MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Moto3, Moto2, MotoGP: It’s all here

Now that Repsol Honda’s miraculous Marc Marquez has secured another premier class title—his sixth in seven seasons—we will be paying more attention to the goings-on in the “lightweight” classes. Marquez has announced his intention to assault the all-time single season points record, but it’s just not the same. Look at track records—Marquez holds none past Round 14. Subconsciously, perhaps, he occasionally takes a whisker off the throttle with the championship won. The season becomes a ham ’n’ egg breakfast; Marquez goes from being the pig, who is committed to the meal, to the chicken, who is interested.

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One name conspicuously missing

Honda also might want to consider relieving Lorenzo of his duties for 2020 and going with Stefan Bradl, who has been testing for them for a few years. Bradl does well enough on the latest RC213V on his wildcard weekends and can continue to provide feedback; he knows the drill. He also knows who is #1. Lorenzo is a basket case who needs to get away from the sport while he can, without further damage to his legacy. They will need to identify a new #2 in 2021; there will be a world of candidates at that time.

There is a report Johann Zarco will replace Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda for the last three rounds of the season. Such would be a high-risk proposition for Zarco as regards next year, since the RC213V is unlikely to suit his riding style. Or anyone else’s, for that matter. Nakagami is now signed for 2020. Zarco’s audition, assuming it occurs, will be for some other team as yet unidentifiable.

Moto2

In Moto2, Little Brother Alex Marquez (K) is starting to look invincible, needing only to stay in the points from here on out to claim his first Moto2 title. He is what my boy Boyd Crowder would call a “late bloomer,” taking his own sweet time to title in Moto2 after an impressive Moto3 championship at age 18 in 2014. (This was the story of 2014, Marquez edging, as it were, fellow teen Jack Miller by two points in a barnburner of a season that I largely missed. Miller got promoted the following year directly to the Pramac MotoGP team, skipping second grade entirely. He dipped below the curve for a few seasons on a slow Honda, then year-old Ducati, before currently appearing on the upswing, looking forward to full factory equipment in 2020. The impudent Aussie seems to have designs on the #1 seat on the factory Ducati team by as early as 2021.)

Young Marquez’ closest pursuers, generally sucking canal water, include Augusto Fernandez (KAL), Brad Binder (KTM), Tom Luthi (KAL), and Jorge Navarro, (SPDUP). It is at points like this in the story where I hope to someday insert a humorous insight or two regarding one of the chasers. Binder has had his ticket punched to the satellite Tech 3 KTM MotoGP team for 2020. Fernando and Navarro are the two hot-blooded young Latins who crave the title and are, as we used to say, packing the gear, bucking for promotion. Belgian Thomas Luthi, a MotoGP retread, is older, turning wrenches, making a living at 200 KPH, living large, his star on the wane.

Moto3

Until last week, the championship had been a tight two-man race between Italian heart throb Lorenzo dalla Porta (H) and KTM’s ink-laden Spaniard Aron Canet. Canet got skittled by an overly-aggressive Darryn Binder (KTM) in Thailand and now trails dalla Porta by 22 points with four rounds left. Things being rather unpredictable amongst the 250cc set, dalla Porta is not a lock for the title, but he’s getting close, seemingly by default. Young Tony Arbolino (H) looks, at times, like the fastest rider out there. And your boy Romano Fenati is out injured, trying to scare up a Moto2 ride for 2020 that will heat his blood.

Recent History in Japan

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

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

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt a year ago in a gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of aging Italian superstud Andrea Dovizioso who, chasing Marc Marquez for the series lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez last year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it was, and is again. 

News You Can Use 

Dorna announced this week an addition to the 2022-2026 calendars of Rio de Janeiro for The Grand Prix of Brazil. Carmelo Ezpeleta follows the money, imposing demonstrable hardships on the teams in his vast conspiracy to dominate the international motorsports space. With the struggles in F1 and NASCAR I’d say he’s doing pretty well. But adding Finland and Brazil to an already brutal travel schedule, extending the season, is hard on everyone. Worse yet, it makes when a rider gets hurt virtually equal to how badly, whether he misses a single race or misses three. More back to backs, an early Brazil/Argentina/COTA swing likely. That’s show business.

Brazil will contain the first post-Rossi generation in, well, generations. My bet is that Brazilians will have a lot of red #93 on their hats. Probably selling a lot of small motorcycles when they’re not busy clear-cutting the rainforest. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

Judging from radar maps, it appears Motegi might have gotten hammered by the typhoon last weekend. The forecast for race weekend is cool—60’s—with rain in the area, likely on Saturday. Riders, notably the Hondas, need to pay attention on morning out laps on cold tires. As of Tuesday, there was nothing on motogp.com mentioning conditions in that part of the country. Apparently the show will go on.

This, I suspect, will be one of Fabio’s three best opportunities to win a race, since Marquez will not take any crazy risks. The track is a point-and-shoot, stop-and-go kind of place, riders don’t appear to spend much time in 6th gear, while acceleration appears to be at a premium. A Honda/Ducati kind of place. Yet Quartararo has proven of late that he can ride pretty much anywhere. There will be still some highly motivated riders out there on Sunday; some will have more on the line than others is all.

Personally, I’d like to see Franco Morbidelli score a podium.

All I care about in the lightweight classes is that the chases tighten up. These early-season wins in MotoGP suck. Moto2 and Moto3 need to take us farther into the calendar.

So that’s it, then. Young guys. Quartararo for the win, Morbidelli third, and the ascendant Jack Miller second. Assuming, that is, they hold the race at all. If they do, we’ll be here sometime Sunday with results and analysis in all three classes. Hopefully, we will not be discussing what could be the worst podium prediction of all time.

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Número ocho para Marc Marquez

On a day completely bereft of surprise, Marc Marquez secured his sixth MotoGP world championship and eighth overall with a merciless win over ascendant French rookie Fabio Quartararo. As he did in Misano back in September, Marquez spent the day glued to Quartararo’s back wheel, again testing young Fabio’s resistance to pressure. Finally, in the last turn of the last lap he broke the rookie’s heart with the expected cutback move and sprint to the flag. These, then, are the opening shots in what promises to be the next great rivalry in grand prix motorcycle racing.

By clinching the premier class title with four (4!) rounds remaining in the season, Marquez has freed us from having to pay too much attention to the big bikes for the next month. With 325 points in hand, he may make a run at the all-time season points record of 383 in MotoGP, feeding his discernible addiction to winning even when it’s not necessary. Less likely is his treating the remnant of the season as a six-week testing session, preparing to decimate the field again in 2020. Whatever. Any of y’all wishing to make a case for him not being one of the all-time greats in this sport please go outside and shake yourselves.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday once again belonged to the Yamaha cabal, with all four bikes ending the day in the top five. The Petronas satellite team acquitted themselves particularly well again, with Quartararo sitting on top of the pile and teammate Franco Morbidelli third. (One hesitates to observe that these lofty accomplishments generally occur on Fridays, which is the racing equivalent of a matrimonial rehearsal dinner.) It took Yamaha Racing 15 rounds to remove the RPM limiter from Quartararo’s M1 software, giving him 500 more to work with, and he took advantage.

Factory dudes Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi wedged themselves into second and fifth places, respectively, with Australian Jack Miller and his Ducati interloping in third. Marquez landed, literally, in sixth place after his most impressive high-side crash in years taking place at Turn 7 in FP1, after which he dropped in at a local hospital, laid around for a little while in the air conditioning, returning later in the session to take his place in the top ten. At times, the Ant Man seems indestructible.

Torrential rain, seemingly a tourist attraction in this part of the world, struck early Saturday morning, putting FP3 on rain tires and rendering Friday’s results decisive as regards automatic Q2 entrants. Among those who would have to fight their way into the pole fight were Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow and a wounded Pol Espargaro, wrestling his KTM GP-16 with one arm, a good-sized titanium plate in his left wrist courtesy of his calamity in Aragon two weeks ago.

Q1 saw Espargaro and Petrucci pass through into Q2, leaving Crutchlow on the outside looking in by 13/1000ths.

Q2 was about as exciting as it gets in this game. The former track record, set by Marquez last year, got hammered by three riders, with Quartararo emerging as the proud new owner. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales and Marquez, who was on pace for pole when he lost the front at Turn 5. Rossi had crashed out a bit earlier, and Quartararo a few moments later. Morbidelli headed Row 2, joined by Petrucci and Miller. Rossi and Dovizioso would start Sunday from Row 3, portending some kind of Thai-themed championship celebration on Sunday afternoon, as Dovi was the only man standing between Marquez and his eighth world championship and fourth in a row in the premier class. 

The Race 

Had there not been a championship in the balance, today’s tilt would have been a parade, albeit one held in an autoclave. The heat and humidity were hellish; Danilo Petrucci, sitting in his garage prior to taking to the track, looked as if he might spontaneously combust. By contrast, the 95,000 locals in the stands, accustomed to life in these miserable conditions, appeared cool and comfortable. Oddly, there were way more red #93 grandstanders than there were yellow #46 disciples. Perhaps it was the locale; perhaps that particular tide is turning. Either way, Valentino Rossi was just another rider today. What little action there was took place well in front of him.

Once the lights went out, Marquez and Quartararo went off for their private tête à tête. Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso settled in well behind them, with Franco Morbidelli, Joan Mir and Rossi trailing them. The Suzukis of Mir and Alex Rins were nosing around but posed no threat to podium. Other than a few unforced crashes and Aleix Espargaro’s customary mechanical failure, nothing much happened until the last few laps. Marquez took a swing at Quartararo on Lap 23, failed, took another on Lap 25, failed again, then made it stick on Lap 26.

Jack Miller stalled his Ducati right before the start, then spent the day pedaling furiously, ultimately finishing 14th. Cal “Who Cares Anymore?” Crutchlow started 13th and finished 12th. And Jorge Lorenzo’s ongoing humiliation was complete, as he started 19th and finished 18th, 54 seconds behind Marquez. That he will probably end up included in the Repsol Honda team championship win come November is simply an historical accident.

As a reminder that I am an equal opportunity offender, I am compelled to point out that young Fabio is continuing the French tradition established by Randy de Puniet of mostly finishing lower than he qualifies. In 15 rounds this year, he has qualified better than he finished 10 times. Sure, he’s a brilliant prospect with a bright future. But at this tender point in his evolution he is channeling RdP. Just sayin’. 

Moto2 

Despite qualifying on pole, series leader Alex Marquez did not have a great day today, finishing fifth behind Luca Marini, Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona and Augusto Fernandez in an exciting race for second place, Marini having gone off on his own early and winning easily. Fortunately for Marquez, his main rival in 2019, Jorge Navarro, had a rotten day, starting 22nd and finishing outside the points as Fernandez took over second place for the year. Young Alex, however, has learned big brother Marc’s trick of winning while losing, extending his series lead to 40 points with four rounds left. He appears poised to clinch his first Moto2 title in Australia or Malaysia. He will remain in Moto2 next season awaiting a choice ride and two-year MotoGP contract in 2021. As a footnote, KTM claimed two podium spots today, and their rookie Jorge Martin enjoyed his best outing to date, finishing sixth. 

Moto3 

The lightweight world championship, tight as wallpaper heading to Thailand, took a hit today on Lap 8, when “Dive Bomb Darryn” Binder initiated a crash which removed Aron Canet, John McPhee and, briefly, Tatsuki Suzuki from the proceedings. Having lived up to his nickname, Binder was assigned a ridethrough penalty. (In an apparent Act of Contrition he also voluntarily took a long lap penalty.) Series leader Lorenzo dalla Porta led the race for most of the day before getting caught up in a frantic fustercluck at Turn 12 on the last lap, losing out to Albert Arenas and just barely crossing the line in front of Alonso Lopez and Marcos Ramirez, all four riders within 4/10ths of a second of one another. The day’s events left dalla Porta 22 points ahead of a seething Canet, who left the track immediately after the race to have some harsh anti-Binder tattoos added to his already impressive ink collection. 

MotoGP Tranches 

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Buriram: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

A Look Ahead 

Two weeks until the start of the dreaded Pacific Swing, a three-rounds-in-three-weeks bane to riders, crews and the journalists contracted to cover it. As promised, we will focus our attention on Moto2 and Moto3 while giving short shrift to MotoGP. I will be plumbing the depths of my ignorance of the riders and teams and relying on my warehouse full of clichés and old jokes to get me through to Valencia. In addition, I have a little over a month to come up with a pithy quote to summarize the MotoGP season. I’m hoping to find one that fits a sporting season characterized by the utter domination thereof by one of the competitors. Readers are encouraged to submit suggestions via the comments section below.

Local Color

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Congratulations to Marc Marquez for being one of the dominant athletes of his generation in any sport in the world. Even if one is partial to Valentino Rossi-flavored Kool-Aid, you must tip your hat to the accomplishments, and those to come, of #93.

MotoGP Buriram Preview

October 1, 2019

© Bruce Allen

First match point for Marquez in Thailand 

If MotoGP were tennis, the trophy match would be incandescent Repsol Honda marvel Marc Marquez vs. The Motorcycle Racing Industry. Marquez is leading in sets 2-0 and is serving 40-0, the first of at least three match points, up 5-0 in the third set, the hapless Andrea Dovizioso nominated by the grid to return serve. Assuming Marquez holds serve on Sunday, what do we do then? 

We here at Late-Braking MotoGP, competition junkies that we are, will focus, for the first time ever, on the “lightweight” classes in Moto3 and Moto2. Our mailbags here at the station are literally overflowing with requests that we turn our attention and name-calling to the actual chases taking place on the “undercards.” Personally, I just want to meet someone willing to stand in front of a 765cc Moto2 bike in full froth and shout to the rider that he is a lightweight.

Long-time readers will recognize this obvious stall as how I wrote about MotoGP in 2009, when I knew less than nothing about the sport in general. I faked and juked my way to this lofty editorial position in which I can decide what I want to write about. The choice, then, is between molar-grinding competition or weeks of flag-waving and kiss-blowing to the adoring crowds of the premier class, 6 titles in 7 years, The Marquez Era in full bloom, dull as dishwater…

All this is my way of saying that I probably know less about Moto3 and Moto2 than most of you who bother to read this stuff. As a highly-paid professional I see my ignorance as a simple work-around until such time as all three titles are decided, at which point we could very well test readers’ loyalty by arranging live video coverage of a Chinese checkers tournament in lower Szechuan province. With snappy, insouciant subtitles. 

Recent History in Thailand 

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

Should Sunday be a replay of last year, the championship will be done and dusted. 101 is the magic number heading to Motegi for the start of the swing. Were I Marquez, having clinched in Thailand, I would hold at least one fake press conference to announce he is taking the next three rounds off, going to play golf on Mallorca, and leaving things in the more-than-capable hands of shell-shocked three-time premier class champion Jorge Lorenzo. Three races in three weeks. Glowing in the dark in Japan. Freezing one’s cojones off in the howling winds of Australia, then frying ‘em up in Malaysia. A week of hydration before the drunkation that is Valencia on those years where everything’s already decided. On Sunday, riders get to pretend that there is no Marc Marquez, happily running fifth, and can slug it out with each other for the win at one of the classic European racing venues. As if it really matters more than as an historical footnote or contract bargaining chip. By November, all of us will be looking forward to testing and 2020. 

Moto3 

Here goes. 250cc bikes, mostly Hondas, the remainder KTM machines which will, as I understand, become Husqvarna equipment in 2020. There are some elite teams—Leopard Racing, Rossi’s SKY Racing Team VR46, Red Bull KTM Ajo—and a number of others. Over 30 bikes usually start each race. Despite the relatively light displacement the best motorcycle racing on earth takes place in Moto3. Many of the riders are teenagers, some as young as 16. Impulsive, impervious, intuitive, temperamental risk-takers, they put on amazing shows on an irregular basis, as they crash a lot, too. No big surprise there.

Check the standings at motogp.com (Results) and see how the top ten is full of Italian and Spanish hotshots. Lorenzo dalla Porta, 22 year-old Italian on Honda leads Spaniard Aron Canet (20) on his KTM by a cumulative score of 184-182. Tony Arbolino (19) appears to me to be the fastest teenager out there. Scotsman John McPhee, old at 25, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, is usually in the lead group late in the race. Jaume Masia is 18. Can Oncu turned 16 this summer.

Moto3 2019 is, at least, a two-man race, which is a real race, and which we look forward to each week despite its ungodly broadcast time in the middle of the night. 

Moto2 

All bikes are fitted with a 765cc Triumph firebreather, with everything else done a la carte; frames by Kalex or Speed Up. Up until this season, KTM was also building bikes around the Triumph engine, but has announced they will drop out of Moto2 to focus on Moto3 and their struggling MotoGP program. Anyway, Kalex seems to be the preferred provider, as seven of the top ten riders sit astride their equipment.

From out of nowhere, younger brother Alex Marquez (23), who struggled in Moto2 since entering the mid-class category in 2015 after winning Moto3 in 2014, leads the championship by a somewhat-comfortable 213-175 margin over Jorge Navarro; 38 points with five rounds left. Navarro himself is being hounded by the likes of Augusto Fernandez, and your boy Tom Luthi. Directly behind Luthi in the standings sits South African Brad Binder, he of the large teeth and brilliant smile, on his token KTM, his (spotty: read “good for a KTM”) performance having already punched his ticket to a 2020 MotoGP ride with the Tech 3 satellite team, a team apparently having a hard time finding riders, as KTM appears to be earning the reputation of a career-killer (formerly held by Ducati, now a career-booster for many).

It is worth noting that just recently Alex Marquez said in an interview that, as a kid growing up, he hoped someday to be brother Marc’s mechanic. One could perhaps argue that having a pro-active father, as the brothers do, can occasionally help little brothers discover gifts they didn’t know they had. I heard a comment back in 2012 that Alex was faster than Marc, and that Alex Rins, who competed with them growing up, was faster than either of them. This seems to have changed.

Anyway, as is true with all three MotoGP classes, if you want to know what actually happened in a race, you need to watch the race. Unfortunately, the best way to watch the race, and practice, qualifications, etc. is to subscribe to the video feed from those greedy bastards at Dorna. Fortunately, with the Euro taking a beating, the subscription costs less in dollars than it did three years ago. Very high quality stuff, no commercials, worth it. Also a bit of high humor if you enjoy listening to Matt and Steve trying to sound as British as humanly possible, in order to provoke tender feelings from you the listener. Lots of “dearie me,” “getting naughty in the corners,” and “I need a lie-down in a dark room after that.” Overall, they do a much better job than Be-In Sports TV announcers.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather in Thailand this time of year—any time of year, actually—will be brutal. Hot, humid, those damnable “pop-up” thunderstorms in the afternoons, 10-minute frog-stranglers that ratchet up the heat to a virtual sauna, humidities often reaching over 100%; one needs gills. In the premier class, as is true with any weather conditions, this is Marquez weather; he likes it hot, enjoys sliding the bike, and can execute a flag-to-flag changeover as well as anyone. If he finishes in front of Dovizioso it’s likely over for 2019.

As to the lightweights, I have no earthly idea. I expect the two leaders for the Moto3 championship to slug it out, but it doesn’t often work out that way. In Moto2, I find myself rooting for Alex #73 somewhat out of pity, which is weird. He is staying in Moto2 next season awaiting a premium ride in MotoGP in 2021. Conceivably alongside his brother at Repsol Honda. Not likely, just possible. He, as everyone else, would do better on a Suzuki or Yamaha than on the RC213V, a roman candle with carbon brake discs capable of low earth orbit but notoriously difficult to handle. Food for thought.

We will return sometime on Sunday with results and analysis. I’ll be watching the races on Pacific time and will probably, at my advanced age, need a nap.

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez crushes Aragon; Dovi keeps it alive 

On Sunday, the Marquez express continued to rumble through the MotoGP landscape, laying waste to the field in Round 14 at Motorland Aragon. Andrea Dovizioso, bless his heart, flogged his factory Ducati from 10th at the start to 2nd at the finish, keeping the championship at least breathing until Buriram. And Jack Miller put a second Ducati on the podium after out-dueling Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales.

