Archive for the ‘Maverick Vinales’ Category

MotoGP: Quartararo Loves Losail

April 5, 2021

© Bruce Allen     April 5, 2021

MotoGP 2021 Losail II: Preview AND Results! At one low price!! 

Here we go again, under the lights in the desert. Due to the falling out between Carlos Ezpeleta and Karel Abraham Sr., following the forced redundancy of rider Karel the Younger after the 2019 season, Senior, who owns much of the Czech Republic, declined to host the MotoGP Brno round this season, somehow leading to a second outlier round in Doha. Which, sidestepping a terrible run-on sentence, in turn makes Doha less of an outlier and something more than 10% of the entire season. A factor, in other words, in the 2021 title. A fight, after Round One, going to the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Would Round Two be any different? 

Cancelling Brno this year comes as bad news to the KTM and Ducati franchises, who have dominated there in recent years when #93 and #04 weren’t hanging around. The two teams dominated the podium last week, due, in part, to a scintillating run to the flag between Joan Mir, Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco. Apparently, the consensus from last week is that the wind made everyone’s engines work harder in certain areas of the track, and this put pressure on the Ducs regarding fuel consumption. In order to finish the race, they had to lean out the mixture, reducing their ridiculous top end speeds. Mapping, I believe they call it. Whatever they call it, Bagnaia and Zarco both turned theirs to the ‘OFF’ position and took advantage of a rare mistake by Mir to snatch—still love that verb—P2 and P3 on a day Mir appeared to have podiumed. Vinales, of course, won easily, but I’m not sold on Maverick Vinales and don’t know too many people who are.

When the Qatar round was last run in 2019, the podium was Dovizioso, Marquez and Crutchlow, none of whom is around to play chase on Sunday. That was another of those sprints to the flag that Ducati won because of their incomparable top-end speed. Losail, with the long run out of the last turn, is built for the Ducati. If you’re on anything else, getting dogged by a big red machine on the last lap, and you lead by less than five bike lengths coming out of 16, you’re going to get smoked.

Plenty of riders had tire issues, Morbidelli his serious mechanical; #21’s issue is easy to fix. I remind myself that Losail is an outlier and that tire issues here may not mean tire issues in Europe or Asia. On the other hand, if after three rounds it becomes obvious that Michelin’s only rideable option is the soft/soft, this issue could dominate the season. I join with other readers who are tired of always talking about tires. I miss the Bridgestone days of hard carcasses and tires that could be managed over 25 laps. The riders who enjoyed consistent success were those who managed to be fast without grinding their rear tire to mush.

I remember receiving a great comment from a reader back in the days when Lorenzo, new on the Ducati, would run like hell for the first half of a race before he fell off, had a mechanical, etc. In the riff, our reader’s Lorenzo went on about how his strategy that year was to win the first half of every race and thus take the championship. (?????) Once again this year, this doesn’t appear to be a problem with the Suzukis. But the rest of the contenders need to pay more attention to what’s going on with the rubber.

Two things about Vinales’ win last time out. He had to throw a few elbows on his way from P5 and P6 to P1, and spent 15 laps doing so, something he hasn’t enjoyed in the past. Two, he’s apparently adjusted to new tires and full tank early in races, managing to stay in touch with the lead group if not actually lead, not fumbling around in P12 on Lap 2 as would happen so often in recent years.

It would probably be best for everyone if a Ducati were to win here on Sunday. It’s a place where they should win almost every time out. Their joint advantage with Yamaha here would be shared, leaving the championship wide open heading for Portugal. The Racing Gods, as we know, may have other plans. Here goes.

Friday

We’ve seen this just last week. Ducati owning Friday, led by Miller, Bagnaia and Zarco. We’re still at Losail. Nobody should have to give a rip about Friday numbers. Unless, obviously, there were a sandstorm or something during FP3 and everyone with any sense was safely ensconced in their garage.

Saturday

So there is a sandstorm going on in FP3. The results from Friday are going to stand, leaving names like Oliveira, Mir, Nakagami, Rossi, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder to slug it out in QP1. Ugh. Notice rookie Jorge Martin in P5.

Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira escape the frying pan of Q1 to the fire of Q2. It becomes a Ducati clambake, with red machines everywhere, claiming four of the top six spots, including soon-to-be-sensational rookie Jorge Martin, the apparent second coming of Dani Pedrosa. Little guy, does hand-to-hand combat with the Desmosedici in the turns then approaches liftoff in the long straights. He showed world class speed as a teenager in Moto3; Jorge Martin has Alien written all over him.

I’m just not getting it done with the lighter classes. It’s Easter, for crying out loud, there are eggs to hide, potatoes to cook, tables to set, rug rats underfoot killing each other. I’m playing catch-up at every turn. This will all return to normal—notice I didn’t say ‘good’—beginning in Jerez. All the results are there at MotoGp.com, anyway, as well as the videos for you non-cheapskates. At the dawning of the 2021 season I like the two Italians in Moto2—Fabio and Marco—and young Jaume Masia in Moto3, who was 16 when he entered the grand prix fray full-time in 2017. It’s easy to see all these guys in MotoGP.

It’s also easy to see Pramac Ducati speedster Martin, who had to surrender his former #88 to Oliveira, sliding down to #89, on podiums in the immediate future. He’s another one of these guys, like Marquez, and Pedrosa before him, who morph into a single entity with their bike, inseparable, flying down the straight sections, slipstreaming advisable but don’t get too close to the wash. Negative body fat percentage, wrapped very tight. And hungry, wants to win in MotoGP, now. You can see it in his eyes, which glitter at the thought, in TV interviews. Forgive him for thinking, suddenly, that life is going his way, stealing pole today with an incandescent last lap during injury time. The race isn’t on for another six hours. One would say, however, that his star is ascendant, waxing, as it were, taking the lead among the rookies and a few vets as contenders for 2021.

Compare to his old Moto3 rivel Bezzecchi, who is still pedaling as fast as he can in Moto2. Jorge Martin may be the next NKIT. New Kid in Town, for those of you unfamiliar with this stuff. Following the treadmarks of Marquez and Quartararo. Another Spanish fast mover. Cool. This sport needs young riders unafraid to challenge Marc Marquez upon his return.

Sunday

Fabio Quartararo wins at Losail, a Yamaha twofer

Losail II in 2021 was the coming out party for the guy who finished third, rookie Martin. He took the holeshot and led for 18 laps before running out of tire, energy and skill once young blonde Fabio went through, followed, tout de suite, by yet another Frenchman–the rejuvenated Johann Zarco–on yet another Pramac Ducati.

Again, the desert is not the best place to try to identify trends, but for much of the race Ducati held four of the top five or six spots, with Fabio and Rins surrounded by the purring Desmos. The only bad news for Ducati is that the satellite guys at Pramac put it to the factory team of Miller and Bagnaia. Again.

Though Alex Rins was in the mix all day, Pop Gun showed up for the factory Yamaha team, swamped at the start, spending most of the race flirting with P10 before rallying late for a face-saving P5, trading places with Quartararo from last week. Same bike, virtually the same conditions, same competitors. Competitive with the Ducatis in Doha, a good sign going forward. Yet Vinales gives us Exhibit A for why he will likely never win a title. He had everything going for him when the lights went out, and laid a bit of an egg, rather than seizing another win (paging Sam Lowes) and asserting one’s claim to the championship.

