Archive for the ‘Honda’ Category

Sorry Folks, it’s Too Soon

August 29, 2021

I expected to do my usual slovenly job this weekend, covering all three MotoGP races, and there was plenty of material to work with. I watched “Peccorino” Romano Fenati dominate everything all weekend in Moto3. I got thrown off the MotoGP site for the entire premier class race–awesome–but watched your boy Fabio put his boot on the throat of the 2021 championship later in the day. I tuned into the Moto2 race just in time to catch the order of finish–Gardner, Bezzecchi and Navarro–minus Raul Fernandez who, I’m told, crashed late, putting a big old suppurating gash in his championship aspirations.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write it. Sure, I’m happy Dovi is re-employed at Yamaha where he had success earlier in his career. I’m happy Pol got a Pole and Aleix got himself a podium. But compared to what we have going on here, it just seemed somehow inappropriate. As in, what am I doing cracking jokes about motorcycles when our three daughters just lost their mom? If I were a serious writer, writing about serious subjects, using serious words, perhaps I could cobble up something. But the cheap laughs just aren’t working for me this week, and without them, I’m just another scribbler.

So, on to Aragon. I will keep trying this until it starts working again. Thanks for your patience.

MotoGP 2021 Losail/Season Preview

March 8, 2021

2021 MotoGP Teams and Riders

Joan Mir                          Factory Suzuki

Alex Rins                         Factory Suzuki

Lorenzo Savadori             Factory Aprilia

A. Espargaro                    Factory Aprilia

Maverick Vinales              Factory Yamaha         

F. Quartararo                   Factory Yamaha

F. Morbidelli                     Petronas SRT Yamaha

Valentino Rossi                Petronas SRT Yamaha

Brad Binder                     Factory KTM

Miguel Oliveira                 Factory KTM

D. Petrucci                       KTM Tech 3

Iker Lecuona                    KTM Tech 3

Pol Espargaro                   Factory Honda

Marc Marquez                  Factory Honda

Takaa Nakagami              LCR Honda

Alex Marquez                   LCR Honda

Jack Miller                       Factory Ducati

Pecco Bagnaia                  Factory Ducati

Johann Zarco                   Pramac Ducati

Jorge Martin ®                Pramac Ducati

Luca Marini   ®                Avintia Ducati

E. Bastianini ®                Avintia Ducati

As we have been saying for several years, this is the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mentality at work in MotoGP. Ever since I can remember—2008—there have always been a few retreads on the grid, riders well past their prime who could still attract sponsor dollars and therefore earned (bought) their spots on the grid. For those guys, a top ten finish would be a season high point. Those guys aren’t out there anymore.

Instead, you have brash, aggressive, fearless young blood, and plenty of it, in the form of Jorge Martin, Luca Marini, and Enea Bastianini, as well as the young vets—Mir, Rins, Bagnaia, Quartararo, etc. A fast field, with every team in the battle for points every week. There are whispers KTM has taken advantage of the rules and secretly improved their engine over the winter. There are other whispers, emanating most assuredly from the Aprilia media folks that this is it, this is the year when the Noale factory hits the jackpot and starts reeling in some podiums, restoring Aleix Espargaro’s faith in mankind in general.

Moreover, you have, top to bottom, perhaps the fastest overall field in history. Lap time differences will be measured in thousandths. Less than a second will likely separate most of the top ten qualifiers each week. Plenty of opportunities for a hot rider on a friendly track to score some surprising early points in 2021 while Himself, the 800 lb. gorilla we haven’t discussed, gets in sufficient shape to compete, spotting one of his rivals/pretenders, say, 75 points over the first four rounds. This aligns with the natural order of things, in that a rider of Marquez’s ability should get handicapped, just the way they do in horse racing. Give the other ponies a chance. Should the season evolve in this way, it promises a hair-raising chase to Valencia at season’s end, the inimitable Marc Marquez working some poor young riders in hot pursuit of another world championship. Don’t call it a comeback.

Personally, I have no idea which team I would predict to take the team championship this year. Further, I have no idea which manufacturer will win either. The sun and the stars have aligned such that no clear favorite emerges entering the season. The Repsol Honda gang would normally be favored, but Pol Espargaro needs to learn his way around the RC, and Marquez is still recovering from what sounds like a serious injury followed by a botched surgery. The Factory Yamaha team, which got spanked by the SRT kids last season, has an unproven machine and two inconsistent riders, both of whom have shown flashes of brilliance, both of whom have thus far failed to close the deal in the clutch, as it were. If memory serves, and it does, three of the four Yamaha riders finished last year in Tranche 3. The factory Ducati team, a perennial contender, promises to be young and fast this year, compared to last year, when they were old and surprisingly un-fast.

