Archive for the ‘Suzuki’ Category

Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

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  1. Taka Nakagami finished at the top of the sheet on day two, proving there was a range of objectives riders brought with them to Jerez. Let’s not hyperventilate, pretending that Taka, riding Crutchlow’s bike from last year, is the fastest guy out there.
  2. Marc Marquez is as cool as a cucumber. Everything is chill on the #93 side of the Repsol Honda garage.
  3. Maverick Vinales is now top dog at Movistar Yamaha and they’re building the bike for him. Time for the wall.
  4. Jorge Lorenzo put his shiny new Repsol Honda up into P4 on day two, showing remarkable progress both in his adaptation to the Honda and the recovery of his wrist. 2019 could feature a number of double-Honda podiums. This one may work out for old Jorge.
  5. Danilo Petrucci knows this is his chance. A one year contract, 28 years old, needs to lose more weight, but he has a chance to flirt with Tranche 1. He appears to be the next Andrea Dovizioso.
  6. Franco Morbidelli is looking solid on the Petronas Yamaha. I see him battling Pecco Bagnaia for a good part of next season. Both fast movers, both accustomed to success, both on credible machines.
  7. Jack Miller, now the lead dog on the Pramac Ducati team with Bagnaia, needs to spend more time with the rubber down and the paint up. His inability to finish races is hard on him and his team. We get it that he’s fearless, but he needs to be a little smarter.
  8. Andrea Dovizioso will again chase Marquez all year long, collect a couple of wins and some podiums, perhaps a pole or two. Maid of Honor and head bridesmaid in 2019.
  9. Pecco Bagnaia on the #2 Pramac Ducati should figure in the Rookie of the Year competition along with Joan Mir. The second coming of Jorge Lorenzo will put it on rails now and again.
  10. Alex Rins is my guess to be the fifth Alien, along with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales and Lorenzo. I Screenshot (333)will stick my neck out again and predict a potential P3 for Rins in 2019 on an improved GSX-RR.
  11. Valentino Rossi seems to be getting sick of the whole thing. 2019 is likely to be his last year. He doesn’t have the input he is used to having, the 2019 bike doesn’t work for him, and it’s looking like a long two years. In all likelihood he won his last race at Assen in 2017.
  12. Fabio Quartararo, the 19 year old French wonder, needs a year or two to get himself settled in at 1000cc. He appears to be a baller-in-waiting at the Petronas Yamaha team, upon which will be lavished plenty of corporate largesse. Lots of people seem to want him to succeed.
  13. Tito Rabat will return for Reale Avintia Ducati. Not sure why, other than the money and the women and the free medical care.
  14. Joan Mir, who dominated Moto3 in 2017, has arrived at Suzuki after the obligatory year in Moto2 with much fanfare, giving the Ecstar team a potentially powerful one-two punch in the rider department. Let’s just go ahead and say that Mir will be an Alien in short order. 2021, 2022…
  15. Pol Espargaro, the fastest of the KTM contingent, winner thereby of the Taller Than Mickey Rooney Award. KTM looking weak, top to bottom. There’s grumbling in the cheap seats.
  16. Karel Abraham, #2 on the Reale Avintia Ducati team, races bikes to enhance his law practice, his sex life, and his standing with dad. Finishing, for Karel, is not that different from finishing in the points.
  17. Andrea Iannone, consigned for sins committed early in his tenure with Suzuki to #2 rider on the struggling Aprilia team. Underfunded, underpowered, the effort promises to be one of consistent frustration again in 2019. Iannone will DNF pretty often in the first half of the season, asking more from the bike than it has to give. For Suzuki, Mir is the right choice.
  18. Johann Zarco appears doomed to a Tranche 3 or 4 season onboard the KTM. Openly disappointed, he appears to be suffering buyer’s remorse over having spurned the satellite Yamaha team. Bummer.
  19. Aleix Espargaro, the #1 rider on the factory Aprilia team, a position with a world of prestige and little else. Aleix appears doomed again to spending another year with no podium result. Aprilia’s MotoGP program may not be sustainable if there is a worldwide recession, which would be a bummer for Aleix, Iannone, Brad Smith and MotoGP in general.
  20. Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira–teammates on the Tech 3 KTM team will be fighting one another most of the season–everyone else will be in front of them.

