Archive for the ‘MotoGP Indianapolis’ Category

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.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 21, 2014

Looking ahead to the shape of the MotoGP grid in 2015, we find

spanish_flag2  8 Spaniards, headed by Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.  Young Marquez and Rabat on the horizon.

 

italian-flag6 Italians, headed by Rossi, Dovizioso and Iannone.

 

british flag3 Brits, headed by Cal Crutchlow, upon whom the pressure must be immense.

 

flag_french2 Frenchman, Di Meglio and Baz and

 

  • 1 each from the under-cards at USA, Columbia, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Australian Youth League.

Forgiving, as you seem to frequently do, the division of the grid into tranches, along the lines of junk bonds:

Tranche A: Aliens Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Tranche B: Competitives:  Dovisiozo, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone.

Tranche C:  Redding, Bradl, Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smth, Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales.

Followed by all the rest.  Probably more competitive top to bottom than 2014; the bad teams aren’t going to be so consistently bad.  There exist the possibilities of upsets with two extra manufacturers adding machines that will complicate starts and early turns.  Expect more from Suzuki with Espargaro and Vinales aboard than with de Puniet.  Expect the Aprilias of Bautista and Melandri to lag.  Expect Nicky Hayden to see more top ten finishes but remain far from relevant.  Don’t know what to expect from Jack Miller who appears fearless at this point but hasn’t yet had the business end of a 1000 cc bike pointed at his helmet.  I hope to see success for Vinales, the Espargaros, the Brits and some new Aliens–a coupla Italians, Dovizioso and maybe Iannone–would be greatly refreshing.  Marquez may yet again run away with the title, but the battle for second could widen and increase interest in the sport itself, as ethnocentric as it is.  That would be helpful heading into 2016, the first year of Michelins, coincident with what one has to expect to be the full fruition of Dall’Igna’s mystic hand at Ducati.

2016 should be comparable to 2002, the year MotoGP went from 2-stroke 500 cc bikes to 4 stroke 990 cc bikes, which was a biggie.  The premier class, confirmed as 4-strokes going forward, checked back down to 800 cc in 2007 and back up to 1000 in 2012. An earlier draft of this article, which was consumed by WordPress, went on to present a series of mundane observations about riders and teams and their prospects for 2015.  It concluded by suggesting that the 2016 Repsol Honda team could easily be represented by Alex and Marc Marquez, and the factory Yamaha effort would feature Jorge Lorenzo and Tito Rabat.  This supposed that both Rossi and Pedrosa would be ready to go quietly. It wondered out loud about the near term prospects for riders Rabat, Vinales and Alex Marquez, while conceding the 2015 and, if history is a teacher, the 2016 titles to Marc Marquez, who has always shown himself to be a quick study when it comes to making major changes in delivery systems.

cropped-alex-and-marc.jpgBy the end of 2016 Marc Marquez remains #1 in the world, with three of the next four riders to include Lorenzo, Alex Marquez and Rabat.   Ignoring Lorenzo, The Three Amigos train harder than anyone, play harder than their peers, and attract sponsors the way bright lights do moths. By 2016, they will all have factory rider status, a term which, at times, gets watered down to meaning little more than high rider salaries.  They will still have the best machines, the best crews, and no money worries.  And, because I don’t know everything, I must confess that another rider, one from  Tranche B, will be in the battle for places two through five.  The cumulative effect of the rule changes being put into effect between now and the start of 2016 should make the fight for places five through 15–points–much less predictable and more fun to watch. Two new factory teams, one of which will be decent, one of which will be bad.  The new Honda customer engine.  Marc VDS. The Espargaro brothers. Lots of Ducatis, fronted by Dovizioso and Iannone. 25 riders on the grid. An explanation for why Alex de Angelis might even bother with Ioda Racing.  The looming entry of KTM in the builder’s competition on 2016.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornMotoGP claimed to draw its biggest crowds ever in 2014 and named Indianapolis the best GP of the year.  Hunh. Despite Dorna’s best efforts not to promote the sport through online outlets, and the fact that not a single American rider competes at anything close to a winning level, MotoGP seems to be drawing followers in the US.  The people at the IMS do a lot to promote the race in August, even though it always comes after a break in the schedule and at the start of what one might think of as “the back nine.” by which time Marquez may have already clinched. Seriously, the Indianapolis race may draw 65,000 people on Sunday and look practically empty.  Other races draw as few as in the 30,000’s. Indy’s not bad at all, but it looks bad on TV.

