Archive for the ‘MotoGP Preview’ Category

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Italy’s Adriatic Riviera is lovely this time of year 

Sorry. We arrive at Round 13 of 19 in the heart of the 2019 MotoGP season, at one of the iconic racetracks in all of Europe, jocking the amazing sport that is grand prix motorcycle racing, trying to stifle a yawn. The 2019 title, all over but the shouting, fans left to gape at perhaps the most accomplished rider of this or any other generation, is not up for discussion. We must focus on other things. With seven races in the next nine weekends there should be plenty of chatter to keep us occupied.

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Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli

One item that is up for discussion concerns the seating arrangements for the 2020 KTM season, Johann Zarco having departed from the factory team for points unknown, Brad Binder getting bumped up from Moto2 to take Hafizh Syahrin’s seat on Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 satellite team. Speculation, which I share, is that Miguel Oliveira will move to the factory team, leaving a sizeable hole in Poncharal’s effort. A reader recently took time out of his busy schedule to excoriate me for not knowing that Alvaro Bautista was already in place to take the factory seat vacated by Zarco. Bautista did leap, but within WSBK, from Ducati to Honda, whining something about Ducati having abandoned him etc. If you want to talk about this stuff, all you must do is agree to Jim Rome’s admonition: Have a take, and don’t suck.

Crickets. Talking about Alvaro Bautista.

Lots of people talking about Fabio Quartararo, who may, indeed, be The New Kid in Town. He casually turned a 1:31.639 during the recent Misano test, a full hundredth off the official track record of 1:31.629, Lorenzo’s 2018 pole lap, almost half a second in front of Danilo Petrucci. That Yamaha filled four of the top five positions shows how meaningless these tests are. If they do the same thing on Sunday I’ll eat that one. But at this point there is no denying that young Fabio is a fast mover. I worry for him, that such sudden success may cause him to take more risks than he should.

Rossi, it now seems certain, will stick around for 2020 to fulfill his final contract with Yamaha, a 20-round victory lap blowing kisses to the yellow hordes. It is hard to believe that his last career win came at Assen in 2017 at a time when we thought we would live to see another half dozen top steps for the Italian legend. His legion of followers insist he has enough gas left in the tank for another win before he hangs it up. Unlikely. I will gladly eat this one, too, if the day comes. 

Recent History at Marco Simoncelli 

In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo.  For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go. 

2017 saw Marquez deliver a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch a generational rider perform at the height of his formidable powers.

2018 will go down in Bologna as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third behind Dovi and Lorenzo. When ‘that Spanish stronzo Lorenzo’ stunned the 97,000 ravenous fans by sliding out of second on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another discouraging 8 points to his 2018 lead. Rossi finished the day in seventh; Lorenzo in the gravel. For the year, Dovi took over second place, followed by Rossi and Lorenzo, with Marquez cruising in clean air. It was “Welcome once again to the Marquez Era.” 

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Find the motorcycle in this photo

Racing News 

Sudden Sam Lowes has signed a contract to join the Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2 cadre in 2020, riding next to Alex Marquez. Sam, as is his wont, is wildly optimistic about his title chances in 2020, as per usual. These loudmouth Brits—Lowes, Crutchlow, Redding—keep me chuckling when they fail to back up all the talk, year after year. Sam is the worst, expecting to dominate in MotoGP, expecting to dominate in Moto2. Getting thoroughly faced in both. Destined for British Super Bikes. Scott Redding is apparently moving back up from BSB to Moto2, where he may once again be too big and heavy to score any wins. Hooked on the lifestyle, apparently. Seriously, what right-thinking Moto2 owner would sign Scott Redding? 

Weekend Forecast 

The weather in San Marino this weekend is expected to be perfect—sunny and warm, not too hot—which is bad news for the grid, as it needs unsettled conditions (snow, locusts, biblical rain, etc.) to slow down the Marquez express. Misano is one of the tracks where the Ducati works well, so the Italian contingent—six Ducatis, plus Rossi, Iannone and Bagnaia—will be on their “A” game. French rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo is being jocked in the racing media as the rider most capable of challenging Marquez for the win on Sunday. My advice to punters, however, is not to expect to hear La Marseillaise during the podium celebration. I feel compelled to urge young Fabio to avoid going down the road paved by Alvaro Bautista who, in recent years, had apparently paid more attention to his hairstyle and tats than winning in MotoGP.

Current odds, as posted at Bruce’s MotoGP Spacebook, show Marquez with a 5% chance of clinching the 2019 title at Aragon, a 35% chance of clinching at Buriram, and a 60% chance of clinching at Motegi.

For some strange reason, readers continue to urge me to take a stand and predict the top three finishers at each venue. I’m reluctant to do so, inclined to adhere to the old adage that it’s better to let people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. Nonetheless, in my perpetual effort to keep readers satisfied, I can see a Spaniard, an Italian and a Frenchman on Sunday’s podium. It would be poetic if Marquez were to be joined by Rossi and Quartararo; the rostrum would personify the metaphorical Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow meme. But it seems almost certain that a Ducati pilot will find his way into the top three, thereby upsetting my poetic intentions.

Whatever. We’ll be back on Sunday with results and analysis. Ciao for now.

MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen   July 2, 2019

Universe Needs Marquez to Slide Out Sunday 

Here we go again. Up by 44 heading to The Sachsenring, a Marquez clambake in the works. Aliens celebrate winning a race while holding #93 to 20 points, suggesting 2019 has already been conceded. 