Cal Crutchlow missed both the Valencia and Jerez tests as MotoGP folds up its tents on 2018. He appears to be a top five or six guy in 2019. Overall, the four new guys from Moto2–Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo–have way more talent than the four–Bautista, Redding, Smith and Luthi–that left. They are younger, faster and well-financed. The championship will be closer in 2019 than 2018–other than Marquez running away with the title–and closer yet in 2020, the second year of most of the contracts. By 2021 some of these guys will be on Marquez’ rear tire on a regular basis, at which point we could have us a horse race again, as in 2013 and 2015. Life goes on in The Marquez Era.

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 12, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo edges Marquez in another Teutonic classic 

For the third year in a row, MotoGP riders have tried to dislodge Ducati Corse from the pronounced advantage they enjoy here in Austria. In 2016, it was Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo who failed to flag down Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Last year, it was Marc Marquez trying valiantly and ultimately failing to overtake winner Andrea Dovizioso. Today, it was Marquez losing again by a tenth, this time to Jorge Lorenzo, in a last lap duel that was entertaining, if not riveting. 

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Red Bull Ring, neat as a pin

Practice and Qualifying 

The weather gods had themselves a few laughs this weekend. In order to complete the picture postcard surroundings, they summoned bright sunshine, big old rain, and cloud formations worthy of National Geographic. The results were, in a word, havoc. A dry FP1 turned out, as feared by many, to be the determinant of the Q1/Q2 splits, as FP2 was hard rain and FP3 was run on a drying track. The results, as is customary in these rain god kneeslappers, found Q1 comprised of the usual suspects, with the addition of Tito Rabat and the deletion of Valentino Rossi, who got aced out 10th place by teammate Vinales and 49/1000ths of a second. Marquez, running fourth, found himself surrounded by Ducatis and Italians, not for the last time.

Q1. I would have bet my house on Valentino going through. Instead, he put up a rather submissive 4th place finish after getting punked late in the session by Alex Rins and the new improved version of Alvaro Bautista. Bradley Smith made a valiant effort to put his KTM into Q2 in front of the hometown fans but missed by 15/1000ths of a second.

Q2. My boy Danilo Petrucci, who had been sniffing around the top three all weekend, kept things interesting for the eventual front row, but finished looking quick and dangerous sitting fourth. Marquez put down the fastest lap of the session (.099 off the track record ☹) and withstood a late scorcher by Dovizioso to hold onto pole by 2/1000ths of a second. More Ducatis, more Italians. Lorenzo kind of backed into third, unable to improve on a quick mid-session lap. Crutchlow and Zarco, sitting fifth and sixth respectively, looked happy just to be within striking distance.

Per announcers Matt and Steve, the consensus amongst the paddock was that Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo would fight for the podium, with Petrucci, Crutchlow and perhaps Zarco or Rins lurking. Meanwhile, with the same two, and a suit from Yamaha corporate, pronouncing the Yamaha program “embarrassing” it may be that a familiar name, a Jarvis or a Maragalli, may be shown the door in the foreseeable future. Having the two factory Yamaha riders starting the Austrian Grand Prix in 11th and 14th places is unacceptable. And since it’s both of them, it pretty much has to be the bike which, at this point, would have trouble beating the 2016 iteration of itself.

If the Standings were Closer, the Race Would Have Been Better

Going into the race holding a 49-point advantage over a struggling Valentino Rossi, everyone knew Marquez could crash out of the race and still enjoy a meaningful lead. At the same time, Marquez had been nursing some hurt feelings since he got punked at the flag last year by Dovizioso. Not to mention that Red Bull Ring is one of increasingly few venues where #93 hasn’t won in the premier class. So, we found ourselves at the start watching the expected lead group of Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Marquez take shape and remain largely intact all day.