This is all part of an effort to keep the MotoGP conversation going in the off-season.  Feel free to argue or disagree.  I watch the sport and get paid to think about it.  You might at least wonder why that is.

Marquez rolls on; Lorenzo places, Rossi shows

August 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Indianapolis Results, by Bruce Allen 

If you had watched only the first six laps of today’s Indianapolis Grand Prix, you might think the Marquez magic had ended back in July.  It was an absolute dogfight, with Italians on Yamahas and Ducatis holding the upper hand, or hands.  Ultimately, though, as the day wore on, the natural order of things in the premier class was restored, and Marc Marquez secured his 10th win in 10 tries in 2014. 

One thing at the Brickyard has definitely changed, and for the better.  The reconfiguration of the infield section of the track and the new racing surface therein has switched Indy from a “Honda track” to “Yamaha track.”  Compared to past years, there is much more flow, and less stop/start, such that Marquez’ qualifying time on Saturday fell by more than six seconds from last year, though the circuit is barely 50 meters shorter than it had been.  Further proof is evidenced by the fact that all four Yamaha prototype bikes finished in the top six today, with a double podium to boot.  And if the IMS folks were to just throw up their hands and run the GP on the 2½ mile oval, it’s possible one of the factory Yamahas could actually beat Marquez’ Repsol Honda.

Otherwise, as they say in New Jersey, fuggedaboudit.

DoviziosoCapture

Italians Fast While they Last

Polesitter Marquez enjoyed a rather leisurely start to the race, slipping from first to fourth or fifth in the first few turns.  As the leaders de-bunched, it was Rossi leading the Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, with Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo a bit farther back.  Lap 1 also saw Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac Ducati and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda get tangled up and out of the race.  Though it was never shown on the broadcast, I’m willing to believe that it was Bautista who tagged Hernandez, especially after watching the Spaniard go all ragdoll in a spectacular FP4 highside on Saturday.

BautistaCaptureBautista2Capture

 

 

 

 

 

Though it would be unfair to argue that the Ducati contingent has not shown noticeable progress this year under the hand of Gigi D’alligna, there are still plenty of issues to be sorted out at Ducati Corse.  The first is that they devour tires; the modified Open option they somehow cajoled from Dorna has its downside.  Thus, they are often very quick early, but can also be counted on to fade later in the day, unless racing in the snow at Assen.  Dovizioso started the day challenging for the lead and ended it 21 seconds behind Marquez.  Secondly, they have this annoying tendency to just stop running, leaving riders (in today’s case Iannone) leaning casually against a wall a mile from the pit area wanting to punch someone in the throat.  Cal Crutchlow has enjoyed this experience more than once this year, and it needs to stop.  One basically never (never) sees this from the Hondas and Yamahas.

As for the King of the Italians, Valentino Rossi looked frisky and fast leading the first five laps, until he and Dovizioso touched on Lap 6, running them both wide and allowing Marquez to sneak from third place into first.  Lorenzo, running at the absolute limit all day, went through on Dovizioso into third place.  And although Rossi would go through on Marquez again briefly on Lap 8, by Lap 12 Marquez was running in clean air with Lorenzo in hot pursuit.  Rossi spent the last 15 laps making sure Dani Pedrosa, who had both qualified and selected his race tires poorly, didn’t snake him for the last podium spot, spoiling, in the process, my prediction for the podium result today.  What’s up, Dani?

Elsewhere on the Grid

As we often see in the midst of the so-called silly season, riders whose fortunes are changing, or whose fortunes have been changed for them, often approach their final days with their current teams in different fashions.  Today’s examples, class, are Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl and Scott Redding.

crutchlow

Wait. What? No, I’m with LCR Honda.

