Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

We Shoulda Known Back Then

November 1, 2018

UNEARTHED 2013 SPREADSHEET JPEG

The chart shows each rider’s results during his first premier class season. When I found this file, the last column didn’t exist. I went back and completed the last column.

Did we mention, in November 2013, that Marc Marquez had just completed the most astonishing rookie season in modern MotoGP history? I thought the numbers I had plugged in for him prior to the start of the season were impressive–3rd in the championship behind Lorenzo and Rossi, a couple of wins, a bunch of podiums.

He blew away every reasonable expectation that year, scoring half again as many points as I or most anyone else expected. 16 podiums in 18 rounds. A single DNF and a silly DQ in Australia. A premier class title that didn’t look all that difficult. When he started 2014 with 10 consecutive wins pretty much everyone realized. Had we paid attention at the end of the 2013 season, we would have known that much sooner. He was a prodigy then. He may become the greatest of all time.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Rossi & Vinales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso—the top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left last time out in Japan—have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season. 

Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, a wounded Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins have credible shots at passing Cal Crutchlow into fifth place for the year. Cal, with a bad ankle, has been put on injured reserve, Stephan Bradl getting the call to pilot the #1 LCR Honda in his stead. Bummer. Tito Rabat is MIA recovering from his terrible injury. Lorenzo has wrist and toe issues. And Zarco, KTM-bound in 2019, knows the Suzukis are coming into their own, threatening his current perch in seventh.

My insistence that Alex Rins has more than Johann Zarco is ready to be tested, the Frenchman’s margin reduced to a mere four points following Sunday’s astonishing crash. Rins, career in the ascendancy, is more motivated than the departing, now possibly gun-shy, Zarco. Iannone wants to prove, again, to Suzuki that they gave up on him too soon. Lorenzo has little on the line at this point; Petrucci needs to scrap to keep Ducati Corse folks happy they promoted him to the factory team next year and to continue chasing that elusive, overdue first premier class win. 

Recent History at Sepang 

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Reduced to an afterthought is the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  By the way, Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  As we wrote last year, “The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter; I know I have. Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their now-eccentric pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.” Sorry. I still believe Marquez, smarting from having screwed the pooch early in the year, baited his main rival and Rossi took the bait. Others I respect feel differently, i.e., Marquez stole Rossi’s last chance at a title for the sheer hell of it. Let it go.

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

Recall last year, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title would be decided two weeks later in Valencia, Marquez’ lead too big, ending with a whimper, rather than a bang. Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the Sepang race, disregarding the importance of Dovi winning. At the last turn (?), Lorenzo did have the courtesy to accidentally run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” 

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

The domino effect came into play Sunday on the Angel Nieto Ducati team. Homeless #1 rider Alvaro Bautista rode a GP18, on loan from Jorge Lorenzo, to a highly competitive fourth place finish after spending most of the day in the lead group. His erstwhile teammate, well-funded attorney Karel Abraham, inherited Bautista’s GP17, which is a big step up from his GP16, and promptly put it in 11th place, doubling his point total for the year. Both riders, I expect, have told management that putting them on better bikes would produce better results, in direct contravention of Ducati Corse policy against speaking truth to power.

Bautista’s confidence coming into the race might have traced back to his high-speed crash in FP4, when he found it necessary to bail on the bike at speed. The now rider-less bike proceeded on its own, across the lawn, perhaps a hundred yards or so before smashing into the tire wall. At that moment, sitting in the grass, Alvaro might have realized that the GP18 can ride itself and all he needed to do was hold on. (Better yet, since it wasn’t even his bike, Sr. Aspar wouldn’t be yelling at him all week for destroying another Ducati.) All positives for the well-groomed man departing for WSBK at the end of the year, underachiever tag firmly in place, separated from greatness by tenths of a second per lap. The blink of an eye.

Your Weekend Outlook

Without even looking I can tell you that the weekend weather forecast calls for temps in the upper 80’s and low 90’s, humidity like a blanket, with torrential rain possible at any moment, generally in the afternoon. Brolly girls required. Although the tracks are very different, the conditions will be similar to Buriram where Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales podiumed. It’s one of those long circuits that makes the 15-minute qualifying sessions so difficult for some riders who, like Valentino, shall remain nameless.

