Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (353)

  1. Taka Nakagami finished at the top of the sheet on day two, proving there was a range of objectives riders brought with them to Jerez. Let’s not hyperventilate, pretending that Taka, riding Crutchlow’s bike from last year, is the fastest guy out there.
  2. Marc Marquez is as cool as a cucumber. Everything is chill on the #93 side of the Repsol Honda garage.
  3. Maverick Vinales is now top dog at Movistar Yamaha and they’re building the bike for him. Time for the wall.
  4. Jorge Lorenzo put his shiny new Repsol Honda up into P4 on day two, showing remarkable progress both in his adaptation to the Honda and the recovery of his wrist. 2019 could feature a number of double-Honda podiums. This one may work out for old Jorge.
  5. Danilo Petrucci knows this is his chance. A one year contract, 28 years old, needs to lose more weight, but he has a chance to flirt with Tranche 1. He appears to be the next Andrea Dovizioso.
  6. Franco Morbidelli is looking solid on the Petronas Yamaha. I see him battling Pecco Bagnaia for a good part of next season. Both fast movers, both accustomed to success, both on credible machines.
  7. Jack Miller, now the lead dog on the Pramac Ducati team with Bagnaia, needs to spend more time with the rubber down and the paint up. His inability to finish races is hard on him and his team. We get it that he’s fearless, but he needs to be a little smarter.
  8. Andrea Dovizioso will again chase Marquez all year long, collect a couple of wins and some podiums, perhaps a pole or two. Maid of Honor and head bridesmaid in 2019.
  9. Pecco Bagnaia on the #2 Pramac Ducati should figure in the Rookie of the Year competition along with Joan Mir. The second coming of Jorge Lorenzo will put it on rails now and again.
  10. Alex Rins is my guess to be the fifth Alien, along with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales and Lorenzo. I Screenshot (333)will stick my neck out again and predict a potential P3 for Rins in 2019 on an improved GSX-RR.
  11. Valentino Rossi seems to be getting sick of the whole thing. 2019 is likely to be his last year. He doesn’t have the input he is used to having, the 2019 bike doesn’t work for him, and it’s looking like a long two years. In all likelihood he won his last race at Assen in 2017.
  12. Fabio Quartararo, the 19 year old French wonder, needs a year or two to get himself settled in at 1000cc. He appears to be a baller-in-waiting at the Petronas Yamaha team, upon which will be lavished plenty of corporate largesse. Lots of people seem to want him to succeed.
  13. Tito Rabat will return for Reale Avintia Ducati. Not sure why, other than the money and the women and the free medical care.
  14. Joan Mir, who dominated Moto3 in 2017, has arrived at Suzuki after the obligatory year in Moto2 with much fanfare, giving the Ecstar team a potentially powerful one-two punch in the rider department. Let’s just go ahead and say that Mir will be an Alien in short order. 2021, 2022…
  15. Pol Espargaro, the fastest of the KTM contingent, winner thereby of the Taller Than Mickey Rooney Award. KTM looking weak, top to bottom. There’s grumbling in the cheap seats.
  16. Karel Abraham, #2 on the Reale Avintia Ducati team, races bikes to enhance his law practice, his sex life, and his standing with dad. Finishing, for Karel, is not that different from finishing in the points.
  17. Andrea Iannone, consigned for sins committed early in his tenure with Suzuki to #2 rider on the struggling Aprilia team. Underfunded, underpowered, the effort promises to be one of consistent frustration again in 2019. Iannone will DNF pretty often in the first half of the season, asking more from the bike than it has to give. For Suzuki, Mir is the right choice.
  18. Johann Zarco appears doomed to a Tranche 3 or 4 season onboard the KTM. Openly disappointed, he appears to be suffering buyer’s remorse over having spurned the satellite Yamaha team. Bummer.
  19. Aleix Espargaro, the #1 rider on the factory Aprilia team, a position with a world of prestige and little else. Aleix appears doomed again to spending another year with no podium result. Aprilia’s MotoGP program may not be sustainable if there is a worldwide recession, which would be a bummer for Aleix, Iannone, Brad Smith and MotoGP in general.
  20. Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira–teammates on the Tech 3 KTM team will be fighting one another most of the season–everyone else will be in front of them.