Marquez at sachsenring

Worse yet, Marquez can afford to play things a little safe, which he thankfully won’t. This situation will require a joust, in which a rider, say Alex Rins, decides to go one-on-one with Marquez in the early corners, looking for trouble, likely to find it. Vinales escaped with his life at Assen, despite his best performance in ages. For this to be a season, it will require more. It will require a duel. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine. 

Let us light a candle in gratitude for Marquez having put it on the floor while easily leading at COTA, another personal sandbox. Track conditions contributed to that fall, and he is unlikely to make that mistake again soon; once he takes the lead he often gets away. Had he gone on to win in Texas, he would now have 185 points. To Dovi’s 114. When Dovi takes him on for the win, late in races, he’s gone four for five. It can be done. It just needs to be done early in the race, with the same level of aggression Marquez shows the other riders. There needs to be some contact. Moto3 stuff. Catalunya stuff, with Marquez caught up in it. Something.

The “young lion” image has found its way into the comments on these articles. On Sunday, one of the young guns—Quartararo, Rins, Vinales, Mir—needs to announce his intention to become the new alpha male, at some point, early in the next decade most likely, just sayin’. Although ten straight wins in Germany would be something to see.

Business as usual will find young Marquez, world by the balls, leaving for summer vacation leading the series by at least 49 points. Racing fans will start going for long, solitary rides instead of watching more of The Marquez Show. Fortunately for me, keeping readers engaged in this “analysis” does not require the championship be at all competitive. The wonderful handful of folks who actively track MotoGP at Motorcycle.com demand so little… 

Recent History 

2016 in Saxony was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate tire, The Taint, for those less civilized amongst you.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

Two years ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. Real competition in the premier class.

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. Same as the previous year. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Viñales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP made the turn heading for the back, um, 10, which would start at Brno in August. And we all know how that turned out. 

Chatter 

Most of the noise I’ve been hearing this week concerns Jorge Lorenzo’s future in racing. Going all Black Knight in an effort to unseat Marquez at the top of the Honda heap? WSBK? No. Decide it’s not worth his future mobility to try to be the best again? Understand that if he were to leave Honda his only possible destination would be with, like, Avintia. There will be no satellite Suzuki team in 2020. Maybe Zarco bails at KTM—would The Spartan wish to go from the Japanese frying pan to the Austrian fire?

MotoGP.com is jocking the general competitiveness of the 2019 season—five riders on four different bikes—both factory Ducatis—gracefully sidestepping the fact that Marquez leads by 44. I find it almost physically painful to read the articles on the MotoGP site. They reflect a top-down assignment of “interest” articles—’gimme 200 words on how competitive the season is, blah blah blah’—without nuance or wit. Some poor Spanish bastard is working in a second language trying to make it sound right. Which is to say, sound British. Which should be funny but isn’t.

They could hire me to turn the English translation into a stand-up routine. I’ve almost always been very complimentary of Sr. Ezpeleta.

Over at Moto2 and Moto3

Assen was eventful in both classes. Tony Arbolino seized a razor’s edge win from Lorenzo Dalla Porta, allowing Aron Canet to maintain his narrow lead in the 2019 chase. It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone from the current top ten won the title this year. People who turn their noses up at the lightweight classes miss those ground level camera shots that show the Moto3 bikes flying past, Doppler effect in full force, literally a blur.

In Moto2, our old buddy Tom Luthi took back the lead in the series as prior leader Alex Marquez was knocked out of the race by BadAss Baldassarri, with things getting a little physical in the gravel trap. There are perhaps five or six riders capable of winning in 2019. Apparently, Marc Marquez is lobbying hard for brother Alex to receive a seat on the 2021 Pramac team. I failed to write it down, but one of the Japanese riders made a comically-ridiculous save after getting tagged, nothing connecting him to his bike but his hands.                          

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for the greater Hohenstein-Ernstthal metro is for clear and cool conditions over the weekend. 70°. The great equalizer. There was a day in MotoGP when riders would routinely exit the pits on a cool morning and crash before ever getting their tires warmed up. You don’t see nearly enough of that stuff these days. The cool weather will, to some extent, help the Yamahas and take away an advantage for the Hondas. It pains me to say it, but on Sunday’s podium with Marquez I’m seeing Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins. None of the war horses, the grizzled veterans, the legends in their own minds.

The MotoGP world is being re-shaped before our eyes. Quartararo, Mir and Nakagami and Bagnaia are standing in the wings. Now, if someone could just do something about that pesky Marquez guy, we could have a helluva series. We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results, analysis and purloined photos.

Sachsenring woman1sachsenring woman2

sachsenring woman3

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen.

It’s Officially Marquez vs. The World 

When it comes to motorcycle racing, a number of readers fail to understand, or simply don’t care about, the underlying resentments in the relationship between Catalonia, once its own country, and Spain. Increasingly-vocal Catalans take this stuff seriously and personally. For them, being a Catalan is different (and far better) than being a freaking Spaniard. Similar to the Basque situation in northern Spain. So, when they line up under the red lights on Sunday afternoon, Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, both Espargaros and Tito Rabat will be, for an hour or so, brothers in arms. Motto: Beat the hell out of the Spaniards and crush the Italians! 