Let’s not kid ourselves that this is suddenly a contest again. Marquez has a magic number of three heading to Thailand. If Marquez manages to add a mere three points to his present lead over Dovizioso he will clinch the title. A win would close out the world championship for the sixth time in his seven years in the premier class, regardless of what Dovi might do. 

Practice and Qualifying 

In the play Camelot, by law it cannot rain until after sundown. Which is what happened at Aragon on Friday and Saturday overnights. A dry Friday produced stylish results, Marquez and the Yamahas communing in both sessions. Unbeknownst to anyone, the fastest lap of the weekend would be Marquez in FP1 on his Lap 6, a 1:46.869, rendering my prediction of another fallen lap record on Saturday incorrect. A wet track on Saturday morning caused headaches in all three classes. In MotoGP, many of the riders didn’t bother going out for FP3, confident that today’s race would be dry, automatic passages to Q2 already decided. Order was restored in FP4 on a dry track with Marquez and the Yamahas back in charge. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro broke his wrist in a P4 fall and would miss the race, the Austrian MotoGP program seeming somehow snakebit.

Q1 included the customary, um, underachievers, peppered by the presence of Morbidelli, Rins and Petrucci. Morbidelli sailed through to Q2, with a dogged Andrea Iannone—remember him?—gliding his Aprilia into the second shuttle to Q2, destroying the moods of Rins and Nakagami, among others. Q2, conceded in advance by acclimation of the riders to #93, produced its usual frenetic finish and a crowd-pleasing front row of Marquez, Quartararo and Vinales, Rossi skulking in P6. Andrea Dovizioso and his Ducati, my third choice for the podium, the only remaining credible title threat to Marquez, looked haunted, sitting in P10, virtually dead in the water. 

The Race 

Marquez took the hole shot and got away from the start, leading the field by a second at the end of Lap 1. The contest for second place generally included Vinales, Quartararo, and Miller, later expanded to include Dovizioso. The Yamahas were strong early in the race but gradually, after getting pounded on the back straight for 23 laps, gave way to the superior power of the Ducatis. Valentino Rossi, looking more and more like a rider going through the motions, started sixth and finished eighth today, making no impression. Crutchlow managed a quiet sixth with Aleix Espargaro giving Aprilia one of their best outings by finishing in P7. Prior to the race there had been a lot chatter around the idea that Yamaha had fixed their problems from 2018 and early this year. Today, I think, was a vivid illustration that the problems remain.

Also on display today was the fact that the Suzuki team remains capable of having terrible Sundays, with Rins finishing in P9 and Joan Mir 14th. KTM, too, once Pol Espargaro was sidelined, had to settle for 13th, 18th and 21st, an exercise in futility. Saddest of all, limping home in P20 was The Rider Formally Known as Jorge Lorenzo.

The Big Picture 

2019 is over. A magic number of 3 in Thailand becomes a magic number of -22 in Japan. Bruce’s Spacebook now lists only two wagers, with an 85% chance of Marquez clinching at Buriram and a 15% chance at Motegi. 

Tranching Tool 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

A Quick Look Ahead

Two weeks until the steam bath of Buriram, the championship hanging by a thread. This is where a number of you will likely lose interest in MotoGP. But any readers with an appreciation of racing history should be aware that Jorge Lorenzo’s 2010 single season point record of 383 is under assault this season. Marquez currently has 300 points with five rounds left, putting 383 well within his reach. That may be a record worth striving for and might cause Marquez to keep the hammer down this fall rather than letting up has he has been known to do in past seasons in which he has clinched early. I, for one, would be happy knowing I had followed the MotoGP season in which Marc Marquez set the standard for the next generation of young guns, in a 19-round season, when he was at the top of his game.

Eye Candy, courtesy of motogp.girls and motogpgirls at Instagram:

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Self curated images from Aragon weekend:

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MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

MotoGP fans must be open to the idea that Aragon is on its way to becoming another #93Wins track, joining Austin and the Sachsenring as places where he is virtually automatic. Out here in northeast Spain, Marquez won as a rookie in 2013, went MIA in 2014 and 2015, then started reeling off wins in 2016.

A win this year would make him 4-for-4 of late. The fact that so many riders still have all this motivation to pull out the stops on the way to the top step of the rostrum, while he has so little—basically, remain upright and finish in the points somewhere—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. Winning never gets old. His victory celebrations, however, are starting to resemble those of Jorge Lorenzo back in the day and need to be dialed down a notch or two.

Rookie Fabio Quartararo proved to me last week that he is the real deal. He is not just a one-lap wonder, skilled at qualifying. He turned in a win-worthy race on Sunday under the worst pressure imaginable in this business, i.e., with Marc Marquez glued to his rear tire the entire effing time. On the final lap, per the script, Fabio got passed for the first time by Marquez in Turn 1, but struck back immediately, giving the five-time premier class champion a little of THIS, before settling for second. That’s what you want to see in wannabe Aliens.

Was Marquez toying with the Frenchman? I think so, but he is sufficiently emotionally and politically astute not to suggest anything other than Quartararo has mad skills and big balls and will be a threat to his title next year yeah sure right. Maybe not for real, but he has a credible shot at #2 next year, assuming he ever wins his first race. Nicky Hayden won the title in 2006 with two wins. One needs points every weekend, just not necessarily 25.

Fabio Quartararo on a factory Yamaha in 2021 will be a beast. Until then, readers must guard against “irrational exuberance;” let him get a win somewhere (the schedule gets incrementally easier after Marquez clinches the title), another year on the satellite Yam, then the major leagues, the heir apparent to The House That Rossi Built. Is he seriously going to be, a year and a half from now, The New Kid in Town? He’ll be 22 years old. Salad days for Marc Marquez may be drawing to a close sooner than we thought. 

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

Last year, Marc Marquez had likely grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’d been making a chump of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. A year ago, in front of his home fans, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso and a surprisingly competitive Andrea Iannone (SUZ), assuring his followers that he may be many things, but a chump isn’t one of them. 

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

The messy situation at the KTM factory team has, for the time being, been resolved. Disaffected Frenchman Johann Zarco, who had requested out of his 2020 contract, was removed from the remainder of his 2019 contract in favor of test rider Mika Kallio, who will race in Aragon this weekend. Zarco’s fall from grace has become rapid, and many readers of other, less enlightened publications are highly critical of his comportment.

My take is that he realized he had made a losing bet—regardless of how it got made—accepting the contract offer from KTM without having first resolved the interest from Honda, which probably would also have been a mistake, too, in that JZ needs a Yamaha or Suzuki beneath him. It wasn’t going to get any better this year or next. He is currently losing face, but is a talented rider who, like Lorenzo, needs a specific type of bike to be successful, and for Zarco, the KTM wasn’t it. It is not impossible to get resurrected from Test Rider to Rider in MotoGP; paging Jonas Folger. One thing for certain is that, career-wise, Zarco cannot afford any more face-plants; the next one will probably be his last.

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

Moto2 championship leader Alex Marquez had nine points taken out of his series lead on Sunday as Augusto Fernandez elbowed his way to the win, Marquez finishing third, now up by 26 points heading to Aragon. Fabio di Giannantonio took the second podium step and missed out on what would have been a well-earned win by a full 18/100ths of a second. Slacker.

Moto3 offered its customary barn-burner with the first four riders crossing the line within 7/10ths of a second. Hard-luck Tatsuki Suzuki, riding for Paolo Simoncelli’s team at the track named for his late son, took the win with some fancy riding and good luck, bringing the elder Simoncelli to tears. Sure, they played the Japanese national anthem during the podium celebration, but it surely must have sounded like Il Canto degli Italiani to the SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

See, good things happen in MotoGP. Just not in the premier class.

Your Weekend Forecast

The Racing Gods appear anxious to get into the act this weekend, with bright sunshine predicted, interspersed with heavy rain showers. Something for every taste and budget. This is good news for the grid, for whom sunny and bright spells certain doom. The news isn’t all that good when one accounts for the fact that Marquez handles sketchy weather conditions better than anyone else out there and makes music with crew chief Santi Hernández such that they rarely guess wrong on tires or setup.

Conceding the win to Marquez, I’m inclined to see Rossi and Dovizioso on the podium this weekend. The youngsters—Quartararo, Vinales, Rins—can have the weekend off. This is the last European round until November, the last chance to make some positive impressions on the continent before flying off to crazy time zones and brutal weather conditions. I want to believe the veteran campaigners understand this better than the young bucks, and that this weekend will be for them.

We’ll have results and analysis right here mid-day on Sunday.

MotoGP San Marino Results

September 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez rains on Yamaha’s Italian parade 

In a memorable last-lap duel, the incomparable Marc Marquez took brash French rookie Fabio Quartararo’s lunch money, after threatening to take it for 26 laps. In the process he was able to check off all five boxes on his Sunday to-do list:

  • Win a last-lap battle;
  • Rain on an Italian parade, no Rossi or Morbidelli;
  • Put young Fabio in his place, if possible;
  • Deny #20 an Alien card if possible; and
  • Extend his 2019 series lead to an appalling 93 points.

This, then, is me eating my prediction from Wednesday that Yamahas would not put four bikes in the top five in this race. Let’s agree that Yamaha has fixed their acceleration problem and is no longer holding Vinales or Rossi back. Let’s stipulate that the Petronas satellite bikes are at least as fast as the 2019 version when fitted with the same engine.

And let’s agree that Marquez played young Fabio today, let him feel the pressure all day, stayed on his rear tire, just watching. Saving his tire. Figuring out where to mount the assault. Turn 1 of the final lap, followed moments later by an exchange of places out of which Marquez emerged with the lead. He blocked young Fabio at every turn, so to speak, on the second half of the lap to hold on for another convincing win, one made a touch sweeter by taking place in Italy, where he is roundly loathed. Vinales found his way to the third step of the podium, more Pop Gun today than Top Gun. And Rossi finally found his way past #21 Morbidelli late in the day, the teacher outrunning the student to the flag. Having discounted Vinales I had either #21 or #46 on the podium. 

Currently, Jorge Lorenzo is Just Another Rider 

After 13 rounds last year, factory Ducati #2 Lorenzo had 130 pts and Petrucci, on the Pramac Ducati, 110. This year Lorenzo has 23 points on the Honda while Petrux has 151 on the factory machine. Don’t let anyone tell you that Danilo couldn’t outride Lorenzo on the GP19. It says here that Lorenzo now has the yips on the RC213V. Been saying it for a while. I think he would be slower this year on the Ducati than he was at the end of last year, too. Today he started 18th and finished 19th.

Alberto Puig who, I sense, has a little-man complex, said as much. Lorenzo is unable to admit that he is terrified by the unpredictability of the RC213V and is not unaware that it came close to putting him in a wheelchair. In my unsolicited opinion, Jorge needs to examine those things that are important in his life and retire from motorcycle racing, let it go, be thankful for three world premier class titles. While he can walk away, literally, on his own terms, Honda undoubtedly happy to accommodate a waving of his contract commitment for 2020 without penalty. Let Honda worry about the #2 factory seat; Lorenzo needs to worry about Lorenzo. He has more than enough money for a lifetime of leisure, which he has richly earned. Make Casey Stoner his role model. Retire as close to the top of your game as possible. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday belonged to 2019 ROY lock Fabio Quartararo, who flogged his Petronas Yamaha M1 to the top of both timesheets. Saturday’s hero was Pol Espargaro, who passed directly into Q2 and thence to the middle of the first row of the grid on Sunday, the first ever front row qualifying session for KTM in MotoGP.

World Circuit Marco Simoncelli proved itself to be a very friendly venue, one enjoyed by Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Suzuki, with Ducatis, despite their strong recent history, lagging and Aprilia once again up the creek.

Q2 started with Vinales and Quartararo favored for pole. Two Suzukis in Q2, 2 KTM. Yamahas occupied three of the top four spots and four of the top seven, paced by Maverick Vinales on pole, Quartararo in P3, and a strong-looking Franco Morbidelli on the inside of Row 2.

Rossi stood seventh after a late Q2 altercation with Marquez (P5), upon which fans will be divided as to who was at fault. I couldn’t tell, but at the moment it occurred Marquez had two red bars, was shooting for pole and Rossi wasn’t, ergo Rossi had less to lose in a close encounter, ergo he took it upon himself to punish, vigilante-style, Marquez running wide after his having blitzed Rossi on the inside, by pushing him into the green, nullifying the lap entirely for both riders, then putting on a bit of a block-pass, causing Marquez to apply the brakes and raise his hand, no mas, no mas. Marquez seen laughing about it shortly thereafter in his garage. Race Direction asked if they could stop by later to discuss the incident, which resulted in nothing other than some excellent beer, wine and cheese all around, Marquez beaming, Rossi impassive, seething. Robbed of his crown by this impertinent, disrespectful, egotistic Spaniard; sick and tired of it all. In his home crib. As they say in Tennessee, “disgracious.”

One wonders what would have happened had their encounter taken place for the win on Sunday. 

The Race 

Much like my cheese sauce, today’s race quickly separated into several clots of riders, the races inside the race generating much of the interest on Sunday. Marquez and Quartararo went off on their own, leaving the Yamaha machines of Vinales, Morbidelli and Rossi to tussle over the final podium spot. Vinales failed to take real advantage of his first pole since Qatar but had enough to hold off the reigning GOAT and young Franco, who keeps looking better and better, with Dovizioso closing in sixth. KTM’s Pol Espargaro celebrated beating an ascendant Joan Mir (SUZ) for P7, with Jack Miller and Danilo closing out the top ten in their non-threatening Ducs. Riders who failed to see the flag included Ducati wild card Michele Pirro, as well as pretenders Cal Crutchlow (HON), Alex Rins (SUZ) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC).

We have stated our belief that no one, not even young heartthrob Fabio, can get their Alien card until they’ve beaten a Marquez or a Rossi or a Dovizioso, etc., mano a mano for their first MotoGP win. (Danilo Petrucci did that at Mugello and no one sought to make him an Alien.) Today might have been Quartararo’s day to become a full-fledged Alien, had he been able to hold off Marquez on that eventful last lap.

Despite Marquez’ difficult recent last-lap encounters with Rins and Dovi, I don’t believe #20 had a prayer today. Today, I think, was “On behalf of the Aliens and myself, welcome to MotoGP, Fabio, please find a way to be happy finishing second. Let me know when you feel capable of winning.” 

Tranches 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Up Next: Aragon

MotoGP teams must not pass GO, may not collect $200, and must proceed directly to dusty Aragon for Round 14 of an increasingly discouraging 2019 season. The track, with its fake 3,000-year-old stones juxtaposed against the gigantic video walls is a memorable sight. If there is a positive note about today’s outcome, it’s that it eliminated any possibility that #93 could clinch the title this time around. The odds of a title at Buriram went to 35% while Motegi climbed to 65%.

Local Color, courtesy of MotoGP.com:

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Rossiland

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Beautiful place to visit or live.

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Ducatitown

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We will be back mid-week with a look ahead at the Aragon round.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Italy’s Adriatic Riviera is lovely this time of year 

Sorry. We arrive at Round 13 of 19 in the heart of the 2019 MotoGP season, at one of the iconic racetracks in all of Europe, jocking the amazing sport that is grand prix motorcycle racing, trying to stifle a yawn. The 2019 title, all over but the shouting, fans left to gape at perhaps the most accomplished rider of this or any other generation, is not up for discussion. We must focus on other things. With seven races in the next nine weekends there should be plenty of chatter to keep us occupied.

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Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli

One item that is up for discussion concerns the seating arrangements for the 2020 KTM season, Johann Zarco having departed from the factory team for points unknown, Brad Binder getting bumped up from Moto2 to take Hafizh Syahrin’s seat on Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 satellite team. Speculation, which I share, is that Miguel Oliveira will move to the factory team, leaving a sizeable hole in Poncharal’s effort. A reader recently took time out of his busy schedule to excoriate me for not knowing that Alvaro Bautista was already in place to take the factory seat vacated by Zarco. Bautista did leap, but within WSBK, from Ducati to Honda, whining something about Ducati having abandoned him etc. If you want to talk about this stuff, all you must do is agree to Jim Rome’s admonition: Have a take, and don’t suck.

Crickets. Talking about Alvaro Bautista.

Lots of people talking about Fabio Quartararo, who may, indeed, be The New Kid in Town. He casually turned a 1:31.639 during the recent Misano test, a full hundredth off the official track record of 1:31.629, Lorenzo’s 2018 pole lap, almost half a second in front of Danilo Petrucci. That Yamaha filled four of the top five positions shows how meaningless these tests are. If they do the same thing on Sunday I’ll eat that one. But at this point there is no denying that young Fabio is a fast mover. I worry for him, that such sudden success may cause him to take more risks than he should.

Rossi, it now seems certain, will stick around for 2020 to fulfill his final contract with Yamaha, a 20-round victory lap blowing kisses to the yellow hordes. It is hard to believe that his last career win came at Assen in 2017 at a time when we thought we would live to see another half dozen top steps for the Italian legend. His legion of followers insist he has enough gas left in the tank for another win before he hangs it up. Unlikely. I will gladly eat this one, too, if the day comes. 

Recent History at Marco Simoncelli 

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

2017 saw Marquez deliver a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch a generational rider perform at the height of his formidable powers.

2018 will go down in Bologna as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third behind Dovi and Lorenzo. When ‘that Spanish stronzo Lorenzo’ stunned the 97,000 ravenous fans by sliding out of second on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another discouraging 8 points to his 2018 lead. Rossi finished the day in seventh; Lorenzo in the gravel. For the year, Dovi took over second place, followed by Rossi and Lorenzo, with Marquez cruising in clean air. It was “Welcome once again to the Marquez Era.” 

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Find the motorcycle in this photo

Racing News 

Sudden Sam Lowes has signed a contract to join the Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2 cadre in 2020, riding next to Alex Marquez. Sam, as is his wont, is wildly optimistic about his title chances in 2020, as per usual. These loudmouth Brits—Lowes, Crutchlow, Redding—keep me chuckling when they fail to back up all the talk, year after year. Sam is the worst, expecting to dominate in MotoGP, expecting to dominate in Moto2. Getting thoroughly faced in both. Destined for British Super Bikes. Scott Redding is apparently moving back up from BSB to Moto2, where he may once again be too big and heavy to score any wins. Hooked on the lifestyle, apparently. Seriously, what right-thinking Moto2 owner would sign Scott Redding? 

Weekend Forecast 

The weather in San Marino this weekend is expected to be perfect—sunny and warm, not too hot—which is bad news for the grid, as it needs unsettled conditions (snow, locusts, biblical rain, etc.) to slow down the Marquez express. Misano is one of the tracks where the Ducati works well, so the Italian contingent—six Ducatis, plus Rossi, Iannone and Bagnaia—will be on their “A” game. French rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo is being jocked in the racing media as the rider most capable of challenging Marquez for the win on Sunday. My advice to punters, however, is not to expect to hear La Marseillaise during the podium celebration. I feel compelled to urge young Fabio to avoid going down the road paved by Alvaro Bautista who, in recent years, had apparently paid more attention to his hairstyle and tats than winning in MotoGP.

Current odds, as posted at Bruce’s MotoGP Spacebook, show Marquez with a 5% chance of clinching the 2019 title at Aragon, a 35% chance of clinching at Buriram, and a 60% chance of clinching at Motegi.

For some strange reason, readers continue to urge me to take a stand and predict the top three finishers at each venue. I’m reluctant to do so, inclined to adhere to the old adage that it’s better to let people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. Nonetheless, in my perpetual effort to keep readers satisfied, I can see a Spaniard, an Italian and a Frenchman on Sunday’s podium. It would be poetic if Marquez were to be joined by Rossi and Quartararo; the rostrum would personify the metaphorical Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow meme. But it seems almost certain that a Ducati pilot will find his way into the top three, thereby upsetting my poetic intentions.

