Archive for the ‘MotoGP Silverstone’ Category

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rins mugs Marquez in last-turn British thriller 

Today’s GoPRO British Grand Prix unfolded according to script, a script seemingly written by some lightweight Hollywood hack. Plucky young challenger Alex trails peerless champion for the entire race, makes a late mistake, but recovers in time to steal the win by 13/thousandths of a second in one of the closest MotoGP tilts of all time. Marquez lost a relatively meaningless battle but happily extended his lead in the war to a dispiriting 78 points. 

The battle everyone was hoping for—Marquez vs. Quartararo—never got started, as the young Frenchman, starting from P4, got way too aggressive on cold tires early in Lap 1, high-sided, and dropped his Petronas Yamaha directly in front of Ducati hopeful Andrea Dovizioso, who had nowhere to go but up. Both riders ended their day in the gravel; both could be injured, as there is no report yet. Dovi clearly got the worst of the deal impact-wise, and it was Fabio’s crash. This Ducati debacle left a top five of Marquez, Rossi, Rins, Morbidelli and Vinales. The two Italians would later yield to the three Spaniards, producing an all-Spanish podium which approximated the race final at Jerez early in the year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

At least two things became immediately clear on Friday, as Petronas Yamaha prodigy Fabio Quartararo flirted with, then broke, the all-time track record at Silverstone, held by Marquez since 2017. First, the new racing surface is, as my dad used to say, “very adequate.” Second, Quartararo, who led both sessions, is fully capable of securing his first MotoGP win this weekend; the Yamaha contingent in general appears to love themselves some Silverstone.

(Note: I have been reluctant to jump on the Quartararo bandwagon with the readers who have, because I believe young Fabio still gets the yips at the end of close races. Until he displays the testicules d’acier one needs to stare down the likes of Marquez or Dovi on the last lap, he cannot be considered for an Alien card. Rins had to wait until his first win to receive his; it’s only fair. And he hasn’t yet won his first race. He may, in fact, be The New Kid in Town. He may be a flash in the proverbial pan. Too early to say.)

The track record took a pounding on Friday afternoon, then again, en masse, on Saturday morning. FP3 has ingeniously positioned itself as QØ. The last five minutes is a time attack on soft tires, trying to gain automatic entry to Q2, bypassing Q1 and being able to devote FP4 to race simulations. Friday afternoon saw four riders under the old record—Quartararo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi. On Saturday morning, 16 riders eclipsed the 2017 record, led by Fabio’s remarkable 1:58.547, 1.4 seconds faster than the target. There were four Yamahas in the top eight. Left out in the Q1 cold were names led by Dovizioso, Rins, and Nakagami; Jorge Lorenzo, limping around multiple seconds behind the leaders, must have been terrified. And this was all before FP4 and Q1. The weather was superb. There was a little rubber on the track.

Dovizioso and Rins made it through Q1 to set up an exhilarating Q2. With zeroes showing on the clock, and riders out on the track, the leaders, as best I recall, were Fabio, Rins and Vinales. Faster than you can blink your eyes, Rossi, Marquez and Jack Miller thundered across the finish line on to the front row, relegating the Frenchman and the two Spaniards to Row 2, juste comme ça. In the process, Marquez set yet another all-time track record, the fifth time this season he has done so in twelve rounds, one of which was wet. Rossi sitting second and Miller third set up a grand battle on Sunday, in which my two picks not named Marquez would start from P6 and P7. With the weather and the racing surface both close to perfect, Sunday’s race promised, well, more of what we’re used to, #93 taking the win and any of seven or eight other riders poised to join him on the rostrum, to carry his train, as it were. 

Track Records 12 rounds jpeg

Farther Down the Food Chain 

Valentino Rossi, his best days behind him and no threat to podium, managed to hold on to fourth place in front of countryman Franco Morbidelli and homeboy Cal Crutchlow, who said during the week he needs surgery, i.e., don’t come crying to him if you need a MotoGP win. Danilo Petrucci (P7) beat Jack Miller for Top Ducati of the Day to take the Taller Than Danny Di Vito Award for this week. Pol Espargaro and a shocking Andrea Iannone allowed KTM and Aprilia, respectively, to make token appearances in the top ten. Johann Zarco, in his season of discontent, took out fellow KTM peddler Miguel Oliveira on Lap 9, effectively ruining yet another Sunday for Pit Bierer & Co. [Sidebar: Aron Canet, currently toiling in Moto3, will someday wear KTM colors in MotoGP. Not this next year, but a year or two after that. Just sayin’.]

The Big Picture 

The 2019 championship staggered inexorably closer to the abyss today, as Marquez extended his series lead over the fallen Dovizioso to a game-over 78 points which, with a better script, would be 83. Rins took over third place from Petrucci and closed the distance between himself and Dovizioso. Vinales and Rossi are fighting amongst themselves for the honor of finishing fifth for the season. Miller, Quartararo and Crutchlow are tussling over P7. Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro are currently locked in a duel for the final spot in the top ten.

The Moto3 race today was, as usual, a barn-burner, with Marcos Ramirez sneaking across the line first, followed in close order by a hacked-off Tony Arbolino and Ramirez’ teammate Lorenzo dalla Porta, who leads the series by 14 points over Canet, whose own opportunity got skittled early in the race by Albert Arenas. Arbolino said in a post-race interview that he felt harshly treated by the two Leopard Hondas and swore revenge, perhaps as soon as Misano. This vendetta stuff among Italians is so pre-Renaissance.

Over in Moto2, Augusto Fernandez took advantage of a crash by series leader Alex Marquez to win in front of a clot of riders including Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and Remy Gardner. He took 25 points out of Marquez and now trails Little Brother by 35 points which, if nothing else, is less than 60. Lots of rumors flying around about Moto3 guys getting kicked up to Moto2 next year, including Ramirez and, of all people, Naughty Romano Fenati who, despite his trove of personality disorders, is fast on a motorcycle and would likely be excited beyond words to have 765cc roaring beneath him. More about that later. 

Today’s Tranches 

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Two Weeks Until Rimini

As summer draws to a close the flying circus returns to Italy, to the Adriatic Riviera, to one of the sweetest venues on the calendar. Beaches, mountains, San Marino has it all, not to mention one of the world’s great racetracks. Despite the boorish comportment of #93, we will find things to discuss as we close in on November. A great number of readers seem to care a lot about Valentino Rossi and KTM motorcycles; not sure why, but we’re always happy to host the discussion.

A Little Local Color

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Quartararo, guilty of littering, discards his Yamaha in front of Dovizioso.

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Sequence of blurry photos attempting to show how Rins punked Marquez at the end of today’s race.

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And a little eye candy for you troglodytes.

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MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen.      August 20, 2019

Maverick Viñales needs to make hay this Sunday 

It must be nice to be Marc Marquez, from a professional standpoint. He commands a multi-billion dollar industrial monolith to hand-build million-dollar motorcycles to his specifications, which are numerous and detailed. Everyone else, it seems, is always running for office, always defending their turf, always concerned about being unwillingly replaced. Even guys like Dovizioso and Viñales. Silverstone is a Viñales track. If Maverick wants to keep his Alien card, for openers he needs to podium in the British Grand Prix. 

