Archive for the ‘MotoGP Qatar’ Category

Here’s What’s Wrong with English Majors

March 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen

This link will take you to the article written by some English major at Dorna about the upcoming MotoGP season. He lost me at the end of the first paragraph: “Every epos begins with a single verse and a new odyssey is poised to get underway.” Too much Latin, too much overstatement (epos, odyssey?), too many unanswered questions? If you like this kind of writing, you’re not going to like most of the stuff you’ll find here. If, however, this kind of writing makes you gag, welcome aboard.

2019 Losail Preview on MotoGP.com

Capture

Header for the MotoGP preview at MotoGP.com.  Mission Winnow, that’s it!

For those of you who may have missed it previously, I am having trouble remembering the actual name of the factory Ducati sponsor. Thus, as is my wont, I try to obscure ignorance with humor. Otherwise, an editor would crucify me for using Missing Window or Wishin’ Minnow or Wishin’ Minion, etc. You’ll get used to it.

 

 

MotoGP Qatar 2013: A Look-back

February 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio Quartararo in 2018, Moto2

The discussion around “Is Fabio Quartararo too young to be riding in MotoGP?” prompted me to look back at the debut premier class race, in 2013, of the baddest young rookie of those CRT days, Marc Marquez. (If memory serves, his most recent race prior to the 2013 season opener was the 2012 Moto2 finale in Valencia where, for conduct unbecoming during the previous race or practice or something, he was forced to start from the back of the grid and won the race anyway, making a mockery of the field. The field that day included names such as Pol Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Johann Zarco, Takaa Nakagami and Hafizh Syahrin, all of whom he continues to school until this day.)

Anyway, here is a re-post of the 2013 season opener in Qatar, won by defending two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha M-1, back when it, too, was the baddest machine on the grid. It was pretty clear even then that Marquez was special. How special we didn’t know, but would find out. This is almost timely, in that the big bikes will finish testing this weekend in Qatar.

I think the 2013 article is better than the stuff I’ve been doing lately; don’t know why. But here it is. You can decide if our outlook for young Mr. Marquez was accurate.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard. 

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly. Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to win his 8th premier class title this year.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years. The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith. Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10. Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies.

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.

 

 

The Doctor puts on a Clinic in the Desert

March 29, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Losail Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi at ValenciaThere is a reason 36 year-old Valentino Rossi is still the most revered motorcycle racer on the planet. In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi, on the factory Yamaha, delivered a dazzling performance in the 2015 season opener, going hammer and tongs with factory Ducati #1 Andrea “DesmoDovi” Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths of a second to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.

Two-time defending world champion Marc Marquez, the immediate future of the sport, saw his chances for a season-opening win end in the first turn of Lap 1, when he was pushed WAY wide into the runoff area. How far off the racing surface was young Marc pushed, you ask? Far enough, it’s rumored, that a concession vendor offered him an ice-cold Coke. Re-entering the race dead last, he spent the evening slicing his way through the field, grinding his molars to dust, eventually finishing a respectable fifth, securing 11 points, and setting his sights on Austin, Texas. Guys like Marquez have short memories, and it’s a long season; no reason to think young Marc won’t win his third consecutive premier class title this year. Yet anyway.

Aside from Rossi’s heroics and Marquez’ travails, the story of Round 1 is the Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014unbelievable turnaround being engineered before our very eyes in the Ducati garages by Gigi Dall’Igna, the Great White-Haired Hope of Italian racing fans everywhere. Having parted company with longtime employer Aprilia late in 2013, Dall’Igna has given a miraculous and immediate boost to the fortunes of the Ducati racing program. Keep in mind that Dovizioso and “the other Andrea”, Crazy Joe Iannone, first threw a leg over the radical new Desmosedici GP15 35 days ago. At Losail, they qualified 1st and 4th, ran in the front group all day, eventually blew away Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo, and finished together on the podium, the first time I’ve seen two Ducatis on the podium since, well, for a good long time.

Now, before you start getting all whooped up about some kind of paradigm shift in MotoGP, let me remind you of several facts. One, this was the first round of the season, run in the middle of the night in the Middle East on the only circuit dustier than Aragon. Two, Marc Marquez is not going to suffer this kind of race very often; I fully expect him to dominate rounds 2 and 3 in Texas and Argentina. And three, the day is approaching when Valentino Rossi will no longer be able to perform at his unique level. Losail, recall, is a Yamaha-friendly track, one of the friendliest, in fact, and the Repsol Honda contingent (which claimed 5th and 6th places today) will enjoy significant advantages over both the Yamahas and the Ducatis at a number of circuits on the tour. Relatively speaking, Losail is the MotoGP equivalent of Bonneville, while Austin, Rio Hondo and Motegi are more similar to downtown Washington, DC at rush hour.

