Archive for the ‘Racing News’ Category

MotoGP: 23 Things We Learned at Brno

August 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP gave its fans a memorable Sunday in the Czech Republic today. The Moto3 race was the usual fire drill, featuring a 10-man lead group, before Dennis Foggia led Albert Arenas and Ai Ogura across the finish line in another great example of how racing is supposed to work.

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Over at Moto2, the race itself was a parade, but its implications  were important. The win by Enea Bastiannini established him as an early favorite to become The Next Big MotoGP Rider. Sudden Sam Lowes finished in second, his first appearance on a podium of any kind since, like, 2016. And Joe Roberts, The Great American Hope, took third after starting from pole, delivering the first grand prix podium of his career. As one of the few Americans to give a rip about MotoGP, I feel great for Joe Roberts and his team.

The main event in MotoGP offered more “first ever” accomplishments than I can remember in a motorcycle race; I’m counting at least seven off the top of my head. Eighth on that list belongs to my moto-friend Sayyed Bashir, who has been yelling at me in DISQUS for three years about how KTM is on their way; today must have been joyous for him. Before getting to that list, let’s note that Brad Binder won on a KTM RC-16, Franco Morbidelli took second on an SRT Yamaha, and Johann Zarco, resurrected on the Ducati GP19, held off Alex Rins for third place. Imagine appearing on the podium almost exactly a year after bolting on KTM, thinking his grand prix racing career was over. It’s not.

Rather than dragging you through our usual format, we present a list of bullet points, takeaways from Round 3 (or 4, depending) as the grid prepares to descend upon the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria for a couple of weeks in the salt flats. Nine turns–I have more than that between my bedroom and the kitchen in a small house. Whatever; at a minimum, it should help Ducati get back in the constructor’s championship race.

Let’s start with the MotoGP race:

  • First ever South African to win a premier class race in MotoGP.
  • Franco Morbidelli’s first ever premier class podium.
  • First ever podium for the Team Formerly Known as Avintia Racing Ducati.
  • First ever win in MotoGP for the KTM factory.
  • First ever win in the premier class for Brad Binder, in his third race.
  • First rookie to win a premier class race since Marc Marquez in 2013.
  • First time since they started keeping records of these things in 1973 that Frenchmen started 1-2 in a premier class race.

Pity that Pol Espargaro, hip-checked out of the race by Zarco, could not have been KTM’s first dry race winner, as he has paid his dues many times over.

  • Zarco’s hip check, in which his front tire was behind Espargaro’s, was very lightly penalized. His long lap penalty cost him exactly zero grid spots. That one called for a ride-through; no way Zarco should end up on the podium after putting another rider out of the race.
  • Yamaha, despite leading the team and constructor championships, has issues with rear tire grip, especially late in the race, as well as engine durability. Vinales, for example, has already used all five of his engines, with #2 blown to smithereens earlier in the season. A pit lane start lies in his future. A MotoGP championship in 2020 does not. Either he had remarkably bad tire issues–usually, at least in part, the fault of the rider–or he simply took today off, secure in the knowledge that he would still be in second place for the year heading to Austria, regardless.
  • Karel Abraham, Sr. needs to cough up the bucks to get the track here re-surfaced if he wants to keep the race. No Czech rider on the grid, and lots of venues banging to be let on the calendar, for whatever reason.
  • “I hear Portimao is nice in late November,” he lied.
  • The last American to appear on an intermediate class podium was Joe Kocinski in 1993. Yes, I have access to Wikipedia.
  • The top four riders in Moto3 are separated by 26 points; it’s anybody’s season right now, but Albert Arenas seems to be the best of the lot.
  • In Moto2, the top three riders, led by Bastiannini, are separated by a mere 18 points. Luca Marini in third appears to be a bigger threat to The Beast than Nagashima in second. There are some owners in MotoGP looking carefully at the big Italian, though where he might fit is a mystery.
  • Valentino Rossi had to work his ass of to finish fifth today. Most of his problems, aside from issues with the bike itself, are on Saturdays.
  • Andrea Dovizioso, his qualifying 18th possibly being a signal of where things stand regarding his next contract, managed to salvage five points at a track where he should have had things his way. Other than Zarco’s flukey podium, Round 3 was a washout for Ducati Corse.
  • Ducati, it appears, recognized that Zarco would be effective on the Ducati at tracks that are friendly to the Big Red Machine. Tracks like Brno and Red Bull Ring. Zarco could have himself a nice August.
  • With Pecco Bagnaia (broken leg) and Marc Marquez (broken arm) out of the race, a few people moved up from their usual neighborhoods. Alex Rins, who should probably be recovering from shoulder surgery, surprised most people today with a solid fourth place finish.
  • Romano Fenati will probably spend the rest of his career in Moto3. I thought he was going to be a star a few years ago. Nope.
  • KTM owes a big thank-you to Dani Pedrosa, whose input, one imagines, has been key in helping KTM get their prodigious power from the engine to the ground. This has been the big difference in the Austrian factory this year. I couldn’t understand why they would want a test rider who weighs 120 pounds; now I do.
  • Please to report that Alex Rins finally got rid of his terrible haircut.
  • After starting the race like a house on fire, Aleix Espargaro ended up settling for a nice top ten finish, putting a hurt on little brother Pol. Before Pol got knocked out, it looked like KTM was going to put three riders in the top ten. Miguel Oliveira’s tidy sixth-place finish had to be satisfying, perhaps as much as the word that this season’s last race will be held at his home track at Portimao.
  • Repsol Hondas started the day in P20 and P21. Try to look up the last time that happened.

