Archive for the ‘MotoGP Preview’ Category

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.

 

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Rossi & Vinales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso—the top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left last time out in Japan—have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season. 

Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, a wounded Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins have credible shots at passing Cal Crutchlow into fifth place for the year. Cal, with a bad ankle, has been put on injured reserve, Stephan Bradl getting the call to pilot the #1 LCR Honda in his stead. Bummer. Tito Rabat is MIA recovering from his terrible injury. Lorenzo has wrist and toe issues. And Zarco, KTM-bound in 2019, knows the Suzukis are coming into their own, threatening his current perch in seventh.

My insistence that Alex Rins has more than Johann Zarco is ready to be tested, the Frenchman’s margin reduced to a mere four points following Sunday’s astonishing crash. Rins, career in the ascendancy, is more motivated than the departing, now possibly gun-shy, Zarco. Iannone wants to prove, again, to Suzuki that they gave up on him too soon. Lorenzo has little on the line at this point; Petrucci needs to scrap to keep Ducati Corse folks happy they promoted him to the factory team next year and to continue chasing that elusive, overdue first premier class win. 

Recent History at Sepang 

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Reduced to an afterthought is the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  By the way, Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  As we wrote last year, “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; I know I have. 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 now-eccentric pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.” Sorry. I still believe Marquez, smarting from having screwed the pooch early in the year, baited his main rival and Rossi took the bait. Others I respect feel differently, i.e., Marquez stole Rossi’s last chance at a title for the sheer hell of it. Let it go.

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. (The win opened a veritable floodgate for the Italian, as he has won nine more grands prix since.) Contenders Crutchlow, Marquez and 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 dissolving factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall last year, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title would be decided two weeks later in Valencia, Marquez’ lead too big, ending with a whimper, rather than a bang. Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the Sepang race, disregarding the importance of Dovi winning. At the last turn (?), Lorenzo did have the courtesy to accidentally run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” 

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

The domino effect came into play Sunday on the Angel Nieto Ducati team. Homeless #1 rider Alvaro Bautista rode a GP18, on loan from Jorge Lorenzo, to a highly competitive fourth place finish after spending most of the day in the lead group. His erstwhile teammate, well-funded attorney Karel Abraham, inherited Bautista’s GP17, which is a big step up from his GP16, and promptly put it in 11th place, doubling his point total for the year. Both riders, I expect, have told management that putting them on better bikes would produce better results, in direct contravention of Ducati Corse policy against speaking truth to power.

Bautista’s confidence coming into the race might have traced back to his high-speed crash in FP4, when he found it necessary to bail on the bike at speed. The now rider-less bike proceeded on its own, across the lawn, perhaps a hundred yards or so before smashing into the tire wall. At that moment, sitting in the grass, Alvaro might have realized that the GP18 can ride itself and all he needed to do was hold on. (Better yet, since it wasn’t even his bike, Sr. Aspar wouldn’t be yelling at him all week for destroying another Ducati.) All positives for the well-groomed man departing for WSBK at the end of the year, underachiever tag firmly in place, separated from greatness by tenths of a second per lap. The blink of an eye.

Your Weekend Outlook

Without even looking I can tell you that the weekend weather forecast calls for temps in the upper 80’s and low 90’s, humidity like a blanket, with torrential rain possible at any moment, generally in the afternoon. Brolly girls required. Although the tracks are very different, the conditions will be similar to Buriram where Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales podiumed. It’s one of those long circuits that makes the 15-minute qualifying sessions so difficult for some riders who, like Valentino, shall remain nameless.

In the words of the late lamented Mr. Spock, wagering on this race is illogical. I expect to see Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso in the top five, joined, perhaps, by the likes of Bautista, Rins or Marquez. Marquez remembers his crash here in 2011, the one that almost cost him his career, and will tread gently in and around the puddles. And Valentino Rossi. Looking forward to Hafizh Syahrin playing the “home race” card and praying for rain.

With the season drawing to a close, I need to begin the process of locating a pithy historical quote which accurately sums up MotoGP 2018. Readers wishing to contribute suggestions (which, if selected, we will publish with attribution [to the person quoted and submitted by you, the reader]) may share them below in the Disqus Comments section. Pithy quotes need not apply to Marquez; I’m looking for something to say to the twenty-something riders who aren’t #93.

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.

New Respect for Jack Miller

October 4, 2018
Jack Miller

A younger Jack Miller winning in Assen.

The recent interview on Crash.net with Jackass Miller reveals him to be way more empirical, more thoughtful and a better rider than I had previously thought.

I had never given much thought to why riders do poorly, believing that once they had the setup, regardless of the bike itself, as close to “good” as possible they just went out and let things rip. If they had enough bike and enough riding skills to make the top five they would. If not, they wouldn’t.

In this story, Miller explains how he, and by deduction all of the non-Tranche 1-and-2 riders, understands clearly why he is not podium-competitive. He traces it, in a surprisingly lucid fashion, to the tires, and from there to the order in which the various classes of bikes–MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3–run on Fridays and Saturdays compared to Sundays. He makes an outstanding point. Dorna & Co should have no reason not to implement it this year.

Mention Jack Miller to me and I immediately think of that blogger in New Zealand or wherever who pretends to be Jack–inebriated, insubordinate, racist, misogynistic, acutely critical of all those around him. It appears Mr. Miller has grown up or else is well along the way. He is a racer.

 

 

MotoGP Buriram Preview

September 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen         September 29 2018

Marquez leads Thai expedition 

The 2018 MotoGP season grinds on, a feeling of inevitability having settled over the grid. Marc Marquez will secure his fifth premier class world championship on the Pacific swing, followed by some locally-themed, over-the-top celebration prepared in advance. He has guys for that. Meanwhile, the rest of the grid is flailing away at a top-something finish; in the higher tranches, that would be top three. In the lower tranches, perhaps top ten. What can one say? It’s The Marquez Era. 

