Archive for the ‘Honda’ Category

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Moto2: The last good time in town 

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

Alex Marquez

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

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

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

Recent History in Malaysia 

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

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

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

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

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

Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.

News You Can Use

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Races 

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

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

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

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

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

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

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

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

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

Local Color

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Melbourne

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MotoGP Aragon Results

September 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez crushes Aragon; Dovi keeps it alive 

On Sunday, the Marquez express continued to rumble through the MotoGP landscape, laying waste to the field in Round 14 at Motorland Aragon. Andrea Dovizioso, bless his heart, flogged his factory Ducati from 10th at the start to 2nd at the finish, keeping the championship at least breathing until Buriram. And Jack Miller put a second Ducati on the podium after out-dueling Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales.

Let’s not kid ourselves that this is suddenly a contest again. Marquez has a magic number of three heading to Thailand. If Marquez manages to add a mere three points to his present lead over Dovizioso he will clinch the title. A win would close out the world championship for the sixth time in his seven years in the premier class, regardless of what Dovi might do. 

Practice and Qualifying 

In the play Camelot, by law it cannot rain until after sundown. Which is what happened at Aragon on Friday and Saturday overnights. A dry Friday produced stylish results, Marquez and the Yamahas communing in both sessions. Unbeknownst to anyone, the fastest lap of the weekend would be Marquez in FP1 on his Lap 6, a 1:46.869, rendering my prediction of another fallen lap record on Saturday incorrect. A wet track on Saturday morning caused headaches in all three classes. In MotoGP, many of the riders didn’t bother going out for FP3, confident that today’s race would be dry, automatic passages to Q2 already decided. Order was restored in FP4 on a dry track with Marquez and the Yamahas back in charge. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro broke his wrist in a P4 fall and would miss the race, the Austrian MotoGP program seeming somehow snakebit.

Q1 included the customary, um, underachievers, peppered by the presence of Morbidelli, Rins and Petrucci. Morbidelli sailed through to Q2, with a dogged Andrea Iannone—remember him?—gliding his Aprilia into the second shuttle to Q2, destroying the moods of Rins and Nakagami, among others. Q2, conceded in advance by acclimation of the riders to #93, produced its usual frenetic finish and a crowd-pleasing front row of Marquez, Quartararo and Vinales, Rossi skulking in P6. Andrea Dovizioso and his Ducati, my third choice for the podium, the only remaining credible title threat to Marquez, looked haunted, sitting in P10, virtually dead in the water. 

The Race 

Marquez took the hole shot and got away from the start, leading the field by a second at the end of Lap 1. The contest for second place generally included Vinales, Quartararo, and Miller, later expanded to include Dovizioso. The Yamahas were strong early in the race but gradually, after getting pounded on the back straight for 23 laps, gave way to the superior power of the Ducatis. Valentino Rossi, looking more and more like a rider going through the motions, started sixth and finished eighth today, making no impression. Crutchlow managed a quiet sixth with Aleix Espargaro giving Aprilia one of their best outings by finishing in P7. Prior to the race there had been a lot chatter around the idea that Yamaha had fixed their problems from 2018 and early this year. Today, I think, was a vivid illustration that the problems remain.

Also on display today was the fact that the Suzuki team remains capable of having terrible Sundays, with Rins finishing in P9 and Joan Mir 14th. KTM, too, once Pol Espargaro was sidelined, had to settle for 13th, 18th and 21st, an exercise in futility. Saddest of all, limping home in P20 was The Rider Formally Known as Jorge Lorenzo.

The Big Picture 

2019 is over. A magic number of 3 in Thailand becomes a magic number of -22 in Japan. Bruce’s Spacebook now lists only two wagers, with an 85% chance of Marquez clinching at Buriram and a 15% chance at Motegi. 

Tranching Tool 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

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

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

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

A Quick Look Ahead

Two weeks until the steam bath of Buriram, the championship hanging by a thread. This is where a number of you will likely lose interest in MotoGP. But any readers with an appreciation of racing history should be aware that Jorge Lorenzo’s 2010 single season point record of 383 is under assault this season. Marquez currently has 300 points with five rounds left, putting 383 well within his reach. That may be a record worth striving for and might cause Marquez to keep the hammer down this fall rather than letting up has he has been known to do in past seasons in which he has clinched early. I, for one, would be happy knowing I had followed the MotoGP season in which Marc Marquez set the standard for the next generation of young guns, in a 19-round season, when he was at the top of his game.

