Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of Argentina’ Category

MotoGP Rio Hondo Results

March 31, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rules Argentina; Rossi Sighting on Podium 

What, you are wondering, do Argentina, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany have in common? They are owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez. A benevolent dictator, Marquez allows the other MotoGP riders to follow him around these tracks, not bothering to charge for lessons. Today’s easy win at Rio Hondo gives the Catalan 15 wins from 18 starts at his three personal sandboxes.

Practice and Qualifying

Conditions on Friday and Saturday were clear and warm, conducive to fast times. The top five finishers at the end of the day on Friday included Dovizioso, Jack Miller (?), Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and impertinent rookie Fabio Quartararo, enjoying another fast, fun weekend on the Petronas Yamaha M1. Marquez, getting serious on Saturday, led the way into Q2 joined by Lorenzo, both factory Ducatis and all four Yamahas. Jack Miller on the Pramac Ducati and Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda completed the front row and rounded out the lambs heading straight for Q2.

The Q1 goatfest was dominated by ascendant Japanese heartthrob Takaa Nakagami who was, in turn, joined in the bar mitzvah to Q2 by little brother Pol Espargaro and his KTM RC-16, who annoyingly stole the Q2 promotion very late in the session from older brother Aleix on the Aprilia. The second-most surprising report for the day was submitted by the Suzuki team of Rins and Mir, neither of whom could get anything going and who would start Sunday from 16th and 19th positions respectively. I had picked one of them for a podium the following day. As if.

Q2 took off in short order and Marquez shot to the top, working a two-stop strategy. He messed up the hot lap on his #2 tire, returned to the pit, waited while the crew mounted a third rear tire (bike #2 being unavailable after having the chain come off during FP4), and went back out to set the pole lap in front of Dovizioso and Vinales. Row 2 was comprised of Rossi, Miller and Franco Morbidelli, one of four (4!) Yamahas to qualify in the top seven. The 2019 iteration of the Yamaha M1 is better than the 2018 version in that it is able to generate at least one hot lap per session. This is big news. As is Cal slipping to 8th after being fast all weekend. And Jorge slipping down to 12th after his 11th place “hot lap” was deleted for exceeding track limits.

As Saturday drew to a close, the grid shared several major concerns. One, would Marquez take the hole shot on Sunday and vanish into the ether, leaving the other 21 riders to fight over second place? And two, would the weather end up being as bad as the forecast promised, tossing a major spanner into the works of most of the teams?

Finally, the first two days of the Argentine round proved one thing beyond any doubt: The Bridgestones were faster than the Michelins. At least here. No one came within a half second of Marquez’ 2014 qualifying lap of 1:37.683. Moto2 saw another track record fall, this time to Xavi Vierge, a full-size man, as the big Triumph engines appear to have considerably more grunt than the previous 600cc Hondas. Nothing new in Moto3 concerning Miguel Oliveira’s amazeballs track record from 2015. Comparing the top Moto2 qualifiers to the bottom MotoGP qualifiers in Qatar and Argentina, there is only a 2½ second difference. Last year it averaged over 4 seconds after two rounds.

A Stroll in the Park…

If only there were some way to inject some drama in today’s race for the flag. Marquez had things his way all weekend, other than the mechanical issue in FP4. Practices were a breeze, qualifying was a breeze, and the race was a laugher, over almost before it started. Under clear skies, Marquez took the hole shot at the start, found clean air on the back side of Turn 1, and was off to the races. He led the field by 2.5 seconds at the start of Lap 3. His lead got above 12 seconds late in the race before he backed off, and he still won by over 8 seconds, an eternity in MotoGP. Valentino Rossi returned to the podium for the first time since Germany in 2018, finally overtaking Andrea Dovizioso for good on the last lap and sending his thousands of disciples into paroxysms of joy, the 197th podium of his ridiculous career.

…Amidst a Confederacy of Dunces

Although he clearly won it on his own, Marquez had plenty of help from his challengers. Both Maverick Vinales and Jorge Lorenzo got completely swamped at the start, Vinales converting a second spot on the grid to his customary 8th position after two laps, The New Vinales looking much the same as The Old. Lorenzo, meanwhile, appeared to be in third gear when the red lights went out, quickly falling to last place before reaching the first turn. Lorenzo did manage to finish—12th, 28 seconds behind his teammate—while Vinales got taken down from behind by fellow Yamaha pilot Franco Morbidelli on Lap 25. Morbidelli’s brain fart cost Yamaha two additional spots in the top eight, and what might have been a post-race party in the factory garage may have become, instead, an inquisition.