Most of the day was spent watching Marquez deal with the Ducati doubleteam. As per usual, Marquez was faster in the tighter sectors of the track, while Dovi and JLo had a major advantage in the straights. By Lap 19, while Lorenzo and Marquez were taking turns going through on one another, Dovizioso ran hot and wide into Turn 1 and lost touch with the two Spaniards. For the two riders who will wear Repsol Honda colors together for the next two seasons, it was suddenly High Noon, Mittag to the locals, with ten laps to go. And away they went.

Finally, with three laps left, both riders rolled up their sleeves, exposing their matching Multiple World Champion tattoos. Lorenzo, with soft tires front and rear, saved enough of them to have plenty of grip late in the day. Marquez, who had gone medium/hard, had plenty of grip but not enough grunt. He tried one last block pass in Turn 10 of the last lap, but Lorenzo anticipated the move, skirted it, and kept enough drive to beat Marquez to the line. A sweet win for Lorenzo. Marquez’ small disappointment at having missed the top step of the podium today was tempered by his adding another 10 points to his 2018 championship lead, which now stands at 59.

Here and There

Cal Crutchlow was happy to break a small personal string today. Having finished 15th here in 2016 and 2017, he improved to a highly respectable fourth place. As Cal will tell you, Red Bull Ring is his least favorite circuit, tied with 17 others not named Silverstone, and so he never really expects to do all that well here.

Points from Mugello – Red Bull Ring (6 Rounds)

Marc Marquez                  106

Valentino Rossi                  86

Jorge Lorenzo                  114

Andrea Dovizioso               83

Maverick Vinales                54 

2019 Promotions

  • Jorge Martín will move up to Moto2 with Red Bull KTM Ajo, filling the spot vacated by Miguel Oliveira, on his way to MotoGP with KTM Tech 3.
  • Pecco Bagnaia will join MotoGP with Pramac Racing in 2019.
  • Joan Mir will move up to join MotoGP Team Suzuki Ecstar as a teammate to Álex Rins in 2019.
  • Marco Bezzecchi and Philipp Öettl will move up to Moto2 with Red Bull KTM Tech3 and MV Augusta bikes, replacing Bo Bendsneyder and Remy Gardner.

KTM is the Ducati of Moto3. High top end, not as nimble as the Honda. And is Marco Bezzecchi not the second coming of Marco Simoncelli? Tall-ish, rockstar haircut, exuberant, aggressive and Italian to the core. Nice win for him today on home turf. Pecco Bagnaia showed again why he’s earned a Pramac Ducati seat for 2019 in a 20-lap showdown with KTM’s Miguel Oliveira, the last five of which were riveting, the last two turns of which were a replay of Marquez and Dovizioso in 2017. Wait a minute. Perhaps Bagnaia is the second coming of Simoncelli…

MV Agusta returns to grand prix racing in 2019 in Moto2 building bikes for Forward Racing. Moto2 will adopt the new Triumph inline triple 765cc which will be, if not faster, sexier-sounding. All throaty. It wouldn’t surprise me if Honda’s 600cc four-banger outperforms the larger Triumph, which may say as much about me as it does the British factory.

Let’s Tranche Again

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

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

These rankings have more or less coalesced of late. Either that or I’m losing interest in them. Audience participation is welcomed.

Two weeks to Silverstone. The championship may, in fact, have already been decided for 2018. But as today showed, there is still plenty of high quality racing going on at the great tracks of the world. And Red Bull Ring, too.

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Austria, as it turns out, is Lorenzo’s Land

Jorge Lorenzo is so screwed

May 23, 2018

Lorenzo screwed.JPG

This article captures the situation in the premier class pretty well. Lorenzo will be unable to save his seat. He will take a serious pay cut no matter where he ends up. Suzuki looks the most likely. He could end up on a Yamaha satellite team. He will be a minister without portfolio. Rossi escaped Ducati with most of his skills intact and a place at Yamaha for as long as he wanted it. Lorenzo, presuming another gruesome outing in Mugello next weekend, appears to have few good options available going forward.

http://www.marca.com/en/more-sports/2018/05/20/5b01520d22601df35c8b45e0.html

 

Joan Mir – Alien in Waiting

May 22, 2018

© Bruce Allen       May 22, 2018

Young Joan Mir, age 20, is about to have his ticket punched. As a Twitter friend says, “Dude’s bank account gonna get laced.