Eye Candy, courtesy of motogp.girls and motogpgirls at Instagram:

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Self curated images from Aragon weekend:

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MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

MotoGP fans must be open to the idea that Aragon is on its way to becoming another #93Wins track, joining Austin and the Sachsenring as places where he is virtually automatic. Out here in northeast Spain, Marquez won as a rookie in 2013, went MIA in 2014 and 2015, then started reeling off wins in 2016.

A win this year would make him 4-for-4 of late. The fact that so many riders still have all this motivation to pull out the stops on the way to the top step of the rostrum, while he has so little—basically, remain upright and finish in the points somewhere—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. Winning never gets old. His victory celebrations, however, are starting to resemble those of Jorge Lorenzo back in the day and need to be dialed down a notch or two.

Rookie Fabio Quartararo proved to me last week that he is the real deal. He is not just a one-lap wonder, skilled at qualifying. He turned in a win-worthy race on Sunday under the worst pressure imaginable in this business, i.e., with Marc Marquez glued to his rear tire the entire effing time. On the final lap, per the script, Fabio got passed for the first time by Marquez in Turn 1, but struck back immediately, giving the five-time premier class champion a little of THIS, before settling for second. That’s what you want to see in wannabe Aliens.

Was Marquez toying with the Frenchman? I think so, but he is sufficiently emotionally and politically astute not to suggest anything other than Quartararo has mad skills and big balls and will be a threat to his title next year yeah sure right. Maybe not for real, but he has a credible shot at #2 next year, assuming he ever wins his first race. Nicky Hayden won the title in 2006 with two wins. One needs points every weekend, just not necessarily 25.

Fabio Quartararo on a factory Yamaha in 2021 will be a beast. Until then, readers must guard against “irrational exuberance;” let him get a win somewhere (the schedule gets incrementally easier after Marquez clinches the title), another year on the satellite Yam, then the major leagues, the heir apparent to The House That Rossi Built. Is he seriously going to be, a year and a half from now, The New Kid in Town? He’ll be 22 years old. Salad days for Marc Marquez may be drawing to a close sooner than we thought. 

Recent History at Aragon

In 2016, Repsol Honda upstart Marquez took a big step toward seizing the MotoGP title with an impressive win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers of Lorenzo and Rossi, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder looked to gather momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Last year, Marc Marquez had likely grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’d been making a chump of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. A year ago, in front of his home fans, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso and a surprisingly competitive Andrea Iannone (SUZ), assuring his followers that he may be many things, but a chump isn’t one of them. 

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

The messy situation at the KTM factory team has, for the time being, been resolved. Disaffected Frenchman Johann Zarco, who had requested out of his 2020 contract, was removed from the remainder of his 2019 contract in favor of test rider Mika Kallio, who will race in Aragon this weekend. Zarco’s fall from grace has become rapid, and many readers of other, less enlightened publications are highly critical of his comportment.

My take is that he realized he had made a losing bet—regardless of how it got made—accepting the contract offer from KTM without having first resolved the interest from Honda, which probably would also have been a mistake, too, in that JZ needs a Yamaha or Suzuki beneath him. It wasn’t going to get any better this year or next. He is currently losing face, but is a talented rider who, like Lorenzo, needs a specific type of bike to be successful, and for Zarco, the KTM wasn’t it. It is not impossible to get resurrected from Test Rider to Rider in MotoGP; paging Jonas Folger. One thing for certain is that, career-wise, Zarco cannot afford any more face-plants; the next one will probably be his last.

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

Moto2 championship leader Alex Marquez had nine points taken out of his series lead on Sunday as Augusto Fernandez elbowed his way to the win, Marquez finishing third, now up by 26 points heading to Aragon. Fabio di Giannantonio took the second podium step and missed out on what would have been a well-earned win by a full 18/100ths of a second. Slacker.

Moto3 offered its customary barn-burner with the first four riders crossing the line within 7/10ths of a second. Hard-luck Tatsuki Suzuki, riding for Paolo Simoncelli’s team at the track named for his late son, took the win with some fancy riding and good luck, bringing the elder Simoncelli to tears. Sure, they played the Japanese national anthem during the podium celebration, but it surely must have sounded like Il Canto degli Italiani to the SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

See, good things happen in MotoGP. Just not in the premier class.