Cal Crutchlow, another fast mover all weekend, did his part to ensure Marquez’ win by jumping the start and assuming 22nd position exiting his ride-through penalty. He ended up scoring three (3) points on a day he should have podiumed. After the race, he appeared to be in hurry-up mode on his way to Race Direction for a free frank exchange of ideas, where Mike Webb would squelch most of his ire with electronic proof of his error.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Jack Miller had his Pramac Ducati in the top five all day before finishing 4th, while Danilo Petrucci ended his day 6th after starting on the fourth row. My boy Alex Rins, who got faced in qualifying, starting 16th, got his groove on late in the day and settled for 5th place after a brief podium flirtation with a couple laps to go. His teammate Joan Mir was stuck in the mud all weekend, and called it a day with four laps left, gremlins at work in his machine. As proof that every dog has his day, KTM pilots Pol Espargaro and rookie Miguel Oliveira placed 10th and 11th, while Aleix Espargaro put his Aprilia in the top ten along with LCR Honda’s Takaa Nakagami and that pesky rookie Fabio Quartararo again. To me, when it comes to Yamaha, there’s Rossi, and then there are the other three guys.

The dynamic Reale Avintia duo of Karel Abraham and Tito Rabat found separate gravel traps mid-race within about a minute of one another. And, in another example of Not Really Giving a Rip, moody Andrea Iannone started and finished last, quickly working himself out of a job, possibly dreaming of posterizing Alvaro Bautista over in World SuperBike.

All in all, the worst fears of the entire industry were realized as Marc Marquez seized the lead in the championship, dunking on the pseudo-Aliens and now heading to COTA, Circuit of The Antman. For his putative challengers at the top of the MotoGP food chain, this must feel like being duct-taped to a steel bench having to watch a video loop of Marquez passing them over and over again, each time bumping them into a trackside mud puddle. Painful, frustrating and embarrassing. No wonder everyone’s in such a hurry to get back to Spain.

First Tranches of 2019

Before Losail:

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

After Rio Hondo:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 2:   Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3:   Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:   Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

A Few Action Shots from Rio Hondo

Moto2 screenshotScreenshot1Screenshot2Screenshot3

Day One at Rio Hondo

March 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Ain’t nobody really care a lot about what happens on Fridays unless FP3 looks to be wet, which it doesn’t. But the forecast for Sunday shows thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the area, generally around mid-day. So, according to my calculations, all four free practice sessions become rather useless when two days of dry vanish on race day. Keeps things interesting. Keeps bookies checking their phones.

Notable accomplishments, comments and attitudinal insights from Friday:

  • Your boy Valentino Rossi put himself back in the conversation with a solid F2. Both he and Vinales improved, Vinny sitting third for the day. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me to hear Vinny announce his goal was to take the pole on Saturday. Not a word about winning on Sunday. Such a Vinny thing to say, or not say.
  • Andrea Dovizioso led the combined sessions and noted with a smile and a wink that the 2019 bike is better than the GP18. He said he had not expected to be so fast so soon. Kind of like dad used to say when applying corporal punishment, “I didn’t mean to hit you. So hard.” Dovi is oozing confidence. The Ducati contingent performed better than expected on Friday, including one-two for the day.
  • Marc Marquez reportedly ran 19 laps on a used rear tire in FP2. #93 finished eighth overall on what Jack Miller described as a “filthy” track off the racing line. Track management should call in the country’s national curling teams, both men and women, and instruct them to sweep the entire track, paint to paint, by Sunday morning. Anyway, Marquez seems serenely confident heading into Saturday.
  • Not so for #99 Jorge Lorenzo on the #2 Repsol Honda as he limped home in 21st position, predicting he would be fast on Saturday, on Sunday, in Austin, after the circus returns to Jerez. He was observing how he trailed Dovi by a second, deftly sidestepping the issue of the 19 riders between them.
  • I keep finding myself surprised when Jack Miller shows up near the top of time sheets as he did on Friday. Perhaps this “consistent surprise” is a symptom of some kind of bias against the brash Australian. On the other hand, he finished 2018 in 13th place and has zero points in 2019. I dunno.
  • Danilo Petrucci is keeping a very low profile in 13th place after FP2.
  • In his fortnightly whine, The Black Knight complained about, let’s see, problems in corner entry. “But a P4 for last year’s Argentina GP winner on Friday with room to improve suggests the Briton is well in the hunt.” This last one was borrowed from the MotoGP website as an example of how to get your colon in a twist trying to get the pertinent information and proper nationalist spin in a single sentence. Raise your hand if you don’t know we’re discussing Cal Crutchlow.
  • Seeing Suzuki pilot Alex Rins sitting 7th at the end of day one, hot on Rossi’s tail, is not as surprising as seeing Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha in 9th. And, for the second round in a row, teenager Fabio Quartararo put his own Petronas Yamaha in the top five on Friday. Things appear to be looking up for Morbidelli, who has paid his dues and appears ready for top-ten finishes. Suzuki rookie phenom Joan Mir had a bad morning and a better afternoon.

We’ll see what Saturday brings besides Marquez on the front row. It will then be up to the weather gods to determine the nature of Sunday’s confrontation. A flag-to-flag affair early in the season could easily scramble the standings for the first half of 2019. And perhaps I’m the only one thinking of Jorge Lorenzo, facing a wet race day on the belligerent Honda RC213V, envisioning himself flying over the windscreen, landing gently in a track-side pool of water, with three points to show for his 2019 campaign. This is a guy who wants a dry race.

