MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez stands on cusp of fifth title 

And so the 2018 MotoGP season comes down to this, a showdown in The Land of the Rising Sun. Home MotoGP track, basically, for Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha; much face at stake. Two samurai riders, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Honda’s Marc Marquez, expecting to go one-on-one for a title so close Marquez can smell it. Much too early in the season for all this. Elsewhere, Yamaha will be watched closely for continuing progress from their recent knees-up in Thailand, or will it be back to the drawing board again? 

  • Center court. Match point. The first of four; he’s serving. Down love-40. On your heels.
  • Game seven, down three, top of the ninth, 0-2 count, two men on base, star closer on the mound, heart thumping like a piston. 63,000 fans going mental hating you.
  • Some soccer thing, leading scorer, limping, down two late in the game, etc. Wet field. Hooligans talking about your mother.
  • NBA game seven, 1.6 seconds left, down three, at the line shooting three. You’re a 70% free-throw shooter late in your career. Miss one and it could be all over. All over.

For those of you who, like me, know more about other sports than they do about MotoGP, these are presented to give you a sense of what I think it will feel like on Sunday for Andrea Dovizioso as he is aligned, clutch depressed, taching up, waiting for the red lights to go out. 237 furious horses beneath him and his chances of making it to a second match point appear thin; everything has to go right. The pressure is beyond comprehension, even for the usually-unflappable Italian. And there’s #93 over there, looking fast and relaxed, Bushido celebration ready in the wings.  

Recent History at Motegi

2015–Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair.  Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso.  Rossi and Lorenzo chewed up Bridgestone rain tires on a drying surface; Pedrosa, winless all season and dawdling in the middle of the pack for a while, came on strong at the end. This was the race in which Lorenzo dominated all weekend on dry track and finished 12 seconds back in the wet. Rossi left Japan leading the series by 18 points with three rounds left, a virtual lock for his 10th world championship—you know, the one that was purportedly unlocked by Marc Marquez on the melting macadam of Sepang and for which most of you have never forgiven him. Scoreboard.

2016–For the third time in four seasons, Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. Lorenzo’s forthcoming departure from the team after Valencia appeared to be a sound idea.

Last year, in a replay of their Red Bull Ring duel earlier that season, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez gave us another late-race blades-at-close-quarters wheezer, a ten-point spread in the 2017 standings at stake. And for the second time that season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of his earlier win in Austria. In winning the match, Dovi cut his deficit to Marquez from 16 points to 11 with two rounds left. (Marquez would employ the lesson he learned that day to win the same way last time out at Buriram.) Like Rossi in 2015, things would come unglued for Dovizioso at Sepang a week later. 2017, one reckons, might have been the high-water mark of Dovi’s career, likely destined to join Pedrosa as top premier class riders who coulda, woulda, shoulda, had it not been for Rossi/Stoner/Lorenzo/Marquez etc.

Marquez has clinched half of his four premier class titles in The Land of the Rising Sun. He is poised to make it three for five on Sunday. Leading by 77 points, the only thing the Catalan riding machine needs is to dispense with Dovizioso and he becomes, once again, MotoGP champion, gripping the world of grand prix motorcycle racing firmly by the sack and inviting it, in Castillian Spanish, to come play. As Elvis used to drawl so eloquently, “Oh man, it’s good to be The King.” Pronounced it “kang.” He was right.

Rins vs. Zarco

Rins Zarco Crutchlow

Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow. Anyone recognize the venue?

I’m hearing from a number of readers that the tranching of the Suzuki #1 and Tech 3 #1 riders should be reversed based upon, I suppose, 2018 body of work, recent performance, standings. How about performance in the second half of the season?

Rins:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         4

Points:                                      102

Position:                                    10th

Points since Sachsenring:      49

Zarco:

Wins:                                        0

Podiums:                                   2

DNFs                                         1

Points:                                      123

Position:                                    8th

Points since Sachsenring:      35

Starting in Brno, both riders have finished every race. Rins had a terrible first half of the season—4 DNFs, including three of the first four rounds. Clean since then. Out-pointing Zarco. Sorry. Sticking with my rating. A certain amount of What Have You Done for Me Lately? gets into this, but not too much. Five second-half rounds seems like a reasonable comparison. It will be interesting to see how each finishes the season, with Zarco packing up to KTM, while Rins looks to stay put and partner with the up-and-coming Joan Mir starting next season. His masters at Suzuki need to get him some more grunt to go along with the sweet-handling GSX-RR.

Were I a gambling man, I’d take a substantial position on the wager that Rins will outpoint Zarco in 2019.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunday’s forecast, from a week out, looks perfect—sunny, just barely warm, with very low ambient radioactivity readings in both the air and water. No hot weather advantage for the Hondas, no moaning from Cal Crutchlow about overheating his front. This is a stop-and-go circuit, a point-and-shoot place if you will. Hondas and Ducatis will enjoy an advantage here. I’m thinking Marquez, Dovizioso and Lorenzo on the podium, but am unclear as to the order of finish, which matters a lot.

Here’s one thing I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see Jorge Lorenzo impeding his teammate in any way at any time during the race. Time for some team orders from Ducati Corse. Any Ducati rider impeding in any way Mr. Dovizioso’s chase for the win and continued life in the championship shall be drawn and quartered in Parc Fermé immediately following the podium celebration. Two year Honda contract or not.

We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results and analysis. And then again on Tuesday with a look ahead at Phillip Island. Dang.

MotoGP Track Records, Point Projections

October 8, 2018
MOTOGP SPREADSHEET AFTER 15 ROUNDS

2018 points projections. Our prediction that Marquez would earn less than 298 is looking bad.