Your Weekend Forecast

The Racing Gods appear anxious to get into the act this weekend, with bright sunshine predicted, interspersed with heavy rain showers. Something for every taste and budget. This is good news for the grid, for whom sunny and bright spells certain doom. The news isn’t all that good when one accounts for the fact that Marquez handles sketchy weather conditions better than anyone else out there and makes music with crew chief Santi Hernández such that they rarely guess wrong on tires or setup.

Conceding the win to Marquez, I’m inclined to see Rossi and Dovizioso on the podium this weekend. The youngsters—Quartararo, Vinales, Rins—can have the weekend off. This is the last European round until November, the last chance to make some positive impressions on the continent before flying off to crazy time zones and brutal weather conditions. I want to believe the veteran campaigners understand this better than the young bucks, and that this weekend will be for them.

We’ll have results and analysis right here mid-day on Sunday.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rins mugs Marquez in last-turn British thriller 

Today’s GoPRO British Grand Prix unfolded according to script, a script seemingly written by some lightweight Hollywood hack. Plucky young challenger Alex trails peerless champion for the entire race, makes a late mistake, but recovers in time to steal the win by 13/thousandths of a second in one of the closest MotoGP tilts of all time. Marquez lost a relatively meaningless battle but happily extended his lead in the war to a dispiriting 78 points. 

The battle everyone was hoping for—Marquez vs. Quartararo—never got started, as the young Frenchman, starting from P4, got way too aggressive on cold tires early in Lap 1, high-sided, and dropped his Petronas Yamaha directly in front of Ducati hopeful Andrea Dovizioso, who had nowhere to go but up. Both riders ended their day in the gravel; both could be injured, as there is no report yet. Dovi clearly got the worst of the deal impact-wise, and it was Fabio’s crash. This Ducati debacle left a top five of Marquez, Rossi, Rins, Morbidelli and Vinales. The two Italians would later yield to the three Spaniards, producing an all-Spanish podium which approximated the race final at Jerez early in the year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

At least two things became immediately clear on Friday, as Petronas Yamaha prodigy Fabio Quartararo flirted with, then broke, the all-time track record at Silverstone, held by Marquez since 2017. First, the new racing surface is, as my dad used to say, “very adequate.” Second, Quartararo, who led both sessions, is fully capable of securing his first MotoGP win this weekend; the Yamaha contingent in general appears to love themselves some Silverstone.

(Note: I have been reluctant to jump on the Quartararo bandwagon with the readers who have, because I believe young Fabio still gets the yips at the end of close races. Until he displays the testicules d’acier one needs to stare down the likes of Marquez or Dovi on the last lap, he cannot be considered for an Alien card. Rins had to wait until his first win to receive his; it’s only fair. And he hasn’t yet won his first race. He may, in fact, be The New Kid in Town. He may be a flash in the proverbial pan. Too early to say.)

The track record took a pounding on Friday afternoon, then again, en masse, on Saturday morning. FP3 has ingeniously positioned itself as QØ. The last five minutes is a time attack on soft tires, trying to gain automatic entry to Q2, bypassing Q1 and being able to devote FP4 to race simulations. Friday afternoon saw four riders under the old record—Quartararo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi. On Saturday morning, 16 riders eclipsed the 2017 record, led by Fabio’s remarkable 1:58.547, 1.4 seconds faster than the target. There were four Yamahas in the top eight. Left out in the Q1 cold were names led by Dovizioso, Rins, and Nakagami; Jorge Lorenzo, limping around multiple seconds behind the leaders, must have been terrified. And this was all before FP4 and Q1. The weather was superb. There was a little rubber on the track.

Dovizioso and Rins made it through Q1 to set up an exhilarating Q2. With zeroes showing on the clock, and riders out on the track, the leaders, as best I recall, were Fabio, Rins and Vinales. Faster than you can blink your eyes, Rossi, Marquez and Jack Miller thundered across the finish line on to the front row, relegating the Frenchman and the two Spaniards to Row 2, juste comme ça. In the process, Marquez set yet another all-time track record, the fifth time this season he has done so in twelve rounds, one of which was wet. Rossi sitting second and Miller third set up a grand battle on Sunday, in which my two picks not named Marquez would start from P6 and P7. With the weather and the racing surface both close to perfect, Sunday’s race promised, well, more of what we’re used to, #93 taking the win and any of seven or eight other riders poised to join him on the rostrum, to carry his train, as it were. 