MotoGP: A Little Cherry Picking

March 26, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Today we examine the possibility that in early 2017 Maverick Vinales inspired what some pundits refer to as irrational exuberance concerning his immediate future in MotoGP. With three wins in his first five starts on the factory Yamaha, he was suddenly seen as a legitimate challenger to the ongoing dominance of Marc Marquez in the premier class.

Um, no. Not yet anyway. Probably not ever.

Just because I can, I took away Maverick’s three wins in early 2017, which netted him a points haul of 155 for the rest of the season. I then removed the points earned by a number of top riders in those same rounds. Then, I added each rider’s point total from 2018. The results?

Rider Comparison 2017 2018 Totals

Now Maverick’s admission that he doesn’t really enjoy mixing it up with those other savage riders at the start of the race when his tires are cold and his tank is full. He would prefer to wait until the last eight laps before making his move. From ninth position. Compare this to Jorge Lorenzo’s last season with Ducati, in which he was the champion of the first ten laps. One of the Motorcycle.com readers posted a great spoof of Jorge arguing with his crew chief about his plan to win the championship, by winning the first half of each race, etc., etc. Had to be there. But Vinales has, for most of the past two years, chosen the way less traveled. Once crowned the future king of MotoGP, he is now barely holding on to his Alien membership card, though he is current on his dues.

 

MotoGP Rio Hondo Preview

March 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen

ACCUWEATHER UPDATE 3/28: CLEAR, HOT AND HUMID ALL THREE DAYS.

[TRACK RECORD IS FIVE YEARS OLD. JUST SAYIN’.]

It’s Marquez Time. Again. 

Having uncorked the 2019 season in fine fashion in Qatar, where money talks, MotoGP heads to exurban South America for the Motul Grand Prix of the Republic of Argentina. Based upon practice times, where he generally pulverizes everyone, Marc Marquez should be undefeated down south, heading into the sixth Argentine round of modern times. Would be, too, were it not for crashes in 2015 and 2017 and the stalling-at-the-start hilarity at last year’s clambake. Fans are anxious to see if 2019 is win or bin for #93. 

Recent History at Rio Hondo 

Year three in Argentina was 2016, the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.)  After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Two years ago, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament at the time, were set to square off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, seized the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer in 2017. A most impressive rookie debut for #21 on the Yamaha M1. Rossi and Honda’s Crutchlow shared the podium, perhaps the high-water mark of the season for the factory Yamaha team.

Last year’s epic race (in which Marquez, at the start, had his stalled bike pointed southeast while the rest of the grid, pointing in a more northwesterly direction, eagerly awaited the green flag) featured your boy Cal Crutchlow pimping his youngish French rival Johann Zarco for the win, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins on the Suzuki. The Ducati contingent suffered in the tropical heat, Dovizioso on the factory bike at the top of that particular heap in 6th. When last seen, icon Valentino Rossi was loitering in 18th place, 52 seconds out of the lead. There would be no bells ringing in Tavullia that evening. 

Stories from the Past Fortnight 

I’ve seen several articles critical of the crop of Moto2 grads this year, which is, of course, junk. Having expected Quartararo to be the slowest of the four, he was “unconsciously competent” in practice and qualified his Yamaha 5th. Bagnaia, one suspects, would have done very well on the Ducati at Losail had he not broken a (front) wing in the first turn of the race. Alien-apparent Joan Mir spurred his Suzuki as high as 4th before finishing 8th, joining teammate Alex Rins in the top ten. And Oliveira rode his unimpressive KTM RC-16 well enough to get a little public love from team owner Hervé Poncharal.

All this compares to the relative lack of excitement existent in the top ten over at Moto2. New Moto3 grad Jorge Martin, a very macho guy, just had surgery on his forearm, fortunately at a gap in the season. Fellow grad Marco Bezzecchi had a forgettable rookie debut as well. The holdovers, including Qatar winner Lorenzo “BadAss” Baldassari, don’t really scare you too much. Tom Luthi? Alex Marquez, who, after winning the Moto3 title in 2014 and was supposed to power through Moto2 years ago on his way to join his brother with Honda in the premier class? Dude cannot get out of his own way, and looks doomed, never able to earn a proper ride in MotoGP, never able to win a title even in Moto2. The perpetual Little Brother. Augusto Fernandez?  Luca Marini? Enea Bastianini? Xavi Vierge? Not yet anyway.

And please don’t ask me about Moto3 just yet. Still trying to get my bearings on this year’s collection of unpronouncables.

What kind of shape must Jorge Lorenzo be in to not actually notice he had a broken rib at Round One? He figures to be close to 100% until the next time he goes airborne on the twitchy, torque-y Honda rocket. I share most people’s sense that he will be fast at some point in the season, but his health, or lack thereof, may hinder his progress. Too much bouncing around on macadam.

The Appeal Continues

The kerfuffle about a swingarm winglet on the factory Ducati bikes in Qatar—a protest to Race Direction from the other manufacturers, minus Yamaha, which has its own problems. Race Direction, as usual, ruled in favor of the defendant, whereupon the plaintiffs appealed the ruling to some silly MotoCourt of Appeals somewhere, perhaps featuring a Spanish Judge Judy character. The “court” has had the “case” for two weeks. Really? The suspense is killing everyone. I will take the uninformed opinion that this is mostly sour grapes from the companies who failed to figure this thing out. Perhaps over-engineered, the Desmosedici has some clever folks working with aerodynamics and fiberglass. No doubt, regardless of whatever they ask Gigi to change for Argentina, Dovi and Petrux’ results from the desert will certainly stand.