Joan Mir

Joan Mir, winning the Moto3 trophy easily in 2017.

This young Spaniard has been killing it at every level. He won the Moto3 title at age 19 without breaking much of a sweat. Like Marc Marquez, he seems to be playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. We have been jocking him as a future Alien for a few years now. And after his maiden Moto2 podium last week at Le Mans, he is now an artículo caliente.

We had heard that Honda was interested in signing him to ride alongside Marquez beginning in 2019, forcing Dani Pedrosa to some kind of Plan B. We had also heard of interest from Suzuki, to have Mir join Rins on the factory team, until Lorenzo’s name started popping up in connection with Suzuki. Now we learn that Ducati is interested, too, that there are now three suitors for Mr. Joan’s services.

It is said that it would be hard to be Marc Marquez’s teammate. But HRC, having lost out in the Zarco lottery, cannot afford to pass on this young man. He practices for hours on 1000cc bikes. If he doesn’t get promoted this year, given the standard two year deals available on the top premier class teams, he would have to wait until 2021 to move up. Too long. Too much talent.

So, who will end up with Joan Mir on a factory ride next season? Mir, who is already contracted directly with Honda rather than the Estrella Galicia Moto2 team, is likely to join Repsol Honda. Suzuki will probably have to give a shot to Lorenzo. And Ducati will be better off with Dovi and Petrucci than Dovi and Mir. The Desmo can still be a career-buster; not referring to Jorge Lorenzo here.

Putting Lorenzo on a GP17 last year, after nine years refining his technique on the Yamaha, was like telling your all-star pitcher to start throwing with his glove hand. Just a simply terrible idea. Worse yet, Jorge and Ducati had just seen it only a few years earlier in the failed Valentino Rossi experiment. That Lorenzo would willingly repeat the career-busting change, for filthy lucre and ego, suggests he is now sleeping in a bed he made himself. He is more likely to be successful on the improving Suzuki than he ever will be on the Ducati, which has him thoroughly spooked.

Anyway, Joan Mir. Alien-in-waiting. Will he be wearing red, white, black and orange next season? Teal Blue? Bright red?

MotoGP 2017 is here

January 27, 2017

For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week.  The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.

Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest.  The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development.  The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner.  If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title.  Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.

Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.

ducati-99-lorenzo-950504-edited

The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there.  The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.

vinales-on-yamahaedited

The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi.  Marquez remains in a league of his own.  He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers.  Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether.  Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.

Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years.  I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.

Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave.  He should win three races this season.  And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.

I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi.  Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017.  Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi.  If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces.  The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.

Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle.  Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP.  Welcome to the big league, rookies.

Visit crash.net  for practice times.

 

An Argument for Smaller Engines

November 25, 2016

Here is a fascinating article from GPOne.com.  The line which caught my attention was the one in which he informed us that the 350 km speed Iannone achieved at Mugello is referred to in the aviation industry as “take-off speed.”  He argues for 600cc prototypes in MotoGP, emphasizing that today’s bikes have too much horsepower–280–compared to the theoretical limit of 300.  Which, in itself, is remarkable.  Oh, and not enough downdraft to keep them from going airborne.

He goes on to explain that without the wings there will be serious wheelie problems and that it will simply be hard to keep the rubber on the road, as it were.  This supports my recent speculation concerning our Mr. Dall’Igna, who, we believe, is designing a new front fairing that will include molded self-contained “winglets,” especially since it is his bikes that are most likely to approach a low earth orbit.