How About Shutting Up and Telling Us About the Race?

Okay. After a clean start, the early leaders were Dovizioso, Lorenzo (who had jumped up from the six hole), Iannone, Yonny Hernandez on a Pramac Ducati, Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha and his teammate Pol Espargaro; Pedrosa was stuck in the mud farther back, and Marquez was cruising the hinterlands. For a good part of the day, Lorenzo led The Two Andreas on a merry chase, while Rossi was working his way back into contention, having fallen as far back as 10th early.

Dovizioso went through on Lorenzo for the first time on Lap 9; the two would ultimately trade positions perhaps a dozen times, MotoGP at its finest. Iannone was keeping his powder dry in third place; Rossi showed up on his rear wheel on Lap 11. The four played Trading Places until Lap 19, when Dovizioso went through on Lorenzo again. Rossi immediately did the same, and then began his series of lead exchanges with Dovizioso, who was showing no signs of fatigue or tire wear. One had the sense that Dovizioso, younger, with more grunt, his years of handling and tire degradation problems apparently solved, would prevail in the run to the line. But it was not to be. Today, the Doctor schooled his students, all of them.

At the end of the day (Lord I hate that expression), we saw three Italians on the podium, which is to say the Spanish riders got blanked. Weird. We were left wondering whether Jorge Lorenzo, who showed up for practice 5 kilos lighter than he weighed at the end of last season, ran out of energy late in the day. Personally, I got the impression that Rossi treats practice the way established NBA stars treat the regular season—they only get amped up for the playoffs. Rossi, whose four practice sessions had him running 9th, 7th, 9th and 5th, and who qualified 8th, suddenly is the fastest guy in the joint when the red lights go out. If I’m Lin Jarvis, his boss, I’m okay with that.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Cal Crutchlow, on the Come What May LCR Honda, enjoyed a relatively successful maiden Honda outing, finishing 7th. He had taken time out of his busy practice schedule to flame Mike di Meglio of Avintia Racing for getting in his way during, like, FP1. Cal has morphed from one of the charming, likeable hard-luck guys on the grid to another mid-level clanging gong, and needs to take a nap. Tech 3 teammates Smith and Espargaro spent much of the day connected at the wrists and ankles, with Smith eventually crossing the line in 8th place, a tenth ahead of Little Brother. Yonny Hernandez completed the top ten in an encouraging outing on his Pramac Ducati, having qualified 5th (?) and running with the big dogs for a couple of early laps. Guy has some skills. In a bit of a disappointment, Big Brother Aleix Espargaro marked the return of a factory Suzuki program to the premier class with an 11th place finish after over-achieving in practice all weekend. The Suzuki is likely to perform better at the Honda tracks than places like Losail where top-end speed is at a premium.

Farther down the food chain, the maiden outing of the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini was a debacle, as expected. Alvaro Bautista got bumped by a charging Marquez early in the race and lost a brake caliper, while sad sack teammate Marco Melandri finished 34 seconds behind Alex de Angelis on his own hopeless Octo IodaRacing Team ART nag. Athinà Forward Racing’s Loris Baz, the record will show, finished his MotoGP debut three laps down, but spent some quality time mid-race in his garage getting his tires changed and spin-balanced and his ashtray emptied. The top rookie finisher today was, unsurprisingly, Maverick Vinales, who copped two points on his own Suzuki Ecstar. And Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, pushed his open class Honda to an uninspiring 17th place finish, just behind the once-competitive Stefan Bradl.

On to Austincircuit-of-the-americas

MotoGP returns to the U.S. in two weeks, descending upon the pretentiously-named “Circuit of the Americas” in Texas. (Let’s just call it Austin.) Expect radically different results in Round 2. But if today’s podium somehow repeats in the Lone Star State, MotoGP will have officially been turned on its head. Until then, we will view Losail 2015 as an outlier, while March 29 may be named a national holiday in Italy. Valentino Rossi fans around the world will savor today’s race, one of the best in his 20 years as The Alpha Male of Motorcycles.