If Catalonia was indeed its own country it would easily lead the world in grand prix motorcycle racing champions per capita. As for Marquez, Catalan to the core,  though he’s only collected one premier class win here, he’s been on the podium regularly, save for 2015 when he crashed out, suffering under the influence of an unrideable chassis. Jorge Lorenzo used to win here all the time with Yamaha and got his first win here with Ducati last year. But looking at his results this year on the Honda, it’s amazing we’re even talking about him.

Lorenzo 2019 to date

 

 

 

Even though Suzuki up-and-comer Alex Rins has only a DNS and a DNF here, it is the type of track that suits him, never mind the whole nationalistic/inspirational thing. Rossi has won here once since 2009, while teammate Maverick Vinales has never been any good at his home crib (discounting his Moto3 win here in 2012). Finally, Andrea Dovizioso has a solo win here in 2017 to go along with a bunch of nondescript results dating back to 2008.

Suffice it to say that neither Lorenzo nor Rossi nor Dovizioso is likely to win Sunday’s race. More likely, it will be Marquez, Rins, or a dark horse, a Jack Miller or a Franco Morbidelli. Danilo Petrucci could keep a new little tradition alive by winning back-to-backs in Mugello and here, the way Lorenzo did last year and Dovi the year before. That would tighten things at the top of the rider heap.

Recent History at Catalunya

The 2016 Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya featured a struggling but gritty defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannone-ed” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed; the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again managed a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and would never look back, cruising to his third premier class title in four seasons.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race here, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having absconded with Marquez’ lunch money on Lap 8, went through on Pedrosa into a lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later overtook Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race. It was not long ago that Dani Pedrosa was still relevant.

Last year, Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo and his Ducati went through into a lead the Mallorcan never considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, simultaneously getting sandwiched by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This, in turn, promoted a trailing Valentino Rossi into podium position. Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth.

Quick Hitters 

Surprise, for those of you jocking fabulous rookie Fabio Quartararo.  Wrestling the Yamaha M1 thus far in 2019 has him experiencing arm pump, which came as news to many of us. Thus, he had the remarkable Dr. Mir operate on him shortly after Mugello, news our bookies failed to share. He expects to return this week. This Spanish layout will test his machismo, what with his forearms resembling compression sleeves stuffed with chicken breasts.

Your boy Jack Miller, having a solid season on a Desmo GP19, has recently been quoted as having had a change of heart, to wit, rather than demanding a promotion over the head of one Danilo Petrucci onto the factory team alongside Dovizioso, he’s now saying he’s got a great deal right here at Pramac Ducati and would be tickled pink, actually, to remain with the team on a two year deal commencing next year. This change of heart was prompted by Petrucci’s dramatic, awesome, scintillating maiden win in front of his homeys at Mugello last time out. Danilo’s win was even more impressive than it looked as we realized his job for the next year or two with the factory Ducati crew depended on his result. Dude had a lot on the line, had Marquez sniffing around his drawers, and Dovi right behind him. He held up. His machismo was in fine shape, thanks.

More to come on the Pramac team before next year, as Pecco Bagnaia has been promised a GP20, and Miller is unsurprisingly expecting another. This, on a team that has, historically, had, at most, one current bike on offer.

Mired in the worst slump of his career, a series of results that makes his Ducati foray look like raging success, Jorge Lorenzo was quietly hauled over to HRC HQ in Japan by Alberto Puig, Chief Apologist, Repsol MotoGP Team. The rest of what follows is pure fiction. The board of directors of the racing division sat arrayed around a semi-circular conference table. In front of the table was a single ladder-backed chair with 1.755” sawed off the front two legs and a single light suspended on a chain above it. Lorenzo was encouraged to sit silently in the chair, trying not to slide on to the pristine floor, while the nine Japanese executives glared icily at him for two hours. Not a word was spoken. Afterwards, Puig had Lorenzo flown back to Europe. El Gato claims that now everyone involved with his RC213V team is on the same page and he looks forward to competing for the podium in Catalunya…[crickets]… 

Your Weekend Forecast 

So, the weather for the Umpteenth Barcelona Grand Prix appears, from a distance, to be perfect. Spain at its best—sunny and warm, hot in the sun, cool in the shade. Of an umbrella.

The lower divisions are giving us some of this and some of that. In Moto3 Aron Canet and young Jaume Masia on resurgent KTMs sit 1st and 4th, sandwiching Honda riders Lorenzo dalla Porta and the dashing Niccolo Antonelli in 2nd and 3rd. It’s anyone’s title this year, at this point, and the racing has been, as usual, sublime. In Moto2, a resurgent Alex Marquez has chased down “BadAss” Lorenzo Baldassarri with back-to-back wins in France and Italy, forging a virtual tie for the championship after six rounds. Veteran Tom Luthi, returning to Moto2 after a nightmarish year in MotoGP, is right there in third, pursued by young hotshot Jorge Navarro on the only Speed Up bike in the top nine. Kalex, as usual, has led the league in their accommodation of the big new Triumph 765s, gripping eight of the top nine spots in the current standings. Anyone’s title again, but Marquez has a ton of momentum, and we should not overlook the fact that, despite what seem like years of underachieving in Moto2, he is still only 23. Both he and Baldassarri appear likely candidates to graduate to MotoGP next season.

For the fantasists among you who loathe Marc Marquez and/or Jorge Lorenzo, visualize for a moment what it would look like to have #73 and #93 in the same Repsol liveries in 2020.