Crutchlow, who forced Ducati management to pay him to leave town, is understandably less committed to absorbing bodily injury than he was when it appeared he would be wearing red for another year.  His practice sessions were undistinguished, and it was only a single fast lap at the end of Q1 that got him into Q2, where he promptly finished 12th and last.  The only reason he managed a respectable eighth place finish today was that four of the riders who usually beat him like a drum—Iannone, Aleix Espargaro, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista—retired from the scrum.  Cal probably didn’t even need to shower after today’s race, just got dressed and headed for the plane and another half-assed effort next week.

Bradl is showing much of the same lack of competitive spirit.  He qualified a rousing 10th despite a white-hot lap in FP3, and was loafing in 9th place on Lap 12 when he completely lost focus and rammed the back of Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Racing Yamaha, taking himself out of the race and leaving the Spaniard well out in the runoff area with an annoying insurance claim to deal with.

Compare these two to rookie Scott Redding, who has been stuck all year paying dues on a very slow customer Honda on the Gresini team.  Redding, who by now must know he is inheriting Bautista’s factory spec prototype next season, attacked Q1, moved through to Q2 where he spanked Crutchlow, and rode his ass off today, eventually finishing 7/10ths of a second behind his countryman, whose factory Ducati can go roughly twice as fast as his own Honda plodder.  Redding showed character, fire and determination, and Fausto Gresini is going to love this guy on a real motorcycle starting next year.  If it were me, I would put him on the RC213V next week, but that’s just me.

Farther Down the Food Chain

There was joy in the Paul Byrd Motorsports (a bit of an overstatement, in my opinion) garage today as both Broc Parkes AND Michael Laverty scored championship points.  On the same day!  Leaving the team with a grand total of nine (9) points for the year.  What a pleasure it will be next year watching a new factory Suzuki outfit rather than this operation.

Homeboy Colin Edwards, in his final appearance in a MotoGP race on American soil, managed to score a coupla points, which was nice.  What was touching was watching him and his wife together during the national anthem, both visibly moved by the moment.  Edwards has announced his intention to race at Silverstone and Valencia before calling it a career.  Journeyman Alex de Angelis will be taking his place at the remaining events, which is always good for a laugh.

Next Week:  Brno

After sitting around for a month, MotoGP goes for three races in four weeks, with next week’s tilt at the financially desperate Brno circuit in the Czech Republic.  This will likely be the last visit to Brno for the foreseeable future, which the Yamaha contingent, at least, will regret, as it is one of the tracks in the Yamaha column on the calendar.  Marquez will have the chance to break another all-time record by starting the season with 11 consecutive wins.  Personally, I like his chances.

Marquez streak on the line; silly season in full swing

August 5, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Indianapolis Preview, by Bruce Allen

After what seems like months the 2014 MotoGP season heads for the back nine, beginning at the historic Indianapolis Motor IMSSpeedway. While Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez has been basking in his ridiculous domination of the grid, a bunch of other riders have been busily defecting, or getting ejected, from their current teams, such that the 2015 grid will have a much different look to it. None of which will prevent Marquez from continuing to treat the premier class like his own personal sandbox.

For those of you who’ve slept since Round 9 at The Sachsenring, a rapidly-drying track there resulted in pandemonium at the start, with nine bikes comprising the grid and the other 14 wedged into pit lane, having changed from wet tires to slicks at the very last minute. Stefan Bradl, on the grid with a factory spec Honda and slicks, looked as though he might enjoy a cakewalk to his first premier class victory and an escape from the “underachiever” label he’d earned in two and a half seasons of virtually podium-free premier class racing.

Alas, Bradl was let down by his team, which neglected to change his suspension settings from wet to dry, resulting in a bitterly disappointing 16th place finish, the straw that broke the camel’s back of HRC Racing Director Livio Suppo’s patience. But while Bradl will be racing for others next season, Suppo’s young warhorse Marquez calmly sliced and diced his way through the field en route to his ninth win in a row. He was joined on the podium by teammate Dani Pedrosa, who stalked him all day, and Movistar Yamaha’s tarnished star, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s wingman Valentino Rossi, who had podiumed in four of the previous five rounds, slipped to fourth and out of a tie with Pedrosa for second place year-to-date.