The bad news for Yamaha was the continuing underperformance of the 2021 Petronas SRT team fronted by Franco Morbidelli and the legendary Valentino Rossi. Morbidelli had mechanical issues last week and again this weekend which appear to have continued, incredibly, on Sunday. As for Rossi, it was a soul-sucking P21 in qualifying and another—P16—in the race. Trucking with the likes of little bro Luca Marini and Nakagami on a bad day. It is clear, at least around here, that Vale may have predictably lost interest in risking his life averaging two championship points per round. Morbidelli’s issues will resolve and he could yet be a factor in the 2021 season. But Rossi—yeah, sure, he qualified in P4 last week—had the worst qualifying practice of his career, followed by an undistinguished race. He was P12 last week after qualifying fourth. He is not racing well. The fire that once drove him has gone out, replaced by the ready smile and confident pronouncements, aware that, at this point, top ten is all he can realistically shoot for. He needs to move on, buy some teams, get cracking as an owner, find Italian boys who can beat the Spanish, still draw the crowds, etc. Enough already with the in-the-saddle part.

The Big Picture

Johann Zarco, with two P2s in the desert leads the championship, for now. My take is that the bike and the track combo at Losail worked especially well for Zarco. My take is that things won’t work quite so well on the mainland, as there is more turning and fewer 1 km straights. But for #5 2021 has started out like a dream. As follows:

Zarco           40

Quartararo    36

Vinales         36

Bagnaia        26

Rins             23

Mir               22

Atthe end of the race, the spread between P2—Zarco—and P14—Bradl—was just under four seconds. The total run time for Quartararo was 42:24, 12 seconds faster than Dovizioso in 2019. The spread between P2 and P14 that year was over 14 seconds. Let’s review: MotoGP is getting faster and more competitive than ever. Best competition in motorsports. Attracting the best riders in the world across all three classes, many in their teens. Racing wheel-to-wheel, not encased in any protective cage, at speeds comparable to F-1, clad in a helmet, boots, an airbag, and a set of leathers. Sporting, as so eloquently expressed by Bill Raftery, “onions.”

Sorry about Moto2 and Moto3. I know Lowes won again and leads in Moto2. Looking at the results in Moto3, 16-year old wonder rookie Pedro Acosta, having been penalized with a delayed pit lane start, still won the race…wait for it…leading a group of 15 riders separated, at the flag, by 2.26 seconds. Already being called one of the great races of all time in the lightweight class. The impudent rookie spanks the field, many of them grown men, and seizes the lead in the Moto3 world championship after two rounds. Brilliant. Best day of his life so far, I’d wager. Here’s more on young Pedro.

At 10 in the morning on Easter, EDT. Come on, man!

Dozens of lead changes. Sorry I missed it. I’ll try to win back your good graces by offering up a little tranching, minus Marc Marquez, whose status at this moment is unknown.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

Two weeks to Portimao. There, we will begin to discover who has the real power in the premier class. Wish I were going. To me, the tranching looks a little fishy. I don’t doubt our thinking in October will see plenty of changes to this lot.

PS–Finally watched the Moto3 race and it was, indeed, a classic. Would not have happened had four riders not found themselves in the kitty litter on the last few laps.

MotoGP 2021 Losail I Results

March 28, 2021

© Bruce Allen March 28, 2021

17 Things We Learned in Doha, Round One

The MotoGP opening weekends in the Middle East mess with my body clock, as does youth basketball, grandkid sleepovers, Palm Sunday and Microsoft glitches. All were present this weekend, and as a result what follows will be worse than usual. Did we mention that Losail is an outlier?

Screenshot (452)

Friday

Given Friday’s results in the premier class practice sessions, it appeared the top four, within fractions of the all-time lap record, would cruise into Q2. This would leave Rins, Vinales, Morbidelli, Rossi and the Espargaros with skin in the game in FP3. There would be plenty of fast movers looking for top ten status after FP3, including defending champion Joan Mir and the entire KTM contingent headed by Brad Binder in P16 after two. The fascinating Jorge Martin, adjusting quickly to the Pramac Ducati, went 13th on Friday. 11 riders were in the 1’53’s. Pol Espargaro (P10) slid out of a fast turn during injury time, after the 00:00, and messed up a perfectly good RC213-V.

Saturday

Temps and times went up in FP3, leaving the combined results of FP1 and FP2 as the determinant as to who had to suffer through Q1 while his rivals were eating peeled grapes in the garage bistro. And so it was that, in the first defense of his title, Joan Mir would suffer the indignity of having to get through Q1 to entertain any breath of a chance of winning Round 1.

That’s not so bad. Look at the spread between Aron Canet and Lorenzo Baldassarri over in Moto2. BadAss heads for Q1 while Canet cruises on. 2/1000ths. Ridiculous.

Baldassarri failed to make it out of Q1 and would start Sunday in P26, Canet in P12.

[Microsoft Word ate my stuff about Q1 and Q2. THAT hasn’t happened in a long time. It will have to suffice to say that Nakagami and Mir escaped Q1, and that Pecco Bagnaia, finally showing us something, recorded the first ever sub-1’53 lap at Losail, securing his first pole and heading a lead group of seven comprised  solely of Ducati and Yamaha entries. Aleix and the two Suzukis completed the top ten, with Pol Espargaro and Takaa wiping up the rear, as it were, of the first four rows. Eight riders shattered Marquez’ previous record lap from 2019; it’s going to be a long, hot, season. We here at Late-Braking MotoGP are stoked. My previous blather re Moto2 and Moto3 is lost for all time.]

Sunday—Race Day

I am reduced to using the tired Random Number Things We Learned here, as it’s late, I’m tired and have a headache.