UPDATE: DUCATI WINS THE CASE. HONDA, KTM, SUZUKI ALL IN A SNIT. FIBERGLASS DESIGNERS STOKED.

Vinales’ Stunning Revelation

A recent article entitled “Yamaha’s Vinales to try different riding styles in MotoGP races” begs the subhead: “Spaniard decides to go for wins rather than schvitzing about messing up his paint job.” Which, in turn, begs the lede, “If Vinales finds himself unwilling or unable to go fast in traffic, a subject in which his partner has endowed a chair at the University of Bologna, his career may have already peaked.” He clearly doesn’t have enough bike to run away from the field and stay on his preferred racing line all day. So it’s likely to be tough sledding for the Maverick until his masters give him a faster bike.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended forecast for Termas do Rio Hondo and environs calls for hot weather on Friday and Saturday, with slightly cooler temps on Sunday. Safe to say that a week out no one really knows for sure. (I will update this later in the week.) Prudence would suggest light clothing, umbrellas and sunscreen, as hot and humid is the norm, with those damnable “pop-up PM thundershowers” always a possibility.

As we have come to learn, the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis do not. Making predictions for Round Two is about as fruitful as making predictions for Round One. But I like the Hondas and Suzukis at this track at this time of year. I would expect Marquez, Crutchlow and one of the Suzuki kids, possibly the impertinent Mir, on the podium. We learn little about the true powers in MotoGP at Qatar and Rio Hondo, but the racing is sensational anyway.

I will update the weather during the week.

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Results

April 8, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Crutchlow prevails in Argentina, leads series

Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday was a Honda clambake, with the factory guys and Cal Crutchlow hogging the top three spots on the combined FP1/FP2 timesheet. Dovi and Lorenzo looked dazed and confused in the dry, Dovi mailing in a clean 24th in FP2. Factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales were keeping their powder dry in 6th and 7th. The two anomalies in the top ten were Tito Rabat, Honda alum and current (GP17) Ducati pilot, sitting impudently in fourth position, as if he belonged there, and Andrea Iannone, copying him in 5th. My boy Alex Rins sat 8th after finding over a second in FP2. Zarco was loitering down in 9th, Jorge Lorenzo, in full Replay-of-the-Horror-of-2017 mode, lagging in 16th place. Miles to go before he sleeps.

Saturday’s wet FP3 meant the standings from FP2 stood, which, in turn, meant that big names, like Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci and Syahrin would have to slug their way out of Q1 to even have a shot at the first four rows on Sunday. Two satellite Ducatis (Rabat and Miller) found their way directly into Q2, along with a bevy of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. Q1 saw Aleix Espargaro flog his Aprilia into Q2, joined therein by Andrea Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Petrucci, eyeing a Ducati factory seat next year, starts from 18th, while Jorge Lorenzo, trying to defend one, could manage no better than 14th.

The last three minutes of Q2 are becoming my favorite part of the weekend. One by one, the Alien class and its aspirants reach back and take aim at pole, holding nothing in reserve, fuel loads minimized, soft new rubber on the back. One by one, they flash into pole position, only to be immediately deposed by the next red-eyed dervish with the throttle pegged. Marquez, incandescent all weekend, sat in pole position for most of the session, until he was blistered late, in the described fashion, by Alex Rins (?), Tito Rabat (??), Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa. While the announcers were busily gushing over Dani’s 50th grand prix pole, Jack Miller, who had pitted very late on a drying track to try a final lap on slicks and had his transponder go out on him, crossed the line almost unnoticed and stuck the fastest lap of the day on pole. In the process, he became the first satellite Ducati rider in history to occupy pole for a premier class grand prix.

Jack Miller has taken to the GP17 like, pardon the expression, a duck to water. Fast in Valencia last November. Fast all winter. Fast in practice in Qatar, although he whiffed on race day. Now, fast here, at least for one lap. Jack Miller is making a case for enhanced respect from these quarters. As is Tito Rabat, who seems to be breathing air again after two years of sucking canal water. Both on used Desmos.

Before the Lights Went Out

Due to the persistent light rain they have in this part of Argentina, which works the way my kitchen lights do when my grandson is fiddling with the switch, virtually everyone on the grid started bailing into pit lane five minutes before the start, all planning to switch from rain tires to slicks, all planning to start from pit lane. All except for one, the polesitter, Jack Miller, on his Alma Pramac Ducati, sporting slicks and ready to race. Race Direction, citing legitimate safety concerns pertaining to having 23 powerful men and machines crammed into the space of an eat-in kitchen, decided to change the rules of the sport on the spot, re-forming the grid three rows back of Miller.

