Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP: Catalunya Off, Season in Peril

April 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya announced today that the MotoGP race scheduled for the weekend of June 7 will be postponed. This, then, pretty much seals it for Mugello, which is scheduled for May 31st, in the heart of coronaland in northern Italy, which is absurd. Which then leaves, as things now stand, a season-opener in the friendly confines of The Sachsenring in eastern Germany on June 21st.

As if.

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At first one thinks, “Well, they’ll jump someone into the 5/31 and 6/7 slots, take a week off and then proceed to Germany and Assen for a Round 4.” But here’s the problem with that thinking. That’s Old Thinking, when big crowds in confined spaces were to be desired. To think that some venue somewhere, anywhere, today, is going to invite a MotoGP weekend while the virus rages at numerous places in the world–that they would jump the line for the privilege of doing so–is Old Thinking.

New Thinking recognizes that the 2020 season is not going to happen. If, by October or November, the Powers That Be stage a few “friendlies,” testing sessions with prizes awarded, with a handful of locations and fans chosen by lottery or antibodies, that would likely be it. No records would be kept of the competition. The results from Qatar in March for Moto2 and Moto3 would be entered in the record books but would not be recognized as actual 2020 championships. They would be race results and nothing more.

Personally, I don’t believe any of this is going to happen. No country with sane leadership would allow such a thing to happen. Poor Finland, who tried so hard to have their shiny new track ready for a race weekend in July, is going to have to keep the track afloat for a year or so while the long-term nature of these viruses is discerned.

Screenshot (123)My worry is, as one of the doctors discussing the issue said recently, that coronavirus becomes, until an effective vaccine is developed, tested, and given to seven billion people, a seasonal virus, like the flu, but that kills a lot more people. It would mean that ‘social distancing’ would become somewhat built-in to American/global living, waiting for development and distribution of an elusive vaccine. Which might or might not be effective against your particular strain of the virus, of which there are many.

Ergo, it appears that the 2020 MotoGP season is toast. This raises a number of questions for riders. It was looking like Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi would trade Yamahas in 2021, with the Frenchman moving up and the legend moving down. We here thought that was a ridiculous idea, even if Vale had been able to complete his victory lap on the factory bike in 2020, blowing kisses to the fans amidst clouds of day-glo yellow smoke. Without the victory lap, it sounds like Rossi still wants a final season on the factory bike.

What kind of problems, one wonders, does that cause for young Fabio, who seems determined to be The Next Great Rider. Beyond the Yamaha guys, there are questions about the status of premier class contracts across the board, excluding Marquez, since all but one were, in 2020, the second year of two-year deals, with a bevy of theoretical riders hitting the market for the 21-22 seasons. Marquez has signed with Repsol Honda/ HRC until forever. Which means he got to spend this year working on his shoulder and his tan, playing video games, and making €16 or 20 million along the way.

It’s good to be the king

If coronavirus does, in fact, become a seasonal thing, coming back year after year, live Catalunya2 sporting events would appear to be something of the past. The notion of a world without sports, without concerts, without festivals, even conventions–you get the picture–is unsettling, to say the least. MotoGP would likely become just another relic of the good old days, of Sundays at legendary places like Mugello, with 100,000 drunk Italians yelling for Rossi, riders making moves in the slipstream, the noise incredible, the tension almost physical.

If this is it, this was good stuff.

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

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This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

IMS ownership may be wondering: Could the MotoGP paddock return to the once-majestic, currently-owned-by-Roger-Penske old lady, who’s received more layers of paint over the past century than you’ve had birthdays?

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

Although the seating capacity is unreal–250,000–the layout itself is dull, narrow, flat and slow. If COTA goes down for the count, IMS could get the 2021 race by default. TV-wise, NBC, currently suffering a severe case of buyer’s remorse, will have a hard time making it look full unless Penske does the right thing and let all comers in for free on Saturday, which will bump sales on Sunday, given the hair-raising capacity of the bikes and riders.

