Archive for the ‘MotoGP Sepang’ Category

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi Folds, Marquez Rolls in Malaysia 

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One helluva racetrack, Sepang shimmers in the heat.

For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era. 

With the 2018 season now in its denouement, grand prix motorcycle racing has devolved from a tooth-and-fang battle for fame and glory to a tooth-and-fang battle for peer approval. Jorge Martin won today’s Moto3 race and clinched his first world championship, while Pecco Bagnaia had more than enough to hang with Miguel Oliveira all day and clinch the Moto2 title in the process. Beneath the rare air at the top of the food chain, in all three classes, riders are still furiously pushing themselves and their machines, trying to position themselves for the only thing most of them always have to look forward to: Next Year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Conditions on Friday and Saturday morning for the winnowing were dry and hot, resulting in ten Q2 lambs with no surprises. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, with Alex Rins sixth and Marquez, trying stuff out, in 10th. FP2 scrambled things slightly, with Rins, Marquez, Miller, Viñales and Petrucci on top trailed by Rossi, Dovi and Zarco. The weather changed Saturday afternoon, as did the fortunes of a number of contestants.

With Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro matriculating into Q2 and an old-fashioned Sepang frog-strangler in between the two qualifying sessions, things got Vitamixed during the pole session. Marquez appeared to take pole easily but was penalized six grid spots for obstructing Andrea Iannone in the racing line and being a recidivist, giving fuel to his haters. This produced a front row of Zarco and Rossi on Yamahas and the aggrieved Iannone third. The second row was an all-Ducati affair, featuring Dovi, Miller and Petrucci. Marquez headed row 3 alongside Rins and Bautista. The big loser in the changed conditions was Maverick Viñales, who went from the top Q2 qualifier to 11th on the grid, unable to get anything going in the wet.

Jorge Lorenzo, after sitting around in Spain for a few weeks, flew to Malaysia, gave his fractured wrist a go on Friday, and pronounced himself out of the race on Saturday morning, thus putting the screws to Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, who might have had another memorable weekend on the heels of their success in Australia had he just manned up and stayed home. Fill-in Jodi Torres, subbing for the long-gone Tito Rabat, suffered a heavy crash in FP4 that would keep him out of the race and give him one more thing—for a total of three—in common with Lorenzo. (Spanish, motorcycle racer, DNS at Sepang.) Michele Pirro, however, came up a winner as he stepped onto Lorenzo’s bike on Saturday and qualified comfortably.

So the Yamahas of Zarco and Rossi suffered in the dry, while Viñales suffered in the wet. Sunday’s forecast, with a chance of Biblical rain at any time, caused Race Direction to move the starting time up two hours in an effort to frustrate the rain gods. They could have just as easily moved it BACK two hours, since when the rain would arrive, or not, was problematic. 

The Race 

At the start, the leaders heading out of Turn 1 were Rossi, Zarco, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, hoping against hope for a final career podium, was in the picture, while Maverick Viñales, the questionable Future of Yamaha factory racing, was not, having started 11th and running 10th early. Marquez had a major moment at Turn 15 which he rescued with Another Great Save, but Andrea Iannone, on his back wheel at that moment, had to brake to avoid #93, which sent him skidding into the kitty litter, a case of pure bad luck.

Marquez, pushing for the love of the game only, went through on Miller on Lap 2 and Zarco on Lap 5, while Karel Abraham was busy running off track. Michele Pirro, the latest tenant of Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati, crashed out a lap later. Despite Andrea Dovizioso having won the last two iterations of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a miserable weekend for the Ducati contingent, with Lorenzo in street clothes and, at the end, Dovizioso leading the brand representatives in 6th, followed immediately by Alvaro Bautista, Miller and Danilo Petrucci, nearly boiled alive by the perspiration inside his leathers.

