Archive for the ‘Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP Quick Takes

March 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen

The following is meant to fill the “dead air” resulting from MotoGP decisions which allow three weeks between races. These happen two or three times a year, proof positive that the teams and manufacturers have more clout than the poor schlubs in marketing who try to develop interest in the sport. Just as the season enjoys something of a “cymbal crash,” such as we experienced in Qatar, there’s this multi-week void of action, with little more than vids of the riders’ cats on minibikes…

Given the plethora of errors and omissions, for which I have insurance, in the Qatar race results article I am compelled to present a fast summary of what I have learned and/or now know as relates to the state of the sport. Let’s start with my boy Pecco Bagnaia, defending Moto2 champion on the Pramac Ducati GP18. He was my dark horse for a podium, but, as we’ve learned, got his right aero wing trashed, accidentally, by factory teammate Danilo Petrucci in the sauce at Turn 1 of Lap 1. By mid-race it was flapping like the baseball cards clothes-pinned to the front fork of your bicycle when you were a kid. I retain high hopes for young Bagnaia at the more Ducati-friendly tracks on the calendar.

Jorge Lorenzo, on the heels of a 13th place finish at Qatar, let it be known that he suffered a rib “fissure” on his welcome-to-Honda high-side on Saturday, and that he hopes to be fit in time for Argentina on March 29-31. We’ve watched the guy ride five days after having a titanium splint and half a dozen pins surgically inserted into his collarbone. A cracked rib would be unlikely to keep JLo out of the second round of the season if the race were tomorrow.

All four of the rookie graduates of Moto2 have reason to feel pretty good about themselves with the 2019 curtain raised. Bagnaia, with the Lorenzo-style of riding on the formidable Desmosedici, cutting his MotoGP teeth on the red machine, is going to be a force. Fabio Quartaro, the impudent French teenager, could have had himself a dreamy debut in the desert were it not for a silly, grade-school mistake at the start, stalling his bike. Dude lost 10 seconds starting from pit row, fought his way back and through the back markers, ultimately finishing 16th, just out of the points, 15 seconds behind Dovi. Herve Poncharal is all warm and fuzzy about Miguel Oliveira and his progress on the KTM R16. True or not, it’s good for Oliveira, who has a long row to hoe, to hear such things from the boss. And Joan Mir, wingman to Alex Rins on the factory Suzuki, looks eerily like the guy we watched dominate Moto3 in 2017. Despite having under-performed in Moto2, I’m just sayin’ that give that young man a year or two and a few more horses under him and he will be off to the races.

MotoE, the aspiring new class of electric racing bikes debuting their own championship this year, suffered an amazingly bad blow on March 14 at Jerez when a huge fire mostly obliterated everyone’s equipment, all of which having, apparently, been stored in one place. No mention of foul play. The season opener has been postponed and the schedule is being re-written as we speak. There must be an unbelievably furious process going on to get things replaced immediately if the season is to be saved. Somewhere, an insurance company executive is holding his head in his hands, face down on his desk. In Spain, a Dorna executive is hurling a string of profanity at his misfortune, an unfair blow to his corporate aspirations. Act of God or not, Year 1 of MotoE is going to be expensive.

Other than the complete domination of Kalex and Triumph in Moto2–closeout of the top ten–I don’t have that much to say about what’s going on over there. Way too early and I missed the race at Losail. Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi are the big deal graduates of Moto3 moving on up, but Martin just had surgery for arm pump (?) and Bezzecchi had something happen causing him to finish a minute and a half down and out of the points. Alex Marquez doesn’t scare anyone. Badass Baldassarri won Round One. Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Xavi Vierge should all be contenders. Tom Luthi, returning to the class after a miserable experience in MotoGP, finished second on the podium, having re-discovered his own personal level of competence. Good on Tom.

Nothing at all on Moto3 so far. I plan to watch all three races in Argentina and will hopefully hear some familiar names called during Moto3 which will hint at who’s fast and who’s not. Otherwise, please rest assured that I’m aware that Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo ride for the satellite Petronas Yamaha team, and that Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin ride for the satellite KTM team. How’s that for insight?

