Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen     September 17, 2018

Simple: Dovi Must Run the Table 

Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly-unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third. 

I have given this last statement a bit of thought. Finishing second is vastly different in the sports of motorcycle racing and, say, boxing. Finishing second for the year in MotoGP is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just more forgettable. Unless, of course, it’s decided at Valencia. Not this year.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2015, Lorenzo put on an M1 clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result for what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card. Looking back on it, this was the year Rossi’s fans learned to loathe #93, allegedly blocking for his countryman, later in the season. Much the same might have been said about Pedrosa here.

In 2016, Repsol’s suddenly-cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder gathered momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Marquez and Petrucci at Misano 2017

Petrucci and Marquez, Aragon 2017

History Aside, Here We Are

As fall approaches in the U.S., where virtually no one reads this, the 2018 MotoGP championship chase hangs by a thread. The top chaser, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, conceded the season to Marquez publicly last week; possibly playing head games, probably not. The rest of the contenders—Rossi, Vinales, Lorenzo—are either too inconsistent, too over-the-hill, or too under-horsed to mount any kind of a real challenge this year. Even in the unthinkable case that Marquez would allow himself to crash out of two of the remaining six rounds, that would only put things back in play for maybe one of the three. And it would be a long row to hoe from there.

As our British friends observe, there are 150 points “on offer” in the last six rounds of 2018. Marquez, again, AOBFO, has 67 points “in his pocket” and probably holds every tie-breaker known to man. Which translates, roughly, to one of the three main chasers winning, like, five of the last six races (!!!) while Marquez goes all Aleix Espargaro and fails to podium once for the remainder of the year. This, then, is what one finds when looking up the term “unlikely” in one’s online dictionary.

 MotoGP

TRACK RECORDS: RIDER, YEAR AND MANUFACTURER AFTER 13 ROUNDS 

LOSAIL                    2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RIO HONDA[1]        2014           Marc Marquez               Honda 

COTA[2]                   2015           Marc Marquez                Honda 

JEREZ                      2018          Cal Crutchlow               Honda 

LE MANS                2018           Johann Zarco                Yamaha 

MUGELLO             2018           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

CATALUNYA         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                Ducati 

ASSEN                     2015           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

SACHSENRING     2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

BRNO                       2016           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RED BULL RING   2016           Andrea Iannone            Ducati 

SILVERSTONE[3]  2017           Marc Marquez                Honda         

MISANO M.S.         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                 Ducati

ARAGON                  2015            Marc Marquez                   Honda

CHANG                    2018

MOTEGI                   2015            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

PHILLIP ISLAND     2013            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

SEPANG I.C.              2015            Dani Pedrosa                   Honda

RICARDO TORMO   2016            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

[1] Weather

[2] Track conditions poor

[3] 2018 race cancelled

Ten eligible rounds this year—dry races on suitable surfaces—with seven new all-time records. 70 percent, year-to-date, with Buriram, by definition, in the W column. With  the highly-criticized Michelins and common control ECU. The remaining records this year are not terribly recent, with Marquez’ at Phillip Island recorded in 2013 when he was a rookie. Lorenzo’s records late in the season are impressive and endangered. He is also the only rider to record track records on different bikes. Also impressive. Not endangered. Investigative journalism like this is why MO pays me the big bucks. I know you were wondering.

Here’s what I’m wondering, wishing I had access to MotoGP historical numbers I could manipulate to back up my otherwise-baseless assertions. I think the big deal about winning pole is vastly overrated, should be and is treated like its own little “mini-accomplishment,” on jelly-soft tires with no gas for one lap, torpedoes be damned. Win a big tricked-out BMW. I suspect qualifying on the front row doesn’t significantly hurt one’s chances of winning the race compared to winning pole. Just sayin’ qualifying on the front row should be the emphasis. Not pole. Pole is mostly a notch on a bedpost. Other than in places like Misano, where it is a curse; no winner from pole in nine years.

Wondering about the correlation between winning pole and winning the race. About winning the pole and securing the podium. About the correlation between qualifying second and finishing first or second. About the correlation between qualifying third and finishing on the podium. Someone with better abilities to manage data from online sources please do the math over the past 20 years and provide the analysis in the COMMENTS section below. Some poor guy in, like, Bali is holding his breath.

Track records are, in my opinion, a big deal. The vast majority are pole laps. To the extent that winning pole produces a new track record, I’m down. Otherwise, it’s just a big Beamer. Marquez has a barn full of them and lets little brother Alex drive one whenever he wants. They both know poor Alex will never have one of his own.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast for the three-day weekend in metropolitan Alcañiz calls for sunny skies and hot temps—real hot on Friday, hotter on Saturday, and hellish on Sunday. And dusty. These races favor the leader, especially one on a Honda RC213V, since conditions will add an additional layer of stress for all the Marquez chasers, notably the Yamahas. With their mathematical chances of a premier class title in 2018 approaching the abscissa, they must nonetheless exude confidence, risking life and limb in a heroic but mostly symbolic attempt to pull off the impossible, and live up to the mythic expectations of teams, families, fans, sponsors and, ultimately, owners. Lots of constituents. Lots of pressure. Lots of pressure not to let the pressure show. Never let them see you sweat.