Saturday gives neophytes FP3 and FP4, Q1 and Q2 in all three classes. Bikes, as many know, are on the track all day, doing ridiculous stuff. For people with some racing in their blood it is a brand new world. It’s better now than it was back when it was held here annually. Penske knows a thing or two about racing and marketing, and should be able to get 100,000 paying fans in on Sunday. It could happen. It could also be a first step toward bigger things here for MotoGP, if there’s not a Hurricane Ike, the way there was in its initial 2008 visit.

Just not this year. If, for some reason, MotoGP came to Indianapolis in, say, October, presuming the flyaway will be cancelled, getting the place ready and improvements made would be a slapdash affair, unlikely to spur attendance. Maybe it would work out. If it could be worked out, Penske is the guy to get her done. But fans in the American midwest, including the writer, are hoping it returns to the Motor Speedway next year.

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MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.

2019 MotoGP Team Projections

December 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

This is the 2019 season preview, penned in February 2019. I thought it was worth re-posting, if only to get a laugh at #8.

Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

Annotation 2019-12-15 064414

Other than the amazing results from the satellite Yamaha team, we had this pretty well worked out. I reversed the bottom two teams, for which I shall forgive myself. Otherwise, not bad for a guy scratching his head in his kitchen.

Comings and Goings

November 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen

With all the changes in riders, teams and divisions, we need a program to ID the players. We had just digested the Alex Marquez-to-Repsol Honda thing and the expected back-filling at Moto2 Marc VDS by some 22 year-old Spanish rider, in this case one Augusto Fernandez. Avintia Ducati then went out and cut an improved third-place  deal with Ducati going forward, addressing the general perception that they were something of a stepchild when it came to MotoGP teams.

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Avintia were officially prepared to head into 2020 with Karel Abraham and his Czech money and Tito Rabat, his virgin MotoGP potential intact after his Moto2 title years ago. Suddenly, Abraham “got quit” by management, despite a contract for 2020 he apparently intended to fulfill. Sounds like a buyout to me. And instead of naming vagabond Johann Zarco to ride alongside Rabat, they assign the upcoming Jerez test to a rider who just finished third in the e-racing season for Ducati, a guy I never heard of named Eric Granado, who is under contract in the e-division for 2020. So they’re working out the deal for Zarco’s one-year contract on a bike he is unlikely to be able to ride with any success, lacking the edge grip of the Yamaha upon which he was a rising star.

Disorder is the name of the game during these short days and long nights. What started out as a dull silly season has suddenly become dilly dilly due to the big names involved–Lorenzo, Alex, Lecuona, Binder, Abraham, etc. The musical chairs in Moto2 which are beyond my ability to distill. And the usual rat-race in Moto3. Someone somewhere is likely providing outstanding coverage of the off-season events taking place lower on the food chain.

As for Zarco, he appears to be giving a reprise of the career clinic recently concluded by Lorenzo. It has been said he’s not as good as he thinks he is, that his bright intro on a highly ride-able Yamaha in 2017 and 2018 had more to do with the bike than the rider, other than they were well-matched. This, in turn, reminds me of a British admiral in a Bernard Cornwell novel who, at war with the French in the 1800’s, was admiring their warships and remarked how they reminded him of their women–“beautiful, and under-manned.” Zarco, who looked like a prospective Sub-Alien in 2017, is now scuffling and scrambling to remain relevant in the premier class.

The disorder Zarco appears to share with Jorge Lorenzo–the sin of pride–would explain much of what has been going on with him since he left Tech 3 after the 2018 season for the greener pastures and bright future at KTM. This grade of mistake alters the career trajectory for a rider, as has been the case with Zarco, Lorenzo and Rossi before him. But rare is the Dani Pedrosa who stays with one team for a dozen years. It speaks to the relationship HRC and the Marquez coterie have that they can continue to sign progressively more expensive two-year contracts with no public drama or angst. Which gives a little credit to the thesis that Marc Marquez is not a complete jerk, one I share.

