Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of the Americas’ Category

Dominoes Falling Like Mad in MotoGP

June 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Sudden and/or impending rider contracts with rival teams and builders for 2021-22 have begun a sort of sequencing process that will be fun to watch. It was always going to happen going into a contract year. I had thought teams would wait until the remnant of the 2020 season was underway before beginning the actual poaching process.

In early June, and not having run a race in anger since last summer, the factory teams have decided that the theme heading into 2021 is Getting Better and Younger. This started with Yamaha orchestrating a trade between the factory and satellite teams in which The New Kid in Town, young Fabio Quartararo, the Spanish rider with the French name, takes the factory seat of the legendary Valentino Rossi alongside Maverick Vinales without so much as a fare thee well, and Rossi, graciously swimming in visions of an entire new line of gear branded with SRT for his swan song in 2021, accedes, a Yamaha team player first and foremost, his VR46 academy protege Franco Morbidelli gently under his wing. An investment banker on the side. These ranches aren’t cheap.

Vale apparently has several objectives in mind. He wants to appear on Barron’s list of the 500 wealthiest people in the world. He wants to own a MotoGP team, a Yamaha-supported satellite team, and to beat Honda Racing Corporation into the dirt with it. He’ll sell a lot of VR46 gear and assemble a great team behind the bike. Yamaha has fixed the issues that suddenly began plaguing it in 2017 and can run with Honda and Ducati on most of the world’s tracks.

So the factory Yamaha team gets younger with Fabio and Vinales.

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio in his Moto2 days.

The factory Honda team signed Marc Marquez to a contract which runs through 2024. (!) HRC shocked the world again this week, leaking the fact that Pol Espargaro, the younger of the Espargaro brothers, would take Alex Marquez’ seat on the #2 Repsol Honda for 2021-22 before poor Alex had ever turned a lap. This didn’t make the factory Honda team younger, but it certainly made it stronger. Pol Espargaro has been wrestling point-and-shoot bikes at KTM since 2016 and should find the RC213V relatively easy to ride. The difference is the Honda is very fast and the KTM RC16 is not. KTM has now taken  shot below the water line, losing its only experienced rider to a hated rival who is beating it like a rented mule.

Espargaro won Moto2 in 2013 and was a consistent top tenner in his first three years with Yamaha, his future brighter than big brother Aleix. But he got in bed with the good people at KTM in 2017 and became a top twenty rider, although a top data provider. He has been a big help in developing the bike even though it is still not yet competitive. Losing him is a blow to the KTM program, one that could be filled by an experienced leader such as Andrea Dovizioso.

So now it is assumed Alex Marquez will toddle on over to LCR Honda to team with Takaa Nakagami, owned and operated by HRC on behalf of Japan, and the LCR team gets younger. Poor Cal Crutchlow will then have to choose between an Aprilia, for God’s sake, or calling it a career.

Pramac Ducati loses Jack Miller to the factory team, but picks up new Moto2 KTM grad and fast mover Jorge Martin to ride alongside Pecco Bagnaia, and the Pramac team gets younger. Danilo Petrucci, booted from the factory team, is left to go out and find honest work again, possibly with Aprilia, possibly over at WSBK.

Suppose Andrea Dovizioso, never the object of much respect, his few career chances at a world championship turned to mud by the genius of Marc Marquez, goes for the money and jumps to KTM, the new career wrecker of MotoGP. When he joined Ducati it was, at the time, the career wrecker. He and Gigi D’Alligna have created a bike that is difficult to turn but has incomparable top end speed. A good question is who would take Dovizioso’s hypothetical seat, leaving Miller the #1 factory rider. Would the rumors of a Jorge Lorenzo return come to pass? The factory Ducati team would get a little younger, too, with Miller and Lorenzo aboard. KTM, losing Espargaro and Martin, is listing seriously. The Austrians need to work harder to get the bike up to snuff, lest it continue to wreck careers. It certainly didn’t do Pol Espargaro any good. If they can’t get Dovizioso they’ll have to make a run at Cal Crutchlow.