 

 

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’s Wrong with English Majors

March 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen

This link will take you to the article written by some English major at Dorna about the upcoming MotoGP season. He lost me at the end of the first paragraph: “Every epos begins with a single verse and a new odyssey is poised to get underway.” Too much Latin, too much overstatement (epos, odyssey?), too many unanswered questions? If you like this kind of writing, you’re not going to like most of the stuff you’ll find here. If, however, this kind of writing makes you gag, welcome aboard.

2019 Losail Preview on MotoGP.com

Capture

Header for the MotoGP preview at MotoGP.com.  Mission Winnow, that’s it!

For those of you who may have missed it previously, I am having trouble remembering the actual name of the factory Ducati sponsor. Thus, as is my wont, I try to obscure ignorance with humor. Otherwise, an editor would crucify me for using Missing Window or Wishin’ Minnow or Wishin’ Minion, etc. You’ll get used to it.

 

 

MotoGP Losail Preview

March 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

It’s Marquez’ Title to Lose in 2019 

Welcome to MotoGP 2019, brought to you by Motorcycle.com and, well, me. I will be publishing everything I do here, and MO will, in turn, publish race results (only the results; no previews) on Sundays. My editor at MO worked hard to make this happen, and I’m happy to start my 11th season working for the friendly Canucks in Toronto and with the bozos in California.

MotoGP 2019 dawns on the heels of another Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda masterpiece last year. Despite extreme efforts from the likes of Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, the ageless Yamaha wonder Valentino Rossi, his teammate Maverick Vinales and Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins, Marquez sailed to his fifth premier class championship in six years, utterly dominant amongst the yachting class. He took the championship lead in Jerez and never looked back, winning nine times, on the podium for five others, going 14 for 18 with Silverstone rained out.

Although there have been a number of changes—riders leaving, moving up from Moto2, switching from, say, Ducati to Honda—there is no denying that Marquez will have to crash out of the championship, a rather unlikely outcome given the fact that he practices crashing and generally avoids the whole over-the-handlebars scene. His surgically-repaired shoulder should be close to 100% by the time the red lights go out in Qatar. His shoulder became such a mess last year that a congratulatory slap from Scott Redding at Motegi caused it to dislocate again. The thought that he was able to demolish the field in that condition makes the notion of his improving this year more palatable. Not. The bike is generally unchanged, unruly and good everywhere. Having Lorenzo in the garage will increase the testosterone quotient on both sides. One expects Lorenzo to start off as a top tenner and improve from there as the season progresses.

The times are a-changin’ at the factory Monster Yamaha garage, with the torch on its way to being passed from ageless wonder Valentino Rossi to the future of Yamaha racing, at least for now, Maverick Vinales. Both riders should make consistent appearances in the top six this season as the 2019 YZR-M1 appears improved over the 2018 version (currently being ridden well by Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team.) Rossi fans are outraged by the assertion that Rossi has lost a step when, in fact, he has remained somewhat static for the past five years, constrained over and over by a steadily improving Marquez, who will officially enter The Prime of his career this year and for the next four or five.

Great.

With Rossi still selling a lot of gear and Vinales poking around podia on a regular basis, the factory team must have as its goal for 2019 to show significant improvement over last year’s bike, which neither rider liked. It has gone from the best ride on the grid on Bridgestones to the third-best on Michelins. Neither rider is likely to win a title in 2019, but the show must go on. Data harvesting, y’know.

Recent History at Losail

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season.

The 2018 season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk in the Tech 3 garage. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian by hundredths. No TKO.

Returning to your Previously Scheduled Programming

The new satellite Petronas team features Franco Morbidelli, moving from a 2017 Honda to a 2019 Yamaha, and apparently thrilled by the difference. Rookie French teenage teammate, heartthrob Fabio Quartararo is riding, I believe, 2018 equipment, learning the premier class game on a less-valuable bike of which, it is expected, he will destroy a dozen or so as he makes his way up the learning curve at 200 mph. One of these guys will likely take over for Rossi on the factory team when he retires, possibly as early as the end of this year, no later than the end of next year. Makes for a no-shit intra-team rivalry for the year which, in turn, suggests they will consistently fight to be in the points, perhaps the top ten, over a long season, with the Frenchman recording his share of DNFs and the Italian prevailing, himself a VR46 Academy grad. Rossi, I believe, will need to finish the season in the top six in order to honor the second year of his contract. Anything less would, I sense, be unacceptable, clear evidence that the time to retire has arrived.

