MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

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

MotoGP Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

Errata

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

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Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

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#93 Return Date?

October 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

Here’s the Crash article.

MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2020 Aragon I Results

October 18, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rins, Suzuki capture solid win; madness continues

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday 

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

Saturday

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

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

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

Rider            Time Remaining

Morbidelli               12:00

Miller                       9:15

Quartararo               8:30

Vinales                     2:00

Quartararo               0.00

The first four rows, then:         

1        Fabio QUARTARARO

2        Maverick VIÑALES

3        Cal CRUTCHLOW

         

4        Franco MORBIDELLI

5        Jack MILLER

6        Joan MIR

         

7        Takaaki NAKAGAMI

8        Danilo PETRUCCI

9        Aleix ESPARGARO

         

10      Alex RINS

11      Alex MARQUEZ

12      Pol ESPARGARO

 

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

Race Day

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

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

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

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

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

Round 9

Rider

Points

Round 10

Rider

Points

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

MIR

121

 

MIR

105

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

DOVIZIOSO

97

 

VINALES

109

 

VINALES

96

 

DOVIZIOSO

106

 

NAKAGAMI

81

 

NAKAGAMI

92

 

MORBIDELLI

77

 

MORBIDELLI

87

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

From Aragon to Aragon

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

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

Ciao.

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2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

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

Recent History in Sarthe

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

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

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

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

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

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

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

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

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

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

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

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

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

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

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

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

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

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One big old church.

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MotoGP 2020 October 2 Tranching Around

October 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen      October 2, 2020

MotoGP 2020 October 1 Tranching Around

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

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

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

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

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

Tranche V    Tito Rabat; Bradley Smith; Stefan Bradl

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

Re-Alignment of Teams and Riders at Ducati

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

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

VR46 Racing to be a Yamaha Team?

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

Le Mans Looms

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

MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

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

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

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

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Ahead

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

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

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

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Fabio leaning

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

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

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MotoGP 2020 Misano II Results

September 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Vinales prevails; championship tighter than wallpaper 

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

Saturday 

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Moto3 Top 5 after 8 Rounds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The top ten standings for 2020 are simply ridiculous:

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

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

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

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

Rimini local color aerial

                                       A little local color from Rimini.

September 13, 2020

MotoGP San Marino I Results

Franco Morbidelli breaks through; championship tightens

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

Notes from Friday

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

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

Top three in FP1 were on different rears.

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

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

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

Notes from Saturday

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

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

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

Notes from Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Misano I Preview

September 10, 2020

© Bruce Allen    September 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

What Do the Tranches Look Like?

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

Tranche I:    Quartararo, Vinales, Dovizioso, Miller

Tranche II:   P Espargaro, Rossi, Mir, Nakagami

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

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

Tranche V:   Smith, Rabat, Lecuona, Bradl

Sunday Riders Who’ve Won Here Previously, and More

Dovizioso and Rossi in MotoGP

Bagnaia, Zarco and Pol Espargaro in Moto2

Alex Rins in Moto3

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

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

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

So, What Do We Know Heading into Sunday?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a little stolen eye candy for you.

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MotoGP: Life in Tier Two

August 30, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

#11     Franco Morbidelli     Italian     Petronas Yamaha

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

#12     Johann Zarco     French     Exponsorama Ducati

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

#13     Alex Rins     Spain     Suzuki Ecstar

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

#14     Danilo Petrucci     Italy    Factory Ducati

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

#15     Alex Marquez     Spain     Repsol Honda

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

#16     Aleix Espargaro     Spain     Factory Aprilia

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

#17     Iker Lecuona     Spain     Tech3 KTM

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

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

#18     Pecco Bagnaia     Italy     Pramac Ducati

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

#19     Bradley Smith     Great Britain     Factory Aprilia

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

#20     Tito Rabat    Spain     Esponsorama Ducati

See #19 above.

#21     Cal Crutchlow     Great Britain     LCR Honda

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

***

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

Here are some images from last year in San Marino.

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Share Comments on Motorcycle.com!

August 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Styria Results

August 23, 2020

© Bruce Allen                               August 23, 2020

Round 5 and It’s Anyone’s Year

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

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

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

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The new safety fence at Turns 2 and 3.

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

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

The KTM bikes seem to love Red Bull Ring.

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

You just can”t have too many aircraft pictures.

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

1        Albert ARENAS       KTM             106

2        Ai OGURA               Honda          81

3        John MCPHEE         Honda           67

4        Celestino VIETTI     KTM             66

5        Tony ARBOLINO     Honda           60

6        Tatsuki SUZUKI      Honda           59

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

1        Luca MARINI                     Kalex            87

2        Enea BASTIANINI             Kalex            79

3        Jorge MARTIN                  Kalex            79

4        Tetsuta NAGASHIMA        Kalex            68

5        Marco BEZZECCHI            Kalex            65

6        Sam LOWES                    Kalex            59

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

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

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

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          70

2        Andrea DOVIZIOSO         Ducati           67

3        Jack MILLER                    Ducati           56

4        Brad BINDER                    KTM             49

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          48

6        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           46

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

MotoGP is the bomb-diggity.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pol Espargaro

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

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

Quick Hitters

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

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

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

MotoGP:Red Bull Ring I

August 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

MotoGP Qualifying and Practice, Etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day in Austria

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

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

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

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The Undercards

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

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

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

Let This One Percolate for a Few Days

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

MotoGP: 23 Things We Learned at Brno

August 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with the MotoGP race:

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

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

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

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

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Maria Herrera with her brolly guy, from better days

MotoGP + Covid = No Brolly Girls

July 28, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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For Fabio, life is good.

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

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

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

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

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

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

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

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

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

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

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

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

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

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

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

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

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

What else?

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

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

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

The Undercards

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

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

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

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

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

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

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

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

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

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

*Injured, likely to miss time.

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

 

MotoGP: Jerez 2010. We were there.

July 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

Getting to the Spanish Grand Prix is half the fun

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #1 solved.

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

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

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

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

Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (495)

Rounds One and Two will be here at Jerez

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Fabulous Fabio, living large

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

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

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

Jack Miller

Veteran Jack Miller, the great Australian hope.

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

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

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

motogp-logo

 

 

 

MotoGP: Tire Warmers On

June 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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#93, gold helmet

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

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Young Fabio, new kid in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Joan Mir.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominoes Falling Like Mad in MotoGP

June 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio in his Moto2 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

MotoGP: Catalunya Off, Season in Peril

April 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

As if.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s good to be the king

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

If this is it, this was good stuff.

Best Case: No MotoGP Until June

March 21, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

Ain’t none of that happening.

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

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

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

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

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

 

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

800px-Circuit_of_the_Americas_logo.svg

This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

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

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

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

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

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

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Spain declares national emergency over coronavirus

March 13, 2020

MotoGP 2020 and The Domino Theory

March 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

Domino Theory

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

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

Prior to posting this article, this news bulletin appeared.

 

 

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

Argentina confirms 6 coronavirus cases

March 9, 2020

 

Health authorities in Argentina announced six new cases of novel coronavirus on Friday, according to a press release from the government of Argentina.