Track Records 12 rounds jpeg

Farther Down the Food Chain 

Valentino Rossi, his best days behind him and no threat to podium, managed to hold on to fourth place in front of countryman Franco Morbidelli and homeboy Cal Crutchlow, who said during the week he needs surgery, i.e., don’t come crying to him if you need a MotoGP win. Danilo Petrucci (P7) beat Jack Miller for Top Ducati of the Day to take the Taller Than Danny Di Vito Award for this week. Pol Espargaro and a shocking Andrea Iannone allowed KTM and Aprilia, respectively, to make token appearances in the top ten. Johann Zarco, in his season of discontent, took out fellow KTM peddler Miguel Oliveira on Lap 9, effectively ruining yet another Sunday for Pit Bierer & Co. [Sidebar: Aron Canet, currently toiling in Moto3, will someday wear KTM colors in MotoGP. Not this next year, but a year or two after that. Just sayin’.]

The Big Picture 

The 2019 championship staggered inexorably closer to the abyss today, as Marquez extended his series lead over the fallen Dovizioso to a game-over 78 points which, with a better script, would be 83. Rins took over third place from Petrucci and closed the distance between himself and Dovizioso. Vinales and Rossi are fighting amongst themselves for the honor of finishing fifth for the season. Miller, Quartararo and Crutchlow are tussling over P7. Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro are currently locked in a duel for the final spot in the top ten.

The Moto3 race today was, as usual, a barn-burner, with Marcos Ramirez sneaking across the line first, followed in close order by a hacked-off Tony Arbolino and Ramirez’ teammate Lorenzo dalla Porta, who leads the series by 14 points over Canet, whose own opportunity got skittled early in the race by Albert Arenas. Arbolino said in a post-race interview that he felt harshly treated by the two Leopard Hondas and swore revenge, perhaps as soon as Misano. This vendetta stuff among Italians is so pre-Renaissance.

Over in Moto2, Augusto Fernandez took advantage of a crash by series leader Alex Marquez to win in front of a clot of riders including Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and Remy Gardner. He took 25 points out of Marquez and now trails Little Brother by 35 points which, if nothing else, is less than 60. Lots of rumors flying around about Moto3 guys getting kicked up to Moto2 next year, including Ramirez and, of all people, Naughty Romano Fenati who, despite his trove of personality disorders, is fast on a motorcycle and would likely be excited beyond words to have 765cc roaring beneath him. More about that later. 

Today’s Tranches 

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

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

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

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

Two Weeks Until Rimini

As summer draws to a close the flying circus returns to Italy, to the Adriatic Riviera, to one of the sweetest venues on the calendar. Beaches, mountains, San Marino has it all, not to mention one of the world’s great racetracks. Despite the boorish comportment of #93, we will find things to discuss as we close in on November. A great number of readers seem to care a lot about Valentino Rossi and KTM motorcycles; not sure why, but we’re always happy to host the discussion.

A Little Local Color

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Quartararo, guilty of littering, discards his Yamaha in front of Dovizioso.

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Sequence of blurry photos attempting to show how Rins punked Marquez at the end of today’s race.

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And a little eye candy for you troglodytes.

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MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen.      August 20, 2019

Maverick Viñales needs to make hay this Sunday 

It must be nice to be Marc Marquez, from a professional standpoint. He commands a multi-billion dollar industrial monolith to hand-build million-dollar motorcycles to his specifications, which are numerous and detailed. Everyone else, it seems, is always running for office, always defending their turf, always concerned about being unwillingly replaced. Even guys like Dovizioso and Viñales. Silverstone is a Viñales track. If Maverick wants to keep his Alien card, for openers he needs to podium in the British Grand Prix. 

To say Maverick Viñales, once the Heir Apparent, has had a difficult season would be no overstatement. In the first eight rounds of 2019 he accumulated 3 crashes and 40 points. He had a few assists on his DNFs, but he spent too much time early in races in heavy mid-pack traffic and has had difficulty qualifying on the front row. Yamaha, it is now clear, has lost a step, perhaps two. With all the changes set to occur by the end of the next silly season, it’s hard to tell whether Viñales or Yamaha would be less interested in continuing their relationship past 2020. And with Rossi entering retirement after next year, if not before, things are looking bright for the Petronas satellite boys, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

In case I haven’t mentioned it, and in order to continue avoiding the subject of Marc Marquez, my understanding of the post-Rossi era structure at Yamaha is that Petronas will become the name sponsor of the factory team, and that the satellite team will be a Rossi-driven, SKY-sponsored team. SIC (Sepang International Circuit, current co-sponsor of the satellite team) will be in there somewhere.