Whatever. We’ll be back on Sunday with results and analysis. Ciao for now.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rins mugs Marquez in last-turn British thriller 

Today’s GoPRO British Grand Prix unfolded according to script, a script seemingly written by some lightweight Hollywood hack. Plucky young challenger Alex trails peerless champion for the entire race, makes a late mistake, but recovers in time to steal the win by 13/thousandths of a second in one of the closest MotoGP tilts of all time. Marquez lost a relatively meaningless battle but happily extended his lead in the war to a dispiriting 78 points. 

The battle everyone was hoping for—Marquez vs. Quartararo—never got started, as the young Frenchman, starting from P4, got way too aggressive on cold tires early in Lap 1, high-sided, and dropped his Petronas Yamaha directly in front of Ducati hopeful Andrea Dovizioso, who had nowhere to go but up. Both riders ended their day in the gravel; both could be injured, as there is no report yet. Dovi clearly got the worst of the deal impact-wise, and it was Fabio’s crash. This Ducati debacle left a top five of Marquez, Rossi, Rins, Morbidelli and Vinales. The two Italians would later yield to the three Spaniards, producing an all-Spanish podium which approximated the race final at Jerez early in the year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

At least two things became immediately clear on Friday, as Petronas Yamaha prodigy Fabio Quartararo flirted with, then broke, the all-time track record at Silverstone, held by Marquez since 2017. First, the new racing surface is, as my dad used to say, “very adequate.” Second, Quartararo, who led both sessions, is fully capable of securing his first MotoGP win this weekend; the Yamaha contingent in general appears to love themselves some Silverstone.

(Note: I have been reluctant to jump on the Quartararo bandwagon with the readers who have, because I believe young Fabio still gets the yips at the end of close races. Until he displays the testicules d’acier one needs to stare down the likes of Marquez or Dovi on the last lap, he cannot be considered for an Alien card. Rins had to wait until his first win to receive his; it’s only fair. And he hasn’t yet won his first race. He may, in fact, be The New Kid in Town. He may be a flash in the proverbial pan. Too early to say.)

The track record took a pounding on Friday afternoon, then again, en masse, on Saturday morning. FP3 has ingeniously positioned itself as QØ. The last five minutes is a time attack on soft tires, trying to gain automatic entry to Q2, bypassing Q1 and being able to devote FP4 to race simulations. Friday afternoon saw four riders under the old record—Quartararo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi. On Saturday morning, 16 riders eclipsed the 2017 record, led by Fabio’s remarkable 1:58.547, 1.4 seconds faster than the target. There were four Yamahas in the top eight. Left out in the Q1 cold were names led by Dovizioso, Rins, and Nakagami; Jorge Lorenzo, limping around multiple seconds behind the leaders, must have been terrified. And this was all before FP4 and Q1. The weather was superb. There was a little rubber on the track.

Dovizioso and Rins made it through Q1 to set up an exhilarating Q2. With zeroes showing on the clock, and riders out on the track, the leaders, as best I recall, were Fabio, Rins and Vinales. Faster than you can blink your eyes, Rossi, Marquez and Jack Miller thundered across the finish line on to the front row, relegating the Frenchman and the two Spaniards to Row 2, juste comme ça. In the process, Marquez set yet another all-time track record, the fifth time this season he has done so in twelve rounds, one of which was wet. Rossi sitting second and Miller third set up a grand battle on Sunday, in which my two picks not named Marquez would start from P6 and P7. With the weather and the racing surface both close to perfect, Sunday’s race promised, well, more of what we’re used to, #93 taking the win and any of seven or eight other riders poised to join him on the rostrum, to carry his train, as it were. 

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Farther Down the Food Chain 

Valentino Rossi, his best days behind him and no threat to podium, managed to hold on to fourth place in front of countryman Franco Morbidelli and homeboy Cal Crutchlow, who said during the week he needs surgery, i.e., don’t come crying to him if you need a MotoGP win. Danilo Petrucci (P7) beat Jack Miller for Top Ducati of the Day to take the Taller Than Danny Di Vito Award for this week. Pol Espargaro and a shocking Andrea Iannone allowed KTM and Aprilia, respectively, to make token appearances in the top ten. Johann Zarco, in his season of discontent, took out fellow KTM peddler Miguel Oliveira on Lap 9, effectively ruining yet another Sunday for Pit Bierer & Co. [Sidebar: Aron Canet, currently toiling in Moto3, will someday wear KTM colors in MotoGP. Not this next year, but a year or two after that. Just sayin’.]

The Big Picture 

The 2019 championship staggered inexorably closer to the abyss today, as Marquez extended his series lead over the fallen Dovizioso to a game-over 78 points which, with a better script, would be 83. Rins took over third place from Petrucci and closed the distance between himself and Dovizioso. Vinales and Rossi are fighting amongst themselves for the honor of finishing fifth for the season. Miller, Quartararo and Crutchlow are tussling over P7. Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro are currently locked in a duel for the final spot in the top ten.

The Moto3 race today was, as usual, a barn-burner, with Marcos Ramirez sneaking across the line first, followed in close order by a hacked-off Tony Arbolino and Ramirez’ teammate Lorenzo dalla Porta, who leads the series by 14 points over Canet, whose own opportunity got skittled early in the race by Albert Arenas. Arbolino said in a post-race interview that he felt harshly treated by the two Leopard Hondas and swore revenge, perhaps as soon as Misano. This vendetta stuff among Italians is so pre-Renaissance.

Over in Moto2, Augusto Fernandez took advantage of a crash by series leader Alex Marquez to win in front of a clot of riders including Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and Remy Gardner. He took 25 points out of Marquez and now trails Little Brother by 35 points which, if nothing else, is less than 60. Lots of rumors flying around about Moto3 guys getting kicked up to Moto2 next year, including Ramirez and, of all people, Naughty Romano Fenati who, despite his trove of personality disorders, is fast on a motorcycle and would likely be excited beyond words to have 765cc roaring beneath him. More about that later. 

Today’s Tranches 

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Two Weeks Until Rimini

As summer draws to a close the flying circus returns to Italy, to the Adriatic Riviera, to one of the sweetest venues on the calendar. Beaches, mountains, San Marino has it all, not to mention one of the world’s great racetracks. Despite the boorish comportment of #93, we will find things to discuss as we close in on November. A great number of readers seem to care a lot about Valentino Rossi and KTM motorcycles; not sure why, but we’re always happy to host the discussion.

A Little Local Color

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Quartararo, guilty of littering, discards his Yamaha in front of Dovizioso.

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Sequence of blurry photos attempting to show how Rins punked Marquez at the end of today’s race.

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And a little eye candy for you troglodytes.

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MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen.      August 20, 2019

Maverick Viñales needs to make hay this Sunday 

It must be nice to be Marc Marquez, from a professional standpoint. He commands a multi-billion dollar industrial monolith to hand-build million-dollar motorcycles to his specifications, which are numerous and detailed. Everyone else, it seems, is always running for office, always defending their turf, always concerned about being unwillingly replaced. Even guys like Dovizioso and Viñales. Silverstone is a Viñales track. If Maverick wants to keep his Alien card, for openers he needs to podium in the British Grand Prix. 

To say Maverick Viñales, once the Heir Apparent, has had a difficult season would be no overstatement. In the first eight rounds of 2019 he accumulated 3 crashes and 40 points. He had a few assists on his DNFs, but he spent too much time early in races in heavy mid-pack traffic and has had difficulty qualifying on the front row. Yamaha, it is now clear, has lost a step, perhaps two. With all the changes set to occur by the end of the next silly season, it’s hard to tell whether Viñales or Yamaha would be less interested in continuing their relationship past 2020. And with Rossi entering retirement after next year, if not before, things are looking bright for the Petronas satellite boys, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

In case I haven’t mentioned it, and in order to continue avoiding the subject of Marc Marquez, my understanding of the post-Rossi era structure at Yamaha is that Petronas will become the name sponsor of the factory team, and that the satellite team will be a Rossi-driven, SKY-sponsored team. SIC (Sepang International Circuit, current co-sponsor of the satellite team) will be in there somewhere.

By my count, half of the current top ten riders are vulnerable heading into 2021, Viñales and Dovizioso among them. Dovizioso has a vice grip on second place but that’s not good enough for his bosses. Viñales has work to do if he intends to finish in the top three this year, below which contracts are a crap shoot. The 2019 silly season was a snore; 2020 promises to be anything but. 

Recent History at Silverstone

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag (Pol Espargaro vs. Loris Baz) on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Viñales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points.

Back in 2017, on another idyllic British après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso (in the midst of what was, in retrospect, his one-off dream season) won the British Grand Prix, pimping Viñales at the flag, with Rossi right there, too. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an ominous plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick.

Last year’s race, as many remember, was cancelled due to standing water. With no race results to share, I thought we might recap the decisive moves of the Safety Commission on that Sunday morning:

Silverstone SC send-up

KTM Bombshell—Collateral Damage

Shortly after the recent announcement that KTM would resource Moto3 and MotoGP, Johann Zarco called it a day with the Austrian team. Unable to make the RC16 work, and under a constant lashing from KTM’s Grand Gouda, Stephan Pierer, Zarco requested to be allowed out of his 2020 contract and the request was granted, apparently without prejudice. It is expected that Tech3 rookie Miguel Oliveira will get his ticket punched to the factory team. Brad Binder, the fast South African on his way to the MotoGP Tech3 team from Moto2, is currently on Craig’s List looking for a garage mate. Former Honda star and current KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa has declined.

Unless something turns up out of the blue (paging Alvaro Bautista in autumn of 2011) Zarco looks like he could be sitting out 2020. Too proud to accept a role as the #2 Repsol Honda rider a year ago, he ends up with a big old dent in his career.

Ducati & Yamaha: Trading Places Since 2017

Ever since Ducati debuted their MotoGP bike in the 2003 season, Yamaha has owned them (and most everyone else) on the track. Rossi and Lorenzo, mostly, whipping on guys like Capirossi, Dovizioso, Hayden, Rossi (!), etc. With the exception of Casey Stoner’s First Shining Moment in 2007 Yamaha would routinely stomp Ducati in the constructor’s championship. Here, in 2019, the tables have turned; actually, they turned last year. Honda wins these days, so the battle is, as is growing customary, for second place. Ducati won last year for the first time since 2003 and is winning again this year. It was, however, somewhat gratifying to read elsewhere that the consensus amongst Ducati engineering types is that it will take years to get the bike to turn, a notion we have thrown around here more than once. Remember the whole Bonneville Salt Flats riff? No? Never mind.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather is not supposed to be an issue this weekend, with temps expected in the upper 70’s and little chance of rain. I will continue to pound my fist on the table insisting that Marquez, Dovizioso and Viñales will end up on the podium. If Marquez doesn’t arrive in the top three, ain’t no big thing. If either of the other two fail, there will be fallout. (Between me and my bookmaker, that is.) But if either Dovi or Viñales fails to finish the race, that will be important.

In MotoGP, it’s survival of the fastest. We will be back on Sunday with results and analysis.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovi punks Marquez again in Austria 

In another classic late-race duel between the top two riders in MotoGP, Ducati royal Andrea Dovizioso went through on Repsol Honda savant Marc Marquez in the last turn for a heart-stopping win, his fifth in six close encounters of this kind.  Dovi’s first win since Round 1 in Qatar provided warm fuzzies by the gross for Ducati but had virtually no impact on the championship. The battle for second took a hit, as Dovizioso’s win put 36 points of daylight between him and teammate Danilo Petrucci.

Two streaks were up for grabs today. The first was a possible triple—Germany, Brno and Austria—for Marquez, which no one really wanted to see. The other was an Austrian four-peat for Ducati, to which many folks, including plenty in the grandstands, were looking forward. If one considers that German industrial monolith Audi owns Volkswagen Group, which, in turn, owns Lamborghini, which, in fact, owns Ducati, you could almost call it a home win for the locals, making it four in a row, Red Bull Ring remaining the only circuit on the calendar where Marquez has never won. Take that, scheißkopf. The “forever” part of that previous statement was negated this weekend when Dorna announced a new five-year deal with Red Bull for the Austrian Grand Prix. 

Screenshot (89)

Marquez and Dovizioso entering Turn 10, Lap 28.

Screenshot (92)

Same two riders exiting Turn 10.

Practice and Qualifying 

We learned one thing during FP1—the track record was going to get whacked on Saturday, weather permitting. Less than a second off during FP1, led by Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales. Miller, Rossi, Quartararo, Rins and Zarco all within 4/10ths of the Maverick. FP2 featured much of the same cast as Act I.

Saturday dawned as summer Saturdays do in Austria, clear and mild. FP3 would separate the lambs and the goats. At the end, the top nine riders were under 1:24. The last-minute maneuvering to avoid having to deal with QP1 left Cal Crutchlow, Miguel Oliveira and Franco Morbidelli disgruntled; Crutchlow, notably, gets a Chernobyl-like Zone of Exclusion around himself for 30 minutes after these things.

Lucky to automatically advance to Q2 along with The Usual Suspects were Valentino Rossi (on his last lap, as per usual), Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro, all of whom would say things went according to plan, all of whom were thanking their lucky stars they could sneak in one way or another. Marquez, late in FP3, on a pair of soft tires, turned a 1:23.251, a tenth off the track record, with Q2 yet to come. Ho hum.

Crutchlow and Pecco Bagnaia managed to advance through Q1, at the expense of rookie Miguel Oliveira, who had been salivating at the prospect of moving his KTM machine on to Q2 for the first time. The following is a recording: “Marc Marquez seized pole and set a new track record at (fill in before releasing) Red Bull Ring on Saturday, obliterating the field in the process.” He was joined on the front row by Fabulous Quartararo and Desperate Dovi and what looked increasingly like another Marquez clambake on tap for Sunday.

The Race

Lap 1 had too many changes to track, but at the end showed Quartararo leading Dovizioso, Rins, Miller and Marquez. Between Lap 1 and Lap 6, where the real action started, things got sifted. Dovi and Marquez went through on a hot and wide Fabulous after Rins had faded. Miller, running 4th, crashed out unassisted on Lap 8, promoting Rossi to 4th and Vinales to 5th. The three Yamahas held onto places 3-5 for the duration, with Quartararo earning his first premier class podium, holding off and showing up the factory riders yet again.

Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, on Lap 6, happily went off on their own for a cage match which would last until the dash to the flag. Two consummate professionals on million-dollar machines fighting for pride, in themselves, their countries, and their employers. For Marquez, consistently finding a way to lose these things would be a concern were he not usually leading his Italian rival by 50 points or so during most of them. After the race he was his usual gracious, intelligent self, but one suspects this whole getting-bombed-by-Dovi-in-the-last-turn thing is starting to get on his nerves.

KTM Bombshell

Over the weekend the Austrian hosts issued a bit of a release concerning their plans for 2020 and beyond. To wit, they would be re-branding all of their Moto3 bikes with the Husqvarna label, apparently in an effort to spur sales of Husky’s world-class dirt bikes. They casually mentioned that they would no longer provide chasses for Moto2 teams, leaving five teams and nine riders high and dry at this point. KTM says it will devote the resources freed up by these changes to building its MotoGP program and defending itself from lawsuits. For Herve Poncharal, with a Tech 3 team in both Moto2 and MotoGP, this was your basic good news/bad news weekend. He’s kind of screwed in Moto2 but life should improve in MotoGP, especially with today’s Moto2 winner, Brad Binder, replacing the hapless Hafizh Syahrin next year in MotoGP.

Sudden Silliness

Jack Miller, clearly jacked off about getting jacked around by Ducati concerning his bike and contract for next year, let it be known that his current employers are in discussions allegedly trying to re-acquire Jorge Lorenzo for the Pramac team next season. This rumor, which, if true, would set off a chain reaction in the paddock, appears to be getting put to rest, as the counter-rumor, that Ducati brass were flying in on Sunday to anoint the young Australian for another year, gained traction. The whole thing—Lorenzo to Pramac, Lorenzo to Petronas Yamaha (??), Miller to WSBK, Quartararo to Repsol, Tinkers to Evers to Chance—sounded fishy from the outset. Perhaps the salient point is to establish some interest between the parties in contracts that will begin in 2021.

You Say Tranches, I Say Tranches 

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

I’ve left Dovi in #2 because he’s just come off two of the best Ducati tracks on the calendar with his deficit to Marquez unchanged. Leaving Oliveira in #4 due to one solid outing; he needs to show me more. Cal Crutchlow is wearing me out, as is Aleix Espargaro; tired of making excuses for these guys. As they say in the dogsledding business, no matter where you’re harnessed, if you’re not the lead dog, the view’s pretty much the same.

On to Silverstone

Two weeks to the British Grand Prix, two weeks of listening to guys like Matt and Steve hammer on about Cal Crutchlow’s home race and the irrational exuberance of Sam Lowes. I will post some notes at Late-Braking MotoGP about the sensational Austrian Moto2 and Moto3 races later this week. In the meantime, as previously noted, we shall ignore MotoGP until such time as they see fit to provide us with a scrap of competition for the 2019 trophy.

A Little Local Color

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. August 6, 2019

Marquez brothers crushing it 

For the first time in recent memory, MotoGP enters a race weekend resigned to predictable results in both the premier and Moto2 classes. The Ducati contingent—Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller—will be tearing up the big bikes. Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. Alex Marquez will finish in the Moto2 money along with two other guys. The best race of the day will likely be the lightweights—ha!—of Moto3. 

Recent History in Austria 

Recent history at the Red Bull Ring has been, well, recent. The track re-joined the calendar in 2016 after an 18-year breach in the running of the Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Selecting Red Bull Ring as the sponsoring venue, with its nine or ten turns depending, gave Ducati Corse a bulletproof squat they could dominate with their eyes closed until KTM gets its hometown Austrian act together. In 2016, Ducati’s Dueling Andreas led the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the lush Austrian countryside, followed by everyone else. At the flag, Iannone handled Dovizioso (this was the year everyone but Scott Redding won a race) while a tumescent Spartan outgunned The Doctor for the last step on the podium.

2017 would have been a carbon copy lol of 2016 with the exception of Dovizioso winning, JLo taking Iannone’s seat and finishing fourth, and, ahem, those pesky, unwelcome factory Hondas, Marquez and Pedrosa, hogging the second and third steps on the podium. This was one of those races, similar to what we saw several times last year, when Marquez, in hot pursuit, and Dovizioso went knives-in-a-phonebooth, Spain vs. Italy, Honda vs. Ducati, and Dovi ended up on top, as he usually does. The kind of competition that gives motorcycle racing a good name.

For the third year in a row, MotoGP 2018 riders tried to dislodge Ducati Corse from the pronounced advantage they enjoy here. In 2016, it was Lorenzo who failed to flag down Iannone and Dovizioso. 2017 was Marquez trying valiantly, and ultimately failing, to overtake the determined Dovizioso. Last year, it was Marquez losing again by a tenth, this time to a rejuvenated Jorge Lorenzo, in a last lap duel that was entertaining, if not riveting. 

Sloppy Seconds from Brno 

Marquez brothers exhibition spin 2013 at Valencia

2014–Alex Marquez takes a victory lap at Valencia accompanied by Big Brother. Is it even conceivable that the two could be teammates in 2021?

Most of the conversations I’m hearing, standing in my kitchen by myself, have to do with Moto2 and especially Moto3; until further notice, MotoGP is essentially over for this year.

For those of you who haven’t noticed, Alex Marquez is currently doing to the Moto2 grid what his brother has been doing to MotoGP for the last few years—pummeling it into submission. He won the Moto3 title in 2014 at age 18, when Rabat won Moto2 and Marc won MotoGP, the three training partners on top of the world in Valencia. Alex was rumored to be faster than Marc; expectations for little brother were off the charts. He graduated to Moto2, to the high-profile Estella Galicia/Marc VDS team, then running Honda engines, and proceeded to lay eggs for four full years, becoming a poster child for Underachieving Little Brothers Everywhere. Things were heading that way again this year, capped by a P24 in Jerez, for God’s sake, when someone lit a fire beneath him.