Hidden in the article, I believe, is the concern that MotoGP could have a year in which multiple riders lose their lives, and old F-1 kind of year.  Which, I think, is a reasonable concern.  Despite advances like airbags inside the leathers, it is still a frightening enterprise to consider throwing a leg over one of these engineering marvels.

 

MARCO-SIMONCELLI-1

Marco Simoncelli, who died at Sepang in 2011.  The changes recommended in this article would not have saved his life.

 

What the MotoGP fans get now is huge speed and relatively little action in the turns.  The reason the Moto2 and Moto3 races are so wonderful to watch is that there is so much action in the turns.  Never mind that they can’t top 160 mph in the long straights; what gets people juiced is seeing them trading paint in the turns.  The interviewee’s approached would appear likely to deliver, even if the bikes can’t exceed 180 mph.

* * *

Obviously, after last year it is clear Yamaha, at least, will have to include some kind of rev limiter on their 2017 bikes.  How cool would that be–a rev limiter that restricts the rider to no more than 18,000 rpm.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Results

November 13, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo ends his tenure with Yamaha in style 

Heading into the finale of the 2016 season, the atmosphere in Valencia was mostly celebratory.  The title had been decided, the silly season was well over, and most of the riders were competing for pride alone.  The Ricardo Tormo circuit here is one of the top venues in this sport, loved by the Spanish riders and most of the others, too.  Bragging rights during the offseason are nice and all, but pale in comparison to a season finale with a title on the line such as we saw in 2013 and last year. 

During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday one got the feeling that this one would boil down to a duel between Honda world champion Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, who is defecting to the factory Ducati team after nine years and three titles with Big Blue.  Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.

In the end, it didn’t rain.  El Gato fished his wish, while Marquez had to be satisfied with simply being king of the moto racing world.  Jorge won the race, Marquez won the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating (like he had just won another world championship), and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he was crashing Lorenzo’s party.  The third rider on the podium, Andrea Iannone, did nothing maniacal and sacked up with a t-shirt thanking Ducati for allowing him to break so many expensive motorcycles before getting shunted off to the Suzuki team for next year.

Jorge Lorenzo and Q2 on Saturday 

Having been out of town all weekend, I was finally able to locate an internet connection in northern Arizona and catch Q2 late Saturday night.  It may have been the most interesting 15 minutes of the weekend.  Watching it, one inferred that Lorenzo was determined to start the race from pole.

After his out lap, he set a new track record with the first lap ever by a motorcycle under 1:30 in the history of the track.  He pitted, changed his front tire, got up to speed on his second out lap and proceeded to set a second track record before heading back to the pits.  Again, his crew put new rubber on his M-1 and sent him back out.  Again, after his out lap he set a third track record, claimed pole, and sent a message to the grid:  Kindly stay the hell out of my way tomorrow or my crew and I will convert you to a grease spot on the tarmac.  Marquez and Rossi made up the rest of the front row, to the dismay of riders who had been entertaining visions of becoming the 10th rider to win a race this season.

Lorenzo vs. Marquez on Sunday 

Though Marquez and Suzuki wonderkid Maverick Vinales were quickest in the morning warmup, while the factory Yamahas loitered in sixth and seventh, very few people could have been thinking this wasn’t going to feature the winners of the last four premier class titles battling hammer and tongs all day Sunday.

The race was over in ten seconds.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo, taking the hole shot, appeared to have been launched from a cannon, while Marquez, fighting inertia, gravity and a number of other laws of physics, found himself buried in the vicinity of sixth or seventh place in the first few turns, at a narrow, tight track that makes overtaking difficult.  At the same time, Andrea Iannone materialized on Lorenzo’s back wheel, after having started seventh.  The lead group formed up quickly, comprised of Lorenzo, Iannone, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, making a cameo after his seventh (!) collarbone surgery a month ago.