  1. Yamaha has fixed whatever was bothering it the last two years. Vinales demonstrated today that they can win a race. At least at a track where the wind reduces Ducati’s continuing advantage in top-end speed.
  2. Quartararo seems to be giving a reprise of Vinales’ career start, going off like a Roman Candle, then underperforming for a while. As a sophomore last year, he won twice in Jerez and again in Catalunya—three (3) times total, although he’s excellent at qualifying—and has been crowned The Heir Apparent.
  3. Not so fast. Vinales, you will recall, won three of his first five races as a rookie. In 66 races since then, he’s won five times, including today. Pardon me if I don’t climb on either the Maverick or Fabio bandwagons just yet. If Maverick wins again here next week I’ll buy you a good cigar, as dad used to wager.
  4. The one rider whose bandwagon I was prepared to climb aboard, Petronas SRT stud Frankie Morbidelli, failed miserably today in his 2021 debut. I had him top three for the year, and still do. Losail is an outlier. His team has a week to get the bike sorted. He can’t NOT score points again next week.
  5. Morbidelli’s new teammate, Valentino Rossi, qualified in P4 yesterday, raising some eyebrows, but settled comfortably into P12 today. However, his minions sold thousands of hats, t-shirts, hoodies, yellow smoke grenades, yellow fright wigs, with everything that wasn’t yellow now in teal, opening up a huge additional market for the MotoGP Magnate. Plus, they sold more of the old factory Yamaha gear at a discount and made even more. What a rider.
  6. It appears the Ducati contingent, all six of them, are fast, notably rookie Jorge Martin. But there was a day, back in the day, when the Ducs would go like hell for the first two-thirds of the race, whereupon their tires would turn to molasses and they would limp home. Those days may have returned, as both Miller and Martin suffered late in the race. Simon pointed out that they all had to change their mapping to conserve fuel, and this is what held them back. He’s probably right, as there was nothing holding Zarco and Bagnaia back on the run to the flag. Ask Joan Mir.
  7. The Suzukis look more capable this year than they did this time last year, which turned out pretty well.
  8. Honda Racing is just screwed without Marc Marquez. Pol Espargaro managed a respectable P8 in his first race on the Honda, although he was never a factor. Nakagami crashed, Alex Marquez crashed, and test rider Stefan Bradl managed points in P11.
  9. The Aprilia is better this year. Still not great, but better. One doesn’t have to feel sorry for Aleix Espargaro all the time.
  10. KTM appears to have taken a step backward over the winter. Danilo Petrucci looks like he’s going to have a long year. Five points to show for the weekend. Brutal.
  11. Enea Bastianini may be the cream of the crop of rookies coming up from Moto2. On Lap 5 he was dawdling in P18. He finished in P10.
  12. Pecco Bagnaia is going to win a race this year. At least one.
  13. Sam Lowes is probably going to win the Moto2 title this year. It’s nice when your top three competitors graduate to MotoGP. I don’t know what it is about Sam that grinds me. I think his readiness to offer excuses for underachieving may have something to do with it.
  14. This Moto3 rookie, Pedro Acosta, who finished in P2 today is 16 years old? I’d say he bears watching as an Alien-in-Waiting. Another ambitious rookie in the class, one Xavier Artigas, skittled three serious riders on Lap 5 and is going to get spanked by Race Direction if he hasn’t already.
  15. Jaume Masia is going to end up in MotoGP. Don’t know about Darryn Binder. Three sets of brothers in the premier class might be one too many.
  16. Your boy Romano Fenati managed P11 today in Moto3 despite two long lap penalties.
  17. I’ll try to do better next week. Cheers.

RIP Fausto Gresini.

MotoGP 2020 Misano II Results

September 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Vinales prevails; championship tighter than wallpaper 

Maverick Vinales, on Sunday, had every right to finish second. Starting from pole, he took the lead early and held it until Lap 6 when Pramac Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia ate his lunch. Young Bagnaia managed the gap for the next 15 laps, until he unaccountably slid out of the lead on Lap 21 while leading by 1.4 seconds. Vinales inherited a 4-second lead and won easily, trailed by a rampaging Joan Mir and a happy-to-be-back-on-the-podium Fabio Quartararo. Young Fabio, however, was assessed a three-second post-race penalty for getting into the green, elevating a delighted Pol Espargaro to the podium. The 2020 championship is so up for grabs. 

Saturday 

Right, so I missed all of Friday and most of Saturday due to My Life having intruded upon the usual race weekend routine. Despite my devil-may-care persona I have managed to stay married to the same ornery, but saintly, woman for 45 years this month. She has a disorder which causes her to forget a joke almost immediately upon hearing it, which is a huge advantage for me, in that it allows me to recycle my limited inventory of material almost endlessly. Not that I ever received guffaws from her, or anything close to ROTFLMAO. But I still get that smile and the occasional laugh. As she often reminds me, my motto should be, “Funny to me.” In truth, she gives me as many laughs as I give her.

What I did see on Saturday was MotoGP Q2. I know the Yamahas had been having a good weekend again and that Pecco Bagnaia was riding the wheels off his 2019 Desmo. I knew that he and all four Yams passed directly to Q2, along with Takaa Nakagami, HRC’s Great Japanese Hope, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder on their suddenly formidable KTMs, future KTMer Danilo Petrucci, and Joan Mir on the Suzuki. The fast movers would later be joined in Q2 by Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso on their big bad GP20s, Dovi, with his new sponsor, “Unemployed,” stitched on his leathers, slid under the tag at home plate to sneak into Q2, as it were, while Miller smoked the field early. Left on the outside looking in were, among others, Alex Rins, KTM pilots Oliveira and Lecuona, Aleix and the usual back markers.

Q2 was, as usual, fascinating, as if where a rider qualifies on the first three rows makes any real difference. First two rows, anyway. On Saturday, Vinales and Bagnaia took turns on the provisional pole, with Maverick again breaking the all-time track record, something he’s getting good at with Marquez sidelined. Bagnaia, late in the session, recorded the first ever sub-1:31 lap at Misano, and we have pictures to prove it. Bagnaia sub 1_31 nonrecord

However, he was discovered with both wheels in the green midway through the lap and it got taken away, putting him in the #5 spot, from where he would challenge for the win on Sunday. He was, by far, the fastest rider in the field this weekend, with Vinales again fast in practice and qualifying. The question with him is, always, can he get out of his own way during the first six laps of the race and fight for the win? Not yet this year, anyway. Rossi would start at the top of the third row, with Mir and Nakagami sucking canal water, the LCR rider going through probably a quarter million euros’ worth of motorcycles on Saturday alone, with formidable crashes coming in QP4 and again at the same turn in Q2. Dude.

All I can do for you folks as regards the goings-on in the lighter classes is refer you to the PDFs on the website. I could, I suppose, publish my login and password and let any of you who wish to watch all the practice and qualifying you want. Not gonna do it. Let’s do this. The front row on Sunday in Moto2 was comprised of Luca Marini, Marco Bezzecchi and Xavi Vierge. Moto3 featured Raul Fernandez on pole, joined by Tony Arbolino and Andre Migno.

Race Day

Sunday’s Moto3 race was the usual fire drill. A lead group of Arenas, Arbolino, Fernandez, Celestino Vietti and our old friend Romano Fenati formed up and took turns in the lead or getting knocked back into 6th place. Brad Binder, on one of his typical charges from the rear, made it as far as P4 before highsiding out on Lap 19. Young Vietti, another Rossi protégé, held the lead most of the day. With five guys looking for an opening heading into the last three turns, Vietti tried to go inside on Ogura, sending both of them wide and opening the door for the apparently lucid Fenati, who has not always appeared so. The podium, then, was Fenati, Vietti and Ogura, with series leader Arenas, Jaume Masia and Fernandez taking P4-P6.

Moto3 Top 5 after 8 Rounds:

  1. Arenas 119
  2. Ogura 117
  3. McPhee 98
  4. Vietti 86
  5. Arbolino 75

Moto2 was a bit of a parade as the weather gods decided to have a little sport with the intermediate class. They delivered, in rapid order, sunshine rain breeze sunshine sunshine cloudburst sunshine, giving the guys in Race Direction whiplash, calling a red flag, followed by a delayed re-start, which was held as a 10-lap club race. Enea Bastianini, who led when the first race was stopped, charged past original polesitter Luca Marini on Lap 1 and never really looked back, although sophomore Marco Bezzecchi gave valiant chase at the end. Sam Lowes found the third step of the podium, followed by the frustrated Marini. Brit Jake Dixon fell from P6 to P9 on the last lap. At the top of the Moto2 standings, one will find:

  1. Marini 125
  2. Bastianini 120
  3. Bezzecchi 105
  4. Lowes 83

The MotoGP race was, if you’re willing to play along here, a snapshot of the 2020 season in microcosm. 21 bikes started the race, 13 finished. Six different winners in seven races. Riders crashing out of the lead; Bagnaia today, Quartararo for the season. Four of the top seven qualifiers left the party early today, including Pecco, Miller (mechanical), Brad Binder and Rossi, who both crashed and retired. Franco Morbidelli had intestinal issues all weekend and could only manage P9. Thus, today’s top seven finishers were what I think of as ‘young guys’—Vinales, Mir, Pol, Quartararo, Oliveira, Nakagami and, of all people, Alex Marquez.