I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not. Even if Dovi beats Marquez to the flag it will be a big-picture win for #93, as he would drop only 5 points to Dovi with but five rounds left, four of which are in those pesky Pacific time zones where things can go from bad to worse. Things like Marquez clinching in Australia. Things like that. As for third place, probably a Crutchlow on the Honda in the heat.

A new track record at Aragon, however, would be very cool. Marquez recording some kind of DNF would add interest to the next round in Thailand.

We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday before lunch EDT.

MotoGP San Marino Results

September 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

SEE LOW RESOLUTION PHOTOS FOLLOWING THE ARTICLE

Ducati celebrates, Dovi dominates and JLo asphyxiates

2018 will go down in Bologna, Italy as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third. When Jorge Lorenzo stunned the 97,000 fans by sliding out of second place on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another crushing 8 points to his 2018 lead. When you can win while losing, you are The Man.

Practice and Qualifying 

Practice sessions on Friday favored Hondas and Ducatis, although the inscrutable Maverick Vinales found his way into the top five during both sessions. Dovizioso was quickest in both sessions; Crutchlow was blazing. Marquez turned in his customary pokey FP1, checking things out, before climbing into the top five in FP2. The rain in the forecast earlier in the week never materialized.

Valentino Rossi, expected by a number of readers to win on Sunday, limped home in 15th place in FP1 and 8th in FP2. Lucky for him, conditions early on Saturday led to slower times for most riders, a confounding FP3 showing Johann Zarco (?), Jack Miller (??), Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow topping the sheet while Rossi was dawdling down in 20th position. Somehow, Rossi weaseled his way straight into Q2, FP2 having saved his bacon. Joining him with free passes into Q2 were the usual suspects along with Alex Rins on the Suzuki in 7th and Miller’s Pramac Ducati 10th. 

Q1 was crowded, due to guest appearances by Michele Pirro on a Ducati GP18, Stefan Bradl on a Marc VDS-caliber Honda, and a rider I’ve never heard of, one Christophe Ponsson, taking the place of the injured Tito Rabat for the Avintia Reale Ducati bunch. The announcers had been jocking Andrea Iannone and Pirro to pass through to Q2, but it was, instead, the Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli making the grade. Again, conditions were dry as a bone.

Q2 was a Jorge Lorenzo tour de force. He hauled his Ducati GP18 around the track on his first flying lap and set a new track record. His second attack was fruitless, but his third established yet another record, putting the grid 6 out of 9 for the year, breaking track records-wise. Marquez, his competitive juices coming out his ears, got out quick early, but slid off after having put himself in third. By the time he legged it back to the garage and jumped on his second bike, his adrenaline levels peaking, he had time for one more charge. His troubles during the weekend in sector 2 bit him again, and the session ended with him sitting in fifth position, without a care in the world.

Lorenzo was joined on the front row by Miller—dude defines “unpredictable”—and Maverick Vinales, who put his Yamaha on the front row late in the session. Marquez ended up flanked on row 2 by Dovizioso and Crutchlow, who lost his grits during the session. Rossi headed row 3, trailed by Danilo Petrucci and Zarco. Conclusion: There are a lot of fast riders on the first three rows. Thoughts like this are why so many people tell me I have a genuine flair for the obvious.

Sunday Riders

At the start, Lorenzo took the holeshot as interloper Jack Miller kept his nose in second place, from whence he started. Dovizioso went through Miller later in the lap, followed by Marquez and a panicky Maverick Vinales, with Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow trailing. Lap 2 saw Marquez shove Lorenzo out of his way, after which Jorge returned the favor. By Lap 3, Jack Miller found his way to the kitty litter, and the two factory Ducatis took off on their own for what appeared to be a Beat Your Teammate afternoon. Such was not to be the case.

While all this was happening, the factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were accomplishing absolutely nothing. Rossi started and finished seventh, due, late in the day, to the thoughtfulness of Lorenzo. Vinales started third and worked his way back to fifth as time ran out, Dani Pedrosa eyeballing him for the last six laps. Only poor writers would ever wheel out the hackneyed “once-proud” label for a brand which will clearly bounce back soon. But there it is.

Anyway, Dovizioso went through on his teammate on Lap 6 and was never seriously challenged after that. He managed the gap, the tires, his physical energy and his emotions in earning a solid, well-deserved and ultimately meaningless first win at Misano. Lorenzo had second place written all over himself until his unforced error on Lap 26. He and Marquez had taken a few shots at one another over the last 20 laps, but, as future teammates, nothing serious or offensive. Marquez, understanding he didn’t have the pace of the Ducatis, kept his powder dry, stayed within shouting distance of the leaders, and was there to scoop up a few extra points at the end. As planned.

