MotoGP 2021 Journal Round Seven: Catalunya

June 6, 2021

© Bruce Allen   June 6, 2021

Heading into Sunday, Round Seven looked like it could be a Yamaha clambake. So how come there were no Yamahas on the MotoGP podium on Sunday afternoon? Plus it looked like Fabio had a major itching issue late in the race. Is it possible he picked up something over the weekend?

Wednesday

Remy Gardner from Moto2 to KTM Tech 3 next year; unemployment looms for Petrux and Lecuona. KTM will promote Gardner’s teammate Raul Fernandez, too, before the end of the season if he continues his winning ways. These Austrian guys are serious about motorcycle racing.

Turns out the new improved KTM machines like Mugello, delivering all four riders to the checkered flag—Oliveira P2, Binder P5, Petrucci P9 and Lecuona P11. Five riders, some likely to have beaten these guys, crashed out. In order to finish first…

Tranches after Mugello:

T1:     Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia, Miller

T2:     Vinales, Zarco, Binder, Nakagami, Morbidelli

T3:     Rins, A Espargaro, M Marquez, P Espargaro, Oliveira

T4:     Rossi, A Marquez, Bastianini, Petrucci

T5:     Savadori, Lecuona, Marini, (Martin)

Of the winners of the last ten races in Barcelona, only three (Marquez, Rossi and Quartararo) will be on track this Sunday. Stoner, Lorenzo, Dovizioso all gone home, Rossi fixing to leave. The neighborhood has turned over; it’s the young guns who’ve begun to assert themselves, especially with Marquez wounded. Johann Zarco, who will be 31 in July, is an outlier. Aleix Espargaro, plucky as always, will be 32 in July. Whereas Fabio turned 22 in April, Pecco Bagnaia 24 in January. Jack Miller turned 26 in January. Joan Mir is 23. All this sounds like a good prop bet: Predict the combined age of the three riders on Sunday’s podium. Over/under is 75½. [The actual number on Sunday would be 83.]

Thursday

I just can’t deal with Alex Rins. Why can’t this guy stay on his bike (bicycle in this case), the sweetest-handling bike on the grid? He is Mr. Inconsistency in a sport that reveres consistency, the ability to turn laps less than a second apart for over half an hour. One of you said Frankie M could be taking Rins’ seat next year, with the Spaniard having to find new digs. And if I were Maverick Vinales, I would have to be worried about Frankie taking MY seat and having to confront the possibility of riding something other than a Yamaha M-1 (shudder) in the foreseeable future. Vinales raised everyone’s expectations so high during the first five rounds of his 2017 season that he will never—never—live up to them. Dude could use a change of scenery. So Rins is out for a few rounds—he’gotta be thinking about this stuff.

Friday

OK, so perhaps I’m tripping here at 4:30 am, but I’m confused about the all-time track record here at Catalunya. Looks to me like they re-configured a turn during the off-season, which negated all the previous track records, including, it appears, Jorge Lorenzo’s 2018 ATTR of 1:38.680. Along comes Aleix Espargaro, the elder, on an improved Aprilia RS-GP in 2021, who leads FP1 with a time of 1:40.378, and now the website (which is down, apparently fixing this glitch) shows Aleix with the ATTR. I offer this up in the hope that one or more of you will reply with a solution to this puzzle. As you know, our crack research staff, which thinks of itself as our Crack Research Staff, is notoriously unreliable when it comes to actual, um, research. They can, however, go on at unbearable length on the comparable qualities of rock vs. powder.

Otherwise, FP1 was just another FP1. #93 pedaling hard in P13. Rossi just another rider. The timing, for the young guns aiming at the title, couldn’t be better. The king has been wounded, and the previous king doesn’t have much game left. Joan Mir took advantage of the same situation last year. So The Usual Suspects have different faces than they did last year. Other than the Espargaro brothers, showing off for their homeys in Granollers, it was The New Usual Suspects at the top of the FP1 sheet. Ain’t nobody care.

Saturday

Valentino snuck directly into Q2 late in FP3, bumping Jack Miller back into the corral with the rest of The Great Unwashed—Nakagami, #93, Pol Espargaro. Rookie Enea Bastianini had some quicks on Friday but nothing on Saturday. Is it just me, or is it becoming customary for the factory KTMs to make it directly through to Q2? Binder and Oliveira appear to be coming into their own. Not Aliens, but Binder, especially, seems to be on the right track. On the other hand, take Alex Rins. Please.

Some other publication carried an interview with Maverick Vinales in which he implied, depending upon who’s doing the translation, that he could be leaving Yamaha, that his next contract could be with another builder. In doing so, he is doing a decent impression of my father’s career, during which he would periodically inform his boss that, in his opinion, his position was redundant, and his boss would then, reasonably, let him go. Is it too early to call Maverick a bust? If he didn’t burn bridges, could he conceivably re-appear with Suzuki as Mir’s teammate in 2022? Of course, this could all be a Samson & Delilah thing, that marriage and fatherhood have cut his hair, making him more aware than usual of the need to remain ambulatory and in one piece.

Just sayin’ that, upon further review, the observation (mine) concerning the similarity of surfing and slipstreaming was, I think, superb. One of my few interests is watching guys surf big waves on YouTube, 80-footers. There is what they call in physics a ‘moment’, the Moment of Truth, when, heading straight down the face of the wave, your speed is accelerating. You’ve caught the wave and you couldn’t get out if you tried without a disaster of possibly life-threatening proportions. On the track, these guys try to get in that stream, not always succeeding, but when they do, doing so in almost magical style, passing six, eight, ten riders into Turn 1, as at Mugello, Losail, places like that. It doesn’t appear Barcelona offers too much in the way of slipstreaming opportunities. Or surfing.

In Moto2 Remy Gardner, MotoGP-bound in 2022, led 14 riders into Q2. As usual, there were plenty of familiar names that made the cut and several more that didn’t. (The competition is so tight in Moto2 that there is little point in getting wound up about where a rider starts on the grid. Anywhere in the first five rows is fine.) Meanwhile, Gardner, rookie Raul Fernandez and Marco Bezzecchi are the three serious contenders for the series title this year. Fernandez has Alien, as they say, written all over him.

Looking at Moto3, young Pedro Acosta again failed to pass GO, forcing him to participate in Q1. This seems to happen more frequently than it should. Given his youth and inexperience, is it even possible that he dogs it in practice, in order to get the extra laps in Q1, on his way to Q2? This may be evidence of over-thinking on my part, but the boy does seem to love to ride and is 16 years old. If he passes through Q1 to Q2 and starts on the first three rows I’m calling BS, saying he’s sandbagging. There’s nothing to stop him, but it’s risky behavior. It may be that, during practice sessions, he has trouble locating a Spotify channel that moves him, and fiddles with his headset during the sessions. Once he’s dialed in, as it were, he’s ready for qualifying. I dunno, but I’m rooting for him. It’s my damned blog.

So Pedro will start Sunday from P25. That wasn’t the plan. John McPhee, Xavier Artigas, Jaume Masia and Riccardo Rossi graduated to Q2. Gabriel Rodrigo, Jeremy Alcoba and Nico Antonelli put themselves on the front row.

The lights would go out in Moto2 on Sunday with Remy Gardner, Raul Fernandez and Bo Bendsneyder on the front row.

When the Q2 smoke cleared in the premier class, it was Fabio Quartararo, once again, claiming his fifth pole in succession, tying a record dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. A long time. He is joined by Johann Zarco and Jack Miller, the latter barely beating the clock to slot his Desmo in P2. Row 2 would be comprised of Miguel Oliveira, Frankie Morbidelli, and Mr. Who Cares?, Maverick Vinales. [This is an intentional dig designed to infuriate Pop Gun and make him work harder.]

Sunday

Clear and warm in Barcelona on Sunday morning.

Warm-up practices were on too early for me. We’ll just turn to the races.

Moto3 was its usual frenetic self. Lead group numbered up to 18 bikes. The final placements had only a rough correlation with the body of work for many of the riders thus far. There were several instances of what I like to think of as ‘motorized shuffleboard’ in which a bike is launched, sliding sideways, minus the rider, and takes out another rider or riders. John McPhee high-sided out of the lead on Lap 10, his bike, on the slide, removing Migno and Suzuki from the board. Late in the race, after the flag, I think, Ayumu Sasaki launched himself, his bike showing initiative in seeking out both Xavier Artigas and Dennis Foggia, among others. At the end it was Sergio Garcia, Jeremy Alcoba and hard-working Dennis Oncu, who dreams of the day he will hear the Turkish national anthem from the top step. Jauma Masia lost his podium spot to Oncu after exceeding track limits—what else?—on the last lap and having three seconds tacked on to his time, dropping him to P4. Pedro Acosta, the teenage wonder, held the lead for a few whiles before ultimately finishing in P7 after a bad shuffle in the last corner. He lead for the season stands at 52 points, not giving too much to his chasers, led by Masia and Sasaki.

Watching the MotoGP race today would have been a good use of your time, had you failed to do so. Miguel Oliveira, bucking for a new KTM contract like the one Brad Binder signed last week—three years with the ascendant Austrian brand—took the lead from Fabio Quartararo on Lap 14 and never looked back, beating that pesky Johann Zarco and Jack Miller to the flag. Actually, Fabio beat Miller to the flag, but was given his own three second penalty for Conduct Unbecoming after he stripped down to the waist late in the race, tossed his chest protector aside, and finished the race with both his engine and himself air-cooled. These bikes don’t have radiators, right? Crashers today included Petrucci, Marc Marquez, the Espargaro brothers, Valentino, and Iker Lecuona.

As of this weekend, it is no longer verboten to speculate on Rossi’s successor on the Petronas SRT team next season. After today’s crash, it’s getting sad.

So, anyway, for the season, it’s:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO        Yamaha          118

2        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           101

3        Jack MILLER                      Ducati             90

4        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati             88

The Moto2 race was shown last today, and for good reason, as it was one of the dullest processions in recent memory. The Ajo KTM teammates, Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner, went off and had their own little race today, won by Gardner in a strategic tour de force. Xavi Vierge returned, at least briefly, from the riding dead to claim P3, on the heels of three DNFs in the first six rounds of the season. The two KTM teammates also lead the season series (Gardner by 11 over rookie Fernandez) followed at some distance by Marco Bezzecchi, who could end up favored for the 2022 title if both Gardner and Fernandez get called up to the bigs.

That’s all I got for today. And I’m mostly taking the next two rounds off at the beach—not taking my laptop. So keep those cards and letters coming and we’ll ‘dialogue’ until summer break. Ciao.

MotoGP 2021 Journal Round 6: Mugello

May 30, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 30, 2021

What beats riding a Desmosedici in Tuscany?

Thursday 

How can anyone think the homeys with Ducati colors on their leathers aren’t going to occupy a couple of steps on the podium on Sunday? I’m inclined to give the nod to Bagnaia, the younger and more Italian of the two factory riders, with Miller and/or Zarco up there too, at one of the shrines of racing. Mugello is perhaps the best example on the calendar of the power of sling-shotting—sorry, slipstreaming—on the main straight. The track design also amplifies the noise in the same area, driving the already-loopy fans insane. Makes for a nice Sunday afternoon if you don’t mind breathing a lot of yellow smoke.

This, and Misano, are Valentino’s Last Stand, Rossi’s last chances to strut on the podium, in SRT teal and yellow, and bask in the adulation of his thousands of Italian fans. He has given them two decades of HOF performance and an Italian presence on the international sports stage. I expect, beginning next year, he will field a SKY VR46 MotoGP team that will be crushing it in the near future. Assuming he ends up with Ducati or Yamaha. If nothing else in 2021, the two brands have established themselves as the clear leaders in the premier class. The championship may remain in healthy doubt, but the hardware not so much.

One of these two brands will win the 2021 title, as it appears our perennial favorite, Repsol Honda legend Marc Marquez, is in poorer shape, racing-wise, than we expected. Looks like he hurried his return in order to have a shot at the title which, it says here, he never really had. I expect him back at 98% of himself next year, the missing 2% coming from the fearlessness he has shown his entire career. His lizard brain is going to try to interrupt during high-stress situations, causing him to pause for a small part of a second. I think he’ll lose a few close races he would have won three years ago. But it’s still going to be fierce to see him back at something approaching complete health.

Regarding 2022, let’s get ready to rumble.

Friday

Just like the old days, watching Rossi and Marquez battle it out, except that today it was an FP1 and they were battling for P16. OK, I get it, it was FP1 and they were sorting things out. But while they were sorting things out, four Ducati guys, three Yamaha guys and both of the Suzuki guys were top tenning it, 1.7 seconds ahead of #93. Oliveira in P10 was the top KTM. Weather was perfect, if a little cool; track 86F. I wonder if Rossi doesn’t find all of this somewhat embarrassing. He seems to be trying.

In Moto2, FP1 was again with the Anglos. What gives in Moto2? Roberts, Gardner and Lowes top three? Again, it’s FP1, I’m just sayin’.

In Moto3 my boy Pedro Acosta was loafing in P14 while Andrea “Fast on Friday” Migno led FP1. Watching Acosta reminds me of watching high school soccer games with two good teams and one exceptional player who stands out, who dominates midfield and wins games. Acosta appears to be that player. In a sport full of great riders, he seems to have, at age 16, focus, the ability to instantly measure openings, to know how much throttle he has available, when to brake, when to overtake, and all the things a veteran rider takes years to learn. He brings it with him to Moto3. He is beating full-grown men and making it look easy. Small grown men, but still…

Pedro Acosta may be due for a fall, but he rarely needs to make saves, seems to ride within himself almost all the time. Not reckless. Seems like he is, at his young age, beginning to think strategically; that he is getting good coaching and that he is coachable. His future is so bright he needs to wear shades.

Back in the premier class, old man Johann Zarco is becoming something of a pest, all these highlights, sniffing around the top during practice sessions, two front row starts and three podiums and all. He and the Duc seem to have found one another. He is fast in the wet and the dry. I wish I had put $100 on him to win it all in 2021. Probably around 50-1. Grrrr. P3 after five rounds, trails Quartararo by 12. No hill for a climber.

Saturday

FP3 in the premier class was instructive. Vinales and #93 missed out on Q2 late in the session, Vinales sliding out late and Marquez not having enough shoulder to sneak into the top ten on his last flying lap. Both Suzukis and the factory KTMs pass GO, collect $200. The spread between P1 and P10 in FP3 was 4/10ths.

About Pecco Bagnaia. 24 years old during Year II of the Marquez Interregnum. Sets a new track record in FP3. The freaking CEO of Ducati Corse drops by in shirtsleeves to say ‘hey’. A tightly-wrapped young Italian hunk on Italian hardware in Mugello, fighting for the title. How can this guy not have full-time wood issues?

Other notables trudging off to Q1: Nakagami, Rossi, Alex Marquez. Rossi has been sucking canal water all weekend. June looms.

Moto2 FP3: Oh great. Sam Lowes is fast in practice again. We can look forward to another front row start and early crash out of contention. The stunned, chagrined look. The piles of brightly-painted fiberglass scrap. The guys in the garage grabbing their faces, thinking, “Not again.” Wishing we were watching Moto3 or GP.

Is it just me, or do Bezzechi, Bastianini, the other Italian riders with big hair, consider themselves the second coming of Marco Simoncelli? Tall, brash, wild-haired, ultimately fast, too fast…

For those of you who don’t ride competitively but do what we east coast types call body surfing, I’m pretty sure the sensation of catching a Mugello slipstream is similar to the sensation of catching a big wave that you know will carry you a long way. In the surf, it’s getting on top of it. On the track, I expect it’s being in it. Letting the laws of physics do the hard work.

Qualifying in MotoGP was a hoot, as long as you’re not a big Maverick Vinales fan. The Spaniard made a mistake (perhaps we should call it a Mav) in FP3 which kept him from passing through to Q2. Then, a second Mav during Q1 cause him to fail to pass through at all, leaving him starting Sunday’s race from P13, effectively taking him out of contention. Again. Fabio was incandescent once more during Q2, seizing his fourth pole in succession. He was joined on the front row by my boy Pecco Bagnaia and a late-arriving Johann Zarco. The second row would include interloper Aleix Espargaro, who almost rode the slipstream to a front row start, Jack Miller, looking dangerous, and KTM pilot Brad Binder in P6. [Pop Quiz: When was the last time the three series leaders lined up, in order, on the front row? Our crack research staff is doing jellybean shooters and bong hits in Bruce’s Digital Library and should have an answer for us by, say, early 2023.]

Over in Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta made it into the front row for Sunday, flanked by Tatsuki Suzuki on pole and Gabriel Rodrigo in P3. Swiss rider Jason Dupasquier was airlifted to a nearby hospital with injuries suffered in a Q2 mix-up with Japanese rider Ayumu Sasaki and Spaniard Jeremy Alcoba. Dupasquier fell and was then hit by another bike; this is how bad injuries take place in MotoGP. Keeping my ears out to pick up any word on the young man’s condition. UPDATE: MOTOGP ANNOUNCED RIGHT BEFORE THE PREMIER CLASS RACE THAT DUPASQUIER HAD SUCCUMBED TO HIS INJURIES. A MINUTE OF SILENCE WAS OBSERVED IN HIS HONOR. HE WAS 19 YEARS OLD.

Moto2: Q1 gave us a feel-good moment when young Fermín Aldeguer, filling in on the MB Conveyors Speed Up team, laid down a fast lap and led four riders into Q2, including Somkiat Chantra, Marcos Ramirez and Bo Bendsneyder. Q2, in turn, gave us what are becoming the Usual Suspects in the first two rows, headed by Raul Fernandez, who has MotoGP written all over him. Joining him are Sam Lowes, underachiever Jorge Navarro, Remy Gardner, FDG (still having trouble spelling his last name, way too many N’s), Tony Arbolino and Marco Bezzecchi (P7).

Sunday

Moto3 was its usual frantic self, a 15-rider lead group for most of the 20 laps, the slipstream effect moving riders eight places—either way–in a kilometer. It is still the best racing on the planet. The eventual winner today, Dennis Foggia, won for the first time in 2021 and has nothing going on re the championship.  He was joined on the podium today by The series leader, Pedro Acosta, held the lead for parts of the day but, at the end, got swallowed up and finished in P7, subsequently dropped to P8 for exceeding track limits on the final lap rules is rules blah blah blah. I don’t think the point this cost him will have much of anything to do with the final standings. After six rounds, the top four looks like this:

P Acosta                111

J. Masia                   59

A Sasuki                  57

S. Garcia                  56

Once again, Acosta finishes well down in the points and retains the lion’s share of his 2021 lead. That’s how you do it. BTW, KTM has a surfeit of fast young Spanish riders—Acosta, Masia, Raul Fernandez, etc. The boys on the KTM MotoGP bikes will begin feeling the heat as the season progresses, notably Lecuona and Petrucci.

Moto2 was another exhibition of the strength of the Ayo KTM team, as series leaders Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez fought to the end, with Gardner emerging on top after gazing at Fernandez’s posterior all day. Joe Roberts had just got done dusting Marco Bezzecchi for the third podium spot at the flag when he was advised he was being dropped down a notch for exceeding track limits on the final lap, as picky a foul as you’ll ever see, if you missed the MotoGP race in which first Miguel Oliveira, then Joan Mir, were assessed the same penalty for the same reason. The fact that the penalties were imposed one at a time in the MotoGP race resulted in the final standings reflecting what actually happened, as opposed to the Moto2 result, about which Bezzecchi seemed to feel bad.

The MotoGP race featured a master class from young Fabio Quartararo, who led virtually wire-to-wire and was never seriously challenged after winning the holeshot. Lap two saw first Marc Marquez, then Pecco Bagnaia, slide out of the competition, narrowing the competitive field. Zarco, KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Suzuki champion Joan Mir all gave chase, and all gave in, as Fabio was not going to be denied today. Toward the end of the race Rins, Nakagami and Pirro all crashed out, artificially elevating the point hauls for several lower tranche riders. After six rounds #20 has stretched his lead over second place Johann Zarco to 24 points, with Bagnaia two points farther back. Miller, Mir and Vinales complete the six riders within shouting distance of the leaders.

The “exceeding track limits” rule needs to be changed. Keep the rule the same but change the language regarding enforcement to one of the judges’ discretion, so long as the tire is not more than halfway on the green, at which point the penalty is automatic. Since the penalty could be imposed whenever any part of the tire is on the green, this would eliminate any complaints that a rider’s tire was less than halfway out of bounds. Silly, meaningless infractions like we saw today would not be imposed, and Joe Roberts would have had a podium.

Everything else you need to know can be found on the MotoGP website or at crash.net. We look forward to bringing you the festivities from Barcelona next week. Four races in five weeks is a lot. I need a nap.

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Fernandez and Gardner running at Mugello. Your eyes are not going bad.

MotoGP 2021 Journal–Round 5: Le Mans

May 16, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 14, 15 and 16, 2021

Friday

Alas, Round 5 of the 2021 MotoGP season brings us once again to Sarthe, smack in the middle of France and, believe it or not, the weather is a major factor for the weekend, as it often is here. Cool breezy temps with “spotty” showers, a nightmare for the riders and teams. The possibility of a flag-to-flag is strong, as is the possibility that the halving of the field, typically determined in FP3, could occur on Friday. The likelihood of a Yamaha or Ducati winning on Sunday, based upon what we saw today, is high, too. Unless the Weather Gods get involved and make a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.

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A little local color from Le Mans.

Friday started wet and finished dry. As anticipated, FP2 became the determinant as regards slick passage into Q2 or having to fight one’s way through Q1 simply for the opportunity to get one’s brains bashed by the really fast movers, all of whom are well-rested and raring to go, in Q2. This was true in all three classes. One interesting note is that the wettish MotoGP FP3 found #93 at the top of the sheet. Otherwise, the various dies were cast on Friday.

Missing from the Q2 qualifiers were some big names, as usual:

Moto3–The only guy I want to discuss is rookie Pedro Acosta, currently sitting P18. How can one not pick him to advance to Q2, to qualify well, and then podium on Sunday?

Moto2–Baldassarri, Ogura, the two Americans, Beaubier and Roberts, Vietti, Dalla Porta.

MotoGP–Rins and Mir, series leader Pecco Bagnaia, the three rookies left standing bringing up the rear.

As for the guys who had it going on in FP2, please include, in Moto3, Gabriel Rodrigo, the pesky Darryn Binder, and Antonelli. Moto2–Lowes, two Fernandezes and Remy Gardner. MotoGP– both French riders, Viñales, POL Espargaro on the Honda, and Frankie Morbidelli. Three Yamahas in the top five. They should thrive in the dry, assuming there’s any to be had on Sunday. Typically, the mudders ride for Ducati, but Zarco must be feeling it, at home, on a bike he seems to love, in the wet.

Saturday

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Saturday was, again, wettish at the start and slowly drying. FP3 times were slow. Waiting for the caterers to do their thing prior to qualifying in Moto3, I looked at the sky, best described by the word “sullen.”

Such weather conditions would not rival those of the first race I ever attended, in 2009, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The city was on the receiving end of the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Most of the events scheduled for the weekend–exhibition riding, loop-the-loops in Broad Ripple–were rained out. On Sunday it was pouring. The camera crew from MotoGP raised the boom truck that would allow them shots from, like, 200′ in the air. They took it down about five minutes later. By the time the lights went out in the premier class, it was getting biblical. Apparently there were contracts in place that dictated that the race could not be delayed; I’ve seen races since then delayed for weather conditions less severe than in Indianapolis that day.

[That was the day, prior to the race getting red-flagged about 18 laps in, where Valentino Rossi chased down homeboy Nicky Hayden, with the rain blowing sideways. The few remaining fans were miffed. That race jinxed the Indianapolis round, which never got traction and disappeared after about five years.]

The maddening aspect of the weather at Le Mans is its unpredictability. I find myself rooting for a flag-to-flag that will scramble the standings at the top. It’s early in the season. Let’s see Tito Rabat win a race.

Qualifying

Moto3 Q1: Acosta finished P7 and will start on the 7th row on Sunday. Andrea Migno ruled Q2, with longshot Riccardo Rossi and Jaume Masia joining him on the front row.

Moto2: Hotshot rookie Raul Fernandez takes his first Moto2 pole, followed by Marco Bezzecchi and American Joe Roberts.

MotoGP: In a frenzied finish, what had been a Honda lockout became two factory Yamahas and a factory Ducati on the front row. A strong second row features Morbidelli, Zarco and Marquez. Lotta fast riders out there in MotoGP. Quartararo took his third pole in succession, with Viñales and Miller in hot pursuit.

Sunday

The casual observer, looking at the results of the Moto3 race, would infer that my boy Pedro Acosta must have had a bad day, an ordinary P8 while Sergio Garcia and a couple of non-factors, Filip Salac and Riccardo Rossi, stood around on the podium, stunned. The 16-year old “Vote for Pedro” Acosta had never visited Le Mans, nor had he ever raced a Moto3 bike in the wet. He choked qualifying, crashed while in the middle of the pack, and extended his 2021 championship lead. This conforms to my theory of The Blessed NFL Quarterback, whose identity each year is a mystery until he wins the Super Bowl.

Things could not have been worse for young Acosta, yet those closest him—Antonelli, poleman Migno, Fenati and Masia—fainted. So he takes a 54 point lead to Mugello. And if it rains there, he’s now been there, done that. He appears to be a quick study. He appears to be The Blessed Rider in Moto3.

Moto2

Rookie phenom Raul Fernandez cruised to victory in the dampish Moto2 race, ahead of Remy Gardner and Marco Bezzecchi, with Tony Arbolino making his first meaningful appearance of the season, finishing in P4. Thus, KTM teammates Gardner and Fernandez lead the 2021 series with 89 and 88 points, respectively, with Bezzecchi 17 down and Sam Lowes, who recorded another DNF, now trailing by 23. Both American riders crashed out, Roberts early from P2 and Beaubier late from P6.

MotoGP

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The sky at the start of the “dry” MotoGP race.

For the first time in four years the premier class put on a flag-to-flag show and it added some extra spice to what was already shaping up to be an exciting race. As expected, given the generally wet conditions, the Ducatis were in charge today. Miller and Zarco finished on the podium, along with Fabio, while Pecco Bagnaia, having started from P16, flogged his Desmo to P4 before running out of laps. With six riders failing to finish and three more trailing Miller at the end by over a minute, there were points all around for the survivors. Other than poor Frankie Morbidelli, who crashed and banged up his already banged-up knee, eventually completing 23 laps before the marshals dragged him off the track.

That makes it two in a row for Jack Miller, who suddenly has momentum. For awhile today, right after everyone changed bikes, Marc Marquez led a MotoGP race. It was only briefly, as he crashed a bit later, and then again a bit later than that.  But it was nice to see him competing, even though he says the muscles in his upper right arm are only at 50%. Anyway, here are the standings year-to-date:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          FRA    80

2        Pecco BAGNAIA                Ducati           ITA     79

3        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           FRA    68

4        Jack MILLER                     Ducati           AUS    64

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          SPA    56

6        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          SPA    49

7        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           SPA    35

8        Franco MORBIDELLI         Yamaha          ITA     33

9        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           JPN    28

10      Pol ESPARGARO               Honda           SPA    25

For the record, Maverick Viñales started today in P2 and finished P9. Valentino Rossi started in P9 and finished in P11. Aleix Espargaro retired with a mechanical. Alex Rins and Joan Mir crashed out a couple of times each, and want Le Mans taken off the calendar. Danilo Petrucci flogged his Tech 3 KTM to P5 and wants it to rain, heavily, for the rest of the season.

In Conclusion

We have tight races in Moto2 and MotoGP and the likely emergence of The Next Great Rider going on in Moto3. We’re heading into the meat of the schedule, with a back-to-back at Mugello and Catalunya followed by another back to back in Germany and at Assen. Valentino Rossi fans must be willing to admit that he overstayed his MotoGP welcome by a year. It appears Marc Marquez will resume his old form at some point, but probably not this year. The kids have taken over the schoolyard, and the fans are loving it.

A Little Tranching Music, Please

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Viñales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin*

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

MotoGP Tranches After Le Mans

Tranche I – Quartararo, Miller, Bagnaia

Tranche II – Zarco, Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Mir

Tranche III – Viñales, Rins, A Espargaro, Binder, M Marquez, Oliveira

Tranche IV – Petrucci, Rossi, Marini, A Marquez, Bastianini

Tranche V – Rabat, Savadori, Lecuona

 

Two weeks until Mugello. Can’t wait.

 

 

 

Jack Miller “Redeemed”?

May 12, 2021

© Bruce Allen  May 12, 2021

Screenshot (505)

It says right here on the MotoGP.com landing page that Jack Miller’s recent win at Jerez is the kind of stuff that transforms a rider’s career. One can only imagine the breathless narrative accompanying the slo-mo video. But wait.

Jack Miller graduated directly from Moto3 to MotoGP in 2015. He won at Assen in the rain in 2016. He won again last time round. Where in this rather–sorry–ordinary story do we get to talk about “redemption”? As if Miller had recently put a serious beatdown on the MotoGP field, to revive a career many non-Australians considered disappointing.

Jack Miller is reportedly a helluva nice guy whose career has shown steady progress. In 2014 he was considered something of a phenom. I was at Sepang that year and he was always around yakking with the press, on his way to fame and glory in MotoGP at the tender age of 19, the next Great Australian Hope, a fitting follower in the mold of the legendary Casey Stoner.

No.

Miller has had a nice career, and now has two wins, joining what our crack research team guesses to be 100 other riders who have achieved similar “redemption.” It’s not like Jack has spent six years wallowing in the mud with the likes of Tito Rabat and then suddenly owns the joint. He has simply made himself relevant again, trailing series leader Pecco Bagnaia by 27 points, still in the lead group for the year.

A single career win on dry pavement does not a legend make. If it does, then make way for one of the other recent legends, Danilo Petrucci.

Enough with the hyperbole, MotoGP.

FIM Press Release May 11, 2021

May 11, 2021

© Bruce Allen    May 11, 2021

FIM Rearranging Moto2 Deck Chairs–Wants You to Know

Attached is the blah blah blah about fairings and fenders on NTS and MV Agusta bikes. Knowing my readers as I do, I figure you’ll be fascinated by this stuff, arguing amongst y’selves, about such and such gives such and such a big advantage, etc.

We Hoosiers generally make fun of stuff we don’t understand.

MotoGP 2021 Round 4: Jerez

May 2, 2021

© Bruce Allen May 2, 2021

Fabulous Fabio leads a crowded group of young riders as the flying circus lands in Spain for the first of four (4) 2021 visits. Much of the pre-race talk, in my kitchen, in my head, centered on Yamaha and their riders, their plans for the future, and their prospects for the present, heading into the shank of the schedule.

1        Fabio QUARTARARO     Yamaha          FRA   61

2        Pecco BAGNAIA             Ducati          ITA    46

3        Maverick VIÑALES        Yamaha          SPA   41

4        Johann ZARCO               Ducati          FRA   40

5        Joan MIR                       Suzuki          SPA   38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO         Aprilia          SPA   25

7        Alex RINS                      Suzuki          SPA   23

8        Brad BINDER                 KTM             RSA   21

Any of the top eight would see his early season position scrambled by simply sliding out of a corner somewhere. At this point, it seems both Quartararo and Bagnaia have found their respective and considerable mojos. For the Yamaha racing project, one can find both good news and bad news lying around, depending on the date and location. Maverick was hot in Round 1, Fabio in 2&3. Frankie Morbidelli is experiencing a string of mechanical issues not seen since the CRT days. And poor Valentino Rossi, stuck with a bunch of unwanted SRT #46 gear, has seen his carefully-constructed edifice, that of the 21st century motorsports Renaissance Man, begin to crumble around the edges.

The latest speculation has Yamaha kicking him from rider to owner next season. The question then becomes–for which factory? Will the suits in Hamamatsu remove the Malaysian money from their satellite team in favor of Saudi money, with VR46 his damned self calling the shots? On the other hand, were Rossi to assume ownership of the Avintia Ducati team, he would have two fast young academy grads in the stable, his half-brother Luca Marini and Enea the Beast Bastianini.

For a new team owner with deep pockets, it is probably more difficult to find talented riders than a manufacturer ready, willing and able to provide competitive machines and crews. Rossi is a Morbidelli fan, so he would only have to find one rider for a VR46 MotoGP team. If I were Rossi, inheriting a Yamaha team with Morbidelli, I would snatch (lol) young Pedro Acosta from Moto3 and put him on an old bike for a year or two. Yes, young Pedro is Spanish, a character defect in Rossi’s view. But the boy has unearthly speed and a high racing IQ. In a world in which many of us try to identify The Next Great Rider, the next Marc Marquez, Pedro Acosta could be the guy. Not Fabio, not Mir, not Miller. Pecco Bagnaia—too soon to say. He’s finally getting with the program, with a riding style similar to Jorge Lorenzo. I’m losing interest in Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales. Rookie Jorge Martin, who seems completely likeable, impresses me as the new Black Knight of Monty Phython fame, who will spend much of his career on the injured list in search of wins, replacing Cal Crutchlow in that role.