The two young guys at Suzuki, Joan Mir and Alex Rins, are signed for 2021-22. It would be nice to see Suzuki acquire a satellite team; their bike is competitive, needing only a few more horsepower to accompany its sweet-handling properties. Mir will be an Alien; Rins probably as well. For Suzuki. That is a good thing. See what 40 years in the desert will get you.

So, for a season which has, so far, been rendered an epic fail by Covid-19, there is suddenly a lot of activity, a silly season earlier than in a normal year when guys are actually racing. Barring a second peak in transmissions–the viral type–there is supposed to be some kind of MotoGP season commencing the end of July and running into the early winter. Mostly in EU countries. Asian, US and Argentinian rounds are still on it but looking sketchy, virus-wise. The heat of southern Europe in the summer should make the virus less active and less likely to spread as rapidly. For awhile, anyway. We here at my kitchen table look forward to bringing it to you.

 

 

 

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

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This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

IMS ownership may be wondering: Could the MotoGP paddock return to the once-majestic, currently-owned-by-Roger-Penske old lady, who’s received more layers of paint over the past century than you’ve had birthdays?

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

Although the seating capacity is unreal–250,000–the layout itself is dull, narrow, flat and slow. If COTA goes down for the count, IMS could get the 2021 race by default. TV-wise, NBC, currently suffering a severe case of buyer’s remorse, will have a hard time making it look full unless Penske does the right thing and let all comers in for free on Saturday, which will bump sales on Sunday, given the hair-raising capacity of the bikes and riders.

Saturday gives neophytes FP3 and FP4, Q1 and Q2 in all three classes. Bikes, as many know, are on the track all day, doing ridiculous stuff. For people with some racing in their blood it is a brand new world. It’s better now than it was back when it was held here annually. Penske knows a thing or two about racing and marketing, and should be able to get 100,000 paying fans in on Sunday. It could happen. It could also be a first step toward bigger things here for MotoGP, if there’s not a Hurricane Ike, the way there was in its initial 2008 visit.

Just not this year. If, for some reason, MotoGP came to Indianapolis in, say, October, presuming the flyaway will be cancelled, getting the place ready and improvements made would be a slapdash affair, unlikely to spur attendance. Maybe it would work out. If it could be worked out, Penske is the guy to get her done. But fans in the American midwest, including the writer, are hoping it returns to the Motor Speedway next year.

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MotoGP 2020 and The Domino Theory

March 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

For those of you too disgustingly young to remember, in the game of post-WWII geopolitics, many on the right found credence in the following graphic as it relates to the spread of Global Communism, the evil to end all evils. This theory was what got us into Vietnam.

Domino Theory

First it was the cancellation of Round 1 in Qatar (the big bikes only), followed quickly by the postponement of Buriram to later in the year, pushing Aragon up a week. A warm-up for the dreaded flyaway rounds in October and, now, November. This week, COTA postponed the Americas Grand Prix to November 15, pushing Valencia back to November 22. Argentina had no virus cases when they defaulted into the newest Round 1 scheduled for April 19; today there are 17. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Jerez is scheduled for May 3. Some might want to wager that it will become Round 1; others, such as myself, suspect that it, too, will be postponed. The ‘rona appears to be doing The Wave on the planet, migrating somewhat randomly from place to place, seeking the old, those without medical care, thriving in cold weather. Each person infected incubates the virus for five days during which he will infect two other people. The point here is that if the virus follows its current, ahem, vectors, it could push the season back to Christmas, limit it to a half schedule, or scrub it altogether. This is a concern.

Prior to posting this article, this news bulletin appeared.