Can’t Let This Pass without Comment

So there was this staged reconciliation on Saturday between Marquez and Rossi, cameras firing away as Marquez offered his hand and which Rossi, apparently neither expecting nor wanting it, declined. I immediately caught a whiff of professional wrestling, with stunts staged and designed to encourage viewership. Rossi’s type of gratuitous snub rarely works, and then only when it is the rider leading by 60 points declining the proffered hand. The rider trailing by 60 points, his ego clearly intact, who then goes out and finishes seventh and who should have finished eighth, only diminishes his own stature by such a tacky display of disrespect.

The Big Picture

Marquez leads Dovizioso by 67 points and Rossi by 70 with five rounds left. Though they are separated by only three points, Dovizioso is in the ascendency while Rossi is descending. I’m calling it here that both Lorenzo and Rossi are officially out of it for 2018 and Dovi is on life support. Marquez now has what I think of as a rolling magic number relative to Dovi:  Add 34 points to his margin between now and the flag at Buriram. Failing that, add nine points to his margin between now and the finish of Motegi. Or, failing that, lose no more than 15 points to Dovizioso between now and a white flag at Phillip Island. For those of you who play lotteries involving both positive and negative numbers, the Pick Three today is 34/9/-15.

Tranche Action at the Top

Tranches After Red Bull Ring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Iannone, P Espargaro, Viñales, Rabat

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Misano

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Iannone, Viñales, (Rabat), Miller

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

The Intermediate Classes

In Moto3 today, Lorenzo Dalla Porta recorded his first ever grand prix win with an exhausting photo finish over Jorge Martin, allowing Martin to take the season lead over Marco Bezzecchi, who high-sided out of the lead late in the day. “Perfect” Pecco Bagnaia cruised to an easy win in Moto2, causing Pramac Ducati to drool in anticipation of 2019 and triggering Jack Miller to see red over all the fuss. Should be an interesting match-up; don’t be surprised if there is a wall in the Pramac garage before the end of next year.

Oh, and for those few of you who didn’t think Romano Fenati is psychotic, check him out grabbing the brake lever of Stefano Manzi prior to getting black-flagged today. His penalty is to spend the entire weekend in Aragon swathed head to toe in bubble wrap.

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* * *

Five rounds left in 2018. Two weeks to Aragon, the Land of Sand and Massive Boulders. Two weeks as the Marquez countdown continues. Two weeks for Andrea Dovizioso’s team to figure out a way to slip a half cup of sugar into Marquez’ gas tank prior to the final sighting lap in Spain.

If Marquez’ brolly girl at Aragon is Italian, someone will need to keep an eye on her.

Screenshot (260)

His brolly girl. And Andrea Iannone.

Screenshot (259)Screenshot (257)

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Smoke and madness. And disappointment.

Screenshot (258)

What a beautiful place to build a racetrack.

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Valentino Rossi’s ranch in Tavullia. It won’t be long before one of the VR46 Academy riders beats the old man.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Chasers be advised—this is a Honda track 

The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon. 

The odds are against him. His last title was a decade ago. His last win was in Assen last year. The 2018 Yamaha M1 is lagging its major competitors across the board. The software doesn’t appear to have kept up with the hackers at Honda and Ducati. It has grip and acceleration issues. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales appears to have thrown in the towel on 2018; wonder if he’s having buyer’s remorse over having already signed for 2019-20? But, as Nick Harris used to say about Rossi, “Write him off at your peril.” 

Recent History at San Marino 

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, the fast-drying track forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.  When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. At that point of the season, folks bet a lot of money on Vale for the championship, at short odds. Later, they would have some explaining to do.

In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo.  For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go. 

Last year, Marc the Magnificent delivered a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch generational rider Marc Marquez perform at the height of his formidable powers.

Silverstone Post Mortem

Funny to me that Ducati Corse wishes to complain about the notification procedures around the riders meeting which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the race. This despite the virtually unanimous opinions from the riders that the track was too dangerous to race on. (I understand it was mostly families of Italian passengers on The Titanic who complained afterwards about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the ship’s stern at the time of the encounter with the iceberg.)

Standing water and motorcycle racing do not mix. Ask Marquez, whose premier class career almost ended before it started, in practice at Sepang in 2011—yes, I know, the Marco Simoncelli disaster—when he hit a hidden pool of standing water, smacked his helmet on the tarmac in a violent lowside crash, and had double vision for six months afterwards. Consider not only what we lost that day, but what we almost lost, too.

As I see it, there are at least three problems with the track. There is a lack of positive soil drainage in numerous places around the circuit that will require culverts to divert rain and runoff. There are numerous places on the track where there is negative slope on the asphalt itself, which should never have occurred in the re-surfacing of the track. These produce standing water even when off-track drainage is adequate. Finally, several riders complained about bumpy sections of the track, perhaps F1 braking zones, where any bumps should have been eliminated during the re-surfacing. And if the pavement is so fragile that a single F1 race can tear it up, they should undertake a complete do-over or move back to Donington.