The punching bag has become the knockout artist. Other than getting collected by BadAss Lorenzo Baldassarri at Assen, where he was fast again, he is undefeated since Le Mans, trying to convince the world—he’s convinced me—that he’s ready to move up. He has made the smart choice of staying in Moto2 for another year to wait for a winning bike on a winning team in 2021. He’s 23—it’s not like he’s old. He will be 24 when he hits MotoGP on a factory bike for someone (!). Redemption stories generally make one feel good, except here, where Moto2 suddenly provides no competitive relief from MotoGP.

Leaving things to Moto3, a class I ignored until, like, 2014. Back in the day the lightweights were running 125cc bikes that sounded like nuclear pencil sharpeners. Having owned and ridden an 80cc Yamaha (top speed, pegged, maybe 50 mph with chunks of the head gasket flying off) I had no respect for riders on such small bikes. Imagine my horror upon reading that, way back in the day, guys were famously winning 50cc championships.

The switch this year in Moto2 from 600cc Honda to 765cc Triumph engines seems to have inspired a number of Moto3 riders to aggressively position themselves for promotions. One cannot imagine a Moto3 racer not wanting to saddle up on a big Triumph, with around three-quarters of the grunt of a premier class bike. For them, if 250cc is fun, 765cc would be a lot more fun.

The list of Moto3 riders with credible resumes for Moto2 gigs is long. Names like Aron Canet, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Niccolò Antonelli, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia  and Marcos Ramirez. John McPhee. Even Romano Fenati, for whom the lithium seems to be helping, would be the devil himself on a Moto2 bike. There were moments during the Brno race where Arbolino and Antonelli were trading moves, and it was impossibly good stuff. My notes— “these two guys can ball.” Canet and young Masia are KTM guys the Austrians rightly see as having bright futures.

Here’s the deal. These guys all need to earn a promotion to a credible Moto2 team for next season. Then, they need to do well in Moto2 right away, unlike, say, Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, whom I had expected to be consistently top ten this year. And the Jack Millerreason is the MotoGP contracts mostly roll over after the 2020 season. Late next year is a prime opportunity to catch a MotoGP ride for 2021-22. And you really can’t do it from Moto3. Had he not podiumed last week, I would have played the “Paging Jack Miller” card here. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather for metropolitan Spielberg this weekend calls for temps in the low 70’s with the best chance of rain on Saturday, much like last week. Hard core fans like me will watch the MotoGP and Moto2 races for information rather than enjoyment. The fun will be in Moto3, and the weather doesn’t really matter, as any of a dozen different riders will have a chance of winning regardless of the conditions. Last week at one point the lead group consisted of 17 riders. Dalla Porta and Canet lead the championship by a mile, but no lead is safe in Moto3. Too bad it comes on at 5 am EDT, 2 am PDT. I will be getting up early on Sunday; I expect some of you will be staying up late on Saturday.

Whatever. We’ll have results and analysis right here after the races. After many of you old MOrons sleep it off.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone 

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 29, 2019

The “battle” for second place starts now 

With 58 points in hand and things generally going his way, Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez is unlikely to throw the 2019 world championship down the road. Let’s put on blinders and refocus our attention and interest on the fight for second place. After all, this is MotoGP. Second-best in the world is nothing to sneeze at. If this were March Madness, it would be like playing on Monday night. You might lose by 30 but at least you were there. Put it this way—it’s better than just beating your teammate.

Marquez at sachsenring

The factory Ducati team of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci is sitting pretty with 127 and 121 points, respectively, Petrucci telling everyone “I told you so” after years of perdition. Next comes the reckless, but not wreckless, Alex Rins, with expensive DNFs in his last two races, at 101 points. Vinales had lately been hot at Assen and Sachsenring, but his season was in tatters until then, and he sits with 85. Rossi has 80 points. People no longer wonder out loud whether Valentino will win another title. They are reduced to arguing whether he will win another race, which is an editorial on How Things Are.

Recent History at Brno 

2016: With three wet/dry races in the previous four rounds, MotoGP fans had been getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  At dry Brno, the abrasive #CalCulator, on the LCR Honda, won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez, who set another new track record during quals.  Karma prevailed—the biggest day in modern British motoracing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season standings.

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much weather-related pre-race drama, turned out to be a six-lap affair with a 16-lap warm-down. Afterwards, many of the attendees berated themselves for wasting all that money on such a crummy day at the track. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best weather guy of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead early on Lap 6 and never looked back. This was another example of how his crew had the #2 bike fitted the way the rider wanted without any communication from him. Pretty awesome crew. Again.

Dovi Lorenzo Marquez Brno 2018

Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez Brno 2018

Still one of Europe’s elite racing venues, Brno gave 140,000 fans a thoroughly enjoyable MotoGP race last year. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo put a heavy Ducati doubleteam on series leader Marc Marquez as all three ended up on the podium. Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow had their own little late-in-the-day tête-à-tête for fourth place, won by Vale. Marquez, who finds a way to win while losing, extended his season lead over Rossi to 49 points.

After last year, one might expect the factory Ducatis to dominate again this year, and that may happen. But Marquez will surely be in the mix, Vinales is likely to be fast, and Rins will show us how grown up he is by how long he keeps the bike upright. Marquez is the one of these five contenders who would be least unhappy to finish fifth, as the others are desperate for a win. Unfortunately for them, they are not allowed to affix blinders and ignore the remarkable Marquez. None, however, seems willing or able to challenge #93 early in a race, perhaps force him into a mistake that puts him back in mid-pack and reduces the probability of another boorish Repsol Honda win. Madness reigns on the grid—the top guys keep doing the same things, expecting different results, their best simply not good enough. Meanwhile, Marquez has his sights set on a fourth consecutive world championship and could seriously care less about the outcome of a particular race at this point, Catalunya having already passed.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Jonas Folger—earning a full-time gig in Moto2. He should contend quickly. He was good enough in Moto2 years ago to earn a promotion to MotoGP and would probably still be there had it not been for some serious health issues which have since been resolved. Good onya, Jonas.

Brad Binder—earned a promotion from KTM’s factory Moto2 team to the Tech 3 MotoGP team, to be riding alongside Miguel Oliveira. For Hafizh Syahrin, MotoGP was nice while it lasted. KTMs are the new career-killers, replacing Ducati. Zarco will leave tarnished after next season; Espargaro and Oliveira resemble lifers. Binder does not seem quite ready to me, but Syahrin was going nowhere. Put a South African on the grid, lose a Malaysian. In the words of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, “’ts all good, man.”

Jorge Lorenzo to miss two more rounds recovering from cracked vertebrae. Off in the distance, if you listen carefully, you can hear a bell tolling. It tolls for Jorge.

2020 is looking more and more like Andrea Iannone’s last year in MotoGP. Dude would rock in WSBK.

Is it just me, or is the silly season pretty much over for next year? Does anyone think Alex Marquez will be some kind of force in MotoGP even a year from now?

Your Weekend Forecast 

Weather in Brno for the weekend looks, in the words of Steve and Matt, “a bit iffy.” Rain in the area with temps in the upper 70’s. Don’t know about you, but it sounds like Marquez weather to me. His favorite conditions are, in his words, “whatever.”

There is no reason both Dovizioso and Petrucci shouldn’t be on the podium, with Vinales and Rins in the top five. They’ve had three weeks to do stuff to the bikes. Even Crutchlow should be feeling pretty good now, ready for the chase for second. Rossi needs to find a way into Q2. Period. No longer any need to worry about Lorenzo, injured former-Alien, in 2019. Looks, however, like a great opportunity for Stefan Bradl to pile up some points for the Repsol Honda team, perhaps for the remainder of the season.

Speaking of Aliens, Rossi has become an Alien Emeritus. Boom. Vinales, Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins would all be considered Aliens in a non-Marquezian world. As denizens of Tranche 2, however, can they still be considered Aliens, or are we down to one Alien and a handful of super-strong, untitled, unfortunate riders?

Hard to say. All we know for sure is that hope springs eternal in the hearts of those in Tranche 2. As for Sunday’s race, I would bet a small trifecta of Petrucci to win, Dovizioso to place, and Marquez to show, similar to last year. Yamahas in fourth and fifth.

We’ll see if any of this happens—results and analysis—right here after the race.

MotoGP: Rossi Getting Overtaken

July 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen    July 17, 2019

Here are results for the four Yamaha riders since the championship returned to Europe:

ROSSI RESULTS JEREZ - SACHSENRING

The Petronas satellite riders, Quartararo and Morbidelli, are on used chasses fitted with new engines, and are more than capable of holding their own with the 2019 factory bikes. The Yamaha racing effort has been on an upswing since Assen, and now looks capable of competing again with Honda and Ducati. And Suzuki.

Testing coming up at Brno on the 2020 M1 prototype. Suppose for the sake of argument the new bike is a second quicker than the current one. Does Rossi still have what it takes, along with guys like Marquez and Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro, and Danilo Petrucci to wrestle these machines to where they obey you? Is there any reason to expect that the rest of the 2020 team won’t also be a second or so faster as well?  The point is, even if the new bike is great, it is not likely to propel him past all three of his brand-mates. Vinales and Quartararo appear to be the real deal, and the Frenchman is exactly half Rossi’s age. Even if you just add Marquez, Rins and Dovizioso to the mix, Rossi’s still fighting for, what? Sixth?

Rossi must find the idea of fulfilling his 2020 contract to be irresistible. A victory lap for a hall-of-fame career. A bright future as a team owner and industry heavy. Perhaps, over the season, a moment or two of heroic riding, moments that remind us of when he was the New Kid in Town, the Fastest Gun in the West, The Doctor., when such moments were routine, and the bells of Tavullia were ringing seemingly every summer Sunday afternoon.

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

There will never be another like him.

The Rossi Era has given way to the Marquez Era which, as far off as it seems today, will give way to the Next Era which, once Marquez has finally surrendered the top spot, might be subject to a variety of champions over the following period of years, featuring names like Quartararo, Rins, Mir and a handful of Italian graduates from the VR46 riders academy on Rossi’s ranch.

At the risk of tempting fate and earning the ire of the many Rossi worshipers still out there, I think he’s already won his last MotoGP race, at Assen in 2017. The Brno test that has everyone on edge probably won’t mean much for Rossi in 2020. And so it goes. Fabio Quartararo, against all odds, may be The New Kid in Town. Eagles 1976

The Evolution of Romano Fenati

July 12, 2019

© Bruce Allen July 12, 2019

Image result for romano fenati

Photo courtesy Motorsport.com

Let me assure you that at some point we will actually discuss Romano Fenati. He’s a rider in the Moto3 World Championship currently in 17th place, his year ruined by four consecutive DNFs beginning at COTA and ending, for now, at Mugello. He has been de-fanged.

But first I want to talk about human evolution from early on, when all we had was what I refer to as “lizard brain,”–highly reactive, split-second decisions and reactions with incomplete information, damn-the-torpedoes, here goes nothing, etc. You get the picture. Fight or flee. Over eons, as a species, our intellectual capabilities have evolved to where we rely almost exclusively on reason, rather than reaction. We revert to our “lizard brain” under moments of extreme stress. We flood. And there are, it seems, varying, recognizable levels of evolution at work in individuals, one of whom bears mentioning is Fenati.

If we assert an evolutionary continuum on a scale with “lizard brain” on the left and, say, John Le Carré on the right, I would assert that Fenati’s lineage is, for some reason, less-highly evolved than most professional motorcycle riders. Farther to the left. This being the case, he has, at least in the recent past, seen his lizard brain take over things and, for instance, reach over to hit Stefano Manzi’s brake lever at 200 km/h during a race. Hitting some other guy’s kill switch during practice. The problem is not Fenati’s behavior which, itself, is, in fact, a problem–The Red Mist. The real problem is that Fenati’s problem–overly-quick reversion to lizard brain during races–is evolutionary in nature an unlikely to be “fixed” in this century.

He made a run at a Moto3 world title in 2017 at the age of 21, finishing second for the year, brave in the extreme, earning a reputation by passing other riders on the outside of turns. But he was snappish, overly aggressive at times, typical “little guy” mentality. Probably came up either poor or rich in a chaotic environment, which he unconsciously seeks to repeat in his current life. In 2018 he lost his license for the episode with Manzi and appeared to be headed out of grand prix racing. But he was later welcomed back by his team, looking forward to an exciting 2019 season. Which has since turned to, uh, dust.

Fenati is, I think, a gifted athlete with a bad temper and no accountability. Now that he’s “mellow,” he’s no good on the track. Compare him to Eric Clapton, who was a much better guitarist when he was a junkie than later when he got clean. Perhaps this is only a maturity issue for the young Italian, but it is an issue nonetheless. To be meandering in 17th place after a year in Moto2 and a strong Moto3 season in 2017 tells me Samson’s hair has been cut.

He had Alien written all over him in 2017. Not any more.

I’m glad I’m not Romano Fenati. It is a hard thing to watch the guy on track, struggling, waiting for his tires to go off, waiting for him to go off.

Dovi wins the hard ones, Marquez wins the easy ones

July 9, 2019

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There is a point in here somewhere. We use the total number of turns in the race as a proxy for overall difficulty. Any blivet can ride a motorcycle straight down the road. It’s in the turns where these guys make a living.

Ranking the difficulty of the tracks, with Argentina the median, we see that four of Dovizioso’s most recent five wins have come at the most demanding circuits, while six of Marquez’s last nine have came at or below the median. Marquez wins the easy ones. (I deleted Vinales, Rins, Petrucci and Lorenzo as not being statistically significant.)

Over the past 12 months, the world has been Marquez’s oyster. Dovi might have had himself a world title or two in ’17 and ’18 if only. But he now holds exactly zero track records, suggesting that the Hondas at least have caught up in top-end speed, and suggesting further that young Fabio could be the next big thing.

There’s an image on Motorcycle.com showing Marquez, Vinales and Rins in a turn, with #93 hugging the ground, with #42 riding almost straight up, with #12 in the middle both ways. The Suzuki seems to allow Rins to ride more vertically/less scarily. Marquez demonstrates that the combobulation of man and machine is what makes him so fast. I’m pretty sure combobulation is a word, since discombobulation and re-combobulation clearly are. You have to go through security at the Milwaukee Airport for that last one.

Reaching at this point, perhaps the graphic is best interpreted as illustrating the difference, not those of the riders, but of the manufacturers, between being fast and being quick. The Ducati is fast, no doubt about that one. The RC213V is, at least in Marquez’s hands, remarkably quick in tight, point-and-shoot circuits. Out of 19 rounds, there are probably half a dozen that are neutral for the two brands, with maybe eight having advantages for Honda and five doing so for the Ducati cadre. This is now starting to reflect itself in the track records analysis.

Track records after Nine rounds 2019

 

*Qualifying in 2019 at Le Mans was on a wet track. Excluded from calculations.

With five new track records in eight rounds, it appears the riders are adapting to the Michelins. The older records at the four venues last on the schedule reflect the increasingly demanding nature of the Pacific swing, as well as the aggregate loss of motivation accompanying, say, the early clinching of a championship by you know who.

Tune in later this week when we discuss the evolution of the human brain from its lizard origins by looking at Renato Fenati in comparison to the rest of the riders on the Moto3 grid.

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

For the tenth year in a row, The Sachsenring lay down and gave it away to Marc Marquez, who didn’t even have to buy it a wrist corsage. Starting, as usual, from pole, Marquez seized the lead on the back side of the first turn, entered the express lane, and never broke a sweat on his way to the win and a ghastly, dispiriting 58-point lead as the series heads for summer vacation.  

Worse yet, French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his first premier class race and was unable later to locate his lopsided grin. 

For quite a while, it appeared my pre-race podium prediction of Marquez, Rins and Vinales would come up a winner, until Rins once again crashed out of a podium unassisted in Lap 19, a week after having done so in Assen. In so doing, he has removed himself from championship consideration and must now keep an eye on Joan Mir, who may be entertaining thoughts of becoming the #1 rider for the factory Suzukis. But Cal Crutchlow, who arrived at the weekend having seriously injured himself at home opening a can of paint, took advantage of Rins’ gaffe to usurp the third step on the podium. Mir, who spent much of the day in the second group, finished seventh, showing more progress, moving up the learning curve. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was more or less predictable for 2019. Quartararo, Marquez, Rins and Vinales were all sniffing around the top of the sheet. Marquez was the only one to put in a lap in the 1:20’s, within half a second of his 2018 track record, on Day 1. Pecco Bagnaia had a heavy crash late in FP1 which kept him out of FP2 but allowed him back for a cautious FP3. Crutchlow arrived in town hobbled by a non-riding accident suffered at home. Wanker.

Repsol Honda slotted homeboy Stefan Bradl in Lorenzo’s seat. With Fabio and Maverick sitting in the top five at the end of the day, FP3 on Saturday would determine whether Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, a tenuous 10th on the day, would have to fight and claw his way into Q2 or would pass smoothly, naturally, like a field mouse through an owl. We also learned of Danilo Petrucci’s well-deserved new contract for 2020 with the factory Ducati team. Bravo, Danilo! 

FP3 delivered guys like Marquez, Quartararo, Vinales and Rins directly to Q2, consigning, yet again, the famously struggling Valentino Rossi, along with Dovizioso and Zarco to the fighting and clawing of Q1. Even with his back to the wall, Rossi is unable to coax the same speed out of the M1 as Vinales and either of the satellite guys. He does not appear to have lost much overall, but the quick thin blade, flashed so often at the end of races as he routinely snatched victory from less-confident foes, is gone. If you’re leading a race and have a handful of gunners chasing you, including Rossi, Vale is no longer your primary concern. Of particular interest at the end of the session was Quartararo, on the gas, apparently injuring his left shoulder on another “tank-slapper,” as the Brits call them. Shades of Assen. Marquez was caught flirting with his 2018 track record at the end of the session.

Rossi appeared determined to make it out of Q1 and did so. Andrea Dovizioso, watching his faint title hopes fade, appeared determined, too, to make it out of Q1 and would have, were it not for the heroic efforts of one Takaa Nakagami, riding when he should be in traction, stealing Dovi’s ticket to Q2 well after the checkered flag had flown.

The new group of Usual Suspects—Vinales, Rins, Quartararo—took turns going after Marquez’s soft-tire lap times during Q2, to no avail. The Catalan made it ten-for-10 on pole in Germany, joined on the front row by Quartararo and Vinales. Row two would be comprised of Rins, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.  Rossi could do no better than P11, the weakest of the four Yamahas in the first four rows. Oh, and just for the record, Marquez on Saturday set a new track record for motorcycles at the Sachsenring. 

The Race 

This German Grand Prix was no work of art, a high-speed procession punctuated by falls from rather high-profile riders. Rookies Quartararo and Oliveira both crashed out in Lap 2, though the Portuguese rider would re-enter the race, for whatever reason. KTM sad sack Johann Zarco crashed out at the same spot a lap later. Pecco Bagnaia went walky on Lap 8, taking himself out of points contention.

But it was Rins, all alone in second place, laying his Suzuki down on Lap 19. Crutchlow could never catch Vinales. Dovizioso could never catch Petrucci. And no one currently living could catch Marc Marquez, who was thinking about COTA and how he would not let that happen today. 

The Big Picture 

The big picture is as ugly as an outhouse on an August afternoon. With 58 points in hand at the clubhouse turn, Marquez could leave his woods in a locker and walk the back nine with just a putter, a wedge, a three-iron, a seven-iron and a sleeve of Titleists in a Saturday bag and win the club championship. While the riders scrambling for a top-ten finish in 2019 are sweating blood, Marquez makes this hugely demanding, physically debilitating job look easy, effortless. His team is a well-oiled machine that never looks stressed out. He stops on his way to the garage to get his picture taken with a four-year old boy wearing #93 gear. I’m pretty much convinced he hasn’t started shaving yet. He lives with his brother. Haters hate him because he’s got mad skills. Haters gonna hate. Just sayin’.

Beyond Marquez, you have a bunch of riders with significant pedigrees snapping and tearing at one another over scraps. Last week I observed how some celebrants—OK, it was Vinales—were celebrating having held Marquez to 20 points. Today, the remaining Aliens and top tenners seem relieved to have held Marquez to a mere 25 points. For the rest of the paddock, The Sachsenring has become like Phillip Island was to Casey Stoner and how Mugello once was to Valentino Rossi.

