Archive for the ‘Honda’ Category

Dovi wins the hard ones, Marquez wins the easy ones

July 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Track records after Nine rounds 2019

 

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

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

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

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

For the tenth year in a row, The Sachsenring lay down and gave it away to Marc Marquez, who didn’t even have to buy it a wrist corsage. Starting, as usual, from pole, Marquez seized the lead on the back side of the first turn, entered the express lane, and never broke a sweat on his way to the win and a ghastly, dispiriting 58-point lead as the series heads for summer vacation.  

Worse yet, French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his first premier class race and was unable later to locate his lopsided grin. 

For quite a while, it appeared my pre-race podium prediction of Marquez, Rins and Vinales would come up a winner, until Rins once again crashed out of a podium unassisted in Lap 19, a week after having done so in Assen. In so doing, he has removed himself from championship consideration and must now keep an eye on Joan Mir, who may be entertaining thoughts of becoming the #1 rider for the factory Suzukis. But Cal Crutchlow, who arrived at the weekend having seriously injured himself at home opening a can of paint, took advantage of Rins’ gaffe to usurp the third step on the podium. Mir, who spent much of the day in the second group, finished seventh, showing more progress, moving up the learning curve. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was more or less predictable for 2019. Quartararo, Marquez, Rins and Vinales were all sniffing around the top of the sheet. Marquez was the only one to put in a lap in the 1:20’s, within half a second of his 2018 track record, on Day 1. Pecco Bagnaia had a heavy crash late in FP1 which kept him out of FP2 but allowed him back for a cautious FP3. Crutchlow arrived in town hobbled by a non-riding accident suffered at home. Wanker.

Repsol Honda slotted homeboy Stefan Bradl in Lorenzo’s seat. With Fabio and Maverick sitting in the top five at the end of the day, FP3 on Saturday would determine whether Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, a tenuous 10th on the day, would have to fight and claw his way into Q2 or would pass smoothly, naturally, like a field mouse through an owl. We also learned of Danilo Petrucci’s well-deserved new contract for 2020 with the factory Ducati team. Bravo, Danilo! 

FP3 delivered guys like Marquez, Quartararo, Vinales and Rins directly to Q2, consigning, yet again, the famously struggling Valentino Rossi, along with Dovizioso and Zarco to the fighting and clawing of Q1. Even with his back to the wall, Rossi is unable to coax the same speed out of the M1 as Vinales and either of the satellite guys. He does not appear to have lost much overall, but the quick thin blade, flashed so often at the end of races as he routinely snatched victory from less-confident foes, is gone. If you’re leading a race and have a handful of gunners chasing you, including Rossi, Vale is no longer your primary concern. Of particular interest at the end of the session was Quartararo, on the gas, apparently injuring his left shoulder on another “tank-slapper,” as the Brits call them. Shades of Assen. Marquez was caught flirting with his 2018 track record at the end of the session.

Rossi appeared determined to make it out of Q1 and did so. Andrea Dovizioso, watching his faint title hopes fade, appeared determined, too, to make it out of Q1 and would have, were it not for the heroic efforts of one Takaa Nakagami, riding when he should be in traction, stealing Dovi’s ticket to Q2 well after the checkered flag had flown.

The new group of Usual Suspects—Vinales, Rins, Quartararo—took turns going after Marquez’s soft-tire lap times during Q2, to no avail. The Catalan made it ten-for-10 on pole in Germany, joined on the front row by Quartararo and Vinales. Row two would be comprised of Rins, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.  Rossi could do no better than P11, the weakest of the four Yamahas in the first four rows. Oh, and just for the record, Marquez on Saturday set a new track record for motorcycles at the Sachsenring. 

The Race 

This German Grand Prix was no work of art, a high-speed procession punctuated by falls from rather high-profile riders. Rookies Quartararo and Oliveira both crashed out in Lap 2, though the Portuguese rider would re-enter the race, for whatever reason. KTM sad sack Johann Zarco crashed out at the same spot a lap later. Pecco Bagnaia went walky on Lap 8, taking himself out of points contention.

But it was Rins, all alone in second place, laying his Suzuki down on Lap 19. Crutchlow could never catch Vinales. Dovizioso could never catch Petrucci. And no one currently living could catch Marc Marquez, who was thinking about COTA and how he would not let that happen today. 

