Archive for the ‘MotoGP COTA’ Category

MotoGP COTA Results

April 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Alex Rins puts Suzuki on top in Texas. Seriously. 

Things were going pretty much according to script on Lap 10 of the Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday. Defending world champion Marc Marquez had checked out after starting from pole and was up over three seconds when, at Turn 12, he folded the front of his Honda, slid off the track, and could not re-enter the race. His unforced error allowed Alex Rins to enjoy his first premier class win and put Suzuki on the top step for the first time since 2016.  

Rins was joined by the irrepressible Valentino Rossi in second and Jack Miller, himself on the podium for the first time since 2016 and the first time ever in the dry. Whatever it is that keeps the locals saying, “Keep Austin Weird” was afoot today at COTA. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s big story was the dirty track and the bumps. For a circuit that has had major cosmetic surgery twice now, it now offers riders multiple asphalt compounds, multiple series (plural) of bumps, numerous areas that have been sanded, all of which was built on clay, and all of which slides around in the wet season and/or under the wheels of F-1 cars. Terrible place to build a helluva racetrack. Regardless, several of the usual suspects shook off the track conditions, stayed within a very narrow racing line, and posted respectable times. Marquez’ 2015 track record of 2:02.135 remained unthreatened, another indictment of the racing surface. Aleix Espargaro broke the steering locks on his Aprilia on the back straight, saying later he had never raced on anything like it, not even motocross.

With rain expected on Saturday, folks made like the standings after Friday could constitute qualifying order, and the end of FP2 was a bit of a scramble. My pre-race picks of Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller were interrupted only by the surprising presence of what could be two Yams on the front row, shades of the salad days of 2010. Vinales and Rossi, one suspects, were praying for cloudbursts all day Saturday–never even have to put on the leathers, play cards, drink Red Bull, complain to the press, wait for Sunday.

2019 COTA FP2 Top Ten

Missing from this picture, vulnerable to having to play through Q1, included both factory Ducati riders, three of the four KTMs, Jorge Lorenzo, Takaa Nakagami and the Aprilias. But two of the rookies made the cut.

As it turned out, FP3 was, indeed, scrubbed and the Friday results would stand as the weekly separating of wheat from chaff. With some high profile names in Q1 and things drying out, the heat was on, as Jorge Lorenzo found a quick lap late in the session, leaving Andrea Dovizioso, needing to advance to Q2 to stay in the same zipcode as Marquez, to the untender mercies of teammate Danilo Petrucci, who slid into home, spikes up, beating the throw to snatch the Q2 promotion at the last possible moment. Management would have preferred that he back off, as Dovi’s pursuit of Marquez is more credible than Petrucci’s. Not to mention that they could then use his failure to advance to Q2 in Austin as another reason not to renew his contract for next year.

This is COTA. Q2 was mostly academic. Once Marquez laid down his usual quotient of vapor trails (and consecutive pole #7), most of the residents of tranches one and two cinched it up and gave it a go, generally falling laughably short. The bumps on the back straight are bad enough that they’re irritating Marquez’s shoulder. But only Doctor Rossi and my boy Cal Crutchlow could manage a lap within 6/10ths of #93. The Yamahas keep showing signs of life at a track not designed to their strengths. Pol Espargaro put a KTM in P5 for the first time ever, the factory leaping into immediate contention for the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award later this year.

The Race 

Safe to say that very few people expected the outcome of today’s race. You had three or four big names crash out or retire—Aleix Espargaro, Marquez, El Gato and my boy Cal, who seriously cannot stand success. Once Marquez left the premises, all of a sudden it was a race with consequences, a race with meaning. Rossi, who once upon a time would have won today’s race by 10 seconds, dogged Marquez for awhile while defending himself against repeated attacks by Crutchlow. Once he took the lead on Lap 10, with #35 and #93 already out, I found myself thinking, “Now or never, Vale.” I was actually rooting for him to win; the lack of wins late in his career will ultimately tarnish his reputation around the edges.

Rins, possibly having an out-of-body experience, found himself stalking his idol, and with better pace better tires. He took his time, went through on Lap 17, withstood a couple of keep-him-honest attempts from Rossi, entered the final lap ahead by .3 seconds, and kept his act sufficiently grouped to avoid choking out. Miller kept his podium by holding off Dovizioso, who had started 13th, and Franco Morbidelli, one of two top ten finishers from the Petronas Yamaha team, the other being that insolent Quartararo kid again. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez’ travails today were a good thing for a handful of highly-ranked riders. Andrea Dovizioso, who skirted disaster after poor practice sessions put him in Q1, leads the championship heading to Europe with 54 points. Rossi sits second at 51, Rins third at 49 and Marquez fourth with 45. How much nicer is this than staring at Marquez sitting on 70 points looking self-satisfied? Dare we hope for another opportunity to Let Valencia Decide? 