 

 

MotoGP: Coronavirus is now a thing

March 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen   March 2, 2020

Here we are, on the cusp of MotoGP 2020, and along comes your basic global pandemic just in time to disrupt the racing season. First, it was the premier class race weekend in Qatar cancelled, as all incoming travelers from Italy were to be put in mandatory 14-day quarantine, thereby defeating the purpose of returning to Doha. The lightweight and intermediate class bikes were already at Losail testing, and are staying and racing this weekend. The “crowd,” at these things is usually thin anyway; this year should be eerily sparse.

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Now we hear, just today, that Round 2 in Thailand is cancelled completely, but hopes to be re-scheduled later in the year. And it’s kind of silly to think that the xenophobic United States would allow a big ol’ group of ferners to invade–INVADE!!–Austin in April for COTA. By then, the U.S. should be in full bloom, virus-wise, with National Guard units stationed at all southern border crossings and ports-of-entry to block the entry of airborne pathogens into U.S. airspace. As if. Strong borders are healthy borders. Uh-huh.

Argentina, as of today, has no reported cases of the virus, making it one of the later countries in line to experience the essentially inevitable spread of the illness. Will it be there by mid-April? Given the state of the art in early March, one would argue yes. We could easily see Round 4 go up in smoke. Looking at the calendar, it is easy to envision, if one is in the right mood, the entire season being cancelled, one race at a time, the domino theory in full swing, until mid-season, when sponsors, etc., are going to want to pull the plug and cut their losses. It could happen.

What little I know about pathogens against which humans show little or no resistance is that they tend to multiply logarithmic-ally, the curve starting horizontal and quickly arcing to an almost vertical slope. Not everyone who is exposed to this one gets sick, and most of those who get sick recover; a mortality rate of around 2%. Which sounds small, until one considers the possibility that 2%, when applied to the billions of planetary inhabitants, comes out to a big number.

It seems clear that pretty much everyone everywhere is going to become exposed at some point in the not-too-distant future. Despite this fact, gatherings such as MotoGP race weekends are frowned upon, due to the proximity and numbers of fans, which would be less-than-usual anyway, for the same reason. All of which must have Dorna, the manufacturers, and the sponsors plucking their eyelashes out, one at a time, under such stress. When it’s deus ex machina at work, it’s time to call the insurance companies, who will cite “hand of God” in rejecting their claims. Call the lawyers.

Clearly, this is going to have a major effect upon the MotoGP season. The most important, from here, is that it gives Marc Marquez time to heal, and gives Honda time to figure out WTF is wrong with the 2020 bike. Everyone else, other than Andrea Iannone, looked ready to rumble.

A 16- or 17-race season, beginning in May at Jerez, might be the best thing to hope for. To hope that the virus, like the flu virus, gets worse when the weather is cold and kind of goes away when things warm up. But then there are those cases in Qatar already…

Therefore: The fate of the entire racing season depends upon whether the coronavirus becomes less, um, aggressive in warm weather. What little data I’ve seen suggest this is likely, in which case life in the paddock will go on in an abridged season. In the unlikely event it does not, we could be talking about the 2021 season before June.

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MotoGP COTA Results

April 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Alex Rins puts Suzuki on top in Texas. Seriously. 

Things were going pretty much according to script on Lap 10 of the Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday. Defending world champion Marc Marquez had checked out after starting from pole and was up over three seconds when, at Turn 12, he folded the front of his Honda, slid off the track, and could not re-enter the race. His unforced error allowed Alex Rins to enjoy his first premier class win and put Suzuki on the top step for the first time since 2016.  

Rins was joined by the irrepressible Valentino Rossi in second and Jack Miller, himself on the podium for the first time since 2016 and the first time ever in the dry. Whatever it is that keeps the locals saying, “Keep Austin Weird” was afoot today at COTA. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s big story was the dirty track and the bumps. For a circuit that has had major cosmetic surgery twice now, it now offers riders multiple asphalt compounds, multiple series (plural) of bumps, numerous areas that have been sanded, all of which was built on clay, and all of which slides around in the wet season and/or under the wheels of F-1 cars. Terrible place to build a helluva racetrack. Regardless, several of the usual suspects shook off the track conditions, stayed within a very narrow racing line, and posted respectable times. Marquez’ 2015 track record of 2:02.135 remained unthreatened, another indictment of the racing surface. Aleix Espargaro broke the steering locks on his Aprilia on the back straight, saying later he had never raced on anything like it, not even motocross.