Friday in Jerez

Marc Marquez managed P3 in FP1, removing any doubt that he is fit to race. He then took it on the chin at Turn 7 in FP2 with a heavy high side, putting him in the midst of Q1, same as in Portimao, shaken, not stirred. The chase in FP3 would also include Miller, Mir and Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez and, inevitably, Valentino Rossi, looking fully washed up. Aleix Espargaro appeared to have something going on with his Aprilia in P3 after two sessions.

Saturday

The ‘haves’, after FP3. Notice Aleix and Bradl. Nakagami, but no Pol, slowest of the five Hondas. Marc Marquez tested his repaired arm with an impressive high-side at Turn 7. Declared fit (read: still ambulatory).

The ‘have-nots’. Jack Miller missed by a hundredth. Bummer, dude.

During FP4, Frankie Morbidelli got sideways with Race Direction and got shoved back into Q1, elevating Jack Miller to Q2, to his immense relief. Hondas and Suzukis and Aprilias were flying off the track at a formidable pace during P4, #93 sitting in P14.

Morbidelli dominated Q1, joined in his passage to Q2 by KTM’s rugged Brad Binder. Once there, however, Frankie made hay while the South African made squat. Ducatis and Yamahas occupied six of the top seven spots in Q2, with a front row of Quartararo, Morbidelli and Miller, fastest of the Italian contingent. Row 2 has Pecco, Nakagami and Zarco, for a little variety. Row 3 would feature the shifty Vinales, Aleix and Alex Rins, with Joan Mir, Binder and wildcard Stefan Bradl completing the top twelve. The Suzukis, becoming notorious for their failure to launch, can at least see the front row this week.

Further down the order, in Mudville, the likes of Rossi, Pol, both Marquez brothers and Miguel Oliveira would start Sunday from the cheap seats, their seasons not going according to plan during this first quarter of 2021. Pol and Marc we get, due to Espargaro changing horses and Marquez bouncing slowly back from serious injury. Oliveira needs everything to go right at one of his friendly tracks; Rossi, it can now be said, stayed a year too long. The only real difference between his bike this year and his bike last year is the paint job. The other three Yamaha pilots are getting good returns from their rides. For Rossi, 2021 is The Last Hurrah.

In Moto2, the front row Sunday would be

1        87      Remy GARDNER             AUS          Red Bull KTM Ajo            

2        21      Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA          Federal Oil Gresini          

3        72      Marco BEZZECCHI         ITA       SKY Racing Team VR46

with Raul Fernandez, Sam Lowes and Xavi Vierge on Row 2. The championship is currently a three-man race between Gardner, Lowes and Fernandez.

After Q2 in Moto3, the best racing on the planet, it looked like this:

1        24      Tatsuki SUZUKI      JPN          SIC58 Squadra Corse      

2        52      Jeremy ALCOBA     SPA          Indonesian Racing Gresini

3        16      Andrea MIGNO       ITA          Rivacold Snipers Team    

4        2        Gabriel RODRIGO   ARG          Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3         

5        55      Romano FENATI     ITA          Sterilgarda Max Racing Team    

6        17      John MCPHEE         GBR          Petronas Sprinta Racing  

Runaway teenage freight train Pedro Acosta could manage no better than P13 in qualifying on Saturday. He does not appear to be someone who scares easily. He won from pit lane at Losail II. This, to me, on Saturday, appears to be no big deal. An annoyance, at worst. There are some hungry guys in front of him, who, thus far, have not caused him the slightest visible concern.

In all three classes, Sunday in Jerez held the promise of some classic competition.

Sunday

My boy rookie Pedro Acosta started the Moto3 race in P13 today and had to actually work to take the win, his third in four starts, aided by a brain fart from Dennis Oncu in the last turn which removed himself, Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder from contention and likely earned him a slap on the wrist in France. KTM has taken charge of Moto3, reflecting the enhanced resources available after the Austrian factory abandoned their works Moto2 program. Always good to see Romano Fenati on the podium, with young Jeremy Alcoba taking the third step. [I had written yesterday that Rossi should just hire Alcoba for his SKY VR46 MotoGP team now. Spent the entire race not wanting to have to re-write that part. As it turned out, nothing to worry about. Alien Under Construction.]

Moto2 doesn’t seem to have its usual luster this year. Perhaps it’s because the presence of so many Anglos—Dixon, Gardner, Lowes, Roberts—seems to lower the credibility of the division in a sport dominated, for 30 years by Latins. Rookie Raul Fernandez looks somewhat electric at times; certainly Steve and Matt get their P’s in a T on a consistent basis extolling Raul’s virtues. Sam Lowes has already failed in MotoGP; can’t think of anyone too excited about seeing him do so again. And I’m not convinced by Remy Gardner, as I take a dim view of nepotism in all its forms, the result, in part, of having grown up an only child with a non-entrepreneurial father.

Anyway, Moto2 offered a wire-to-wire procession led by Fabio de Giannantonio, Bezzechi taking P2 and Sam Lowes bouncing back to P3. For the year, Gardner leads with 69 points, followed by Lowes at 66, Fernandez 63, Bezzechi 56 and di Giannantonio 52. A somewhat dull race has produced a tight championship, which I’ll take anytime.

I still think what I thought in 2012—the Italian national anthem sounds like a drinking song.

As MotoGP began warming up, I joined fans everywhere wondering whether anyone had it in them to beat Fabio Quartararo. He loves him some Jerez, having taken pole the last four times out and winning there twice last year. Let’s be clear—there are many who have conceded today’s race to the Frenchman.

The MotoGP Race

Today’s race started out like a Yamaha clambake and ended as a Ducati dunk-fest. Jack Miller won his first race for Ducati and his own first dry race, not to mention Ducati’s first win at Jerez since, like, The Ice Age. With teammate Pecco Bagnaia, The Next Great Ducati Rider, claiming second ahead of Frankie Morbidelli’s Yamaha, it was a Ducati one-two, their first win of the year coming at a track described by Danilo Petrucci thusly:”If you’re fast at Jerez you can be fast anywhere.”

We don’t yet know around here what happened to Fabio Quartararo who, on Lap 6, my notes showed “clearing out.” But from there he was overtaken by Miller on Lap 16 and continued his descent to a P13 finish. I will wager that it is arm pump and that he will need surgery and will return in time for Le Mans.

LRC Honda rep Takaa Nakagami pulled everything together for an encouraging P4. Ahead of Mir and Aleix Espargaro, making the Aprilia look good. Vinales, Zarco, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro completed the top ten, another gritty performance from Marquez. Around Lap 20 it appeared Bagnaia had a notion about going after Miller, after which his screen flashed “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” P2 at Jerez, for Ducati, is nothing to sneeze at, ignoring the whole Marquez asterisk* thing.

Funny, other than a cameo at Jerez last year, the last time Marquez was racing in anger he was up against guys named Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Rossi and Iannone. Now, he’s having to get himself together going up against Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Miller, Mir, Quartararo and more. Real competition from the KTMs and Aprilias of the world. The past year has brought a lot of change to MotoGP, and Marquez had to sit out almost all of it. The new bunch is young, strong and fast. Other than Rossi, who is now embarrassing himself, there are no riders out there just because they have sponsor money. Most of these guys can compete for top tens. And Moto2 and Moto3 are lousy with great young riders, some of whom are teenagers.

After four rounds in MotoGP, Bagnaia leads Quartararo by two points, 66-64. Then comes Vinales with 50, Mir with 49, and Zarco with 48, followed by Miller with 39, Aleix with 35 and Morbidelli with 33. Rins sneaks into the top ten with 23 points and a crashing headache, suffered at both Portimao and Jerez. Binder completes it with 21. Fans of Marc Marquez should be happy he doesn’t compete in Moto3, where 16-year old rookie phenom Pedro Acosta has already accumulated 95 points. As it is, Marquez trails Bagnaia by a mere 50 points. I think it would be hard to find many thoughtful people in the paddock who believe the title chase is over for Marquez for the year.

So, to recap. There is, at present, one viable contestant in Moto3, three in Moto2, and two in MotoGP. Surprising, isn’t it, how the best racing still takes place in Moto3. That everyone in Moto3 at Jerez knows that something wild is going to happen in Turn 13 on the last lap of the race. It did again today. Personally, I hope Pedro Acosta is The Next Great Rider and that he and Marquez get to go one-on-one while Marquez still has it. 12 year age difference. Marquez wearing, as always, Repsol Honda colors, while Acosta is wearing SKY VR46 Yamaha colors. That would be a season for the ages,

As for the season we’ve got, I’m loving it so far. Loving that it’s so wide open in MotoGP, loving that it’s regressing to the mean, ethnically, with Spanish and Italian riders re-asserting themselves in Moto2, and loving that a star has been born in Moto3, the first guy to have ‘can’t miss’ written all over him since Marc Marquez.

Two weeks to Le Mans where, if it doesn’t rain for three days straight, one feels lucky.

                                         Marquez warming things up in Jerez.

MotoGP After Round 3: Portimao

April 22, 2021

© Bruce Allen    April 22, 2021

In which we engage in some casual tranching and try to put the 2021 season, thus far, in something approaching perspective. With a nod to both Moto2 and Moto3.

Back in March, had I wagered that, after three rounds, none of the following riders would be found in the top ten, I expect I could have found some takers:

Frankie M

Thriller Miller

Pol Espargaro (?)

Takaa Nakagami

Miguel Oliveira and, of all people,

Valentino Rossi

And here we are, with The New Young Guns clearly running things in the top ten, other than what are likely to be temporary appearances by Johann Zarco and Aleix. The inmates done taken over the asylum. As predicted by most of you, back in 2018-2019.

But what about this lot? NONE of them in the top ten after three? What’s to say about them? Frankie has had mechanical issues for the first 10% of the season? How can Yamaha allow that to happen? Jack, the latest version of Marco Simoncelli, is so elated to be fast that he has become a hazard to himself and those around him. This is not to say that he is heading for disaster. It means he needs to assert his will on the Desmo, the way his teammate Pecco has. He trails #20 by 47 points; all is not lost.

Zarco (P4, 40 pts) and Rins (P7, 23 pts) seem to have trouble dealing with success. Also qualifying, as Rins has been on the front row in something like 6 of 66 races. Zarco could have been top three had he not slid out; same with Rins. There is no noticeable improvement in the 2021 Suzuki vs. the 2020 version; it will take a helluva rider, a Joan Mir, to coax enough points out of his Gixxer to give #20 and #93 a beating. Zarco has only himself to blame, having come into the race with two silver medals from Qatar, which he has since had bronzed for posterity.

The two Honda pilots, Espargaro and Nakagami, are on the outside looking in for different reasons. Espargaro, because he’s still trying to get the hang of the RC213V. Nakagami had a dreadful two rounds in Qatar before suffering a heavy crash in practice at Portimao and is currently being held together by duct tape and clarinet reeds. His star should begin ascending again in Jerez.

Miguel Oliveira won last year’s final race, in Portugal, leading me to expect more from him in 2021. The tire issues plaguing the entire KTM project have caught him as well. And Valentino, The Doctor, sporting four points for the season. He looks bad, having problems none of the other Yamaha riders are experiencing. There can be little doubt he should have taken his victory lap last year and called it a career. This is hard to watch.

Despite a win and a P5 in the desert, Maverick Vinales’ P11 at Portimao seemed inevitable. With all the potential in the world, young Vinales is so terribly inconsistent. This is not a characteristic often found in world champions. A female reader of this column has observed, that if #12 were here boyfriend she would have dumped him in 2019. The editorial team here has predicted that he will not spend his entire racing career with Yamaha.

Aleix Espargaro has a mediocre Aprilia beneath him this season, which is a large step up from what he’s been riding most of his career. He appears able to put himself in the top ten for the year, but it will be uphill all the way. I’d like to see what he could do on Vinales’ bike.

Brad Binder has been the consummate team player thus far, sharing with all three other KTM riders his considerable front tire problems.

The three riders as yet unmentioned in the top ten include Alien-in-Waiting Pecco Bagnaia, who seems to have come into his own after two seasons of underachieving in on the Ducati. The two rookies, Enea Bastianini in P9 and Jorge Martin in P10, have looked good and great, other than Martin having put himself in the hospital and out of Rounds 3 and 4 with a big high-side in practice in Portugal. He will, accordingly, drop out of the top ten in Jerez, which is okay, because dude has major stones and a bright future in MotoGP.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro, Bagnaia

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Vinales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

Moto2 After 3 Rounds

After sailing home with wins in the opening rounds in Qatar, Sam Lowes reverted to form by crashing out at Portimao at Turn 1 of Lap 1, hence crashing into P3 for the season, in a tight three-man contest with Aussie Remy Gardner and rookie Raul Fernandez, who, according to announcers Matt and Steve, is the Next Next Great Rider. American Joe Roberts was hip-checked out of a second career podium at Portimao in the last turn by Gardner and/or Aron Canet—couldn’t see well—putting him in P7 for the season. American rookie Cameron Beaubier finished the race in a respectable P9, sitting in P12 for the year.

There appear to be perhaps eight or ten competitive riders in Moto2 this year. I would expect one of the top three to claim the title. Of the three, it looks to me like Fernandez is the only one to have a legitimate shot at a promotion to MotoGP in the immediate future. Lowes has been there, done that, while Gardner does not seem to be the second coming of either his dad or Casey Stoner.

Moto3 After 3 Rounds

Remember this name: Pedro Acosta. The insouciant rookie appears to have been born to race motorcycles. He entered his racing career before he entered puberty, racing at Estoril in 2018 at age 13. He double dipped last season, running in both the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship (P3 for the year) and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, which he won. Out of a combined 23 races, he finished first nine times, and was on the podium another eight times. Marquez-caliber numbers. He has earned 70 of a possible 75 points thus far this year in Moto3, making a number of grizzled veteran riders look, well, silly in the process. Dude is 16 years old as we speak.

I could speculate that Jaume Masia or maybe Darryn Binder could offer Acosta a run for his money later in the year, but I don’t believe it. I believe Acosta will be in MotoGP in two years and that he stands a good chance of being the man to shoot Marc Marquez out of his saddle within two years after that. I’m impressed.

MotoGP 2021: Round 3 – Portimao

April 18, 2021

© Bruce Allen  April 18, 2021

Quartararo Dominates in Portugal, Seizes Series Lead

After being dogged for most of the race by Suzuki’s Alex Rins, the Frenchman shook loose from the pack as Rins, then Zarco, crashed out of the fray late while in contention, a capital offense in racing. Pramac Ducati rising star Pecco Bagnaia, denied pole, was probably gratified with P2 after getting stuck in P11 during qualifying. Defending champion Joan Mir hung around near the front, stayed out of trouble, and added 16 points to his portfolio. 28.571% of the riders who started recorded DNFs, meaning points for all the survivors. But it’s starting to feel like Fabio’s year.

Friday

The Executive Committee at Late-Braking MotoGP took a decision today to largely ignore Fridays going forward, unless something out of the ordinary takes place. For instance, Takaa Nakagami went all ragdoll during FP2 and had to pretty much blow off Saturday, starting last on the grid for the race. Oh, and Marc Marquez—remember him?—started where he left off last year, securing P3 in FP1 and P6 in FP2. He appeared to be roughly 83.726% fit. Seeing him back on the #93 Repsol Honda made it seem like the world is back on its axis, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem ready to push 100% yet. Yet even at less-than-complete fitness, I was thinking it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see him on the podium come Sunday.

Saturday

FP3 was chicken and biscuits for Franco Morbidelli, rookie Luca Marini and veteran Aleix Espargaro. Doing the MotoGP bump, they left feathers and entrails for defending champ Joan Mir, six-time MotoGP champion Marquez and the aforementioned Nakagami. Mir and Marquez were relegated to Q1; Nakagami to the medical tent, where he was pronounced fit to continue his Portuguese adventure, “fit” meaning, in racing parlance, that he was in better shape than he would have been had someone pushed him down a flight of concrete stairs in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

Last year’s winner, homeboy Miguel Oliveira, wasn’t a factor in today’s race.

Speaking of falling down stairs, hot Pramac rookie Jorge Martin did what a lot of young riders experiencing early success on the Ducati do—went flying over the handlebars in FP3 and landed in the hospital, facing surgery on his right hand and foot. Whether he will return in time for Jerez is iffy. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson, i.e., just because one can go 350 kmh on two wheels doesn’t mean one should.

Mir and Marquez climbed back into Q2 with productive outings in Q1, to the chagrin of Alex Marquez and Pol Espargaro. For $1,000 and the game, name the last time two riders with seven (7) premier class titles between them moved through Q1 to Q2. Answer, according to our crack research team at WildGuess.com: Never.

Q2 was a comedy, as the new caution lights, meant to replace the flags came into play several times. Maverick Vinales had his fastest lap taken away for exceeding track limits, dropping him down to P12 for Sunday’s start. But factory Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia, Alien-in-Waiting, had an incandescent lap (4/10ths under the previous track record) and a P1 start taken away for a yellow ‘flag’. He was still fist-pumping during his warm-down lap before receiving the news and found himself alongside Vinales in P11 when the dust settled. Thus, two potential denizens of the front row would be grinding their teeth, mopping up Row 4. Fabio, on the factory Yamaha, inherited pole and a new track record along with the notion that Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo.

[Sidebar. The contrast in performance between teammates on several of the teams is stark. Aleix Espargaro would start in P7 for the Aprilia team, with teammate Lorenzo Savadori sitting in P20. Marquez would start in P6; teammate Pol Espargaro in P14. Under the heading “How Far the Mighty Have Fallen,” rugged Frankie Morbidelli would start in P5, while legendary teammate Valentino Rossi, clearly playing out the string, would be looking at the backs of 16 other riders when the lights go out on Sunday. Rossi, at this point, appears to be in it only for the contract.]

Marquez was slotted comfortably in P6 for Sunday but admitted late on Saturday that he was suffering and expected to continue to do so on Sunday. If he were just human, I might buy the argument, but because he is Marquez, I would still be comfortable, on Saturday evening, putting $100 on him to podium on Sunday.

Sunday

Pre-race musings…Two Anglos, flash-in-the-pan Sam Lowes and Remy Gardner, sitting at the top of Moto2? In a sport dominated by Spaniards and Italians…Matt Dunn, partner of Neil Morrison, sounds like some posh London racing savant on both Adderall and helium…And is it true that over on Reddit some folks are referring to your boy Simon Crafar as Captain Xanax?…Funny how no one’s scared of Joan Mir…Just sayin’…I really missed last year’s finale here, the emotion associated with Oliveira’s win at his home crib…Is it just me, or does the dead air soundtrack at MotoGP.com sound like a porn film?…16 year-old Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta looks, in uniform and glaring at the camera, like he’s been up past his bedtime. He just punked Dennis Foggia to take win #2 and lengthen his series lead in 2021…When did Jack Miller go from cute to scary?… Morbidelli, #2 overall in 2020, is stuck on a 2019 bike by SRT Yamaha? What’s with that?…So nice not having Dennis Chung penciling out all the good stuff.

Sam justified my faith in him during the Moto2 race by crashing out at Turn 1 on Lap 1. Just when I was thinking I was wrong about the guy.

The MotoGP race, won by Quartararo easily after chasers Rins and Zarco crashed out, proved that Yamaha has solved its bike problems of recent years. It has not solved its rider problem, however, as Maverick ‘Pop Gun” Vinales finished in P11 after having spent some (low) quality time as far down as P20. Quartararo prevailed over Pecco Bagnaia, who flogged his Desmo from P11 at the start to P2 at the close. Joan Mir, the sole Suzuki to finish, took third place after hovering in the lead group all day without ever leading. But points is points.

Marc Marquez started in P6 and finished in P7, yielding a spot to a beaming Aleix Espargaro, who finally seems to have a functional bike beneath him. For Marquez, finishing today’s race was a win. He now has two weeks to continue rehab before taking the track again in Jerez.

My boy Frankie Morbidelli was denied a spot on the podium, but was back to his persona from last year, finishing P4. Brad Binder, fronting for the entire KTM program, suffering from front tire stability, managed P5 after starting P15. Alex Marquez managed P8, one of many riders to benefit from having so many studs leave the building. These included, in rough order, Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira (rejoined), Rossi, Rins and Zarco. With 21 starters and six DNFs, everyone received a participation award today, even Lorenzo Savadori and Iker Lecuona. And Takaa Nakagami finishing in the top ten is kind of a miracle given his physical condition this weekend.

Alex Rins can’t stand success.

So, the top ten for the season, after three rounds, looks like this:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          61

2        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati           46

3        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          41

4        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           40

5        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           25

7        Alex RINS                        Suzuki          23

8        Brad BINDER                    KTM             21

9        Enea BASTIANINI             Ducati           18

10      Jorge MARTIN                  Ducati           17

Other than Honda, which is in the midst of a dumpster fire, all five remaining manufacturers have at least one representative in the top ten, four of which are from Ducati, which has yet to win a race. And Fabio won twice at Jerez last year, clearly enjoying the prospect of padding his lead in two weeks.

But parity sits on the horizon in MotoGP. Never thought I’d see the day.

We’ll do some tranching before Jerez, as well as something about Moto3 and Moto2.

MotoGP: Quartararo Loves Losail

April 5, 2021

© Bruce Allen     April 5, 2021

MotoGP 2021 Losail II: Preview AND Results! At one low price!! 

Here we go again, under the lights in the desert. Due to the falling out between Carlos Ezpeleta and Karel Abraham Sr., following the forced redundancy of rider Karel the Younger after the 2019 season, Senior, who owns much of the Czech Republic, declined to host the MotoGP Brno round this season, somehow leading to a second outlier round in Doha. Which, sidestepping a terrible run-on sentence, in turn makes Doha less of an outlier and something more than 10% of the entire season. A factor, in other words, in the 2021 title. A fight, after Round One, going to the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Would Round Two be any different? 

Cancelling Brno this year comes as bad news to the KTM and Ducati franchises, who have dominated there in recent years when #93 and #04 weren’t hanging around. The two teams dominated the podium last week, due, in part, to a scintillating run to the flag between Joan Mir, Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco. Apparently, the consensus from last week is that the wind made everyone’s engines work harder in certain areas of the track, and this put pressure on the Ducs regarding fuel consumption. In order to finish the race, they had to lean out the mixture, reducing their ridiculous top end speeds. Mapping, I believe they call it. Whatever they call it, Bagnaia and Zarco both turned theirs to the ‘OFF’ position and took advantage of a rare mistake by Mir to snatch—still love that verb—P2 and P3 on a day Mir appeared to have podiumed. Vinales, of course, won easily, but I’m not sold on Maverick Vinales and don’t know too many people who are.

When the Qatar round was last run in 2019, the podium was Dovizioso, Marquez and Crutchlow, none of whom is around to play chase on Sunday. That was another of those sprints to the flag that Ducati won because of their incomparable top-end speed. Losail, with the long run out of the last turn, is built for the Ducati. If you’re on anything else, getting dogged by a big red machine on the last lap, and you lead by less than five bike lengths coming out of 16, you’re going to get smoked.

Plenty of riders had tire issues, Morbidelli his serious mechanical; #21’s issue is easy to fix. I remind myself that Losail is an outlier and that tire issues here may not mean tire issues in Europe or Asia. On the other hand, if after three rounds it becomes obvious that Michelin’s only rideable option is the soft/soft, this issue could dominate the season. I join with other readers who are tired of always talking about tires. I miss the Bridgestone days of hard carcasses and tires that could be managed over 25 laps. The riders who enjoyed consistent success were those who managed to be fast without grinding their rear tire to mush.

I remember receiving a great comment from a reader back in the days when Lorenzo, new on the Ducati, would run like hell for the first half of a race before he fell off, had a mechanical, etc. In the riff, our reader’s Lorenzo went on about how his strategy that year was to win the first half of every race and thus take the championship. (?????) Once again this year, this doesn’t appear to be a problem with the Suzukis. But the rest of the contenders need to pay more attention to what’s going on with the rubber.

Two things about Vinales’ win last time out. He had to throw a few elbows on his way from P5 and P6 to P1, and spent 15 laps doing so, something he hasn’t enjoyed in the past. Two, he’s apparently adjusted to new tires and full tank early in races, managing to stay in touch with the lead group if not actually lead, not fumbling around in P12 on Lap 2 as would happen so often in recent years.

It would probably be best for everyone if a Ducati were to win here on Sunday. It’s a place where they should win almost every time out. Their joint advantage with Yamaha here would be shared, leaving the championship wide open heading for Portugal. The Racing Gods, as we know, may have other plans. Here goes.

Friday

We’ve seen this just last week. Ducati owning Friday, led by Miller, Bagnaia and Zarco. We’re still at Losail. Nobody should have to give a rip about Friday numbers. Unless, obviously, there were a sandstorm or something during FP3 and everyone with any sense was safely ensconced in their garage.

Saturday

So there is a sandstorm going on in FP3. The results from Friday are going to stand, leaving names like Oliveira, Mir, Nakagami, Rossi, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder to slug it out in QP1. Ugh. Notice rookie Jorge Martin in P5.

Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira escape the frying pan of Q1 to the fire of Q2. It becomes a Ducati clambake, with red machines everywhere, claiming four of the top six spots, including soon-to-be-sensational rookie Jorge Martin, the apparent second coming of Dani Pedrosa. Little guy, does hand-to-hand combat with the Desmosedici in the turns then approaches liftoff in the long straights. He showed world class speed as a teenager in Moto3; Jorge Martin has Alien written all over him.

I’m just not getting it done with the lighter classes. It’s Easter, for crying out loud, there are eggs to hide, potatoes to cook, tables to set, rug rats underfoot killing each other. I’m playing catch-up at every turn. This will all return to normal—notice I didn’t say ‘good’—beginning in Jerez. All the results are there at MotoGp.com, anyway, as well as the videos for you non-cheapskates. At the dawning of the 2021 season I like the two Italians in Moto2—Fabio and Marco—and young Jaume Masia in Moto3, who was 16 when he entered the grand prix fray full-time in 2017. It’s easy to see all these guys in MotoGP.

It’s also easy to see Pramac Ducati speedster Martin, who had to surrender his former #88 to Oliveira, sliding down to #89, on podiums in the immediate future. He’s another one of these guys, like Marquez, and Pedrosa before him, who morph into a single entity with their bike, inseparable, flying down the straight sections, slipstreaming advisable but don’t get too close to the wash. Negative body fat percentage, wrapped very tight. And hungry, wants to win in MotoGP, now. You can see it in his eyes, which glitter at the thought, in TV interviews. Forgive him for thinking, suddenly, that life is going his way, stealing pole today with an incandescent last lap during injury time. The race isn’t on for another six hours. One would say, however, that his star is ascendant, waxing, as it were, taking the lead among the rookies and a few vets as contenders for 2021.

Compare to his old Moto3 rivel Bezzecchi, who is still pedaling as fast as he can in Moto2. Jorge Martin may be the next NKIT. New Kid in Town, for those of you unfamiliar with this stuff. Following the treadmarks of Marquez and Quartararo. Another Spanish fast mover. Cool. This sport needs young riders unafraid to challenge Marc Marquez upon his return.

Sunday

Fabio Quartararo wins at Losail, a Yamaha twofer

Losail II in 2021 was the coming out party for the guy who finished third, rookie Martin. He took the holeshot and led for 18 laps before running out of tire, energy and skill once young blonde Fabio went through, followed, tout de suite, by yet another Frenchman–the rejuvenated Johann Zarco–on yet another Pramac Ducati.

Again, the desert is not the best place to try to identify trends, but for much of the race Ducati held four of the top five or six spots, with Fabio and Rins surrounded by the purring Desmos. The only bad news for Ducati is that the satellite guys at Pramac put it to the factory team of Miller and Bagnaia. Again.

Though Alex Rins was in the mix all day, Pop Gun showed up for the factory Yamaha team, swamped at the start, spending most of the race flirting with P10 before rallying late for a face-saving P5, trading places with Quartararo from last week. Same bike, virtually the same conditions, same competitors. Competitive with the Ducatis in Doha, a good sign going forward. Yet Vinales gives us Exhibit A for why he will likely never win a title. He had everything going for him when the lights went out, and laid a bit of an egg, rather than seizing another win (paging Sam Lowes) and asserting one’s claim to the championship.

The bad news for Yamaha was the continuing underperformance of the 2021 Petronas SRT team fronted by Franco Morbidelli and the legendary Valentino Rossi. Morbidelli had mechanical issues last week and again this weekend which appear to have continued, incredibly, on Sunday. As for Rossi, it was a soul-sucking P21 in qualifying and another—P16—in the race. Trucking with the likes of little bro Luca Marini and Nakagami on a bad day. It is clear, at least around here, that Vale may have predictably lost interest in risking his life averaging two championship points per round. Morbidelli’s issues will resolve and he could yet be a factor in the 2021 season. But Rossi—yeah, sure, he qualified in P4 last week—had the worst qualifying practice of his career, followed by an undistinguished race. He was P12 last week after qualifying fourth. He is not racing well. The fire that once drove him has gone out, replaced by the ready smile and confident pronouncements, aware that, at this point, top ten is all he can realistically shoot for. He needs to move on, buy some teams, get cracking as an owner, find Italian boys who can beat the Spanish, still draw the crowds, etc. Enough already with the in-the-saddle part.

The Big Picture

Johann Zarco, with two P2s in the desert leads the championship, for now. My take is that the bike and the track combo at Losail worked especially well for Zarco. My take is that things won’t work quite so well on the mainland, as there is more turning and fewer 1 km straights. But for #5 2021 has started out like a dream. As follows:

Zarco           40

Quartararo    36

Vinales         36

Bagnaia        26

Rins             23

Mir               22

Atthe end of the race, the spread between P2—Zarco—and P14—Bradl—was just under four seconds. The total run time for Quartararo was 42:24, 12 seconds faster than Dovizioso in 2019. The spread between P2 and P14 that year was over 14 seconds. Let’s review: MotoGP is getting faster and more competitive than ever. Best competition in motorsports. Attracting the best riders in the world across all three classes, many in their teens. Racing wheel-to-wheel, not encased in any protective cage, at speeds comparable to F-1, clad in a helmet, boots, an airbag, and a set of leathers. Sporting, as so eloquently expressed by Bill Raftery, “onions.”

Sorry about Moto2 and Moto3. I know Lowes won again and leads in Moto2. Looking at the results in Moto3, 16-year old wonder rookie Pedro Acosta, having been penalized with a delayed pit lane start, still won the race…wait for it…leading a group of 15 riders separated, at the flag, by 2.26 seconds. Already being called one of the great races of all time in the lightweight class. The impudent rookie spanks the field, many of them grown men, and seizes the lead in the Moto3 world championship after two rounds. Brilliant. Best day of his life so far, I’d wager. Here’s more on young Pedro.

At 10 in the morning on Easter, EDT. Come on, man!

Dozens of lead changes. Sorry I missed it. I’ll try to win back your good graces by offering up a little tranching, minus Marc Marquez, whose status at this moment is unknown.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

Two weeks to Portimao. There, we will begin to discover who has the real power in the premier class. Wish I were going. To me, the tranching looks a little fishy. I don’t doubt our thinking in October will see plenty of changes to this lot.

PS–Finally watched the Moto3 race and it was, indeed, a classic. Would not have happened had four riders not found themselves in the kitty litter on the last few laps.

MotoGP Doc to Amazon Prime Video?

April 1, 2021

Report: MotoGP set for Amazon documentary series

This article stolen from SportsPro:

Mediapro team already in Qatar filming for 2021 season.

  • Posted: March 30 2021
  • By: Tom Bassam
Report: MotoGP set for Amazon documentary series


Dorna, the owner of MotoGP, and Amazon are set to launch a new behind-the-scenes documentary based around the global motorcycling series for the Prime Video streaming platform, according to Motorsport.com.

Looking to mirror Formula One’s success with Netflix and the ‘Drive to Survive’ series, Spanish media company Mediapro is reportedly producing the series with a content team already in Qatar filming during the opening two rounds of the 2021 season.

According to Motorsport.com, the format for the untitled Amazon series will be similar to that of Drive to Survive, with episodes revolving around different characters in the paddock.

No release date or other details on the series have been reported at this stage, but the new project would mark MotoGP’s first major documentary since 2015’s Mark Neale-directed Hitting the Apex, which was produced by Brad Pitt.

According to Digital-I data published by Forbes last year, series one of Drive to Survive was watched by more than 5.1 million viewers in the UK in 2019. Formula One’s director of marketing and communications, Ellie Norman, recently told the BlackBook that it has boosted the series’ profile in the US.

She said: “The last time I was at the Austin Grand Prix in 2019, just hearing the amount of people in and around Austin who had travelled there specifically for the Grand Prix because they had seen Drive to Survive.”

MotoGP, which has lost audience reach in the UK after putting its live races on pay-TV network BT Sport, will be hoping for a similar level of impact.

Check Out My New Yamaha CLP-745

March 31, 2021

© Bruce Allen   April 1, 2021 (lol)

Keeping it in the family room until it starts leaking oil, then will move it to the garage. Badass.

MotoGP 2021 Losail I Results

March 28, 2021

© Bruce Allen March 28, 2021

17 Things We Learned in Doha, Round One

The MotoGP opening weekends in the Middle East mess with my body clock, as does youth basketball, grandkid sleepovers, Palm Sunday and Microsoft glitches. All were present this weekend, and as a result what follows will be worse than usual. Did we mention that Losail is an outlier?

