Archive for the ‘Le Mans’ Category

MotoGP 2016 Jerez Results

April 24, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi reigns in Spain 

Just when we thought we knew what to expect from the 2016 MotoGP season, today happened.  The practice sessions leading up to the (first of four) Spanish Grand Prix found the factory Yamaha team consistently at or near the top of the charts. Repsol Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez was competitive while struggling with rear grip.  Valentino Rossi waited until the last lap of Q2 to lay down the fastest lap of the weekend, for his first Jerez pole since 2005.  Today, The Doctor made a house call on Lorenzo, “administering a dose of his own medicine” in winning at Jerez for the first time since 2009. 

Today’s race was a reversal of form in several ways.  How many times have we seen Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Marquez get out front, try to leave the field behind, only to have #46 materialize on their rear tire looking for a way to steal their lunch money?  Today Rossi took this approach, withstanding an early challenge from Lorenzo on Lap 2, surrendering the lead for roughly 50 meters, before striking back and leading the rest of the race.  My trusty Dial-A-Cliché tool suggests “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” would fit well here.  (Look for the quotation marks this tool generates, much like a watermark.)

For the first half of the race, Lorenzo dogged his teammate, seeing red, personal animosity vying with grudging professional respect, looking desperately for a way through which never appeared.  Marquez, likewise, tailgated Lorenzo for many of the first 14 laps and looked to be lining his countryman up for what would have been a risky pass.  Having learned the hard way last year that “discretion is the better part of valor,” he decided to settle for third place, in front of his home fans, a bitter pill to swallow which left him leading the 2016 race “at the end of the day.”

Viewing the 2016 championship from a distance, the dynamics of the Honda/Yamaha rivalry have changed dramatically over the past few years with the reunion of the Bruise Brothers at Yamaha and the gradual fading of Dani Pedrosa on the #2 factory Honda.  On a personal level, the loathing existent between Rossi and Lorenzo, and Rossi and Marquez, has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Between 2011 and 2013 it was Lorenzo routinely getting double-teamed by the Hondas. In late 2013 and 2014 it was Marquez’s turn to get doubled by Lorenzo and Rossi.  Now, the personal having overshadowed the corporate, it is Rossi expecting resistance from Lorenzo and Marquez. During the podium ceremony, if you just watched Marquez and Lorenzo, you would have sworn Rossi wasn’t even there, the body language of the three screaming contempt, Latin-style.

All sports thrive on rivalries.  Team sports are far more predictable than individual sports like MotoGP because teams, despite the pronouncements of commentators, really don’t have personalities.  Highly competitive individuals, notably the three occupying the front row of today’s grid, most assuredly do.  These rivalries become more intense as they become personal; at this point they appear to be driving the 2016 season, “much to the delight” of the fans.

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Readers of a certain age will recognize the blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William Bell, the best version of which was recorded by Cream back in the 70’s.  Factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso should consider having the main lyric—“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”—stitched onto his leathers.

Dovizioso, who could easily occupy one of the top three spots for the season, finished a strong second in Qatar.  But he got flattened by teammate Andrea Iannone in Argentina while running second, and was pancaked by Pedrosa in Austin while contending for yet another podium.  Today, having qualified fourth, with the entire Ducati contingent struggling, he was running seventh when his bike emitted a puff of smoke, causing him to pull off onto the shoulder, turn on his flashers, and call AAA, his day over “through no fault of his own.”

Dani Pedrosa managed another low impact 4th today, a complete non-factor after Lap 6 despite a decent start.  The Suzuki Ecstar team, “on the other hand,” made it happen, with Aleix Espargaro taking 5th place, two seconds ahead of soon-to-be-Yamaha hotshot Maverick Vinales.  Ducati’s Andrea Iannone enjoyed an atrocious start, falling from his qualifying slot in 11th to 14th place by Lap 5.  His hard front tire, installed while he sat on the tarmac and untested all weekend, finally warmed up, and he clawed his way back to 7th at the flag.

Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro, the rider NOT joining the factory KTM project next year, kept his ride vertical again for an 8th place finish, falling from 4th to 5th for the season as Pedrosa stole his spot. Eugene Laverty, overachieving yet again, finished 9th as the #2 Ducati behind Iannone, with Hectic Hector Barbera completing the top ten on another second-hand Duc.