Whatever. Life goes on, as they say, in the yachting class.,

Final Track Records 2019

November 20, 2019

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MotoGP Valencia Results

November 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain falls on an eventful 2019 

16-year old Sergio Garcia won his first grand prix race in Moto3, becoming the 12th rider in 19 rounds to stand on the top step. Brad Binder won again in Moto2, showing the world he’s ready for MotoGP. And Marc Marquez won yet again, clinching the triple crown—rider, team and manufacturer—for his brothers on the Repsol Honda team. Now, it’s 2020. If you believe what you hear, the team may feature an additional brother starting this week. 

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Lorenzo’s sudden retirement has tossed a spanner into the “who will be working where in 2020?” mechanism, which had appeared to have been sorted. Too many rumors to try to process, so I’ll ignore them and put some stuff on the blog until the picture becomes clear. My only thought of any consequence is that I bet HRC wishes they could get Brad Binder rather than Alex Marquez, if they decide not to go with Zarco. Plenty of food for thought. 

Practice and Qualifying 

As has become customary in the premier class, Yamahas owned Friday. FP1 was cold, and FP2 cool. Times were slow. Quartararo and Vinales topped the sheet with Morbidelli sitting in P5 and your boy Rossi, having crashed twice, loafing in P14. He would get somewhat more serious on Saturday.

FP3 saw ten riders in the 1:30’s, as track temps began to rise. Joan Mir joined mostly usual suspects passing straight into Q2, including Rossi. Rins and Pol Espargaro graduated from Q1 into Q2. After a somewhat uneventful Q2 it was Quartararo, Marquez and Miller on Row 1 and Vinales, Morbidelli and Dovizioso making up Row 2. Lorenzo’s all-time track record from 2016 remained sentimentally in place. Rossi made a hash of Q2 and would start Sunday from P12.

All KTM front row in Moto3 for Sunday, with Dalla Porta swinging from P7. In Moto2, it was Jorge Navarro on pole, up-and-coming Jorge Martin in the middle, and MV Augusta pilot Stefano Manzi third, titleist Alex Marquez putzing around in P15.

The Races 

Moto3 was a demolition derby that started with Aron Canet’s KTM depositing oil on Turns 5 and 6 and ended, later than scheduled, with Dennis Foggia in the hospital and 11 other riders hitting the deck, some for the duration. No word as this goes to press on Foggia’s condition, other than he was conscious on the track. Two 16-year olds, Sergio Garcia and Xavier Artigas, ended the day on the podium along with veteran Andrea Migno. The world awaits word on the condition of Foggia on a bad day for KTM.

The Moto2 race was proof that KTM promoted the right rider, as Brad Binder ended his Moto2 career with three straight wins, coming within three points of taking the 2019 title himself. Dude can ride a motorcycle. The Great South African Hope was joined on the podium by good ol’ Tom Luthi and Jorge Navarro, with MV Augusta hopeful Stefano Manzi coming this close to giving MV their first podium appearance since, ahem, 1961.

The MotoGP race was mostly dull—I know, right? —with Marquez seizing both the win and the team championship/triple crown. He was pursued to the line, after Lap 8, by Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller. Johann Zarco crashed out and, moments later, did another of his famed backflips, this time due to his having been submarined by a riderless KTM RC16 formerly occupied by Iker Lecuona. Somehow, both of Zarco’s legs weren’t broken, and he was seen afterwards sitting in the garage chatting with his crew, apparently no worse for wear. Fabio deservedly won the top independent rider and Rookie of the Year awards and has been promised a factory spec M1 starting during Tuesday’s Valencia test.

2019

This year, as in many others, we (me and the voices in my head) cut a few corners to come up with a quote or saying that endeavors to capture the essence of an entire season of grand prix motorcycle racing, a fool’s errand if ever there were. Was. This year, however, the premier class season seemed like a replay, like we can now take Marc Marquez’ brilliance for granted. Six titles in seven campaigns. Ho hum.