With rain expected on Saturday, folks made like the standings after Friday could constitute qualifying order, and the end of FP2 was a bit of a scramble. My pre-race picks of Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller were interrupted only by the surprising presence of what could be two Yams on the front row, shades of the salad days of 2010. Vinales and Rossi, one suspects, were praying for cloudbursts all day Saturday–never even have to put on the leathers, play cards, drink Red Bull, complain to the press, wait for Sunday.

2019 COTA FP2 Top Ten

Missing from this picture, vulnerable to having to play through Q1, included both factory Ducati riders, three of the four KTMs, Jorge Lorenzo, Takaa Nakagami and the Aprilias. But two of the rookies made the cut.

As it turned out, FP3 was, indeed, scrubbed and the Friday results would stand as the weekly separating of wheat from chaff. With some high profile names in Q1 and things drying out, the heat was on, as Jorge Lorenzo found a quick lap late in the session, leaving Andrea Dovizioso, needing to advance to Q2 to stay in the same zipcode as Marquez, to the untender mercies of teammate Danilo Petrucci, who slid into home, spikes up, beating the throw to snatch the Q2 promotion at the last possible moment. Management would have preferred that he back off, as Dovi’s pursuit of Marquez is more credible than Petrucci’s. Not to mention that they could then use his failure to advance to Q2 in Austin as another reason not to renew his contract for next year.

This is COTA. Q2 was mostly academic. Once Marquez laid down his usual quotient of vapor trails (and consecutive pole #7), most of the residents of tranches one and two cinched it up and gave it a go, generally falling laughably short. The bumps on the back straight are bad enough that they’re irritating Marquez’s shoulder. But only Doctor Rossi and my boy Cal Crutchlow could manage a lap within 6/10ths of #93. The Yamahas keep showing signs of life at a track not designed to their strengths. Pol Espargaro put a KTM in P5 for the first time ever, the factory leaping into immediate contention for the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award later this year.

The Race 

Safe to say that very few people expected the outcome of today’s race. You had three or four big names crash out or retire—Aleix Espargaro, Marquez, El Gato and my boy Cal, who seriously cannot stand success. Once Marquez left the premises, all of a sudden it was a race with consequences, a race with meaning. Rossi, who once upon a time would have won today’s race by 10 seconds, dogged Marquez for awhile while defending himself against repeated attacks by Crutchlow. Once he took the lead on Lap 10, with #35 and #93 already out, I found myself thinking, “Now or never, Vale.” I was actually rooting for him to win; the lack of wins late in his career will ultimately tarnish his reputation around the edges.

Rins, possibly having an out-of-body experience, found himself stalking his idol, and with better pace better tires. He took his time, went through on Lap 17, withstood a couple of keep-him-honest attempts from Rossi, entered the final lap ahead by .3 seconds, and kept his act sufficiently grouped to avoid choking out. Miller kept his podium by holding off Dovizioso, who had started 13th, and Franco Morbidelli, one of two top ten finishers from the Petronas Yamaha team, the other being that insolent Quartararo kid again. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez’ travails today were a good thing for a handful of highly-ranked riders. Andrea Dovizioso, who skirted disaster after poor practice sessions put him in Q1, leads the championship heading to Europe with 54 points. Rossi sits second at 51, Rins third at 49 and Marquez fourth with 45. How much nicer is this than staring at Marquez sitting on 70 points looking self-satisfied? Dare we hope for another opportunity to Let Valencia Decide? 