The weirdly re-formed grid sat waiting for the lights to go on when Marquez, anxious in the six hole, waved to indicate his bike had stalled, pushed it a few yards, nonchalantly jump-started it, and pushed it back into his grid spot, waving off that Danny guy who was gesticulating wildly that Marquez needed to return to pit lane. So #93 started the race under a cloud, out of breath, suspecting he would be penalized. Unbalanced.

During the Race

There were so many key moments in the race that I can only bullet-point them:
• On the opening lap, Johann Zarco, jockeying with the factory Hondas up front, gave Pedrosa a slight hip check sufficient to send Little Big Man over the handlebars.
• Marquez went through on Miller on Lap 2 and the world prepared for him to get away, when
• He was given a ride-through penalty for dissing Mr. Aldridge at the start, entered pit lane in first place and exited in 19th with some serious motowood going on and that look in his eye. This left a top three of Miller, Rins and Zarco, with Crutchlow loitering in fourth, keeping his powder dry, thinking deep thoughts.
• Marquez, slicing his way recklessly through the field, dove through a non-existent opening, displacing Aleix Espargaro, who retired five laps later. For this second foul Marquez was ordered to give up one place, which became two in the midst of the pure confusion in command of the track.
• On Lap 17, Miller, whose tires were turning to syrup, ran so far wide that Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins all went through on him and stayed there. He deserved better on a day when he had, by himself, earned an enormous strategic advantage over the field which the powers that be took away from him.
• On Lap 21, Marquez, for no apparent reason, thought it would be smart to reprieve his stunt with Espargaro with his old buddy Valentino Rossi, who ran wide into mud. Down and out. A buzz went through the crowd. Not this again.
• Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins put on a sensational show over the last three laps. After two rounds there have been six separate riders on the two podia.
• Before being demoted to 18th position, Marquez had worked his way back from 19th to 5th, and, in the process, confirmed the opinions of everyone out there who already thought he was a jerk.

After the Race

Immediately after the race, Marquez and two of his handlers, with about 20 MotoGP.com video cameras on them, walked down to Rossi’s garage, to offer an apology for his comportment on the track. Mr. Rossi’s representative, a Mr. Vaffanculo, let it be known that Mr. Rossi was not currently interested in Mr. Marquez’ apology, and that perhaps Mr. Marquez should go perform a physically-impossible act. The cheek-turning exercise failed to produce the desired results. So now we have to spend the next six months listening to people bang on about The Rivalry. Which, if you believe what you hear, never actually went away.

The Big Picture

The season standings have been reshuffled, which is good news for some and not-so-good news for others. To wit:

Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi each lost five spots in the championship chase. Marquez lost three, but it could have been worse, as many will argue he should have been black-flagged after the Rossi incident. He may still find himself with some penance to pay in Texas in two weeks.

Winners include Alex Rins, who went from zero to 9th place, Miller, who went from 10th to 6th, and Zarco, who moved from 8th to 3rd.

Of the top ten riders for the year, four ride satellite bikes and two ride Suzukis. And the top team thus far this season is LCR Honda.

Next time out is Austin, which is Marquez’ personal sandbox. If he faces any kind of challenge at COTA, it portends an interesting year. A year that’s getting off to a grand start.

Rider Rankings after Two Rounds

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Zarco, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Vinales, Rossi, Rins, Miller, Iannone
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Pedrosa, Rabat, Syahrin, Lorenzo, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Redding, Bautista, Nakagami, Morbidelli, P Espargaro
Tranche 5: Luthi, Abraham, Smith, Simeon

Greatest of All Time

April 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez Valencia 2017b

Discussions of who is the greatest whatever of all time are usually tiresome affairs, made up of people who possess one or two indelible facts or impressions they then use to bludgeon any other arguments to pieces. This fruitless argument becomes more fruitless each year, as records and riders extend back to bygone eras where virtually nothing was the same as it is now, as regards machinery. It’s not just moto racing, it’s any sport.

It’s the usual problem with “of all time” comparisons. The historical context is everything. We humans, with our small brains and limited attention spans, both of which are generally focused on sex, don’t have the bandwidth to try to fully understand the competitive conditions extant, say, in the 1960s and 1970s when Giacamo Agostini was winning titles, lapping the field.

We have a hard time getting fully engorged by Angel Nieto, who won all those titles, mostly in the 70’s, on 80cc and 125cc bikes. We look at Rossi with his nine, seven in the premier class, and shake our heads, certain it would have been higher had he not reigned during the nascence of The Alien Class of riders, any number of whom will have their own claim to Hall of Fame stature in the years to come. Stoner. Lorenzo. Marquez.

Inevitably, we run into old school types like Matt Oxley or Kevin Schwantz who criticize the electronics in today’s bikes, making them sound like video games, over-powered and over-engineered pocket rockets that can practically ride themselves. This, I believe, is where the “of all time” argument gets complicated. I believe the video game aspect of today’s bikes is an extra layer of difficulty the riders from the 20th century didn’t have to deal with.