Marquez brothers exhibition spin 2013 at Valencia

The Marquez brothers go for a spin at Valencia in 2014 after each won a world title that day.

I think it’s a bad idea to bet against Marc Marquez on Sunday. He clearly understands how close he has come to perfection this year, similar to 2014. The washboard in Texas and two photo-finishes with factory Ducatis are all that stand between him and a perfect season after six rounds. The weather and the crowd will be in his favor on Sunday. And they don’t call it The Marquez Era for nothing.

As for the remaining steps on the podium, I can’t help you. Perhaps a factory Ducati, perhaps Vinales. It would be the bomb to see Franco Morbidelli or Jack Miller fight with the lead group. With Assen looming in only two weeks and The Sachsenring just a week after that, we are headed directly for the turn into the summer doldrums, and Marquez is looking like he wants to break away.

I suspect Valentino Rossi would love to make a liar out of me. That would be great.

We’ll return here a couple hours after the race with results and analysis. This article, or most of it, should appear on Motorcycle.com later on Tuesday. Sunday results and analysis will be here a couple hours after the race and on Motorcycle.com later that day.

Plagiarized by Kropotkin?

May 16, 2019

Capture

I’ve been writing online for a dozen years, and on Motorcycle.com for a decade. MO allows basically any site on earth to re-post my work, which is cool. However, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed a racing authority like David Emmett flirting with stealing my stuff.

Here is part of the lead paragraph in my Jerez results article, which I posted on May 5th:

“Four riders were separated by nine points heading to Jerez; four riders remain separated by nine points heading to Le Mans. Life is good.”

Here is a fragment of David’s recent article posted on Motogp.com on May 14th:

“After Austin, the third race of the season, the top four in the championship were separated by just nine points. After Jerez, race four, the top four are still separated by just nine points, but now in a completely different order. Life is pretty good at the moment if you are a MotoGP™ fan…”

Ignoring the fact that I’m green with jealousy at David’s appearance on the MotoGP website, does anyone agree that the two fragments are disarmingly similar? Or, for that matter, that David’s is excessively wordy? Asking for a friend.

MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

The record books show that Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi.  Maverick Viñales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him.  Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here in 2017, leading the race for the first six laps until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!

MotoGP Jerez Preview

April 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Returning to Europe, the Plot Thickens 

After three store-bought rounds, MotoGP 2019 returns to Europe, where it is totally legit, to Jerez, one of the sport’s shrines, for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, at the recently-renamed Circuito Jerez – Angel Nieto. The title chase appears closer than it really is due to Marc Marquez’ unforced error in Austin. Never having missed the podium in seven previous premier class visits here, one expects Marquez to be highly motivated to put things in their proper order come Sunday afternoon. 

On his way to 70 points and an imposing lead in the 2019 championship, multi-world champion Marc Marquez lost his marbles on one of the trademarked rumblestrips at COTA last time out for his first DNF of the year. (Last year, his first DNF of the season came at Phillip Island, after he had clinched and no longer gave a rip.) His challengers—Andrea Dovizioso, Vale Rossi and Alex Rins, at this point—need to eat their Wheaties this weekend, need to keep him in sight. Other reputed contenders entering the season—Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Vinales and poor Jorge Lorenzo—have already shredded their seasons. They are fast enough to contend at times (maybe this weekend) and will undoubtedly appear on podia this year. Marquez’ only real title challengers, heading into Round 4, number three. So far so good for #93.

Many of you are surprised to see upstart Alex Rins, age 23, among the big boy Alien crew on his suddenly-competitive Suzuki. Me too, although I’ve been a fan for a while. He will be juiced to return to Spain, but aware that his history here is poor. Besides, he, like Marquez, is a Catalan, which locals think of as a separate country from Spain. Whatever. ‘Home race’ card coming your way soon. As for Dovizioso and Rossi, though they lead the championship now, it is difficult to see either of them winning it, absent some disastrous crash for Marquez. Sorry, but there it is. Dovizioso has not appeared on a Jerez podium since 2007, in his 250cc days. And of Rossi’s nine career wins here, eight of them came before 2010.

Expect Marc Marquez to gain ground on all three this weekend. 

Recent History at Jerez 

2016 was a Yamaha kind of year at Jerez. The Doctor made a house call on soon-to-be-former teammate Lorenzo, winning here for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge from his restless teammate, with Marquez running a strangely quiet third. It was a Yamaha year, starting and finishing in the top two slots. The church bells rang in Tavullia as Rossi spit in the eye of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  For Rossi fans, this was a keeper.

2017, on the other hand, was your basic Honda year. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won, leading wire-to-wire for his first win since Misano in 2016.  Teammate and defending champion Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those Dani Days. Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterwards, felt like a win. This “win” started a string of nine off-podium finishes that turned his season to mud. Still, Lorenzo loves him some Jerez.

Entering last year’s race, five riders were separated by eight points. (Recall Marquez’ comedic disaster in Argentina.) This year, we have four riders separated by nine points after #93’s carefree off in Texas—what, a month ago? Anyway, last year’s race featured the memorable Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso, clearing the field for a dominating win from Marquez. As is usually the case, when big names go down, smaller names rise. Thus it was that Johann Zarco, then toiling for Yamaha, claimed second place while Andrea Iannone, Suzuki #2 at the time, found the third step. [Incidentally, both riders would give their bicuspids to be back with their previous teams after offseason moves to KTM and Aprilia, respectively.] 

