Archive for the ‘Ducati’ Category

Dovi wins the hard ones, Marquez wins the easy ones

July 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Track records after Nine rounds 2019

 

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

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

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

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

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

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

The Race 

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

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

The Big Picture 

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

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

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

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

After Assen: 

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

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

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

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

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

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

* * * 

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

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen   July 2, 2019

Universe Needs Marquez to Slide Out Sunday 

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

Marquez at sachsenring

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

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

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

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

Recent History 

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

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

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

Chatter 

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

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

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

Over at Moto2 and Moto3

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast 

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

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

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MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

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

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

Wait, there’s more!

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

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

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

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

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

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

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

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

Recent History at Le Mans 

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

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

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

Zarco’s Woes

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

Right.

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

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  1. Taka Nakagami finished at the top of the sheet on day two, proving there was a range of objectives riders brought with them to Jerez. Let’s not hyperventilate, pretending that Taka, riding Crutchlow’s bike from last year, is the fastest guy out there.
  2. Marc Marquez is as cool as a cucumber. Everything is chill on the #93 side of the Repsol Honda garage.
  3. Maverick Vinales is now top dog at Movistar Yamaha and they’re building the bike for him. Time for the wall.
  4. Jorge Lorenzo put his shiny new Repsol Honda up into P4 on day two, showing remarkable progress both in his adaptation to the Honda and the recovery of his wrist. 2019 could feature a number of double-Honda podiums. This one may work out for old Jorge.
  5. Danilo Petrucci knows this is his chance. A one year contract, 28 years old, needs to lose more weight, but he has a chance to flirt with Tranche 1. He appears to be the next Andrea Dovizioso.
  6. Franco Morbidelli is looking solid on the Petronas Yamaha. I see him battling Pecco Bagnaia for a good part of next season. Both fast movers, both accustomed to success, both on credible machines.
  7. Jack Miller, now the lead dog on the Pramac Ducati team with Bagnaia, needs to spend more time with the rubber down and the paint up. His inability to finish races is hard on him and his team. We get it that he’s fearless, but he needs to be a little smarter.
  8. Andrea Dovizioso will again chase Marquez all year long, collect a couple of wins and some podiums, perhaps a pole or two. Maid of Honor and head bridesmaid in 2019.
  9. Pecco Bagnaia on the #2 Pramac Ducati should figure in the Rookie of the Year competition along with Joan Mir. The second coming of Jorge Lorenzo will put it on rails now and again.
  10. Alex Rins is my guess to be the fifth Alien, along with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales and Lorenzo. I Screenshot (333)will stick my neck out again and predict a potential P3 for Rins in 2019 on an improved GSX-RR.
  11. Valentino Rossi seems to be getting sick of the whole thing. 2019 is likely to be his last year. He doesn’t have the input he is used to having, the 2019 bike doesn’t work for him, and it’s looking like a long two years. In all likelihood he won his last race at Assen in 2017.
  12. Fabio Quartararo, the 19 year old French wonder, needs a year or two to get himself settled in at 1000cc. He appears to be a baller-in-waiting at the Petronas Yamaha team, upon which will be lavished plenty of corporate largesse. Lots of people seem to want him to succeed.
  13. Tito Rabat will return for Reale Avintia Ducati. Not sure why, other than the money and the women and the free medical care.
  14. Joan Mir, who dominated Moto3 in 2017, has arrived at Suzuki after the obligatory year in Moto2 with much fanfare, giving the Ecstar team a potentially powerful one-two punch in the rider department. Let’s just go ahead and say that Mir will be an Alien in short order. 2021, 2022…
  15. Pol Espargaro, the fastest of the KTM contingent, winner thereby of the Taller Than Mickey Rooney Award. KTM looking weak, top to bottom. There’s grumbling in the cheap seats.
  16. Karel Abraham, #2 on the Reale Avintia Ducati team, races bikes to enhance his law practice, his sex life, and his standing with dad. Finishing, for Karel, is not that different from finishing in the points.
  17. Andrea Iannone, consigned for sins committed early in his tenure with Suzuki to #2 rider on the struggling Aprilia team. Underfunded, underpowered, the effort promises to be one of consistent frustration again in 2019. Iannone will DNF pretty often in the first half of the season, asking more from the bike than it has to give. For Suzuki, Mir is the right choice.
  18. Johann Zarco appears doomed to a Tranche 3 or 4 season onboard the KTM. Openly disappointed, he appears to be suffering buyer’s remorse over having spurned the satellite Yamaha team. Bummer.
  19. Aleix Espargaro, the #1 rider on the factory Aprilia team, a position with a world of prestige and little else. Aleix appears doomed again to spending another year with no podium result. Aprilia’s MotoGP program may not be sustainable if there is a worldwide recession, which would be a bummer for Aleix, Iannone, Brad Smith and MotoGP in general.
  20. Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira–teammates on the Tech 3 KTM team will be fighting one another most of the season–everyone else will be in front of them.

