Archive for the ‘marc marquez’ Category

Dovizioso moves up the MotoGP standings after two rounds

April 14, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Rio Hondo Preview, by Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

One year ago, heading into Round 3 in Argentina, I was pretty sure of two things: 1. Marc Marquez was going to win a second MotoGP world championship in 2014, and 2. Valentino Rossi’s alien days were behind him. Going 1-for-2 is great in baseball, not so much in the world of motorcycle prognostication. As it turns out, Rossi may offer the biggest obstacle to Marquez’ quest for a third consecutive title. And Andrea Dovizioso’s application for membership in the alien club has now been approved, at the apparent expense of Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa.

Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014The remarkable resurrection of the Ducati brand under the guiding hand of Gigi Dall’Igna has finally interrupted the seemingly interminable streak—going on eight years—of Honda/Yamaha domination of podium celebrations in the premier class. Though there has been the occasional Ducati sighting—Dovi twice in 2014, Crutchlow finishing third in Aragon last year, Nicky Hayden third in Jerez in 2011, Rossi himself with three podia in two seasons—it’s been a painfully long time since the Ducati was competitive. The factory team has already rung up two seconds and a third this season and appears capable of challenging at every track on the circuit. Dovizioso is now a top three rider, and his partner, Andrea Iannone, is right there with him, gaining experience every time out and working on his own alien resumé.

Dall’Igna has moved the Ducati MotoGP program from the outhouse to the penthouse in barely 18 months. Had Aprilia opted to give him his payday and keep him in the fold, he would have likely accelerated their own “program” back to respectability in a third of the time it will now take.

Conventional business wisdom early in the 21st century has it that, in a corporation, no one person is indispensable. I’m pretty sure Ducati brass might take the other side of that argument these days.

Recent History in Argentina

Last year’s Gran Premio Red Bull de la República Argentina saw the riders return to South America for the first time since pedrosa-marquez1999. Being the newest entry on the calendar, everyone had to familiarize themselves with the layout in the free practice sessions. Marquez’ performance during the shakedown process was instructive. He spent FP1 on his Vespa Bellissima, finishing 14th and taking in the lay of the land. He then dusted off his RC213V and finished first in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the WUP and the race itself.

The race saw Marquez go through on leader Lorenzo on Lap 17, lay down a vapor trail, and cruise to a 1.8 second win ahead of Dani Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, his season already in tatters, pushing to the limit to finish third. Rossi spent most of the day dogging Pedrosa on his way to a discouraging fourth place finish. What we didn’t know then was that The Doctor would suddenly get a second wind, producing 12 podia in the next 15 races and a solid second place finish for the year, restoring his credibility, confidence and mojo and putting to rest any claim Lorenzo might have had to being the #1 rider on the team.

The Big Picture

MotoGP, like it’s most distant of distant cousins, the NFL, occasionally finds itself with early season contests deemed “critical” by media types and Those in the Know. If Round 3 in Argentina is critical for any rider, it would be Jorge Lorenzo, battling Marquez and himself to remain in the championship conversation. He has finished fourth in each of the first two races, showing some strength early before fading late. An equipment glitch was to blame in the first instance, bronchitis (or faster riders) in the second. Entering the season I had him penciled in at #2 for the year behind Marquez, ahead of both Dovizioso and Rossi, with Pedrosa 5th. He now also has an undeniable aversion to running in the rain which, at some point during the year, will cost him.

Marquez, interviewed elsewhere this week, stated he views Dovizioso and Rossi as his primary opponents this season. Hard to argue with that. The second group forming up behind the top three includes Lorenzo, Iannone, Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow. Kind of group 2A and 2B. If Lorenzo wishes to climb back into the top four, he will need to make some noise this weekend. He was competitive here last year; he needs to assert his will on the field, including the Catalan, and come home with some hardware, or look forward to continuing battles with the likes of Maniac Joe and Crutchlow. The suits at Yamaha corporate expect much more from him.

Team Suzuki seems to be getting as much as seems reasonable from Mssrs. Espargaro and Vinales. Both in the top ten in Austin. Both with a perceived advantage at short stubby places like Assen and the Sachsenring. Both riders young, talented and aggressive. Points every time out. A nice beginning to their return to the grid.

Finally, the new Ducati GP15 seems to be having some spillover effect on the 14 series bikes being run by Pramac Racing. Yonny Hernandez opened the season with a top ten finish at Losail, with Danilo Petrucci following suit this past week in Texas. Other than Hernandez’ DNF in Austin, it’s been points every time out for the Ducati B Team. Everything’s coming up roses in Bologna. In the rather unlikely event Pramac runs the GP15 next season, they could be battling Crutchlow and Smith for top ten finishes all season long.

Two Riders Heading in Different Directions

BradlBSmith

Stefan Bradl, currently toiling for Yamaha Forward Racing, and Bradley Smith, onboard the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, exemplify the vagaries of premier class racing. Bradl earned his promotion to the premier class after taking the Moto2 title in 2011 while Marc Marquez was still seeing stars from his brutal highside crash during practice at Sepang. Bradl stepped aboard the LCR practically-factory spec Honda and could only manage 8th and 7th place finishes his first two seasons before slipping to 9th last year and losing his seat to Cal Crutchlow.

Smith, never having won a title in any division, was apparently tapped for promotion early in the 2011 season when he strung together three straight podia in Moto2. He would finish the year in 7th position, stayed another year during which he slipped to 9th before somewhat surprisingly being named to succeed Colin Edwards on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Since then he’s driven the satellite M1 to a 10th place finish in 2013, followed by 8th last year, and currently sits 6th in this year’s chase, while Bradl has yet to score a point this season.

Herve Poncharal, owner of the Tech 3 team, and David Emmett over at Motomatters.com are getting hoarse singing Smith’s praises these days, while no one’s saying nuthin’ about Herr Bradl. And while I’m not yet totally sold on Smith, it’s clear that Bradl is methodically working himself out of MotoGP, with WSBK looming on his horizon.

Your Weekend Forecast

Other than a chance of rain on Friday, conditions should be perfect for the weekend, sunny with temps in the low 70’s. Playing the percentages, I look for Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi on the podium at day’s end, with some kind of event involving Jorge Lorenzo niggling at the back of my mind. Last year’s race offered few surprises. Unlike most of his competitors, Marquez probably hopes for more of the same this weekend.

We’ll have results, analysis, commentary and photos later in the day on Sunday.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

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

Repsol Honda reigning champion Marc Marquez extended his winning streak in the U.S. to six, taking an easy win at The Circuit of the Americas by a country mile over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso who had himself fought off several challenges from Yamaha former world champion Valentino Rossi. Confirming that Losail was an outlier, and tightening the standings at the top of the premier class food chain, COTA provided few surprises.

A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and rode quietly into the sunset, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi. Lorenzo launched a late charge to finish fourth, followed by Iannone on the #2 Ducati, Smith and Crutchlow, who was unable to maintain the winning speeds he showed in practice. Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales claimed 8th and 9th, respectively, and Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci continued to impress in 10th place.