The Big Picture 

The big picture is as ugly as an outhouse on an August afternoon. With 58 points in hand at the clubhouse turn, Marquez could leave his woods in a locker and walk the back nine with just a putter, a wedge, a three-iron, a seven-iron and a sleeve of Titleists in a Saturday bag and win the club championship. While the riders scrambling for a top-ten finish in 2019 are sweating blood, Marquez makes this hugely demanding, physically debilitating job look easy, effortless. His team is a well-oiled machine that never looks stressed out. He stops on his way to the garage to get his picture taken with a four-year old boy wearing #93 gear. I’m pretty much convinced he hasn’t started shaving yet. He lives with his brother. Haters hate him because he’s got mad skills. Haters gonna hate. Just sayin’.

Beyond Marquez, you have a bunch of riders with significant pedigrees snapping and tearing at one another over scraps. Last week I observed how some celebrants—OK, it was Vinales—were celebrating having held Marquez to 20 points. Today, the remaining Aliens and top tenners seem relieved to have held Marquez to a mere 25 points. For the rest of the paddock, The Sachsenring has become like Phillip Island was to Casey Stoner and how Mugello once was to Valentino Rossi.

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

This is the week when we come clean and give Marc Marquez his own tranche.

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

* * * 

MotoGP now hobbles off to summer vacation, a number of riders to lick wounds, several to entertain existential crises, and others to just chase women and enjoy being young, wealthy and in shape. We, obviously, will be hanging with the latter group. Should anything noteworthy occur during the interlude, I shall faithfully report on it at Late-Braking MotoGP, your site for all the stuff not good enough to make it to the pages of Motorcycle.com. We’ll have a preview of the Brno round here at the end of the month. Ciao.

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen   July 2, 2019

Universe Needs Marquez to Slide Out Sunday 

Here we go again. Up by 44 heading to The Sachsenring, a Marquez clambake in the works. Aliens celebrate winning a race while holding #93 to 20 points, suggesting 2019 has already been conceded. 

Marquez at sachsenring

Worse yet, Marquez can afford to play things a little safe, which he thankfully won’t. This situation will require a joust, in which a rider, say Alex Rins, decides to go one-on-one with Marquez in the early corners, looking for trouble, likely to find it. Vinales escaped with his life at Assen, despite his best performance in ages. For this to be a season, it will require more. It will require a duel. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine. 

Let us light a candle in gratitude for Marquez having put it on the floor while easily leading at COTA, another personal sandbox. Track conditions contributed to that fall, and he is unlikely to make that mistake again soon; once he takes the lead he often gets away. Had he gone on to win in Texas, he would now have 185 points. To Dovi’s 114. When Dovi takes him on for the win, late in races, he’s gone four for five. It can be done. It just needs to be done early in the race, with the same level of aggression Marquez shows the other riders. There needs to be some contact. Moto3 stuff. Catalunya stuff, with Marquez caught up in it. Something.

The “young lion” image has found its way into the comments on these articles. On Sunday, one of the young guns—Quartararo, Rins, Vinales, Mir—needs to announce his intention to become the new alpha male, at some point, early in the next decade most likely, just sayin’. Although ten straight wins in Germany would be something to see.

Business as usual will find young Marquez, world by the balls, leaving for summer vacation leading the series by at least 49 points. Racing fans will start going for long, solitary rides instead of watching more of The Marquez Show. Fortunately for me, keeping readers engaged in this “analysis” does not require the championship be at all competitive. The wonderful handful of folks who actively track MotoGP at Motorcycle.com demand so little… 

Recent History 

2016 in Saxony was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate tire, The Taint, for those less civilized amongst you.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

Two years ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. Real competition in the premier class.

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. Same as the previous year. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Viñales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP made the turn heading for the back, um, 10, which would start at Brno in August. And we all know how that turned out. 

Chatter 

Most of the noise I’ve been hearing this week concerns Jorge Lorenzo’s future in racing. Going all Black Knight in an effort to unseat Marquez at the top of the Honda heap? WSBK? No. Decide it’s not worth his future mobility to try to be the best again? Understand that if he were to leave Honda his only possible destination would be with, like, Avintia. There will be no satellite Suzuki team in 2020. Maybe Zarco bails at KTM—would The Spartan wish to go from the Japanese frying pan to the Austrian fire?

MotoGP.com is jocking the general competitiveness of the 2019 season—five riders on four different bikes—both factory Ducatis—gracefully sidestepping the fact that Marquez leads by 44. I find it almost physically painful to read the articles on the MotoGP site. They reflect a top-down assignment of “interest” articles—’gimme 200 words on how competitive the season is, blah blah blah’—without nuance or wit. Some poor Spanish bastard is working in a second language trying to make it sound right. Which is to say, sound British. Which should be funny but isn’t.