Tranches 

After Rio Hondo:

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 2: Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli,

Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

After COTA: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

Looking Ahead 

Another three-week gap until the riders return at Jerez. I suggest today’s race was an overdue fluke, and that Marquez’ 2019 title is in no danger at all. Even if it is only a temporary respite, it is a respite from the relentless perfection of #93. Those of you who root for riders other than Marquez can live to cheer another day. 

Moto3

Aron Canet, winless in 2018 with Honda and now fronting for KTM, led an Austrian podium lockout, followed by Jaume Masia, who had spent some time way back in P18, and Andrea Migno, all of whom, along with Gabriel Rodrigo and Niccolo Antonelli, had credible chances to win. The final turn was terribly congested up front, anyone’s race, with Canet emerging in the lead to seal the win. Moto3 rocks—Canet became the eighth different rider to win in consecutive races dating back to last year. He and Masia head to Jerez tied for the series lead, tighter than wallpaper.

Moto2

Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, after a pointless season in MotoGP in 2018, celebrated his personal career resurrection a week earlier than the original, winning easily in Texas on Palm Sunday. Teammate Marcel Schrotter took second, with Jorge Navarro securing his first ever Moto2 podium. Alex Marquez led much of the early going before predictably fading late in the day. The best ride of the day came from Italian guest Mattia Pasini, who stepped on a Triumph-powered bike for the first time on Friday and brought it home in fourth place today, outperforming a couple of dozen riders who’ve had winter testing and two race weekends to get acquainted with the big British bikes.

Action Shots, One Real

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Jack Miller with an impressive save during the morning warm-up..

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Circuit of the Americas 2019

COTA 2019

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Probably Takaaki Nakagami

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Marquez appeared to have it made in the shade.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez leads 2019 heading to his favorite venue 

It was back in 2015 that we, meaning I, started referring to all-world champion Marc Marquez as Captain America, since, at that time, he was undefeated on American soil. Here in early 2019 he is still undefeated in the U.S. Someone please give me a reason not to make him the odds-on favorite to keep his record immaculate, deep in the heart, next Sunday. And no astrology, please. 

Last time out, Marquez demonstrated what could be a new race strategy in 2019. Rarely, in recent years, has he put on a scalded cat routine (paging Dani Pedrosa) as he did in Argentina. Generally, he has put himself in the lead group, done some assessing of the other riders’ lines, conserved his tires, and broken their spirits with two or three laps to go. [The notable exceptions being his recent last-lap duels with Andrea Dovizioso, in which he’s gone 1-for-5.]

Honda appears to have wound up the power and torque in the 2019 RC213V without sacrificing grip, so he’s getting out of turns even quicker and not giving away 30 meters to the Ducs in the straights. Assuming he poles on Saturday—I’m starting to hate this stuff—he may try to take the hole shot and get away at the start. I would if I were him. COTA is a point and shoot layout, ideally suited to the Honda. All of which is appalling news for those of us interested in a real championship competition, last seen in 2015, the year Rossi was to have won his 10th and final world championship and Lorenzo won his. 

Recent History in Austin 

2016 was the race in which Pedrosa skittled Dovizioso. With Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, went all lowside and took Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew what hit him, as it were. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16, paying penance for his egregious takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso two weeks earlier.  Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day. 

The 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for another much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and triple world champion Marquez.  Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place. The rostrum that day featured Marquez, Rossi 2nd and Dani Pedrosa 3rd.

Last year’s race was enthralling until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. After fooling with Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki for half a lap, #93 seized the lead and gave the grid another facial, just like he administered last week in Argentina. Iannone took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and was able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced. Iannone made little effort to keep Maverick Vinales out of second, and withstood a rather tepid challenge from Rossi, who took 4th.

Rookie Update

MotoGP.com is beavering away, promoting the “intense competition” amongst the fast movers up from Moto2—Pecco Bagnaia on the Pramac Ducati, Miguel Oliveira on the KTM Warthog, Joan Mir on the Suzuki and impudent French teenager Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha. Of the four, Quartararo has gotten off to the quickest start, qualifying 5th in Qatar before stalling the bike and starting from pit lane, qualifying 7th and finishing 8th in Argentina. MotoGP calculated that his time in Qatar would have put him in the top ten; he finished out of the points in 16th.

Anyway, back to the intense competition. Heading into round three, here are your point totals for the Aliens-in-Waiting:

Quartararo             8

Mir                        8

Oliveira                 5

Bagnaia                 2

Total                     23

Collectively, they trail Alex Rins by a single point. Of course, I’m being unfair here, as all four look to make some noise in the premier class in the not-too-distant future. What gets me is Dorna’s persistence in jocking every single angle of the sport in its incessant efforts to attract paid subscribers.