MotoGP 2014 Losail Results

March 23, 2014

Marquez starts where he left off; major fail for Lorenzo 

 

Marquez in Sepang 2013

After a shocking offseason, in which the MotoGP world appeared to have been turned on its head, it was mostly the usual suspects occupying the podium as the big bikes of MotoGP kicked off 2014 in fine style under the lights of Losail.  Defending world champion Marc Marquez, six weeks after breaking his leg, barely held off a resurgent Valentino Rossi for the win, with Dani Pedrosa sneaking onto the podium in third place.  Double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has been singing the blues for months, crashed out of the lead on Lap One and landed squarely behind the eight ball. 

Before getting into the race itself, let’s examine the rule changes in microcosm, by comparing the second qualifying sessions from 2013 and this past Saturday.

2013 and 2014 QP2 Capture

MotoGP 2014: The Playing Field Leveled

In the run-up to the race, considerable discussion centered around the off-season rule changes and the effects those changes would have on life in the upper reaches of the premier class.  (See this great article in Cycle World for a fascinating look behind the scenes of these changes.)  A comparison of the 2013 QP2 and 2014 QP2 illustrates how far off base many of those conversations were. Without exception, every rider who made it through to QP2 in 2014 improved his time compared to last year.

The expectation that the 2014 Open class would be more competitive than the 2013 CRT class has been clearly met.  The groaning and gnashing of teeth emanating from the Movistar Yamaha team that the new rules punish them for their previous success ring hollow, in that they, too, improved their qualifying times from last year.  The “unfair advantage” Ducati allegedly enjoys by opting to run in the Open class is a myth; in 2013, Ducatis qualified 4th, 10th and 11th, while this year they managed 4th, 8th and 11th.  And even poor Nicky Hayden, whose Honda Production Racer is, according to him, only slightly faster than a 1986 Vespa, improved on his time from last year, just not by enough to make it to QP2.  Waah waah waah.

The last word on this subject:  the most fascinating aspect of all of this is the remarkably reduced spread in the QP times.  Last year, the difference between Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro was 2.3 seconds.  This year, the margin between Marquez and Pol Espargaro is a mere .6 seconds.  Despite the sniveling and whining from Lorenzo and Rossi, this portends much more exciting racing in 2014.

But What about the Race?

With a front row comprised of Repsol Honda’s wonderkid, FUN&GO Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista, and Monster Tech3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith, the offseason madness looked set to continue into the season opener.  Movistar Yamaha’s Lorenzo?  Fifth.  Repsol Honda veteran Pedrosa?  Sixth.  Aging factory Yamaha icon Rossi?  Tenth.  Expectations were all over the board.  NGM Forward Yamaha poster boy Aleix Espargaro, who had owned the offseason and the first three practice sessions in Doha, choked on a bone in qualifying, crashing both of his bikes, and started from ninth place.  Of the first 12 qualifiers, four were factory studs, another four represented satellite factory teams, and four enjoyed Open class advantages in fuel and tire choices, three of which were Ducatis.

Anything could happen.

The race got off to a clean start, with Lorenzo vaulting into the lead, putting his ambition to become a Spanish blues singer on hold.  Then, in turn 15 of Lap One, the unthinkable occurred—Lorenzo crashed out of the lead, an unforced error which just as suddenly revived his musical aspirations.  As the riders crossed the start/finish line for the first time, it was Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, Marquez, Smith, Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, and Rossi leading the way.  My thoughts, at that point:

  • Stefan Bradl?  He’ll crash.
  • What are Dovizioso and, moreover, Iannone doing up front?
  • What happened to Bautista?  Did he crash already?
  • Where’s Elmo Dani Pedrosa?
  • Does Bradley Smith look like a chemo patient with eyebrows, or what?

Gradually (ignoring the Lorenzo debacle) a state of normalcy began to settle over the field.  Iannone crashed out on Lap Two, but would recover sufficiently to finish tenth.  Both Bautista and Pedrosa began picking riders off and moving up the chart.  Rossi, who I thought had been sandbagging over the winter, suddenly materialized in fourth place on Lap Six.  Bradl crashed out at turn six of Lap Nine, at which point the top five riders were Marquez, Rossi, Smith, Pedrosa and Bautista.  Instead of a 2013 front group consisting of one or two riders, there were four or five in the picture.  Things were getting interesting.  And by “interesting”, I mean that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi, Tomorrow and Yesterday, suddenly found themselves in a cage match that would provide 13 laps of grand prix motorcycle racing at its finest.