As my dad used to say,

Once More, with Feeling 

Marquez       201

Rossi            142

Lorenzo        130

Dovizioso     129

If you drink heavily enough, this becomes an interesting problem in mathematics, probability and pressure. Conventional wisdom is that, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, Marquez will probably clinch at Motegi. Certainly, if he should record a DNF in the next three rounds all bets are off. But presuming he doesn’t, a presumption supported by the numbers, the likelihood of his claiming the 2018 title in Thailand aren’t bad.

Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.

Look at Marquez’s record late in the seasons in which he titled in MotoGP.

Marquez stats 2013 - 2017Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Item #1: In 2013, over the last 10 rounds, he podiumed every round other than the silly rookie mistake DQ in Australia. In 2014, one DNF over the last 10 rounds. Throw out 2015, as he was out of contention and his don’t-give-a-rip factor was sky high. 2016—one crash in last ten rounds. 2017, a blown engine at Silverstone. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes late in seasons in which he titles. As for Phillip Island, well, it’s clearly win or bin territory for young Marc. Fastest track on the calendar, most picturesque, cold, windy, wild and woolly. Usually, by that time of the year, he’s playing with house money and can afford a loss or two.

Item #2: Crash = Fail. For Marquez, a crash simply pushes the numbers back a week. What would a native Malaysian coronation ceremony look like, in leathers and boots? For the other three, crash and it’s bye, Felicia. Psychologically, advantage Marquez.

Item #3: Going down the pecking order, as things stand now, Marquez would need to add 42 points to his margin over Rossi in the next 3 rounds, but only 17 in the next four. Should Rossi DNF, things fall to Lorenzo. If Jorge keeps things upright, he must stay within 31 points of Marquez over the next three, or within six (6, i.e., even) in the next four. Dovizioso, pretty much the same—32 in three or seven in the next four. Looking at Marquez’ historic numbers, the efforts required from these chasers in San Marino, Aragon and Thailand appear extraordinary and conditions need to be perfect.

Your Weekend Forecast

Not that it really matters, but the weather forecast for the greater Rimini area over the weekend is, in a word, iffy. Temps in the high 70’s-low 80’s, but showers in the area all three days. Not what the chasers need.

As for the race results on Sunday, I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (again, thanks, dad) that I have no clue who will end up on the podium. Predicting Marquez feels like frontrunning. Weather could be a factor. With the factory Ducati guys, like major league baseball pitchers, they will need to have their curveball working. Rossi in Italy is a wild card. Crutchlow, since 2012, has a chip on his shoulder. And if you look up “motivated” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Danilo Petrucci gritting his teeth with his name in parentheses below it.

BTW, the whole BeIn Sports thing has got to go. Dorna needs to make MotoGP accessible to the world via TV, even with the lame announcers. Unless they want to keep it a rich man’s parlour game.

We’ll have results and analysis here on Sunday within two hours of the race.

Ciao.

Rossi Prevails over Ezpeleta re Mexico

August 27, 2018

This, from MotoGP.com:

“No new circuits planned for provisional 2019 calendar

A first glimpse of next season will be revealed at the San Marino GP.

The provisional calendar for 2019 will soon be announced, with the initial release scheduled for the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini on the 7th to 9th September. The calendar will be based on the current 19 Grands Prix contested in 2018.

That will lay further foundations for next year, with winter test dates already announced and the provisional calendar then getting us in gear for another stunning season.”

Ahem. Readers will recall the announcement several weeks ago that a Mexican round would be added in 2019 as the Finnish track will not be ready. Readers will also recall that Valentino Rossi immediately went on record opposing the addition, referring to it as a crappy track in a very dangerous neighborhood, i.e., Mexico.

We wondered at the time if Vale still had enough swing to override Carmelo Ezpeleta on this subject.

Rossi

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.

End of Season Point Projections

August 13, 2018

MotoGP Spreadsheet after 11 Rounds

Marc Marquez’ silver medal at Red Bull Ring nudged him a little closer to the all-time season points record. In a season in which I predicted he wouldn’t make it to 300.

I am sufficiently wrong that the only thing which could possibly save me would be a serious issue with Marquez causing him to miss multiple starts. Even then, if my projection turns out accidentally to have been right, there would always be an asterisk anyway.

Here’s how bad the projection was. If Marquez were to close out the season with two wins, two 4ths, a fifth, a sixth and two DNFs he would accumulate 97 points and still make my projection wrong. Can’t explain it.

Meanwhile, in broad strokes, Marquez has averaged 18.3 points per round in the first 11. He needs to average 21.62 in the last eight to finish with an average of 19.7, which would give him 374 points and the all-time record. In other words he needs 173 of a possible 200 points. In the unlikely event he were to go into Valencia needing a win to claim the all-time record, I’m sure he would go for it, and I’m equally sure he wouldn’t crash out trying.