By Lap 11, Rossi led Marquez by over a second, with Zarco, Pedrosa, my boy Alex Rins, Dovizioso and a recovering Viñales trailing. Rins soon went through on Pedrosa into 4th and set his sights on Zarco. Rossi led Marquez by 1.3 seconds.

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Rossi, down and out in Malaysia

On Lap 13, Marquez put the hammer down and initiated a serious chase of his rival. Unlike the usually quick cheetah-running-down-the-gazelle, Plains of Serengeti-style, Marquez’ takedown of Rossi was more of a fox and hounds affair, in which Marquez simply pressured Rossi to exhaustion, allowing the heat and Rossi’s age to combine for an unforced error that continued Rossi’s lamentable descent to the status of Just Another Rider. One might consider that a bold statement until ruminating over the fact that Rossi today finished just behind one Xavier Simeon, he of a single point for the year, who will someday tell his grandkids about The Day He Beat the Greatest Rider of All Time.

Once Rossi lost the lead, Marquez eased up, 4.5 seconds ahead of Zarco, who found himself, his tires seemingly Teflon-coated, being tracked down by Rins and Pedrosa. Rins would overtake the Frenchman on the final lap for second place, while Pedrosa equaled his season-best result, finishing 5th and securing the Colin Edwards “Stayed a Year Too Long” award for 2018. Rins thrusted himself into contention for the Best of the Rest, tied with Zarco for P5 for the year. These two, at least, will head for Valencia with something on the line. 

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Alex Rins, up and coming

The Big Picture 

With Dovizioso having clinched second, it remains up to teammates Rossi and Viñales to face off in Valencia in two weeks for the dubious honor of third place for 2018, Rossi enjoying a two-point advantage as the Flying Circus returns to Europe for its death rattle. Any joy for Rossi today occurred during the Moto2 race, as Luca Marini won the race and Pecco Bagnaia, his teammate on Rossi’s SKY46 team, secured the title. With Jorge Martin having secured the Moto3 crown over Marco Bezzechi, the 2018 season is done and dusted, framed and behind glass.

The announcers today were whispering about a rumor that Rossi is considering backing out of his 2019-2020 contract with Yamaha, or at least the second half thereof. He has no interest whatsoever in further sullying his pristine reputation by winning a Colin Edwards award. I think it highly likely that he will compete next year and then call it a career, allowing Yamaha corporate to promote Franco Morbidelli to the factory team in an orderly fashion. Even the most rabid Rossi fans out there, looking at his record over the past three or four seasons, must admit that he’s lost a step. Either that or a bunch of other top riders have all gained one. 

Static Tranches 

After Phillip Island

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

After Sepang

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

Two Weeks Until Winter

All I can think to say about Round 19 in Valencia is that the race will be three laps shorter than last year. We’ll be right here to bring it to you in living color. Thanks to everyone except Rocky Stonepebble who submitted suggestions for the quote that captures the essence of MotoGP 2018. That, and the testing that starts on Tuesday the 20th, are pretty much all that’s left to look forward to for this year. Ciao.

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Boy, this picture gets older every year.

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.

MotoGP Sepang Results

October 29, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Valencia WILL Decide as Dovizioso Wins in Malaysia 

Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)

Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend

Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track

Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track

Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending

Dani Pedrosa

Valentino Rossi

Andrea Dovizioso

Johann Zarco once more, and, finally

Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya.

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After his first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday.  Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him.  (Though he would not win today’s race, he did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results.  The Ferrari F-1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world.  Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it.  The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been.  Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014.  He had won the first 10 races that year.  He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title.  He had been fast all weekend in practice.  Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again.  Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley—Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points—would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race—our fervent hope all season—it provides about as much drama as watching iron rust.

