Archive for the ‘MotoGP Brno’ Category

MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 29, 2019

The “battle” for second place starts now 

With 58 points in hand and things generally going his way, Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez is unlikely to throw the 2019 world championship down the road. Let’s put on blinders and refocus our attention and interest on the fight for second place. After all, this is MotoGP. Second-best in the world is nothing to sneeze at. If this were March Madness, it would be like playing on Monday night. You might lose by 30 but at least you were there. Put it this way—it’s better than just beating your teammate.

Marquez at sachsenring

The factory Ducati team of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci is sitting pretty with 127 and 121 points, respectively, Petrucci telling everyone “I told you so” after years of perdition. Next comes the reckless, but not wreckless, Alex Rins, with expensive DNFs in his last two races, at 101 points. Vinales had lately been hot at Assen and Sachsenring, but his season was in tatters until then, and he sits with 85. Rossi has 80 points. People no longer wonder out loud whether Valentino will win another title. They are reduced to arguing whether he will win another race, which is an editorial on How Things Are.

Recent History at Brno 

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

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much weather-related pre-race drama, turned out to be a six-lap affair with a 16-lap warm-down. Afterwards, many of the attendees berated themselves for wasting all that money on such a crummy day at the track. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best weather guy of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead early on Lap 6 and never looked back. This was another example of how his crew had the #2 bike fitted the way the rider wanted without any communication from him. Pretty awesome crew. Again.

Dovi Lorenzo Marquez Brno 2018

Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez Brno 2018

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

After last year, one might expect the factory Ducatis to dominate again this year, and that may happen. But Marquez will surely be in the mix, Vinales is likely to be fast, and Rins will show us how grown up he is by how long he keeps the bike upright. Marquez is the one of these five contenders who would be least unhappy to finish fifth, as the others are desperate for a win. Unfortunately for them, they are not allowed to affix blinders and ignore the remarkable Marquez. None, however, seems willing or able to challenge #93 early in a race, perhaps force him into a mistake that puts him back in mid-pack and reduces the probability of another boorish Repsol Honda win. Madness reigns on the grid—the top guys keep doing the same things, expecting different results, their best simply not good enough. Meanwhile, Marquez has his sights set on a fourth consecutive world championship and could seriously care less about the outcome of a particular race at this point, Catalunya having already passed.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Jonas Folger—earning a full-time gig in Moto2. He should contend quickly. He was good enough in Moto2 years ago to earn a promotion to MotoGP and would probably still be there had it not been for some serious health issues which have since been resolved. Good onya, Jonas.

Brad Binder—earned a promotion from KTM’s factory Moto2 team to the Tech 3 MotoGP team, to be riding alongside Miguel Oliveira. For Hafizh Syahrin, MotoGP was nice while it lasted. KTMs are the new career-killers, replacing Ducati. Zarco will leave tarnished after next season; Espargaro and Oliveira resemble lifers. Binder does not seem quite ready to me, but Syahrin was going nowhere. Put a South African on the grid, lose a Malaysian. In the words of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, “’ts all good, man.”

Jorge Lorenzo to miss two more rounds recovering from cracked vertebrae. Off in the distance, if you listen carefully, you can hear a bell tolling. It tolls for Jorge.

2020 is looking more and more like Andrea Iannone’s last year in MotoGP. Dude would rock in WSBK.

Is it just me, or is the silly season pretty much over for next year? Does anyone think Alex Marquez will be some kind of force in MotoGP even a year from now?

Your Weekend Forecast 

Weather in Brno for the weekend looks, in the words of Steve and Matt, “a bit iffy.” Rain in the area with temps in the upper 70’s. Don’t know about you, but it sounds like Marquez weather to me. His favorite conditions are, in his words, “whatever.”

There is no reason both Dovizioso and Petrucci shouldn’t be on the podium, with Vinales and Rins in the top five. They’ve had three weeks to do stuff to the bikes. Even Crutchlow should be feeling pretty good now, ready for the chase for second. Rossi needs to find a way into Q2. Period. No longer any need to worry about Lorenzo, injured former-Alien, in 2019. Looks, however, like a great opportunity for Stefan Bradl to pile up some points for the Repsol Honda team, perhaps for the remainder of the season.