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Thailand in October is like hanging out in an autoclave. To the locals, it’s pleasantly warm and sunny. To the visitors, especially those with high BMIs and others covered head to toe in leathers and helmets, it’s a sauna, a preview of the heat of the hinges of hell. For the riders, it adds another stressor, another tire consideration, another stamina test to an already highly demanding occupation. It gives an additional advantage to the Hondas, which thrive on hot, greasy tracks. It is likely to add another brick in the wall of Yamaha’s continuing mortification. Those looking to stand on the podium in the maiden MotoGP Grand Prix of Thailand had better eat their Wheaties. It will be a trial. 

Here and There

There is precious little news in the MotoGP world these days, and the few stories floating around are pretty thin. Marquez continues his pounding, piston-like performance; other than Argentina and Mugello, he’s been on the podium every round, with six wins in 13 outings. It’s a two man race in Moto2, with Pecco Bagnaia holding the upper hand on Miguel Oliveira’s KTM. Both are graduating to the majors next season. And the chase in Moto3 seems to get scrambled every time out, with at least seven different race winners this year and most of the top five having multiple DNFs. Great fun, but unlikely to make it to the pages of Sports Illustrated anytime soon.

Jorge Lorenzo wants to blame Marquez for his crash in Aragon blah blah blah. Romano Fenati may end up in court over his not okay stunt in Misano, grabbing Stefano Manzi’s front brake at speed. (I still prefer the YouTube/GoPro video of the guy in Canada lane-splitting at 186 mph. The more astute among you may be able to identify the brand of the bike in the video. Apparently, the Mounties were able to identify the rider and arrest him some time later.) Bradley Smith is, as always, targeting a top eight finish in Thailand. Thin. Brad Binder, on the other hand, is becoming the Great Non-Latin Hope in Moto2. And Suzuki, by virtue of Andrea Iannone’s podium at Aragon, loses its concessions—engine allocation the most important—for 2019. Good on Suzuki.

Maverick Vinales continues circling the bowl, calling Aragon his worst race of the season. Ho hum. Oh, and before I forget, in addition to dislocating his big toe, Jorge also enjoyed a compound fracture of his second toe, making his getting stretchered off in Aragon somewhat less, um, Spartan. Dani Pedrosa, who not that long ago entertained championship aspirations, tied his best performance of the year in Aragon, finishing fifth. Thin. A number of readers have noticed, as have I, how Tech 3 pilot Johann Zarco has apparently checked out of 2018, keeping his powder dry in anticipation of switching to KTM after Valencia. It is fair to assume that Yamaha is not showering the soon-to-be-former satellite team with new pieces and parts these days, either.

Sometime while I was gone Valentino got to test the 2019 Yamaha M1.  The one expected to solve the grip and acceleration issues for the factory team next year. Reportedly, Doc was not impressed. This is bad news. Not as bad as the report on motogp.com that he is “arguably” riding the best of his entire career this season. The article, which includes a wealth of Vale’s “taller than Mickey Rooney” accomplishments in 2018 (“In addition, the [winless] rider from Tavullia has been the highest finishing Yamaha rider in eight of the 13 races so far this season…), is what we old-timers call “puffery.” Some poor entry-level copywriter contracted with Dorna was assigned to give them, promptly, 300 English words on what a great season Vale is having this year. Thin. Gotta keep selling those 46 hats and yellow fright wigs.

Balls.

A Word About Brolly Girls

I routinely catch a lot of flack when I go out of my way to comment on the lovely women who grace the racetrack. I’m objectifying women, etc. The recent spectacle in Washington, D.C. moves me to explain how I respect women and, simultaneously, kind of ogle some of them on TV.

I married someone’s daughter. My wife and I had three of our own. They, in turn, have produced three more. By being the only guy in a rather tight-knit family of women and girls, I became, in my dotage, a feminist. I read that men worry about women laughing at them and women worry about men killing them. I support Dr. Ford and all women who have had memorably bad experiences at the hands of men.

On the other hand, the brolly girls are not being held captive, forced to strut their stuff at gunpoint. They are paid, probably pretty well, for having caught a winning number in the lottery of life, as seen from the distaff side of the coin. These are little part-time gigs, and the models who work them probably work a dozen others in a year. For them, they bat their eyelashes, get their pictures taken a million times, twirl their umbrellas, take the money and run. I’d do the same thing. I will excuse my own pathetic attitude on the subject only by insisting that I appreciate their efforts to dress up the place, and I’m glad they’re part of the show.

Your Weekend Forecast 

This being winter in Thailand, daytime highs will only reach into the low 90’s for the weekend, with a chance of Biblical rain anytime in the p.m. This is going to be a dirty track for all three classes of bikes; free practices could be a flying circus. One suspects that Marc Marquez could abandon sixth gear for the remainder of the season and still clinch way early. I say that as we’re watching the lights come on and then go off, holding our collective breaths, we should all silently chant “Marquez slide-off; rider uninjured” during the hole shot.

For those of you fortunate enough to be traveling to Thailand for the first time, get yourself a treat while you’re there. Find a food seller on the street and ask for a big ol’ plate of my all-time Thai noodle favorite: Sum dum phuc. The translation is a side-splitter.

No real way to predict finishing orders on a new track without resorting to past performance. Hondas dominated the test here back in February. Perhaps we’’ll get a flag-to-flag. Otherwise, Marquez and Dovizioso and someone else will be on the podium on Sunday afternoon. As usual. Despite the heat. And despite the fact that the 2018 MotoGP season has, for now, run aground.

Back again on Sunday.

marquez-vs-dovizioso_gp_spielberg

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.