Let’s try “A Poor Carpenter Blames His Tools” for $800, Alex

Cal is calling the penalty in Argentina “ridiculous,” despite the fact that he was rolling forward at the start. True, the punishment was way out of proportion to the violation—a potential gain of .001 seconds turns into a 30 second penalty—but that requires a rule change–two categories of jumps, the lesser of the two penalties on the “long lap” instituted this year.

Maverick Vinales blurted this past week about the “serious problem” he’s had with the Yamaha for the past two and a half years. Presumably Rossi has had the same problems, he’s just dealt with them better. Maverick, similar to Jorge Lorenzo, seems to need everything just perfect in order to compete. The bad news is that things are rarely, if ever, perfect in this sport, or any other. Some of us are starting to think that his start with Yamaha was a fluke and that he is, indeed, only a Tranche Two rider after all.

Jorge Lorenzo took time out of his busy schedule to complain about everything associated with the Honda—a clutch problem in Qatar, accidentally hitting the pit lane speed limiter at the start in Argentina (refuting my theory that he was simply in third gear), brake and handlebar grips going from too hard to too soft, on and on and on. A hot track? Karel Abraham putting a sharp pass on him late in the race? Like Maverick, Jorge needs to learn to roll with things a little better. Funny how all the guys chasing Marquez have a list of complaints, while #93 doesn’t usually complain about anything at all.

“Alex, why are Maverick, Jorge and Cal whiny little bitches?”

Your Weekend Forecast

Seriously, who cares about the weather on race weekend? It will either be clear and warm—favoring Marquez—or it won’t, again favoring #93. Long range forecast is for clear and warm, but the long-range forecasters rarely know squat. It doesn’t matter. As my NCAA basketball brackets proved beyond question, it rarely pays to pick underdogs. Any reader wishing to predict a winner other than The Antman needs to arrive in the comments section loaded with reams of data.

I’ve consulted my Magic Eight Ball again this week, looking for cosmic insights into the premier class podium on Sunday. I didn’t bother asking about Marquez, fearing a new “Are you stupid or what?” response from the cheap plastic ball. Re Vinales: “Not likely this decade.” Re Dovizioso: “Signs point to no.” Re Crutchlow: “If he doesn’t foul his breeches.” Re Rossi: “No, but he will sell a lot of gear.” Re Jorge Lorenzo: “Don’t make me laugh.” Re Jack Miller: “You might be surprised.” So there you have it. Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller on Sunday’s rostrum.

We’ll have results right here early Sunday evening. Those of you lucky enough to be attending the race please have a great time and ride safely.

MotoGP COTA Results

April 22, 2018

©Bruce Allen
Viñales Wins Fight for Second as Marquez Romps

The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.

None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas—Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.

Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.

Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Jack Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.

Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and Valentino Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, he laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”

Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and—guess who?—Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.

It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.

It Was Not a Great Race

Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.

Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.

Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters

Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.

Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.

Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.

The Big Picture

Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.

Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys—Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow—will win some races. The young guys—Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller—will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Viñales
Tranche 2: Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Zarco
Tranche 3: Rins, Iannone, Miller, Rabat, Aleix, Petrucci, Syahrin
Tranche 4: Pol, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Bautista
Tranche 5: Abraham, Simeon, Redding, Smith, Luthi

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. 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 maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.

 

MotoGP COTA Results

April 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Rossi Accept Gift from Vinales 

The run-up to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Maverick Vinales and Honda triple world champion Marc Marquez.  All day long, the British announcing crew was breathlessly prancing about the broadcast booth, pondering the sheer wonder of it all, going absolutely hyperbolic.  Showing no sense of the moment, Vinales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game. 

Practice, Practice, Practice 

FP1: Vinales was in charge, not having received the memo about Marquez’ ownership position at COTA.  FP2 was led by Marquez, snatched from Zarco; Vinales right behind, trimming his cuticles.  FP3 was Vinales, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Marquez.

Something had to be done about the weirdness in the standings.  Early in the season, MotoGP seemed to have fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Yamaha is just taking it to Honda—the 2016 M1 is competitive with the 2017 RC213V.  All four Yamahas sit in the top 11 for the season, including the two rookies.  Cal Crutchlow, the highest-ranked Honda, sits tied with rookie Jonas Folger.  Co-rookie Johann Zarco is on the move, a mere five points behind Folger and Crutchlow.  Three Ducs rest in the top ten led by, of all people, Scott Redding in fourth.

It was time to come up from the rabbit hole.  Time to return to Europe.  Just one more foreign outing in Texas to endure before things could return back to normal.