To say Maverick Viñales, once the Heir Apparent, has had a difficult season would be no overstatement. In the first eight rounds of 2019 he accumulated 3 crashes and 40 points. He had a few assists on his DNFs, but he spent too much time early in races in heavy mid-pack traffic and has had difficulty qualifying on the front row. Yamaha, it is now clear, has lost a step, perhaps two. With all the changes set to occur by the end of the next silly season, it’s hard to tell whether Viñales or Yamaha would be less interested in continuing their relationship past 2020. And with Rossi entering retirement after next year, if not before, things are looking bright for the Petronas satellite boys, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

In case I haven’t mentioned it, and in order to continue avoiding the subject of Marc Marquez, my understanding of the post-Rossi era structure at Yamaha is that Petronas will become the name sponsor of the factory team, and that the satellite team will be a Rossi-driven, SKY-sponsored team. SIC (Sepang International Circuit, current co-sponsor of the satellite team) will be in there somewhere.

By my count, half of the current top ten riders are vulnerable heading into 2021, Viñales and Dovizioso among them. Dovizioso has a vice grip on second place but that’s not good enough for his bosses. Viñales has work to do if he intends to finish in the top three this year, below which contracts are a crap shoot. The 2019 silly season was a snore; 2020 promises to be anything but. 

Recent History at Silverstone

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag (Pol Espargaro vs. Loris Baz) on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Viñales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points.

Back in 2017, on another idyllic British après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso (in the midst of what was, in retrospect, his one-off dream season) won the British Grand Prix, pimping Viñales at the flag, with Rossi right there, too. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an ominous plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick.

Last year’s race, as many remember, was cancelled due to standing water. With no race results to share, I thought we might recap the decisive moves of the Safety Commission on that Sunday morning:

Silverstone SC send-up

KTM Bombshell—Collateral Damage

Shortly after the recent announcement that KTM would resource Moto3 and MotoGP, Johann Zarco called it a day with the Austrian team. Unable to make the RC16 work, and under a constant lashing from KTM’s Grand Gouda, Stephan Pierer, Zarco requested to be allowed out of his 2020 contract and the request was granted, apparently without prejudice. It is expected that Tech3 rookie Miguel Oliveira will get his ticket punched to the factory team. Brad Binder, the fast South African on his way to the MotoGP Tech3 team from Moto2, is currently on Craig’s List looking for a garage mate. Former Honda star and current KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa has declined.

Unless something turns up out of the blue (paging Alvaro Bautista in autumn of 2011) Zarco looks like he could be sitting out 2020. Too proud to accept a role as the #2 Repsol Honda rider a year ago, he ends up with a big old dent in his career.

Ducati & Yamaha: Trading Places Since 2017

Ever since Ducati debuted their MotoGP bike in the 2003 season, Yamaha has owned them (and most everyone else) on the track. Rossi and Lorenzo, mostly, whipping on guys like Capirossi, Dovizioso, Hayden, Rossi (!), etc. With the exception of Casey Stoner’s First Shining Moment in 2007 Yamaha would routinely stomp Ducati in the constructor’s championship. Here, in 2019, the tables have turned; actually, they turned last year. Honda wins these days, so the battle is, as is growing customary, for second place. Ducati won last year for the first time since 2003 and is winning again this year. It was, however, somewhat gratifying to read elsewhere that the consensus amongst Ducati engineering types is that it will take years to get the bike to turn, a notion we have thrown around here more than once. Remember the whole Bonneville Salt Flats riff? No? Never mind.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather is not supposed to be an issue this weekend, with temps expected in the upper 70’s and little chance of rain. I will continue to pound my fist on the table insisting that Marquez, Dovizioso and Viñales will end up on the podium. If Marquez doesn’t arrive in the top three, ain’t no big thing. If either of the other two fail, there will be fallout. (Between me and my bookmaker, that is.) But if either Dovi or Viñales fails to finish the race, that will be important.

In MotoGP, it’s survival of the fastest. We will be back on Sunday with results and analysis.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen    Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez fails to extend his lead as race cancelled by rain 

The entire weekend devoted to the GoPro British Grand Prix seemed to be accompanied by a sense of foreboding due to the weather. One had the sense that dry practice sessions and a wet race could lead to carnage and confusion; Exhibit A occurred near the end of FP4. In the end, the carnage and confusion was restricted mainly to the race organizers, sponsors and rider Tito Rabat. After hours and hours of hemming and hawing, the British round of the 2018 MotoGP season was scrubbed. 

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Zarco in hot pursuit during a dry practice session in England

Practice and Qualifying 

As a salve for their wounded pride, FP1 was declared Yamaha Awesome Midlands Session #1. In what can only be described as poetic justice, it was Vinales and Rossi sitting atop the timesheet at the end of the session. (The idea of a small, unofficial podium celebration was considered and abandoned.) FP2 then fired off and became the “fast” session of a cold, windy weekend. In it, the top six lambs who would be heading off into Q2 on Saturday emerged: Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Vinales, Marquez, Lorenzo (off of one fast lap) and Jack Miller. Yeah, I know, Jack Miller. He likes it here. Reminds him of Phillip Island.

Saturday’s FP3 was even more Finnish than Friday. Only one rider, Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati, made any significant progress, leaping from 12th going into FP3 to 7th coming out. This, in turn, caused hard luck Alvaro Bautista, World Super Bike-bound, to fall out of Q2 and have to try to slug his way out of Q1. One more bummer in a season of bummers for the Spaniard. But Cal Crutchlow, at one of only two tracks where people aren’t charmed by his accent, looked exceedingly quick both days. With mixed conditions expected on Sunday, he became a legitimate threat to crash out of the lead at his home grand prix. He did, however, sign a new two-year deal with LCR last week, so he’s got that going on.

Q1 saw Bradley Smith (find him in the dictionary under “too little too late”) jet into Q2, joined by Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who waited until well after the flag had waved to lay down a lap quick enough to earn the promotion, at the expense of Franco Morbidelli. (BTW, Morbidelli, on the Tuesday after Valencia, will move his posterior from a second-string Honda to an “A” version YZR-M1 on the new Petronas Yamaha team. In the game of bridge, this is referred to as a jump-shift.)

Q2 was the usual, um, Asiatic fire drill. When the dust cleared, the first four rows were bracketed by a pair of Ducatis on the front—Jlo! and Dovi—with Rossi and Vinales on the factory Yamahas wiping up the rear, as it were, in 11th and 12th places. Both Lorenzo and Dovi took their own sweet time getting to the front for the first Ducati 1-2 qualifying session since 2006. Rossi, though, looked like a rookie satellite rider as he was trying to organize a second attack late in the session, which he ultimately failed to do. Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco made a refreshing cameo front row appearance on the his two-year old sled. The second row of Crutchlow, Marquez and Petrucci looked every bit as dangerous as the front three.

The worst news of the weekend prior to Sunday was the multiple leg fractures suffered by Tito Rabat toward the end of FP4. He will be out indefinitely. Moments after crashing out, he got creamed in the gravel trap by teammate Franco Morbidelli’s runaway Honda. This is almost certainly a season-ending injury for Rabat, who was finally finding his way on the Ducati. Let’s hope it’s not a career-ender.