We’ll be back again next with more. With Marquez and Bagnaia out for the foreseeable future, the championship is wide open, as open as I’ve seen it in a dozen years. This is fun. Even without the brolly girls.

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Maria Herrera with her brolly guy, from better days

MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Quartararo goes 2-for-2 in 2020; Yamaha podium lockout 

With injured defending champion Marc Marquez registering the first DNS of his premier class career, the grid mostly failed to take advantage of his absence. Seven of the top 12 qualifiers crashed out or retired. So, presume Marquez returns at 90% in Brno with Fabio enjoying a 50 point cushion, 11 rounds left. Who do you bet on for the title? 

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For Fabio, life is good.

This is yet another of example of how important it is to be careful what you wish for. The large, expanding ‘Anyone but Marquez Club’ seems to have delivered us simply a new incarnation of Marquez, a rider capable of rattling off five wins in a row. On a satellite Yamaha. Setting all-time track records along the way. Making it look simple. Pressured Marquez enough at Jerez I to contribute to his crash. Today, in his absence, young Fabio led from lights out to checkered flag and was never seriously challenged. There was some good action behind him. You know, the way it was when, you know, Marquez was kicking everyone’s ass. Same ass, different boot.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

What is there to learn on Friday during the second week of a back-to-back? On this particular Friday, for Round Two, we couldn’t help but notice several obvious things. Riders who should not have been in the hospital were crowded around the top of the time sheets, while riders who SHOULD have been in the hospital were grouped at the bottom, with Marquez not even bothering to suit up.

If you think this was business as usual, how about this: KTM occupied three of the top six spots on the combined time sheet, with Yamaha holding the other three. Jack Miller rode the top Ducati while Takaa Nakagami was the top Honda rep in P8.

One admires the grit and determination of Rins and Crutchlow and, apparently, Marquez, but the fact that they’re cleared to race grand prix motorcycles is a joke. #93 seemed to think he could podium at Jerez with one arm. Crutchlow and Rins must have suspected there were points at stake that they could potentially claim. But the Yams—Maverick, Rossi and Morbidelli—were quick on Friday. And Binder, Espargaro and Oliveira finding their way to the top six is damned remarkable. But it looked like it was probably a Friday thing, and that things would heat up for real in FP3 on Saturday morning.

Saturday

The culling of the herd in FP3 was a bit refreshing, topped by Yamahas and Ducatis. Fabio and Maverick punished the all-time track record. Jack Miller flogged his Ducati to third, with Takaa Nakagami overachieving in P4. Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci put Ducati in P5 and P6. The top ten was completed by gritty KTM rookie Brad Binder, Valentino, Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir. These riders would proceed directly to Q2. Oliveira and Morbidelli moved on through Q1 to Q2, edging out the brave Cal Crutchlow, who would start from P13.

The news that Marc Marquez was done for the weekend (!) arrived immediately after the completion of Q2. This changed the perspective for Sunday’s race back to what it was last Monday, when the idea of Marquez racing was ridiculous. I read somewhere that this type of fracture could end Marquez’ season. Right. He will return at Brno ready to rumble.