Very Recent History at Indianapolis

Marquez at AragonLast year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix brought into focus the fact that then-rookie Marquez had more than a puncher’s chance of winning the 2013 title. He swept all four practice sessions, qualified on the pole, recovered easily from a less-than-stellar start and won going away for his third consecutive win that year. He remained undefeated on American soil and, counting his two seasons in Moto2, has won at Indianapolis the last three years. Indy is one of those narrow, slow tracks that tend to favor the Honda, if one ignores the huge main straight where Andrea Iannone is likely to enter a low Earth orbit this weekend on the Pramac Ducati.

With the exception of Nicky Hayden, who will miss both this week’s race and next week’s tilt in the Czech Republic, all of the top riders are as healthy as possible, compared to last year when both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were coming off broken collarbones. No matter. If someone can conjure up a scenario in which Marquez fails to make it ten in a row this weekend, contact the author at Motorcycle.com. In the subject line of your email, please type “MARTIANS ARE EXTRACTING THE MOISTURE FROM MY BOXER SHORTS” so I’ll know to delete your message before it clutters up my own thinking.

Crutchlow 2, Ducati 1

Ducati logoThe annual charade of Bums Seeking Seats and Seats Seeking Bums goes into overdrive annually at this time of year, owing, in part, to Dorna rules that preclude some forms of tampering until after July 31. Without question, the most amusing and admirable job of moving from the outhouse to the penthouse this year was pulled off by burly Brit Cal Crutchlow. Recall how barely a year ago Crutchlow sold his soul to the devil, abandoning the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team that had been so good to him for the filthy lucre of a factory Ducati ride to hell. Sure enough, he got paid, then proceeded to amass a grand total of 28 championship points in the first half of this season, compared to the 225 of Marquez and the 48 of Bradley Smith who appears to be (unsuccessfully) trying to get fired from the same Tech 3 team.

For the last two months, Crutchlow has been slamming Ducati Corse management, comparing his GP14 to a 1952 John Deere Model D crutchlowSpoker, and generally making himself as unpopular in Bologna as any man alive. All the while, he has been seeking a change of venue, wishing to take his game, such as it is, pretty much anywhere but his current residence, to no avail. Once it appeared there was nowhere else to go, he put on a stiff upper-lipped smile and, to management’s horror, agreed to honor his contract and stay with Ducati for the 2015 season. By this time, management had pretty much decided, correctly, that they love Andrea Iannone and wanted him to race alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2015, dueling Andreas on an all-Italian, occasionally competitive factory team capable of restoring a hint of pride to a national identity that has taken an incessant pounding since the 1930’s.

Suddenly, though, LCR Honda, and their new (British) sponsor CWM (Come What May?) Financial washed their hands of Stefan Bradl and decided they could do worse than having Crutchlow head their two bike effort in 2015. And here’s the best part: Ducati found themselves having to pay Crutchlow to leave in order to make room for Iannone, as three man factory teams are a no-no since Honda last tried it in 2011. Crutchlow scores big twice, with a significant financial boost and resurrection from the Desmosedici to a factory-spec Honda upon which he probably thinks he can attain Alien status. Ducati takes yet another financial bath, but has their ϋber-Italian team in place for the first time in recent memory. The Bologna factory has been down so long it looks like up to them, and probably views all of this as a win.

There is plenty of other news pertaining to Suzuki and Aprilia and KTM, with names like Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Eugene Laverty and even Alex de Angelis in the wind, but we’re out of room this week. Certainly, a number of loose ends, notably Jorge Lorenzo’s, will get tied up this weekend in Indianapolis, and so we’ll pick up where we left off next week in our Brno preview.

Weather and Assorted Other Hoosier Predictions

Sunny and warm conditions are expected to prevail in Indianapolis this weekend, a summer notable for its lack of extreme heat and abundance of rain. The infield portion of the track has been slightly re-configured and repaved, so lap times should be somewhat lower and the number of complaints about tire wear significantly so. It’s still too narrow, and the race runs in the wrong direction; the layout would probably work better if they ran clockwise, the way it was originally designed for F-1. Whatever. Marc Marquez is almost a mortal lock to take win #10 for the season, and I expect him to be joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Valentino Rossi’s only win here came in 2008 in the midst of Hurricane Ike.