Ultimately, Smith crashed his satellite Yamaha on Lap 19, giving up 11 championship points in the process, and Bautista laid his RC2013V down on Lap 21, handing third place to Pedrosa.  That Marquez would enjoy his seventh career win in the premier class was not a shock; for him, a broken leg seems about as bothersome as a head cold.  That he would need every ounce of skill, daring and luck he owns to nip Rossi at the flag is remarkable.  Rossi is not a seven time premier class champion for nothing, and his ability to adjust to pretty much anything—outside of a Ducati Desmosedici—is firmly established.  There must be some serious head-shaking going on in the Movistar Yamaha garage tonight, as the new boss has, for the time being, given way to the old boss.  And I wonder how Jeremy Burgess, Rossi’s former crew chief, is feeling about now.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro, despite his miserable QP and inauspicious start, ended the day in fourth place, and must still be feeling wildly optimistic about his prospects for the season.  The two other Brits in the field, Cal Crutchlow on the Ducati and rookie Scott Redding on the production Honda, ended up sixth and seventh, sticking it in the eye of the American contingent of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who still had relatively good days.  Hayden drove his Vespa to an eighth place finish, while the 40 year old Edwards enjoyed his first top ten finish in over a year aboard the #2 NGM Forward Yamaha.  Edwards insists that he will switch to the FTR frame once it is ready, while teammate Espargaro seems pretty happy with the status quo.  As noted above, Andrea Iannone completed today’s top ten.

Five Things We Learned Heading to Austin

  1. The world has never seen anything like Marc Marquez.
  2. Valentino Rossi still belongs in MotoGP.
  3. Aleix Espargaro may not win the 2014 title, but his stock is way high.
  4. It could be a very long year for Jorge Lorenzo.
  5. After a number of dull, predictable years, MotoGP is BACK.

Top Ten after 1 Round

The State of the Game: MotoGP in 2014

March 23, 2014

Then, There Were Eight 

The decision, announced on February 28, 2014, that the once-proud Ducati factory would compete the 2014 MotoGP season on the “Open” side of the tracks suggests that Dorna chieftain Carmelo Ezpeleta’s not-so-secret mission to dumb down the sport is working.  As the season starts, 15 of the 23 bikes on the grid will be running in the Open class. 

In 2012, Dorna introduced us to the CRT class of bikes, for which I was never able to come up with satisfactory filler for the acronym.  While expanding the grid from the mid-teens to the mid-20’s, the move increased the number of bikes traveling at relatively slow speeds (BTRSS) without increasing competition at the top of the food chain (TFC) where only three riders won races in 2013.

In the midst of last season, the two dominant MotoGP factory operators, Yamaha and Honda, announced that they would be making equipment available to the Open teams in 2014.  Yamaha announced its intent to lease, not sell, what are basically year old M-1 engines and swing arms, while Honda would be selling, not leasing, entire bikes, in this case a cranked-up version of their World SuperBike RCV1000R, affectionately known as the Honda Production Racer.

NGM Forward racing, featuring Colin Edwards and veteran older brother Aleix Esparagaro, jumped all over the Yamaha offer and slotted M-1 engines in their FTR frames.  Pretty much everyone else at all serious about actually competing in the premier class went with the Honda production bike, including Aspar with both Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama onboard, and Fausto Gresini, who bought one for Scott Redding to learn on while #1 rider Alvaro Bautista gets to keep his RCV for another year.  Karel Abraham’s dad bought him one.  The Avintia Blusens team plods on for another year with their Kawasaki powered FTRs, while Paul Byrd Motorsports continues with Paul designing his own frames for Aprilia powerplants.  Ioda Racing, which had been planning another two-rider season with Aprilia, saw their main sponsor Came walk and now looks shaky as the season starts, putting the screws to Brit rider Leon Camie, whose premier class tenure appears to have lasted, um, less than one race.  Whether the team, and Danilo Petrucci, finish the season together remains to be seen.