So, let’s see. The field was truncated today the way the entire season has been. Things have been unpredictable, to the extreme. With Marc Marquez sidelined, effectively, for the season, all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ball game. Six winners in seven races. Today, Vinales got his first win since last year. Suzuki prodigy Joan Mir keeps getting closer; all he needs to do is to sort out qualifying and he’ll be right there on a regular basis. Dude can ball. There was some question, back in the spring, whether there would be a MotoGP season at all. That question has been answered with an emphatic YES.

Another thing. The competition for seats is heating up, too. From the rumors floating about over the past few days, placeholders like Smith and Rabat will be giving way to young guns like Bastianini and Marini. The competition is just so close that teams and manufacturers can’t afford not to have two competitive riders on their teams, any of which could actually win a race. At least this year. And once Marquez hangs up his leathers. Just saying. One more example of how this season will be remembered as an outlier for a long time.

The top ten standings for 2020 are simply ridiculous:

  1. Dovizioso 84
  2. Quartararo 83
  3. Vinales 83
  4. Mir 80
  5. Morbidelli 64
  6. Miller 64
  7. Nakagami 63
  8. Oliveira 59
  9. Rossi 58
  10. Espargaro 57

Top four riders separated by four points; next six separated by 7. Everyone in the top ten has a puncher’s chance of winning the title in this slightly out-of-round year. With lots of crashing going on, both in practice and during races, standings can change quickly. Had Bagnaia not kicked away his win, he would be just outside the top ten for the year. He’s young and coming back from a serious injury, so we’re going to cut him some slack and look forward to great things from him in the foreseeable future.

For awhile there, during the MotoGP race, it looked like we would get to hear the Italian national anthem four times today, the excruciatingly long version to open the festivities and the short instrumental version at the conclusion of all three races. Italians stood on the top two steps of the podium in Moto3 and Moto2; Pecco could have and should have made it a hat trick. Regardless, it was a good day to be Italian in Rimini.

Next week it’s Catalunya, where the natives are restless and most of the Spanish riders in MotoGP call home. No question this is a fun season for the fans, especially those of us who don’t have a dog in these fights but are in it to see the paint-trading. We will try to put something on paper mid-week to keep your short attention spans focused.

Rimini local color aerial

                                       A little local color from Rimini.

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

The 2020 MotoGP season got off with a bang, as the brutally hot conditions in southern Spain took a toll on all three classes. The most dramatic event today was Marc Marquez crashing heavily toward the end of the premier class race, after recovering from a costly early moment to challenge for the win. Yamaha took three of the top five spots, despite Rossi’s retirement on Lap 19; Ducati claimed the other two. With Marquez showing a zero for the first time ever, MotoGP 2020 may provide fans with some real drama for the first time in five years. 

One must concede that Marquez, despite being faster than everyone else out there, was a bit rusty. Coming off an 8-month layoff, and with riders having little real practice time under their belts, this race was unlikely to be a work of art. Two riders failed to start, five failed to finish, and several others went walkabout and re-entered. According to the announcers, the heat was worse than Sepang, worse than Buriram. This is what happens when you schedule stuff outdoors in southern Spain in July. 

Practice and Qualifying

I keep arguing with myself about the utility of Fridays at Round Ones, about trying to glean anything from the timesheets. Not too much there for me. The same cannot be said about the results of the combined FP1-FP3 practices that separate the goats from the lambs re: having to slog through the frying pan of Q1 just to get thrust immediately into the fire of Q2. On Saturday FP3 ended with Dovi on the inside looking out from P10 at the likes of Pol Espargaro, Rins, Petrucci, Zarco, Miguel Oliveira and, not for the last time, Alex Marquez.

In addition to the usual suspects, the lambs included Jack Miller and Joan Mir, both looking dangerous, Cal lame-ducking the LCR Honda, suddenly quick SRT TechTrois Yamaha heartthrob Franco Morbidelli and young Pecco Bagnaia, who, having crawled in 2019, appears to be walking on the Pramac Ducati in 2020. Rossi making it straight to Q2 is a relief for him and his team. Marc Marquez, who led Friday, was lurking, keeping his powder dry in P4, looking like he was ready to assert himself in qualifying. Fabio set a new track record on Saturday morning. But not having fans in the stands made it feel like testing.

Q1 on Saturday afternoon was, if you’re willing to call what these guys do in the last two minutes ‘routine,’ kind of routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty damned exciting. When the smoke cleared, Alex Rins’ Suzuki and Pol Espargaro’s KTM had made it into Q2 after an unusually strong performance by KTM rookie Brad Binder, a worker bee who bears watching.

Q2, featured strong performances from the eventual front row of Quartararo, Viñales and Marquez. Both Pramac Ducatis and, looking slightly deranged, Cal Crutchlow formed Row 2. Pol Espargaro, a quiet Andrea Dovizioso and a jinxed Alex Rins would have constituted Row 3, theoretically, had Rins not suffered a “fracture/dislocation” of his right shoulder with a minute left. Oww. So he was out for Sunday’s race and his entire 2020 season has likely been trashed. For those of you still reading, Franco Morbidelli and our old buddy Valentino Rossi joined a perplexing Joan Mir in Row 4. Pecco Baganaia, who was looking Lorenzo-like, and Joan Mir, my personal Alien-in-waiting, were the only real surprises from Q2.

Rins reminds us that although the championship cannot be won at Round One, it can be lost. Cal Crutchlow put himself out of the race with a hard crash in today’s warm-up. Twenty riders would start Round One in 2020; 15 would finish.

The Race

Today’s Spanish Grand Prix was bookended by two mishaps attributable to Marc Marquez. The first occurred on Lap 5, when, trying to get away from Maverick Viñales and the rest of the grid, he had a ‘moment,’ followed by an un-holy save–a career top-tenner–followed by a lengthy stroll through the gravel, followed by his re-entry into the fray in 16th position. There followed a remarkable display of riding, as Marquez sliced through the field all the way back to third place, with Viñales clearly in his sights and, in a perfect world, time to catch Quartararo. Chasing Viñales, blood in his eyes, furious with himself about Lap 5, Marquez endured the kind of violent high-side more typically associated with Jorge Lorenzo, clearly his most serious crash since 2011, when he came close to ending his career before it started in Sepang, suffering double vision for six months thereafter. Today’s crash looked bad. Any speculation as to his condition on our part would not be helpful.

