Archive for the ‘MotoGP Preview’ Category

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen     September 17, 2018

Simple: Dovi Must Run the Table 

Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly-unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third. 

I have given this last statement a bit of thought. Finishing second is vastly different in the sports of motorcycle racing and, say, boxing. Finishing second for the year in MotoGP is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just more forgettable. Unless, of course, it’s decided at Valencia. Not this year.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2015, Lorenzo put on an M1 clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result for what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card. Looking back on it, this was the year Rossi’s fans learned to loathe #93, allegedly blocking for his countryman, later in the season. Much the same might have been said about Pedrosa here.

In 2016, Repsol’s suddenly-cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder gathered momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Marquez and Petrucci at Misano 2017

Petrucci and Marquez, Aragon 2017

History Aside, Here We Are

As fall approaches in the U.S., where virtually no one reads this, the 2018 MotoGP championship chase hangs by a thread. The top chaser, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, conceded the season to Marquez publicly last week; possibly playing head games, probably not. The rest of the contenders—Rossi, Vinales, Lorenzo—are either too inconsistent, too over-the-hill, or too under-horsed to mount any kind of a real challenge this year. Even in the unthinkable case that Marquez would allow himself to crash out of two of the remaining six rounds, that would only put things back in play for maybe one of the three. And it would be a long row to hoe from there.

As our British friends observe, there are 150 points “on offer” in the last six rounds of 2018. Marquez, again, AOBFO, has 67 points “in his pocket” and probably holds every tie-breaker known to man. Which translates, roughly, to one of the three main chasers winning, like, five of the last six races (!!!) while Marquez goes all Aleix Espargaro and fails to podium once for the remainder of the year. This, then, is what one finds when looking up the term “unlikely” in one’s online dictionary.

 MotoGP

TRACK RECORDS: RIDER, YEAR AND MANUFACTURER AFTER 13 ROUNDS 

LOSAIL                    2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RIO HONDA[1]        2014           Marc Marquez               Honda 

COTA[2]                   2015           Marc Marquez                Honda 

JEREZ                      2018          Cal Crutchlow               Honda 

LE MANS                2018           Johann Zarco                Yamaha 

MUGELLO             2018           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

CATALUNYA         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                Ducati 

ASSEN                     2015           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

SACHSENRING     2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

BRNO                       2016           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RED BULL RING   2016           Andrea Iannone            Ducati 

SILVERSTONE[3]  2017           Marc Marquez                Honda         

MISANO M.S.         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                 Ducati

ARAGON                  2015            Marc Marquez                   Honda

CHANG                    2018

MOTEGI                   2015            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

PHILLIP ISLAND     2013            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

SEPANG I.C.              2015            Dani Pedrosa                   Honda

RICARDO TORMO   2016            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

[1] Weather

[2] Track conditions poor

[3] 2018 race cancelled

Ten eligible rounds this year—dry races on suitable surfaces—with seven new all-time records. 70 percent, year-to-date, with Buriram, by definition, in the W column. With  the highly-criticized Michelins and common control ECU. The remaining records this year are not terribly recent, with Marquez’ at Phillip Island recorded in 2013 when he was a rookie. Lorenzo’s records late in the season are impressive and endangered. He is also the only rider to record track records on different bikes. Also impressive. Not endangered. Investigative journalism like this is why MO pays me the big bucks. I know you were wondering.

Here’s what I’m wondering, wishing I had access to MotoGP historical numbers I could manipulate to back up my otherwise-baseless assertions. I think the big deal about winning pole is vastly overrated, should be and is treated like its own little “mini-accomplishment,” on jelly-soft tires with no gas for one lap, torpedoes be damned. Win a big tricked-out BMW. I suspect qualifying on the front row doesn’t significantly hurt one’s chances of winning the race compared to winning pole. Just sayin’ qualifying on the front row should be the emphasis. Not pole. Pole is mostly a notch on a bedpost. Other than in places like Misano, where it is a curse; no winner from pole in nine years.

Wondering about the correlation between winning pole and winning the race. About winning the pole and securing the podium. About the correlation between qualifying second and finishing first or second. About the correlation between qualifying third and finishing on the podium. Someone with better abilities to manage data from online sources please do the math over the past 20 years and provide the analysis in the COMMENTS section below. Some poor guy in, like, Bali is holding his breath.

Track records are, in my opinion, a big deal. The vast majority are pole laps. To the extent that winning pole produces a new track record, I’m down. Otherwise, it’s just a big Beamer. Marquez has a barn full of them and lets little brother Alex drive one whenever he wants. They both know poor Alex will never have one of his own.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast for the three-day weekend in metropolitan Alcañiz calls for sunny skies and hot temps—real hot on Friday, hotter on Saturday, and hellish on Sunday. And dusty. These races favor the leader, especially one on a Honda RC213V, since conditions will add an additional layer of stress for all the Marquez chasers, notably the Yamahas. With their mathematical chances of a premier class title in 2018 approaching the abscissa, they must nonetheless exude confidence, risking life and limb in a heroic but mostly symbolic attempt to pull off the impossible, and live up to the mythic expectations of teams, families, fans, sponsors and, ultimately, owners. Lots of constituents. Lots of pressure. Lots of pressure not to let the pressure show. Never let them see you sweat.

I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not. Even if Dovi beats Marquez to the flag it will be a big-picture win for #93, as he would drop only 5 points to Dovi with but five rounds left, four of which are in those pesky Pacific time zones where things can go from bad to worse. Things like Marquez clinching in Australia. Things like that. As for third place, probably a Crutchlow on the Honda in the heat.

A new track record at Aragon, however, would be very cool. Marquez recording some kind of DNF would add interest to the next round in Thailand.

We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday before lunch EDT.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Chasers be advised—this is a Honda track 

The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon. 