Speaking of Aliens, Rossi has become an Alien Emeritus. Boom. Vinales, Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins would all be considered Aliens in a non-Marquezian world. As denizens of Tranche 2, however, can they still be considered Aliens, or are we down to one Alien and a handful of super-strong, untitled, unfortunate riders?

Hard to say. All we know for sure is that hope springs eternal in the hearts of those in Tranche 2. As for Sunday’s race, I would bet a small trifecta of Petrucci to win, Dovizioso to place, and Marquez to show, similar to last year. Yamahas in fourth and fifth.

We’ll see if any of this happens—results and analysis—right here after the race.

MotoGP: Rossi Getting Overtaken

July 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen    July 17, 2019

Here are results for the four Yamaha riders since the championship returned to Europe:

ROSSI RESULTS JEREZ - SACHSENRING

The Petronas satellite riders, Quartararo and Morbidelli, are on used chasses fitted with new engines, and are more than capable of holding their own with the 2019 factory bikes. The Yamaha racing effort has been on an upswing since Assen, and now looks capable of competing again with Honda and Ducati. And Suzuki.

Testing coming up at Brno on the 2020 M1 prototype. Suppose for the sake of argument the new bike is a second quicker than the current one. Does Rossi still have what it takes, along with guys like Marquez and Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro, and Danilo Petrucci to wrestle these machines to where they obey you? Is there any reason to expect that the rest of the 2020 team won’t also be a second or so faster as well?  The point is, even if the new bike is great, it is not likely to propel him past all three of his brand-mates. Vinales and Quartararo appear to be the real deal, and the Frenchman is exactly half Rossi’s age. Even if you just add Marquez, Rins and Dovizioso to the mix, Rossi’s still fighting for, what? Sixth?

Rossi must find the idea of fulfilling his 2020 contract to be irresistible. A victory lap for a hall-of-fame career. A bright future as a team owner and industry heavy. Perhaps, over the season, a moment or two of heroic riding, moments that remind us of when he was the New Kid in Town, the Fastest Gun in the West, The Doctor., when such moments were routine, and the bells of Tavullia were ringing seemingly every summer Sunday afternoon.

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

There will never be another like him.

The Rossi Era has given way to the Marquez Era which, as far off as it seems today, will give way to the Next Era which, once Marquez has finally surrendered the top spot, might be subject to a variety of champions over the following period of years, featuring names like Quartararo, Rins, Mir and a handful of Italian graduates from the VR46 riders academy on Rossi’s ranch.

At the risk of tempting fate and earning the ire of the many Rossi worshipers still out there, I think he’s already won his last MotoGP race, at Assen in 2017. The Brno test that has everyone on edge probably won’t mean much for Rossi in 2020. And so it goes. Fabio Quartararo, against all odds, may be The New Kid in Town. Eagles 1976

MotoGP Brno Results

August 5, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Andrea-DoviziosoDovizioso, Lorenzo Lead Czech Charge 

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

A Pulsating Czech GP

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere on the Grid

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

The Big Picture 

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

Tranching Getting Easier

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

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen.           Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Prepping to Czech Out at Brno 

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

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

Recent History at Brno 

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

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

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

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

This Track Record Stuff is Kind of Fun

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

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

Petronas SIC Yamaha Rider #2

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2016 Brno Results

August 21, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Cal Crutchlow first Brit since 1981 to win a GP 

With three wet/dry races in the last four rounds, MotoGP fans should be getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring, but was joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  Today, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez.  Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series.

The practice sessions leading up to today’s race were warm and dry, with most of the usual suspects at or near the top of the sheets.  As usual in 2016, at tracks where the new ECU and Michelins haven’t been tested, it took some of the riders awhile to sort things out.  Dani Pedrosa, for example, ended the respective sessions 11th, 15th, 6th and 4th, and had to make it out of Q1 before starting the race in ninth place.