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

This is the week when we come clean and give Marc Marquez his own tranche.

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

* * * 

MotoGP now hobbles off to summer vacation, a number of riders to lick wounds, several to entertain existential crises, and others to just chase women and enjoy being young, wealthy and in shape. We, obviously, will be hanging with the latter group. Should anything noteworthy occur during the interlude, I shall faithfully report on it at Late-Braking MotoGP, your site for all the stuff not good enough to make it to the pages of Motorcycle.com. We’ll have a preview of the Brno round here at the end of the month. Ciao.

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen   July 2, 2019

Universe Needs Marquez to Slide Out Sunday 

Here we go again. Up by 44 heading to The Sachsenring, a Marquez clambake in the works. Aliens celebrate winning a race while holding #93 to 20 points, suggesting 2019 has already been conceded. 

Marquez at sachsenring

Worse yet, Marquez can afford to play things a little safe, which he thankfully won’t. This situation will require a joust, in which a rider, say Alex Rins, decides to go one-on-one with Marquez in the early corners, looking for trouble, likely to find it. Vinales escaped with his life at Assen, despite his best performance in ages. For this to be a season, it will require more. It will require a duel. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine. 

Let us light a candle in gratitude for Marquez having put it on the floor while easily leading at COTA, another personal sandbox. Track conditions contributed to that fall, and he is unlikely to make that mistake again soon; once he takes the lead he often gets away. Had he gone on to win in Texas, he would now have 185 points. To Dovi’s 114. When Dovi takes him on for the win, late in races, he’s gone four for five. It can be done. It just needs to be done early in the race, with the same level of aggression Marquez shows the other riders. There needs to be some contact. Moto3 stuff. Catalunya stuff, with Marquez caught up in it. Something.

The “young lion” image has found its way into the comments on these articles. On Sunday, one of the young guns—Quartararo, Rins, Vinales, Mir—needs to announce his intention to become the new alpha male, at some point, early in the next decade most likely, just sayin’. Although ten straight wins in Germany would be something to see.

Business as usual will find young Marquez, world by the balls, leaving for summer vacation leading the series by at least 49 points. Racing fans will start going for long, solitary rides instead of watching more of The Marquez Show. Fortunately for me, keeping readers engaged in this “analysis” does not require the championship be at all competitive. The wonderful handful of folks who actively track MotoGP at Motorcycle.com demand so little… 

Recent History 

2016 in Saxony was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate tire, The Taint, for those less civilized amongst you.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

Two years ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. Real competition in the premier class.

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. Same as the previous year. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Viñales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP made the turn heading for the back, um, 10, which would start at Brno in August. And we all know how that turned out. 

Chatter 

Most of the noise I’ve been hearing this week concerns Jorge Lorenzo’s future in racing. Going all Black Knight in an effort to unseat Marquez at the top of the Honda heap? WSBK? No. Decide it’s not worth his future mobility to try to be the best again? Understand that if he were to leave Honda his only possible destination would be with, like, Avintia. There will be no satellite Suzuki team in 2020. Maybe Zarco bails at KTM—would The Spartan wish to go from the Japanese frying pan to the Austrian fire?

MotoGP.com is jocking the general competitiveness of the 2019 season—five riders on four different bikes—both factory Ducatis—gracefully sidestepping the fact that Marquez leads by 44. I find it almost physically painful to read the articles on the MotoGP site. They reflect a top-down assignment of “interest” articles—’gimme 200 words on how competitive the season is, blah blah blah’—without nuance or wit. Some poor Spanish bastard is working in a second language trying to make it sound right. Which is to say, sound British. Which should be funny but isn’t.

They could hire me to turn the English translation into a stand-up routine. I’ve almost always been very complimentary of Sr. Ezpeleta.

Over at Moto2 and Moto3

Assen was eventful in both classes. Tony Arbolino seized a razor’s edge win from Lorenzo Dalla Porta, allowing Aron Canet to maintain his narrow lead in the 2019 chase. It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone from the current top ten won the title this year. People who turn their noses up at the lightweight classes miss those ground level camera shots that show the Moto3 bikes flying past, Doppler effect in full force, literally a blur.

In Moto2, our old buddy Tom Luthi took back the lead in the series as prior leader Alex Marquez was knocked out of the race by BadAss Baldassarri, with things getting a little physical in the gravel trap. There are perhaps five or six riders capable of winning in 2019. Apparently, Marc Marquez is lobbying hard for brother Alex to receive a seat on the 2021 Pramac team. I failed to write it down, but one of the Japanese riders made a comically-ridiculous save after getting tagged, nothing connecting him to his bike but his hands.                          

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for the greater Hohenstein-Ernstthal metro is for clear and cool conditions over the weekend. 70°. The great equalizer. There was a day in MotoGP when riders would routinely exit the pits on a cool morning and crash before ever getting their tires warmed up. You don’t see nearly enough of that stuff these days. The cool weather will, to some extent, help the Yamahas and take away an advantage for the Hondas. It pains me to say it, but on Sunday’s podium with Marquez I’m seeing Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins. None of the war horses, the grizzled veterans, the legends in their own minds.

The MotoGP world is being re-shaped before our eyes. Quartararo, Mir and Nakagami and Bagnaia are standing in the wings. Now, if someone could just do something about that pesky Marquez guy, we could have a helluva series. We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results, analysis and purloined photos.

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MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Screenshot (196)

Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

A few random photos from Assen

Screenshot (193)Screenshot (189)Screenshot (199)Screenshot (201)

 

MotoGP Assen Preview

June 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen    June 24, 2019

Assen—A Good Place for an Upset 

We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates—Bradley Smith—and rivals—Jorge Lorenzo—with them. With Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen? 

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday portends more of the usual. 

Notes from Catalunya 

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well—scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10. 

Recent History at Assen 

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race—two in a row for The Netherlands—was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group—take THAT, Moto3—and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Maverick Vinales, about whom plenty has been said already. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents cannot be said to have a preference. 

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Vinales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.”  But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral. Forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Vinales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

So near and not so far away?

June 19, 2019

© Bruce Allen     June 19, 2019

Okay, so maybe Nick Harris has lost a step. His headline writer certainly has. But he has still forgotten more about this sport than I’ve ever known. In his unceasing efforts to be as British as possible he has painted himself into a corner with this headline which, though somewhat overused, generally drops the “not” so that it makes some ironic sense, at least. So near, and yet so far away. Cue Gone with the Wind: Oh, Ashley, oh, Ashley…

“Hey Nick how’s it going over there? How about 500 woids on this new Frenchie kid Quasimoto by Monday? Tanks.” MotoGP.com would probably be very unhappy with any product I might deliver under such conditions in the unlikely event they were to ever make the offer. I would, however, give them a better headline. “Rookie Quartararo barges into contention!”

Capture

Image courtesy of MotoGP.com

 

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Avoids Bedlam, Cruises at Montmelo 

Marc Marquez was probably going to win the Catalan GP anyway. But once Repsol Honda teammate Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo skittled Andrea Dovizioso and both factory Yamaha riders out of the proceedings on Lap 2, it was done and dusted in Barcelona. The Catalan’s lead in the world championship ballooned from 12 to 37 points. Valencia is groaning, joined by most of the rest of the motorcycle racing world. Here we go again. 

After the Lap 2 histrionics, an exhausting battle for second place developed, won by insolent French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, who, starting from pole, edged Ducati veteran Danilo Petrucci for the honor of his first premier class podium. Eleven riders failed to finish today, which explains some of the other confusing point hauls. There were a host of hard feelings filling the air after the race; plenty of riders felt they deserved better. Not to mention the caustic fact that Marc Marquez was the main beneficiary of Lorenzo’s gaffe, allowing him to put his boot on the throat of the 2019 championship. Ain’t nobody need that. 

Practice and Qualifying 

The fact that 20-year-old rookie Quartararo dominated the practice timesheets again, on both days at Montmelo, two weeks after surgery for arm pump, needs to stop arriving as a surprise, at least to me. In November of last year, as the last promotee signed, I considered him the least qualified of the four Moto2 riders making the leap. Still sporting stitches, he captured FP1:P2  FP2:P1 FP3:P2  FP4:P1. Has a certain symmetry to it. He has been doing stuff like this all year, then going out and making a mess of qualifying or making rookie mistakes in races.

Marquez conducted a bit of a race simulation on worn tires for most of FP2 after leading FP1, cruising home knowing he had the pace, if needed, to improve on his combined P9 position heading into Saturday. Dovi, Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda, veteran Pol Espargaro keeping his KTM upright, and rookie underachiever Pecco Bagnaia (four DNFs in six rounds) delivered impressive performances on Friday and comprised a rather surprising top five (four behind Quartararo).

MotoGP, at all three levels, has developed three qualifying sessions, two official and one, um, ex officio, as it were. The scramble to pass directly to Q2 makes FP3 its own qualifier, as it was here on Saturday. It produced good news for several riders, and not so good news, on the lamb-goat continuum, for others. FP3 begets Q1 begets Q2.

Q1 would include names like Miller, Nakagami and Morbidelli, three young guns who had lit it up on Friday. Drive for show, putt for dough. Aleix, rookie Bagnaia and the hapless, likely-to-be-bought-out/defector Johann Zarco (“Chumley, get me OUTTA HERE!”), effing around in 19th. Sylvain Guintoli, guesting with Suzuki, enjoying the experience, once again, of beating someone at something, posterizing my boy, the apparently doomed Hafizh Syahrin, lately of Tech 3 KTM, who has WSBK written all over him. Sometimes I just go on and on.

In Q1, Morbidelli and Joan Mir won promotions to Q2, at the expense of Pramac Ducati representatives Miller and Bagnaia. As usual, Q2 was worth the price of admission all by itself. When the dust cleared, it was the New Kid in Town, Quartararo, on his second premier class pole, sandwiching Marquez between Yamahas, Vinales sitting in third. Morbidelli, Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso comprised the all-Italian second row. Alex Rins had a great shot at a front row start but crashed during his second Q2 run and would start in P8.

After the session Vinales was penalized three grid spots for impeding Quartararo, who had already clinched pole. This is what is meant by the term “unforced error.” Another example of why Vinales is still not an Alien. 

The Race 

Dovizioso and Marquez shared the holeshot, with the Italian emerging from Turn 1 in the lead, which wouldn’t last. Almost nothing would, as riders began hitting the deck almost immediately. Bradley Smith, guest-crashing for Aprilia and his victim Karel Abraham—boom. Lorenzo and victims Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi—boom. Aleix Espargaro—pffft. Hafizh Syahrin—boom. Pecco Bagnaia—boom. Franco Morbidelli—boom. And, not to be outdone, having just moved past Jack Miller into P4, Cal Crutchlow—boom. Cal’s analyst says it’s poppycock to suggest he’s afraid of success.

With a plurality of these unseated riders lolling in the top ten for the year, rookie Joan Mir captured 10 points in a gratifying P6. Pol Espargaro snagged nine points for the desperate KTM project. Takaa Nakagami, Tito Rabat (?) and the morose Johann Zarco closed out the top ten. Mir and Zarco both had their best day of the season, by default. 

The Big Picture 

After seven rounds, with Assen in two weeks and The Sachsenring in three, the big picture is sucking. Hard. Once again, Marquez has become metronomic, and once again the rest of the grid is proving itself completely unable to cope. Sure, it was fun to see Danilo Petrucci win at Mugello and Rins at COTA. OK, I enjoyed Marquez getting pimped by Dovizioso in the desert back in March. But, come on. It is intellectually dishonest to purport that any rider out there this season is going to seriously challenge Marquez for the 2019 title.

So why watch? Well, despite the artistry of Marquez himself, there is the scrotum-shrinking speed. There is the arrival of bright young talent, guys like Quartararo, Rins, Mir, Morbidelli and more. There is the top-to-bottom improvement in the grid, illustrated this week by Fabio Quartararo and Hafizh Syahrin during qualifying. Rocketman Quartararo seized pole with a lap time of 1:39.48. Syahrin dragged his hopeless derriere across the line in 24th position clocked at 1:41.75.

There is no justice in this world.

There is, however, a contest worth watching in an emerging battle for second place. The factory Ducatis of Dovi and Petrucci are separated by five points, with Great Suzuki Hope Alex Rins also in the midst. Not mist, midst. If Marquez is going to run off and hide again this year, at least these three appear capable of providing some civilized competition in 2019. 

Tranches 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone 

The Undercards, Briefly 

Moto3 was a battle of attrition and as good a race as one is likely to see in the motorcycle biz. The 12th different winner in the last 12 rounds, Marcos Ramirez, won his maiden grand prix. Series leader Aron Canet managed to stay upright and accrued 20 points on a day when several of his competitors hit the deck. Young SKY46 VR racing academy grad Celestino Vietti started 21st and finished third. 31 starters were winnowed down to 19 finishers, three of whom re-mounted after offs. And your boy John McPhee got whacked and recorded The Save of the Decade, left leg pointed straight up in the air at one point, well off track; unbelievable stuff.

In Moto2 today, series leader Alex Marquez overcame a relatively poor start to win his third race in a row, outdueling veteran Tom Luthi in a bit of a procession. Lorenzo Baldassarri, who led the series until today, recorded yet another DNF, his third of the year, to go along with three wins, and would be well advised to stay away from proffered microphones, as his speaking voice brings to mind the Italian term, “castrato.” Dude has a kind of Graham Nash thing going on. 

Two Weeks to Assen 

Two weeks until Assen gets another opportunity to Keep Things Weird. In order to even maintain a pretense of suspense, it is important that someone other than Marquez take the gold medal in the Low Countries. Unusual names like Spies and Miller have appeared on the top step at The Cathedral in the not-too-distant past. The Yamahas and Suzukis enjoy this place; Marquez is mouthing words about how it will be so, so difficult to win in two weeks.

Pure shinola, of course. We’ll “be there” nonetheless, watching all the sessions, sending cosmic motivation to the challengers. For now, the universe is aligned in Marquez’ favor; we can only shake our heads in wonder. So we shall pay a visit to The Cathedral, lifting up a novena for a competitive second half of the season.

PHOTOS, UM, OBTAINED BY BRUCE ALLEN

Catalunya

Catlunya front lot

Catalunya at nightCatalunya back lotCatalunya3Catalunya2

The Women of Catalunya

AbrahamBagnaiaCanetEspargaroGardnerMarquezMillerMonsterMorbidelliQuartararoSchrotterVinales

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen.

It’s Officially Marquez vs. The World 

When it comes to motorcycle racing, a number of readers fail to understand, or simply don’t care about, the underlying resentments in the relationship between Catalonia, once its own country, and Spain. Increasingly-vocal Catalans take this stuff seriously and personally. For them, being a Catalan is different (and far better) than being a freaking Spaniard. Similar to the Basque situation in northern Spain. So, when they line up under the red lights on Sunday afternoon, Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, both Espargaros and Tito Rabat will be, for an hour or so, brothers in arms. Motto: Beat the hell out of the Spaniards and crush the Italians! 

If Catalonia was indeed its own country it would easily lead the world in grand prix motorcycle racing champions per capita. As for Marquez, Catalan to the core,  though he’s only collected one premier class win here, he’s been on the podium regularly, save for 2015 when he crashed out, suffering under the influence of an unrideable chassis. Jorge Lorenzo used to win here all the time with Yamaha and got his first win here with Ducati last year. But looking at his results this year on the Honda, it’s amazing we’re even talking about him.

Lorenzo 2019 to date

 

 

 

Even though Suzuki up-and-comer Alex Rins has only a DNS and a DNF here, it is the type of track that suits him, never mind the whole nationalistic/inspirational thing. Rossi has won here once since 2009, while teammate Maverick Vinales has never been any good at his home crib (discounting his Moto3 win here in 2012). Finally, Andrea Dovizioso has a solo win here in 2017 to go along with a bunch of nondescript results dating back to 2008.

Suffice it to say that neither Lorenzo nor Rossi nor Dovizioso is likely to win Sunday’s race. More likely, it will be Marquez, Rins, or a dark horse, a Jack Miller or a Franco Morbidelli. Danilo Petrucci could keep a new little tradition alive by winning back-to-backs in Mugello and here, the way Lorenzo did last year and Dovi the year before. That would tighten things at the top of the rider heap.

Recent History at Catalunya

The 2016 Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya featured a struggling but gritty defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannone-ed” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed; the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again managed a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and would never look back, cruising to his third premier class title in four seasons.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race here, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having absconded with Marquez’ lunch money on Lap 8, went through on Pedrosa into a lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later overtook Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race. It was not long ago that Dani Pedrosa was still relevant.

Last year, Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo and his Ducati went through into a lead the Mallorcan never considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, simultaneously getting sandwiched by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This, in turn, promoted a trailing Valentino Rossi into podium position. Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth.

Quick Hitters 

Surprise, for those of you jocking fabulous rookie Fabio Quartararo.  Wrestling the Yamaha M1 thus far in 2019 has him experiencing arm pump, which came as news to many of us. Thus, he had the remarkable Dr. Mir operate on him shortly after Mugello, news our bookies failed to share. He expects to return this week. This Spanish layout will test his machismo, what with his forearms resembling compression sleeves stuffed with chicken breasts.

Your boy Jack Miller, having a solid season on a Desmo GP19, has recently been quoted as having had a change of heart, to wit, rather than demanding a promotion over the head of one Danilo Petrucci onto the factory team alongside Dovizioso, he’s now saying he’s got a great deal right here at Pramac Ducati and would be tickled pink, actually, to remain with the team on a two year deal commencing next year. This change of heart was prompted by Petrucci’s dramatic, awesome, scintillating maiden win in front of his homeys at Mugello last time out. Danilo’s win was even more impressive than it looked as we realized his job for the next year or two with the factory Ducati crew depended on his result. Dude had a lot on the line, had Marquez sniffing around his drawers, and Dovi right behind him. He held up. His machismo was in fine shape, thanks.

More to come on the Pramac team before next year, as Pecco Bagnaia has been promised a GP20, and Miller is unsurprisingly expecting another. This, on a team that has, historically, had, at most, one current bike on offer.

Mired in the worst slump of his career, a series of results that makes his Ducati foray look like raging success, Jorge Lorenzo was quietly hauled over to HRC HQ in Japan by Alberto Puig, Chief Apologist, Repsol MotoGP Team. The rest of what follows is pure fiction. The board of directors of the racing division sat arrayed around a semi-circular conference table. In front of the table was a single ladder-backed chair with 1.755” sawed off the front two legs and a single light suspended on a chain above it. Lorenzo was encouraged to sit silently in the chair, trying not to slide on to the pristine floor, while the nine Japanese executives glared icily at him for two hours. Not a word was spoken. Afterwards, Puig had Lorenzo flown back to Europe. El Gato claims that now everyone involved with his RC213V team is on the same page and he looks forward to competing for the podium in Catalunya…[crickets]… 

Your Weekend Forecast 

So, the weather for the Umpteenth Barcelona Grand Prix appears, from a distance, to be perfect. Spain at its best—sunny and warm, hot in the sun, cool in the shade. Of an umbrella.

The lower divisions are giving us some of this and some of that. In Moto3 Aron Canet and young Jaume Masia on resurgent KTMs sit 1st and 4th, sandwiching Honda riders Lorenzo dalla Porta and the dashing Niccolo Antonelli in 2nd and 3rd. It’s anyone’s title this year, at this point, and the racing has been, as usual, sublime. In Moto2, a resurgent Alex Marquez has chased down “BadAss” Lorenzo Baldassarri with back-to-back wins in France and Italy, forging a virtual tie for the championship after six rounds. Veteran Tom Luthi, returning to Moto2 after a nightmarish year in MotoGP, is right there in third, pursued by young hotshot Jorge Navarro on the only Speed Up bike in the top nine. Kalex, as usual, has led the league in their accommodation of the big new Triumph 765s, gripping eight of the top nine spots in the current standings. Anyone’s title again, but Marquez has a ton of momentum, and we should not overlook the fact that, despite what seem like years of underachieving in Moto2, he is still only 23. Both he and Baldassarri appear likely candidates to graduate to MotoGP next season.