They could hire me to turn the English translation into a stand-up routine. I’ve almost always been very complimentary of Sr. Ezpeleta.

Over at Moto2 and Moto3

Assen was eventful in both classes. Tony Arbolino seized a razor’s edge win from Lorenzo Dalla Porta, allowing Aron Canet to maintain his narrow lead in the 2019 chase. It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone from the current top ten won the title this year. People who turn their noses up at the lightweight classes miss those ground level camera shots that show the Moto3 bikes flying past, Doppler effect in full force, literally a blur.

In Moto2, our old buddy Tom Luthi took back the lead in the series as prior leader Alex Marquez was knocked out of the race by BadAss Baldassarri, with things getting a little physical in the gravel trap. There are perhaps five or six riders capable of winning in 2019. Apparently, Marc Marquez is lobbying hard for brother Alex to receive a seat on the 2021 Pramac team. I failed to write it down, but one of the Japanese riders made a comically-ridiculous save after getting tagged, nothing connecting him to his bike but his hands.                          

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for the greater Hohenstein-Ernstthal metro is for clear and cool conditions over the weekend. 70°. The great equalizer. There was a day in MotoGP when riders would routinely exit the pits on a cool morning and crash before ever getting their tires warmed up. You don’t see nearly enough of that stuff these days. The cool weather will, to some extent, help the Yamahas and take away an advantage for the Hondas. It pains me to say it, but on Sunday’s podium with Marquez I’m seeing Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins. None of the war horses, the grizzled veterans, the legends in their own minds.

The MotoGP world is being re-shaped before our eyes. Quartararo, Mir and Nakagami and Bagnaia are standing in the wings. Now, if someone could just do something about that pesky Marquez guy, we could have a helluva series. We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results, analysis and purloined photos.

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MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

A few random photos from Assen

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MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Avoids Bedlam, Cruises at Montmelo 

Marc Marquez was probably going to win the Catalan GP anyway. But once Repsol Honda teammate Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo skittled Andrea Dovizioso and both factory Yamaha riders out of the proceedings on Lap 2, it was done and dusted in Barcelona. The Catalan’s lead in the world championship ballooned from 12 to 37 points. Valencia is groaning, joined by most of the rest of the motorcycle racing world. Here we go again. 

After the Lap 2 histrionics, an exhausting battle for second place developed, won by insolent French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, who, starting from pole, edged Ducati veteran Danilo Petrucci for the honor of his first premier class podium. Eleven riders failed to finish today, which explains some of the other confusing point hauls. There were a host of hard feelings filling the air after the race; plenty of riders felt they deserved better. Not to mention the caustic fact that Marc Marquez was the main beneficiary of Lorenzo’s gaffe, allowing him to put his boot on the throat of the 2019 championship. Ain’t nobody need that. 

Practice and Qualifying 

The fact that 20-year-old rookie Quartararo dominated the practice timesheets again, on both days at Montmelo, two weeks after surgery for arm pump, needs to stop arriving as a surprise, at least to me. In November of last year, as the last promotee signed, I considered him the least qualified of the four Moto2 riders making the leap. Still sporting stitches, he captured FP1:P2  FP2:P1 FP3:P2  FP4:P1. Has a certain symmetry to it. He has been doing stuff like this all year, then going out and making a mess of qualifying or making rookie mistakes in races.

Marquez conducted a bit of a race simulation on worn tires for most of FP2 after leading FP1, cruising home knowing he had the pace, if needed, to improve on his combined P9 position heading into Saturday. Dovi, Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda, veteran Pol Espargaro keeping his KTM upright, and rookie underachiever Pecco Bagnaia (four DNFs in six rounds) delivered impressive performances on Friday and comprised a rather surprising top five (four behind Quartararo).

MotoGP, at all three levels, has developed three qualifying sessions, two official and one, um, ex officio, as it were. The scramble to pass directly to Q2 makes FP3 its own qualifier, as it was here on Saturday. It produced good news for several riders, and not so good news, on the lamb-goat continuum, for others. FP3 begets Q1 begets Q2.

Q1 would include names like Miller, Nakagami and Morbidelli, three young guns who had lit it up on Friday. Drive for show, putt for dough. Aleix, rookie Bagnaia and the hapless, likely-to-be-bought-out/defector Johann Zarco (“Chumley, get me OUTTA HERE!”), effing around in 19th. Sylvain Guintoli, guesting with Suzuki, enjoying the experience, once again, of beating someone at something, posterizing my boy, the apparently doomed Hafizh Syahrin, lately of Tech 3 KTM, who has WSBK written all over him. Sometimes I just go on and on.