This brings the country’s total number of cases to eight.

According to the statement, all six new cases had traveled to different European countries. Those diagnosed with the virus are two women and four men between the ages of 57 and 72-years-old.

Qatar: Premier class race scrubbed.

Buriram: Race delayed until fall.

Austin: City under state of emergency.

MotoGP 2020: Screwed.

MotoGP: Coronavirus is now a thing

March 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen   March 2, 2020

Here we are, on the cusp of MotoGP 2020, and along comes your basic global pandemic just in time to disrupt the racing season. First, it was the premier class race weekend in Qatar cancelled, as all incoming travelers from Italy were to be put in mandatory 14-day quarantine, thereby defeating the purpose of returning to Doha. The lightweight and intermediate class bikes were already at Losail testing, and are staying and racing this weekend. The “crowd,” at these things is usually thin anyway; this year should be eerily sparse.

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Now we hear, just today, that Round 2 in Thailand is cancelled completely, but hopes to be re-scheduled later in the year. And it’s kind of silly to think that the xenophobic United States would allow a big ol’ group of ferners to invade–INVADE!!–Austin in April for COTA. By then, the U.S. should be in full bloom, virus-wise, with National Guard units stationed at all southern border crossings and ports-of-entry to block the entry of airborne pathogens into U.S. airspace. As if. Strong borders are healthy borders. Uh-huh.

Argentina, as of today, has no reported cases of the virus, making it one of the later countries in line to experience the essentially inevitable spread of the illness. Will it be there by mid-April? Given the state of the art in early March, one would argue yes. We could easily see Round 4 go up in smoke. Looking at the calendar, it is easy to envision, if one is in the right mood, the entire season being cancelled, one race at a time, the domino theory in full swing, until mid-season, when sponsors, etc., are going to want to pull the plug and cut their losses. It could happen.

What little I know about pathogens against which humans show little or no resistance is that they tend to multiply logarithmic-ally, the curve starting horizontal and quickly arcing to an almost vertical slope. Not everyone who is exposed to this one gets sick, and most of those who get sick recover; a mortality rate of around 2%. Which sounds small, until one considers the possibility that 2%, when applied to the billions of planetary inhabitants, comes out to a big number.

It seems clear that pretty much everyone everywhere is going to become exposed at some point in the not-too-distant future. Despite this fact, gatherings such as MotoGP race weekends are frowned upon, due to the proximity and numbers of fans, which would be less-than-usual anyway, for the same reason. All of which must have Dorna, the manufacturers, and the sponsors plucking their eyelashes out, one at a time, under such stress. When it’s deus ex machina at work, it’s time to call the insurance companies, who will cite “hand of God” in rejecting their claims. Call the lawyers.

Clearly, this is going to have a major effect upon the MotoGP season. The most important, from here, is that it gives Marc Marquez time to heal, and gives Honda time to figure out WTF is wrong with the 2020 bike. Everyone else, other than Andrea Iannone, looked ready to rumble.

A 16- or 17-race season, beginning in May at Jerez, might be the best thing to hope for. To hope that the virus, like the flu virus, gets worse when the weather is cold and kind of goes away when things warm up. But then there are those cases in Qatar already…

Therefore: The fate of the entire racing season depends upon whether the coronavirus becomes less, um, aggressive in warm weather. What little data I’ve seen suggest this is likely, in which case life in the paddock will go on in an abridged season. In the unlikely event it does not, we could be talking about the 2021 season before June.

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MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.

2019 MotoGP Team Projections

December 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

This is the 2019 season preview, penned in February 2019. I thought it was worth re-posting, if only to get a laugh at #8.

Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

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Other than the amazing results from the satellite Yamaha team, we had this pretty well worked out. I reversed the bottom two teams, for which I shall forgive myself. Otherwise, not bad for a guy scratching his head in his kitchen.

Comings and Goings

November 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen

With all the changes in riders, teams and divisions, we need a program to ID the players. We had just digested the Alex Marquez-to-Repsol Honda thing and the expected back-filling at Moto2 Marc VDS by some 22 year-old Spanish rider, in this case one Augusto Fernandez. Avintia Ducati then went out and cut an improved third-place  deal with Ducati going forward, addressing the general perception that they were something of a stepchild when it came to MotoGP teams.

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Avintia were officially prepared to head into 2020 with Karel Abraham and his Czech money and Tito Rabat, his virgin MotoGP potential intact after his Moto2 title years ago. Suddenly, Abraham “got quit” by management, despite a contract for 2020 he apparently intended to fulfill. Sounds like a buyout to me. And instead of naming vagabond Johann Zarco to ride alongside Rabat, they assign the upcoming Jerez test to a rider who just finished third in the e-racing season for Ducati, a guy I never heard of named Eric Granado, who is under contract in the e-division for 2020. So they’re working out the deal for Zarco’s one-year contract on a bike he is unlikely to be able to ride with any success, lacking the edge grip of the Yamaha upon which he was a rising star.

Disorder is the name of the game during these short days and long nights. What started out as a dull silly season has suddenly become dilly dilly due to the big names involved–Lorenzo, Alex, Lecuona, Binder, Abraham, etc. The musical chairs in Moto2 which are beyond my ability to distill. And the usual rat-race in Moto3. Someone somewhere is likely providing outstanding coverage of the off-season events taking place lower on the food chain.

As for Zarco, he appears to be giving a reprise of the career clinic recently concluded by Lorenzo. It has been said he’s not as good as he thinks he is, that his bright intro on a highly ride-able Yamaha in 2017 and 2018 had more to do with the bike than the rider, other than they were well-matched. This, in turn, reminds me of a British admiral in a Bernard Cornwell novel who, at war with the French in the 1800’s, was admiring their warships and remarked how they reminded him of their women–“beautiful, and under-manned.” Zarco, who looked like a prospective Sub-Alien in 2017, is now scuffling and scrambling to remain relevant in the premier class.

The disorder Zarco appears to share with Jorge Lorenzo–the sin of pride–would explain much of what has been going on with him since he left Tech 3 after the 2018 season for the greener pastures and bright future at KTM. This grade of mistake alters the career trajectory for a rider, as has been the case with Zarco, Lorenzo and Rossi before him. But rare is the Dani Pedrosa who stays with one team for a dozen years. It speaks to the relationship HRC and the Marquez coterie have that they can continue to sign progressively more expensive two-year contracts with no public drama or angst. Which gives a little credit to the thesis that Marc Marquez is not a complete jerk, one I share.

Whatever. Life goes on, as they say, in the yachting class.,

Final Track Records 2019

November 20, 2019

Annotation 2019-11-20 072129

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain falls on an eventful 2019 

16-year old Sergio Garcia won his first grand prix race in Moto3, becoming the 12th rider in 19 rounds to stand on the top step. Brad Binder won again in Moto2, showing the world he’s ready for MotoGP. And Marc Marquez won yet again, clinching the triple crown—rider, team and manufacturer—for his brothers on the Repsol Honda team. Now, it’s 2020. If you believe what you hear, the team may feature an additional brother starting this week. 