For the fantasists among you who loathe Marc Marquez and/or Jorge Lorenzo, visualize for a moment what it would look like to have #73 and #93 in the same Repsol liveries in 2020.

Marquez brothers exhibition spin 2013 at Valencia

The Marquez brothers go for a spin at Valencia in 2014 after each won a world title that day.

I think it’s a bad idea to bet against Marc Marquez on Sunday. He clearly understands how close he has come to perfection this year, similar to 2014. The washboard in Texas and two photo-finishes with factory Ducatis are all that stand between him and a perfect season after six rounds. The weather and the crowd will be in his favor on Sunday. And they don’t call it The Marquez Era for nothing.

As for the remaining steps on the podium, I can’t help you. Perhaps a factory Ducati, perhaps Vinales. It would be the bomb to see Franco Morbidelli or Jack Miller fight with the lead group. With Assen looming in only two weeks and The Sachsenring just a week after that, we are headed directly for the turn into the summer doldrums, and Marquez is looking like he wants to break away.

I suspect Valentino Rossi would love to make a liar out of me. That would be great.

We’ll return here a couple hours after the race with results and analysis. This article, or most of it, should appear on Motorcycle.com later on Tuesday. Sunday results and analysis will be here a couple hours after the race and on Motorcycle.com later that day.

Random Photos from Mugello

June 4, 2019

Images, um, obtained by Bruce Allen

Screenshot (113)

Riders at Mugello

Bagnaia Mugello 2019

Pecco Bagnaia

 

Dovi Mugello 2019

Dovi

Lorenzo Mugello 2019

The Spartan

Marquez Mugello 2019

ReMarcable Marquez

Marquez2 Mugello 2019

ReMarcable Marquez2

PEspargaro Mugello 2019

Pol Espargaro

Petrux Mugello 2019

Daring Danilo Petrucci

Rins Mugello 2019

Alex Rins

Rossi Mugello 2019

Dr. Rossi

Screenshot (76)

Naughty Fenati in Moto3

 

The Women of Mugello

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Local Color–Ponte Vecchio and Rossiland

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Two Guys with Bright Futures

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Fabio Last Name No Longer Necessary

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Franco Last Name No Longer Necessary, Either

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Petrucci Prevails at Majestic Mugello 

If you’re into motorcycle racing—and why else would you be here reading this drivel?—today’s Italian Grand Prix was a work of art. 28-year old Danilo Petrucci, who six years ago was flogging something called an Ioda, fought off Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso for his maiden MotoGP win. The 83,000 frenzied fans saw 23 laps of knife fighting at close quarters in what must be the feel good moment of the 2019 MotoGP season. 

Petrucci, one of the most likable guys in the paddock, has waited his entire life for today’s checkered flag. Born in Terni, some 200 miles south, he has fought for years to make a career for himself in this sport, starting in the European Superstock 600 Championships back in 2007. He gradually moved up and through Italian Superstock 1000s and the FIM Superstock 1000 Championship before landing the first of several third-rate rides in MotoGP in 2012. Despite finishing 20th in the 2014 season, Ducati saw something they liked in the burly ex-policeman and saw him signed to a Pramac satellite contract in 2015 where he was, in my acidic words at the time, just another rider, filling the grid, getting pounded by the Lorenzos and Marquezes of the world week in and week out.

With every reason to give up on motorcycle racing and return to the beat, Petrucci hung in, worked on his skills and, during the last two years, dropped 10 kilos. The poaching of Gigi D’alligna from Aprilia a few years ago signaled a rise in Pramac’s fortunes, as the year-old bikes they were getting from Ducati became more potent and more competitive. From finishing 14th in 2016, Petrux climbed up to eighth in 2017. In 2018, he out-dueled teammate Jack Miller to win a one-year contract on the factory team following the departure of Jorge Lorenzo to Honda, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, for this season. Still, he remained winless in the premier class. Until today. For an Italian speed freak, it doesn’t get any better than winning your first race on a Ducati at Mugello. Especially when it takes, like, 13 years to get there. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Once again, the Sunday fortunes of a number of riders were decided on Saturday or, arguably, on Friday. We’re talking about Valentino Rossi, who was terrible on Friday, and who was reduced to a desperate last lap lunge at the flag during the waning moments of FP3. An issue with his front brake caused him to go walkabout on that lap and consigned him, along with names like Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Rins and Zarco, to the rabble in Q1, where he had nothing. Many of the usual suspects went directly through to Q2, along with Pol Espargaro on the KTM, Fabio (last name no longer necessary), Franco (ditto), rookie Pecco Bagnaia, and the overachieving Takaa Nakagami on Marc Marquez’ sled from 2018.

Q1 was a hoot, as Alex Rins and Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro plugged themselves in at the top of the sheet early in the gathering. Dovizioso bumped Rins out of his promotion late in the session, at which point both Rins and Rossi set their sights on trying to produce one last flying lap at the tail end, in the hope of escaping row five or worse on Sunday. Neither would succeed in this effort, as both got caught out, Rossi after a frightening moment, and each failed to cross the finish line before the checkered flag flew. The shameful result found Rins starting 16th and Rossi, dead in the water, at the back of row six.

Q2 was a record-breaking duel between Fabio LNNLN and Marquez, with both riders breaking Petrucci’s hours-old track record on their way to the front row, Marquez on pole, Fabio in the middle, and Petrucci, fire in the belly, in third. (Marquez now owns track records at nine [9] of the circuits on the 2019 calendar.) Franco put his satellite Yamaha in P4, while Rossi’s factory teammate, the formerly formidable Maverick Vinales, started from P7 on his way to a sixth-place finish facilitated by offs from Rossi, Morbidelli and Jack Miller. I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The Race 

With more passing than a 420 party, it was difficult in the extreme to determine who was leading the race DURING the race. The main straight at Mugello, itself a thing of beauty, promotes the fine art of slipstreaming, in which a rider leading the pack coming out of the last turn can find himself in eighth place entering Turn 1. A lead group of five—Marquez, Dovi and Petrucci, Alex Rins and Miller—put on an amazing show all day. Rins was blistering the field early, on cold tires and with a full tank, climbing from 16th at the start to P4 at the end of Lap 3. I’m pretty sure all five riders led the race at one point or another. Miller, on the Pramac Ducati, really had it going on, and turned in, at the time, the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15. Sadly, he folded the front on Lap 16, leaving the remaining four to slug it out for the last seven laps.

And what a seven laps it was. Rins started losing ground in the straights after a gritty fight to keep up with the blazing Honda and Ducatis (Dovi set a new MotoGP land speed record of 356.7 km/h on Saturday, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “lift-off speed.” Why watch four-wheeled vehicles race when the two-wheelers, riders with stones the size of hubcaps, are doing the same speeds? F1 machines would have to be hitting 400 mph to be as impressive. IMO.)

Nobody was getting away today. Marquez, sandwiched between the two red machines, went through on both Italians at Turn1 on the last lap, and I was thinking, “All that meat and no potatoes,” meaning it appeared the Ducs, having thrown their weight around all day, would end up getting spanked by the reMarcable Catalan. Not today. And not Dovizioso, either, who won here in 2017 and looked fully capable of a repeat.

Today was Danilo Petrucci’s day. Today was a day he has dreamed about since he was in short pants, a day he had worked for since he was in his teens. Today was the day he would stand on the top step of the Mugello podium, the Italian national anthem blaring, fountains of prosecco filling the air, all of the sweat and tears and injuries forgotten. Even if he never wins another race, which appears unlikely, he will have had his One Shining Moment. Bravo, Danilo! 

While this was going on, one imagines the scene in the factory Yamaha garage, an old, tired Rossi, having crashed out of last place on Lap 8, sitting in leathers looking like they had been chained and dragged behind a truck, pondering a glittering past and an uncertain future, one certain to be filled with exciting moments, but of the vicarious variety. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez, despite “only” scoring 20 points today, extended his tenuous lead over Dovizioso in the championship to 12 points, with Rins and, suddenly, Petrucci locked in a battle for third. There appears to be a slow-motion changing of the guard taking place in the premier class, with young riders like Miller, Rins, Quartararo, and Nakagami poised to take over from familiar veterans like Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo. Several other youngsters—Joan Mir, Bagnaia, perhaps Miguel Oliveira if he can get away from KTM—will be along soon, as they are busy paying union dues and getting hazed by the vets. One suspects their day will come sooner rather than later.

Tranches 

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

See as how I’ve missed my deadline today by about 10 hours, I will have more to say about today’s events—the cat fight in Moto3, Alex Marquez’ sudden resurrection in Moto2—later this week, right here. Two weeks to Catalunya.

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

With Repsol Honda stud Marc Marquez off and running again in 2019, and since they’re racing at Mugello this week, it seems like a good time to pay some attention to Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008 he won his first seven (7) premier class races at this, his home crib. It’s where he became an immortal in Italian sports lore. He owns this place. 

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

It is not an overstatement to say he has a sense of the moment. Could this be his last credible chance to win the Italian Grand Prix in MotoGP? Despite not having won an actual MotoGP race since Assen in 2017 (and that one was controversial), Rossi has been competitive in 2019—two seconds, and top six in the other three. His main issue continues to be qualifying, where he has missed out on Q2 twice. If he makes it to Q2 he remains a threat to podium every time out, rear grip or no.

But here’s the other thing about Mugello and Rossi. Since 2009, he’s been a bitter disappointment to his homeys and their yellow 46s. Three third-place finishes and three DNFs, one the DNS in 2010. Despite everyone’s hometown hero racing just down the road, the bells announcing a win for Rossi at Mugello haven’t rung on Sunday afternoon in Tavullia in over a decade. Meanwhile, since 2013 that stronzo Marquez has been in full “win or bin” mode here, with a win and a second to go along with two DNFs and last year’s futile 16th place finish.

[Digging the fact that the winningest rider of late in Italy has been El Gato, Jorge Lorenzo, including last year’s breakthrough on the Ducati. Six wins here since 2011, five of which came when Yamaha was the perfect bike for him. Alberto Puig, formerly Pedrosa’s Svengali, now in charge of defending Lorenzo, tells us prosperity with Repsol Honda is just around the corner. If it is, he should win here on Sunday. El futuro es ahora, Alberto.] 

It is a foregone conclusion that Suzuki whiz kid Alex Rins, not Maverick Vinales, is preparing to take Rossi’s place in the Alien firmament. One suspects that Rossi may be thinking about putting his stamp on Mugello forever, with bookend wins in his first and last seasons. If that’s the case, and he makes it into Q2 either automatically or by coming through Q1, Sunday could be a big day in Italy. 2020, should he choose to continue for another season, could then be a farewell tour amidst clouds of yellow smoke, The Doctor blowing kisses to the fans, finishing eighth for the year. But people would talk about Mugello 2019 for a long time. As they said so often in the cult classic Office Space, that would be great.

Recent History at Mugello

2016 featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Honda. Other than his win at the Red Bull Ring, this may have been Iannone’s favorite career race. On the podium at Mugello, with no Rossi looking down on him.

In the 2017 main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium. National idol Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself. For the fans, other than the wrong Yamaha being on the podium, it was cause for celebration. You know, like every other day of the year.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as last year proved. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With the Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was, indeed a great day to be Italian. The 2018 standings tightened up a little bit. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds. By the time the circus rolled around to Germany it was pretty much over.

The Point, After All, is Points

The modern era of MotoGP racing has, with the exception of a number of outstanding seasons from Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, been about Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Rossi holds the MotoGP record for points in a season of 373, set in 2008, the high-water mark of his career. He would take his last premier class title in 2009; many of his supporters say he was robbed by the evil Iberian axis of Marquez and Lorenzo in 2015. Marquez, amongst the long list of records belonging to him, reached “only” 362 in 2014. Had he not crashed out at Motegi he would surely have broken that record, too.

This year, with 95 points to date, Marquez is trending at around 360, which would put him within reach of Rossi’s record, since there are 19 rounds these days. One shudders to think what might have happened had Marquez not dropped the RC213V in Texas. Suppose Marquez had gone on to his usual easy win at COTA and sat currently with 120 points. He would be trending for an unthinkable 456 points. Shows the dangers inherent in straight-line projections. But any suggestion that he is not dominating 2019 is ridiculous.

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

Interesting that the “stupid season,” the one preceding the “silly season,” has begun. Jack Miller wants to move up to a factory ride, be the next Casey Stoner. Thus, hard luck Danilo Petrucci appears to be getting forced out. Alex Marquez (?) is in discussions with Pramac about a 2020 contract, lending weight to the Miller-to-factory rumors. Good luck with that, Alex. And brother Marc, perish the thought, has allegedly expressed interest in riding the Desmosedici at some unforeseen time. Several riders are openly considering taking their marbles to WSBK, which has to be loving this*. Gigi D’Alligna must have some serious motowood going on; everyone wants one of his bikes. Alberto Puig, recall, tells us all is well with Lorenzo. Unless it rains. Unless it’s hot. Unless it’s cold. Unless he breaks another bone or two…Would Honda or The Spartan bail on his 2021 contract if things don’t get turned around? And don’t you hate paragraphs that end with a question mark?

*Tranche 3 MotoGP defector Alvaro Bautista, riding for Ducati in WSBK, has won 11 of the first 13 races this season.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast suggests scattered showers on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warm—mid-70s—on Sunday. According to the Encyclopedia of Rider Complaints, under Sunny & Perfect on Race Day, the top whine from riders, with Cal Crutchlow sporting the individual trophy, is, “Not enough dry practice time.” Let’s just say that weather should not be a factor for the race. Whether it interferes with qualifying remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, it seems races are won and lost on Saturday, those riders excluded from Q2 generally unable to crack the top six.

Assuming Rossi qualifies in the top six, I look for him to share the podium with Marquez and Dovizioso, the Usual Suspects. Should The Doctor falter in qualifying, throw Alex Rins on the podium. For some reason, the Suzuki does well at tracks seemingly better-suited for the fast-moving Hondas and Ducatis. It seems unlikely that Jorge Lorenzo will be a factor in the race; ditto for Maverick Vinales, lost in the sauce. Jack Miller would love to impress the suits from Ducati Corse on Sunday and may contend early. His habit of punishing the tires almost always precludes his actually winning many races (one to be exact). As usual, the sentimental favorite, on multiple counts, is my boy Danilo Petrucci, who may decide to let it all hang out on Sunday. To get his maiden premier class win at Mugello on the Ducati could possibly be Danilo’s Ultimate Two-Wheeled Fantasy. For the locals, if Vale can’t pull it off, they will root for Danilo. If he can’t pull it off, root for Dovi. And if he can’t pull it off, pray for that piccolo scroto Marquez to slide out of the lead late in race, when it really hurts, to suffer at Mugello as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Personally, I don’t have a favorite rider, although watching Marquez make his impossible saves gives me goosebumps. For the sake of an easier race summary to write, it would be the bomb if Rossi could pull a rabbit out of his hat. Endless story lines therein. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching #93 enter his patented low-earth orbit and run circles around everyone else. We’ll have results and analysis here sometime Sunday—may be late due to real life getting in the way. Ciao.

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 19, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Brothers Rule in France 

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, dad Julià, jubilant, sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens. 

At various points during the weekend, it appeared the winner might come from any number of camps. The Petronas Yamaha and factory Ducati teams were heard from early. Marquez was buzzing around the top of the timesheets in each session. Maverick Vinales had some encouraging moments, and there was a Jorge Lorenzo sighting in the top five during FP2. Rossi would finagle his way onto the second row after a forgettable couple of days. The Suzukis were struggling, and KTM had but one rider, Pol Espargaro, who seemed capable of wrestling the RC-16 to a top ten finish. 

Practice and Qualifying

With the weekend forecast looking dismal, there came the growing possibility that Friday could determine which riders passed into Q2. This moved the majority to put on their big boy leathers and let it all hang out late in FP1, with startling rookie homeboy Fabio Quartararo topping the sheets, followed by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Vinales and Marquez. My boy Alex Rins didn’t get the memo about the weather, easing into 17th. Fan fave Johann Zarco and the legendary Valentino Rossi snuck into the top ten.

It stayed dry for FP2. Jorge Lorenzo somehow improved his time by a full 1.3 seconds. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia into the Top Ten Combined, as did Honda climber Takaa Nakagami. All of which came at the expense of Suzuki rookie Joan Mir, and the aforementioned Mssrs. Zarco and Rossi. When Saturday dawned wet, it confirmed that the three would be joining a gaggle of big names amongst the great unwashed in Q1, names like Crutchlow, Morbidelli, and Rins.

[Until this moment, I have underestimated the pressure some of these riders feel as they approach Q1. Should they fail to advance to Q2, their weekend will be effectively shot. Rossi and Zarco, especially, must have been tied in knots. Fifteen minutes that could have a real effect on their immediate career prospects; never mind the championship. And those minutes would likely unfold on a wet track.]

As expected, FP3 was run on rain tires. Vinales, Marquez and Jack Miller put in the best times, followed in close order by Rins, Zarco and Petrucci. The session was significant only due to the conditions, as the radar made it appear likely we would get to see the WET RACE sign on Sunday. FP4 ran on a drying track that was too wet for slicks and too dry for wets. Such would be the conditions in Q1, in which Franco Morbidelli turned in the best lap on rain tires and Valentino Rossi, jumping out of the gate on slicks, beat the field by 1½ seconds, putting both in Q2 as the rain picked up steam and the track went from dryish to humid to damp to moist to wettish.

On rain tires, Marquez laid down his marker on Lap 2 of Q2 and it stood up, by 4/10ths, for the entire session. The two notorious Ducati mudders, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, completed the front row. The Italian crew on Row 2 included Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi and the overachieving Franco Morbidelli. Alas, homeboy Fabio Quartararo could not maintain the magic in the wet, qualifying 10th, while the erratic Top Gun, Maverick Vinales, once again made a hash of qualifying and would start Sunday in the middle of Row 4. At day’s end, riders Zarco (14th), Crutchlow (15th) and Rins (19th, currently second in the championship) were radioactive, glowing in the dark. Not Suitable for Interviewing.

During the Race

To everyone’s surprise, the 2019 Le Mans battle was a dry race, the riders, always with a complaint at the ready, complaining that they had not had enough practice time in the dry. Once Marquez had stiff-armed Miller and cleared off, the battle for second place commenced, involving three Ducatis and Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha. The Ducatis prevailed over the Yamaha. The factory Ducatis prevailed over Miller’s satellite job. And Ducati #1 Dovizioso prevailed over his #2, Danilo Petrucci. Announcers Steve and Matt seem to have overlooked the fact that the 2019 Honda RC213V has as much grunt as the Ducati Desmosedici, remarking lap after lap how the chasing Ducs were unable to rocket past Marquez on the main straight as in years past.

Danilo Petrucci spent the last few laps seriously dogging teammate Dovizioso, and looked fully capable of mounting a challenge, your basic late dive underneath the foe, on the last lap. Had he trailed any other rider, and with nothing to lose, he would have made the attempt. But unlike his predecessor Jorge Lorenzo, he took account of the fact that Dovi is in the thick of the championship chase and internalized the fact that the consequences of sending him flying into the scenery would have been dire indeed. So he backed off, saved his honor, gained a podium, and avoided a major bruhaha with his compatriot and teammate. Good on ya, Petrux.

Elsewhere on the grid, two riders were busy making lemonade out of lemons. Pol Espargaro took his KTM from 12th to 6th, while Alex Rins, after a disastrous Q1 on Saturday, made it into the top ten. Cal Crutchlow, who also made hash on Saturday, moved from 15th at the start to a less-nauseating 9th, maintaining his average of 7 points per round.

As for the locals, Johann Zarco, he of the dreamy eyes and stiff upper lip, started 14th and finished 13th, not precisely what he and his team were looking for. Heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, whom some analysts had tagged for the win today, started in trouble from 10th place, worked his way backwards into the low teens early on before recovering during the second half of the race and finishing a respectable 8th. Saving grace for the French fans is that neither got chain-whipped by any German riders. Plenty of Spaniards and Italians, sure, but not a loathsome Boche. Vive la France!