Current Events 

Elsewhere on the grid, some riders are visibly happy these days, Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Takaa Nakagami (Honda), Jack Miller (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) amongst them. 19-year old Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) sits in the top ten. He’s happy. Guys like Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia) and anyone riding for KTM, not so much. Poor Hafizh Syahrin has a goose egg going on, drawing the close attention of team owner Herve Poncharal. Zarco looks like his dog died. Rookie Miguel Oliveira is happy to be making C’s in his first year in college. Pol Espargaro is having the best year of the four, sitting in ninth place. Again.

In the lighter classes—it no longer seems right to apply that term to the 765cc Triumphs in Moto2—Lorenzo Baldassarri appears to be the cream of the crop, despite not having completed a single lap at COTA. In Moto3, 18-year old Jaume Masia and veteran Aron Canet lead a pack of Hondas on their KTMs. We are pleased to report that so far in 2019, fully unreformable Italian headjob Romano Fenati has not attempted to grab the brake levers on anyone’s bike but his own. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend is typically Jerez—hot and sunny. Honda weather for sure, not helpful to the Ducati and Yamaha contingents. Jury is out on the Suzukis. Much of the circuit has been repaved, which is good and bad. Good, in that the owners wouldn’t have made the investment in the track if Dorna were going to take it off the calendar anytime soon. Bad, in that it will have different asphalt in different sectors, which the riders hate. But, hey, it’s Jerez. Everyone suck it up.

By now, you’ve probably discerned that I, along with most of the civilized world, expect Marc Marquez to win Sunday’s race. I would enjoy seeing him and Rins square off. I would REALLY like to see Alex Rins school Marquez one time, take a little chink out of his armor, announce his arrival, motivate Suzuki to go ahead and pull the trigger on a second factory-supported team starting in 2020. Most lucid people would also expect to see Valentino Rossi on the podium again—points is points. So that would be my top three—Marquez, Rins and Rossi.

Visit Motorcycle.com on Sunday evening for results, analysis and classy high-rez photos from Jerez. Or, just come here early Sunday afternoon for everything but the pix, which you can find anywhere.

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.

Day One at Rio Hondo

March 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Ain’t nobody really care a lot about what happens on Fridays unless FP3 looks to be wet, which it doesn’t. But the forecast for Sunday shows thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the area, generally around mid-day. So, according to my calculations, all four free practice sessions become rather useless when two days of dry vanish on race day. Keeps things interesting. Keeps bookies checking their phones.

Notable accomplishments, comments and attitudinal insights from Friday:

  • Your boy Valentino Rossi put himself back in the conversation with a solid F2. Both he and Vinales improved, Vinny sitting third for the day. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me to hear Vinny announce his goal was to take the pole on Saturday. Not a word about winning on Sunday. Such a Vinny thing to say, or not say.
  • Andrea Dovizioso led the combined sessions and noted with a smile and a wink that the 2019 bike is better than the GP18. He said he had not expected to be so fast so soon. Kind of like dad used to say when applying corporal punishment, “I didn’t mean to hit you. So hard.” Dovi is oozing confidence. The Ducati contingent performed better than expected on Friday, including one-two for the day.
  • Marc Marquez reportedly ran 19 laps on a used rear tire in FP2. #93 finished eighth overall on what Jack Miller described as a “filthy” track off the racing line. Track management should call in the country’s national curling teams, both men and women, and instruct them to sweep the entire track, paint to paint, by Sunday morning. Anyway, Marquez seems serenely confident heading into Saturday.
  • Not so for #99 Jorge Lorenzo on the #2 Repsol Honda as he limped home in 21st position, predicting he would be fast on Saturday, on Sunday, in Austin, after the circus returns to Jerez. He was observing how he trailed Dovi by a second, deftly sidestepping the issue of the 19 riders between them.
  • I keep finding myself surprised when Jack Miller shows up near the top of time sheets as he did on Friday. Perhaps this “consistent surprise” is a symptom of some kind of bias against the brash Australian. On the other hand, he finished 2018 in 13th place and has zero points in 2019. I dunno.
  • Danilo Petrucci is keeping a very low profile in 13th place after FP2.
  • In his fortnightly whine, The Black Knight complained about, let’s see, problems in corner entry. “But a P4 for last year’s Argentina GP winner on Friday with room to improve suggests the Briton is well in the hunt.” This last one was borrowed from the MotoGP website as an example of how to get your colon in a twist trying to get the pertinent information and proper nationalist spin in a single sentence. Raise your hand if you don’t know we’re discussing Cal Crutchlow.
  • Seeing Suzuki pilot Alex Rins sitting 7th at the end of day one, hot on Rossi’s tail, is not as surprising as seeing Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha in 9th. And, for the second round in a row, teenager Fabio Quartararo put his own Petronas Yamaha in the top five on Friday. Things appear to be looking up for Morbidelli, who has paid his dues and appears ready for top-ten finishes. Suzuki rookie phenom Joan Mir had a bad morning and a better afternoon.

We’ll see what Saturday brings besides Marquez on the front row. It will then be up to the weather gods to determine the nature of Sunday’s confrontation. A flag-to-flag affair early in the season could easily scramble the standings for the first half of 2019. And perhaps I’m the only one thinking of Jorge Lorenzo, facing a wet race day on the belligerent Honda RC213V, envisioning himself flying over the windscreen, landing gently in a track-side pool of water, with three points to show for his 2019 campaign. This is a guy who wants a dry race.