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Lorenzo’s sudden retirement has tossed a spanner into the “who will be working where in 2020?” mechanism, which had appeared to have been sorted. Too many rumors to try to process, so I’ll ignore them and put some stuff on the blog until the picture becomes clear. My only thought of any consequence is that I bet HRC wishes they could get Brad Binder rather than Alex Marquez, if they decide not to go with Zarco. Plenty of food for thought. 

Practice and Qualifying 

As has become customary in the premier class, Yamahas owned Friday. FP1 was cold, and FP2 cool. Times were slow. Quartararo and Vinales topped the sheet with Morbidelli sitting in P5 and your boy Rossi, having crashed twice, loafing in P14. He would get somewhat more serious on Saturday.

FP3 saw ten riders in the 1:30’s, as track temps began to rise. Joan Mir joined mostly usual suspects passing straight into Q2, including Rossi. Rins and Pol Espargaro graduated from Q1 into Q2. After a somewhat uneventful Q2 it was Quartararo, Marquez and Miller on Row 1 and Vinales, Morbidelli and Dovizioso making up Row 2. Lorenzo’s all-time track record from 2016 remained sentimentally in place. Rossi made a hash of Q2 and would start Sunday from P12.

All KTM front row in Moto3 for Sunday, with Dalla Porta swinging from P7. In Moto2, it was Jorge Navarro on pole, up-and-coming Jorge Martin in the middle, and MV Augusta pilot Stefano Manzi third, titleist Alex Marquez putzing around in P15.

The Races 

Moto3 was a demolition derby that started with Aron Canet’s KTM depositing oil on Turns 5 and 6 and ended, later than scheduled, with Dennis Foggia in the hospital and 11 other riders hitting the deck, some for the duration. No word as this goes to press on Foggia’s condition, other than he was conscious on the track. Two 16-year olds, Sergio Garcia and Xavier Artigas, ended the day on the podium along with veteran Andrea Migno. The world awaits word on the condition of Foggia on a bad day for KTM.

The Moto2 race was proof that KTM promoted the right rider, as Brad Binder ended his Moto2 career with three straight wins, coming within three points of taking the 2019 title himself. Dude can ride a motorcycle. The Great South African Hope was joined on the podium by good ol’ Tom Luthi and Jorge Navarro, with MV Augusta hopeful Stefano Manzi coming this close to giving MV their first podium appearance since, ahem, 1961.

The MotoGP race was mostly dull—I know, right? —with Marquez seizing both the win and the team championship/triple crown. He was pursued to the line, after Lap 8, by Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller. Johann Zarco crashed out and, moments later, did another of his famed backflips, this time due to his having been submarined by a riderless KTM RC16 formerly occupied by Iker Lecuona. Somehow, both of Zarco’s legs weren’t broken, and he was seen afterwards sitting in the garage chatting with his crew, apparently no worse for wear. Fabio deservedly won the top independent rider and Rookie of the Year awards and has been promised a factory spec M1 starting during Tuesday’s Valencia test.

2019

This year, as in many others, we (me and the voices in my head) cut a few corners to come up with a quote or saying that endeavors to capture the essence of an entire season of grand prix motorcycle racing, a fool’s errand if ever there were. Was. This year, however, the premier class season seemed like a replay, like we can now take Marc Marquez’ brilliance for granted. Six titles in seven campaigns. Ho hum.

For me, the story was the fall of Jorge Lorenzo. King of the World in 2015, done and dusted in 2019. The memorable, for some, line from the song “Bright Eyes” by Mike Batt goes like this:

“How can the light that burned so brightly

suddenly burn so pale?”

My 2008 image is that of a 4th of July sparkler, so abrupt and dazzling at its ignition that it hurts the eyes before quickly going orange to gray to black. Lorenzo came up from the 250cc class and had the batteries to stick out his jaw at Valentino Fricking Rossi, one of the brightest stars in the firmament of MotoGP history, at the peak of his formidable powers. The competitive friction between the two forced the building of a temporary wall in the garage at each race venue. Lorenzo, lightning quick at 21 years old, spent two seasons sailing over handlebars as Rossi’s unwilling protégé before seizing his first premier class title in 2010. Stoner beat him in 2011, but he won again in 2012. Marquez arrived like a fireball in 2013, but Lorenzo took advantage of a bad RC213V to win again, at age 28, in 2015.

He retired, scarred, battered and humbled, today. And that was that. Three premier class championships in six years. Today, 32 years old and crashing out on the back side of the apex of his career.

Lorenzo’s story illustrates how pride, of all the capital sins, is the root for the other six. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about Yamaha’s apparent favoring of Rossi in bike development matters. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about the whole Rossi merchandising and money machine, such that it drove him to switch teams and defect to Ducati for the 2017 season, to team up with Andrea Dovizioso. It was Lorenzo’s pride, in wanting to teach Rossi and Yamaha a lesson, that led to his professional demise today.

It was so important to Jorge Lorenzo that he be #1 that he would give a three-year clinic on how to fold a generally stellar career. Alien-grade career. His leap to Ducati in 2017 was a grievous error. The subsequent switch to Honda this year was irretrievable.

Had he not come up against perhaps the greatest rider of all time in 2013 he would likely have won a few more titles. My late mother used to insist that timing is the essence of success; it was Lorenzo’s bad luck to come up against Marc Marquez the same way it was Rossi’s bad luck to come up against Lorenzo. It is worse for Lorenzo because he was younger when it occurred.

Like him or not, we should be grateful for the memories he gave us as an Alien in MotoGP. He showed some class in knowing when it was time to walk away. No hard feelings, Jorge. As the Irish say,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Exodus of the Aliens 

By this time next year, three of the original Aliens—Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—will have left the building. Under the reign of Honda ruler Marc Marquez the battle for #2 in the world will feature some new faces. Who will be the new Aliens?

The reality of The Marquez Era dictates that we adjust the format of the tranche “system” of rider rankings, as follows:

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

After Valencia:

Alien:                    Marc Marquez

Sub-Aliens:          Dovizioso, Vinales, Quartararo, Miller

Tranche 2:           Rossi, Petrucci, Rins, Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3:           Crutchlow, Mir, Oliveira, Zarco

Tranche 4:           Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, Kallio, Iannone

Tranche 5:           Lorenzo, Abraham, Rabat, Syahrin, (Nakagami)

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Until Next Year

MO and I have agreed to try this all over again next year. I’m pretty sure the reason they keep me around is all the quality comments we’re able to kick off on DISQUS by being highly opinionated, reasonably articulate, and semi-informed. Moreover, the discussions are generally smart and respectful, rising above the usual BS found in online forums. Thus, it is you, the reader, that I thank for the success of this side hustle that puts me well into four figures annually of which I give the IRS roughly half.

Good thing I’m not doing this for the money. My deal with Evans is that Dennis is not allowed to edit the race previews, no matter how libelous they may be. So what this gig does not provide in remuneration it provides in private laughs. And it’s true for all the real writers at MO who are being asked to do more for less each year, the squeeze of the domestic motorcycle market being felt in many places. My only gripe is that they don’t take me to Italy with them for EICMA and a little comic relief. I could fetch their espressos for them.

