Archive for the ‘Maverick Vinales’ Category

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati Looks to Rain on KTM’s Home Parade 

Austria’s Red Bull Ring, home of this weekend’s eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, is the closest thing to the Bonneville Salt Flats of any track on the MotoGP calendar. For those riders, ahem, who have trouble getting their bikes to turn this place is like heaven. The weekend looks like it’s going to be a Ducati clambake, but looks can be deceiving. 

Recent History in Austria 

Recent history at the Red Bull Ring has been, well, brief. The track joined the calendar in 2016 after an 18-year gap in the running of the Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Selecting Red Bull Ring as the venue, with it’s but nine (9) turns, gave Ducati Corse a bulletproof venue they could dominate with their eyes closed until KTM gets its Austrian act together. In 2016, the factory Ducati Dueling Andreas led the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the lush Austrian countryside, followed by everyone else. At the flag, Iannone handled Dovizioso (this was the year everyone but Scott Redding won a race) while The Spartan outgunned The Doctor for the last step on the podium.

Last year would have been a carbon copy of 2016 with the exception of Dovizioso winning, JLo taking Iannone’s seat and finishing fourth, and those pesky, unwelcome factory Hondas hogging the second and third steps on the podium. This was one of those races, similar to what we saw last week, when Marquez and Dovizioso went knives-in-a-phonebooth, Spain vs. Italy, Honda vs. Ducati, and Dovi ended up on top, as he usually does. The kind of competition that gives motorcycle racing a good name. We should be so lucky to have another one like last year on Sunday.

The track record here of 1:23.142 is owned by Andrea Iannone and was set in 2016, the last of the Bridgestone years. Marquez got close last year. Someone’s going to beat it this year, weather permitting.

Mexico and Finland? 

In a virtually unpublicized announcement, we’ve learned that Mexico—yes, THAT Mexico—has been added to the 2019 calendar in place of the Grand Prix of Finland. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez outside Mexico City has hosted F1 races since 2015 and has been added to the provisional MotoGP calendar for next year, much to the consternation of Rossi, who says it’s a lousy track and he’s liable to get kidnapped off the street, or words to that effect.  

The new Kymi Ring in Tillola, about 70 miles northeast of Helsinki had been scheduled to host a grand prix next year, but construction is sufficiently behind schedule (pronounced shéd-jūl) to preclude placing it on the 2019 calendar. Should Finland be completed by 2020, it would likely take the place of an existing European round—betting Aragon here—rather than join as a 21st race, the idea of which—21 race dates—also causes Vale to hyperventilate. Should the Finnish track not be completed to by 2020, it may go the way of Ebbw Vale in Wales.

I’m with Rossi. I think Mexico is one of the scariest places in the hemisphere, especially in and around the capital. You couldn’t pay me to spend a week in Cancun or Cabo or anywhere a bunch of guys with machetes and grease guns could jump out from behind the potted palms, like, whenever, and turn me into sausage. It would be one thing if the track were a thing of beauty, which it’s not.

It will be fun to see whether Rossi has enough juice to keep Mexico off the final 2019 schedule.

A Little Number Crunching

I had this idea before the season started that the competition would be way closer than it has been, and that because other riders—Dovi, Vinales, Rins–would be scarfing more points than usual, the ultimate winner would have fewer points available to him and would thus have trouble meeting Marquez’ 298 from last year. I mentioned a few weeks ago, in passing, that Valentino holds the record for the most points recorded in a modern premier class season of 373 in 2008.

Projected Rider Points After 10 Rounds

Sadly, Marquez and his frigging brilliance have left my theory screwed, blued and tattooed. He stands closer today to topping 373 than he does missing 298. I will update this regularly in order to keep tabs on my brilliant notion, one which has been wrong virtually since Day One.

On the other hand, the graphic itself could be used to argue for a three-tranche system, rather than five, as the breaks are pretty clear, as shown above. (The better line between #2 and #3 would separate Bautista and Pol.) The only thing is—as specified in the Rules of Tranching, you gotta have at least five.

One last intuitive way to slice this is as follows:

  • Riders likely to score > 300 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 200 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 50 points.

Which would produce

  • Marquez
  • Rossi, Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo
  • Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Iannone, Miller, Rins, Pedrosa
  • Bautista, P Espargaro, Rabat, Syahrin, Morbidelli
  • Aleix, Smith, Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Dani Pedrosa in the News

Dani Pedrosa, early in what was supposed to be his Farewell Tour, has reportedly been approached by KTM to become a test rider beginning next year, to the surprise of few. I’m convinced KTM coveted Pedrosa for Hafiz Syahrin’s seat on the Tech 3 team next year with Oliveira; my guess is that Dani turned them down. He would, in my opinion, be a great choice as a test rider, as his ability to provide useful feedback is as good as anyone’s. (Part of the problem is that Honda is not asking him his opinion much these days, trimming the RC213V the way #93 wants it.) Dani would, of course, have to wear ankle weights and a lead vest in order to approximate the bulk of a full-sized rider.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather-wise, rain is expected Friday, clouds on Saturday, and scorching sun on race day. As there is a very loose correlation between weather conditions and brand performance, the forecast could lead one to expect fast times for Ducatis on Friday, Yamahas on Saturday and Hondas on Sunday; we have just crossed over from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Andrea Dovizioso found his rhythm in the second half last year; Brno may have marked the beginning of some improved form for the Italian this year; Red Bull Ring is a great place to find out. Lorenzo has it going on at this point and must be considered a threat.  Marquez and Rossi—always. Vinales is dealing with The Red Mist. I find myself pulling for Danilo Petrucci, desperate for his first premier class win, perhaps thinking that Sunday could be his chance to bust that nettlesome cherry. And though I don’t believe your boy Alvaro Bautista has a chance of winning on Sunday, I feel sorry for the guy and think he deserves a mercy podium.