Suzuki seized the championship last year and shows no reason to mess with a good thing. No changes for 2021 (other than the ruinous loss of team boss Davide Brivio, who left for a bigger gig in F1. He has a resume to be proud of, having left the team in much better shape than when he arrived, with a competitive bike, two gifted young riders and a world championship in the locker.) And KTM’s immediate future is in the ascendancy, with a sterling collection of riders on a machine which made great strides last year. Both Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira are top five threats every time out. The jury, as usual, is still out on the Aprilia works; everyone’s an optimist in early March. They have settled on the Italian Savadori to team up with the hapless Aleix on this year’s edition which the flacks have touted as a real breakthrough, one in a series which, thus far, hasn’t produced the desired results.

MotoGP 2021 calendar

1                 3/28             Losail I

2                 4/04             Losail II

3                 4/18             Portimao

4                 5/02             Jerez

5                 5/16             Le Mans

6                 5/30             Mugello

7                 6/06             Catalunya

8                 6/20             Sachsenring

9                 6/27             Assen

10                7/11             KymiRing

11                8/15             Red Bull Ring

12                8/29             Silverstone

13                9/12             Aragon

14                9/19             Misano

15                10/03           Motegi

16                10/10           Buriram

17                10/24           Phillip Island

18                10/31           Sepang

19                11/14           Valencia

No Brno. No Argentina. No COTA. No three rounds in three weeks. For the handful of you intending to trek to Austin for the GP, that weekend on your calendar is now open. Good time to completely re-surface the COTA track to withstand the stresses of F1. Take out the bumps and you have one of the finest layouts in the world. Even if it is in Texas.

As usual, I didn’t pay much attention to MotoGP during the off-season, never do. Last year, Marquez was the odds-on favorite until late in Losail when, unbeknownst to us at the time, his season ended. Suddenly, the championship was a horse race; the door had been opened, incredibly, to several teams who had, up until that race, been plotting a strategy for finishing second in the championship.

Suddenly, the trophy was within reach.

This year, with Marquez missing the first however many starts, and probably not in top form for another month, allows the prospect of the best competition for a title in recent memory. Better than last year. Think about how many riders are legitimate podium threats every time out (once #93 is up to speed)—

Marquez

P. Espargaro

Quartararo

Morbidelli

Vinales

Mir

Rins

Miller

Bagnaia

Binder

Oliveira

11 riders competing for the top three spots sounds, from here, like big lead groups, low point totals for the early leaders, the top ten riders getting scrambled each time out, all this while Marquez does PT and rides easy motocross practice runs. I get the sense he will not be fully up to speed until close to mid-season, which would work out fine. If any of your friends are into motorsports and haven’t watched MotoGP, this could be the season for them to start. Despite, or perhaps because of my pandemic cabin fever I have renewed my video subscription for another season.

What’s the Point of Trying to Predict Losail I?

Seriously. Start with past performance, I guess:

2018: 1        04     Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Ducati Team

2        93     Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

3        46     Valentino ROSSI            ITA     Movistar Yamaha

4        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW              GBR   LCR Honda  

5          9      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Alma Pramac Racing       

6        25      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Movistar Yamaha

7        26      Dani PEDROSA                 SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

8          8      Johann ZARCO                 FRA    Tech 3 Yamaha

It’s taken me a moment to appreciate all the changes that have taken place in MotoGP since 2018 which, itself, doesn’t seem that long ago. But look at the names—Dovi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, who retired at the end of the year. Only Marquez and Vinales are on the same bikes as were in the top eight in 2018.

2019: 1        04      Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

2        93      Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda        

3        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW            GBR   LCR Honda CASTROL       

4        42      Alex RINS     SPA              Team SUZUKI ECSTAR     S

5        46      Valentino ROSSI               ITA     Monster Energy Yamaha          

6        09      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

7        12      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Monster Energy Yamaha

8        36      Joan MIR                          SPA    Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

2019’s Crutchlow and Dovi have been replaced. Both podiumed in 2019, the last year of the race.

2020                               No race due to Covid.

Let’s not forget that, even in normal times, Losail is an outlier and that the results there, barring any unexpected runaway performance, are rarely indicative of the season as a whole. And half the top four finishers in 2018, as well as two of the top three in 2019, will be occupied elsewhere on race day. Night.