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

Don’t let anyone tell you that young Fabio Quartararo has not arrived on the MotoGP scene, Alien card in hand, expiration date years from now. Joined on the podium by fellow Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, I would also encourage the reader to ignore anyone suggesting The New Kid In Town is doing it on an inferior bike. Suddenly, the Yamaha loves Jerez, which suggests it will be happy pretty much everywhere left on the calendar. The bike is good enough to transport Rossi to the podium for the first time since last year in Austin. Just sayin’.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

Miguel Oliveira:      Came through Q1 to start from P5; crashed.

Franco Morbidelli:   Came through Q1 to start from P6; crashed.

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

Cal Crutchlow dragged his LCR Honda across the finish line to secure three points. KTM Rookie Iker Lecuona just had a forgettable day.

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

Moto3 gave us the usual spellbinder, as the first five riders to cross the finish line were separated by 8/10ths of a second. Chalk up the win to Tatsuki Suzuki, who took advantage of a crash by series leader Albert Arenas and his own sizzling pace to win today’s race, joined on the podium by Scottish veteran John McPhee and Italian teenager Celestino Vietti. This was a nail biter from start to finish, with eight more riders failing to finish. After wins at Qatar and Jerez I, Arenas was contending, looking to put some distance between himself and his pursuers, when he binned it. Rather than heading to Brno with 75 points on the trot and a sizeable lead in the series, he leaves with 50, a six point lead over Suzuki and ten over McPhee, the series tighter, as they say in Indiana, than wallpaper.

Moto2 was, for the second week in a row, more processional.  Enea Bastiannini led Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi on a merry chase all afternoon, and the three ended up on the podium, one completely lacking in suspense. The were joined in the top six by Sam Lowes, Aron Canet and Jorge Martin in what is starting to become The Usual Suspects of Moto2. Series leader Tetsuta Nagashima couldn’t get out of his own way today (P11), clearing a path for the all-Italian podium, the first such celebrazione in the intermediate class since 1998.

Most of these riders weren’t yet born in 1998.

Moto2 heads north and east with Nagashima sporting 50 points, Bastiannini 48 and Marini 45. Tighter than wallpaper, wait, sorry, never mind. Close. There are another six or eight riders with visions of greatness in their heads, but they would need a whole lot of things to go right to put themselves in serious contention. Martin, from what I read, already has a contract with Pramac Ducati in MotoGP for 2021-22. Not sure why they are waiting to announce it. It appears to be perhaps the last remaining open slot in the premier class for 2021.

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

It feels pretty good to look at the year-to-date standings and see three or four guys in each class who are legitimate threats to win this deeply asterisked season. Arenas, Suzuki, McPhee and Vietti appear to be the class of the class in Moto3. In Moto2, journeyman Nagashima, the Italians Bastiannini and Marini, and the Alien-in-waiting, Jorge Martin, all look capable of standing on the top step in Valencia. In MotoGP, with Marc Marquez down 50 heading into Round 3, the division, for the first time in, like, five years, is a horse race, with a handful of credible challengers for the trophy. Sad to say, this is how it’s supposed to be. The presence of a generational talent during one’s wonder years doesn’t necessarily improve the viewing experience, even if you’re a fan. The riders seriously need to seize upon Marquez’ misfortune, to put some more distance between themselves and him, to crush out any hope of a late-season comeback.

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

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The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

The 2020 MotoGP season got off with a bang, as the brutally hot conditions in southern Spain took a toll on all three classes. The most dramatic event today was Marc Marquez crashing heavily toward the end of the premier class race, after recovering from a costly early moment to challenge for the win. Yamaha took three of the top five spots, despite Rossi’s retirement on Lap 19; Ducati claimed the other two. With Marquez showing a zero for the first time ever, MotoGP 2020 may provide fans with some real drama for the first time in five years. 

One must concede that Marquez, despite being faster than everyone else out there, was a bit rusty. Coming off an 8-month layoff, and with riders having little real practice time under their belts, this race was unlikely to be a work of art. Two riders failed to start, five failed to finish, and several others went walkabout and re-entered. According to the announcers, the heat was worse than Sepang, worse than Buriram. This is what happens when you schedule stuff outdoors in southern Spain in July. 