In the words of the late lamented Mr. Spock, wagering on this race is illogical. I expect to see Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso in the top five, joined, perhaps, by the likes of Bautista, Rins or Marquez. Marquez remembers his crash here in 2011, the one that almost cost him his career, and will tread gently in and around the puddles. And Valentino Rossi. Looking forward to Hafizh Syahrin playing the “home race” card and praying for rain.

With the season drawing to a close, I need to begin the process of locating a pithy historical quote which accurately sums up MotoGP 2018. Readers wishing to contribute suggestions (which, if selected, we will publish with attribution [to the person quoted and submitted by you, the reader]) may share them below in the Disqus Comments section. Pithy quotes need not apply to Marquez; I’m looking for something to say to the twenty-something riders who aren’t #93.

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen             Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Interrupts Yamaha Losing Streak 

Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, one mell of a hess. 

Back in the 60’s there was a TV genre known as the “military comedy,” Hogan’s Heroes being the first that comes to mind. In many of these shows, ten men, usually American and British prisoners, would be ordered to stand on a line. The laughable guard (“I know NUT-TINK!”) would demand a volunteer, and immediately nine of the men would take a step backwards. Presto, a volunteer. These were the thoughts going through my mind as Franco Morbidelli was being asked how it felt to finish eighth. This was a red-letter day in the lower tranches as Scott Redding, Taka Nakagami, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro and even the hapless Xavier Simeon all finished in the points. This is what happens when Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Marquez and Zarco are DNS or DNF. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday, The First Day of the Rest of the Season, demonstrated the psychology of the riders. Marc Marquez, justifiably exhausted and with nothing on the line, mailed it in. The remaining top ten rightly viewed this as an opportunity to win a frigging race, and went after it. FP1 was topped by Maverick Viñales on the Yamaha, Alex Rins found himself 15th and followed by a bevy of determined Ducati chasers—Miller, Petrucci and Dovizioso—and the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez. Rossi could do no better than 10th, with Aleix Espargaro 22nd. Andrea Iannone barged his way into first place in FP2, followed by Petrucci, Viñales, Dovizioso and Cal. Miller dropped to 8th behind Marquez, while Rins jumped into the top ten, with Vale running 10th again. Bad news as Crutchlow broke an ankle later on that will require surgery. So much for 2018 for the Battling Brit. Perhaps the slim chance of a cameo in Valencia.

On Saturday, the weather gods, bored to tears, decided to mix things up a little, weather-wise. Neither fish nor fowl, it was cold, windy, with intermittent rain to keep things interesting. FP3 ended with Viñales second and Rossi fifth, not to mention Rins in 13th and Danilo Petrucci sliding down to 17th. Andrea Iannone led the usual suspects directly into Q2, with Hafizh Syahrin crashing the party despite finishing 12th, 11th and 19th in the three practice sessions. Alvaro Bautista, with Lorenzo’s GP18 on loan, and Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM emerged from Q1, Bautista on strict instructions not to wreck JLo’s sled.

Q2, with weather threatening, ran the reverse of its customary save-everything-for-the-last-three-minutes form. Riders were out early trying to put down fast laps before it rained, producing a highly entertaining session. It ended with the prodigious Marquez on pole by half a second, the sheer unfettered joy of youth propelling him, nothing to gain, unburdened by concerns about old age and infirmity. Viñales and Zarco put two Yamahas on the front row. Rossi would start Sunday from the top of the third row, joined by Petrucci and Dovizioso. Miller, in sixth place, was the top Ducati qualifier as the brand suffered Down Under. Meanwhile, Suzuki, starting to flex their muscles a little, put both guys in the top five. My boy Alvaro Bautista, though, showed Gigi Dall’Igna why he’s losing his job this year, as he bailed from Lorenzo’s GP18 and could only watch as it continued, beautifully balanced and fully upright, as far as the tire wall, at which point it came to a sudden stop. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Marquez’ fifth pole in a row reminds us once again how much fun it would have been to watch him square off with Casey Stoner for a few years. Had Stoner decided to stay in the game, he and Marquez likely would have been teammates. That would have been a spectacle, especially here in Australia. 

