Archive for the ‘Valentino Rossi’ Category

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen     September 17, 2018

Simple: Dovi Must Run the Table 

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

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

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

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

Marquez and Petrucci at Misano 2017

Petrucci and Marquez, Aragon 2017

History Aside, Here We Are

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

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

 MotoGP

TRACK RECORDS: RIDER, YEAR AND MANUFACTURER AFTER 13 ROUNDS 

LOSAIL                    2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RIO HONDA[1]        2014           Marc Marquez               Honda 

COTA[2]                   2015           Marc Marquez                Honda 

JEREZ                      2018          Cal Crutchlow               Honda 

LE MANS                2018           Johann Zarco                Yamaha 

MUGELLO             2018           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

CATALUNYA         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                Ducati 

ASSEN                     2015           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

SACHSENRING     2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

BRNO                       2016           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RED BULL RING   2016           Andrea Iannone            Ducati 

SILVERSTONE[3]  2017           Marc Marquez                Honda         

MISANO M.S.         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                 Ducati

ARAGON                  2015            Marc Marquez                   Honda

CHANG                    2018

MOTEGI                   2015            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

PHILLIP ISLAND     2013            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

SEPANG I.C.              2015            Dani Pedrosa                   Honda

RICARDO TORMO   2016            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

[1] Weather

[2] Track conditions poor

[3] 2018 race cancelled

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Chasers be advised—this is a Honda track 

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

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

Recent History at San Marino 

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

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

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

Silverstone Post Mortem

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

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

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

As my dad used to say,

Once More, with Feeling 

Marquez       201

Rossi            142

Lorenzo        130

Dovizioso     129

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

Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.

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

Marquez stats 2013 - 2017Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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

Ciao.

Rossi Prevails over Ezpeleta re Mexico

August 27, 2018

This, from MotoGP.com:

“No new circuits planned for provisional 2019 calendar

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

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

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

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

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

Rossi

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen    Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez fails to extend his lead as race cancelled by rain 

The entire weekend devoted to the GoPro British Grand Prix seemed to be accompanied by a sense of foreboding due to the weather. One had the sense that dry practice sessions and a wet race could lead to carnage and confusion; Exhibit A occurred near the end of FP4. In the end, the carnage and confusion was restricted mainly to the race organizers, sponsors and rider Tito Rabat. After hours and hours of hemming and hawing, the British round of the 2018 MotoGP season was scrubbed. 

Screenshot (204)

Zarco in hot pursuit during a dry practice session in England

Practice and Qualifying 

As a salve for their wounded pride, FP1 was declared Yamaha Awesome Midlands Session #1. In what can only be described as poetic justice, it was Vinales and Rossi sitting atop the timesheet at the end of the session. (The idea of a small, unofficial podium celebration was considered and abandoned.) FP2 then fired off and became the “fast” session of a cold, windy weekend. In it, the top six lambs who would be heading off into Q2 on Saturday emerged: Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Vinales, Marquez, Lorenzo (off of one fast lap) and Jack Miller. Yeah, I know, Jack Miller. He likes it here. Reminds him of Phillip Island.

Saturday’s FP3 was even more Finnish than Friday. Only one rider, Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati, made any significant progress, leaping from 12th going into FP3 to 7th coming out. This, in turn, caused hard luck Alvaro Bautista, World Super Bike-bound, to fall out of Q2 and have to try to slug his way out of Q1. One more bummer in a season of bummers for the Spaniard. But Cal Crutchlow, at one of only two tracks where people aren’t charmed by his accent, looked exceedingly quick both days. With mixed conditions expected on Sunday, he became a legitimate threat to crash out of the lead at his home grand prix. He did, however, sign a new two-year deal with LCR last week, so he’s got that going on.

Q1 saw Bradley Smith (find him in the dictionary under “too little too late”) jet into Q2, joined by Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who waited until well after the flag had waved to lay down a lap quick enough to earn the promotion, at the expense of Franco Morbidelli. (BTW, Morbidelli, on the Tuesday after Valencia, will move his posterior from a second-string Honda to an “A” version YZR-M1 on the new Petronas Yamaha team. In the game of bridge, this is referred to as a jump-shift.)