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

2015 COTA Q2 Front RowCaptureQ2 was a great example of why the qualifying format of MotoGP is occasionally better than the race. Marquez jumping off his broken bike, the CHECK ENGINE light red, climbing the wall, sprinting 200 yards to his cold #2 bike with the wrong tires, flogging it across the start/finish line seconds before the checkered flag waved, then pushing his RC213V harder on the flying lap to a new track record and his third consecutive pole in Austin. I don’t think any other rider on the grid could manage that.

Add to his natural ability and quality equipment the fact that he’s seeing Austin on the big bike for the third time, and knows exactly where he is on the track. He already knows the correct line here. Now all he has to do is pick the right tires and keep it on the track through turn 1. His lap at the end of qualifying, after an extended sprint, with a big moment, on a #2 bike he described as having “setting not so good,” trashed the previous record by four-tenths. Close to inconceivable.

You get the sense Marc Marquez has GPS in his head and can pretty much go as fast as he wants. He rides a million dollar bike like it was a miniature BMX in the schoolyard in 5th grade. Marquez in Sepang 2013

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

Weather was iffy all weekend, at a track that is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most demanding on the 18-round calendar. It is, likewise, becoming increasingly clear that Jorge Lorenzo cannot compete in the rain.

The consecutive crashes at Assen and the Sachsenring in 2013 involved wet weather, and it appears he’s lost his ability to push in the wet. His FP2 in the wet was another example. There was a race or two last year where he failed to post due to the wet. And although the weather ended up not being a factor during the race today… There’s still the damnable Catalan.

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

The Brits seem to be getting it together. Both Crutchlow on the CWMLCRAMF, etc. Honda and Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda made appearances in the top three during practice sessions, with CC 2nd in both FP2 in the wet and FP3 in the dry. Redding ran 3rd in FP1 before qualifying 6th. Not to mention young Danny Kent, the great hope of soccer hooligans everywhere, dominating the Moto3 race. Dominating at a track like Austin says you’re good at everything. Sam Lowes’ first win in Moto2 was even sweeter. Could Crutchlow or Redding break into the top three?

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

One looks at the bottom four qualifiers and cannot help but ponder how far the mighty have fallen:
• Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion, qualifying 22nd for Honda in his 200th grand prix start.
• Alvaro Bautista, sporting a 125cc world championship in 2006 and a second place finish in the Moto2 class in 2008, in 23rd for a thoroughly grateful Aprilia Racing Gresini team.
• Alex de Angelis, with 3rd place finishes in the 250cc class in 2006 and 2007 and an 8th place finish in MotoGP in 2009 sitting 24th for Octo IodaRacing.
• And, finally, unwilling and unmotivated, Marco Melandri, the #2 Aprilia rider on loan from WSBK, lollygagging in 25th place. His credentials include a world championship in the 250cc class in 2002, and second overall in MotoGP 2005 aboard the factory Honda. In case you’re thinking it’s obvious that Melandri is washed up, he spent the last four seasons in WSBK finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 4th, the last aboard the Aprilia

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

The Moto2 race was led by Kent going away, but the fight for second place was ferocious. The racing surface appeared to be “dirty.” Kent’s margin the largest in Moto3 history. Whoda thunk? The residual battle for second place, won by 15-year old rising star Fabio Quaternaro, was high quality stuff.

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

The French teenager Quaternero has it going on in Moto3. 15 years old. His star is, as they say, ascendant. The fact that rookie Alex Rins leads the series indicates the depth of talent at the top of the Moto2 food chain, although something’s up with Tito Rabat.

Danny Kent is a certified winner in Moto3 and needs to move up to Moto2 to determine if he’s the real deal or what. His team earned a 1st and a 3rd at COTA. Not a bad weekend. See what happens in Argentina and Jerez first.

Sam Lowes ran a great race for his first win in Moto2. The sun seems to be rising on The British Empire. Completive at all three levels. Hard to visualize Cal Crutchlow on the podium. But I can’t remember the last time I heard the British national anthem during a podium celebration either.

A Small Confession

Having grown up as a committed Washington Redskins fan I developed an intense dislike of all things remotely related to the state of Texas, from the state flag to the aw-shucks attitude of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys coach may he ever rot in… I digress. But I must admit that the Circuit of The Americas is well-designed and deserves its reputation as the most challenging circuit on the tour. I thought COTA was going to take the place of my home track in Indianapolis. As it turned out, Laguna Seca lost. But this place seems built for motorcycles, and the riders spend an enormous amount of time in turns. Great changes in elevation. Better than Indianapolis. Way better.

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

The crews are working frantically to get the grid packed up, stuffed into the three 747’s Dorna keeps for this purpose, and head off for South America, a nine hour flight, then cutting their way through triple canopy jungle to reach the garage area, portaging their trailers through snake-infested rivers, in time for practice on Friday. It’s no picnic being on one of these crews. And Rio Honda is a little off the beaten path.

We’ll bring you the race preview on Wednesday, with results and analysis on Sunday evening.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/24/2014

November 24, 2014

Man bites dog.

lin jarvisYamaha factory racing mullah Lin Jarvis declared over the weekend his belief that both Rossi and Lorenzo are capable of beating Repsol Honda double world champion Mark Marquez in 2015.

As if.

Jarvis, better than anyone, knows that the only way either of his current guys wins the world championship in the next two years is if Marquez injures himself.  Always a possibility in this punishing pastime; ask Lorenzo and Pedrosa especially.  At risk from oneself and from others. Difficult to insure.  Etc.

I love it when one the three things I remember from two degrees in economics makes itself useful. Ceteris paribus is the Latin phrase for “all things being equal,” which they never are.  The entire Western economic theoretical construct is based upon a premise that is true in the long run but definitely not true in the short.

Ahem.  Ceteris paribus, Marquez wins the next seven titles for Honda.

Jarvis is being a faithful corporate manager who is telling the bosses what they want to hear.  He is putting pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi to reach deep and become as great as they once were.  He is praying for rain and relying on Marquez’ aggressive riding style to ultimately lead to his, say, missing six rounds in a year and losing the title accordingly.Marquez at Aragon

It could happen.

So could Rossi or Lorenzo winning the title in any year in which Marquez did not injure himself.  It’s mathematically possible, but would be an upset in either case.  To suggest otherwise, as Jarvis did, is to put pressure on ownership, riders and engineers to try to keep up with what Honda is doing to them.

Jarvis’ team–engineering and design people are obviously brilliant.  They are also consistently a step or two behind their Japanese counterparts.  The most recent iteration of this fact is that Honda was first to the seamless transmission up, which later Yamaha put in place and which helped their performance.

Until Honda put in place the seamless downshift model, which Yamaha is currently trying to put together.

Always a step behind.

Rossi at ValenciaIt is unreasonable to assume that Rossi at age 35 is going to improve over the next two years; statistically, his best years are behind him.  Like Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago White Sox, Rossi gave two of his very best years to the Ducati program for naught but roughly €34 million. Rossi is not as good today as he was eight years ago.

One looks at Marquez’ balance and timing, his reflexes, his riding style, which has become the dominant style in the sport, adopted by riders and teams, with design implications, anxious to ride “more like Marquez.”