In a textbook example of going with one’s heart over one’s head, I’m saying Petrucci, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez, top four in that order. All Ducati podium, contrary to my teaser above. Danilo’s first win. But Marquez extends his lead in the championship anyway, thinking strategically, winning when he’s not winning, keeping the shiny side up. Thinking, always thinking…

We’ll have results here bright and early on Sunday morning.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 5, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Andrea-DoviziosoDovizioso, Lorenzo Lead Czech Charge 

One of Europe’s elite racing venues gave 140,000 fans a thoroughly enjoyable MotoGP race today. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo put a heavy Ducati double-team on series leader Marc Marquez as all three ended up on the podium. Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow had their own little late-in-the-day war for fourth place, won by Vale. Marquez, who finds a way to win while losing, extends his season lead over Rossi to 49 points heading to Austria. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Y’know how it is the first day back at work after vacay. Jetlagged, a little boated, still catching up on sleep, thirsty all the time. After Friday’s two practice sessions the fastest rider on grid was one Dani Pedrosa, showing the crowd he hasn’t yet retired. This Alvaro Bautista guy was deeply in the mix again, ending the day with the third fastest time, trying desperately to win a 2019 ride that doesn’t appear to exist. And your boy Hafez Syahrin showed up in fourth place on Friday, looking as perplexed as the rest of us. It’s worth mentioning that Maverick Viñales was, after FP2, sitting comfortably in sixth place, apparently poised to rock and roll in FP3.

As is generally the case, times on Saturday morning improved overall. A few riders and their crews, apparently having burned the midnight oil, figured out some serious stuff. Take Ducati enigma Jorge Lorenzo, please. He sliced almost two full seconds off his Friday best, jumping from 15th overall to third. Crutchlow, Rossi, Marquez and Iannone also found more than a second overnight. Alas, Messrs. Bautista, Syahrin and Viñales failed to hold onto their top ten perches and would have to fight their way through Q1. Methuselah, #46, would lead the way into Q2, looking quick despite his ongoing victory drought.

Viñales and Rins made it through Q1 without much heartburn. Alvaro Bautista gave it the old college try, as dad used to say, but crashed out on his last pass, forced to settle for the top of the fifth row on Sunday.

Q2 was the usual barnburner. Marquez laid down the first serious lap with four minutes gone. A minute later Jorge Lorenzo scorched Brno and repeated the feat again nine minutes later. With a minute left in the session, Marquez seized pole once again, but left the door open for the two alpha Italians. From seventh place starting the last lap, Andrea Dovizioso whipped his Ducati to pole, missing the 2016 track record by just over a tenth. Rossi, coming from 12th, worked his magic once again on the last lap, ending up in the middle of the front row, next to Marquez, who was relegated to third. Like he cared.

But it must be a comfort to the millions of Rossi fans across the globe that he has finally, six years on, figured out the 15-minute qualifying sessions. The race Sunday would start with the two Italians and Marquez on the front row, stalked by Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci on Row 2. Maverick Viñales, who showed some signs of life on Friday, showed very little on Saturday and would start from the back of the fourth row. Dude is living in perdition these days, at war with his crew chief, while his teammate, not a care in the world, keeps hanging around up front, smiling and waving to the cameras.

A Pulsating Czech GP

Unlike last year, when the race was pretty much over by Lap 7, today’s tilt went right down to the wire. After Valentino had taken the holeshot on the opening lap (for the first time since, like, Viet Nam) the primary combatants featured the two factory Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Lorenzo, Marquez and Crutchlow on Hondas, and Rossi on the unfortunate Yamaha M1. Lap times were surprisingly slow, and by Lap 18 it looked like any of the five could take the win. Suddenly, Lorenzo, riding hard front/hard rear and looking like the 2012 version of himself, went through on both Marquez and Dovizioso. He made the pass stick on Marquez but ran wide and had to let Dovi back through. As the race approached its finale, it was Marquez lurking behind the two Ducatis, waiting for something to happen.

Let’s take a brief timeout and remind one another that Brno is almost custom-designed for the Ducati Desmosedici. The flowing layout, fast turns, and inimitable Horsepower Hill (sorry, Austin) give the red machines a discernible advantage here.

Marquez, whose prospects entering the weekend were suboptimal, for him, found himself in the midst of a Ducati doubleteam for most of the second half of the day. At the end, he did manage a rather weak pass on Lorenzo, who came back three turns later and forced him to sit up, leading to the final finishing order, the tightest top three finish since Estoril 2006.

Our prediction that Marquez was likely to win today was based, in part, on the fact that a Ducati had not won here since Casey Stoner in 2007. The factory Yamaha team now resembles Mutt and Jeff—Rossi, second for the year, generally on or near the podium every time out. But Maverick Viñales is just lost. Qualified 12th after having had to come through Q1. At war with his crew chief. And fails to make it out of Lap 1 today, getting caught up with Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith. Dovizioso snatched his 3rd place spot in the standings. All things being equal, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to accidentally drop his phone in the toilet night.

Anyway, with the Ducati contingent not having been a factor for a decade and the factory Yamaha team in disarray, it appeared Marquez had an opportunity to pull off the win. When asked prior to the race who he most feared on the grid on Sunday, he unhesitatingly answered, “Dovi.” He was right. It was somewhat gratifying that he would win the race two days after MotoGP.com ran an article titled “What’s Happened to Dovi?”

Elsewhere on the Grid

Pol Espargaro screwed the pooch in the morning warm-up today and is resting uncomfortably in a hospital somewhere in Spain with a broken left collarbone and chest contusions. He will be out for Red Bull Ring and perhaps Silverstone, too… With Smith having crashed out early in the race, it was another write-off weekend for KTM… Alvaro Bautista, blowing me away these days, managed another top ten finish, something that can’t be said of Alex Rins or Jack Miller… DNFs were recorded by Bradl and Viñales early on, and by Smith, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat later… Author is now five-for-eight on breaking track records for the year…(sigh)…

The Big Picture 

Marquez now leads the series by 49 points. Dovi passed Viñales for third behind Rossi, while Lorenzo went through on Zarco into a respectable fifth place for the year. Ask Marc Marquez how he would feel about Dovizioso and Lorenzo finishing one-two again next week in Austria and I think he would be fine with that. For now, Marc Marquez only has to worry that Valentino Rossi might stage some kind of Lazarus-ish comeback, win five in a row, and put the 2018 championship back on a competitive footing. For now, as he said in the post-race presser, all Marc Marquez needs to focus on is finishing each race until he clinches the title, just like we said last week. And Rossi, winless for over a year, would probably happily settle for a single win. Anywhere. The sooner the better.