Q2 was the usual, um, Asiatic fire drill. When the dust cleared, the first four rows were bracketed by a pair of Ducatis on the front—Jlo! and Dovi—with Rossi and Vinales on the factory Yamahas wiping up the rear, as it were, in 11th and 12th places. Both Lorenzo and Dovi took their own sweet time getting to the front for the first Ducati 1-2 qualifying session since 2006. Rossi, though, looked like a rookie satellite rider as he was trying to organize a second attack late in the session, which he ultimately failed to do. Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco made a refreshing cameo front row appearance on the his two-year old sled. The second row of Crutchlow, Marquez and Petrucci looked every bit as dangerous as the front three.

The worst news of the weekend prior to Sunday was the multiple leg fractures suffered by Tito Rabat toward the end of FP4. He will be out indefinitely. Moments after crashing out, he got creamed in the gravel trap by teammate Franco Morbidelli’s runaway Honda. This is almost certainly a season-ending injury for Rabat, who was finally finding his way on the Ducati. Let’s hope it’s not a career-ender.

Most of the usual suspects showed up in the morning warm-up, with Vinales leading Dovi and Marquez on a dry surface. With rain expected in time for the race, start times adjusted to avoid it and failing, etc., it seemed Maverick could again find himself undone by the rain. Everyone wants to be the Second Coming of Jorge Lorenzo—Pecco Bagnaia, now Vinales, etc. I wonder how Bagnaia does in the wet. The critics persist even as Lorenzo blitzes the Silverstone pole in changing conditions.

British GP Takeoff Delayed 

On Saturday, with Sunday’s incoming weather resembling a meteorological Charge of the Light Brigade, race time was moved up 90 minutes, from 1pm local to 11:30am. (Imagine the Silverstone executives on hand with Mike Webb & Company, prancing about, trying to keep the wheels from falling off their TV deal.) Then, imagine their continuing angst when Sunday morning rolls around and the clouds go from dribbling and snorting to full-blown downpour at around 11:15, forcing another delay, this second one rather open-ended but for the assurance that the race would not, under any circumstances, be run on Monday, when it would make most sense, weather-wise. So, as of noon Sunday, it was race later in the day (or night) or bust.

The rain continued to fall all afternoon in the Cotswolds. The last gasp attempt to run the races, contingent upon the rain having stopped by 4 pm local, failed, as the back edge of the weather system, complete with clearing skies, could not arrive in time. So, the 2018 season would go on without the benefit of a British Grand Prix. To the extent that you feel bad about missing out, count yourself lucky that you’re not among the 90,000 people who have to get ticket refunds sorted out, sponsors going mental, TV execs with hours of dead air to fill, etc. The scene on the non-public side of the race could be sufficiently jacked up to kill off future races at Silverstone, unless some poor reinsurance company gets stuck with the tab.

The Big Picture

So, 2018 has become an 18-round season. Where there were once eight rounds to chase down Marc Marquez and his 59-point lead, The Three Chasers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso—now have but seven. On the other side of the same coin, Marquez now has one less round to pile on points toward his magic number. All three of the chasers must have liked their chances today. Rossi, who would have started 12th, the eternal optimist, is a Sunday racer and has won numerous times starting from the way back; the fourth row wouldn’t have been a great concern. Jorge and Dovi starting from the inside of Row 1 in a wet race, with soft rain tires, could have easily finished 1-2, given Lorenzo’s new-found comfort in damp and changing conditions.

Back in 1971 I spent two weeks in Cheltenham, England, just down the road from Silverstone, visiting British friends who had attended my high school in the states. My friend Cathy, who was my age, had, by that time, a boyfriend named Keck who was a Cotswolds Hell’s Angel. He and his bros, no doubt sensing a kindred spirit, welcomed me into their troupe, introduced me to scrumpy, a hard cider deeply loved by the locals, peeing in public, digging big trenches in the village green with one’s rear tire, and rolling their own cigarettes with about a 50/50 blend of tobacco and weed. By the end of two weeks, I had shifted my attentions to Cathy’s younger sister who, as luck would have it, was best friends with a girlfriend I had left stateside; no go. I had experienced half a dozen crippling hangovers, several awe-inspiring rides on a chopped 500cc Indian, and left for Amsterdam resolved never to seek membership in a US chapter. Just not cut out for the life.

Oh, the reason I mention this at all? From what I’ve seen, most of Great Britain is a bog. This is a country where people burn dirt to heat their homes. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

Two weeks to Misano. Two weeks to get over the funk that accompanies the scrubbing of an exciting afternoon of racing.