The odds are against him. His last title was a decade ago. His last win was in Assen last year. The 2018 Yamaha M1 is lagging its major competitors across the board. The software doesn’t appear to have kept up with the hackers at Honda and Ducati. It has grip and acceleration issues. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales appears to have thrown in the towel on 2018; wonder if he’s having buyer’s remorse over having already signed for 2019-20? But, as Nick Harris used to say about Rossi, “Write him off at your peril.” 

Recent History at San Marino 

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, the fast-drying track forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.  When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. At that point of the season, folks bet a lot of money on Vale for the championship, at short odds. Later, they would have some explaining to do.

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. 

Last year, Marc the Magnificent delivered 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 generational rider Marc Marquez perform at the height of his formidable powers.

Silverstone Post Mortem

Funny to me that Ducati Corse wishes to complain about the notification procedures around the riders meeting which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the race. This despite the virtually unanimous opinions from the riders that the track was too dangerous to race on. (I understand it was mostly families of Italian passengers on The Titanic who complained afterwards about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the ship’s stern at the time of the encounter with the iceberg.)

Standing water and motorcycle racing do not mix. Ask Marquez, whose premier class career almost ended before it started, in practice at Sepang in 2011—yes, I know, the Marco Simoncelli disaster—when he hit a hidden pool of standing water, smacked his helmet on the tarmac in a violent lowside crash, and had double vision for six months afterwards. Consider not only what we lost that day, but what we almost lost, too.

As I see it, there are at least three problems with the track. There is a lack of positive soil drainage in numerous places around the circuit that will require culverts to divert rain and runoff. There are numerous places on the track where there is negative slope on the asphalt itself, which should never have occurred in the re-surfacing of the track. These produce standing water even when off-track drainage is adequate. Finally, several riders complained about bumpy sections of the track, perhaps F1 braking zones, where any bumps should have been eliminated during the re-surfacing. And if the pavement is so fragile that a single F1 race can tear it up, they should undertake a complete do-over or move back to Donington.

As my dad used to say,

Once More, with Feeling 

Marquez       201

Rossi            142

Lorenzo        130

Dovizioso     129

If you drink heavily enough, this becomes an interesting problem in mathematics, probability and pressure. Conventional wisdom is that, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, Marquez will probably clinch at Motegi. Certainly, if he should record a DNF in the next three rounds all bets are off. But presuming he doesn’t, a presumption supported by the numbers, the likelihood of his claiming the 2018 title in Thailand aren’t bad.

Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.

Look at Marquez’s record late in the seasons in which he titled in MotoGP.

Marquez stats 2013 - 2017Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Item #1: In 2013, over the last 10 rounds, he podiumed every round other than the silly rookie mistake DQ in Australia. In 2014, one DNF over the last 10 rounds. Throw out 2015, as he was out of contention and his don’t-give-a-rip factor was sky high. 2016—one crash in last ten rounds. 2017, a blown engine at Silverstone. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes late in seasons in which he titles. As for Phillip Island, well, it’s clearly win or bin territory for young Marc. Fastest track on the calendar, most picturesque, cold, windy, wild and woolly. Usually, by that time of the year, he’s playing with house money and can afford a loss or two.

Item #2: Crash = Fail. For Marquez, a crash simply pushes the numbers back a week. What would a native Malaysian coronation ceremony look like, in leathers and boots? For the other three, crash and it’s bye, Felicia. Psychologically, advantage Marquez.

Item #3: Going down the pecking order, as things stand now, Marquez would need to add 42 points to his margin over Rossi in the next 3 rounds, but only 17 in the next four. Should Rossi DNF, things fall to Lorenzo. If Jorge keeps things upright, he must stay within 31 points of Marquez over the next three, or within six (6, i.e., even) in the next four. Dovizioso, pretty much the same—32 in three or seven in the next four. Looking at Marquez’ historic numbers, the efforts required from these chasers in San Marino, Aragon and Thailand appear extraordinary and conditions need to be perfect.

Your Weekend Forecast

Not that it really matters, but the weather forecast for the greater Rimini area over the weekend is, in a word, iffy. Temps in the high 70’s-low 80’s, but showers in the area all three days. Not what the chasers need.

As for the race results on Sunday, I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (again, thanks, dad) that I have no clue who will end up on the podium. Predicting Marquez feels like frontrunning. Weather could be a factor. With the factory Ducati guys, like major league baseball pitchers, they will need to have their curveball working. Rossi in Italy is a wild card. Crutchlow, since 2012, has a chip on his shoulder. And if you look up “motivated” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Danilo Petrucci gritting his teeth with his name in parentheses below it.

BTW, the whole BeIn Sports thing has got to go. Dorna needs to make MotoGP accessible to the world via TV, even with the lame announcers. Unless they want to keep it a rich man’s parlour game.

We’ll have results and analysis here on Sunday within two hours of the race.

Ciao.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati Looks to Rain on KTM’s Home Parade 

Austria’s Red Bull Ring, home of this weekend’s eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, is the closest thing to the Bonneville Salt Flats of any track on the MotoGP calendar. For those riders, ahem, who have trouble getting their bikes to turn this place is like heaven. The weekend looks like it’s going to be a Ducati clambake, but looks can be deceiving. 

Recent History in Austria 

Recent history at the Red Bull Ring has been, well, brief. The track joined the calendar in 2016 after an 18-year gap in the running of the Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Selecting Red Bull Ring as the venue, with it’s but nine (9) turns, gave Ducati Corse a bulletproof venue they could dominate with their eyes closed until KTM gets its Austrian act together. In 2016, the factory Ducati Dueling Andreas led the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the lush Austrian countryside, followed by everyone else. At the flag, Iannone handled Dovizioso (this was the year everyone but Scott Redding won a race) while The Spartan outgunned The Doctor for the last step on the podium.

Last year would have been a carbon copy of 2016 with the exception of Dovizioso winning, JLo taking Iannone’s seat and finishing fourth, and those pesky, unwelcome factory Hondas hogging the second and third steps on the podium. This was one of those races, similar to what we saw last week, when Marquez and Dovizioso went knives-in-a-phonebooth, Spain vs. Italy, Honda vs. Ducati, and Dovi ended up on top, as he usually does. The kind of competition that gives motorcycle racing a good name. We should be so lucky to have another one like last year on Sunday.