Here’s what I think. I think Marc Marquez, arguably the best rider of the current decade, could adjust to the bikes going back to the 1970s with little trouble , especially given his dirt-track riding style. The idea of taking a Wayne Rainey or a Mick Doohan out there, putting them on a 2018 MotoGP bike and saying, “Take it away!” is laughable. They wouldn’t be able to get out of pit lane. I think Marquez, on the other hand, is strong enough to enjoy racing the 500cc two-strokes.

There. In order to discuss the greatest of all time in MotoGP, you have to examine the context. In order to level the playing field, one must account for the difference in the machinery, which can only be done by some crude indexing. For instance, whereas Giacomo Agostini rated 98% on the 350cc MotoGP bike, he would rate only, say, 40% on today’s Yamaha M1. Rossi or Marquez, on the other hand, are up in the 90’s on the MotoGP bike and could get well up into the 80’s in a day or two on  the 350.

Marquez has the fundamental, intuitive balance and reflexes of a great rider. He also has the full array of video game skills and a powerful frame. He is the complete package.

Given the genesis of MotoGP, the impossible speeds and lean angles and the increasingly complicated electronics, I would vote for Marquez, presuming his career maintains its current arc, as the GOAT. If he can win three or four more titles in the next five years, he will be The Man. He’s facing the same problem Rossi faced starting in 2010–a new generation of riders. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Alex Rins. A rejuvenated Andrea Dovizioso. A bunch of fast movers in Moto2 anxious for factory rides in MotoGP beginning next year. Names like Bagnaia, Baldassarri, Mir and Fenati.

To me, it feels like we’re watching something special during what will be referred to as The Marquez Years. I pray it ends someday in triumph, on his terms, fully intact and ready for the next phase in his remarkable story.

Lorenzo - Marquez

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

MotoGP 2017 Rio Hondo Results

April 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Viñales conquers Argentina; Marquez chokes out 

In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix.  Marquez, starting from pole, took the holeshot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4.  Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat. 

In winning his first two races on the factory Yamaha, Viñales tied two records dating back to the 1990’s.  Kenny Roberts, Jr. won his first two races on a new team in 1999 after having abandoned the Modenas KR3 team for Suzuki.  And Wayne Rainey (not Rossi, not Lorenzo) was the last Yamaha pilot to start the season with two wins back in 1990, well before Viñales was born.  Had Marquez not lost his grits today, both records might still be standing.  We’ll never know.

Practice and Qualifying Weirdness

Practice was dry on Friday.  Viñales topped FP1 and FP2, with lots of big names way down the order. Some unfamiliar names popped up in the top five—Danilo Petrucci, rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and Karel Abraham, of all people, in FP1; both Abraham and Petrucci appeared in the top five again in FP2. Saturday was a wet day, the first ever for Viñales on the Yamaha.  Accordingly, in FP3 he slipped all the way down to second place, behind LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, with Marquez in fifth.

Thus was the die cast for the first qualifying sessions of the season—Qatar canceled theirs due to some Biblical rain–and the separating of the goats into Q1 and the lambs into Q2, but in a Bizarro kind of configuration.  The lambs cinched into Q2 included, and I’m not kidding, Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Jonas Folger, Alvaro Bautista, and Karel Abraham.  The goats, relegated to the ignominy of Q1, and again I’m not kidding, included BOTH factory Ducatis, Dani Pedrosa, everyone’s new fave Johann Zarco, and Valentino Freaking Rossi.  Rossi and Pedrosa snuck into Q2 on their last laps of the session.  They aren’t called Aliens (or Alien Emeritus) for nothing.

Qualifying itself was more or less routine, with the notable exception of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 sitting in the middle of the front row beneath Karel Abraham.  Marquez started from pole, going four-for-four in Argentina, with Crutchlow sitting third, Pedrosa 5th and Rossi 7th.  Figuratively speaking, the wheels fell off for the factory Ducati team on Saturday, with Dovizioso slotted 13th and Jorge Lorenzo occupying his customary wet weather position of 16th on the grid.

Trouble at the Start

Lorenzo, the Great Spanish Hope of the factory Ducati team, saw his day end in the congested first turn as he tagged Andrea Iannone’s back wheel and quickly ended up in the gravel, the dream of one-upping Rossi in his own Yamaha-to-Ducati defection having morphed into a nightmare.  After two rounds, he trails series leader Viñales by 45 points.  (Although Marquez trails by 37, his deficit seems much smaller than JLo’s, since Marquez looks fully capable of winning races, while Lorenzo looks fully capable of nothing right now.)

Trouble in the Middle

Marquez’s gaffe on Lap 4 left a top five of Viñales, Crutchlow, Rossi, Pramac Ducati ex-cop Danilo Petrucci and Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa.  Petrucci, who would finish seventh, and Pedrosa spent the middle third of the race carving one another up until Pedrosa submitted a carbon copy of Marquez’ fall at Turn 2 on Lap 14. Moments later, on Lap 15, Aleix Espargaro, who has been overachieving on the Gresini Aprilia, lost the front at Turn 1 and collected factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso on his way to the runoff area.  Dovi, accustomed to getting creamed by Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa, seemed nonplussed at having been clipped by the likable Spaniard.  Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, shown briefly in his garage at that moment, appeared to be throwing up in his mouth.