End of Season Point Projections

August 13, 2018

MotoGP Spreadsheet after 11 Rounds

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

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Red Bull Ring 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. 

Screenshot (188)

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.

Screenshot (191)

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

MotoGP Brno Results

August 5, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Andrea-DoviziosoDovizioso, Lorenzo Lead Czech Charge 

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

A Pulsating Czech GP

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere on the Grid

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

The Big Picture 

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

Tranching Getting Easier

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

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Midseason Report Card

July 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.                      July 24, 2018

In the words of numerous shell-shocked generals throughout history, immediately after losing great battles, as we make the turn in MotoGP 2018, we must ask, with slightly slurred voices, “What happened?”

How could a year which held the promise of a serious four- or five-man competition all the way to Valencia—supported by the breathtaking finish at Losail—arrive at its midpoint in such a competitive shambles? Repsol Honda’s young, virtually invincible Marc Marquez sits, in mid-season and at the peak of his prodigious skills, in complete command of the championship. Toying with those fools.

A reader suggested we remove him and his 165 points from the picture, figuratively speaking, whence the standings would be:

Rossi            119

Vinales         109

Dovizioso       88

Zarco            88

Lorenzo          85

This is close to what I expected, with MM sitting at the top with, say, 133 points. As The Beach Boys (including two of the originals) sang the other night, under the stars, “Oh wouldn’t it be nice…” But Marquez, with his crushing 165 points, has taken the air out of the place. I never want to see a rider injured. But I suspect I’m not alone enjoying the vision of Marquez receiving a two-round suspension for throwing down and getting K.O’d in a Czech gravel trap by someone like Andrea Iannone.

Here in realityland, we’re looking at the season from Round 1 through Round 9 to understand how the results at Losail–Dovizioso beating Marquez to the line by the width of a wheel—enhanced our collective, overly-optimistic belief, now dashed, that the season would go down to the wire. In Qatar, Dovizioso and Marquez had their own war over the last three laps; earlier, the front group had consisted of nine riders. Rossi podiumed. Things looked tight—the top six riders all finished within four seconds of one another. After the race I posted the following:

  • Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow. (In my excitement about the race, I forgot my mantra: Losail is an outlier.)

On to Argentina, where the wettish start of the race was a memorable fustercluck, Jack Miller on pole getting hosed by the rules. Marquez stalls at the start and jumpstarts his bike, turns around and re-takes his place, having gone mental. Penalized, furious, but lucky that he wasn’t black-flagged, he went on to bump and grind with a number of riders, lizard brain in control, before finishing 18th. After two rounds, he sat in fifth place, trailing Crutchlow 38-20. Dovizioso, Zarco and Vinales were also in his way, Zarco having finished second at Rio Hondo behind Crutchlow.

It looked, as the expression goes, like we had us a horse race. But in truth Marquez had great race pace all weekend in Argentina and could have easily podiumed had he not stalled his bike, a once-in-a-career screw-up. The standings after Round 2 were misleading. Yamaha fans actually believed their guys could be competitive all year without actually winning races. Ducati fans, still basking in the afterglow of Qatar, could overlook the fact that Jorge Lorenzo sat in 15th place after two rounds.

Round 3, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, became, for Marquez, his 10th or 12th win on American soil; he has never not won a race in the U.S. Although he won easily, as expected, those following him—Vinales, Iannone, Rossi, Dovi and Zarco—generated a top five, after three rounds, separated by eight points, with Marquez still trailing Dovi by a point. Tight, as we said back then, as tree bark. Tranche 1 included Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales. The series returned to Europe and civilization slavering at the prospect of running at Jerez.

At Jerez, Jorge Lorenzo first adopted his current habit of running the softest tires available, being able to lead the first half of races before fading to 7th place at the end. A reader sent the following note, a conversation he allegedly overheard outside the Ducati garage at Jerez:

“Gigi, I want the soft tire! I will win the first half of the race, and then the championship!”

“You don’t get points for the first half, Jorge.”

“Give it to me, the soft!”

“We put the softest tire we have on it, Jorge. They don’t make them any softer.”

“Then marinate it in the mantequilla and leave it out in the sun! It must be softer! The Spartan commands it!”