Preparing for Valencia

We have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season.  Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels.  The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season.  The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season.  Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

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

Recent History at Sepang

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

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

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

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

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

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

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit 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 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

Last chances abound in Malaysia

October 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sepang Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

After the carnage in Phillip Island, the prospects of the various Aliens have changed significantly. If pending 2014 champion Marc Marquez is to challenge Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a season, he needs to win here. Dani Pedrosa, having spent the bulk of the season in second place, now finds himself fourth, looking up at both of the factory Yamahas, who made hay at his expense Down Under. Jorge Lorenzo, who many gave up for dead back in May, could finish the season in second place. As could teammate Valentino Rossi, who, at age 35, is entering the realm of “timeless elegance,” the finely crafted Swiss watch of motorcycle racing.

Rossi & LorenzoThat the events at Phillip Island were unusual is borne out by the fact that the last all-Yamaha podium in MotoGP took place at LeMans in 2008. With Tech 3 Yamaha sophomore Bradley Smith having stayed upright long enough to register his first premier class podium, there was plenty of weirdness to go around. One thing is certain—the new Bridgestone asymmetric fronts don’t work in cold weather. Whether they will work in hot weather, or any weather at all, remains to be seen; it will likely be quite some time before riders volunteer to try them again.

sepang-international-circuit

Sepang International Circuit

MotoGP returns this week to the tropics in Kuala Lumpur, where it’s always mid-summer; no concerns about windy cold weather here. And it returns with Repsol Honda Golden Boy Marc Marquez in a definite slump, having won just once since Indianapolis in August and having crashed in three of the last four events. Back in August, eclipsing Doohan’s 1997 record looked like a foregone conclusion; now, it appears to be a longshot. Personally, early in the year, I used to think that one of the amazing things about Marquez was that he never lost concentration. Now, it appears certain he has lost something; call it concentration, or motivation, or interest; whatever it was back in July is gone. For now.

Simoncelli

Simoncelli’s last race, at Phillip Island.

Recent History at Sepang

A recap of recent events at Sepang must necessarily start with the 2011 round. Heading in the premier class race that day, the charismatic and fearless Marco Simoncelli had survived a series of incidents early in the year that had given him a reputation for recklessness. He crashed out of the lead at Jerez early in the year, and got into a verbal shoving match with Lorenzo during Round 3 at Estoril. He crashed carelessly in the rain at Silverstone, and took Lorenzo out of the race at Assen. He enjoyed his first career podium at Brno, followed that with three solid 4th place finishes, and podiumed in second place at Phillip Island the preceding week. The bizarre, arcing low-side that took his life at Sepang came just as he seemed to be hitting his stride as a rider, when his future was at its very brightest.

Recall that was the same weekend that Moto2 phenom and title contender Marc Marquez hit an unseen puddle of water in FP1 and went ragdoll, ending up with a concussion that gave him double vision for six months and almost stopped his career before it really ever started. This accident, in turn, handed the Moto2 title to Stefan Bradl, who leveraged it into a promotion to the premier class with LCR Honda that he has now worked himself out of, to dangle the preposition.

The 2012 race can be summed up in these four words: James Ellison finished ninth. Six of the 20 starters crashed out of the race. Pedrosa won, followed by a cautious Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, who was there only to tune up for his annual and final Phillip Island coronation the following week. The race was called after 13 laps. And, just for the record, Nicky Hayden finished fourth in Sepang for the sixth time in his premier class career. If MotoGP were to keep a stat for Most Fourth Place Finishes at a Single Venue (Career), Hayden would own it.

Last year at Sepang, Dani Pedrosa gave one of the performances that, in years past, would have seen him win by 12 seconds. He slingshotted out of the five hole at the start and was sitting on leader Lorenzo’s pipes midway through the first lap. He then basically pushed Lorenzo out of his way and took the lead for good on Lap 5. Teammate Marquez, after a few bumps and grinds with Lorenzo, would take over second place and protect it all day, effectively ending Lorenzo’s quest for a repeat of his 2012 title. That Pedrosa would end up winning by a mere three seconds confirms what we all know—there was no Marc Marquez out there when Dani was running away and hiding from the field in previous years.