Cal Crutchlow missed both the Valencia and Jerez tests as MotoGP folds up its tents on 2018. He appears to be a top five or six guy in 2019. Overall, the four new guys from Moto2–Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo–have way more talent than the four–Bautista, Redding, Smith and Luthi–that left. They are younger, faster and well-financed. The championship will be closer in 2019 than 2018–other than Marquez running away with the title–and closer yet in 2020, the second year of most of the contracts. By 2021 some of these guys will be on Marquez’ rear tire on a regular basis, at which point we could have us a horse race again, as in 2013 and 2015. Life goes on in The Marquez Era.

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 18, 2018

© Bruce Allen.      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Feel-Good Conclusion to Season of Changes 

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

The Three Races

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

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Early drama in Moto2

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

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

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

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

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Another satisfying win for Andrea Dovizioso.

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

In Retrospect

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

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

_________________Before Jerez           After Le Mans

Vinales         18                3rd                         2nd

Zarco           20                5th                         3rd

Rossi            27                7th                         4th

Petrucci        33                10th                        5th

Miller            23                8th                         6th

Crutchlow       8               4th                         8th

Dovizioso       0               1st                          9th

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

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

Marc Marquez: New Kid in Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorenzo and Marquez Over the Years

November 15, 2018

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MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen             Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Interrupts Yamaha Losing Streak 

Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, one mell of a hess. 

Back in the 60’s there was a TV genre known as the “military comedy,” Hogan’s Heroes being the first that comes to mind. In many of these shows, ten men, usually American and British prisoners, would be ordered to stand on a line. The laughable guard (“I know NUT-TINK!”) would demand a volunteer, and immediately nine of the men would take a step backwards. Presto, a volunteer. These were the thoughts going through my mind as Franco Morbidelli was being asked how it felt to finish eighth. This was a red-letter day in the lower tranches as Scott Redding, Taka Nakagami, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro and even the hapless Xavier Simeon all finished in the points. This is what happens when Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Marquez and Zarco are DNS or DNF. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday, The First Day of the Rest of the Season, demonstrated the psychology of the riders. Marc Marquez, justifiably exhausted and with nothing on the line, mailed it in. The remaining top ten rightly viewed this as an opportunity to win a frigging race, and went after it. FP1 was topped by Maverick Viñales on the Yamaha, Alex Rins found himself 15th and followed by a bevy of determined Ducati chasers—Miller, Petrucci and Dovizioso—and the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez. Rossi could do no better than 10th, with Aleix Espargaro 22nd. Andrea Iannone barged his way into first place in FP2, followed by Petrucci, Viñales, Dovizioso and Cal. Miller dropped to 8th behind Marquez, while Rins jumped into the top ten, with Vale running 10th again. Bad news as Crutchlow broke an ankle later on that will require surgery. So much for 2018 for the Battling Brit. Perhaps the slim chance of a cameo in Valencia.

On Saturday, the weather gods, bored to tears, decided to mix things up a little, weather-wise. Neither fish nor fowl, it was cold, windy, with intermittent rain to keep things interesting. FP3 ended with Viñales second and Rossi fifth, not to mention Rins in 13th and Danilo Petrucci sliding down to 17th. Andrea Iannone led the usual suspects directly into Q2, with Hafizh Syahrin crashing the party despite finishing 12th, 11th and 19th in the three practice sessions. Alvaro Bautista, with Lorenzo’s GP18 on loan, and Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM emerged from Q1, Bautista on strict instructions not to wreck JLo’s sled.

Q2, with weather threatening, ran the reverse of its customary save-everything-for-the-last-three-minutes form. Riders were out early trying to put down fast laps before it rained, producing a highly entertaining session. It ended with the prodigious Marquez on pole by half a second, the sheer unfettered joy of youth propelling him, nothing to gain, unburdened by concerns about old age and infirmity. Viñales and Zarco put two Yamahas on the front row. Rossi would start Sunday from the top of the third row, joined by Petrucci and Dovizioso. Miller, in sixth place, was the top Ducati qualifier as the brand suffered Down Under. Meanwhile, Suzuki, starting to flex their muscles a little, put both guys in the top five. My boy Alvaro Bautista, though, showed Gigi Dall’Igna why he’s losing his job this year, as he bailed from Lorenzo’s GP18 and could only watch as it continued, beautifully balanced and fully upright, as far as the tire wall, at which point it came to a sudden stop. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Marquez’ fifth pole in a row reminds us once again how much fun it would have been to watch him square off with Casey Stoner for a few years. Had Stoner decided to stay in the game, he and Marquez likely would have been teammates. That would have been a spectacle, especially here in Australia. 

