Archive for the ‘Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

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

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

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

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

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

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

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

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

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

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

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

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

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

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

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

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

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

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

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

While We’re on the Subject 

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

Part Two will post in the next few days.

2019 MotoGP Team Projections

December 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

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

Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

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

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

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

Comings and Goings

November 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Track Records 2019

November 20, 2019

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MotoGP Valencia Results

November 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain falls on an eventful 2019 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

The Races 

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

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

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

2019

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

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

“How can the light that burned so brightly

suddenly burn so pale?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

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

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Exodus of the Aliens 

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

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

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

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

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

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

After Valencia:

Alien:                    Marc Marquez

Sub-Aliens:          Dovizioso, Vinales, Quartararo, Miller

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

Tranche 3:           Crutchlow, Mir, Oliveira, Zarco

Tranche 4:           Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, Kallio, Iannone

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

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Until Next Year

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

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

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

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

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2019

© Bruce Allen

A Marquez family clambake coming up at Ricardo Tormo 

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

MOTORSPORT - MotoGP, GP Czech Republic

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

Recent History at Ricardo Tormo 

In 2016, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration. Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title in P2, and the podium celebration was awkward; the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he, the 2017 world champion, were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

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

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

Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins and Valentino Rossi quickly re-established a lead group after Maverick Vinales, who had been solid in the first race, crashed on the opening lap. The magic of a decade ago once again failed to materialize for The Doctor as he crashed off the podium for the second round in a row. At that point, it was clear sailing for Dovizioso, Rins found himself on the second step, and Pol Espargaro, coming emotionally unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and not the last, time in KTM colors. Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray postscript of an afternoon. Half price on all MotoGP gear in the concession tents after the races. 

Rummaging Through the Attic 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast 

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

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

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

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Alex Marquez sheds monkey, wins Moto2 title 

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

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

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

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“Dude, where’s my bike?”

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Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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Marquez losing it in Q2.

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That’s going to leave a mark.

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

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

The Races 

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

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

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

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

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

Penultimate Tranches 

After Phillip Island:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

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

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

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

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

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

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

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

Season Finale in Valencia

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

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

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Fabio got himself an upgrade this weekend.

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MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Moto2: The last good time in town 

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

Alex Marquez

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

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

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

Recent History in Malaysia 

“The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.” In a decade writing about this stuff, this was one of my favorite sentences. Sorry, where was I? Right, recent history.

The 2016 joust on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Crutchlow, Marquez and Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  Dovi was joined on the podium by the soon-to-be-a-memory factory Yamaha team of Butch and Sundance–Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall 2017, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, on the heels of a debacle in Australia, could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race with Marquez off the podium, Dovi ensured that the 2017 title would be formally decided two weeks later in Valencia. In the end the Spaniard’s lead was too big, and the championship ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

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

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

Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.

News You Can Use

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Races 

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

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

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

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

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

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

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

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

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

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MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen  Late-Braking MotoGP

Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Come on Down! 

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

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

Recent MotoGP History in Australia 

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

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

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

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

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

Lecuona to MotoGP? 

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

Scott Redding 

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

Moto3 

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

Moto2 

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

Local Color from 2018

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