After 11 rounds, we are projecting Marquez to finish with 347.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati Looks to Rain on KTM’s Home Parade 

Austria’s Red Bull Ring, home of this weekend’s eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, is the closest thing to the Bonneville Salt Flats of any track on the MotoGP calendar. For those riders, ahem, who have trouble getting their bikes to turn this place is like heaven. The weekend looks like it’s going to be a Ducati clambake, but looks can be deceiving. 

Recent History in Austria 

Recent history at the Red Bull Ring has been, well, brief. The track joined the calendar in 2016 after an 18-year gap in the running of the Austrian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Selecting Red Bull Ring as the venue, with it’s but nine (9) turns, gave Ducati Corse a bulletproof venue they could dominate with their eyes closed until KTM gets its Austrian act together. In 2016, the factory Ducati Dueling Andreas led the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the lush Austrian countryside, followed by everyone else. At the flag, Iannone handled Dovizioso (this was the year everyone but Scott Redding won a race) while The Spartan outgunned The Doctor for the last step on the podium.

Last year would have been a carbon copy of 2016 with the exception of Dovizioso winning, JLo taking Iannone’s seat and finishing fourth, and those pesky, unwelcome factory Hondas hogging the second and third steps on the podium. This was one of those races, similar to what we saw last week, when Marquez and Dovizioso went knives-in-a-phonebooth, Spain vs. Italy, Honda vs. Ducati, and Dovi ended up on top, as he usually does. The kind of competition that gives motorcycle racing a good name. We should be so lucky to have another one like last year on Sunday.

The track record here of 1:23.142 is owned by Andrea Iannone and was set in 2016, the last of the Bridgestone years. Marquez got close last year. Someone’s going to beat it this year, weather permitting.

Mexico and Finland? 

In a virtually unpublicized announcement, we’ve learned that Mexico—yes, THAT Mexico—has been added to the 2019 calendar in place of the Grand Prix of Finland. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez outside Mexico City has hosted F1 races since 2015 and has been added to the provisional MotoGP calendar for next year, much to the consternation of Rossi, who says it’s a lousy track and he’s liable to get kidnapped off the street, or words to that effect.  

The new Kymi Ring in Tillola, about 70 miles northeast of Helsinki had been scheduled to host a grand prix next year, but construction is sufficiently behind schedule (pronounced shéd-jūl) to preclude placing it on the 2019 calendar. Should Finland be completed by 2020, it would likely take the place of an existing European round—betting Aragon here—rather than join as a 21st race, the idea of which—21 race dates—also causes Vale to hyperventilate. Should the Finnish track not be completed to by 2020, it may go the way of Ebbw Vale in Wales.

I’m with Rossi. I think Mexico is one of the scariest places in the hemisphere, especially in and around the capital. You couldn’t pay me to spend a week in Cancun or Cabo or anywhere a bunch of guys with machetes and grease guns could jump out from behind the potted palms, like, whenever, and turn me into sausage. It would be one thing if the track were a thing of beauty, which it’s not.

It will be fun to see whether Rossi has enough juice to keep Mexico off the final 2019 schedule.

A Little Number Crunching

I had this idea before the season started that the competition would be way closer than it has been, and that because other riders—Dovi, Vinales, Rins–would be scarfing more points than usual, the ultimate winner would have fewer points available to him and would thus have trouble meeting Marquez’ 298 from last year. I mentioned a few weeks ago, in passing, that Valentino holds the record for the most points recorded in a modern premier class season of 373 in 2008.

Projected Rider Points After 10 Rounds

Sadly, Marquez and his frigging brilliance have left my theory screwed, blued and tattooed. He stands closer today to topping 373 than he does missing 298. I will update this regularly in order to keep tabs on my brilliant notion, one which has been wrong virtually since Day One.

On the other hand, the graphic itself could be used to argue for a three-tranche system, rather than five, as the breaks are pretty clear, as shown above. (The better line between #2 and #3 would separate Bautista and Pol.) The only thing is—as specified in the Rules of Tranching, you gotta have at least five.

One last intuitive way to slice this is as follows:

  • Riders likely to score > 300 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 200 points.
  • Riders likely to score > 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 100 points.
  • Riders likely to score < 50 points.

Which would produce

  • Marquez
  • Rossi, Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo
  • Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Iannone, Miller, Rins, Pedrosa
  • Bautista, P Espargaro, Rabat, Syahrin, Morbidelli
  • Aleix, Smith, Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Dani Pedrosa in the News