Marquez is out, wounded. Rossi, it would seem, in 2021, should be blowing kisses to his fans amidst waves of yellow smoke while finishing eighth. But, for whatever reason, he likes this place. Take Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow off the 2019 board, as has been cleverly done for us for this race, and you have a top three of Rins, Rossi and Petrucci last time out. Petrucci, who will be on new wheels, is not expected to contend. But Mir should be around the lead group, ready to pounce late. The racing world clutches its pearls waiting to see whether Top Gun or Pop Gun shows up for the factory Yamaha season opener. If history is a teacher, the bike will be manageable once again, championship caliber. And there is a bevy of names still out there who will be letting it out chasing the pole on Saturday and trying to manage their tires as the dew settles on the sandy Qatarian tarmac on Sunday night.

As they say downtown, “What the hell.” It promises to be good stuff, especially on Saturday and Sunday evenings. I remind myself that, in my heart I really don’t care who wins. Other than I would like to see Rossi on the top step one last time in his career. Then, he could start blowing kisses to his fans, the farewell tour underway. He won’t be competitive at a number of tracks, but he has it in him to stay in some races until late and see what happens, as he did in his last win at Assen in 2017, punking Marquez and stealing the win late in the race.

One more time for Il Dottore, I say. Let the bells ring in Tavullia one more time.

Until #93 returns and is up to speed—one feels a tremor at the flashing thought he may never be up to his former speed—the grid is in a bit of a state of suspended animation, riders jockeying for the lead, awaiting the return of one of the best riders, by consensus, ever. EVER. On a bike built for him by Honda Racing, for whom he is a gold mine. At the height of his formidable skills before his late wreck here ended his 2020 season before it started, a season, as we remember, in which he was prohibitively favored to repeat, once again, as world champion.

This is starting to feel like a Three Stooges film, in which the entire Army squad, with the exception of the pre-occupied Moe, Curly and Larry, upon a request for volunteers, takes a step backwards, leaving our heroes responsible for a critical, dangerous mission. We have a host of volunteers aware that the best rider of our generation is on his way back and will likely get up to speed on his Honda tout de suite, as it were. Figure Marquez bails on Losail I and II and makes his 2021 debut at Portimao, Round Three. Suppose one of the fast movers has won twice in the desert and sits with 50 points. Suddenly, those riders with aspirations of a title in 2021 are sweating bullets.

With 17 rounds left, what would it take to get you to bet against a rusty Marc Marquez, trailing by 50?

With #93 out for Rounds I and II, and if I were a betting man getting giant odds in a trifecta in Round I, I would have The Three M’s on the podium—Morbidelli, Miller and Mir. And remind readers that what happens in Round One is not predictable. We’re just doing this for fun these days—who’s gonna stop me?

We will do our first round of tranching, as well as usual canny insights and all the one-liners we can recall in looking at results in Losail, and previewing Round II under the lights, soon after the race. Until then, don’t forget to send off for the full set of teal SRT #46 gear you’ll need to fit in with the real Rossi fans. It’s half the reason he’s still working this year; lots of new leather jackets going out the door. If they didn’t make me look fat, old and stupid I’d get some myself.

Here, courtesy of crash.net, is the top 17 riders on the second day of testing at Losail. Fabio stuck in a hot lap late in the day to edge out Jack Miller and Aleix. Franco Morbidelli in P4. So, we don’t know, at this point, who to like on Sunday. Perhaps in a few weeks we’ll have a better idea. We do know, ahem, that Vale finished in P20 and Brad Binder, struggling, in P24.

It’s early.

Cheers.

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MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

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The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP: Tire Warmers On

June 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Despite the fact that, virus-wise, the U.S. is starting to resemble Dante’s Inferno, over in Europe things appear to be trending well. MotoGP/Dorna has been itching, for obvious reasons, to get some kind of season started and in the books. The sheer amounts of money involved in cancelling an entire MotoGP season are unimaginable. They need to get a 2020 season, this kind of MotoGP Lite thing, going, and soon.

As things stand, there is a schedule, about which we’ve already written. Cramped and crowded, it leaves little margin for error and will punish riders who, say, do a collarbone and miss, conceivably, three rounds. ‘Twasn’t always thus. All in Europe in 2020, a crapshoot as to which tracks ended up on the calendar, more of a crapshoot as to who might emerge from the pack to seize the 2020 title in the event the rider with the aforementioned hypothetical collarbone should turn out to be Marc Marquez.