Most of the usual suspects showed up in the morning warm-up, with Vinales leading Dovi and Marquez on a dry surface. With rain expected in time for the race, start times adjusted to avoid it and failing, etc., it seemed Maverick could again find himself undone by the rain. Everyone wants to be the Second Coming of Jorge Lorenzo—Pecco Bagnaia, now Vinales, etc. I wonder how Bagnaia does in the wet. The critics persist even as Lorenzo blitzes the Silverstone pole in changing conditions.

British GP Takeoff Delayed 

On Saturday, with Sunday’s incoming weather resembling a meteorological Charge of the Light Brigade, race time was moved up 90 minutes, from 1pm local to 11:30am. (Imagine the Silverstone executives on hand with Mike Webb & Company, prancing about, trying to keep the wheels from falling off their TV deal.) Then, imagine their continuing angst when Sunday morning rolls around and the clouds go from dribbling and snorting to full-blown downpour at around 11:15, forcing another delay, this second one rather open-ended but for the assurance that the race would not, under any circumstances, be run on Monday, when it would make most sense, weather-wise. So, as of noon Sunday, it was race later in the day (or night) or bust.

The rain continued to fall all afternoon in the Cotswolds. The last gasp attempt to run the races, contingent upon the rain having stopped by 4 pm local, failed, as the back edge of the weather system, complete with clearing skies, could not arrive in time. So, the 2018 season would go on without the benefit of a British Grand Prix. To the extent that you feel bad about missing out, count yourself lucky that you’re not among the 90,000 people who have to get ticket refunds sorted out, sponsors going mental, TV execs with hours of dead air to fill, etc. The scene on the non-public side of the race could be sufficiently jacked up to kill off future races at Silverstone, unless some poor reinsurance company gets stuck with the tab.

The Big Picture

So, 2018 has become an 18-round season. Where there were once eight rounds to chase down Marc Marquez and his 59-point lead, The Three Chasers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso—now have but seven. On the other side of the same coin, Marquez now has one less round to pile on points toward his magic number. All three of the chasers must have liked their chances today. Rossi, who would have started 12th, the eternal optimist, is a Sunday racer and has won numerous times starting from the way back; the fourth row wouldn’t have been a great concern. Jorge and Dovi starting from the inside of Row 1 in a wet race, with soft rain tires, could have easily finished 1-2, given Lorenzo’s new-found comfort in damp and changing conditions.

Back in 1971 I spent two weeks in Cheltenham, England, just down the road from Silverstone, visiting British friends who had attended my high school in the states. My friend Cathy, who was my age, had, by that time, a boyfriend named Keck who was a Cotswolds Hell’s Angel. He and his bros, no doubt sensing a kindred spirit, welcomed me into their troupe, introduced me to scrumpy, a hard cider deeply loved by the locals, peeing in public, digging big trenches in the village green with one’s rear tire, and rolling their own cigarettes with about a 50/50 blend of tobacco and weed. By the end of two weeks, I had shifted my attentions to Cathy’s younger sister who, as luck would have it, was best friends with a girlfriend I had left stateside; no go. I had experienced half a dozen crippling hangovers, several awe-inspiring rides on a chopped 500cc Indian, and left for Amsterdam resolved never to seek membership in a US chapter. Just not cut out for the life.

Oh, the reason I mention this at all? From what I’ve seen, most of Great Britain is a bog. This is a country where people burn dirt to heat their homes. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

Two weeks to Misano. Two weeks to get over the funk that accompanies the scrubbing of an exciting afternoon of racing.

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez chasers hoping for, like, snow 

You know things are rough in the upper tranches of MotoGP when riders are reduced to praying for inclement weather as a means of slowing down Honda’s putative 2018 world champion Marc Marquez. Iconic Silverstone is the first of a quartet of races that should bring Marquez’ magic number into view. While the weather figures to be a factor, it may not be enough to slow down the Catalan savant.

Andrea-Dovizioso

Recent History at Silverstone 

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 BS (Before Sepang) that season was shaping up as a Marquez/Honda–Lorenzo/Yamaha cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the historic layout during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi.  Rain finally arrived just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain, in front of Petrucci and Dovizioso, put him 12 points ahead of Lorenzo, who had predictably faded in the wet, as the flying circus headed for Vale’s home away from home at Misano. The all-Italian podium headed by #46 had the church bells ringing in Tavullia that afternoon.

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points, Misano-bound.

Last year, on another perfect Cotswolds après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of what may have been his one-off dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping Vinales, with Rossi right there, too, at the flag. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an impulsive plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick on a, uh, dang it, on a, something that starts with a T… Tighter than a tick on a… should be three syllables for rhythmic purposes… .

Jack Miller at a Tipping Point 

Jack Miller 2018Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia

At the start of the season Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci were locked in a duel for the 2019-20 #2 factory Ducati seat being foreclosed on Jorge Lorenzo. And over the first five rounds Miller finished in the top ten every time, including two 13-pointers. (This after three consecutive top-tens to close out 2017.) Mugello was held on June 3, and the announcement that Petrucci would join the factory team was dated June 6. I’m guessing Miller was told one of two things before the start of the Italian race. Either he had already lost the job to Petrucci, or the result would depend entirely upon his beating Petrucci that day. The resulting pressure, or utter lack thereof, may have contributed to his crashing out; the Italian finished seventh, 11 seconds out of first. Game over. (For the record, if indeed Le Mans was the decider, Miller finished fourth. Petrucci started from the front row and almost won the race, finishing second.)

Since then, Miller’s best finish has been 10th, equal to his worst finish in the first five rounds. Finishing 18th in Austria on the Ducati GP17 is weak. I get the sense that Miller may be mailing them in at this point, wishing to save his body for next year and a fresh start as the #1 rider for Pramac. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2019, hotshot rookie Pecco Bagnaia is the #1 rider for the Pramac team. At this level, mailing them in, even once, is bush. Guys are risking their lives; this ain’t no game. And if Miller does lose out to Bagnaia, this will have been the high-water mark of his career; it will be downhill from there. No standing still in MotoGP; you’re either headed up or headed down. (cc: Rossi fans)

The Road to Buriram

Here are some important numbers heading to the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand, Round 14. Based upon what needs to happen between now and Valencia, Marquez has only three challengers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso. These three he currently leads by 59, 71 and 72 points. Let’s assume that all four riders do well between now and Buriram, that Rossi, pedaling as hard as he can and not gaining any ground, loses a little and that Lorenzo and Dovi both pick up small gains. Doing so would put the three chasers at deficits in the 60’s; plugging in my guesswork, I put Marquez around 275, Dovi @-60, Lorenzo @-64, and Rossi @-68.

What all this means, if anything, is that Marquez’ magic number—76 after Motegi—should be clearly in view leaving Thailand. Working backwards, it appears likely the chasers are going to have to throw caution to the wind during the next three rounds to avoid getting squeezed like lemons at The Chang. Then, assuming events conspire to deny Marquez the title in Japan, this will allow them to endure the crowd reveling over Marquez’ sixth premier class title in (a dialect of) English, Down Under-style.

With Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso all well back, but all relatively bunched, it makes no sense for Marquez to challenge anyone specific in these next few rounds. All he needs to do is his usual brilliant work. But suppose at Buriram his nearest competitor is Dovi, trailing by 60 points. With a chance to clinch the title and playing with house money you would expect Marquez to push Dovizioso to the limit in the hope of forcing him to violate the laws of physics. Few of which, it seems, apply to Marquez himself.