This Stuff is Harder than it Looks

WP_20141023_023In traveling to Sepang this week, I’ve learned a few things about this sport that I hadn’t understood before. We watch the riders and crews competing during practice and races and see a lot of concentrated effort focused on maximizing performance. We see none of what goes on behind the scenes. Nothing of the brutal travel schedules that have these guys crossing timezones like they’re lane markers. Nothing of what it takes to pack the entire grid into three 747s immediately after the race so things can get unpacked and on track in time for the next one. Nothing of the high stakes negotiations that take place between owners and sponsors, venues and race organizers, the host countries and the rights holders that ultimately pay the freight for this breathtakingly expensive pursuit.

Malaysia itself is a study in contrasts. Vast, gleaming skyscrapers built in the middle of steaming jungles. All of the trappings of Western culture—Westins, Victoria’s Secrets, and Johnnie Walker Black (who helped me write this article tonight) in the midst of a Muslim-majority country complete with remote villages lacking the most basic services. A vibrant multi-cultural mix of Malays, Chinese, Singaporeans and Indonesians competing in a market economy within a complex set of rules and social mores of which Westerners are completely oblivious. It is, in turn, dramatic, elegant, scary and emblematic of paradise lost. In my home town of Indianapolis, I used to remark on the land under active cultivation only, like, seven miles from the state capitol building. Here, one notices the glass and steel skyscrapers within a few miles of triple canopy jungle.

Malaysia calls itself The Land of Adventure. (They’re not referring to the 20-some hours it takes to get here from New York, which is an adventure in itself.) The adventure will continue this weekend as the big bikes of MotoGP hit the tarmac of the gorgeous Sepang circuit dodging rainstorms in hot pursuit of fame and fortune. We’ll have race results right here on Sunday evening.

Pedrosa wins at Sepang; Marquez extends lead

October 13, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this story, complete with non-bootlegged images, will appear on Motorcycle.com tonight or tomorrow. Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Repsol Hondas finish one-two in the Malaysian heat 

pedrosa_marquez

For factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was going to be a statement race.  Lorenzo’s intent, clear from the outset, was to beat rookie Marquez at any cost.  Pedrosa, the victim of plain bad luck at Aragon, looked determined to prove that he was still a force at the top of the MotoGP food chain.  And Marc Marquez, on his way to the 2013 title, wanted the world to know that his brain is bigger than his balls. 

How, you’re wondering, do I know these things to be true?  Pure deduction, based upon things that were said during the week, and the actions of the riders during the race.  At the Thursday press conference, Jorge Lorenzo went OFF, delivering a scathing critique of Marquez’ relentless risk taking and Race Direction’s lame season-long response thereto.  To paraphrase Lorenzo’s tongue-in-cheek outburst, he claimed that Marquez approaches MotoGP as if it were NASCAR, bumping and grinding his competitors every time out, with but three “penalty points” to show for his behavior.  Actually, three penalty points and a World Championship.  Lorenzo, it seems, is put out over how Race Direction has rewarded bad behavior on Marquez’ part with a trophy and a bit of toothless punishment.  Thankfully, he didn’t play the Marco Simoncelli card as an example of what can happen to the fast and the reckless.

Dani Pedrosa gave us one of his trademarked “slingshot” starts today, moving from fifth position on the grid to sitting on Lorenzo’s pipes in the middle of Lap 1.  He and Marquez had been fast all weekend in practice, but Pedrosa looked determined not simply to podium today, but to win.  On Lap 5, having just received a mapping change from his pit crew, he bumped Lorenzo out of his way—just racing!—and took over first place for the duration.  Never looking back, he won by almost three seconds, for the first time since Le Mans.  Two years ago, when he had this kind of pace, Pedrosa would win by 12 seconds, and would have felt great afterwards.

Two years ago he had no Marc Marquez to deal with.