True, there was a bunch of jockeying around all over the track, but in terms of material effect there were basically three “events” today.  First, Lorenzo got away and started laying down a series of 1:31 laps, riding on rails, the old Jorge back and in charge.  The second occurred on Lap 19, when Marquez finally got past Rossi into second place, Rossi tuckered out from spending the entire afternoon jousting with Iannone.  The third took place on Lap 29 when Iannone, who appeared to be out of energy and rubber several laps earlier, went through on Rossi, pushing The Doctor off the podium.

It should be noted that Marquez was chasing down Lorenzo over the last four or five laps, closing the gap from over five seconds to under two seconds.  Had the race lasted another two or three laps, there is no doubt here that Marquez would have won and avoided the aforementioned awkward podium celebration.  The hard front tire Marquez had chosen appeared to have a lot more life left in it than Lorenzo’s medium, which appeared to be shedding in some super slo-mo shots late in the race.  Just sayin’.

Bits and Pieces 

Cal Crutchlow, seemingly everyone’s favorite rider, took advantage of Dani Pedrosa’s crash on Lap 7 (which opened the door for a sixth-place finish for the year) by sliding off on Lap 17, apparently not wishing to kick a swarthy, diminutive Spanish rider when he’s down.  And Jack Miller, seemingly everyone’s second-favorite rider, finished 15th and earned yet another point.  Thanks to both for not messing with my assertion that neither is an Alien-class rider.

Mika Kallio rode his KTM machine well for much of the day before retiring with electronics issues.  Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro look to have a long year in store for themselves in 2017, but I, for one, expect KTM to make great strides in the next few years.  Despite being a low budget operation in MotoGP, they have that German engineering thing working for themselves; a little early success next year would be great.  Most folks are dazzled by the progress shown by Suzuki over the past two seasons.  KTM (and Aprilia) will benefit from the concessions available to non-race winning brands.  Assuming they can manage the finances, it would be great to have five or six competitive constructors filling the grid in a few years.

Today’s win put a halt to the disturbing victory drought that has haunted Lin Jarvis since Catalunya.  Losing Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati is bad, true, but gaining Maverick Vinales, The Next Great Rider, is good.  Better, perhaps, given the eight-year difference in their ages.

Happy Trails to You

The most interesting season in recent memory is now history.  More than half of the top riders will be on new equipment starting Tuesday, which supports my contention that next year’s title fight will be primarily between Rossi and Marquez.  I spent the last few days driving a rented Ford Expedition around Arizona and can assure any of you still reading that I would have been faster and more comfortable in one of my own smaller, slower, more familiar cars.  One must assume that the same is true in grand prix motorcycle racing.

We end the 2016 campaign the same way we end every campaign, by disinterring some dusty chestnut of a quote that captures the essence of the season in a few words.  This seemed appropriate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

                                                             –Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For young Marc Marquez, five-time world champion at age 23, the clear, ringing answer is, “Kicking their butts all over the playground.  Dominating their sport, living their dreams.  And waiting for my beard to come in, so I can look more badass, like Hector Barbera.”  Perhaps this is not the response Dr. King sought, back in the day.  It is, however, The Truth.

See you next spring.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Preview

November 7, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain closes on a fine season 

What will people reading this remember about the 2016 MotoGP season?  A Marquez year, his third of many, for sure.  The year Crutchlow won his first two races?  The year Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales each won his first?  The year Suzuki and Ducati and Australia broke their droughts?  The year Yamaha started one of their own?  My fave is the year nine different riders stood on the top step of the podium, some for the first time and some, perhaps, for the last. 

Dorna big cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Great Leavening proceeds apace.  The field has become more level, the notion of a win more plausible for the riders who aren’t Top Four or Five material; Jack Miller, currently residing in 17th place for the season, won in Assen.  Though one goal going in had been to make MotoGP more affordable, a laughable proposition, it did serve its twin purpose of delivering more competitive racing front to back on the grid.  It enticed Aprilia and KTM (wildcarding this weekend with Mika Kallio onboard) back into the fold.  It got Ducati back into big boy pants.

Lap times haven’t changed much.  It’s not as sexy as the custom ECU setup was, but I, for one, like it.  More rider, (slightly) less technology.  And next year, no wingies.  You readers are making me into some kind of old school purist. 