So, propulsion this season will come from four Ducati engines, six Yamahas and eight Hondas; Aprilia will power three riders and Kawasaki two.  With most of the juice still residing in the two top factory teams, Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha (with one notable exception), the season opener, now less than a week away, brings with it a lot of unforced whining from some unexpected places.  Actually, pretty much everyone but Aleix Espargaro is whining about something, as follows:

  • Defending world champion Marc Marquez is placidly copacetic about the leg he broke in training last week.  This may portend something of a slow start for the super sophomore, or nothing at all.  We tend to lean toward the latter.  He’s not whining now, but if he gets off slowly this season, we’ll be waiting for it.
  • Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, always good for a complaint or two, and with a few more microphones poked at him since Casey Stoner retired in 2012, was bitching about the lack of grip from the new Bridgestones, until the Phillip Island test, where he was the fastest guy on the track.  (One way Dani could improve grip would be to put on a few pounds.)  Dani is now on the back nine of his career, and fewer of us will be paying attention to his periodic rants as things wind down for him.
  • Double champion Jorge Lorenzo, put off by the new fuel limits and the tires, doubts he’ll be able to manage much better than second place this year.
  • Lorenzo’s Yamaha teammate, the legendary Valentino Rossi, whose last three seasons were utterly forgettable, has been laying down some very fast laps while holding his cards tightly to his chest and saying little of substance.  Perhaps he and his new crew chief have something going on.  Personally, I would love to see Rossi come back and challenge for wins again.  The game needs another Alien.
  • LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl seems to spend a lot of time in fifth place.  Just sayin’.  He’s on the same bike as Marquez and Pedrosa.
  • Gresini Honda, sponsored again this year by GO&FUN, features chronic underachiever Alvaro Bautista on their #1 RC and recent Moto2 grad Scott Redding on their #2 RCV1000R.  Bautista has tested in the top ten, Redding in the bottom ten.  Redding will finish the season closer to Bautista than he has been during testing thus far.
  • The satellite Yamaha Tech 3 team, featuring Bradley Smith and injured rookie Pol Espargaro, seems to be having its own problems with tires and fuel mixture.  However, they will be working with the new Yamaha seamless shift transmissions this season.  Most of the interest in this duo will have to do with their intra-team competition, rather than their top-ten-but-never-contending-for-a-win performance during races. They will have a problem, however, if the Forward Racing team starts beating them on a regular basis, suggesting that engines, gas and development outweigh software and the sanctity of the “factory-made” label.
  • Bear with me while I try to think of something positive to say about the Drive M7 duo of Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama turning laps on their HPRs.  OK, their livery looks minty fresh.  There.
  • The team making the most positive noise during offseason testing, without question, is the Open team at NGM Forward Racing.  Aleix Espargaro has been consistently running in the top three and appears to be loving his new Yamaha powerplant.  With four extra litres of fuel, seven extra engines during the season, a softer rear tire and Yamaha power, it figures to be only a matter of time before Espargaro becomes the first Open class rider to win a race.  My guess would be Assen or Sachsenring this year.  Funny, though, that HRC is whining in the media about how the NGM project is “outside the intent” of the new regulations.  In my half-baked opinion, that would be true only if the new FIM regulations required Open teams to finish in the bottom third of the grid.  I’ve checked—it’s not in there.  And the NGM joke is that the ancient Colin Edwards is hanging around not to milk another mediocre season out of Aspar’s horde of sponsors, but to “mentor” Espargaro, who is running circles around him.  My sides are splitting.
  • The revelation that all four Ducati Desmosedicis will run in the Open class this season is big.  Big, in that the new Powers that Be in Bologna have decided that, though the Dorna software is marginally inferior to Ducati’s own, having twice as many engines to break, more fuel, and the ability to continue development of the engine during the season, which Ducati desperately needs, far outweigh the loss of a couple of 10ths due to the software.  Dovizioso’s sentence has one more year to run, while Cal Crutchlow has now really put himself in it, having signed on for two years of Open class competition and second-rate results, but for a bigger paycheck.  Yonny Hernandez and Andrea Iannone will keep the wheels turning over at Pramac; Crazy Joe may challenge Crutchlow a few times this year, which will be great fun to watch.  Crutchlow will also have to sit around next year as the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, with Suzuki making its return, go about the process of pushing wheelbarrows full of Benjamins at Marquez and Lorenzo, with Rossi and Pedrosa on hand to drive up the bidding.
  • Life goes on at Avintia Blusens and Paul Byrd Motorsports, both of whom must have the best, most understanding, least demanding sponsors in motorsports.  Two riders per team, with a Top Ten finish for one of the four once in a while. 