Practice and Qualifying

I keep arguing with myself about the utility of Fridays at Round Ones, about trying to glean anything from the timesheets. Not too much there for me. The same cannot be said about the results of the combined FP1-FP3 practices that separate the goats from the lambs re: having to slog through the frying pan of Q1 just to get thrust immediately into the fire of Q2. On Saturday FP3 ended with Dovi on the inside looking out from P10 at the likes of Pol Espargaro, Rins, Petrucci, Zarco, Miguel Oliveira and, not for the last time, Alex Marquez.

In addition to the usual suspects, the lambs included Jack Miller and Joan Mir, both looking dangerous, Cal lame-ducking the LCR Honda, suddenly quick SRT TechTrois Yamaha heartthrob Franco Morbidelli and young Pecco Bagnaia, who, having crawled in 2019, appears to be walking on the Pramac Ducati in 2020. Rossi making it straight to Q2 is a relief for him and his team. Marc Marquez, who led Friday, was lurking, keeping his powder dry in P4, looking like he was ready to assert himself in qualifying. Fabio set a new track record on Saturday morning. But not having fans in the stands made it feel like testing.

Q1 on Saturday afternoon was, if you’re willing to call what these guys do in the last two minutes ‘routine,’ kind of routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty damned exciting. When the smoke cleared, Alex Rins’ Suzuki and Pol Espargaro’s KTM had made it into Q2 after an unusually strong performance by KTM rookie Brad Binder, a worker bee who bears watching.

Q2, featured strong performances from the eventual front row of Quartararo, Viñales and Marquez. Both Pramac Ducatis and, looking slightly deranged, Cal Crutchlow formed Row 2. Pol Espargaro, a quiet Andrea Dovizioso and a jinxed Alex Rins would have constituted Row 3, theoretically, had Rins not suffered a “fracture/dislocation” of his right shoulder with a minute left. Oww. So he was out for Sunday’s race and his entire 2020 season has likely been trashed. For those of you still reading, Franco Morbidelli and our old buddy Valentino Rossi joined a perplexing Joan Mir in Row 4. Pecco Baganaia, who was looking Lorenzo-like, and Joan Mir, my personal Alien-in-waiting, were the only real surprises from Q2.

Rins reminds us that although the championship cannot be won at Round One, it can be lost. Cal Crutchlow put himself out of the race with a hard crash in today’s warm-up. Twenty riders would start Round One in 2020; 15 would finish.

The Race

Today’s Spanish Grand Prix was bookended by two mishaps attributable to Marc Marquez. The first occurred on Lap 5, when, trying to get away from Maverick Viñales and the rest of the grid, he had a ‘moment,’ followed by an un-holy save–a career top-tenner–followed by a lengthy stroll through the gravel, followed by his re-entry into the fray in 16th position. There followed a remarkable display of riding, as Marquez sliced through the field all the way back to third place, with Viñales clearly in his sights and, in a perfect world, time to catch Quartararo. Chasing Viñales, blood in his eyes, furious with himself about Lap 5, Marquez endured the kind of violent high-side more typically associated with Jorge Lorenzo, clearly his most serious crash since 2011, when he came close to ending his career before it started in Sepang, suffering double vision for six months thereafter. Today’s crash looked bad. Any speculation as to his condition on our part would not be helpful.

With Rins, Crutchlow and, finally, Marquez out of the mix, a number of lesser riders had surprisingly good days. In addition to Fabio’s first career MotoGP win, Viñales made it a factory Yamaha 1-2, with Dovi putting his Ducati on the podium late in the game. Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli completed the top five. Boasting top ten finishes tonight are KTM’s Pol Espargaro (6th), Pramac Ducati youngster Pecco Bagnaia (7th) and KTM’s Miguel Oliveira (8th). Danilo Petrucci and Takaa Nakagami closed out the top ten. Team Suzuki, with Rins out hurt and Mir crashing, had a train wreck of a day. But all six Ducatis finished today’s race. KTM must be pleased with Espargaro, for now, and rookie Brad Binder who, until leaving the premises briefly on Lap 7, had been running in the top eight. Oliveira turned in a solid performance with his P8 finish. Aprilia, unfortunately, was still up to its old tricks, with a P15 and a DNF to show for its efforts to go along with the bubbly public relations campaign being waged by riders and team brass.

