Archive for the ‘MotoGP Assen’ Category

Marquez overcomes weather and odds, remains perfect

June 28, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Results, by Bruce Allen

The conditions confronting the riders and teams at the 2014 Iveco Daily TT Assen couldn’t have been worse. It had rained off and on all weekend, and race day featured everything from bright sunshine to hail (hail!) prior to the Moto2 tilt. The MotoGP teams were confounded by tire choices as the flag-to-flag contest unfurled. But when the rain and smoke cleared, Repsol Honda sophomore Marc Marquez had made it 8-for-8 in 2014.

Marquez swims across the line

Marquez swims across the line at Assen.

Round Eight of the 2014 season provided perfect conditions for upsets amongst the usual suspects. Jack Miller, leading the Moto3 league, crashed out of his race on Lap 2, leaving the door open for little brother Alex Marquez to win again today and significantly tighten the 2014 race. In Moto2, the feel good moment of the year occurred as Ant West, the grizzled field horse, doubled his career win total by prevailing on a drying track, winning for the second time in his grand prix career at the site of his first win back in 2003. As this goes to press, our crack research team is hunting down the “longest period between wins, career” stat in the archives.

Qualifying on Friday was a cluster. GO&FUN Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and factory Ducati Brit Cal Crutchlow had managed to sneak through Q1. Though the track for Q2 was dry, rain was fast approaching. The riders knew they would need to get their flying laps in early, the result being that the session looked like a race, with most of the 12 riders grouped together up front. Marquez appeared to have streaked to the pole with perhaps eight minutes left. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha flew across the start/finish line, 1.4 seconds better than Marquez for the first pole by a non-major factory rider in over a decade. The eight minute qualifying session ended with Espargaro, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on the front row, Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone, Crutchlow and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Bradley Smith on the second, and a dazed Jorge Lorenzo funking around in 9th place.

Wet at the Start, Dry at the Finish

Rain was falling as the big bikes lined up on the grid, beneath a patchwork of blue skies and black rainclouds. Factory Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati wannabe Yonny Hernandez were the only riders opting to start the race on slicks. Rossi changed his mind on the sighting lap, opting to start on rain tires from pit lane; having qualified 12th, he wasn’t giving up that much. Hernandez stuck to his guns, resulting in two (2) tire changes during the race and a 19th place finish, a lap down to Marquez and company.

As is usually the case at the start of a race, the qualifying order became jumbled immediately. Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez jumped out in front of Pedrosa, Espargaro and pesky overachiever Iannone. By Lap 2, Lorenzo had worked his way up to 6th place as the rain, which had been pouring down minutes earlier, pretty much stopped. For the Ducati riders, wet tracks are the great equalizer, as the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas drops down to where the Ducati runs all the time. Thus, at the end of Lap 4, the top six riders included Dovizioso in second, Iannone in fifth and Crutchlow in sixth. Alas, the rain stopped spitting, and the Aliens, or at least most of them, began heading for the front of the pack.

By Lap 6, Dovizioso was again sniffing Marquez’s rear, and it was time to switch bikes. The leaders pitted, did their Pony Express thing, and exited pit lane on slicks. During this Brief Shining Moment, Lorenzo held the lead with Nicky Hayden, who had managed to qualify 22nd, occupying second place. The two would ultimately finish 13th and 17th, respectively; Assen’s reputation as The Cathedral would be incomplete without a few martyrs.

Drama on Lap 7

Pushing hard on his out lap, Marquez ran wide, briefly went walkabout, and re-entered the fray trailing Dovizioso by four seconds, Doviziosowith Aspar plodder Hiro Aoyama sandwiched between the two fast movers. By then, the sky was mostly black, and it appeared another Pony Express change was in the wind. Had it occurred, with a number of the riders, including Aoyama, still on their rain tires, the results could have easily gotten scrambled.