As qualifying session two approached the 15-minute mark, it looked like a race—Marquez, chasing Lorenzo’s impossibly quick qualifying and track record lap, found himself, late in a very quick lap, in a close encounter with Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha and Rossi on his Movistar Yamaha.  Marquez went through on both, hot-knife-through-butter style, on his way to an inconceivable track record lap of 1:54.596.  Rossi, unaware he was in Marquez’s way, seemed surprised when #93 blew past him and then barely dodged the slower Espargaro.  At the end of the session, it was Marquez, Lorenzo and Iannone on a very strong front row.  Had Marquez been running in clean air, he could have touched 1:54.2.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

As we’ve seen numerous times this season, two sunny days of practice yielded to a rainy, wet, miserable Sunday.  This reduced the Sunday attendance from 138,000 last year to 85,000 today.  Moto3 ran in a downpour; Moto2 in a steady rain until the last few laps.  As the premier class tilt approached, there was mass confusion in the garages and on the grid regarding tire choices.  And, in the end, it was tire choices that determined the outcome of the race.

As everyone knows by now, the correct choice for this race was the hard option front and rear.  At this writing, I am aware that five of the top eight finishers put hard tires on the rear—Crutchlow, Rossi, Loris Baz (17th to 4th), Hector Barbera, and Eugene Laverty (15th to 6th).  Marquez, expecting a flag-to-flag affair, went with soft/soft, as did Andrea Iannone.  Danilo Petrucci, who finished seventh on his Pramac Ducati, appeared to have the hard rear, but this is unconfirmed.  And while the riders on the softer tires had things their way during the first half of the race, it was the harder options which delivered the win to Crutchlow, second to Rossi, and fourth to a surprised Loris Baz in his best ever MotoGP result.

Some selected glimpses of the standings at various points in today’s race show:

  • Crutchlow finishing Lap 7 in 12th place;
  • Rossi finishing Lap 9 in 10th;
  • Baz finishing Lap 8 in 14th; and
  • Eugene Laverty finishing Lap 11 in 14th.

All four finished in the top six.  Once the tires warmed up and the fuel loads dropped, the riders who had rolled the dice on the hard rears began rolling through the field, while the rest of the grid, with the notable exception of Marquez, began sinking like anvils.  Andrea Dovizioso waved the red flag on his Ducati when the center of his rear Michelin disintegrated on Lap 10.  Teammate Iannone finished the race with no rubber in the middle of either tire.

Marquez, who led briefly, realized early on that managing his tires would be critical to finishing the race, as the rain stayed away but the track remained damp.  And despite the fact that he spent a good deal of the day in fourth and fifth position, none of the riders in front of him presented any threat to his championship lead.  Rossi went through on Lap 16, but took only four points out of Marquez, while the Catalan’s lead in the 2016 championship stretched from 43 to 53 points.  Calling Marquez’s performance today a salvage job is inaccurate.  It was, to be fair, a strategic triumph after a bad roll of the dice on tires.

Which Brings Us to Jorge Lorenzo

The best metaphor to describe defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s experience this weekend is descending from the penthouse to the outhouse.  The man cannot race in the rain any longer, an Achilles heel that may stand in the way of any future championships for one of the best dry riders in history.  He owned the track record on Saturday; he failed to finish the race on the lead lap today having made at least two, and perhaps five, separate pit stops.  Race coverage of his travails ceased after the second stop.

His lap times for laps 17-21 were all well over two minutes.  He came in on 17 and basically stole his #2 dry bike over the animated objections of crew chief Ramon Forcada.  One lap later he returned to the pit and jumped back on his #1 wet bike.  From there it gets confusing, but on Lap 20, a lap down to the leaders, he suddenly appeared in the midst of Barbera and Marquez, acting as if he were fighting for the lead, having apparently lost his mind.  I’m not sure there is a journalist brave enough to attempt a post-race interview with Lorenzo.  He ceded second place in the 2016 race to his rival Rossi and embarrassed himself in the process.  For a man with a very high machismo coefficient, things cannot get much worse.

As to what follows, many of you knew it was coming.

“As Far as I’m Concerned, They’re All Wimps”

Thus spoke Cal Crutchlow in the post-race interview with Dylan Gray, preening over his ballsy choice of hard tires, about the other 19 riders on the grid, three of whom have won multiple premier class world championships.

Today was Cal’s first premier class win.  His beloved wife presented him with his first child several weeks ago.  He’s young, handsome, wealthy and getting paid ridiculous jack to do something he would gladly do for free had he arrived in this world with a trust fund.  Yet, somehow, he finds the need to insult his colleagues—all of them—irresistible, and in the most demeaning way imaginable.  By impugning their manhood.  By asserting he was the only rider—he wasn’t—intelligent and bold enough to make what amounted to a lucky choice of tires.  In essence, for having the balls and brains to have rolled a seven in a craps game.