Let’s be clear. The Three Chasers, as we will refer to them for at least the next few rounds, must finish on or near the podium at every round going forward. Not only that, but an out-of-the-points finish or DNF anywhere from here on out is the kiss of death. These three guys are on life support until Marquez starts crashing.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather will be a factor this weekend, with temps never getting out of the 60’s and rain around on Saturday. Let’s join the riders in praying that FP3 on Saturday morning is dry, as it usually separates the lambs of Q2 from the goats of Q1.

Not quite sure that any of the leading five riders is jazzed about the weather this weekend. It will impact tire choices. It will put Dani Pedrosa squarely behind the eight ball; he may have to leave his tire warmers on during track time. Some guys—Marquez, Cal Crutchlow—don’t mind changing conditions and cool temps. Others—Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales—like things either wet or dry but not in between. Rossi typically still has a hard time managing the 15-minute qualifying sessions on long circuits like Silverstone.

In short, it appears to be anyone’s race. Marquez needs to finish, preferably ahead of Rossi and Dovizioso; he doesn’t need the win if it’s not on offer. If Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso form a troika at the front and start going after each other, young Marc would be well advised to sit in fourth place and watch it unfold. An unconventional route to another podium, for sure, but potentially a prudent one beneath the cold summer clouds of Northamptonshire.

Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez. In that order.

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the Chasers It’s Time to Fish or Cut Bait

MotoGP Madness descends upon the British Midlands this weekend as Round 12, the two-thirds mark of the 2017 season, arrives. Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez maintains his lead in the series at 16 points, but only 35 points separate the top five riders. A single mishap for #93 and it’s anybody’s season. Marquez was down by 37 points after Mugello, and has gained 53 points on the field in the last five rounds. His pursuers need to evacuate or get off the pot if they want to Let Valencia Decide.

The factory Yamaha contingent of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales are constrained in this effort by the appearance, if not the fact, that the 2016 M-1 carrying Tech 3 rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger around the great tracks of the world is a better bike than the 2017 iteration. We saw this previously at Honda, where the 2014 model of the RC213V was so superior to the 2015 model that Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis midway through the 2015 season in an effort to salvage his only non-championship campaign since coming up from Moto2 in 2013.

The opinions of the riders are mixed. I have not heard Rossi complaining about the bike any more this year than in previous years, other than 2011-12 when he was exiled to what was then Ducati Island. Vinales has no frame of reference. He undoubtedly thought he had died and gone to heaven when he won three of his first five premier class races on the Yamaha. Since Mugello, though, he has lost to at least one of the Tech 3 riders every time out. What other possible explanation can there be for two rookies snapping at the heels of a future hall-of-famer and the arguable GOAT? It’s gotta be the bike.

Recent History at Silverstone

2014 was The Year of Marquez. He had reeled off 10 wins in a row to start the season, followed by his curious 4th place finish last time out at Brno. With a lead in the championship of 53 points, many thought Brno was a bump in the road. Some thought otherwise, that somehow Marquez might have been “broken.” Silverstone, making it three dry races in a row in that wettish year, was where we would find the answer.

With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead. On Lap 18, after some classic paint-trading, Marquez bulled his way through on his countryman, proving that just because you haven’t started shaving yet doesn’t mean you aren’t sporting a large pair. At the finish, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), the top five completed by Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2). At least Vale had the pleasure of pimping Pedrosa at the flag. Dovi’s GP14 was still difficult to ride.

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 that season was shaping up as a Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi. The weather gods got involved just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

Last year, on a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 slimmed things down to a 19-lap joust. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales ending his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by my boy Cal Crutchlow and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who won a knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, leading the season by 50 points, not a whisker on his chin.

Yamaha-Friendly has become Ducati-Friendly

Andrea Dovizioso has won three times this year, at Mugello, Catalunya and now Austria. Throwing out Austria, which some say was added to the calendar for the express purpose of giving Ducati a venue they can dominate, we looked at recent results at the other two cribs. At each, Marquez won in 2014, with Yamahas taking both in 2015 and 2016. My conclusion is that Ducati’s success is coming at Yamaha’s expense. We have spoken over the years about how some tracks favor a particular brand, and for all those years it was only Honda or Yamaha. Now Ducati has been added to the mix. And Silverstone, with its long lines and fast turns, is built for speed.

Lastest Rider Reports for 2018

Courtesy of a bevy of releases and reports elsewhere, we suspect or know most of the following. Alvaro Bautista will stay at Aspar. Karel Abraham appears likely to stay as well. Takaaki Nakagami will officially join Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda. Reale Avintia Racing appears to want to sign Tito Rabat, for whatever reason. Perhaps they suspect his fortunes will improve on a satellite Ducati versus his lackluster results on a satellite Honda. Sam Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Mike Kallio and Thomas Luthi are rumored to be contending for the second Marc VDS bike alongside Franco Morbidelli. And Xavier Simeon, late of Moto2, is in the running to displace Loris Baz at Avintia. Many of these are still in the “rumor” stage.

Re-Tranching for the Helluvit

After Round 10:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Bautista, Baz, Rins,
Tranche 4: Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone, Lorenzo
Tranche 5: Redding, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautistaꜛ, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucciꜜ, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rinsꜜ, Reddingꜛ
Tranche 5: P. Espargaroꜜ, Rabat, Smith Lowes

This is becoming a three-tiered Usual Suspects diagram. There are nine or ten riders consistently in the top two tranches, and another similar number regularly in the bottom two. Tranche three, the median, if you will, gets movement from both directions; there should be more variance in Tranche 3 than in the 1&2 and 4&5 combinations. Like it or not, Alvaro Bautista seems to be a Tranche 2 guy, Lorenzo a #3. Iannone, Rins Redding and Pol Espargaro have joined the have-nots and not-yets at the bottom of the bowl, all moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Meanwhile, Tranches 1 and 2 are more or less static.

A more enterprising writer with, say, an advanced degree in economics would model the rankings for each rider each week, compare it with the chart of their results, perform multiple regression analysis on the two curves, whip out a couple of derivatives, and lose to crushing boredom every single reader he ever had in one chart. He would, however, have an interesting graphic representation of the relationship between a rider’s objective performance and his subjective ranking. Perhaps all this tranching stuff is just a big popularity contest.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast from weather.com shows (what else?) cool and damp conditions expected for the weekend. Temps in the high 60’s, chance of rain each day. Perfect conditions for cultivating mold, not so much for motorcycle racing, especially for Honda, whose bikes like it hot. I expect to see two Spaniards and one Italian on the podium Sunday afternoon humming the Spanish national anthem. We’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as possible thereafter,

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Reflection: The Riders

September 3, 2016

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP demands a number of difficult things from riders simultaneously.  The great ones find a way, mentally, to juggle all of this sensory input, to keep it all “under consideration” and as balanced as possible at 200 mph.  Very complex neural networks for most of these guys.  We see, over time, the top riders emerge.  The equipment is secondary; the Alien title is not bestowed on the machine but on the man who rides it.  His “to do” list during a race is staggering:

  • Beat teammate.
  • Do not crash.
  • Keep it on line.
  • Keep it on revs.
  • Keep positioned to overtake.
  • Keep it in gear.
  • Watch braking points
  • Watch gas and gauges.
  • Stay in lead group.
  • Conserve rubber.
  • Humiliate certain opponents, if possible.
  • Do not get schooled by other riders.
  • Watch settings.
  • Watch pit board, or not.
  • Win in turns.
  • In rain, double all of the above.