Tranching Getting Easier

Now that things are getting stretched out a little in the standings, putting the riders in their proper slots is getting a little easier.

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Iannone, P Espargaro, Viñales

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen.           Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Prepping to Czech Out at Brno 

15 years ago, if you happened to find yourself in the lead late in a MotoGP race, the last person you wanted materializing on your rear tire was #46, Valentino Rossi. That was, at the time, a portent of almost certain doom—for you—as Rossi was king of the jungle, until impudents like Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo came along. Today, the guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you is Marc Marquez, all hunkered down on his Honda RC213V to where you can barely tell where he stops and the bike starts. Turning laps four tenths faster than you, with plenty of tire left. 

Today in MotoGP this defines portent of doom. One of the few interesting questions around lately is how long—in years—will he maintain this stranglehold on the premier class? And who will be the next to take it from him? The first, last and only so far was Jorge Lorenzo in 2015. And this year is looking bad. Bad, as in there will be nothing on the line for the last few races if current trends continue. This is the point at which one of you often feels compelled to remind me that this is racing and anything can happen blah blah blah. That’s cool. If something happens and Marquez fails to win you can say you told me so. If it doesn’t, and he does, I may have to at least remind some readers about this exchange. (BTW, we conceded the title to #93 after Jerez. Just sayin’.) One more thing. If Marquez were to go down for a few rounds, I would definitely double down on my under wager on the 298 point over/under marker. 

Recent History at Brno 

The 2015 Brno race gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started.  One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year.  Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day. At this point, 2015 was looking like a grand season.

2016: With three wet/dry races in the previous four rounds, MotoGP fans had been getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  At Brno, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez, who set another new track record.  Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British motoracing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season standings.

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much weather-related pre-race drama, turned out to be a nice six-lap affair, after which many of the attendees flagellated themselves for blowing all that money on such a crummy race. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best weather guy of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back. This was another example of how his crew had the #2 bike properly fitted the way the rider wanted without any communication from him. Pretty awesome crew. “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.”

So Hondas have taken the last two races here. Rossi and Vinales probably like this track. The top Ducatis last year were Dovizioso and Petrucci in 6th and 7th. In 2016, Ducati Corse owned half of the top ten spots without all the fuss and bother of a podium. This looks to be a Lorenzo-friendly layout, and Marquez, last I heard, will be in the house, making him a threat to run and hide on Sunday. As one of our brilliant readers wrote recently, bet the house on Lorenzo winning the first half of the race anyway. And Alex Rins, who got skittled out of his race at The Sachsenring just as his credibility was on the rise, once again finds himself needing to prove he belongs. Such is life in the tall grass running with the big dogs.

This Track Record Stuff is Kind of Fun

Even with the season looking like a bit of a rout, we can still enjoy the lottery to see whether the track record—in this case set by Marc Marquez in 2016—will fall this weekend. The bogey is 1:54.596. I think the long layout and flowing turns of Brno lend themselves to another assault on the record this week. All of the top four brands will have riders winding up and firing at it during FP3 and Q2.

At 5-for-7 for the season, we are pulling for them. And any track record more than a year old is in jeopardy.

Petronas SIC Yamaha Rider #2

About Monsieur Fabio Quartararo. He had a 10th and a 13th place finish in two seasons in Moto3 sans podiums. Last year he finished 13th in Moto2. He was again headed nowhere this year until rumors started flying about him joining Franco Morbidelli on the new Petronas SIC Yamaha team for 2019, whereupon he won at Montmelo and finished second at Assen. Dude has a fairly thin resume, although he is ridiculously (currently 19) young. I get the feeling he is either Annointed or Hooked Up.

How does this guy get a premier class ride before, let’s see, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Xavi Vierge, or even Jorge Martin, currently leading in Moto3? Either he has a major sponsor or two in his pocket, or he was tagged at age 10 as having something “special,” or both. In any case, should he turn out to be the designee—when Pedrosa retired I was expecting Bautista—one must defer to the judgment of the people on the ground. Maybe he’ll be great. Maybe he’ll be Scott Redding.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range forecast for the greater Brno environs calls for hot, clear conditions all weekend. What we in the trade refer to as Honda conditions ain’t nobody want or need around here around now. We need intermittent showers, gusty winds and scudding clouds, give the place some sense of drama. Think Channel Islands.

As for qualifying and the race, I expect Marquez to win from pole, as does anyone remotely involved in this sport. I also expect him to keep his composure if events conspire to see him finish fifth. At the midpoint of the season, the pressure is on everyone but Marquez. If the race turns out to be low-hanging fruit right there in his face, he should go ahead and take the win. But if there are a couple of determined, quick contenders not backing down or making eye contact, finishing in the top five is an excellent outcome on one of those days when you don’t own the joint. The dumb thing would be to press and slide off, conceding the full 25 points. The 2013 iteration of Marc Marquez might have given that some serious thought. The 2018 version understands it’s the championship, not a race, that is his goal.

You read it here first: Marc Marquez will not crash out of another race until after he clinches the 2018 title. 

We will have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon, once the fog burns off amongst the smart set in Toronto.

MotoGP Midseason Report Card

July 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.                      July 24, 2018

In the words of numerous shell-shocked generals throughout history, immediately after losing great battles, as we make the turn in MotoGP 2018, we must ask, with slightly slurred voices, “What happened?”

How could a year which held the promise of a serious four- or five-man competition all the way to Valencia—supported by the breathtaking finish at Losail—arrive at its midpoint in such a competitive shambles? Repsol Honda’s young, virtually invincible Marc Marquez sits, in mid-season and at the peak of his prodigious skills, in complete command of the championship. Toying with those fools.