Cal Crutchlow missed both the Valencia and Jerez tests as MotoGP folds up its tents on 2018. He appears to be a top five or six guy in 2019. Overall, the four new guys from Moto2–Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo–have way more talent than the four–Bautista, Redding, Smith and Luthi–that left. They are younger, faster and well-financed. The championship will be closer in 2019 than 2018–other than Marquez running away with the title–and closer yet in 2020, the second year of most of the contracts. By 2021 some of these guys will be on Marquez’ rear tire on a regular basis, at which point we could have us a horse race again, as in 2013 and 2015. Life goes on in The Marquez Era.

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP: Jorge Martin Thumbs Up

November 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Jorge Martin

Jorge learns the Moto2 756cc Triumph works differently than the Moto3 250cc Honda.

“LOST: male dog, has one eye, mangled left ear, paralyzed hind leg, crooked tail, accidentally neutered. Answers to ‘Lucky’.”

MotoGP Track Records Analysis

November 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen

This look at the record laps at each of the circuits on the calendar is surprisingly informative. As long as you buy in to the notion that a hot pole lap on Saturday has much to do, in the first four rows, with the eventual outcome of the race. Any errors herein, unfortunately, are mine.

Track Records 1 JPEG

We re-sort the chart to show track records by rider, as follows:

Track Records 2 JPEG

Track records, sorted by manufacturer. Honda owns more records than Yamaha and Ducati combined. Marquez holds 80% of those.

Track Records 3 JPEG

Track records, sorted by year. Riders perform better after their first contract year, as their familiarity with the bike grows. Two things emerge from this. One, Lorenzo laid down a hellified qualifying lap at Phillip Island in 2013, as did Marquez in Argentina in 2014. The control ECU and Michelins were introduced in 2016, and it took until this year for the riders and teams to adjust. On Bridgestones in 2015, the riders set some records that may stand for awhile.

Track Records 4 JPEG

Condensing the above chart, to illustrate my assertion that track records would fall like dominoes in 2018:

Track Records 5 JPEG

This is the most telling of the previous charts, in that it proves I was right. 2018 was a banner year for track records. Figures lie and liars figure. All 8 of the records taken out this year occurred during the previous years. It may be that 2015 was a better year, but the records have been lost. Riders likely to flirt with track records next season include Marquez. Observe Andrea Dovizioso, whose name is curiously absent from the charts. Maverick Vinales, perhaps, also absent from the chart, if the Valencia test wasn’t a fluke, etc. Lorenzo is a great qualifier and may appear near the top late in the year; next year (2020) is more likely. Crutchlow or Rossi, I guess. Not Zarco. Not Iannone. Maybe a Petrucci or a Rins, maybe Jack Miller rips off a hot one at Assen. None of the rookies are serious threats in 2019.

I see fewer track records being set in 2019 than this past year. Too many musical chairs, too many rookies on top bikes. Too many KTMs and Aprilias. Five different riders set records in 2018; fewer will do so in 2019. I think Suzuki could get one in 2019, and that could involve either of their riders. As I’ve stated here before, Joan Mir is going to be an Alien. We will look at the rookie records after next year and compare them to rookie records for Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, see if there are any fast movers coming up under the radar.

 

Final MotoGP Scoring; Alien Sightings

November 21, 2018

POINTS PROJECTION JPEG AFTER 19 ROUNDS

At this point I’m not sure why I continue to pursue this nugget; at one time, it seemed important.

For this final exercise I went back and did calculations after Jerez, Round 4. Back in grad school, some professor would have wanted to know the correlation coefficient between the final standings (and point totals), compared to the projections from early in the season. Before doing the math, I can tell you that Round 4 is too early in the season to try to predict this stuff, other than Marquez wins.. Three one-off rounds and the first European round. Definitely would have gotten better correlations after, say, Catalunya or Mugello.