I will try to interject some thoughts during the off-season at Late Braking MotoGP. I say this every year and rarely come through. With the late season drama at Repsol Honda there may be some news for a few more weeks. Otherwise, it continues to be a gas being the MotoGP Correspondent at Motorcycle.com. Maybe next year they’ll make me the MotoGP Editor. And send me a hat or something.

Again this year, thanks to our loyal readers and erstwhile commenters. You are the bomb.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2019

© Bruce Allen

A Marquez family clambake coming up at Ricardo Tormo 

Poor Lorenzo Dalla Porta, first-time grand prix champion, winner of the 2019 Moto3 title. The Italians in the crowd will support him but he is doomed to get lost in the sauce of the Marquez brothers’ dual championships in Moto2 and MotoGP. Someone please just keep papa Julian off camera. 

MOTORSPORT - MotoGP, GP Czech Republic

Readers unhappily suffering through The Marquez Era in MotoGP will be doubly put off this week. Little brother Alex wins his first Moto2 title and second overall. He is staying in Moto2 for another year, waiting for a Pramac Ducati seat to open up for 2021-22. Things appear set for Ducati Corse to declare Danilo Petrucci a failure, Jack Miller a success, and Pecco Bagnaia the eventual successor to Andrea Dovizioso assuming all goes well and the creek don’t rise. This would make Alex and Bagnaia teammates for, say, a season, with one of them getting promoted to the factory team when Dovi retires or gets retired. My money would be on the Italian. 

Recent History at Ricardo Tormo 

In 2016, 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 in P2, 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.

Two years ago, we 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. It was Dani Pedrosa’s last career MotoGP win.

Last year, the MotoGP race 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. 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 emotionally unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and not the last, time in KTM colors. Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray postscript of an afternoon. Half price on all MotoGP gear in the concession tents after the races. 

Rummaging Through the Attic 

Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to Lorenzo: Fish or cut bait. Fascinating article claiming your boy Carmelo delivered some advice, via the interwebs, to my boy Jorge. As if these issues don’t consume El Gato every waking hour, as he wallows in his season of existential disaster, worse by far than his first year with Ducati, which was a dumpster fire itself. World championships in 2010, 2012 and 2015. The experience at Ducati reminded him he’s human. The experience at Honda reminds him that he makes a living at 220 mph and that one more unexpected bad moment could end his life.

I would like to see Jorge retire for health reasons. Dorna, in the person of Ezpeleta, apparently agrees. Lorenzo is, at this stage, bad for the Repsol brand, bad for the MotoGP brand, bad even for the Lorenzo brand, and these guys are brand managers first and foremost. Honda could slot Zarco or Stefan Bradl on a one-year deal and see how it goes, line up an Alien for 2021-22.

Just in order to avoid being accused of forgetting this milestone altogether, I should acknowledge #93 having set the all-time single season MotoGP points record over 18 rounds in Sepang. Captain America is now Captain Earth.

Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona will step on up this week in MotoGP for KTM, taking the seat of his injured future teammate Miguel Oliveira. This should be a valuable learning experience for the Spanish teen. Recall our chestnut that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. I expect that we’ll see young Iker on the deck a few times this weekend at his home crib. The RC16 more bike than he’s used to.

Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, Bradley Smith—lost souls currently on the refuse pile of MotoGP. Growing up, they were all among the best young riders in their entire respective countries, and they can’t make a decent living in the big leagues. We assume it goes on even more in Moto2 and, especially, Moto3, for the riders and teams living at the bottom of the food chain. Comparable to the alphabet soup days in MotoGP, with ART and CRT works lucky to finish on the lead lap on Sundays, teams being asked to hold their paychecks. Stuff you don’t normally think about watching them go ‘round and round.

Apropos of nothing, the nomadic lifestyle of the families of young riders coming up in AMA Flat Track would make a nice Mark Neale film. Living in big RVs, humping from Arizona to California to Illinois, hoping to win enough at each race to pay for gas and food. Hoping Junior doesn’t get hurt. Mom and dad, siblings, lots of racing gear, the bike, on and on. Looking at the world through a windshield, the Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen version. Entire families making huge sacrifices hoping their boy is the next Nicky Hayden. Probably hasn’t changed that much in 30 years. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend calls for cold temps and bright skies. Perfect for raking leaves, not so great for racing, with morning lows dipping into the 40’s. The MotoGP grid, remaining more or less intact for next year—unless something dramatic happens at Repsol Honda—has very little to race for this round. Lecuona will want to make a good first impression. Vinales and Rins may have a thing about who finishes third. Fabio, Petrucci and Rossi will argue about fifth place, Danilo fighting for his professional life at this point. And Fabio needs a win in the worst way. I’m just not sure this is the right track, in the right conditions.

As usual with Moto2 and Moto3, I have no idea who will appear on the podium, since I rarely do and a meaningless season finale is more unpredictable than other rounds. With Alex Marquez and Lorenzo Dalla Porta having nothing but their pride on the line, Valencia appears to be a good place for some ambitious young riders to try to get in the lead group and make some noise while most folks are looking ahead to 2020.

We will be here on Sunday for the wrap. Thanks for your unyielding patience putting up with this drivel. This late in the season, it’s all we got.

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Alex Marquez sheds monkey, wins Moto2 title 

It’s all over but the shouting for grand prix motorcycle racing in 2019. With Alex Marquez seizing the day in Moto2 from the second step of the podium, all three titles are now settled. Round 19 in Valencia will be largely window dressing, a fashion show, a curtain call for some riders and a resume-builder for others. 

Today’s races, as actively announced as any all year, Matt and Steve occasionally yelling their lungs out, were mostly pseudo-suspenseful. Sure, there was some action worth the price of admission, especially in Moto3, but both Moto2 and MotoGP were high-speed parades. This late in the season, most fans are seeking entropy, disorder, a shaking up of the usual order of things. With the exception of the cluster on Lap 7 of the Moto3 race, things proceeded in a painfully orderly fashion. 

Before we get too far into it, lost in the sauce of Phillip Island (read: overlooked by the writer) last week were several indications that the members of the highly touted 2019 rookie class not named Quartararo are starting to get things hooked up. Pecco Bagnaia missed his first podium by 5/100ths, and Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to a season best P5. They’re coming. Miguel Oliveira, despite being consigned to the KTM satellite team again next year, appears to be the real deal. These four guys will stir things up in 2020 and complicate contract considerations for all of the teams heading into 2021.

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“Dude, where’s my bike?”

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Practice and Qualifying

The grid would be missing two riders this weekend. Tito Rabat was DNS with injuries from Aragon. Oliveira gave it a go in FP1 and subsequently declared himself out with injuries inflicted during practice last week. Rabat’s team went out of its way to issue a release stating with utter confidence their belief that Tito will heal completely by the time Valencia rolls around and will be there fighting for the podium in front of his Spanish compatriots. Of course he will.