A reader suggested we remove him and his 165 points from the picture, figuratively speaking, whence the standings would be:

Rossi            119

Vinales         109

Dovizioso       88

Zarco            88

Lorenzo          85

This is close to what I expected, with MM sitting at the top with, say, 133 points. As The Beach Boys (including two of the originals) sang the other night, under the stars, “Oh wouldn’t it be nice…” But Marquez, with his crushing 165 points, has taken the air out of the place. I never want to see a rider injured. But I suspect I’m not alone enjoying the vision of Marquez receiving a two-round suspension for throwing down and getting K.O’d in a Czech gravel trap by someone like Andrea Iannone.

Here in realityland, we’re looking at the season from Round 1 through Round 9 to understand how the results at Losail–Dovizioso beating Marquez to the line by the width of a wheel—enhanced our collective, overly-optimistic belief, now dashed, that the season would go down to the wire. In Qatar, Dovizioso and Marquez had their own war over the last three laps; earlier, the front group had consisted of nine riders. Rossi podiumed. Things looked tight—the top six riders all finished within four seconds of one another. After the race I posted the following:

  • Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow. (In my excitement about the race, I forgot my mantra: Losail is an outlier.)

On to Argentina, where the wettish start of the race was a memorable fustercluck, Jack Miller on pole getting hosed by the rules. Marquez stalls at the start and jumpstarts his bike, turns around and re-takes his place, having gone mental. Penalized, furious, but lucky that he wasn’t black-flagged, he went on to bump and grind with a number of riders, lizard brain in control, before finishing 18th. After two rounds, he sat in fifth place, trailing Crutchlow 38-20. Dovizioso, Zarco and Vinales were also in his way, Zarco having finished second at Rio Hondo behind Crutchlow.

It looked, as the expression goes, like we had us a horse race. But in truth Marquez had great race pace all weekend in Argentina and could have easily podiumed had he not stalled his bike, a once-in-a-career screw-up. The standings after Round 2 were misleading. Yamaha fans actually believed their guys could be competitive all year without actually winning races. Ducati fans, still basking in the afterglow of Qatar, could overlook the fact that Jorge Lorenzo sat in 15th place after two rounds.

Round 3, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, became, for Marquez, his 10th or 12th win on American soil; he has never not won a race in the U.S. Although he won easily, as expected, those following him—Vinales, Iannone, Rossi, Dovi and Zarco—generated a top five, after three rounds, separated by eight points, with Marquez still trailing Dovi by a point. Tight, as we said back then, as tree bark. Tranche 1 included Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales. The series returned to Europe and civilization slavering at the prospect of running at Jerez.

At Jerez, Jorge Lorenzo first adopted his current habit of running the softest tires available, being able to lead the first half of races before fading to 7th place at the end. A reader sent the following note, a conversation he allegedly overheard outside the Ducati garage at Jerez:

“Gigi, I want the soft tire! I will win the first half of the race, and then the championship!”

“You don’t get points for the first half, Jorge.”

“Give it to me, the soft!”

“We put the softest tire we have on it, Jorge. They don’t make them any softer.”

“Then marinate it in the mantequilla and leave it out in the sun! It must be softer! The Spartan commands it!”

Unsurprisingly, Lorenzo led the early part of the race until Marquez ate his lunch on Lap 8 at the new Jorge Lorenzo corner lol. Marquez was leading the race on Lap 20 when a decisive 2018 moment occurred, as Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa got tangled up, Pedrosa going airborne, ending up in a heap in the gravel, bikes and riders everywhere. A racing incident in which either Lorenzo or Pedrosa was the “procuring cause.” No penalties assessed, but Lorenzo and Pedrosa saw their faint title hopes go up in smoke and ash. Dovizioso’s would go up later in the year.

Marquez found himself with clear sailing late in the day. This is what is meant by the expression, “Katie bar the door.” It was after Jerez that we awarded the 2018 championship to Marquez, Tranche 1 looking like this: Marquez, Zarco, and Dovizioso, with the latter two hanging by a thread. Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa and Miller made up Tranche 2 at this point, with The Great Australian Hope Jack Miller, especially, looking much stronger than expected.

Round 5 in France: Homeboy Johann Zarco became the first Frenchman to start from pole in The French Grand Prix since The Norman Conquest and finished an impressive 2nd.    At what had generally been a Yamaha track Marquez put the fear of God in the field. After Zarco, then Dovizioso, crashed out in front of him, Marquez found himself in the lead, beating Petrucci and Rossi to the flag, and stoking his margin over Vinales for the season to 95-59. Zarco and Rossi were crowding Vinales at this point, the three separated by three points.

Marquez had taken 95 of a possible 125 points for the season and could have easily had another 20 in Argentina but for his mental meltdown.

It was Round 6 at Mugello where he had the grace to slide out on Lap 5, allowing Jorge Lorenzo the unexpected privilege of winning a MotoGP race for the first time since Valencia 2016 while the series leader remounted and finished out of the points in 16th. Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill the surprising vacuum and breathed a little life into the series. Marquez’ margin over Vinales was cut to 23, the pack bunched up behind them through Crutchlow in eighth.

Jorge Lorenzo gave us another vivid reminder of who he used to be at Catalunya where he won again, this time after being pursued by Marquez, who didn’t have enough today. Following these two were Rossi, Crutchlow and Pedrosa, who pimped Vinales at the wire. Although relatively insignificant in the big picture, Marquez added four points to his season lead and, more importantly, reduced the total number of 2018 points available to his pursuers by one round. The Yamahas and Ducatis will never catch him treading water like this. With two rounds left until the summer break, everyone knew it was “Anyone but Marquez” time heading to Assen. Marquez could effectively break the field with wins in The Netherlands and Germany.