The Race 

Despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. With Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Valentino Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis. Today, the latter would include Dovizioso and my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of the GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium today. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. My hat is off to him.

One couldn’t begin to count the overtakes today, as the incomparable Phillip Island circuit is designed to create opportunities. Iannone, Dovi, Miller, Rossi and Bautista all took sniffs of the lead and made determined efforts to end the day on the podium. Iannone, fast all weekend, went through on Dovizioso on Lap 23 and held fast. A seemingly happy Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, with Bautista closing out both Alex Rins on the #2 Suzuki and Valentino Rossi. Miller and Smith completed the top eight.

The announcers pointed out during the race that in 2014, 2016 and 2018 Marquez clinched the title in Motegi. In each of those years he went out the next week and recorded a DNF at Phillip Island. Today he was a victim of Zarco’s blunder but didn’t really care. The point here, if there is one, is that one’s mindset and reflexes react to the release of pressure opposite of the way they react to the application thereof.

For those of you keeping score at home, Lorenzo’s track record (from 2013) remained intact today. However, due to the wind and rain on Saturday, we are ignoring Phillip Island, leaving us 8 for 13 heading to Sepang. Marquez’ crash left him at 296 points for the year, meaning if he crashes out at both Sepang an Valencia my preseason projection for his point total will come true. As my friend Kevin used to observe, “Unlikely.” 

New Tranches 

As Chief Tranchistador, I have taken it upon myself to remove Marc Marquez from the game, the residue being a number of riders who couldn’t care less, having already lost seats for 2019 or on their way, and those who care a lot, careers still in the ascendency. These attitudes should affect the standings through Valencia. I have awarded Marquez Tranche 1 for the year; it’s his to keep. Going forward, we will start the ranking with Tranche 2. Next year we’ll reinstate Tranche 1 and pretend that the results won’t be the same as this year.

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

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

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

After Phillip Island

(The riders who have no real reason to give a rip are listed in brackets.)

[Injured]

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

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, (Morbidelli), (Pedrosa), ([Lorenzo]), Miller

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

Tranche 5:   (Redding), (Abraham), (Luthi), Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Next week is Sepang, carved out of triple canopy jungle in the heart of steamy, exotic Malaysia. Another hair-raising exhibition weekend. The competition for the 2018 championship leftovers is still very much alive. Dovi and Rossi are reaching for each other’s throats, with Vinales in hot pursuit, in the fight for second. Idle Cal Crutchlow’s fifth place perch is threatened by a clutch of riders including Danilo Petrucci, Zarco, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rins. Xavier Simeon, I’m told, enjoyed the sensation of scoring a world championship point so much he vowed to try again next week.

We’ll take a look ahead at Sepang by early Tuesday. Enjoy these images from Sunday at PI.

Phillip Island 2018

Binder beats Mir by .036 in Moto2.

PI 2018 Best Look

Moto2 leaders from the best POV at PI.

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Where to Watch PI 2018

Who wouldn’t love to watch a race from here?

MotoGP Motegi Results

October 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Wins, Claims 7th World Championship 

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

MM victory continues

Picture from 2014, but you get the idea.

Practice and Qualifying 

The top five on the timesheets for FP1 and FP3 were sufficiently similar to suggest who might expect podium treatment on Sunday. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Vinales. FP3 included Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Rossi. FP2 was wet enough to keep a number of riders in their garages, so, once again, it came down to FP3 to separate the Q1 goats from the Q2 lambs. Eight of the top ten riders in the world championship went directly to Q2, the lone exceptions being Danilo Petrucci, having a miserable weekend on the Ducati GP19, and Jorge Lorenzo, who declared himself out of Sunday’s race due to a wrist injury suffered in Thailand. This allowed Dani Pedrosa and Jack Miller to sneak directly into Q2.

In a fun Q1, Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati) and Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) teamed up to punk KTM’s Brit Bradley Smith, both laying down fast laps very late in the session to deny Smith the glory of passing into Q2. Once there, unfortunately, they did very little, ending up sharing row four with Dani Pedrosa.

