Archive for the ‘Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing’ Category

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.  

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Marquez ca. 2013

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (353)

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

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

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP Track Records Analysis

November 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen

This look at the record laps at each of the circuits on the calendar is surprisingly informative. As long as you buy in to the notion that a hot pole lap on Saturday has much to do, in the first four rows, with the eventual outcome of the race. Any errors herein, unfortunately, are mine.

Track Records 1 JPEG

We re-sort the chart to show track records by rider, as follows:

Track Records 2 JPEG

Track records, sorted by manufacturer. Honda owns more records than Yamaha and Ducati combined. Marquez holds 80% of those.

Track Records 3 JPEG

Track records, sorted by year. Riders perform better after their first contract year, as their familiarity with the bike grows. Two things emerge from this. One, Lorenzo laid down a hellified qualifying lap at Phillip Island in 2013, as did Marquez in Argentina in 2014. The control ECU and Michelins were introduced in 2016, and it took until this year for the riders and teams to adjust. On Bridgestones in 2015, the riders set some records that may stand for awhile.

Track Records 4 JPEG

Condensing the above chart, to illustrate my assertion that track records would fall like dominoes in 2018:

Track Records 5 JPEG

This is the most telling of the previous charts, in that it proves I was right. 2018 was a banner year for track records. Figures lie and liars figure. All 8 of the records taken out this year occurred during the previous years. It may be that 2015 was a better year, but the records have been lost. Riders likely to flirt with track records next season include Marquez. Observe Andrea Dovizioso, whose name is curiously absent from the charts. Maverick Vinales, perhaps, also absent from the chart, if the Valencia test wasn’t a fluke, etc. Lorenzo is a great qualifier and may appear near the top late in the year; next year (2020) is more likely. Crutchlow or Rossi, I guess. Not Zarco. Not Iannone. Maybe a Petrucci or a Rins, maybe Jack Miller rips off a hot one at Assen. None of the rookies are serious threats in 2019.

I see fewer track records being set in 2019 than this past year. Too many musical chairs, too many rookies on top bikes. Too many KTMs and Aprilias. Five different riders set records in 2018; fewer will do so in 2019. I think Suzuki could get one in 2019, and that could involve either of their riders. As I’ve stated here before, Joan Mir is going to be an Alien. We will look at the rookie records after next year and compare them to rookie records for Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, see if there are any fast movers coming up under the radar.

 

Final MotoGP Scoring; Alien Sightings

November 21, 2018

POINTS PROJECTION JPEG AFTER 19 ROUNDS

At this point I’m not sure why I continue to pursue this nugget; at one time, it seemed important.

For this final exercise I went back and did calculations after Jerez, Round 4. Back in grad school, some professor would have wanted to know the correlation coefficient between the final standings (and point totals), compared to the projections from early in the season. Before doing the math, I can tell you that Round 4 is too early in the season to try to predict this stuff, other than Marquez wins.. Three one-off rounds and the first European round. Definitely would have gotten better correlations after, say, Catalunya or Mugello.

Nonetheless, here are the final results, showing which riders out-performed their early-season expectations and which riders failed to do so. And, for regular readers, you will undoubtedly notice the relative standings of Johann Zarco and Alex Rins early in the year when I started banging on about Rins. Rins was an Alien for the last third of the season. I suspect he may pick up where he left off come March. His new teammate, Joan Mir, is about a year or two behind him. Ballers. Aliens-in-Waiting.

Points Since Jerez     Age in 2019

Marquez       251                26A

Dovizioso     199                 33A     

Rossi             158                 40

Rins               153                24A

Viñales           143                24A

Petrucci          110                 29

Zarco              100                 29

Iannone             86                30

So, who are the Aliens at this moment, besides Marquez and Dovizioso? Rossi? Vinales? Lorenzo? I have left Crutchlow and Lorenzo off this list due to their injuries and whining. It is my contention that the Alien class as of November 2018 includes Marquez, the aging Dovizioso, Viñales and Rins. The usual caveat applies–Marquez wins the next three MotoGP titles. But otherwise they’re all Aliens now. My nomination of Rins is premature, but there it is. And I’m STILL not sold on Maverick Viñales.