Screenshot (452)

Friday

Given Friday’s results in the premier class practice sessions, it appeared the top four, within fractions of the all-time lap record, would cruise into Q2. This would leave Rins, Vinales, Morbidelli, Rossi and the Espargaros with skin in the game in FP3. There would be plenty of fast movers looking for top ten status after FP3, including defending champion Joan Mir and the entire KTM contingent headed by Brad Binder in P16 after two. The fascinating Jorge Martin, adjusting quickly to the Pramac Ducati, went 13th on Friday. 11 riders were in the 1’53’s. Pol Espargaro (P10) slid out of a fast turn during injury time, after the 00:00, and messed up a perfectly good RC213-V.

Saturday

Temps and times went up in FP3, leaving the combined results of FP1 and FP2 as the determinant as to who had to suffer through Q1 while his rivals were eating peeled grapes in the garage bistro. And so it was that, in the first defense of his title, Joan Mir would suffer the indignity of having to get through Q1 to entertain any breath of a chance of winning Round 1.

That’s not so bad. Look at the spread between Aron Canet and Lorenzo Baldassarri over in Moto2. BadAss heads for Q1 while Canet cruises on. 2/1000ths. Ridiculous.

Baldassarri failed to make it out of Q1 and would start Sunday in P26, Canet in P12.

[Microsoft Word ate my stuff about Q1 and Q2. THAT hasn’t happened in a long time. It will have to suffice to say that Nakagami and Mir escaped Q1, and that Pecco Bagnaia, finally showing us something, recorded the first ever sub-1’53 lap at Losail, securing his first pole and heading a lead group of seven comprised  solely of Ducati and Yamaha entries. Aleix and the two Suzukis completed the top ten, with Pol Espargaro and Takaa wiping up the rear, as it were, of the first four rows. Eight riders shattered Marquez’ previous record lap from 2019; it’s going to be a long, hot, season. We here at Late-Braking MotoGP are stoked. My previous blather re Moto2 and Moto3 is lost for all time.]

Sunday—Race Day

I am reduced to using the tired Random Number Things We Learned here, as it’s late, I’m tired and have a headache.

  1. Yamaha has fixed whatever was bothering it the last two years. Vinales demonstrated today that they can win a race. At least at a track where the wind reduces Ducati’s continuing advantage in top-end speed.
  2. Quartararo seems to be giving a reprise of Vinales’ career start, going off like a Roman Candle, then underperforming for a while. As a sophomore last year, he won twice in Jerez and again in Catalunya—three (3) times total, although he’s excellent at qualifying—and has been crowned The Heir Apparent.
  3. Not so fast. Vinales, you will recall, won three of his first five races as a rookie. In 66 races since then, he’s won five times, including today. Pardon me if I don’t climb on either the Maverick or Fabio bandwagons just yet. If Maverick wins again here next week I’ll buy you a good cigar, as dad used to wager.
  4. The one rider whose bandwagon I was prepared to climb aboard, Petronas SRT stud Frankie Morbidelli, failed miserably today in his 2021 debut. I had him top three for the year, and still do. Losail is an outlier. His team has a week to get the bike sorted. He can’t NOT score points again next week.
  5. Morbidelli’s new teammate, Valentino Rossi, qualified in P4 yesterday, raising some eyebrows, but settled comfortably into P12 today. However, his minions sold thousands of hats, t-shirts, hoodies, yellow smoke grenades, yellow fright wigs, with everything that wasn’t yellow now in teal, opening up a huge additional market for the MotoGP Magnate. Plus, they sold more of the old factory Yamaha gear at a discount and made even more. What a rider.
  6. It appears the Ducati contingent, all six of them, are fast, notably rookie Jorge Martin. But there was a day, back in the day, when the Ducs would go like hell for the first two-thirds of the race, whereupon their tires would turn to molasses and they would limp home. Those days may have returned, as both Miller and Martin suffered late in the race. Simon pointed out that they all had to change their mapping to conserve fuel, and this is what held them back. He’s probably right, as there was nothing holding Zarco and Bagnaia back on the run to the flag. Ask Joan Mir.
  7. The Suzukis look more capable this year than they did this time last year, which turned out pretty well.
  8. Honda Racing is just screwed without Marc Marquez. Pol Espargaro managed a respectable P8 in his first race on the Honda, although he was never a factor. Nakagami crashed, Alex Marquez crashed, and test rider Stefan Bradl managed points in P11.
  9. The Aprilia is better this year. Still not great, but better. One doesn’t have to feel sorry for Aleix Espargaro all the time.
  10. KTM appears to have taken a step backward over the winter. Danilo Petrucci looks like he’s going to have a long year. Five points to show for the weekend. Brutal.
  11. Enea Bastianini may be the cream of the crop of rookies coming up from Moto2. On Lap 5 he was dawdling in P18. He finished in P10.
  12. Pecco Bagnaia is going to win a race this year. At least one.
  13. Sam Lowes is probably going to win the Moto2 title this year. It’s nice when your top three competitors graduate to MotoGP. I don’t know what it is about Sam that grinds me. I think his readiness to offer excuses for underachieving may have something to do with it.
  14. This Moto3 rookie, Pedro Acosta, who finished in P2 today is 16 years old? I’d say he bears watching as an Alien-in-Waiting. Another ambitious rookie in the class, one Xavier Artigas, skittled three serious riders on Lap 5 and is going to get spanked by Race Direction if he hasn’t already.
  15. Jaume Masia is going to end up in MotoGP. Don’t know about Darryn Binder. Three sets of brothers in the premier class might be one too many.
  16. Your boy Romano Fenati managed P11 today in Moto3 despite two long lap penalties.
  17. I’ll try to do better next week. Cheers.

RIP Fausto Gresini.

MotoGP: Call It Day 3 of Practice @Losail

March 11, 2021

© Bruce Allen      March 11, 2021

The second Losail test, coming on the heels of the first Losail test, will finish this week on Friday. The riders lit up the track on Wednesday, with Miller and Quartararo getting under the official track record. The rest of the top ten, courtesy of Crash, are presented below. Again, I agree with our reader in British Columbia who thinks Pecco Bagnaia needs a boot in the ass.

The laughable 2021 MotoGP pre-season testing schedule ending this week will shed light on one subject: How do the 2021 MotoGP bikes run at Losail? As we’ve been banging on about since forever, Round 1 in the desert is hardly a reliable predictor of what will eventuate in November. No Jerez, no Sepang, no ‘real’ conditions, tire anomalies.

No Marquez. (One reason, perhaps, both factory Yamahas finished in the top three today.)

Of the four riders considered rookies this year (they’re counting Savadori as a rookie despite his replacement rides for Aprilia late last year) Enea Bastianini was top in P14, followed by Jorge Martin P19, Luca Marini P22 and Savadori P25. This lot will be starting from square one when the show moves on to Portugal in April. Other than Savadori, the alleged rookie who crashed out with three laps remaining at Portimao last year.

Savadori is a sophomore who earned enough credits by exam that he is no longer a freshman.

Top 10 Day 3:

  1. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – 1:53.183
  2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) + 0.080
  3. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha) + 0.327
  4. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.716
  5. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.716
  6. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.788
  7. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.895
  8. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.960
  9. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 1.053
  10. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 1.079
Screenshot (440)

Image courtesy of motorsport.com

MotoGP 2021 Losail/Season Preview

March 8, 2021

2021 MotoGP Teams and Riders

Joan Mir                          Factory Suzuki

Alex Rins                         Factory Suzuki

Lorenzo Savadori             Factory Aprilia

A. Espargaro                    Factory Aprilia

Maverick Vinales              Factory Yamaha         

F. Quartararo                   Factory Yamaha

F. Morbidelli                     Petronas SRT Yamaha

Valentino Rossi                Petronas SRT Yamaha

Brad Binder                     Factory KTM

Miguel Oliveira                 Factory KTM

D. Petrucci                       KTM Tech 3

Iker Lecuona                    KTM Tech 3

Pol Espargaro                   Factory Honda

Marc Marquez                  Factory Honda

Takaa Nakagami              LCR Honda

Alex Marquez                   LCR Honda

Jack Miller                       Factory Ducati

Pecco Bagnaia                  Factory Ducati

Johann Zarco                   Pramac Ducati

Jorge Martin ®                Pramac Ducati

Luca Marini   ®                Avintia Ducati

E. Bastianini ®                Avintia Ducati

As we have been saying for several years, this is the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mentality at work in MotoGP. Ever since I can remember—2008—there have always been a few retreads on the grid, riders well past their prime who could still attract sponsor dollars and therefore earned (bought) their spots on the grid. For those guys, a top ten finish would be a season high point. Those guys aren’t out there anymore.

Instead, you have brash, aggressive, fearless young blood, and plenty of it, in the form of Jorge Martin, Luca Marini, and Enea Bastianini, as well as the young vets—Mir, Rins, Bagnaia, Quartararo, etc. A fast field, with every team in the battle for points every week. There are whispers KTM has taken advantage of the rules and secretly improved their engine over the winter. There are other whispers, emanating most assuredly from the Aprilia media folks that this is it, this is the year when the Noale factory hits the jackpot and starts reeling in some podiums, restoring Aleix Espargaro’s faith in mankind in general.

Moreover, you have, top to bottom, perhaps the fastest overall field in history. Lap time differences will be measured in thousandths. Less than a second will likely separate most of the top ten qualifiers each week. Plenty of opportunities for a hot rider on a friendly track to score some surprising early points in 2021 while Himself, the 800 lb. gorilla we haven’t discussed, gets in sufficient shape to compete, spotting one of his rivals/pretenders, say, 75 points over the first four rounds. This aligns with the natural order of things, in that a rider of Marquez’s ability should get handicapped, just the way they do in horse racing. Give the other ponies a chance. Should the season evolve in this way, it promises a hair-raising chase to Valencia at season’s end, the inimitable Marc Marquez working some poor young riders in hot pursuit of another world championship. Don’t call it a comeback.

Personally, I have no idea which team I would predict to take the team championship this year. Further, I have no idea which manufacturer will win either. The sun and the stars have aligned such that no clear favorite emerges entering the season. The Repsol Honda gang would normally be favored, but Pol Espargaro needs to learn his way around the RC, and Marquez is still recovering from what sounds like a serious injury followed by a botched surgery. The Factory Yamaha team, which got spanked by the SRT kids last season, has an unproven machine and two inconsistent riders, both of whom have shown flashes of brilliance, both of whom have thus far failed to close the deal in the clutch, as it were. If memory serves, and it does, three of the four Yamaha riders finished last year in Tranche 3. The factory Ducati team, a perennial contender, promises to be young and fast this year, compared to last year, when they were old and surprisingly un-fast.

Suzuki seized the championship last year and shows no reason to mess with a good thing. No changes for 2021 (other than the ruinous loss of team boss Davide Brivio, who left for a bigger gig in F1. He has a resume to be proud of, having left the team in much better shape than when he arrived, with a competitive bike, two gifted young riders and a world championship in the locker.) And KTM’s immediate future is in the ascendancy, with a sterling collection of riders on a machine which made great strides last year. Both Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira are top five threats every time out. The jury, as usual, is still out on the Aprilia works; everyone’s an optimist in early March. They have settled on the Italian Savadori to team up with the hapless Aleix on this year’s edition which the flacks have touted as a real breakthrough, one in a series which, thus far, hasn’t produced the desired results.

MotoGP 2021 calendar

1                 3/28             Losail I

2                 4/04             Losail II

3                 4/18             Portimao

4                 5/02             Jerez

5                 5/16             Le Mans

6                 5/30             Mugello

7                 6/06             Catalunya

8                 6/20             Sachsenring

9                 6/27             Assen

10                7/11             KymiRing

11                8/15             Red Bull Ring

12                8/29             Silverstone

13                9/12             Aragon

14                9/19             Misano

15                10/03           Motegi

16                10/10           Buriram

17                10/24           Phillip Island

18                10/31           Sepang

19                11/14           Valencia

No Brno. No Argentina. No COTA. No three rounds in three weeks. For the handful of you intending to trek to Austin for the GP, that weekend on your calendar is now open. Good time to completely re-surface the COTA track to withstand the stresses of F1. Take out the bumps and you have one of the finest layouts in the world. Even if it is in Texas.

As usual, I didn’t pay much attention to MotoGP during the off-season, never do. Last year, Marquez was the odds-on favorite until late in Losail when, unbeknownst to us at the time, his season ended. Suddenly, the championship was a horse race; the door had been opened, incredibly, to several teams who had, up until that race, been plotting a strategy for finishing second in the championship.

Suddenly, the trophy was within reach.

This year, with Marquez missing the first however many starts, and probably not in top form for another month, allows the prospect of the best competition for a title in recent memory. Better than last year. Think about how many riders are legitimate podium threats every time out (once #93 is up to speed)—

Marquez

P. Espargaro

Quartararo

Morbidelli

Vinales

Mir

Rins

Miller

Bagnaia

Binder

Oliveira

11 riders competing for the top three spots sounds, from here, like big lead groups, low point totals for the early leaders, the top ten riders getting scrambled each time out, all this while Marquez does PT and rides easy motocross practice runs. I get the sense he will not be fully up to speed until close to mid-season, which would work out fine. If any of your friends are into motorsports and haven’t watched MotoGP, this could be the season for them to start. Despite, or perhaps because of my pandemic cabin fever I have renewed my video subscription for another season.

What’s the Point of Trying to Predict Losail I?

Seriously. Start with past performance, I guess:

2018: 1        04     Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Ducati Team

2        93     Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

3        46     Valentino ROSSI            ITA     Movistar Yamaha

4        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW              GBR   LCR Honda  

5          9      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Alma Pramac Racing       

6        25      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Movistar Yamaha

7        26      Dani PEDROSA                 SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

8          8      Johann ZARCO                 FRA    Tech 3 Yamaha

It’s taken me a moment to appreciate all the changes that have taken place in MotoGP since 2018 which, itself, doesn’t seem that long ago. But look at the names—Dovi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, who retired at the end of the year. Only Marquez and Vinales are on the same bikes as were in the top eight in 2018.

2019: 1        04      Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

2        93      Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda        

3        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW            GBR   LCR Honda CASTROL       

4        42      Alex RINS     SPA              Team SUZUKI ECSTAR     S

5        46      Valentino ROSSI               ITA     Monster Energy Yamaha          

6        09      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

7        12      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Monster Energy Yamaha

8        36      Joan MIR                          SPA    Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

2019’s Crutchlow and Dovi have been replaced. Both podiumed in 2019, the last year of the race.

2020                               No race due to Covid.

Let’s not forget that, even in normal times, Losail is an outlier and that the results there, barring any unexpected runaway performance, are rarely indicative of the season as a whole. And half the top four finishers in 2018, as well as two of the top three in 2019, will be occupied elsewhere on race day. Night.

Marquez is out, wounded. Rossi, it would seem, in 2021, should be blowing kisses to his fans amidst waves of yellow smoke while finishing eighth. But, for whatever reason, he likes this place. Take Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow off the 2019 board, as has been cleverly done for us for this race, and you have a top three of Rins, Rossi and Petrucci last time out. Petrucci, who will be on new wheels, is not expected to contend. But Mir should be around the lead group, ready to pounce late. The racing world clutches its pearls waiting to see whether Top Gun or Pop Gun shows up for the factory Yamaha season opener. If history is a teacher, the bike will be manageable once again, championship caliber. And there is a bevy of names still out there who will be letting it out chasing the pole on Saturday and trying to manage their tires as the dew settles on the sandy Qatarian tarmac on Sunday night.

As they say downtown, “What the hell.” It promises to be good stuff, especially on Saturday and Sunday evenings. I remind myself that, in my heart I really don’t care who wins. Other than I would like to see Rossi on the top step one last time in his career. Then, he could start blowing kisses to his fans, the farewell tour underway. He won’t be competitive at a number of tracks, but he has it in him to stay in some races until late and see what happens, as he did in his last win at Assen in 2017, punking Marquez and stealing the win late in the race.

One more time for Il Dottore, I say. Let the bells ring in Tavullia one more time.

Until #93 returns and is up to speed—one feels a tremor at the flashing thought he may never be up to his former speed—the grid is in a bit of a state of suspended animation, riders jockeying for the lead, awaiting the return of one of the best riders, by consensus, ever. EVER. On a bike built for him by Honda Racing, for whom he is a gold mine. At the height of his formidable skills before his late wreck here ended his 2020 season before it started, a season, as we remember, in which he was prohibitively favored to repeat, once again, as world champion.

This is starting to feel like a Three Stooges film, in which the entire Army squad, with the exception of the pre-occupied Moe, Curly and Larry, upon a request for volunteers, takes a step backwards, leaving our heroes responsible for a critical, dangerous mission. We have a host of volunteers aware that the best rider of our generation is on his way back and will likely get up to speed on his Honda tout de suite, as it were. Figure Marquez bails on Losail I and II and makes his 2021 debut at Portimao, Round Three. Suppose one of the fast movers has won twice in the desert and sits with 50 points. Suddenly, those riders with aspirations of a title in 2021 are sweating bullets.

With 17 rounds left, what would it take to get you to bet against a rusty Marc Marquez, trailing by 50?

With #93 out for Rounds I and II, and if I were a betting man getting giant odds in a trifecta in Round I, I would have The Three M’s on the podium—Morbidelli, Miller and Mir. And remind readers that what happens in Round One is not predictable. We’re just doing this for fun these days—who’s gonna stop me?

We will do our first round of tranching, as well as usual canny insights and all the one-liners we can recall in looking at results in Losail, and previewing Round II under the lights, soon after the race. Until then, don’t forget to send off for the full set of teal SRT #46 gear you’ll need to fit in with the real Rossi fans. It’s half the reason he’s still working this year; lots of new leather jackets going out the door. If they didn’t make me look fat, old and stupid I’d get some myself.

Here, courtesy of crash.net, is the top 17 riders on the second day of testing at Losail. Fabio stuck in a hot lap late in the day to edge out Jack Miller and Aleix. Franco Morbidelli in P4. So, we don’t know, at this point, who to like on Sunday. Perhaps in a few weeks we’ll have a better idea. We do know, ahem, that Vale finished in P20 and Brad Binder, struggling, in P24.

It’s early.

Cheers.

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Final 2020 MotoGP Rider Tranches

November 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen  November 25, 2020

Now that the season is over, here is where we would put the riders at season’s end. The whole tranching thing is about momentum, below Tranche I. Marquez has earned the right to maintain his ranking from last year for obvious reasons, despite not having competed in 2020.

Tranche I: Marc Marquez; Joan Mir; Franco Morbidelli

Tranche II: Jack Miller, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Johann Zarco, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche III: Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi,  Maverick Vinales,  Brad Binder, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche IV: Danilo Petrucci, Alex Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro,  Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:  Tito Rabat, Brad Smith, Stefan Bradl

(Riders whose names are lined through are not returning in 2021.)

IMG-3924

A little gratuitous eye candy.

MotoGP 2009 Losail Preview

November 24, 2020

© Bruce Allen     Originally posted March, 2009  Re-posted November 2020.

What follows is the first article I wrote for Motorcycle.com in 2009, having given them a few articles in 2008. This was back when my knowledge of MotoGP was less than zero. Strictly faking it, a little superficial research, kind of like graduate school.

Welcome to MotoGP 2009

If you fantasize about hitting 200 miles per hour on two wheels, you’re in luck, because it’s time for the 2009 edition of MotoGP.  Motorcycle.com is covering the entire season, “spanning the globe” from the charge into the first turn under the lights in Qatar this Sunday night to the checkered flag at Valencia in November.

We have again retained last year’s MotoGP correspondent, Bruce Allen, to give you an up-close-and-personal look at the most dangerous sport on earth.

Bruce will provide a full season of amped-up MotoGP coverage (without even leaving his living room, other than the occasional foray to White Castle and the package store).  He has bootlegged a high-rez video feed from the MotoGP site, and has the best seat in the house.

No stranger to controversy, he is rarely confused by the facts.  He invites reader comments (as he is unable to escape them anyway, given that most of his observations are frivolous and half-baked).

Bruce has promised us a Friday pre-race analysis on each race weekend, as well as a recap of the action on Mondays.  At last year’s Indianapolis Gran Prix, he promised a portfolio of action photographs, and all we got was about fifty pictures of the Kawasaki girls.  We’re not really sure what to expect.

Therefore, with more than a little concern about our reputation, we   proudly    are pleased to    are sweating bullets    will try for a few weeks  present MotoGP 2009.

A Look Back at the 2008 Season 

The 2008 MotoGP season was highly competitive, in the way the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 was highly competitive.  Valentino Rossi, riding the #46 Fiat Yamaha, got off to a less-than-dominating start to the season, found his groove a third of the way through, and ruled the championship the rest of the way.  The final standings for the top ten riders:

Place      Rider               Country           Team                Points               Podiums

1 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team 373              16
2 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro 280                 11
3 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda 249                 11
4 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha 190                     6
5 A. DOVIZIOSO ITA JIR Team Scot 174                   1
6 Nicky HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team 155                   2
7 Colin EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha 144                   2
8 C. VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 128                   2
9 Shinya NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini 126                   0
10 L. CAPIROSSI  ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 118                   1

Casey Stoner, the defending 2007 world’s champion, chased Rossi most of the season, but had enough trouble controlling the big red Ducati that he was unable to catch The Doctor.  Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, the exciting young Spaniards, had a few too many crashes, fractures and abrasions to make a serious run at the title, but gave the fans something to cheer about in every race they were medically cleared to run.  As in high sides in which they could be photographed flying through the air, like trapeze artists.

Andrea Dovizioso, Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden each had a number of Top 5 finishes in 2008, putting them in the second tier by themselves.  Nobody else was in serious contention.  Which points out one of the factors that keep MotoGP from being even more popular than it is–the concentration of power at the top, and the limited number of teams and riders capable of being seriously competitive.  Kind of like F-1 on two wheels.  BTW, isn’t Andrea a girl’s name?

The good news is that the few teams that are competitive are UNBELIEVABLE, and the speed, the noise and the overall atmosphere at these races is unlike anything else on earth.

MotoGP makes NASCAR look like they’re running step vans.

During the Offseason… 

The major change that took place over the winter involved Michelin being given the boot by MotoGP in favor of Bridgestone tires, upon which all the teams will be riding this year.  This is likely to improve the prospects of the Michelin riders from last year, including Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden, Dovizioso, Edwards and James Toseland, once they get the new rubber figured out.  Circuit-wide, there were a number of arcane rule changes concerning practice days and times, electronic suspension defibrillators, and other stuff I don’t pay much attention to.  (If you do, feel free to visit motogp.com and bone up.)

A number of riders changed teams, and Kawasaki dumped their sponsorship program altogether, another loathsome effect of the GEC (global economic crisis, about which we are SO tired of speaking and writing).  The biggest news in this area, at least for American fans, was the defection of Kentucky native Nicky Hayden from Repsol Honda to the Marlboro Ducati team, joining Casey Stoner.  Marco Melandri got summarily booted from the Ducati team to the factory Kawasaki team, which then folded, leaving him scrambling for a ride with Hayate Racing.  He has, like, one bike for the season, which suggests he will be riding cautiously, if at all.

In the ensuing game of musical chairs, Dovizioso left JIR Team Scot Honda in favor of the Repsol factory Honda team.  Tony Elias, who had two podiums last season, left the Alice Team Ducati for Team Gresini Honda.  And Ben Spies couldn’t catch a ride at all, which is a shame.

Prospects for the 2009 Season 

Here are your major contending teams and riders heading into the 2009 season.

Fiat Yamaha              Valentino Rossi                        Jorge Lorenzo

Ducati Marlboro      Casey Stoner                            Nicky Hayden

Repsol Honda           Dani Pedrosa                            Andrea Dovizioso

Rizla Suzuki               Chris Vermeulen                       Loris Capirossi

Monster Yamaha Tech 3     Colin Edwards                James Toseland

Stoner and Pedrosa are starting the season less than 100% healthy, with Stoner still recovering from offseason surgery on his wrist and Pedrosa having had surgery after a high side–go figure–while testing at Qatar on March 2.  The Suzuki riders finished the pre-season testing session at Jerez in 3rd and 5th places, suggesting they may be more competitive at the start of this season.  Dovizioso figures to benefit from the switch to the factory Honda team, and Nicky Hayden, at least in my opinion, will be running with the big dogs before the season is over on his shiny new Ducati.

One of the amusing aspects to these big high-powered two-rider teams is the fact that the “teammates” don’t always get along so well.  Apparently Rossi and Lorenzo don’t see eye to eye on everything.  Such also seems to be the case with Edwards and Toseland.  How, you’re wondering, do we know this?  BECAUSE THE CREWS HAVE TO BUILD WALLS IN THE GARAGES TO KEEP THEM FROM ATTACKING ONE ANOTHER.  Despite the fact that these riders have testicles the size of hubcaps, they’ve got “little man” complexes and the aggressiveness of rat terriers.  Walls—jeesh.

Rossi is the odds-on favorite to repeat this season, edging out Stoner on the surprising number of online betting sites devoted to MotoGP.  It’s difficult to bet against him, as he is smooth as silk and rarely makes even the smallest mistake.  Stoner is going to have to have a perfect season to beat him out.  Similar to last season, it figures to be Ducati owning the straightaways, and Yamaha ruling the turns.

Last year at Qatar, the top five finishers were Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa on the podium, followed by Dovizioso and Rossi.  Look for Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo up there this year, with Vermeulen, Dovizioso and Edwards trailing.  Pedrosa is apparently going to start, but whether he can finish remains to be seen.

⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗

I think the new stuff is better. Back when Sean and Kevin were over-paying me I really worked at it, trying to keep up with my readers. Today, I can pretty much keep up. But in 2009 I was scrambling to sound coherent. Cheers.

MotoGP 2020 Portimao Season Finale

November 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen        November 22, 2020

Arenas and Bastianini join Mir as World Champions

On a sun-drenched day straight out of a travel magazine, in southern Portugal, Albert Arenas snagged his first, and last, Moto3 championship, edging Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino, as it were, his P12 finish just good enough for the title. In Moto2, series winner #BeastMode watched from P5 as a great race unfolded between Remy Gardner, Luca Marini and Sam Lowes and ended with him being handed the 2020 trophy despite a conservative P5 finish.

In MotoGP, homeboy Miguel Oliveira won today’s battle, while 2020 champion Joan Mir retired with a mechanical and no worries, having clinched the title last time out. To have two world championships decided on the same day, with only a handful of points separating the top three finalists in each class, well, it just doesn’t get much better than this in racing.

Estoril vs. Portimao

Screenshot (249)  Screenshot (248)

The two Portuguese tracks aren’t that different in layout. Portimao has the beautiful variations in topography, while Estoril has created so many memories over the years. Say the word “2006” to a MotoGP fan and he will, if his consciousness is sufficiently elevated, automatically think of Estoril. Pedrosa and Hayden. One thing they have in common is a long main straight ending in a difficult Turn 1, Estoril’s being somewhat more acute than Portimao. Watch Turn 1 in all three races, see if somebody doesn’t exit the premises.

Friday

FP1—What does it say about a track when it appears to be Aprilia-friendly? Aprilia in P3 (Aleix) and P4 (Savadori). WTF.

The rumor that Yank Joe Roberts could inherit Andrea Iannone’s seat with Aprilia after fellow Moto2 fast mover Marco Bezzecchi allegedly turned them down is tantalizing. An American in the premier class. The last to toil so was Ben Spies, a bit of a flash in the pan, and unlucky to boot, back in 2015. I hope Joe gets the shot and that he can carve a successful career out of motorcycle racing.

Saturday

MotoGP FP3 did its job on Saturday morning, separating the goats from the lambs. Four of the riders in the money on Friday were out of the money on Saturday, including Aleix, Binder, world champion Mir and top three battler Franco Morbidelli. Of the four, Q1 will be the most pressing for Morbidelli, locked in a cage match with Alex Rins for P2 for the year, leading by four but now having to make it through Q1 to get close to Rins on the grid. On a tight, windy course like Algarve, getting out front would be important, especially for the Yamahas, which do not like heavy traffic. It was mostly usual suspects in Q2 other than Stefan Bradl, who put Marc Marquez’ RC213V in P10. Homeboy Miguel Oliveira put himself in Q2 late in the session, looking froggy, like he might want to jump.

After an invigorating Q1, which saw sentimental favorite Cal Crutchlow join Fast Frankie Morbidelli en route to Q2, Saturday’s main event was typically engaging. Yamahas under Morbidelli, Quartararo and even Maverick spent brief periods on pole, with Morbidelli sitting on it for 10 minutes of the 15-minute session. But low and behold, in what Dad used to refer to as the nickel of time, homeboy Miguel Oliveira threw down a 1:38.892 to steal pole from Morbidelli, with Jack Miller completing the front row. A bit of significant weirdness found Stefan Bradl starting from P6 and Alex Rins from P10. Rins, one of the riders with skin in the game on Sunday, has his work cut out for him on this twisty, up-and-down track. Not even an afterthought—his name was called perhaps once during Q1—was Valentino Rossi, starting from P17, thousands of fans across the globe wishing he would just walk away from the Petronas SRT next season and get started on Chapter 2. For Methuselah, Chapter 1 is ending poorly.

These days, The Doctor is Just Another Rider.

Race Day

Moto3: Runaway Raul Rules Portugal; Arenas Enjoys Ice Cream Sunday

Late-season sensation Raul Fernandez went wire-to-wire today to win the Grand Prix of Portugal. A better start to the season would certainly have allowed him to challenge for the title. But a win is a win.

Of the top four finishers today, none had anything to do with the championship being contested. Of those contenders, Tiger Tony Arbolino had arguably the best day, starting from P27 (yeah, I know, right?) and climbing all the way to P5 before running out of tire and energy. Ai Ogura, second when the day dawned and needing to beat Arenas, solidly, to win a title instead managed only an uninspired P8. All this on a day when Arenas was having problems, making mistakes, getting overtaken every time one turned around, and ending the day in P12, appearing mildly abashed accepting the world champion trophy on the podium later on.

Ain’t nobody care. Dude has his ticket punched to Moto2 next year, along with Ogura and Arbolino, so the fledgling rivalry can continue, although likely lower on the food chain. His Wikipedia page gets a nice update and upgrade. The ice cream thing with Arenas I don’t fully get, though it played a part in his post-race celebration. So that’s not a typo in the headline above.

Moto2: Remy Gardner Wins From Pole; #BeastMode Seizes 2020 Title

Always fun to watch a rider earn his first grand prix win, crying during the national anthem and all, and Australian Remy Gardner was no exception today, outracing, then dusting, championship contenders Luca Marini and Suffering Sam Lowes and helping Enea Bastianini clinch the 2020 Moto2 championship. Plenty of overtaking all over the board, in a race Sam Lowes, with his injured hand, would have sat out were he not in the thick of the chase. As things turned out, he finished in P3. The good news is that all four of his serious rivals are moving up to MotoGP next year and he should pretty much have the Moto2 field to himself.

Aside from Bastianini, Marini, Lowes, Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin completed the top five for 2020. Gardner, in P6 for 2020, will return, too. Perhaps we can watch a couple of Anglos fight for the title in 2021 for a change.

MotoGP: Oliveira Dominates Wire-to-Wire in Portugal; Mir Backs Into Title

Screenshot (247)

So the MotoGP race ended almost exactly the way KTM stud Miguel Oliveira hoped it would, and almost exactly NOT the way Suzuki world champion Joan Mir hoped it would. Oliveira, taking note of Raul Fernandez’ performance in the earlier Moto2 race, took the holeshot and won unchallenged, crushing the field. Confirming that KTM is no longer some stepsister, but a full-fledged member of MotoGP royalty, deserving of the respect that all except Aprilia receive. Meanwhile, Mir, who experienced electronics issues during Q1 and started from P20, had yet more bike trouble today, possibly as a result of a hip check he delivered to Pecco Bagnaia early in the race that left the young Italian with a dislocated shoulder.

Similar to last week, if one is willing to disregard Oliveira, was the joust today between Fast Frankie Morbidelli and Jack Miller. Once again, Miller dogged #21 for most of the second half of the race. Once again, Morbidelli prevailed, the only Yamaha rider to get anything at all from the M-1: Vinales P11, Rossi P12, Quartararo P14. Ugh. For the year, the final standings:

1        J Mir           

2        F Morbidelli           

3        A Rins         

4        A Dovizioso           

5        P Espargaro           

6        M Vinales              

7        J Miller                  

8        F Quartararo         

9        M Oliveira             

10      T Nakagami           

2020 in a Nutshell

When the cat’s away the mice will play,

and when they do, they should play hard.

Though this does not qualify as one of the more poetic sentiments enshrined here through the years, it most certainly applies to MotoGP 2020.

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, >Joan Mir<, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

When Marc Marquez suffered what would become a season-ending injury during Jerez I, I had Mir in Tranche III, nowhere near Alien status. The unflappable Mallorcan saw an opening, one that literally might not occur again in the next five years and thought to seize it. He then went out and crashed in two of the first three races, Jerez I and Brno, with an off-podium finish in Jerez II to show for his efforts. 11 points in the first three rounds, Quartararo sitting on top, 48 points ahead. A good time to start thinking about next year. But after Brno, and despite a poor showing at LeMans in the wet, Mir was money. On or near the podium every time out. Quartararo and the Yamahas, other than Frankie Morbidelli, ran into problems during the season. Ducati had Miller and little else. KTM made some moves, but not enough to threaten anything. And Honda, without #93, was a shadow of its former self.