With Rins, Crutchlow and, finally, Marquez out of the mix, a number of lesser riders had surprisingly good days. In addition to Fabio’s first career MotoGP win, Viñales made it a factory Yamaha 1-2, with Dovi putting his Ducati on the podium late in the game. Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli completed the top five. Boasting top ten finishes tonight are KTM’s Pol Espargaro (6th), Pramac Ducati youngster Pecco Bagnaia (7th) and KTM’s Miguel Oliveira (8th). Danilo Petrucci and Takaa Nakagami closed out the top ten. Team Suzuki, with Rins out hurt and Mir crashing, had a train wreck of a day. But all six Ducatis finished today’s race. KTM must be pleased with Espargaro, for now, and rookie Brad Binder who, until leaving the premises briefly on Lap 7, had been running in the top eight. Oliveira turned in a solid performance with his P8 finish. Aprilia, unfortunately, was still up to its old tricks, with a P15 and a DNF to show for its efforts to go along with the bubbly public relations campaign being waged by riders and team brass.

The Undercards

Albert Arenas, having won in Qatar sometime back around the spring equinox, won again today in a hotly (!) contested Moto3 tilt, edging out Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino. Moto3, with its 12-man lead groups, offers simply the best racing on the planet. Scot John McPhee, who came from back in the pack to challenge for the win, crashed out of the lead late shortly after Darryn Binder, another young rider with big ambitions. After two rounds, Arenas leads Ogura 50-36, with a host of riders sitting with between 16 and 20 points. Still plenty of racing left to go.

Same with Moto2, which gave us a somewhat atypical procession today. Luca Marini, who has MotoGP written all over him, fended off a brave challenge from journeyman (and series leader) Tetsuga Nagashima, while Moto2 sophomore Jorge Martin scored his third career Moto2 podium, holding Sam Lowes at bay for the last few laps. Plenty of action lower in the order; too much to keep up with here. Watch the video. But after two rounds, the top five in Moto2 include Nagashima, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Marini, Enea Bastiannini, and Aron Canet.

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

  • Why can’t Marc Marquez make it five in a row and seven for eight?
  • Who will emerge as the top challenger(s)?
  • Which of the young guns will make great strides and approach Alien status? (This may be a duplicate of the previous question.)
  • Will Rossi start to show his age or any sign of a give-a-rip attitude?
  • Can Suzuki provide sufficient horsepower to make Rins or Mir Aliens??
  • Will KTM show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will Aprilia show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will the virus allow the completion of even this bastardized schedule?
  • Like, how many top tens will Alex Marquez see this year?
  • Finally, how many of these questions are you comfortable answering after what is effectively Round One?

Our answers to those questions, after one scrap, go like this: Big crash at Jerez I. Fabio, Maverick and Miller. Bagnaia, Binder and Mir. Yes. No. Yes. No. Don’t know. Zero. Three.

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

*Injured, likely to miss time.

Next week we’ll try this again, likely missing a few premier class riders. It promises to be warm. Hopefully, the Grand Prix of Andalucía won’t be quite as hot as the Grand Prix of Spain.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

Screenshot (464)

Before getting too far into the nuts and bolts of the latest round of wishful thinking on the part of The Powers That Be, let us note that the usual blah blah blah about the virus is still in there, that this is only the latest, most radical attempt to salvage the remnants of what was to have been another Repsol/ Marquez coronation in 2020. It remains to be seen whether any actual races will take place. From a global perspective, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is a bad thing for all types of racing, including MotoGP.

For the sake of keeping our oar in the water, we can take a moment to shred the calendar, which features two back-to-back weekends and three triple-headers. An American swing and a truncated Asian swing are pinned to the end of the scheduled schedule. Like an addendum. Like the suits at Dorna and FIM spent hours arguing about leaving these rounds on the schedule at all, given how tenuous the European part of the schedule was looking already. To suggest that MotoGP will be spending Christmas in Malaysia strains the imagination.

Nonetheless. Two rounds at Jerez on the 19th and 26th of July. A round in Brno followed by a twofer at Red Bull Ring, in a tip of the hat to Ducati Corse. Then, two rounds in Misano–mmmm–and one in Catalunya. A week in France, then two weeks in Aragon as penance. Ending with two weeks at Valencia on November 15th. In italics, basically, is a fictional Americas swing to Austin and Argentina, with an additional “swing” to Thailand and Malaysia. At risk of running into the end of the calendar. All a fantasy.

I found myself thinking about what an awesome vacation it would be to spend 10 days or so in Misano. We might spend Saturdays at the track, otherwise catching Sundays as usual on the website and reporting the results sometime after the race. It occurred to me that neither I or my wife would want to go to Italy in the summer of 2020 with The Rona out there. Adriatic Riviera or not, it’s not a good idea, at least not for us, coming from the U.S. It’s just such a beautiful place, shoehorned in-between the mountains and the sea. Our health insurance wouldn’t work over there, etc. Not in the cards.

So I’m wondering whether any of this is more than a pipe dream, if it’s not just a little something to keep us occupied during this dreadful hiatus. If there is an amusing aspect to this latest and greatest calendar it is the refutation of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s hollow claim that MotoGP is more than just a Spanish sport. Seven of the scheduled 14 rounds are in Spain, at all four usual tracks. Catalunya, perhaps because of the heated current political environment there, only gets a single week, while the other three get a pair each. The remaining seven rounds are schedule for other places on the planet. Four of the eight tracks in 2020 are in Spain. The Spanish riders will enjoy an advantage.

No Mugello. No Sachsenring. No Finland. No Silverstone. No Motegi or Phillip Island. Perhaps two of the last four races listed after the schedule could take place; probably none of them will. Some of Marc Marquez’s bread and butter–Austin and Sachsenring–won’t happen. He should still do okay.

With all the drama surrounding the signings for 2021-22 it will be slightly weird to see the lame ducks–Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez, Jack Miller in a way, possibly no Andrea Iannone–knowing they are headed to greener pastures in 2021 regardless of what, if anything, happens this year. Rossi’s last year on the factory Yamaha. The two Suzuki riders gunning for Alien status. Marquez fighting off all challengers. The era continues, assuming there is a racing season in 2020.

I suspect this latest schedule should be thought of as Hypothetical. So many things need to go right, and so few things can go wrong, that the odds against us watching these remarkable athletes racing in anger in 2020 are long. Will they pipe in noise? Will they let fans in? Will they provide all of the necessary yellow smoke? Will the marshals have masks? The mechanics?

At this point, the 2020 MotoGP schedule looks fantastic, as in a figment of someone’s fertile imagination. If it happens, I look forward to being wrong and getting jacked up on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t we all.

Dominoes Falling Like Mad in MotoGP

June 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (459)

Sudden and/or impending rider contracts with rival teams and builders for 2021-22 have begun a sort of sequencing process that will be fun to watch. It was always going to happen going into a contract year. I had thought teams would wait until the remnant of the 2020 season was underway before beginning the actual poaching process.

In early June, and not having run a race in anger since last summer, the factory teams have decided that the theme heading into 2021 is Getting Better and Younger. This started with Yamaha orchestrating a trade between the factory and satellite teams in which The New Kid in Town, young Fabio Quartararo, the Spanish rider with the French name, takes the factory seat of the legendary Valentino Rossi alongside Maverick Vinales without so much as a fare thee well, and Rossi, graciously swimming in visions of an entire new line of gear branded with SRT for his swan song in 2021, accedes, a Yamaha team player first and foremost, his VR46 academy protege Franco Morbidelli gently under his wing. An investment banker on the side. These ranches aren’t cheap.

