National Championship this year after a well-fought season.Seth Richards

However, after Aragon and an inimitable performance from Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez, Dovizioso slid to second in the points after a difficult weekend where Friday was canceled due to poor weather. This at a track where the Ducati has struggled in the past.

Elias continued, “Also, I would like for Marc [to win], no? Because he is my friend, but everybody is having a lot of mistakes, and the only one who is consistent is Ducati—and Dovi. Looking at everything, if more of this happens…look, Valentino [Rossi]? Out. [Dani] Pedrosa? Crashed. Marquez? Blew up. All the time these things happen, no? And these ones? One, two, three wins…four, five, no mistakes…and then boom.”

By Elias’s definition, Dovizioso has managed his championship brilliantly by capitalizing on opportunities and not forcing the issue if it were to entail too much risk.

Racing is a game of living in the moment and hedging your bets, of balancing the desire to be best on the day and measuring risk to be best at season’s end. Conventional thinking, as Elias highlights, contends that the path to championship glory involves knowing when to lose as much as knowing when to win. Consistency pays dividends.

However, conventional thinking goes out the window when we’re talking about three-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez. His “win it or bin it” style, a mechanical failure at Silverstone, and a less-than-perfect RC213V mean his season has been a roller coaster. After round two at Argentina he was 37 points behind championship leader Movistar Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales. Two rounds later at Jerez he was only four points behind then-leader Movistar Yamaha rider Rossi. After round nine at the Sachsenring, he finally took over the point lead only to relinquish it to Dovi three rounds later at Silverstone. Marquez won the next two rounds, taking over the point lead and looking in ominous form. There are only four rounds remaining and Marquez is on a tear.

While Elias certainly wasn’t discounting his mate Marc—and Aragon had not yet taken place—his perspective demonstrates something unique about this era of MotoGP racing: The rules no longer apply. Especially when it comes to Marc Marquez.