Unsurprisingly, Lorenzo led the early part of the race until Marquez ate his lunch on Lap 8 at the new Jorge Lorenzo corner lol. Marquez was leading the race on Lap 20 when a decisive 2018 moment occurred, as Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa got tangled up, Pedrosa going airborne, ending up in a heap in the gravel, bikes and riders everywhere. A racing incident in which either Lorenzo or Pedrosa was the “procuring cause.” No penalties assessed, but Lorenzo and Pedrosa saw their faint title hopes go up in smoke and ash. Dovizioso’s would go up later in the year.

Marquez found himself with clear sailing late in the day. This is what is meant by the expression, “Katie bar the door.” It was after Jerez that we awarded the 2018 championship to Marquez, Tranche 1 looking like this: Marquez, Zarco, and Dovizioso, with the latter two hanging by a thread. Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa and Miller made up Tranche 2 at this point, with The Great Australian Hope Jack Miller, especially, looking much stronger than expected.

Round 5 in France: Homeboy Johann Zarco became the first Frenchman to start from pole in The French Grand Prix since The Norman Conquest and finished an impressive 2nd.    At what had generally been a Yamaha track Marquez put the fear of God in the field. After Zarco, then Dovizioso, crashed out in front of him, Marquez found himself in the lead, beating Petrucci and Rossi to the flag, and stoking his margin over Vinales for the season to 95-59. Zarco and Rossi were crowding Vinales at this point, the three separated by three points.

Marquez had taken 95 of a possible 125 points for the season and could have easily had another 20 in Argentina but for his mental meltdown.

It was Round 6 at Mugello where he had the grace to slide out on Lap 5, allowing Jorge Lorenzo the unexpected privilege of winning a MotoGP race for the first time since Valencia 2016 while the series leader remounted and finished out of the points in 16th. Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill the surprising vacuum and breathed a little life into the series. Marquez’ margin over Vinales was cut to 23, the pack bunched up behind them through Crutchlow in eighth.

Jorge Lorenzo gave us another vivid reminder of who he used to be at Catalunya where he won again, this time after being pursued by Marquez, who didn’t have enough today. Following these two were Rossi, Crutchlow and Pedrosa, who pimped Vinales at the wire. Although relatively insignificant in the big picture, Marquez added four points to his season lead and, more importantly, reduced the total number of 2018 points available to his pursuers by one round. The Yamahas and Ducatis will never catch him treading water like this. With two rounds left until the summer break, everyone knew it was “Anyone but Marquez” time heading to Assen. Marquez could effectively break the field with wins in The Netherlands and Germany.

Round 8 at Assen provided us with one of the great races of all time, a record total of 175 overtakes from start to finish. Roughly six different riders led at one time or another. Marquez ultimately took the win. Alex Rins, finally showing some of the massive potential he possesses, stole second place from Vinales at the flag. Vinales, in turn, punked Dovizioso, who punked Rossi, trailed closely by Crutchlow and Lorenzo. Seven riders within five seconds of the winner. It was a huge win for Marquez, and a huge letdown for every other Alien and pretender. It was surely starting to look like one of those Marquez years again. Plus, the next stop was The Sachsenring, where Marquez had been incandescent for almost a decade.

On July 15, Marquez goes out at The Sachsenring and just brutalizes the field. Says afterwards he had more pace if he had needed it. Oozing confidence after his ninth consecutive win at this track, back to when he was a teenager. He becomes the fifth rider this season to break a track record, joining Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco in that luminous group. The championship feels like a foregone conclusion.

Valencia, it appears, is screwed, which is probably also true for Sepang and, perhaps, Phillip Island. I suppose it’s mathematically possible for Marquez to clinch at Buriram, which would send the locals straight into madness. At this point we’re guessing Australia. 

Part Two: The Lambs and the Goats from the First Half 

1        Yamaha Factory Racing           228

2        Repsol Honda Team           214

3        Ducati Team                    173

4        Pramac Racing                 141

5        Team Suzuki MotoGP           128

6        Tech 3                             110

7        Team LCR                         89

Repsol Honda Team: Marquez be Marquez, while Dani Pedrosa, dealing with the erosion of his skills and desire, more titanium screw holes in him than Swiss cheese, announces his decision to retire at the end of the year rather than ride a non-competitive bike, i.e., a satellite Yamaha for the next two years. HRC immediately sacks up and signs Jorge Lorenzo to join Marquez in 2019-2020.