Establishing Positions

Q2 saw a few things put right, beyond the fact that Vinales and Marquez stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a bunch of Aliens and wannabees slugging it out for supporting spots in the top ten.  Vinales delivered the first sub-2:04 lap of the day with maybe 30 seconds left in the session.  20 seconds later, Marquez flogged his Honda to a fifth straight pole in Texas, from which he had won the previous four races.  Rossi snuck onto the front row late in the session, creating a second row of Dani Pedrosa, the impudent Zarco on the satellite Yamaha, and one Jorge Lorenzo, clad in white and red. Oh, and perhaps the save of the season, by Loris Baz late in the session.

Lorenzo and Jack Miller had made it through Q1, with Lorenzo putting the Ducati as high as fourth position before settling for sixth.  Zarco had been up near the top of the timesheets again all weekend, putting pressure on a lot of factory rides.  Miller crashed out of Q2 and appeared to be trotting back to the garage “gingerly,” his inevitable early-season injury having possibly arrived.  Dani Pedrosa was hanging around in fourth, back to starting up front with the big dogs.

In support of my blog, Rossi and Vinales had their first set-to on Saturday during qualifying, with Vinales seemingly cheesed off about Rossi cruising on the racing line.  Race Direction was later said to be considering sending a strongly-worded letter to Lin Jarvis asking him for “best efforts to prevail” upon The Franchise not to seriously injure The New Kid in Town.

The Race Itself

The 2017 American Grand Prix was more parade than firefight.  The factory Hondas and Yamahas emerged from the early chaos to form up the leading group, with Dani Pedrosa front and center.  Cal Crutchlow got clear of The Great Unwashed, and there was even a Jorge Lorenzo sighting around fifth place on the first lap.  The usual suspects quickly found themselves strung out along the bumps and potholes littering the Circuit of the Americas, which stands in need of a paving crew.

Although it took 21 laps and 45 minutes to confirm it, the race basically came down to four moves.  1) Vinales crashed late on Lap 2, leaving Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and Johann Zarco in the lead group.  2)  Marquez took the lead from Pedrosa on Lap 9.  3)  Rossi and Zarco came together a few minutes later, the Frenchman pushing Rossi wide to the right where he could cut back and increase his lead, incurring a hypothetical .3 second penalty that amounted to nothing but had the announcers, fully recovered from Vinales’ crash, happy to find something new to go mental over.  4) Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19.

Game.  Set.  Match

At Ducati Corse, Life Goes On

Andrea Dovizioso being interviewed elsewhere about his place in the Ducatisphere: 

Q:  So why can’t the problems (with the GP17) be solved?

A: “There’s a big difference between understanding the problems and solving them.”

Quoted elsewhere, it seems Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone has finally accepted as fact something the rest of the planet observed late last season.  This, allegedly, is News You Need: ‘Andrea Iannone says he is resigned to having to race with a top speed deficit with Suzuki throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.’  Please refer to the above quote from Dovi with regard to this revelation.

Rubbing salt in the wound, I’m pretty sure that Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone stole Jorge Lorenzo’s lunch money over the last few laps of the race.  We could be charitable and suppose JLo’s tires gave up on him.  Or we could be hateful and small and speculate that he got out-cojoñed by the two Italians.

The Big Picture 

With Vinales’ feet replanted in terra firma after an otherworldly start to his Yamaha career, we can now have a straightforward, adult conversation about the state of the MotoGP championship after three rounds.  The factory Yamahas and Hondas appear significantly ahead of everyone else early in the season.  Rossi and Vinales are frightening, Vinales for his sheer speed, Rossi for his strategic brilliance.

Marquez has atoned for his crash in Argentina and will push The Boys in Blue for the entire season.  The factory Ducati program is in deep yogurt, Dovizioso hanging onto fourth place by his fingernails while grasping bad luck with both hands.  LCR Honda stud Cal Crutchlow continues to nose around the top of the standings, his crash at Losail all that stands between him and a top three ranking.

So, order has been restored at the top of the MotoGP food chain just in time to return to racing in Europe.  Aliens occupy the top three spots in the standings.  Near-Aliens (semi-Aliens?) sit fourth and fifth, while the Alien Emeritus stands sixth.  The apparently brilliant Johann Zarco has seventh place all to himself, while teammate Jonas Folger is tied for eighth place with Pramac Ducati pilot Scot Redding and Jack Miller.  My boy Alex Rins, previously nursing a bad ankle, suffered a compound fracture of his wrist during practice this weekend and is out until further notice.

And Jorge Lorenzo, who sold his Alien Card for filthy lucre, sits counting his money in 13th place, with 12 points to show for his first three acts with Ducati.

A Look Ahead

Two weeks from now MotoGP blasts into the Spanish Riviera.  The racing will be at Jerez, while the action in the evening will be on The Strip in Cadiz.  Maverick Vinales, despite the good vibes associated with a return to home soil, probably will not be in the gift-giving mood in which he found himself today.