The Race 

Despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. With Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Valentino Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis. Today, the latter would include Dovizioso and my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of the GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium today. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. My hat is off to him.

One couldn’t begin to count the overtakes today, as the incomparable Phillip Island circuit is designed to create opportunities. Iannone, Dovi, Miller, Rossi and Bautista all took sniffs of the lead and made determined efforts to end the day on the podium. Iannone, fast all weekend, went through on Dovizioso on Lap 23 and held fast. A seemingly happy Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, with Bautista closing out both Alex Rins on the #2 Suzuki and Valentino Rossi. Miller and Smith completed the top eight.

The announcers pointed out during the race that in 2014, 2016 and 2018 Marquez clinched the title in Motegi. In each of those years he went out the next week and recorded a DNF at Phillip Island. Today he was a victim of Zarco’s blunder but didn’t really care. The point here, if there is one, is that one’s mindset and reflexes react to the release of pressure opposite of the way they react to the application thereof.

For those of you keeping score at home, Lorenzo’s track record (from 2013) remained intact today. However, due to the wind and rain on Saturday, we are ignoring Phillip Island, leaving us 8 for 13 heading to Sepang. Marquez’ crash left him at 296 points for the year, meaning if he crashes out at both Sepang an Valencia my preseason projection for his point total will come true. As my friend Kevin used to observe, “Unlikely.” 

New Tranches 

As Chief Tranchistador, I have taken it upon myself to remove Marc Marquez from the game, the residue being a number of riders who couldn’t care less, having already lost seats for 2019 or on their way, and those who care a lot, careers still in the ascendency. These attitudes should affect the standings through Valencia. I have awarded Marquez Tranche 1 for the year; it’s his to keep. Going forward, we will start the ranking with Tranche 2. Next year we’ll reinstate Tranche 1 and pretend that the results won’t be the same as this year.

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

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

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

After Phillip Island

(The riders who have no real reason to give a rip are listed in brackets.)

[Injured]

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

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, (Morbidelli), (Pedrosa), ([Lorenzo]), Miller

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

Tranche 5:   (Redding), (Abraham), (Luthi), Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Next week is Sepang, carved out of triple canopy jungle in the heart of steamy, exotic Malaysia. Another hair-raising exhibition weekend. The competition for the 2018 championship leftovers is still very much alive. Dovi and Rossi are reaching for each other’s throats, with Vinales in hot pursuit, in the fight for second. Idle Cal Crutchlow’s fifth place perch is threatened by a clutch of riders including Danilo Petrucci, Zarco, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rins. Xavier Simeon, I’m told, enjoyed the sensation of scoring a world championship point so much he vowed to try again next week.

We’ll take a look ahead at Sepang by early Tuesday. Enjoy these images from Sunday at PI.

Phillip Island 2018

Binder beats Mir by .036 in Moto2.

PI 2018 Best Look

Moto2 leaders from the best POV at PI.

PI 2018PI 2018AScreenshot (316)Screenshot (318)Screenshot (321)Screenshot (324)

Where to Watch PI 2018

Who wouldn’t love to watch a race from here?

MotoGP Point Totals, Track Records and Col. Kurtz

October 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen

In this issue we’ll look at my well-reasoned and increasingly-ridiculous Marquez Point Total Projection. We’ll check the track records to see if they’re “falling like dominoes” as we predicted. Finally, we shall provide graphic evidence of what happens to people who have spent years under tremendous career pressure, have finally tapped out in accordance with the law of averages, and have suddenly ceased to have to give a shit.

First, new world champion Marc Marquez is actively shredding my projection for him in 2018. It no longer bears comment. I have shaded the standings to reflect changes in position. Note Lorenzo, who fell three spots after having to sit out Motegi.

MOTOGP SPREADSHEET AFTER 16 ROUNDS

OK. Here is the tracker for track records after Round 16. Still not bad, at 8 for 13, with three disregarded.