In Q1, Morbidelli and Joan Mir won promotions to Q2, at the expense of Pramac Ducati representatives Miller and Bagnaia. As usual, Q2 was worth the price of admission all by itself. When the dust cleared, it was the New Kid in Town, Quartararo, on his second premier class pole, sandwiching Marquez between Yamahas, Vinales sitting in third. Morbidelli, Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso comprised the all-Italian second row. Alex Rins had a great shot at a front row start but crashed during his second Q2 run and would start in P8.

After the session Vinales was penalized three grid spots for impeding Quartararo, who had already clinched pole. This is what is meant by the term “unforced error.” Another example of why Vinales is still not an Alien. 

The Race 

Dovizioso and Marquez shared the holeshot, with the Italian emerging from Turn 1 in the lead, which wouldn’t last. Almost nothing would, as riders began hitting the deck almost immediately. Bradley Smith, guest-crashing for Aprilia and his victim Karel Abraham—boom. Lorenzo and victims Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi—boom. Aleix Espargaro—pffft. Hafizh Syahrin—boom. Pecco Bagnaia—boom. Franco Morbidelli—boom. And, not to be outdone, having just moved past Jack Miller into P4, Cal Crutchlow—boom. Cal’s analyst says it’s poppycock to suggest he’s afraid of success.

With a plurality of these unseated riders lolling in the top ten for the year, rookie Joan Mir captured 10 points in a gratifying P6. Pol Espargaro snagged nine points for the desperate KTM project. Takaa Nakagami, Tito Rabat (?) and the morose Johann Zarco closed out the top ten. Mir and Zarco both had their best day of the season, by default. 

The Big Picture 

After seven rounds, with Assen in two weeks and The Sachsenring in three, the big picture is sucking. Hard. Once again, Marquez has become metronomic, and once again the rest of the grid is proving itself completely unable to cope. Sure, it was fun to see Danilo Petrucci win at Mugello and Rins at COTA. OK, I enjoyed Marquez getting pimped by Dovizioso in the desert back in March. But, come on. It is intellectually dishonest to purport that any rider out there this season is going to seriously challenge Marquez for the 2019 title.

So why watch? Well, despite the artistry of Marquez himself, there is the scrotum-shrinking speed. There is the arrival of bright young talent, guys like Quartararo, Rins, Mir, Morbidelli and more. There is the top-to-bottom improvement in the grid, illustrated this week by Fabio Quartararo and Hafizh Syahrin during qualifying. Rocketman Quartararo seized pole with a lap time of 1:39.48. Syahrin dragged his hopeless derriere across the line in 24th position clocked at 1:41.75.

There is no justice in this world.

There is, however, a contest worth watching in an emerging battle for second place. The factory Ducatis of Dovi and Petrucci are separated by five points, with Great Suzuki Hope Alex Rins also in the midst. Not mist, midst. If Marquez is going to run off and hide again this year, at least these three appear capable of providing some civilized competition in 2019. 

Tranches 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

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

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

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

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

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

The Undercards, Briefly 

Moto3 was a battle of attrition and as good a race as one is likely to see in the motorcycle biz. The 12th different winner in the last 12 rounds, Marcos Ramirez, won his maiden grand prix. Series leader Aron Canet managed to stay upright and accrued 20 points on a day when several of his competitors hit the deck. Young SKY46 VR racing academy grad Celestino Vietti started 21st and finished third. 31 starters were winnowed down to 19 finishers, three of whom re-mounted after offs. And your boy John McPhee got whacked and recorded The Save of the Decade, left leg pointed straight up in the air at one point, well off track; unbelievable stuff.

In Moto2 today, series leader Alex Marquez overcame a relatively poor start to win his third race in a row, outdueling veteran Tom Luthi in a bit of a procession. Lorenzo Baldassarri, who led the series until today, recorded yet another DNF, his third of the year, to go along with three wins, and would be well advised to stay away from proffered microphones, as his speaking voice brings to mind the Italian term, “castrato.” Dude has a kind of Graham Nash thing going on. 

Two Weeks to Assen 

Two weeks until Assen gets another opportunity to Keep Things Weird. In order to even maintain a pretense of suspense, it is important that someone other than Marquez take the gold medal in the Low Countries. Unusual names like Spies and Miller have appeared on the top step at The Cathedral in the not-too-distant past. The Yamahas and Suzukis enjoy this place; Marquez is mouthing words about how it will be so, so difficult to win in two weeks.