Dani Pedrosa’s lap record from 2015 was shattered over and over again, starting Friday with Fabio Quartararo in FP2, when he broke the previous record, set by himself in FP1. Fabio was in a different world on Friday. Kind of the way Marquez is on Sundays. Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi were hanging around in the top five, but Sepang on Friday was all Fabio and The Chasers. Marquez was loafing in sixth after FP2, having completed 18 laps all day compared to Mir’s 34. With Marquez joining The Chasers, the rest of the lambs included Miller, Bagnaia, Rins and our boy Johann Zarco who, passing directly to Q2 in P10, is busy proving that, as hard as it is to ride the Honda, it’s not as hard as riding the KTM.

The main combatants in Q1 included Crutchlow, Petrucci, Mir and Aleix. When the dust cleared, Cal ruined everyone’s day with the fastest lastest lap of the session, keeping Mir and Espargaro on the outside looking in. The end of Q2 saw Marquez get his just desserts after spending the entire session dogging Fabio, getting under his skin. His “cheeky” behavior was rewarded by a cosmic highside late in the session, putting him in P11 on Sunday.

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Marquez losing it in Q2.

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That’s going to leave a mark.

Subsequently, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales and, finally, young Fabio himself broke the all-time track record, putting three Yamahas on the front row, two of them from the new Petronas team, punching well above its weight. Miller, Crutchlow and Rossi made up Row 2. And Johann Zarco put his RC213V in P9 for Sunday, on just his second date with the Honda. Quartararo etches his name yet again on the list of all-time track records.

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In the not-dead-yet Moto2 contest, series leader Alex Marquez took pole, joined on the front row by Tetsuma Nagashima and Brad Binder. Xavi Vierge, contender Tom Luthi and rookie Jorge Martin would start from Row 2. The top 12 qualifiers were in the 2:05’s, tighter than a nun’s knees. In Moto3, Marcos Ramirez seized pole and bragging rights, joined on the front by Aron Canet and Albert Arenas. Row 2 would feature John McPhee, Kaito Toba and champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta, who could easily adopt a “win or bin” attitude on Sunday.

The Races 

The Moto3 race was proceeding swimmingly until Lap 6, when Gabriel Rodrigo, fighting for the lead with Tatsuki Suzuki and Marcos Ramirez, initiated an appalling high side in the middle of everyone, taking Suzuki with him and running Ramirez into the grass for 200 yards, dropping him from third to 12th. Alonso Lopez, minding his own business in sixth place, caught something out of the corner of his eye moments before finding an expensive 250cc racing motorcycle lying on the asphalt directly in front of him, with which he collided, sending bike and rider skyward and causing him to land ¾ on his shoulder an ¼ on his head, with a big dent in his left foot for good measure.

Aside from champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta winning the race, it needs to be pointed out that three of the main contestants included Jaume Masia (age 19), Celestino Vietti (18) and second place finisher Sergio Garcia, winning his first podium for the Estella Galicia team at the tender age of 16 years.

Moto2 was all Brad Binder, Alex Marquez and Tom Luthi all day. Binder led most of the way, looking great, but there was very little action to speak of. For Luthi and Binder, short of assaulting Marquez on track with a tire iron, all they could do was to go as fast as possible. Winning the podium battle on a day like today is awesome unless one is knowingly, simultaneously losing the war. Kind of like a big old kiss from one’s sister.

MotoGP, which had been billed as a possible Petronas Yamaha clambake, didn’t turn out as expected. The podium of Vinales, Marquez and Dovizioso was a bit of a letdown. A bigger letdown was watching Valentino Rossi dog Andrea Dovizioso for a full 14 laps without ever finding a way through onto his first podium in 14 rounds. In the olden days Rossi would have found a way around his power disadvantage and de-pantsed a Dovizioso in his sleep. That day has now passed. Morbidelli and Quartararo finished the day sixth and seventh, respectively.

The Suzuki factory boys of Alex Rins and Joan Mir were feeling fractious today. Rins banged into Jack Miller on Lap 7 and lost one of his aero fins, while Miller appeared to have small pieces of his bike falling off for the rest of the day. Later, on Lap 18, Mir hip-checked Johann Zarco out of eighth place and onto the deck, having to take a long-lap penalty afterward that cost him a spot or two. Zarco has been solid on the Honda after a quick handshake and two chaperoned dates. Good for him.

Penultimate Tranches 

After Phillip Island:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco 

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

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

Season Finale in Valencia

Two weeks until we button things up for the year. I confess to not being terribly interested in the desperate struggles taking place down in the food chain, i.e., which riders are locked in a knife fight for ninth place in Moto2. But the show will go on. We can look forward to the pleasure of seeing some new faces in new places over the winter and next spring. And we here at MO will be beavering away on finding the perfect quote to capture the essence of the season. And if we can’t find one we like, we’ll just make one up.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Brolly Girl of the Year

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Fabio got himself an upgrade this weekend.

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MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Moto2: The last good time in town 

Approaching Round 18, MotoGP and Moto3 have been decided. All that remains is for series leader and younger brother Alex Marquez to seize the 2019 Moto2 championship by the lapels and assert his heritage. He is a Marquez and he is overdue. He needs to put his boot on the throat of the title chase and clinch in Malaysia. Above all, he must avoid some kind of dogfight in Valencia, an opportunity to choke away a title and a budding career. Otherwise he gets stuck with the “little brother that couldn’t” label the rest of his life.

Alex Marquez

I doubt many people would have picked Alex to take the 2019 title back in February. He was, at that time, a classic underachiever in four well-funded seasons in Moto2 after a title in Moto3 in 2014. But by mid-season this year it looked like he couldn’t miss. Since the summer break he has, so to speak, come back to the field, such that Tom Luthi and Brad Binder are still mathematically in it.

By agreeing to stay in Moto2 for 2020 at a time it was assumed he would win the title, he essentially committed to winning two titles—2019, which was considered in the bag, and then 2020, giving him the pick of factory teams for a 2021-22 contract. But he needs 2019, since the 21-22 contracts will be getting signed in 2020 before the season ends. Even if he ends up winning in 2020 his bargaining position won’t be nearly as strong if he fails to secure the 2019 title.

Marquez does not want this to come down to a dogfight in Valencia. Does not. A podium in Malaysia would pretty much decide things. But his record here over four years stinks—two P7 and two DNF—so that seems unlikely. Whatever, he needs to find a way to clinch in Asia. 

Recent History in Malaysia 

“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.” In a decade writing about this stuff, this was one of my favorite sentences. Sorry, where was I? Right, recent history.

The 2016 joust 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. 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.  Dovi was joined on the podium by the soon-to-be-a-memory factory Yamaha team of Butch and Sundance–Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall 2017, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, on the heels of a debacle in Australia, 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 with Marquez off the podium, Dovi ensured that the 2017 title would be formally decided two weeks later in Valencia. In the end the Spaniard’s lead was too big, and the championship ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the 2017 race, ignoring the importance of Dovi winning. At or near the last turn, Lorenzo did have the decency to run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” Good thing he doesn’t think he’s from Crete.