Excuse me while I butcher the old Smith Barney one-liner. If they want spots on the podium next time out, Rossi and Marquez will probably have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They’ll have to earn it.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Results

April 10, 2016

Marc Marquez:  Lone Star in the Lone Star State

 On a nice spring afternoon outside Austin, Texas, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez, looking much the way he did in 2013 and 2014, put on another clinic, winning the Grand Prix of the Americas from pole for the fourth consecutive year.  The win makes Captain America 10 for 10 in premier class tilts run in the United States. 

I used to think that bingo was the only game in which one could be bored and anxious at the same time.  Today’s race—a procession, punctuated by life-threatening crashes—felt like an evening in the church basement.

Yamaha rider and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo knew, sitting next to Marquez on the front row at the start, that his only chance for a win today would occur on Lap 1, by getting in Marquez’s business, throwing the young Catalan off his rhythm, and trying to get away.  So determined was he to accomplish this that he narrowly avoided running off the track at Turn 1 and again at Turn 11, running ragged with cold tires, too much fuel, and no rhythm of his own.  It didn’t work, and Marquez took the lead he would never relinquish.

The front group included Valentino Rossi, Ducati’s hard luck Andrea Dovizioso and factory Honda afterthought Dani Pedrosa.  Rossi got caught in traffic and fell back to around 6th, where he and Pedrosa jousted for a short while.  At Turn 3 of Lap 3, Rossi lost the front at speed and slid well into the gravel, removing around a dozen sponsor logos from his leathers, his day over.  Our crack research staff tells me this is the first time in the last 25 races that Rossi has finished outside the top five.

While Marquez was disappearing, Lorenzo took firm control of second place, having gone through on Dovizioso on Lap 5.  Lap 6 saw Ducati Maniac Andrea Iannone go through on Suzuki #2 Aleix Espargaro into 5th place.  Pedrosa was dogging Dovizioso in the battle for third place on Lap 6 when the broadcast switched to his front camera.  Seconds later, Dovizioso’s bike filled the frame just in time to get poleaxed by Pedrosa, as the Spaniard lost the front in Turn 1 and his suddenly riderless bike creamed the Ducati.  How Pedrosa’s Honda missed Dovi’s left leg is a mystery.  The Italian’s day was over, but Pedrosa climbed back aboard his RC213V and turned a few more laps before calling it a day.

Everyone Please Take Three Steps Forward

With Dovizioso and Rossi out and Pedrosa trailing the field, the remaining riders behind Lorenzo received promotions of three spots.  Kind of like going from private to lieutenant in ten minutes.  Iannone, running relatively cautiously after the debacle in Argentina when he took out teammate Dovizioso in a painfully stupid move, was, suddenly, contending for a podium.  The two Suzukis, experiencing their own rebirth of sorts, found themselves contesting fourth place in a battle Maverick Vinales would eventually win over Aleix Espargaro.

Octo Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding was winning The Battle of Britain, enjoying life in 6th place while Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, and Bradley Smith, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were slugging it out for seventh.  On Lap 8, Crutchlow, in an unforced error that was undoubtedly somebody else’s fault, slid off the track into the runoff area.  Scant seconds later, with Smith apparently rubbernecking at Crutchlow’s misfortune, the Tech 3 rider fell, his careening bike missing the back of Crutchlow’s ankles by mere inches.  Both men remounted the remnants of their bikes and were the last two riders to see the checkered flag.

A Moment of Reflection

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow are incomprehensibly lucky to be walking around tonight.  This is the second week in a row that Crutchlow narrowly avoided a disaster he didn’t even realize was happening.  Such is the nature of MotoGP, with objects moving at speeds uncontemplated by our Creator or the slow crawl of evolution (take your choice), lives hanging precariously in the balance.  Some riders, like Crutchlow and Dovizioso, may be lucky enough, or blessed enough, to tell stories about these things to their grandchildren one day.  Others, like Marco Simoncelli and Shoya Tomizawa, will never have grandchildren to hear them.  When a Jorge Lorenzo gets irritated by the stupid antics of an Alvaro Bautista and talks about risking his life every time he climbs aboard, he’s not just whistling “Dixie.”

The Big Picture

If you had suggested at Sepang during winter testing, when Marquez was lapping 1.5 seconds behind Lorenzo, that he would be leading the championship by 21 points after three rounds he probably would have suggested that you get your head examined.  Yet here we are.  The other anomalies in the top ten include Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro sitting fourth despite seeming to be having a difficult year, swarthy Ducati pilot and underachiever Hectic Hector Barbera sitting sixth, and Ulsterman Eugene Laverty sitting ninth.  Laverty’s euphoria from last week was short-lived, as he went from a highly fluky fourth place to four points in a week.  Still, not bad for a guy on a two-year-old Ducati.