The factory Ducati team, whose title sponsor I can never remember other than it is weak—Minnie Willow?—has two strong Italian contenders on brand new Desmosedicis with high motivation and proven skills. Factory crew for Danilo Petrucci, which is a first. Andrea Dovizioso, who had his career year in 2017, should still win a few races, but his championship aspirations are largely past tense. Both are, however, amongst the favorites for the Forget Marquez and His 350 Points championship fight, featuring Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales and Suzuki’s Alex Rins.

The Pramac Ducati duo of Australian Jack Miller and rookie Italian VR46 rider Pecco Bagnaia will be wildcards at some venues especially, I suspect, at wet or flag-to-flag outings. Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, cutting his teeth on the Ducati, while Miller will need a bunch of top ten finishes to stay #1 on the #2 team. The #3 team, Avintia UnReale, fronts a recovering Tito Rabat alongside journeyman Karel Abraham, with only Rabat expected to find himself in the top ten on occasion. Dovizioso should win the intra-manufacturer trophy, but little else. (This, by the way, is the team Suzuki should look to buy out and pave the way for their satellite team.)

Speaking of Suzuki, the Ecstar team performed well enough to lose its previous concessions, forced this year to wear their big boy pants and slug it out with everyone else, same playing field. No sweat. Alex Rins is an Alien in the making and rookie teammate Joan Mir likewise, although he is a year or two behind Rins. Both are flogging improving bikes, a handful of horsepower from being consistently on the podium on a bike cognizant of Rossi’s famous words, “The front tire’s job is to inform me. The rear tire’s job is to obey me.” Suzuki gets that, and I believe a number of riders would be interested in their #2 team.

KTM, Austria’s gift to motorcycle racing, isn’t happening. Just getting that out there. The apologists are in full rant, defending performance which has been, at best, disappointing over two full years. Which, with the addition of the Tech 3 satellite operation, raised expectations amongst the PR types if few others. The factory team of Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro are, I sense, being asked to make bricks without straw, and the satellite team of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, also on 2019 equipment, is suffering likewise. The factory is throwing massive resources into a segment of the market in which it makes very little, leading some to believe that executives may be starting to use the term “or else” in their fantasy conversations with corporate rivals.

As for the intrepid, ever-optimistic Aprilia congregation, whose riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are keeping a stiff upper lip, Iannone suffering with his third bike in four years, his once-bright career in visible decline. Ducati to Suzuki to Aprilia. I suspect Suzuki would take him back if they did produce a #2 team, as he improved late in his previous tenure and folks say they canned him too soon.

Finally, before I forget, here are the preseason tranche projections, published previously in a separate article and cut/pasted for internal consistency:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

I don’t expect the final standings to look too much like this, as this is a moving target during the year owing to injuries, mostly. But, heading in, rather than being a complete jerk and allotting Marquez Tranche 1 by himself, I decided to be gracious and at least tip my hat to the other riders, as if this were going to be a real race season and no one knows who’s going to win.

Predicting the outcome of the first race of the season, under the lights in The Persian Gulf, sand and glare everywhere, a surreal shakedown cruise for everyone, is commonly referred to as “a fool’s errand.” This foolish errand boy will therefore throw out four names, three of which will, I suspect, end up on the podium (drum roll, please):  Marquez  Vinales  Petrucci  Bagnaia.

Whatever. Let the games begin. 2019 is upon us.

MotoGP 2019 Season Preview

February 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen    February 27

World-Class Battle for Second Place Awaits MotoGP 

MotoGP, the working name for grand prix international motorcycle racing, has evolved in a number of ways in the last decade. Of the Big Three manufacturers in 2009—Yamaha, Honda and Ducati, respectively—Honda has booted Yamaha from #1 all the way to #3, a whisker ahead of the prodigal factory Suzuki crib. Jorge Lorenzo has been passed around like a party girl in a mosh pit. KTM and Aprilia have joined the fray, mostly to no avail.  

marc_marquez_2013_zdj_3

Marquez ca. 2013

Marc-Marquez-MotoGP-2019-690x460

Marquez 2019

Marc Marquez has melded his body and his Honda RC213V into a single working unit with a state-of-the-art gyroscope and a clear understanding of the laws and limits of physics, all of which make him the strong favorite to win his sixth title in seven (!) years, domination of the premier class unseen since, well, ten years ago, when Valentino Rossi sat astride the motoracing world. And though the torch was passed in 2016, Rossi fans insist he has a chance to take his 10th world championship this year and retire on top.