Nothing relevant happened to our point projections in Thailand. Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli switched spots, as did DNS Lorenzo and third-place finisher Maverick Vinales. We shall see how aggressive Marquez becomes once he has clinched the title.

As for track records I am standing on my initial language: The track records I am counting are those set in 2018. As such, Buriram has, from day one, been assumed to be included. So, throwing out Argentina, COTA and Silverstone, eight of the remaining 12 rounds have seen official track records set in 2018. The point has been to illustrate how the control ECU and Michelins, which caused much gnashing of teeth early on, have become state-of-the-art. Secondly, the major manufacturers have improved their ECU hacks and are getting closer to where they were before the change. What they’re no longer spending on hardware they’re spending on software.

 

TRACK RECORDS ANALYSIS AFTER 15 ROUNDS

New track records after Round 15

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Subdues Dovizioso; Title Within Sight 

In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a ”by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Let’s see. FP1, often an outlier, concluded with a top five of Vinales, Rossi, Dovizioso, Miller and Marquez. Friday afternoon produced Dovi, Vinales (?), Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Pramac Ducati strongman Danilo Petrucci. Other than the Yamahas sniffing around, no big surprises lol. But Saturday morning arrived and FP3 produced a little drama. A late crash at Turn 4 scrubbed what would have been #93’s flying lap into Q2. Not only that, but with riders across the board having improved their times dramatically from Friday, this left MM 11th, having to suffer through Q1 for the second time in 2018 and only the fourth time since the current, pleasantly-Darwinian qualifying format was introduced in 2013.

Marquez obliterated the Q1 field by 9/10ths and dragged Suzuki puzzle Alex Rins along into Q2, Rins having punked rookie Franco Morbidelli by 2/1000ths to avoid 13th place. Q2 would feature the factory Hondas and Yamahas, Dovizioso—a limping Lorenzo having packed it in after an impressive high side in FP2—both Suzukis, Crutchlow, and Johann and the Backups—Jack, Danilo and Alvaro. Singing four-part harmonies in four different languages. Worth the price of admission.

Late in a session led primarily by Marquez, your boy Valentino Rossi, with two minutes left in regulation, went out and scorched Chang International, launching himself into pole and simultaneously into the DNA of most of those in attendance. Alas, Marquez came back one more time and settled 1/100th of a second below Rossi, on pole, with the Italian, one feared, having shot his wad making it to the front row. Would he have any starch left for Sunday? It was easy to imagine Vinales starting, somehow, from fourth and running, according to form, ninth by Lap 5. Sure, there were two Yamahas in the top five in qualifications. If Rossi has another win in him, and Marquez encounters any difficulty, it could be memorable for the tens of thousands of crazed Thai fans, finally getting some respect AND getting to see Rossi get a win under duress. Then there’s Dovizioso, who should probably win the race, looking menacing on the front row.

For his part, all Marquez had going on Saturday was the setting of a new track record (during Q1!) and a new all-time record—first rider to pole after going through Q1. As the old song says, they can’t take that away from him. 

The Race 

If today you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted.

Conditions were rugged, as expected. Cal Crutchlow, who spent much of the day in fourth place cooking his tires, faded at the end, riding on the rims. Dani Pedrosa, looking like the old Dani, made it as far as fifth place from a seventh-place start and was likely dreaming of a career-capping podium when he low-sided out of the race on Lap 18.

Maverick Vinales put a Yamaha on the podium for the first time since Germany back in August, trailed by Valentino Rossi who, by any objective assessment, has now officially lost a step. An encouraging weekend for Yamaha, with two bikes in the top four, but not yet time to celebrate anything. I understand they have finally hacked the traction control software to their liking. It is not disloyal to state that almost winning pole or almost standing astride the podium is not as good as winning pole or standing on the podium. Just sayin’.

Though there was plenty of action in the middle of the grid, the top three stayed fairly consistent for most of the day. Dovizioso led the most laps, Valentino led for a fraction of a lap, and Marquez led at the end of the last lap, where they keep score.

Vinales, celebrating a return to the land of the living, picked Rossi’s pocket on Lap 19, was able to keep Dovi and Marquez honest, but never showed a wheel to either, grateful for a third step podium. One Rossi would, I suppose, reluctantly admit to coveting.

The Big Picture

Playing with house money, Marquez will face the first of four match points in Japan in two weeks: Beat Dovizioso, and the championship is over. His win today extended his lead over the Italian to 77 points, with four rounds left. Most observers had their hearts in their throats on the last lap when, in fact, there was little at stake. Now, should he not feel like making the whole Pacific trip, Marquez can return to action in Valencia leading Dovizioso by at least two points, making for an interesting season finale and avoiding the whole fustercluck that is three Pacific races in three weeks.

Of which one, perhaps two will be run after the championship has been decided. At that moment, the Dorna promotion machine will begin yammering about 2019, Lorenzo on Honda, Zarco on KTM, etc., etc. The same way there is now tons of Christmas décor in the stores in the first week of October—staying ahead of the game. PS—By definition, Buriram’s official track record was set in 2018. 8 for 12.

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Andrea Iannone on the grid at the start. Image poorly cropped.

Here and There 

Scott Redding is thrilled to be riding in British Super Bikes next year. Just let that one sit and ferment for a moment. Maybe just beating the living crap out of someone, anyone, will make him feel good again. Like going from table stakes poker to nickel-dime-quarter. Thrilling.

Rossi spoke last week of Thailand as “another important opportunity to improve our bike.” General Pickett, I believe, spoke of Gettysburg as “another important opportunity to improve our attack.” I’d say both were correct, but only one worked out.

Michelin brought a fourth rear tire to Thailand. Cal Crutchlow probably didn’t like any of them.