Dawson'sFor you locals, if you want a peek at some of the riders during down time, head over to Lino’s Coffee or Dawson’s on Main in Speedway and be on the lookout for some short, tightly-wrapped guys with heavy foreign accents and lots of logos on their shirts. Don’t bother looking for MM on Friday night—he’ll be over at the State Fairgrounds grand marshalling the AMA Indy Mile which, if you have the time, is another great way to spend an evening.

The race goes off at 2:00pm EDT, and we’ll have results right here later Sunday evening.

Indianapolis MotoGP 2013 Results

August 18, 2013

An edited version of this story will appear later on Motorcycle.com. Until then, enjoy the raw copy.

Hat tricks abound for Marc Marquez at Indy 

Let’s be clear.  Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez is the new king of MotoGP.  His decisive win at Indianapolis in Sunday over teammate Dani Pedrosa marked his third consecutive win for the 2013 season.  It marked his third consecutive win in Indianapolis, having topped the last two Moto2 tilts here.  And, lest we forget, it marked three wins in a row in the U.S., following Austin and Laguna Seca.  Sunday’s win made it a veritable hat trick of hat tricks for the precocious Spanish youngster. 

Captain America - 1969

Captain America circa 1969

Marquez is a man in need of a nickname.  In that his triple triple coincided with the announcement that MotoGP will continue at Indianapolis for at least the next year—a hat trick, if you will, of American rounds—I’m going to suggest Captain America.  Marc Marquez likes racing in the United States, therefore we will pay homage to him with three American rounds.  Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda has been deposed.

You could see this one coming a mile away.  Marquez topped the timesheets in all four practice sessions and qualified on the pole, blowing away the previous track record set by Pedrosa last year.  His only lapse all weekend was at the start of the race, when he allowed both Pedrosa and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s Yamaha to beat him to the first turn, Lorenzo in front.  Things stayed this way until Lap 9, when Marquez went through smoothly on Pedrosa, in deference to his teammate’s injured collarbone.  Marquez immediately set his sights on Lorenzo, himself healing from his own twice-broken collarbone.

Captain America - 2013

Captain America circa 2013

On Lap 13, Marquez had Lorenzo lined up, and went through easily into the lead, from which he never looked back.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa managed to keep it close for the next dozen laps, but neither was going to chase down the rookie.  With two laps left and both riders tiring, Pedrosa managed to go through on Lorenzo into second place, which is how it ended.

At narrow circuits like Indianapolis (which would be a much more interesting track if they reversed the flow and ran clockwise, the way it was designed for F-1 back in the day) there usually isn’t much overtaking, which was the case today.  Sure, there was some jockeying going on in the back half of the grid, but most of us don’t give a rip about who edges whom for 18th place in these things.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well, and this one certainly did.

Fireworks Late in the Day

Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, who struggled all weekend after having recorded a win and two podium finishes in his last three races, spent most of the day loitering by himself in seventh place, trailing the likes of GO&FUN Honda hazard Alvaro Bautista, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha defector Cal Crutchlow and LCR Honda strongman Stefan Bradl.  Suddenly, with perhaps 12 laps left, Rossi regained consciousness and began laying down a series of quick laps.  He chased down Bradl on Lap 22, taking over 6th place, and punked Bautista the next time around, moving into 5th.

Next up was Cal Crutchlow, who had announced during summer vacation that he was sick of podiums and was taking his game to the factory Ducati team for two years of well-paid perdition, beginning next year.  Rossi and Crutchlow spent the last two laps trading paint and positions, back and forth, teeth bared, until Rossi finally crossed the line 6/100ths of a second in front of the Brit.  This is good training for Crutchlow, as he is unlikely to engage in any further champagne spraying during what’s left of the Obama administration.  Gut-wrenching losses could become his middle name.

The 60,000+ fans in attendance on Sunday continued roaring during the last lap as factory Ducati teammates Andrea Dovizioso and homeboy Nicky Hayden REALLY got into it heading for the finish.  Hayden, calling upon his dirt track heritage, went low on Dovizioso in Turn 16, causing both riders to jump the curb separating the bike track from the frigging IMS main straight.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornFor one shining moment, the two red Ducatis were airborne, side by side, the teammates snapping and snarling at one another as they tried to regain control.  Surprisingly, they both remained upright for a final dash to the flag, won by Hayden by a full 12/100ths of a second.  Unfortunately for them, while this drama was unfolding, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha second Bradley Smith calmly passed both of them to take eighth place, “pipping” Hayden by 1/100th.  Ta-ta for now, old boy.