The track record here of 1:23.142 is owned by Andrea Iannone and was set in 2016, the last of the Bridgestone years. Marquez got close last year. Someone’s going to beat it this year, weather permitting.

Mexico and Finland? 

In a virtually unpublicized announcement, we’ve learned that Mexico—yes, THAT Mexico—has been added to the 2019 calendar in place of the Grand Prix of Finland. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez outside Mexico City has hosted F1 races since 2015 and has been added to the provisional MotoGP calendar for next year, much to the consternation of Rossi, who says it’s a lousy track and he’s liable to get kidnapped off the street, or words to that effect.  

The new Kymi Ring in Tillola, about 70 miles northeast of Helsinki had been scheduled to host a grand prix next year, but construction is sufficiently behind schedule (pronounced shéd-jūl) to preclude placing it on the 2019 calendar. Should Finland be completed by 2020, it would likely take the place of an existing European round—betting Aragon here—rather than join as a 21st race, the idea of which—21 race dates—also causes Vale to hyperventilate. Should the Finnish track not be completed to by 2020, it may go the way of Ebbw Vale in Wales.

I’m with Rossi. I think Mexico is one of the scariest places in the hemisphere, especially in and around the capital. You couldn’t pay me to spend a week in Cancun or Cabo or anywhere a bunch of guys with machetes and grease guns could jump out from behind the potted palms, like, whenever, and turn me into sausage. It would be one thing if the track were a thing of beauty, which it’s not.

It will be fun to see whether Rossi has enough juice to keep Mexico off the final 2019 schedule.

A Little Number Crunching

I had this idea before the season started that the competition would be way closer than it has been, and that because other riders—Dovi, Vinales, Rins–would be scarfing more points than usual, the ultimate winner would have fewer points available to him and would thus have trouble meeting Marquez’ 298 from last year. I mentioned a few weeks ago, in passing, that Valentino holds the record for the most points recorded in a modern premier class season of 373 in 2008.

Projected Rider Points After 10 Rounds

Sadly, Marquez and his frigging brilliance have left my theory screwed, blued and tattooed. He stands closer today to topping 373 than he does missing 298. I will update this regularly in order to keep tabs on my brilliant notion, one which has been wrong virtually since Day One.

On the other hand, the graphic itself could be used to argue for a three-tranche system, rather than five, as the breaks are pretty clear, as shown above. (The better line between #2 and #3 would separate Bautista and Pol.) The only thing is—as specified in the Rules of Tranching, you gotta have at least five.

One last intuitive way to slice this is as follows:

  • Riders likely to score > 300 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 200 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 50 points.

Which would produce

  • Marquez
  • Rossi, Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo
  • Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Iannone, Miller, Rins, Pedrosa
  • Bautista, P Espargaro, Rabat, Syahrin, Morbidelli
  • Aleix, Smith, Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Dani Pedrosa in the News

Dani Pedrosa, early in what was supposed to be his Farewell Tour, has reportedly been approached by KTM to become a test rider beginning next year, to the surprise of few. I’m convinced KTM coveted Pedrosa for Hafiz Syahrin’s seat on the Tech 3 team next year with Oliveira; my guess is that Dani turned them down. He would, in my opinion, be a great choice as a test rider, as his ability to provide useful feedback is as good as anyone’s. (Part of the problem is that Honda is not asking him his opinion much these days, trimming the RC213V the way #93 wants it.) Dani would, of course, have to wear ankle weights and a lead vest in order to approximate the bulk of a full-sized rider.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather-wise, rain is expected Friday, clouds on Saturday, and scorching sun on race day. As there is a very loose correlation between weather conditions and brand performance, the forecast could lead one to expect fast times for Ducatis on Friday, Yamahas on Saturday and Hondas on Sunday; we have just crossed over from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Andrea Dovizioso found his rhythm in the second half last year; Brno may have marked the beginning of some improved form for the Italian this year; Red Bull Ring is a great place to find out. Lorenzo has it going on at this point and must be considered a threat.  Marquez and Rossi—always. Vinales is dealing with The Red Mist. I find myself pulling for Danilo Petrucci, desperate for his first premier class win, perhaps thinking that Sunday could be his chance to bust that nettlesome cherry. And though I don’t believe your boy Alvaro Bautista has a chance of winning on Sunday, I feel sorry for the guy and think he deserves a mercy podium.

In a textbook example of going with one’s heart over one’s head, I’m saying Petrucci, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez, top four in that order. All Ducati podium, contrary to my teaser above. Danilo’s first win. But Marquez extends his lead in the championship anyway, thinking strategically, winning when he’s not winning, keeping the shiny side up. Thinking, always thinking…

We’ll have results here bright and early on Sunday morning.

MotoGP Midseason Report Card

July 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.                      July 24, 2018

In the words of numerous shell-shocked generals throughout history, immediately after losing great battles, as we make the turn in MotoGP 2018, we must ask, with slightly slurred voices, “What happened?”

How could a year which held the promise of a serious four- or five-man competition all the way to Valencia—supported by the breathtaking finish at Losail—arrive at its midpoint in such a competitive shambles? Repsol Honda’s young, virtually invincible Marc Marquez sits, in mid-season and at the peak of his prodigious skills, in complete command of the championship. Toying with those fools.

A reader suggested we remove him and his 165 points from the picture, figuratively speaking, whence the standings would be:

Rossi            119

Vinales         109

Dovizioso       88

Zarco            88

Lorenzo          85

This is close to what I expected, with MM sitting at the top with, say, 133 points. As The Beach Boys (including two of the originals) sang the other night, under the stars, “Oh wouldn’t it be nice…” But Marquez, with his crushing 165 points, has taken the air out of the place. I never want to see a rider injured. But I suspect I’m not alone enjoying the vision of Marquez receiving a two-round suspension for throwing down and getting K.O’d in a Czech gravel trap by someone like Andrea Iannone.