Lorenzo tried to ride this week. Years ago, he rode a week after breaking his collarbone (and broke it again), so I expected him to ride and do poorly. His pride got the best of him on Friday. The Pacific Swing is on the horizon. Friday was a bad idea. It’s not like he’s chasing a championship. 

Tranches…Get Your Tranches Right Here 

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, (Rabat)

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

Here it Comes

Here come the dreaded flyaway rounds, three races in three weeks. Making things worse is the stranglehold in which Marc Marquez holds the championship. Bad enough to have to keep up with all these logistics when there’s something in the balance. But when it’s just filling out the schedule, and there aren’t any playoffs… Whatever. We’ll be back in two weeks with a glance at Twin Ring Motegi.

New Respect for Jack Miller

October 4, 2018
Jack Miller

A younger Jack Miller winning in Assen.

The recent interview on Crash.net with Jackass Miller reveals him to be way more empirical, more thoughtful and a better rider than I had previously thought.

I had never given much thought to why riders do poorly, believing that once they had the setup, regardless of the bike itself, as close to “good” as possible they just went out and let things rip. If they had enough bike and enough riding skills to make the top five they would. If not, they wouldn’t.

In this story, Miller explains how he, and by deduction all of the non-Tranche 1-and-2 riders, understands clearly why he is not podium-competitive. He traces it, in a surprisingly lucid fashion, to the tires, and from there to the order in which the various classes of bikes–MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3–run on Fridays and Saturdays compared to Sundays. He makes an outstanding point. Dorna & Co should have no reason not to implement it this year.

Mention Jack Miller to me and I immediately think of that blogger in New Zealand or wherever who pretends to be Jack–inebriated, insubordinate, racist, misogynistic, acutely critical of all those around him. It appears Mr. Miller has grown up or else is well along the way. He is a racer.

 

 

MotoGP Buriram Preview

September 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen         September 29 2018

Marquez leads Thai expedition 

The 2018 MotoGP season grinds on, a feeling of inevitability having settled over the grid. Marc Marquez will secure his fifth premier class world championship on the Pacific swing, followed by some locally-themed, over-the-top celebration prepared in advance. He has guys for that. Meanwhile, the rest of the grid is flailing away at a top-something finish; in the higher tranches, that would be top three. In the lower tranches, perhaps top ten. What can one say? It’s The Marquez Era. 

Screenshot (159)

Thailand in October is like hanging out in an autoclave. To the locals, it’s pleasantly warm and sunny. To the visitors, especially those with high BMIs and others covered head to toe in leathers and helmets, it’s a sauna, a preview of the heat of the hinges of hell. For the riders, it adds another stressor, another tire consideration, another stamina test to an already highly demanding occupation. It gives an additional advantage to the Hondas, which thrive on hot, greasy tracks. It is likely to add another brick in the wall of Yamaha’s continuing mortification. Those looking to stand on the podium in the maiden MotoGP Grand Prix of Thailand had better eat their Wheaties. It will be a trial. 

Here and There

There is precious little news in the MotoGP world these days, and the few stories floating around are pretty thin. Marquez continues his pounding, piston-like performance; other than Argentina and Mugello, he’s been on the podium every round, with six wins in 13 outings. It’s a two man race in Moto2, with Pecco Bagnaia holding the upper hand on Miguel Oliveira’s KTM. Both are graduating to the majors next season. And the chase in Moto3 seems to get scrambled every time out, with at least seven different race winners this year and most of the top five having multiple DNFs. Great fun, but unlikely to make it to the pages of Sports Illustrated anytime soon.

Jorge Lorenzo wants to blame Marquez for his crash in Aragon blah blah blah. Romano Fenati may end up in court over his not okay stunt in Misano, grabbing Stefano Manzi’s front brake at speed. (I still prefer the YouTube/GoPro video of the guy in Canada lane-splitting at 186 mph. The more astute among you may be able to identify the brand of the bike in the video. Apparently, the Mounties were able to identify the rider and arrest him some time later.) Bradley Smith is, as always, targeting a top eight finish in Thailand. Thin. Brad Binder, on the other hand, is becoming the Great Non-Latin Hope in Moto2. And Suzuki, by virtue of Andrea Iannone’s podium at Aragon, loses its concessions—engine allocation the most important—for 2019. Good on Suzuki.

Maverick Vinales continues circling the bowl, calling Aragon his worst race of the season. Ho hum. Oh, and before I forget, in addition to dislocating his big toe, Jorge also enjoyed a compound fracture of his second toe, making his getting stretchered off in Aragon somewhat less, um, Spartan. Dani Pedrosa, who not that long ago entertained championship aspirations, tied his best performance of the year in Aragon, finishing fifth. Thin. A number of readers have noticed, as have I, how Tech 3 pilot Johann Zarco has apparently checked out of 2018, keeping his powder dry in anticipation of switching to KTM after Valencia. It is fair to assume that Yamaha is not showering the soon-to-be-former satellite team with new pieces and parts these days, either.

Sometime while I was gone Valentino got to test the 2019 Yamaha M1.  The one expected to solve the grip and acceleration issues for the factory team next year. Reportedly, Doc was not impressed. This is bad news. Not as bad as the report on motogp.com that he is “arguably” riding the best of his entire career this season. The article, which includes a wealth of Vale’s “taller than Mickey Rooney” accomplishments in 2018 (“In addition, the [winless] rider from Tavullia has been the highest finishing Yamaha rider in eight of the 13 races so far this season…), is what we old-timers call “puffery.” Some poor entry-level copywriter contracted with Dorna was assigned to give them, promptly, 300 English words on what a great season Vale is having this year. Thin. Gotta keep selling those 46 hats and yellow fright wigs.

Balls.