Marquez, for his part, looked mainly interested in staying out of trouble today.  He seemed surprised at Lorenzo’s Thursday outburst, and tried to make light of it, before figuring out that Jorge was seriously furious with him.  Settling into third position at the start, he joined Pedrosa in slipping past Lorenzo on Lap 5.  The Yamaha icon was simply not having it today.  He came right back at the rookie and gave him a good bump on Lap 6, briefly moving back into second place.  The two went at each other tooth and fang through Lap 7, when Marquez went through for good, pushing Lorenzo out onto the candystripes exiting a late corner, and essentially sealing the 2013 championship in the process.

Having put Lorenzo away, you expected Marquez to go after Pedrosa in the hunt for another gratuitous win.  Instead, he appeared to lay back, content to simply manage the gap between himself and Lorenzo.  In addition to being his teammate, Dani Pedrosa is absolutely no threat to his title aspirations.  The mountain of criticism piled upon Marquez after Aragon, most of it undeserved, clearly had an effect on the young Spaniard.  Thus, he was able to emerge from today’s race with no further damage to his reputation, and with a bigger lead in the championship race than he had at the start of the day.  All in all, a good day’s work.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Valentino Rossi on Saturday enjoyed his best QP since 2010, starting from the second spot on the grid.  On Sunday, this advantage lasted all of 10 seconds, as both Lorenzo and Pedrosa blew by him on the way to the first turn.  Rossi spent the entire day—all 20 laps—in fourth place, and appeared to be hanging around, waiting for one of the leaders to fall, or run wide, something, anything, in the hope of securing yet another hollow podium.  I get it that Rossi is a marketing machine who makes cash registers ring for Yamaha, but his diminishing presence on the team means Lorenzo is getting double-teamed every week.  And as the standings show, the result is going to be another world championship for Honda.

With the bulk of the field strung out in a ghastly premier class procession, the only real contest of the day involved Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow and GO&FUN pilot Alvaro Bautista, who spent the day jousting over fifth place.  Crutchlow, with the slower bike and zero motivation, eventually succumbed to Bautista, losing out by a couple of tenths.  While LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl missed today’s race due to a broken ankle suffered in FP4 on Saturday, Bautista moved past Bradl into sixth place for the season.

With two of the four Ducatis on the grid retiring with mechanical problems—Iannone with exhaust issues, Hayden with a blown engine—Yonny Hernandez made a respectable showing on his Pramac Ducati, finishing 10th after starting 16th.  Hector Barbera, riding for the Avintia Blusens team, weathered a ride-through penalty for jumping the start and still managed 14th place for the day.  Fellow jumpers Colin Edwards and Michael Laverty fared slightly worse, with Edwards coming home in 15th place and Laverty crashing out on Lap 13.

The Big Picture, Heading to Australia

The season has developed what feels like a grinding inevitability, as Valenciana draws closer and Marquez’ lead in the standings grows larger.  The rookie demonstrated today that he is not, in fact, compelled to try to win every single round, that he appreciates where he sits in the standings and what he must to do stay on top.  He showed a little respect (or was it pity?) for his teammate by laying off and not trying to out-race him yet again today, when there was nothing to be gained from such showboating but a few more haters.

Stoner testing

With Phillip Island looming, the Magic Numbers are now clearly in focus.  Lorenzo trails Marquez by 43 points; Pedrosa trails by 54.  Unless Pedrosa wins in Australia, he will be eliminated next week.  If Marquez wins and Lorenzo finishes third or worse, the fat lady will be singing “Advance Australia Fair” next Sunday afternoon.  The moment it was announced that Bradl would miss Round 16, rumors started circulating that Casey Stoner would return to try for a seventh (!) consecutive win at his home track, a rumor both Honda and Stoner currently deny.  But the alignment of the MotoGP stars and planets is such that Stoner’s appearance on the LCR Honda next weekend wouldn’t surprise, or disappoint, too many fans.  With three rounds left, there is precious little else to cheer for.

TOP TEN YTD AFTER SEPANG.