The Undercards

Albert Arenas, having won in Qatar sometime back around the spring equinox, won again today in a hotly (!) contested Moto3 tilt, edging out Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino. Moto3, with its 12-man lead groups, offers simply the best racing on the planet. Scot John McPhee, who came from back in the pack to challenge for the win, crashed out of the lead late shortly after Darryn Binder, another young rider with big ambitions. After two rounds, Arenas leads Ogura 50-36, with a host of riders sitting with between 16 and 20 points. Still plenty of racing left to go.

Same with Moto2, which gave us a somewhat atypical procession today. Luca Marini, who has MotoGP written all over him, fended off a brave challenge from journeyman (and series leader) Tetsuga Nagashima, while Moto2 sophomore Jorge Martin scored his third career Moto2 podium, holding Sam Lowes at bay for the last few laps. Plenty of action lower in the order; too much to keep up with here. Watch the video. But after two rounds, the top five in Moto2 include Nagashima, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Marini, Enea Bastiannini, and Aron Canet.

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

  • Why can’t Marc Marquez make it five in a row and seven for eight?
  • Who will emerge as the top challenger(s)?
  • Which of the young guns will make great strides and approach Alien status? (This may be a duplicate of the previous question.)
  • Will Rossi start to show his age or any sign of a give-a-rip attitude?
  • Can Suzuki provide sufficient horsepower to make Rins or Mir Aliens??
  • Will KTM show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will Aprilia show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will the virus allow the completion of even this bastardized schedule?
  • Like, how many top tens will Alex Marquez see this year?
  • Finally, how many of these questions are you comfortable answering after what is effectively Round One?

Our answers to those questions, after one scrap, go like this: Big crash at Jerez I. Fabio, Maverick and Miller. Bagnaia, Binder and Mir. Yes. No. Yes. No. Don’t know. Zero. Three.

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

*Injured, likely to miss time.

Next week we’ll try this again, likely missing a few premier class riders. It promises to be warm. Hopefully, the Grand Prix of Andalucía won’t be quite as hot as the Grand Prix of Spain.

 

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rounds One and Two will be here at Jerez

MotoGP 2020 has, apparently, arrived, with Round One lifting off this weekend in Jerez. The series, which typically starts its season in late March, has suffered due to the virus, and is probably not done suffering. One thing is clear heading into 2020: MotoGP, despite its denials, despite its claims to be a global sport, is a Spanish-language sport. Half of the 14 scheduled races take place on Spanish soil, while many of the world’s great tracks lay fallow. The first language of this year’s MotoGP champion will be Spanish.

I get keeping the series in Europe for 2020. But no Mugello? No Assen? If there is a second wave of virus in Europe later this summer and/or fall it could cause the cancellation of rounds on the calendar today. The schedule is a compressed house of cards, and its viability over five months is questionable. It appears Dorna has scheduled 14, hoping to get in at least 10, which would qualify as a “season.” A season which would appear in the record books with an asterisk set in 72 point Helvetica Black.

Nonetheless, here we are. Most people, in my estimation, would include Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins and either Valentino Rossi or Jack Miller in their top five. But even if they do manage to avoid upcoming virus outbreaks and go 14 rounds, a single crash at the wrong time could gut anyone’s season. Miss two or three rounds in a 20-round season and you can still contend. Miss two or three rounds in a 12- or 14-round season and you’re toast. This makes it more random, which, I suppose, means less likely that Marc Marquez will take MotoGP title #7.

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Marc taking a different approach at Phillip Island last year, I think.

 

The changes for 2021 have become a blur, dominating conversation during the summer of our discontent. What we’re seeing is the racing equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. As fans, we are gracious enough to look beyond the virtual lock that is Marquez and allow ourselves to be distracted by silly season antics. It is now certain that the 2021 grid, assuming sports in general still exist, will in no way resemble the 2020 grid if and when. Imagine:

  • Valentino Rossi wearing SRT blue and yellow. Factory Yamaha #46 gear is now “vintage.” The two year goodbye tour begins, yellow smoke everywhere.
  • Fabio Quartaro in factory Yamaha colors and not for the last year.
  • Pol Espargaro in Repsol orange, black and red, rather then KTM orange, black and red. Honda often uses a white background to make the riders look taller.
  • Jack Miller and Jorge Lorenzo (? Really?) fronting the factory Ducati team.
  • Danilo Petrucci pedaling hard for KTM on their Tech3 team alongside Hakuna Matata. Iker Lecuona.
  • Cal Crutchlow working at Aprilia with great joy. Partying with Aleix.
  • Alex Marquez joining LCR Honda and Nakagami with full factory support, shooting for top tens. Nakagami riding year-old hardware.
  • Andrea Dovizioso taking a gap year to work on his short game, race some dirt bikes with Iannone. Trying to find a one year deal somewhere for 2022.
  • Jorge Martin, late of Moto2, joining Pecco Bagnaia at Pramac Ducati. Martin is an Alien-in-Waiting.
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Fabulous Fabio, living large