A Word About Brolly Girls

I routinely catch a lot of flack when I go out of my way to comment on the lovely women who grace the racetrack. I’m objectifying women, etc. The recent spectacle in Washington, D.C. moves me to explain how I respect women and, simultaneously, kind of ogle some of them on TV.

I married someone’s daughter. My wife and I had three of our own. They, in turn, have produced three more. By being the only guy in a rather tight-knit family of women and girls, I became, in my dotage, a feminist. I read that men worry about women laughing at them and women worry about men killing them. I support Dr. Ford and all women who have had memorably bad experiences at the hands of men.

On the other hand, the brolly girls are not being held captive, forced to strut their stuff at gunpoint. They are paid, probably pretty well, for having caught a winning number in the lottery of life, as seen from the distaff side of the coin. These are little part-time gigs, and the models who work them probably work a dozen others in a year. For them, they bat their eyelashes, get their pictures taken a million times, twirl their umbrellas, take the money and run. I’d do the same thing. I will excuse my own pathetic attitude on the subject only by insisting that I appreciate their efforts to dress up the place, and I’m glad they’re part of the show.

Your Weekend Forecast 

This being winter in Thailand, daytime highs will only reach into the low 90’s for the weekend, with a chance of Biblical rain anytime in the p.m. This is going to be a dirty track for all three classes of bikes; free practices could be a flying circus. One suspects that Marc Marquez could abandon sixth gear for the remainder of the season and still clinch way early. I say that as we’re watching the lights come on and then go off, holding our collective breaths, we should all silently chant “Marquez slide-off; rider uninjured” during the hole shot.

For those of you fortunate enough to be traveling to Thailand for the first time, get yourself a treat while you’re there. Find a food seller on the street and ask for a big ol’ plate of my all-time Thai noodle favorite: Sum dum phuc. The translation is a side-splitter.

No real way to predict finishing orders on a new track without resorting to past performance. Hondas dominated the test here back in February. Perhaps we’’ll get a flag-to-flag. Otherwise, Marquez and Dovizioso and someone else will be on the podium on Sunday afternoon. As usual. Despite the heat. And despite the fact that the 2018 MotoGP season has, for now, run aground.

Back again on Sunday.

marquez-vs-dovizioso_gp_spielberg

Marquez Might Not See 298

September 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen    September 24 2018

MotoGP Spreadshet after 14 rounds

The latest results from Aragon haven’t made much difference in our chase of the predicted 297 points or less for Marc Marquez this season in MotoGP. His projected point total has declined since Austria only due to the once-every-four-decades cancellation of the Silverstone round 12. All I want to say in defense of my dubious prediction is that he is trending toward 316 points. Liars figure and figures lie. One might argue that a single careless post-clinch crash could reduce his point total by his average per race, which is 17.6 which rounds to 18.

316 – 18 = 298.

If there’s anything at all interesting about these numbers–and I’m beginning to wonder myself–it is that Marquez led Dovizioso by 72 points on August 12 and will lead him by 72 points on October 6, the day before Buriram. Each has had a first and a second the last two rounds, while Lorenzo has crashed from pole both times. And whereas Lorenzo trailed Marquez by 71 points on August 12, he will trail him by 116 points on October 6. The Spartan, the tragic hero, victim of his own hubris, might have kept himself in the Top Three Riders conversation. Instead, he is now flirting with becoming one of those sideshow guys like the late-stage Randy de Puniet, who could qualify the hell out of a bike only to finish 14th every time out.

 

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Outduels Two Andreas, Extends Lead 

Since Sachsenring, Marc Marquez had grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’ve been making a chump out of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. Today, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso in front of his home fans, assuring them that he may be many things, but one of them is not a chump. 

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New Ant Man artwork at Turn 10

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was Ducati “Bring Your Desmo to Work Friday,” with GP18s (Dovi, Petrucci and Lorenzo) and a GP17 (Jack Miller) blanketing the top of the sheet. Rossi was idling in 15th with 14 minutes left but pushed himself into the top ten—a laughable goal not that many years ago—with some late speed.

FP2 was Marquez holding off the factory Ducatis, with Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone—I know, right?—rounding out the top five.  Rossi in 9th and Vinales in 10th put them on the inside looking out, but for how long? Marquez’ hot lap in FP2 was 7/10ths off the track record, within reach. Notables Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha) were buried in the deep teens. Better luck on Saturday.

FP3 was revealing, as all four Yamahas found themselves in the bottom 14 spots of the grid after the session, all four thereby consigned to the crapshoot that is Q1. The crash that left Rossi mired in 18th place after the session looked as if he simply lost concentration and folded the front on a routine fast turn, unmolested. Perhaps after 20-some years of routine practice session corners, they no longer grip The Doctor’s attention the way they used to. Anyway, Crutchlow and Marquez (and Pedrosa) on Hondas were busy slugging it out with Ducati representatives Miller and Dovizioso, not to mention the pesky Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki in the top five again.

The most glaring anomaly from FP4 was watching Valentino Rossi giving a reasonable impression of one of the Laverty brothers, closing the session in, again, 18th (eighteenth!) place. From there, he went on to finish 8th in Q1, meaning he would start Sunday’s race in—you guessed it—18th place. How he finished eighth in Q1 illustrates the growing fetish top riders seem have about not allowing “lesser” pilots to tailgate/slipstream them to a fast lap. My dog doesn’t like going on a walk with another owner and dog walking behind us, makes her nervous. I’m thinking Rossi’s thinking that, on his current sled, 2019-2020 seems like a long time.

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Rossi discussing his winning options–zero and none–with his team prior to the race.