The newest release of the “Dorna software” appears to be a sizeable step up, especially for Ducati.  So sizeable that Dorna and FIM threw together a third class of bikes, “Factory 2”, to which contestants running in the Open class will be dispatched if and when they start appearing on podiums on a regular basis.  Open 2 bikes basically split the difference on engines and fuel, compared to the two “established” classes.  This cobbled-up class was apparently developed, on the back of a cocktail napkin, in response to the howls of protest emanating from the Yamaha and, especially, Honda camps concerning the unexpected competitiveness of some of the Open class bikes.  Perhaps they should refer to it as The Espargaro Rule.

Until Marquez got hurt last month, it looked to be a no-brainer predicting the 2014 world champion, and it doesn’t really look much different today.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa have had some issues during the offseason testing sessions, while Valentino Rossi looks strong again, and Aleix Espargaro looks like a factory rider.  If Rossi has, indeed, regained the step he had obviously lost since 2010, and if Espargaro has the bike to remain in the top five on a regular basis, it promises to be a more interesting season than was 2013.  Marquez, even with a tender start, looks to be dominant, and Pedrosa and Lorenzo will be fine.  Issue Alien cards to Rossi and Espargaro, and it will be a fun season to watch.

As well as further evidence that Ezpeleta’s evil plot is working.

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Preview

May 27, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Team Yamaha Needs to Assert Itself 

As Round Five of the 2013 MotoGP championship season steams toward us, the very air crackling in its wake,  we are reminded of one of the oldest truths in motor sports.  We are reminded that championships are rarely won in the first quarter of the season.  They can, however, be lost.  Such is the inconvenient truth facing Yamaha pilots Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi this weekend at the circuit that will almost surely bear Rossi’s name someday. 

For Team Yamaha, finishing one-two at Mugello would be like holding serve—great, yeah, but nothing to really celebrate.  Anything less will range from a disappointment to a disaster, neither of which would be helpful at this point of this season.  Or, actually, any point.  Of any season.  Not helpful at all.

Expectations for Team Blue are high this weekend.  As are the stakes.

For the ebullient Repsol Honda team, fresh off their French triumph, putting one bike on the podium at Mugello is both necessary and sufficient.  Two would be a big win.  Zero only happens if someone fails to finish the race.  Two Hondas on the Italian podium spells trouble for the factory Yamaha team.  Trouble we might have seen coming, had we been paying closer attention to the season and less attention to Losail.

Losail gave us a false sense of Lorenzo/Rossi/Yamaha security.  Look at the points earned by the primary factory teams round by round:

Round/Venue

Repsol Honda Team

Factory Yamaha Team

     

One – Losail

29

45

Two – COTA

45

26

Three – Jerez

45

29

Four – Le Mans

41

13

 

Average (less Round One)

44

23

Losail affected our thinking, putting the end of last season, and the entire offseason testing program, out of our heads.  That was an error in perception. My error, though I’m probably not alone.  But Losail is, after all, the outlier, the season opener under the lights in the desert, and doesn’t really have much of anything to do with anything else.  So Lorenzo and Rossi’s surprising 1-2 at Losail obscured the fact that Honda appeared to have it very much going on heading into the season.  Other than at Losail.

Since then, that has been the exact case.  One/two, one/two and one/three in three “normal” rounds.   Yamaha might insist we throw out Le Mans as the second outlier—France in the cold and wet—but even doing so, the blue bikes are not keeping up.  Not in Texas or Jerez, which isn’t really surprising, given the layouts.  But not in Le Mans, either, where Yamaha success has generally come easily.  True, Rossi was flying when he crashed in France and looked to have podium written all over him, but such is life running with the big dogs.

Scoreboard. 

Changing of the Guard Underway?

If, as expected, Pol Espargaro signs a one year deal with Monster Tech3 Yamaha, it suggests the Rossi era at Yamaha will end, again, after the 2014 season, in The Doctor’s 35th year.  It will point to Lorenzo and Espargaro fronting the factory team versus Pedrosa and Marquez on the Hondas.  It means Yamaha will have to find more acceleration, while Honda seems to have found all it needs.

There is, too, the outside possibility Dani Pedrosa would not be offered a new contract at the expiration of his current deal after 2014. Lorenzo - Marquez To ride the Repsol Honda for nine (9) years, with all those wins, but no titles…And it doesn’t get any easier at age 30, which will be the age he turns in the first year of his next contract.  There must be those at Honda Racing HQ who have run out of patience with the gutsy little Spaniard.  They want titles; they don’t get all choked up listening to the Spanish national anthem.