Here in realityland, we’re looking at the season from Round 1 through Round 9 to understand how the results at Losail–Dovizioso beating Marquez to the line by the width of a wheel—enhanced our collective, overly-optimistic belief, now dashed, that the season would go down to the wire. In Qatar, Dovizioso and Marquez had their own war over the last three laps; earlier, the front group had consisted of nine riders. Rossi podiumed. Things looked tight—the top six riders all finished within four seconds of one another. After the race I posted the following:

  • Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow. (In my excitement about the race, I forgot my mantra: Losail is an outlier.)

On to Argentina, where the wettish start of the race was a memorable fustercluck, Jack Miller on pole getting hosed by the rules. Marquez stalls at the start and jumpstarts his bike, turns around and re-takes his place, having gone mental. Penalized, furious, but lucky that he wasn’t black-flagged, he went on to bump and grind with a number of riders, lizard brain in control, before finishing 18th. After two rounds, he sat in fifth place, trailing Crutchlow 38-20. Dovizioso, Zarco and Vinales were also in his way, Zarco having finished second at Rio Hondo behind Crutchlow.

It looked, as the expression goes, like we had us a horse race. But in truth Marquez had great race pace all weekend in Argentina and could have easily podiumed had he not stalled his bike, a once-in-a-career screw-up. The standings after Round 2 were misleading. Yamaha fans actually believed their guys could be competitive all year without actually winning races. Ducati fans, still basking in the afterglow of Qatar, could overlook the fact that Jorge Lorenzo sat in 15th place after two rounds.

Round 3, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, became, for Marquez, his 10th or 12th win on American soil; he has never not won a race in the U.S. Although he won easily, as expected, those following him—Vinales, Iannone, Rossi, Dovi and Zarco—generated a top five, after three rounds, separated by eight points, with Marquez still trailing Dovi by a point. Tight, as we said back then, as tree bark. Tranche 1 included Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales. The series returned to Europe and civilization slavering at the prospect of running at Jerez.

At Jerez, Jorge Lorenzo first adopted his current habit of running the softest tires available, being able to lead the first half of races before fading to 7th place at the end. A reader sent the following note, a conversation he allegedly overheard outside the Ducati garage at Jerez:

“Gigi, I want the soft tire! I will win the first half of the race, and then the championship!”

“You don’t get points for the first half, Jorge.”

“Give it to me, the soft!”

“We put the softest tire we have on it, Jorge. They don’t make them any softer.”

“Then marinate it in the mantequilla and leave it out in the sun! It must be softer! The Spartan commands it!”

Unsurprisingly, Lorenzo led the early part of the race until Marquez ate his lunch on Lap 8 at the new Jorge Lorenzo corner lol. Marquez was leading the race on Lap 20 when a decisive 2018 moment occurred, as Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa got tangled up, Pedrosa going airborne, ending up in a heap in the gravel, bikes and riders everywhere. A racing incident in which either Lorenzo or Pedrosa was the “procuring cause.” No penalties assessed, but Lorenzo and Pedrosa saw their faint title hopes go up in smoke and ash. Dovizioso’s would go up later in the year.

Marquez found himself with clear sailing late in the day. This is what is meant by the expression, “Katie bar the door.” It was after Jerez that we awarded the 2018 championship to Marquez, Tranche 1 looking like this: Marquez, Zarco, and Dovizioso, with the latter two hanging by a thread. Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa and Miller made up Tranche 2 at this point, with The Great Australian Hope Jack Miller, especially, looking much stronger than expected.

Round 5 in France: Homeboy Johann Zarco became the first Frenchman to start from pole in The French Grand Prix since The Norman Conquest and finished an impressive 2nd.    At what had generally been a Yamaha track Marquez put the fear of God in the field. After Zarco, then Dovizioso, crashed out in front of him, Marquez found himself in the lead, beating Petrucci and Rossi to the flag, and stoking his margin over Vinales for the season to 95-59. Zarco and Rossi were crowding Vinales at this point, the three separated by three points.

Marquez had taken 95 of a possible 125 points for the season and could have easily had another 20 in Argentina but for his mental meltdown.

It was Round 6 at Mugello where he had the grace to slide out on Lap 5, allowing Jorge Lorenzo the unexpected privilege of winning a MotoGP race for the first time since Valencia 2016 while the series leader remounted and finished out of the points in 16th. Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill the surprising vacuum and breathed a little life into the series. Marquez’ margin over Vinales was cut to 23, the pack bunched up behind them through Crutchlow in eighth.

Jorge Lorenzo gave us another vivid reminder of who he used to be at Catalunya where he won again, this time after being pursued by Marquez, who didn’t have enough today. Following these two were Rossi, Crutchlow and Pedrosa, who pimped Vinales at the wire. Although relatively insignificant in the big picture, Marquez added four points to his season lead and, more importantly, reduced the total number of 2018 points available to his pursuers by one round. The Yamahas and Ducatis will never catch him treading water like this. With two rounds left until the summer break, everyone knew it was “Anyone but Marquez” time heading to Assen. Marquez could effectively break the field with wins in The Netherlands and Germany.

Round 8 at Assen provided us with one of the great races of all time, a record total of 175 overtakes from start to finish. Roughly six different riders led at one time or another. Marquez ultimately took the win. Alex Rins, finally showing some of the massive potential he possesses, stole second place from Vinales at the flag. Vinales, in turn, punked Dovizioso, who punked Rossi, trailed closely by Crutchlow and Lorenzo. Seven riders within five seconds of the winner. It was a huge win for Marquez, and a huge letdown for every other Alien and pretender. It was surely starting to look like one of those Marquez years again. Plus, the next stop was The Sachsenring, where Marquez had been incandescent for almost a decade.