Dani Pedrosa, early in what was supposed to be his Farewell Tour, has reportedly been approached by KTM to become a test rider beginning next year, to the surprise of few. I’m convinced KTM coveted Pedrosa for Hafiz Syahrin’s seat on the Tech 3 team next year with Oliveira; my guess is that Dani turned them down. He would, in my opinion, be a great choice as a test rider, as his ability to provide useful feedback is as good as anyone’s. (Part of the problem is that Honda is not asking him his opinion much these days, trimming the RC213V the way #93 wants it.) Dani would, of course, have to wear ankle weights and a lead vest in order to approximate the bulk of a full-sized rider.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather-wise, rain is expected Friday, clouds on Saturday, and scorching sun on race day. As there is a very loose correlation between weather conditions and brand performance, the forecast could lead one to expect fast times for Ducatis on Friday, Yamahas on Saturday and Hondas on Sunday; we have just crossed over from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Andrea Dovizioso found his rhythm in the second half last year; Brno may have marked the beginning of some improved form for the Italian this year; Red Bull Ring is a great place to find out. Lorenzo has it going on at this point and must be considered a threat.  Marquez and Rossi—always. Vinales is dealing with The Red Mist. I find myself pulling for Danilo Petrucci, desperate for his first premier class win, perhaps thinking that Sunday could be his chance to bust that nettlesome cherry. And though I don’t believe your boy Alvaro Bautista has a chance of winning on Sunday, I feel sorry for the guy and think he deserves a mercy podium.

In a textbook example of going with one’s heart over one’s head, I’m saying Petrucci, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez, top four in that order. All Ducati podium, contrary to my teaser above. Danilo’s first win. But Marquez extends his lead in the championship anyway, thinking strategically, winning when he’s not winning, keeping the shiny side up. Thinking, always thinking…

We’ll have results here bright and early on Sunday morning.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 5, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Andrea-DoviziosoDovizioso, Lorenzo Lead Czech Charge 

One of Europe’s elite racing venues gave 140,000 fans a thoroughly enjoyable MotoGP race today. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo put a heavy Ducati double-team on series leader Marc Marquez as all three ended up on the podium. Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow had their own little late-in-the-day war for fourth place, won by Vale. Marquez, who finds a way to win while losing, extends his season lead over Rossi to 49 points heading to Austria. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Y’know how it is the first day back at work after vacay. Jetlagged, a little boated, still catching up on sleep, thirsty all the time. After Friday’s two practice sessions the fastest rider on grid was one Dani Pedrosa, showing the crowd he hasn’t yet retired. This Alvaro Bautista guy was deeply in the mix again, ending the day with the third fastest time, trying desperately to win a 2019 ride that doesn’t appear to exist. And your boy Hafez Syahrin showed up in fourth place on Friday, looking as perplexed as the rest of us. It’s worth mentioning that Maverick Viñales was, after FP2, sitting comfortably in sixth place, apparently poised to rock and roll in FP3.

As is generally the case, times on Saturday morning improved overall. A few riders and their crews, apparently having burned the midnight oil, figured out some serious stuff. Take Ducati enigma Jorge Lorenzo, please. He sliced almost two full seconds off his Friday best, jumping from 15th overall to third. Crutchlow, Rossi, Marquez and Iannone also found more than a second overnight. Alas, Messrs. Bautista, Syahrin and Viñales failed to hold onto their top ten perches and would have to fight their way through Q1. Methuselah, #46, would lead the way into Q2, looking quick despite his ongoing victory drought.

Viñales and Rins made it through Q1 without much heartburn. Alvaro Bautista gave it the old college try, as dad used to say, but crashed out on his last pass, forced to settle for the top of the fifth row on Sunday.

Q2 was the usual barnburner. Marquez laid down the first serious lap with four minutes gone. A minute later Jorge Lorenzo scorched Brno and repeated the feat again nine minutes later. With a minute left in the session, Marquez seized pole once again, but left the door open for the two alpha Italians. From seventh place starting the last lap, Andrea Dovizioso whipped his Ducati to pole, missing the 2016 track record by just over a tenth. Rossi, coming from 12th, worked his magic once again on the last lap, ending up in the middle of the front row, next to Marquez, who was relegated to third. Like he cared.

But it must be a comfort to the millions of Rossi fans across the globe that he has finally, six years on, figured out the 15-minute qualifying sessions. The race Sunday would start with the two Italians and Marquez on the front row, stalked by Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci on Row 2. Maverick Viñales, who showed some signs of life on Friday, showed very little on Saturday and would start from the back of the fourth row. Dude is living in perdition these days, at war with his crew chief, while his teammate, not a care in the world, keeps hanging around up front, smiling and waving to the cameras.

A Pulsating Czech GP

Unlike last year, when the race was pretty much over by Lap 7, today’s tilt went right down to the wire. After Valentino had taken the holeshot on the opening lap (for the first time since, like, Viet Nam) the primary combatants featured the two factory Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Lorenzo, Marquez and Crutchlow on Hondas, and Rossi on the unfortunate Yamaha M1. Lap times were surprisingly slow, and by Lap 18 it looked like any of the five could take the win. Suddenly, Lorenzo, riding hard front/hard rear and looking like the 2012 version of himself, went through on both Marquez and Dovizioso. He made the pass stick on Marquez but ran wide and had to let Dovi back through. As the race approached its finale, it was Marquez lurking behind the two Ducatis, waiting for something to happen.

Let’s take a brief timeout and remind one another that Brno is almost custom-designed for the Ducati Desmosedici. The flowing layout, fast turns, and inimitable Horsepower Hill (sorry, Austin) give the red machines a discernible advantage here.