By my count, half of the current top ten riders are vulnerable heading into 2021, Viñales and Dovizioso among them. Dovizioso has a vice grip on second place but that’s not good enough for his bosses. Viñales has work to do if he intends to finish in the top three this year, below which contracts are a crap shoot. The 2019 silly season was a snore; 2020 promises to be anything but. 

Recent History at Silverstone

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag (Pol Espargaro vs. Loris Baz) on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Viñales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points.

Back in 2017, on another idyllic British après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso (in the midst of what was, in retrospect, his one-off dream season) won the British Grand Prix, pimping Viñales at the flag, with Rossi right there, too. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an ominous plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick.

Last year’s race, as many remember, was cancelled due to standing water. With no race results to share, I thought we might recap the decisive moves of the Safety Commission on that Sunday morning:

Silverstone SC send-up

KTM Bombshell—Collateral Damage

Shortly after the recent announcement that KTM would resource Moto3 and MotoGP, Johann Zarco called it a day with the Austrian team. Unable to make the RC16 work, and under a constant lashing from KTM’s Grand Gouda, Stephan Pierer, Zarco requested to be allowed out of his 2020 contract and the request was granted, apparently without prejudice. It is expected that Tech3 rookie Miguel Oliveira will get his ticket punched to the factory team. Brad Binder, the fast South African on his way to the MotoGP Tech3 team from Moto2, is currently on Craig’s List looking for a garage mate. Former Honda star and current KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa has declined.

Unless something turns up out of the blue (paging Alvaro Bautista in autumn of 2011) Zarco looks like he could be sitting out 2020. Too proud to accept a role as the #2 Repsol Honda rider a year ago, he ends up with a big old dent in his career.

Ducati & Yamaha: Trading Places Since 2017

Ever since Ducati debuted their MotoGP bike in the 2003 season, Yamaha has owned them (and most everyone else) on the track. Rossi and Lorenzo, mostly, whipping on guys like Capirossi, Dovizioso, Hayden, Rossi (!), etc. With the exception of Casey Stoner’s First Shining Moment in 2007 Yamaha would routinely stomp Ducati in the constructor’s championship. Here, in 2019, the tables have turned; actually, they turned last year. Honda wins these days, so the battle is, as is growing customary, for second place. Ducati won last year for the first time since 2003 and is winning again this year. It was, however, somewhat gratifying to read elsewhere that the consensus amongst Ducati engineering types is that it will take years to get the bike to turn, a notion we have thrown around here more than once. Remember the whole Bonneville Salt Flats riff? No? Never mind.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather is not supposed to be an issue this weekend, with temps expected in the upper 70’s and little chance of rain. I will continue to pound my fist on the table insisting that Marquez, Dovizioso and Viñales will end up on the podium. If Marquez doesn’t arrive in the top three, ain’t no big thing. If either of the other two fail, there will be fallout. (Between me and my bookmaker, that is.) But if either Dovi or Viñales fails to finish the race, that will be important.

In MotoGP, it’s survival of the fastest. We will be back on Sunday with results and analysis.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovi punks Marquez again in Austria 

In another classic late-race duel between the top two riders in MotoGP, Ducati royal Andrea Dovizioso went through on Repsol Honda savant Marc Marquez in the last turn for a heart-stopping win, his fifth in six close encounters of this kind.  Dovi’s first win since Round 1 in Qatar provided warm fuzzies by the gross for Ducati but had virtually no impact on the championship. The battle for second took a hit, as Dovizioso’s win put 36 points of daylight between him and teammate Danilo Petrucci.

Two streaks were up for grabs today. The first was a possible triple—Germany, Brno and Austria—for Marquez, which no one really wanted to see. The other was an Austrian four-peat for Ducati, to which many folks, including plenty in the grandstands, were looking forward. If one considers that German industrial monolith Audi owns Volkswagen Group, which, in turn, owns Lamborghini, which, in fact, owns Ducati, you could almost call it a home win for the locals, making it four in a row, Red Bull Ring remaining the only circuit on the calendar where Marquez has never won. Take that, scheißkopf. The “forever” part of that previous statement was negated this weekend when Dorna announced a new five-year deal with Red Bull for the Austrian Grand Prix. 

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Marquez and Dovizioso entering Turn 10, Lap 28.

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Same two riders exiting Turn 10.