Sitting eighth with new rubber and what seemed like five minutes left in the session, fetish on full display, Rossi spent four and a half of those minutes cruising the perimeter, waiting for other riders to go through on him and which they, in turn, cruising themselves, refused to do. His Wiley Coyote moment came when he realized there were 30 seconds left on the clock, and he was at least 45 seconds from the start/finish line. He never got his second flying lap started. Welcome to Row 6. BTW, Maverick Vinales waltzed into Q2, while Taka Nakagami snuck in just under the wire, consigning fellow rookie Franco Morbidelli to Row 5.

Q2 went the same way. Marquez laid down two sub-1:47 laps during his first attack, and the second stood up until a minute and a half after the flag waved. Again, much of that time was spent watching the riders and teams, um, standing around, waiting for “the right time” to attack the track record and claim pole. But, with the Racing Gods rewarding bad behavior, the two factory Ducatis apparently got it right. Long after the checkered flag waved, Dovizioso put his GP18 .07 in front of Marquez. Five seconds later, Jorge Lorenzo flashed across the line, taking his third consecutive pole, this by a full .014 seconds. Nice front row. But winning pole without setting a new track record—meh. Note: All Ducs on pole since summer break? No Yamaha starting from the top ten grid spots? Who put the pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?

Another Great Race

“I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not.”   –Motorcycle.com, September 19, 2018 

Not sure how many of you got what you wanted from this race, but I did. The two best riders on earth on the two best bikes, standing 1-2 in the chase, squaring off for another last lap cage match. This after 22 laps of high drama and exquisite suffering, as they used to say on ABC’s Wide World of Sports—‘The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat.”

By taking the hole shot from the third spot on the grid, defending world champion Marc Marquez forced former world champion Jorge Lorenzo wide in the first turn, from whence he opened the throttle a touch early, lost the rear of his Ducati, and got flung over the windscreen, a dislocated toe adding injury to the insult of having crashed from pole for two consecutive rounds. His premature departure left a curious front group consisting of two usual suspects—Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso—and two unusuals—Suzuki pilots Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins. Dani Pedrosa, in his Aragon swan song, put his Repsol Honda in 5th place to stay after a few laps, and everyone’s favorite rider, Aleix Espargaro, put his own Aprilia RS-GP in sixth place for the duration, tying his best finish ever for the Italian brand, and adding over 50% to his point total for the season.

This is how things stood until around Lap 14. Dovi had led most of the way, with Marquez dogging him the entire time. The two Suzukis, acting as if they weren’t a Tier Two brand, stolidly held serve in third and fourth places, appearing very relaxed, while the two leaders looked anything but relaxed, Dovizioso bouncing on his rear tire braking at the end of both straights. The two leaders started exchanging the lead on Lap 14, back and forth. Mostly recreational, from a distance. Until around Lap 21.

On Lap 21, Marquez bulled his way inside Dovi at Turn 1, only to get passed by both Dovi and Iannone—where’d he come from?—before grabbing the lead back later on the same lap and closing the door from there. Dovizioso was unable to mount a serious challenge to Marquez over the last 2½ laps. Even if he had, the only thing that would have changed would have been who stood on the top step of the podium and who would stand on the second. The 2018 standings, atrocious from a competitive standpoint coming in, got only marginally worse. 

The Big Picture 

After Misano, Marquez led the Sioux Nation by 67 points with six rounds left. Today, he leads by 72 points with five remaining. Announcers Matt and Steve were banging on today about how Marquez couldn’t clinch the title in Thailand, as if anyone thought that to be remotely likely anyway. His chances of clinching in Japan improved, and his chances of clinching in Australia went way up. Put it this way. It would take a Boston Red Sox-scale collapse over the final five races of the season to deny Marquez his fifth premier class championship. By way of illustration, were Marquez to crash out of the next three rounds while Dovizioso was busy winning them, he would trail the Italian by three points heading to Sepang.

No other meaningful changes in the top ten. Danilo Petrucci jumped up two spots to sixth, as both Crutchlow, who crashed out on Lap 5 and which was not his fault, and Johann Zarco, finishing 14th today, dropped a spot. The only thing that changed in a meaningful way was the likelihood that Marquez would NOT win the 2018 title, which went down again today. He has increased his lead in the championship at every round since Mugello. Oh, and the guys failed to break the track record from 2015 today, putting them 7 for 11 for the year. Still worth talking about. As for the title, that thing is over.

One final note. Prior to the race, you could see delight in the eyes of Xavier Simeon, the sad sack #2 rider for Avintia Reale Ducati, knowing that Jodi Torres, subbing for injured teammate Tito Rabat, was someone he could beat. Today was the day Simeon would, assuming he could finish the race, not finish dead last. We are happy to report that his dream came true, as he managed to pound Torres by half a second for the day, although that elusive first championship point still eluded him. Different people spell “winning” in different ways. 

Tranching Tool 

After Misano

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Iannone, Viñales, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

Looking Ahead

Two weeks to the maiden Grand Prix of Thailand. No numbing “Recent History at Buriram” to deal with in the race preview, as this is the virgin MotoGP outing at Buriram International Circuit. But we’ll dig up some stuff for you between now and then. My wife and I are leaving tomorrow for a week in Maine—she thinks it might as well be Siberia—for some chowdah, lobstah and relief from another stifling Indiana summer. Ciao.

Local Color

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MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen     September 17, 2018

Simple: Dovi Must Run the Table 

Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly-unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third. 

I have given this last statement a bit of thought. Finishing second is vastly different in the sports of motorcycle racing and, say, boxing. Finishing second for the year in MotoGP is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just more forgettable. Unless, of course, it’s decided at Valencia. Not this year.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2015, Lorenzo put on an M1 clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result for what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card. Looking back on it, this was the year Rossi’s fans learned to loathe #93, allegedly blocking for his countryman, later in the season. Much the same might have been said about Pedrosa here.