Round 8 at Assen provided us with one of the great races of all time, a record total of 175 overtakes from start to finish. Roughly six different riders led at one time or another. Marquez ultimately took the win. Alex Rins, finally showing some of the massive potential he possesses, stole second place from Vinales at the flag. Vinales, in turn, punked Dovizioso, who punked Rossi, trailed closely by Crutchlow and Lorenzo. Seven riders within five seconds of the winner. It was a huge win for Marquez, and a huge letdown for every other Alien and pretender. It was surely starting to look like one of those Marquez years again. Plus, the next stop was The Sachsenring, where Marquez had been incandescent for almost a decade.

On July 15, Marquez goes out at The Sachsenring and just brutalizes the field. Says afterwards he had more pace if he had needed it. Oozing confidence after his ninth consecutive win at this track, back to when he was a teenager. He becomes the fifth rider this season to break a track record, joining Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco in that luminous group. The championship feels like a foregone conclusion.

Valencia, it appears, is screwed, which is probably also true for Sepang and, perhaps, Phillip Island. I suppose it’s mathematically possible for Marquez to clinch at Buriram, which would send the locals straight into madness. At this point we’re guessing Australia. 

Part Two: The Lambs and the Goats from the First Half 

1        Yamaha Factory Racing           228

2        Repsol Honda Team           214

3        Ducati Team                    173

4        Pramac Racing                 141

5        Team Suzuki MotoGP           128

6        Tech 3                             110

7        Team LCR                         89

Repsol Honda Team: Marquez be Marquez, while Dani Pedrosa, dealing with the erosion of his skills and desire, more titanium screw holes in him than Swiss cheese, announces his decision to retire at the end of the year rather than ride a non-competitive bike, i.e., a satellite Yamaha for the next two years. HRC immediately sacks up and signs Jorge Lorenzo to join Marquez in 2019-2020.

Movistar Yamaha Team: Running second and third to Marquez most of the season, Rossi and Vinales must feel like Beaver Cleaver when Eddie Haskell would come over and mess up his hair, call him a punk. Rossi hasn’t won since Assen last year, while Vinales’ last win was at Le Mans 2017. Johann Zarco has been more impressive on his two-year old sled. Yamaha engineers need to read the book “Good to Great.”

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso, who seriously challenged Marquez for the title last year, has been this year’s single biggest disappointment, having scored 35 fewer points this season than at this time last year. Jorge Lorenzo, last year’s biggest disappointment, pulled rabbits out of his hat twice this year to regain a little of his lost swagger. He is also defecting to Honda, his seat being taken by the deserving Danilo Petrucci.

Suzuki Ecstar Team: Consistently inconsistent since Round 1.

Suzuki team YTD

In but three of nine rounds have both riders finished the race, Rins has shown flashes of brilliance, while Iannone, no longer the Maniac, appears content to finish races, making hay seemingly only when misfortune strikes other riders. The team has dismissed Iannone and signed wonderkid Joan Mir from Moto2 for two years beginning in 2019. Rins, once he finds the limit of the Suzuki, will be a baller. For this year, both riders are disappointments. Iannone takes a step down to the factory Aprilia program for the next two seasons.

Red Bull KTM Factory Team: Once again, despite fierce loyalty from KTM owners and fans, the Austrian MotoGP program has been a dud in 2018. Owners and fans see great things on the horizon. I see Pol Espargaro with 32 points and Bradley Smith with 13 points after nine rounds. I see Miguel Oliveira stepping up from Moto2 to take a Tech 3 seat. I see test and wildcard rider Mika Kallio escape destruction by the thinnest of margins in his practice crash at The Sachsenring. They pick up a satellite team with the acquisition of Tech 3 racing; Johann Zarco will join Espargaro on the factory team, while Oliveira will team up with Hafiz Syahrin on the Tech 3 team, which will ride full factory bikes. Hafiz Syahrin is on his way to becoming very good rider on what is likely to become very good equipment and should feel very fortunate.

Factory Aprilia Team: Another year on the learning curve for the Italian team, as Aleix has 16 and Redding, on his way out in favor of Iannone, has 12. Aleix pushes the bike past the limit and has once again recently spent time in the hospital as a result. Redding, despite his brimming self-confidence, is too big to ride with these midgets. Aprilia will have to take the plunge on a satellite team at some point if they’re ever going to generate enough data to become competitive at this level.

Alma Pramac Ducati Team: Like a lot of B teams, this group seems to lose their best rider fairly often. After this year, Danilo Petrucci, who has been enjoying a very strong (84 vs 66 in 2017) season, leaves to join the factory Ducati effort alongside Dovizioso. Jack Miller, #2 on the team, is also having an improved year—57-41—over 2017. He will be joined next season by fast mover Peco Bagnaia, on his way up from Moto2. Promises to be wild and woolly next year as the rookie learns to tangle with the beast that is the Ducati Desmosedici.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha:  With Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger slated to return from encouraging rookie seasons, Herve Poncharal had room to feel optimistic, until the day early this year when he learned Folger would not be returning. In quiet desperation, he turned to out-of-work Malaysian mudder Hafiz Syahrin, who has stepped in this year and done a workmanlike job of learning a big new bike on the fly. Teammate Zarco has not improved noticeably over last season and has struggled down the stretch through Sachsenring this year. The KTM deal must be a distraction. Whatever.

Team LCR: Both Cal Crutchlow on the Castrol version and Taka Nakagami on the Idemitsu version have provided marginal improvements to the team’s fortunes compared to last year, when it was Cal only. Nakagami has disappointed badly with his measly 10 points, while Crutchlow is up marginally—79-64—over last year. Both riders on this team insist the Honda is difficult to ride, a complaint you don’t hear very often from the factory riders. Cal is sticking around for next year, as is Nakagami, who has in the first year of a two-year HRC contract.

Angel Nieto Team              48

Red Bull KTM                     45

Avintia Racing                    30

Aprilia Racing Team           28

Marc VDS Racing                19

The rest of the teams I just have a hard time caring about these groups. Sure, there are some competitive riders in here—Rabat, the Espargaros, Morbidelli—but overall it’s a big Who Cares?

