Archive for the ‘Honda’ Category

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.

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#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.

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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,

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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:

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.


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