Movistar Yamaha Team: Running second and third to Marquez most of the season, Rossi and Vinales must feel like Beaver Cleaver when Eddie Haskell would come over and mess up his hair, call him a punk. Rossi hasn’t won since Assen last year, while Vinales’ last win was at Le Mans 2017. Johann Zarco has been more impressive on his two-year old sled. Yamaha engineers need to read the book “Good to Great.”

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso, who seriously challenged Marquez for the title last year, has been this year’s single biggest disappointment, having scored 35 fewer points this season than at this time last year. Jorge Lorenzo, last year’s biggest disappointment, pulled rabbits out of his hat twice this year to regain a little of his lost swagger. He is also defecting to Honda, his seat being taken by the deserving Danilo Petrucci.

Suzuki Ecstar Team: Consistently inconsistent since Round 1.

Suzuki team YTD

In but three of nine rounds have both riders finished the race, Rins has shown flashes of brilliance, while Iannone, no longer the Maniac, appears content to finish races, making hay seemingly only when misfortune strikes other riders. The team has dismissed Iannone and signed wonderkid Joan Mir from Moto2 for two years beginning in 2019. Rins, once he finds the limit of the Suzuki, will be a baller. For this year, both riders are disappointments. Iannone takes a step down to the factory Aprilia program for the next two seasons.

Red Bull KTM Factory Team: Once again, despite fierce loyalty from KTM owners and fans, the Austrian MotoGP program has been a dud in 2018. Owners and fans see great things on the horizon. I see Pol Espargaro with 32 points and Bradley Smith with 13 points after nine rounds. I see Miguel Oliveira stepping up from Moto2 to take a Tech 3 seat. I see test and wildcard rider Mika Kallio escape destruction by the thinnest of margins in his practice crash at The Sachsenring. They pick up a satellite team with the acquisition of Tech 3 racing; Johann Zarco will join Espargaro on the factory team, while Oliveira will team up with Hafiz Syahrin on the Tech 3 team, which will ride full factory bikes. Hafiz Syahrin is on his way to becoming very good rider on what is likely to become very good equipment and should feel very fortunate.

Factory Aprilia Team: Another year on the learning curve for the Italian team, as Aleix has 16 and Redding, on his way out in favor of Iannone, has 12. Aleix pushes the bike past the limit and has once again recently spent time in the hospital as a result. Redding, despite his brimming self-confidence, is too big to ride with these midgets. Aprilia will have to take the plunge on a satellite team at some point if they’re ever going to generate enough data to become competitive at this level.

Alma Pramac Ducati Team: Like a lot of B teams, this group seems to lose their best rider fairly often. After this year, Danilo Petrucci, who has been enjoying a very strong (84 vs 66 in 2017) season, leaves to join the factory Ducati effort alongside Dovizioso. Jack Miller, #2 on the team, is also having an improved year—57-41—over 2017. He will be joined next season by fast mover Peco Bagnaia, on his way up from Moto2. Promises to be wild and woolly next year as the rookie learns to tangle with the beast that is the Ducati Desmosedici.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha:  With Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger slated to return from encouraging rookie seasons, Herve Poncharal had room to feel optimistic, until the day early this year when he learned Folger would not be returning. In quiet desperation, he turned to out-of-work Malaysian mudder Hafiz Syahrin, who has stepped in this year and done a workmanlike job of learning a big new bike on the fly. Teammate Zarco has not improved noticeably over last season and has struggled down the stretch through Sachsenring this year. The KTM deal must be a distraction. Whatever.

Team LCR: Both Cal Crutchlow on the Castrol version and Taka Nakagami on the Idemitsu version have provided marginal improvements to the team’s fortunes compared to last year, when it was Cal only. Nakagami has disappointed badly with his measly 10 points, while Crutchlow is up marginally—79-64—over last year. Both riders on this team insist the Honda is difficult to ride, a complaint you don’t hear very often from the factory riders. Cal is sticking around for next year, as is Nakagami, who has in the first year of a two-year HRC contract.

Angel Nieto Team              48

Red Bull KTM                     45

Avintia Racing                    30

Aprilia Racing Team           28

Marc VDS Racing                19

The rest of the teams I just have a hard time caring about these groups. Sure, there are some competitive riders in here—Rabat, the Espargaros, Morbidelli—but overall it’s a big Who Cares?