After the podium party, to which neither was invited, Pedrosa and Marquez could be seen in their garage, drunk, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, singing Citizen King’s “I’ve Seen Better Days” in some very ragged Spanish.

Ridiculous Results

Crutchlow, looking strong, managed to hold off Rossi until Lap 19.  He chased the Italian around for a few laps before calculating that 16 points were better than none, settling for third and a place on the rostrum.  No surprise there.  But who would have guessed that Alvaro Bautista, flogging the Aspar team Ducati, would cross the line fourth, followed by two rookies?  Johann Zarco, who is starting to make a believer out of me, came from 14th at the start to finish fifth, while Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger worked his way from 11th at the start to a legit sixth place finish and 10 points.  Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, allegedly texted his counterpart with the Repsol Honda team, Livio Suppo, after the race, asking Livio if he was interested in a few tips about racing in South America.

Scott Redding on the Pramac GP16, Jack Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and the aforementioned Karel Abraham completed today’s top ten.  Right.  That makes eight satellite bikes in the top ten, which last occurred during the 1952 Tour de France.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both KTM riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, finished in the points, putting KTM in the MotoGP books for the first time ever.  This is not ridiculous, either.  But KTM bosses issuing press releases declaring their intent to title in MotoGP within three years—ridiculous. 

The Big Picture

After two rounds, the big picture looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas.  Sure, the Movistar Yamaha team rules the world early in the season; I get that.  But Scott “The Whiner” Redding sits in fourth place, as if he belongs there. Rookie Jonas Folger sits sixth.  Jackass Miller sits seventh, with Marc Marquez tied for eighth with Alvaro Bautista.  WTF?  But the most acid-flashback-ish sight on the board is that of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo tied for 18th place with the helpless Tito Rabat.   I did a fast double-check—the walls of my hotel room do not appear to be melting, nor does the flesh seem to be falling off my face in great gross chunks.  I’m not having a flashback.  Jorge Lorenzo, uninjured, has earned five (5) points thus far in 2017.  The bosses in Bologna need to lower their expectations.  Right now would be fine.

What does it all mean?  Other than Maverick Viñales having seized the 2017 season by the throat, not much.  There are 16 races left to go, and the precocious Spaniard is unlikely to win them all.  He will face some adversity along the way, allowing the rest of the Alien contingent—Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso—back into the picture.

Viñales admitted to feeling some pressure this weekend, especially in the wet on Saturday.  After today’s race, the pressure has fallen squarely on defending champion Marc Marquez, who let one get away from him this afternoon.  Whether today’s crash has ruined his season is unclear.  What is clear, however, is that #93 needs a win in Austin, where he is undefeated, in two weeks in order to avoid joining Jorge Lorenzo in the very bad place where he now resides.

 

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Results

April 3, 2016

 © Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins as racing gods take charge

To the casual observer looking at the final result, the 2016 Argentine Grand Prix would appear to have been just another MotoGP race.  Marc Marquez topped the podium, flanked by usual suspects Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa.  Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that the racing gods were in complete control for the entire weekend.  From FP1 to the final turn, it was el mano de Dios calling the shots.

Friday was as hot as the hinges of hell.  The Yamahas cowered in the heat; defending world champion and Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo finished 12th in the morning, improving to 14th in the afternoon.  Rossi managed 6th and 7th on Friday, but was not setting the world on fire, as it were.  Riders complained that the track was dirty, that no effort had been made to put it in racing condition since its last use back in December.  Turn 1 hosted a weekend-long series of crashes reminiscent of a 1960’s Jan and Dean anthem.  Naturally, Dorna responded to the criticism by signing a new three year deal with Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon, Octo Pramac Ducati pilot Scott Redding was minding his own business, doing 200 mph down the back straight when he experienced a private deus ex machina, the tread flying off his rear casing like a semi shedding a retread.  The impact removed a chunk of his rear fairing and left Redding with a welt on his back that looked like he’d been hit with a 2 X 4.  Dorna immediately went into lockdown mode (curiously re-starting the practice session) and, in consultation with a chagrined Michelin, began issuing releases faster than the scribblers could send them home, the last and most coherent of which (on Sunday morning) follows:

The race distance is changed to 20 laps.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN DRY CONDITIONS:

  • Riders must change bikes at the end of their ninth, tenth or 11th Lap.
  • If rain starts and Race Direction consider the situation to be dangerous the red flag will be shown and all riders should enter pit lane.
  • Teams will be given 15 minutes between the display of the red flag and opening of pit lane to make adjustments to the machines.
  • The second part of the race will be for 10 laps. Grid positions will be based on the result of the first part and will be declared a wet race.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN WET CONDITIONS

  • Riders may enter the pits to change machines only from the end of their ninth lap.
  • If the wet race is red flagged for other reasons when more than 13 laps have been completed then the result will stand and there will be no restart.

Marquez laid down a blistering first flying lap during Q2 which stood up, maintaining his record of never having not started from the pole in Argentina.  Lorenzo and Rossi had regrouped after Friday and traded places several times late in the session, with Rossi ending up second and Lorenzo third.  The second row included young phenom Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki, joined by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team, Dovizioso and Iannone.