Previous History at Valencia 

Lorenzo’s 2013 finale win was a hollow victory; having needed the win, he was unable to keep Marquez out of the top five, which he also needed to do, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez, who ultimately finished third. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth; this was back when they were getting along.

The 2014 race was wet-ish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race with six laps left. Marquez took the win, blowing kisses to his fans during his victory lap, and was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous week, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.  El Gato’s fans were delirious, but the rest of the world seemed ticked off.

Of the four riders formally-known-as-Aliens, Pedrosa has the best record here, with three wins and three podia in ten starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 16 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in seven premier class starts, has three wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win, a place and a show in three MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat; I’d like to see him race here when the pressure’s on.  For those of you who insist, Cal Crutchlow DNF’d the 2013 race, got beat at the flag by Dovizioso in 2014 on his way to 5th place, and found himself in 9th position last year, 36 seconds off the pace.  There.

Sidebars

Most of the intrigue this weekend will emanate from the middle of the grid.  The civil war at Pramac Ducati is almost over; Petrucci has Redding by 16 heading into Valencia in the contest for factory GP17 next year.  Ducati pilots Hector Barbera and Andrea Iannone are fighting furiously for 9th place for the season, with Barbera holding a one point advantage coming into the weekend.  Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty, in his MotoGP swan song. will try to hold on to his single point lead over Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista in the fight for 12th place.

Random Thought 

I have a thought that needs airing out.  It may not be new, but it goes like this:  Marquez, since clinching in Motegi, still wants to win and has attacked the last two races hard, but has crashed out of each.  He had podium written all over him until he went down.  This illustrates the subconscious effect mindset (between fighting for a title and playing out the string) has on one’s focus, judgment and even balance.  Had he been in the midst of a title fight, I have no doubt he would have kept the bikes up.

While I’m at it, I’ve had a second thought for a while.  About how much fun it would be to listen to a digital recording from the inside of Valentino Rossi’s helmet during a race.  45 minutes of yelling, cursing, grunting, praying, and more cursing, all at high speed and pitch and, best of all, in Italian, so all you would understand is the names of the riders toward whom the invective is directed.  Not sure what the F*word is in Italian (cazzo, actually), but I bet you would hear it in the recording once or twice.  Possibly directed at Lorenzo’s mother.

What the heck.  Dani Pedrosa, should he fulfill his final two-year contract with Honda, would become the Spanish Loris Capirossi.  Long, distinguished careers without a single MotoGP championship.  All that meat and no potatoes.  And is it possible he might actually forego his final contract and call it a career, clearing the way for a Crutchlow vs. Miller tussle for the second Repsol seat?  The fact that he will be in Valencia this weekend makes that notion doubtful.

Your Season Ending Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for greater Valencia this weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps in the low 70’s.  The 2016 war being over, there is one last battle to be fought on Sunday.  With so few of the riders having any skin left in the game, this one will be for bragging rights only.  With the exception of Marquez, Rossi, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, many of the top ten are vulnerable to a drop in the standings, while some still have an opportunity to profit.  For instance, if Pedrosa is unable to post for the start, Cal Crutchlow is likely to nab sixth place for the season.  Great.

As to the results to come, I like Rossi this weekend.  Guy still has a chip on his shoulder and is still fast.  Marquez will compete for the win just for fun.  Lorenzo says he wants a finish to his Yamaha tenure he can be proud of.  Pedrosa will be in no shape to win but will still show up.  The rest of the fast movers—the Dueling Andreas, Crutchlow, Vinales—are always up for a podium chase.  My picks for the weekend?  Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Yamaha ends it’s losing streak, Vinales primps for his big boy debut next season, the podium celebration is as awkward as possible, and Lorenzo leaves team Yamaha with his head held high.

Next year starts on Tuesday.

This Just In

I am traveling most of Sunday.  The Valencia race results will post on Monday morning.  Thanks for your patience, real or imagined.  Ciao.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit 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 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.