Pure shinola, of course. We’ll “be there” nonetheless, watching all the sessions, sending cosmic motivation to the challengers. For now, the universe is aligned in Marquez’ favor; we can only shake our heads in wonder. So we shall pay a visit to The Cathedral, lifting up a novena for a competitive second half of the season.

PHOTOS, UM, OBTAINED BY BRUCE ALLEN

Catalunya

Catlunya front lot

Catalunya at nightCatalunya back lotCatalunya3Catalunya2

The Women of Catalunya

AbrahamBagnaiaCanetEspargaroGardnerMarquezMillerMonsterMorbidelliQuartararoSchrotterVinales

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

With Repsol Honda stud Marc Marquez off and running again in 2019, and since they’re racing at Mugello this week, it seems like a good time to pay some attention to Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008 he won his first seven (7) premier class races at this, his home crib. It’s where he became an immortal in Italian sports lore. He owns this place. 

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

It is not an overstatement to say he has a sense of the moment. Could this be his last credible chance to win the Italian Grand Prix in MotoGP? Despite not having won an actual MotoGP race since Assen in 2017 (and that one was controversial), Rossi has been competitive in 2019—two seconds, and top six in the other three. His main issue continues to be qualifying, where he has missed out on Q2 twice. If he makes it to Q2 he remains a threat to podium every time out, rear grip or no.

But here’s the other thing about Mugello and Rossi. Since 2009, he’s been a bitter disappointment to his homeys and their yellow 46s. Three third-place finishes and three DNFs, one the DNS in 2010. Despite everyone’s hometown hero racing just down the road, the bells announcing a win for Rossi at Mugello haven’t rung on Sunday afternoon in Tavullia in over a decade. Meanwhile, since 2013 that stronzo Marquez has been in full “win or bin” mode here, with a win and a second to go along with two DNFs and last year’s futile 16th place finish.

[Digging the fact that the winningest rider of late in Italy has been El Gato, Jorge Lorenzo, including last year’s breakthrough on the Ducati. Six wins here since 2011, five of which came when Yamaha was the perfect bike for him. Alberto Puig, formerly Pedrosa’s Svengali, now in charge of defending Lorenzo, tells us prosperity with Repsol Honda is just around the corner. If it is, he should win here on Sunday. El futuro es ahora, Alberto.] 

It is a foregone conclusion that Suzuki whiz kid Alex Rins, not Maverick Vinales, is preparing to take Rossi’s place in the Alien firmament. One suspects that Rossi may be thinking about putting his stamp on Mugello forever, with bookend wins in his first and last seasons. If that’s the case, and he makes it into Q2 either automatically or by coming through Q1, Sunday could be a big day in Italy. 2020, should he choose to continue for another season, could then be a farewell tour amidst clouds of yellow smoke, The Doctor blowing kisses to the fans, finishing eighth for the year. But people would talk about Mugello 2019 for a long time. As they said so often in the cult classic Office Space, that would be great.

Recent History at Mugello

2016 featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Honda. Other than his win at the Red Bull Ring, this may have been Iannone’s favorite career race. On the podium at Mugello, with no Rossi looking down on him.

In the 2017 main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium. National idol Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself. For the fans, other than the wrong Yamaha being on the podium, it was cause for celebration. You know, like every other day of the year.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as last year proved. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With the Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was, indeed a great day to be Italian. The 2018 standings tightened up a little bit. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds. By the time the circus rolled around to Germany it was pretty much over.

The Point, After All, is Points

The modern era of MotoGP racing has, with the exception of a number of outstanding seasons from Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, been about Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Rossi holds the MotoGP record for points in a season of 373, set in 2008, the high-water mark of his career. He would take his last premier class title in 2009; many of his supporters say he was robbed by the evil Iberian axis of Marquez and Lorenzo in 2015. Marquez, amongst the long list of records belonging to him, reached “only” 362 in 2014. Had he not crashed out at Motegi he would surely have broken that record, too.

This year, with 95 points to date, Marquez is trending at around 360, which would put him within reach of Rossi’s record, since there are 19 rounds these days. One shudders to think what might have happened had Marquez not dropped the RC213V in Texas. Suppose Marquez had gone on to his usual easy win at COTA and sat currently with 120 points. He would be trending for an unthinkable 456 points. Shows the dangers inherent in straight-line projections. But any suggestion that he is not dominating 2019 is ridiculous.