* * *

Halfway through the round, sitting in the clubhouse, I am approaching the second half with an almost Nordic sense of existential dread, that this might turn into an Agostini-like s**tshow with 23 riders fighting for scraps. From what we’ve seen since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when the Honda chassis was unrideable, none of the current riders on the grid appears capable of staying with Marquez over the course of an entire season. Which, in turn, means that it will have to be one of the young guns who take him down. Remember when Lorenzo arrived in 2008, a very hot property, to join The Doctor, the undisputed god of MotoGP, and put a hurting on him only two years later.

For Marc Marquez, these are his salad days. Top of his game, in full command of all his prodigious skills. Nobody on the grid with the chops or the nuts to challenge him. Able to tame the unruly RC213V when other great riders can’t. Practices saving lowside crashes with his knees and elbows. You can see other riders and teams watching him and just shaking their heads.

This is Year Six of The Marquez Era, 2015 being the exception that makes the rule. He should, by my estimate, enjoy perhaps four more years before someone gives him a serious challenge. Starting in 2021 Rossi will be horse-whipping those young Italian Sky VR46 Yamaha riders, insulting their manhood until one of them wins a title. Guys like Maverick Vinales and Jack Miller will chase Marquez for most of their careers. Guys like Zarco and Dovi will flare up during certain years, shedding more light than heat in what will likely be futile attempts to put the squeeze on #93.

As for an actual report card on the riders, I think the tranches after Round 9 reflect the grading curve for the first semester:

A:      Marquez

B:      Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

C:      Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

D:      Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

E:       Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP returns to Motorcycle.com on July 31st with the Brno preview. Enjoy the break, fools.

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Retains Sachsenking Crown 

Screenshot (159)

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marc Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP makes the turn heading for the back, um, 10 starting at Brno in August. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Since FP4 doesn’t really count for anything and is mostly used for working on race set-up, the results after FP3 are important. This time around, the lambs heading directly into Q2 included most of the usual suspects. Dani Pedrosa snuck into 10th place in front of Andrea Dovizioso, sentencing the Italian to a second qualifying run—Q1—in his increasingly futile effort to chase down Marquez.

Notice how close Alex Rins (in 9th place) was to 1st place–.252 seconds—and to (Q1) 11th place–.125. Andrea Iannone pushed his Suzuki to within a tenth of the track record, which looked primed to fall. Rossi, struggling, only made it through on Saturday morning by the skin of his teeth. And let’s dispense with any discussion around his finishing Friday in 17th place being all part of the plan.

The Q1 goats included Dovizioso by .048, along with the suddenly tepid Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, who has cooled off, the KTMs and the rest of Tranches 4 and 5. The Ducatis failed to improve, sending only three riders—Petrucci, Lorenzo and Alvaro Bautista?—directly through to Q2. My concern that Bautista would join Morbidelli with the new Petronas team was apparently unfounded, as he is reportedly searching for a World Superbike seat for next season. Leaving unanswered, of course, the question of Morbidelli’s teammate, now that Pedrosa is hanging up his leathers. (I keep hearing the name Fabio Quartararo getting thrown around.)

Q1 was pretty straightforward, as Dovizioso responded to the imperative and made it through while Taka Nakagami, on the strength of one fast late lap, joined him on the passage through to Q2. Aleix Espargaro flirted with Q2 for much of the session, but it would have been for naught anyway, as he was penalized six grid spots for lollygagging in the racing line during FP3 (for the second time this season—repeat offender).

Q2 was another morality play in reverse, in which the swarthy underdog (played by Danilo Petrucci) who had never won a premier class pole sat in first position, owning the new track record, as the checkered flag waved. His impending problem was that Marquez, the fair-haired boy conqueror, had successfully started his final lap before the flag fell. During what felt like injury time in soccer, Marquez survived three separate wobbles to lay down a 1:20.270, relegating Petrucci to second and Jorge Lorenzo, looking dangerous, to third. Poor Danilo. And putting the staff here at 5-for-7 for the season, hitting .720 breaking track records for the year.

There it is again. Nine straight poles in Germany. Marquez looked utterly capable of dominating the proceedings on Sunday, especially if he were to enter Turn 1 of the first lap leading the pack. Petrucci and Lorenzo, his front row buddies, seem to be bristling, raring to go, another testament to the progress Ducati Corse has made during Dall’Igna’s tenure. Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi hogged the second row, giving them at least a puncher’s chance on Sunday. Iannone, doing a good Snidely Whiplash impression with his new stash, could manage no better than 8th after blistering the field twice in practice. This track is tight and moving through traffic is as difficult as anywhere on the calendar. I made myself a promise on Saturday: If someone from outside of Rows 1 or 2 won on Sunday I would renew all of your Late Braking MotoGP subscriptions for the next year. 