Tranches 

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

After COTA: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

Looking Ahead 

Another three-week gap until the riders return at Jerez. I suggest today’s race was an overdue fluke, and that Marquez’ 2019 title is in no danger at all. Even if it is only a temporary respite, it is a respite from the relentless perfection of #93. Those of you who root for riders other than Marquez can live to cheer another day. 

Moto3

Aron Canet, winless in 2018 with Honda and now fronting for KTM, led an Austrian podium lockout, followed by Jaume Masia, who had spent some time way back in P18, and Andrea Migno, all of whom, along with Gabriel Rodrigo and Niccolo Antonelli, had credible chances to win. The final turn was terribly congested up front, anyone’s race, with Canet emerging in the lead to seal the win. Moto3 rocks—Canet became the eighth different rider to win in consecutive races dating back to last year. He and Masia head to Jerez tied for the series lead, tighter than wallpaper.

Moto2

Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, after a pointless season in MotoGP in 2018, celebrated his personal career resurrection a week earlier than the original, winning easily in Texas on Palm Sunday. Teammate Marcel Schrotter took second, with Jorge Navarro securing his first ever Moto2 podium. Alex Marquez led much of the early going before predictably fading late in the day. The best ride of the day came from Italian guest Mattia Pasini, who stepped on a Triumph-powered bike for the first time on Friday and brought it home in fourth place today, outperforming a couple of dozen riders who’ve had winter testing and two race weekends to get acquainted with the big British bikes.

Action Shots, One Real

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Jack Miller with an impressive save during the morning warm-up..

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Circuit of the Americas 2019

COTA 2019

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Probably Takaaki Nakagami

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Marquez appeared to have it made in the shade.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez leads 2019 heading to his favorite venue 

It was back in 2015 that we, meaning I, started referring to all-world champion Marc Marquez as Captain America, since, at that time, he was undefeated on American soil. Here in early 2019 he is still undefeated in the U.S. Someone please give me a reason not to make him the odds-on favorite to keep his record immaculate, deep in the heart, next Sunday. And no astrology, please. 

Last time out, Marquez demonstrated what could be a new race strategy in 2019. Rarely, in recent years, has he put on a scalded cat routine (paging Dani Pedrosa) as he did in Argentina. Generally, he has put himself in the lead group, done some assessing of the other riders’ lines, conserved his tires, and broken their spirits with two or three laps to go. [The notable exceptions being his recent last-lap duels with Andrea Dovizioso, in which he’s gone 1-for-5.]

Honda appears to have wound up the power and torque in the 2019 RC213V without sacrificing grip, so he’s getting out of turns even quicker and not giving away 30 meters to the Ducs in the straights. Assuming he poles on Saturday—I’m starting to hate this stuff—he may try to take the hole shot and get away at the start. I would if I were him. COTA is a point and shoot layout, ideally suited to the Honda. All of which is appalling news for those of us interested in a real championship competition, last seen in 2015, the year Rossi was to have won his 10th and final world championship and Lorenzo won his. 

Recent History in Austin 

2016 was the race in which Pedrosa skittled Dovizioso. With Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, went all lowside and took Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew what hit him, as it were. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16, paying penance for his egregious takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso two weeks earlier.  Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day. 

The 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for another much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and triple world champion Marquez.  Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place. The rostrum that day featured Marquez, Rossi 2nd and Dani Pedrosa 3rd.

Last year’s race was enthralling until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. After fooling with Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki for half a lap, #93 seized the lead and gave the grid another facial, just like he administered last week in Argentina. Iannone took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and was able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced. Iannone made little effort to keep Maverick Vinales out of second, and withstood a rather tepid challenge from Rossi, who took 4th.

Rookie Update

MotoGP.com is beavering away, promoting the “intense competition” amongst the fast movers up from Moto2—Pecco Bagnaia on the Pramac Ducati, Miguel Oliveira on the KTM Warthog, Joan Mir on the Suzuki and impudent French teenager Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha. Of the four, Quartararo has gotten off to the quickest start, qualifying 5th in Qatar before stalling the bike and starting from pit lane, qualifying 7th and finishing 8th in Argentina. MotoGP calculated that his time in Qatar would have put him in the top ten; he finished out of the points in 16th.