Marquez, along with his other traits, proved today that he is highly adaptive to changing conditions, and just plain lucky. Lucky, in that the rain held off, allowing him to methodically track down Dovizioso on Lap 16 and ultimately win by almost seven seconds. Early on, while the race was being delayed, neither he nor his team appeared excited or anxious while confusion reigned. Again, we were reminded of the words of Kipling, who wrote of being able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Crew chiefs were turning purple yelling instructions at their mechanics, and riders were running back and forth to the bathrooms. During all this, Marquez appeared relaxed, almost bored. I found myself wondering how often he shaves, if ever. With his smooth chin and easy smile he looks like a high school kid waiting for his date to finish doing her hair.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa fought a day-long duel for third place, with the racing world pulling hard for Espargaro, but it was not to be. Rossi, a mile behind the eight ball at the start, rode the wheels off his Yamaha YZR-M1, ultimately finishing fifth ahead of amico Iannone in fifth. Bautista managed not to cause any mayhem and moved up from 10th at the start to seventh at the close, followed by Smith, Crutchlow and LCR Honda’s Stafan Bradl.

The Big Picture

Marquez, now at 200 for 200, leads Pedrosa and Rossi by 72 points. Dovizioso sits in fourth, with a thoroughly messed up Jorge Lorenzo suffering in fifth place. Aleix Espargaro jumped ahead of brother Pol, who crashed twice today before retiring. Bradl, Iannone and Smith complete the top ten.

The Good News and the Bad News

If there is any good news for the riders at the top of the standings not named Marquez, it is that they are all relatively healthy. No broken collarbones sticking out like at this time last year, no ankles held together with screws and adhesive tape. The bad news is that The Sachsenring, next up on the calendar, is one of the two most Honda-friendly circuits on the tour, along with Motegi.

There is no reason to believe that Marquez will fail to repeat his win there last year, which would leave him undefeated at the halfway point of the season. With MotoGP’s annual summer vacation kicking in after that, the grid will have to deal with a rested and refreshed #93 when racing starts up again at Indianapolis in August. Awesome.

Since March, the concept of The Undefeated Season has shifted from Impossible to Implausible to Unlikely to Possible. If it continues, we will be forced to reverse our linguistic field, returning to Impossible on the eve of Valencia in November.

It could happen.

2014 Assen Top Ten Capture

2014 Top TenCapture

Magic Marquez leads pilgrimage to the Cathedral

June 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Preview, by Bruce Allen

Repsol Honda God-child Marc Marquez leads his team and the rest of the MotoGP grid to Assen, which has been hosting Marquez at Aragonmotorcycle races in one form or another on the last Saturday in June since 1925. During this period, the race has morphed from the Dutch TT to the Dutch Grand Prix, from a road race to a closed-course tilt, and from motorized bicycles to the fastest two-wheeled racing machines on earth. Revered by fans and riders, Assen would be a fitting place for Marquez to set yet another modern day record.

Rossi 2014Recall 2002, when the MotoGP God-child was a brash 23-year old Italian named Valentino Rossi. Rossi had entered the premier class in 2000 after having won titles in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. In 2001 he would win the first of five consecutive world titles, taking 11 of the 16 races that year aboard the 500cc Honda. In 2002, a rule change brought about the beginning of the four-stroke era, to which Rossi adapted almost immediately. In 2002, during his second premier class title year, he won seven races in succession, a mark that has stood ever since.

A mark which is likely to fall this Saturday afternoon to a new Marc.

In the modern era of MotoGP, no premier class rider has ever started stronger than has Marquez in 2014, winning the first seven contests of the season. Though the first five were relatively straightforward, the last two, at Mugello and Catalunya, have been bayonets at close quarters, and the young Catalan has not blinked. Assen, which, from the air, looks like a carelessly crushed little oval, boasts some of the highest average lap speeds on the tour, according to MotoGP. Yamahas have taken three of the last four races here, despite the shortest straight on the tour.Assen

Regardless, you can take all that talk, all those facts and figures, crumple them into a little ball and toss them in the trash. Marc Marquez is probably going to figure out a way to win Saturday’s race, establish a new record, and continue his ridiculous assault on 18-for-18.

Recent History at Assen

In 2011, Ben Spies, in his first year aboard the factory Yamaha YZR-M1, was the beneficiary of a first lap crash that took teammate and defending Assen and world champion Jorge Lorenzo out of contention. The charismatic and wildly erratic Marco Simoncelli, riding a factory spec Honda for Fausto Gresini, attempted to go through Lorenzo on cold tires, with negative consequences for both riders. Lorenzo re-entered the race in 15th position and worked his way back to a sixth place finish, while Repsol Honda pilots Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium.