At the bottom of the premier class food chain today were two Marc VDS Hondas, Jack Miller, he of the splintered ankle and redneck facial hair, and Tito Rabat, getting consistently KO’d “punching above his weight.”  By far the saddest sack of the day was Scott Redding, who finished last, over a minute behind Rossi, the optimism of an outstanding offseason having become but “ashes in his mouth.”  Having announced this past week that his ultimate goal was a seat on a factory Ducati, he backed it up with perhaps his worst performance ever in the premier class.  Gigi, one assumes, was not overly impressed, much as my wife is when I announce that my ultimate goal is to get jiggy wit’ Heidi Klum.  Not sure which aspiration is less likely, though my wife does not suffer such uncertainty.

“Precious” Points

While I steal liberally from race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt, both of whom “have forgotten more about MotoGP than I’ve ever known,” I need to register a protest over their oppressive use of the adjective “precious” when discussing championship points.  Points are important.  Points are, well, the point of competing for a championship.  Points are never refused—“No thanks, I’ve got plenty already.”  But “precious,” other than its alliterative value, is best reserved for describing babies—kittens, puppies, penguins, etc.  Banging on about the precious 13 points Dani Pedrosa earned today, or Cal Crutchlow’s first five of 2016, makes me long for an American announcing team, who would probably refer to them as “points.”

A Look Ahead

The grid returns to the historic Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in two weeks, the standings at the top somewhat tighter than they were yesterday.  Tomorrow’s test at Jerez may offer an opportunity for the Aliens to work on the rear grip problems they all complained about—loudly–after today’s race.  The three Brits—Smith, Crutchlow and Redding—need to work on doing more racing and less talking.  Gigi Dall’Igna needs to give some thought to upgrading the machines on loan to Laverty and Barbera. Finally, with Lorenzo looming on the horizon, the two Andreas of the factory Ducati team “need to fish or cut bait.”

Lorenzo leads Yamaha rout in France

May 17, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Le Mans Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

On a picture-perfect afternoon in the French countryside, Movistar Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez:  anyone even hallucinating about a world championship in 2015 will need to go through us.  Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez last time out, took the early lead and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career win in MotoGP.  Rossi had to slice his way through several Ducati GP15s to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to last year.  Meanwhile, it was another forgettable Sunday for Repsol Honda. 

Rossi & LorenzoLorenzo had been fast during the three dry practice sessions, got himself a mani-pedi during a wet FP4 (led by the Great French Hope Loris Baz), and qualified on the front row despite electronics issues.  Marquez, appearing rather unsettled all weekend, rallied during QP2 for a blistering pole lap, half a second clear of factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, in what would be his high point of Round 5.  Rossi, once again unable to get anything going in qualifying, started from the front of Row 3, as if it matters where he starts.  With 200 201 podia under his belt, The Doctor knows it’s where you finish that counts.

A typically hectic start to the race saw The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe, recently Maniac Joe, and now Ironman Joe (racing despite a dislocated shoulder suffered on Monday) Andrea Iannone immediately trade paint with Marquez, the Spaniard getting the worst of it.  Once the dust settled, it was Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Rossi forming up the first group.  Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, in his first race back from arm surgery, started eighth and was running seventh on Lap 2 when he lost the front in Turn 4.  He re-entered the race in 24th place, and spent the day testing his arm, finishing 16th.  His condition heading to Mugello in two weeks is anyone’s guess.

The race announcers speculated it was braking problems that were causing Marquez to climb from fourth place early to sixth place by Lap 5, as he ran wide several times, seeming, with a full fuel load, more out of control than usual.  Rossi, once again looking young and dangerous, pushed Marquez out of the way on Lap 3, bolted past Iannone on Lap 11 and stole Dovizioso’s lunch money on Lap 13, appearing eager to set up a battle with Lorenzo for the win.  And though that joust did not materialize, an epic battle behind Dovizioso for fourth place did, the combatants being Marquez, the wounded Iannone, and Last Brit Standing Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha (countrymen Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding having by this time ended up in the gravel).