Anyway, back to the intense competition. Heading into round three, here are your point totals for the Aliens-in-Waiting:

Quartararo             8

Mir                        8

Oliveira                 5

Bagnaia                 2

Total                     23

Collectively, they trail Alex Rins by a single point. Of course, I’m being unfair here, as all four look to make some noise in the premier class in the not-too-distant future. What gets me is Dorna’s persistence in jocking every single angle of the sport in its incessant efforts to attract paid subscribers.

Let’s try “A Poor Carpenter Blames His Tools” for $800, Alex

Cal is calling the penalty in Argentina “ridiculous,” despite the fact that he was rolling forward at the start. True, the punishment was way out of proportion to the violation—a potential gain of .001 seconds turns into a 30 second penalty—but that requires a rule change–two categories of jumps, the lesser of the two penalties on the “long lap” instituted this year.

Maverick Vinales blurted this past week about the “serious problem” he’s had with the Yamaha for the past two and a half years. Presumably Rossi has had the same problems, he’s just dealt with them better. Maverick, similar to Jorge Lorenzo, seems to need everything just perfect in order to compete. The bad news is that things are rarely, if ever, perfect in this sport, or any other. Some of us are starting to think that his start with Yamaha was a fluke and that he is, indeed, only a Tranche Two rider after all.

Jorge Lorenzo took time out of his busy schedule to complain about everything associated with the Honda—a clutch problem in Qatar, accidentally hitting the pit lane speed limiter at the start in Argentina (refuting my theory that he was simply in third gear), brake and handlebar grips going from too hard to too soft, on and on and on. A hot track? Karel Abraham putting a sharp pass on him late in the race? Like Maverick, Jorge needs to learn to roll with things a little better. Funny how all the guys chasing Marquez have a list of complaints, while #93 doesn’t usually complain about anything at all.

“Alex, why are Maverick, Jorge and Cal whiny little bitches?”

Your Weekend Forecast

Seriously, who cares about the weather on race weekend? It will either be clear and warm—favoring Marquez—or it won’t, again favoring #93. Long range forecast is for clear and warm, but the long-range forecasters rarely know squat. It doesn’t matter. As my NCAA basketball brackets proved beyond question, it rarely pays to pick underdogs. Any reader wishing to predict a winner other than The Antman needs to arrive in the comments section loaded with reams of data.

I’ve consulted my Magic Eight Ball again this week, looking for cosmic insights into the premier class podium on Sunday. I didn’t bother asking about Marquez, fearing a new “Are you stupid or what?” response from the cheap plastic ball. Re Vinales: “Not likely this decade.” Re Dovizioso: “Signs point to no.” Re Crutchlow: “If he doesn’t foul his breeches.” Re Rossi: “No, but he will sell a lot of gear.” Re Jorge Lorenzo: “Don’t make me laugh.” Re Jack Miller: “You might be surprised.” So there you have it. Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller on Sunday’s rostrum.

We’ll have results right here early Sunday evening. Those of you lucky enough to be attending the race please have a great time and ride safely.

MotoGP COTA Results

April 22, 2018

©Bruce Allen
Viñales Wins Fight for Second as Marquez Romps

The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.

None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas—Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.

Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.

Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Jack Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.

Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and Valentino Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, he laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”

Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and—guess who?—Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.

It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.

It Was Not a Great Race

Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.

Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.

Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters

Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.

Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.

Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.

The Big Picture

Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.

Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys—Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow—will win some races. The young guys—Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller—will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.

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

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.

 

MotoGP COTA Results

April 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Rossi Accept Gift from Vinales 

The run-up to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Maverick Vinales and Honda triple world champion Marc Marquez.  All day long, the British announcing crew was breathlessly prancing about the broadcast booth, pondering the sheer wonder of it all, going absolutely hyperbolic.  Showing no sense of the moment, Vinales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game. 