The current M-1 is not built to ride like the Honda.  It is designed to maintain speed, to enter corners from a different angle than the Hondas, which enjoy an overall advantage in corner exit speeds in those configurations.  The truth remains that at certain tracks–Austin and Argentina come to mind–the Hondas are going to enjoy a tremendous advantage, and that the number of so-called Yamaha-friendly tracks will continue to diminish as Marquez continues to win races.

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

The conversation veered to consideration of the so-called “bench,” the next generation of riders plugged into becoming factory Yamaha riders, naming only Pol Espargaro as a sure thing.  Ignoring, for now, the possibility that a 27 year old Tito Rabat would be an interesting successor to Rossi if, indeed, young Alex Marquez ends up as his brother’s teammate at Repsol in 2016.  Espargaro, Jarvis admits, would likely defect if not given a factory ride by the end of the 2016 season.  He seemed to regret the fact that his team was unable to sign Maverick Vinales.

Bottom line:  Jarvis doesn’t believe any of this.  He knows that Marquez on the Honda can beat either Rossi or Lorenzo on the Yamaha at his pleasure, generally as long as he finishes the race.  Marquez will fix his approach to riding in the rain, and that will be that.  Rossi says much the same, knowing how unlikely it is that it might be true.  Lorenzo ain’t talking, but he must be wondering how he will adapt to riding more like Marquez.cropped-alex-and-marc.jpg

One last thought.  We think the elevation of Alex Marquez to the factory Honda team in 2016 is a done deal.  This is a thought to put fear in the hearts of competing teams.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 21, 2014

Looking ahead to the shape of the MotoGP grid in 2015, we find

spanish_flag2  8 Spaniards, headed by Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.  Young Marquez and Rabat on the horizon.

 

italian-flag6 Italians, headed by Rossi, Dovizioso and Iannone.

 

british flag3 Brits, headed by Cal Crutchlow, upon whom the pressure must be immense.

 

flag_french2 Frenchman, Di Meglio and Baz and

 

  • 1 each from the under-cards at USA, Columbia, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Australian Youth League.

Forgiving, as you seem to frequently do, the division of the grid into tranches, along the lines of junk bonds:

Tranche A: Aliens Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Tranche B: Competitives:  Dovisiozo, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone.

Tranche C:  Redding, Bradl, Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smth, Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales.

Followed by all the rest.  Probably more competitive top to bottom than 2014; the bad teams aren’t going to be so consistently bad.  There exist the possibilities of upsets with two extra manufacturers adding machines that will complicate starts and early turns.  Expect more from Suzuki with Espargaro and Vinales aboard than with de Puniet.  Expect the Aprilias of Bautista and Melandri to lag.  Expect Nicky Hayden to see more top ten finishes but remain far from relevant.  Don’t know what to expect from Jack Miller who appears fearless at this point but hasn’t yet had the business end of a 1000 cc bike pointed at his helmet.  I hope to see success for Vinales, the Espargaros, the Brits and some new Aliens–a coupla Italians, Dovizioso and maybe Iannone–would be greatly refreshing.  Marquez may yet again run away with the title, but the battle for second could widen and increase interest in the sport itself, as ethnocentric as it is.  That would be helpful heading into 2016, the first year of Michelins, coincident with what one has to expect to be the full fruition of Dall’Igna’s mystic hand at Ducati.

2016 should be comparable to 2002, the year MotoGP went from 2-stroke 500 cc bikes to 4 stroke 990 cc bikes, which was a biggie.  The premier class, confirmed as 4-strokes going forward, checked back down to 800 cc in 2007 and back up to 1000 in 2012. An earlier draft of this article, which was consumed by WordPress, went on to present a series of mundane observations about riders and teams and their prospects for 2015.  It concluded by suggesting that the 2016 Repsol Honda team could easily be represented by Alex and Marc Marquez, and the factory Yamaha effort would feature Jorge Lorenzo and Tito Rabat.  This supposed that both Rossi and Pedrosa would be ready to go quietly. It wondered out loud about the near term prospects for riders Rabat, Vinales and Alex Marquez, while conceding the 2015 and, if history is a teacher, the 2016 titles to Marc Marquez, who has always shown himself to be a quick study when it comes to making major changes in delivery systems.

cropped-alex-and-marc.jpgBy the end of 2016 Marc Marquez remains #1 in the world, with three of the next four riders to include Lorenzo, Alex Marquez and Rabat.   Ignoring Lorenzo, The Three Amigos train harder than anyone, play harder than their peers, and attract sponsors the way bright lights do moths. By 2016, they will all have factory rider status, a term which, at times, gets watered down to meaning little more than high rider salaries.  They will still have the best machines, the best crews, and no money worries.  And, because I don’t know everything, I must confess that another rider, one from  Tranche B, will be in the battle for places two through five.  The cumulative effect of the rule changes being put into effect between now and the start of 2016 should make the fight for places five through 15–points–much less predictable and more fun to watch. Two new factory teams, one of which will be decent, one of which will be bad.  The new Honda customer engine.  Marc VDS. The Espargaro brothers. Lots of Ducatis, fronted by Dovizioso and Iannone. 25 riders on the grid. An explanation for why Alex de Angelis might even bother with Ioda Racing.  The looming entry of KTM in the builder’s competition on 2016.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornMotoGP claimed to draw its biggest crowds ever in 2014 and named Indianapolis the best GP of the year.  Hunh. Despite Dorna’s best efforts not to promote the sport through online outlets, and the fact that not a single American rider competes at anything close to a winning level, MotoGP seems to be drawing followers in the US.  The people at the IMS do a lot to promote the race in August, even though it always comes after a break in the schedule and at the start of what one might think of as “the back nine.” by which time Marquez may have already clinched. Seriously, the Indianapolis race may draw 65,000 people on Sunday and look practically empty.  Other races draw as few as in the 30,000’s. Indy’s not bad at all, but it looks bad on TV.

This is all part of an effort to keep the MotoGP conversation going in the off-season.  Feel free to argue or disagree.  I watch the sport and get paid to think about it.  You might at least wonder why that is.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 15, 2014

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-itw

Unauthorized Fausto Gresini Bio  GP Racing 1997-present

Fausto Gresini has been an owner in the most difficult of spots for most of his 27 years at the helm of grand prix motorcycle racing teams, generally burning his own money or money he has personally raised from sponsors.  As a rider himself in the 80’s, he won world titles in the 125 cc class.  His teams have included a kaleidoscope of title sponsors and have won titles in the  250 cc and Moto2 classes.  Heading into 2015, he has a right to feel jinxed.

We assume Mr. Gresini to be self-aware, able to acknowledge that his efforts to create championship racing teams over three decades has been a constant struggle against a number of tides.  A strong nationalist, Gresini has always wanted to run a purely Italian team, riding Italian machines with Italian riders and joyful Italian sponsors. However, as a satellite team owner, what we in youth soccer used to manage and refer to as a “B Team,” Gresini has experienced few highs and numerous lows, watching his teams compete for titles in the premier class of MotoGP.