For me, the story was the fall of Jorge Lorenzo. King of the World in 2015, done and dusted in 2019. The memorable, for some, line from the song “Bright Eyes” by Mike Batt goes like this:

“How can the light that burned so brightly

suddenly burn so pale?”

My 2008 image is that of a 4th of July sparkler, so abrupt and dazzling at its ignition that it hurts the eyes before quickly going orange to gray to black. Lorenzo came up from the 250cc class and had the batteries to stick out his jaw at Valentino Fricking Rossi, one of the brightest stars in the firmament of MotoGP history, at the peak of his formidable powers. The competitive friction between the two forced the building of a temporary wall in the garage at each race venue. Lorenzo, lightning quick at 21 years old, spent two seasons sailing over handlebars as Rossi’s unwilling protégé before seizing his first premier class title in 2010. Stoner beat him in 2011, but he won again in 2012. Marquez arrived like a fireball in 2013, but Lorenzo took advantage of a bad RC213V to win again, at age 28, in 2015.

He retired, scarred, battered and humbled, today. And that was that. Three premier class championships in six years. Today, 32 years old and crashing out on the back side of the apex of his career.

Lorenzo’s story illustrates how pride, of all the capital sins, is the root for the other six. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about Yamaha’s apparent favoring of Rossi in bike development matters. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about the whole Rossi merchandising and money machine, such that it drove him to switch teams and defect to Ducati for the 2017 season, to team up with Andrea Dovizioso. It was Lorenzo’s pride, in wanting to teach Rossi and Yamaha a lesson, that led to his professional demise today.

It was so important to Jorge Lorenzo that he be #1 that he would give a three-year clinic on how to fold a generally stellar career. Alien-grade career. His leap to Ducati in 2017 was a grievous error. The subsequent switch to Honda this year was irretrievable.

Had he not come up against perhaps the greatest rider of all time in 2013 he would likely have won a few more titles. My late mother used to insist that timing is the essence of success; it was Lorenzo’s bad luck to come up against Marc Marquez the same way it was Rossi’s bad luck to come up against Lorenzo. It is worse for Lorenzo because he was younger when it occurred.

Like him or not, we should be grateful for the memories he gave us as an Alien in MotoGP. He showed some class in knowing when it was time to walk away. No hard feelings, Jorge. As the Irish say,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Exodus of the Aliens 

By this time next year, three of the original Aliens—Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—will have left the building. Under the reign of Honda ruler Marc Marquez the battle for #2 in the world will feature some new faces. Who will be the new Aliens?

The reality of The Marquez Era dictates that we adjust the format of the tranche “system” of rider rankings, as follows:

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Jack Miller, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

After Valencia:

Alien:                    Marc Marquez

Sub-Aliens:          Dovizioso, Vinales, Quartararo, Miller

Tranche 2:           Rossi, Petrucci, Rins, Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3:           Crutchlow, Mir, Oliveira, Zarco

Tranche 4:           Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, Kallio, Iannone

Tranche 5:           Lorenzo, Abraham, Rabat, Syahrin, (Nakagami)

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Until Next Year

MO and I have agreed to try this all over again next year. I’m pretty sure the reason they keep me around is all the quality comments we’re able to kick off on DISQUS by being highly opinionated, reasonably articulate, and semi-informed. Moreover, the discussions are generally smart and respectful, rising above the usual BS found in online forums. Thus, it is you, the reader, that I thank for the success of this side hustle that puts me well into four figures annually of which I give the IRS roughly half.

Good thing I’m not doing this for the money. My deal with Evans is that Dennis is not allowed to edit the race previews, no matter how libelous they may be. So what this gig does not provide in remuneration it provides in private laughs. And it’s true for all the real writers at MO who are being asked to do more for less each year, the squeeze of the domestic motorcycle market being felt in many places. My only gripe is that they don’t take me to Italy with them for EICMA and a little comic relief. I could fetch their espressos for them.

I will try to interject some thoughts during the off-season at Late Braking MotoGP. I say this every year and rarely come through. With the late season drama at Repsol Honda there may be some news for a few more weeks. Otherwise, it continues to be a gas being the MotoGP Correspondent at Motorcycle.com. Maybe next year they’ll make me the MotoGP Editor. And send me a hat or something.

