Moto3 Valencia Results

November 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Young Turk Can Oncu making a name for himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOMORROW:

MotoGP Rider Performance vs. Projections since Silverstone

FRIDAY:

Track Records Analysis by Rider, Manufacturer and Year

Moto2 Valencia Results

November 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Oliveira cruises to Pyrrhic victory 

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

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Trouble in Turn 2, Lap 1

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

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 18, 2018

© Bruce Allen.      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Feel-Good Conclusion to Season of Changes 

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

The Three Races

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

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Early drama in Moto2

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

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

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

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

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Another satisfying win for Andrea Dovizioso.

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

In Retrospect

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

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

_________________Before Jerez           After Le Mans

Vinales         18                3rd                         2nd

Zarco           20                5th                         3rd

Rossi            27                7th                         4th

Petrucci        33                10th                        5th

Miller            23                8th                         6th

Crutchlow       8               4th                         8th

Dovizioso       0               1st                          9th

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

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

Marc Marquez: New Kid in Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorenzo and Marquez Over the Years

November 15, 2018

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Rossi: “10th is possible.” LOL.

November 13, 2018

MotoGP News: Rossi on 2019

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

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

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

2017 photo

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

Marquez MotoGP Point Totals, by year

2013     334

2014     362

2015     242

2016     298

2017     298

2018     321+ Valencia

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

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

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

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MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Curtain Falls on Another Marquez Masterpiece 

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

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

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

Recent History 

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

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

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

Screenshot (333)Finishing Strong – Points Since Silverstone 

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

Andrea Dovizioso               91

Alex Rins                           83

Maverick Vinales                80

Valentino Rossi                  53

Andrea Iannone                 49

Johann Zarco                     45

Alvaro Bautista                  42

Danilo Petrucci                   39

Conclusions? None. Suggestions? Plenty.

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

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

  1. Over.
  2. Rated

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

Dani Pedrosa.

Screenshot (330)Valentino Rossi.

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

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

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Points Projections and Track Records

November 12, 2018

With things winding down, here are the last and latest point and track record charts for 2018.

POINTS PROJECTION JPEG AFTER 18 ROUNDS

 

Mini-battles are highlighted, up to a point. Interesting that Jack Miller has been, for the majority of the season, the rider separating the top half of the grid from the bottom.

Marquez is making a mockery of my pre-season projection. And assuming The Spartan will decide not to ride in the race, saving himself for his new Repsol Honda mates starting on Tuesday.

No new track record at Sepang due to rain on Saturday. We’ll take a closer look at this table once the season is completed.

Track Records Analysis after 18 Rounds JPEG

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi Folds, Marquez Rolls in Malaysia 

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One helluva racetrack, Sepang shimmers in the heat.

For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era. 

With the 2018 season now in its denouement, grand prix motorcycle racing has devolved from a tooth-and-fang battle for fame and glory to a tooth-and-fang battle for peer approval. Jorge Martin won today’s Moto3 race and clinched his first world championship, while Pecco Bagnaia had more than enough to hang with Miguel Oliveira all day and clinch the Moto2 title in the process. Beneath the rare air at the top of the food chain, in all three classes, riders are still furiously pushing themselves and their machines, trying to position themselves for the only thing most of them always have to look forward to: Next Year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Conditions on Friday and Saturday morning for the winnowing were dry and hot, resulting in ten Q2 lambs with no surprises. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, with Alex Rins sixth and Marquez, trying stuff out, in 10th. FP2 scrambled things slightly, with Rins, Marquez, Miller, Viñales and Petrucci on top trailed by Rossi, Dovi and Zarco. The weather changed Saturday afternoon, as did the fortunes of a number of contestants.

With Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro matriculating into Q2 and an old-fashioned Sepang frog-strangler in between the two qualifying sessions, things got Vitamixed during the pole session. Marquez appeared to take pole easily but was penalized six grid spots for obstructing Andrea Iannone in the racing line and being a recidivist, giving fuel to his haters. This produced a front row of Zarco and Rossi on Yamahas and the aggrieved Iannone third. The second row was an all-Ducati affair, featuring Dovi, Miller and Petrucci. Marquez headed row 3 alongside Rins and Bautista. The big loser in the changed conditions was Maverick Viñales, who went from the top Q2 qualifier to 11th on the grid, unable to get anything going in the wet.

Jorge Lorenzo, after sitting around in Spain for a few weeks, flew to Malaysia, gave his fractured wrist a go on Friday, and pronounced himself out of the race on Saturday morning, thus putting the screws to Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, who might have had another memorable weekend on the heels of their success in Australia had he just manned up and stayed home. Fill-in Jodi Torres, subbing for the long-gone Tito Rabat, suffered a heavy crash in FP4 that would keep him out of the race and give him one more thing—for a total of three—in common with Lorenzo. (Spanish, motorcycle racer, DNS at Sepang.) Michele Pirro, however, came up a winner as he stepped onto Lorenzo’s bike on Saturday and qualified comfortably.