Any other year, a performance like Mir’s—one win all year—would have been plenty good enough for a solid P2 or P3. But this was the year that it could win him a title. Assuming Marquez returns next season—assuming there is a 2021 season—it is unrealistic for people to expect Mir to repeat. But he has assuredly earned his Alien Card, along with Fast Frankie and Thriller Miller. They and Marquez are the Alien Class for 2021. You heard it here first.

To my readers, both of you, thanks for following me again this year during what is becoming an increasingly challenging period. I miss the old days of deadlines and templates, but at least the racing itself was first-class this year. We will try to keep an eye on goings-on during the winter and look forward to returning in February. Peace and love to you all, and our best wishes for the Christmas season.

Local Color

Screenshot (257)Screenshot (253)Screenshot (254)Screenshot (261)

Screenshot (260)

Gardner takes the lead from Marini in Moto2.


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Raul Fernandez ran away with things in the Moto3 race.


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Jack Miller, a bridesmaid once again.


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A preview of things to come later in the race.

MotoGP 2020 Valencia II Results

November 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen  November 15, 2020

Championship in Valencia a M1R Formality

Suzuki #1 Joan Mir, Mallorca’s new favorite son, clinched the 2020 MotoGP championship with a smart, low-risk P7 in Valencia, giving him a 29-point lead over challenger Franco Morbidelli heading to Portimao. Frankie and Jack Miller conducted a breathtaking duel over the final eight laps today, but the Italian, the only one of four Yamaha pilots able to get anything out of the M-1, held off the ‘plucky’ Australian for his third win of the season. Moto3 and Moto2 offered plenty of reasons to watch racing today, too. But, in the premier class, Joan Mir is the new New Kid in Town.

In both of the undercards today, the outcome was not assured until the final fractions of a second. And in both undercards, the season winner has not yet been determined, although it’s partially visible in Moto3 and pretty damned obvious in Moto2. The most hackneyed expression in sports—“On any given weekend, anything can happen”—applies here. Always happy to go against the grain, we’ll suggest that Albert Arenas and Enea Bastiannini will earn some new hardware next week.

MotoGP Practice and Qualifying

11/14/20

Friday was Friday, similar in feel to Valencia I, Miller on top of the combined sheets along with Nakagami, the Yamahas generally suffering. Zarco and “Pole” Espargaro nosing around. Saturday morning was a little strange—I missed some of it, the early part of Moto3 FP3, missed the beginning of MotoGP FP3. All I can say for certain is that it was raining at the end of the Moto3 FP3, then guys were assaulting the track record late in the MotoGP session. Must have been your basic passing shower. Quick-drying track, something.

Anyway, three riders made saving moves towards the end, as always happens, to skate their way directly into Q2, including championship leader Joan Mir, who had been dawdling in P12, KTM rising star Miguel Oliviera, P17 on Friday, and wiley old Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia. These promotions came at the expense of the under-motivated pair of exiting veterans, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, and, surprisingly, Alex Rins, sitting in P2 for the year, unable to climb into Q2. Odd. As was the performance of fabulous Fabio, who got close but no cigar and found himself in Q1 for the first time in 2020.

[Here’s my free-form take on Aleix at Valencia. The track is one on which the riders spend almost no time in 6th gear. I think the Aprilia can run with most of the contenders in the first five. At the long tracks they get hammered by everyone, but at the tight little buggers like Valencia they have a puncher’s chance of a podium. After the gruesome year Aleix has had, a podium in Spain late in the year would improve his mood for the whole winter. I will also remind readers that the last bike I owned was an 80cc Yamaha built some time in the early 1960’s. My opinions are mostly hallucinatory. They come to me early in the morning when most of you are just going to bed. They have no basis beyond simple observation. They invite criticism. Thankfully, most of you don’t take the time.]

The dreadfully-named silly season continues unabated, as Aprilia, very late in the game, finds themselves in need of a #2 rider for 2021 after Andrea Iannone got hammered flat by The Powers That Be, career over. The leading candidate, Marco Bezzecchi, would find life at once better and worse. The lifestyle of a factory MotoGP rider is presumably full of BDE whether one slogs for Aprilia or flies for Ducati. Going from competing for titles in Moto3 and Moto2 to gunning for top tens will take some getting used to, especially for the aggressive Italian. It would also reunite him with Jorge Martin, the rivalry continuing to grow, Aprilia vs. Ducati this time. Avintia goes young with Luca Marini and Enea Bastiannini. Aprilia grooming Bezzecchi to take over #1 when Aleix calls it a career or has it called for him. Too bad Aprilia let Gigi get away; they could have been a force.

Anyway, Brad Binder and Quartararo survived Q1 but entered Q2 with but a single soft rear each, which they rode for the entire session, a light rain coming down the entire time. Franco Morbidelli, the only one of the four Yamaha pilots with anything going on, secured pole late in the session after everyone except Mir had occupied P1 at some point during the session. He was joined by the ever-present Jack Miller and Suddenly Takaa Nakagami on the front row. Mir was unable to take advantage of teammate Rins’ face plant in Q1 into P14, as he ended Q2 in P12. Mir’s unconditional magic number is currently 14; if he finishes Sunday on the podium he will become the 2020 MotoGP world champion, regardless of what Rins or Quartararo does or doesn’t do. Mir’s poor showing in Q2 is, I suspect, a reflection of the fact that he had way more to lose than to gain by chasing a largely meaningless higher spot on the starting grid in less-than-ideal conditions.

Race Day

11/15/20

Today’s Moto3 race evolved in much the same way they all do, a group of X riders fighting at the front, any of whom could win on any given Sunday. Today X=3, as Raul Fernandez, Sergio Garcia and Tony Arbolino got up close and personal for most of the last half of the race. Fernandez, who had led early, came back to the two challengers mid-way through, and a merry chase through the Spanish countryside ensued. On Lap 22, Arbolino made a nifty move, going through on both of his rivals into the lead. All three riders jockeyed for position on the last lap, with Garcia, all of 17 years old, looking like he might pull it off. At the flag, though, it was 20-year old Italian Arbolino holding on for the win.

Combined with Albert Arenas’ P4 and Ai Ogura’s P8, the three combatants head to Portugal next week with Arenas at 170, Ogura at 162, and Arbolino at 159. I say we get rid of the other 30 or 40 Moto3 riders next week and just have a match race with these three. As we’ve said around here for years, “Let Portimao Decide.” Arenas (P4 today) is the rider under the most pressure, skeezing out at the prospect of kicking the championship away on the last day of the season.

Moto2 offered the best race of the day, measured in drama per lap over the last two laps. Under extreme pressure from #2 Jorge Martin, race leader Fabio di Giannantonio folded at Turn 6 on the last lap, turning what looked like a sure maiden win to ashes, from the penthouse to the outhouse in a split second. Martin, who missed two rounds due to Covid and is heading to MotoGP next year, seized the lead after looking tired mid-race (he was probably just saving his tires) and being pronounced Out Of It by Steve and Matt.

Mathematically, Portimao will decide Moto2 too. But Enea Bastiannini, his ticket to MotoGP next year already punched, takes a 14 point lead to Portugal, trailed by a seriously wounded Sam Lowes, who, his right hand looking like a boxing glove, managed P14 today, no doubt the most painful two points of his racing career. With the shaken, not stirred Lowes at 180, Luca Marini sits at 176 and Marco Bezzecchi, who lost nine points on the last lap today, fading from first to third, sports 171. Bastiannini need only finish P4 or better next week to guarantee his 2020 Moto2 title. He and Marini will team up on the Avintia Ducati team next year for a white-hot duo on the same bike Dovizioso, Petrucci and Miller have been riding this year. We won’t have Avintia Ducati to kick around much longer.

Alas, Portimao will not decide the MotoGP championship, as Suzuki NKIT Joan Mir did enough today to clinch on points, leading Yamaha’s Morbidelli by 29 points after today’s action. Morbidelli won a great eight-lap battle with Jack Miller to take the win, tying him with his teammate for most wins in 2020. Fabio Quartararo, the aforementioned teammate, crashed out on Lap 9, desperately chasing a title which appeared to be his for the taking early in the year. But the second half of the season has been miserable for Fabio, and he looks lost on the M-1. The fighting in Portugal next week in the premier class will be for second place, with Morbidelli holding a four-point advantage over Suzuki #2 (lol) Alex Rins. Maverick Vinales, Quartararo, Andrea Dovizioso and Pol Espargaro will slug it out for fourth, the four riders currently separated by only five points.

One Down, Two to Go

And so 2020 draws to a close next week at a track with which few of the riders are familiar. Good—levels the playing field. Mir’s title this year will always bear an asterisk, due to Marc Marquez missing the entire year due to injury. But next year promises to be exciting, with Marquez, Rins, Morbidelli, Miller, Rins, Quartararo and possibly one or two more keeping things tight at the top. I suspect the salad days for Marc Marquez are over, that the field has gained a step on him in his absence. We will say goodbye to 2020 next week after I scour World Literature for the ideal pithy quote to summarize what has been a great season of racing.

Moto3 will bring with it some real drama, while Moto2 will be sporting the synthetic variety. MotoGP will be a bit pro forma, but the fights for second and fourth places are significant in this sport. Perhaps this week we’ll take a shot at some tranching.

Another bit of weirdness brought about by the pandemic will be the absence of testing immediately upon the close of the season. Historically, after Valencia, the riders move to their new teams for the following season and enjoy a few days of ‘get acquainted’ time with their new teams and machines. Now, the next time the riders will get together won’t be until February. There will be a healthy number of rookies and transfer students made nervous by this cost-cutting measure, not knowing until well into 2021 whether they and their new million-dollar girlfriends get along. Definitely a first world problem.

Local Color

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Welcome to Joan Mir’s playground.

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We saw a lot of this towards the end of the MotoGP tilt.

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Whatever this is–local color of something.

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Mir and a greatly relieved Davide Brivio, team boss for Suzuki since 2015.

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Random bird, cleared for takeoff.

Iannone: Justice or Vengeance?

November 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen     November 11, 2020

Click to access CAS_Media_Release_6978_decision_Andrea_Ianonne.pdf

And so it goes for Andrea Iannone. This is a career buster; his years spent as a world-class motorcycle racer are now over. He would have had a hard time reviving his career had he been acquitted. His suspension is now in effect until December 2023. He will be 34 and out of the game for four years.

I was never a huge fan. There was a brief period when it looked like he had the chops to apply for an Alien card, but that quickly went away as it became clear he was/is a little Sick in the Head (a great FB page BTW). He became something of a hazard to himself and those around him for awhile, then got booted to Aprilia where he no longer had to concern himself with contending for podiums and such.

I’m informed by a reader who should know that Iannone was, in all likelihood, guilty; if I were an attorney I’d be happy to stipulate that. But, in 2020, the punishment seems a little, well, draconian. He has joined the pantheon of athletes who willfully disregarded the rules of their sport in the hope of gaining an edge, got caught, and get punished. Those involved know the rules, and the penalties, when they decide to use PEDs. So it is hard, after the fact, to criticize the sentence handed down by the suits in charge. But it points, perhaps, to a need to update the regs, insofar as MotoGP is concerned.

Everyone should get a second chance to screw up and ruin their careers. The first offense–presence of banned substances–the miscreant submits to weekly blood and urine sampling, for, like, a year. Second offense, accompanied by a charge of stupidity, would be an automatic 18 month suspension. Third offense–they would be rare, as the 18 monther is a killer–and the rider is banned.

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In the Iannone case, there was no middle ground. Had this been a second offense (I don’t know if it was a first or second or whatever) he would have been found guilty, and let off with time served, in time, perhaps, to continue with Aprilia next year. That faint, last hope, along with the fact that he was on his way down the food chain anyway, has now been extinguished. With the financial threats the sport faces due to the pandemic, he should be thinking about a new line of work.

Iannone moving on continues the takeover by the new crop of young riders and the discombobulation of older established names. We’ve been pounding the table on this subject all year; no need to do it again. But it seems like 2020 was something of a watershed year year, with the cramped schedule, a Suzuki winning the title*, and no Marquez. Add to that the turnover in ‘mature’ riders essentially exiting–Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Iannone, Rabat, Rossi soon, Petrucci probably soon. See the shiny new faces–Marini, Bastiannini, Martin, Alex Marquez, even Bagnaia–and it’s clear the team owners have decided in favor of young and strong over old and clever. Conveniently, the bosses at Aprilia had no need to fire Iannone; he took care of that for them.

And so it goes.

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MotoGP 2020 Valencia I

November 8, 2020

© Bruce Allen November 8, 2020

Mir Self-Actualizes in Valencia as Suzuki reigns

Sunday in Valencia, as my reader often reminds me, was another fine day amongst the yachting class. The chase in Moto3 tightened considerably after a dramatic Lap 2 crash. The chase in Moto2 tightened considerably after a non-dramatic Lap 16 crash. But the chase in MotoGP became more problematic for everyone not named Joan Mir in what was a clambake of historic proportions for Team Suzuki Ecstar. The last time Suzukis finished 1-2 in MotoGP was shortly after the signing of The Treaty of Ghent.

Valencia I 2020 will be remembered, in the premier class, as the nadir of the Yamaha racing program’s recent history. Wet weather on Friday and Saturday, combined with dry weather on Sunday, produced some ugly numbers. Qualifying: P9, P11 and P18, with Vinales coming out of pit lane. Race: P11, P13, P14 and Rossi DNF mechanical. Constructor championship points removed as punishment for unapproved early season changes to the engine. Rossi infected with the Rona. Firing Jorge Lorenzo as test rider. More heads gonna roll. As good as things are at this moment for Suzuki, they are equally bad for Team Yamaha.

Friday

The whole Valencia practice fiasco was the fault of the weather gods, who double-crossed the combatants by bringing rain on Saturday morning, after having spoiled FP1 and messed with FP2 and, unabashedly lying, promised sunshine for Saturday. The consequence was that the only practice session that mattered (by way of separating the Q2 lambs from the Q1 goats) was FP2. As usual, there was a lot of jockeying late in the session but it ended, oddly, with Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli topping the combined chart. Left on the outside looking in were names including Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and Miguel Oliveira, in addition to the usual suspects and the two newbies, both of which were a second faster than the cruising Tito Rabat, blowing kisses to his fans.

Saturday

FP3 in the rain became meaningless, other than assuring that the Yamahas would likely struggle in the wet on Sunday if Sunday woke up wet. Valentino Rossi, dead last, running in the rain, was actually eighth in his FP3 heat. Hmmm. That was not as bad as teammate Maverick Vinales, who had to uncrate a sixth (?) engine for the year and was thus relegated to a delayed pit lane start. Dude is a mess, although most of his woes have more to do with Yamaha than Maverick. (Personally, I think Maverick Vinales is a highly talented head case.) My other reader observes that if he were her boyfriend, she would have broken up with him before now.

FP4, it was clear, would be either wet or dry or some combination of both. I didn’t pay too much attention, distracted as I was by some ongoing family issues ☹ and the announcement of the results of the U.S. presidential election. 😊

Qualifying, both Q1 and Q2, were the usual last-minute chaos, guys racing against the clock rather than each other. Where track records are set. Although track records in MotoGP have gone mostly unchallenged this year, and again this weekend. But it’s still great stuff, seeing these guys getting it on their last flying laps. Miguel Oliveira and Johann Zarco slipped through Q1 into Q2. “Pole” Espargaro topped the Q2 sheet, followed in close order by Alex Rins and Takaa Nakagami, all of whom looked capable of winning in this unpredictable season. Series leader Joan Mir would start, menacingly, from P6.

Sunday

Moto3 was unusual, in that a race leader, Raul Fernandez, avoided some serious trouble just behind him on Lap 2, got away from the pack, and led comfortably to the flag for his first grand prix career win. Running in P2, contender Celestino Viette went unannounced over the handlebars, causing series leader Albert Arenas to check up and Alonso Lopez, suddenly in an untenable position, to rear-end Arenas, putting Lopez out of the race and breaking Arenas’ bike. Arenas, his bike wired back together, watched his 2020 lead shrink from 19 points to 3 to Ai Ogura, but not until after having been black-flagged for inserting himself into a lead group while three laps down, a serious breach of racing etiquette. He may pay a bit of a price next week for giving in to his pique today. For the year, Ogura now trails Arenas by three for the title, while Tony Arbolino now trails Vietti by 3 in the fight for P3, Jaume Masia (one of a number of crashers today) a single point behind Vietti. Sergio Garcia ended up on the second step of the podium today, with Ogura third, having pimped Arbolino at the flag.

In a reversion to form, Sam Lowes, winner of the last two Moto2 races, running second, slid unassisted out of the race on Lap 16, giving up P1 for the 2020 season to Enea Bastianini. Marco Bezzechi led from Lap 3 and was never seriously challenged. His rival from Moto3, Jorge Martin, claimed second, with Aussie Remy Gardner landing on the third step of the podium. Contender Luca Marini was nowhere early, but mounted a late rally to finish in P6. American Joe Roberts, who qualified in P2, led Lap 1 briefly before crashing out. He has also lost his seat with Tennor American Racing to Cameron Beaubier, getting booted up from a successful stint in WSBK.

The MotoGP race today was, for everyone associated with the Suzuki MotoGP Project, a wet dream come true. Sophomore sensation Joan Mir topped teammate Alex Rins for his first career win in MotoGP, giving him a 37 point lead in the season series with two rounds left, and leaving teammate Rins holding P2 for the year. As they say down in the holler, “It just don’t get any better than this, do it?” Suzuki only returned to grand prix racing in 2015 and was a pretty sorry outfit at the time. Five years later they are poised to claim the top two slots in the 2020 championship. “Pole” Espargaro tailed the Zooks all day to finish a plucky P3 after starting from pole. Words cannot express how badly Espargaro wants a KTM win before defecting to Honda for next season. Those of us who hoped today was the day can hope for next Sunday, same time, same place. Mir, displacing Fabio Quartararo as The New New Kid in Town, became the ninth winner in 12 rounds in a brilliant MotoGP season.

Here and There

In Moto2, an unlucky Jake Dixon fractured his wrist and is likely done for the year.

It’s official—Luca Marini will replace Tito Rabat next year on the Esponsorama Ducati faction. He will team up with Enea Bastiannini for a very young, very Italian team with elevated prospects for the foreseeable future. The former Avintia group may not find many podiums next year, but they’ll surely get their ashes hauled more than any other single team.

This is why Suzuki needs a second team. Ducati has now scooped up three of the top riders in Moto2 in one fell swoop, so to speak. Some of these are likely development projects, but that’s fine. They have room on their teams to develop young riders. And, once you’ve learned to ride the Desmo, you can probably ride anything.

Garrett Gerloff

Yamaha tagged American WSBK rider Garrett Gerloff as Valentino Rossi’s replacement for the MotoGP European Grand Prix, after The Doctor failed several recent COVID-19 tests. Gerloff – a former MotoAmerica Superbike rider – held his WSBK coming out party this year with the GRT Yamaha squad and scored three podiums, at Catalunya and Estoril. [Imagine Garrett’s surprise when the cadre of guys in expensive suits and Italian loafers show up for a sit-down to discuss, broadly, his perspective around a prospective, um, temporary promotion to a factory M-1 for the MotoGP knees-up in Valencia.] Anyway, his weekend ended on Friday as Rossi cleared the Rona and returned for Saturday. Not young, approaching 26, Mr. Gerloff nonetheless made a lot of positive impressions and was fast, on Rossi’s bike, on a track he had maybe visited once before. Even getting to Moto3 would be a solid for an aging American with fire in the belly.

BTW, Gerloff was not the only virgin at the European GP, as Aprilia, having finally shown Brit Bradley Smith the door, anointed Italian stud/test rider Lorenzo Savadori to pilot the struggling RS-GP for the final three rounds of 2020. I hope Aprilia corporate is doing well because their MotoGP program needs oxygen. [As things turned out, Rossi retired with a mechanical on Lap 5, and Savadori left the premises on Lap 26, to the surprise of no one.]

Yamaha Fires Test Rider Lorenzo After He Mouths Off, etc.

I read this somewhere and believe it to be true. An article in GPOne described Lorenzo criticizing, mildly, Andrea Dovizioso’s failure to take advantage of Marc Marquez’s absence in 2020 to win the title. Yamaha Corporate, probably sick and tired of Jorge’s incessant complaining, promptly fired the three-time world MotoGP champion and opened discussions with Dovizioso to return as a test rider in 2021. The Japanese have always been good at the smiling, nodding coup de grace, after which one can find oneself unemployed. Or impaled.

∞∞∞∞∞

We’re back again next week to try this again. Lots going on these days à chèz Allen, so please bear with me.

Local Color

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Valencia from the air


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Valencia oranges, I’m guessing.

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MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

No, not that Franco! Franco Morbidelli, the Italian motorcycle racer, who won today’s MotoGP race in Aragon in front of two Spanish riders on Suzuki machines, Alex Rins and Joan Mir. The title chase in MotoGP, usually over by this time of year, features a legit Top Four—two Suzukis, two Yamahas—separated by a mere 25 points with three rounds left. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP are all competitive heading into November. What was once just a weird year has become fascinating.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 and FP2 were generally about the Hondas, with three delegates in the top 6, led by Takaa Nakagami, my emotional favorite to become winner #9 in 11 rounds. Cal Crutchlow and his deposer Alex Marquez were quick. Vinales and Quartararo were fast for Yamaha, as expected. The surprise rider of the day was Tech 3 rookie Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona, who joined defector Pol Espargaro in the top 10. Pol’s older brother was in there, too, on the Aprilia; he finished in P7 here last year. There was no joy at Ducati Corse on Friday as all six Ducs were back markers. Different strokes for different folks—no denying the affinity of certain manufacturers for certain tracks. The Ducs and KTMs aren’t big fans of the Motorland.

  1. T Nakagami            Honda
  2. M Vinales               Yamaha
  3. C Crutchlow           Honda
  4. F. Quartararo         Yamaha
  5. J Mir                      Suzuki
  6. A Marquez              Honda
  7. A Rins                    Suzuki
  8. I Lecuona               KTM
  9. A Espargaro           Aprilia
  10. P Espargaro            KTM

Saturday

FP3, the Great Divide between coasting into Q2 and fighting for one’s life in Q1, featured few changes. Miguel Oliveira showed up, and Franco Morbidelli came up with the One Fast Lap he needed. The Espargaro brothers got bumped back into Q1. Joan Mir held on to P10 by the skin of his teeth, Jack Miller and Aleix breathing down his neck. Nakagami laid down a vapor trail early in the session, then sat around his garage waiting for someone, anyone, to beat it. Morbidelli found his acorn after the flag. It’s somewhat of a jolt to see the Hondas, with their top rider on the sidelines, making things look so easy.

HRC announced that Nakagami and Alex will be on full factory equipment starting next year, and Takaa signed a nice new contract, his near future assured. If he were 22 instead of 28 I’d stick a ‘prospective Alien’ label on him. But he could win a few races in the next several years as Honda seems to have upped its game of late. This, of course, puts more pressure on Pol Espargaro to impose his will on the RC213V next year. Career-wise, Espargaro must now keep track of both Nakagami and Marquez in his rear-view mirror.

Pol Espargaro and latecomer Johann Zarco graduated from Q1, with the Frenchman jumping up into P2 well after the flag. There ensued plenty of action in Q2, as the front row was a fluid thing until the bitter end. Takaa Nakagami eventually flogged his 2019 Honda to his first premier class pole, getting the better of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins for a unique front row; for Rins, it was only his third front row start in MotoGP ever. (!) The remainder of the first four rows, then, included:

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

          12 J Mir (yes, the series leader would start from the back of Row 4. Tsk tsk.)

MotoGP Race

It’s a safe bet that Alberto Puig, the Svengali of Honda Racing, entertained visions of having two of his pilots on the podium on Sunday afternoon. LCR pilot Nakagami had been on a tear all weekend, including the morning warm-up, was starting on pole and, according to the announcers, was the bookies’ favorite to win today, becoming the ninth different winner this year, and tying 2012 for the most winners. Rookie Alex Marquez, the younger brother of you-know-who, was coming off his first two career podiums and doing well in practice.

Puig’s fantasy came to an end 20 seconds into the race, when Nakagami, in his excitement at having taken the hole shot, forgot his cold tires weren’t going to hold his speed in Turn 4 and low-sided out of the race, continuing the futility of Japanese riders who haven’t won a premier class race since 2004. But Marquez, the only rider on the grid having chosen a hard front, was one his way up the chart from his P10 start, looking quick, taking advantage of an earlier mishap involving Brad Binder and Jack Miller. On Lap 6 he went through on Vinales into P5. A few laps later he took out the plucky Johann Zarco. By Lap 12, he was running fourth behind the unflappable Franco Morbidelli and the Suzuki tandem of Alex Rins, last week’s winner, and Joan Mir, the series leader.

The air came out of the remaining Honda balloon at Turn 2 of Lap 14, when he skidded out of the race, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t, in fact, his brother Marc. Until today, Nakagami and Marquez had been the only riders on the grid to have finished every race, with the Japanese rider having been in the points every time. Today, the law of averages caught up with both, and most people were disappointed, more, perhaps, by Takaa, less, because of the family name, by Marquez.

Once Alex went walky, the race became a procession. The Ducati contingent, aside from Zarco, suffered again. Andrea Dovizioso, standing fifth in the championship, has no business in the title conversation, finishing in P13, sitting fifth for the year, and heading for two races at Valencia, another track where the Ducatis suck. Aleix Espargaro endured another rather predictable Aprilia mechanical on Lap 20, removing him from P9 at the time. KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Zarco had a bit of a joust over the last few laps, with Zarco pimping the Portuguese rider at the flag. Almost overlooked, by me, was Pol Espargaro, who flogged his own KTM to a quiet P4 finish, missing out, by a mile, on his fourth podium of the year.

The late-season fade being experienced by Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, at least at Aragon, deserves mention. Vinales has now failed to podium in eight of his last nine outings. Quartararo has amassed 15 points in the last three rounds and lost more ground again today, trailing the ascendent Joan Mir and his Suzuki by 14 points. He led the Spanish rider by eight after Catalunya. Mir, on the other hand, has podiumed the last three times out, and is a threat to become the first rider in any class to win a title without having won a race since 1999 in the 125cc class. A really good MotoGP writer would go look up the name. Here, if you feel a need to know, you can look it up!

And so, with three rounds remaining, the top four premier class riders are separated by 25 points. Quartararo, sitting on his M-1 in P2, should enjoy Valencia, but his star has been waning of late. Mir, leading, and Rins in P3, on their quick and nimble GSX-RR machines, figure to be muy confident heading into the next two rounds. And Morbidelli now sits in P4 after residing in P11 as recently as Red Bull II. It appears, for the not-so-young Italian, that Jupiter may have finally aligned with Mars.

Errata

I will post Moto2 and Moto3 stuff on, say, Tuesday. I watched the races—Moto3 was its usual chaotic self, while Moto2 offered the rare parade that put Sam Lowes, of all people, in the lead for the year. Reluctant as I am to give many props to Sam, who for years has struck me as all hat and no cattle, I credit the inestimable Estrella Galicia team for making him a success this year. Those guys produce winners, even out of re-treads like Sam. I think it unlikely that Lowes will get another shot in MotoGP even if he titles in Moto2. Or perhaps he’s just vastly improved and I will have to eat these words.

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Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

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#93 Return Date?

October 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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The writer observes that Portimao will be the last chance the Marquez brothers will have to race as teammates. Just sayin’. But the Repsol release sounds a little like, “Move along, nothing to see here…”

Here’s the Crash article.

MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

MotoGP is, finally, becoming a team sport. One of the unwritten rules of grand prix motorcycle racing has always been First: Beat Your Teammate. Then think about where you might end up in the race. These are hyper-competitive world-class athletes—most of them—and they, um, respond to challenges like this. We hear so much talk about “team orders,” but rarely, if ever, see them issued. It got so bad at the factory Yamaha team with Lorenzo and Rossi that they had to build a wall down the center of the garage each round to keep the teams and riders from throwing down on each other.

In 2020, The Year of Weirdness, problems and issues seem more team-centric. With six manufacturers, we see multiple instances of, say, one of the satellite teams having a better go of it, most weeks, than the factory group of the same brand. The Repsol Honda team has different concerns than the LCR team. Ducati’s lead satellite team tends to outshine the factory pair. Some of this is reflected in the fact that we’ve had eight winners in ten races this season; in Marquez’s absence, the love is getting spread around. Take a fast look:

Yamaha—Their two best riders are on satellite bikes. That will be addressed, in part, next season as Dr. Rossi and Fabulous Fabio trade seats. Morbidelli’s star is rising, while Vinales’ is waning, owing to his demonstrated inability to get to the front at the start of races except when he’s on pole. Rear grip is a common issue among all four bikes, but Fabulous generally handles it better than the rest. There are engine limit issues with Vinales, too; I suspect he’s signed his last contract with Yamaha. Too many fast young riders who would sell their mothers to the Taliban for a chance to wear factory Yamaha colors, rear grip issues or no. Yamaha generally fixes stuff like this. And Rossi is gone after next season. Someone is going to catch a fine ride; for a number of riders, despite the fact that they’ll probably be losing to Marquez, they will be auditioning for the upcoming seat on the Petronas team beginning in 2022.

Honda—Their primary issue, that being the absence of the incandescent Marc Marquez with a broken arm, looks as though it may be addressed starting in Valencia. Even with little brother Alex breaking through in the wet at Le Mans and again in the dry at Aragon I, the RC213V is too hard for mere mortals to ride. Now that they’ve found all that horsepower they need to get the bike rideable again. Too bad they sent Dani Pedrosa packing; he could have helped, as he is doing a great job with KTM. Their rider situation is resolved beginning in 2021, presuming Marquez returns to his previous form and Pol Espargaro has time to learn how to wrestle the beast. With Alex Marquez and Takaa Nakagami repping for the satellite LCR team, they can turn their attention to smoothing out the power delivery of the RC.

Ducati—Their rider issues are sorted other than announcing the #2 seat on the Avintia team next year, with Tito Rabat having apparently seen the writing on the wall and allegedly asking out. Since Enea Bastianini has already announced his promotion from Moto2 to MotoGP next season with Ducati, this would not be big news. Bagnaia and Miller on the factory bikes, Zarco and Jorge Martin on the Pramacs, Bastianini and perhaps Luca Marini on the Avintias. What would stop Rossi from buying the Avintia team from Esponsorama or whomever in 2021, with his boys already under contract, and then working the Yamaha and Suzuki suits, the result being a SKY VR46 Racing team in MotoGP with two academy grads in the saddles in 2022? And not on year-old Ducati equipment.

The 2020 bike seems to have taken a step backward this year. I’m sure Gigi Dall’Igna is on it and will have another competitive Desmo on the grid again next year.

KTM—Having made great strides this year, they have assembled a high-quality group of riders for 2021 on a bike that is fast but still a little hard to turn. The company is sinking big dollars into the MotoGP project and will likely fix the agility issues, not like Suzuki has, but well enough to compete with everyone but Marquez going forward. With Oliveira and Binder on the A team and Lecuona and Petrucci on the B squad they should be in podium fights on a regular basis and on the top step at Red Bull Ring pretty much every year.

Suzuki—The boys from Hamamatsu have witnessed a changing of the guard this year as Alex Rins has gone from #1 to #2 in favor of NKIT Joan Mir, who sits second in the championship chase this season, his sophomore year in MotoGP.

Rins still has moments of greatness, but will probably end up chasing championships on a different bike. Mir appears here to stay and may be capable of challenging Marquez on a regular basis next year. Interesting that the under-powered Suzuki has some of its best outings on the fast, sweeping circuits in Brno and Austria. In order to generate more data and so make improvements to the bike more quickly, Suzuki will probably have to scare up a #2 team. Plenty of guys who would enjoy the ride.

Aprilia—As if things weren’t bad enough, the FIM and powers that be are still arguing about Andrea Iannone, whether he should be handed an 18-month suspension for alleged doping. What gets me is that the process itself is going to take 18 months, after which they pretty much have to acquit him or convict him and let him go with time served. It would also be a bit of a cluster to take 18 months to find him not guilty. In any case, I suspect he is probably gone, to be replaced by either Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso, a massive step down for either rider. Riding for a factory team, even the worst one on the grid, is apparently better than any satellite team option. Reminds me of what some guys I’ve known say about receiving oral sex—the worst they ever had was great.

Thanks for the kind applause. I’m here all week. Please try the veal.

MotoGP 2020 Aragon I Results

October 18, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rins, Suzuki capture solid win; madness continues

Let’s just say this about the 2020 MotoGP season. Sensational Suzuki sophomore Joan Mir leads the championship chase with four rounds left. Yet Joan Mir has not won a race of any kind since 2017. There. 