On July 15, Marquez goes out at The Sachsenring and just brutalizes the field. Says afterwards he had more pace if he had needed it. Oozing confidence after his ninth consecutive win at this track, back to when he was a teenager. He becomes the fifth rider this season to break a track record, joining Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco in that luminous group. The championship feels like a foregone conclusion.

Valencia, it appears, is screwed, which is probably also true for Sepang and, perhaps, Phillip Island. I suppose it’s mathematically possible for Marquez to clinch at Buriram, which would send the locals straight into madness. At this point we’re guessing Australia. 

Part Two: The Lambs and the Goats from the First Half 

1        Yamaha Factory Racing           228

2        Repsol Honda Team           214

3        Ducati Team                    173

4        Pramac Racing                 141

5        Team Suzuki MotoGP           128

6        Tech 3                             110

7        Team LCR                         89

Repsol Honda Team: Marquez be Marquez, while Dani Pedrosa, dealing with the erosion of his skills and desire, more titanium screw holes in him than Swiss cheese, announces his decision to retire at the end of the year rather than ride a non-competitive bike, i.e., a satellite Yamaha for the next two years. HRC immediately sacks up and signs Jorge Lorenzo to join Marquez in 2019-2020.

Movistar Yamaha Team: Running second and third to Marquez most of the season, Rossi and Vinales must feel like Beaver Cleaver when Eddie Haskell would come over and mess up his hair, call him a punk. Rossi hasn’t won since Assen last year, while Vinales’ last win was at Le Mans 2017. Johann Zarco has been more impressive on his two-year old sled. Yamaha engineers need to read the book “Good to Great.”

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso, who seriously challenged Marquez for the title last year, has been this year’s single biggest disappointment, having scored 35 fewer points this season than at this time last year. Jorge Lorenzo, last year’s biggest disappointment, pulled rabbits out of his hat twice this year to regain a little of his lost swagger. He is also defecting to Honda, his seat being taken by the deserving Danilo Petrucci.

Suzuki Ecstar Team: Consistently inconsistent since Round 1.

Suzuki team YTD

In but three of nine rounds have both riders finished the race, Rins has shown flashes of brilliance, while Iannone, no longer the Maniac, appears content to finish races, making hay seemingly only when misfortune strikes other riders. The team has dismissed Iannone and signed wonderkid Joan Mir from Moto2 for two years beginning in 2019. Rins, once he finds the limit of the Suzuki, will be a baller. For this year, both riders are disappointments. Iannone takes a step down to the factory Aprilia program for the next two seasons.

Red Bull KTM Factory Team: Once again, despite fierce loyalty from KTM owners and fans, the Austrian MotoGP program has been a dud in 2018. Owners and fans see great things on the horizon. I see Pol Espargaro with 32 points and Bradley Smith with 13 points after nine rounds. I see Miguel Oliveira stepping up from Moto2 to take a Tech 3 seat. I see test and wildcard rider Mika Kallio escape destruction by the thinnest of margins in his practice crash at The Sachsenring. They pick up a satellite team with the acquisition of Tech 3 racing; Johann Zarco will join Espargaro on the factory team, while Oliveira will team up with Hafiz Syahrin on the Tech 3 team, which will ride full factory bikes. Hafiz Syahrin is on his way to becoming very good rider on what is likely to become very good equipment and should feel very fortunate.

Factory Aprilia Team: Another year on the learning curve for the Italian team, as Aleix has 16 and Redding, on his way out in favor of Iannone, has 12. Aleix pushes the bike past the limit and has once again recently spent time in the hospital as a result. Redding, despite his brimming self-confidence, is too big to ride with these midgets. Aprilia will have to take the plunge on a satellite team at some point if they’re ever going to generate enough data to become competitive at this level.

Alma Pramac Ducati Team: Like a lot of B teams, this group seems to lose their best rider fairly often. After this year, Danilo Petrucci, who has been enjoying a very strong (84 vs 66 in 2017) season, leaves to join the factory Ducati effort alongside Dovizioso. Jack Miller, #2 on the team, is also having an improved year—57-41—over 2017. He will be joined next season by fast mover Peco Bagnaia, on his way up from Moto2. Promises to be wild and woolly next year as the rookie learns to tangle with the beast that is the Ducati Desmosedici.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha:  With Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger slated to return from encouraging rookie seasons, Herve Poncharal had room to feel optimistic, until the day early this year when he learned Folger would not be returning. In quiet desperation, he turned to out-of-work Malaysian mudder Hafiz Syahrin, who has stepped in this year and done a workmanlike job of learning a big new bike on the fly. Teammate Zarco has not improved noticeably over last season and has struggled down the stretch through Sachsenring this year. The KTM deal must be a distraction. Whatever.

Team LCR: Both Cal Crutchlow on the Castrol version and Taka Nakagami on the Idemitsu version have provided marginal improvements to the team’s fortunes compared to last year, when it was Cal only. Nakagami has disappointed badly with his measly 10 points, while Crutchlow is up marginally—79-64—over last year. Both riders on this team insist the Honda is difficult to ride, a complaint you don’t hear very often from the factory riders. Cal is sticking around for next year, as is Nakagami, who has in the first year of a two-year HRC contract.

Angel Nieto Team              48

Red Bull KTM                     45

Avintia Racing                    30

Aprilia Racing Team           28

Marc VDS Racing                19

The rest of the teams I just have a hard time caring about these groups. Sure, there are some competitive riders in here—Rabat, the Espargaros, Morbidelli—but overall it’s a big Who Cares?

* * *

Halfway through the round, sitting in the clubhouse, I am approaching the second half with an almost Nordic sense of existential dread, that this might turn into an Agostini-like s**tshow with 23 riders fighting for scraps. From what we’ve seen since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when the Honda chassis was unrideable, none of the current riders on the grid appears capable of staying with Marquez over the course of an entire season. Which, in turn, means that it will have to be one of the young guns who take him down. Remember when Lorenzo arrived in 2008, a very hot property, to join The Doctor, the undisputed god of MotoGP, and put a hurting on him only two years later.