Anyway.  If Marc Marquez is, indeed, The Next Great Thing and, by extension, Espargaro the Next Next Great Thing, then whom, we wonder, is the Next Next Next Great Thing?  Scott Redding?  Alex Rins?  Alex Marquez?

It was only 2011 when Marco Simoncelli looked like The Next Great Thing.

Whomever he turns out to be, he will enter MotoGP at a time when it is becoming homogenized.  When the prototype bikes will be getting slowed and the CRT bikes faster.  When teams will likely experience more sudden success and more thorough financial failure.  Where the rules will continue to bend in favor of the more democratic CRT bikes, and away from the monolithic factory behemoths and traditional sponsors who have funded and ruled the sport forever.

The revelation that Dorna Big Cheese and magnate Carmen Ezpeleta is a closet socialist is too sweet.  He’s starting to make MotoGP sound like kids’ rec league soccer, wanting “EVERYONE to get a trophy!”  “Yes, we would like 30 bikes that all go the same speed and that cost the teams €100,000 each only.  They can use as much fuel as they like and are limited to 12 engines for the season.  No other rules.  We don’t need no more steenkin’ rules.  12 engines.  €100,000 each.  Plenty of gas.  Brolly girls.  That’s IT.”  Which, in the opinion of a lot of purists, is in fact desirable.  Delusional, but fun to think about.

MotoGP is morphing, squeezed by economics , resembling World SuperBikes more each year.  Now, if Aprilia would step up with a two bike factory team, and if Suzuki could become relevant again.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see, say, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies united on a hot new Suzuki MotoGP team.  If not Hayden, then perhaps Spies and Redding, who currently rides 9kg over the weight floor in Moto2 and would be a force on 1000cc.    How about Big Brother Aleix Espargaro and Crutchlow fronting a factory Aprilia team?  If Little Brother gets a prototpe, it’s only fair that big brother gets one too.

Back to Mugello

MotoGP success for team Yamaha in Italy—both bikes on the podium—would move the focus to the following three rounds,  spaced bi-weekly, more or less, in Catalunya, Assen and the Sachsenring  heading into the heat of the summer.  Catalunya favors Yamaha.  Assen and Germany both favor Honda, at least recently.  Let’s review.  Team Yamaha needs to score a lot of points in Italy and Catalunya, keep it close in northern Europe, and hope to still be in it heading for the U.S. in July and August.

Otherwise, we’ll be reduced to arguing Marc vs. Dani or Dani vs. Marc.  When we’re not scratching our heads over whatever became of Stefan Bradl.  Or ruminating about why Cal Crutchlow doesn’t get any respect from owners.

As to our hope for two competitive factory teams at the top of MotoGP in 2013, one of two possible answers will emerge in Tuscany:  If Pedrosa and Marquez continue their hot streak at Mugello, it will probably mean Honda all the way in 2013.  That would be a No.  If Lorenzo and Rossi find what they need and dominate the proceedings, that would be a Maybe.

Let’s not forget the 2010 race.  Mugello that year was Round Four.  After Round Three in France, Lorenzo led Rossi 70 to 61, Dovizioso trailing in 3rd with 42.  Rossi had his high side in practice and was suddenly down and out of the chase for the title.  After Mugello, it was Lorenzo 90, Pedrosa 65, (Rossi 61), Dovizioso 58.  It was essentially over, suddenly Lorenzo’s to lose.  In the blink of an eye.

At 200 mph on two wheels with the best in the world on the best of the world, as observed in Forrest Gump, “(stuff) happens.”  Marquez, to his credit, has been off his bike only once thus far in his premier class debut.  Pedrosa, on the other hand, has been separated from his too often to count over the years, generally with bad and lasting effects.  Marquez’s style seems to invite the close encounters he’s enjoyed over his brief career.  But he, too, has memories of Sepang, where he hit his head hard enough in 2011 to have double vision for the next six months.  While the rest of the world grieved for Sic, Marquez also dealt with the possibility that his promising professional career had ended before it fully started.

As we’ve already seen, such worries were misplaced.

See live coverage of the Italian Grand Prix Sunday at 7:30 am EDT on SpeedTV.  We’ll have the results of the race here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

April 8, 2013

An edited version of this story appears on Motorcycle.com, complete with high-rez images.

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard.

Past, Present and Future Champions full final

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly.  Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to do just that.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years.  The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith.  Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10.   Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.