Practice, Practice, Practice 

FP1: Vinales was in charge, not having received the memo about Marquez’ ownership position at COTA.  FP2 was led by Marquez, snatched from Zarco; Vinales right behind, trimming his cuticles.  FP3 was Vinales, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Marquez.

Something had to be done about the weirdness in the standings.  Early in the season, MotoGP seemed to have fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Yamaha is just taking it to Honda—the 2016 M1 is competitive with the 2017 RC213V.  All four Yamahas sit in the top 11 for the season, including the two rookies.  Cal Crutchlow, the highest-ranked Honda, sits tied with rookie Jonas Folger.  Co-rookie Johann Zarco is on the move, a mere five points behind Folger and Crutchlow.  Three Ducs rest in the top ten led by, of all people, Scott Redding in fourth.

It was time to come up from the rabbit hole.  Time to return to Europe.  Just one more foreign outing in Texas to endure before things could return back to normal.

Establishing Positions

Q2 saw a few things put right, beyond the fact that Vinales and Marquez stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a bunch of Aliens and wannabees slugging it out for supporting spots in the top ten.  Vinales delivered the first sub-2:04 lap of the day with maybe 30 seconds left in the session.  20 seconds later, Marquez flogged his Honda to a fifth straight pole in Texas, from which he had won the previous four races.  Rossi snuck onto the front row late in the session, creating a second row of Dani Pedrosa, the impudent Zarco on the satellite Yamaha, and one Jorge Lorenzo, clad in white and red. Oh, and perhaps the save of the season, by Loris Baz late in the session.

Lorenzo and Jack Miller had made it through Q1, with Lorenzo putting the Ducati as high as fourth position before settling for sixth.  Zarco had been up near the top of the timesheets again all weekend, putting pressure on a lot of factory rides.  Miller crashed out of Q2 and appeared to be trotting back to the garage “gingerly,” his inevitable early-season injury having possibly arrived.  Dani Pedrosa was hanging around in fourth, back to starting up front with the big dogs.

In support of my blog, Rossi and Vinales had their first set-to on Saturday during qualifying, with Vinales seemingly cheesed off about Rossi cruising on the racing line.  Race Direction was later said to be considering sending a strongly-worded letter to Lin Jarvis asking him for “best efforts to prevail” upon The Franchise not to seriously injure The New Kid in Town.

The Race Itself

The 2017 American Grand Prix was more parade than firefight.  The factory Hondas and Yamahas emerged from the early chaos to form up the leading group, with Dani Pedrosa front and center.  Cal Crutchlow got clear of The Great Unwashed, and there was even a Jorge Lorenzo sighting around fifth place on the first lap.  The usual suspects quickly found themselves strung out along the bumps and potholes littering the Circuit of the Americas, which stands in need of a paving crew.

Although it took 21 laps and 45 minutes to confirm it, the race basically came down to four moves.  1) Vinales crashed late on Lap 2, leaving Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and Johann Zarco in the lead group.  2)  Marquez took the lead from Pedrosa on Lap 9.  3)  Rossi and Zarco came together a few minutes later, the Frenchman pushing Rossi wide to the right where he could cut back and increase his lead, incurring a hypothetical .3 second penalty that amounted to nothing but had the announcers, fully recovered from Vinales’ crash, happy to find something new to go mental over.  4) Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19.

Game.  Set.  Match

At Ducati Corse, Life Goes On

Andrea Dovizioso being interviewed elsewhere about his place in the Ducatisphere: 

Q:  So why can’t the problems (with the GP17) be solved?

A: “There’s a big difference between understanding the problems and solving them.”

Quoted elsewhere, it seems Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone has finally accepted as fact something the rest of the planet observed late last season.  This, allegedly, is News You Need: ‘Andrea Iannone says he is resigned to having to race with a top speed deficit with Suzuki throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.’  Please refer to the above quote from Dovi with regard to this revelation.