Again this year, thanks to our loyal readers and erstwhile commenters. You are the bomb.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Sepang Results

November 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Alex Marquez sheds monkey, wins Moto2 title 

It’s all over but the shouting for grand prix motorcycle racing in 2019. With Alex Marquez seizing the day in Moto2 from the second step of the podium, all three titles are now settled. Round 19 in Valencia will be largely window dressing, a fashion show, a curtain call for some riders and a resume-builder for others. 

Today’s races, as actively announced as any all year, Matt and Steve occasionally yelling their lungs out, were mostly pseudo-suspenseful. Sure, there was some action worth the price of admission, especially in Moto3, but both Moto2 and MotoGP were high-speed parades. This late in the season, most fans are seeking entropy, disorder, a shaking up of the usual order of things. With the exception of the cluster on Lap 7 of the Moto3 race, things proceeded in a painfully orderly fashion. 

Before we get too far into it, lost in the sauce of Phillip Island (read: overlooked by the writer) last week were several indications that the members of the highly touted 2019 rookie class not named Quartararo are starting to get things hooked up. Pecco Bagnaia missed his first podium by 5/100ths, and Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to a season best P5. They’re coming. Miguel Oliveira, despite being consigned to the KTM satellite team again next year, appears to be the real deal. These four guys will stir things up in 2020 and complicate contract considerations for all of the teams heading into 2021.

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“Dude, where’s my bike?”

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Practice and Qualifying

The grid would be missing two riders this weekend. Tito Rabat was DNS with injuries from Aragon. Oliveira gave it a go in FP1 and subsequently declared himself out with injuries inflicted during practice last week. Rabat’s team went out of its way to issue a release stating with utter confidence their belief that Tito will heal completely by the time Valencia rolls around and will be there fighting for the podium in front of his Spanish compatriots. Of course he will.

Dani Pedrosa’s lap record from 2015 was shattered over and over again, starting Friday with Fabio Quartararo in FP2, when he broke the previous record, set by himself in FP1. Fabio was in a different world on Friday. Kind of the way Marquez is on Sundays. Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi were hanging around in the top five, but Sepang on Friday was all Fabio and The Chasers. Marquez was loafing in sixth after FP2, having completed 18 laps all day compared to Mir’s 34. With Marquez joining The Chasers, the rest of the lambs included Miller, Bagnaia, Rins and our boy Johann Zarco who, passing directly to Q2 in P10, is busy proving that, as hard as it is to ride the Honda, it’s not as hard as riding the KTM.

The main combatants in Q1 included Crutchlow, Petrucci, Mir and Aleix. When the dust cleared, Cal ruined everyone’s day with the fastest lastest lap of the session, keeping Mir and Espargaro on the outside looking in. The end of Q2 saw Marquez get his just desserts after spending the entire session dogging Fabio, getting under his skin. His “cheeky” behavior was rewarded by a cosmic highside late in the session, putting him in P11 on Sunday.

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Marquez losing it in Q2.

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That’s going to leave a mark.

Subsequently, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales and, finally, young Fabio himself broke the all-time track record, putting three Yamahas on the front row, two of them from the new Petronas team, punching well above its weight. Miller, Crutchlow and Rossi made up Row 2. And Johann Zarco put his RC213V in P9 for Sunday, on just his second date with the Honda. Quartararo etches his name yet again on the list of all-time track records.

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In the not-dead-yet Moto2 contest, series leader Alex Marquez took pole, joined on the front row by Tetsuma Nagashima and Brad Binder. Xavi Vierge, contender Tom Luthi and rookie Jorge Martin would start from Row 2. The top 12 qualifiers were in the 2:05’s, tighter than a nun’s knees. In Moto3, Marcos Ramirez seized pole and bragging rights, joined on the front by Aron Canet and Albert Arenas. Row 2 would feature John McPhee, Kaito Toba and champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta, who could easily adopt a “win or bin” attitude on Sunday.