Nonetheless, here are the final results, showing which riders out-performed their early-season expectations and which riders failed to do so. And, for regular readers, you will undoubtedly notice the relative standings of Johann Zarco and Alex Rins early in the year when I started banging on about Rins. Rins was an Alien for the last third of the season. I suspect he may pick up where he left off come March. His new teammate, Joan Mir, is about a year or two behind him. Ballers. Aliens-in-Waiting.

Points Since Jerez     Age in 2019

Marquez       251                26A

Dovizioso     199                 33A     

Rossi             158                 40

Rins               153                24A

Viñales           143                24A

Petrucci          110                 29

Zarco              100                 29

Iannone             86                30

So, who are the Aliens at this moment, besides Marquez and Dovizioso? Rossi? Vinales? Lorenzo? I have left Crutchlow and Lorenzo off this list due to their injuries and whining. It is my contention that the Alien class as of November 2018 includes Marquez, the aging Dovizioso, Viñales and Rins. The usual caveat applies–Marquez wins the next three MotoGP titles. But otherwise they’re all Aliens now. My nomination of Rins is premature, but there it is. And I’m STILL not sold on Maverick Viñales.

It is worth noting that Fabio Quartararo, newly promoted to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, turns 20 in April. Bagnaia and Mir are 21, and Oliveira is 23. The Alien class will look radically different three years from now than it does today. I think Johann Zarco is too old to start trying to make an Alien run, especially on the KTM. I expect he could be very fast on the Ducati. And no one will successfully accuse either Petrucci or Iannone of being Aliens, now or ever; hell, Petrucci has never even won a race.

At the top of the MotoGP food chain, the times they are a-changin’.

Moto3 Valencia Results

November 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Young Turk Can Oncu making a name for himself

The Valencia round of the Moto3 world championship was less an event than an experience. It involved a bunch of young riders on fast motorcycles competing in wet conditions. As you might expect, roughly half of them fell off, though a few remounted in order to avoid the dreaded DNF. Formerly obscure 15-year old Can (pronounced ‘Chan’) Oncu ended up winning the race (!) in his first ever grand prix (!), becoming the youngest rider to win a GP in, like, 20 years and the first Turk to win anything at all since The Ottoman Empire. In a sport built, in part, on nationalism, it was another precinct heard from.

Screenshot (355)

Can (joined by his twin brother Dennis, both signed by Aki Ajo of KTM when they were 12 (!)), appeared as a wildcard in Sunday’s race. His practice results were surprisingly strong. FP1 9th. FP2 8th. Slipped in FP3 but qualified, comfortable in the rain, at the top of the second row. Tony Arbolino secured pole, followed by Nakarin Atiratphuvapat [one of the reasons I don’t usually cover Moto3] and Brit John McPhee, another known mudder. At one time or other, it seemed every rider either high-sided, ran off track, or experienced one of those long, low, mortifying slide-offs that allow one the pleasure of rejoining the race out of the points and with your fairings all scraped to hell and full of grass and mud.

Except for Oncu, who seemed to have something like a force field around him, keeping most of the other riders away and behind him. When Arbolino crashed, unassisted, out of the lead on Lap 12, there was the young Turk, suddenly leading his first ever grand prix.

At this point it became clear, at least to this observer, that the racing gods were drunk and playing the game with their feet. Kicking all the main protagonists and usual suspects into the grass or the gravel. Cracking up at the prospect of awarding a 15-year old Turkish kid, professionally groomed by KTM for three years, with three notable achievements, one of which he can never lose. He returned home after the race a national hero. In the U.S. probably a hundred people have ever heard of him.

Right, the race. Once he had taken the lead, the race became Oncu’s to lose, as he reeled off fast lap after fast lap, gradually extending his lead. Jorge Martin, the newly-crowned Moto3 champion, had gone off track earlier but recovered to second place with enough laps left to challenge Oncu for the lead if not snatch it from him. To his everlasting credit, he declined to do so, essentially allowing Oncu the win and the kickstart to his career that riders dream of. The stars aligned, and almost all the other riders crashed out. On a normal, dry day, Oncu probably would have been outside the top ten. But, as we pointed out last week, crazy stuff happens in the rain at motorcycle grands prix.