It’s Tranching Time Again… 

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

On to Mugello

Two short weeks until we arrive at one of the shrines of racing, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, nestled in the Tuscan hills above the Adriatic Riviera. Mugello is such a cool track that everyone, from Marquez to Abraham, feels they have an advantage racing there. All the Italian riders, all the Ducati pilots, and a number of others will be playing the ‘home race’ card. The fact is that Mugello, with its massive front straight constructed so as to magnify the noise of the bikes and amplify slipstreaming, is an adrenaline firehose. Those chasing Marc Marquez in 2019, notably Dovizioso and Rossi, need to make hay while the summer sun shines on their home crib.

Plagiarized by Kropotkin?

May 16, 2019

Capture

I’ve been writing online for a dozen years, and on Motorcycle.com for a decade. MO allows basically any site on earth to re-post my work, which is cool. However, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed a racing authority like David Emmett flirting with stealing my stuff.

Here is part of the lead paragraph in my Jerez results article, which I posted on May 5th:

“Four riders were separated by nine points heading to Jerez; four riders remain separated by nine points heading to Le Mans. Life is good.”

Here is a fragment of David’s recent article posted on Motogp.com on May 14th:

“After Austin, the third race of the season, the top four in the championship were separated by just nine points. After Jerez, race four, the top four are still separated by just nine points, but now in a completely different order. Life is pretty good at the moment if you are a MotoGP™ fan…”

Ignoring the fact that I’m green with jealousy at David’s appearance on the MotoGP website, does anyone agree that the two fragments are disarmingly similar? Or, for that matter, that David’s is excessively wordy? Asking for a friend.

MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

The record books show that Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi.  Maverick Viñales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him.  Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here in 2017, leading the race for the first six laps 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 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 Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, 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 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 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!

MotoGP Jerez Results

May 5, 2019
Cal Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow received an upgrade this week.

Jack Miller

As did Jack Miller.

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rolls Again, Retakes Series Lead 

The MotoGP world, turned on its ear by qualifying on Saturday, was put back in its proper order today by the incandescent Marc Marquez, who led wire-to-wire. The Petronas Yamaha SRT team, which spent Saturday night in the penthouse, ended Sunday in the outhouse. Rising Suzuki star Alex Rins took second, and Maverick Vinales found the podium for the first time since Buriram 2018. Four riders were separated by nine points heading to Jerez; four riders remain separated by nine points heading to Le Mans. Life is good.

Practice and Qualifying 

Based upon the baffling buffet that was four free practice and two qualifying sessions, one could envision almost anyone on Sunday’s podium, with the possible exception of, like, Randy de Puniet or one of the Laverty brothers. FP1 gave us Marquez and Lorenzo, today and yesterday in the same Repsol Honda colors, with Rossi whistling “Dixie” in 18th position. A brutally hot FP2 somehow belonged to the Wishin’ Minnow (?) factory Ducati Team, with Danilo Petrucci, studmuffin #2, edging teammate Andrea Dovizioso on the fast new-in-places racing surface; Rossi sweating bullets in 14th.

Saturday was cloudy, lowering air and track temps. FP3 melded Friday’s results as Petrucci, Marquez and brazen Petronas Yamaha SRT rookie Fabio Quartararo topped the sheet; Rossi 11th and screwed to the fifth row on Sunday. Petrucci broke the old track record, surprising, I think, even himself. Jerez was once reputed to be unfriendly to the Desmosedici, but not anymore. The only notable results from FP4 were Maverick Vinales closing the session in 2nd place (after failing to make the cut into Q2) and Andrea Iannone being helped off the track with a left leg issue after a hard fall late in the session.

Q1 and Q2, apart from offering some of the most exciting moments of every weekend, were especially instructive at Jerez. Late in Q1, with Maverick Vinales and rookie protégé Pecco Bagnaia on the Ducati sitting 1-2, Doctor Rossi had enough time to attempt two flying laps, hoping to sneak into Q2 after a miserable two days. Most of the crowd clad in his colors held their breath for almost three minutes watching the GOAT not have enough. For Rossi, a Sunday driver who can podium from pretty much anywhere on the grid, it was just another in a series of vexing issues this weekend. But it would get worse in Q2, the teacher getting schooled by former students half his age.

The increasingly-irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo set the first marker in the 1:37s on his second lap out of the pits (on his way to P11.) Marquez stepped up 11/100ths of a second later with a 1:36.970, flirting with Petrucci, which held up for almost 10 minutes until the LTMOQ2 (Last Two Minutes of Q2), which are a thing to which we will refer going forward. Saturday’s madness edition—get this—ended with rookie Fabio Quartararo, who had the decency to turn 20 years old last month, on pole, holding both the track record and the record for youngest polesitter in MotoGP history, eclipsing #93 hisself. And, to make matters worse for the factory team, Franco Morbidelli, yet another Rossi protégé, finished second, putting two 2015 vintage M1s on the front row. You’d have to go back to the Bush administration to find the last time two satellite bikes have started a premier class race 1-2. Marquez completed the front row, backed by Dovizioso, an unconvincing Vinales and Cal Crutchlow lurking in Row 2. Nakagami 8th, Rins 9th, Bagnaia 10th and Mir 12th, but third in the Sunday morning WUP. 

Here’s How It Went 

Marquez took the hole shot and led exiting Turn 1, and never looked back. He was dogged by upstart Franco Morbidelli for the first ten laps until he decided to check out. Quartararo, having spent some quality time in third place, went through on Morbidelli into second place on Lap 11, as the Italian appeared to be developing grip issues. This, as Rins was making light work of Vinales. My notes on Lap 13 read, “AR will podium.”

It was on Lap 14 that Quartararo, seeking his first MotoGP podium in only his fourth race, found his gearbox stuck in third which, if you’re going to have a stuck gearbox, is a good gear in which to get stuck. It ended his race, however, and he showed us how remarkably young he is by dissolving in tears in his garage afterwards. Teammate Morbidelli found himself, as do so many early overachievers, with tires turning to suet beneath him, sliding from P2 to P7 over the last 15 laps, with Rossi exacting a modicum of revenge at the end to steal 6th place from him.

Factory Ducati teammates Dovizioso and Petrucci finished P4 and P5, a decent afternoon’s work at a track which no longer punishes them but does not favor them either. Cal Crutchlow, Takaa Nakagami and test rider Stefan Bradl put Hondas in the final top ten spots.

A word about Jorge Lorenzo, for whom Jerez was supposed to mark a re-birth of his thus far stillborn Honda career. After spending most of the day in P15, he finished 12th, through no fault of his own, but rather due to the retirements of Pecco Bagnaia, Quartararo, Joan Mir and Jack Miller in front of him. El Gato promised us he would return here, at Jerez. There are new reports The Spartan will make his initial 2019 appearance in Aragon. Whatever. The bike designed around Marc Marquez does not work for Jorge Lorenzo. Another two years down the drain. And a quick memo to Maverick: Shave. You look like a pedophile. 

Four Riders Separated by Nine Points 

Heading to Jerez:

Dovizioso     54

Rossi             51

Rins                49

Marquez       45

Heading to Le Mans:

Marquez       70

Rins                69

Dovizioso      67

Rossi               61

Tranche Warfare

After COTA: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Coming Up:   Round Five        Le Mans 

The French Grand Prix, for some reason, rarely seems to live up to expectations, Perhaps it’s the storied Bugatti Circuit, a veritable straitjacket of a track. Maybe it’s the French weather, which ranges from wet to leaden to merde. Possibly the French fans, who will be schizoid this year having two (2) countrymen to inspire their typically rude behavior. Regardless, it’s good to be back in Europe on a race-every-other-week schedule. There are four manufacturers with legitimate title aspirations and a host of fast young riders. So bring it on, France. Everyone’s ready.

MotoGP Jerez Preview

April 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Returning to Europe, the Plot Thickens 

After three store-bought rounds, MotoGP 2019 returns to Europe, where it is totally legit, to Jerez, one of the sport’s shrines, for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, at the recently-renamed Circuito Jerez – Angel Nieto. The title chase appears closer than it really is due to Marc Marquez’ unforced error in Austin. Never having missed the podium in seven previous premier class visits here, one expects Marquez to be highly motivated to put things in their proper order come Sunday afternoon. 

On his way to 70 points and an imposing lead in the 2019 championship, multi-world champion Marc Marquez lost his marbles on one of the trademarked rumblestrips at COTA last time out for his first DNF of the year. (Last year, his first DNF of the season came at Phillip Island, after he had clinched and no longer gave a rip.) His challengers—Andrea Dovizioso, Vale Rossi and Alex Rins, at this point—need to eat their Wheaties this weekend, need to keep him in sight. Other reputed contenders entering the season—Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Vinales and poor Jorge Lorenzo—have already shredded their seasons. They are fast enough to contend at times (maybe this weekend) and will undoubtedly appear on podia this year. Marquez’ only real title challengers, heading into Round 4, number three. So far so good for #93.

Many of you are surprised to see upstart Alex Rins, age 23, among the big boy Alien crew on his suddenly-competitive Suzuki. Me too, although I’ve been a fan for a while. He will be juiced to return to Spain, but aware that his history here is poor. Besides, he, like Marquez, is a Catalan, which locals think of as a separate country from Spain. Whatever. ‘Home race’ card coming your way soon. As for Dovizioso and Rossi, though they lead the championship now, it is difficult to see either of them winning it, absent some disastrous crash for Marquez. Sorry, but there it is. Dovizioso has not appeared on a Jerez podium since 2007, in his 250cc days. And of Rossi’s nine career wins here, eight of them came before 2010.

Expect Marc Marquez to gain ground on all three this weekend. 

Recent History at Jerez 

2016 was a Yamaha kind of year at Jerez. The Doctor made a house call on soon-to-be-former teammate Lorenzo, winning here for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge from his restless teammate, with Marquez running a strangely quiet third. It was a Yamaha year, starting and finishing in the top two slots. The church bells rang in Tavullia as Rossi spit in the eye of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  For Rossi fans, this was a keeper.

2017, on the other hand, was your basic Honda year. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won, leading wire-to-wire for his first win since Misano in 2016.  Teammate and defending champion Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those Dani Days. Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterwards, felt like a win. This “win” started a string of nine off-podium finishes that turned his season to mud. Still, Lorenzo loves him some Jerez.

Entering last year’s race, five riders were separated by eight points. (Recall Marquez’ comedic disaster in Argentina.) This year, we have four riders separated by nine points after #93’s carefree off in Texas—what, a month ago? Anyway, last year’s race featured the memorable Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso, clearing the field for a dominating win from Marquez. As is usually the case, when big names go down, smaller names rise. Thus it was that Johann Zarco, then toiling for Yamaha, claimed second place while Andrea Iannone, Suzuki #2 at the time, found the third step. [Incidentally, both riders would give their bicuspids to be back with their previous teams after offseason moves to KTM and Aprilia, respectively.] 

Current Events 

Elsewhere on the grid, some riders are visibly happy these days, Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Takaa Nakagami (Honda), Jack Miller (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) amongst them. 19-year old Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) sits in the top ten. He’s happy. Guys like Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia) and anyone riding for KTM, not so much. Poor Hafizh Syahrin has a goose egg going on, drawing the close attention of team owner Herve Poncharal. Zarco looks like his dog died. Rookie Miguel Oliveira is happy to be making C’s in his first year in college. Pol Espargaro is having the best year of the four, sitting in ninth place. Again.

In the lighter classes—it no longer seems right to apply that term to the 765cc Triumphs in Moto2—Lorenzo Baldassarri appears to be the cream of the crop, despite not having completed a single lap at COTA. In Moto3, 18-year old Jaume Masia and veteran Aron Canet lead a pack of Hondas on their KTMs. We are pleased to report that so far in 2019, fully unreformable Italian headjob Romano Fenati has not attempted to grab the brake levers on anyone’s bike but his own. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend is typically Jerez—hot and sunny. Honda weather for sure, not helpful to the Ducati and Yamaha contingents. Jury is out on the Suzukis. Much of the circuit has been repaved, which is good and bad. Good, in that the owners wouldn’t have made the investment in the track if Dorna were going to take it off the calendar anytime soon. Bad, in that it will have different asphalt in different sectors, which the riders hate. But, hey, it’s Jerez. Everyone suck it up.

By now, you’ve probably discerned that I, along with most of the civilized world, expect Marc Marquez to win Sunday’s race. I would enjoy seeing him and Rins square off. I would REALLY like to see Alex Rins school Marquez one time, take a little chink out of his armor, announce his arrival, motivate Suzuki to go ahead and pull the trigger on a second factory-supported team starting in 2020. Most lucid people would also expect to see Valentino Rossi on the podium again—points is points. So that would be my top three—Marquez, Rins and Rossi.

Visit Motorcycle.com on Sunday evening for results, analysis and classy high-rez photos from Jerez. Or, just come here early Sunday afternoon for everything but the pix, which you can find anywhere.

MotoGP COTA Results

April 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Alex Rins puts Suzuki on top in Texas. Seriously. 

Things were going pretty much according to script on Lap 10 of the Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday. Defending world champion Marc Marquez had checked out after starting from pole and was up over three seconds when, at Turn 12, he folded the front of his Honda, slid off the track, and could not re-enter the race. His unforced error allowed Alex Rins to enjoy his first premier class win and put Suzuki on the top step for the first time since 2016.  

Rins was joined by the irrepressible Valentino Rossi in second and Jack Miller, himself on the podium for the first time since 2016 and the first time ever in the dry. Whatever it is that keeps the locals saying, “Keep Austin Weird” was afoot today at COTA. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s big story was the dirty track and the bumps. For a circuit that has had major cosmetic surgery twice now, it now offers riders multiple asphalt compounds, multiple series (plural) of bumps, numerous areas that have been sanded, all of which was built on clay, and all of which slides around in the wet season and/or under the wheels of F-1 cars. Terrible place to build a helluva racetrack. Regardless, several of the usual suspects shook off the track conditions, stayed within a very narrow racing line, and posted respectable times. Marquez’ 2015 track record of 2:02.135 remained unthreatened, another indictment of the racing surface. Aleix Espargaro broke the steering locks on his Aprilia on the back straight, saying later he had never raced on anything like it, not even motocross.

With rain expected on Saturday, folks made like the standings after Friday could constitute qualifying order, and the end of FP2 was a bit of a scramble. My pre-race picks of Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller were interrupted only by the surprising presence of what could be two Yams on the front row, shades of the salad days of 2010. Vinales and Rossi, one suspects, were praying for cloudbursts all day Saturday–never even have to put on the leathers, play cards, drink Red Bull, complain to the press, wait for Sunday.

2019 COTA FP2 Top Ten

Missing from this picture, vulnerable to having to play through Q1, included both factory Ducati riders, three of the four KTMs, Jorge Lorenzo, Takaa Nakagami and the Aprilias. But two of the rookies made the cut.

As it turned out, FP3 was, indeed, scrubbed and the Friday results would stand as the weekly separating of wheat from chaff. With some high profile names in Q1 and things drying out, the heat was on, as Jorge Lorenzo found a quick lap late in the session, leaving Andrea Dovizioso, needing to advance to Q2 to stay in the same zipcode as Marquez, to the untender mercies of teammate Danilo Petrucci, who slid into home, spikes up, beating the throw to snatch the Q2 promotion at the last possible moment. Management would have preferred that he back off, as Dovi’s pursuit of Marquez is more credible than Petrucci’s. Not to mention that they could then use his failure to advance to Q2 in Austin as another reason not to renew his contract for next year.

This is COTA. Q2 was mostly academic. Once Marquez laid down his usual quotient of vapor trails (and consecutive pole #7), most of the residents of tranches one and two cinched it up and gave it a go, generally falling laughably short. The bumps on the back straight are bad enough that they’re irritating Marquez’s shoulder. But only Doctor Rossi and my boy Cal Crutchlow could manage a lap within 6/10ths of #93. The Yamahas keep showing signs of life at a track not designed to their strengths. Pol Espargaro put a KTM in P5 for the first time ever, the factory leaping into immediate contention for the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award later this year.

The Race 

Safe to say that very few people expected the outcome of today’s race. You had three or four big names crash out or retire—Aleix Espargaro, Marquez, El Gato and my boy Cal, who seriously cannot stand success. Once Marquez left the premises, all of a sudden it was a race with consequences, a race with meaning. Rossi, who once upon a time would have won today’s race by 10 seconds, dogged Marquez for awhile while defending himself against repeated attacks by Crutchlow. Once he took the lead on Lap 10, with #35 and #93 already out, I found myself thinking, “Now or never, Vale.” I was actually rooting for him to win; the lack of wins late in his career will ultimately tarnish his reputation around the edges.

Rins, possibly having an out-of-body experience, found himself stalking his idol, and with better pace better tires. He took his time, went through on Lap 17, withstood a couple of keep-him-honest attempts from Rossi, entered the final lap ahead by .3 seconds, and kept his act sufficiently grouped to avoid choking out. Miller kept his podium by holding off Dovizioso, who had started 13th, and Franco Morbidelli, one of two top ten finishers from the Petronas Yamaha team, the other being that insolent Quartararo kid again. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez’ travails today were a good thing for a handful of highly-ranked riders. Andrea Dovizioso, who skirted disaster after poor practice sessions put him in Q1, leads the championship heading to Europe with 54 points. Rossi sits second at 51, Rins third at 49 and Marquez fourth with 45. How much nicer is this than staring at Marquez sitting on 70 points looking self-satisfied? Dare we hope for another opportunity to Let Valencia Decide? 

Tranches 

After Rio Hondo:

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 2: Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli,

Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

After COTA: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

Looking Ahead 

Another three-week gap until the riders return at Jerez. I suggest today’s race was an overdue fluke, and that Marquez’ 2019 title is in no danger at all. Even if it is only a temporary respite, it is a respite from the relentless perfection of #93. Those of you who root for riders other than Marquez can live to cheer another day. 

Moto3

Aron Canet, winless in 2018 with Honda and now fronting for KTM, led an Austrian podium lockout, followed by Jaume Masia, who had spent some time way back in P18, and Andrea Migno, all of whom, along with Gabriel Rodrigo and Niccolo Antonelli, had credible chances to win. The final turn was terribly congested up front, anyone’s race, with Canet emerging in the lead to seal the win. Moto3 rocks—Canet became the eighth different rider to win in consecutive races dating back to last year. He and Masia head to Jerez tied for the series lead, tighter than wallpaper.

Moto2

Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, after a pointless season in MotoGP in 2018, celebrated his personal career resurrection a week earlier than the original, winning easily in Texas on Palm Sunday. Teammate Marcel Schrotter took second, with Jorge Navarro securing his first ever Moto2 podium. Alex Marquez led much of the early going before predictably fading late in the day. The best ride of the day came from Italian guest Mattia Pasini, who stepped on a Triumph-powered bike for the first time on Friday and brought it home in fourth place today, outperforming a couple of dozen riders who’ve had winter testing and two race weekends to get acquainted with the big British bikes.

Action Shots, One Real

Screenshot (36)

Jack Miller with an impressive save during the morning warm-up..

Screenshot (38)

Circuit of the Americas 2019

COTA 2019

Screenshot (39)

Probably Takaaki Nakagami

Screenshot (42)

Marquez appeared to have it made in the shade.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez leads 2019 heading to his favorite venue 

It was back in 2015 that we, meaning I, started referring to all-world champion Marc Marquez as Captain America, since, at that time, he was undefeated on American soil. Here in early 2019 he is still undefeated in the U.S. Someone please give me a reason not to make him the odds-on favorite to keep his record immaculate, deep in the heart, next Sunday. And no astrology, please. 

Last time out, Marquez demonstrated what could be a new race strategy in 2019. Rarely, in recent years, has he put on a scalded cat routine (paging Dani Pedrosa) as he did in Argentina. Generally, he has put himself in the lead group, done some assessing of the other riders’ lines, conserved his tires, and broken their spirits with two or three laps to go. [The notable exceptions being his recent last-lap duels with Andrea Dovizioso, in which he’s gone 1-for-5.]