* * *

Halfway through the round, sitting in the clubhouse, I am approaching the second half with an almost Nordic sense of existential dread, that this might turn into an Agostini-like s**tshow with 23 riders fighting for scraps. From what we’ve seen since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when the Honda chassis was unrideable, none of the current riders on the grid appears capable of staying with Marquez over the course of an entire season. Which, in turn, means that it will have to be one of the young guns who take him down. Remember when Lorenzo arrived in 2008, a very hot property, to join The Doctor, the undisputed god of MotoGP, and put a hurting on him only two years later.

For Marc Marquez, these are his salad days. Top of his game, in full command of all his prodigious skills. Nobody on the grid with the chops or the nuts to challenge him. Able to tame the unruly RC213V when other great riders can’t. Practices saving lowside crashes with his knees and elbows. You can see other riders and teams watching him and just shaking their heads.

This is Year Six of The Marquez Era, 2015 being the exception that makes the rule. He should, by my estimate, enjoy perhaps four more years before someone gives him a serious challenge. Starting in 2021 Rossi will be horse-whipping those young Italian Sky VR46 Yamaha riders, insulting their manhood until one of them wins a title. Guys like Maverick Vinales and Jack Miller will chase Marquez for most of their careers. Guys like Zarco and Dovi will flare up during certain years, shedding more light than heat in what will likely be futile attempts to put the squeeze on #93.

As for an actual report card on the riders, I think the tranches after Round 9 reflect the grading curve for the first semester:

A:      Marquez

B:      Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

C:      Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

D:      Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

E:       Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP returns to Motorcycle.com on July 31st with the Brno preview. Enjoy the break, fools.

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

I found myself quoting a statistic I hadn’t researched myself, one which, in a court of law, would be thrown out as hearsay. The statistic in question had to do with the number of wins scored by Everyman’s Hero, Valentino Rossi, since his last world championship in 2009. Presenting Exhibit A:

Rider Spreadsheet 1

Visual expression of what so many people say, how fun it would have been to watch Stoner and Marquez tangle. Anyway, if you remove the three years before Marquez got his ticket punched, the numbers look even more compelling;

Rider Performance 3

 

Bottom line: Rossi’s salad days, and those of Dani Pedrosa, are behind them. They should avoid the “Colin Edwards mistake” of hanging around two years too long. Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and even Iannone are getting a little long in the tooth. Time for some new blood at the top of the food chain.

Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Jack Miller on a Pramac GP19 next year. Jorge Martin moving on up in the next two years. Lorenzo Balddassarri. Miguel Oliveira for KTM. Everyone seems to love Xavi Vierge. Moto3 is packed with fast movers wanting to move up to Moto2. Plenty of knees and elbows in the turns. It appears that, career-wise, Tito Rabat has pulled off an amazing save, Marquez quality, and seems likely to find a ride for next year. He certainly seems to enjoy life on the Ducati, as does his boy Jack Miller.

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen        6/17/2018

Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo goes two for two.

The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.

Practice and qualifying 

At the close of business on Friday the fast five had a distinctly Latin look about it, as it consisted of the sons of families with names like Lorenzo, Iannone, Viñales, Dovizioso and Rossi. Spanish and Italian grand prix racing royalty. Marc Marquez was dawdling down in 12th place, at risk of having to pass through Q1, barring some kind of breakthrough in FP3. But his race pace was solid; it’s easy to suspect he was more concerned about what he might have to do in Q2 than he was about getting there.

In addition to the usual suspects, Hafiz Syahrin and Tito Rabat kept showing up in or near the top ten during the practice sessions. In FP3, they bracketed the four-time MotoGP champion in 8th, 9th and 10th places. Dutifully on to Q1 trudged Marquez, along with Syahrin, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins and the three KTMs, Kallio on another wildcard. During the somewhat meaningless FP4, Marquez recorded another historic save, in Turn 14, re-writing the laws of physics with his right elbow and knee sliders, dug into and destroyed by the tarmac. Marquez, reinvigorated, later led Taka Nakagami, a pleasant surprise on the second LCR Honda, into Q2.

Lorenzo screwedThe second qualifying session in Barcelona was, despite being virtually (statistically) random, a humdinger. Marquez laid down a quick early lap which looked like it might stand up, with Lorenzo in his garage having some kind of invective-soaked spasm. Andrea Dovizioso was whipping his Ducati GP18 into the front row, looking dangerous. Lorenzo returned to the track late and, on his last qualifying lap and stole the pole, making it 10 straight front row starts at Montmelo.

A late high-speed crash left my boy Cal Crutchlow starting from 10th. Vinales and Iannone were joined on Row 2 by gatecrasher Danilo Petrucci. Rossi and Johann Zarco found themselves consigned to Row 3, joined, again, by that Rabat guy on the Avintia Ducati. And poor Dani Pedrosa, his future unclear, whose spirit needed a boost and instead took a beating over the weekend, limped home to start 11th, having started from pole just last year.

What About The Flipping Race? 

Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo went through into a lead heMarquez Valencia 2017b wouldn’t have even considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, getting dogged himself by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This bummer, in turn, promoted a lurking Valentino Rossi into podium contention.

Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth place. Experience 1, Skill 0. And the racing itself was inferior to the Moto2 and Moto3 races, which were, as usual, off the hook. 

What We Learned at Montmelo

We think we learned that Ducati, Lorenzo and Honda may all be suffering from buyer’s remorse tonight, given his current form. Honda, at a minimum, keeps him off a Ducati that now suits him for the next two years. Lorenzo could stay hot for two or three more rounds and put himself back in the 2018 conversation.

Marquez rode a smart race, keeping Lorenzo honest all day without taking any undue risks. He also managed to stay clear of Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso’s title aspirations suffered a serious hit today as he crashed out of his third race in four outings. It’s gotta be in his head.

Rossi 2018Valentino Rossi is still relevant to the championship, but he will need something really, um, unlucky to happen to Marquez to be considered a serious contender for the title.

12 of the 26 starters failed to finish the race. Some good ones—Dovizioso, Rabat, Miller, Aleix and Syahrin–recorded DNFs. And so Franco Morbidelli gets two points for finishing three laps down.