The following year, Stoner, en route to his second world title, outdistanced teammate Dani Pedrosa by five seconds for the win. Running third again that day, this time on a satellite Yamaha, was Andrea Dovizioso. And again that year, Lorenzo was cut down by a Gresini Honda on Lap 1, this time by the narcissistic and spatially-clueless Alvaro Bautista. Four other riders crashed out that day, Colin Edwards retired with CRT problems, and Karel Abraham failed to start, having injured himself in practice. The 2012 race was notable for the fact that six (6) CRT bikes would finish in the points, owing to the demolition derby up front.

Last year, on a wet track, overachieving rookie Marquez chased a resurgent Valentino Rossi for a good part of the day, The Doctor prevailing for what would be his only win of the year on the factory Yamaha. Soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow, bitterly piloting the competitive satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, finished third, cementing his credentials to become a Factory Rider for Ducati Corse and, in the process, virtually ruining his career. Defending world champion Lorenzo fractured his collarbone during FP2, flew home for surgery, qualified 12th and managed to finish fifth in one of the grittiest performances many of us have ever seen. Pedrosa would endure his own season-screwing collarbone fracture the following round in Germany, the two injured Aliens leaving the door open for Marquez’ shocking rookie championship.

Marc Marquez winning the title in 2013 was a surprise. In 2014, the surprise will be if he doesn’t win the title. Assen has been the site of a number of unexpected outcomes over the years, so another could be in the cards this week. My only advice to the Spanish youngster for Saturday: steer clear of Bautista and Redding.

Colin Edwards

An Apology to Colin Edwards

Many of you have accused me of treating Colin Edwards rather harshly in recent years, and I have come to agree. His interview elsewhere this week clearly illustrated the fact that he has paid his dues, enjoyed a great deal of success, and is as candid and honest about the sport and his place in it as anyone ever. He and Nicky Hayden seem to be kindred spirits.

Edwards’ best years were behind him when I began following MotoGP seriously in 2008. He is old school Texas through and through, brings a kind of dirt bike mentality to the sport, and likely would have enjoyed more success later in his career but for the advances in the control electronics that now dominate the grid. His performance at Silverstone in 2011, finishing third in the rain a week after breaking his own collarbone at Catalunya, was epic, both in terms of skill and stones. That it would be the last podium of his career is almost poetic.

This publication is full of shootouts, a term that brings to mind lining up a pair of thundering bikes at a streetlight, winding them up and lighting them off. Even at age 40, in that setting, with two identical machines, I would put my money on Edwards against anyone. If he had a couple of beers under his belt, I’d give odds.

Congratulations on a great career, Colin. I hope Michelin pays you wheelbarrows full of money to help them develop the next generation of MotoGP tires.

Ducati logoDucati Corse is SMOKIN’!

Perhaps you saw the announcement last week that Ducati will be leasing the Desmosedici, rather than selling it, in 2015. The subject is a bit academic, in that no one bought a single copy in 2014. (Unless they’re referring to Pramac Racing, which I think of as a Triple A factory team anyway. And why would they bother announcing a change in their relationship with Pramac to the press when they can just send an email?)

As regards 2015, I have only one question: To whom? Honda will surely beef up their production bike, in order to make amends with the likes of Aspar and Gresini. PBM Racing isn’t interested. There doesn’t appear to be a line forming of teams or riders anxious to risk life, limb and career on the Ducati. In fact, most of the current factory and Pramac riders appear willing to trade their current rides for just about anything short of an Evinrude-powered bathtub bolted to a couple of skateboards. Can the 2015 version really be a whole lot different/better than the 2014? Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Curious press release. If readers know more about this than meets the eye, please comment below.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

It’s a shame that the Dutch Grand Prix is always run on the last Saturday in June which, in The Netherlands, is late winter. Again this year, high temps are forecast in the 60’s, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8:00 am EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Saturday afternoon.

MotoGP Assen 2013 Results

June 29, 2013

Rossi Wins, Bionic Lorenzo 5th in Dutch TT 

It was a thoroughly hectic weekend for factory Yamaha kingpin Jorge Lorenzo at the 2013 Dutch TT Assen.  Broke his collarbone in a routine highside in FP2 on Thursday afternoon, chartered a jet to Barcelona that day, had a couple hours of surgery early Friday morning, grabbed a bite to eat, flew back to Assen, slept a little on the plane, started 12th and finished 5th in the race.  Had to be helped off his bike at the end.  Ho hum. 