Vale apparently has several objectives in mind. He wants to appear on Barron’s list of the 500 wealthiest people in the world. He wants to own a MotoGP team, a Yamaha-supported satellite team, and to beat Honda Racing Corporation into the dirt with it. He’ll sell a lot of VR46 gear and assemble a great team behind the bike. Yamaha has fixed the issues that suddenly began plaguing it in 2017 and can run with Honda and Ducati on most of the world’s tracks.

So the factory Yamaha team gets younger with Fabio and Vinales.

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio in his Moto2 days.

The factory Honda team signed Marc Marquez to a contract which runs through 2024. (!) HRC shocked the world again this week, leaking the fact that Pol Espargaro, the younger of the Espargaro brothers, would take Alex Marquez’ seat on the #2 Repsol Honda for 2021-22 before poor Alex had ever turned a lap. This didn’t make the factory Honda team younger, but it certainly made it stronger. Pol Espargaro has been wrestling point-and-shoot bikes at KTM since 2016 and should find the RC213V relatively easy to ride. The difference is the Honda is very fast and the KTM RC16 is not. KTM has now taken  shot below the water line, losing its only experienced rider to a hated rival who is beating it like a rented mule.

Espargaro won Moto2 in 2013 and was a consistent top tenner in his first three years with Yamaha, his future brighter than big brother Aleix. But he got in bed with the good people at KTM in 2017 and became a top twenty rider, although a top data provider. He has been a big help in developing the bike even though it is still not yet competitive. Losing him is a blow to the KTM program, one that could be filled by an experienced leader such as Andrea Dovizioso.

So now it is assumed Alex Marquez will toddle on over to LCR Honda to team with Takaa Nakagami, owned and operated by HRC on behalf of Japan, and the LCR team gets younger. Poor Cal Crutchlow will then have to choose between an Aprilia, for God’s sake, or calling it a career.

Pramac Ducati loses Jack Miller to the factory team, but picks up new Moto2 KTM grad and fast mover Jorge Martin to ride alongside Pecco Bagnaia, and the Pramac team gets younger. Danilo Petrucci, booted from the factory team, is left to go out and find honest work again, possibly with Aprilia, possibly over at WSBK.

Suppose Andrea Dovizioso, never the object of much respect, his few career chances at a world championship turned to mud by the genius of Marc Marquez, goes for the money and jumps to KTM, the new career wrecker of MotoGP. When he joined Ducati it was, at the time, the career wrecker. He and Gigi D’Alligna have created a bike that is difficult to turn but has incomparable top end speed. A good question is who would take Dovizioso’s hypothetical seat, leaving Miller the #1 factory rider. Would the rumors of a Jorge Lorenzo return come to pass? The factory Ducati team would get a little younger, too, with Miller and Lorenzo aboard. KTM, losing Espargaro and Martin, is listing seriously. The Austrians need to work harder to get the bike up to snuff, lest it continue to wreck careers. It certainly didn’t do Pol Espargaro any good. If they can’t get Dovizioso they’ll have to make a run at Cal Crutchlow.

The two young guys at Suzuki, Joan Mir and Alex Rins, are signed for 2021-22. It would be nice to see Suzuki acquire a satellite team; their bike is competitive, needing only a few more horsepower to accompany its sweet-handling properties. Mir will be an Alien; Rins probably as well. For Suzuki. That is a good thing. See what 40 years in the desert will get you.

So, for a season which has, so far, been rendered an epic fail by Covid-19, there is suddenly a lot of activity, a silly season earlier than in a normal year when guys are actually racing. Barring a second peak in transmissions–the viral type–there is supposed to be some kind of MotoGP season commencing the end of July and running into the early winter. Mostly in EU countries. Asian, US and Argentinian rounds are still on it but looking sketchy, virus-wise. The heat of southern Europe in the summer should make the virus less active and less likely to spread as rapidly. For awhile, anyway. We here at my kitchen table look forward to bringing it to you.

 

 

 

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

The second of three grand prix motorcycle championships was decided today as Italian veteran Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 title from the top step of the podium. In Moto2, Alex Marquez was unable to clinch the title, but held on to most of his margin, putting immense pressure on his pursuers heading to Malaysia. Over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez won another race. Ho hum. 

With Tom Luthi and Brad Binder still mathematically alive in Moto2, the season trudges on. Alex was unable to get anything going all day, finally finishing eighth, while KTM teammates Brad Binder and rookie Jorge Martin finished one-two and top challenger Luthi third. In other words, short of sailing over the handlebars, Marquez had about as bad a day as one can have in this business and still holds a 28-point cushion with two rounds left. The contest is not as close as the announcers would have you believe. 

Practice and Qualifying 

With a wet FP1 and a dry, surprisingly fast FP2 Yamaha and Vinales topped the day on Friday, to a resounding “So what?” Yamaha put all four bikes in the top nine, including young Fabio, whose F1 highside sent him to the medical center with a bad ouchie on his ankle and which would likely affect him not a whit on Saturday. The Yams were joined by Ducatis and Hondas, Marquez and Crutchlow (HON), Dovi, Miller and Petrucci (DUC). The Suzukis were struggling, the Aprilias showing improvement in the dry.

Marquez and Lorenzo had a close encounter in FP2 that folks would be talking about for the weekend. I didn’t hear the post-session comments, but it looked like Lorenzo slowed down on the racing line while MM was on a hot lap and MM brushed him on the pass. Mostly by accident. Any two other riders it wouldn’t amount to much at all. After all, it was Friday. As a footnote, Johann Zarco ended his first day on a 2018 Honda RC213V in P15, ahead of both Lorenzo (HON) and Pol Espargaro (KTM). Just sayin’.

On Saturday the weather gods, Arbitrary and Capricious, got involved, wind being their tool of choice, the result being a shambles in the premier class. Moto3 and Moto2 got all their sessions done, barely, but the MotoGP grid basically sat out FP3, after which FP4 was red-flagged, after which qualifications were pushed to Sunday. Fabio was limping around all day Saturday trying fruitlessly to avoid Q1; Miguel Oliveira had what the Brits call a “heavy crash” during FP4 that’s gonna leave a mark. Left on the outside of Q2 looking in were some big names—Quartararo first and foremost, along with Mir, Zarco and the KTM machines of Pol Espargaro and Oliveira. All would be sorted out on Sunday.

In Moto2, Sudden Sam Lowes, Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge and Luca Marini moved on from Q1. The Q2 front row ended up comprised of Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and hot Marini, going for a late-season hat trick on Sunday from P3. The second row included Fabio di Giannantonio, Jorge Martin (!) and Lowes, with aspiring champion Alex Marquez 7th, Tom Luthi 11th. As to Marquez’ chasers, they would start Sunday, respectively, from P11, P17, P1 and P2. Marquez can afford to let these guys bash each other’s brains in as long as he finishes in the top ten; he does not need to mix it up at the front with Brad Binder.