During the podium celebration, I, too, experienced a lifetime first. I got to hear the Turkish national anthem. Screenshot (358)

The two big defectors to Moto2 next season, Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, were unable to compete mano a mano on Sunday due to a variety of factors, but with the season already decided such a shootout would have had a bit of a pro wrestling flavor to it. The 97,000 fans, in for a day of mostly existential competition and soaked clothing, were at least able to say they witnessed history and, years later, yes, I’ve followed Can’s career closely ever since that ridiculous win in the rain at Valencia in 2018 blah blah blah.

This is a good place to note that Simon Crafar, the former rider now doing color on the videocast, has improved greatly since early in the year. He is at his best when talking specifically about being on track, approaching a turn, hydroplaning, the stuff only he, of the three announcers, really knows. His interview questions will improve over time, but he’s very good at explaining on-track stuff.

A star was born on Sunday in Spain. Let us hope that his career is brighter than the previously youngest rider ever to win a grand prix race, one Scott Redding, now fully grown, on his way from a dismal few years in MotoGP to British Super Bikes and, allegedly, damned happy to be doing it. Stepping away from all the money and women and fame, going from table stakes poker to penny ante. If he doesn’t dominate BSB next year he will need to think about a new career.

TOMORROW:

MotoGP Rider Performance vs. Projections since Silverstone

FRIDAY:

Track Records Analysis by Rider, Manufacturer and Year

Moto2 Valencia Results

November 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Oliveira cruises to Pyrrhic victory 

Sunday’s Moto2 season finale was just one of those races. Polesitter Luca Marini got tangled up with two MotoGP promotees, Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, and just like that three of the day’s strongest favorites were scootering back to their garages, their day and bike trashed but their futures as bright as ever.  

Screenshot (354)

Trouble in Turn 2, Lap 1

With those three out of the way, Miguel Oliveira caressed his KTM to an easy win, having already lost the War of 2018 to Bagnaia. The weather sucked. The 97,000 fans saw a lot of crashes all day and got soaked for their trouble. If they arrived in time to watch the earlier Moto3 race they saw history being made—more on that later. Otherwise, it was a high-side festival in the wet with 29 seconds between first and fourth positions. A demolition parade, if you will. Very un-Moto2-ish.

Alex Marquez, the struggling Estella Galicia rider, younger brother of The King, won the Moto3 championship in 2014 and looked to be, as rumored, at least as fast as Marc. He has since spent the last four seasons underperforming in Moto2. He has made a career, at this point, of crashing out of contention, and is the main reason his team went winless in 2018 for the first time since The Armistice.

Marquez led much of the day, at home, looking the way he was always supposed to look. Having gone through on Oliveira into the lead on Lap 6, he found himself under constant pressure from the KTM #44. He again demonstrated how rain magnifies errors, turning them from twitchy little momentary heart-stoppers to crash and burn road rash, with river rocks in your nether regions. Our firm expectation that he would crash was met on Lap 14 in Turn 14, a slide-off which allowed him to re-mount and ultimately finish third, so great had been his lead at the time. Iker Lecuona accompanied Oliveira through and captured second place. (Having rarely seen Lecuona’s name written, I always heard the Brit announcers saying “Ikaleukawana” which, as you might expect, reminded me of the old Hawaiian rider Kamanawannalaya.)

So the last race of the Honda era of Moto2 was a bummer for pretty much everyone but Oliveira and KTM. The records have been set, the memories burned in, and a new era begins next week as the Triumph 765cc three-cylinder monsters take their place, a whole new ball game commencing in 2019. The four graduates into MotoGP—Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati), Oliveira (Tech 3 KTM), Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) and Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) will move on up the food chain, leaving as Moto2 favorites guys with names like Brad Binder, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Luca Marini and Xavi Vierge to slug it out for the championship. They will be joined by Moto3 fast movers Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, presumably keeping Moto2 (and the Red Bull Rookies Cup) healthy and thriving. The racing is, on occasion, astonishing.

We will keep you posted on happenings in Moto2 during testing and the off-season. It’s about time.