In 2016, Repsol’s suddenly-cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder gathered momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Marquez and Petrucci at Misano 2017

Petrucci and Marquez, Aragon 2017

History Aside, Here We Are

As fall approaches in the U.S., where virtually no one reads this, the 2018 MotoGP championship chase hangs by a thread. The top chaser, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, conceded the season to Marquez publicly last week; possibly playing head games, probably not. The rest of the contenders—Rossi, Vinales, Lorenzo—are either too inconsistent, too over-the-hill, or too under-horsed to mount any kind of a real challenge this year. Even in the unthinkable case that Marquez would allow himself to crash out of two of the remaining six rounds, that would only put things back in play for maybe one of the three. And it would be a long row to hoe from there.

As our British friends observe, there are 150 points “on offer” in the last six rounds of 2018. Marquez, again, AOBFO, has 67 points “in his pocket” and probably holds every tie-breaker known to man. Which translates, roughly, to one of the three main chasers winning, like, five of the last six races (!!!) while Marquez goes all Aleix Espargaro and fails to podium once for the remainder of the year. This, then, is what one finds when looking up the term “unlikely” in one’s online dictionary.

 MotoGP

TRACK RECORDS: RIDER, YEAR AND MANUFACTURER AFTER 13 ROUNDS 

LOSAIL                    2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RIO HONDA[1]        2014           Marc Marquez               Honda 

COTA[2]                   2015           Marc Marquez                Honda 

JEREZ                      2018          Cal Crutchlow               Honda 

LE MANS                2018           Johann Zarco                Yamaha 

MUGELLO             2018           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

CATALUNYA         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                Ducati 

ASSEN                     2015           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

SACHSENRING     2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

BRNO                       2016           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RED BULL RING   2016           Andrea Iannone            Ducati 

SILVERSTONE[3]  2017           Marc Marquez                Honda         

MISANO M.S.         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                 Ducati

ARAGON                  2015            Marc Marquez                   Honda

CHANG                    2018

MOTEGI                   2015            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

PHILLIP ISLAND     2013            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

SEPANG I.C.              2015            Dani Pedrosa                   Honda

RICARDO TORMO   2016            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

[1] Weather

[2] Track conditions poor

[3] 2018 race cancelled

Ten eligible rounds this year—dry races on suitable surfaces—with seven new all-time records. 70 percent, year-to-date, with Buriram, by definition, in the W column. With  the highly-criticized Michelins and common control ECU. The remaining records this year are not terribly recent, with Marquez’ at Phillip Island recorded in 2013 when he was a rookie. Lorenzo’s records late in the season are impressive and endangered. He is also the only rider to record track records on different bikes. Also impressive. Not endangered. Investigative journalism like this is why MO pays me the big bucks. I know you were wondering.

Here’s what I’m wondering, wishing I had access to MotoGP historical numbers I could manipulate to back up my otherwise-baseless assertions. I think the big deal about winning pole is vastly overrated, should be and is treated like its own little “mini-accomplishment,” on jelly-soft tires with no gas for one lap, torpedoes be damned. Win a big tricked-out BMW. I suspect qualifying on the front row doesn’t significantly hurt one’s chances of winning the race compared to winning pole. Just sayin’ qualifying on the front row should be the emphasis. Not pole. Pole is mostly a notch on a bedpost. Other than in places like Misano, where it is a curse; no winner from pole in nine years.

Wondering about the correlation between winning pole and winning the race. About winning the pole and securing the podium. About the correlation between qualifying second and finishing first or second. About the correlation between qualifying third and finishing on the podium. Someone with better abilities to manage data from online sources please do the math over the past 20 years and provide the analysis in the COMMENTS section below. Some poor guy in, like, Bali is holding his breath.

Track records are, in my opinion, a big deal. The vast majority are pole laps. To the extent that winning pole produces a new track record, I’m down. Otherwise, it’s just a big Beamer. Marquez has a barn full of them and lets little brother Alex drive one whenever he wants. They both know poor Alex will never have one of his own.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast for the three-day weekend in metropolitan Alcañiz calls for sunny skies and hot temps—real hot on Friday, hotter on Saturday, and hellish on Sunday. And dusty. These races favor the leader, especially one on a Honda RC213V, since conditions will add an additional layer of stress for all the Marquez chasers, notably the Yamahas. With their mathematical chances of a premier class title in 2018 approaching the abscissa, they must nonetheless exude confidence, risking life and limb in a heroic but mostly symbolic attempt to pull off the impossible, and live up to the mythic expectations of teams, families, fans, sponsors and, ultimately, owners. Lots of constituents. Lots of pressure. Lots of pressure not to let the pressure show. Never let them see you sweat.

I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not. Even if Dovi beats Marquez to the flag it will be a big-picture win for #93, as he would drop only 5 points to Dovi with but five rounds left, four of which are in those pesky Pacific time zones where things can go from bad to worse. Things like Marquez clinching in Australia. Things like that. As for third place, probably a Crutchlow on the Honda in the heat.

A new track record at Aragon, however, would be very cool. Marquez recording some kind of DNF would add interest to the next round in Thailand.

We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday before lunch EDT.

MotoGP San Marino Results

September 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

SEE LOW RESOLUTION PHOTOS FOLLOWING THE ARTICLE

Ducati celebrates, Dovi dominates and JLo asphyxiates

2018 will go down in Bologna, Italy as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third. When Jorge Lorenzo stunned the 97,000 fans by sliding out of second place on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another crushing 8 points to his 2018 lead. When you can win while losing, you are The Man.