A fifth practice session was hastily arranged for Sunday morning to introduce the riders to Michelin’s Fustercluck tire, an emergency compound intended for use only in the event of a Phillip Island 2013-scale disaster, which this was becoming.  The session was abandoned when Sunday dawned wet; the Moto3 race was a wet race, the Moto2 affair declared “dry” but far from it.  The track was drying quickly, the leaden clouds holding their water, so to speak.  After twisting itself into knots trying to determine how to avoid sending the riders out on tires they had never previously tried, Race Direction ended up with a dry race run under the ad hoc rules published above.

As the riders lined up on the grid waiting for the lights to go out, the racing gods, done messing with the weather, were casting lots to determine who would end the day frolicking with the lambs in the “Lucky” column and who would end up with the goats in the “Unlucky” column.  They apparently decided to consign one rider to a third category, “Thick as a Brick.”

Seriously, Are You Ever Going to Give Us the Race?

 The start was dicey at best.  Iannone and Pedrosa made contact in Turn 1, sending the Spaniard way wide and apparently ending his podium bid.  The front group emerged late on Lap 1 comprised of Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Goats Cal Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro slid off simultaneously at Turn 1 (no kidding) of Lap 2, Crutchlow evading Espargaro’s unguided missile by inches. (Both would re-enter and finish the race, for whatever reason.)  Yonny Hernandez, suffering the ignominy of starting his “home race” from the back of the grid, crashed out moments later.  Goat.

Jack Miller, on the Marc VDS Honda, appearing lamb-like, climbed all the way up to 7th position and actually went through on the laboring Lorenzo before crashing out on Lap 3, unlucky as usual.  Lorenzo himself, fresh off his win in Qatar, slid off at Turn 1 of Lap 6, his goat horns appearing as little winglets on his helmet.

As the front group began thinking about their mandatory pit stops, Marquez led Rossi by less than a second, followed by Vinales and the two factory Ducatis.  Rossi and Marquez went through on each other twice on Lap 9, providing a déjà vu of last year’s race.  Vinales, Iannone and Pedrosa, among others, pitted on Lap 9 without incident.  On Lap 10, Rossi tailgated Marquez into pit lane.  Both made clean swaps, Marquez holding the lead exiting the pits.  Along comes Tito Rabat on his Marc VDS Honda, a BFF of Marquez.  Somehow (wink wink) Marquez managed to enter the track in front of Rabat, while Rossi was forced to yield.  In the next minute, Marquez stretched his lead over Rossi from a few tenths to over two seconds.  At the time, it appeared Rabat was helping his buddy; Rossi’s comments after the race dispelled that notion, as his #2 bike wasn’t nearly as sharp as #1 had been.

Marquez puts down a vapor trail, leaving Rossi to duke it out with upstart Vinales, the two Andreas snapping and snarling right behind him (Rabat had checked out, pitting on Lap 11), Pedrosa a mile behind.  This went on for a while, with Vinales appearing to be lining Rossi up for a memorable pass.  (Farther back in the pack, Redding, in pure goat mode, had climbed all the way up to seventh position before his Ducati stalled, putting the capper on a gruesome weekend for the likeable Brit.)

You could almost hear the gods howling with laughter during the final two laps.  Vinales approaches Turn 1 on Lap 18 two feet off the racing line, finds a tiny puddle of water, and goes from lamb to goat in an instant, thoughts of his first premier class podium up in smoke.  Rossi, clearly a lamb, is suddenly relieved of one serious threat to his podium hopes, but has two more, the Andreas, to contend with, both of whom seem to have more pace.  Still, if you want to go through on Valentino Rossi late on Sunday, you had better pack your lunch, because it’s not gonna be easy.

Lap 20: Rossi is holding off Dovi, with Iannone threatening, in full Maniac mode, in the last three turns.  Iannone, desperate for a podium after crashing out of the lead in Qatar, sees a possible opening in the last turn, dives inside, loses the front, and collects Dovizioso on his way into the kitty litter.  Boom—game over.  Dovi, the blameless lamb, is stuck with the worst luck of the day.  Iannone must explain his actions to Race Direction and Gigi Dall’Igna, Thick as a Brick tattooed on his forehead.  Pedrosa is shocked to suddenly find himself on the podium.  And Eugene Laverty, on the Aspar Ducati, the luckiest lamb of all, finishes the day in fourth position, the leading satellite rider, a full eight spots higher than his previous best MotoGP career finish in Qatar two weeks ago.  The only word to describe the look on his face in Parc Fermè is “stunned.”

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez seizes the 2016 championship lead, ahead of Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, looking thoroughly downcast after the race, needs to figure out what’s up with his 2016 RC213V.  Hector Barbera resides in seventh place for the season, ahead of off-season strivers Vinales and Redding.  And The Maniac, who I had tagged as an Alien-in-waiting, having crashed out of five of his last six races, is 0 for 2016 after two rounds.

Next week it’s another Honda-friendly track in Austin.  One hopes that the racing gods got their fill today.  American racing fans don’t like all that livestock wandering around their racetracks.


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