Rossi, they’ll tell you, records aside, is as good as ever. The Yamaha, they’ll tell you, is greatly improved over last year. Young maverick Maverick Vinales is telling the engineers the same things that Rossi is telling them, they’ll tell you, a synergy developing between the GOAT and the Next Great Rider to Come Along at the Wrong Time and Never Win a Title, Vinales a candidate for what we shall henceforth call The Dani Pedrosa Award, which is not given every year. Y’see, by the time Vinales overtakes Marquez in, say, 2023 he himself will get consumed by the likes of Alex Rins or Joan Mir or Pecco Bagnaia. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow appear to be the next batters on deck for The Pedrosa Award.

The only way Marc Marquez does not win the MotoGP title this year, or any of the next five, will be a crash or crashes that cause him to break a limb or give him a concussion. He has tamed the quick but unruly RC213V with a combination of balance, reflexes, strength and cojones, each season a highlight reel of impossible saves that leave even him shaking his head. No other Honda rider gets as much out of his front tire. He enjoys stalking a Dovizioso or a Lorenzo, then hitting them with three laps left and later complimenting them from the center seat of the press conference riders table. The one reserved for the race winner.

New Repsol teammate Jorge Lorenzo, formerly employed by both Yamaha and Ducati, entering the season with a surgically-repaired wrist, has given us reason to believe he will get the hang of the point-and-shoot Honda by mid-season. With Marquez virtually guaranteed to accumulate well over 300 points and Lorenzo capable of 200 himself, it’s hard to imagine Honda not taking the team and constructor trophies in 2019. Crutchlow and Nakagami will do better than Morbidelli and Quartararo.

The LCR Honda team, with separate sponsors and liveries for the Brit and Japanese riders, appears to be one of changing fortunes. Crutchlow, after a brutal ankle injury last year at Phillip Island is finding his way back but is not 100% and may never be again. Meanwhile, Takaa Nakagami, on the same bike Marquez rode to the title last year, was first on the last day of 2018 testing at Jerez and has been a regular in the top ten in both tests this year, his star apparently, somehow, on the rise. Suitably great news in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Yamahas

The fortunes of Yamaha racing hit rock bottom in 2018 after having signed both Rossi and Vinales to new two-year contracts. An executive shuffle at HQ and feverish work on electronics and stuff has produced a 2019 iteration of the YZR-M1 that appears competitive, if not dominating. Certainly better than last year, which both Rossi and Vinales spent singing the blues about one thing or another, Vinales throwing a mid-season hissy that cost his crew chief his job and cemented his reputation as a prima donna.

Rossi, to little surprise, is not enjoying having become the de facto #2 rider on the Yamaha team. This team never made much effort to designate a #1 or a #2 when it was Rossi and Lorenzo. They appear to be downplaying any talk of Rossi having lost a step. Vinales is not claiming anything, mostly keeping his head down and riding fast. The Big Question entering 2020 is whether Rossi will choose to vacate the second year of his contract and move strictly to ownership in 2021, perhaps with the occasional wild card? Mugello would fit into that picture. SKY VR46 Racing could easily become a satellite Suzuki team in 2021, purchasing the Reale Avintia spots on the grid and bringing the VR46 circus to MotoGPtown.

Where was I? Right, so I expect Vinales to outpoint Rossi this year, probably finishing third and fifth, respectively. Over at the new Petronas SIC team, Franco Morbidelli and French teenager Fabio Quartararo are getting acquainted with their own M-1s, Morbidelli on 2019 equipment. Their prospects appear somewhat dim, given the newness of everything, but Quartararo turned in a very hot lap toward the end of the Qatar test. Very hot. Both riders figure to finish in the points each time out barring, you know, the usual hiccups, cartwheeling through the gravel at high speed, that sort of thing.

The Ducatis

The factory team, riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, will end the season with a rider in Tranche 2 and one in Tranche 3 presuming Marquez gets Tranche 1 all to himself again. Petrucci’s history is one of taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. He broke into MotoGP in 2010 on board an Ioda beater, which became an Ioda-Suter beater midseason and for 2013. Junk. I used to make fun of him plodding along when, as others more perceptive than I realized, he had some skills. He hit rock bottom in 2014 riding an Aprilia production bike for a ragged ART team and getting smoked on a regular basis. He kept with it.