 

The Big Picture

Marquez’ win puts him 21 points in front of Pedrosa and 35 ahead of Lorenzo with eight rounds left; the 2013 title is now officially his to lose.  Rossi sits in fourth place, just three points in front of Crutchlow.  Bradl, in sixth place, leads Dovizioso by six points, with Bautista, Hayden and Smith completing the top ten.  Dani Pedrosa’s pronouncement last week that the 2013 title would be decided in the next three rounds—Indianapolis, Brno and Silverstone—may have been off by two.  It very well may be that the 2013 title has already been decided, and we just don’t realize it.

A Little Rumor and Innuendo

Once Crutchlow decided to join Ducati next season, a number of other chips fell into place, as we now know that Bradl will stay with LCR, and Bautista with the Gresini team for 2014.  Still, there’s plenty we don’t know about next year.  Nicky Hayden is rumored to be in the running for a “production” Honda as the #2 rider for LCR next year.

NGM Forward racing, with Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti lugging FTR Kawasaki machines this year, is strongly suggesting they will lease a pair of Yamaha M-1s for next season, mentioning parenthetically that they are discussing their plans with Aleix Espargaro, Hayden and Jonathan Rea.  Owner Giovanni Cuzari insisted, “I will respect my two riders now – Colin (Edwards) and Claudio (Corti) – but of course I need to follow some requests from Yamaha.”  Meaning, in my opinion, that Edwards and Corti are screwed.

On the Other Side of the Tracks

Three riders whose fortunes took a turn for the worse this weekend, if such a thing is possible, were Ben Spies, Karel Abraham and Blake Young.  Spies, attempting a return after missing seven (7) rounds recovering from injury, crashed at Turn 4 in FP3 and dislocated his GOOD shoulder, putting him out of today’s race.  Abraham, too, crashed on Friday, suffering torn muscles in his shoulder that kept him out today and make him questionable for next week at his dad’s Czech Grand Prix.  And Young, the optimistic wildcard this weekend, ended the WUP with smoke pouring out of his Attack Performance frankenbike.  Though he was able to post for the start, he failed to finish a single lap.

On to Brno

The 2013 crash course in pain and glory starts up again a few days from now in eastern Europe, with the Czech Republic hosting the bwin Grand Prix České republiky at Brno, The Circuit That Needs to Buy a Vowel.  Mercifully, this is one of the tracks where the Yamahas can be expected to be competitive.  Whether Lorenzo or Rossi stands atop the podium on Sunday will be determined, in part, along the way—by Captain America.

MotoGP Indianapolis 2013 Preview

August 12, 2013

Three races, three weeks, three contenders 

Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa was quoted last week as saying he thought the 2013 MotoGP championship would be decided in the next three rounds.  His teammate, rookie Marc Marquez, sits squarely in the driver’s seat, leading Pedrosa by 16 points and factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo by an imposing 26.  Should young Marquez avoid DNFs over the next three weeks and record a win or two, the 2013 title appears to be his for the taking. 

Recent History at Indianapolis 

Though the race winners at Indy since 2008 haven’t been terribly surprising, the podiums have usually hosted at least one dark horse.  During the inaugural race in 2008, Yamaha mullah Valentino Ross, at his peak, methodically tracked down then Repsol Honda pilot and local fave Nicky Hayden during Hurricane Ike in a race that was ultimately red-flagged due to the weather.  Indy that year was one of Hayden’s two podium appearances, with third place going to Rossi’s rookie teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Rossi looked ready to repeat in 2009 until an ill-advised crash on Lap 9 handed the win to Lorenzo.  In August of 2009, Rossi had the championship title in the bag, and could have easily coasted to a podium finish.  Instead, he went balls to the wall, his usual style, and left the door ajar for Lorenzo, the eventual 2009 runner-up.  Joining Lorenzo on the podium in 2009 were Alex de Angelis on a satellite Honda and homeboy Hayden on the Ducati Desmosedici.  For both de Angelis and Hayden, Indianapolis marked their only podium appearance of 2009.