What About the Big Picture

Marquez goes from leading Rossi by 23 to leading Rossi by 27. 11 points stand between riders #3 and #9. Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone all enjoy 66 points after 7 rounds. Lorenzo’s trajectory is straight up, while Dovi’s is straight down. Iannone is less predictable. One rider who is painfully predictable is Dani Pedrosa, who has crashed out of alternating rounds all season. Don’t bet on him to finish at Assen.

In order to keep the KoolAid drinkers off my neck, I’m promoting Rossi to Tranche 1 with Marquez. It’s something of an honorific, as his best days are clearly behind him. 12 wins since 2009. But still finishing races, still standing on the podium, ready, willing and able to step up to the top whenever circumstances permit. He deserves respect, but you really shouldn’t bet on him to win anymore.

Marquez is holding things together at the top, making saves other riders can only dream about. If Lorenzo goes off and wins the next three, all Marquez needs to do is keep it close. His margin is such that, short of a royal blowout, Lorenzo’s hopes of a title in 2018 are modest.

Make Big Money Tranching at Home!

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, Pedrosa, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Bits and Pieces

To no one’s surprise, Jack Miller has signed a new one-year contract with Pramac Ducati, joining Pecco Bagnaia on what promises to be a fascinating 2019 team. It turns out that Petrucci’s contract with the factory Ducati team is also for one year only. When is this guy ever going to get some respect? He has been winning with inferior equipment his whole career. Now that he is fully up to speed as a factory Ducati rider he should be a consistent threat to podium.

Here’s an instant quiz: How many total world titles across all classes were standing on the podium on Sunday afternoon? Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi?

Today, as in Mugello, was Hammer Time for Lorenzo, looking more like the old Lorenzo, on rails, churning out lap after lap within 2/10ths of each other. He is mesmerizing; I literally nodded off, having slept poorly the night before.

Sitting here thinking I don’t expect Lorenzo to fare as well at Assen as he did today at Montmelo. But I didn’t expect him to win here either. OR at Mugello. So what do I know. I pretty much just work here. If, miraculously, Lorenzo does dominate in the Low Countries, he must be considered a legitimate threat to fight for the title.

A fortnight ago, Lorenzo was ‘washed up and left for dead,’ in the words of Mick Jagger. Tonight, he’s thinking about a hat trick, an effort that would cement his claim to have earned a part in the championship conversation.

In the meantime, as we submit this piece, we hope Aron Canet is OK after a big crash in the Moto2 race. He was stretchered off the track to the medical center. 

The Undercards, in eight seconds each:

In Moto3, Enea Bastianini punked Marco Bezzecchi at the wire, with Argentine Gabriel Rodrigo third. Jorge Martin led a parade of riders who crashed out of the race, leaving the door open. Rodrigo secured his first career podium in grand prix racing.

In Moto2, 19-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo took his first win, stiff-arming KTM star Oliveira pretty much all day, with Alex Marquez holding onto third. At the top of the Moto2 food chain, Pecco Bagnaia leads Oliveira by a single point after seven rounds, trailed by Marquez and Lorenzo Baldassarri.  The races in both divisions are regularly breathtaking, worth the price of the video subscription.

On to Assen

The MotoGP Flying Circus returns to The Cathedral at Assen in two weeks, a revered place capable of delivering upsets. Anything can, and often does, happen at Assen. Expect huge heaping doses of optimism from all the top riders, as it’s in their contracts that they must bubble over with pre-race excitement.

MotoGP Silly Season Turns Serious

June 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen  June 6, 2018

Who’s Under Contract for 2019: Updated after Mugello

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez, JORGE LORENZO
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso, DANILO PETRUCCI
Suzuki ECSTAR: Alex Rins, JOAN MIR
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira, HAFIZ SYAHRIN
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

Congratulations to Lorenzo, Petrucci and Mir on their new factory rides. Of the three, Lorenzo is likely to have the hardest time making the adjustment.Congratulations, too, to Hafiz Syahrin, who will remain with Tech 3 KTM next season and is fighting for rookie of the year in 2018.

Riders as yet unsigned for 2019:

  • DANI PEDROSA
  • ANDREA IANNONE
  • JACK MILLER
  • BRADLEY SMITH
  • SCOTT REDDING
  • TOM LUTHI
  • KAREL ABRAHAM
  • ALVARO BAUTISTA
  • TAKA NAKAGAMI

With only one factory seat available (Aprilia), it would seem logical for either Pedrosa or Iannone to end up there. Quality ride is still available with Pramac Ducati. Nakagami will probably re-sign with LCR Honda, but no announcement has been made as yet.

Oh, and the news about Lorenzo’s move to Honda suggests he will not risk life and limb wrestling the GP18 for the remainder of the season. He should be competitive at Brno, Phillip Island and Sepang. As for the rest–meh. As for the Tranche 5 riders, it’s always a mad scramble to see who can come up with the sponsor money, as it counts for far more than the skill of the riders.

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez Proves It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Vinales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda—you remember, the one with the acceleration issues—for the world championship.

It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Lorenzo) Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Jorge Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.

Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:

• “The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.”

We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017 Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Vinales chasing, Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Zarco and Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Vinales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.

Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:

1. Maverick Vinales 85
2. Dani Pedrosa 68
3. Valentino Rossi 62
4. Marc Marquez 58
5. Johann Zarco 55
6. Andrea Dovizioso 54
7. Cal Crutchlow 40

Vinales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Vinales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, could be blindingly bright and all too brief.

Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as re Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

• “Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki. Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017. Another Alien in the making.”

So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Iannone, Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.

Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand—the only rider ever to do so—and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia—started and finished second—that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)

• “Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”

We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher, a second one occurring when Pramac Ducati signed the lost-at-sea Tito Rabat to a deal for 2018, taking over for Redding. Moving the second seat on the team from the frying pan into the fire, if you ask me.

So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by (wrong about) Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Scott Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”

That didn’t take long.

Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.