He got a crack with Ducati riding used equipment in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when, in beating the hapless Scott Redding in an inter-team competition at Pramac, he earned a factory spec bike for 2018. He rode well enough to take over the #2 factory seat when Jorge Lorenzo defected to Honda. He did not ride well enough (8th each of the last two years) to keep his ride for more than the one-year contract he signed. Not with the likes of Bagnaia on the immediate horizon. I have both riders in Tranche 2 heading into 2019.

Ducati Team #3, the Reale Avintia team, features Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham, two journeymen riders, neither of whom figures to be overly competitive. As satellite riders for Ducati in the Dall’Igna era they, too, get better used equipment each year. Rabat, rebounding from a serious leg injury suffered last year, is loving his new ride, while Abraham, a rich kid and an attorney in real life, keeps showing up with a fistful of dad’s sponsorship money. He generally makes about two appearances a year in the top ten. I have Rabat at the top of Tranche 4 and Abraham in Tranche 5.

The Suzukis

Given there are only two riders, the summary of their team’s prospects for 2019 shall be brief and to the point. They have two exciting riders, veteran Alex Rins and young gun Joan Mir, fresh out of a single year in Moto2, in a hurry to get to the premier class. They have a rapidly improving bike whose prospects, ironically, may be hampered by their success a year ago which resulted in the loss of concessions.

Nonetheless, I have been jocking Rins for several years after reading some stuff about the racing rivalry between the Rins and Marquez families—Tito Rabat is in there somewhere, too—but the point is that Rins is good enough to threaten for a podium each time out. I have him finishing second for the year, for God’s sake. Mir will take some time to get acclimated to the big bike and will suffer on occasion in his quest for points. I have him in Tranche 4 this season and wouldn’t be surprised to see him in #3 by the end of the season. In a year or two they will both be Alien candidates.

The KTMs

Despite what you might read, there is little joy in Mudville, Austria these days. The proud KTM logo has, since 2017, sucked hard in the premier class, despite the investment of countless man-hours and millions of euros. Domination in the lower classes, at least on occasion, clearly does not translate automatically to the big bikes. Pol Espargaro, the veteran of a group which includes Johann Zarco on the factory team, with Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syzhrin wearing Tech 3 colors, was raving at Sepang about the increased power in this year’s bike as its riders finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd.

KTM proponents in the real world are as bad as Rossi fans. Plenty of coulda, woulda and shouldas. Huge expectations going forward due to this reason or that. The brand has invested big time in MotoGP with nothing, really, to show for it. A third-place podium, at Valencia last year, in two seasons? This year they signed Johann Zarco and promoted Oliveira from Moto2, adding the satellite team, staying with Syahrin for sponsorship reasons, mostly, although he used to be a force in the rain.

This brand’s results promise to be disappointing once again. They will end up with two riders in Tranche 4 and two in Tranche 5 and will be doing victory dances and sending out press releases. Meanwhile, their fans, like dedicated Marxists, await the withering away of The State and a return to the Natural Order of Things, in which KTM wins it all. In my opinion, they have a long wait on their hands.

The Aprilias

Alas, the lonely Aprilias, plucky veteran Aleix Espargaro and a maturing Andrea Iannone on board the most tenuous factory team bikes in the game. We have observed elsewhere that there are entire planets in far away galaxies whose inhabitants worship images of Aleix Espargaro on the podium wearing Aprilia colors. I’m aware of few people that don’t want to see Aleix, or even Iannone, on the podium at least once this season. Perhaps a flag-to-flag in Assen or something weird. It would be good for everyone.

Pre-Season Rider Tranches

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

Let’s get this party started.

 

MotoGP Qatar 2013: A Look-back

February 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio Quartararo in 2018, Moto2

The discussion around “Is Fabio Quartararo too young to be riding in MotoGP?” prompted me to look back at the debut premier class race, in 2013, of the baddest young rookie of those CRT days, Marc Marquez. (If memory serves, his most recent race prior to the 2013 season opener was the 2012 Moto2 finale in Valencia where, for conduct unbecoming during the previous race or practice or something, he was forced to start from the back of the grid and won the race anyway, making a mockery of the field. The field that day included names such as Pol Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Johann Zarco, Takaa Nakagami and Hafizh Syahrin, all of whom he continues to school until this day.)