MotoGP Track Records 16 Rounds

Finally, as promised, here is Scott Redding, on his way to British Super Bikes. Gone upriver. Apparently feeling free to try to out-Alvaro-Bautista Alvaro Bautista.

Scott Redding Upriver

 

MotoGP Motegi Results

October 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Wins, Claims 7th World Championship 

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt today in a Japanese gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of Italian Andrea Dovizioso who, chasing Marc Marquez for the lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez this year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it is. 

MM victory continues

Picture from 2014, but you get the idea.

Practice and Qualifying 

The top five on the timesheets for FP1 and FP3 were sufficiently similar to suggest who might expect podium treatment on Sunday. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Vinales. FP3 included Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Rossi. FP2 was wet enough to keep a number of riders in their garages, so, once again, it came down to FP3 to separate the Q1 goats from the Q2 lambs. Eight of the top ten riders in the world championship went directly to Q2, the lone exceptions being Danilo Petrucci, having a miserable weekend on the Ducati GP19, and Jorge Lorenzo, who declared himself out of Sunday’s race due to a wrist injury suffered in Thailand. This allowed Dani Pedrosa and Jack Miller to sneak directly into Q2.

In a fun Q1, Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati) and Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) teamed up to punk KTM’s Brit Bradley Smith, both laying down fast laps very late in the session to deny Smith the glory of passing into Q2. Once there, unfortunately, they did very little, ending up sharing row four with Dani Pedrosa.

As has become the custom, Q2 got trés busy late in the session. For a while, it appeared Crutchlow and Marquez would sit 1 and 2, Honda executives praying to any number of gods for deliverance from Gigi Dall’Igna. Alas, their prayers went unanswered, as Jack Miller threw his Ducati GP17 across the line into second before he crashed out at Turn 5. As the session closed, Andrea Dovizioso hammered his way onto pole, and the prodigal Frenchman, Johann Zarco, blew past Miller into second place, leaving the factory Hondas and Yamahas off the front row for, like, the first time since The Berlin Wall came down.

With conditions on Saturday pretty good, Dovi put in a pole lap of 1:44.590. This compares to 2015, when the top six qualifiers beat his time using Bridgestone tires. (Can’t remember when the control ECUs came on board.) Lorenzo’s brilliant pole lap that day, 1:43.790, is a full eight-tenths faster than Dovizioso’s on Saturday. Track record intact; season record now stands at 8 for 13 as I continue to seek support for my prediction that track records “would fall like dominos” in 2018. From this perspective, Motegi appears to be an outlier. Oh, and let’s not forget Lorenzo’s unique ability to qualify Yamahas on the front row. On Bridgestones.

If Marc Marquez intended to win the title on Sunday, as his gold helmet clearly suggested, he would have his work cut out for him, starting from sixth place against Dovi’s pole. The first lap could easily tell the story. 

The Japanese Grand Prix – 2018 in Microcosm 

If you’ve followed the 2018 season, you will have a pretty good understanding of how today’s race unfolded. Aside from Jack Miller, who started third, veered into Johann Zarco’s path at the start, and stayed with the leaders until Lap 5, it was Dovizioso and Marquez from the very start. Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi occupied third and fourth, with Miller in 5th being stalked by both of the Suzukis, Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. By mid-race, Dovi and Marquez had put some space between themselves and their chasers. Keeping the pace relatively slow, they allowed a few lower tranche riders—Rossi, Rins and Iannone—to enjoy visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. For a while.

Finally, at Turn 9 on Lap 21, Marquez went through on Dovizioso and made it stick. Dovi, season on the line, chased the Spaniard desperately for two laps before losing the front in Turn 10 of Lap 23 and sliding off. He would re-enter the race and end his day in 18th position, out of the money, reduced to looking forward to 2019.

The more astute readers out there will realize about now that today’s race was, in fact, nothing like the 2018 season in microcosm. I happened to be reaching for a section header. It won’t happen again.