The Races 

The Moto3 race was proceeding swimmingly until Lap 6, when Gabriel Rodrigo, fighting for the lead with Tatsuki Suzuki and Marcos Ramirez, initiated an appalling high side in the middle of everyone, taking Suzuki with him and running Ramirez into the grass for 200 yards, dropping him from third to 12th. Alonso Lopez, minding his own business in sixth place, caught something out of the corner of his eye moments before finding an expensive 250cc racing motorcycle lying on the asphalt directly in front of him, with which he collided, sending bike and rider skyward and causing him to land ¾ on his shoulder an ¼ on his head, with a big dent in his left foot for good measure.

Aside from champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta winning the race, it needs to be pointed out that three of the main contestants included Jaume Masia (age 19), Celestino Vietti (18) and second place finisher Sergio Garcia, winning his first podium for the Estella Galicia team at the tender age of 16 years.

Moto2 was all Brad Binder, Alex Marquez and Tom Luthi all day. Binder led most of the way, looking great, but there was very little action to speak of. For Luthi and Binder, short of assaulting Marquez on track with a tire iron, all they could do was to go as fast as possible. Winning the podium battle on a day like today is awesome unless one is knowingly, simultaneously losing the war. Kind of like a big old kiss from one’s sister.

MotoGP, which had been billed as a possible Petronas Yamaha clambake, didn’t turn out as expected. The podium of Vinales, Marquez and Dovizioso was a bit of a letdown. A bigger letdown was watching Valentino Rossi dog Andrea Dovizioso for a full 14 laps without ever finding a way through onto his first podium in 14 rounds. In the olden days Rossi would have found a way around his power disadvantage and de-pantsed a Dovizioso in his sleep. That day has now passed. Morbidelli and Quartararo finished the day sixth and seventh, respectively.

The Suzuki factory boys of Alex Rins and Joan Mir were feeling fractious today. Rins banged into Jack Miller on Lap 7 and lost one of his aero fins, while Miller appeared to have small pieces of his bike falling off for the rest of the day. Later, on Lap 18, Mir hip-checked Johann Zarco out of eighth place and onto the deck, having to take a long-lap penalty afterward that cost him a spot or two. Zarco has been solid on the Honda after a quick handshake and two chaperoned dates. Good for him.

Penultimate Tranches 

After Phillip Island:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco 

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

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Jack Miller, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

Season Finale in Valencia

Two weeks until we button things up for the year. I confess to not being terribly interested in the desperate struggles taking place down in the food chain, i.e., which riders are locked in a knife fight for ninth place in Moto2. But the show will go on. We can look forward to the pleasure of seeing some new faces in new places over the winter and next spring. And we here at MO will be beavering away on finding the perfect quote to capture the essence of the season. And if we can’t find one we like, we’ll just make one up.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Brolly Girl of the Year

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Fabio got himself an upgrade this weekend.

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MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Moto2: The last good time in town 

Approaching Round 18, MotoGP and Moto3 have been decided. All that remains is for series leader and younger brother Alex Marquez to seize the 2019 Moto2 championship by the lapels and assert his heritage. He is a Marquez and he is overdue. He needs to put his boot on the throat of the title chase and clinch in Malaysia. Above all, he must avoid some kind of dogfight in Valencia, an opportunity to choke away a title and a budding career. Otherwise he gets stuck with the “little brother that couldn’t” label the rest of his life.

Alex Marquez

I doubt many people would have picked Alex to take the 2019 title back in February. He was, at that time, a classic underachiever in four well-funded seasons in Moto2 after a title in Moto3 in 2014. But by mid-season this year it looked like he couldn’t miss. Since the summer break he has, so to speak, come back to the field, such that Tom Luthi and Brad Binder are still mathematically in it.