Last year: For the first 16 laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to those days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls with Jordan. We were brought hurtling back to earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, his unforced error, crashing out of the lead no less, handing the win to that trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the podium celebration, but it kind of felt like the end of an era. For me, anyway.

Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.

News You Can Use

A bit of a re-shuffling of the deck from the original announcement from KTM re next year’s riders in the premier class. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original announcement from KTM have Lecuona moving up to the factory team with Espargaro? This being because Herve Poncharal originally didn’t want the factory team (after Zarco bailed) poaching Miguel Oliveira, whose future with KTM is as bright as anyone’s, if you catch my meaning. Now, it appears, all has been reconsidered. Brad Binder will join Espargaro on the factory team, with a snubbed Oliveira, feeling passed over, and Lecuona manning the Tech 3 team.

I think it was a mistake not to promote Oliveira knowing he felt, with some justification, that he had earned promotion in front of both rookies. I think Oliveira could ride the wheels off a Honda RC213V or a Ducati Desmosedici. I think having his feelings bruised could motivate him to look elsewhere for an opportunity to show the Austrians his skills. As for KTM, them Binder brothers seem pretty badass, Darryn in Moto3 the latest iteration of the young Marco Simoncelli, a hazard to himself and those around him. But fast. And big brother Brad now a real GP’er. Salad days and pure mental exhaustion for the Binder family.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for race weekend is hilarious if you’ve ever been to this part of Asia. Walking outside, day or night, is like being in a humidified walk-in oven. Thunderstorms boil up in the afternoon and give everything a thorough rinsing, after which the sun returns, temps rise again, flat surfaces steam, the tropical sauna in full effect. Which is exactly the forecast for all three days. At night I have seen full-grown men being carried off by the mosquitoes. Insane.

I’m thinking flag-to-flag, wondering if Alex Marquez has the stones to disregard the weather, play smart and win from the top step. There was the 2016 season in which Marc Marquez won the title and finished second to Lorenzo at Valencia. Jorge’s podium celebration, fist pump, jump, etc., was too much, while Marquez kind of stood next to him, beaming. Winning the champion’s trophy from the top step is the bomb.

Flag-to-flag affairs in the MotoGP and Moto3 divisions will be impossible to predict. One thing is relatively certain. Marc Marquez has decided to beat the single season record of 383 points set by Lorenzo on the Yamaha in 2010. With 375 points in hand and two rounds left, that looks pretty doable. Is it a good reason to watch the MotoGP race? What about the Moto3 race? I’m going to be up anyway, might as well watch. I find that when I have to take notes for three races I tend to miss stuff—Rossi leading early in Australia a good example—and it’s a busy time of year. I expect readers to continue to correct my numerous errors and oversights. It’s okay. I’m insured.

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No fake news around here. We shall return on Sunday with results and analysis.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

The second of three grand prix motorcycle championships was decided today as Italian veteran Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 title from the top step of the podium. In Moto2, Alex Marquez was unable to clinch the title, but held on to most of his margin, putting immense pressure on his pursuers heading to Malaysia. Over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez won another race. Ho hum. 

With Tom Luthi and Brad Binder still mathematically alive in Moto2, the season trudges on. Alex was unable to get anything going all day, finally finishing eighth, while KTM teammates Brad Binder and rookie Jorge Martin finished one-two and top challenger Luthi third. In other words, short of sailing over the handlebars, Marquez had about as bad a day as one can have in this business and still holds a 28-point cushion with two rounds left. The contest is not as close as the announcers would have you believe. 

Practice and Qualifying 

With a wet FP1 and a dry, surprisingly fast FP2 Yamaha and Vinales topped the day on Friday, to a resounding “So what?” Yamaha put all four bikes in the top nine, including young Fabio, whose F1 highside sent him to the medical center with a bad ouchie on his ankle and which would likely affect him not a whit on Saturday. The Yams were joined by Ducatis and Hondas, Marquez and Crutchlow (HON), Dovi, Miller and Petrucci (DUC). The Suzukis were struggling, the Aprilias showing improvement in the dry.

Marquez and Lorenzo had a close encounter in FP2 that folks would be talking about for the weekend. I didn’t hear the post-session comments, but it looked like Lorenzo slowed down on the racing line while MM was on a hot lap and MM brushed him on the pass. Mostly by accident. Any two other riders it wouldn’t amount to much at all. After all, it was Friday. As a footnote, Johann Zarco ended his first day on a 2018 Honda RC213V in P15, ahead of both Lorenzo (HON) and Pol Espargaro (KTM). Just sayin’.

On Saturday the weather gods, Arbitrary and Capricious, got involved, wind being their tool of choice, the result being a shambles in the premier class. Moto3 and Moto2 got all their sessions done, barely, but the MotoGP grid basically sat out FP3, after which FP4 was red-flagged, after which qualifications were pushed to Sunday. Fabio was limping around all day Saturday trying fruitlessly to avoid Q1; Miguel Oliveira had what the Brits call a “heavy crash” during FP4 that’s gonna leave a mark. Left on the outside of Q2 looking in were some big names—Quartararo first and foremost, along with Mir, Zarco and the KTM machines of Pol Espargaro and Oliveira. All would be sorted out on Sunday.

In Moto2, Sudden Sam Lowes, Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge and Luca Marini moved on from Q1. The Q2 front row ended up comprised of Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and hot Marini, going for a late-season hat trick on Sunday from P3. The second row included Fabio di Giannantonio, Jorge Martin (!) and Lowes, with aspiring champion Alex Marquez 7th, Tom Luthi 11th. As to Marquez’ chasers, they would start Sunday, respectively, from P11, P17, P1 and P2. Marquez can afford to let these guys bash each other’s brains in as long as he finishes in the top ten; he does not need to mix it up at the front with Brad Binder.

In Moto3 Can Oncu, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia and Tom Booth-Amos graduated to Q2. A wind-chill seemingly in the 30’s produced a front row of Marcos Ramirez, a stoked Aron Canet, and another hottie, Albert Arenas with a win and a second in his last two races. Plucky John McPhee (you just know he hates that label) sits dangerously at the top of Row 2 joined by Kaito Toba and LDP, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, the putative 2019 Moto3 world champion, needing only to beat Canet by five points on Sunday to clinch. If Aron Canet were in the NFL playoffs, his team would be down six with a minute left, facing 4th and 47 from their own one-yard line.

Quartararo and a surprising Andrea Iannone passed the Q1 test and were promoted to Q2. With times well off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole record, the race would start with Vinales, Quartararo and Marquez on the front row, followed by Rossi, Petrucci and Crutchlow. Five of these six would feature prominently in the race. Valentino Rossi, for those of you still paying attention, started fourth, finished eighth, and was a non-factor all day, although not to the extent that Jorge Lorenzo was, starting from P19 and finishing last, over a minute behind teammate Marquez, on the same bike, his nerves and spirit shot full of holes. 