Dovi’s crash out of second place improved life for Cal Crutchlow, who ended up second, and Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who found himself on the podium for the first time since Assen after having started eighth. Rossi finished a kind of limp fourth, while Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales could do no better than seventh. The fear amongst Yamaha bigwigs that Buriram (a third and a fourth) was a fluke has now been confirmed.

With top chasers Dovizioso and Rossi off the podium today, a measure of Marquez’ dominance this year was to be found on the podium itself. If one were to take Cal Crutchlow’s point total for the year (148) and add it to Alex Rins’ (118), it would still fall short of Marquez and his 296.

Clearly, my prediction that Marquez would end 2018 with fewer than 298 points was worthless. At least he won’t be able to top Rossi’s 2009 total of 373. That would have been awful. 

The Big Picture 

Most sports leagues set up their season so that there are a few exhibition matches early on, with tension building up to the last game of the season, the one deciding the championship. MotoGP, due to the nature of the game in The Marquez Era, holds the climactic race in, like, Week 16 or 17, then plays a couple exhibition matches to close out the year. By which time most of the owners and fans have jumped on their yachts and sailed off for Barbados.

This is a pity for the fans attending the races in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia. There will continue to be the little “races within the race” that light up so many true believers. There will be, one expects, continuing efforts to set new track records at the remaining venues. For all involved, it’s kind of like macular degeneration. The big picture shrinks; the importance of team and individual accomplishments is elevated the moment the title moves out of reach. From then on, it’s pretty much down to Beat Your Teammate. Once the trophy has been won, most of the competitive air leaves the balloon.

When I was new to MotoGP I didn’t clearly understand what people meant when, at this point in the season, they would say, “Man, I can’t wait for the Valencia test.” I now know fully what this means. Between now and then I plan to post nothing but Monty Python and Peter Sellers videos. 

Tranches 

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

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

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

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

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

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

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

Head Down, Keep Rowing

Next week in Australia, perhaps the most scenic venue on the calendar. The winds on the southern side of Australia can be fearsome, with cold temps, gray skies and seagulls. We will bring you a preview on Wednesday or thereabouts.

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Subdues Dovizioso; Title Within Sight 

In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a ”by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Let’s see. FP1, often an outlier, concluded with a top five of Vinales, Rossi, Dovizioso, Miller and Marquez. Friday afternoon produced Dovi, Vinales (?), Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Pramac Ducati strongman Danilo Petrucci. Other than the Yamahas sniffing around, no big surprises lol. But Saturday morning arrived and FP3 produced a little drama. A late crash at Turn 4 scrubbed what would have been #93’s flying lap into Q2. Not only that, but with riders across the board having improved their times dramatically from Friday, this left MM 11th, having to suffer through Q1 for the second time in 2018 and only the fourth time since the current, pleasantly-Darwinian qualifying format was introduced in 2013.

Marquez obliterated the Q1 field by 9/10ths and dragged Suzuki puzzle Alex Rins along into Q2, Rins having punked rookie Franco Morbidelli by 2/1000ths to avoid 13th place. Q2 would feature the factory Hondas and Yamahas, Dovizioso—a limping Lorenzo having packed it in after an impressive high side in FP2—both Suzukis, Crutchlow, and Johann and the Backups—Jack, Danilo and Alvaro. Singing four-part harmonies in four different languages. Worth the price of admission.

Late in a session led primarily by Marquez, your boy Valentino Rossi, with two minutes left in regulation, went out and scorched Chang International, launching himself into pole and simultaneously into the DNA of most of those in attendance. Alas, Marquez came back one more time and settled 1/100th of a second below Rossi, on pole, with the Italian, one feared, having shot his wad making it to the front row. Would he have any starch left for Sunday? It was easy to imagine Vinales starting, somehow, from fourth and running, according to form, ninth by Lap 5. Sure, there were two Yamahas in the top five in qualifications. If Rossi has another win in him, and Marquez encounters any difficulty, it could be memorable for the tens of thousands of crazed Thai fans, finally getting some respect AND getting to see Rossi get a win under duress. Then there’s Dovizioso, who should probably win the race, looking menacing on the front row.

For his part, all Marquez had going on Saturday was the setting of a new track record (during Q1!) and a new all-time record—first rider to pole after going through Q1. As the old song says, they can’t take that away from him. 