During all this, we can only imagine what a recording of a Valentino Rossi during the 45 minutes of a race would sound like, in Italian.  Imagine a grinding drone of guttural, high-pitched noise, interspersed with bits of epithets against riders and their mothers, as well as shards of prayers to The Virgin.  Perhaps 180 F bombs.  Each overtake accompanied by an airy “B-bye!!”  Late in the race, ideally, more of the same. In a perfect world, it’s a jubilant AMF! to his Spanish rivals. Occasional despair, stronzo this, stronzo that, and plenty of self-recrimination.  See blown engine in Mugello.

One of Rossi’s gifts, in addition to the ability to keep a lot of plates in the air, is his honesty, with himself, and, when convenient, with the public; he does shill for a lot of companies.  Bottom line—he has retained many of the above skills from the time he was the best rider on the planet, and has seen several others diminished.  He makes up for these losses by being more strategic, more of a long term thinker.

He’s seen it all before.  When he has the magical “pace”, he can still win races.  When he doesn’t he doesn’t over-ride to compensate.  Pretty much plays the cards dealt to him, but still plays as hard as ever.  And sells bazillions of hats, T shirts and leather riding jackets at what? $2500 per?  It’s good to be king.

I was told by a guy I worked for years ago that the way to become successful in business is by learning to enjoy and do well things other people don’t want to do.  It’s much the same in MotoGP, other than it’s something other folks CAN’T DO, to combine these skills—muscle tone, clarity of vision, balance, aggression, and courage.  Along with, ahem, mechanical aptitude.

These guys do for motorcycle folks what the NHL does for hockey folks.  Sure, you can wander down to the local high school and watch kids play hockey.  But an NHL game is radically faster, more precise, more violent, and, ultimately, way more interesting than the HS game unless your kid was starting on the #1 scoring line.

So it is for MotoGP riders and their bikes who, compared to normal “commute during the week and ride for fun on weekends” folks, operate on a different plane.  At speeds and lean angles most can only imagine.  I wish more people were into it.  The fact that Americans are no longer competitive at this level does not surprise us, but their absence puts makes it hard for the series to draw much interest from the U.S., despite the size of the market.  It’s a huge car market and a limited motorcycle market.

For every Yamaha sold in the U.S. probably 20 are sold worldwide, especially at the smaller displacement end of the range.  Asian markets are motorcycle markets—streets are congested, gas is confiscatory, speed doesn’t really matter.  People walk and ride bikes.  The main thoroughfares in most large Asian cities would not support their current traffic levels if everyone drove cars. So the U.S. will stay screwed re watching MotoGP on cable.  You have to go to pay-per-view or subscribe to the MotoGP feed.  Pricey, need to be a little nuts to do it. Or have money to burn.

It’s Silverstone race weekend 2016 and I’m thinking mostly about the riders.

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

With six different winners in the last six races, trying to predict a winner for Round 12 is a fool’s errand.  The usual suspects (minus Dani Pedrosa), Iannone, Miller, Crutchlow—who’s next?  During this period, series leader Marc Marquez has built his lead over his nearest pursuers by being aggressive when he can and protective when he can’t.  With #93 up 50+ heading to the two-thirds marker, there’s an eerie absence of pressure.  Marquez can be cautious from here on out, while the Yamahas, or at least Rossi, have already conceded defeat.  Sunday’s race should be a nice stroll in the Northamptonshire countryside, then.

Except for crazed, ravenous guys like Crutchlow, winner last time out, Iannone, who popped his premier class cherry in Austria, and even The Black Knight, Jack Miller, who insists his latest injury is “only a flesh wound.”  Dani Pedrosa needs a win in the worst possible way.  Andrea Dovizioso is long overdue for his second.  And, with an assist from the weather, guys like Scott Redding might easily see themselves perched on the top step of the podium as #Sevenofseven. 

Recent History at Silverstone

The 2013 British GP was one of the great contests since I started covering MotoGP in 2008.  Marquez, with a 26-point lead over Dani Pedrosa after Brno, dislocated his shoulder in the morning WUP (nearly taking Alvaro Bautista’s RC213V in the teeth as he, too, slid off seconds later), then commenced a day-long chase of Jorge Lorenzo before finally succumbing at the flag by a microscopic 8/100ths of a second.  Pedrosa, in the mix all day, podiumed in third, a second and a half behind Lorenzo. The Spanish slugfest up front left Rossi and the other factory bikes sucking wind off in the distance.  On a day that appeared ripe for the field to close the gap on the leader, Marquez left Great Britain sore, but leading the championship by more than when he arrived.  Battle lost.  War won.  Perhaps the best British Grand Prix in the modern era.

2014’s gorgeous British GP made it three dry races in a row.  With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards again went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead.  Marquez took a run at him on Lap 14, but couldn’t make it stick.  On Lap 18, though, after a little bumping and grinding, the young Catalan wonder went through for good on the way to his 11th win of the season.  At the wire, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), with the top five made up of Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2).  The win put Marquez 10 for 11 on the year, brimming with confidence heading to Misano.

2015: Round 12 of the season was shaping up as another Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the two brightest lights of the sport hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, making up the top four.  The weather waited to intervene until just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

The main Spanish contingent at the 2015 race got rolled, as Marquez flipped his Repsol Honda RC213V out of second place in pursuit of Rossi at Turn 1 of Lap 13 while Pedrosa could manage but a weak fifth.  Lorenzo, who led early, gave us no reason to doubt that he hates riding in the rain; having fallen as far back as sixth by mid-race, he managed to recover sufficiently to finish fourth, going through on Pedrosa late, well after Marquez had left the building.  With all of his damage-control modules flashing red, Lorenzo managed to limit his debit to teammate Rossi today to 12 points; it could have been much worse.  Having started the race dead even, Lorenzo left down 12 with six left.  No hill for a climber.

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

Rossi—a fourth, a third and a win last year.