 

The Race

Other than the mayhem leading up to the race, the German grand prix was a bit of a snooze. The carnage started on Friday, when Mika Kallio, on a KTM wildcard, took a header into an inflatable wall followed closely by his bike. He sustained a serious knee injury which, it appears, will end his season. (It could also mean a gig next year for Bradley Smith as a test rider for KTM.) During the morning warm-up on Sunday, Aleix Espargaro attempted to launch his Aprilia into a low earth orbit, sustaining a chest injury that kept him out of the race. Franco Morbidelli gave his bad wrist a try on Friday before calling it a weekend, the team calling upon Stefan Bradl to sit in for him. On Lap 1, Pol Espargaro lost control of his KTM machine, which then took out an unsuspecting Alex Rins. And the LCR Honda contingent was pancaked during the race, Nakagami losing it on Lap 7, my boy Cal Crutchlow on Lap 10.

There was some good action farther back in the pack all day, but I’ve only got two hands. Suffice it to say that some people, perhaps fans of Danilo Petrucci, left today feeling buoyed by his razor-thin margins to Marquez in search of his first pole and Vinales in search of another podium. The ride of the day goes to Alvaro Bautista, horribly badmouthed in this space for years, who pushed his Ducati GP17 to fifth place, ahead of both Dovizioso and Lorenzo, the big factory studs. 

The Big Picture 

The 2018 MotoGP championship is now officially Marc Marquez’ to lose. He leads the ageless Valentino Rossi by 46 points heading into the break, with Rossi teammate Vinales another 10 points in arrears. Yamahas scored a lot of points today but were never a threat to actually win the race. Ducati riders turned in some blistering practice times, and their top four riders finished 4th through 7th, but again, they just weren’t competitive over the last three-quarters of the race. The virtually unavoidable conclusion is that this is Marquez’ personal sandbox and the rest of y’all can just tussle over second place. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Marquez camp votes to retain Sachsenring as the venue for the German Grand Prix. Rins took whatever hopes Suzuki entertained today with him as he got skittled on Lap 1. Oh, and for you KTM freaks out there, let us not fail to mention Brad Smith’s stunning top ten finish. 

Tranches After Assen

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

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

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

Postscript 

By way of historical context, Germany’s “long racing heritage,” entirely missing today, is still celebrated here at what was, 75 years ago, ground zero for The Final Solution. Dresden was needlessly firebombed by Allied planes late in the war in retribution for the Nazi firebombing of Coventry, which the Allies knew was coming, but were prevented from warning the residents out of fear of revealing they had cracked the German military codes. We should not gloss this over. MotoGP doesn’t take us to a lot of places that were so brutally consumed by WWII, and we should honor them when we are visiting.

We hope you MOrons enjoy your summer vacation. We will try to craft a coherent mid-season review in the next several weeks, assuming I can pry the $$$ out of Toronto.

2018 Sachsenring Race Results

World Championship Standings after 9 Rounds

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

I found myself quoting a statistic I hadn’t researched myself, one which, in a court of law, would be thrown out as hearsay. The statistic in question had to do with the number of wins scored by Everyman’s Hero, Valentino Rossi, since his last world championship in 2009. Presenting Exhibit A:

Rider Spreadsheet 1

Visual expression of what so many people say, how fun it would have been to watch Stoner and Marquez tangle. Anyway, if you remove the three years before Marquez got his ticket punched, the numbers look even more compelling;

Rider Performance 3

 

Bottom line: Rossi’s salad days, and those of Dani Pedrosa, are behind them. They should avoid the “Colin Edwards mistake” of hanging around two years too long. Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and even Iannone are getting a little long in the tooth. Time for some new blood at the top of the food chain.

Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Jack Miller on a Pramac GP19 next year. Jorge Martin moving on up in the next two years. Lorenzo Balddassarri. Miguel Oliveira for KTM. Everyone seems to love Xavi Vierge. Moto3 is packed with fast movers wanting to move up to Moto2. Plenty of knees and elbows in the turns. It appears that, career-wise, Tito Rabat has pulled off an amazing save, Marquez quality, and seems likely to find a ride for next year. He certainly seems to enjoy life on the Ducati, as does his boy Jack Miller.