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 18, 2018

© Bruce Allen.      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Feel-Good Conclusion to Season of Changes 

With the championship already decided, what was there left for fans to root for in the MotoGP finale at Valencia? How about Pol Espargaro earning his first ever premier class podium? How about him doing it on a KTM machine, giving the Austrian factory their first MotoGP podium as well? How about Alex Rins giving Suzuki four podia in a row for the first time since 1994 and establishing his dominance over your boy Johann Zarco? 

Practice and Qualifying 

Three wet practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning found an interesting group headed directly into Q2. A few names you’re used to seeing—Marquez, Dovi, Alex Rins. And a few you rarely see—Danilo Petrucci, big man on campus, heading the list, Dani Pedrosa, in his Swan Song, and the Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, together again, still shoving their respective stones up the mountain. Vinales and Rossi were nowhere to be seen in the spray, and the Q1 field was mostly full of guys with no reason to ride hard today. Bautista. Lorenzo. Bradley Smith. Scott Redding.

As if it needed to be less important, qualifying took place on an almost dry track. Andrea Iannone and Vinales led the Q1 lot, leaving Jorge Lorenzo (13th) and former world champion Valentino Rossi (16th) pondering cosmic questions. Marquez went down at the infamous Turn 4 on his first flying lap and re-injured his left shoulder. He was wheeled into the medical center, his left shoulder assembly unbolted, a new, pre-homologated shoulder module ratcheted on, whence he saddled up again and went back out with six minutes left. He could do no better than the middle of the second row. LOL. He has also used up his allotment of replacement joints for 2018. The front row of Vinales, Rins and Dovizioso looked strong, although I’m never fully convinced about The Maverick. 

The Three Races

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History was made today in the Moto3 race. If you would like to find out how, without any nasty spoilers, check the in-depth coverage of the race tomorrow at MotoGPforDummies.com.

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Early drama in Moto2

Today’s Moto2 tilt, the last of the 600cc Honda era, featured a multi-rider crash on the first lap that removed several notables from the festivities. The herd having been thinned, the field was cleared for the eventual winner, making the season’s final standings appear closer than they actually were. If you would like to find out more, check the in-depth coverage of the race Tuesday at MotoGPforDummies.com.

The first MotoGP race of the day was red-flagged after 13 laps when the rain, which had been annoying all day, went all Bubba Gump mid-race, forcing a re-start featuring 16 riders and 14 laps. By that time, both Espargaros, Jack Miller, Michele Pirro, Danilo Petrucci, Tom Luthi and Marquez were already down; Pol and Pirro were allowed to re-enter the race and started the second go.

Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins and Valentino Rossi quickly re-established a lead group after Maverick Vinales, who had been solid in the first race, crashed on the opening lap, with Rossi going through on Rins on Lap 7 and setting his sights on Dovi. The magic of a decade ago once again failed to materialize for The Doctor as he crashed off the podium for the second round in a row. At that point, it was clear sailing for Dovizioso, Rins found himself on the second step, and Pol Espargaro, coming unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and probably not the last, time, in KTM colors.

Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray afternoon postscript. If you like watching high-side crashes, be sure to catch the replay at MotoGP.com later in the week. A dreadful conclusion to a dreadful season for Team Yamaha, as Repsol Honda clinched the triple crown—rider champion, team  champion and constructor champion. After the race, Lin Jarvis looked nauseous. 

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Another satisfying win for Andrea Dovizioso.

As for the reference to change, today’s race found riders named Rins, Espargaro, Nakagami and Syahrin in the top ten, and riders named Lorenzo, Rossi, Bautista and Petrucci on the outside looking in. We eagerly anticipate the arrival of Mssrs. Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo from Moto2. We said goodbye to Dani Pedrosa after a distinguished career, ignoring for now the whole ship pilot’s license fraud tempest and the tax stuff. And we wish the best to the other riders leaving the premier class after today, including Alvaro Bautista, Scott Redding, Jodi Torres, Bradley Smith and Tom Luthi. 