Mir crushed Moto3 in 2017, winning 10 races, including Sepang late in the year, his last win, like, ever. He got promoted to Moto2 in 2018 and finished the year in P6, earning a sudden promotion to MotoGP. His rookie year in the premier class, he completed 14 out of 19 races and finished in P12. This year, other than two DNFs, one of which wasn’t his fault, he has finished no lower than P5, with podiums in his last three outings. I would be remiss if I failed to mention his similarity to Nicky Hayden in 2006, winning the MotoGP championship while recording only two (2) wins. In a year featuring eight winners in the first ten races, it is entirely possible for a Joan Mir to take the title without standing on the top step a single time. I’m sure he would take the trophy; not so sure he would want to live with the record.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday 

Missed watching FP1 and 2 but got the gist. The big news, of course, was that Rossi contracted the ‘Rona and would miss the race and probably Aragon II. We presume that a man at his youngish age and in his physical condition will come through it unscathed, and wish him a speedy and thorough recovery. Otherwise, on the cold dusty plain of Spain it was all Yamahas all the time. The three remaining riders for Big Blue locked out the top three spots, a barometer of things to come, but not a thermometer. Same thing occurred in FP2—rare that you get two top-three lockouts in one day from the same brand. The erratic Maverick Vinales led both sessions comfortably. Of course he did—his fuel tank was light and no one was throwing elbows at him.

Saturday

FP3 took place Saturday morning in the cold and resulted in no substantive changes in the combined top ten from FP2. The big news was a heavy crash for series leader Quartararo, who was still sitting on a stretcher off-track, appearing to have a real problem in his left knee or hip. Alex Marquez flogged his Repsol Honda directly into Q2 for the first time, unlike big hitters including Andrea Dovizioso, Zarco, hell, the entire Ducati contingent, and three of the four KTMs, Pol Espargaro being the exception, the cream of the KTM crop heading for Repsol Honda after Portimao. So Aprilia had a rider, Aleix Espargaro, moving directly to Q2 while Ducati did not. Jack Miller had a top ten lap waved off due to a yellow flag violation, adding insult to the championship injury he sustained last week when his #2 bike gave up the ghost in France.

One gets the distinct impression that the track characteristics at Aragon favor the Yamaha and frown upon the Italian and Austrian entries. Too, one can imagine the suits screaming at each other while deciding which tracks to include on the 2020 calendar. Ducati wanting Mugello over Aragon, Yamaha wanting out of Austria, Honda not really giving a rip. Dorna Big Cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta gleefully giving all the non-Spanish parties a thorough screwing by having half the calendar running in Spain. Marc Marquez signed off on the thing in June and it was done. Rounds 10 and 11 in the premier class (which did not run at Qatar due to the virus) would take place at Aragon, and KTM and Ducati could just bugger off.

To the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller laid down a fast lap late in the session to snatch Q1 from the aging veteran, joining the woke Danilo Petrucci, winner only six days ago, in advancing to Q2. Dovizioso was shown later slamming his glove to the floor, a sight you don’t usually see with the Italian. P13 is nowhere to start of you intend to stay in the hunt at Aragon. With all six manufacturers again represented in Q2, the top of the leader board looked like this:

Rider            Time Remaining

Morbidelli               12:00

Miller                       9:15

Quartararo               8:30

Vinales                     2:00

Quartararo               0.00

The first four rows, then:         

1        Fabio QUARTARARO

2        Maverick VIÑALES

3        Cal CRUTCHLOW

         

4        Franco MORBIDELLI

5        Jack MILLER

6        Joan MIR

         

7        Takaaki NAKAGAMI

8        Danilo PETRUCCI

9        Aleix ESPARGARO

         

10      Alex RINS

11      Alex MARQUEZ

12      Pol ESPARGARO

 

As some of you know, events here in Indiana prevent me from making time to take in Moto3 and Moto2 practice and qualifying. I’ll be watching them on Sunday. Apologies to all.

Race Day

Moto3 was its usual frantic self today. As late as Lap 16, there was an eight-bike lead group. Raul “Fast on Saturday” Fernandez started from pole and, when the smoke cleared, found himself on the third step of the podium, his first career grand prix podium at age 20. Darryn Binder, former Mad Bomber and now just a solid Moto3 contender, flirted with the lead numerous times only to end up on the second step. 19-year old Jauma Masia won today for the second time this year, the top seven bikes separated by less than 4/10ths of a second. Series leader Albert Arenas finished in P7, trailing the podium as well as my boy Romano Fenati, Everyone’s Favorite Scot John McPhee, and 18-year old Jeremy Alcoba. Arenas was fortunate today in that his close rivals had terrible outings—Ai Ogura P14, Italian teen heartthrob Celestino Vietti P9, and Tony Arbolino DNS with a COVID false alarm. As such, he stretched his series lead to 13 points over Ogura and 18 over Vietti. Arbolino, McPhee and Masia are still in the hunt for 2020, but everything needs to go right for them. Not likely.

Moto2 was all about people who have trouble dealing with success. Take former series leader Luca Marini, who laid his machine down on Lap 3, leaving the door wide open for a bevy of challengers. Or Fabio di Giannantonio, who crashed out of the lead on Lap 11. Or Marco Bezzecchi, leading the race and, at that moment, the championship, who crashed out on Lap 19. This made the dogged Sam Lowes, hanging around the backboard like Dennis Rodman, the winner, his second win in a row and third in four years. Runner-up Enea Bastianini took over the 2020 series lead by two points over Lowes, with Marini another three points back. Bezzecchi sits in P4, 25 points behind Bastianini. It’s still anybody’s title in Moto2.

Contrary to widely-held expectations, the MotoGP affair was not a Yamaha clambake. Despite dominating practice and qualifying (P1, P2 and P4), it was the Suzuki contingent of Rins and Mir, separated by the ascendent Alex Marquez in Repsol Honda colors, who hogged the podium today and shook up the 2020 standings. The chief protagonist was Suzuki pilot Alex Rins, a highly competent underachiever, who went through on frontrunner Maverick Vinales on Lap 8 and never relinquished the lead thereafter. A potential Suzuki 1-2, unseen in lifetimes, was interrupted by the startling performance of one Alex Marquez, the highly disrespected Tranche 4 Honda rider who captured his second silver medal in eight days, the first in the wet, today in the dry. Sure, it was a day on which three major competitors—Yamaha, Ducati and KTM—were experiencing purgatory on two wheels, Yamaha and Ducati collecting, collectively, 23 points each and KTM 11.

There were moments during the race when one thought it was definitely a Marquez on the Honda, but the similarity between #73 and #93 is, at times, fascinating. How hard must it be, being Alex Marquez. At one point in your young life, reputed to have been faster than Marc, if not quite as fast as Rins. But then Marc becomes Charles Atlas, the most powerful force ever in your chosen sport. You might have taken up soccer, say, in order to escape his engulfing shadow. But you chose instead to live in the shadow and work on your skills and, if there is a God, show the world one day that you are every bit as fast as Marc Marquez. That it runs in the family and he didn’t get it all. I suspect, if nothing else, young Alex has spit in the eye of the HRC suit who demoted him to the LCR team for 2021 before he had ever raced the bike. The official who made that decision screwed up on three counts. One, he surely pissed off Marc. Two, he wasted a terrific opportunity for the people in marketing to promote Marquez Brothers gear. Three, he may have missed out on a rider who is going to win a few races in his time. Boss Lucio at LCR is bound to be a happy camper these days.

Todays hijinks did little to shake up the top six, as follows:

Round 9

Rider

Points

Round 10

Rider

Points

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

MIR

121

 

MIR

105

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

DOVIZIOSO

97

 

VINALES

109

 

VINALES

96

 

DOVIZIOSO

106

 

NAKAGAMI

81

 

NAKAGAMI

92

 

MORBIDELLI

77

 

MORBIDELLI

87

Other than young Fabio’s tires turning to gruyère, things pretty much stayed the same. This is still anyone’s championship, but the guy with the fewest issues seems to be Joan Mir; he stays pretty calm and takes extremely good care of his tires. I was surprised to see him fade today, thought at around Lap 18 or so that he could win the race.

From Aragon to Aragon

Next week we do it all over again, but with different expectations. The main difference could be the weather, should it turn. That, and the unlikely but not entirely impossible return of Marc Marquez to the grid. That would amp things up.

I’ve prepared a look at the teams and will post it in a few days.

Ciao.

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2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

The French, renown for their cuisine but despised for their weather, lived up to their reputation today, with a dry race in Moto3, a wet race in MotoGP, and a drying track in Moto2. A day for underdogs (Alex Marquez) as well as the contenders in Moto2 and Moto3. Sam Lowes wins a race for the first time in four years, while teenagers dominate Moto3. As they say around here, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which is apropos of nothing whatsoever but demonstrates my facility with the French language.

Recent History in Sarthe

Johann Zarco was a rookie here in 2017, leading his home race for the first six laps on the Tech 3 Yamaha until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those few fanatics who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Zarco to waltz into racing history in 2018, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing unassisted out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a depressing 36-point lead in the 2018 championship.

We had this to say after last year’s race: “We’ve seen some of this before. In the MotoGP tilt, Marc Marquez took the hole shot, held off an early challenge from Ducati hothead Jack Miller, and won the French Grand Prix going away, never seriously challenged. This, after little brother Alex, whose last win came in Japan in 2017, survived the demolition derby that was Moto2 and brought joy to Catalans everywhere. After the race, jubilant dad Julià sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens.”

Last year’s rostrum included Marquez, Dovizioso and Petrucci, the Ducs lovin’ themselves some Le Mans. Jack Miller and Rossi got punked at the flag by Danilo, one of the favorite finishes of his career, I expect.

This year, the big story, other than a great championship battle, was the weather for race weekend. A lot of the top riders had never ridden a wet lap at Le Mans, and no one was familiar with the grippy Michelin rain tires. With highs only in the low 60’s and lows dipping into the 40’s, there was likely to be an abundance of crashers.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

FP2 was one of those damp things in which most riders worked out on rain tires while several went out on slicks. Slightly less weird than FP1 but plenty of anomalies, chief among them Crutchlow, The Black Knight, and little brother Alex Marquez flogging their Hondas to end the day in P5 and P6, respectively. With the exception of Miguel Oliveira, who found a hot lap at the end that elevated him to P2, and Joan Mir, the new fair-haired boy who could manage no better than P12, it was The Usual Suspects moving directly to Q2. Led by NKIT Fabio Quartararo, The Ten would later be joined by Danilo Petrucci and Pecco Bagnaia, who successfully graduated from Q1.

The last two minutes of MotoGP Q2 are always the best of the weekend, in the absence of a real-time nail-biter at the flag. When the dust settled on a dry Q2, Zarco’s track record from 2018 stood unscathed. As usual when it doesn’t rain in Sarthe, the Ducs and Yamahas thoroughly enjoy this venue, comprising nine of the top 12 slots for Sunday. Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda in P4, is currently being held together with duct tape and baling wire, but it seems to agree with him. When the Q2 music stopped, young Fabio found himself in the top chair.

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

With real life again intruding on my writing career, I’ve missed most of the weekend. I managed to watch all three races on Sunday, and have this to offer. (I didn’t miss the fact that American Joe Roberts sits on pole in Moto2. The hearts and minds of a grateful nation are completely oblivious to this fact, given the sport’s remarkable lack of presence in the USA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following piece of conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“ I write about MotoGP.”
“What’s that?”

Anyway, since the passing of Nicky Hayden, given the rarity of opportunities to demonstrate at least a little homerism, “GO JOE!”)

Race Day

Seems like every Moto3 race can be summarized as follows: The lead group of (X = 9) riders traded places and paint more times than humans can count. Over the last (Y=4) laps, the top four for the day, and perhaps the year, got down to it. Celestino Vietti, Tony Arbolino, Albert Arenas and Jaume Masia went wheel to wheel, abandoning caution to the wind. This, as it turned out, was the top four today. After the podium celebration, Arenas leads Ai Ogura, who hung around in the 20’s for much of the day before struggling to P9, by six points, with Vietti 10 farther back and Tony Arbolino trailing the other Italian teenager by four. John McPhee, with a mechanical issue seemingly caused by a dramatic save, remains stuck at 98 points.

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

The MotoGP race was a refreshing change of pace, a wet race that wasn’t all that wet providing questionable grip, especially for the eight or so riders who had never completed a wet race lap in MotoGP. Six of those riders had predictably bad days—Quartararo finished in P9; Joan Mir P11; Brad Binder P12; Pecco Bagnaia P13; Iker Lecuona in P15. Franco Morbidelli crashed out, but Miguel Oliveira did cross the line in P6. Of the eight, the one remaining rider who had a demonstrably not bad day was young Alex Marquez, defending Moto2 champion, little brother of You Know Who, starting from P18 but finding the conditions sufficiently exhilarating to put him in P2 at the finish, his first premier class podium, shades of yesteryear. Brother Marc must have been bouncing off the walls back home in Cevera.

We would be negligent in our reporting responsibilities were we to ignore the fact that the much-abused Danilo Petrucci collected his second premier class win today, putting brandmates Dovizioso and Miller away in the process. Likewise Pol Espargaro, who came from P8 on the grid to P3 at the finish. And we salute those riders who managed to stay upright for the entire 26 laps on behalf of those who did not, including Valentino Rossi (third DNF in a row but he’s not slowing down), Miller (mechanical), Morbidelli (black flag), Crutchlow, Rabat and Smith. Alex Rins (black flag) had to apply this bumper sticker to the back of his leathers:” Please call Davide Brivio if you see parts falling off.”

Today’s Moto2 race was particularly unsatisfying, on several counts. American Joe Roberts, having secured pole, started the race from the back of the grid, his crew unable to remove the back wheel prior to the start. Then, on-track officials, the guys with the flags, mis-started the race, the lights going out before Roberts had made it through Turn 14 and back to the grid. Joe recovered from this screwing to finish in P6, announcing his arrival as a legit contender. So there was that. Then, my punching bag Sam Lowes, who has improved this year, okay?, was chasing the charming Jake Dixon, on his way to his first grand prix podium, never mind win. Dixon had managed the gap with Lowes since Lap 12, when suddenly he slid out of the lead at Turn 14 of Lap 22, on his own, handing the win to the undeserving Lowes. Remy Gardner put a move on Marco Bezzecchi at the final turn to capture second place, which kind of made up for the whole Lowes thing.

Dixon’s ordeal calls to mind one of our core beliefs: 

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

Here’s an irritating outcome from the MotoGP race: Fabio Quartararo extends his series lead while finishing in P9.

The top ten in the premier class, after Le Mans:

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

Now it’s on to Aragon, in the dusty Spanish plain, for a doubleheader. Nine rounds in, five rounds left. Contested championship races in all three classes. Seven winners in nine races in the premier class thus far. There would seem to be some growing concerns about engine supply, especially with the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Pit lane starts will do nothing to help the prospects of the gaggle of Yamaha contenders.

We hope to bring you something in the way of an Aragon I preview mid-week, but it’s a bit of a chore these days, life happening. Please keep those cards and letters coming

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One big old church.

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MotoGP 2020 October 2 Tranching Around

October 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen      October 2, 2020

MotoGP 2020 October 1 Tranching Around

Twiddling our collective thumbs during this week off before Le Mans, I thought it a worthy idea to take another look at the purely subjective rider rankings you and I embrace. I’m not yet at the point where I can do this much beyond the top ten in Moto2 and Moto3. Here, however, in the premier class, we aim to generate some light along with the heat, top to bottom, as follows:

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Tranche I     Marc Marquez in absentia; Fabio Quartararo; Joan Mir

Tranche II    Valentino Rossi; Andrea Dovizioso; Maverick Vinales; Jack Miller; Franco Morbidelli; Johann Zarco

Tranche III   Pecco Bagnaia; Takaa Nakagami; Alex Rins; Miguel Oliveira; Brad Binder; Pol Espargaro; Danilo Petrucci

Tranche IV   Alex Marquez; Aleix Espargaro; Cal Crutchlow; Iker Lecuona

Tranche V    Tito Rabat; Bradley Smith; Stefan Bradl

Without question, there is a wealth of young talent whose stars are rising. Some of these may have received lower rankings then they perhaps deserve because they are still learning their trade and making too many mistakes, i.e., Pecco Bagnaia. Their inability to recognize life-threatening situations, however, is a career asset in racing. Other riders whose careers are in descent—Rossi, Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci—can expect to see their rankings fall later in the season as they begin to lose interest, relatively speaking. Absolutely able to race and race hard, just no longer willing to risk life and limb in the skinny places.

Re-Alignment of Teams and Riders at Ducati

So, the puzzle pieces are mostly slotted in at Ducati for next year, with Pecco Bagnaia getting his factory seat after turning 24 in January. He and Jack Miller will front the factory team. Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin, having received the rumored call-up from Moto2, will be the faces of Pramac Racing. Enea Bastianini, currently laboring in Moto2, has the inside track on the second Avintia Racing seat next to Tito Rabat, who is under contract for 2021 but may find himself bought out in favor of red-hot Luca Marini. Which is how it should be. Avintia should be the natural training ground for Moto2 grads moving up to MotoGP, with Pramac there to accept the successful grads and the factory team always looking to poach someone in the pipeline.

Very Darwinian in how it works in MotoGP. Do well in Moto3, go to Moto2. Do well in Moto2, go to MotoGP. Godspeed from there.

VR46 Racing to be a Yamaha Team?

Color me surprised. With the Petronas team kicking ass and the factory team being, well, the factory team, and with Suzuki in need of a second team, and with Rossi wanting perhaps to prove that it was Rossi, not Yamaha, who delivered all those titles, this headline at Crash took me by surprise. I didn’t read the article but suspect this might have been part of the Petronas 2021 deal, that Vale would get a third Yamaha team beginning in 2022. To keep the boys at Ducati and KTM honest during the Marquez Era at Honda, don’tcha know.

Le Mans Looms

Typically, it seems the Ducs and Yamahas like things in France, but there’s always the weather to contend with, as it seems to rain here as often as it doesn’t. One thing, though, is fairly certain: it should be cold, with daytime highs only in the 50’s F. Which means it could be in the 40’s in morning practice sessions. Add a little rain and you have a recipe for an extravagant comedy of errors. We’ll take a closer look at the forecast for Sarthe and environs next week. Ciao.

MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

All three races on Sunday offered clear examples of socially redeeming values. In Moto3, South Africa’s second-favorite son, little brother Darryn Binder, exhibiting perseverance, winning his first ever grand prix race, a virtual and joyful two-wheeled deflowering. In Moto2, Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, won again, showing great intestinal fortitude in holding off a surprisingly upright Sam Lowes. Finally, in MotoGP, NKIT Fabio Quartararo, his good sense and team mentality on clear display, politely took the lead from teammate Franco Morbidelli on Lap 9, held off a late rush by the Suzuki contingent, and seized the lead in the 2020 MotoGP European Championship.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

Left on the outside looking in after FP2: Rins, Miller, Dovizioso, Oliveira, Bagnaia. All four Yams in top ten.

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

FP3, every rider’s worst nightmare, unfolded with relatively few surprises in the premier class. Four Yamahas and 3 KTMs advanced directly, led by Quartararo. Danilo Petrucci surprised in P6 as did fellow Ducati pilot Johann Zarco in P4. Sneaking into Q2 (P10) in front of Pecco Bagnaia was Suzuki New Kid In Town #36, Joan Mir. The poor souls having to endure Q1 would include Jack Miller and series leader Dovi, Rins, the LCR contingent, both of whom ended up in the kitty litter, and the usual suspects. Cal Crutchlow has cemented his reputation as the Black Knight of MotoGP. As he left the track medical center, having moments earlier been cleared to return to racing post-surgically for arm pump, he lost his footing and ruptured a tendon or two in his ankle. Cal soldiered on in FP3 but could only manage P16, one of more than a few riders caught out at Turns 2 and 5, which seem especially treacherous when it’s windy.

Just to be clear. If you’re an Andrea Dovizioso, say, contending for a world championship and you have to go through Q1, you must proceed directly from a full FP4 to Q1, then finish that 15-minute session in P1 or P2 in order to earn the right to proceed directly to Q2, take a leak in there somewhere, where you must finish in the top three to just be on the front row on Sunday, from where you desperately hope to fight for a win, or at least a podium, and you’re six-tenths slower than Quartararo in the time attack. That is what we used to call a long row to hoe. Especially when the margins are so thin. It appeared reasonable, on Saturday, to expect a new series leader heading into the off week.

This competition, by the way, is what we were hoping for back in the dark, dreary days of 2014, when it was The Big Three and a bunch of world class junk. From the sounds of it, one gets the sense that, after all this time, perennial back markers—Tito Rabat, Bradley Smith, perhaps Aleix—will be having to tell their sponsors that Ducati and Aprilia no longer want their money. Lots of young talent in Moto2; management wants results in the premier class and is less interested in the sponsor money you bring if you can’t compete for a top six on a regular basis.

Over in Moto2, Sam Lowes is doing his FP3 impression of one of my favorite riders from back in the day, Frenchman Randy de Puniet who, in 2013, finished each race that season (when he did not DNF) from a lower position than he qualified, thus earning the sobriquet Fast on Saturday. Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon, the token Anglo-Saxons, would be working in Q1. Again, it appeared reasonable to believe Sam, or someone, would set a new all-time track record during Q2, being only a tenth or two down in FP3.

FP3 in Moto3, I’m told, found an unusual variety of overachievers and underachievers. All three series leaders– Albert Arenas, John McPhee as per usual, and Ai Ogura–would have to fight their way through Q1.

MotoGP Q2 on Saturday afternoon was your basic Yamaha clambake. One by one, Quartararo, Rossi (!), Vinales and, finally, Morbidelli took aim at pole, attempting to dislodge either a teammate or a brand-mate. Late in the session Frankie got it all going at one time and posted the only sub-1:39 lap of the weekend, a tenth off Lorenzo’s lap record set in 2018. On Michelins.

Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi would make up Row 1 on Sunday, with Vinales starting from the middle of Row 2. Jack Miller lunged into P4 on his last set of qualifying tires. Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder would rep KTM in the top 10, while Miller, Zarco and Petrucci would do the same for Ducati. Joan Mir, on the Suzuki, hovered in P8. And, lest we forget, series leader Andrea Dovizioso would be starting Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 6.

Sunday 

Moto3: Series leader Albert Arenas gets skittled on Lap 6 by a morose John McPhee, who hurt his own championship aspirations as well. With too many lead changes to count, the frontrunners, at various points in the day, included Gabriel Rodrigo, Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia. The last lap provided a showdown between leader Arbolino and challenger Binder, who went through on the Italian at Turn 5 and held him off, nervous as Sean Connery in a spelling bee, for the rest of the lap. Ai Ogura, in P2 for the year heading into the race, was curiously unable to gain any real ground on the grounded Arenas, delivering a P11 and a series of confused, stunned looks. Arbolino sits in P4 for the year, a point ahead of Celestino Vietti. Heading into the second half of this strange year, it’s still anyone’s championship. Just as a point of reference, Ogura’s 122 points at this time compares to Marc Marquez’s point total for the entire 2019 season—420. A compressed season and serious competition at every round. At one point today there was a 20-bike lead group. Gotta love it.

Moto2:  Italian heartthrob Luca Marini, he of the Rossi family, did nothing on Sunday to discourage those people considering him for a satellite Ducati seat in MotoGP next season, winning today’s race and adding to his series lead with a very grown-up performance. He fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from Brit Sam Lowes, who was leading late but whose tires were in tatters with three laps to go. Marini, with his half-brother’s sense of the moment, chose the last lap of the race to go back through on Lowes for the win. Fabio de Giannantonio came in a lonely third, Jorge Navarro in P4 and the American guy, Joe Roberts, managed a highly respectable P5. Enea Bastiannini, in second place for the year and also moving to MotoGP next season, recovered from a poor start to finish in P6.

MotoGP:  Despite young Fabio Quartararo claiming the win in today’s race, even with three bikes in the top nine, it felt kind of like a loss for Team Yamaha today, when Valentino Rossi, the legend himself, crashed out of P2 on Lap 16, an unforced error, for a second consecutive DNF. Franco’s P4 could have been a win but for tires. Lord only knows how Vinales worked his way up from P5 at the start to P15 at the end of the first lap, then took all day and several crashers in front of him to manage a top ten, this the guy with expectations of fighting for a title.

In his 350th start, with a chance to claim his 200th premier class podium, Vale let it get away from him. Though his tires may have contributed to his fall, the rider is, first and foremost, responsible for managing his rubber. Yesterday he signed his contract to ride for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team next year on a one year deal. This, one suspects, will allow for his well-deserved 2021 victory lap, as well as opening up vast new marketing opportunities, putting #46 in teal and black. It will set the stage for the entry of a VR46 racing team in the MotoGP grid for 2022.

The team that must have felt like the real winners today was Suzuki factory racing, fronted by Joan Mir and Alex Rins. In finishing in P2 and P3 respectively, they broke a string of 20 years without a Suzuki on a Montmelo podium, and put two riders on a podium of any kind for the first time since 2007. Rins started in P13 and had plenty of tire left at the end. Mir, out of P8, might have had a chance to reel in Fabio were there two or three more laps. The standings at the top of the heap got a little scrambled today:

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Looking Ahead

Two weeks to Le Mans, followed directly by two rounds in Aragon, which has the ring of the old joke in which the contest featured a first prize of a week in Philadelphia and a second prize of two weeks in Philadelphia. Whatever. Plenty of history lying around in that part of the world. The Ducs and Yamahas have done well at Le Mans of late, and there’s always the chance for rain. A good flag-to-flag race would be just the thing to separate the men from the boys.

The suits at Yamaha must be impressed by the performance their engineers have coaxed out of the 2020 YZR-M1, after a couple of years being the dogs of the big three. With three promising riders, a living legend, and a competitive package for next year all but assured, these guys all need Foster Grants. One hopes the success Suzuki has experienced on track of late translates into increased sales. This is an industry that deserves to survive the pandemic. I have heard it referred to as “the yachting class,” but there’s plenty of everyday people cheering their lungs out when it’s not the plague out there.

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

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Fabio leaning

From the top: Rossi stoppie; Jack Miller on it; Fabio shoulder down.

And some local color for those of you into such things:

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MotoGP 2020 Misano II Results

September 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Vinales prevails; championship tighter than wallpaper 

Maverick Vinales, on Sunday, had every right to finish second. Starting from pole, he took the lead early and held it until Lap 6 when Pramac Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia ate his lunch. Young Bagnaia managed the gap for the next 15 laps, until he unaccountably slid out of the lead on Lap 21 while leading by 1.4 seconds. Vinales inherited a 4-second lead and won easily, trailed by a rampaging Joan Mir and a happy-to-be-back-on-the-podium Fabio Quartararo. Young Fabio, however, was assessed a three-second post-race penalty for getting into the green, elevating a delighted Pol Espargaro to the podium. The 2020 championship is so up for grabs. 

Saturday 

Right, so I missed all of Friday and most of Saturday due to My Life having intruded upon the usual race weekend routine. Despite my devil-may-care persona I have managed to stay married to the same ornery, but saintly, woman for 45 years this month. She has a disorder which causes her to forget a joke almost immediately upon hearing it, which is a huge advantage for me, in that it allows me to recycle my limited inventory of material almost endlessly. Not that I ever received guffaws from her, or anything close to ROTFLMAO. But I still get that smile and the occasional laugh. As she often reminds me, my motto should be, “Funny to me.” In truth, she gives me as many laughs as I give her.

What I did see on Saturday was MotoGP Q2. I know the Yamahas had been having a good weekend again and that Pecco Bagnaia was riding the wheels off his 2019 Desmo. I knew that he and all four Yams passed directly to Q2, along with Takaa Nakagami, HRC’s Great Japanese Hope, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder on their suddenly formidable KTMs, future KTMer Danilo Petrucci, and Joan Mir on the Suzuki. The fast movers would later be joined in Q2 by Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso on their big bad GP20s, Dovi, with his new sponsor, “Unemployed,” stitched on his leathers, slid under the tag at home plate to sneak into Q2, as it were, while Miller smoked the field early. Left on the outside looking in were, among others, Alex Rins, KTM pilots Oliveira and Lecuona, Aleix and the usual back markers.

Q2 was, as usual, fascinating, as if where a rider qualifies on the first three rows makes any real difference. First two rows, anyway. On Saturday, Vinales and Bagnaia took turns on the provisional pole, with Maverick again breaking the all-time track record, something he’s getting good at with Marquez sidelined. Bagnaia, late in the session, recorded the first ever sub-1:31 lap at Misano, and we have pictures to prove it. Bagnaia sub 1_31 nonrecord

However, he was discovered with both wheels in the green midway through the lap and it got taken away, putting him in the #5 spot, from where he would challenge for the win on Sunday. He was, by far, the fastest rider in the field this weekend, with Vinales again fast in practice and qualifying. The question with him is, always, can he get out of his own way during the first six laps of the race and fight for the win? Not yet this year, anyway. Rossi would start at the top of the third row, with Mir and Nakagami sucking canal water, the LCR rider going through probably a quarter million euros’ worth of motorcycles on Saturday alone, with formidable crashes coming in QP4 and again at the same turn in Q2. Dude.

All I can do for you folks as regards the goings-on in the lighter classes is refer you to the PDFs on the website. I could, I suppose, publish my login and password and let any of you who wish to watch all the practice and qualifying you want. Not gonna do it. Let’s do this. The front row on Sunday in Moto2 was comprised of Luca Marini, Marco Bezzecchi and Xavi Vierge. Moto3 featured Raul Fernandez on pole, joined by Tony Arbolino and Andre Migno.

Race Day

Sunday’s Moto3 race was the usual fire drill. A lead group of Arenas, Arbolino, Fernandez, Celestino Vietti and our old friend Romano Fenati formed up and took turns in the lead or getting knocked back into 6th place. Brad Binder, on one of his typical charges from the rear, made it as far as P4 before highsiding out on Lap 19. Young Vietti, another Rossi protégé, held the lead most of the day. With five guys looking for an opening heading into the last three turns, Vietti tried to go inside on Ogura, sending both of them wide and opening the door for the apparently lucid Fenati, who has not always appeared so. The podium, then, was Fenati, Vietti and Ogura, with series leader Arenas, Jaume Masia and Fernandez taking P4-P6.

Moto3 Top 5 after 8 Rounds:

  1. Arenas 119
  2. Ogura 117
  3. McPhee 98
  4. Vietti 86
  5. Arbolino 75

Moto2 was a bit of a parade as the weather gods decided to have a little sport with the intermediate class. They delivered, in rapid order, sunshine rain breeze sunshine sunshine cloudburst sunshine, giving the guys in Race Direction whiplash, calling a red flag, followed by a delayed re-start, which was held as a 10-lap club race. Enea Bastianini, who led when the first race was stopped, charged past original polesitter Luca Marini on Lap 1 and never really looked back, although sophomore Marco Bezzecchi gave valiant chase at the end. Sam Lowes found the third step of the podium, followed by the frustrated Marini. Brit Jake Dixon fell from P6 to P9 on the last lap. At the top of the Moto2 standings, one will find:

  1. Marini 125
  2. Bastianini 120
  3. Bezzecchi 105
  4. Lowes 83

The MotoGP race was, if you’re willing to play along here, a snapshot of the 2020 season in microcosm. 21 bikes started the race, 13 finished. Six different winners in seven races. Riders crashing out of the lead; Bagnaia today, Quartararo for the season. Four of the top seven qualifiers left the party early today, including Pecco, Miller (mechanical), Brad Binder and Rossi, who both crashed and retired. Franco Morbidelli had intestinal issues all weekend and could only manage P9. Thus, today’s top seven finishers were what I think of as ‘young guys’—Vinales, Mir, Pol, Quartararo, Oliveira, Nakagami and, of all people, Alex Marquez.

So, let’s see. The field was truncated today the way the entire season has been. Things have been unpredictable, to the extreme. With Marc Marquez sidelined, effectively, for the season, all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ball game. Six winners in seven races. Today, Vinales got his first win since last year. Suzuki prodigy Joan Mir keeps getting closer; all he needs to do is to sort out qualifying and he’ll be right there on a regular basis. Dude can ball. There was some question, back in the spring, whether there would be a MotoGP season at all. That question has been answered with an emphatic YES.

Another thing. The competition for seats is heating up, too. From the rumors floating about over the past few days, placeholders like Smith and Rabat will be giving way to young guns like Bastianini and Marini. The competition is just so close that teams and manufacturers can’t afford not to have two competitive riders on their teams, any of which could actually win a race. At least this year. And once Marquez hangs up his leathers. Just saying. One more example of how this season will be remembered as an outlier for a long time.

The top ten standings for 2020 are simply ridiculous:

  1. Dovizioso 84
  2. Quartararo 83
  3. Vinales 83
  4. Mir 80
  5. Morbidelli 64
  6. Miller 64
  7. Nakagami 63
  8. Oliveira 59
  9. Rossi 58
  10. Espargaro 57

Top four riders separated by four points; next six separated by 7. Everyone in the top ten has a puncher’s chance of winning the title in this slightly out-of-round year. With lots of crashing going on, both in practice and during races, standings can change quickly. Had Bagnaia not kicked away his win, he would be just outside the top ten for the year. He’s young and coming back from a serious injury, so we’re going to cut him some slack and look forward to great things from him in the foreseeable future.

For awhile there, during the MotoGP race, it looked like we would get to hear the Italian national anthem four times today, the excruciatingly long version to open the festivities and the short instrumental version at the conclusion of all three races. Italians stood on the top two steps of the podium in Moto3 and Moto2; Pecco could have and should have made it a hat trick. Regardless, it was a good day to be Italian in Rimini.