So the Yamahas of Zarco and Rossi suffered in the dry, while Viñales suffered in the wet. Sunday’s forecast, with a chance of Biblical rain at any time, caused Race Direction to move the starting time up two hours in an effort to frustrate the rain gods. They could have just as easily moved it BACK two hours, since when the rain would arrive, or not, was problematic. 

The Race 

At the start, the leaders heading out of Turn 1 were Rossi, Zarco, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, hoping against hope for a final career podium, was in the picture, while Maverick Viñales, the questionable Future of Yamaha factory racing, was not, having started 11th and running 10th early. Marquez had a major moment at Turn 15 which he rescued with Another Great Save, but Andrea Iannone, on his back wheel at that moment, had to brake to avoid #93, which sent him skidding into the kitty litter, a case of pure bad luck.

Marquez, pushing for the love of the game only, went through on Miller on Lap 2 and Zarco on Lap 5, while Karel Abraham was busy running off track. Michele Pirro, the latest tenant of Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati, crashed out a lap later. Despite Andrea Dovizioso having won the last two iterations of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a miserable weekend for the Ducati contingent, with Lorenzo in street clothes and, at the end, Dovizioso leading the brand representatives in 6th, followed immediately by Alvaro Bautista, Miller and Danilo Petrucci, nearly boiled alive by the perspiration inside his leathers.

By Lap 11, Rossi led Marquez by over a second, with Zarco, Pedrosa, my boy Alex Rins, Dovizioso and a recovering Viñales trailing. Rins soon went through on Pedrosa into 4th and set his sights on Zarco. Rossi led Marquez by 1.3 seconds.

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Rossi, down and out in Malaysia

On Lap 13, Marquez put the hammer down and initiated a serious chase of his rival. Unlike the usually quick cheetah-running-down-the-gazelle, Plains of Serengeti-style, Marquez’ takedown of Rossi was more of a fox and hounds affair, in which Marquez simply pressured Rossi to exhaustion, allowing the heat and Rossi’s age to combine for an unforced error that continued Rossi’s lamentable descent to the status of Just Another Rider. One might consider that a bold statement until ruminating over the fact that Rossi today finished just behind one Xavier Simeon, he of a single point for the year, who will someday tell his grandkids about The Day He Beat the Greatest Rider of All Time.

Once Rossi lost the lead, Marquez eased up, 4.5 seconds ahead of Zarco, who found himself, his tires seemingly Teflon-coated, being tracked down by Rins and Pedrosa. Rins would overtake the Frenchman on the final lap for second place, while Pedrosa equaled his season-best result, finishing 5th and securing the Colin Edwards “Stayed a Year Too Long” award for 2018. Rins thrusted himself into contention for the Best of the Rest, tied with Zarco for P5 for the year. These two, at least, will head for Valencia with something on the line. 

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Alex Rins, up and coming

The Big Picture 

With Dovizioso having clinched second, it remains up to teammates Rossi and Viñales to face off in Valencia in two weeks for the dubious honor of third place for 2018, Rossi enjoying a two-point advantage as the Flying Circus returns to Europe for its death rattle. Any joy for Rossi today occurred during the Moto2 race, as Luca Marini won the race and Pecco Bagnaia, his teammate on Rossi’s SKY46 team, secured the title. With Jorge Martin having secured the Moto3 crown over Marco Bezzechi, the 2018 season is done and dusted, framed and behind glass.

The announcers today were whispering about a rumor that Rossi is considering backing out of his 2019-2020 contract with Yamaha, or at least the second half thereof. He has no interest whatsoever in further sullying his pristine reputation by winning a Colin Edwards award. I think it highly likely that he will compete next year and then call it a career, allowing Yamaha corporate to promote Franco Morbidelli to the factory team in an orderly fashion. Even the most rabid Rossi fans out there, looking at his record over the past three or four seasons, must admit that he’s lost a step. Either that or a bunch of other top riders have all gained one. 

Static Tranches 

After Phillip Island

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

After Sepang

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

Two Weeks Until Winter

All I can think to say about Round 19 in Valencia is that the race will be three laps shorter than last year. We’ll be right here to bring it to you in living color. Thanks to everyone except Rocky Stonepebble who submitted suggestions for the quote that captures the essence of MotoGP 2018. That, and the testing that starts on Tuesday the 20th, are pretty much all that’s left to look forward to for this year. Ciao.

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Boy, this picture gets older every year.

We Shoulda Known Back Then

November 1, 2018

UNEARTHED 2013 SPREADSHEET JPEG

The chart shows each rider’s results during his first premier class season. When I found this file, the last column didn’t exist. I went back and completed the last column.