Practice and Qualifying 

We learned one thing during FP1—the track record was going to get whacked on Saturday, weather permitting. Less than a second off during FP1, led by Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales. Miller, Rossi, Quartararo, Rins and Zarco all within 4/10ths of the Maverick. FP2 featured much of the same cast as Act I.

Saturday dawned as summer Saturdays do in Austria, clear and mild. FP3 would separate the lambs and the goats. At the end, the top nine riders were under 1:24. The last-minute maneuvering to avoid having to deal with QP1 left Cal Crutchlow, Miguel Oliveira and Franco Morbidelli disgruntled; Crutchlow, notably, gets a Chernobyl-like Zone of Exclusion around himself for 30 minutes after these things.

Lucky to automatically advance to Q2 along with The Usual Suspects were Valentino Rossi (on his last lap, as per usual), Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro, all of whom would say things went according to plan, all of whom were thanking their lucky stars they could sneak in one way or another. Marquez, late in FP3, on a pair of soft tires, turned a 1:23.251, a tenth off the track record, with Q2 yet to come. Ho hum.

Crutchlow and Pecco Bagnaia managed to advance through Q1, at the expense of rookie Miguel Oliveira, who had been salivating at the prospect of moving his KTM machine on to Q2 for the first time. The following is a recording: “Marc Marquez seized pole and set a new track record at (fill in before releasing) Red Bull Ring on Saturday, obliterating the field in the process.” He was joined on the front row by Fabulous Quartararo and Desperate Dovi and what looked increasingly like another Marquez clambake on tap for Sunday.

The Race

Lap 1 had too many changes to track, but at the end showed Quartararo leading Dovizioso, Rins, Miller and Marquez. Between Lap 1 and Lap 6, where the real action started, things got sifted. Dovi and Marquez went through on a hot and wide Fabulous after Rins had faded. Miller, running 4th, crashed out unassisted on Lap 8, promoting Rossi to 4th and Vinales to 5th. The three Yamahas held onto places 3-5 for the duration, with Quartararo earning his first premier class podium, holding off and showing up the factory riders yet again.

Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, on Lap 6, happily went off on their own for a cage match which would last until the dash to the flag. Two consummate professionals on million-dollar machines fighting for pride, in themselves, their countries, and their employers. For Marquez, consistently finding a way to lose these things would be a concern were he not usually leading his Italian rival by 50 points or so during most of them. After the race he was his usual gracious, intelligent self, but one suspects this whole getting-bombed-by-Dovi-in-the-last-turn thing is starting to get on his nerves.

KTM Bombshell

Over the weekend the Austrian hosts issued a bit of a release concerning their plans for 2020 and beyond. To wit, they would be re-branding all of their Moto3 bikes with the Husqvarna label, apparently in an effort to spur sales of Husky’s world-class dirt bikes. They casually mentioned that they would no longer provide chasses for Moto2 teams, leaving five teams and nine riders high and dry at this point. KTM says it will devote the resources freed up by these changes to building its MotoGP program and defending itself from lawsuits. For Herve Poncharal, with a Tech 3 team in both Moto2 and MotoGP, this was your basic good news/bad news weekend. He’s kind of screwed in Moto2 but life should improve in MotoGP, especially with today’s Moto2 winner, Brad Binder, replacing the hapless Hafizh Syahrin next year in MotoGP.

Sudden Silliness

Jack Miller, clearly jacked off about getting jacked around by Ducati concerning his bike and contract for next year, let it be known that his current employers are in discussions allegedly trying to re-acquire Jorge Lorenzo for the Pramac team next season. This rumor, which, if true, would set off a chain reaction in the paddock, appears to be getting put to rest, as the counter-rumor, that Ducati brass were flying in on Sunday to anoint the young Australian for another year, gained traction. The whole thing—Lorenzo to Pramac, Lorenzo to Petronas Yamaha (??), Miller to WSBK, Quartararo to Repsol, Tinkers to Evers to Chance—sounded fishy from the outset. Perhaps the salient point is to establish some interest between the parties in contracts that will begin in 2021.

You Say Tranches, I Say Tranches 

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

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

I’ve left Dovi in #2 because he’s just come off two of the best Ducati tracks on the calendar with his deficit to Marquez unchanged. Leaving Oliveira in #4 due to one solid outing; he needs to show me more. Cal Crutchlow is wearing me out, as is Aleix Espargaro; tired of making excuses for these guys. As they say in the dogsledding business, no matter where you’re harnessed, if you’re not the lead dog, the view’s pretty much the same.