Screenshot (319)

#93, gold helmet

Even without his favorite tracks on the scheduled part of the schedule, and Germany off altogether, Marquez continues to be the prohibitive favorite to continue his reMarcable string of world championships. Pretenders to the throne are many, not including brother Alex on the #2 Repsol Honda. #93 , however, remains untouchable and, assuming he avoids injury as per usual, should win the title.

Screenshot (86)

Young Fabio, new kid in town

Should he somehow fail, the list of contenders becomes long, indeed, with a compressed, shortened season. Two weeks at Jerez to start the season could begin or end a championship chase that appears destined to go through December. And a brutal, packed chase it is. No thought as yet as to weather and what it might do to things. Predicting a championship top five–certainly something you, the reader, might expect if you’ve gotten this far–is following the laws of statistics, i.e., the smaller the sample size, the larger the variance. One is less likely to pick a winner in a short season than in a long one. That’s my excuse, and I’m going with it.

The other fascinating part of the pre-season is the contract signings going on for 2021 (and 2022, in some cases). Suddenly, there are an alarming number of lame ducks on the grid, with possibly more to follow. Yamaha is playing musical chairs with its existing stable of riders, with Fabio Quartararo trading seats with legend Valentino Rossi, on its factory and satellite (SRT) teams. But HRC has reached out to Pol Espargaro, to ride with Marquez for the 21-22 seasons. This puts Alex to LRC Honda for 21, along with Nakagami, with Crutchlow being shown the door.

Danilo Petrucci is displaced by Jack Miller on the factory Ducati team for 21-22, and Petrux goes and signs with KTM Tech 3, teaming up with Iker Lecuona, whose name sounds, to me, like it could be from a Disney movie. “Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona…” Miguel Oliveira, in my opinion an up-and-coming young rider despite his ride, not because of it, gets promoted to the factory KTM team as Espargaro leaves, teaming up with Brad Binder, signed for at least 2021. Oliveira, I think, would excel with one of the top three or four bikes on the grid. Oliveira, to me, looks like a Yamaha kind of guy. But KTM is doing for him precisely what they should have done in the first place, before all this started.

Overlooked in all the drama is the Suzuki team of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, both

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Rins and Mir, the future so bright they need shades in their visors

legitimate candidates for Alien status. Standing pat, missing out on some development stuff at present, but certainly a credible team heading into whatever 2020 has to offer. Once more, we wish to say out loud that Suzuki needs a satellite team. There.

Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati Corse are locked in some contentious negotiations about his 2021-22 contract on the factory team. Dovizioso is not anxious to acknowledge that his best years are probably behind him; Gigi does not want to commit two expensive years to a rider well into the back nine of his career. If Dovi were to fail to reach a contract with Ducati for 2021-22 there would be high demand for his services elsewhere, especially on the satellite Ducati teams. He would have to take a pay cut. That’s the way it goes. A new two-year contract with the factory team would not surprise me at all, especially since most of the high-profile riders are already signed for the next two-year cycle. It will be the last contract Dovi signs with Ducati. Two years if he can get it.

Is it possible that Bradley Smith, with Iannone’s immediate future up in the air, could sneak back on the grid on an Aprilia in July? As regards Iannone’s pending 18 month suspension, and The Man’s recommendation that it be extended to 48 months, and all the bad feelings around the whole thing, one gets the sense that the commission, or whatever, will announce their decision in May of 2022.

There’s probably more. But it’s a short year, and a number of riders will find themselves cognizant when going into corners against a future teammate, mostly subconsciously, one supposes, but not impossible, allowing it to effect their performance. Like we said, lame ducks all over the track.

Cal Crutchlow, another lame duck who must feel his efforts are, once again,

Screenshot (476)

being ignored by HRC, will be sulky while putting on a brave face. He could end up with an Avintia or Aprilia or KTM team in 2021, one supposes, or even, under the most severe circumstances, on a seat being vacated by Dovizioso. He might approach 2020 with the attitude of having nothing to lose, to win or bin, take two in a row at Jerez and be off and running. It’s gonna be hot at Jerez in July, and the Hondas like it that way.

The absence of fans, even with noise piped in, will take away from the theatre aspect of the race, the reason people go instead of watching it on TV. Promoters must be taking an absolute bath this year. NBC Sports must be gritting their teeth at having been talked into carrying MotoGP this year. One hopes, in the interest of seeing the sport more widely available, that the season proves to be a good one, one that will let Valencia decide.