Practice and Qualifying 

Practice sessions on Friday favored Hondas and Ducatis, although the inscrutable Maverick Vinales found his way into the top five during both sessions. Dovizioso was quickest in both sessions; Crutchlow was blazing. Marquez turned in his customary pokey FP1, checking things out, before climbing into the top five in FP2. The rain in the forecast earlier in the week never materialized.

Valentino Rossi, expected by a number of readers to win on Sunday, limped home in 15th place in FP1 and 8th in FP2. Lucky for him, conditions early on Saturday led to slower times for most riders, a confounding FP3 showing Johann Zarco (?), Jack Miller (??), Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow topping the sheet while Rossi was dawdling down in 20th position. Somehow, Rossi weaseled his way straight into Q2, FP2 having saved his bacon. Joining him with free passes into Q2 were the usual suspects along with Alex Rins on the Suzuki in 7th and Miller’s Pramac Ducati 10th. 

Q1 was crowded, due to guest appearances by Michele Pirro on a Ducati GP18, Stefan Bradl on a Marc VDS-caliber Honda, and a rider I’ve never heard of, one Christophe Ponsson, taking the place of the injured Tito Rabat for the Avintia Reale Ducati bunch. The announcers had been jocking Andrea Iannone and Pirro to pass through to Q2, but it was, instead, the Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli making the grade. Again, conditions were dry as a bone.

Q2 was a Jorge Lorenzo tour de force. He hauled his Ducati GP18 around the track on his first flying lap and set a new track record. His second attack was fruitless, but his third established yet another record, putting the grid 6 out of 9 for the year, breaking track records-wise. Marquez, his competitive juices coming out his ears, got out quick early, but slid off after having put himself in third. By the time he legged it back to the garage and jumped on his second bike, his adrenaline levels peaking, he had time for one more charge. His troubles during the weekend in sector 2 bit him again, and the session ended with him sitting in fifth position, without a care in the world.

Lorenzo was joined on the front row by Miller—dude defines “unpredictable”—and Maverick Vinales, who put his Yamaha on the front row late in the session. Marquez ended up flanked on row 2 by Dovizioso and Crutchlow, who lost his grits during the session. Rossi headed row 3, trailed by Danilo Petrucci and Zarco. Conclusion: There are a lot of fast riders on the first three rows. Thoughts like this are why so many people tell me I have a genuine flair for the obvious.

Sunday Riders

At the start, Lorenzo took the holeshot as interloper Jack Miller kept his nose in second place, from whence he started. Dovizioso went through Miller later in the lap, followed by Marquez and a panicky Maverick Vinales, with Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow trailing. Lap 2 saw Marquez shove Lorenzo out of his way, after which Jorge returned the favor. By Lap 3, Jack Miller found his way to the kitty litter, and the two factory Ducatis took off on their own for what appeared to be a Beat Your Teammate afternoon. Such was not to be the case.

While all this was happening, the factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were accomplishing absolutely nothing. Rossi started and finished seventh, due, late in the day, to the thoughtfulness of Lorenzo. Vinales started third and worked his way back to fifth as time ran out, Dani Pedrosa eyeballing him for the last six laps. Only poor writers would ever wheel out the hackneyed “once-proud” label for a brand which will clearly bounce back soon. But there it is.

Anyway, Dovizioso went through on his teammate on Lap 6 and was never seriously challenged after that. He managed the gap, the tires, his physical energy and his emotions in earning a solid, well-deserved and ultimately meaningless first win at Misano. Lorenzo had second place written all over himself until his unforced error on Lap 26. He and Marquez had taken a few shots at one another over the last 20 laps, but, as future teammates, nothing serious or offensive. Marquez, understanding he didn’t have the pace of the Ducatis, kept his powder dry, stayed within shouting distance of the leaders, and was there to scoop up a few extra points at the end. As planned.

Can’t Let This Pass without Comment

So there was this staged reconciliation on Saturday between Marquez and Rossi, cameras firing away as Marquez offered his hand and which Rossi, apparently neither expecting nor wanting it, declined. I immediately caught a whiff of professional wrestling, with stunts staged and designed to encourage viewership. Rossi’s type of gratuitous snub rarely works, and then only when it is the rider leading by 60 points declining the proffered hand. The rider trailing by 60 points, his ego clearly intact, who then goes out and finishes seventh and who should have finished eighth, only diminishes his own stature by such a tacky display of disrespect.

The Big Picture

Marquez leads Dovizioso by 67 points and Rossi by 70 with five rounds left. Though they are separated by only three points, Dovizioso is in the ascendency while Rossi is descending. I’m calling it here that both Lorenzo and Rossi are officially out of it for 2018 and Dovi is on life support. Marquez now has what I think of as a rolling magic number relative to Dovi:  Add 34 points to his margin between now and the flag at Buriram. Failing that, add nine points to his margin between now and the finish of Motegi. Or, failing that, lose no more than 15 points to Dovizioso between now and a white flag at Phillip Island. For those of you who play lotteries involving both positive and negative numbers, the Pick Three today is 34/9/-15.

Tranche Action at the Top

Tranches After Red Bull Ring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Iannone, P Espargaro, Viñales, Rabat

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Misano

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Iannone, Viñales, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

The Intermediate Classes

In Moto3 today, Lorenzo Dalla Porta recorded his first ever grand prix win with an exhausting photo finish over Jorge Martin, allowing Martin to take the season lead over Marco Bezzecchi, who high-sided out of the lead late in the day. “Perfect” Pecco Bagnaia cruised to an easy win in Moto2, causing Pramac Ducati to drool in anticipation of 2019 and triggering Jack Miller to see red over all the fuss. Should be an interesting match-up; don’t be surprised if there is a wall in the Pramac garage before the end of next year.