Next week it’s Catalunya, where the natives are restless and most of the Spanish riders in MotoGP call home. No question this is a fun season for the fans, especially those of us who don’t have a dog in these fights but are in it to see the paint-trading. We will try to put something on paper mid-week to keep your short attention spans focused.

Rimini local color aerial

                                       A little local color from Rimini.

September 13, 2020

MotoGP San Marino I Results

Franco Morbidelli breaks through; championship tightens

After three rounds in perdition, this was the week Yamaha revived its outlook on life. Hogging the top four spots in Q2. Winning the race while putting three bikes in the top six. Not having any engines blow up on them, although there was that moment before the race. And giving Valentino Rossi an opportunity to earn his 200th premier class podium, with another one looming next week. Just another goofy weekend in a goofy season.

Notes from Friday

Friday, all four Yamahas in top six; all four KTMs in the top nine.

New racing surface seems likely to yield track records. Riders seem to love it.

Top three in FP1 were on different rears.

Lecuona apparently didn’t like the whispers about getting sent back to Moto2, putting in a P4 during FP2. Like water, he later sought his natural level, and would take part in Q1.

Ringing the church bells in Tavullia again this year?  FP3–shades of yesteryear as Valentino, on his last lap before the flag, scorched Misano, rocketing from P15 and Q1 to Q2, dreaming of a front row start. Rossi’s last win, 2017 at Assen, might need an update.

Cal Crutchlow, The Black Knight of Monty Python fame, would not ride on Saturday or Sunday, having recently undergone surgery for arm pump, on top of everything else. Complications. The Universe is on line 4, Cal—take the call.

Notes from Saturday

I recall the last time Yamaha closed out the top four in a MotoGP Q2 session: Never. After two rounds in the outhouse in Austria, Yamaha takes the express to the penthouse in FP3 and Q2 on Saturday, which, as it turned out, was also Bring Your Teammate to Work Day. At the conclusion of Q2, the four Yamaha pilots were seen playing a drunken game of euchre. The Pramac Ducati guys, Jack and Pecco, celebrated P5 and P6 together with an intense game of cornhole. Alex Rins and Joan Mir were having a late dinner and arguing about which was the greatest after taking P7 and P8. Dovizioso and Zarco, suddenly his heir apparent, were forced to have their picture taken together having finished 9th and 10th. And KTM, the luster of Red Bull Ring and its red flags but a memory, had to settle for putting Espargaro and Oliveira in the first four rows. Not a Honda on the lot.

Recall we came up with the snappy slogan at Red Bull Ring—Yamaha Hate Austria. Having sold out of the original bumper stickers, we are now happy to offer Yamaha Love Jerez, Hate Austria But Do Love Some Serene Republic of San Marino appliques, at the same low price. (The added copy has necessitated reducing the font, making the things unreadable from greater than four feet, but you gotta like the idea.)

In winning pole, Maverick broke Jorge Lorenzo’s all-time track record dating back to, like, 2016. Like I said, the riders mostly love the new asphalt, although they mentioned bumps and swirls, caused, presumably, by F1? I heard 90% of the track was smooth and 10% wasn’t which, apparently, is good.

Notes from Sunday

Moto3: John McPhee wins from P17 on the grid. Albert Arenas crashed out of the lead group late in the race, giving up a big chunk of his championship lead. Ai Ogura, who finished second, now trails Arenas for the year by five points. Two Japanese riders finished on the podium for the first time since 2001, Tet Suzuki finishing third. There were more lead changes than you could count in what is perhaps the world’s best racing.

Moto2: What started out as a parade led by Valentino Rossi’s SKY VR46 racing bros, Luca Marini and Marco Bezzechi got tight late, with the two exchanging the lead several times. Enea Bastianini, he of the recent promotion to MotoGP with Ducati for 2021, gave futile chase from 3rd, got a podium, but may have felt he left some out on the track. Xavi Vierge pushed Bastianini for the last few laps but never showed him a wheel. All Italian podium in San Marino. Covid-19 will find some new customers tonight in the bars and bistros of the city.

MotoGP: From the outset, it appeared Franco Morbidelli, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Rins and Joan Mir were going to dominate the conversation at the front. Vinales, however, did another of his disappearing acts, dropping from pole to P7 before finally rallying over the last dozen laps to salvage P6.

Morbidelli took the hole shot, established a bit of a lead in front of Rossi (!) and ran away with the race, Marquez-style. Pretty much everyone watching, myself included, wanted another example of Rossi’s sense of the moment, rooting for him to capture his 200th career premier class podium at Misano, his home away from home. Instead, he was supplanted by one of his proteges, Pecco Bagnaia, who gave a sensational performance, as well as young upstart Joan Mir, who put an aggressive move on Rossi late in the day to steal P3 and deny Rossi another chunk of history. Jack Miller appeared to lose the day-long argument he was having with his injured shoulder, finally surrendering to the pain and a P9.

Fabio Quartararo, looking very human of late, slid out of the race on Lap 8, re-joined, entered the pits on Lap 19, immediately returned to the track, and crashed for a second time on cold tires on his second out lap. Awesome. Gave up his lead in the 2020 championship. We know he can race at Jerez, but it’s been steadily downhill from there.

The two Suzuki pilots, Rins and Mir, put on a show today. Rins spent the second half of the race threatening Vinales, Miller and Rossi, while Bagnaia was doing to him what he was doing to everyone else. Young Pecco went through on Rins on Lap 20 into P3, then took down Rossi on Lap 21 for second place, this mere weeks after breaking his leg on Friday at Brno. If he was having problems with pain or stamina it certainly didn’t show.

Joan Mir on Lap 27 was awesome. Dude is going to be an Alien if he’s not already.

Rossi fought hard all day, but in the end was taken down by men almost half his age. Yamaha, despite the disappointment around Fabio, finished the day with three bikes in the top six. Ducati landed Bagnaia, Dovizioso and Miller in the top ten. Both Suzukis were top five; I expect they are looking forward to next week. Takaa Nakagami put his LCR Honda in P8, the only Honda in the top ten, while Pol Espargaro put the only KTM machine in the top ten.

For years there has been a debate around MotoGP, whether it’s the rider or the bike that makes the difference. The debate is unresolved, and the answer seems to keep moving around. These days, given the parity between the factories—or at least five of them—I think we have to add another dimension to the chess game, that being the venue. Riders, and now bikes, it seems, have notable preferences. We’ve all become accustomed to the fact that Marc Marquez likes things in Austin and The Sachsenring and would prefer that MotoGP only use those two tracks all season long, back and forth. KTM bikes like the home cooking they get at Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas seem to like Jerez and Misano but loathe Brno and Austria. Ducatis love Mugello and Sepang. And so on. For those of you foolish enough to wager on this sport this year, let me remind you we’ve seen five winners in six premier class races.

MotoGP top ten 2020 after six rounds
Top ten after six rounds 2020

To me, this is what a top ten ranking should look like. 28 points between P1 and P10. Eight out of the ten riders with four years’ premier class experience or less.

In the words of Huey Long, in the words of Randy Newman, “Every man a king.” Well, not a king yet, but certainly harboring legitimate hopes of kingship. Perhaps Dorna should just ban Marc Marquez “for the good of the game.” This is way more fun than most years.

We’ll try to put something together for next weekend, but I’m on vacation this week, so if you want a preview one of you will have to write it yourself.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Misano I Preview

September 10, 2020

© Bruce Allen    September 10, 2020

I wasn’t going to do this but have been libel-shamed into giving you, the motorcycle intelligentsia who occasionally find my friends David and Jensen tiresome, something this week in the way of a preview of the next round. 1200 words, letter-perfect, pungent and spicy and seeking cheap laughs, often at the expense of riders who are world-class athletes. Occasionally, we observe reminders, as we did in Austria, that these guys go out on the track during every practice and every race not 100% certain they will make it back to the pits in one piece. Maverick and Rossi are both lucky; a split second, a 2% change in trajectory of the used bikes, and it’s a different season.

Stoner comes out this week and says out loud what a number of people have not been saying—that 2020 cannot go down in the books as a “season.” I guess I disagree. It will be an outlier. Kind of the way 2006 was an outlier, allowing Hayden to win a world championship with the fewest wins (2) of any other. Or 2015, the other year Marc Marquez didn’t win a title. In my mind, there is no question MotoGP is sustainable under the previous pre-Covid world order, nor that, within a few years, the sport can return to big crowds and ‘normalcy.’ The question is whether the teams and the venues, and thus the sport, can survive many years like this one, without the fan revenue they’ve been counting on.

Whatever. Misano, home of the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, where everyone’s Italian. One of the best stops on the MotoGP calendar, one I would sell my bicuspids for the chance to attend. Mountains and beaches, the Adriatic right there. A great layout. The weather is usually beautiful. What more can one ask for?

The are a number of reasons few riders are setting lap records this year. One of these, IMO, is the riders miss that little bit of extra juice that comes with lathered-up fans yelling their lungs out. These guys are dealing with hundredths of a second—two here, three here, before long you’ve got a tenth—and, despite the seriousness of the sessions, especially on Saturday and Sunday, the absence of fans lowers adrenaline levels and heart rates sufficiently to cost a couple of hundredths per lap or section of a lap. For everyone. It gives it a practice feel. As a recovering marketing director I can assure readers this could be solved quickly and easily by bringing back the brolly girls, with naughty, color-coordinated masks. These guys with arm hair holding the umbrellas on these hot summer days is, for me, a turnoff.

What Do the Tranches Look Like?

At this moment, nothing. I haven’t done any serious tranching for awhile. Heading into Misano, where most of the bikes seem to do well, here’s my sense of the relative trajectory of the relevant riders. We are approaching the halfway point of the season. Not having Marquez out there running circles around everyone else makes it a revealing season. I’ve been banging the drum about the changing of the guard in MotoGP. Other than Andrea Dovizioso who, at age 34, wants to jam one on Ducati, the hypothesis is generally holding together. That and Bagnaia’s broken leg, from which he should return this week.

Tranche I:    Quartararo, Vinales, Dovizioso, Miller

Tranche II:   P Espargaro, Rossi, Mir, Nakagami

Tranche III:  Oliveira, Morbidelli, Zarco, Binder, Rins

Tranche IV:  Crutchlow, Petrucci, Bagnaia, A Marquez, A Espargaro

Tranche V:   Smith, Rabat, Lecuona, Bradl

Sunday Riders Who’ve Won Here Previously, and More

Dovizioso and Rossi in MotoGP

Bagnaia, Zarco and Pol Espargaro in Moto2

Alex Rins in Moto3

*#93 has won in all three weight classes—Moto3 in 2010.

Perhaps we’ve stumbled over an important consideration when trying to predict/wager on particular riders at specific tracks. The theory being that once a rider has won a big race, he runs the tape in his head for months. When he leaves pit lane the following year, he is likely to recall the feeling from a year earlier, and this gives his confidence a boost. Could this possibly be Rossi’s Last Stand?

**In the case of the missing Marquez, he has won everywhere and so many times that the GPS coordinates for braking points at every track on the calendar have become encoded in his DNA. Ergo, according to the above, one might consider avoiding a wager on him at any new track, like Portimao or Kymi Ring, assuming the paddock ever gets to Finland. This notion, then, is blown to smithereens by the fact that he won the first two races in Thailand in 2018 and ’19. Fair and balanced around here is what we are. And we believe it is fully OK to talk to yourself until you start saying, “Huh?”

So, What Do We Know Heading into Sunday?

Not much. The field, minus Marquez, is vastly more interesting. Yamaha is once again playing catch-up. KTM has arrived. Quartararo’s lead is paper thin in the face of a seriously motivated Andrea Dovizioso. Six points separate Brad Binder in P4 from Miguel Oliveira in P9. Takaa Nakagami on the LCR Honda appears to have some game. Both Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are underperforming due to Rin’s injury and Mir’s inconsistency. When the young Spaniard wasn’t busy crashing out at Jerez and Brno he recorded a P5, a P4 and  P2. Cal Crutchlow is facing either unemployment, a crappy MotoGP ride, or something else, a return to BSB? I dunno. As we’ve pointed out before, Cal has a lot of miles on him, needs to go chillax with mommy and daughter at his compound on the Isle of Man. Get a 150cc scooter, tool around scaring hell out of the locals. And stay away from the TT.

Is Misano the place the Yamahas return to their early-season form? Can KTM continue its assault on respectability by winning at Misano? (We know they’re good at Red Bull Ring. What about elsewhere?) Isn’t it weak when journos ask questions instead of answering a few? Honda’s best current hope is Nakagami? The bleeding continues. Why is there suddenly gossip around Bagnaia’s 2021-22 contract with the factory Ducati team alongside Jack Miller? I thought that was, as our favorite Brits like to say, done and dusted. If Bagnaia fails to ascend to the factory team, it leaves Jorge Martin stuck in Moto2, rather than moving, as planned, to Pramac Racing for 2021.

Having given this some thought, the Ducati solution now seems clear. Put Zarco, having a strong season on a year old bike, on the factory seat alongside Miller. Keep Bagnaia on Pramac#1 with Martin coming up from Moto2. Backfill on the Avintia team, alongside Rabat for 2021, with someone in Moto2, perhaps Bastianini or Marini.

KTM is full for 2021 up unless they decide to send Lecuona back to Moto2 for a year and sign a Crutchlow, or go young with a Tet Nagashima, who could also be a candidate. It would be Binder and Oliveira on the factory team with Petrucci and Lecuona on the Tech 3 effort.

Whatever. There will plenty to talk about after the races on Sunday.

Here’s a little stolen eye candy for you.

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MotoGP: Life in Tier Two

August 30, 2020

© Bruce Allen

With an off weekend on our editorial hands, we thought it might be fun to take a quick look at the riders outside the top ten, get inside their heads a little, speculate as to what’s up with their 2020 season and, likely, beyond.

#11     Franco Morbidelli     Italian     Petronas Yamaha

Moto2 title in 2017. Paid a year of dues on a weak satellite Honda as a rookie in 2018. More than doubled his point production in 2019 on the satellite Yamaha. He’s had two good races this year–P5 at Jerez I and P2 at Brno–and three lousy ones. Has collected a total one one (1) point in the last two rounds, joining Vinales and Quartararo in the Yamaha Hate Austria club. He’s 25; these grand prix riders peak in their mid-20’s. He’s also one of a number of riders, age-wise, whose careers are getting squeezed by Marquez at 27 and Quartararo at 21 years. He needs to get more consistent, will probably never win a MotoGP title, but a formidable rider nonetheless.

#12     Johann Zarco     French     Exponsorama Ducati

Zarco, a classic underachiever, is 30 years old. One assumes there is stuff in his personal life that affects his career decisions, for he was, briefly in 2017, as a rookie in MotoGP, burning like a 4th of July sparkler. He needed to wear shades. But from there, it’s been mostly downhill. A lack of progress on the 2018 Yamaha led him to make a terrible career decision to ride for KTM in 2019, a debacle that lasted 13 rounds. Somehow, he’s landed at Ducati with a GP19 that howls and a riding style that, somehow, fits the Desmo. With his guest membership in the YHA club, (2 points in Austria) he looks like a field horse who will be fun to watch, who will occasionally show up on a podium, but will never finish in the top five for the year. At least he’s back, and lucid.

#13     Alex Rins     Spain     Suzuki Ecstar

Another fast rider whose career has been slowed by injuries, most of which have been unforced errors. Apparently, unlike Marquez, he doesn’t practice the art of the harmless lowside crash. Anyway, once again in 2020, despite his overall bright future, he banged himself up early in the season, had surgery, came back sooner than he should have, and will now be at risk for the rest of the year. He opened with a P10 at Jerez I, his P4 at Jerez II was a bit of a miracle before the roof caved in. He began to get things sorted at Red Bull II. Rins is young and fast, but he has to quit hurting himself. Another rider book-ended by Marquez and Quartararo.

#14     Danilo Petrucci     Italy    Factory Ducati

This, 2020, is the beginning of the end of Danilo, who had a glance at the big time after years and years of paying dues. He has lost his seat to Pecco Bagnaia for ’21-’22 and has taken up residence with KTM for 2021. He saw the writing on the wall months ago, re Bagnaia. With a season best P7 at Austria I he appears to be outgunned or on “Cruise.”  Whatever. He has had his last big contract, and appears to be a happy guy. All the best to Danilo at KTM. Perhaps he can join Binder and Oliveira who are breaking the beast along with Espargaro.

#15     Alex Marquez     Spain     Repsol Honda

Little brother keeps his big fast Honda upright. He does the best he can with his overarching goal being to complete the race, not crash, not get anyone hurt. He had a P8 at Jerez II and will be taking over Cal Crutchlow’s seat at LCR Honda next season with full factory support. When he was a teenager he was said to have been faster than Marc, and that Rins could beat both of them. Whatever. Alex appears to be a Tranche 3 or 4 rider. Don’t know why that would ever change, with all the young fast Italian riders on the way. [His transfer made possible Repsol’s signing of Pol Espargaro to ride alongside Marc–that should be rich–for ’21-’22. It also showed Crutchlow the door; no surprise there.]

#16     Aleix Espargaro     Spain     Factory Aprilia

The MotoGP equivalent of Sisyphus, doomed to spend his life pushing the rock up the mountain only to see it roll down again. I think little brother Pol could now beat Aleix on a same-bike match race. But Aleix has never, in a career seemingly spanning decades in MotoGP, had a decent ride beneath him. Other than 2014 on the Forward Yamaha, on which he finished P7 for the year. He’s going nowhere on the still-sick Aprilia while the world awaits the turnaround KTM is experiencing this year. Meanwhile, Aleix pedals as hard as he can, generally to little avail. Someone’s going to take his job one of these days.

#17     Iker Lecuona     Spain     Tech3 KTM

First, a confession about the KTM rookie. I get tickled every time I hear his name, as it provokes in me (I’m a musician on the side) a rhythm, a rhythm that reminds me of a tune in Disney’s Lion King, called, for whatever reason, “Hakuna Matata,” and has this hypnotic beat attached to it. I hear #27 and my neck and shoulders start moving, like they do when I hear Motown anthems.

Late selection rookie brought onboard, finally, to take Zarco’s seat. He is young, and he is wrestling the RC16, which is a beast to point and shoot. His fate is not, as it appears, tied to KTM. He may find, or at least seek, greener pastures on a different bike, should the opportunity arise in the future. For now, he is a back-bencher. He is young, and could become something in a few seasons. KTM picked him for 2020 mostly on purpose, as future star Jorge Martin was not ready to move up. Martin appears to be ready and is rumored to have signed a Ducati contract for 2021. Dude has Alien written all over him. Sorry, not Lecuona. Martin is the future Alien; jury is still out on Iker.

#18     Pecco Bagnaia     Italy     Pramac Ducati

Promising young rookie, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, has a bright future at Ducati. A broken leg in Jerez has trashed his 2020 campaign, but he is reported to have already signed his contract to move up to the factory team in 2021-22 to ride alongside Jack Miller, the factory Ducati group getting younger and stronger in the process. Bagnaia appears to have a preferred riding style that will do well at some tracks, so-called Ducati-friendly tracks. I think he is young enough to get a peak at a world championship in MotoGP; his future appears bright. His present, not so much, although he is healing and will possibly try to return for a few rounds in 2020. How am I supposed to know, out here in Hoosierville?

#19     Bradley Smith     Great Britain     Factory Aprilia

After being in and out of MotoGP Smith caught a ride this season when Andrea Iannone failed a drug test. Were Smith a mechanic rather than a rider, 2020 would be another year of sitting around, turning wrenches. He must bring a pot of sponsor money, probably more than Aprilia pays him. He is a career field-filler. Nice guy. No future.

#20     Tito Rabat    Spain     Esponsorama Ducati

See #19 above.

#21     Cal Crutchlow     Great Britain     LCR Honda

Despite a respectable career, Cal is going out on a low note, having been declared redundant by HRC. This chafes the Brit who, at age 34, has arrived at the end of the line. If he doesn’t get off here and retire to a life of leisure on the Isle of Mann, he will end up in a bad neighborhood, career-wise, but guys like Cal are hard to convince. He is, at this moment, homeless starting next season. With a lifetime of arthritis ahead of him, I hope Cal calls it a career and goes home to wife and daughter. It would be fun to hear him behind a microphone at some point, during races.

***

So, there you have it. We’ll get back on topic after Labor Day, in advance of Misano I. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids, and we’ll try to reply to every one, plus send you a secret decoder ring you can show off to your friends. Tell them you care about motorcycle racing and casual research. Show them that a little knowledge, combined with a fairly extensive vocabulary, can achieve success in a community of people who make odd, unhealthy choices in what they read.

Here are some images from last year in San Marino.

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Share Comments on Motorcycle.com!

August 24, 2020

Good news for you gearheads who prefer to share your comments and criticisms on DISQUS rather than going through the hassle of signing up at the WordPress.com site.

My man Evans has agreed to allow me to re-post my articles in the Comments section of articles on MO that are MotoGP-related, i.e., press releases after races that Dennis Chung kindly posts.

Beginning in Misano, I hope to share my stuff in the Comments section itself, one big cut-and-paste job each week. There will be no images on MO, but I will continue to steal-and-paste them into the blog posts.

The only reason left for me to work hard on MotoGP is the giggles I get from reading your comments and kibbitzing on your arguments amongst yerselves. No money, no fame, no glory, just a few laughs.

I’m not sure at this time whether DISQUS has a character limit on its comments; I think not. If so, I may have to post Part 1 and Part 2 occasionally. No big deal.

Everyone who cares–take a moment out of your busy lives and give Evans a little love. He’s doing what he can to keep my thoughts and prayers flowing to you MOrons.

Peace.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Styria Results

August 23, 2020

© Bruce Allen                               August 23, 2020

Round 5 and It’s Anyone’s Year

Styria, in case you’re wondering, is the Austrian equivalent of Catalunya, a conquered state, many of whose natives still chafe (Spain) or have chafed (Styria) over the centuries. This part of the world has spent most of its ancient history getting run over, by Celts, by Romans, and by various barbarian hordes, ranging from Huns to Ostrogoths, before becoming loyal Franks, etc. Just trying to explain why there are two different consecutive Austrian MotoGP races this year is all.

Same deal as Jerez, Misano, Aragon and Valencia. Twofers. Since the fans are already screwed, the slimmed-down logistics don’t really hurt anyone.

Continued fallout from last Sunday’s demo derby. Johann Zarco must start from pit lane with his slightly broken wrist. Danilo Petrucci has been given an official written warning…gasp…and has been ordered to write, “NON LANCER MAI PIÙ ALEIX SULLA FOTOCAMERA.” 100 times. Sr. Ezpeleta expects hard copies of same on his Spielberg desk by Saturday noon. The crash involving Zarco and Morbidelli, and the ensuing chain of events it caused, made it all the way to CNN.

Screenshot (19)

The new safety fence at Turns 2 and 3.

A little Moto3 action.
A little Moto2 love between Martin and Bezzecchi, before RD got involved.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 finished with 21 riders—Zarco had a note from his doctor—within one second of each other. Miller and Dovizioso topped the sheets, but so what? Fabio was faster winning at Jerez II than he was winning Jerez I. (It also appears clear that young Fabio has tracks he likes and others he doesn’t. That will smooth out over time, I suspect. Early in his career I remember asserting there were tracks that were Marquez-friendly. Starting about five years ago it became clear that every track on the calendar had become Marquez-friendly.) The point here is that times this weekend should be faster than last week, what with all the extra practice.

The KTM bikes seem to love Red Bull Ring.

Over in Moto3, Celestino Vietti had his way with Albert Arenas in FP1, while Sam Lowes had a peek at the all time track record in leading a closely-knit cabal of riders in Moto2.

FP2, across the board, didn’t change much. Half the MotoGP riders improved their time, half didn’t. Notables not cracking the top ten for the day included Rossi, Quartararo, Petrucci and Crutchlow. In Moto2, almost all the fast times for the day occurred during FP1. Moto3 saw 17 riders within a second of the leader.

Saturday

In Moto3, it was generally the Usual Suspects in FP3 moving directly into Q2. Tatsuki Suzuki, in P15, was punished for dawdling, a full .022 seconds out of the money, along with Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder. These layabouts would have to glom on to a top four spot in Q1 to even think realistically about a win on Sunday.

MotoGP FP3 continued what has become a trend—a lot of older riders having to go through Q1. Rossi and Crutchlow, for starters. Zarco and Petrucci, starting to go gray around the muzzle. Aleix and Rabat. My boy Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to the top spot in FP3, possibly announcing his arrival in MotoGP after a silver medal last week here. Irritating, one suspects, for Rossi, trailing Mir by half a second and sitting in P15 heading to Q1. Note: Hot KTM rookie Brad Binder got caught loafing today, too, failing to pass automatically into Q2 by .003 seconds.

Red Bull Ring is not a track where one would expect the Suzuki to perform well. Only ten turns, and one is barely a turn at all, more like a lane change. Compared to, say, Assen with 18 turns, Austria is as close as MotoGP gets to a racing oval.

Sam Lowes, fast in Moto2 all weekend, had a heavy crash during FP3 but emerged shaken, not stirred, in P3, avoiding the blood, toil, tears and sweat of a Q1. But the packed nature of the field left a number of big names heading to Q1, including a surprising number of Italian riders. But just like their Moto3 days with KTM, Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzechi pushed their Kalex machines to the top of the combined F1-F3 sheets on Saturday morning.

Getting into too much detail here. The Q1 sessions were, as usual, desperately fought affairs, as those failing to advance would likely end up in the ass half of the pack. In MotoGP, Zarco and Petrucci crossed over, the Frenchman nursing a titanium screw in his wrist. In Moto2, Somkiat Chantra, The Great Thai Hope, led Tet Nagashima, Hector Garzo and Stefano Manzi into Q2. In Moto3, Jaume Masia, Niccolo Antonelli, Dennis Oncu and Darryn Binder escaped into Q2. The funny part of all of this, to me, is that, especially in the lighter classes, where one starts the race has virtually nothing to do with one’s chances of winning or at least appearing on the podium.

Which is to take nothing away from the best nine minutes in most MotoGP weekends—the last three minutes of Q2 in all three classes. The race for pole, not as meaningful as it perhaps once was, but still something that gets the blood raging in these young men. Moto3 gave us, once the smoke cleared, a front row of Gabriel Rodrigo, Raul Fernandez and Tetsuki Suzuki, with series leader Albert Arenas smirking in P9. In Moto2, we ended up with Aron Canet on pole, joined on the front row by Jorge Martin and Nagashima; series leaders Luca Marini (P12) and Enea Bastianini (P15) would be having an uphill slog on Sunday.

Q2 in MotoGP was the wild, wild west, as, one after another, at least eight riders spent time on the historical footnote known as the “provisional pole.” According to the PDFs on the MotoGP site, the suddenly relevant Pol Espargaro would start Sunday on his first pole since his Moto2 swan song in Valencia in 2013. Takaa Nakagami, another Great Japanese Hope on the LCR Honda, took his first career MotoGP front row start in P2, while Johann Zarco, of all people, “wound up” in P3, stiff upper lip and titanium screw firmly in place. Due to the unfortunate events last Sunday in the MotoGP race, Zarco would be starting Sunday’s race from pit lane, which is why “wound up” is in quotes. Zarco’s eviction from P3 allowed, respectively, Joan Mir, a wounded Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins to move up a spot. Along with everyone else in the field, of course, but it might make a difference with this lot, as rows one and two are always a nice place, if you’re entertaining thoughts of, well, winning.

The youth movement in MotoGP—once more, with feeling—continued in qualifying. (Someone please remind me to define younger and older riders this coming week. To be considered a young rider, for example, one must have less than three years of MotoGP experience or be under, say, 25 years old. Then crunch the numbers.)

On the first four rows there were three veterans and nine youngsters. Of the remaining ten riders, take away Pirro and Bradl, you have three young riders and five crusties. Marc Marquez, according to my thinking, is now an older rider. Were he on track he would smooth the numbers. And, as a reminder, if he were on track, he is the one who owns the track record around here, and he was about half a second faster last year than Pol is this year. Just sayin’. The fact that he is toast for 2020 is immaterial.

Race Day

You just can”t have too many aircraft pictures.

Once again, Moto3 failed to disappoint. More lead changes than one’s brain can process. 12-man lead groups. The primary combatants today included young Celestino Vietti (another from Valentino Rossi’s stable of young Italian riders), Tony Arbolino, Ai Ogura, John McPhee, and Gabriel Rodrigo. Series leader Albert Arenas, lacking the pace to compete for the win, hung around the backboard, picked up a few rebounds, and came away still leading the 2020 series, as follows:

1        Albert ARENAS       KTM             106

2        Ai OGURA               Honda          81

3        John MCPHEE         Honda           67

4        Celestino VIETTI     KTM             66

5        Tony ARBOLINO     Honda           60

6        Tatsuki SUZUKI      Honda           59

The Moto2 tilt was a bit of a replay from 2018, when Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi used to fight each other every round on their KTM Moto3 machines. Martin appeared capable of getting away today, but the Italian gradually moved up the field until he was in P2 and threatening. The last couple of laps all I saw was Martin defending and Bezzecchi attacking until they ran out of time, Martin crossing the line a few tenths ahead of his old rival. Almost immediately, Race Direction called down to say that, due to Martin having ‘exceeded track limits’ on the final lap, with both wheels just barely in the green, he was demoted one spot, handing the win to Bezzecchi, who gratefully accepted it. Australian Remy Gardner snagged third today, his second grand prix podium. The Moto2 standings after six races looks like this:

1        Luca MARINI                     Kalex            87

2        Enea BASTIANINI             Kalex            79

3        Jorge MARTIN                  Kalex            79

4        Tetsuta NAGASHIMA        Kalex            68

5        Marco BEZZECCHI            Kalex            65

6        Sam LOWES                    Kalex            59

The main event, featured, for the second consecutive week, a red flag event in the premier class. On Lap 17, with Joan Mir comfortably leading a group including Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro, Takaa Nakagami and Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, minding his own business in, like P13, lost the brakes on his Yamaha M1, jumped off at around 130 mph, went all ragdoll rolling across the macadam, and watched in horror as his bike hit and popped the air fence and caught fire, taking yet another engine with it.

The second race, a 12-lap affair, gave us one of the great finishes in recent MotoGP history. The last lap started with Jack Miller desperately holding off Pol Espargaro, squarely in win or bin mode, with sophomore Miguel Oliveira lurking in third, hoping for something to happen in front of him. Sure enough, at Turn 10, the last turn on the last lap, Miller and Espargaro both went hot into the turn—shades of Dovi and Marquez last year—opening the door for a cutback from Oliveira and his first premier class win.

In a year lacking a Marc Marquez, we have now seen four different winners in five races. Virtual parity in all three classes. The top six in the premier class:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          70

2        Andrea DOVIZIOSO         Ducati           67

3        Jack MILLER                    Ducati           56

4        Brad BINDER                    KTM             49

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          48

6        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           46

This is good stuff. Four manufacturers in the top six, with Suzuki right on the verge. The paddock now gets two weeks off until the next pair of races, these at Misano, on the 13th and 20th of September, with Catalunya on the 27th. The hits just keep on coming.

MotoGP is the bomb-diggity.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Before we get going, WordPress is messing with me with a new, apparently mandatory content formatting tool, which involves a number of workarounds and, once complete, is at about half the ordinary size, straining my already weak eyes. So if this turns out to be crap, blame it on The Man.

MotoGP Posts Photos of ‘The Crash at Red Bull Ring.’ Here are the two I was talking about in the article.

This is Morbidelli’s Yamaha, passing in front of Rossi after somehow just missing Vinales.

This is what remains of Zarco’s Ducati as it sails inches over the head of Rossi, who saw it coming and ducked out of the way.

Apparently Dorna feels someone should be punished for all this, but it’s more the track layout; this applies to both wrecks, including the Moto2 crash that ensued when Hafez Syahrin pulled out into the slipstream and smack into Enea Bastiannini’s abandoned Kalex. I couldn’t seen what happened between Zarco and Morbidelli, but I sense it was Zarco running up the Italian’s back perhaps? Someone out there knows.

Thanks to long time reader Mad4TheCrest, who took time out of his busy schedule earlier in the week to point out that I had mistakenly put Aussie Remy Gardner back in Moto3 on Sunday. I have since corrected this amateurish mistake. I get up early on race days and am never at my best at 6 in the morning. It is a comfort to know that someone, somewhere actually reads this stuff.

Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro these days reminds me–and please don’t take this wrong–of Marco Simoncelli in 2012 (yes I know the year he died on the track in Sepang). But here’s the similarity. Sic had been around for awhile coming up, too tall for the small bikes, overly aggressive on the Gilera as a rookie in the premier class in 2011. 2012 dawns and he discovers that, for whatever reason, he is suddenly fast. Fast enough to crash out of four of the first ten races of 2012. But over five of the last six races of his life he recorded three P4, a P3 and a P2 at Phillip Island.

Pol Espargaro, suddenly fast on the KTM, looking forward to getting even faster on the Honda RV213V, is who Warren Zevon referred to in his unforgettable anthem, “Excitable Boy.” No, he doesn’t go around slicing up his girlfriends. But he is currently a hazard to himself and those around him, and will be until he gets used to the idea that he doesn’t have to ride like a madman to be in the mix.