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

  • Dovizioso’s knee injury called “small” on MotoGP.com, quoting Dovi as saying,“…at the end of the test in Misano unfortunately my foot got stuck in the gravel and my knee twisted. I strained the medial collateral ligament and the anterior cruciate. Thanks to the Medical Centre at the Misano World Circuit for the instant support, my staff and the Fisiology Center; we are doing everything possible to be in the best condition to race the Silverstone GP.” Dovizioso’s status for Silverstone is Probable.
  • Bradley Smith leg injury: Slumming at the Oschersleben 8 Hours, Smith crashed during the free practice session.  No femur break, but definitely going to leave a mark. Brit Alex Lowes, who recently tested the Tech 3 M-1, will replace Smith at Silverstone and Misano.  Dude has DNF written all over him.
  • Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider Alex Rins (Moto2), contender, broke his left collarbone in a training crash. The Spanish Moto2™ rider suffered the injury during routine training on Wednesday, and underwent surgery on Thursday. Dr. Xavier Mir performed the operation in Spain. Go figure.  Rins’s status for Silverstone is, ahem, Probable.  No one, however, should doubt that rival Johann Zarco will become history’s first repeat winner in the Moto2 class.
  • Eugene Laverty’s pride. Despite having outpointed his competitors in Tranches 4 and 5, he is forced to step down to World Superbike:
  • Laverty 63
  • Scott Reading 54               Satellite Ducati
  • A Espargaro 51                   Satellite Ducati
  • Jack Miller 42                     Satellite Honda
  • Bradley Smith 42              Factory KTM
  • (Stefan Bradl) 39               WSBK, tail between legs
  • Alvaro Bautista 35              Satellite Ducati
  • Loris Baz 24                          Satellite Ducati
  • Yonny Hernandez   8         Satellite Ducati

So how does Gene Laverty not get an offer for 2017 and the likes of Bautista, Baz and Hernandez do? The obvious and unfortunate answer is, disappointingly, money.  Laverty, the Northern Ireland Brit, cannot make it rain the way some of these other guys can. If MotoGP is, indeed, 70% rider and 30% bike, owners are missing a bet overlooking Laverty on two-year-old hardware.  And, in a rather refreshing manner, he is one who avoids talking about his ability at length and instead comes across as humble, scrambling for a non-humiliating ride for 2017 which turns out to be a Ducati in WSBK, perhaps contending for a title.  Too old for a second visit to MotoGP in two years even if he has some success at Super Bikes.  He’ll be 33, and Rossi’s young Italians will be all over the place.

Thus, the inescapable conclusion that owners can do better financially and reputation-wise with a highly sponsored, non-competitive rider than with a leaner operation/pilot that threatens for podia on a regular basis.

The riders and their teams raise money and bring team sponsors along; guys like Hernandez must be almost irresistible: ”With warmest regards from my Colombian countrymen, here is more money than you’ve ever seen.  There will be some crashes.  Please be my team.  Thank you.”  I had Hernandez pegged for great things this year, based on what he had done during the offseason, but he doesn’t appear to have it any longer, if indeed he ever did.  Yet he will still be scoring MotoGP-caliber women, while Laverty will be relegated to Tranche 2 of the Rider Groupie guild.

Whither the Weather

Weather looks iffy this weekend.  As usual this time of year, the race goes off early Sunday morning Eastern time.  We will have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2015 Silverstone Results

August 30, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi, all-weather Alien, wins in Britain

Round 12 of the 2015 MotoGP season was shaping up as another Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the two brightest lights of the sport hammering the grid during four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, the other usual suspects, making up the top four. The Racing Gods waited to intervene until just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became a wet race–just what the Doctor ordered. Rossi’s much-needed win put 12 points between him and Lorenzo as the flying circus heads for Vale’s home crib at Misano.

2013; 2013 MotoGP; Circuit of the Americas; Dani Pedrosa; Honda; Jorge Lorenzo; Marc Marquez; Podium; Repsol; Sport Bike Race; Yamaha; Yamaha Factory Racing

The main Spanish contingent at today’s British Grand Prix got collectively rolled, as now-former world champion Marc Marquez flipped his Repsol Honda RC213V out of second place in pursuit of Rossi at Turn 1 of Lap 13. Lorenzo, who led early, gave us no reason to doubt our belief that he hates riding in the rain; having fallen as far back as sixth place by mid-race, he managed to recover sufficiently to finish fourth, going through on Dani Pedrosa late well after Marquez had left the building. With all of his damage-control modules in the red, Lorenzo managed to limit his debit to teammate Rossi today to 12 points; it could have been much worse.

That there was an all-Italian podium today is, in itself, surprising enough. That little-known Danilo Petrucci, on the Octo Pramac second string Ducati, would stand on the second step today, is a true shocker. While factory #1 Andrea Iannone was missing in action this weekend (qualified ninth, finished eighth), Petrucci put on a one-man showcase of his wet-riding skills, after having started in 18th place, slicing through the field, passing a couple of Aliens along the way, keeping Dovizioso (who secured his first podium today since Le Mans) behind him and, late in the day, putting himself in position for an attack on his friend and idol.

Rossi at ValenciaRossi, having received word from his pit board that his paisan was closing the gap, finished the race with a few fast laps to help Danilo avoid the dishonor attendant upon a third-tranche Italian rider contemplating a take-down of Valentino Rossi. Such would be comparable to elbowing Dr. Desmond Tutu out of the buffet line at a Queen’s reception.

In England, that sort of thing just isn’t done.

The Battle of Britain

With three genuine Brits and a citizen of their former penal colony in Australia in the line-up, much was on the line Jack Millerregarding post-race bragging rights. Cal Crutchlow and teammate Jack Miller were flying early in the race, while Bradley Smith and Scott Redding were lost in the sauce. Young Miller, in fact, was gaining so many place so fast that he temporarily forgot the fact of his earthbound-ness, only to be reminded of it on Lap 3 when he went hot into a slow lefthander and collected Crutchlow. The announcers subsequently speculated that Cal might administer a brief etiquette lesson to the enthusiastic Australian later in the garage.

Which left Smith and Redding to carry, figuratively, the Union Jack. For Redding, the announcement came today that he would be leaving Mark VDS Racing for a seat on the second string Octo Pramac Ducati being forcefully repossessed from Yonny Hernandez. Thus, predictably, Redding would have his best day ever in the premier class, finishing sixth after starting 7th, neatly trading places with Smith in the process. Smith was not okay with this, but at least had the pleasure of having watched teammate and rival Pol Espargaro go ragdoll on Lap 14.

On a dry day, both British riders might have entertained thoughts about fighting for the podium. Today’s rain tamped down the annoying tendency of the Ducatis, from factory to Avintia, to consume racing slicks at a maddening rate. Thus would we end up with two Desmosedicis on the podium and three in the top eight, compared to only two Hondas. We are reminded that the Ducati, in almost all of its previous iterations, has been surprisingly stable in the wet.

The Big Picture

Rossi & LorenzoMarc Marquez sealed his fate today as if it weren’t already sealed. No more conjecture about a third consecutive title. We’re left with the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamaha team. Heading into Silverstone, most people’s money was on Lorenzo, who had more wins, and more pace, than does Rossi at this stage of his season/career. The smart money overlooked Lorenzo’s glaring difficulties running in the wet, as the past two weeks were the first instances in 2015 where weather had anything to do with race day. Now, it must be acknowledged, the weather can play a huge role in how the season turns out; it may have already done so.

Is it oversimplifying things, with a third of the season left, to suggest that Lorenzo will have things his way on dry tracks and that Rossi will enjoy the advantage on wet ones? Lorenzo at Aragon, Phillip Island and Sepang? Rossi at Misano, Motegi and Valenciana? Someone on odd calendar days and the other on evens (there are four odds and two evens left.) One thing is certain—now that Rossi has a lead, however small, he is not going to give it away. Just as on the race track, he is not going to make the unforced error that would hand the season to Lorenzo. He will take what the defense gives him, make himself very difficult to pass, figuring it will be enough to take him through November. For Rossi, there will no risks, crazy or otherwise, until and unless the chips have come completely down and it’s win or bin for the season. Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t salivate at the thought of Rossi and Lorenzo heading to Round 18 tied for the championship?