The Races 

Moto3 featured your typical 17 bike lead group, the first six finishers within three-quarters of a second of one another. For the suspense to have been sustained to Sepang, after jinxed challenger Aron Canet DNF’ed for the fourth time in five rounds, Tony Arbolino would have had to win the race with Dalla Porta finishing no higher than ninth. By about Lap 5, with those two positions essentially reversed, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we watched everyone go round and round and absorbed another over-the-top podium celebration, par for the course for first-time winners. For all winners in this sport, come to think of it.

In Moto2 the two KTM factory machines found some love in the long, sweeping turns in Australia and won going away. Marquez spent his entire day mixing it up with the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri, Iker Lecuona, Remy Gardner and so on, risking a skittling that could have put a serious damper on his title aspirations. He was fortunate to finish eighth. The conditions will probably be more favorable for him in Malaysia. In my opinion, next week is his first real match point, and I expect he will put it between the white lines.

In MotoGP, in what has become a disturbingly familiar scenario, world champion Marc Marquez spent the entire day in second place, dogging the Yamaha race leader and ultimately breaking his heart into small shards on the last lap. In Buriram and Motegi it was rookie stud Fabio Quartararo. Today, it was Maverick Vinales who had his wings plucked off late in the day, at the time and place of Marquez’ choosing. Vinales panicked once Marquez went through on at Turn 1, asking more from his rear tire than it had to give, and finally lost his grits in Turn 9, gifting second place to Cal Crutchlow and a cheap podium to homeboy Jack Miller, who couldn’t have been more surprised. An early high side from Danilo Petrucci created collateral damage for young Fabio and ended his day on the first lap. 

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

Recall what we said a couple weeks ago: Freeze them off in Australia and fry ‘em up in Malaysia. Despite pulling for Alex Marquez to get the monkey off his back next week, I would love to see two or three riders heading to Valencia for the finale within a few points of one another. We’ll have a few thoughts on this and other subjects on Tuesday or so.

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Melbourne

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MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen  Late-Braking MotoGP

Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Come on Down! 

22-year old Italian Lorenzo Dalla Porta, in this, his fifth year in Moto3, will have a first career grand prix match point on his racket this Sunday at breathtaking Phillip Island in southeastern Australia. His mission: extend his current 47-point lead over KTM sacrificial lamb Aron Canet–20 years old, in his fourth Moto3 season– to 51 heading to Sepang (never mind the tiebreakers) and the 2019 title is his, lock, stock and barrel. If the price is right!

Sure, Marc Marquez has clinched in the premier class again, but there is a rather compelling fight going on for third place, compelling, that is, if you’re not an American, who is barely interested at all about Dovizioso in second. In Moto2, Alex Marquez, yes, THAT Marquez, has a 36-point lead, along with the same magic number (51) after Sunday. Depending upon the will of the racing gods, he could clinch this week or find himself in an oh-no dogfight with, say, Tom Luthi, for the title, which once appeared to be his for the taking after so many years of trials, tribulation, etc. Young Marquez NEEDS a win in Australia, and never mind magic numbers or anything else. He needs to take it now or at least kick the starch out of his pursuers, reduce their chances from plausible to mathematical.

Recent MotoGP History in Australia 

The 2016 Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from this great track after the championship had been decided.  Crown champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to another easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, went to Bermuda in his head for a few moments, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to an astonished Cal Crutchlow.

Cal was joined on the podium that afternoon by Rossi and Maverick Vinales, then employed by Suzuki Racing. As so often happens in this sport, the best contest of the day was the fight for 7th place, won by Scott Redding on the Pramac Ducati, trailed by Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, the gap from 7th to 10th a full 45/100ths of a second.

Honda’s defending champion Marquez, in a dogfight with Dovi for the 2017 title, survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group for the win in Australia that made the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second that day, teammate Maverick Vinales third. But landing both factory Yamahas on the podium was cold comfort on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship were extinguished.

Last year, despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Maverick Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. What with Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out world champion-in-waiting Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the lower steps of the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis.

That day Vinales was joined on the podium by the dueling Andreas, Iannone on the Suzuki and Dovizioso on the Duc. Finishing an amazing fourth was my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of a Ducati Desmosedici GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium on Sunday. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. Four riders who would have beaten him were DNS or last seen gingerly leaving gravel traps. But in order to finish first one must first finish, etc. Occasionally I suck, and I apologize. Just quit futzing with your hair all the time.

Lecuona to MotoGP? 

Hacuna Matata of the Lion King team…wait. No, sorry, Iker (pronounced Eeker) Lecuona (hear the drums?), the up-and-coming 19 year-old Spaniard, having weathered the last two seasons in Moto2 purgatory with KTM, has reportedly been offered the vacant KTM factory MotoGP seat next to Pol Espargaro on a one-year deal, leaving Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder intact on happy Herve Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM satellite team. In the card game of bridge, such a promotion is known as a “jump shift,” indicative of a very strong hand or, in this case, a very brave young rider, willing to tackle the KTM RC16 mechanical bull. The 2020 bike, according to the same publication, has been made ‘easier to ride’ by input from Dani Pedrosa. Hey, it’s just what I’m hearing. Oh, and for the bike to work right, the riders simply need to get their weight down under 120 lbs.

Scott Redding 

Young Scott Redding, who I feel I personally ran out of town in MotoGP, causing untold pain and hardship for his family and for which I feel terrible, got some payback this past week by winning the 2019 British Superbike title. Congratulations, Scott, and thanks for verifying the Peter Principal for us, if in reverse, and on your impending promotion to a factory Ducati in the World Super Bike championship, replacing the aforementioned Bautista, who defected to Honda WSBK. Ya can’t tell the players without a program. There are a few MotoGP riders suffering in the premier class who could tear it up in World Super Bike. Paging Tito Rabat.

Moto3 

I will defer to some of our more energetic/unemployed readers to summarize, in the Comments section below, recent histories in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Seriously, I’ve got stuff going on. I’ll be watching Dalla Porta and Canet all weekend; feels like a fait accompli. I need to take a separate look at who will be on what and where for 2020.

Moto2 

Other than Binder and now Lecuona, I’m unaware of anyone else moving up to MotoGP in 2020. Plenty of things going on between teams and classes. With teams on a full-court press for the next three weeks I don’t expect any big news and promise to do a better job going forward in the news department.  One reader, Mr. Bashir, especially, is being relied upon (via Comments below) to keep readers up-to-date on goings-on in the KTM world he inhabits and which has so damaged his thought processes.

Rider lineups for both Moto2 and Moto3 will be released on November 11 or thereabouts. Musical chairs in the lightweight bikes is just as much fun as in the big league.

Your Weekend Forecast

Per Accuweather, conditions at Phillip Island should be typical for this time of year—windy, cold and wet. If Sunday turns up clear, the track will be thoroughly rinsed, hard and cold; out laps could be hazardous. Dry practice time could be at a premium. Brolly girls may be strictly decorative, which is fine. Everybody needs to get paid.

In Moto3 I expect Dalla Porta to clinch. In Moto2 I expect Alex Marquez to not clinch, but to put a stranglehold on the title, clinching at Sepang the following week. In MotoGP, this is the race Marquez generally blows off, either by a careless crash, a DQ or something. I see him finishing from pole with a handful of points, not necessarily on the podium, where I can envision Vinales, Fabio and Dovi spraying prosecco on one another after another playing of the Spanish national anthem, three bridesmaids having a bit of a knees-up before returning to the demoralizing chase for runner up.