There may be more before the lights go out on Round One in 2021. I can’t imagine the consequences of 2020 won’t come home to roost for a number of racing and entertainment venues across the board; large gatherings, measured in the tens of thousands, may have become a relic of the past. Here’s a list of tracks that hosted a MotoGP race in 2019 and will not do so in 2020:

  • Yeah, I know the undercards ran in Qatar. This isn’t about them.
  • Qatar; Argentina; COTA; Mugello; Assen; Silverstone; The Sachsenring; Buriram; Sepang; Phillip Island; Motegi and the new track in Finland. Not a good year for the so-called ownership interests.
  • Until there is a vaccine available on a global basis, MotoGP will be making a host of compromises when it comes to length and breadth of the racing season. If, as predicted, the second wave, yet to arrive, is larger than the first, this may all be moot.

As an abashed American I find myself wondering about how the rest of the world views our country and our leadership. How most of Europe is prepared to ban Americans over health concerns. It must be something to be an ex-pat or English-speaker living abroad watching the big bad USA being brought to its knees by a virus most of the developed world has managed to contain. And

Jack Miller

Veteran Jack Miller, the great Australian hope.

how disinterested Americans are in MotoGP to begin with. I suppose if I’m writing for people in Australia and Canada I should be nicer to them, say nicer things about them. Go Jack Boy! Show ’em Euros how to ride a neffin’ motorcycle!

Bottom line, heading to Jerez for Round One of 2020: Marc Marquez is in full health, two functioning shoulders, and has two wins and a second here in the last three years. He could easily leave here on July 27th with 50 points and a discouragingly big lead in the championship. Andrea Dovizioso’s collarbone is healing from a MX crash during the hiatus. I expect to see a lot of offs on Friday and Saturday, riders getting all antsy to get out there and find out if they’ve got anything. Looking forward to the LTMOQP2 (the last two minutes of QP2) as much as the race itself.

Lord, it feels good to get back to something resembling MotoGP. I expect to have results and analysis right here on Sunday morning, with a special focus on the lame ducks, those riders changing manufacturers in 2021. Aloha.

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MotoGP: Tire Warmers On

June 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Despite the fact that, virus-wise, the U.S. is starting to resemble Dante’s Inferno, over in Europe things appear to be trending well. MotoGP/Dorna has been itching, for obvious reasons, to get some kind of season started and in the books. The sheer amounts of money involved in cancelling an entire MotoGP season are unimaginable. They need to get a 2020 season, this kind of MotoGP Lite thing, going, and soon.

As things stand, there is a schedule, about which we’ve already written. Cramped and crowded, it leaves little margin for error and will punish riders who, say, do a collarbone and miss, conceivably, three rounds. ‘Twasn’t always thus. All in Europe in 2020, a crapshoot as to which tracks ended up on the calendar, more of a crapshoot as to who might emerge from the pack to seize the 2020 title in the event the rider with the aforementioned hypothetical collarbone should turn out to be Marc Marquez.

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#93, gold helmet

Even without his favorite tracks on the scheduled part of the schedule, and Germany off altogether, Marquez continues to be the prohibitive favorite to continue his reMarcable string of world championships. Pretenders to the throne are many, not including brother Alex on the #2 Repsol Honda. #93 , however, remains untouchable and, assuming he avoids injury as per usual, should win the title.

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Young Fabio, new kid in town

Should he somehow fail, the list of contenders becomes long, indeed, with a compressed, shortened season. Two weeks at Jerez to start the season could begin or end a championship chase that appears destined to go through December. And a brutal, packed chase it is. No thought as yet as to weather and what it might do to things. Predicting a championship top five–certainly something you, the reader, might expect if you’ve gotten this far–is following the laws of statistics, i.e., the smaller the sample size, the larger the variance. One is less likely to pick a winner in a short season than in a long one. That’s my excuse, and I’m going with it.