In Retrospect

Our friend Old MOron, in a letter to my advice column that I wrote for him, inquired as to my opinion regarding a key point in the season, perhaps The Turning Point of 2018. In my humble opinion, the turning point of the season occurred between May 6th and May 20th. Heading to Jerez, Dovizioso led Marquez by a single point, with both Vinales and Crutchlow right there with them. Leaving Le Mans, Marquez led Vinales 95 to 59, with Zarco at 58 and Rossi at 56. The big crash at Jerez, which violently removed Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa from the proceedings, was the key crash in a season full of them. Dovizioso’s second consecutive out in France sealed things for him; 2018 wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2017. Someone else would have to beat Marquez this season, and that someone turned out to be no one.

Marquez was in front of the maelstrom in Spain and went on to win the race. He won again at Le Mans; 50 points in two rounds. Meanwhile, the people who would be trailing him after Round 5 scored as follows:

_________________Before Jerez           After Le Mans

Vinales         18                3rd                         2nd

Zarco           20                5th                         3rd

Rossi            27                7th                         4th

Petrucci        33                10th                        5th

Miller            23                8th                         6th

Crutchlow       8               4th                         8th

Dovizioso       0               1st                          9th

Up until Jerez, one might have argued that any of four or five riders had a legitimate shot at the title. My prediction that Marquez would accrue fewer than 298 points looked like a brick. Overlooked in all of this was his mental Mardi Gras in Argentina which resulted in a bizarre out-of-the-points finish, a performance unlikely to be repeated in this life cycle, at a race he could have easily won. Had he done so—he dominated practice—he would have accumulated 346 points and completed one of the highest scoring seasons in MotoGP history, winning the title by a margin of 102 points over Dovizioso.

The stalling of Marquez’ bike at Rio Hondo, perhaps, saved 2018 from being, from a competitive standpoint, one of the worst seasons in recent memory. Pity. Pity for guys like Dani Pedrosa and Alvaro Bautista. Pity for the fans in Valencia, who ended up with a kind of JV game. Plus, in a final slap in the face to the author, no new track record was recorded here this weekend, putting us 8 for 14 for the year. Further analysis will be available on the blog. 

Marc Marquez: New Kid in Town

This year’s inspirational text, intended to evoke the arc of modern MotoGP fan history, is borrowed from the Eagles’ song “New Kid in Town.” These days, that kid is Marc Marquez. Marquez this, Marquez that. There have been Lorenzo and Stoner and Rossi and Hailwood and Rainey and Roberts and Lawson, on down the line. Each had his reign. Each was considered the eighth wonder of the world in his day. And each will fade, or has already faded, inexorably into memory, some more vivid than others; the changing colors and numbers in the sea of pennants at races over the years attest to this.

Back in 2011, I wanted to post these words in a salute to the late Marco Simoncelli, as an editorial on the fragile nature of life and fame. It got red-penciled.

The rider who can regularly beat Marc Marquez isn’t in MotoGP yet. But he’s coming. And when he arrives, these words will be running through my head.

“There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.
People you meet, they all seem to know you.
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new.
Johnny come lately, the new kid in town.
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down…

There’s talk on the street; it’s there to remind you
that it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you.
They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.
Where you been lately? There’s a new kid in town.
Everybody loves him, don’t they?…”

If you’d like, you can listen to the entire song here. Crank it up and sing along, if that’s how you roll.

Thanks to all of you gearheads and grandpas who make it a point to read this stuff during the season. I look forward to your comments every time out. I hope to be covering MotoGP for Motorcycle.com next year. But if, as Huey Lewis used to sing, “this is it,” after ten years, I will miss the pageviews but will continue to flog away at what has become my favorite sport at the MotoGPforDummies.com blog until it becomes work or I keel over.

Lorenzo and Marquez Over the Years

November 15, 2018

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Rossi: “10th is possible.” LOL.

November 13, 2018

MotoGP News: Rossi on 2019

“Sepang was a strong indicator there’s life in ‘The Doctor’ yet and could title number 10 come in 2019?”