We’ll be back yet again on Sunday with results and analysis from Down Under. It’s Round 17. These guys are fast. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

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MotoGP Motegi Results

October 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Relentless Marquez Dominates Japan 

It is now clear that Honda’s 2019 MotoGP champion Marc Marquez has his sights set on the single season points record of 383 set by The Rider Formerly Known as Jorge Lorenzo with Yamaha in 2010. Why else bother winning the Motul Grand Prix of Japan when a win would mean so much more to any number of other riders? Winning motorcycle races is in #93’s DNA, much they way it was with Nicky Hayden. He just can’t help himself.

With the real action behind him all day, and discounting Dovizioso, who has second place for the year by the throat, most of the attention today focused on young Fabio—could this be his week?—Vinales, Rins and Petrucci, all of whom have a dog in the fight for third place for the year. One rider who doesn’t, after today, is aging rock star Valentino Rossi, who crashed out, unassisted, of the race and the top tier of riders for 2019. Anyone feeling bad for Rossi is advised to feel bad instead for Lorenzo, who limped home in 18th place today, out of the points, no longer relevant in the premier class. It wasn’t that long ago that they were The Factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, capable of going one-two on any given weekend. C’est la guerre.

Practice and Qualifying

Valentino Rossi just snuck into Q2 on his last lap in FP2, knocking 7/10ths off his best previous lap on soft front and rear. Rain was in the forecast for Saturday. After FP2, Moto3 leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta was overheard whispering “I kicked your ass today, pendejo,” to second-place Aron Canet, having nosed him out of 11th by .001 second. FP1 and FP2 in Moto3 leave more to the imagination than do the same sessions in MotoGP. All those guys with foreign-sounding names on what seem like hundreds of teams. Matt and Steve earn their money herding cats, staying on top of Moto3. I can’t keep up yet.

On Friday in Moto2, series leader Alex Marquez was having his way with the likes of Brad Binder (KTM), KTM rookie Jorge Martin—finally—and Luca Marini, with Sam Lowes punching above his weight in fifth.  [Someone got in Alex’s ear during the last off-season and changed his outlook on life. Someone he respected had to have said to him, “Look. You need to sack up. You’re a freaking Marquez and have always practiced well against Marc. He thinks you can dominate Moto2 and earn a 2021 contract with the factory team of your choice. You’ll be 25. At which point he looks forward to kicking your butt. But you need to stay on the effing bike and quit effing around. You’ve got the bike and the team, now you need to blow these guys away.” And away, it seems, in 2019 he blows goes.

In MotoGP, after FP2, there were four Yamahas in the top six, joined by Marquez and Dovizioso. Why the Yams were doing so well here I had no idea, other than to remind myself and everyone else that Friday is Friday unless it rains on Saturday. We need the weather gods to make this one more interesting. Everyone wants to see Fabio bust his cherry. Son of Rossi and all that. One door closes, another opens, etc.

Sidebar: So our boy Cal Crutchlow is warning new teammate/temp Johann Zarco that the 2019 RC213V is harder to ride than the 2018 version. Just sayin’. One wonders why Cal doesn’t insist on using the 2018 chassis with the 2019 engine, the way Marquez did in 2015 when that year’s Honda MotoGP bike was unrideable. Marquez switched back to the 2014 frame and won the second half of the 2015 season going away. Coulda saved Lucio some money, too. It’s not like they’re doing a ton of development work at LCR.

Crutchlow and Rins escape Q1, on to Q2, while the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo would start 19th on Sunday, 1.8 seconds behind Crutchlow, up from last on the last two laps. A shadow of his former self. Tentative. Hurting his team. Dude needs to renounce second year of his contract and hang them up. He’s got enough money for several lifetimes. Time to rest on some laurels.

FQ and MM have taken 13 out of 15 poles 2019. Nakagami wounded but showing toughness in front of his homeys. The announcers pointed out what we’ve been saying here for some time—any weather is Marquez weather. He took his first premier class pole at Motegi on Saturday, closing the loop, having now poled at every circuit on the calendar. Franco Morbidelli and Quartararo join Marquez on the front row, making my pre-race prediction look less ridiculous, Miller back of the second row, together with Crutchlow and Vinales. As a postscript, Rossi would start tenth.

In Moto2, Luca Marini took pole, followed by Augusto Fernandez, BadAss Baldassarri, Alex Marquez fourth, Navarro fifth. Moto3 would start Sunday with a front row of Niccolo Antonelli, Alonso Lopez, and Tatsuki Suzuki. Series leader Dalla Porta starts from sixth; his nearest rival, Aron Canet, from eighth.

As little as qualifying means in the premier class, it means even less in the lightweights.

The Undercards

In Moto3 today, in a nutshell, series leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the race while his nearest pursuer, Spaniard Aron Canet on the KTM, crashed out of seventh place on his own, the 2019 Moto3 season having thereby been effectively decided on Lap 14 at Motegi. LDP sits with 47 points on Canet with three rounds left. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. For the record, Celestino Vietti, who turned 18 last week, captured the third step on the podium, his first, certainly not his last, on the dash to the flag. Onions.

In Moto2, Italian fast mover Luca Marini won his second consecutive race, putting himself in the conversation for second place for 2019 but, alas, not for first, as Alex Marquez, by fighting hard for a difficult 6th place finish, conserved his 2019 margin at 36 points, with second place now belonging to Luthi, who is, somehow, still in the game. If Marquez can avoid a DNF, which he narrowly accomplished several times today, he will win the title. A fall, and all of a sudden it’s a real race again. Oh, and his save during FP3 will go down as perhaps one of the greatest EVER.

The Big Pictures

MotoGP—Nothing here. People fighting for third and fourth. Rossi and Lorenzo on the back nine heading for the clubhouse. Fabio is The New Kid in Town.

Moto2—Alex Marquez will spend another year in Moto2 next year before heading off to the greener pastures of MotoGP in 2021. There are fast movers everywhere you look in Moto2, just not many who appear ready to make the leap to MotoGP. Which is why guys like Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham can still find rides year after year.

Moto3—With Dalla Porta seemingly a lock to move up to Moto2 next year, there are a number of fast young Italians joining the usual cast of Spaniards in the 250cc class. The impact of Valentino Rossi’s ranch is being felt in all three classes, especially in Moto3.

MotoGP Tranches

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

After Motegi: Normalizing the Distribution 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

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

Next Up: Phillip Island 

Other than the wind chill factor, Phillip Island is one of most everyone’s favorite tracks. The MotoGP season’s leaves are all changing color now; winter is closing in. Dalla Porta has his first break point this weekend. Alex Marquez is likely to have his in Sepang. We will be there, bringing you the contrived victory celebrations that make watching this part of the season worthwhile.

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Greater Motegi metro area.

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The end of the Moto3 race.

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Stoppie.

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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.

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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.


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