Honda appears to have wound up the power and torque in the 2019 RC213V without sacrificing grip, so he’s getting out of turns even quicker and not giving away 30 meters to the Ducs in the straights. Assuming he poles on Saturday—I’m starting to hate this stuff—he may try to take the hole shot and get away at the start. I would if I were him. COTA is a point and shoot layout, ideally suited to the Honda. All of which is appalling news for those of us interested in a real championship competition, last seen in 2015, the year Rossi was to have won his 10th and final world championship and Lorenzo won his. 

Recent History in Austin 

2016 was the race in which Pedrosa skittled Dovizioso. With Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, went all lowside and took Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew what hit him, as it were. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16, paying penance for his egregious takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso two weeks earlier.  Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day. 

The 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for another much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and triple world champion Marquez.  Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place. The rostrum that day featured Marquez, Rossi 2nd and Dani Pedrosa 3rd.

Last year’s race was enthralling until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. After fooling with Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki for half a lap, #93 seized the lead and gave the grid another facial, just like he administered last week in Argentina. Iannone took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and was able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced. Iannone made little effort to keep Maverick Vinales out of second, and withstood a rather tepid challenge from Rossi, who took 4th.

Rookie Update

MotoGP.com is beavering away, promoting the “intense competition” amongst the fast movers up from Moto2—Pecco Bagnaia on the Pramac Ducati, Miguel Oliveira on the KTM Warthog, Joan Mir on the Suzuki and impudent French teenager Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha. Of the four, Quartararo has gotten off to the quickest start, qualifying 5th in Qatar before stalling the bike and starting from pit lane, qualifying 7th and finishing 8th in Argentina. MotoGP calculated that his time in Qatar would have put him in the top ten; he finished out of the points in 16th.

Anyway, back to the intense competition. Heading into round three, here are your point totals for the Aliens-in-Waiting:

Quartararo             8

Mir                        8

Oliveira                 5

Bagnaia                 2

Total                     23

Collectively, they trail Alex Rins by a single point. Of course, I’m being unfair here, as all four look to make some noise in the premier class in the not-too-distant future. What gets me is Dorna’s persistence in jocking every single angle of the sport in its incessant efforts to attract paid subscribers.

Let’s try “A Poor Carpenter Blames His Tools” for $800, Alex

Cal is calling the penalty in Argentina “ridiculous,” despite the fact that he was rolling forward at the start. True, the punishment was way out of proportion to the violation—a potential gain of .001 seconds turns into a 30 second penalty—but that requires a rule change–two categories of jumps, the lesser of the two penalties on the “long lap” instituted this year.

Maverick Vinales blurted this past week about the “serious problem” he’s had with the Yamaha for the past two and a half years. Presumably Rossi has had the same problems, he’s just dealt with them better. Maverick, similar to Jorge Lorenzo, seems to need everything just perfect in order to compete. The bad news is that things are rarely, if ever, perfect in this sport, or any other. Some of us are starting to think that his start with Yamaha was a fluke and that he is, indeed, only a Tranche Two rider after all.

Jorge Lorenzo took time out of his busy schedule to complain about everything associated with the Honda—a clutch problem in Qatar, accidentally hitting the pit lane speed limiter at the start in Argentina (refuting my theory that he was simply in third gear), brake and handlebar grips going from too hard to too soft, on and on and on. A hot track? Karel Abraham putting a sharp pass on him late in the race? Like Maverick, Jorge needs to learn to roll with things a little better. Funny how all the guys chasing Marquez have a list of complaints, while #93 doesn’t usually complain about anything at all.

“Alex, why are Maverick, Jorge and Cal whiny little bitches?”

Your Weekend Forecast

Seriously, who cares about the weather on race weekend? It will either be clear and warm—favoring Marquez—or it won’t, again favoring #93. Long range forecast is for clear and warm, but the long-range forecasters rarely know squat. It doesn’t matter. As my NCAA basketball brackets proved beyond question, it rarely pays to pick underdogs. Any reader wishing to predict a winner other than The Antman needs to arrive in the comments section loaded with reams of data.

I’ve consulted my Magic Eight Ball again this week, looking for cosmic insights into the premier class podium on Sunday. I didn’t bother asking about Marquez, fearing a new “Are you stupid or what?” response from the cheap plastic ball. Re Vinales: “Not likely this decade.” Re Dovizioso: “Signs point to no.” Re Crutchlow: “If he doesn’t foul his breeches.” Re Rossi: “No, but he will sell a lot of gear.” Re Jorge Lorenzo: “Don’t make me laugh.” Re Jack Miller: “You might be surprised.” So there you have it. Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller on Sunday’s rostrum.

We’ll have results right here early Sunday evening. Those of you lucky enough to be attending the race please have a great time and ride safely.

MotoGP Rio Hondo Results

March 31, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rules Argentina; Rossi Sighting on Podium 

What, you are wondering, do Argentina, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany have in common? They are owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez. A benevolent dictator, Marquez allows the other MotoGP riders to follow him around these tracks, not bothering to charge for lessons. Today’s easy win at Rio Hondo gives the Catalan 15 wins from 18 starts at his three personal sandboxes.

Practice and Qualifying

Conditions on Friday and Saturday were clear and warm, conducive to fast times. The top five finishers at the end of the day on Friday included Dovizioso, Jack Miller (?), Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and impertinent rookie Fabio Quartararo, enjoying another fast, fun weekend on the Petronas Yamaha M1. Marquez, getting serious on Saturday, led the way into Q2 joined by Lorenzo, both factory Ducatis and all four Yamahas. Jack Miller on the Pramac Ducati and Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda completed the front row and rounded out the lambs heading straight for Q2.

The Q1 goatfest was dominated by ascendant Japanese heartthrob Takaa Nakagami who was, in turn, joined in the bar mitzvah to Q2 by little brother Pol Espargaro and his KTM RC-16, who annoyingly stole the Q2 promotion very late in the session from older brother Aleix on the Aprilia. The second-most surprising report for the day was submitted by the Suzuki team of Rins and Mir, neither of whom could get anything going and who would start Sunday from 16th and 19th positions respectively. I had picked one of them for a podium the following day. As if.

Q2 took off in short order and Marquez shot to the top, working a two-stop strategy. He messed up the hot lap on his #2 tire, returned to the pit, waited while the crew mounted a third rear tire (bike #2 being unavailable after having the chain come off during FP4), and went back out to set the pole lap in front of Dovizioso and Vinales. Row 2 was comprised of Rossi, Miller and Franco Morbidelli, one of four (4!) Yamahas to qualify in the top seven. The 2019 iteration of the Yamaha M1 is better than the 2018 version in that it is able to generate at least one hot lap per session. This is big news. As is Cal slipping to 8th after being fast all weekend. And Jorge slipping down to 12th after his 11th place “hot lap” was deleted for exceeding track limits.

As Saturday drew to a close, the grid shared several major concerns. One, would Marquez take the hole shot on Sunday and vanish into the ether, leaving the other 21 riders to fight over second place? And two, would the weather end up being as bad as the forecast promised, tossing a major spanner into the works of most of the teams?

Finally, the first two days of the Argentine round proved one thing beyond any doubt: The Bridgestones were faster than the Michelins. At least here. No one came within a half second of Marquez’ 2014 qualifying lap of 1:37.683. Moto2 saw another track record fall, this time to Xavi Vierge, a full-size man, as the big Triumph engines appear to have considerably more grunt than the previous 600cc Hondas. Nothing new in Moto3 concerning Miguel Oliveira’s amazeballs track record from 2015. Comparing the top Moto2 qualifiers to the bottom MotoGP qualifiers in Qatar and Argentina, there is only a 2½ second difference. Last year it averaged over 4 seconds after two rounds.

A Stroll in the Park…

If only there were some way to inject some drama in today’s race for the flag. Marquez had things his way all weekend, other than the mechanical issue in FP4. Practices were a breeze, qualifying was a breeze, and the race was a laugher, over almost before it started. Under clear skies, Marquez took the hole shot at the start, found clean air on the back side of Turn 1, and was off to the races. He led the field by 2.5 seconds at the start of Lap 3. His lead got above 12 seconds late in the race before he backed off, and he still won by over 8 seconds, an eternity in MotoGP. Valentino Rossi returned to the podium for the first time since Germany in 2018, finally overtaking Andrea Dovizioso for good on the last lap and sending his thousands of disciples into paroxysms of joy, the 197th podium of his ridiculous career.

…Amidst a Confederacy of Dunces

Although he clearly won it on his own, Marquez had plenty of help from his challengers. Both Maverick Vinales and Jorge Lorenzo got completely swamped at the start, Vinales converting a second spot on the grid to his customary 8th position after two laps, The New Vinales looking much the same as The Old. Lorenzo, meanwhile, appeared to be in third gear when the red lights went out, quickly falling to last place before reaching the first turn. Lorenzo did manage to finish—12th, 28 seconds behind his teammate—while Vinales got taken down from behind by fellow Yamaha pilot Franco Morbidelli on Lap 25. Morbidelli’s brain fart cost Yamaha two additional spots in the top eight, and what might have been a post-race party in the factory garage may have become, instead, an inquisition.

Cal Crutchlow, another fast mover all weekend, did his part to ensure Marquez’ win by jumping the start and assuming 22nd position exiting his ride-through penalty. He ended up scoring three (3) points on a day he should have podiumed. After the race, he appeared to be in hurry-up mode on his way to Race Direction for a free frank exchange of ideas, where Mike Webb would squelch most of his ire with electronic proof of his error.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Jack Miller had his Pramac Ducati in the top five all day before finishing 4th, while Danilo Petrucci ended his day 6th after starting on the fourth row. My boy Alex Rins, who got faced in qualifying, starting 16th, got his groove on late in the day and settled for 5th place after a brief podium flirtation with a couple laps to go. His teammate Joan Mir was stuck in the mud all weekend, and called it a day with four laps left, gremlins at work in his machine. As proof that every dog has his day, KTM pilots Pol Espargaro and rookie Miguel Oliveira placed 10th and 11th, while Aleix Espargaro put his Aprilia in the top ten along with LCR Honda’s Takaa Nakagami and that pesky rookie Fabio Quartararo again. To me, when it comes to Yamaha, there’s Rossi, and then there are the other three guys.

The dynamic Reale Avintia duo of Karel Abraham and Tito Rabat found separate gravel traps mid-race within about a minute of one another. And, in another example of Not Really Giving a Rip, moody Andrea Iannone started and finished last, quickly working himself out of a job, possibly dreaming of posterizing Alvaro Bautista over in World SuperBike.

All in all, the worst fears of the entire industry were realized as Marc Marquez seized the lead in the championship, dunking on the pseudo-Aliens and now heading to COTA, Circuit of The Antman. For his putative challengers at the top of the MotoGP food chain, this must feel like being duct-taped to a steel bench having to watch a video loop of Marquez passing them over and over again, each time bumping them into a trackside mud puddle. Painful, frustrating and embarrassing. No wonder everyone’s in such a hurry to get back to Spain.

First Tranches of 2019

Before Losail:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco Morbidelli,  Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

After Rio Hondo:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 2:   Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3:   Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:   Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

A Few Action Shots from Rio Hondo

Moto2 screenshotScreenshot1Screenshot2Screenshot3

Day One at Rio Hondo

March 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Ain’t nobody really care a lot about what happens on Fridays unless FP3 looks to be wet, which it doesn’t. But the forecast for Sunday shows thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the area, generally around mid-day. So, according to my calculations, all four free practice sessions become rather useless when two days of dry vanish on race day. Keeps things interesting. Keeps bookies checking their phones.

Notable accomplishments, comments and attitudinal insights from Friday:

  • Your boy Valentino Rossi put himself back in the conversation with a solid F2. Both he and Vinales improved, Vinny sitting third for the day. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me to hear Vinny announce his goal was to take the pole on Saturday. Not a word about winning on Sunday. Such a Vinny thing to say, or not say.
  • Andrea Dovizioso led the combined sessions and noted with a smile and a wink that the 2019 bike is better than the GP18. He said he had not expected to be so fast so soon. Kind of like dad used to say when applying corporal punishment, “I didn’t mean to hit you. So hard.” Dovi is oozing confidence. The Ducati contingent performed better than expected on Friday, including one-two for the day.
  • Marc Marquez reportedly ran 19 laps on a used rear tire in FP2. #93 finished eighth overall on what Jack Miller described as a “filthy” track off the racing line. Track management should call in the country’s national curling teams, both men and women, and instruct them to sweep the entire track, paint to paint, by Sunday morning. Anyway, Marquez seems serenely confident heading into Saturday.
  • Not so for #99 Jorge Lorenzo on the #2 Repsol Honda as he limped home in 21st position, predicting he would be fast on Saturday, on Sunday, in Austin, after the circus returns to Jerez. He was observing how he trailed Dovi by a second, deftly sidestepping the issue of the 19 riders between them.
  • I keep finding myself surprised when Jack Miller shows up near the top of time sheets as he did on Friday. Perhaps this “consistent surprise” is a symptom of some kind of bias against the brash Australian. On the other hand, he finished 2018 in 13th place and has zero points in 2019. I dunno.
  • Danilo Petrucci is keeping a very low profile in 13th place after FP2.
  • In his fortnightly whine, The Black Knight complained about, let’s see, problems in corner entry. “But a P4 for last year’s Argentina GP winner on Friday with room to improve suggests the Briton is well in the hunt.” This last one was borrowed from the MotoGP website as an example of how to get your colon in a twist trying to get the pertinent information and proper nationalist spin in a single sentence. Raise your hand if you don’t know we’re discussing Cal Crutchlow.
  • Seeing Suzuki pilot Alex Rins sitting 7th at the end of day one, hot on Rossi’s tail, is not as surprising as seeing Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha in 9th. And, for the second round in a row, teenager Fabio Quartararo put his own Petronas Yamaha in the top five on Friday. Things appear to be looking up for Morbidelli, who has paid his dues and appears ready for top-ten finishes. Suzuki rookie phenom Joan Mir had a bad morning and a better afternoon.

We’ll see what Saturday brings besides Marquez on the front row. It will then be up to the weather gods to determine the nature of Sunday’s confrontation. A flag-to-flag affair early in the season could easily scramble the standings for the first half of 2019. And perhaps I’m the only one thinking of Jorge Lorenzo, facing a wet race day on the belligerent Honda RC213V, envisioning himself flying over the windscreen, landing gently in a track-side pool of water, with three points to show for his 2019 campaign. This is a guy who wants a dry race.

MotoGP Rio Hondo Preview

March 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen

ACCUWEATHER UPDATE 3/28: CLEAR, HOT AND HUMID ALL THREE DAYS.

[TRACK RECORD IS FIVE YEARS OLD. JUST SAYIN’.]

It’s Marquez Time. Again. 

Having uncorked the 2019 season in fine fashion in Qatar, where money talks, MotoGP heads to exurban South America for the Motul Grand Prix of the Republic of Argentina. Based upon practice times, where he generally pulverizes everyone, Marc Marquez should be undefeated down south, heading into the sixth Argentine round of modern times. Would be, too, were it not for crashes in 2015 and 2017 and the stalling-at-the-start hilarity at last year’s clambake. Fans are anxious to see if 2019 is win or bin for #93. 

Recent History at Rio Hondo 

Year three in Argentina was 2016, the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.)  After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Two years ago, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament at the time, were set to square off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, seized the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer in 2017. A most impressive rookie debut for #21 on the Yamaha M1. Rossi and Honda’s Crutchlow shared the podium, perhaps the high-water mark of the season for the factory Yamaha team.

Last year’s epic race (in which Marquez, at the start, had his stalled bike pointed southeast while the rest of the grid, pointing in a more northwesterly direction, eagerly awaited the green flag) featured your boy Cal Crutchlow pimping his youngish French rival Johann Zarco for the win, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins on the Suzuki. The Ducati contingent suffered in the tropical heat, Dovizioso on the factory bike at the top of that particular heap in 6th. When last seen, icon Valentino Rossi was loitering in 18th place, 52 seconds out of the lead. There would be no bells ringing in Tavullia that evening. 

Stories from the Past Fortnight 

I’ve seen several articles critical of the crop of Moto2 grads this year, which is, of course, junk. Having expected Quartararo to be the slowest of the four, he was “unconsciously competent” in practice and qualified his Yamaha 5th. Bagnaia, one suspects, would have done very well on the Ducati at Losail had he not broken a (front) wing in the first turn of the race. Alien-apparent Joan Mir spurred his Suzuki as high as 4th before finishing 8th, joining teammate Alex Rins in the top ten. And Oliveira rode his unimpressive KTM RC-16 well enough to get a little public love from team owner Hervé Poncharal.

All this compares to the relative lack of excitement existent in the top ten over at Moto2. New Moto3 grad Jorge Martin, a very macho guy, just had surgery on his forearm, fortunately at a gap in the season. Fellow grad Marco Bezzecchi had a forgettable rookie debut as well. The holdovers, including Qatar winner Lorenzo “BadAss” Baldassari, don’t really scare you too much. Tom Luthi? Alex Marquez, who, after winning the Moto3 title in 2014 and was supposed to power through Moto2 years ago on his way to join his brother with Honda in the premier class? Dude cannot get out of his own way, and looks doomed, never able to earn a proper ride in MotoGP, never able to win a title even in Moto2. The perpetual Little Brother. Augusto Fernandez?  Luca Marini? Enea Bastianini? Xavi Vierge? Not yet anyway.

And please don’t ask me about Moto3 just yet. Still trying to get my bearings on this year’s collection of unpronouncables.

What kind of shape must Jorge Lorenzo be in to not actually notice he had a broken rib at Round One? He figures to be close to 100% until the next time he goes airborne on the twitchy, torque-y Honda rocket. I share most people’s sense that he will be fast at some point in the season, but his health, or lack thereof, may hinder his progress. Too much bouncing around on macadam.

The Appeal Continues

The kerfuffle about a swingarm winglet on the factory Ducati bikes in Qatar—a protest to Race Direction from the other manufacturers, minus Yamaha, which has its own problems. Race Direction, as usual, ruled in favor of the defendant, whereupon the plaintiffs appealed the ruling to some silly MotoCourt of Appeals somewhere, perhaps featuring a Spanish Judge Judy character. The “court” has had the “case” for two weeks. Really? The suspense is killing everyone. I will take the uninformed opinion that this is mostly sour grapes from the companies who failed to figure this thing out. Perhaps over-engineered, the Desmosedici has some clever folks working with aerodynamics and fiberglass. No doubt, regardless of whatever they ask Gigi to change for Argentina, Dovi and Petrux’ results from the desert will certainly stand.

UPDATE: DUCATI WINS THE CASE. HONDA, KTM, SUZUKI ALL IN A SNIT. FIBERGLASS DESIGNERS STOKED.

Vinales’ Stunning Revelation

A recent article entitled “Yamaha’s Vinales to try different riding styles in MotoGP races” begs the subhead: “Spaniard decides to go for wins rather than schvitzing about messing up his paint job.” Which, in turn, begs the lede, “If Vinales finds himself unwilling or unable to go fast in traffic, a subject in which his partner has endowed a chair at the University of Bologna, his career may have already peaked.” He clearly doesn’t have enough bike to run away from the field and stay on his preferred racing line all day. So it’s likely to be tough sledding for the Maverick until his masters give him a faster bike.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended forecast for Termas do Rio Hondo and environs calls for hot weather on Friday and Saturday, with slightly cooler temps on Sunday. Safe to say that a week out no one really knows for sure. (I will update this later in the week.) Prudence would suggest light clothing, umbrellas and sunscreen, as hot and humid is the norm, with those damnable “pop-up PM thundershowers” always a possibility.

As we have come to learn, the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis do not. Making predictions for Round Two is about as fruitful as making predictions for Round One. But I like the Hondas and Suzukis at this track at this time of year. I would expect Marquez, Crutchlow and one of the Suzuki kids, possibly the impertinent Mir, on the podium. We learn little about the true powers in MotoGP at Qatar and Rio Hondo, but the racing is sensational anyway.

I will update the weather during the week.