You are the MAN, Cal.  Rolling a seven.  On a day when a Brit won a premier class race for the first time in 35 years.  At a track where, in dry conditions, you would have done well to finish sixth, if at all.  In the presence of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, each of whom would absolutely eat your lunch in a match race in dry weather on identical equipment.  I’m starting to think, as skilled as you are, you’re missing a chromosome.  That you may have invested a few thousand enrolling in the Donald Trump School of Tact and Grace.  And, finally, that you will never again appear on the top step of a MotoGP podium, that Brno 2016 will stand as the high water mark of your classless career.

Bravo.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Preview

August 16, 2016

© Bruce Alllen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Aliens Seek Redemption in Round 11

After getting schooled by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team in Austria, the fast movers at Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda look to get even this week in The Czech Republic.  These ambitions appear justified, in that the Automotodrom Brno has a healthy number of what are called “turns,” whereas the Red Bull Ring is more of a long straight with a couple of kinks in it.  It will take a heroic effort from the Ducs to convince the racing world that Sunday’s historic result wasn’t an outlier.

Despite this rather sour outlook, the stock of the Ducati program jumped this past weekend.  Series leader Marc Marquez this week shared his opinion with the media that the Andreas will be a force to be dealt with for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  They will be fronting Jorge Lorenzo in 2017 and 2018, which will raise their prospects yet another notch.  They should also be competitive at three of the fast circuits left on the 2016 calendar—Brno, Silverstone and Sepang.  Only their execrable start to the season appears to stand between them and Alien status.

Recent History at Brno

In 2013 rookie Marc Marquez, suddenly the blessed heir apparent, won at Brno for a fourth straight victory, edging teammate Pedrosa by 3/10ths with Lorenzo another two seconds back.  He ended the day leading Pedrosa by 26 points and Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left.

An anxious Lorenzo got off early from the five hole, hoping to blitz the field, but the Hondas gradually reeled him in, Marquez going through on Lap 16 and Pedrosa three laps later.  Valentino Rossi, gradually rounding into form on the Yamaha after two years in red, pipped pretender Alvaro Bautista at the flag for 13 points but still trailed Lorenzo by 26. It was at this point of the season that many people began getting comfortable with the idea, previously unthinkable, that rookie Marquez would take the title that year.

Brno was the site where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying.  #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole.  Again.  Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief.  It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Lorenzo by a few tenths and Rossi by five seconds.  Those were the days where Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.

The “anyone but Marquez” mentality that had gradually descended upon the grid was in full force that day. It was Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati who tangled with Marquez twice early, with Rossi assigned to keep the rookie at bay later in the race.  Not that it mattered, as the 2014 championship had been decided well before then.  Marquez would head to Silverstone leading Pedrosa by 77 points and Lorenzo by 90, what we in Indiana refer to as “a country mile.”  I suppose if you ask Aliens whether they ride for titles or records they will usually choose titles; records can be broken, taken away.  Titles, not so much.

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

With Marquez wrestling his 2015 RC213V to a draw most of the season, the Rossi/Lorenzo rivalry would keep growing until the first round of the Pacific flyaway in Sepang, when Marquez and Rossi tangled for the second time, the first having come at Assen. The wheels proceeded to come off the championship chase, so to speak, in a firestorm of hard feelings and bad sportsmanship, culminating in an ugly season finale in Valencia in which Rossi was forced to endure a last row start after some highly unbecoming behavior in Japan.

Irrational Exuberance

Paraphrasing the words of ex-Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, most of the riders in the premier class grid can be accused of being overly optimistic about their prospects on a given weekend.  Nicky Hayden, now competing in World Superbike, was perhaps the most prominent example of this thinking.  Having won his only world championship during the down year of 2006, with but three premier class wins to his name during a 13-year career, The Kentucky Kid was generally convincing when describing his chances at any race, other than those few in which he was injured, as being good.  His usual take— “Well, we’ll wind it up, try to stay with the front group, look for some opportunities to steal a spot or two, and see what happens.  The reason they run these danged things is on account of you never know who might win.”  All this, during his last five seasons, generally on his way to 12th place and four points.

