Archive for the ‘2021 MotoGP’ Category

MotoGP 2021 Journal Round Seven: Catalunya

June 6, 2021

© Bruce Allen   June 6, 2021

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

Wednesday

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

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

Tranches after Mugello:

T1:     Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia, Miller

T2:     Vinales, Zarco, Binder, Nakagami, Morbidelli

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

T4:     Rossi, A Marquez, Bastianini, Petrucci

T5:     Savadori, Lecuona, Marini, (Martin)

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

Thursday

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

Friday

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

Clear and warm in Barcelona on Sunday morning.

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

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

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

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

So, anyway, for the season, it’s:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO        Yamaha          118

2        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           101

3        Jack MILLER                      Ducati             90

4        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati             88

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

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

MotoGP 2021 Journal Round 6: Mugello

May 30, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 30, 2021

What beats riding a Desmosedici in Tuscany?

Thursday 

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

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

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

Regarding 2022, let’s get ready to rumble.

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

P Acosta                111

J. Masia                   59

A Sasuki                  57

S. Garcia                  56

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot (532)Screenshot (527)Screenshot (533)Screenshot (531)

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

MotoGP 2021 Round 4: Jerez

May 2, 2021

© Bruce Allen May 2, 2021

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

1        Fabio QUARTARARO     Yamaha          FRA   61

2        Pecco BAGNAIA             Ducati          ITA    46

3        Maverick VIÑALES        Yamaha          SPA   41

4        Johann ZARCO               Ducati          FRA   40

5        Joan MIR                       Suzuki          SPA   38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO         Aprilia          SPA   25

7        Alex RINS                      Suzuki          SPA   23

8        Brad BINDER                 KTM             RSA   21

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

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

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

Friday in Jerez

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

In Moto2, the front row Sunday would be

1        87      Remy GARDNER             AUS          Red Bull KTM Ajo            

2        21      Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA          Federal Oil Gresini          

3        72      Marco BEZZECCHI         ITA       SKY Racing Team VR46

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

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

1        24      Tatsuki SUZUKI      JPN          SIC58 Squadra Corse      

2        52      Jeremy ALCOBA     SPA          Indonesian Racing Gresini

3        16      Andrea MIGNO       ITA          Rivacold Snipers Team    

4        2        Gabriel RODRIGO   ARG          Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3         

5        55      Romano FENATI     ITA          Sterilgarda Max Racing Team    

6        17      John MCPHEE         GBR          Petronas Sprinta Racing  

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

The MotoGP Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                         Marquez warming things up in Jerez.

MotoGP After Round 3: Portimao

April 22, 2021

© Bruce Allen    April 22, 2021

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

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

Frankie M

Thriller Miller

Pol Espargaro (?)

Takaa Nakagami

Miguel Oliveira and, of all people,

Valentino Rossi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

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

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

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

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

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

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

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

Moto2 After 3 Rounds

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

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

Moto3 After 3 Rounds

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

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

MotoGP 2021: Round 3 – Portimao

April 18, 2021

© Bruce Allen  April 18, 2021

Quartararo Dominates in Portugal, Seizes Series Lead

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

Friday

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Rins can’t stand success.

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

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          61

2        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati           46

3        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          41

4        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           40

5        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           25

7        Alex RINS                        Suzuki          23

8        Brad BINDER                    KTM             21

9        Enea BASTIANINI             Ducati           18

10      Jorge MARTIN                  Ducati           17

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

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

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

MotoGP 2021 Losail I Results

March 28, 2021

© Bruce Allen March 28, 2021

17 Things We Learned in Doha, Round One

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

Screenshot (452)

Friday

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

Sunday—Race Day

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

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

RIP Fausto Gresini.

MotoGP: Call It Day 3 of Practice @Losail

March 11, 2021

© Bruce Allen      March 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Day 3:

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

Image courtesy of motorsport.com

MotoGP 2021 Losail/Season Preview

March 8, 2021

2021 MotoGP Teams and Riders

Joan Mir                          Factory Suzuki

Alex Rins                         Factory Suzuki

Lorenzo Savadori             Factory Aprilia

A. Espargaro                    Factory Aprilia

Maverick Vinales              Factory Yamaha         

F. Quartararo                   Factory Yamaha

F. Morbidelli                     Petronas SRT Yamaha

Valentino Rossi                Petronas SRT Yamaha

Brad Binder                     Factory KTM

Miguel Oliveira                 Factory KTM

D. Petrucci                       KTM Tech 3

Iker Lecuona                    KTM Tech 3

Pol Espargaro                   Factory Honda

Marc Marquez                  Factory Honda

Takaa Nakagami              LCR Honda

Alex Marquez                   LCR Honda

Jack Miller                       Factory Ducati

Pecco Bagnaia                  Factory Ducati

Johann Zarco                   Pramac Ducati

Jorge Martin ®                Pramac Ducati

Luca Marini   ®                Avintia Ducati

E. Bastianini ®                Avintia Ducati

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

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2021 calendar

1                 3/28             Losail I

2                 4/04             Losail II

3                 4/18             Portimao

4                 5/02             Jerez

5                 5/16             Le Mans

6                 5/30             Mugello

7                 6/06             Catalunya

8                 6/20             Sachsenring

9                 6/27             Assen

10                7/11             KymiRing

11                8/15             Red Bull Ring

12                8/29             Silverstone

13                9/12             Aragon

14                9/19             Misano

15                10/03           Motegi

16                10/10           Buriram

17                10/24           Phillip Island

18                10/31           Sepang

19                11/14           Valencia

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

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

Suddenly, the trophy was within reach.

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

Marquez

P. Espargaro

Quartararo

Morbidelli

Vinales

Mir

Rins

Miller

Bagnaia

Binder

Oliveira

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

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

Seriously. Start with past performance, I guess:

2018: 1        04     Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Ducati Team

2        93     Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

3        46     Valentino ROSSI            ITA     Movistar Yamaha

4        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW              GBR   LCR Honda  

5          9      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Alma Pramac Racing       

6        25      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Movistar Yamaha

7        26      Dani PEDROSA                 SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

8          8      Johann ZARCO                 FRA    Tech 3 Yamaha

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

2019: 1        04      Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

2        93      Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda        

3        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW            GBR   LCR Honda CASTROL       

4        42      Alex RINS     SPA              Team SUZUKI ECSTAR     S

5        46      Valentino ROSSI               ITA     Monster Energy Yamaha          

6        09      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

7        12      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Monster Energy Yamaha

8        36      Joan MIR                          SPA    Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

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

2020                               No race due to Covid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s early.

Cheers.

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