Quick Hitters

Loyal follower Allison gave me props in a comment about my sheer prescience when it some to the subject of Joan Mir, who took P2 on Sunday [after I had been jocking him since he was in Moto3.] Yes, from this lofty roost I occasionally can spot one–Rins is another; wonder why they end up at Suzuki?–but I never saw Brad Binder coming, having discounted KTM Moto2 riders as simply being unable to secure Hondas. Binder seems to be another one of these guys constructed from steel cables who is capable of wrestling the KTM, or a Honda or Ducati, to a draw, with all that speed as a bonus. His ride on Sunday, from 17th to 4th, was olympic… My boy OldMoron picked that one… And I’m still waiting to hear from MOron Sayyed on the subject of KTM and its place in the racing universe. I think old Sayyed is strictly a Motorcycle.com guy… The crap they put people through on this site to make comments gripes me to no end. If enough people agree we can move these comments back to MO and use the Dorna press releases they are now posting as a comments section for the Dummies stuff. Let me know, or perhaps I’ll just start leaving comments on MO and y’all can follow if you wish.

In the interregnum of Marquez’ broken arm, the racing and competition is tight as wallpaper in all three classes. Having a MotoGP season in which the result is not predetermined is a blast. Aside from Albert Arenas in Moto3 no one is really getting away. The premier class will tighten up considerably once Marquez and Bagnaia are back in the fold. But there is not time in the schedule for healing and the doubles and triples cause the riders to have to perform at less than full strength, increasing the likelihood of more mishaps. This calendar is going to cost some riders and some teams dearly.

Finally, it seems Zarco cracked a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s maelstrom. He certainly won’t be at full strength, if he rides at all, this weekend.

MotoGP:Red Bull Ring I

August 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich offered something for every taste and budget on Sunday. A lead group in Moto3 consisting of 15 riders separated by less than a second. Red flags in both the Moto2 and MotoGP races, two amazing crashes that, miraculously, left no rider seriously injured. The narrow escape provided to Valentino Rossi in the main event–one motorcycle, upside-down, flashing directly in front of him, when another, a split second later, this one airborne, barely missed his head, forcing him to duck–proves that he has been blessed by God to ride motorcycles for as long as he wants.

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At the flag, it was Andrea Dovizioso, followed by a jubilant Joan Mir and a disappointed Jack Miller. It was in a script somewhere that Dovi, who only 24 hours earlier had announced his intention to leave Ducati at the end of the season, would take a decisive win on the Desmosedici for Ducati’s first win of the season. We got to witness the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations by Suzuki rising star Joan Mir. Jack Miller, who had gambled on soft tires for the 20 lap second race, lost his wager after having led in the early laps of the race.

MotoGP Qualifying and Practice, Etc.

The changing of the guard amongst the riders was in full view on Friday. The combined sheets for FP1 and FP2 showed two veterans in the top ten, Dovizioso and Zarco (it took the Frenchman awhile to get to MotoGP). Younger bucks took eight of the top ten times during FP1, as FP2 started way wet and gradually dried, but not enough for anyone to get within two seconds of their FP1 times.

The culling of the herd into Q1 and Q2 that takes place in FP3 was further evidence that the character of the neighborhood is changing. Veterans Pol Espargaro and Dovi occupied spots 1&2, followed by eight young(-ish)  fast movers. Of the 12 riders not cruising into Q2 unaccosted, two were subs and seven were veterans, including, notably, Rossi and Crutchlow, who is old for his age. (The three remaining cull-ees were rookies, two of them on KTM, including Brad Binder, at a track where he should excel, in front of the corporate brass, placing 16th on the time sheets after FP3. This is the same Brad Binder who won at Brno last time out. Young Brad had some work to do later on Saturday.)

Team Yamaha managed to put three of their four bikes directly into Q2. Left on the outside looking in, and not for the last time, was the estimable Valentino Rossi. Many, including myself, expected to see Rossi sail into Q2, neither, in the lyrics of Arlo Guthrie, tired nor proud, ready to go to work for a spot in the front row. He barely managed to slide under the tag on his last Q1 lap; had this been a soccer match, his game-winning goal would have come during injury time, well after the clock showed all zeroes. Johann Zarco, looking quick on the Esponsorama Ducati, laid down a fast lap early in Q1 and joined Rossi.

QP2 was its usual thrilling self. At one point at least six riders held the top spot during the 15 minute session. When the smoke cleared, it was Vinales, Miller and Quartararo in the front row, followed by Dovizioso, a steely-eyed Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir, apparently starting to get this whole qualifying thing figured out. Morbidelli, Rins and Zarco comprised Row 3, while Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira and, yes, Valentino Rossi made up Row 4. His last-lap heroics in Q1 still left him sucking canal water.

With the addition of KTM to the ranks of manufacturers with race day credibility, there is just more competition out there. In Q2, half a second is all that stood between teammates Vinales on pole and Rossi wiping up the rear. Honda, its lack of rider depth exposed by Marquez’ injury, placed a grand total of one (1) rider in the top 12.

Oh, and Dovi and Ducati are splitting at the end of the current season, initiating a feeding frenzy from the top levels of MotoGP to the dregs of Moto3. Nature, it has been observed elsewhere, abhors a vacuum, and a sudden vacancy on the factory Ducati team creates a powerful one. Riders, considered and/or discarded, suddenly become viable again, like dominoes standing back up after having been knocked down. Bagnaia, Zarco and even multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo are suddenly back in the conversation for a factory seat on the big red machine. Is this Andrea Dovizioso retiring? Or considering a move of some kind to KTM after a gap year? Fascinating if you’re into that kind of thing.

Race Day in Austria

The premier class race was proceeding swimmingly, with KTM pilot and defector-in-waiting Pol Espargaro leading the parade, followed in close order by Miller and Dovizioso on Ducatis and Alex Rins, playing hurt, in fourth. Suddenly, behind the lead group, Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli got tangled up, both drivers going down hard and both bikes, released from their tethers, getting the wind in their sails and refusing to fall over. The consequences, to either or both Vinales and Rossi, could have been lethal. That neither rider suffered a scratch is nothing short of a miracle. Out came the red flags, to Espargaro’s everlasting dismay.

Race #2, a 20-lap affair, offered relatively little drama. A lead group of Miller, Dovizioso, Espargaro and Rins congealed up front. It was anybody’s race. Espargaro and fellow KTM traveler Miguel Oliveira crashed out on Lap 9 in a collision I missed and the broadcasters failed to replay. Rins crashed out of the lead on Lap 11 after putting on a great show getting to the front. After Rins dropped out, his place was taken by teammate Joan Mir, smelling blood, not having to deal with the likes of Marc Marquez, Espargaro and Rins. On the last lap, an apparent Ducati 1-2 was broken up by Mir, who went through on Miller late for his first premier class podium. Rossi and Vinales were never serious players in today’s race, as Vinales could only manage tenth, while Rossi, who has become Colin Edwards, hung around long enough to claim fifth.

Heading from Spielberg to Spielberg this week, the standings for the year show a baffling Fabio Quartararo (8th today, having been as far back as 20th) still leading the class, trailed by Dovizioso, Vinales, Brad Binder (4th today after starting 17th for KTM) and Rossi. Three young guys in the top five, seven in the top ten. Oh the times they are a-changing.

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The Undercards

The Moto3 race was another fire drill, as per usual. If anyone at Race Direction were to bother to count up the total number of overtakes in this race, not just within the lead group, I expect it would approach 300. Back and forth, the entire time, in the lead group, behind the lead group. At the front, where the slipstream shoots the relatively light 250cc bikes like snapping a whip. Series leader Albert Arenas stole this one  for KTM on the last lap, after keeping an eye on Jaume Masia, Ai Ogura and Darryn Binder all day; Scot John McPhee was in and out of there, along with polesitter Remy Gardner for awhile. For the year, Arenas stretched his lead over McPhee to 28 points, with Ogura breathing down McPhee’s neck. If ever the phrase “on any given Sunday” applied to a sport, Moto3 would be right up there.

The Moto2 race was red-flagged on Lap 4 after series leader Enea Bastiannini high-sided out of the lead in a bad place, leaving both rider and bike sitting in center field, exposed. The Italian got himself out of harm’s way, just in time to watch Hafez Syahrin, pulling out of someone’s slipstream, hit his used bike while accelerating, immediately blasting both machines to smithereens and sending Syahrin flying. The Malaysian rider, conscious and with feeling in all his extremities, is going to ache tomorrow. The 13-lap sprint following the track clean-up belonged to young Jorge Martin, who gave KTM their second win of the day and his first in Moto2, beating out Marini and Marcel Schrotter. Over in Mudville, the locals were celebrating another top ten finish for homeboy Joe Roberts.

For the year, Luca Marini takes over the series lead from Bastiannini, followed by Martin and Sam Lowes, tied for third, and Tetsuga Nagashima fifth. A mere 23 points separate the top five. This one should get decided in Portimao.

Let This One Percolate for a Few Days

A return visit to Red Bull Ring is just what MotoGP needs this week, after two red flags and more drama than I can get my head around in one day. Maybe we’ll do a little work with our tranching tool. Maybe not. Suffice it to say that The Year Without Marquez has been pretty damned good so far.

MotoGP: 23 Things We Learned at Brno

August 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP gave its fans a memorable Sunday in the Czech Republic today. The Moto3 race was the usual fire drill, featuring a 10-man lead group, before Dennis Foggia led Albert Arenas and Ai Ogura across the finish line in another great example of how racing is supposed to work.

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Over at Moto2, the race itself was a parade, but its implications  were important. The win by Enea Bastiannini established him as an early favorite to become The Next Big MotoGP Rider. Sudden Sam Lowes finished in second, his first appearance on a podium of any kind since, like, 2016. And Joe Roberts, The Great American Hope, took third after starting from pole, delivering the first grand prix podium of his career. As one of the few Americans to give a rip about MotoGP, I feel great for Joe Roberts and his team.

The main event in MotoGP offered more “first ever” accomplishments than I can remember in a motorcycle race; I’m counting at least seven off the top of my head. Eighth on that list belongs to my moto-friend Sayyed Bashir, who has been yelling at me in DISQUS for three years about how KTM is on their way; today must have been joyous for him. Before getting to that list, let’s note that Brad Binder won on a KTM RC-16, Franco Morbidelli took second on an SRT Yamaha, and Johann Zarco, resurrected on the Ducati GP19, held off Alex Rins for third place. Imagine appearing on the podium almost exactly a year after bolting on KTM, thinking his grand prix racing career was over. It’s not.

Rather than dragging you through our usual format, we present a list of bullet points, takeaways from Round 3 (or 4, depending) as the grid prepares to descend upon the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria for a couple of weeks in the salt flats. Nine turns–I have more than that between my bedroom and the kitchen in a small house. Whatever; at a minimum, it should help Ducati get back in the constructor’s championship race.

Let’s start with the MotoGP race:

  • First ever South African to win a premier class race in MotoGP.
  • Franco Morbidelli’s first ever premier class podium.
  • First ever podium for the Team Formerly Known as Avintia Racing Ducati.
  • First ever win in MotoGP for the KTM factory.
  • First ever win in the premier class for Brad Binder, in his third race.
  • First rookie to win a premier class race since Marc Marquez in 2013.
  • First time since they started keeping records of these things in 1973 that Frenchmen started 1-2 in a premier class race.

Pity that Pol Espargaro, hip-checked out of the race by Zarco, could not have been KTM’s first dry race winner, as he has paid his dues many times over.

  • Zarco’s hip check, in which his front tire was behind Espargaro’s, was very lightly penalized. His long lap penalty cost him exactly zero grid spots. That one called for a ride-through; no way Zarco should end up on the podium after putting another rider out of the race.
  • Yamaha, despite leading the team and constructor championships, has issues with rear tire grip, especially late in the race, as well as engine durability. Vinales, for example, has already used all five of his engines, with #2 blown to smithereens earlier in the season. A pit lane start lies in his future. A MotoGP championship in 2020 does not. Either he had remarkably bad tire issues–usually, at least in part, the fault of the rider–or he simply took today off, secure in the knowledge that he would still be in second place for the year heading to Austria, regardless.
  • Karel Abraham, Sr. needs to cough up the bucks to get the track here re-surfaced if he wants to keep the race. No Czech rider on the grid, and lots of venues banging to be let on the calendar, for whatever reason.
  • “I hear Portimao is nice in late November,” he lied.
  • The last American to appear on an intermediate class podium was Joe Kocinski in 1993. Yes, I have access to Wikipedia.
  • The top four riders in Moto3 are separated by 26 points; it’s anybody’s season right now, but Albert Arenas seems to be the best of the lot.
  • In Moto2, the top three riders, led by Bastiannini, are separated by a mere 18 points. Luca Marini in third appears to be a bigger threat to The Beast than Nagashima in second. There are some owners in MotoGP looking carefully at the big Italian, though where he might fit is a mystery.
  • Valentino Rossi had to work his ass of to finish fifth today. Most of his problems, aside from issues with the bike itself, are on Saturdays.
  • Andrea Dovizioso, his qualifying 18th possibly being a signal of where things stand regarding his next contract, managed to salvage five points at a track where he should have had things his way. Other than Zarco’s flukey podium, Round 3 was a washout for Ducati Corse.
  • Ducati, it appears, recognized that Zarco would be effective on the Ducati at tracks that are friendly to the Big Red Machine. Tracks like Brno and Red Bull Ring. Zarco could have himself a nice August.
  • With Pecco Bagnaia (broken leg) and Marc Marquez (broken arm) out of the race, a few people moved up from their usual neighborhoods. Alex Rins, who should probably be recovering from shoulder surgery, surprised most people today with a solid fourth place finish.
  • Romano Fenati will probably spend the rest of his career in Moto3. I thought he was going to be a star a few years ago. Nope.
  • KTM owes a big thank-you to Dani Pedrosa, whose input, one imagines, has been key in helping KTM get their prodigious power from the engine to the ground. This has been the big difference in the Austrian factory this year. I couldn’t understand why they would want a test rider who weighs 120 pounds; now I do.
  • Please to report that Alex Rins finally got rid of his terrible haircut.
  • After starting the race like a house on fire, Aleix Espargaro ended up settling for a nice top ten finish, putting a hurt on little brother Pol. Before Pol got knocked out, it looked like KTM was going to put three riders in the top ten. Miguel Oliveira’s tidy sixth-place finish had to be satisfying, perhaps as much as the word that this season’s last race will be held at his home track at Portimao.
  • Repsol Hondas started the day in P20 and P21. Try to look up the last time that happened.

We’ll be back again next with more. With Marquez and Bagnaia out for the foreseeable future, the championship is wide open, as open as I’ve seen it in a dozen years. This is fun. Even without the brolly girls.

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Maria Herrera with her brolly guy, from better days

MotoGP + Covid = No Brolly Girls

July 28, 2020

© Bruce Allen

A loyal reader wrote to remind me that I had neglected to go off on what might have been a classic rant having to do with the safety and well-being of the people, other than the riders, who have the greatest effect on me personally. Guys like Wayne Rainey in their wheelchairs–not why I watch. F1 guys from the 80’s I never heard of–couldn’t care less. Some Spanish soccer phenom with negative body fat percentage –so?

The worst part about MotoGP in the age of Covid is the absence of brolly girls. In years past, when Marquez has clinched in Australia or Japan, they were the only things keeping people tuned in for the webcast for the last few rounds. Sure, not having the fans in the stands, no clouds of yellow smoke, all these things are missing. But no brolly girls? For those of you suffering from withdrawal, here’s a few fine memories.

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MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Quartararo goes 2-for-2 in 2020; Yamaha podium lockout 

With injured defending champion Marc Marquez registering the first DNS of his premier class career, the grid mostly failed to take advantage of his absence. Seven of the top 12 qualifiers crashed out or retired. So, presume Marquez returns at 90% in Brno with Fabio enjoying a 50 point cushion, 11 rounds left. Who do you bet on for the title? 

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For Fabio, life is good.

This is yet another of example of how important it is to be careful what you wish for. The large, expanding ‘Anyone but Marquez Club’ seems to have delivered us simply a new incarnation of Marquez, a rider capable of rattling off five wins in a row. On a satellite Yamaha. Setting all-time track records along the way. Making it look simple. Pressured Marquez enough at Jerez I to contribute to his crash. Today, in his absence, young Fabio led from lights out to checkered flag and was never seriously challenged. There was some good action behind him. You know, the way it was when, you know, Marquez was kicking everyone’s ass. Same ass, different boot.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

What is there to learn on Friday during the second week of a back-to-back? On this particular Friday, for Round Two, we couldn’t help but notice several obvious things. Riders who should not have been in the hospital were crowded around the top of the time sheets, while riders who SHOULD have been in the hospital were grouped at the bottom, with Marquez not even bothering to suit up.

If you think this was business as usual, how about this: KTM occupied three of the top six spots on the combined time sheet, with Yamaha holding the other three. Jack Miller rode the top Ducati while Takaa Nakagami was the top Honda rep in P8.

One admires the grit and determination of Rins and Crutchlow and, apparently, Marquez, but the fact that they’re cleared to race grand prix motorcycles is a joke. #93 seemed to think he could podium at Jerez with one arm. Crutchlow and Rins must have suspected there were points at stake that they could potentially claim. But the Yams—Maverick, Rossi and Morbidelli—were quick on Friday. And Binder, Espargaro and Oliveira finding their way to the top six is damned remarkable. But it looked like it was probably a Friday thing, and that things would heat up for real in FP3 on Saturday morning.

Saturday

The culling of the herd in FP3 was a bit refreshing, topped by Yamahas and Ducatis. Fabio and Maverick punished the all-time track record. Jack Miller flogged his Ducati to third, with Takaa Nakagami overachieving in P4. Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci put Ducati in P5 and P6. The top ten was completed by gritty KTM rookie Brad Binder, Valentino, Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir. These riders would proceed directly to Q2. Oliveira and Morbidelli moved on through Q1 to Q2, edging out the brave Cal Crutchlow, who would start from P13.

The news that Marc Marquez was done for the weekend (!) arrived immediately after the completion of Q2. This changed the perspective for Sunday’s race back to what it was last Monday, when the idea of Marquez racing was ridiculous. I read somewhere that this type of fracture could end Marquez’ season. Right. He will return at Brno ready to rumble.

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

Don’t let anyone tell you that young Fabio Quartararo has not arrived on the MotoGP scene, Alien card in hand, expiration date years from now. Joined on the podium by fellow Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, I would also encourage the reader to ignore anyone suggesting The New Kid In Town is doing it on an inferior bike. Suddenly, the Yamaha loves Jerez, which suggests it will be happy pretty much everywhere left on the calendar. The bike is good enough to transport Rossi to the podium for the first time since last year in Austin. Just sayin’.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

Miguel Oliveira:      Came through Q1 to start from P5; crashed.

Franco Morbidelli:   Came through Q1 to start from P6; crashed.

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

Cal Crutchlow dragged his LCR Honda across the finish line to secure three points. KTM Rookie Iker Lecuona just had a forgettable day.

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

Moto3 gave us the usual spellbinder, as the first five riders to cross the finish line were separated by 8/10ths of a second. Chalk up the win to Tatsuki Suzuki, who took advantage of a crash by series leader Albert Arenas and his own sizzling pace to win today’s race, joined on the podium by Scottish veteran John McPhee and Italian teenager Celestino Vietti. This was a nail biter from start to finish, with eight more riders failing to finish. After wins at Qatar and Jerez I, Arenas was contending, looking to put some distance between himself and his pursuers, when he binned it. Rather than heading to Brno with 75 points on the trot and a sizeable lead in the series, he leaves with 50, a six point lead over Suzuki and ten over McPhee, the series tighter, as they say in Indiana, than wallpaper.

Moto2 was, for the second week in a row, more processional.  Enea Bastiannini led Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi on a merry chase all afternoon, and the three ended up on the podium, one completely lacking in suspense. The were joined in the top six by Sam Lowes, Aron Canet and Jorge Martin in what is starting to become The Usual Suspects of Moto2. Series leader Tetsuta Nagashima couldn’t get out of his own way today (P11), clearing a path for the all-Italian podium, the first such celebrazione in the intermediate class since 1998.

Most of these riders weren’t yet born in 1998.

Moto2 heads north and east with Nagashima sporting 50 points, Bastiannini 48 and Marini 45. Tighter than wallpaper, wait, sorry, never mind. Close. There are another six or eight riders with visions of greatness in their heads, but they would need a whole lot of things to go right to put themselves in serious contention. Martin, from what I read, already has a contract with Pramac Ducati in MotoGP for 2021-22. Not sure why they are waiting to announce it. It appears to be perhaps the last remaining open slot in the premier class for 2021.

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

It feels pretty good to look at the year-to-date standings and see three or four guys in each class who are legitimate threats to win this deeply asterisked season. Arenas, Suzuki, McPhee and Vietti appear to be the class of the class in Moto3. In Moto2, journeyman Nagashima, the Italians Bastiannini and Marini, and the Alien-in-waiting, Jorge Martin, all look capable of standing on the top step in Valencia. In MotoGP, with Marc Marquez down 50 heading into Round 3, the division, for the first time in, like, five years, is a horse race, with a handful of credible challengers for the trophy. Sad to say, this is how it’s supposed to be. The presence of a generational talent during one’s wonder years doesn’t necessarily improve the viewing experience, even if you’re a fan. The riders seriously need to seize upon Marquez’ misfortune, to put some more distance between themselves and him, to crush out any hope of a late-season comeback.

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

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The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

The 2020 MotoGP season got off with a bang, as the brutally hot conditions in southern Spain took a toll on all three classes. The most dramatic event today was Marc Marquez crashing heavily toward the end of the premier class race, after recovering from a costly early moment to challenge for the win. Yamaha took three of the top five spots, despite Rossi’s retirement on Lap 19; Ducati claimed the other two. With Marquez showing a zero for the first time ever, MotoGP 2020 may provide fans with some real drama for the first time in five years. 

One must concede that Marquez, despite being faster than everyone else out there, was a bit rusty. Coming off an 8-month layoff, and with riders having little real practice time under their belts, this race was unlikely to be a work of art. Two riders failed to start, five failed to finish, and several others went walkabout and re-entered. According to the announcers, the heat was worse than Sepang, worse than Buriram. This is what happens when you schedule stuff outdoors in southern Spain in July. 

Practice and Qualifying

I keep arguing with myself about the utility of Fridays at Round Ones, about trying to glean anything from the timesheets. Not too much there for me. The same cannot be said about the results of the combined FP1-FP3 practices that separate the goats from the lambs re: having to slog through the frying pan of Q1 just to get thrust immediately into the fire of Q2. On Saturday FP3 ended with Dovi on the inside looking out from P10 at the likes of Pol Espargaro, Rins, Petrucci, Zarco, Miguel Oliveira and, not for the last time, Alex Marquez.

In addition to the usual suspects, the lambs included Jack Miller and Joan Mir, both looking dangerous, Cal lame-ducking the LCR Honda, suddenly quick SRT TechTrois Yamaha heartthrob Franco Morbidelli and young Pecco Bagnaia, who, having crawled in 2019, appears to be walking on the Pramac Ducati in 2020. Rossi making it straight to Q2 is a relief for him and his team. Marc Marquez, who led Friday, was lurking, keeping his powder dry in P4, looking like he was ready to assert himself in qualifying. Fabio set a new track record on Saturday morning. But not having fans in the stands made it feel like testing.

Q1 on Saturday afternoon was, if you’re willing to call what these guys do in the last two minutes ‘routine,’ kind of routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty damned exciting. When the smoke cleared, Alex Rins’ Suzuki and Pol Espargaro’s KTM had made it into Q2 after an unusually strong performance by KTM rookie Brad Binder, a worker bee who bears watching.

Q2, featured strong performances from the eventual front row of Quartararo, Viñales and Marquez. Both Pramac Ducatis and, looking slightly deranged, Cal Crutchlow formed Row 2. Pol Espargaro, a quiet Andrea Dovizioso and a jinxed Alex Rins would have constituted Row 3, theoretically, had Rins not suffered a “fracture/dislocation” of his right shoulder with a minute left. Oww. So he was out for Sunday’s race and his entire 2020 season has likely been trashed. For those of you still reading, Franco Morbidelli and our old buddy Valentino Rossi joined a perplexing Joan Mir in Row 4. Pecco Baganaia, who was looking Lorenzo-like, and Joan Mir, my personal Alien-in-waiting, were the only real surprises from Q2.

Rins reminds us that although the championship cannot be won at Round One, it can be lost. Cal Crutchlow put himself out of the race with a hard crash in today’s warm-up. Twenty riders would start Round One in 2020; 15 would finish.

The Race

Today’s Spanish Grand Prix was bookended by two mishaps attributable to Marc Marquez. The first occurred on Lap 5, when, trying to get away from Maverick Viñales and the rest of the grid, he had a ‘moment,’ followed by an un-holy save–a career top-tenner–followed by a lengthy stroll through the gravel, followed by his re-entry into the fray in 16th position. There followed a remarkable display of riding, as Marquez sliced through the field all the way back to third place, with Viñales clearly in his sights and, in a perfect world, time to catch Quartararo. Chasing Viñales, blood in his eyes, furious with himself about Lap 5, Marquez endured the kind of violent high-side more typically associated with Jorge Lorenzo, clearly his most serious crash since 2011, when he came close to ending his career before it started in Sepang, suffering double vision for six months thereafter. Today’s crash looked bad. Any speculation as to his condition on our part would not be helpful.

With Rins, Crutchlow and, finally, Marquez out of the mix, a number of lesser riders had surprisingly good days. In addition to Fabio’s first career MotoGP win, Viñales made it a factory Yamaha 1-2, with Dovi putting his Ducati on the podium late in the game. Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli completed the top five. Boasting top ten finishes tonight are KTM’s Pol Espargaro (6th), Pramac Ducati youngster Pecco Bagnaia (7th) and KTM’s Miguel Oliveira (8th). Danilo Petrucci and Takaa Nakagami closed out the top ten. Team Suzuki, with Rins out hurt and Mir crashing, had a train wreck of a day. But all six Ducatis finished today’s race. KTM must be pleased with Espargaro, for now, and rookie Brad Binder who, until leaving the premises briefly on Lap 7, had been running in the top eight. Oliveira turned in a solid performance with his P8 finish. Aprilia, unfortunately, was still up to its old tricks, with a P15 and a DNF to show for its efforts to go along with the bubbly public relations campaign being waged by riders and team brass.

The Undercards

Albert Arenas, having won in Qatar sometime back around the spring equinox, won again today in a hotly (!) contested Moto3 tilt, edging out Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino. Moto3, with its 12-man lead groups, offers simply the best racing on the planet. Scot John McPhee, who came from back in the pack to challenge for the win, crashed out of the lead late shortly after Darryn Binder, another young rider with big ambitions. After two rounds, Arenas leads Ogura 50-36, with a host of riders sitting with between 16 and 20 points. Still plenty of racing left to go.

Same with Moto2, which gave us a somewhat atypical procession today. Luca Marini, who has MotoGP written all over him, fended off a brave challenge from journeyman (and series leader) Tetsuga Nagashima, while Moto2 sophomore Jorge Martin scored his third career Moto2 podium, holding Sam Lowes at bay for the last few laps. Plenty of action lower in the order; too much to keep up with here. Watch the video. But after two rounds, the top five in Moto2 include Nagashima, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Marini, Enea Bastiannini, and Aron Canet.

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

  • Why can’t Marc Marquez make it five in a row and seven for eight?
  • Who will emerge as the top challenger(s)?
  • Which of the young guns will make great strides and approach Alien status? (This may be a duplicate of the previous question.)
  • Will Rossi start to show his age or any sign of a give-a-rip attitude?
  • Can Suzuki provide sufficient horsepower to make Rins or Mir Aliens??
  • Will KTM show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will Aprilia show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will the virus allow the completion of even this bastardized schedule?
  • Like, how many top tens will Alex Marquez see this year?
  • Finally, how many of these questions are you comfortable answering after what is effectively Round One?

Our answers to those questions, after one scrap, go like this: Big crash at Jerez I. Fabio, Maverick and Miller. Bagnaia, Binder and Mir. Yes. No. Yes. No. Don’t know. Zero. Three.

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

*Injured, likely to miss time.

Next week we’ll try this again, likely missing a few premier class riders. It promises to be warm. Hopefully, the Grand Prix of Andalucía won’t be quite as hot as the Grand Prix of Spain.

 

MotoGP: Jerez 2010. We were there.

July 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Friday marks the 12th season opener I have covered, mostly during my time with Motorcycle.com. That it comes, for me, at Jerez brings back memories of my trip to the race in 2010, along with my wife, daughter and son-in-law, who was also the photographer. I connived Joe Magro, my boss at MO, to pay for part of a trip we were going to take anyway, pay for tickets (no credentials available for the likes of me), etc. Told him I’d send him the usual pap and a little something extra wink wink.

We stayed at a seaside hotel in Cadiz, on The Strip, listening to the big bikes light things up outside our rooms. The ladies spent Sunday lounging on the flat, long, snow-white beach, ordering drinks from room service, tracking down a place to eat, while the erstwhile Ryan and I made our way, via our rental car, to Jerez de la Frontera.

I wrote my two favorite MotoGP articles on Sunday afternoon after the race, in Cadiz, the only time I’ve ever gotten a quantity of wine in me that convinced me I’m a great writer. (Generally, I prefer caffeine and other stimulants, not alcohol.) They are re-printed below.

Getting to the Spanish Grand Prix is half the fun

For a couple of gringos, the road to MotoGP Jerez is a blast 

Last January, four of us decided to take a family vacation to southern Spain in early May.  I worked out a deal with my editor at Motorcycle.com to pay me handsomely to cover the Gran Premio bwin de Espana, subject to my securing press credentials, providing some extra copy and photos, and giving them way more than my usual vapid kitchen table rant.  In mid-April, after reserving and paying for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc., it became fully clear that Dorna, the Spanish company that owns the rights to MotoGP, was not going to sully their pressroom by credentialing the likes of me.  What had started out as a slam dunk junket had become a longshot. 

Four of us left for Spain from O’Hare on Friday afternoon.  I/we were lacking several of the necessities for most respectable journalists:  press credentials, tickets for the race, journalistic skills, and/or a clear idea of where the track was actually located.  When I say “we”, I’m including my intrepid son-in-law and budding photojournalist, Ryan Collins, who had the good sense several years ago to marry my youngest daughter Cate.  Ryan, who knows even less about motorcycle racing than I do, told me he was pretty much up for anything, up to and including trying to find the track, trying to get into the facility, and trying to provide some semblance of “covering” the race, as opposed to just missing a day on the beach, and instead sitting around with 130,000 drunk Spanish racing fans under a hot sun for eight hours.

Ryan and I set out from Cadiz, a jewel of a town that sits on the southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, on Sunday morning.  [By this time we had missed Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifications.  We had also survived a monstrous case of jetlag and the drive from Madrid to Cadiz in which I came uncomfortably close to getting us included in Spanish highway fatality statistics not once, but twice.  And although we missed the action at the track on Saturday, we caught the action on the strip in Cadiz on Saturday night, eating tapas amongst a bunch of riders and listening to the music of big bikes turning high RPMs on the seaside street in front of the restaurant all evening.]

Cadiz sits about 25 miles south of Jerez, and we had passed several Jerez exits on the drive down from Madrid on Saturday.  Once we cleared Cadiz on Sunday, the task of actually finding the track became pretty simple:  stay with the hundreds of bikes on their way to the race that morning.  Which sounds easier than it actually is, in that these bikes were mostly traveling in excess of 100 mph while the Guardia Civil politely turned a blind eye.  Finally, we were one of a handful of cars in a veritable sea of motorcycles, and getting to the parking lot was a breeze.  The way getting from point A to point B in a mosh pit is a breeze:  make no sudden movements, don’t resist, and go with the flow.

Problem #1 solved.

Problems #2 and #3—no press credentials, few journalistic skills—weren’t going to get solved this day.  This left Problem #4—no tickets to a sold out race.  On the walk from the parking lot to the track itself, I kept an eye out for ticket “vendors” on the street, and was finding none.  Plenty of guys and ladies selling a lot of other junk—Spanish flags, food, water, trinkets, belts (?), etc., from little improvised roadside stands.  No guys holding tickets in the air yelling “Got Four!” in Spanish and looking furtively over their shoulders for the aforementioned Guardia Civil who, one suspects, take a less generous view of ticket scalpers than they do speeders they’re unable to catch anyway.  A mile in and it was looking bleak, when we noticed a trailer set off on a little side “street” with a big sign on it reading “Taquillas”.  Ryan, my interpreter, said he had no idea what a taquilla is.  I, by this time, was hoping it was Spanish for “tequilas”, as I was ready to give in and spend the day drinking shots and eating limes.  It occurred to me that “tequilas” is already a Spanish word, and one very rarely used in the plural, but I shook off this notion.

We approached the trailer, and people were, indeed, stepping up to a window and purchasing SOMETHING, but we couldn’t really tell what.  Apparently, by this time Ryan and I were looking fairly furtive ourselves, for it was at this moment that a guy in a Lakers shirt approached me and asked, in pretty good English, if we needed tickets.  He, it turned out, was getting comped by Repsol (a friend of a friend of a friend…) and was going to stand with the great unwashed in the Pelousse, the fans’ and riders’ favorite section of the Jerez track, between Turns 10 and 11, where the crowd gets right on top of the riders.  We negotiated a mutually satisfactory price for his tickets and, suddenly, Problem #4 was solved.