On to Silverstone

Two weeks to the British Grand Prix, two weeks of listening to guys like Matt and Steve hammer on about Cal Crutchlow’s home race and the irrational exuberance of Sam Lowes. I will post some notes at Late-Braking MotoGP about the sensational Austrian Moto2 and Moto3 races later this week. In the meantime, as previously noted, we shall ignore MotoGP until such time as they see fit to provide us with a scrap of competition for the 2019 trophy.

A Little Local Color

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. August 6, 2019

Marquez brothers crushing it 

For the first time in recent memory, MotoGP enters a race weekend resigned to predictable results in both the premier and Moto2 classes. The Ducati contingent—Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller—will be tearing up the big bikes. Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. Alex Marquez will finish in the Moto2 money along with two other guys. The best race of the day will likely be the lightweights—ha!—of Moto3. 

Recent History in Austria 

Recent history at the Red Bull Ring has been, well, recent. The track re-joined the calendar in 2016 after an 18-year breach in the running of the Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Selecting Red Bull Ring as the sponsoring venue, with its nine or ten turns depending, gave Ducati Corse a bulletproof squat they could dominate with their eyes closed until KTM gets its hometown Austrian act together. In 2016, Ducati’s Dueling Andreas led the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the lush Austrian countryside, followed by everyone else. At the flag, Iannone handled Dovizioso (this was the year everyone but Scott Redding won a race) while a tumescent Spartan outgunned The Doctor for the last step on the podium.

2017 would have been a carbon copy lol of 2016 with the exception of Dovizioso winning, JLo taking Iannone’s seat and finishing fourth, and, ahem, those pesky, unwelcome factory Hondas, Marquez and Pedrosa, hogging the second and third steps on the podium. This was one of those races, similar to what we saw several times last year, when Marquez, in hot pursuit, and Dovizioso went knives-in-a-phonebooth, Spain vs. Italy, Honda vs. Ducati, and Dovi ended up on top, as he usually does. The kind of competition that gives motorcycle racing a good name.

For the third year in a row, MotoGP 2018 riders tried to dislodge Ducati Corse from the pronounced advantage they enjoy here. In 2016, it was Lorenzo who failed to flag down Iannone and Dovizioso. 2017 was Marquez trying valiantly, and ultimately failing, to overtake the determined Dovizioso. Last year, it was Marquez losing again by a tenth, this time to a rejuvenated Jorge Lorenzo, in a last lap duel that was entertaining, if not riveting. 

Sloppy Seconds from Brno 

Marquez brothers exhibition spin 2013 at Valencia

2014–Alex Marquez takes a victory lap at Valencia accompanied by Big Brother. Is it even conceivable that the two could be teammates in 2021?

Most of the conversations I’m hearing, standing in my kitchen by myself, have to do with Moto2 and especially Moto3; until further notice, MotoGP is essentially over for this year.

For those of you who haven’t noticed, Alex Marquez is currently doing to the Moto2 grid what his brother has been doing to MotoGP for the last few years—pummeling it into submission. He won the Moto3 title in 2014 at age 18, when Rabat won Moto2 and Marc won MotoGP, the three training partners on top of the world in Valencia. Alex was rumored to be faster than Marc; expectations for little brother were off the charts. He graduated to Moto2, to the high-profile Estella Galicia/Marc VDS team, then running Honda engines, and proceeded to lay eggs for four full years, becoming a poster child for Underachieving Little Brothers Everywhere. Things were heading that way again this year, capped by a P24 in Jerez, for God’s sake, when someone lit a fire beneath him.

The punching bag has become the knockout artist. Other than getting collected by BadAss Lorenzo Baldassarri at Assen, where he was fast again, he is undefeated since Le Mans, trying to convince the world—he’s convinced me—that he’s ready to move up. He has made the smart choice of staying in Moto2 for another year to wait for a winning bike on a winning team in 2021. He’s 23—it’s not like he’s old. He will be 24 when he hits MotoGP on a factory bike for someone (!). Redemption stories generally make one feel good, except here, where Moto2 suddenly provides no competitive relief from MotoGP.

Leaving things to Moto3, a class I ignored until, like, 2014. Back in the day the lightweights were running 125cc bikes that sounded like nuclear pencil sharpeners. Having owned and ridden an 80cc Yamaha (top speed, pegged, maybe 50 mph with chunks of the head gasket flying off) I had no respect for riders on such small bikes. Imagine my horror upon reading that, way back in the day, guys were famously winning 50cc championships.