Okay, so I’ve never been a big fan of Cal Crutchlow, who has always, in my opinion, talked a better race than he rides.  He so rarely mans up and takes the blame when things go wrong.  So I may be forgiven for enjoying seeing him sitting in last place, 0-for-2016 after three rounds.  Looking forward to the article on the MotoGP website—it should appear tomorrow or Tuesday—in which he explains who was to blame for today’s crash and how he skillfully avoided getting shattered by Smith’s unguided missile.  As they say in Coventry, hard cheese old boy.

And another thing.  Jack Miller, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, so cool and fast he was allowed to skip second grade, is declared out of today’s race after two more heavy crashes this weekend.  Honda is so anxious to locate the second coming of Casey Stoner, and the kid’s ambition is so large, he’s going to seriously injure himself or someone else out there, generally riding out of control and creating huge piles of brightly painted and utterly trashed carbon fiber.  Dude needs to think about a step back to Moto2.

A Final Thought Before Returning to Europe

Everything’s big in Texas—from the state itself, which takes 24 hours to drive across, to the iniquity of its junior US senator.  COTA maintains the tradition, with the most corners (20) in a MotoGP circuit (Red Bull Ring in Austria has nine), the longest straight on the tour, the steepest hill, seating for 120,000 fans, etc., etc.  But seriously, let’s just get it over with and rename the track the Marc Marquez Circuit.  Better yet, how about the Circuito Marc Marquez, since Texas was originally a northern state of Mexico before Sam Houston and his boys shoved the locals across the Rio Grande way back when.

Round Four touches off in Jerez in two weeks.  In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the Lorenzo to Ducati and Vinales to Yamaha stories, and will have them for you in full once they’re official.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Preview

April 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez has momentum heading for Texas

After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season.  Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere.  Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday. 

Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:

  • The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
  • The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
  • The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
  • The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
  • The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year.  With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
  • The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
  • In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.)  An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and who pushed the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year.  Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent.  Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture.  Kudos to all three.

Recent History at COTA

The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words:  Marc Marquez.  He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race.  He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati.  Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.

I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible.  The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight.  Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.  In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade.  In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.

OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control.  Big deal.  These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet.  To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.

A final thought concerning Marquez:  Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving.  I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin.  One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do.  (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)

WSBK and Nicky Hayden

Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball.  The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish.  As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points.  Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team.  It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.

Your Weekend Forecast

Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.

As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning.  Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.

Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium.  Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.

If you have access to the live broadcast—seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed—the race goes off at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.

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.

Marc Marquez seeking a return to normalcy, deep in the heart

April 8, 2015

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

For the second year in a row, The Grand Prix of Qatar delivered a riveting race with unexpected results. The 2014 edition saw putative race favorite Jorge Lorenzo dump his Yamaha M1 on the first lap, paving the way for a cage match between teammate Valentino Rossi and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez in which Marquez prevailed by a quarter second. A year later, it was the favorite Marquez going walkabout on Lap 1, setting up a night-long rumble between the factory Yamahas and the factory Ducatis (what?) in which Rossi eventually pipped Andrea Dovizioso at the flag.

2015 Losail PodiumThe podium celebration, an all Italian lovefest, included third place finisher Andrea Iannone on the second factory Ducati. No Spaniards. No Hondas. The result from Losail thus fits the definition of the term “outlier”: An element of a data set that distinctly stands out from the rest of the data. Those of you who expect to see a similar result this week in Austin please raise your hands.

Before turning our attention to The Lone Star State, let’s review what we learned from Round 1:
• The Ducati GP15 is the real deal, having more in common with the Yamaha M1 than the Honda RC213V. There is no truth to the rumor that the factory team is adopting the name Team Lazarus, but the Italian bike is once again competitive, a relief to everyone at Dorna and MotoGP fans around the world. It will do well at the tracks where the Yamahas excel, places such as Losail, Mugello and Brno. Having placed four bikes in the top 12 in the desert, with two on the podium, one can expect those numbers to be halved in Austin, a track seemingly custom-designed for the Honda.
• Dani Pedrosa’s 2015 campaign is screwed, blued and tattooed. How he managed to enter the season incapable of riding staggers the imagination. He is projected to miss from two to four of the next races. And the circumstances which led HRC to name Hiro Aoyama as his replacement rather than Casey Stoner must have been complicated to the extreme. Aoyama will do well to score points, while Stoner could probably climb aboard and challenge for the podium. Is Stoner ready? Possibly. Able? Probably. Willing? No. The choice of Aoyama tells me we are unlikely ever again to see Casey Stoner throw his leg over a MotoGP bike.
• Jorge Lorenzo’s team obviously forgot to pack the duct tape before leaving for Qatar. He told reporters after the race that it was his helmet liner, rather than tires or fatigue, which cause him to fade from 1st to 4th place late in the race, the liner (apparently on Lap 18) having slipped down to where it impaired his peripheral vision. Having led for most of the race, Lorenzo appears ready to contend for the title again in 2015.
• Valentino Rossi continues to defy the laws of nature, appearing as strong and skilled at age 36 as he was at 26. His post-race complaints about the concessions Ducati continues to receive were undignified for a future hall of famer. Having qualified 8th and won the race, he shouldn’t concern himself with Ducati having an advantage in qualifying with their soft rear tire. Vale needs to let the politicians worry about the regulations and focus on what former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis preached to his team for decades—“Just win, baby.”
• The underpowered Team Suzuki Ecstar will not be competitive at Yamaha-friendly tracks like Losail. I expect them to improve upon their results this week at COTA and to have their best outings at places like Assen, the Sachsenring and Indianapolis.
• The underpowered, underfinanced and undermanned Aprilia Racing Team Gresini is going to endure a long, painful season. A Paul Byrd Motorsports-type of season. The sole consolation for Fausto Gresini is that it is Aprilia’s money being flushed down the toilet rather than his own.