With the race three-quarters over, whatever had been bugging Marquez early on appeared solved as he stalked Smith, Marquez in Sepang 2013who was himself preparing to go through on Iannone into 4th place. Over the last seven laps of the race, Marquez and Iannone conducted a cage match reminiscent of their days fighting in Moto2.  Smith, who on Lap 21 was lining up Iannone for fourth, found himself, instead, in sixth place on Lap 23, sucking air, while Marquez and Iannone went at each other with bayonets, changing places at least a dozen times.  Some of the best racing of the year was going on here, with Smith waiting for the seemingly inevitable crash of one or both riders that never came.  Marquez crossed the line on Lap 24 in fourth position, where he finished, while Iannone held Smith off long enough to claim fifth in as gutty a performance as one is likely to see, his left shoulder held in place by adhesive tape and popsicle sticks.  One might argue that Smith deserved a better result today, but in the end the factory bikes prevailed over his satellite entry.  Hard cheese for sure; no apology needed.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro and his factory Suzuki called it a day with mechanical issues early, the rider nursing a world of hurt suffered in a brutal high side in FP4.  Brother Pol on the other Tech 3 Yamaha finished quietly in seventh, with an overachieving Yonny Hernandez driving his Pramac Ducati to a gratifying eighth.  Maverick Vinales, who seems to be getting the hang of things on his own Suzuki Ecstar, punked Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci at the flag for a very decent ninth place finish, with Petrucci, promoted up from the hapless Ioda Racing team after last season, showing us why, ending the day in the top ten.  Nicky Hayden took top open class honors on his Aspar Honda in 11th place, followed by Baz, Avintia Ducati plodder Hector Barbera 13th, Eugene Laverty 14th (for his first premier class points) and Alvaro Baustista closing out the points on his Gresini Aprilia.

The Big Picture

After five rounds, Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots in the standings, Rossi clear of Lorenzo by 15 points, both looking ready to rumble into Mugello.  Dovizioso, sits four points behind Lorenzo in third, while Marquez, in a completely unexpected turn of events, saw his 2015 season deteriorate even farther, trailing Rossi by 33, his swagger and apparent invincibility of the past two years missing in action. Iannone, who with Dovizioso figures to do well in Mugello, sits eight points behind Marquez, with Crutchlow and Smith waging The Second Battle of Britain in seventh and eighth places, separated by a single point.

RossiA word about Valentino Rossi—podium #201 was his today, leading me to project when he will reach #300 (2022), #400 (2030) and #500 (2039), just in time for his 60th birthday.  I hope that whomever is writing this column at that time remembers to give him props.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous.  At age 36 he shows no signs of slowing down, dominating a young man’s game like no other before him.  Had he not gotten his nose out of joint and accepted the millions offered him by Ducati for two years of perdition, he would already have a leg up on podium #300.  Much like Michael Jordan after his two season train wreck/experiment with baseball, Rossi has been welcomed back by the Yamaha team he should never have left, picking up right where he left off at the end of 2010.  Better, in fact, than he was at the end of 2010.  His next venture after MotoGP should be the marketing of The Valentino Rossi Diet, one which guarantees to take five years off your appearance every ten years. The diet, one imagines, will preclude alcohol, tobacco and chasing women.  And while strict adherents to the plan will not live forever, it will certainly seem that way.

Old jokes are good jokes.

On to Mugello

As if the Repsol Honda team didn’t have enough to worry about already, the next stop on the schedule rests in the picturesque Tuscan hills overlooking the fabled city of Bologna, Italy, home of Mugello, a Yamaha track if ever there was one.  These days, it must also be considered a Ducati track.  Today’s result at Le Mans—a top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, a Honda and a Suzuki—came at a neutral site.  Mugello, as most of you know, is anything but neutral.

The Monster Grand Prix de France is anyone’s race

May 13, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Le Mans Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

This Sunday, MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage to France’s Loire River valley for Sunday worship services at Le Mans, one of the shrines of motorsports. The main combatants in this week’s tilt—Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez—have won the last three rounds of an intriguing season. If it rains as per usual, the fourth Alien, Andrea Dovizioso, on the factory Ducati, a known mudder, could contend as well.

podium-mugello-2014As for the second member of the Repsol Honda team, Dani Pedrosa, the silence emanating from HRC since Jerez had been deafening. Pedrosa raced at Losail in Round One despite a flare-up of his chronic arm pump issue which, some folks say, is a result of his simply not being big enough physically to handle 1000cc of brute force. After the race, he returned to Europe for radical/experimental surgery on his arm, and had been absent for the last three races. At Jerez, we were led to believe he would make his return this week. Lo and behold, on Tuesday Pedrosa finally announced he would be at Le Mans. His release fell just short of predicting he would race on Sunday.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380There seems to be a growing sense at HRC HQ that Pedrosa’s injury may be a career-ender. Call it the sound of distant thunder, or idle speculation. What is clear is that Pedrosa, one of this most accomplished riders in MotoGP history, will not win a championship in this lifetime. Too much Rossi, too much Lorenzo, and now too much Marquez. Moto2 is bursting with young talent—Tito Rabat and Alex Rins leap to mind, with Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger and the currently-struggling Alex Marquez not that far behind. One of these guys is going to end up on the second Repsol seat at some point.