Anyway, here is a re-post of the 2013 season opener in Qatar, won by defending two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha M-1, back when it, too, was the baddest machine on the grid. It was pretty clear even then that Marquez was special. How special we didn’t know, but would find out. This is almost timely, in that the big bikes will finish testing this weekend in Qatar.

I think the 2013 article is better than the stuff I’ve been doing lately; don’t know why. But here it is. You can decide if our outlook for young Mr. Marquez was accurate.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard. 

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly. Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to win his 8th premier class title this year.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years. The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith. Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10. Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies.

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.

 

 

FT: Dorna in the Hands of Private Equity

February 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Click here for the full Financial Times article.

Capture

Dorna Sports, rights-holders to MotoGP and WSBK, is being passed around like a teenager in a mosh pit.

This corporate stuff, although largely irrelevant can, at times, prove vexing. The article suggests that MotoGP is a hot property these days with a bright future. Dorna is estimated to have earned about €500MM last year. But private equity is a very dirty business, some of whose practitioners earn a reputation as “vulture capitalists.”

One hopes that the private equity industry leaves MotoGP well enough alone. The amount of infrastructure at this point, by all parties concerned, is enormous. Big enough to affect balance sheets. This seems to show how enormous corporate monoliths like Yamaha can be threatened by these pissant  masters of leverage with no regard whatsoever for the content of the business itself. Parts is parts. Pieces parts. (That’s from an old 1970’s-80’s TV commercial for fried chicken. Find it on YouTube.)

Closer to home for some, the upcoming Brexit, most notably the so-called “No Deal,” will complicate matters for everyone in Europe, but especially in Britain, where an immediate recession is expected. This would compound the expected loss in attendance from fans in EU countries who would then have to go through the rigamarole of customs and etc. to attend, say, Silverstone. It will complicate the transfer of equipment in and out of Britain. Britons are hoarding food and calling up the national guard in anticipation of violence in the streets. The politicians are entwined in a death grip. The EU will not renegotiate. Something’s got to give.

When it does, let’s hope the shrapnel doesn’t catch MotoGP.

 

MotoGP: Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

February 13, 2019

© Bruce Allen

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

Screenshot (191)

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

* * *

There you have it. We’ll hold onto the original for after the season is over and see who has the last laugh.

Ten Takeaways from MotoGP Sepang Test

February 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

REPSOL_HONDA_TeamPress19_JOC471

Keeping in mind that it is way early in the season, I believe we can find at least 10 things to think about after three days in the autoclave. Doing this reporting from my home provides you, the reader, with higher quality reporting than you might receive from a professional journalist, on the scene, with a rock star press pass, getting his brain baked for three straight days by the classic combination of equatorial heat and alcohol. From a distance, I argue, we gain a sober, bird’s-eye view of what we refer to as The Big Picture.