The mid-American weirdness continued in 2010, as Dani Pedrosa won on a brutally hot day, joined on the podium by Monster Tech 3 Yamaha polesitter Ben Spies and Lorenzo, who lost the battle that day but would win the war and his first world championship later that year.  In August of 2010, Spies’ future could not have looked any brighter.  He started on the pole and gave Pedrosa all he wanted that day, during a week that saw him anointed as the next factory Yamaha star for 2011-12.

[In retrospect, this was probably the high water mark of Spies’ MotoGP career, despite his stunning win in Assen the following season.  Since 2010, Spies has gone from The Great American Hope to a historical footnote, working his way down from factory Yamaha, to satellite Ducati, to completely irrelevant this year.  He returns to the fray this week after missing the last seven races, and figures to be looking for work in 2014.  Spies is articulate, thoughtful and self-effacing, but his MotoGP career is circling the bowl.  We wish him well.]

Pedrosa’s win in 2010 marked the first of three consecutive wins at Indy for the factory Honda team, as Casey Stoner cruised to victory in 2011 and Pedrosa repeated last year, again in brutally hot conditions.  Indianapolis is, without question, a highly Honda-friendly track, with the tight infield portion having much more to do with who wins than the orgasmic long main straight bisected by the start/finish line.  During the last two races, the podiums have become somewhat more predictable, as it was Stoner-Lorenzo-Andrea Dovizioso (on the Repsol Honda) in 2011 and Pedrosa-Lorenzo-Dovizioso (on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) last year.

My sole prediction for Sunday:  Andrea Dovizioso will not appear anywhere near the podium.  Take that to the bank.

Marc Marquez:  Best Rookie Ever?

Crash.net speculated this past week that Marc Marquez may be the best premier class rookie ever.  While our crack Research Department mulls that one over, I would be reluctant to argue the point.  In my 2013 season preview, I had him figured for 4th place this year, with eight podiums, two wins, 4 DNFs, and 220 points for the season.

Should Marquez extend his performance thus far over the second half, he would finish with six wins, two DNFs, 14 podiums, 326 points and a world championship.  Which would virtually duplicate his 2012 season in Moto2.  And he appears fresh as a daisy, none the worse for wear, compared to his main rivals Pedrosa and Lorenzo, both of whom are amongst the walking wounded.

We know three things on this subject as the second half of the season gets underway.  The Repsol Honda likes hot weather, the hotter the better.  Marquez, for whatever reason, seems to perform better in the second half of seasons than the first.  And, he is greatly familiar with pretty much every circuit left on the 2013 calendar.  (This last point is rather moot, in that he won both times he’s confronted a track for the first time, at Austin and Laguna Seca.)

Marquez simply doesn’t ride like a rookie.  His balance and reflexes are incomparable, Stoneresque, God-given gifts; he appears to be doing what he was put on Earth to do.  Now that we have virtually guaranteed his first coronation this year, it remains to be seen whether the Motorcycle.com jinx will rear up to bite him on the bum (paging Cal Crutchlow.)  If not, fans need to get ready for a decade or so of watching him effortlessly win races, championships, and the hearts of Spanish racing fans.

The world appears to be his oyster.

The Yamaha Magic Gearbox 

Our friend David Emmett over at MotoMatters.com is convinced Yamaha was using their version of the seamless shift gearbox during the recent private testing sessions held at Brno.  By measuring oscilloscope readings of sound recordings made trackside, he deduces that the “magic gearbox” decreases shifting time for the Yamaha YZR-M1 by some 143% compared to the conventional version.  This enhancement is significantly less than that provided by the Honda box, but still represents a major improvement.

Apparently, some reliability concerns remain, as there has been no announcement of a change in equipment for the Yamaha factory bikes as yet.  But Big Blue needs to get this system installed sooner rather than later, as the Honda RC213V is clearly superior at tracks with lots of low-gear turns, i.e., Austin, Laguna Seca and, most likely, Indianapolis.  Marquez and Pedrosa are going to be fast everywhere they go, whereas Lorenzo and Rossi need to dominate at tracks like Losail and Aragon and hold on for dear life at the tight, slower circuits.