The Race 

If today you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted.

Conditions were rugged, as expected. Cal Crutchlow, who spent much of the day in fourth place cooking his tires, faded at the end, riding on the rims. Dani Pedrosa, looking like the old Dani, made it as far as fifth place from a seventh-place start and was likely dreaming of a career-capping podium when he low-sided out of the race on Lap 18.

Maverick Vinales put a Yamaha on the podium for the first time since Germany back in August, trailed by Valentino Rossi who, by any objective assessment, has now officially lost a step. An encouraging weekend for Yamaha, with two bikes in the top four, but not yet time to celebrate anything. I understand they have finally hacked the traction control software to their liking. It is not disloyal to state that almost winning pole or almost standing astride the podium is not as good as winning pole or standing on the podium. Just sayin’.

Though there was plenty of action in the middle of the grid, the top three stayed fairly consistent for most of the day. Dovizioso led the most laps, Valentino led for a fraction of a lap, and Marquez led at the end of the last lap, where they keep score.

Vinales, celebrating a return to the land of the living, picked Rossi’s pocket on Lap 19, was able to keep Dovi and Marquez honest, but never showed a wheel to either, grateful for a third step podium. One Rossi would, I suppose, reluctantly admit to coveting.

The Big Picture

Playing with house money, Marquez will face the first of four match points in Japan in two weeks: Beat Dovizioso, and the championship is over. His win today extended his lead over the Italian to 77 points, with four rounds left. Most observers had their hearts in their throats on the last lap when, in fact, there was little at stake. Now, should he not feel like making the whole Pacific trip, Marquez can return to action in Valencia leading Dovizioso by at least two points, making for an interesting season finale and avoiding the whole fustercluck that is three Pacific races in three weeks.

Of which one, perhaps two will be run after the championship has been decided. At that moment, the Dorna promotion machine will begin yammering about 2019, Lorenzo on Honda, Zarco on KTM, etc., etc. The same way there is now tons of Christmas décor in the stores in the first week of October—staying ahead of the game. PS—By definition, Buriram’s official track record was set in 2018. 8 for 12.

Screenshot (289)

Andrea Iannone on the grid at the start. Image poorly cropped.

Here and There 

Scott Redding is thrilled to be riding in British Super Bikes next year. Just let that one sit and ferment for a moment. Maybe just beating the living crap out of someone, anyone, will make him feel good again. Like going from table stakes poker to nickel-dime-quarter. Thrilling.

Rossi spoke last week of Thailand as “another important opportunity to improve our bike.” General Pickett, I believe, spoke of Gettysburg as “another important opportunity to improve our attack.” I’d say both were correct, but only one worked out.

Michelin brought a fourth rear tire to Thailand. Cal Crutchlow probably didn’t like any of them.

Lorenzo tried to ride this week. Years ago, he rode a week after breaking his collarbone (and broke it again), so I expected him to ride and do poorly. His pride got the best of him on Friday. The Pacific Swing is on the horizon. Friday was a bad idea. It’s not like he’s chasing a championship. 

Tranches…Get Your Tranches Right Here 

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

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

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, (Rabat)

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

Here it Comes

Here come the dreaded flyaway rounds, three races in three weeks. Making things worse is the stranglehold in which Marc Marquez holds the championship. Bad enough to have to keep up with all these logistics when there’s something in the balance. But when it’s just filling out the schedule, and there aren’t any playoffs… Whatever. We’ll be back in two weeks with a glance at Twin Ring Motegi.

New Respect for Jack Miller

October 4, 2018
Jack Miller

A younger Jack Miller winning in Assen.

The recent interview on Crash.net with Jackass Miller reveals him to be way more empirical, more thoughtful and a better rider than I had previously thought.

I had never given much thought to why riders do poorly, believing that once they had the setup, regardless of the bike itself, as close to “good” as possible they just went out and let things rip. If they had enough bike and enough riding skills to make the top five they would. If not, they wouldn’t.