This is the kind of clatter Dorna pays young people to write about big merchandise sellers. Rossi, indeed, led the Malaysian GP for most of the race. Under brutal conditions, with highly motivated riders snapping at his boot heels, on a suspect bike. He finally low-sided, succumbing to the pressure, the heat, his age, and, ultimately, the laws of physics. Fully aware of the limits of tire adhesion, he had to ask more of the front than it was willing or able to give him in order to maintain his lead over the loathsome Marquez. This sensation, then, is what it’s like to be a rider not named Marquez in the late 20-teens. You choose–watch him win, or crash. Like the old chi-chi joke they tell Down Under.

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

2017 photo

Just to be clear. Put Rossi in as a contender for 2019, and add Dovi, Vinales, and any other rider you want. I’ll take Marquez against the lot of them. To suggest, as the headline suggests, that a 10th world championship is there for the taking in 2019 based upon 16 solid laps in Sepang is fatuous. The things people do for money.

Marquez MotoGP Point Totals, by year

2013     334

2014     362

2015     242

2016     298

2017     298

2018     321+ Valencia

In short, his best year since 2014, when he made The All-Universe team. The ten-for-ten start? Remember? Dovi has had his year–2017. Rossi had his two decades. Vinales is not as good on the Yamaha as expected, and the 2019 that Rossi rode a few months ago was pronounced ‘no big improvement.’. Lorenzo can be expected to have another hellified learning curve. Zarco is fast but he’s older. Rins and Mir would need two solid years on the Suzuki to have their choice of rides for 2021/22, and one or the other could conceivably challenge MM for the championship in, like, 2022. All the Moto2 grads except Mir will be on satellite teams, and all will have their work cut out for them; Bagnaia could be the exception to that rule. KTM doesn’t appear to have a prayer in 2019; beyond that is anybody’s guess.

In short, to me it looks like clear sailing for Marc Marquez for the next three years. During this time, Pedrosa, Rossi, maybe Dovizioso and Crutchlow will age out/retire. The Young Guns with the big reputations will begin showing up on their million dollar handmade custom machines and are likely to be quick from the start. The continuing evolution of the sport, the machines and the men who ride them, is remarkable, as the science of going fast on two wheels becomes ever more complicated and intense. The money, the pressure, the pace, the heat, Newton’s laws, all of it is high-stakes, all-in, digitized, balls-to-the-wall execution at impossible speeds, tire marks on leathers, margins in the thousandths of a second. At least eight new track records in 2018.

There’s nothing like it, and it’s getting better.

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MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Curtain Falls on Another Marquez Masterpiece 

MotoGP’s traditional Valenciana finalé, in years like this, resembles a boxing match in which the undercards are vaguely entertaining, and the main event is moved from late Saturday night to Tuesday afternoon and closed to the public. Sure, it would still be great to have a ticket. Even with all three championships decided, you could still get solidly buzzed, maybe work on your tan, and stoke a few adrenaline rushes of your own for your €100. Get your picture taken with a bunch of bored fashion models, too. 

There’s teammates Rossi and Vinales battling for rear grip and third place; we’re picking Rossi, who can do more with less than Vinales. You’ve got Alex Rins, Johann Zarco and Danilo Petrucci locked in an interesting joust for fifth which Rins will win, setting off a mild celebration in my kitchen. Alvaro Bautista may be auditioning for 2020. Franco Morbidelli appears to be a lock for Rookie of the Year. And guys always want to win races, so there will be plenty of hair-raising action, if not as much urgency. Still, at 180 mph, it’s never really dull.

With three classes competing, and a dizzying array of sub-championships to be awarded—team, constructor, color scheme, catering, brolly girls—trying to provide an overview would turn this into a term paper. As we used to claim in grad school, giddy, smugly, “Such questions are, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper.” Look ‘em up and share with the group. 

Recent History 

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while his loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his encounter with Marquez in Sepang two weeks prior, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only!) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team, especially Marquez, appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps. Rossi fans will never get over 2015. And so it goes.