The switch this year in Moto2 from 600cc Honda to 765cc Triumph engines seems to have inspired a number of Moto3 riders to aggressively position themselves for promotions. One cannot imagine a Moto3 racer not wanting to saddle up on a big Triumph, with around three-quarters of the grunt of a premier class bike. For them, if 250cc is fun, 765cc would be a lot more fun.

The list of Moto3 riders with credible resumes for Moto2 gigs is long. Names like Aron Canet, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Niccolò Antonelli, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia  and Marcos Ramirez. John McPhee. Even Romano Fenati, for whom the lithium seems to be helping, would be the devil himself on a Moto2 bike. There were moments during the Brno race where Arbolino and Antonelli were trading moves, and it was impossibly good stuff. My notes— “these two guys can ball.” Canet and young Masia are KTM guys the Austrians rightly see as having bright futures.

Here’s the deal. These guys all need to earn a promotion to a credible Moto2 team for next season. Then, they need to do well in Moto2 right away, unlike, say, Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, whom I had expected to be consistently top ten this year. And the Jack Millerreason is the MotoGP contracts mostly roll over after the 2020 season. Late next year is a prime opportunity to catch a MotoGP ride for 2021-22. And you really can’t do it from Moto3. Had he not podiumed last week, I would have played the “Paging Jack Miller” card here. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather for metropolitan Spielberg this weekend calls for temps in the low 70’s with the best chance of rain on Saturday, much like last week. Hard core fans like me will watch the MotoGP and Moto2 races for information rather than enjoyment. The fun will be in Moto3, and the weather doesn’t really matter, as any of a dozen different riders will have a chance of winning regardless of the conditions. Last week at one point the lead group consisted of 17 riders. Dalla Porta and Canet lead the championship by a mile, but no lead is safe in Moto3. Too bad it comes on at 5 am EDT, 2 am PDT. I will be getting up early on Sunday; I expect some of you will be staying up late on Saturday.

Whatever. We’ll have results and analysis right here after the races. After many of you old MOrons sleep it off.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 

Dovi wins the hard ones, Marquez wins the easy ones

July 9, 2019

Screenshot (253)

Screenshot (254)

There is a point in here somewhere. We use the total number of turns in the race as a proxy for overall difficulty. Any blivet can ride a motorcycle straight down the road. It’s in the turns where these guys make a living.

Ranking the difficulty of the tracks, with Argentina the median, we see that four of Dovizioso’s most recent five wins have come at the most demanding circuits, while six of Marquez’s last nine have came at or below the median. Marquez wins the easy ones. (I deleted Vinales, Rins, Petrucci and Lorenzo as not being statistically significant.)

Over the past 12 months, the world has been Marquez’s oyster. Dovi might have had himself a world title or two in ’17 and ’18 if only. But he now holds exactly zero track records, suggesting that the Hondas at least have caught up in top-end speed, and suggesting further that young Fabio could be the next big thing.

There’s an image on Motorcycle.com showing Marquez, Vinales and Rins in a turn, with #93 hugging the ground, with #42 riding almost straight up, with #12 in the middle both ways. The Suzuki seems to allow Rins to ride more vertically/less scarily. Marquez demonstrates that the combobulation of man and machine is what makes him so fast. I’m pretty sure combobulation is a word, since discombobulation and re-combobulation clearly are. You have to go through security at the Milwaukee Airport for that last one.

Reaching at this point, perhaps the graphic is best interpreted as illustrating the difference, not those of the riders, but of the manufacturers, between being fast and being quick. The Ducati is fast, no doubt about that one. The RC213V is, at least in Marquez’s hands, remarkably quick in tight, point-and-shoot circuits. Out of 19 rounds, there are probably half a dozen that are neutral for the two brands, with maybe eight having advantages for Honda and five doing so for the Ducati cadre. This is now starting to reflect itself in the track records analysis.

Track records after Nine rounds 2019

 

*Qualifying in 2019 at Le Mans was on a wet track. Excluded from calculations.

With five new track records in eight rounds, it appears the riders are adapting to the Michelins. The older records at the four venues last on the schedule reflect the increasingly demanding nature of the Pacific swing, as well as the aggregate loss of motivation accompanying, say, the early clinching of a championship by you know who.

Tune in later this week when we discuss the evolution of the human brain from its lizard origins by looking at Renato Fenati in comparison to the rest of the riders on the Moto3 grid.

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