For Marc Marquez, these are his salad days. Top of his game, in full command of all his prodigious skills. Nobody on the grid with the chops or the nuts to challenge him. Able to tame the unruly RC213V when other great riders can’t. Practices saving lowside crashes with his knees and elbows. You can see other riders and teams watching him and just shaking their heads.

This is Year Six of The Marquez Era, 2015 being the exception that makes the rule. He should, by my estimate, enjoy perhaps four more years before someone gives him a serious challenge. Starting in 2021 Rossi will be horse-whipping those young Italian Sky VR46 Yamaha riders, insulting their manhood until one of them wins a title. Guys like Maverick Vinales and Jack Miller will chase Marquez for most of their careers. Guys like Zarco and Dovi will flare up during certain years, shedding more light than heat in what will likely be futile attempts to put the squeeze on #93.

As for an actual report card on the riders, I think the tranches after Round 9 reflect the grading curve for the first semester:

A:      Marquez

B:      Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

C:      Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

D:      Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

E:       Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP returns to Motorcycle.com on July 31st with the Brno preview. Enjoy the break, fools.

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

I found myself quoting a statistic I hadn’t researched myself, one which, in a court of law, would be thrown out as hearsay. The statistic in question had to do with the number of wins scored by Everyman’s Hero, Valentino Rossi, since his last world championship in 2009. Presenting Exhibit A:

Rider Spreadsheet 1

Visual expression of what so many people say, how fun it would have been to watch Stoner and Marquez tangle. Anyway, if you remove the three years before Marquez got his ticket punched, the numbers look even more compelling;

Rider Performance 3

 

Bottom line: Rossi’s salad days, and those of Dani Pedrosa, are behind them. They should avoid the “Colin Edwards mistake” of hanging around two years too long. Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and even Iannone are getting a little long in the tooth. Time for some new blood at the top of the food chain.

Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Jack Miller on a Pramac GP19 next year. Jorge Martin moving on up in the next two years. Lorenzo Balddassarri. Miguel Oliveira for KTM. Everyone seems to love Xavi Vierge. Moto3 is packed with fast movers wanting to move up to Moto2. Plenty of knees and elbows in the turns. It appears that, career-wise, Tito Rabat has pulled off an amazing save, Marquez quality, and seems likely to find a ride for next year. He certainly seems to enjoy life on the Ducati, as does his boy Jack Miller.

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

After Mugello, the 2018 Fight is a Fight Again

Virtually lost amidst the frenzied game of musical chairs being played in MotoGP is the fact that, pursuant to his careless crash in Italy ten days ago, Marc Marquez has returned to Earth. Though the title still appears to be his to lose, his margin of error has been trimmed. Another off in the next few rounds will breathe life into his six closest pursuers. Or, he could win the next three rounds without breaking a sweat, forcing us to start thinking about 2019. Dude records way more wins than DNFs. 

Points-wise, the aforementioned pursuers are tight as ticks: 

2        Valentino Rossi                72

3        Maverick Viñales              67

4        Andrea Dovizioso             66

5        Johann Zarco                    64

6        Danilo Petrucci                 63

7        Andrea Iannone                60

These six fast movers are highly motivated to put some real pressure on Marquez. Rossi wants to show the world he still has it (?) at age 39. Dovi was this close last year and can still taste the title. Zarco has the fastest Yamaha on the track and believes he can pull it off, becoming the first satellite rider to win a premier class title EVER. Petrucci, bubbling over with confidence, wants to impress Gigi Dall’Igna even more than he already has. And Iannone wants to stick his thumb in the eye of the suits at Suzuki who lost confidence in him last year. As for Viñales, he simply wants to stay in the mix long enough for Yamaha to give him a bike he can win on.

Recent History at Catalunya

2015, it will be recalled, was The Year of Discontent for Marc Marquez. It was on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he hit the deck, his day (and season) done and dusted. Lorenzo, having seized the lead on the first lap, was doing his best to get away, and Marquez had to try to force the issue early. Boom. Lorenzo edged Rossi by almost a second, with Dani Pedrosa arriving some 20 seconds later. At the end of the day, Marquez trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis after this round, found his mojo, and collected six podia over the second half of his lost season.

Iannone and LorenzoThe 2016 tilt featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” 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 after the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and never looked back, cruising to his third premier class title.

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, 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 earlier absconded with Marquez’ lunch money, went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race.

Silly Season Singalong

“Well we’re movin’ on uppetrucci.jpg

To the east side

To a de-luxe apartment in the sky.

Movin’ on up

To the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie.”

–Theme song, The Jeffersons, being sung (in three-part harmony) by Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, and Joan Mir

Jorge Lorenzo’s defection from the factory Ducati team to Repsol Honda has given voice to Petrucci, who has been itching for a factory ride seemingly forever. Bagnaia and Mir are being promoted from Moto2 to the majors (Pramac Ducati and Suzuki Ecstar, respectively) and are singing backup to Petrux. Lorenzo’s switch must be viewed as a lateral, along with a joyful Hafiz Syahrin, who has been retained by the Tech 3 team in its forthcoming KTM iteration. Syahrin made it into the premier class the hard way, by being the last man standing when Jonas Folger was pronounced unfit to race this year due to illness.

A number of riders have little reason to sing at this point of the season. Andrea Iannone has been dropped down a notch or three, moving from Suzuki to Aprilia next year. Dani Pedrosa, after 13 years on a factory Honda, could end up anywhere; the rumors of a satellite Yamaha team sponsored by Petronas next year persist, with Pedrosa one of the two riders thereon. Jack Miller, speaking confidently of a factory ride in 2019 only a month ago, will likely stay put with Pramac. He will, however, probably pick up a little Italian profanity courtesy of Bagnaia.