• “It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”

Just sayin’. Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of his 2017 was better than the first. There.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.
• Dani Pedrosa. Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
• Cal Crutchlow. Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older—33 next year—appears to have reached the high water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
• Jonas Folger. Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps the best bike on the grid. If he improves even a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with frère Johann.
• Aleix Espargaro again brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.
• Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top ten finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
• Finally, Sad Sam Lowes. Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.

Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha, and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.

There are people out there—smart, otherwise-lucid folks—who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Vinales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a Yamaha wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Vinales began to falter somewhat, Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Round 14 matched the final 2017 standings.

2017 Season Graph color snip

Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.

As an aside, the spreadsheet appears to support the old golfing adage that you drive for show and putt for dough. Spraying the ball off the tee, then making long putts for saves and, finally, the win, is how the smart ones do it. In contrast to his fabled 2014 season, it took Marquez a while to understand the new bike and find his rhythm. Once he did, in Barcelona, and as he got closer to the 18th green in Valencia, he started making those putts. From then on he was essentially unstoppable.

Final Tranches of 2017

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham

The Last Word

MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.
Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Vinales is going to be a premier class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And, with plenty of hot young talent in the pipeline, MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.

 

Final Tuesday Valencia Test Times

November 15, 2017

Final test results for Tuesday, courtesy of Autosport.com. Interesting that both Rossi and Viñales are doing a “Marquez” on a 2016 chassis. Miller, Zarco and Aleix continue to impress.

Pos
Driver
Team
Gap
Laps
1
Maverick Viñales
Yamaha
1m30.189s
80
2
Johann Zarco
Tech3 Yamaha
0.200s
53
3
Marc Marquez
Honda
0.312s
70
4
Valentino Rossi
Yamaha
0.330s
63
5
Jack Miller
Pramac Ducati
0.446s
57
6
Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia
0.567s
51
7
Andrea Dovizioso
Ducati
0.661s
50
8
Jorge Lorenzo
Ducati
0.870s
48
9
Pol Espargaro
KTM
0.977s
56
10
Cal Crutchlow
LCR Honda
1.070s
55
11
Dani Pedrosa
Honda
1.139s
52
12
Bradley Smith
KTM
1.226s
53
13
Tito Rabat
Avintia Ducati
1.484s
70
14
Danilo Petrucci
Pramac Ducati
1.532s
46
15
Scott Redding
Aprilia
1.886s
64
16
Karel Abraham
Aspar Ducati
2.256s
66
17
Takaaki Nakagami
LCR Honda
2.534s
76
18
Franco Morbidelli
MVDS Honda
2.573s
78
19
Takumi Takahashi
MVDS Honda
3.380s
55
20
Xavier Simeon
Avintia Ducati
4.053s
43

The rest of the story – Valencia 2017

November 14, 2017

© Bruce Allen 2017

For me, the race was pretty engaging, even without a lot of overtaking. The tension at the front was palpable. Zarco drunk with the thought of popping his cherry and that of the entire Monster Tech 3  ecosystem, the best rider on earth keeping a safe distance behind him. Then it was Lorenzo and Dovi for most of the race, confounding, looking to all the world as if Lorenzo was impeding the Italian. Then it’s Marquez going in hot and, with an assist from the racing gods, staying in the race. Then it was the loathsome Lorenzo hitting the deck, followed immediately by Dovi, and that was that.

Well, no. There were some 20 other riders out there, some of whom need mention, a number of whom do not. This post will discuss some of them, the next post the rest.

In the order of their finish for the year, we saw

  • Marc Marquez–see Valencia results below.
  • Andrea Dovizioso likewise. He deserves a new teammate next season.
  • Maverick Vinales on the factory Yamaha, third for the year, with aspirations for a title as the season began. His season ended poorly at Valencia in the dry, as he qualified 13th and finished 12th. He had little to fight for, but the suits were around, and he made them look bad, almost costing Yamaha the #2 spot in the constructor’s championship. Lots of work in store for him and the team over the winter testing season. In the long run 2017 may have been good for the Maverick, disabusing him of any notion he is a god.
  • Dani Pedrosa–see Valencia results below. Next year probably his last with Repsol Honda.
  • Valentino Rossi started and finished seventh; not sure I heard his name called all day. Problems with the bike late in the season frustrating him to no end. More broken bones in 2017. Here’s a thought that will get the juices of #46 fans going: He was better when the competition (men and machines) was weak. Since his last title in 2009, too many great riders have been in his way–Lorenzo, Stoner and Marquez, specifically, with more coming–for him to go on stacking titles. Next year, I believe, will be his last, and he will retire with nine world championships, piles of money, women, power and influence. He can spend the rest of his career Being Valentino Rossi, becoming the Roger Penske of MotoGP. Let’s try not to feel too bad for Vale.
  • Johann Zarco–see Valencia results below. VERY hot ticket for 2019–KTM wants him.
  • Jorge Lorenzo–Gigi should bolt a sidecar to a GP13, don the helmet sans visor, and ride around with him next season, all 19 races, yelling at him in expletive-laced Italian about what a coño he is. Hold a major press conference in May announcing his contract will not be renewed and, no, he doesn’t know who their second rider might be in 2019. Remain in the sidecar through the end of the year.
  • Danilo Petrucci had high expectations heading into the season which were immediately dashed. Sunday was another one of those days, as Petrux finished 13th after starting 15th. Completely gassed after a year wrestling the GP17. New teammate next year in Jack Miller. Super.
  • Cal Crutchlow. Started 16th–nice–and finished eighth on Sunday. Five DNFs in 2017. No wins. Just another tranche 3 rider. Getting a teammate for next year in Taka Nakagami, who should post similar results. Taka comes to the team riding a huge wave of sponsor money which, for LC, is at least as good as superior talent. Ho. Hum.
  • Rounding out the top ten is rookie Jonas Folger, whose promising season was cut to ribbons by injury and illness. His return next year, on some iteration of the Yamaha M1, should be special, and I expect him to push teammate JZ all year long.

We will discuss the remaining riders in a few days. I glanced at testing a few minutes ago (it was on mute, so I’m not up to speed on the bikes) to find Marquez at the top of the sheet along with Zarco, Vinales and Pedrosa. More to come on that, too.