Now, suddenly, Dani Pedrosa is sounding an awful lot like Hayden.  His last three outings have produced a total of 23 points.  In the midst of what has arguably been his least productive premier class season ever, the following words came out of his cake hole yesterday: “It’s very wide, with some very fast corners, and you must be able to hit the best lines to set good lap times, as it doesn’t forgive the smallest mistake.”  He continued, “I just hope that the weather is stable so we can use all the practice time and try to build up some more confidence and speed.”  Finally, “In this second part of the season, we should find some more suitable tracks for us. Of course Brno has some long straights that can be demanding for us, but it’s a track that I’ve liked since I started racing, and I always have a good feeling there.”   The headline which accompanied this soliloquy read “Pedrosa upbeat on Brno prospects.”  Jeesh.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions in the greater Brno area are expected to deteriorate as Sunday approaches.  The best chance of rain appears to be on Sunday, with a weather system moving in on Saturday night.  I’m starting to sound like Al Roker.  Practice sessions should be dry, but Sunday could give us another hilarious flag-to-flag event.  Both Moto3 and Moto2 could have a red flag in their future on Sunday morning.

As to the podium, I am leaning toward Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  #93 is a fast healer and will want to get back in the mix after the problems he experienced in Austria.  Lorenzo and Rossi count Brno among their favorite tracks, assuming the weather cooperates.  I would like to see a Ducati or two on the podium, but fear Iannone and Dovizioso may still be nursing hangovers from last time out, in addition to a little irrational exuberance.  Those two will be praying for rain.

We’ll have results and analysis right here early Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2015 Brno Results

August 16, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Excluive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo shreds the field, seizes championship lead

The 2015 bwin Grand Prix České republiky gave the amped-up crowd of 138,000 a somewhat disappointing high-speed parade, with six of the top 8 starters crossing the line in the same position they started. One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who drove his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading unassailed from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, punched Rossi out of the lead for the first time this year.

Lorenzo in the rain at Le MansRossi pulled a rabbit out of his hat in the final minute of qualifying on Saturday afternoon, putting himself on the front row (third position) for only the 16th time in his last 100 outings. Resurgent world champion Marc Marquez, coming off two consecutive wins, qualified second, giving the world what the announcers referred to, over and over again, as a Dream Front Row. With Lorenzo and Marquez escaping at the start, and Rossi getting swamped back into 5th place, the dream ended in the first turn.

Lorenzo simply had another of those piston-like days where he appeared to coast to the win, never challenged, cool as a cucumber, while those behind him were sweating their asymmetric rears off trying to keep up. Marquez spent the day in second place, looking like he might be biding his time as he did in Indianapolis, until around Lap 8, when his tires dropped. Trailing by only 4/10ths at the end of Lap 6, he would end the day 4.5 seconds down, with Rossi six seconds farther back. A thorough, convincing beatdown at a track perfectly suited to Jorge Lorenzo. I’m surprised he doesn’t win here every year and that they don’t rename the track LorenzoLand.

True Grit

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380As we’ve observed here before, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa has the hardest luck and a pair of the biggest cojones on the grid. His chances for a first premier class title in 2015 were ruined in March when he had to undergo a complicated surgery to deal with his chronic arm pump issue, causing him to sit out rounds 2 through 4. He returned to action at Le Mans, barely, and was making steady progress back into contention when a mechanical issue in FP2 on Friday sent him flying over the handlebars and re-injured a left ankle that already contained a good deal of titanium from previous misadventures. Despite a visible limp, he managed to qualify ninth, getting pushed back to 10th at the end of Lap 1.

Once he settled in, Pedrosa wove his way through the field until the middle of the race when, sitting in sixth place, he found himself running behind a pair of factory Ducatis, Iannone and Dovizioso intransigent in their refusal to get out of his way. With his adrenaline spike having subsided, along with the painkillers in his ankle, Pedrosa gritted his teeth and took on Dovizioso in a battle for fifth place that lasted from roughly Lap 13 until the final turn of Lap 22, at which point Pedrosa emerged in front of Dovizioso in the run to the wire. And though the result was a rather meaningless fifth place in a lost season, it provided another glimpse of the man within the man who is Dani Pedrosa, the Rodney Dangerfield of MotoGP, who doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves from folks like me.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Tech 3 Brit Bradley Smith, still without a contract for next year, put his satellite Yamaha in the middle of row two in bradley_smithqualifying and managed another respectable seventh place finish today. With the factory Ducatis having received upgraded engines, they had an easier time at Brno than they have of late, probably costing Smith a spot or two in the final standings. Smith’s Tech 3 teammate Pol Espargaro, 2016 contract in hand, qualified and finished eighth, and now trails the Brit by 25 points heading to the 2/3 mark of the season.