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

Interesting that the “stupid season,” the one preceding the “silly season,” has begun. Jack Miller wants to move up to a factory ride, be the next Casey Stoner. Thus, hard luck Danilo Petrucci appears to be getting forced out. Alex Marquez (?) is in discussions with Pramac about a 2020 contract, lending weight to the Miller-to-factory rumors. Good luck with that, Alex. And brother Marc, perish the thought, has allegedly expressed interest in riding the Desmosedici at some unforeseen time. Several riders are openly considering taking their marbles to WSBK, which has to be loving this*. Gigi D’Alligna must have some serious motowood going on; everyone wants one of his bikes. Alberto Puig, recall, tells us all is well with Lorenzo. Unless it rains. Unless it’s hot. Unless it’s cold. Unless he breaks another bone or two…Would Honda or The Spartan bail on his 2021 contract if things don’t get turned around? And don’t you hate paragraphs that end with a question mark?

*Tranche 3 MotoGP defector Alvaro Bautista, riding for Ducati in WSBK, has won 11 of the first 13 races this season.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast suggests scattered showers on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warm—mid-70s—on Sunday. According to the Encyclopedia of Rider Complaints, under Sunny & Perfect on Race Day, the top whine from riders, with Cal Crutchlow sporting the individual trophy, is, “Not enough dry practice time.” Let’s just say that weather should not be a factor for the race. Whether it interferes with qualifying remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, it seems races are won and lost on Saturday, those riders excluded from Q2 generally unable to crack the top six.

Assuming Rossi qualifies in the top six, I look for him to share the podium with Marquez and Dovizioso, the Usual Suspects. Should The Doctor falter in qualifying, throw Alex Rins on the podium. For some reason, the Suzuki does well at tracks seemingly better-suited for the fast-moving Hondas and Ducatis. It seems unlikely that Jorge Lorenzo will be a factor in the race; ditto for Maverick Vinales, lost in the sauce. Jack Miller would love to impress the suits from Ducati Corse on Sunday and may contend early. His habit of punishing the tires almost always precludes his actually winning many races (one to be exact). As usual, the sentimental favorite, on multiple counts, is my boy Danilo Petrucci, who may decide to let it all hang out on Sunday. To get his maiden premier class win at Mugello on the Ducati could possibly be Danilo’s Ultimate Two-Wheeled Fantasy. For the locals, if Vale can’t pull it off, they will root for Danilo. If he can’t pull it off, root for Dovi. And if he can’t pull it off, pray for that piccolo scroto Marquez to slide out of the lead late in race, when it really hurts, to suffer at Mugello as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Personally, I don’t have a favorite rider, although watching Marquez make his impossible saves gives me goosebumps. For the sake of an easier race summary to write, it would be the bomb if Rossi could pull a rabbit out of his hat. Endless story lines therein. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching #93 enter his patented low-earth orbit and run circles around everyone else. We’ll have results and analysis here sometime Sunday—may be late due to real life getting in the way. Ciao.

MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

The record books show that Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi.  Maverick Viñales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him.  Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here in 2017, leading the race for the first six laps until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!

MotoGP Jerez Results

May 5, 2019
Cal Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow received an upgrade this week.

Jack Miller

As did Jack Miller.

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rolls Again, Retakes Series Lead 

The MotoGP world, turned on its ear by qualifying on Saturday, was put back in its proper order today by the incandescent Marc Marquez, who led wire-to-wire. The Petronas Yamaha SRT team, which spent Saturday night in the penthouse, ended Sunday in the outhouse. Rising Suzuki star Alex Rins took second, and Maverick Vinales found the podium for the first time since Buriram 2018. Four riders were separated by nine points heading to Jerez; four riders remain separated by nine points heading to Le Mans. Life is good.

Practice and Qualifying 

Based upon the baffling buffet that was four free practice and two qualifying sessions, one could envision almost anyone on Sunday’s podium, with the possible exception of, like, Randy de Puniet or one of the Laverty brothers. FP1 gave us Marquez and Lorenzo, today and yesterday in the same Repsol Honda colors, with Rossi whistling “Dixie” in 18th position. A brutally hot FP2 somehow belonged to the Wishin’ Minnow (?) factory Ducati Team, with Danilo Petrucci, studmuffin #2, edging teammate Andrea Dovizioso on the fast new-in-places racing surface; Rossi sweating bullets in 14th.