In this story, Miller explains how he, and by deduction all of the non-Tranche 1-and-2 riders, understands clearly why he is not podium-competitive. He traces it, in a surprisingly lucid fashion, to the tires, and from there to the order in which the various classes of bikes–MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3–run on Fridays and Saturdays compared to Sundays. He makes an outstanding point. Dorna & Co should have no reason not to implement it this year.

Mention Jack Miller to me and I immediately think of that blogger in New Zealand or wherever who pretends to be Jack–inebriated, insubordinate, racist, misogynistic, acutely critical of all those around him. It appears Mr. Miller has grown up or else is well along the way. He is a racer.

 

 

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Outduels Two Andreas, Extends Lead 

Since Sachsenring, Marc Marquez had grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’ve been making a chump out of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. Today, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso in front of his home fans, assuring them that he may be many things, but one of them is not a chump. 

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New Ant Man artwork at Turn 10

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was Ducati “Bring Your Desmo to Work Friday,” with GP18s (Dovi, Petrucci and Lorenzo) and a GP17 (Jack Miller) blanketing the top of the sheet. Rossi was idling in 15th with 14 minutes left but pushed himself into the top ten—a laughable goal not that many years ago—with some late speed.

FP2 was Marquez holding off the factory Ducatis, with Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone—I know, right?—rounding out the top five.  Rossi in 9th and Vinales in 10th put them on the inside looking out, but for how long? Marquez’ hot lap in FP2 was 7/10ths off the track record, within reach. Notables Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha) were buried in the deep teens. Better luck on Saturday.

FP3 was revealing, as all four Yamahas found themselves in the bottom 14 spots of the grid after the session, all four thereby consigned to the crapshoot that is Q1. The crash that left Rossi mired in 18th place after the session looked as if he simply lost concentration and folded the front on a routine fast turn, unmolested. Perhaps after 20-some years of routine practice session corners, they no longer grip The Doctor’s attention the way they used to. Anyway, Crutchlow and Marquez (and Pedrosa) on Hondas were busy slugging it out with Ducati representatives Miller and Dovizioso, not to mention the pesky Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki in the top five again.

The most glaring anomaly from FP4 was watching Valentino Rossi giving a reasonable impression of one of the Laverty brothers, closing the session in, again, 18th (eighteenth!) place. From there, he went on to finish 8th in Q1, meaning he would start Sunday’s race in—you guessed it—18th place. How he finished eighth in Q1 illustrates the growing fetish top riders seem have about not allowing “lesser” pilots to tailgate/slipstream them to a fast lap. My dog doesn’t like going on a walk with another owner and dog walking behind us, makes her nervous. I’m thinking Rossi’s thinking that, on his current sled, 2019-2020 seems like a long time.

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Rossi discussing his winning options–zero and none–with his team prior to the race.

Sitting eighth with new rubber and what seemed like five minutes left in the session, fetish on full display, Rossi spent four and a half of those minutes cruising the perimeter, waiting for other riders to go through on him and which they, in turn, cruising themselves, refused to do. His Wiley Coyote moment came when he realized there were 30 seconds left on the clock, and he was at least 45 seconds from the start/finish line. He never got his second flying lap started. Welcome to Row 6. BTW, Maverick Vinales waltzed into Q2, while Taka Nakagami snuck in just under the wire, consigning fellow rookie Franco Morbidelli to Row 5.

Q2 went the same way. Marquez laid down two sub-1:47 laps during his first attack, and the second stood up until a minute and a half after the flag waved. Again, much of that time was spent watching the riders and teams, um, standing around, waiting for “the right time” to attack the track record and claim pole. But, with the Racing Gods rewarding bad behavior, the two factory Ducatis apparently got it right. Long after the checkered flag waved, Dovizioso put his GP18 .07 in front of Marquez. Five seconds later, Jorge Lorenzo flashed across the line, taking his third consecutive pole, this by a full .014 seconds. Nice front row. But winning pole without setting a new track record—meh. Note: All Ducs on pole since summer break? No Yamaha starting from the top ten grid spots? Who put the pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?