It was a case of trading places today on the factory Suzuki Ecstar team. ROY Maverick Vinales qualified seventh and was on the way to his 11th consecutive finish in the points when he crashed out on Lap 17. Teammate Aleix Espargaro, who has found the going very rough over the past several rounds, completed his worst qualifying session of the year on Saturday in 15th place, but managed to pull things together sufficiently during the race to finish ninth, despite trailing his brother by 20 seconds, enough time for Pol to enjoy a cream cheese kolache in pit lane waiting for big brother to show up.

Pramac Ducati stalwart Danilo Petrucci, who, like Avintia Racing’s Mike di Meglio has to shave, like, three times a day, was unable to recreate his qualifying magic in Indianapolis, where he started fifth, beginning the day’s action down in 13th position. He kept things together sufficiently to finish tenth, as Vinales and Crutchlow crashed out in front of him and Hector Barbera fell to 16th place.

Perhaps the saddest statement of the day came from announcer Nick Harris, who was so busy applauding the efforts of Loris Baz cutting into Barbera’s lead for the open class championship that he forgot that Baz’s season is probably over, due to the criminal issues surrounding the Forward Racing team’s owner. Baz is probably the latest victim of the old adage that it’s difficult to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys.

Finally, lest I be accused of un-American activities, Nicky Hayden started 21st and finished 17th, a minute and two seconds behind Lorenzo. Were he a mechanic instead of a rider, his work today would be referred to as “turning wrenches.” And while the ever-upbeat Hayden claims to still enjoy his job, the numbers argue otherwise. How much fun can it be for a former world champion to finish behind the likes of Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera?

The Big Picture

While the Movistar Yamaha teammates are ostensibly tied in the standings, Lorenzo holds the tiebreaker as well as the advantage heading into Round 12 at Silverstone. Rossi has not been a factor in the British Grand Prix for a decade, since it was run at Donington Park. Lorenzo has three wins and a second in Britain over the last five years. Rossi was quoted this week as saying that if he expects to win the title this year he needs to start winning races again, his last win having come at Assen back in June.

Marquez told a little bit of a white lie today after the race, stating that his goal for the weekend was to cut into Rossi’s advantage over him. (I suspect his real goal was to watch both factory Yamahas go pinwheeling into the tire barriers while he ran away from the field for an easy third consecutive win.) True, he is now only 52 points out of the lead for the year, whereas he was 56 points out yesterday. Marquez had absolutely no impact on today’s race, other than putting a smidge of pressure on Lorenzo during the first six laps. One can only say that as regards equipment, riders and race management, Team Yamaha is superior to Team Honda in 2015. A few more performances like we saw from Jorge Lorenzo today will earn him his third premier class title and cement his place in racing history.

There is no taking of prisoners in LorenzoLand.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

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

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

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

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

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

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

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

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

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

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

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

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

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

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

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

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

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

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

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

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

A Small Confession

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

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

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

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

Marquez streak squelched by Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months

August 17, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Brno Results, by Bruce Allen

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380Most of the 131,800 fanatics who attended Sunday’s Czech Grand Prix at Brno–hoping to boast to their grandkids that they were there the day Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez broke the record for consecutive wins to start a season–were reduced, at best, to bragging they were at the race Marquez lost in 2014, when he went 17 for 18 on the way to his second premier class title in two seasons. With Yamaha studs Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi joining winner Dani Pedrosa on the podium, it was just like the good old days, before the annoying Marquez came along, in 2012, when the three of them used to win everything.

Dani Pedrosa’s last premier class win came at Sepang in September of 2013. He has had a strong history at Brno, but in the pre-race chatter one kept hearing about and considering Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and continuing marvel Valentino Rossi, who reduced his own chances of winning on Sunday by crashing out unassisted in FP4 and damaging his left pinky, a bad place to get hurt in his profession, despite the fastest time on the FP4 grid. Could the factory Yamahas and Ducatis push the gifted and impudent young Honda rider hard enough early in the race to implement the “anyone but Marquez” strategy that had silently emerged at the top of the grid since April?