As has become the custom, Q2 got trés busy late in the session. For a while, it appeared Crutchlow and Marquez would sit 1 and 2, Honda executives praying to any number of gods for deliverance from Gigi Dall’Igna. Alas, their prayers went unanswered, as Jack Miller threw his Ducati GP17 across the line into second before he crashed out at Turn 5. As the session closed, Andrea Dovizioso hammered his way onto pole, and the prodigal Frenchman, Johann Zarco, blew past Miller into second place, leaving the factory Hondas and Yamahas off the front row for, like, the first time since The Berlin Wall came down.

With conditions on Saturday pretty good, Dovi put in a pole lap of 1:44.590. This compares to 2015, when the top six qualifiers beat his time using Bridgestone tires. (Can’t remember when the control ECUs came on board.) Lorenzo’s brilliant pole lap that day, 1:43.790, is a full eight-tenths faster than Dovizioso’s on Saturday. Track record intact; season record now stands at 8 for 13 as I continue to seek support for my prediction that track records “would fall like dominos” in 2018. From this perspective, Motegi appears to be an outlier. Oh, and let’s not forget Lorenzo’s unique ability to qualify Yamahas on the front row. On Bridgestones.

If Marc Marquez intended to win the title on Sunday, as his gold helmet clearly suggested, he would have his work cut out for him, starting from sixth place against Dovi’s pole. The first lap could easily tell the story. 

The Japanese Grand Prix – 2018 in Microcosm 

If you’ve followed the 2018 season, you will have a pretty good understanding of how today’s race unfolded. Aside from Jack Miller, who started third, veered into Johann Zarco’s path at the start, and stayed with the leaders until Lap 5, it was Dovizioso and Marquez from the very start. Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi occupied third and fourth, with Miller in 5th being stalked by both of the Suzukis, Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. By mid-race, Dovi and Marquez had put some space between themselves and their chasers. Keeping the pace relatively slow, they allowed a few lower tranche riders—Rossi, Rins and Iannone—to enjoy visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. For a while.

Finally, at Turn 9 on Lap 21, Marquez went through on Dovizioso and made it stick. Dovi, season on the line, chased the Spaniard desperately for two laps before losing the front in Turn 10 of Lap 23 and sliding off. He would re-enter the race and end his day in 18th position, out of the money, reduced to looking forward to 2019.

The more astute readers out there will realize about now that today’s race was, in fact, nothing like the 2018 season in microcosm. I happened to be reaching for a section header. It won’t happen again.

Dovi’s crash out of second place improved life for Cal Crutchlow, who ended up second, and Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who found himself on the podium for the first time since Assen after having started eighth. Rossi finished a kind of limp fourth, while Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales could do no better than seventh. The fear amongst Yamaha bigwigs that Buriram (a third and a fourth) was a fluke has now been confirmed.

With top chasers Dovizioso and Rossi off the podium today, a measure of Marquez’ dominance this year was to be found on the podium itself. If one were to take Cal Crutchlow’s point total for the year (148) and add it to Alex Rins’ (118), it would still fall short of Marquez and his 296.

Clearly, my prediction that Marquez would end 2018 with fewer than 298 points was worthless. At least he won’t be able to top Rossi’s 2009 total of 373. That would have been awful. 

The Big Picture 

Most sports leagues set up their season so that there are a few exhibition matches early on, with tension building up to the last game of the season, the one deciding the championship. MotoGP, due to the nature of the game in The Marquez Era, holds the climactic race in, like, Week 16 or 17, then plays a couple exhibition matches to close out the year. By which time most of the owners and fans have jumped on their yachts and sailed off for Barbados.

This is a pity for the fans attending the races in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia. There will continue to be the little “races within the race” that light up so many true believers. There will be, one expects, continuing efforts to set new track records at the remaining venues. For all involved, it’s kind of like macular degeneration. The big picture shrinks; the importance of team and individual accomplishments is elevated the moment the title moves out of reach. From then on, it’s pretty much down to Beat Your Teammate. Once the trophy has been won, most of the competitive air leaves the balloon.

When I was new to MotoGP I didn’t clearly understand what people meant when, at this point in the season, they would say, “Man, I can’t wait for the Valencia test.” I now know fully what this means. Between now and then I plan to post nothing but Monty Python and Peter Sellers videos. 

Tranches 

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami,

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

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

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

Head Down, Keep Rowing

Next week in Australia, perhaps the most scenic venue on the calendar. The winds on the southern side of Australia can be fearsome, with cold temps, gray skies and seagulls. We will bring you a preview on Wednesday or thereabouts.