[As things now stand, Ducati Corse hopes to have their version of the magic gearbox ready to go in time for the 2036 season, while the sober folks at Suzuki profess no belief in magic at all.  The riders who will be testing this stuff for the two B-level factories haven’t actually been born yet.  Just sayin’.]

Great Expectations

If you look up the word “optimist” in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a wildcard rider discussing his chances in an upcoming MotoGP tilt.  This time, it’s Blake Young, last seen trashing his Attack Performance APR Kawasaki bucket at Laguna Seca, along with one James Rispoli, who will be making his Moto2 debut in Indy with the GPTech team on a Tech 3 frame.  Such competition reminds me of a garage band entering a Battle of the Bands against Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and R.E.M..

Give the guys credit for showing up.  While you’re at it, please support their sponsors, who could likely get a better return on their investments tossing wads of $100 bills out of a helicopter.

Finally!  Your Weekend Forecast 

Indianapolis has enjoyed a remarkably temperate summer, and it looks to continue this weekend.  Skies are forecast to be fair, with temps in the high 70’s and low 80’s.  As this is probably your last chance to see MotoGP at the IMS; if you can come to town for the race, please do so.  (Next year you’ll have to travel to Argentina.)

As of this weekend, Fox Sports 1 will be the new home of MotoGP on TV.  Live coverage of all three classes starts Sunday at 11 am Eastern, with the big bikes going off at 2 pm.  We’ll have MotoGP results right here on Sunday evening.

 

 

The Passing of the Torch

July 27, 2013
Rossi vs. Marquez stalking Bradl

Rossi vs. Marquez as they stalk Bradl, Lap 4, looking into Turn 8

Two beautiful images of what will become a historic moment for MotoGP, the moment Marc Marquez announced he didn’t need no steenkin’ rules, he was just going for the win.  (Borrowed shamelessly from Tom White, who has posted these and a number of others at Motomatters.com.)

Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

We don’t need no steenkin’ rules, we’re going for the win. See you later.

While we’re at it, and before we forget, let’s mention how maddening it is to have to wait to hear about Crutchlow.  It is far more interesting, though, to learn that MotoGP has learned something from the NBA and the NFL, namely that a 2 year contract can now become a one year contract with the team (i.e., team owner) holding the option for year two.  Which, in turn, means riders like Bradl, Bautista,, and Smith may be soon looking for work.  Add to this the new rules allowing up to four riders per team, the availability of both Honda and Yamaha satellite bikes, as well as Yamaha engines on other frames.  Plus, chassis manufacturers have now joined the ranks of engine manufacturers as being viewed as owners, subject to the complex rules of one class versus the other.

The only thing we know for sure at this time is that they will be referred to only as “works” teams and “non-works” teams.  Period.  The continental divide in all of this is, of course, how do teams configure their bikes in order to maximize power, i.e., with a Honda or Yamaha engine, while still being allowed 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines per season.  that question sits in front of Suzuki as they plot their re-entry into the fray in 2015.  BMW drops out of WSB.  Aprilia must be considering fielding a works team of them own at some point, as world economics appear to be gaining strength, freeing up sponsorship money for teams willing to go all in on the leased engines and ambiguous rules.

There may likely be riders suddenly available with some real whiskers, including Bradl, Bautista, Smith and Hayden.  Espargaro and Redding moving up from Moto2.  Lots of wildcards in the US rounds.  Ducati needing to do something big to remain relevant in the premier class, as they have no presence in the lower  classes.  Surely they are trying to convince Crutchlow that being competitive is over-rated, while traveling in luxury never goes out of style.  Nicky Hayden had a pretty pleasant last six years of his career with Ducati,, only won three races in his career, nice guy.  I hope he can find a way to dominate WSB like in the old days of dirt tracks and state fairs.

Crutchlow will begin a domino effect that should be fun to watch.  With, it appears, all but the Aliens suffering with one year deals, the so-called silly season in MotoGP will be somewhat sillier this year than in those previous.


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