Fausto Gresini, the owner of a satellite team, needs to divide his time between driving the techs and riders, and charming sponsors to sign on the dotted line.  Over the years, these have included names such as Elf, Avo, Telefonica, Fortuna, Movistar (in 2005), and, recently, San Carlo, the big Italian chip manufacturer–snacks, not integrated circuits–from 2008 through 2012.  It is impolitic to observe that during the period 2001 to 2014 his teams have experienced two world champions–Daijiro Kato in the 250 class in 2001 and Toni Elias, the winner of daijiro_katothe intial year of Moto2 bikes in 2009–and the loss of their two top riders, Kato in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli in 2011.

Despite Fausto Gresini’s best efforts, success, or budding success, has been followed twice by tragedy that has set his program, such as it is, into the state in which it now exists, one of tarnished former greatness.

Gresini Racing, including the label of the sponsor of the season, has always had to work harder than his factory counterparts, most recently the factory Yamaha and Honda teams.  Gresini was a Honda man for decades, through the years 2003-2005. Sete Gibernau finished second for the year in 2003 and 2004, with then youngster boy toy Marco Melandri taking 2nd in 2005, 4th in 2006, and 5th in 2007.

Gresini Roars Back after Kato Death

Gresini had overcome the racing death of Kato in 2003 and had come back strong with Gibernau and Melandri in 2003 and beyond, San Carlo by his side from 2008-2012.  His fortunes turned south during 2007 with Melandri in MotoGP but turned north again in 2009 as journeyman Toni Elias won the Moto2 title.

Suddenly, in 2010 along comes Marco Simoncelli, the tall, gangly goofy-looking Italian free spirit who had managedMARCO-SIMONCELLI-1 to wrap his 6’something frame around the 250 cc bike in 2008 tightly enough to take the championship, followed by a third place finish in 2009. Gresini had signed the loose charismatic cannon to a two year contract in 2010 while the full-grown Melandri finished 10th and left for greener pastures.  Simoncelli himself managed 8th place in 2010,  getting joined by Hiro Ayoyama on the #2 bike who would take 10th the following year; the Italian spent most of the off season testing sessions near the top of the Alien rankings.

As the 2011 season approached, life was looking up for Fausto Gresini.  In addition to a for-real competitive MotoGP team of Somencelli on the #1 bike and Aoyama on the #2, he was looking at a promising Moto2 team featuring Michele Pirro, who can ride, and Yuki Takahashi, the great Japanese hope.  (Both would disappoint, with Pirro finishing ninth for the season and Takahashi 11th.)

Simoncelli, ruling the headlines but a hazard to himself and those around him, began the 2011 season showing promise on the factory-supported RC213V, but crashing out of three of the first six races, ruining the season of Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans, getting chippy with Lorenzo at a press conference, and slugging it out in the media with Albert Puig, Pedrosa’s Svengali, who seemingly had enough at that point to later re-define his job away from both Pedrosa and Simoncelli.

A disruptive force was Gresini Racing’s Marco Simoncelli in early 2011.

Lightning Strikes Again

Simoncelli, as we all now know, got things turned around in the second half of the 2011 season, with 4th place finishes at San Marino, Aragon and Motegi.  His second place finish at Phillip Island showed him capable of taking podia on a regular basis, all things being equal, which they never are.  Along came Sepang, along came the unthinkable, and Simoncelli was, instantly, snatched from the board.  The personal tragedy was accompanied by a corporate disaster, as the rug had suddenly been violently pulled out from under the Italian sponsors.  San Carlo would stick around for another year, a year in which they were left with Spanish underachiever Alvaro Bautista who was the only credible rider available late in the 2011 season, when they were suddenly bereft looking ahead to 2012.

Bautista who, one suspects, was never Gresini’s first choice on any count–ethnic, performance history–never did much with the Italian’s beloved factory-supported Honda (5th in 2012, falling to 11th in 2014) leading, ultimately, to Honda making it, um, unfeasible for Gresini to field a Honda-affiliated team in 2015.  This coincided with Aprilia’s decision to enter the MotoGP fray a year earlier than had been previously announced, intending to field a two-man factory team in 2015 under the expert direction of, guess who, Fausto Gresini, and giving themselves a year to adjust to the program before Michelin enters in 2016 with the new line of MotoGP tires.

Gresini, still today stuck with the increasingly dysfunctional Bautista, finally signed the aging, microscopic Melandri in early November to ride the second glued-together Aprilia factory entry in 2015 , as Melandri was going to be a victim of corporate Aprilia’s decision to support MotoGP at the apparent expense of a highly successful World Super Bikes program that had produced titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

There’s just something about running with the big dogs…

A Look Ahead

Gresini, for all his efforts, despite brutal events which disrupted the fabric of two separate teams, and through a financial crisis that continues in Italy, finds himself today heading up a factory Aprilia team that plans to enter two glued-together prototypes while they develop a new from-the-bottom-up prototype for 2016, complete with Michelin tires, for their amico, although they were, through financial worry and corporate dithering, unable to prevent chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna’s discouraging defection to Ducati Corse.

Despite his best efforts, Gresini is still stuck with Bautista and, now, with an aging Melandri, kind of an Italian Colin Edwards, whose grizzled features and extensive tenure are promoted as being directly helpful to Bautista, who has proven himself mostly un-coachable since winning the 2006 championship in the 125 cc class.  Bautista, always super-concerned with his appearance and less with his performance, has managed to finish twice in 13th place for the struggling factory Suzuki program in 2010 and 2011, and as a seriously underachieving factory spec Honda rider for Gresini in 2012 through 2014, able to deliver only 5th, 6th and 11th place finishes for the name sponsors in those years.

Honda said sayonara to Gresini at the same moment Aprilia decided to compress their timeline to enter MotoGP in 2015, putting Gresini in charge of two riders, lending to the belief that Gresini had been looking.  The program will be a bottom third team in the grand scheme of things, its riders likely to get lapped during a race or two.  Whether the underfunded Italian group can produce a competitive MotoGP setup for 2016 remains to be seen.

If Fausto Gresini has anything to say about it, Aprilia will come out in 2016 with an Italian name sponsor, factory support, a brand new bike and a new Italian rider to replace Bautista, with Melandri either hanging around or not, depending upon the availability of a stud Moto3 rider, such as Romano Fenati or Enea Bastianni, who could fill the vacuum at the top of the 2015 Moto3 class left by the graduation of Marquez, Miller, and Rins.  Such could presage the assumption of the #1 Aprilia bike in 2016 by an aggressive young Italian stud able to compete with a grid, all of whom are going to be adjusting to new controls and new tires.  A world full of Marquezes and Espargaros.  Rossis and Lorenzos. Vinales and Smiths.

It could happen.  One never knows.  Tires change everything.  Electronics and data have taken over.

At Least For Now

At least for now, Fausto Gresini will have some help from Aprilia keeping things together while life at the top of MotoGP prepares to adjust to common ECU hardware and new rubber in 2016.  Though there is less to do on the money side, there is much to do on the high octane side, which is where he’s probably most comfortable anyway.