It is worth noting that Fabio Quartararo, newly promoted to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, turns 20 in April. Bagnaia and Mir are 21, and Oliveira is 23. The Alien class will look radically different three years from now than it does today. I think Johann Zarco is too old to start trying to make an Alien run, especially on the KTM. I expect he could be very fast on the Ducati. And no one will successfully accuse either Petrucci or Iannone of being Aliens, now or ever; hell, Petrucci has never even won a race.

At the top of the MotoGP food chain, the times they are a-changin’.

Moto3 Valencia Results

November 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Young Turk Can Oncu making a name for himself

The Valencia round of the Moto3 world championship was less an event than an experience. It involved a bunch of young riders on fast motorcycles competing in wet conditions. As you might expect, roughly half of them fell off, though a few remounted in order to avoid the dreaded DNF. Formerly obscure 15-year old Can (pronounced ‘Chan’) Oncu ended up winning the race (!) in his first ever grand prix (!), becoming the youngest rider to win a GP in, like, 20 years and the first Turk to win anything at all since The Ottoman Empire. In a sport built, in part, on nationalism, it was another precinct heard from.

Screenshot (355)

Can (joined by his twin brother Dennis, both signed by Aki Ajo of KTM when they were 12 (!)), appeared as a wildcard in Sunday’s race. His practice results were surprisingly strong. FP1 9th. FP2 8th. Slipped in FP3 but qualified, comfortable in the rain, at the top of the second row. Tony Arbolino secured pole, followed by Nakarin Atiratphuvapat [one of the reasons I don’t usually cover Moto3] and Brit John McPhee, another known mudder. At one time or other, it seemed every rider either high-sided, ran off track, or experienced one of those long, low, mortifying slide-offs that allow one the pleasure of rejoining the race out of the points and with your fairings all scraped to hell and full of grass and mud.

Except for Oncu, who seemed to have something like a force field around him, keeping most of the other riders away and behind him. When Arbolino crashed, unassisted, out of the lead on Lap 12, there was the young Turk, suddenly leading his first ever grand prix.

At this point it became clear, at least to this observer, that the racing gods were drunk and playing the game with their feet. Kicking all the main protagonists and usual suspects into the grass or the gravel. Cracking up at the prospect of awarding a 15-year old Turkish kid, professionally groomed by KTM for three years, with three notable achievements, one of which he can never lose. He returned home after the race a national hero. In the U.S. probably a hundred people have ever heard of him.

Right, the race. Once he had taken the lead, the race became Oncu’s to lose, as he reeled off fast lap after fast lap, gradually extending his lead. Jorge Martin, the newly-crowned Moto3 champion, had gone off track earlier but recovered to second place with enough laps left to challenge Oncu for the lead if not snatch it from him. To his everlasting credit, he declined to do so, essentially allowing Oncu the win and the kickstart to his career that riders dream of. The stars aligned, and almost all the other riders crashed out. On a normal, dry day, Oncu probably would have been outside the top ten. But, as we pointed out last week, crazy stuff happens in the rain at motorcycle grands prix.

During the podium celebration, I, too, experienced a lifetime first. I got to hear the Turkish national anthem. Screenshot (358)

The two big defectors to Moto2 next season, Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, were unable to compete mano a mano on Sunday due to a variety of factors, but with the season already decided such a shootout would have had a bit of a pro wrestling flavor to it. The 97,000 fans, in for a day of mostly existential competition and soaked clothing, were at least able to say they witnessed history and, years later, yes, I’ve followed Can’s career closely ever since that ridiculous win in the rain at Valencia in 2018 blah blah blah.

This is a good place to note that Simon Crafar, the former rider now doing color on the videocast, has improved greatly since early in the year. He is at his best when talking specifically about being on track, approaching a turn, hydroplaning, the stuff only he, of the three announcers, really knows. His interview questions will improve over time, but he’s very good at explaining on-track stuff.

A star was born on Sunday in Spain. Let us hope that his career is brighter than the previously youngest rider ever to win a grand prix race, one Scott Redding, now fully grown, on his way from a dismal few years in MotoGP to British Super Bikes and, allegedly, damned happy to be doing it. Stepping away from all the money and women and fame, going from table stakes poker to penny ante. If he doesn’t dominate BSB next year he will need to think about a new career.

TOMORROW:

MotoGP Rider Performance vs. Projections since Silverstone

FRIDAY:

Track Records Analysis by Rider, Manufacturer and Year