  • Marquez on pitch count is still fast. He will win the 2019 title. He led Day One just to show he could, then gave his shoulder a bit of a rest and ran 30 or 40 laps a day while others were approaching 80. He will not be 100% at Losail in two weeks, nor will he be 100% for the opener. He will be healthy enough to compete for the win.
  • Ducati has found something over the winter. In addition to the bigger black box they have a mystery switch on the front fork. Decoy? All four factory and Pramac riders in the top four at Sepang on Thursday. All four under the track record. Let’s see how they do in the desert.
  • There is life After Alvaro Bautista.
  • Lorenzo is downplaying his 2019 chances. I believe he is playing possum. He will be fast at some point in 2019; the question is not whether but when.
  • Seven riders unofficially broke the existing track record on Thursday. Last year eight track records were broken. It wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest another eight may fall this year. Better bikes, better riders, Michelin another year of data…
  • Alma Pramac Ducati rookie Pecco Bagnaia may be the New Kid in Town. Second overall in Malaysia is what I believe folks mean when they say “early flashes of brilliance.” Smooth operator, nonetheless.
  • Viñales is the alpha rider on the factory Yamaha team. Viñales is back. Yamaha may be back. Morbidelli and Quartararo are going to be consistently in the points as well. The plot thickens. Few seem to be taking Rossi seriously, some suggesting this may be his farewell tour. I expect not, as guys like Vale are way more likely to retire too late (paging Colin Edwards) than too early (paging Casey Stoner.)
  • Alex Rins is going to be in podium contention on a regular basis this year. Joan Mir, probably not. He will need a year to figure it out. Can Suzuki build an engine with enough grunt to allow Rins to compete for a title? The bike is great, he and Mir are both going to be great. They need a satellite team in the worst way. Work a deal with Ducati to take over the Avintia team. Bring in two rising stars from Moto2 with a year of racing Triumph 765’s behind them. Or rescue Dani Pedrosa from KTM oblivion.
  • What’s left of Cal Crutchlow’s ankle is enough to allow him to ride fast. He is now, officially, The Black Knight. “Is that all you’ve got?” Top ten guy until he injures himself again. Dude needs to get out and spend time with his young family. Too old, too beat up, still fast but never gonna be a champion.
  • Takaa Nakagami, who claimed the top of the last timesheet in Jerez back in November, may, somehow, be a top ten guy on the 2018 RCV, which would rock HRC’s world. Both Honda and Yamaha could be back to having four riders consistently in the points.
  • Gigi Dall’Igna has put Ducati squarely in the middle of the championship chase. Another four riders in the top ten or twelve. Very impressive. Dovi wishes he were 10 years younger; he could rule the world.
  • A bigger front group may evolve. The usual characters—Marquez, Dovi, Viñales and Rossi—will be joined by the likes of Rins, Petrucci, Miller occasionally, and Lorenzo at some point. The Knight. A hotshot rookie? One of the best things about the Moto3 and Moto2 races is the sheer size of the lead groups, especially at high-slipstream places like Mugello and Phillip Island, where riders can go from 1st to 8th in one turn. That stuff is what lifts fans’ hearts into their throats and keeps them coming back for more.
  • Aprilia and KTM are showing some signs of life. Aleix was one of the seven to break the old track record. But KTM is trying to sound happy over 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd. Perhaps the riders were just bonding this time out.
  • I will probably find myself referring to the gruesomely-named Mission Winnow Ducati team as the Wishing Minnow team. The Missing Window team. The Mishing Widow team. Vindow Vashers. Whatever. Those two are going to be fast movers this season. Fast enough to unseat Marquez? No. Fast enough to fight for second place? Absolutely. Danilo, especially, on his one-year contract appears to be on a Mission Window.

That has to be at least ten takeaways. I’m kind of looking forward to the Qatar test later this month. Maybe we can find ten more.

Sepang Day One–Season Over

February 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen     February 6, 2019

Capture

Alex Rins on Wednesday at Sepang. Photo courtesy of Crash.net

Today marked the first day of the first pre-season testing for the 2019 MotoGP championship battle. Table courtesy of Crash.net:

  1. Marc Marquez SPA Repsol Honda (RC213V) 1m 59.621s
  2. Alex Rins SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR) 1m 59.880s +0.259s
  3. Maverick Vinales SPA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 1m 59.937s +0.316s
  4. Tito Rabat SPA Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 1m 59.983s +0.362s
  5. Danilo Petrucci ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 2m 0.051s +0.430s
  6. Valentino Rossi ITA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 2m 0.054s +0.433s
  7. Takaaki Nakagami JPN LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.158s +0.537s
  8. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosesdici) 2m 0.197s +0.576s
  9. Stefan Bradl GER Honda Test Rider (RC213V) 2m 0.214s +0.593s
  10. Pol Espargaro SPA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 0.313s +0.692s
  11. Jack Miller AUS Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici) 2m 0.383s +0.762s
  12. Franco Morbidelli ITA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1) 2m 0.460s +0.839s
  13. Aleix Espargaro SPA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 0.602s +0.981s
  14. Cal Crutchlow GBR LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.681s +1.060s
  15. Francesco Bagnaia ITA Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici)* 2m 0.694s +1.073s
  16. Miguel Oliveira POR Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16)* 2m 0.902s +1.281s
  17. Yamaha Test Bike #1 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 0.965s +1.344s
  18. Fabio Quartararo FRA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1)* 2m 0.985s +1.364s
  19. Mika Kallio FIN KTM Test Rider (RC16) 2m 1.054s +1.433s
  20. Johann Zarco FRA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 1.121s +1.500s
  21. Andrea Iannone ITA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 1.249s +1.628s
  22. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Suzuki Test Rider (GSX-RR) 2m 1.286s +1.665s
  23. Joan Mir SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR)* 2m 1.432s +1.811s
  24. Karel Abraham CZE Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 2m 1.627s +2.006s
  25. Yamaha Test Bike #2 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 1.736s +2.115s
  26. Hafizh Syahrin MAL Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16) 2m 1.853s +2.232s