We still don’t know what folks were buying at that trailer; I’ll try to report back on that later tonight.  We do know that we sat high in the stands between Turns 12 and 13 with a great view of the race.  We spent plenty of time wandering around the facility mingling and taking pictures of a few of the gorgeous women you find in quantity at these events.  We watched one helluva Moto2 tilt and a premier class event that was a procession for the first 22 laps and a heart-stopping thriller for the last three.  We made it back to the parking lot and thence our hotel in one piece without dying of dehydration or getting T-boned by any of the nutjobs they issue drivers licenses to in Spain.  And we captured the story; a beautiful day spent 4500 miles from home in a second language, with a manual transmission, on the road to Jerez.

[PS–it was tickets. They were selling tickets at the trailer. Don’t tell anyone. RBA 07/16/2020]

Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

Filet of Rossi on Lap 21; roasted Pedrosa on Lap 27 

The Gran Premio bwin de Espana at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday was a hash of the worst and the best that MotoGP has to offer.  The first 22 laps were an absolute parade with virtually no lead changes and little drama, aside from guys pushing 200 mph on two wheels.  The last five laps were a masterpiece by Jorge Lorenzo, who moved from fourth place to first for his first win of 2010.  In the process, he again demonstrated the patience and strategic thinking he has lacked until now.  It appears that his development as the heir apparent to Valentino Rossi may be in its final stages. 

Sunday was a perfect day on the dazzling Spanish Riviera.  The usual suspects had qualified well on Saturday, led, somewhat surprisingly, by homeboy Dani Pedrosa, who apparently solved the suspension problems that had plagued him all year.  Pedrosa was on the pole, followed by Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi.  Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards completed Tranche One on this round, and it looked as if the long-suffering Pedrosa might enjoy his first day in the sun since his win last year at Valencia.

Recall that Round 1 in Qatar had left Casey Stoner gasping for air, Valentino Rossi looking impregnable, and Jorge Lorenzo sporting the long-awaited maturity he had lacked as recently as last season.  Lorenzo’s balls-to-the-wall racing style had secured second place in the world in 2009, but the three DNFs he recorded in his reckless (not wreckless) style had probably cost him the championship.  At Qatar, Nicky Hayden looked rejuvenated, Andrea Dovizioso looked threatening, and rookie Ben Spies looked ready for prime time.

As they say here in Spain, “Bienvenido a Espana.”

For the bulk of the first 20 laps today, it was Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso going round and round.  There was some action in the seven-to-eleven spots, but I’m generally too busy to pay much attention to that stuff.  Several riders went walkabout early on, including the soon-to-be-late Loris Capirossi and Aleix Espargaro.  Pramac Racing’s Espargaro recovered and re-entered the race, only to spend most of his day working feverishly trying not to get lapped by Pedrosa.  Ben Spies retired on Lap 7 with mechanical issues.  By Lap 20, the guys in the row front of us started passing big joints around, noticeably bypassing us.  One of the gorgeous brunettes (a dime a dozen in these parts) in the stand next to us was fiddling with her split ends.  “Off in the distance, a dog howled.”

Suddenly, it became obvious that Jorge Lorenzo had found something.

On Lap 10 he had passed Hayden without breaking a sweat, and began patiently lining up Rossi.  By Lap 21 he was on top of Rossi, and then past him.  Pedrosa, who led all day by more than a second—plenty in MotoGP time—led Lorenzo by .8 at that point.  I was thinking it would end up Pedrosa/Lorenzo/Rossi, a nice day for the hometown crowd, when Lorenzo left Rossi in his wake and drew a bead on Pedrosa.

Everyone knows the depth of enjoyment Jorge Lorenzo experiences passing teammate and arch rival Valentino Rossi.  Judging from how Lorenzo handled himself on the last three laps of this race, it’s possible he enjoys taking down Dani Pedrosa equally well.  Teammate or countryman?  Countryman or teammate?  Who really knows what’s going on in Jorge Lorenzo’s head?

Not that it matters.  Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa performed as expected in the last five laps of the race.  Lorenzo exerted his will on his bike and his countryman.  Pedrosa rode well in the lead and folded when it mattered, running wide in a late right-hander and allowing Lorenzo through, conceding the path to the win.  Talking a brave game all week long and then lacking los cojones at the moment of truth to hold his ground and force Lorenzo on to the brakes.  The book on Dani is “doesn’t like to mix it up in the corners.”  The book had it dead right today.

All in all, it was a great day to be a Spanish racing fan.  Early in the morning, it was 18-year old Spaniard Daniel Ruiz starting the day by winning the first Rookie’s Cup race of the season.  Pol Espargaro took the 125cc race while many of the fans were still finding their way to their seats.  Toni Elias, fresh off his crash in Qatar and nursing a bad wrist, battled Thomas Luthi and Shoya Tomizawa all day and finally prevailed for his first Moto2 win before his home fans, most of whom were delirious with joy at the end of the race.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa took the top two spots on the premier class podium.  And although the fans claim to prefer Pedrosa to Lorenzo, as Jorge hails all the way from Barcelona, for God’s sake, it appears they’ve grown a little weary of Pedrosa’s mad Chihuahua routine, his underdog-singing-the-blues rap.  There was no shortage of Lorenzo fans in today’s crowd.

Elsewhere on the grid, Pramac’s Mika Kallio had a great day, starting dead last and finishing 7th.   Marco Melandri recovered from a dreadful outing in Qatar to finish 8th today.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet qualified 6th and finished 9th, making him two for two this year qualifying better on Saturday than he raced on Sunday.  Alvaro Bautista recovered from a last lap fall in Qatar to finish 10th and claim the Top Rookie of the Week award from Hiroshi Aoyama, who won it at Losail but struggled today, finishing 14th.

The top five finishers in a great 17 lap Moto2 race today included Elias, Shoya Tomizawa, Thomas Luthi, Yuki “Crash” Takahashi and Simone Corsi.  The race was red-flagged early due to a pile-up involving some nine bikes, the first of what promises to be many such collisions in the overcrowded Moto2 field.

The crowd seemed as interested in the 125s today as they were the big bikes.  Espargaro claimed the top spot on the podium, flanked by two other Spaniards, Nicolas Terol and Esteve Rabat.

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rounds One and Two will be here at Jerez

MotoGP 2020 has, apparently, arrived, with Round One lifting off this weekend in Jerez. The series, which typically starts its season in late March, has suffered due to the virus, and is probably not done suffering. One thing is clear heading into 2020: MotoGP, despite its denials, despite its claims to be a global sport, is a Spanish-language sport. Half of the 14 scheduled races take place on Spanish soil, while many of the world’s great tracks lay fallow. The first language of this year’s MotoGP champion will be Spanish.

I get keeping the series in Europe for 2020. But no Mugello? No Assen? If there is a second wave of virus in Europe later this summer and/or fall it could cause the cancellation of rounds on the calendar today. The schedule is a compressed house of cards, and its viability over five months is questionable. It appears Dorna has scheduled 14, hoping to get in at least 10, which would qualify as a “season.” A season which would appear in the record books with an asterisk set in 72 point Helvetica Black.

Nonetheless, here we are. Most people, in my estimation, would include Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins and either Valentino Rossi or Jack Miller in their top five. But even if they do manage to avoid upcoming virus outbreaks and go 14 rounds, a single crash at the wrong time could gut anyone’s season. Miss two or three rounds in a 20-round season and you can still contend. Miss two or three rounds in a 12- or 14-round season and you’re toast. This makes it more random, which, I suppose, means less likely that Marc Marquez will take MotoGP title #7.

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Marc taking a different approach at Phillip Island last year, I think.

 

The changes for 2021 have become a blur, dominating conversation during the summer of our discontent. What we’re seeing is the racing equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. As fans, we are gracious enough to look beyond the virtual lock that is Marquez and allow ourselves to be distracted by silly season antics. It is now certain that the 2021 grid, assuming sports in general still exist, will in no way resemble the 2020 grid if and when. Imagine:

  • Valentino Rossi wearing SRT blue and yellow. Factory Yamaha #46 gear is now “vintage.” The two year goodbye tour begins, yellow smoke everywhere.
  • Fabio Quartaro in factory Yamaha colors and not for the last year.
  • Pol Espargaro in Repsol orange, black and red, rather then KTM orange, black and red. Honda often uses a white background to make the riders look taller.
  • Jack Miller and Jorge Lorenzo (? Really?) fronting the factory Ducati team.
  • Danilo Petrucci pedaling hard for KTM on their Tech3 team alongside Hakuna Matata. Iker Lecuona.
  • Cal Crutchlow working at Aprilia with great joy. Partying with Aleix.
  • Alex Marquez joining LCR Honda and Nakagami with full factory support, shooting for top tens. Nakagami riding year-old hardware.
  • Andrea Dovizioso taking a gap year to work on his short game, race some dirt bikes with Iannone. Trying to find a one year deal somewhere for 2022.
  • Jorge Martin, late of Moto2, joining Pecco Bagnaia at Pramac Ducati. Martin is an Alien-in-Waiting.

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Fabulous Fabio, living large

There may be more before the lights go out on Round One in 2021. I can’t imagine the consequences of 2020 won’t come home to roost for a number of racing and entertainment venues across the board; large gatherings, measured in the tens of thousands, may have become a relic of the past. Here’s a list of tracks that hosted a MotoGP race in 2019 and will not do so in 2020:

  • Yeah, I know the undercards ran in Qatar. This isn’t about them.
  • Qatar; Argentina; COTA; Mugello; Assen; Silverstone; The Sachsenring; Buriram; Sepang; Phillip Island; Motegi and the new track in Finland. Not a good year for the so-called ownership interests.
  • Until there is a vaccine available on a global basis, MotoGP will be making a host of compromises when it comes to length and breadth of the racing season. If, as predicted, the second wave, yet to arrive, is larger than the first, this may all be moot.

As an abashed American I find myself wondering about how the rest of the world views our country and our leadership. How most of Europe is prepared to ban Americans over health concerns. It must be something to be an ex-pat or English-speaker living abroad watching the big bad USA being brought to its knees by a virus most of the developed world has managed to contain. And

Jack Miller

Veteran Jack Miller, the great Australian hope.

how disinterested Americans are in MotoGP to begin with. I suppose if I’m writing for people in Australia and Canada I should be nicer to them, say nicer things about them. Go Jack Boy! Show ’em Euros how to ride a neffin’ motorcycle!

Bottom line, heading to Jerez for Round One of 2020: Marc Marquez is in full health, two functioning shoulders, and has two wins and a second here in the last three years. He could easily leave here on July 27th with 50 points and a discouragingly big lead in the championship. Andrea Dovizioso’s collarbone is healing from a MX crash during the hiatus. I expect to see a lot of offs on Friday and Saturday, riders getting all antsy to get out there and find out if they’ve got anything. Looking forward to the LTMOQP2 (the last two minutes of QP2) as much as the race itself.

Lord, it feels good to get back to something resembling MotoGP. I expect to have results and analysis right here on Sunday morning, with a special focus on the lame ducks, those riders changing manufacturers in 2021. Aloha.

motogp-logo

 

 

 

MotoGP: Tire Warmers On

June 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Despite the fact that, virus-wise, the U.S. is starting to resemble Dante’s Inferno, over in Europe things appear to be trending well. MotoGP/Dorna has been itching, for obvious reasons, to get some kind of season started and in the books. The sheer amounts of money involved in cancelling an entire MotoGP season are unimaginable. They need to get a 2020 season, this kind of MotoGP Lite thing, going, and soon.

As things stand, there is a schedule, about which we’ve already written. Cramped and crowded, it leaves little margin for error and will punish riders who, say, do a collarbone and miss, conceivably, three rounds. ‘Twasn’t always thus. All in Europe in 2020, a crapshoot as to which tracks ended up on the calendar, more of a crapshoot as to who might emerge from the pack to seize the 2020 title in the event the rider with the aforementioned hypothetical collarbone should turn out to be Marc Marquez.

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#93, gold helmet

Even without his favorite tracks on the scheduled part of the schedule, and Germany off altogether, Marquez continues to be the prohibitive favorite to continue his reMarcable string of world championships. Pretenders to the throne are many, not including brother Alex on the #2 Repsol Honda. #93 , however, remains untouchable and, assuming he avoids injury as per usual, should win the title.

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Young Fabio, new kid in town

Should he somehow fail, the list of contenders becomes long, indeed, with a compressed, shortened season. Two weeks at Jerez to start the season could begin or end a championship chase that appears destined to go through December. And a brutal, packed chase it is. No thought as yet as to weather and what it might do to things. Predicting a championship top five–certainly something you, the reader, might expect if you’ve gotten this far–is following the laws of statistics, i.e., the smaller the sample size, the larger the variance. One is less likely to pick a winner in a short season than in a long one. That’s my excuse, and I’m going with it.

The other fascinating part of the pre-season is the contract signings going on for 2021 (and 2022, in some cases). Suddenly, there are an alarming number of lame ducks on the grid, with possibly more to follow. Yamaha is playing musical chairs with its existing stable of riders, with Fabio Quartararo trading seats with legend Valentino Rossi, on its factory and satellite (SRT) teams. But HRC has reached out to Pol Espargaro, to ride with Marquez for the 21-22 seasons. This puts Alex to LRC Honda for 21, along with Nakagami, with Crutchlow being shown the door.

Danilo Petrucci is displaced by Jack Miller on the factory Ducati team for 21-22, and Petrux goes and signs with KTM Tech 3, teaming up with Iker Lecuona, whose name sounds, to me, like it could be from a Disney movie. “Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona…” Miguel Oliveira, in my opinion an up-and-coming young rider despite his ride, not because of it, gets promoted to the factory KTM team as Espargaro leaves, teaming up with Brad Binder, signed for at least 2021. Oliveira, I think, would excel with one of the top three or four bikes on the grid. Oliveira, to me, looks like a Yamaha kind of guy. But KTM is doing for him precisely what they should have done in the first place, before all this started.

Overlooked in all the drama is the Suzuki team of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, both

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Rins and Mir, the future so bright they need shades in their visors

legitimate candidates for Alien status. Standing pat, missing out on some development stuff at present, but certainly a credible team heading into whatever 2020 has to offer. Once more, we wish to say out loud that Suzuki needs a satellite team. There.

Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati Corse are locked in some contentious negotiations about his 2021-22 contract on the factory team. Dovizioso is not anxious to acknowledge that his best years are probably behind him; Gigi does not want to commit two expensive years to a rider well into the back nine of his career. If Dovi were to fail to reach a contract with Ducati for 2021-22 there would be high demand for his services elsewhere, especially on the satellite Ducati teams. He would have to take a pay cut. That’s the way it goes. A new two-year contract with the factory team would not surprise me at all, especially since most of the high-profile riders are already signed for the next two-year cycle. It will be the last contract Dovi signs with Ducati. Two years if he can get it.

Is it possible that Bradley Smith, with Iannone’s immediate future up in the air, could sneak back on the grid on an Aprilia in July? As regards Iannone’s pending 18 month suspension, and The Man’s recommendation that it be extended to 48 months, and all the bad feelings around the whole thing, one gets the sense that the commission, or whatever, will announce their decision in May of 2022.

There’s probably more. But it’s a short year, and a number of riders will find themselves cognizant when going into corners against a future teammate, mostly subconsciously, one supposes, but not impossible, allowing it to effect their performance. Like we said, lame ducks all over the track.

Cal Crutchlow, another lame duck who must feel his efforts are, once again,

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being ignored by HRC, will be sulky while putting on a brave face. He could end up with an Avintia or Aprilia or KTM team in 2021, one supposes, or even, under the most severe circumstances, on a seat being vacated by Dovizioso. He might approach 2020 with the attitude of having nothing to lose, to win or bin, take two in a row at Jerez and be off and running. It’s gonna be hot at Jerez in July, and the Hondas like it that way.

The absence of fans, even with noise piped in, will take away from the theatre aspect of the race, the reason people go instead of watching it on TV. Promoters must be taking an absolute bath this year. NBC Sports must be gritting their teeth at having been talked into carrying MotoGP this year. One hopes, in the interest of seeing the sport more widely available, that the season proves to be a good one, one that will let Valencia decide.

The wild card, in all of this, is the coronavirus. It appears a number of countries are preparing to ban, or require quarantining, of visitors from the U.S. over virus concerns. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have essentially done the same thing in the U.S. versus the rest of the the U.S. This virus is relentless, and 80% of people on Earth are going to get it. It may affect relatively few, but others it will kill. It’s going to be around for awhile, until there is a vaccine. Years, really. Among the casualties could be all forms of racing, as well as all stadium-based sports. Football. Basketball. Baseball. The list goes on. From that perspective, whether MotoGP takes place or not is of relatively little importance.

Let’s hope the racing gods are smiling upon us later this year and that the virus gods are pretty well done screwing with people in Europe. Let us hope for blue skies. Let us hope for safe racing and a minimum of damage to machines and riders. Let us hope for close competition and elbows in the corners and a close championship battle over the entire season, or what’s left of it. Let’s hope to see more results from the young riders aside from Quartararo. Let’s see if the Next Great Rider is out there on the grid, waiting to have his Alien card stamped.

Paging Joan Mir.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

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Before getting too far into the nuts and bolts of the latest round of wishful thinking on the part of The Powers That Be, let us note that the usual blah blah blah about the virus is still in there, that this is only the latest, most radical attempt to salvage the remnants of what was to have been another Repsol/ Marquez coronation in 2020. It remains to be seen whether any actual races will take place. From a global perspective, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is a bad thing for all types of racing, including MotoGP.

For the sake of keeping our oar in the water, we can take a moment to shred the calendar, which features two back-to-back weekends and three triple-headers. An American swing and a truncated Asian swing are pinned to the end of the scheduled schedule. Like an addendum. Like the suits at Dorna and FIM spent hours arguing about leaving these rounds on the schedule at all, given how tenuous the European part of the schedule was looking already. To suggest that MotoGP will be spending Christmas in Malaysia strains the imagination.

Nonetheless. Two rounds at Jerez on the 19th and 26th of July. A round in Brno followed by a twofer at Red Bull Ring, in a tip of the hat to Ducati Corse. Then, two rounds in Misano–mmmm–and one in Catalunya. A week in France, then two weeks in Aragon as penance. Ending with two weeks at Valencia on November 15th. In italics, basically, is a fictional Americas swing to Austin and Argentina, with an additional “swing” to Thailand and Malaysia. At risk of running into the end of the calendar. All a fantasy.

I found myself thinking about what an awesome vacation it would be to spend 10 days or so in Misano. We might spend Saturdays at the track, otherwise catching Sundays as usual on the website and reporting the results sometime after the race. It occurred to me that neither I or my wife would want to go to Italy in the summer of 2020 with The Rona out there. Adriatic Riviera or not, it’s not a good idea, at least not for us, coming from the U.S. It’s just such a beautiful place, shoehorned in-between the mountains and the sea. Our health insurance wouldn’t work over there, etc. Not in the cards.

So I’m wondering whether any of this is more than a pipe dream, if it’s not just a little something to keep us occupied during this dreadful hiatus. If there is an amusing aspect to this latest and greatest calendar it is the refutation of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s hollow claim that MotoGP is more than just a Spanish sport. Seven of the scheduled 14 rounds are in Spain, at all four usual tracks. Catalunya, perhaps because of the heated current political environment there, only gets a single week, while the other three get a pair each. The remaining seven rounds are schedule for other places on the planet. Four of the eight tracks in 2020 are in Spain. The Spanish riders will enjoy an advantage.

No Mugello. No Sachsenring. No Finland. No Silverstone. No Motegi or Phillip Island. Perhaps two of the last four races listed after the schedule could take place; probably none of them will. Some of Marc Marquez’s bread and butter–Austin and Sachsenring–won’t happen. He should still do okay.

With all the drama surrounding the signings for 2021-22 it will be slightly weird to see the lame ducks–Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez, Jack Miller in a way, possibly no Andrea Iannone–knowing they are headed to greener pastures in 2021 regardless of what, if anything, happens this year. Rossi’s last year on the factory Yamaha. The two Suzuki riders gunning for Alien status. Marquez fighting off all challengers. The era continues, assuming there is a racing season in 2020.

I suspect this latest schedule should be thought of as Hypothetical. So many things need to go right, and so few things can go wrong, that the odds against us watching these remarkable athletes racing in anger in 2020 are long. Will they pipe in noise? Will they let fans in? Will they provide all of the necessary yellow smoke? Will the marshals have masks? The mechanics?

At this point, the 2020 MotoGP schedule looks fantastic, as in a figment of someone’s fertile imagination. If it happens, I look forward to being wrong and getting jacked up on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t we all.

Dominoes Falling Like Mad in MotoGP

June 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Sudden and/or impending rider contracts with rival teams and builders for 2021-22 have begun a sort of sequencing process that will be fun to watch. It was always going to happen going into a contract year. I had thought teams would wait until the remnant of the 2020 season was underway before beginning the actual poaching process.

In early June, and not having run a race in anger since last summer, the factory teams have decided that the theme heading into 2021 is Getting Better and Younger. This started with Yamaha orchestrating a trade between the factory and satellite teams in which The New Kid in Town, young Fabio Quartararo, the Spanish rider with the French name, takes the factory seat of the legendary Valentino Rossi alongside Maverick Vinales without so much as a fare thee well, and Rossi, graciously swimming in visions of an entire new line of gear branded with SRT for his swan song in 2021, accedes, a Yamaha team player first and foremost, his VR46 academy protege Franco Morbidelli gently under his wing. An investment banker on the side. These ranches aren’t cheap.

Vale apparently has several objectives in mind. He wants to appear on Barron’s list of the 500 wealthiest people in the world. He wants to own a MotoGP team, a Yamaha-supported satellite team, and to beat Honda Racing Corporation into the dirt with it. He’ll sell a lot of VR46 gear and assemble a great team behind the bike. Yamaha has fixed the issues that suddenly began plaguing it in 2017 and can run with Honda and Ducati on most of the world’s tracks.

So the factory Yamaha team gets younger with Fabio and Vinales.

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio in his Moto2 days.

The factory Honda team signed Marc Marquez to a contract which runs through 2024. (!) HRC shocked the world again this week, leaking the fact that Pol Espargaro, the younger of the Espargaro brothers, would take Alex Marquez’ seat on the #2 Repsol Honda for 2021-22 before poor Alex had ever turned a lap. This didn’t make the factory Honda team younger, but it certainly made it stronger. Pol Espargaro has been wrestling point-and-shoot bikes at KTM since 2016 and should find the RC213V relatively easy to ride. The difference is the Honda is very fast and the KTM RC16 is not. KTM has now taken  shot below the water line, losing its only experienced rider to a hated rival who is beating it like a rented mule.

Espargaro won Moto2 in 2013 and was a consistent top tenner in his first three years with Yamaha, his future brighter than big brother Aleix. But he got in bed with the good people at KTM in 2017 and became a top twenty rider, although a top data provider. He has been a big help in developing the bike even though it is still not yet competitive. Losing him is a blow to the KTM program, one that could be filled by an experienced leader such as Andrea Dovizioso.

So now it is assumed Alex Marquez will toddle on over to LCR Honda to team with Takaa Nakagami, owned and operated by HRC on behalf of Japan, and the LCR team gets younger. Poor Cal Crutchlow will then have to choose between an Aprilia, for God’s sake, or calling it a career.

Pramac Ducati loses Jack Miller to the factory team, but picks up new Moto2 KTM grad and fast mover Jorge Martin to ride alongside Pecco Bagnaia, and the Pramac team gets younger. Danilo Petrucci, booted from the factory team, is left to go out and find honest work again, possibly with Aprilia, possibly over at WSBK.

Suppose Andrea Dovizioso, never the object of much respect, his few career chances at a world championship turned to mud by the genius of Marc Marquez, goes for the money and jumps to KTM, the new career wrecker of MotoGP. When he joined Ducati it was, at the time, the career wrecker. He and Gigi D’Alligna have created a bike that is difficult to turn but has incomparable top end speed. A good question is who would take Dovizioso’s hypothetical seat, leaving Miller the #1 factory rider. Would the rumors of a Jorge Lorenzo return come to pass? The factory Ducati team would get a little younger, too, with Miller and Lorenzo aboard. KTM, losing Espargaro and Martin, is listing seriously. The Austrians need to work harder to get the bike up to snuff, lest it continue to wreck careers. It certainly didn’t do Pol Espargaro any good. If they can’t get Dovizioso they’ll have to make a run at Cal Crutchlow.

The two young guys at Suzuki, Joan Mir and Alex Rins, are signed for 2021-22. It would be nice to see Suzuki acquire a satellite team; their bike is competitive, needing only a few more horsepower to accompany its sweet-handling properties. Mir will be an Alien; Rins probably as well. For Suzuki. That is a good thing. See what 40 years in the desert will get you.

So, for a season which has, so far, been rendered an epic fail by Covid-19, there is suddenly a lot of activity, a silly season earlier than in a normal year when guys are actually racing. Barring a second peak in transmissions–the viral type–there is supposed to be some kind of MotoGP season commencing the end of July and running into the early winter. Mostly in EU countries. Asian, US and Argentinian rounds are still on it but looking sketchy, virus-wise. The heat of southern Europe in the summer should make the virus less active and less likely to spread as rapidly. For awhile, anyway. We here at my kitchen table look forward to bringing it to you.

 

 

 

MotoGP: Catalunya Off, Season in Peril

April 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya announced today that the MotoGP race scheduled for the weekend of June 7 will be postponed. This, then, pretty much seals it for Mugello, which is scheduled for May 31st, in the heart of coronaland in northern Italy, which is absurd. Which then leaves, as things now stand, a season-opener in the friendly confines of The Sachsenring in eastern Germany on June 21st.

As if.

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At first one thinks, “Well, they’ll jump someone into the 5/31 and 6/7 slots, take a week off and then proceed to Germany and Assen for a Round 4.” But here’s the problem with that thinking. That’s Old Thinking, when big crowds in confined spaces were to be desired. To think that some venue somewhere, anywhere, today, is going to invite a MotoGP weekend while the virus rages at numerous places in the world–that they would jump the line for the privilege of doing so–is Old Thinking.

New Thinking recognizes that the 2020 season is not going to happen. If, by October or November, the Powers That Be stage a few “friendlies,” testing sessions with prizes awarded, with a handful of locations and fans chosen by lottery or antibodies, that would likely be it. No records would be kept of the competition. The results from Qatar in March for Moto2 and Moto3 would be entered in the record books but would not be recognized as actual 2020 championships. They would be race results and nothing more.

Personally, I don’t believe any of this is going to happen. No country with sane leadership would allow such a thing to happen. Poor Finland, who tried so hard to have their shiny new track ready for a race weekend in July, is going to have to keep the track afloat for a year or so while the long-term nature of these viruses is discerned.

Screenshot (123)My worry is, as one of the doctors discussing the issue said recently, that coronavirus becomes, until an effective vaccine is developed, tested, and given to seven billion people, a seasonal virus, like the flu, but that kills a lot more people. It would mean that ‘social distancing’ would become somewhat built-in to American/global living, waiting for development and distribution of an elusive vaccine. Which might or might not be effective against your particular strain of the virus, of which there are many.

Ergo, it appears that the 2020 MotoGP season is toast. This raises a number of questions for riders. It was looking like Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi would trade Yamahas in 2021, with the Frenchman moving up and the legend moving down. We here thought that was a ridiculous idea, even if Vale had been able to complete his victory lap on the factory bike in 2020, blowing kisses to the fans amidst clouds of day-glo yellow smoke. Without the victory lap, it sounds like Rossi still wants a final season on the factory bike.

What kind of problems, one wonders, does that cause for young Fabio, who seems determined to be The Next Great Rider. Beyond the Yamaha guys, there are questions about the status of premier class contracts across the board, excluding Marquez, since all but one were, in 2020, the second year of two-year deals, with a bevy of theoretical riders hitting the market for the 21-22 seasons. Marquez has signed with Repsol Honda/ HRC until forever. Which means he got to spend this year working on his shoulder and his tan, playing video games, and making €16 or 20 million along the way.

It’s good to be the king

If coronavirus does, in fact, become a seasonal thing, coming back year after year, live Catalunya2 sporting events would appear to be something of the past. The notion of a world without sports, without concerts, without festivals, even conventions–you get the picture–is unsettling, to say the least. MotoGP would likely become just another relic of the good old days, of Sundays at legendary places like Mugello, with 100,000 drunk Italians yelling for Rossi, riders making moves in the slipstream, the noise incredible, the tension almost physical.

If this is it, this was good stuff.

Best Case: No MotoGP Until June

March 21, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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As of this morning, MotoGP is scheduled to open its 2020 season, Round One, in early May at Jerez in southern Spain. From there, the paddock is to travel to Le Mans two weeks later, followed by Round Three at Mugello two weeks after that.

Ain’t none of that happening.

Spain’s rate of infections and deaths has begun to soar. The French have already taken steps to limit gatherings. And Mugello sits at Ground Zero for the most serious outbreak in the world, in Italy. As April arrives, one can be certain to hear that first Jerez, then Le Mans, then Mugello will all be “rescheduled,” which is becoming Dorna’s equivalent to every parents’ response of “we’ll see,”–just a different way of saying no.

Dorna says you need 13 rounds to make it a season. The riders and teams are lobbying to reduce that number, perhaps to 10. Whatever. Our previous diatribe on the domino theory still applies. The virus is working its way in swaths across the globe, and no racing event or venue has any guarantee of being legally allowed to proceed. Assuming they held a race, how many fans would attend anyway?

The world as we knew it three months ago no longer exists, at least for now. The new world is smaller, poorer, and isolated, reduced to living life online. Entire industries are going to get scoured from the American scene–restaurants, movies, bars, professional and college sports, the list goes on. If this becomes some kind of semi-perpetual situation, with good seasons in the summer and bad seasons in the winter, most retail businesses face ruin. A world in this condition is not one which will be able to continue to support the racing industry. MotoGP sponsors, whose businesses are getting hammered, are going to be bailing on contracts for a sport that could be mothballed for another year or more.

Not wishing to sound overly apocalyptic, I am concerned that a five race MotoGP season in the late fall would not be worth doing. The juice, as it were, is not worth the squeeze. As much as I want to watch these guys race, it appears the world has shifted on its axis. It is hard to admit that this season is already screwed, but it’s the truth.

We will all stay on top of it. Thanks for stopping by.

 

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

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This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

IMS ownership may be wondering: Could the MotoGP paddock return to the once-majestic, currently-owned-by-Roger-Penske old lady, who’s received more layers of paint over the past century than you’ve had birthdays?

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

Although the seating capacity is unreal–250,000–the layout itself is dull, narrow, flat and slow. If COTA goes down for the count, IMS could get the 2021 race by default. TV-wise, NBC, currently suffering a severe case of buyer’s remorse, will have a hard time making it look full unless Penske does the right thing and let all comers in for free on Saturday, which will bump sales on Sunday, given the hair-raising capacity of the bikes and riders.

Saturday gives neophytes FP3 and FP4, Q1 and Q2 in all three classes. Bikes, as many know, are on the track all day, doing ridiculous stuff. For people with some racing in their blood it is a brand new world. It’s better now than it was back when it was held here annually. Penske knows a thing or two about racing and marketing, and should be able to get 100,000 paying fans in on Sunday. It could happen. It could also be a first step toward bigger things here for MotoGP, if there’s not a Hurricane Ike, the way there was in its initial 2008 visit.

Just not this year. If, for some reason, MotoGP came to Indianapolis in, say, October, presuming the flyaway will be cancelled, getting the place ready and improvements made would be a slapdash affair, unlikely to spur attendance. Maybe it would work out. If it could be worked out, Penske is the guy to get her done. But fans in the American midwest, including the writer, are hoping it returns to the Motor Speedway next year.

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Spain declares national emergency over coronavirus

March 13, 2020

MotoGP 2020 and The Domino Theory

March 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

For those of you too disgustingly young to remember, in the game of post-WWII geopolitics, many on the right found credence in the following graphic as it relates to the spread of Global Communism, the evil to end all evils. This theory was what got us into Vietnam.

Domino Theory

First it was the cancellation of Round 1 in Qatar (the big bikes only), followed quickly by the postponement of Buriram to later in the year, pushing Aragon up a week. A warm-up for the dreaded flyaway rounds in October and, now, November. This week, COTA postponed the Americas Grand Prix to November 15, pushing Valencia back to November 22. Argentina had no virus cases when they defaulted into the newest Round 1 scheduled for April 19; today there are 17. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Jerez is scheduled for May 3. Some might want to wager that it will become Round 1; others, such as myself, suspect that it, too, will be postponed. The ‘rona appears to be doing The Wave on the planet, migrating somewhat randomly from place to place, seeking the old, those without medical care, thriving in cold weather. Each person infected incubates the virus for five days during which he will infect two other people. The point here is that if the virus follows its current, ahem, vectors, it could push the season back to Christmas, limit it to a half schedule, or scrub it altogether. This is a concern.

Prior to posting this article, this news bulletin appeared.

 

 


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