By agreeing to stay in Moto2 for 2020 at a time it was assumed he would win the title, he essentially committed to winning two titles—2019, which was considered in the bag, and then 2020, giving him the pick of factory teams for a 2021-22 contract. But he needs 2019, since the 21-22 contracts will be getting signed in 2020 before the season ends. Even if he ends up winning in 2020 his bargaining position won’t be nearly as strong if he fails to secure the 2019 title.

Marquez does not want this to come down to a dogfight in Valencia. Does not. A podium in Malaysia would pretty much decide things. But his record here over four years stinks—two P7 and two DNF—so that seems unlikely. Whatever, he needs to find a way to clinch in Asia. 

Recent History in Malaysia 

“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.” In a decade writing about this stuff, this was one of my favorite sentences. Sorry, where was I? Right, recent history.

The 2016 joust 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 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.  Dovi was joined on the podium by the soon-to-be-a-memory factory Yamaha team of Butch and Sundance–Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall 2017, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, on the heels of a debacle in Australia, 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 with Marquez off the podium, Dovi ensured that the 2017 title would be formally decided two weeks later in Valencia. In the end the Spaniard’s lead was too big, and the championship ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the 2017 race, ignoring the importance of Dovi winning. At or near the last turn, Lorenzo did have the decency to run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” Good thing he doesn’t think he’s from Crete.

Last year: For the first 16 laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to those days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls with Jordan. We were brought hurtling back to earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, his unforced error, crashing out of the lead no less, handing the win to that trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the podium celebration, but it kind of felt like the end of an era. For me, anyway.

Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.

News You Can Use

A bit of a re-shuffling of the deck from the original announcement from KTM re next year’s riders in the premier class. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original announcement from KTM have Lecuona moving up to the factory team with Espargaro? This being because Herve Poncharal originally didn’t want the factory team (after Zarco bailed) poaching Miguel Oliveira, whose future with KTM is as bright as anyone’s, if you catch my meaning. Now, it appears, all has been reconsidered. Brad Binder will join Espargaro on the factory team, with a snubbed Oliveira, feeling passed over, and Lecuona manning the Tech 3 team.

I think it was a mistake not to promote Oliveira knowing he felt, with some justification, that he had earned promotion in front of both rookies. I think Oliveira could ride the wheels off a Honda RC213V or a Ducati Desmosedici. I think having his feelings bruised could motivate him to look elsewhere for an opportunity to show the Austrians his skills. As for KTM, them Binder brothers seem pretty badass, Darryn in Moto3 the latest iteration of the young Marco Simoncelli, a hazard to himself and those around him. But fast. And big brother Brad now a real GP’er. Salad days and pure mental exhaustion for the Binder family.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for race weekend is hilarious if you’ve ever been to this part of Asia. Walking outside, day or night, is like being in a humidified walk-in oven. Thunderstorms boil up in the afternoon and give everything a thorough rinsing, after which the sun returns, temps rise again, flat surfaces steam, the tropical sauna in full effect. Which is exactly the forecast for all three days. At night I have seen full-grown men being carried off by the mosquitoes. Insane.

I’m thinking flag-to-flag, wondering if Alex Marquez has the stones to disregard the weather, play smart and win from the top step. There was the 2016 season in which Marc Marquez won the title and finished second to Lorenzo at Valencia. Jorge’s podium celebration, fist pump, jump, etc., was too much, while Marquez kind of stood next to him, beaming. Winning the champion’s trophy from the top step is the bomb.

Flag-to-flag affairs in the MotoGP and Moto3 divisions will be impossible to predict. One thing is relatively certain. Marc Marquez has decided to beat the single season record of 383 points set by Lorenzo on the Yamaha in 2010. With 375 points in hand and two rounds left, that looks pretty doable. Is it a good reason to watch the MotoGP race? What about the Moto3 race? I’m going to be up anyway, might as well watch. I find that when I have to take notes for three races I tend to miss stuff—Rossi leading early in Australia a good example—and it’s a busy time of year. I expect readers to continue to correct my numerous errors and oversights. It’s okay. I’m insured.

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No fake news around here. We shall return on Sunday with results and analysis.


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