With all the money Honda has tied up in MotoGP, they cannot simply stand around if Pedrosa, despite his 15 years of loyal service across three racing classes (and three world titles) starts showing his age. Even the biggest Pedrosa fans must admit that his best years are behind him. Though he will not turn 30 until September, he is old for his age, having had enough titanium inserted and removed from his body to build Lance Armstrong’s bicycle.

If someone were to ask me what I think–an unlikely occurrence–I would expect him to show this week, secure a top ten finish, and make some kind of announcement after the race concerning his future with the team. If the fiercely proud Pedrosa feels he is no longer able to compete at an elite level, he may call it quits. On the other hand, I suppose it’s just as likely he could go out, qualify on the front row, and finish on the podium, his health and confidence fully restored. But Le Mans has never been his favorite circuit, and if it rains, as expected, he may get a case of the yips, as has befallen Jorge Lorenzo. I don’t know about you, but if I’m nursing a surgically-repaired limb, I’m not eager to walk down a flight of stairs, much less go eyeball-to-eyeball with the likes of Valentino Rossi in the rain.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2012, it was dry on Friday and early Saturday, but the rains arrived in time for qualifying, and the race itself was run in a deluge. Lorenzo’s crew dialed in a perfect wet setting for his M-1, and he had one of those outings, not unlike Jerez two weeks ago, where he seemed to be on rails. He was joined on the podium by Rossi, who pushed his Ducati through the mud for the first of his two podia that season, despite finishing almost ten seconds behind his once and future teammate. Defending world champion Casey Stoner, days after announcing his impending retirement at the end of the year, hydroplaned to a third place finish, apparently having been convinced by his pregnant wife that she would take a dim view of raising their child as a young widow.

In 2013, it was Pedrosa who beat Tech 3 Yamaha tough guy Cal Crutchlow and rookie Marc Marquez to the finish in another French downpour, putting himself in the lead for the season, where he would remain until a cursed Round Eight at The Sachsenring, when he fractured his collarbone—again—clearing the way for Marquez to eventually take the title. The reunited factory Yamaha team of Lorenzo and Rossi floundered helplessly that day, Lorenzo crossing the line seventh and Rossi a distant 12th.

Last year, it was a dry race in which Marquez continued his historic run of poles and wins, although the top six finishers—Marquez, Rossi, Alvaro Bautista (Alvaro Bautista?), Pol Espargaro, Pedrosa and Lorenzo—were separated by a scant seven seconds. Bautista, who averaged one third-place finish a year for his three seasons under Fausto Gresini’s lash, pimped Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro by 6/10ths at the finish to deprive Herve Poncharal’s French team of a desperately-desired podium at their home race.

Have I mentioned how old it gets having these riders go all squishy in the media when their “home” races roll around? pol-espargaro-bradley-smith-tech3-yamaha-motogp“Right, we view Le Mans as a home race for our team, in that our chief mechanic’s cousin’s sister-in-law used to be married to a cop in Toulouse.” Please. The Tech 3 team has an American sponsor, a Japanese bike, a Brit and a Spaniard in the saddles, but because the team’s management is French, this is their home race. Really? Using this logic, Tech 3 Yamaha could actually count the four Spanish races, the two American rounds, Le Mans, Donington Park and Motegi as home races, giving them a grand total of nine, or half the season. With such an advantage, it’s surprising they aren’t the leading team on the grid.

Enough already with the home races.

Quick Hitters and Your Weekend Forecast

The Jerez test the day after the race was mostly uneventful, other than Marquez turned some laps rather than resting his hand. He says he will be stronger at Le Mans, which doesn’t actually rise to the level of “news.” Andrea Dovizioso’s pre-Jerez prediction that the factory Ducati team wouldn’t do well there stood up pretty well, with Iannone coming across sixth and Dovi, after his brief detour early on, ending up ninth. Both are confident heading to France (name one rider who’s not) although Iannone will compete with a recently dislocated shoulder suffered at the Italian team’s private testing session at Mugello. Aprilia tested their version of the seamless shift gearbox at Mugello and pronounced it a success, though it won’t be ready in time for this weekend. #1 rider Alvaro Bautista is confident it will improve their results going forward, raising the question: What wouldn’t?

As for the weather, the forecast for the greater Sarthe area calls for temps in the 60’s all three days, with the best chance of rain on Friday. I’m not saying I don’t trust the French—well, I guess I actually am—but I would be surprised if it doesn’t rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8 am EDT Sunday, and I’m sure most of you join me in hoping for more action like we saw at COTA and Rio Hondo. Anyone with a prediction for the podium Sunday is welcome to comment; I, for one, have no idea. Unless it rains, in which case Jorge Lorenzo won’t be around for the celebration.Lorenzo in the rain at Le Mans


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