The other fascinating part of the pre-season is the contract signings going on for 2021 (and 2022, in some cases). Suddenly, there are an alarming number of lame ducks on the grid, with possibly more to follow. Yamaha is playing musical chairs with its existing stable of riders, with Fabio Quartararo trading seats with legend Valentino Rossi, on its factory and satellite (SRT) teams. But HRC has reached out to Pol Espargaro, to ride with Marquez for the 21-22 seasons. This puts Alex to LRC Honda for 21, along with Nakagami, with Crutchlow being shown the door.

Danilo Petrucci is displaced by Jack Miller on the factory Ducati team for 21-22, and Petrux goes and signs with KTM Tech 3, teaming up with Iker Lecuona, whose name sounds, to me, like it could be from a Disney movie. “Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona, Iker Lecuona…” Miguel Oliveira, in my opinion an up-and-coming young rider despite his ride, not because of it, gets promoted to the factory KTM team as Espargaro leaves, teaming up with Brad Binder, signed for at least 2021. Oliveira, I think, would excel with one of the top three or four bikes on the grid. Oliveira, to me, looks like a Yamaha kind of guy. But KTM is doing for him precisely what they should have done in the first place, before all this started.

Overlooked in all the drama is the Suzuki team of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, both

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Rins and Mir, the future so bright they need shades in their visors

legitimate candidates for Alien status. Standing pat, missing out on some development stuff at present, but certainly a credible team heading into whatever 2020 has to offer. Once more, we wish to say out loud that Suzuki needs a satellite team. There.

Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati Corse are locked in some contentious negotiations about his 2021-22 contract on the factory team. Dovizioso is not anxious to acknowledge that his best years are probably behind him; Gigi does not want to commit two expensive years to a rider well into the back nine of his career. If Dovi were to fail to reach a contract with Ducati for 2021-22 there would be high demand for his services elsewhere, especially on the satellite Ducati teams. He would have to take a pay cut. That’s the way it goes. A new two-year contract with the factory team would not surprise me at all, especially since most of the high-profile riders are already signed for the next two-year cycle. It will be the last contract Dovi signs with Ducati. Two years if he can get it.

Is it possible that Bradley Smith, with Iannone’s immediate future up in the air, could sneak back on the grid on an Aprilia in July? As regards Iannone’s pending 18 month suspension, and The Man’s recommendation that it be extended to 48 months, and all the bad feelings around the whole thing, one gets the sense that the commission, or whatever, will announce their decision in May of 2022.

There’s probably more. But it’s a short year, and a number of riders will find themselves cognizant when going into corners against a future teammate, mostly subconsciously, one supposes, but not impossible, allowing it to effect their performance. Like we said, lame ducks all over the track.

Cal Crutchlow, another lame duck who must feel his efforts are, once again,

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being ignored by HRC, will be sulky while putting on a brave face. He could end up with an Avintia or Aprilia or KTM team in 2021, one supposes, or even, under the most severe circumstances, on a seat being vacated by Dovizioso. He might approach 2020 with the attitude of having nothing to lose, to win or bin, take two in a row at Jerez and be off and running. It’s gonna be hot at Jerez in July, and the Hondas like it that way.

The absence of fans, even with noise piped in, will take away from the theatre aspect of the race, the reason people go instead of watching it on TV. Promoters must be taking an absolute bath this year. NBC Sports must be gritting their teeth at having been talked into carrying MotoGP this year. One hopes, in the interest of seeing the sport more widely available, that the season proves to be a good one, one that will let Valencia decide.

The wild card, in all of this, is the coronavirus. It appears a number of countries are preparing to ban, or require quarantining, of visitors from the U.S. over virus concerns. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have essentially done the same thing in the U.S. versus the rest of the the U.S. This virus is relentless, and 80% of people on Earth are going to get it. It may affect relatively few, but others it will kill. It’s going to be around for awhile, until there is a vaccine. Years, really. Among the casualties could be all forms of racing, as well as all stadium-based sports. Football. Basketball. Baseball. The list goes on. From that perspective, whether MotoGP takes place or not is of relatively little importance.