Recent History at COTA

pedrosa-marquezThe inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas (apparently Grand Prix of the Western World was already taken, presumably by F-1) in 2013 announced the arrival of Marc Marquez as a legitimate title contender. He and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa dominated the timesheets in practice, qualified 1-2 on Saturday, and jumped out to the early lead on Lap 1 of the race. Pedrosa led the rookie for 12 laps before Marquez went through effortlessly on Lap 13 and brought it home by a second and a half with Yamaha’s Lorenzo, pedaling as hard as possible, finishing third, six seconds in front of Cal Crutchlow, then on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. The win elevated young Marquez into a tie with Lorenzo for the 2013 championship lead, sent his confidence soaring, and paved the way for his first premier class title that fall.

Last year’s race was, as expected, another Repsol Honda clambake. Once again, the two Honda pilots finished in the top three during every free practice session. Once again they qualified 1-2. This time around, Marquez led from start to finish. Pedrosa trailed at the flag by some four seconds, with surprise third place finisher Andrea Dovizioso wrestling his Ducati Desmosedici to a miracle third place finish, albeit 17 seconds behind Pedrosa. This, you may recall, was the race in which Jorge Lorenzo comically jumped the start by 20 feet in a completely uncharacteristic loss of poise that, in combination with his DNF at Losail, brought his 2014 campaign crashing down around his ears.

Saluting Nicky Hayden

Sunday’s race will mark the 200th career start for Team Aspar’s Nicky Hayden, the sole American rider in MotoGP. At age 2015 Drive M7 Aspar .002 Test MotoGP Sepang 133 and clearly on the back nine of his career, Nicky still gets juiced for race days. With his wrist injury mostly healed, and a more competitive Honda RC213V-RS under him, he may yet have opportunities to finish in the top ten, but these will be few and far between.

One gets the sense that at some point Grand Prix racing becomes a way of life that riders, clearly past their prime, are either unwilling or unable to let go of until management comes along and thanks them for their years of service. Why else would Hayden, or anyone for that matter, elect to compete for 15th place in MotoGP when they could be fighting for podium spots in World Super Bike?

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Before delving into the weather, let me remind you that Marc Marquez is, after five races in the U.S., undefeated on American soil, with a win at Laguna Seca, two in Indianapolis and two here to his credit. With an 80% chance of rain all three days, this streak could be in jeopardy. While he is virtually unstoppable on dry tracks, his record in the wet, and especially flag-to-flag affairs (see Phillip Island 2014) is less impressive. Ducati bikes have enjoyed positive results on wet tracks in recent years; how the GP15 performs in the rain has yet to be seen.

The lights go out for the big bikes at 3 pm EDT with the broadcast carried on Fox Sports 1. We’ll have race results here later in the day.

MotoGP 2014 COTA Preview

April 9, 2014

Visit Motorcycle.com for an edited version of this, complete with un-stolen photos.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Marquez at Aragon

Marquez, HRC look to dominate, deep in the heart 

When last we saw our helmeted heroes in action—it seems like months ago—Honda’s brilliant Marc Marquez out-raced grizzled Yamaha veteran Valentino Rossi to the flag in a riveting season opener in Qatar.  Rossi’s teammate and two time world champion Jorge Lorenzo lost his marbles on Lap One, ending up in the kitty litter, any chance he might have had for a third premier class title vanishing in a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. 

Things in the Movistar Yamaha garage are unlikely to improve this weekend, as The Circuit of the Americas—COTA to those in the know—appears to have been custom- built for the Honda RC213V.  With but one long straight and a mess of first-gear corners, COTA places a premium on rapid acceleration, where the Honda has, in recent years, enjoyed a clear advantage over the Yamaha YZR-M1.  Some will point out that Yamaha installed its own “magic box” transmission in the M1 in the midst of last season, leveling the playing field to a degree.  But only the wildest of Yamaha devotees would suggest that HRC will not enjoy a productive outing in Austin this weekend.