MotoGP Losail Preview

March 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

It’s Marquez’ Title to Lose in 2019 

Welcome to MotoGP 2019, brought to you by Motorcycle.com and, well, me. I will be publishing everything I do here, and MO will, in turn, publish race results (only the results; no previews) on Sundays. My editor at MO worked hard to make this happen, and I’m happy to start my 11th season working for the friendly Canucks in Toronto and with the bozos in California.

MotoGP 2019 dawns on the heels of another Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda masterpiece last year. Despite extreme efforts from the likes of Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, the ageless Yamaha wonder Valentino Rossi, his teammate Maverick Vinales and Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins, Marquez sailed to his fifth premier class championship in six years, utterly dominant amongst the yachting class. He took the championship lead in Jerez and never looked back, winning nine times, on the podium for five others, going 14 for 18 with Silverstone rained out.

Although there have been a number of changes—riders leaving, moving up from Moto2, switching from, say, Ducati to Honda—there is no denying that Marquez will have to crash out of the championship, a rather unlikely outcome given the fact that he practices crashing and generally avoids the whole over-the-handlebars scene. His surgically-repaired shoulder should be close to 100% by the time the red lights go out in Qatar. His shoulder became such a mess last year that a congratulatory slap from Scott Redding at Motegi caused it to dislocate again. The thought that he was able to demolish the field in that condition makes the notion of his improving this year more palatable. Not. The bike is generally unchanged, unruly and good everywhere. Having Lorenzo in the garage will increase the testosterone quotient on both sides. One expects Lorenzo to start off as a top tenner and improve from there as the season progresses.

The times are a-changin’ at the factory Monster Yamaha garage, with the torch on its way to being passed from ageless wonder Valentino Rossi to the future of Yamaha racing, at least for now, Maverick Vinales. Both riders should make consistent appearances in the top six this season as the 2019 YZR-M1 appears improved over the 2018 version (currently being ridden well by Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team.) Rossi fans are outraged by the assertion that Rossi has lost a step when, in fact, he has remained somewhat static for the past five years, constrained over and over by a steadily improving Marquez, who will officially enter The Prime of his career this year and for the next four or five.

Great.

With Rossi still selling a lot of gear and Vinales poking around podia on a regular basis, the factory team must have as its goal for 2019 to show significant improvement over last year’s bike, which neither rider liked. It has gone from the best ride on the grid on Bridgestones to the third-best on Michelins. Neither rider is likely to win a title in 2019, but the show must go on. Data harvesting, y’know.

Recent History at Losail

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season.

The 2018 season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk in the Tech 3 garage. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian by hundredths. No TKO.

Returning to your Previously Scheduled Programming

The new satellite Petronas team features Franco Morbidelli, moving from a 2017 Honda to a 2019 Yamaha, and apparently thrilled by the difference. Rookie French teenage teammate, heartthrob Fabio Quartararo is riding, I believe, 2018 equipment, learning the premier class game on a less-valuable bike of which, it is expected, he will destroy a dozen or so as he makes his way up the learning curve at 200 mph. One of these guys will likely take over for Rossi on the factory team when he retires, possibly as early as the end of this year, no later than the end of next year. Makes for a no-shit intra-team rivalry for the year which, in turn, suggests they will consistently fight to be in the points, perhaps the top ten, over a long season, with the Frenchman recording his share of DNFs and the Italian prevailing, himself a VR46 Academy grad. Rossi, I believe, will need to finish the season in the top six in order to honor the second year of his contract. Anything less would, I sense, be unacceptable, clear evidence that the time to retire has arrived.

The factory Ducati team, whose title sponsor I can never remember other than it is weak—Minnie Willow?—has two strong Italian contenders on brand new Desmosedicis with high motivation and proven skills. Factory crew for Danilo Petrucci, which is a first. Andrea Dovizioso, who had his career year in 2017, should still win a few races, but his championship aspirations are largely past tense. Both are, however, amongst the favorites for the Forget Marquez and His 350 Points championship fight, featuring Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales and Suzuki’s Alex Rins.

The Pramac Ducati duo of Australian Jack Miller and rookie Italian VR46 rider Pecco Bagnaia will be wildcards at some venues especially, I suspect, at wet or flag-to-flag outings. Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, cutting his teeth on the Ducati, while Miller will need a bunch of top ten finishes to stay #1 on the #2 team. The #3 team, Avintia UnReale, fronts a recovering Tito Rabat alongside journeyman Karel Abraham, with only Rabat expected to find himself in the top ten on occasion. Dovizioso should win the intra-manufacturer trophy, but little else. (This, by the way, is the team Suzuki should look to buy out and pave the way for their satellite team.)

Speaking of Suzuki, the Ecstar team performed well enough to lose its previous concessions, forced this year to wear their big boy pants and slug it out with everyone else, same playing field. No sweat. Alex Rins is an Alien in the making and rookie teammate Joan Mir likewise, although he is a year or two behind Rins. Both are flogging improving bikes, a handful of horsepower from being consistently on the podium on a bike cognizant of Rossi’s famous words, “The front tire’s job is to inform me. The rear tire’s job is to obey me.” Suzuki gets that, and I believe a number of riders would be interested in their #2 team.