Drunkenly singing the blues, in English, in a dark corner of this article are Scott Redding and Bradley Smith, both of whom appear to be on their way out of the premier class. The jury is still out on Taka Nakagami, Tom Luthi, Karel Abraham, Tito Rabat and Alvaro Bautista, with Nakagami and Rabat most likely to hang around for another year. Then there is Hectic Hector Barbera, whose downhill slide continues. Last year at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in the premier class. Last week at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in Moto2. Today he is unemployed, courtesy of a DUI in Valencia after Round 6.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather should not be a factor this weekend, as the extended forecast for greater Barcelona calls for clear skies and warm temps. As for the race, I have narrowed down my pick for the winner to five riders.  Marquez does not have great history here, but he is Marquez, a threat to win every time out, not to mention being a little cheesed off at the Italian fans who cheered wildly when he crashed at Mugello. Lorenzo, Rossi and Dovizioso have recorded wins here in the last three years; Lorenzo can be expected to try to prove that last week’s win wasn’t a fluke. Rossi and Dovi are in the midst of a title chase, giving them all the incentive they need.

My dark horse on Sunday is Dani Pedrosa. He is intimately familiar with Montmelo and has podiumed here the last six years. He has been jilted by his girlfriend of 13 years. He is looking for a ride next year and anxious to demonstrate that he has something left in the tank. And he would love to show Honda they’ve made a mistake—which is very possibly true—letting him go in favor of Lorenzo. The weather does not look to be a negative factor. And the fans, who simply want a Spaniard, any Spaniard, on the top step would get behind him if he finds himself in the lead. Stranger things have happened.

As usual this time of year, Moto3 goes off at zero dark thirty in the Eastern US, with Moto2 and MotoGP following. We will bring you results and analysis around noon.

MotoGP Mugello Preview

May 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati, contenders must make a stand this week

How many times since 2013 have we heard a Nick Harris say, “Marquez appears to be getting away at the front?” Plenty. And I have a hard time remembering the last time he crashed out of the lead in one of those. This season is getting away from us. Mugello, with its rich history, is home base to the Rossi and Iannone delegations, as well as Ducati’s home crib. Armed with his new contract, it is step-up time for an Italian rider on Italian equipment with an Italian crew performing in an Italian shrine.

It is Andrea Dovizioso’s time. He is the #1 rider for Ducati Corse. This is his best Andrea-Dovizioso.jpgopportunity to slow down the runaway freight train with the number 93. The Desmosedici has been designed to perform well here. He won last year’s race.

We could say much the same thing about Andrea Iannone, who has done well here of late, except that he now rides for Ecstar Suzuki. He’s posted a second and a third here in the last three years and must be considered a bona fide challenger on Sunday. How well the GSX-RR holds up on the long Straight of Mugello will determine whether he can take a shot at Marquez. Or Dovizioso.

Sunday’s Contestants in The Main Event

(Channeling Vince McMahon at this moment.) “The challengers in this year’s Rumble in Tuscany include, next to Andrea and Andrea, wearing #9 in red, from Terni, Italy, on the Praaaaaaamac Ducati, ladies and gentlemen, (as the crowd goes wild) 2018-MotoGP-Jack-Miller-Danilo-Petrucci-3.jpg

DanEEEEEElo PetrrrUUUUUUUUUcci!” Petrucci seems to have taken the bit in his teeth of late, understanding that his main rival for a factory Ducati next year is no longer a triple world champion. It is the suddenly fast Jack Miller, on a GP-17 who, given everything we know about him, could win Sunday’s race. Petrucci finished on the podium last year and is at the top of his game right now. Winning at Mugello is something he could tell his grandkids about one day.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, wearing #99 in red, from Mallorca, Spain, on the factory Ducati, triple MotoGP world champion and heavy underdog, please welcome

Lorenzo screwedHorrrrrrrrhay LoooooooooRENzo!” OK, so Lorenzo is 0-for-Ducati. He is getting even worse results this year than last year. And 2017 was a dumpster fire. But he loves Mugello, winning here five times between 2011 and 2016, when he edged out Marquez by 1/100th in one of his best races ever. Ever, I say. Plus, he has a lot riding on this one, having received “l’embarrassment du choix” from the suits at Ducati Corse, in the person of Gigi Dall’Igna. Win on Sunday or seek employment elsewhere next year. Bitch.

Jorge needs it not to rain.

“Here’s a man who needs no introduction. Wearing #46 in blue and yellow, from Tavullia, Italy, just down the road, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Il Dottore,

Rossi 2018VaLLLentino Rrrooooooooosi!!!” True, it’s been awhile for Rossi in his home crib. Nonetheless, this venue offers the venerable Italian an opportunity for two podia in a row, after finishing third last time out in France. As crummy as the YZR-M1 has been this year, it has always been well-suited to this track. His teammate, Maverick Viñales, took second last year, and somehow sits in second place for 2018 despite being winless after five rounds. His 57 points compare to 85 (and three wins) in 2017. This, then, is a fairly graphic illustration of how far off the pace the 2018 M1 is. A win by Yamaha on Sunday would require much bad juju on the Honda and Ducati teams.

Almost done bashing Yamaha. They do have the electric Johann Zarco riding what is becoming a vintage M1. It’s entirely likely that any Yamaha win on Sunday would arrive wearing #5. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, in my opinion. I believe he will tone down his aggressive riding style in the years to come, that much of what we saw last year and occasionally this year is intentional, the intent being to gain respect, a reputation that you will not be pushed around in the turns. Having accomplished that, he can go about trying to win a championship with KTM.

Personally, Mugello is my favorite circuit on the calendar, bucket list material. None of this stop-and-go stuff, holds a bunch of yellow smoke and 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans without much else to cheer about, and features the #1 sports idol in the whole country, Valentino Rossi. As we remarked last year, it is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won here since 2008. Which makes no difference whatsoever to his fans, who have short memories. Unless it comes to telling you all about Laguna Seca 2008, when Rossi put Stoner’s dick in the dirt on the next-to-last lap (I refuse to use the term penultimate) on his way to the win and the world championship.