Recent History at COTA 

MotoGP history at COTA defines “recent”, as last year’s race marked the circuit’s premier bash.  Marquez and Pedrosa dominated the timesheets during practice, with Lorenzo pressing to keep up and Rossi having all kinds of problems, ranging from smoke and water damage to his bike (from a fire in the Tech 3 garage on Thursday night) to braking issues that would plague him for most of the year.

LCR Honda handfeste Stefan Bradl and then-Yamaha Tech 3 Brit Cal Crutchlow had a few shining moments leading up to the race, but ultimately it was Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo starting and finishing one-two-three.  In the process, Marquez became the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race, an accomplishment that launched him on the way to becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class world championship.

Marc Marquez does love himself some COTA.

Jorge Lorenzo—Fearing Marquez, Blaming Bridgestone

Q:  From a distance, how can you tell when a MotoGP rider is complaining about Bridgestone tires?

A:  His lips are moving.

Generally, MotoGP riders, at least those not winning championship trophies, blame a lot of their problems on tires.  The four current pilots who have won premier class titles—Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden—generally have fewer, if any, complaints about rubber.  (This calls to mind the old expression that a poor carpenter blames his tools.)  I’ve made my position on this topic clear in the past: in the absence of a grid-wide tire failure (such as NASCAR/Goodyear experienced in Indianapolis in 2008), when tires become an issue, either the team selected the wrong compound or the rider doesn’t know how to manage them properly during the race itself.

Which is why I find it so surprising that Jorge Lorenzo, of all people, should have spent so much time this winter and spring complaining about the new heat-resistant slicks that Bridgestone developed specifically to mitigate tire degradation under race conditions.  At Losail in March, it became a veritable chant—no rear grip, no rear grip—despite which he managed to qualify 16/100ths of a second behind polesitter Marquez.  His inglorious exit late on Lap One did nothing to confirm his complaints, for two reasons: first, he blamed himself for having been too aggressive on cold tires (doing a reasonable impression of Alvaro Bautista in the process) and second, Valentino Rossi spent the day on Marquez’ pipes running the same tires on the same bike.  Tires weren’t an issue for The Doctor.

I believe Jorge Lorenzo spent much of the offseason contemplating another year of chasing Marc Marquez around the globe and that Marquez is now firmly planted inside his head.  I believe Lorenzo was shocked and appalled when Marquez took the pole in Qatar, on a Yamaha track and with a broken leg.  I believe Lorenzo believes he is incapable of beating Marquez’ Honda on his own Yamaha.  Which is why I believe Lorenzo may consider switching teams—perhaps with Dani Pedrosa—during the silly season that commences in the early fall.  Life is short, and no one more competitive than Lorenzo; if you can’t beat ‘em, it might just be best to join ‘em.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

An Open Class Rider on the Podium?  It Could Happen.

Austin is one of those tight layouts were Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, he of the Yamaha power, soft tires, plentiful fuel load and unbridled optimism, should have his first real chance to podium on one of the new Open class machines.  He was highly competitive at Losail despite trashing both of his bikes in practice—channeling Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”—thus starting ninth, and ultimately finishing fourth.  He has been legitimately fast all winter and topped the timesheets during the first three practice sessions in Qatar, on a track not particularly well-suited to his strengths.  If he can manage a front row start in Texas, I expect him to joust with Rossi in a tooth and nail battle to join Marquez and Pedrosa on the podium.

The other pleasant surprises at Losail—Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, Hayden and Scott Redding on Honda Production Racers and the factory Ducati pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow—will have their work cut out for themselves in Texas.  Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha, Bautista on the Gresini Honda and LCR’s Bradl were fast, too, for awhile. Should any of these guys finish on the podium, in my late dad’s words, I’ll buy you a good cigar.

The mental condition of Jorge Lorenzo, facing what amounts to his season opener 25 points in arrears of Marquez, remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if he crashes out again this week, some serious questions will arise in the factory Yamaha garage and above. (The possibility exists that Marquez crashes out and Lorenzo wins in Texas, putting my first month’s worth of work here squarely in the hopper.)

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

Conditions in the greater Austin area for Friday through Sunday are expected to be sunny and quite warm, with the possibility of Sunday turning cloudy and slightly cooler.  Curiously, Bridgestone has announced that it is unable to supply the new heat-resistant slicks this weekend and that the 2013 tires will be the only choices on offer.  Based upon his litany of woe these past few months, this should be seen as good news for Jorge Lorenzo.  The bad news?  He and Rossi got spanked pretty good last year, the Repsol Hondas outscoring the factory Yamahas 45-26.

One more example of how you need to be careful what you wish for.

We’ll have race results and analysis right here for you on Sunday evening.


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