Fausto Gresini’s MotoGP team will not challenge for a world championship in 2015.  He will probably be around, perhaps in a good way, in 2016, when things change for everyone.  He’s survived the loss of two riders and more sponsors than most people can name.  But there he is, riding herd on a group of paisano gearheads, still with that damned Spanish guy, and now with the old Italian guy, trying to glue together a credible effort for the home team in 2015 and beyond.

Are Fausto Gresini’s salad days behind him?  Probably.  Is he still in position to enjoy himself and get some visceral return on the investment of his time and effort as a year-round owner and operator?  Seems that way.

Perhaps he’s developed the perspective, after 27 years in the business, and with the passing of two riders, to be able to live life in the moment, to not obsess on what might have been, to accept his position in the corporate superstructure of a team as well as his prospects for achieving his goals, which haven’t changed in 27 years.  Perhaps he’s had to, in the words of Stonewall Jackson, “elevate them gun sights just a little lower, boys,” understanding where he currently stands in the scheme of GP racing, where there are the haves and the have nots.

Gresini is a poster child for an athlete incapable of generating consistent winning results as a coach, owner or engineer after a sparkling career behind the handlebars.  He could never coax performance at a level he could himself achieve from the bulk of the riders with whom he worked.  Kato and Simoncelli were exceptions, in more ways than one.

We return to the original question.  Questions, actually.

Does Fausto Gresini have a right to feel jinxed?  Most definitely.  Does Fausto Gresini have a realistic chance of coming back in 2016 with a competitive Aprilia factory team?  Depends on how you define realistic.  Is Fausto Gresini fully engaged in making things happen with his new team?  Undoubtedly.  Is Gresini, like Melandri, on the back end of his career?  Probably.  Would he do it all over again in much the same way?  Probably.  Would he give anything to have Kato and Simoncelli back?

You’re kidding, right?

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-#2

 

The best thing, in my opinion, would be for Fausto Gresini to purchase the Pramac Ducati team and bring the hot young Italian riders through on Ducati machines with factory support.  One thinks his contract has an out clause permitting him to do such a thing, and that he would then be in position to achieve his dream once again.  Hot Italian riders on third generation Ducati equipment with standard ECUs and new rubber.  A Pramac team, even one featuring Hernandez and  Petrucci, purchased in 2015, could be competitive in the new world of 2016.  Bring in the young Italian guns and let them go at it in 2016 with Dall’Igna calling the shots.  I think Fausto would thrive in such a situation.

*****************************************************

I know nothing.

As a recovering econ major, we learned that the only value of a theory was its ability to predict things.  So much of the previous stuff is pure conjecture on my part, which is why it needs a byline.  If, however, much of it turns out right, then you need to keep reading everything on this site.  The sponsors need you.  My future here depends on it.  I seek comments from all of you about this and that, and don’t mind poking you when you’re, um, wrong.  If you ride, you should actually read the other stuff, too, because those guys have forgotten more about bikes than I’ve ever known.  They’re very good at what they do.  They will help you make better decisions about how to spend your discretionary dollars in this business.  Unlike myself, they are helpful.

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 10, 2014

Attention Dani Pedrosa: Here’s what the future looks like

 

Two years from today.  Video courtesy of MotoGP.com.

 

 

 

Marquez win caps epic MotoGP sophomore season

November 9, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Valencia Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

In the modern era of MotoGP, no rider has crafted a season comparable to Marc Marquez in 2014. Among the records he established this season are most wins in a single season, becoming the youngest rider to repeat as world champion, and claiming the most poles in one season. At age 21, the MotoGP world is his oyster. As announcer Nick Harris asked repeatedly during today’s contest, where will it all end?

2014 MotoGP World Champion

Double world champion Marc Marquez celebrates his 13th win of the season in Valencia.

The bulk of the on-track suspense today was provided by the weather which, having been idyllic all weekend, brought just enough rain during the premier class race to jumble what should have been an orderly procession. As the grid lined up, an azure sky suddenly filled with black rain clouds. Once the sighting lap had been completed, the pit crews commenced a frenzied effort to put the #2 bikes in wet setup, changing out virtually everything but the engines and decals in a few frantic minutes.

It began to rain lightly immediately after the start, which found Pramac Ducati overachiever Andrea Iannone leading the usual Alien suspects—Valentino Rossi, Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo—at the end of Lap 1. The factory Ducati contingent of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso were right up there too, and the crowd at the front had a number of fans watching through their hands, dreading what could easily have been a multi-bike, season-changing snafu which, somehow, the contestants managed to avoid. On Lap 2, Race Direction showed the white flag, indicating the riders could pit to change bikes at their leisure. By Lap 3, Movistar Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo had fallen back to 7th position, his psychological issues with wet tracks, born at Assen last year, clearly visible and a harbinger of bad things yet to come later in his day.

Randy_DePuniet_c_GnGjpg

Suzuki wildcard Randy de Puniet during his brief appearance at Valenia 2014.

Approaching mid-race, a number of predictable things began to occur, as fuel loads dropped and Iannone’s tires began to decompose. On Lap 10, Marquez went through easily on Rossi into second place, waged war with Iannone for most of a lap, and went through on the Italian the next time around into the lead he would hold for the rest of the day. On Lap 13, wildcard Suzuki rider Randy de Puniet fulfilled our prediction and retired from the race, disappointing everyone, myself included, who had hoped for more from Suzuki’s return to MotoGP. By the end of Lap 15, the Aliens owned the top four spots on the grid, with Marquez leading Rossi, Pedrosa challenging from third, and Lorenzo seemingly holding on for dear life in fourth.

Rossi at Valencia

The ageless Valentino Rossi on his way to second place for the day and the 2014 season at Valencia.

The rain arrived again on Lap 18, with the leaders giving up roughly eight seconds per lap trying to stay upright. Lorenzo and Iannone, losing ground fighting over 4th place and with little to lose, pitted and changed bikes, a decision Lorenzo will have all winter to regret. Praying for a drenching rain that never came, the two re-entered the race out of the points. Predictably, their rain tires, with a lifespan measured in minutes running on dry asphalt, quickly dissolved, with Lorenzo retiring on Lap 25 and Iannone finishing a lap down. Once again, the rain had stopped as quickly as it started, and the race was dry for the duration. Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa, running 1-2-3 since Lap 12, would finish in that order, giving Rossi second place for the year, a remarkable accomplishment for the 35 year old wonder. Rossi, though still a force to be reckoned with, believes he can challenge for the title in 2015, a vivid example of the power of adrenaline over sound judgment.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The little races-within-the-race provided some excitement for folks who follow such things. Factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso pipped defecting teammate Cal Crutchlow at the flag for 4th place in a battle that raged all day. The Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, ran together most of the day, with little brother (and Rookie of the Year) Pol pushing his satellite Tech 3 Yamaha to a 3/10th margin over Aleix on the Forward Racing Yamaha, cementing 6th place for the season at big brother’s expense. Pol’s teammate, Brit Bradley Smith, had been in contention for sixth place for much of the second half of the season, but a brief off-track excursion late today produced a 14th place finish and confirmed an 8th place result for the season.