Coverage of Wednesday’s session included a piece on Marquez and his rehabilitation from left shoulder surgery, which has gone as expected. He winces a lot. I suspect he would claim that the shoulder is at 80%. Since the last outing in Jerez, the only time he had been on a bike was a 100cc mini on a dirt track for a couple of laps. In full leathers. Wednesday, in the interminable Malaysian heat, for the first time since Jerez, Marquez stepped onto the 2019 RC213V.

Wait. This guy has won the last three premier class titles and five of the last six. His shoulder was so loose last year that Scott Redding popped it out accidentally while congratulating him for the win at Motegi. So Marquez had the surgery and should be close to 100% by the time the lights go out at Losail.

Great.

The second aspect of Wednesday, somewhat disturbing, was that Marquez set the fastest time of the day, a day without teammate Jorge Lorenzo, nursing a wrist. And then sat out and watched his chasers spend an hour not beating his time. Now, there are some of you who will holler that the first day of the first practice session of the season in early February is a little early to be handing the November title to someone.

Go ahead and holler. All I’m willing to give is that we haven’t seen Lorenzo on the Honda. Even so, the odds are remote that JLo could challenge for the title in his first year on the bike. He could be a contender during the second half of the season, but MM is likely to make hash of him until then.

The Battle For Second–Wednesday’s Top Ten

Hmmm. Alex Rins on the Suzuki. Nosing out Vinales and the (new and improved Yamaha M1, most likely at the cost of at least one man’s career in Japan. The surprising presence of Tito Rabat on a newer Ducati in fourth threw something of a damper on the validity of the whole thing, as Rabat is still mending from last year. A constant underachiever in MotoGP, one should not forget that he was a baller in Moto2 and training buddy with the Marquez brothers. It is possible, I suppose, that Rabat could be a top ten rider this season, but not top five. Yeah, right, I know, it’s early.

Petrucci (factory Ducati), Rossi (factory Yamaha) and that pesky Nakagami (LCR Honda) who somehow won the last practice session last year occupied fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Petrux, one hopes, has adapted to the new bike, and makes the most of his one year contract. Rossi, for whatever reason, is still interested but it, IMO, a top five rider at this point in his career. We’ve been through this now for a few years.

Dovizioso (factory Ducati), Bradl (Honda test rider) and Pol Espargaro (factoryt KTM) completed the top ten. Espargaro the only salve on the ongoing wound that is KTM racing, who riders other than Pol occupied spots #16, 19, 20 and 26 on the time sheets on day one. Again, you KTM folks please spare me the agony of listening to the “just you wait” diatribe so early in the year. Please save it for year’s end, when perhaps Zarco makes it into the top ten. Sorry. Does not appear to be happening in 2019.

Suzuki rookie Joan Mir ended day one, his cherry intact, in 23rd place, shaken, not stirred. I took a stand last year with Rins and Suzuki and was rewarded handsomely. I will take the same stand with Mir, although I am happy to spot him the 2019 season to figure out the bike and the lay of the land, Was it ever more obvious that Suzuki needs a second team in order to run with the big dogs? Sure, Sylvain Guintoli (22nd) is a great guy and all. Suzuki needs a sponsored B team. Shouldn’t be all that hard, if one ignores the global financial shock waves emanating from Brexit in advance of what appears to be some kind of ad hoc “no deal” exit from the EU in late March. By then, MotoGP will have started up and most of us will ignore the rest of the world and stay focused on what matters. Suzuki can make a powerful argument for corporate team sponsors. They are an ascendant organization. As opposed to, say, Great Britain.

About this Column

I have not heard anything concerning 2019 from my friends at Motorcycle.com. Spent the winter not thinking about MotoGP and wondering if I really wanted to do this on my own. I had already purchased the 2019 video feed in November.

So I don’t know. Some weeks things may get a little sparse around here. I would love to resume my spot as the most engaging writer at Motorcycle.com, but the ball is in their court. I await their call.

In the meanwhile, let’s keep an eye on Sepang.