The wild card, in all of this, is the coronavirus. It appears a number of countries are preparing to ban, or require quarantining, of visitors from the U.S. over virus concerns. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have essentially done the same thing in the U.S. versus the rest of the the U.S. This virus is relentless, and 80% of people on Earth are going to get it. It may affect relatively few, but others it will kill. It’s going to be around for awhile, until there is a vaccine. Years, really. Among the casualties could be all forms of racing, as well as all stadium-based sports. Football. Basketball. Baseball. The list goes on. From that perspective, whether MotoGP takes place or not is of relatively little importance.

Let’s hope the racing gods are smiling upon us later this year and that the virus gods are pretty well done screwing with people in Europe. Let us hope for blue skies. Let us hope for safe racing and a minimum of damage to machines and riders. Let us hope for close competition and elbows in the corners and a close championship battle over the entire season, or what’s left of it. Let’s hope to see more results from the young riders aside from Quartararo. Let’s see if the Next Great Rider is out there on the grid, waiting to have his Alien card stamped.

Paging Joan Mir.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

Screenshot (464)

Before getting too far into the nuts and bolts of the latest round of wishful thinking on the part of The Powers That Be, let us note that the usual blah blah blah about the virus is still in there, that this is only the latest, most radical attempt to salvage the remnants of what was to have been another Repsol/ Marquez coronation in 2020. It remains to be seen whether any actual races will take place. From a global perspective, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is a bad thing for all types of racing, including MotoGP.

For the sake of keeping our oar in the water, we can take a moment to shred the calendar, which features two back-to-back weekends and three triple-headers. An American swing and a truncated Asian swing are pinned to the end of the scheduled schedule. Like an addendum. Like the suits at Dorna and FIM spent hours arguing about leaving these rounds on the schedule at all, given how tenuous the European part of the schedule was looking already. To suggest that MotoGP will be spending Christmas in Malaysia strains the imagination.

Nonetheless. Two rounds at Jerez on the 19th and 26th of July. A round in Brno followed by a twofer at Red Bull Ring, in a tip of the hat to Ducati Corse. Then, two rounds in Misano–mmmm–and one in Catalunya. A week in France, then two weeks in Aragon as penance. Ending with two weeks at Valencia on November 15th. In italics, basically, is a fictional Americas swing to Austin and Argentina, with an additional “swing” to Thailand and Malaysia. At risk of running into the end of the calendar. All a fantasy.

I found myself thinking about what an awesome vacation it would be to spend 10 days or so in Misano. We might spend Saturdays at the track, otherwise catching Sundays as usual on the website and reporting the results sometime after the race. It occurred to me that neither I or my wife would want to go to Italy in the summer of 2020 with The Rona out there. Adriatic Riviera or not, it’s not a good idea, at least not for us, coming from the U.S. It’s just such a beautiful place, shoehorned in-between the mountains and the sea. Our health insurance wouldn’t work over there, etc. Not in the cards.

So I’m wondering whether any of this is more than a pipe dream, if it’s not just a little something to keep us occupied during this dreadful hiatus. If there is an amusing aspect to this latest and greatest calendar it is the refutation of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s hollow claim that MotoGP is more than just a Spanish sport. Seven of the scheduled 14 rounds are in Spain, at all four usual tracks. Catalunya, perhaps because of the heated current political environment there, only gets a single week, while the other three get a pair each. The remaining seven rounds are schedule for other places on the planet. Four of the eight tracks in 2020 are in Spain. The Spanish riders will enjoy an advantage.

No Mugello. No Sachsenring. No Finland. No Silverstone. No Motegi or Phillip Island. Perhaps two of the last four races listed after the schedule could take place; probably none of them will. Some of Marc Marquez’s bread and butter–Austin and Sachsenring–won’t happen. He should still do okay.

With all the drama surrounding the signings for 2021-22 it will be slightly weird to see the lame ducks–Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez, Jack Miller in a way, possibly no Andrea Iannone–knowing they are headed to greener pastures in 2021 regardless of what, if anything, happens this year. Rossi’s last year on the factory Yamaha. The two Suzuki riders gunning for Alien status. Marquez fighting off all challengers. The era continues, assuming there is a racing season in 2020.

I suspect this latest schedule should be thought of as Hypothetical. So many things need to go right, and so few things can go wrong, that the odds against us watching these remarkable athletes racing in anger in 2020 are long. Will they pipe in noise? Will they let fans in? Will they provide all of the necessary yellow smoke? Will the marshals have masks? The mechanics?

At this point, the 2020 MotoGP schedule looks fantastic, as in a figment of someone’s fertile imagination. If it happens, I look forward to being wrong and getting jacked up on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t we all.

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.

 

 

 

Spain declares national emergency over coronavirus

March 13, 2020

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 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

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.

1800x1200_coronavirus_1

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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