A Story of Two Half Seasons

A cursory examination of the results attained by the factory Honda and Yamaha teams in Rounds 1-9 versus Rounds 10-18 shows a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. Marquez and Pedrosa combined for 373 points in the first half versus 235 in the second. Rossi and Lorenzo combined for only 228 points in the first but came back with 320 in the second. Had Marquez not completely dominated the first half of the season, the championship battle leading up to today’s race would have been far more interesting. This, of course, is the old “if a bullfrog had wings” argument easily dismissed by discerning readers:

StatsCapture

The 2015 Season is Already Here

Having turned out the lights on the 2014 season today, we look forward to the changes on the 2015 grid that officially start tomorrow. The grid parts company with the PBM team and riders Michael Laverty and Broc Parkes, but is joined by the factory Suzuki team, Aleix Espargaro and Moto2 grad Maverick Vinales onboard (Vinales likely sporting a penalty point or two from his silly takedown of Mike Kallio in the Moto2 race today).

Jack Miller1

An unhappy Jack Miller, who got pushed around just enough to miss a world championship by two points in Valencia.

Moto3 tough guy Jack Miller, who won the riveting battle but lost the war to Alex Marquez in Moto3 today, jumps up to join Cal Crutchlow on an expanded LCR Honda team. Eugene Laverty makes the move from World Super Bike to MotoGP to join Nicky Hayden on an energized Drive 7 Aspar Honda team. Coming along for the ride is Frenchman Loris Baz, who will team up with Stefan Bradl at the Yamaha-powered NGM Forward Racing group. And great things are expected from Scott Redding next year, as he reunites with his homeys at Marc VDS Racing and their new MotoGP team, playing with a factory option Honda.

In addition to Bradl and Espargaro, Cal Crutchlow will change livery tomorrow, making his first appearance on a factory option LCR Honda. Alvaro Bautista rode his factory Honda for the last time today, having been deservedly demoted to the tenuous factory Gresini Aprilia “Modest Expectations” team, second rider, if any, yet to be named. Andrea Iannone gets bumped up from Pramac to the factory Ducati team alongside Dovizioso, the Italians seeking resurrection in 2015 under the mystical hand of Gigi Dall’igna. And Danilo Petrucci gets a boost from Octo IodaRacing to Pramac, with his spot going to a determinedly optimistic Alex de Angelis.

In Summary

A season which began with Jorge Lorenzo crashing out on Lap 1 at Losail ends with three symmetric podium celebrations at Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The new Moto3 world champion, Alex Marquez, stood on the third step of the podium today. The new Moto2 champion, Tito Rabat, stood on the second. And the new MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez, stood on the top. For the first time in MotoGP history, two brothers are champions, joined in triumph by their best friend and training companion. Allegedly, the three conduct the most vigorous in-season and off-season training regime in the sport. It is appropriate, therefore, that we salute all three with a quote from our old friend Aristotle, who observed centuries ago that “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Thanks to all of you who have faithfully followed this column this year. We look forward to hooking up with you again next spring for what promises to be another memorable year of grand prix racing.

2014 Valencia Race Top Ten

 

 

2014 Top Ten

Aliens have plenty at stake in MotoGP season finale

November 5, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Valencia Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the 20th time in 22 years, MotoGP steams into the season finale with the title already decided. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, fresh off his white-knuckled win in the Malaysian furnace arrives, title in hand, looking to break Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a season. The Twin Powers at Movistar Yamaha, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, have an appointment at Circuit Ricardo Torma to decide whom will finish second in 2014. But Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, having screwed the pooch (twice) in Sepang, may have some plans of his own this weekend.

victory helmetMarquez, who clinched his first premier class title last year in Valencia with a strategic third place finish, comes back to Spain in 2014 confident, relaxed and ready to eclipse Doohan’s 1997 record. Generally, when the term “win or bin” is used in MotoGP, it’s an expression of desperation, i.e., unless I can find a way to win this thing I might as well pack it in. In Marquez’s case, it means quite the opposite. He has the freedom to go all out in pursuit of the win, with no real downside if he pushes his RC213V past the limit. Finishing second, in this case, gets him little more than a DNF; might as well go all out.

The battle for second place between Rossi and Lorenzo finds the Italian protecting a 12 point lead, with the Spaniard forced into the conventional “win or bin” posture while still needing help from the field. The most likely scenario in which tiebreakers would come into play would have Lorenzo winning the race and Rossi finishing fourth; other mathematical possibilities exist (Lorenzo finishes second, Rossi finishes seventh, etc.), but are so remote as to not deserve mention.Rossi & Lorenzo

The bottom line: If Lorenzo wins and Rossi finishes fourth or worse, Lorenzo takes second place. Likewise, if Rossi crashes out and Lorenzo finishes fourth or higher, Lorenzo wins. In any event, Lorenzo needs a dominating performance, and/or Rossi must suffer a Pink Floyd-esque momentary lapse of reason for the Mallorcan to have any chance of salvaging second place in 2014. The smart money is on Rossi.

Whither Dani Pedrosa

For Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa, Valencia represents an opportunity for a bit of redemption after a miserable last quarter of the season. Engaged in a knife fight with Rossi over second place for most of the year, he won at Brno, giving him a 13 point lead over the Italian and a comfortable 49 point lead over Lorenzo with seven races left. At that point, a top three finish in 2014 appeared to be a lock.

After getting edged out of a podium finish by Rossi at Silverstone and an acceptable 3rd place finish at San Marino, the wheels fell of Pedrosa’s 2014 season. A bad decision at Aragon, bad luck at Phillip Island and a bad race at Sepang brought it all crashing down. At Aragon, he waited one lap too long to pit as rain came to the Spanish plain. He was the victim of terrible decision-making by LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl at Phillip Island, getting taken down from the rear with no warning or means of avoiding the crash. And he lost the front not once but twice on the hot, greasy Malaysian tarmac, thereby guaranteeing himself an unsatisfying fourth place finish for the year.

pedrosa_marquezOther than having signed a new two year deal with Honda earlier in the year, 2014 has been forgettable for the diminutive Spaniard. This weekend’s fray, however, offers the opportunity for him to make a meaningful impact on the season itself, as follows:
• A win here, which would be his fourth in the premier class, would deprive his irritating teammate of a record he would dearly love to secure. Take THAT, gran bateador.
• Similarly, a win Sunday would almost certainly deprive countryman Lorenzo of his slim chance to finish second this year, which has some appeal of its own.
• Finally, a fight with Rossi, with nothing on the line, could result in the Italian finishing far enough down in the order to miss second place for 2014 and lose a small sliver of his legendary luster.

Clearly, these are hollow goals for a professional as competitive as Dani Pedrosa. But as the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, the least you can do is make lemonade, even if you happen to be traveling 190 mph wearing a funny-looking leather jumpsuit.