In Moto3 Can Oncu, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia and Tom Booth-Amos graduated to Q2. A wind-chill seemingly in the 30’s produced a front row of Marcos Ramirez, a stoked Aron Canet, and another hottie, Albert Arenas with a win and a second in his last two races. Plucky John McPhee (you just know he hates that label) sits dangerously at the top of Row 2 joined by Kaito Toba and LDP, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, the putative 2019 Moto3 world champion, needing only to beat Canet by five points on Sunday to clinch. If Aron Canet were in the NFL playoffs, his team would be down six with a minute left, facing 4th and 47 from their own one-yard line.

Quartararo and a surprising Andrea Iannone passed the Q1 test and were promoted to Q2. With times well off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole record, the race would start with Vinales, Quartararo and Marquez on the front row, followed by Rossi, Petrucci and Crutchlow. Five of these six would feature prominently in the race. Valentino Rossi, for those of you still paying attention, started fourth, finished eighth, and was a non-factor all day, although not to the extent that Jorge Lorenzo was, starting from P19 and finishing last, over a minute behind teammate Marquez, on the same bike, his nerves and spirit shot full of holes. 

The Races 

Moto3 featured your typical 17 bike lead group, the first six finishers within three-quarters of a second of one another. For the suspense to have been sustained to Sepang, after jinxed challenger Aron Canet DNF’ed for the fourth time in five rounds, Tony Arbolino would have had to win the race with Dalla Porta finishing no higher than ninth. By about Lap 5, with those two positions essentially reversed, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we watched everyone go round and round and absorbed another over-the-top podium celebration, par for the course for first-time winners. For all winners in this sport, come to think of it.

In Moto2 the two KTM factory machines found some love in the long, sweeping turns in Australia and won going away. Marquez spent his entire day mixing it up with the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri, Iker Lecuona, Remy Gardner and so on, risking a skittling that could have put a serious damper on his title aspirations. He was fortunate to finish eighth. The conditions will probably be more favorable for him in Malaysia. In my opinion, next week is his first real match point, and I expect he will put it between the white lines.

In MotoGP, in what has become a disturbingly familiar scenario, world champion Marc Marquez spent the entire day in second place, dogging the Yamaha race leader and ultimately breaking his heart into small shards on the last lap. In Buriram and Motegi it was rookie stud Fabio Quartararo. Today, it was Maverick Vinales who had his wings plucked off late in the day, at the time and place of Marquez’ choosing. Vinales panicked once Marquez went through on at Turn 1, asking more from his rear tire than it had to give, and finally lost his grits in Turn 9, gifting second place to Cal Crutchlow and a cheap podium to homeboy Jack Miller, who couldn’t have been more surprised. An early high side from Danilo Petrucci created collateral damage for young Fabio and ended his day on the first lap. 

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

Recall what we said a couple weeks ago: Freeze them off in Australia and fry ‘em up in Malaysia. Despite pulling for Alex Marquez to get the monkey off his back next week, I would love to see two or three riders heading to Valencia for the finale within a few points of one another. We’ll have a few thoughts on this and other subjects on Tuesday or so.

Local Color

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Melbourne

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MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

MotoGP fans must be open to the idea that Aragon is on its way to becoming another #93Wins track, joining Austin and the Sachsenring as places where he is virtually automatic. Out here in northeast Spain, Marquez won as a rookie in 2013, went MIA in 2014 and 2015, then started reeling off wins in 2016.

A win this year would make him 4-for-4 of late. The fact that so many riders still have all this motivation to pull out the stops on the way to the top step of the rostrum, while he has so little—basically, remain upright and finish in the points somewhere—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. Winning never gets old. His victory celebrations, however, are starting to resemble those of Jorge Lorenzo back in the day and need to be dialed down a notch or two.

Rookie Fabio Quartararo proved to me last week that he is the real deal. He is not just a one-lap wonder, skilled at qualifying. He turned in a win-worthy race on Sunday under the worst pressure imaginable in this business, i.e., with Marc Marquez glued to his rear tire the entire effing time. On the final lap, per the script, Fabio got passed for the first time by Marquez in Turn 1, but struck back immediately, giving the five-time premier class champion a little of THIS, before settling for second. That’s what you want to see in wannabe Aliens.

Was Marquez toying with the Frenchman? I think so, but he is sufficiently emotionally and politically astute not to suggest anything other than Quartararo has mad skills and big balls and will be a threat to his title next year yeah sure right. Maybe not for real, but he has a credible shot at #2 next year, assuming he ever wins his first race. Nicky Hayden won the title in 2006 with two wins. One needs points every weekend, just not necessarily 25.

Fabio Quartararo on a factory Yamaha in 2021 will be a beast. Until then, readers must guard against “irrational exuberance;” let him get a win somewhere (the schedule gets incrementally easier after Marquez clinches the title), another year on the satellite Yam, then the major leagues, the heir apparent to The House That Rossi Built. Is he seriously going to be, a year and a half from now, The New Kid in Town? He’ll be 22 years old. Salad days for Marc Marquez may be drawing to a close sooner than we thought. 

Recent History at Aragon

In 2016, Repsol Honda upstart Marquez took a big step toward seizing the MotoGP title with an impressive win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers of Lorenzo and Rossi, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder looked to gather momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Last year, Marc Marquez had likely grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’d been making a chump of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. A year ago, in front of his home fans, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso and a surprisingly competitive Andrea Iannone (SUZ), assuring his followers that he may be many things, but a chump isn’t one of them. 

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

The messy situation at the KTM factory team has, for the time being, been resolved. Disaffected Frenchman Johann Zarco, who had requested out of his 2020 contract, was removed from the remainder of his 2019 contract in favor of test rider Mika Kallio, who will race in Aragon this weekend. Zarco’s fall from grace has become rapid, and many readers of other, less enlightened publications are highly critical of his comportment.

My take is that he realized he had made a losing bet—regardless of how it got made—accepting the contract offer from KTM without having first resolved the interest from Honda, which probably would also have been a mistake, too, in that JZ needs a Yamaha or Suzuki beneath him. It wasn’t going to get any better this year or next. He is currently losing face, but is a talented rider who, like Lorenzo, needs a specific type of bike to be successful, and for Zarco, the KTM wasn’t it. It is not impossible to get resurrected from Test Rider to Rider in MotoGP; paging Jonas Folger. One thing for certain is that, career-wise, Zarco cannot afford any more face-plants; the next one will probably be his last.

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

Moto2 championship leader Alex Marquez had nine points taken out of his series lead on Sunday as Augusto Fernandez elbowed his way to the win, Marquez finishing third, now up by 26 points heading to Aragon. Fabio di Giannantonio took the second podium step and missed out on what would have been a well-earned win by a full 18/100ths of a second. Slacker.

Moto3 offered its customary barn-burner with the first four riders crossing the line within 7/10ths of a second. Hard-luck Tatsuki Suzuki, riding for Paolo Simoncelli’s team at the track named for his late son, took the win with some fancy riding and good luck, bringing the elder Simoncelli to tears. Sure, they played the Japanese national anthem during the podium celebration, but it surely must have sounded like Il Canto degli Italiani to the SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

See, good things happen in MotoGP. Just not in the premier class.

Your Weekend Forecast

The Racing Gods appear anxious to get into the act this weekend, with bright sunshine predicted, interspersed with heavy rain showers. Something for every taste and budget. This is good news for the grid, for whom sunny and bright spells certain doom. The news isn’t all that good when one accounts for the fact that Marquez handles sketchy weather conditions better than anyone else out there and makes music with crew chief Santi Hernández such that they rarely guess wrong on tires or setup.