Another day at the office for Lorenzo.  This is a man chasing a third championship. This is a man with a pair the size of hubcaps.  Less than 36 hours after receiving a titanium plate and eight screws to hold it on, Lorenzo, The Bionic Man, in a world of pain, risks life and limb, so to speak, in order to stay within range of series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa.

So, instead of facing a barely comprehensible 32 point deficit, Lorenzo heroically manages to stay in second place, within 9 points of Pedrosa.  That Pedrosa would cooperate by having an uncharacteristically bad outing and finishing 4th was good fortune itself.  It’s still a race, albeit an uphill one for Lorenzo, for the title.  For today, the race had about the best possible outcome for Lorenzo, who is somewhat miraculously bent, not broken.

Meanwhile, Back at the Race

Largely overlooked in all this were two performances, one serene, the other sublime, almost surreal.  The first was Monster Tech 3 Yamaha ruffian Cal Crutchlow, winning the pole as a Brit for the first time in 11 years, the first satellite bike on the pole since yank Ben Spies, on the same bike, did it in Indianapolis in 2010.

Despite a poor start, and despite looking like he could crash out of a podium at any moment, as is his wont, Crutchlow went through on Pedrosa on Lap 21 to finish 3rd, a great result for the suddenly hot Englishman.  His late run at Honda rookie Marc Marquez didn’t work out, as the two bikes touched, Marquez held his line, and Crutchlow lost his.  End of story for second place.  Crutchlow richly earns his third podium of the season and does nothing to diminish his prospects for 2014.

The surreal picture of the day, of course, was that of Valentino Rossi starting 4th, going through on Stefan Bradl into 3rd place on Lap 1.  Flying, looking eerily like the Rossi of 2008, he went through easily on Marquez on Lap 5 into 2nd place.  From there, it was one more lap until he slipped past Pedrosa on Lap 6 and won, not by a mile, but going virtually unchallenged over the last 20 laps.  It was fun watching, in turn, Bradl, Pedrosa, and finally Marquez thinking, “Holy s**t.  I’ve got Valentino-frigging-Rossi on my tail, and he’s got pace.  God help me.”  I wrote Rossi off earlier in the year, before his epiphany with the brakes this past week.  Let’s see how he does in Germany and Laguna, the rest of Amen Corner, before giving him his Alien membership card back.

As good a day as it was individually for Lorenzo and Rossi and Crutchlow, it was a great day for Team Yamaha, putting three bikes in the top five and two on the podium, with Lorenzo averting disaster, living to fight again another day for the 2013 title.  And, for the record, we are wondering when the last time was that neither Pedrosa nor Lorenzo stood on the podium after a race.  We should have that answer for you within two weeks.  All I can say is Jorge Lorenzo makes me shake my head—about Ben Spies.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Repsol Honda #2 Marc Marquez finished second today after three consecutive wins here over the past three years in the junior leagues.  He also has three wins in a row at Sachsenring, so expect him to be competitive again next time out.  Pedrosa has  three consecutive premier class wins there, too, while Lorenzo has four seconds in a row, some kind of frustration record.

Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda qualified for his first premier class front row, started well, but faded to his usual 6th place finish.  Brit Bradley Smith qualified 6th on his Tech 3 Yamaha but slipped to 9th at the flag.  In between the two were Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda and Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia CRT.  Bautista was celebrating not having taken a factory Yamaha out on Lap 1 and little else.

Andrea Dovizioso finishing 10th and Nicky Hayden 11th on the factory Ducatis were the high point of a lousy weekend for the Bologna branch of Audi Corporation.  Dovizioso, presumably, is smarting from having been assessed a penalty point, a whole penalty point, along with Hector Barbera resulting from a close encounter in qualifying in which they were observed trying to pimp-slap one another.  The penalty points, new this season from your friends at Race Direction, were for “fighting like girls.”