Two years ago, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration. Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward; the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he, the 2017 world champion, were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Last year, we at MO had been chanting the mantra, “Let Valencia Decide” since March. With the title unsettled heading into the November weekend, the opportunity for a riveting finale existed (if only mathematically), Marquez holding a 21-point lead over Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso as the riders lined up on the grid. The math caught up with Dovi on Lap 25 when, desperate to get past insubordinate teammate Jorge Lorenzo, he ran hot into Turn 8, ultimately laying his GP17 down gently in the gravel. And so the 2017 championship, having been essentially decided some weeks earlier, concluded, as usual, at Valencia, with Pedrosa, Zarco and Marquez on the podium. In all likelihood it was Dani Pedrosa’s last career MotoGP win.

Screenshot (333)Finishing Strong – Points Since Silverstone 

Constantly looking for ways to shore up my passive-aggressive support of Alex Rins and Suzuki, I thought we could take a look at point totals since the cluster at Silverstone. I’ve taken the liberty of removing Marquez and his 120 points from the mix to add to the illusion.

Andrea Dovizioso               91

Alex Rins                           83

Maverick Vinales                80

Valentino Rossi                  53

Andrea Iannone                 49

Johann Zarco                     45

Alvaro Bautista                  42

Danilo Petrucci                   39

Conclusions? None. Suggestions? Plenty.

Rins says the new engine he received at Assen made a difference; the numbers support that. (Iannone has benefited from the change, too.) Bautista has been punching above his weight on a GP17. Petrucci is saving himself for the factory money. Cal Crutchlow is on IR, and Dani has been reduced to a sentimental favorite. As the current crop of Aliens, excluding #93, begins to age out, who will be the New Kids in Town in the next few years? Names like Mir, Bagnaia, Martin and Bezzechi would be my guess. These four, especially, seem to be highly upwardly-mobile. Careers in the ascendancy, as it were. [The winner of this year’s Pithy Quote award is herein foreshadowed; it is the abridged lyrics to a 70’s song. Hint: MO wouldn’t post it in 2011.]

Several talented riders who will be working for KTM during this period might appear above, were it not for two small words pertaining to their MotoGP program:

  1. Over.
  2. Rated

Further, I think it entirely possible that Suzuki could, so to speak, overtake Yamaha for #2 in the constructors’ championship once they secure a satellite team. (Loyal readers will recognize much of the preceding as a feeble attempt to generate controversy late in the season.) These days, Suzuki is doing more with less than Big Bad Blue. Those of you with long memories will recall Bautista riding for Suzuki back in the day. Wouldn’t it be cool to see that again in 2020.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range forecast for the greater Valencia area over the weekend calls for Silverstone-like conditions, temps in the 60’s and “light” rain in the area all three days. If the forecast holds, those of you with imaginary bookies might consider giving them an imaginary call and placing a small imaginary wager on a rider like Jack Miller or Danilo Petrucci or even, at the right odds, Hafizh Syahrin to win on Sunday. A flag-to-flag finale with so many riders injured or otherwise unconcerned about the outcome could provide an opportunity for substantial imaginary returns on some, um, dark horses. Like Johann Zarco. Alex Rins.

Dani Pedrosa.

Screenshot (330)Valentino Rossi.

In the autumn of 2018, the height of The Marquez Era, the 2018 title securely stashed away, a number of riders entertain semi-realistic hopes of winning the Grand Prix of Valencia. But until Marquez clinches a title, he has become viewed as mostly unassailable. He wrestles the quick, fractious Honda RC213V into submission and will beat you if he’s able. He has learned patience and the right time to attack. He does not back away from contact. He makes saves on a routine basis that leave other riders shaking their heads. He’s 25 years old.

We’ll return Sunday with results, analysis and epilogue.[ BTW, I peeked at the 2018 Season Preview, preparing for the 2018 Report Card, and found myself to be pretty much dead on with the notable exception of #26, who wrecked my bracket. Otherwise, had it pretty much nailed. Lorenzo DNFs and DNSs killed his season. Petrucci won his factory seat for 2019 and nothing else afterwards. Whatever. Plenty of good reasons to watch the race on Sunday and argue about it on DISQUS.]

Screenshot (204)