The notion that Brno is a Yamaha-friendly track appeared to have been blown up in qualifying on Saturday with the emergence of the Ducati contingent in spots two and three, leaving Yamaha prototypes in 4th, 6th. 7th and 9th positions. Ducati Corse now has the Desmosidici working, if one will forgive yet another golf analogy, tee to green, but must continue to work on its short game. The Ducati is capable of laying down a single hot lap in qualifying but unable to keep pace at race distance due primarily to tire wear. Thus, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, found themselves qualifying in the front row along polesitter Marquez, but did not figure to be around come podium time. Not this year. Driving for show, putting for dough as it were.

One of the topics we explore periodically is that of “team orders”, which we swear don’t exist in this class of the profession. Yet, it is easy to envision this imaginary private conversation between Livio Suppo, HRC Director of Racing, and Dani Pedrosa after the last team meeting of the day on Sunday morning:
Livio SuppoLS:”Dani, as a seasoned pro and teammate you know that the streak young Marquez is on is remarkable. I know you and I both support him continuing the streak as long as possible.”
DP:”Yes, sir.”
LS: “That the streak can end, but it can’t be you that ends it?”
DP:”Yes, sir.”
LS: “So then I can assure our masters in Japan that you will not keep Marquez from his place in the record books, and that, as an effective wingman, you will help, if necessary, fight off Lorenzo and Rossi so as to keep that record intact? Knowing I may have to commit ritual suicide if anything else at all were to happen?”
DP: “Yes, sir.”
LS: “Good. Thank you. Good luck this afternoon.”

As most of you know, it was Pedrosa, indeed, who ran off with the 2014 Czech Grand Prix, stalked by a determined Jorge Lorenzo and the hurt-not-injured Vale Rossi, with Marquez running a puzzling fourth. A recently re-signed Pedrosa telling Honda Racing that they have, indeed, not just one rider capable of winning races but two. A determined pro at the top of his own game, constantly kept from a premier class title by a cabal of legends owning MotoGP during his career. A rider who will not, at this stage in his career, take team orders. Pedrosa appears to have learned how to say “yes” and mean “no” from his own masters, who are legendarily good at it.

The premier class version of top-to-bottom competition typically devolves into a collection of little races-within-a-race for a variety of finishing positions. So it was early today as Pedrosa and Lorenzo engaged up front, dogged by Rossi and Marquez. Andrea Iannone gladly took on the odious task of getting in Marquez’s grill early in the day, the result being that the two bikes touched twice on Lap 5. While Pedrosa and Lorenzo went off to do their business, Valentino Rossi hung around to keep Marquez humble, and it worked.

At the end it included the Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Iannone tangling for fifth place, Iannone prevailing. LCR ex-pat Stefan Bradl finished a ho-hum seventh. NGM Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, big brother, claimed eighth in front of the recently re-signed and relaxed Bradley Smith, who qualified in 4th place but could only manage 9th at the finish on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Note to Smith: The one year contract means you were the default accomplice to rising star (and today’s crasher) Pol Espargaro. They hope to replace you next season.

The Big Picture Doesn’t Change

Marc Marquez today fell from legendary to simply dominating, his winning streak besmirched, his temporary invincibility finally dismissed, without the expected fight for the winning shot. In the beginning of the race there was too much bunch with the field, and he fell from the pole to something like sixth place. Both Pedrosa and Lorenzo got up to speed early, while Marquez would have to fight his way past Dovizioso, Iannone and Valentino Rossi if he were going to at least podium in a contest that seemed, somehow, to get away from him early, without some unforgettable and memorable attempt to capture the lead, an effort that had appeared in numerous contests over a year and a half. No sign of it today.

2014 Brno MotoGP Top Ten

Elsewhere in MotoGP

Our suspicion concerning the “customer Hondas” at Gresini, Aspar and Cardion AB has been confirmed, with the announcement that the 2015 Open Honda teams would be getting upgraded to this year’s RC213V engine, complete with pneumatic valves. A radical increase in power for a bunch of riders who know how to ride but haven’t had a fair chance to compete owing to a lack of top end speed. With this issue now resolved for 2015, the top ten scrum should include several more competitive bikes, i.e. Aspar’s Nicky Hayden (2015 Customer Honda), Gresini’s Scott Redding (2015 factory RCV), LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (2015 factory RCV), the second Gresini bike (2015 Customer Honda) and a second LCR bike (2015 Customer Honda) currently on offer to Jack Miller in a rumored jump/shift from his KTM Moto3 team to the premier class.