Saturday was cloudy, lowering air and track temps. FP3 melded Friday’s results as Petrucci, Marquez and brazen Petronas Yamaha SRT rookie Fabio Quartararo topped the sheet; Rossi 11th and screwed to the fifth row on Sunday. Petrucci broke the old track record, surprising, I think, even himself. Jerez was once reputed to be unfriendly to the Desmosedici, but not anymore. The only notable results from FP4 were Maverick Vinales closing the session in 2nd place (after failing to make the cut into Q2) and Andrea Iannone being helped off the track with a left leg issue after a hard fall late in the session.

Q1 and Q2, apart from offering some of the most exciting moments of every weekend, were especially instructive at Jerez. Late in Q1, with Maverick Vinales and rookie protégé Pecco Bagnaia on the Ducati sitting 1-2, Doctor Rossi had enough time to attempt two flying laps, hoping to sneak into Q2 after a miserable two days. Most of the crowd clad in his colors held their breath for almost three minutes watching the GOAT not have enough. For Rossi, a Sunday driver who can podium from pretty much anywhere on the grid, it was just another in a series of vexing issues this weekend. But it would get worse in Q2, the teacher getting schooled by former students half his age.

The increasingly-irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo set the first marker in the 1:37s on his second lap out of the pits (on his way to P11.) Marquez stepped up 11/100ths of a second later with a 1:36.970, flirting with Petrucci, which held up for almost 10 minutes until the LTMOQ2 (Last Two Minutes of Q2), which are a thing to which we will refer going forward. Saturday’s madness edition—get this—ended with rookie Fabio Quartararo, who had the decency to turn 20 years old last month, on pole, holding both the track record and the record for youngest polesitter in MotoGP history, eclipsing #93 hisself. And, to make matters worse for the factory team, Franco Morbidelli, yet another Rossi protégé, finished second, putting two 2015 vintage M1s on the front row. You’d have to go back to the Bush administration to find the last time two satellite bikes have started a premier class race 1-2. Marquez completed the front row, backed by Dovizioso, an unconvincing Vinales and Cal Crutchlow lurking in Row 2. Nakagami 8th, Rins 9th, Bagnaia 10th and Mir 12th, but third in the Sunday morning WUP. 

Here’s How It Went 

Marquez took the hole shot and led exiting Turn 1, and never looked back. He was dogged by upstart Franco Morbidelli for the first ten laps until he decided to check out. Quartararo, having spent some quality time in third place, went through on Morbidelli into second place on Lap 11, as the Italian appeared to be developing grip issues. This, as Rins was making light work of Vinales. My notes on Lap 13 read, “AR will podium.”

It was on Lap 14 that Quartararo, seeking his first MotoGP podium in only his fourth race, found his gearbox stuck in third which, if you’re going to have a stuck gearbox, is a good gear in which to get stuck. It ended his race, however, and he showed us how remarkably young he is by dissolving in tears in his garage afterwards. Teammate Morbidelli found himself, as do so many early overachievers, with tires turning to suet beneath him, sliding from P2 to P7 over the last 15 laps, with Rossi exacting a modicum of revenge at the end to steal 6th place from him.

Factory Ducati teammates Dovizioso and Petrucci finished P4 and P5, a decent afternoon’s work at a track which no longer punishes them but does not favor them either. Cal Crutchlow, Takaa Nakagami and test rider Stefan Bradl put Hondas in the final top ten spots.

A word about Jorge Lorenzo, for whom Jerez was supposed to mark a re-birth of his thus far stillborn Honda career. After spending most of the day in P15, he finished 12th, through no fault of his own, but rather due to the retirements of Pecco Bagnaia, Quartararo, Joan Mir and Jack Miller in front of him. El Gato promised us he would return here, at Jerez. There are new reports The Spartan will make his initial 2019 appearance in Aragon. Whatever. The bike designed around Marc Marquez does not work for Jorge Lorenzo. Another two years down the drain. And a quick memo to Maverick: Shave. You look like a pedophile. 

Four Riders Separated by Nine Points 

Heading to Jerez:

Dovizioso     54

Rossi             51

Rins                49

Marquez       45

Heading to Le Mans:

Marquez       70

Rins                69

Dovizioso      67

Rossi               61

Tranche Warfare

After COTA: 

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

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

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

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Coming Up:   Round Five        Le Mans 

The French Grand Prix, for some reason, rarely seems to live up to expectations, Perhaps it’s the storied Bugatti Circuit, a veritable straitjacket of a track. Maybe it’s the French weather, which ranges from wet to leaden to merde. Possibly the French fans, who will be schizoid this year having two (2) countrymen to inspire their typically rude behavior. Regardless, it’s good to be back in Europe on a race-every-other-week schedule. There are four manufacturers with legitimate title aspirations and a host of fast young riders. So bring it on, France. Everyone’s ready.