Marquez, whose prospects entering the weekend were suboptimal, for him, found himself in the midst of a Ducati doubleteam for most of the second half of the day. At the end, he did manage a rather weak pass on Lorenzo, who came back three turns later and forced him to sit up, leading to the final finishing order, the tightest top three finish since Estoril 2006.

Our prediction that Marquez was likely to win today was based, in part, on the fact that a Ducati had not won here since Casey Stoner in 2007. The factory Yamaha team now resembles Mutt and Jeff—Rossi, second for the year, generally on or near the podium every time out. But Maverick Viñales is just lost. Qualified 12th after having had to come through Q1. At war with his crew chief. And fails to make it out of Lap 1 today, getting caught up with Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith. Dovizioso snatched his 3rd place spot in the standings. All things being equal, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to accidentally drop his phone in the toilet night.

Anyway, with the Ducati contingent not having been a factor for a decade and the factory Yamaha team in disarray, it appeared Marquez had an opportunity to pull off the win. When asked prior to the race who he most feared on the grid on Sunday, he unhesitatingly answered, “Dovi.” He was right. It was somewhat gratifying that he would win the race two days after MotoGP.com ran an article titled “What’s Happened to Dovi?”

Elsewhere on the Grid

Pol Espargaro screwed the pooch in the morning warm-up today and is resting uncomfortably in a hospital somewhere in Spain with a broken left collarbone and chest contusions. He will be out for Red Bull Ring and perhaps Silverstone, too… With Smith having crashed out early in the race, it was another write-off weekend for KTM… Alvaro Bautista, blowing me away these days, managed another top ten finish, something that can’t be said of Alex Rins or Jack Miller… DNFs were recorded by Bradl and Viñales early on, and by Smith, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat later… Author is now five-for-eight on breaking track records for the year…(sigh)…

The Big Picture 

Marquez now leads the series by 49 points. Dovi passed Viñales for third behind Rossi, while Lorenzo went through on Zarco into a respectable fifth place for the year. Ask Marc Marquez how he would feel about Dovizioso and Lorenzo finishing one-two again next week in Austria and I think he would be fine with that. For now, Marc Marquez only has to worry that Valentino Rossi might stage some kind of Lazarus-ish comeback, win five in a row, and put the 2018 championship back on a competitive footing. For now, as he said in the post-race presser, all Marc Marquez needs to focus on is finishing each race until he clinches the title, just like we said last week. And Rossi, winless for over a year, would probably happily settle for a single win. Anywhere. The sooner the better.

Tranching Getting Easier

Now that things are getting stretched out a little in the standings, putting the riders in their proper slots is getting a little easier.

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Iannone, P Espargaro, Viñales

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP pre-season projection in more trouble

July 16, 2018

 

© Bruce Allen      Revised 7/17/2018

  • MotoGP JPEG after 9 Rounds revised

My projection, the result of sophisticated modeling, insisted Marquez would win the season, and would accumulate less than 298 points in the process. And although the one is a slam dunk, the other is looking increasingly unlikely. He’s won five of nine races and finished second in two others. He’s competitive at every track on the calendar.

My thinking was:

  • Marquez would have a great season, but not a sensational season.
  • Dovizioso, Rossi, Vinales and Pedrosa, perhaps Rins, would take wins.
  • The middle third of the grid would be stronger than last year, i.e., fewer points for the guys at the top to share. The median point total would be higher.
  • This just in: The de facto trade at Tech 3 of Jonas Folger for Hafizh Syahrin. This had escaped my notice earlier, but Folger had 71 points after nine rounds last year in the middle group, while Syahrin has but 22 this year. That’s 49 points going in the wrong direction, which doesn’t explain my problem, but makes it worse.

Once again, Marquez is over-achieving, Dovi and Vinales and under-achieving, and Pedrosa is done. Just on the off chance that I may have been completely and utterly wrong at the beginning of the year, the points record for a single season belongs to Rossi with 373 in 2008. After nine rounds, Marquez is projecting straight out at 348 points, and I’m looking weak. I fear his body of work suggests, too, that Marquez’s second half (other than 2014) is typically better than his first half; his season strategy mirrors his race strategy.

We will update this sheet as the season progresses.

MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, which has high-rez images and snappy captions.

The field should be very afraid heading to Round Nine. 

If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the MotoGP 2018 championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino. But to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.  

Is there anyone on the grid ready, willing and able to take on the juggernaut that is Marc Marquez at The Knockwurstring in 2018? Anyone? What’s this noise I hear from some readers about Rossi being happy finishing third? Rins and Marquez don’t get along great; perhaps the Suzuki guy will be feeling froggy. 

Screenshot (159)

An unfamiliar image, taken from the front.

 

Recent History in Greater Dresden 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa were fast here in 2015.  How fast?  Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he lugged out after Montmelo, led every practice session.  As they had in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the macho factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to 3rd and 4th place afterthoughts, respectively.  At least for the day. But Rossi extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points and left for summer vacation all pumped up.