What would it take to tighten the 2015 field like the one we see in Moto3, where eight bikes often fight in the front group? As we’ve seen, the Yamaha Open class bikes (factory rides equipped with last year’s engine) themselves appear to be 98% competitive with the factory entries; the teams just have to struggle with the financial side of the equation. If Honda hits 98% next year in its customer bikes, the grid will tighten considerably. If Dalligna’s 2015 Ducati improves its short game, it’s handling in the turns and tire consumption…Ducati logo

If Suzuki emerges from its lengthy layoff with a two rider team competitive with the Alien forces…If Aprilia, as rumored, moves its unofficial 2016 graduation to the premier class forward to 2015 rather than the Michelin tire change year, with some kind of low budget program sufficient to not lose face, and finds a rider or two—I’m thinking here of a Hector Barbara–willing to sacrifice body and soul to help get a program competitive, beginning next season… How does the grid not expand to 25 or 26 entries?

Nor do I know why it shouldn’t, other than some obscure language written into a contract with the tire supplier. One hears that the Paul Byrd Motorsports team will withdraw from MotoGP to form a new two-bike team in World Super Bikes, and the Ioda Racing team, being held together with clarinet reeds and duct tape, could go the way of all things next year. Certainly Danilo Petrucci plans to do better in 2015.

Farther Down the Food Chain

It appears to be a very good year to be any kind of Moto rider these days, as guys like John Rea and Eugene Laverty are being flown in to interview for assorted Open class and minor factory rides. Most of the bottom third of the grid appears to be in conversation with these teams, suggesting a number of the “slower” riders—Broc Parkes, Michael Laverty and Petrucci among them–will continue to have seats in 2015.

That teams like Avintia and Ioda Racing can financially continue to mount any kind of meaningful 2014 campaign is a miracle of marketing for those suits selling the sponsorship “opportunities”. Think of standing under a cold shower, tearing up hundred dollar bills, or grinding them in a food processor with some water; sponsoring a back bench MotoGP team must be like that. Lots of outlay, not much in return. Expensive parties at the tracks to celebrate a team’s top finisher in 16th place. Stuff like that. Tepid applause. Big bills.

Avintia has announced its intention to replace its current two entry Kawasaki power plants with the new and improved Honda power plant available in the 2015 customer bikes. As my dad used to say, “It should live so long.”

Looking Ahead

Let’s see what happens at Silverstone, San Marino and Aragon, where Marquez and Lorenzo dueled all last year. Let’s see whether Marc Marquez continues to push at the front, or whether he somehow decides to sit back and play defense from here on in. With a 77 point lead and seven rounds now left, playing it safe could be the smart way out.

With Marquez, one expects to see levels of effort and accomplishment characteristically higher during the next several rounds. Wins or meaningful challenges for the top step. That his teammate prevailed today is one of those facts he must appear, by contract, to be happy about which, in the absence of his professional ownership by others, he would quietly loathe and despise coming from a teammate on the back side of his own career. The presence of the two Yamahas was undoubtedly less objectionable. The obstructionism of the Ducatis was expected. The only change in the year-to-date standings had older brother Aleix jumping over crashed-out brother Pol Espargaro in the battle for sixth place.

Marquez is nothing but a well-coached young gentleman. He will have nothing but good things to say about Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi, and that is one reason HRC loves this guy. He will promise to do his best at Silverstone, which must give the other riders cold chills. He is on his way to a remarkable career.

20145 World Champ Top Ten after Round 11

Silverstone’s likely last MotoGP appearance on the calendar comes up in two weeks. Starting in 2016 the British Grand Prix will be held in Wales, at a remote town no one can pronounce, at a location offering, if possible, worse weather conditions than the recently refurbished British track near Bletchley Park, the capital of the Allied decoding efforts against the Germans in WWII. New tires, new affiliations, new rivalries will exist in 2016. The British GP will have to be run somewhere in 2015; meanwhile, the last British GP as we’ve know them takes off in two weeks. We’ll be there.


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