Rubbing salt in the wound, I’m pretty sure that Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone stole Jorge Lorenzo’s lunch money over the last few laps of the race.  We could be charitable and suppose JLo’s tires gave up on him.  Or we could be hateful and small and speculate that he got out-cojoñed by the two Italians.

The Big Picture 

With Vinales’ feet replanted in terra firma after an otherworldly start to his Yamaha career, we can now have a straightforward, adult conversation about the state of the MotoGP championship after three rounds.  The factory Yamahas and Hondas appear significantly ahead of everyone else early in the season.  Rossi and Vinales are frightening, Vinales for his sheer speed, Rossi for his strategic brilliance.

Marquez has atoned for his crash in Argentina and will push The Boys in Blue for the entire season.  The factory Ducati program is in deep yogurt, Dovizioso hanging onto fourth place by his fingernails while grasping bad luck with both hands.  LCR Honda stud Cal Crutchlow continues to nose around the top of the standings, his crash at Losail all that stands between him and a top three ranking.

So, order has been restored at the top of the MotoGP food chain just in time to return to racing in Europe.  Aliens occupy the top three spots in the standings.  Near-Aliens (semi-Aliens?) sit fourth and fifth, while the Alien Emeritus stands sixth.  The apparently brilliant Johann Zarco has seventh place all to himself, while teammate Jonas Folger is tied for eighth place with Pramac Ducati pilot Scot Redding and Jack Miller.  My boy Alex Rins, previously nursing a bad ankle, suffered a compound fracture of his wrist during practice this weekend and is out until further notice.

And Jorge Lorenzo, who sold his Alien Card for filthy lucre, sits counting his money in 13th place, with 12 points to show for his first three acts with Ducati.

A Look Ahead

Two weeks from now MotoGP blasts into the Spanish Riviera.  The racing will be at Jerez, while the action in the evening will be on The Strip in Cadiz.  Maverick Vinales, despite the good vibes associated with a return to home soil, probably will not be in the gift-giving mood in which he found himself today.

Excuse me while I butcher the old Smith Barney one-liner. If they want spots on the podium next time out, Rossi and Marquez will probably have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They’ll have to earn it.

Rossi, Vinales: Crossing the Line

April 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen

As teammates, the relationship between Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi cannot end well.

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

Back in college, we econ majors spent most of our time constructing simplistic models and graphs.  Within the current composition of the Movistar Yamaha team, we are watching an accelerated version of what some of us feared might be in store for Rossi.  His line, over time, having been very high for years, beginning to acquire a slightly negative slope after a strong upswing following the Ducati debacle.  Vinales’ line has a short, sharply positive slope.  That he will soon eclipse Rossi on a consistent basis is clear; the two lines may have already crossed.

Since last November, Rossi’s relationship with the rookie has been threatened by the Spaniard’s sheer precociousness, the same occasionally-breathtaking response we got in 2013 when Marquez and his Repsol Honda exploded onto the scene. A fulcrum point in modern MotoGP history. An obvious upsetting of the existing Order of Things.  The whole mentor/apprentice shtick advertised by Yamaha suits at the approach of winter testing lasted until, well, the very first test.

We are now at the stage where the two are competitors, likely well on their way to becoming rivals, given Rossi’s territoriality in the Yamaha garage.  Bit of a replay of Lorenzo’s arrival in 2008 and the advent of the legendary wall in the garage which turned out, after all, to have been at Bridgestone’s request, something having to do with data cross-pollination.

As Lorenzo improved and titled,  he and Rossi and learned to despise one another.  Rossi, the marketing machine, prevailed at age 37 or whatever.

This time around, it appears inevitable that Rossi will complete the circle, morphing from mentor to competitor to bitch.  Vale is only going to get older.  Vinales is only going to get better.

This relationship cannot end well.


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