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

Ten Takeaways from MotoGP Sepang Test

February 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

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Keeping in mind that it is way early in the season, I believe we can find at least 10 things to think about after three days in the autoclave. Doing this reporting from my home provides you, the reader, with higher quality reporting than you might receive from a professional journalist, on the scene, with a rock star press pass, getting his brain baked for three straight days by the classic combination of equatorial heat and alcohol. From a distance, I argue, we gain a sober, bird’s-eye view of what we refer to as The Big Picture.

  • Marquez on pitch count is still fast. He will win the 2019 title. He led Day One just to show he could, then gave his shoulder a bit of a rest and ran 30 or 40 laps a day while others were approaching 80. He will not be 100% at Losail in two weeks, nor will he be 100% for the opener. He will be healthy enough to compete for the win.
  • Ducati has found something over the winter. In addition to the bigger black box they have a mystery switch on the front fork. Decoy? All four factory and Pramac riders in the top four at Sepang on Thursday. All four under the track record. Let’s see how they do in the desert.
  • There is life After Alvaro Bautista.
  • Lorenzo is downplaying his 2019 chances. I believe he is playing possum. He will be fast at some point in 2019; the question is not whether but when.
  • Seven riders unofficially broke the existing track record on Thursday. Last year eight track records were broken. It wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest another eight may fall this year. Better bikes, better riders, Michelin another year of data…
  • Alma Pramac Ducati rookie Pecco Bagnaia may be the New Kid in Town. Second overall in Malaysia is what I believe folks mean when they say “early flashes of brilliance.” Smooth operator, nonetheless.
  • Viñales is the alpha rider on the factory Yamaha team. Viñales is back. Yamaha may be back. Morbidelli and Quartararo are going to be consistently in the points as well. The plot thickens. Few seem to be taking Rossi seriously, some suggesting this may be his farewell tour. I expect not, as guys like Vale are way more likely to retire too late (paging Colin Edwards) than too early (paging Casey Stoner.)
  • Alex Rins is going to be in podium contention on a regular basis this year. Joan Mir, probably not. He will need a year to figure it out. Can Suzuki build an engine with enough grunt to allow Rins to compete for a title? The bike is great, he and Mir are both going to be great. They need a satellite team in the worst way. Work a deal with Ducati to take over the Avintia team. Bring in two rising stars from Moto2 with a year of racing Triumph 765’s behind them. Or rescue Dani Pedrosa from KTM oblivion.
  • What’s left of Cal Crutchlow’s ankle is enough to allow him to ride fast. He is now, officially, The Black Knight. “Is that all you’ve got?” Top ten guy until he injures himself again. Dude needs to get out and spend time with his young family. Too old, too beat up, still fast but never gonna be a champion.
  • Takaa Nakagami, who claimed the top of the last timesheet in Jerez back in November, may, somehow, be a top ten guy on the 2018 RCV, which would rock HRC’s world. Both Honda and Yamaha could be back to having four riders consistently in the points.
  • Gigi Dall’Igna has put Ducati squarely in the middle of the championship chase. Another four riders in the top ten or twelve. Very impressive. Dovi wishes he were 10 years younger; he could rule the world.
  • A bigger front group may evolve. The usual characters—Marquez, Dovi, Viñales and Rossi—will be joined by the likes of Rins, Petrucci, Miller occasionally, and Lorenzo at some point. The Knight. A hotshot rookie? One of the best things about the Moto3 and Moto2 races is the sheer size of the lead groups, especially at high-slipstream places like Mugello and Phillip Island, where riders can go from 1st to 8th in one turn. That stuff is what lifts fans’ hearts into their throats and keeps them coming back for more.
  • Aprilia and KTM are showing some signs of life. Aleix was one of the seven to break the old track record. But KTM is trying to sound happy over 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd. Perhaps the riders were just bonding this time out.
  • I will probably find myself referring to the gruesomely-named Mission Winnow Ducati team as the Wishing Minnow team. The Missing Window team. The Mishing Widow team. Vindow Vashers. Whatever. Those two are going to be fast movers this season. Fast enough to unseat Marquez? No. Fast enough to fight for second place? Absolutely. Danilo, especially, on his one-year contract appears to be on a Mission Window.

That has to be at least ten takeaways. I’m kind of looking forward to the Qatar test later this month. Maybe we can find ten more.