Conceding the win to Marquez, I’m inclined to see Rossi and Dovizioso on the podium this weekend. The youngsters—Quartararo, Vinales, Rins—can have the weekend off. This is the last European round until November, the last chance to make some positive impressions on the continent before flying off to crazy time zones and brutal weather conditions. I want to believe the veteran campaigners understand this better than the young bucks, and that this weekend will be for them.

We’ll have results and analysis right here mid-day on Sunday.

MotoGP San Marino Results

September 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez rains on Yamaha’s Italian parade 

In a memorable last-lap duel, the incomparable Marc Marquez took brash French rookie Fabio Quartararo’s lunch money, after threatening to take it for 26 laps. In the process he was able to check off all five boxes on his Sunday to-do list:

  • Win a last-lap battle;
  • Rain on an Italian parade, no Rossi or Morbidelli;
  • Put young Fabio in his place, if possible;
  • Deny #20 an Alien card if possible; and
  • Extend his 2019 series lead to an appalling 93 points.

This, then, is me eating my prediction from Wednesday that Yamahas would not put four bikes in the top five in this race. Let’s agree that Yamaha has fixed their acceleration problem and is no longer holding Vinales or Rossi back. Let’s stipulate that the Petronas satellite bikes are at least as fast as the 2019 version when fitted with the same engine.

And let’s agree that Marquez played young Fabio today, let him feel the pressure all day, stayed on his rear tire, just watching. Saving his tire. Figuring out where to mount the assault. Turn 1 of the final lap, followed moments later by an exchange of places out of which Marquez emerged with the lead. He blocked young Fabio at every turn, so to speak, on the second half of the lap to hold on for another convincing win, one made a touch sweeter by taking place in Italy, where he is roundly loathed. Vinales found his way to the third step of the podium, more Pop Gun today than Top Gun. And Rossi finally found his way past #21 Morbidelli late in the day, the teacher outrunning the student to the flag. Having discounted Vinales I had either #21 or #46 on the podium. 

Currently, Jorge Lorenzo is Just Another Rider 

After 13 rounds last year, factory Ducati #2 Lorenzo had 130 pts and Petrucci, on the Pramac Ducati, 110. This year Lorenzo has 23 points on the Honda while Petrux has 151 on the factory machine. Don’t let anyone tell you that Danilo couldn’t outride Lorenzo on the GP19. It says here that Lorenzo now has the yips on the RC213V. Been saying it for a while. I think he would be slower this year on the Ducati than he was at the end of last year, too. Today he started 18th and finished 19th.

Alberto Puig who, I sense, has a little-man complex, said as much. Lorenzo is unable to admit that he is terrified by the unpredictability of the RC213V and is not unaware that it came close to putting him in a wheelchair. In my unsolicited opinion, Jorge needs to examine those things that are important in his life and retire from motorcycle racing, let it go, be thankful for three world premier class titles. While he can walk away, literally, on his own terms, Honda undoubtedly happy to accommodate a waving of his contract commitment for 2020 without penalty. Let Honda worry about the #2 factory seat; Lorenzo needs to worry about Lorenzo. He has more than enough money for a lifetime of leisure, which he has richly earned. Make Casey Stoner his role model. Retire as close to the top of your game as possible. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday belonged to 2019 ROY lock Fabio Quartararo, who flogged his Petronas Yamaha M1 to the top of both timesheets. Saturday’s hero was Pol Espargaro, who passed directly into Q2 and thence to the middle of the first row of the grid on Sunday, the first ever front row qualifying session for KTM in MotoGP.

World Circuit Marco Simoncelli proved itself to be a very friendly venue, one enjoyed by Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Suzuki, with Ducatis, despite their strong recent history, lagging and Aprilia once again up the creek.

Q2 started with Vinales and Quartararo favored for pole. Two Suzukis in Q2, 2 KTM. Yamahas occupied three of the top four spots and four of the top seven, paced by Maverick Vinales on pole, Quartararo in P3, and a strong-looking Franco Morbidelli on the inside of Row 2.

Rossi stood seventh after a late Q2 altercation with Marquez (P5), upon which fans will be divided as to who was at fault. I couldn’t tell, but at the moment it occurred Marquez had two red bars, was shooting for pole and Rossi wasn’t, ergo Rossi had less to lose in a close encounter, ergo he took it upon himself to punish, vigilante-style, Marquez running wide after his having blitzed Rossi on the inside, by pushing him into the green, nullifying the lap entirely for both riders, then putting on a bit of a block-pass, causing Marquez to apply the brakes and raise his hand, no mas, no mas. Marquez seen laughing about it shortly thereafter in his garage. Race Direction asked if they could stop by later to discuss the incident, which resulted in nothing other than some excellent beer, wine and cheese all around, Marquez beaming, Rossi impassive, seething. Robbed of his crown by this impertinent, disrespectful, egotistic Spaniard; sick and tired of it all. In his home crib. As they say in Tennessee, “disgracious.”

One wonders what would have happened had their encounter taken place for the win on Sunday. 

The Race 

Much like my cheese sauce, today’s race quickly separated into several clots of riders, the races inside the race generating much of the interest on Sunday. Marquez and Quartararo went off on their own, leaving the Yamaha machines of Vinales, Morbidelli and Rossi to tussle over the final podium spot. Vinales failed to take real advantage of his first pole since Qatar but had enough to hold off the reigning GOAT and young Franco, who keeps looking better and better, with Dovizioso closing in sixth. KTM’s Pol Espargaro celebrated beating an ascendant Joan Mir (SUZ) for P7, with Jack Miller and Danilo closing out the top ten in their non-threatening Ducs. Riders who failed to see the flag included Ducati wild card Michele Pirro, as well as pretenders Cal Crutchlow (HON), Alex Rins (SUZ) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC).

We have stated our belief that no one, not even young heartthrob Fabio, can get their Alien card until they’ve beaten a Marquez or a Rossi or a Dovizioso, etc., mano a mano for their first MotoGP win. (Danilo Petrucci did that at Mugello and no one sought to make him an Alien.) Today might have been Quartararo’s day to become a full-fledged Alien, had he been able to hold off Marquez on that eventful last lap.

Despite Marquez’ difficult recent last-lap encounters with Rins and Dovi, I don’t believe #20 had a prayer today. Today, I think, was “On behalf of the Aliens and myself, welcome to MotoGP, Fabio, please find a way to be happy finishing second. Let me know when you feel capable of winning.” 

Tranches 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Up Next: Aragon

MotoGP teams must not pass GO, may not collect $200, and must proceed directly to dusty Aragon for Round 14 of an increasingly discouraging 2019 season. The track, with its fake 3,000-year-old stones juxtaposed against the gigantic video walls is a memorable sight. If there is a positive note about today’s outcome, it’s that it eliminated any possibility that #93 could clinch the title this time around. The odds of a title at Buriram went to 35% while Motegi climbed to 65%.

Local Color, courtesy of MotoGP.com:

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Rossiland

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Beautiful place to visit or live.

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Ducatitown

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We will be back mid-week with a look ahead at the Aragon round.


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