Let’s hope the racing gods are smiling upon us later this year and that the virus gods are pretty well done screwing with people in Europe. Let us hope for blue skies. Let us hope for safe racing and a minimum of damage to machines and riders. Let us hope for close competition and elbows in the corners and a close championship battle over the entire season, or what’s left of it. Let’s hope to see more results from the young riders aside from Quartararo. Let’s see if the Next Great Rider is out there on the grid, waiting to have his Alien card stamped.

Paging Joan Mir.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

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Before getting too far into the nuts and bolts of the latest round of wishful thinking on the part of The Powers That Be, let us note that the usual blah blah blah about the virus is still in there, that this is only the latest, most radical attempt to salvage the remnants of what was to have been another Repsol/ Marquez coronation in 2020. It remains to be seen whether any actual races will take place. From a global perspective, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is a bad thing for all types of racing, including MotoGP.

For the sake of keeping our oar in the water, we can take a moment to shred the calendar, which features two back-to-back weekends and three triple-headers. An American swing and a truncated Asian swing are pinned to the end of the scheduled schedule. Like an addendum. Like the suits at Dorna and FIM spent hours arguing about leaving these rounds on the schedule at all, given how tenuous the European part of the schedule was looking already. To suggest that MotoGP will be spending Christmas in Malaysia strains the imagination.

Nonetheless. Two rounds at Jerez on the 19th and 26th of July. A round in Brno followed by a twofer at Red Bull Ring, in a tip of the hat to Ducati Corse. Then, two rounds in Misano–mmmm–and one in Catalunya. A week in France, then two weeks in Aragon as penance. Ending with two weeks at Valencia on November 15th. In italics, basically, is a fictional Americas swing to Austin and Argentina, with an additional “swing” to Thailand and Malaysia. At risk of running into the end of the calendar. All a fantasy.

I found myself thinking about what an awesome vacation it would be to spend 10 days or so in Misano. We might spend Saturdays at the track, otherwise catching Sundays as usual on the website and reporting the results sometime after the race. It occurred to me that neither I or my wife would want to go to Italy in the summer of 2020 with The Rona out there. Adriatic Riviera or not, it’s not a good idea, at least not for us, coming from the U.S. It’s just such a beautiful place, shoehorned in-between the mountains and the sea. Our health insurance wouldn’t work over there, etc. Not in the cards.

So I’m wondering whether any of this is more than a pipe dream, if it’s not just a little something to keep us occupied during this dreadful hiatus. If there is an amusing aspect to this latest and greatest calendar it is the refutation of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s hollow claim that MotoGP is more than just a Spanish sport. Seven of the scheduled 14 rounds are in Spain, at all four usual tracks. Catalunya, perhaps because of the heated current political environment there, only gets a single week, while the other three get a pair each. The remaining seven rounds are schedule for other places on the planet. Four of the eight tracks in 2020 are in Spain. The Spanish riders will enjoy an advantage.

No Mugello. No Sachsenring. No Finland. No Silverstone. No Motegi or Phillip Island. Perhaps two of the last four races listed after the schedule could take place; probably none of them will. Some of Marc Marquez’s bread and butter–Austin and Sachsenring–won’t happen. He should still do okay.

With all the drama surrounding the signings for 2021-22 it will be slightly weird to see the lame ducks–Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez, Jack Miller in a way, possibly no Andrea Iannone–knowing they are headed to greener pastures in 2021 regardless of what, if anything, happens this year. Rossi’s last year on the factory Yamaha. The two Suzuki riders gunning for Alien status. Marquez fighting off all challengers. The era continues, assuming there is a racing season in 2020.

I suspect this latest schedule should be thought of as Hypothetical. So many things need to go right, and so few things can go wrong, that the odds against us watching these remarkable athletes racing in anger in 2020 are long. Will they pipe in noise? Will they let fans in? Will they provide all of the necessary yellow smoke? Will the marshals have masks? The mechanics?

At this point, the 2020 MotoGP schedule looks fantastic, as in a figment of someone’s fertile imagination. If it happens, I look forward to being wrong and getting jacked up on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t we all.

MotoGP: Catalunya Off, Season in Peril

April 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

As if.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s good to be the king

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

If this is it, this was good stuff.

COTA Closes Indefinitely

March 17, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Circuit of the Americas Closes Indefinitely

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This release yesterday from COTA. in Cycle News.

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

Saturday night--Motorcycles on Meridian

Motorcycles on Meridian on Saturday night, 2008

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

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

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

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MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

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