KTM, Austria’s gift to motorcycle racing, isn’t happening. Just getting that out there. The apologists are in full rant, defending performance which has been, at best, disappointing over two full years. Which, with the addition of the Tech 3 satellite operation, raised expectations amongst the PR types if few others. The factory team of Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro are, I sense, being asked to make bricks without straw, and the satellite team of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, also on 2019 equipment, is suffering likewise. The factory is throwing massive resources into a segment of the market in which it makes very little, leading some to believe that executives may be starting to use the term “or else” in their fantasy conversations with corporate rivals.

As for the intrepid, ever-optimistic Aprilia congregation, whose riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are keeping a stiff upper lip, Iannone suffering with his third bike in four years, his once-bright career in visible decline. Ducati to Suzuki to Aprilia. I suspect Suzuki would take him back if they did produce a #2 team, as he improved late in his previous tenure and folks say they canned him too soon.

Finally, before I forget, here are the preseason tranche projections, published previously in a separate article and cut/pasted for internal consistency:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco  Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

I don’t expect the final standings to look too much like this, as this is a moving target during the year owing to injuries, mostly. But, heading in, rather than being a complete jerk and allotting Marquez Tranche 1 by himself, I decided to be gracious and at least tip my hat to the other riders, as if this were going to be a real race season and no one knows who’s going to win.

Predicting the outcome of the first race of the season, under the lights in The Persian Gulf, sand and glare everywhere, a surreal shakedown cruise for everyone, is commonly referred to as “a fool’s errand.” This foolish errand boy will therefore throw out four names, three of which will, I suspect, end up on the podium (drum roll, please):  Marquez  Vinales  Petrucci  Bagnaia.

Whatever. Let the games begin. 2019 is upon us.

MotoGP 2019 Season Preview

February 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen    February 27

World-Class Battle for Second Place Awaits MotoGP 

MotoGP, the working name for grand prix international motorcycle racing, has evolved in a number of ways in the last decade. Of the Big Three manufacturers in 2009—Yamaha, Honda and Ducati, respectively—Honda has booted Yamaha from #1 all the way to #3, a whisker ahead of the prodigal factory Suzuki crib. Jorge Lorenzo has been passed around like a party girl in a mosh pit. KTM and Aprilia have joined the fray, mostly to no avail.  

marc_marquez_2013_zdj_3

Marquez ca. 2013

Marc-Marquez-MotoGP-2019-690x460

Marquez 2019

Marc Marquez has melded his body and his Honda RC213V into a single working unit with a state-of-the-art gyroscope and a clear understanding of the laws and limits of physics, all of which make him the strong favorite to win his sixth title in seven (!) years, domination of the premier class unseen since, well, ten years ago, when Valentino Rossi sat astride the motoracing world. And though the torch was passed in 2016, Rossi fans insist he has a chance to take his 10th world championship this year and retire on top.

Rossi, they’ll tell you, records aside, is as good as ever. The Yamaha, they’ll tell you, is greatly improved over last year. Young maverick Maverick Vinales is telling the engineers the same things that Rossi is telling them, they’ll tell you, a synergy developing between the GOAT and the Next Great Rider to Come Along at the Wrong Time and Never Win a Title, Vinales a candidate for what we shall henceforth call The Dani Pedrosa Award, which is not given every year. Y’see, by the time Vinales overtakes Marquez in, say, 2023 he himself will get consumed by the likes of Alex Rins or Joan Mir or Pecco Bagnaia. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow appear to be the next batters on deck for The Pedrosa Award.

The only way Marc Marquez does not win the MotoGP title this year, or any of the next five, will be a crash or crashes that cause him to break a limb or give him a concussion. He has tamed the quick but unruly RC213V with a combination of balance, reflexes, strength and cojones, each season a highlight reel of impossible saves that leave even him shaking his head. No other Honda rider gets as much out of his front tire. He enjoys stalking a Dovizioso or a Lorenzo, then hitting them with three laps left and later complimenting them from the center seat of the press conference riders table. The one reserved for the race winner.

New Repsol teammate Jorge Lorenzo, formerly employed by both Yamaha and Ducati, entering the season with a surgically-repaired wrist, has given us reason to believe he will get the hang of the point-and-shoot Honda by mid-season. With Marquez virtually guaranteed to accumulate well over 300 points and Lorenzo capable of 200 himself, it’s hard to imagine Honda not taking the team and constructor trophies in 2019. Crutchlow and Nakagami will do better than Morbidelli and Quartararo.

The LCR Honda team, with separate sponsors and liveries for the Brit and Japanese riders, appears to be one of changing fortunes. Crutchlow, after a brutal ankle injury last year at Phillip Island is finding his way back but is not 100% and may never be again. Meanwhile, Takaa Nakagami, on the same bike Marquez rode to the title last year, was first on the last day of 2018 testing at Jerez and has been a regular in the top ten in both tests this year, his star apparently, somehow, on the rise. Suitably great news in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Yamahas

The fortunes of Yamaha racing hit rock bottom in 2018 after having signed both Rossi and Vinales to new two-year contracts. An executive shuffle at HQ and feverish work on electronics and stuff has produced a 2019 iteration of the YZR-M1 that appears competitive, if not dominating. Certainly better than last year, which both Rossi and Vinales spent singing the blues about one thing or another, Vinales throwing a mid-season hissy that cost his crew chief his job and cemented his reputation as a prima donna.