Elsewhere on the Grid

Suzuki Ecstar teammates Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales finished in their customary ninth and 11th spots, but traded places, with Espargaro taking the six points. Surprisingly sandwiched in between the two Suzukis was chronic underachiever Alvaro Bautista in 10th place, tying his previous best finish of the season at Catalunya. Bautista’s teammate Stefan Bradl, who has been schooling the Spaniard since the day he arrived from Forward Racing, was gracious enough to crash out today, allowing Bautista to enjoy his top ten finish.

American Nicky Hayden enjoyed his best day since Le Mans with a respectable 12th place finish coming off the back of the seventh row. Hector Barbera, Mike de Meglio and Alex de Angelis were the last three riders to score points today.

A Quick Look Ahead

Then there is this Johann Zarco, who is busy these days trashing the Moto2 division. Today, he gradually worked himself to the front of the grid after a mediocre start, where he led pretenders Tito Rabat, Alex Rins and Alex Marquez on a merry chase for perhaps 13 laps. As things got a little tight toward the end, he casually dropped his lap time by two seconds for each of the final three laps, winning going away. Not many riders who can do that.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

Johann Zarco, leading Moto2 by 85 points, is clearly ready for MotoGP, but is MotoGP ready for him? With the grid expected to shrink to possibly 22 seats next season, and all of the good ones spoken for, would Zarco consider moving up to the premier class with a second-rate team, or would Moto2 present a better opportunity, with things expected to open up again in 2017? Rabat is taken care of for next year, being re-united with Mark VDS. Everyone else—Kent, Lowes, Zarco. Baz, de Meglio, etc., is scouring garage sales for Ouija boards, seeking answers to open-ended questions.

Or praying to The Racing Gods, who made their presence felt today, intervening on behalf of Valentino Rossi as well as Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Dorna CEO who seeks the closest of close MotoGP championship races in 2015.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

September 1, 2013

by Bruce Allen      September 1, 2013

An edited version of this story can be found at Motorcycle.com , complete with hi-rez images.

Lorenzo steals a win in Britain; Marquez extends lead 

Factory Yamaha titan Jorge Lorenzo gave a clinic in grand prix racing today in front of a huge crowd of soccer hooligans, out-racing Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez to the flag in an instant classic.  That Marquez was in the chase at all today constitutes a minor miracle after he dislocated his left shoulder in the morning warm-up practice.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa completed the all-Alien podium in a result that was more style than substance. 

Not that this wasn’t about as exciting a race as you ever get in MotoGP.  Lorenzo and the wounded rookie got away from the field at the start, while Pedrosa, who used to leave the starting line as if having been launched by an ICBM, got caught up in traffic.  Dani would join the leaders at the front several laps later, but would never advance farther than third place.  Even so, as a leather-clad spectator, he had the best view in the house of the battle between the healthy Lorenzo and the injured Marquez, racing, as it were, with one hand tied behind his back.

Prior to the start, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and even aging Yamaha legend Valentino Rossi resembled sharks smelling blood in the water.  Silverstone, it suddenly seemed, was where they could finally get a little payback for the can of whup-ass Marquez had opened on them two months ago.  Today, it was the veteran Aliens who were healthy, while the upstart had a debilitating injury.  Surely today Pedrosa and Lorenzo could gain back some serious ground in the 2013 championship.

Um, no.  Marquez, unable to lift his left arm at all after the race, began the day 26 points in front of Pedrosa and heads to Misano leading by 30.  Lorenzo shaved five points off the rookie’s lead and now trails by 39 after a largely symbolic victory at a track seemingly designed for the Yamaha M1.  The Mallorcan, usually the picture of calm class, celebrated his win in a manner befitting an NFL wide receiver dancing in the endzone after snaring a touchdown pass with his team down 30.  Such is the desperation in the factory Yamaha garage two-thirds of the way through the disastrous 2013 campaign.

That it took several amazing last-lap moves by the defending world champion to deprive the one-armed rookie from his fifth consecutive premier class win is but another sign of the apocalypse facing MotoGP.  As has been said elsewhere, MotoGP appears to be entering the two-wheeled equivalent of “The Schumacher Years” that damaged F-1 so badly.

I, for one, used to enjoy seeing Tiger Woods take on the golfing world back in the day, winning week in and week out.  Otherwise, I get nothing from watching an individual dominate his sport the way Marquez appears set to do for the next decade.  And just the thought that Marquez could suffer a career-damaging injury is enough of a karma-killer to make one lose his job, his wife, his dog and his ride, destined to spend eternity roasting in the flames of you-know-where.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Once again this week, former Alien Valentino Rossi was reduced to battling LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl and GO&FUN Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista for a hollow fourth place finish, and once again Rossi prevailed.  Bautista is probably hearing footsteps about now, as it has been announced that Scott Redding would be joining his team next season on a “production” Honda, in preparation for the Spaniard’s virtually inevitable ejaculation from the #1 seat on the Gresini team in 2015.

Announcer Nick Harris alluded to the “success-starved British fans” in attendance who, other than Roger Bannister’s breaking of the four minute mile barrier back in 1952, have had little, other than “football,” to cheer about since the RAF kicked Hitler’s Luftwaffe out of the skies in the Battle of Britain.  (Okay, Barry Sheene won a coupla motorcycle world championships back in the 70’s, before most of today’s more rabid fans were born.)

Scott Redding did come through for them in Moto2, winning a thriller over Taka Nakagami and Thomas Luthi in the warm-up to the main event.  But the two Brits on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, Cal Crutchlow and local fave Bradley Smith, endured a rough weekend.  Crutchlow went through about €400,000 worth of bikes crashing twice on Saturday and again today.  (The marshals were busy trying to scrape the remains of his bike out of the gravel in the morning when Marquez’s riderless RC213V came flying at them, narrowly avoiding yet more mayhem.)  Smith never got it going all weekend, qualifying 10th and finishing 9th after losing a spot when Ducati slogger Andrea Dovizioso, who never crashes, crashed out in front of him late in the day.

2013 top 10 after 12 rounds

In Case You Were Wondering

Anyone still reading this article knows that Marc Marquez, at 20 years of age, is re-writing the MotoGP record books.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the other three Aliens were doing at the same age.

Lorenzo turned 20 during the 2007 season, his third season in the 250cc class, during which he won his second 250cc championship for Aprilia.  He would graduate to the premier class the next year and finish 4th, second in 2009, and won his first premier class championship in 2010 at age 23.

Pedrosa was 20 during the 2006 season, his first in MotoGP after winning the 125 title in 2003 and the 250cc titles in 2004-2005, also for Aprilia.  He finished 5th during his rookie year on the big bikes and has been many times a bridesmaid, never a bride.  His entire premier class career has been spent riding Hondas.

Valentino Rossi was just out of his teens during the 1999 season, during which he won the 250cc title for Aprilia—this is starting to sound familiar—before graduating to the premier class in 2000, where he captured second place in his rookie season.  He won the next five titles to cement his legend, and took two more in 2008 and 2009, before age and Ducati Corse caught up with him.