Did we mention, in November 2013, that Marc Marquez had just completed the most astonishing rookie season in modern MotoGP history? I thought the numbers I had plugged in for him prior to the start of the season were impressive–3rd in the championship behind Lorenzo and Rossi, a couple of wins, a bunch of podiums.

He blew away every reasonable expectation that year, scoring half again as many points as I or most anyone else expected. 16 podiums in 18 rounds. A single DNF and a silly DQ in Australia. A premier class title that didn’t look all that difficult. When he started 2014 with 10 consecutive wins pretty much everyone realized. Had we paid attention at the end of the 2013 season, we would have known that much sooner. He was a prodigy then. He may become the greatest of all time.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Rossi & Vinales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso—the top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left last time out in Japan—have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season. 

Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, a wounded Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins have credible shots at passing Cal Crutchlow into fifth place for the year. Cal, with a bad ankle, has been put on injured reserve, Stephan Bradl getting the call to pilot the #1 LCR Honda in his stead. Bummer. Tito Rabat is MIA recovering from his terrible injury. Lorenzo has wrist and toe issues. And Zarco, KTM-bound in 2019, knows the Suzukis are coming into their own, threatening his current perch in seventh.

My insistence that Alex Rins has more than Johann Zarco is ready to be tested, the Frenchman’s margin reduced to a mere four points following Sunday’s astonishing crash. Rins, career in the ascendancy, is more motivated than the departing, now possibly gun-shy, Zarco. Iannone wants to prove, again, to Suzuki that they gave up on him too soon. Lorenzo has little on the line at this point; Petrucci needs to scrap to keep Ducati Corse folks happy they promoted him to the factory team next year and to continue chasing that elusive, overdue first premier class win. 

Recent History at Sepang 

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Reduced to an afterthought is the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  By the way, Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  As we wrote last year, “The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter; I know I have. Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their now-eccentric pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.” Sorry. I still believe Marquez, smarting from having screwed the pooch early in the year, baited his main rival and Rossi took the bait. Others I respect feel differently, i.e., Marquez stole Rossi’s last chance at a title for the sheer hell of it. Let it go.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. (The win opened a veritable floodgate for the Italian, as he has won nine more grands prix since.) Contenders Crutchlow, Marquez and Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the dissolving factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall last year, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title would be decided two weeks later in Valencia, Marquez’ lead too big, ending with a whimper, rather than a bang. Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the Sepang race, disregarding the importance of Dovi winning. At the last turn (?), Lorenzo did have the courtesy to accidentally run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” 

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

The domino effect came into play Sunday on the Angel Nieto Ducati team. Homeless #1 rider Alvaro Bautista rode a GP18, on loan from Jorge Lorenzo, to a highly competitive fourth place finish after spending most of the day in the lead group. His erstwhile teammate, well-funded attorney Karel Abraham, inherited Bautista’s GP17, which is a big step up from his GP16, and promptly put it in 11th place, doubling his point total for the year. Both riders, I expect, have told management that putting them on better bikes would produce better results, in direct contravention of Ducati Corse policy against speaking truth to power.

Bautista’s confidence coming into the race might have traced back to his high-speed crash in FP4, when he found it necessary to bail on the bike at speed. The now rider-less bike proceeded on its own, across the lawn, perhaps a hundred yards or so before smashing into the tire wall. At that moment, sitting in the grass, Alvaro might have realized that the GP18 can ride itself and all he needed to do was hold on. (Better yet, since it wasn’t even his bike, Sr. Aspar wouldn’t be yelling at him all week for destroying another Ducati.) All positives for the well-groomed man departing for WSBK at the end of the year, underachiever tag firmly in place, separated from greatness by tenths of a second per lap. The blink of an eye.

Your Weekend Outlook

Without even looking I can tell you that the weekend weather forecast calls for temps in the upper 80’s and low 90’s, humidity like a blanket, with torrential rain possible at any moment, generally in the afternoon. Brolly girls required. Although the tracks are very different, the conditions will be similar to Buriram where Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales podiumed. It’s one of those long circuits that makes the 15-minute qualifying sessions so difficult for some riders who, like Valentino, shall remain nameless.

In the words of the late lamented Mr. Spock, wagering on this race is illogical. I expect to see Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso in the top five, joined, perhaps, by the likes of Bautista, Rins or Marquez. Marquez remembers his crash here in 2011, the one that almost cost him his career, and will tread gently in and around the puddles. And Valentino Rossi. Looking forward to Hafizh Syahrin playing the “home race” card and praying for rain.

With the season drawing to a close, I need to begin the process of locating a pithy historical quote which accurately sums up MotoGP 2018. Readers wishing to contribute suggestions (which, if selected, we will publish with attribution [to the person quoted and submitted by you, the reader]) may share them below in the Disqus Comments section. Pithy quotes need not apply to Marquez; I’m looking for something to say to the twenty-something riders who aren’t #93.

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.