Oh, and for those few of you who didn’t think Romano Fenati is psychotic, check him out grabbing the brake lever of Stefano Manzi prior to getting black-flagged today. His penalty is to spend the entire weekend in Aragon swathed head to toe in bubble wrap.

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* * *

Five rounds left in 2018. Two weeks to Aragon, the Land of Sand and Massive Boulders. Two weeks as the Marquez countdown continues. Two weeks for Andrea Dovizioso’s team to figure out a way to slip a half cup of sugar into Marquez’ gas tank prior to the final sighting lap in Spain.

If Marquez’ brolly girl at Aragon is Italian, someone will need to keep an eye on her.

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His brolly girl. And Andrea Iannone.

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Smoke and madness. And disappointment.

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What a beautiful place to build a racetrack.

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Valentino Rossi’s ranch in Tavullia. It won’t be long before one of the VR46 Academy riders beats the old man.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Chasers be advised—this is a Honda track 

The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon. 

The odds are against him. His last title was a decade ago. His last win was in Assen last year. The 2018 Yamaha M1 is lagging its major competitors across the board. The software doesn’t appear to have kept up with the hackers at Honda and Ducati. It has grip and acceleration issues. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales appears to have thrown in the towel on 2018; wonder if he’s having buyer’s remorse over having already signed for 2019-20? But, as Nick Harris used to say about Rossi, “Write him off at your peril.” 

Recent History at San Marino 

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, the fast-drying track forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.  When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. At that point of the season, folks bet a lot of money on Vale for the championship, at short odds. Later, they would have some explaining to do.

In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo.  For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go. 

Last year, Marc the Magnificent delivered a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch generational rider Marc Marquez perform at the height of his formidable powers.

Silverstone Post Mortem

Funny to me that Ducati Corse wishes to complain about the notification procedures around the riders meeting which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the race. This despite the virtually unanimous opinions from the riders that the track was too dangerous to race on. (I understand it was mostly families of Italian passengers on The Titanic who complained afterwards about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the ship’s stern at the time of the encounter with the iceberg.)

Standing water and motorcycle racing do not mix. Ask Marquez, whose premier class career almost ended before it started, in practice at Sepang in 2011—yes, I know, the Marco Simoncelli disaster—when he hit a hidden pool of standing water, smacked his helmet on the tarmac in a violent lowside crash, and had double vision for six months afterwards. Consider not only what we lost that day, but what we almost lost, too.

As I see it, there are at least three problems with the track. There is a lack of positive soil drainage in numerous places around the circuit that will require culverts to divert rain and runoff. There are numerous places on the track where there is negative slope on the asphalt itself, which should never have occurred in the re-surfacing of the track. These produce standing water even when off-track drainage is adequate. Finally, several riders complained about bumpy sections of the track, perhaps F1 braking zones, where any bumps should have been eliminated during the re-surfacing. And if the pavement is so fragile that a single F1 race can tear it up, they should undertake a complete do-over or move back to Donington.

As my dad used to say,

Once More, with Feeling 

Marquez       201

Rossi            142

Lorenzo        130

Dovizioso     129

If you drink heavily enough, this becomes an interesting problem in mathematics, probability and pressure. Conventional wisdom is that, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, Marquez will probably clinch at Motegi. Certainly, if he should record a DNF in the next three rounds all bets are off. But presuming he doesn’t, a presumption supported by the numbers, the likelihood of his claiming the 2018 title in Thailand aren’t bad.

Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.

Look at Marquez’s record late in the seasons in which he titled in MotoGP.

Marquez stats 2013 - 2017Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Item #1: In 2013, over the last 10 rounds, he podiumed every round other than the silly rookie mistake DQ in Australia. In 2014, one DNF over the last 10 rounds. Throw out 2015, as he was out of contention and his don’t-give-a-rip factor was sky high. 2016—one crash in last ten rounds. 2017, a blown engine at Silverstone. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes late in seasons in which he titles. As for Phillip Island, well, it’s clearly win or bin territory for young Marc. Fastest track on the calendar, most picturesque, cold, windy, wild and woolly. Usually, by that time of the year, he’s playing with house money and can afford a loss or two.

Item #2: Crash = Fail. For Marquez, a crash simply pushes the numbers back a week. What would a native Malaysian coronation ceremony look like, in leathers and boots? For the other three, crash and it’s bye, Felicia. Psychologically, advantage Marquez.

Item #3: Going down the pecking order, as things stand now, Marquez would need to add 42 points to his margin over Rossi in the next 3 rounds, but only 17 in the next four. Should Rossi DNF, things fall to Lorenzo. If Jorge keeps things upright, he must stay within 31 points of Marquez over the next three, or within six (6, i.e., even) in the next four. Dovizioso, pretty much the same—32 in three or seven in the next four. Looking at Marquez’ historic numbers, the efforts required from these chasers in San Marino, Aragon and Thailand appear extraordinary and conditions need to be perfect.

Your Weekend Forecast

Not that it really matters, but the weather forecast for the greater Rimini area over the weekend is, in a word, iffy. Temps in the high 70’s-low 80’s, but showers in the area all three days. Not what the chasers need.

As for the race results on Sunday, I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (again, thanks, dad) that I have no clue who will end up on the podium. Predicting Marquez feels like frontrunning. Weather could be a factor. With the factory Ducati guys, like major league baseball pitchers, they will need to have their curveball working. Rossi in Italy is a wild card. Crutchlow, since 2012, has a chip on his shoulder. And if you look up “motivated” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Danilo Petrucci gritting his teeth with his name in parentheses below it.

BTW, the whole BeIn Sports thing has got to go. Dorna needs to make MotoGP accessible to the world via TV, even with the lame announcers. Unless they want to keep it a rich man’s parlour game.

We’ll have results and analysis here on Sunday within two hours of the race.

Ciao.