Randy de Puniet and the Return of SuzukiRandy_DePuniet_c_GnGjpg

RDP was in the news this week, discoursing about the present and future of the Suzuki MotoGP program and his place in it. De Puniet, who has spent the past year testing and developing the new GSX-RR bike, will be a wildcard at Valencia. He expressed some disappointment that he had not been tagged as one of the two factory team riders for 2015, but candidly admitted that both Vinales and Espargaro are faster than him. He also suggested that Suzuki would be well-served by fielding a two bike satellite team going forward, as such are the source of the data contributing to the relative success of the factory Honda, Yamaha and, to a lesser extent, Ducati programs.

Call me cynical, but I’m thinking de Puniet must have floated this particular balloon past the suits at Suzuki corporate more than once without any positive response. Having failed in that, he apparently decided to go public with idea, in the hope of generating some pressure on his Japanese masters in excess of that which he was able to generate on his own. I suspect the chances of this idea getting adopted, with Randy on one of the satellite bikes, are two—slim and none. At any rate, it will be good to see him back on track at Valencia, as he has ridden there every year since 1999. And, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he qualifies higher than he finishes. Just sayin’.

The Best Race of the Weekend: Moto3

Jack MillerWith Tito Rabat having clinched the Moto2 title last time out at Sepang, the only title still up for grabs is in Moto3. Season leader Alex Marquez, Marc’s little brother, holds an 11 point lead over young Australian overachiever Jack Miller, whom we were able to meet and chat with in Malaysia. The guy says all the right things, and is a legitimate threat to take the Moto3 title this weekend, if bad things happen to Marquez, which they are unlikely to do.

The set-up between Marquez and Miller is essentially identical to that of Rossi and Lorenzo, so there’s no point in going through the scenarios. The Moto3 battle up front in Malaysia was breathtaking start to finish, with neither rider, nor any of the top five finishers, showing any quit. Marquez can title by playing it safe, while Miller is squarely in “win or bin” mode, plus praying for help from the racing gods.

The weekend forecast for Valenciana is dry, so the finale should not get screwed up by the weather. The race goes off at 8:00 am Eastern time in the U.S., and we’ll have results, plus our annual literary reference summing up the season, right here on Sunday evening.

Last chances abound in Malaysia

October 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sepang Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

After the carnage in Phillip Island, the prospects of the various Aliens have changed significantly. If pending 2014 champion Marc Marquez is to challenge Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a season, he needs to win here. Dani Pedrosa, having spent the bulk of the season in second place, now finds himself fourth, looking up at both of the factory Yamahas, who made hay at his expense Down Under. Jorge Lorenzo, who many gave up for dead back in May, could finish the season in second place. As could teammate Valentino Rossi, who, at age 35, is entering the realm of “timeless elegance,” the finely crafted Swiss watch of motorcycle racing.

Rossi & LorenzoThat the events at Phillip Island were unusual is borne out by the fact that the last all-Yamaha podium in MotoGP took place at LeMans in 2008. With Tech 3 Yamaha sophomore Bradley Smith having stayed upright long enough to register his first premier class podium, there was plenty of weirdness to go around. One thing is certain—the new Bridgestone asymmetric fronts don’t work in cold weather. Whether they will work in hot weather, or any weather at all, remains to be seen; it will likely be quite some time before riders volunteer to try them again.

sepang-international-circuit

Sepang International Circuit

MotoGP returns this week to the tropics in Kuala Lumpur, where it’s always mid-summer; no concerns about windy cold weather here. And it returns with Repsol Honda Golden Boy Marc Marquez in a definite slump, having won just once since Indianapolis in August and having crashed in three of the last four events. Back in August, eclipsing Doohan’s 1997 record looked like a foregone conclusion; now, it appears to be a longshot. Personally, early in the year, I used to think that one of the amazing things about Marquez was that he never lost concentration. Now, it appears certain he has lost something; call it concentration, or motivation, or interest; whatever it was back in July is gone. For now.

Simoncelli

Simoncelli’s last race, at Phillip Island.

Recent History at Sepang

A recap of recent events at Sepang must necessarily start with the 2011 round. Heading in the premier class race that day, the charismatic and fearless Marco Simoncelli had survived a series of incidents early in the year that had given him a reputation for recklessness. He crashed out of the lead at Jerez early in the year, and got into a verbal shoving match with Lorenzo during Round 3 at Estoril. He crashed carelessly in the rain at Silverstone, and took Lorenzo out of the race at Assen. He enjoyed his first career podium at Brno, followed that with three solid 4th place finishes, and podiumed in second place at Phillip Island the preceding week. The bizarre, arcing low-side that took his life at Sepang came just as he seemed to be hitting his stride as a rider, when his future was at its very brightest.

Recall that was the same weekend that Moto2 phenom and title contender Marc Marquez hit an unseen puddle of water in FP1 and went ragdoll, ending up with a concussion that gave him double vision for six months and almost stopped his career before it really ever started. This accident, in turn, handed the Moto2 title to Stefan Bradl, who leveraged it into a promotion to the premier class with LCR Honda that he has now worked himself out of, to dangle the preposition.

The 2012 race can be summed up in these four words: James Ellison finished ninth. Six of the 20 starters crashed out of the race. Pedrosa won, followed by a cautious Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, who was there only to tune up for his annual and final Phillip Island coronation the following week. The race was called after 13 laps. And, just for the record, Nicky Hayden finished fourth in Sepang for the sixth time in his premier class career. If MotoGP were to keep a stat for Most Fourth Place Finishes at a Single Venue (Career), Hayden would own it.

Last year at Sepang, Dani Pedrosa gave one of the performances that, in years past, would have seen him win by 12 seconds. He slingshotted out of the five hole at the start and was sitting on leader Lorenzo’s pipes midway through the first lap. He then basically pushed Lorenzo out of his way and took the lead for good on Lap 5. Teammate Marquez, after a few bumps and grinds with Lorenzo, would take over second place and protect it all day, effectively ending Lorenzo’s quest for a repeat of his 2012 title. That Pedrosa would end up winning by a mere three seconds confirms what we all know—there was no Marc Marquez out there when Dani was running away and hiding from the field in previous years.

This Stuff is Harder than it Looks

WP_20141023_023In traveling to Sepang this week, I’ve learned a few things about this sport that I hadn’t understood before. We watch the riders and crews competing during practice and races and see a lot of concentrated effort focused on maximizing performance. We see none of what goes on behind the scenes. Nothing of the brutal travel schedules that have these guys crossing timezones like they’re lane markers. Nothing of what it takes to pack the entire grid into three 747s immediately after the race so things can get unpacked and on track in time for the next one. Nothing of the high stakes negotiations that take place between owners and sponsors, venues and race organizers, the host countries and the rights holders that ultimately pay the freight for this breathtakingly expensive pursuit.

Malaysia itself is a study in contrasts. Vast, gleaming skyscrapers built in the middle of steaming jungles. All of the trappings of Western culture—Westins, Victoria’s Secrets, and Johnnie Walker Black (who helped me write this article tonight) in the midst of a Muslim-majority country complete with remote villages lacking the most basic services. A vibrant multi-cultural mix of Malays, Chinese, Singaporeans and Indonesians competing in a market economy within a complex set of rules and social mores of which Westerners are completely oblivious. It is, in turn, dramatic, elegant, scary and emblematic of paradise lost. In my home town of Indianapolis, I used to remark on the land under active cultivation only, like, seven miles from the state capitol building. Here, one notices the glass and steel skyscrapers within a few miles of triple canopy jungle.