Rossi, to little surprise, is not enjoying having become the de facto #2 rider on the Yamaha team. This team never made much effort to designate a #1 or a #2 when it was Rossi and Lorenzo. They appear to be downplaying any talk of Rossi having lost a step. Vinales is not claiming anything, mostly keeping his head down and riding fast. The Big Question entering 2020 is whether Rossi will choose to vacate the second year of his contract and move strictly to ownership in 2021, perhaps with the occasional wild card? Mugello would fit into that picture. SKY VR46 Racing could easily become a satellite Suzuki team in 2021, purchasing the Reale Avintia spots on the grid and bringing the VR46 circus to MotoGPtown.

Where was I? Right, so I expect Vinales to outpoint Rossi this year, probably finishing third and fifth, respectively. Over at the new Petronas SIC team, Franco Morbidelli and French teenager Fabio Quartararo are getting acquainted with their own M-1s, Morbidelli on 2019 equipment. Their prospects appear somewhat dim, given the newness of everything, but Quartararo turned in a very hot lap toward the end of the Qatar test. Very hot. Both riders figure to finish in the points each time out barring, you know, the usual hiccups, cartwheeling through the gravel at high speed, that sort of thing.

The Ducatis

The factory team, riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, will end the season with a rider in Tranche 2 and one in Tranche 3 presuming Marquez gets Tranche 1 all to himself again. Petrucci’s history is one of taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. He broke into MotoGP in 2010 on board an Ioda beater, which became an Ioda-Suter beater midseason and for 2013. Junk. I used to make fun of him plodding along when, as others more perceptive than I realized, he had some skills. He hit rock bottom in 2014 riding an Aprilia production bike for a ragged ART team and getting smoked on a regular basis. He kept with it.

He got a crack with Ducati riding used equipment in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when, in beating the hapless Scott Redding in an inter-team competition at Pramac, he earned a factory spec bike for 2018. He rode well enough to take over the #2 factory seat when Jorge Lorenzo defected to Honda. He did not ride well enough (8th each of the last two years) to keep his ride for more than the one-year contract he signed. Not with the likes of Bagnaia on the immediate horizon. I have both riders in Tranche 2 heading into 2019.

Ducati Team #3, the Reale Avintia team, features Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham, two journeymen riders, neither of whom figures to be overly competitive. As satellite riders for Ducati in the Dall’Igna era they, too, get better used equipment each year. Rabat, rebounding from a serious leg injury suffered last year, is loving his new ride, while Abraham, a rich kid and an attorney in real life, keeps showing up with a fistful of dad’s sponsorship money. He generally makes about two appearances a year in the top ten. I have Rabat at the top of Tranche 4 and Abraham in Tranche 5.

The Suzukis

Given there are only two riders, the summary of their team’s prospects for 2019 shall be brief and to the point. They have two exciting riders, veteran Alex Rins and young gun Joan Mir, fresh out of a single year in Moto2, in a hurry to get to the premier class. They have a rapidly improving bike whose prospects, ironically, may be hampered by their success a year ago which resulted in the loss of concessions.

Nonetheless, I have been jocking Rins for several years after reading some stuff about the racing rivalry between the Rins and Marquez families—Tito Rabat is in there somewhere, too—but the point is that Rins is good enough to threaten for a podium each time out. I have him finishing second for the year, for God’s sake. Mir will take some time to get acclimated to the big bike and will suffer on occasion in his quest for points. I have him in Tranche 4 this season and wouldn’t be surprised to see him in #3 by the end of the season. In a year or two they will both be Alien candidates.

The KTMs

Despite what you might read, there is little joy in Mudville, Austria these days. The proud KTM logo has, since 2017, sucked hard in the premier class, despite the investment of countless man-hours and millions of euros. Domination in the lower classes, at least on occasion, clearly does not translate automatically to the big bikes. Pol Espargaro, the veteran of a group which includes Johann Zarco on the factory team, with Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syzhrin wearing Tech 3 colors, was raving at Sepang about the increased power in this year’s bike as its riders finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd.

KTM proponents in the real world are as bad as Rossi fans. Plenty of coulda, woulda and shouldas. Huge expectations going forward due to this reason or that. The brand has invested big time in MotoGP with nothing, really, to show for it. A third-place podium, at Valencia last year, in two seasons? This year they signed Johann Zarco and promoted Oliveira from Moto2, adding the satellite team, staying with Syahrin for sponsorship reasons, mostly, although he used to be a force in the rain.

This brand’s results promise to be disappointing once again. They will end up with two riders in Tranche 4 and two in Tranche 5 and will be doing victory dances and sending out press releases. Meanwhile, their fans, like dedicated Marxists, await the withering away of The State and a return to the Natural Order of Things, in which KTM wins it all. In my opinion, they have a long wait on their hands.

The Aprilias

Alas, the lonely Aprilias, plucky veteran Aleix Espargaro and a maturing Andrea Iannone on board the most tenuous factory team bikes in the game. We have observed elsewhere that there are entire planets in far away galaxies whose inhabitants worship images of Aleix Espargaro on the podium wearing Aprilia colors. I’m aware of few people that don’t want to see Aleix, or even Iannone, on the podium at least once this season. Perhaps a flag-to-flag in Assen or something weird. It would be good for everyone.

Pre-Season Rider Tranches

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat,                                          Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

Let’s get this party started.

 


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