Another Great Race

“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.”   –Motorcycle.com, September 19, 2018 

Not sure how many of you got what you wanted from this race, but I did. The two best riders on earth on the two best bikes, standing 1-2 in the chase, squaring off for another last lap cage match. This after 22 laps of high drama and exquisite suffering, as they used to say on ABC’s Wide World of Sports—‘The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat.”

By taking the hole shot from the third spot on the grid, defending world champion Marc Marquez forced former world champion Jorge Lorenzo wide in the first turn, from whence he opened the throttle a touch early, lost the rear of his Ducati, and got flung over the windscreen, a dislocated toe adding injury to the insult of having crashed from pole for two consecutive rounds. His premature departure left a curious front group consisting of two usual suspects—Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso—and two unusuals—Suzuki pilots Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins. Dani Pedrosa, in his Aragon swan song, put his Repsol Honda in 5th place to stay after a few laps, and everyone’s favorite rider, Aleix Espargaro, put his own Aprilia RS-GP in sixth place for the duration, tying his best finish ever for the Italian brand, and adding over 50% to his point total for the season.

This is how things stood until around Lap 14. Dovi had led most of the way, with Marquez dogging him the entire time. The two Suzukis, acting as if they weren’t a Tier Two brand, stolidly held serve in third and fourth places, appearing very relaxed, while the two leaders looked anything but relaxed, Dovizioso bouncing on his rear tire braking at the end of both straights. The two leaders started exchanging the lead on Lap 14, back and forth. Mostly recreational, from a distance. Until around Lap 21.

On Lap 21, Marquez bulled his way inside Dovi at Turn 1, only to get passed by both Dovi and Iannone—where’d he come from?—before grabbing the lead back later on the same lap and closing the door from there. Dovizioso was unable to mount a serious challenge to Marquez over the last 2½ laps. Even if he had, the only thing that would have changed would have been who stood on the top step of the podium and who would stand on the second. The 2018 standings, atrocious from a competitive standpoint coming in, got only marginally worse. 

The Big Picture 

After Misano, Marquez led the Sioux Nation by 67 points with six rounds left. Today, he leads by 72 points with five remaining. Announcers Matt and Steve were banging on today about how Marquez couldn’t clinch the title in Thailand, as if anyone thought that to be remotely likely anyway. His chances of clinching in Japan improved, and his chances of clinching in Australia went way up. Put it this way. It would take a Boston Red Sox-scale collapse over the final five races of the season to deny Marquez his fifth premier class championship. By way of illustration, were Marquez to crash out of the next three rounds while Dovizioso was busy winning them, he would trail the Italian by three points heading to Sepang.

No other meaningful changes in the top ten. Danilo Petrucci jumped up two spots to sixth, as both Crutchlow, who crashed out on Lap 5 and which was not his fault, and Johann Zarco, finishing 14th today, dropped a spot. The only thing that changed in a meaningful way was the likelihood that Marquez would NOT win the 2018 title, which went down again today. He has increased his lead in the championship at every round since Mugello. Oh, and the guys failed to break the track record from 2015 today, putting them 7 for 11 for the year. Still worth talking about. As for the title, that thing is over.

One final note. Prior to the race, you could see delight in the eyes of Xavier Simeon, the sad sack #2 rider for Avintia Reale Ducati, knowing that Jodi Torres, subbing for injured teammate Tito Rabat, was someone he could beat. Today was the day Simeon would, assuming he could finish the race, not finish dead last. We are happy to report that his dream came true, as he managed to pound Torres by half a second for the day, although that elusive first championship point still eluded him. Different people spell “winning” in different ways. 

Tranching Tool 

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

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

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

Looking Ahead

Two weeks to the maiden Grand Prix of Thailand. No numbing “Recent History at Buriram” to deal with in the race preview, as this is the virgin MotoGP outing at Buriram International Circuit. But we’ll dig up some stuff for you between now and then. My wife and I are leaving tomorrow for a week in Maine—she thinks it might as well be Siberia—for some chowdah, lobstah and relief from another stifling Indiana summer. Ciao.

Local Color

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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.

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His brolly girl. And Andrea Iannone.

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Smoke and madness. And disappointment.

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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.