Who’s Under Contract for 2019

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso
Ecstar Suzuki: Alex Rins
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

This leaves half the grid signed, the other half scrambling. It appears Scott Redding and Bradley Smith will not be in MotoGP next year. High-profile riders like Lorenzo and Iannone, Petrucci and Miller are waging their own wars in the midst of the races, trying to build arguments for factory rides next year. There will always be the Karel Abrahams of the world, riders with more sponsor money than talent. Without big backers, the riders at the bottom of the food chain will be scrambling for one-year deals somewhere. As one of our readers observes, this is life among the yachting set.

Your Weekend Forecast

From a week out, the weather looks reasonably good for metropolitan Scarperia this weekend. Chance of rain both Friday and Saturday, but clear and warm conditions are expected for race day. Something—the weather, food poisoning, a flood in the garage from a plugged commode—needs to intervene in the metronomic consistency of Marc Marquez and his Honda. Two years ago both Jorge Lorenzo and Rossi blew engines after bottoming out at the end of the main straight, bouncing, and over-revving. Rossi’s misfortune was that it happened in the race, where he had the pace to win.

Interesting to observe that of the top seven riders in the standings, only Zarco and Iannone have failed to finish every race, both having crashed out at Le Mans. This tells me that some of the other five—Marquez, Vinales, Rossi, Petrucci and Miller—are overdue for a DNF. Given the fact that no one seems to understand how it is that Vinales sits in second place for the year, and that he will be pushing hard, he would be my guess to record a DNF on Sunday. Surely one of the top guys will. Dovizioso, who has failed to finish his last two races, will NOT crash out again this week. Gazing into my Magic 8 Ball, conditions appear favorable for Dovizioso, Marquez and Petrucci.
motogp-san-marino-gp-2017-danilo-petrucci-pramac-racing-marc-marquez-repsol-honda-team-and

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states, and we’ll have results and analysis right here around lunchtime. Ciao!

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

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

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

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

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

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

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

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

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

Your Race Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

 

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

For the fourth time in five premier class seasons, Honda’s remarkable Marc Marquez stands on the cusp of a championship. His win in Australia last week left him with a short to-do list this week in Malaysia: 1. Try to finish no worse than second. 2. Try to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 3. If both #1 and #2 fail, lose to Dovizioso by seven points or less. Otherwise, he will have to return to Valencia in two weeks for some kind of decider. Probably the best thing for #93 would be to euthanize this title chase Sunday under the cover of darkness, many time zones removed from home, setting up a triumphal fait accompli return to Spain. We couldn’t disagree more. 

Recent History at Sepang

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. Though the title had already been settled, the grid was taking the competition seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to finish.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl somehow finished fourth, coming close yet again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Pedrosa, Rossi, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Rins, Folger, P Espargaro, Iannone, Baz, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Crutchlow, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi↓, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro↑

Tranche 3:   Petrucci↓, Rins, Iannone, Redding↑, Miller↑, Crutchlow↑, Lorenzo↓

Tranche 4:   Baz↓, Bautista↓, Smith↑, Abraham↑, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

I can tell from here that whatever problem Ducati experienced at Phillip Island translated into these rankings. All six riders who dropped a spot ride for Ducati. But Scott Redding and Karel Abraham each climbed a notch, again on Ducatis. I can’t think of any rider who belongs with Marquez in Tranche 1 at the moment. Sepang, where the title race will probably be decided, will be the last round fought in anger, and thus the last round for ranking the riders.

I welcome any and all readers to argue with my assertion that Marquez currently is in a class by himself. All too often we hear riders talking about “having a good rhythm,” which, watching carefully, one can understand. I recall Cal Crutchlow commenting that if you got out of shape in Turn 2 at COTA you would be screwed all the way through Turn 9. Marquez seems to have found his rhythm this year at Catalunya, since, other than the engine problem in England, he hasn’t been off the podium since and has racked up five wins in the process. Perhaps it takes four or five races to get fully acclimated to a new RC213V each year. At present, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the bike stops and Marquez starts, so closely are they intertwined.

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

My reflexive response to this question is, “Nobody.” That’s probably an overstatement.  Rossi will still be in the mix.  Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales should improve next season and, depending on the speed and handling of next year’s M1, may push Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso my have another career year with Ducati, but our confidence in his abilities this season has been shaken.

Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Jonas Folger will not become serious title threats, if ever, until they secure factory rides. Danilo Petrucci needs to learn how to be fast in dry conditions.  Jorge Lorenzo will, I’m pretty sure, simply serve out his sentence at Ducati and go looking for a better gig starting in 2019.  The young guns coming up from Moto2—Nakagami, Morbidelli, Luthi and Simeon—present no real threat in 2018, other than to the riders they may collect crashing out of their first few races.

One thing is certain. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and KTM are going to engage in a hellishly expensive silly season next year positioning themselves for 2019. There is a rumor going around that KTM has offered Marquez a blank check to defect after next season.

A final word about next season. Most MotoGP people I know are excited about the improvements visible in the Aprilia and KTM bikes, while Suzuki took awhile this season before starting to show renewed signs of life. All three figure to be stronger next season. Even so, it would take a miracle, in my opinion, for any of them to contend seriously for a championship before 2020. Conversation for another day.

Your Weekend Forecast

Before I go to weather.com to confirm, let me guess that conditions in central Malaysia will be brutally hot with a chance for torrential downpours at any given moment. Yes. Temps will approach 90° each day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms all weekend and, from the looks of it, the rest of the year. There will be some gruesome stuff growing inside those leather racing suits by Sunday evening.

As for who will do what, I’m lacking any real insight, as the last few rounds of the MotoGP season remind me of the last few games of the NBA season which, for non- playoff-bound teams, is generally garbage time.  I am virtually certain that Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. If it’s a wet race I expect to see a Ducati on the podium as well, perhaps Petrucci. The third spot on the podium is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with Rossi, the default choice for a podium every single week.

We will post results and analysis sometime Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast.  Enjoy the show.