2016 was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate or “taint” tire, for those of you familiar with the term.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit chief Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

A year ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note.

As we’ve observed before, Marquez owns every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Eight consecutive poles, eight consecutive wins.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, soon-to-be former teammate Dani Pedrosa owns seven career wins here, but the most recent, in 2012, is mostly history.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Marquez and his RC213V leave for summer vacation having gone nine-for-nine in Germany. Your basic master of his craft working with a great machine and a great team in the prime of his career at a track he loves. Rarely beats himself. Like him or not, it’s an amazing thing to watch when he has it hooked up. The only thing left to add to his vast array of tools and skills is the chin slider, which will complete the mosaic of rider, bike and track.

Riders We Neglected to Slander After Assen

Pramac Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci, who arrived in the Netherlands fifth in the world. His luckless weekend ended when he crashed out of, like, 13th position on Lap 18. He is now tied for eighth with Andrea Iannone. He was doing great before we pointed out that he was doing great. The group of riders (below) characterized as Looking for Work in 2019 compiled, at Assen, two DNFs (Abraham and Simeon), 20th (Luthi), 19th (Nakagami), 17th (Smith), 16th (Rabat), and, somehow, Bautista in ninth. We will overlook Dani Pedrosa’s heartbreaking weekend. But Cal Crutchlow, who qualified on the front row, as well as Johann Zarco and Jack Miller seemed to be the only fast movers who didn’t lead Assen 2018 at some point.

Crutchlow closeup

Cal Crutchlow needs a podium.

Prediction Takes Some Shade at Assen

My “track records falling like dominoes” string came to a halt at Assen, with Marquez’s qualifying lap (1’32.791) failing to better Rossi’s fluky 2015 lap of 1’32.627. Sure, some writers would call this a rounding error and improve their stats by declaring it practically a win. Not around here we don’t. I go from 4-for-5 to 4-for-6–.667, still Hall of Fame numbers. Track records are getting challenged almost every time out. Just sayin’.

It’s Almost Official—22 Bikes on Grid in 2019-20

With the announcement that the Aspar team will leave Ducati to become the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team commencing next year, it appears to be curtains for the Marc VDS contraption. Speculation as to whom will be riding the new team’s “not quite fully up-to-date” M1s centers on Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli. One keeps hearing whispers that Pedrosa may, in fact, still retire, which would reportedly elevate one Alvaro Bautista to second chair, the boy toy once again landing on his feet in an unbelievable way. Loyal readers will recall that Bautista, loathed by Italian Fausto Gresini in 2011, was on his way out the MotoGP door until Marco Simoncelli lost his life in Sepang, leaving Gresini without a rider at all heading into 2012 and forcing him to swallow the alliance with the Spanish narcissist Bautista. Aspar could find himself in the same situation although, being Spanish, it wouldn’t be as painful. And OK, Bautista’s been Tranche Three for a few rounds.

Pretty sure it will be Pedrosa and Morbidelli. Pretty sure that Abraham, Bautista, Tom Luthi, Taka Nakagami, Brad Smith and Tito Rabat are looking hard right now for 2019 gigs. I thought I heard Simeon has a two-year contract/rider option. Scott Redding chooses half a loaf and agrees to testing with Aprilia. In case another full-grown rider comes along some day.

Pretty sure, too, that a Rossi-led SKY VR46 will become the satellite Yamaha team starting in 2021. (Perhaps the factory team.) Mr. Jorge Martinez seems to have bought himself two years to find another gig. Suzuki? Aprilia? Suzuki needs a satellite team like now, as their concessions, as of next year, appear to be toasting. And Ducati must have wanted to trim the 2019 roster; what better place to start than the shoestring operation that is Team Angel Nieto, and its deluxe duo of riders, Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista. Bye Felicia. Cull the herd.

If and when the grid returns to 24 riders, I fully expect the newbies to be these speed merchants from Moto2 and Moto3, guys like Jorge Martin, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Xavier Vierge. These guys, with their reflexes and aggressiveness, will likely enjoy success in MotoGP, since the bikes are getting better and better, closer and closer. They will join November grads Miguel Oliveira, Peco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Guys will be able to make reputations in a hurry in the next 3-5 years.

Leading the chase for, you know, second place.

Your Weekend Forecast

If you believe that a win on Sunday for #93 is inevitable, the most you can hope for are interesting weather and track conditions. Like your basic life sandwich, your only real choice is whether you want it on wheat or white. Alas, writing on Monday, rain is in the forecast until Thursday, when perfect conditions take over—high 70’s and sunny all weekend. Comfortable air but high track temps. Honda weather. Great.

There is no obvious reason not to expect Marquez to be standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. There is no obvious reason to expect the Yamahas to do well here. The Ducatis have struggled here in years past. If the Hondas are to have things their way, I would expect to see Crutchlow on the podium with Marquez. Alex Rins is in “podium or bin” mode. Although I can see Valentino Rossi in third, I cannot see him genuinely happy about it.

alex-rins

Alex Rins with his game face.