Some Clarity Emerging for 2014

In addition to the announcement concerning Scott Redding joining the Gresini team, the Aspar team announced this week that they would contest the 2014 season on significantly upgraded Aprilia packages.  Though there has been no announcement concerning riders, speculation in the paddock has current Aspar rider Aleix Espargaro defecting to the NGM Forward Racing team next season, where he will compete on a gently used and lovingly re-conditioned Yamaha M1 with the “slow” software, 24 liters of fuel, and plenty of engines to last the season.  Apparently, he will join Colin Edwards, whose services are, for whatever reason, being retained for yet another year. All of this seems only fair, since Aleix’s brother Pol, getting promoted from Moto2, will be riding a satellite Yamaha on the Monster Tech 3 team alongside Bradley Smith.

For the benefit of the last few of you still with us, Hectic Hector Barbera continues working his way down the food chain, and is alleged to be heading to World Superbikes next season.  As Misano approaches in two weeks, the silly season drags on.  With Marc Marquez expected to be at full strength, the onslaught at the front looks likely to resume on the Adriatic Riviera.  We’ll be there, praying that The Schumacher Years aren’t descending upon MotoGP.

MotoGP Silverstone 2013 Preview

August 27, 2013

by Bruce Allen

An edited version of this story, complete with hi-rez images, will post on Motorcycle.com on, like, Thursday.  Until then, enjoy the raw copy.

Can anyone, other than Marquez, stop Marquez? 

As Round 12 of the 2013 MotoGP season looms, it becomes easier and  easier to imagine the unimaginable—a rookie winning the premier class  title.  Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez continues to defy expectations  with the composure and confidence of a seasoned veteran.  Back in 1971,  French humanist Rene Dubos observed, “Trend is not destiny,” but this  Spanish rider may be the exception to the rule. 

Captain America - 2013Sportswriters and bloggers love to engage in hypotheticals—if this hadn’t  happened, if so-and-so were thus and such—and the conversation  surrounding Marquez is full of this gibberish.  If Lorenzo hadn’t crashed twice  in two weeks…If Pedrosa hadn’t fallen in Germany…If Marquez hadn’t crashed at Mugello… (this last one is my own work, sorry to say.)  But here we are, in the midst of a minor miracle.  Let’s take a short look back at how we’ve arrived at this point. 

The 2013 season had been running per expectations through Round 6 at Catalunya.  Repsol Honda star Dani Pedrosa and factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo were slugging it out at the top, while Marquez was serving his apprenticeship, sitting in third place, with 5 podiums, a win, and a rookie crash out of the lead in Italy.  At that time he trailed Pedrosa by 23 and Lorenzo by 14.  Pretty much as expected.  However, at Assen, things changed.

Lorenzo crashed on Friday, had surgery, returned, and ran a gutty 5th on a day he probably should have been in the hospital.  Marquez finished second to Rossi, who gave us a fleeting glimpse of his classic form.  Pedrosa struggled to a 4th place finish.  Marquez picked up seven points on Pedrosa and nine on Lorenzo.

At the Sachsenring, the wheels came off, so to speak, for the two favorites, as both Pedrosa and Lorenzo crashed heavily in practice.  Both would miss the race, which Marquez won, the beginning of his current four race win streak.  That day, Marquez went from 23 down to Pedrosa to two up.  As MotoGP’s summer break approached, Lorenzo and Pedrosa entered rehab, and Marquez entered the ionosphere.

Winning at Laguna took his margin over Pedrosa to 16.  A third consecutive win at Indianapolis ran the lead to 22.  Sunday’s victory at Brno stretched it to 26.  As any rider who has won a championship will tell you, having a margin of more than 25 points over your closest challenger relieves a great deal of pressure.  It means that even in a perfect storm, one in which you go ragdoll and your rival wins, you will still be in the frame.  It provides a margin for error, a psychological pressure-relief valve.

Assume Marquez crashes out this week at Silverstone.  So what?  He will still be leading a series few expected him to win at the beginning of the season.  He will still have at least three very friendly tracks in his future—Sepang, Motegi and Valenciana.  Unless he gets hurt in a significant way he will still be in the mix.  His confidence is off the charts.  His rivals are spooked.  He will retain the inside track to the title.  And if he wins, or podiums, at Silverstone, well…

Marquez now enjoys not only the lead, but the freedom to relax and focus on the process of becoming a premier class champion, rather than individual outcomes.  At this point, the specific result of each round is less important than continuing up the learning curve, as he was doing early in the season.  He doesn’t need to run the table.  He can’t allow Pedrosa to finish 2013 the way he did 2012, with six wins in eight rounds.  But Pedrosa is still not 100% physically, and his spirit is wounded, too.  He is in an inferior position compared to this time last year.

With 8 rounds left in 2012, Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by 23 points.  Even winning six of the last eight, he ultimately lost to the Mallorcan by 18.  At this point in 2013, both Pedrosa and Lorenzo are pressing, while Marquez is chilling.  It seems unlikely there will be a great deal of change at the top of the standings for the remainder of the season.  But a word of caution is in order.  At this point in 2011, it looked like Marco Simoncelli was going to be the next great MotoGP rider.  Trend, after all, is not destiny.

Recent History at Silverstone

The British Grand Prix moved from dowdy Donington Park to sleek Silverstone in 2010, with major renovations at the Northampton circuit continuing into 2011.  The 2010 race featured a master class victory by Jorge Lorenzo on the way to his first world championship that fall.

Repsol Honda pilot Andrea Dovizioso, who had won his first and only premier class race at the 2009 event, finished a gratifying second on his Repsol Honda, with then rookie Monster Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Ben Spies “pipping” compatriot Nicky Hayden at the flag for his first premier class podium.  2010 was the year Ducati flagbearer Casey Stoner qualified sixth and went through the first turn of Lap One in, like, last place, only to fight his way back to a 5th place finish at the flag, his teeth by then having been ground down to the gum line.

2011 was a head-scratcher, as Casey Stoner drove his Repsol Honda to a convincing rain-soaked win on his way to his second title that fall.  Once again, Dovizioso claimed second place for Honda and established himself as a “mudder.”  The surprise of the day involved American Colin Edwards, who had fractured his collarbone the previous week at Le Mans.  Riding the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha on a day he should have been resting in bed, the Texan managed his only podium of the year, likely the last of his career.

It should be noted that Edwards’ remarkable day took place with Pedrosa and homeboy Cal Crutchlow out with injuries, while Lorenzo, Spies and Simoncelli crashed out.  Another way of characterizing Edwards’ 2011 British GP would be to say he finished in front of nine riders.  (This year, that would put him somewhere around 15th place.)  The Texas Tornado would rightly insist that a podium finish is a podium finish.

The British Invasion

No, it’s not The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks.  It’s Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding, all furiously playing the “home race” card.  Crutchlow and Smith crashed out of the points last week at Brno, putting a bit of a damper on their prospects heading home for the weekend.  Redding, leading the Moto2 series and ticketed for MotoGP next year, struggled in the Czech Republic too, finishing eighth while teammate Mika Kallio won for the first time in his Moto2 career.  The stands are likely to be packed this weekend, and the weather forecast is surprisingly nice, with cool clear conditions forecast for all three days. 

All this homecoming stuff is, of course, a sideshow.  The main event will be amongst the heavyweights at the front.  For Jorge Lorenzo, as the Brits say, it’s win or bin.  On the Repsol Honda team, it will be High Anxiety vs. The Boy Wonder and his sidekick, Mo Mentum.  If you’re a betting person, you gotta go with the double-team.