Dovizioso, who managed to qualify a sterling 15th on his shiny factory Ducati, said he has a clear conscience about the entire incident.  If you can willingly abandon a Yamaha ride for a Ducati ride, I guess you can have a clear conscience about lots of things.  Former partner and teammate Cal Crutchlow is fighting for podiums on the satellite Yamaha, and Dovi is slapfighting with Spaniards on the way to 10th place finishes.  Spaniards who’ve already been beaten up by their girlfriends this season.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Dani Pedrosa maintains his lead in the series, now leading Lorenzo by nine points.  In third sits Marquez, with 113 points, 14 behind Lorenzo.  Farther back, Rossi and Crutchlow are virtually deadlocked for fourth place, with Crutchlow at 87 and Rossi 85.  Here is the top ten after seven rounds in 2013:

Top 10 Riders after 7 rounds.

Heading to Germany, a very Honda-friendly track, Pedrosa will expect to extend his lead over Lorenzo, while Marquez, too, will be thinking career win #2.  Lorenzo, one thinks, would be delighted to finish second at the Sachsenring again this year, in his condition.  Perhaps his wingman Rossi can take up some of the slack and keep the Repsol boys at bay while the Mallorcan continues to heal.

As for Dani Pedrosa, despite an ordinary outing today, he leads the championship, perhaps at a later stage in the season than ever before.  He’s uninjured—did we mention that Marquez broke a toe and a finger in practice yesterday?—and leading the series, with some friendly circuits coming up.  It’s too early for him to begin thinking about getting conservative, about just not crashing.  But one gets the sense that, at some point, it will be time.  For the first time in his premier class career, he may find himself later this season with a trophy to protect.

Today, in the Netherlands, Team Yamaha had its day in the sun.  We’re only halfway to Valencia, but the 2013 Repsol Honda team must be feeling pretty sunny themselves.

Random MotoGP musings on a Friday…

June 28, 2013

…after my boy Jorge Lorenzo fell, together with his multiply-fractured collarbone, out of the 2013 championship race in a relatively tame high side on Wednesday, nothing like Marquez’s high side on Thursday, in which the rookie went completely ragdoll in a pas de deux with his bike, broke a finger, broke a toe, walked away and qualified on the front row.

One of the racing publications suggested the possibility that Lorenzo might try to race on Saturday without having qualified on Friday.  Not sure how that works, other than badly.  If Lorenzo can be 85% by Saxony he can wait for Pedrosa to crash, or, delightfully, the rookie to CAUSE Pedrosa to crash in a silly overtaking move somewhere like Laguna or Brno.

What a bummer it is to be kind of Pedrosa-neutral, ready to see him BEAT Lorenzo for the title, but now having to almost hope he has bad luck and collects a DNF or two in order to make it a horse race again.

If Marquez were to accidentally dump Pedrosa on the way to a win Sunday, Livio Suppo’s worst nightmare come true, the standings would look like this:

Pedrosa     123

Marquez    118

Lorenzo     116

Crutchlow   91

Just sayin’.

________________________________

A.  Competing  =  starting a race.

B.  Qualifying  =  finding one hot lap.

C.  Racing  =  consistent hot laps

D.  Winning = Doing lots of C and leaving some B for when it is necessary or opportune.

When turned upside down this approximates the food chain in MotoGP.  There are two, maybe three D’s.  There are four or five C’s.  There are three or four B’s.  And the rest–16 or so–are mainly out there turning laps, maybe qualifying top six in the rain, looking for photo ops for the sponsors, chasing promotional opportunities.  Lots of training, great reflexes–kind of guy who could snatch your dollar bill out of the air from 2″.  But the top 10 are the only guys with even a remote chance of a podium.

So, 60% of the field is out there to wear the colors and get some exposure for the sponsors.  Of the rest, perhaps four or five have a chance of winning a race.  The rest, if you’ll pardon the observation, are satisfied with one hot lap in qualifying, keeping the shiny side up for 25 laps, letting attrition take its toll on the field, and telling everyone about their  “Top Ten” finish and what a thrill it was, how the team–everyone but him, really–worked really hard all weekend blah blah blah.  That he didn’t actually overtake anyone all day, but managed 9th place nonetheless.  In the words of Gilbert Godfrey, “Big whoop.”  Some pretty big names in this group.  Former  world champions.

Nice that at least one of the top ten is a “CRT” baller, Aleix Espargaro.  Make it a new rule that if brothers are competing in the series, they must either both be on prototypes or both on Frankenbikes.  We’ve had the Spies rule, then the Marquez rule.  Time for the Espargaro rule.