Malaysia calls itself The Land of Adventure. (They’re not referring to the 20-some hours it takes to get here from New York, which is an adventure in itself.) The adventure will continue this weekend as the big bikes of MotoGP hit the tarmac of the gorgeous Sepang circuit dodging rainstorms in hot pursuit of fame and fortune. We’ll have race results right here on Sunday evening.

Rossi, Yamaha exploit Honda disaster Down Under

October 19, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Results, by Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi & LorenzoSimply looking at the final results, the 2014 Tissot Australian Grand Prix appears to have been a clear Yamaha triumph. In fact, it was a demolition derby in which the winners managed to survive, rather than dominate, the proceedings. True, at the end it was an all Yamaha podium, featuring Rossi on top, followed by Lorenzo and first-timer Bradley Smith. But with nine riders having crashed out or retired, the phrase “you need to be in it to win it” has never been more true.

The weekend featured the debut of Bridgestone’s latest creation, the asymmetric front tire, one which looked great on paper but proved to be the ruin of several top riders. Designed to withstand the searing temperatures generated on the left side of the tire in high speed lefthanders, it proved ineffective in cool conditions under braking into the rights, causing the shocker of the day–series leader Marc Marquez crashing out of a four second lead on Lap 18, appearing as though his front tire was made of glass, replicating the almost identical crash Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo experienced in FP1. Young Pol Espargaro suffered the same fate on Lap 25 while challenging for his first ever premier class podium. From a spectator’s point of view, it appears Bridgestone still has some work to do on this particular model. Plenty of work, in fact.Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380

That the top Honda finisher today was Alvaro Bautista in 6th place demonstrates the scale of the Debacle Down Under for the Minato factory. Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa got hit in practice by Karel Abraham, then got assaulted again on Lap 6 by crazy “Crazy Joe” Iannone, who plowed into the rear of Pedrosa’s bike without a prayer of getting through cleanly. Iannone and his Pramac Ducati went flying up and off the track, while Pedrosa managed to stay upright, only to pit on Lap 7 in sheer disgust. The incident will be looked at by Race Direction in Sepang, with a stern slap on the wrist possible for the Italian rider, while Pedrosa’s chances to finish second for the season suffered a serious blow. Iannone appeared to suffer a bump on his knee, which qualifies as “just desserts” in our opinion.

The third bizarre incident took place on Lap 19 and involved LCR Honda defector Stefan Bradl and Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro, who graduates to the factory Suzuki team next year. Similar to the incident on Lap 6 (and an earlier incident at Indianapolis), Bradl attempted to fit himself into space that didn’t exist, smashing into the rear of Espargaro’s bike. Bradl and bike immediately left the premises, while Espargaro continued on for a few hundred yards before pulling off into the grass and smashing his windscreen in frustration. He was probably irked, in part, by the thought that his little brother would overtake him in their season-long battle for 6th place in the standings. But Smith’s podium and Pol’s own crash means they’re still separated by a single point, only now fighting for 7th, as Smith went through on both of them.Bradl

The fourth and final shocker today involved my boy Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified his Ducati GP14 in second place—on a dry track—and had climbed from 9th place on a terrible first lap to third at the end of Lap 22. On the next Lap he blew by Lorenzo into second place and appeared interested in Rossi’s whereabouts, his Desmosedici looking fast, stable and dangerous. On the final lap, with second place firmly in his grasp, and a second podium in three outings his for the taking, he simply lost the front for no visible reason. In doing so, he reminded us of an NFL wide receiver who gets behind the defense, makes the catch, high-steps 30 yards all alone, and spikes the ball on the five yard line. And so it is that Crutchlow, with a higher opinion of his riding ability than almost anyone anywhere, remains stuck at 63 points for the season and, as predicted here last year, sits well behind both of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders, proof that in MotoGP as elsewhere, you gotta be careful what you wish for.

crutchlowAfter the race, Rossi was ecstatic, having won in Phillip Island for the first time since 2005. Lorenzo was dejected, complaining that his front tire was destroyed, and that his poor choice prevented him from challenging for the win. Tech 3 pilot Bradley Smith who, from a distance, appears to have no eyebrows, was shocked and elated to discover, only after the checkered flag flew, that he had podiumed, so busy with what was happening around him that he was completely unaware of what had been going on in front. He acknowledged getting pushed around earlier in the race, and was suitably self-effacing during the press conference, attributing his first premier class podium to luck and the work of his team. It is gradually becoming easier to understand why Herve Poncharal chose Smith for his #2 bike back in 2012 rather than Scott Redding, although Redding’s future is exceedingly bright, with the Marc VDS team soon to be in the premier class fold.

Calamity at the Top = Celebration at the Bottom

With the likes of Marquez, Pedrosa, Bradl, et al failing to finish today, it became an all-you-can-eat banquet for the back markers of the premier class. Danilo Petrucci, the heavily-bearded hope of Octo IodaRacing and soon to be Pramac #2, saw his season points total increase by 44%, adding four points to his previous total of nine. For Avintia’s Mike di Meglio it was a 50% increase, the last rider crossing the finish line adding two points to his previous four.

From there, the percentage increases were otherworldly. Alex de Angelis, having taken Colin Edwards’ seat on the Forward Racing team, doubled his point total for the season by finishing ninth, going from 7 points to 14 for the year. Another big winner today, in percentage terms, was Paul Byrd’s hapless Michael Laverty. Laverty, who is seeing his MotoGP career come to an end just as his brother Eugene’s is starting, experienced a 150% increase in his point total for the season in just one cool, windy afternoon. Coming into Round 16, he had amassed two (2) points in 2014. Today, he earned four. And although this may not sound like much, in truth, well, it really isn’t. Byrd and Laverty have some fierce defenders amongst the readers of this column, but they’re just not terribly good at either the racing or the business of raising money and bamboozling sponsors. Fans of David versus Goliath will applaud every single point these guys earn, but there has to be a better way to make a living than this.

The king of the have-nots today, however, was Hectic Hector Barbera, once again propelled by Ducati power for Avintia after a year and a half away from Pramac Racing. Not only was he the top Open class finisher today, but his 11 point, fifth-place finish, on top of the three points he had earned all season before today, represent an almost incalculable increase of 366%.

That, my friends, is some racing. A day of functionality in a season of despair.

The Road to Kuala Lampur

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were the big losers today, Marquez coming back to the pack while Pedrosa dropped from a tie for second for the season to fourth place. We will be traveling to Malaysia this coming week to keep an eye on things at Sepang next weekend, posting a few extra bits between now and then on Facebook and Twitter .

Unlike Phillip Island, Sepang is a very Honda-friendly place, and we look for Marc and Dani to get back some of the mojo they left behind in Australia. But Rossi and Lorenzo, each having now won twice this season, both believe they can compete with the Hondas, so it promises to be an exciting “penultimate” round of racing. Watch this space during the coming week for news and views from the self-styled Land of Adventure.


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