Archive for the ‘World Super Bike’ Category

FT: Dorna in the Hands of Private Equity

February 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Click here for the full Financial Times article.

Capture

Dorna Sports, rights-holders to MotoGP and WSBK, is being passed around like a teenager in a mosh pit.

This corporate stuff, although largely irrelevant can, at times, prove vexing. The article suggests that MotoGP is a hot property these days with a bright future. Dorna is estimated to have earned about €500MM last year. But private equity is a very dirty business, some of whose practitioners earn a reputation as “vulture capitalists.”

One hopes that the private equity industry leaves MotoGP well enough alone. The amount of infrastructure at this point, by all parties concerned, is enormous. Big enough to affect balance sheets. This seems to show how enormous corporate monoliths like Yamaha can be threatened by these pissant  masters of leverage with no regard whatsoever for the content of the business itself. Parts is parts. Pieces parts. (That’s from an old 1970’s-80’s TV commercial for fried chicken. Find it on YouTube.)

Closer to home for some, the upcoming Brexit, most notably the so-called “No Deal,” will complicate matters for everyone in Europe, but especially in Britain, where an immediate recession is expected. This would compound the expected loss in attendance from fans in EU countries who would then have to go through the rigamarole of customs and etc. to attend, say, Silverstone. It will complicate the transfer of equipment in and out of Britain. Britons are hoarding food and calling up the national guard in anticipation of violence in the streets. The politicians are entwined in a death grip. The EU will not renegotiate. Something’s got to give.

When it does, let’s hope the shrapnel doesn’t catch MotoGP.

 

2016 MotoGP Top Tenner

December 29, 2016

 

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, who, in accordance with their editorial calendar, have elected to hold it until January 6, 2017.

Here are the top ten “things” that defined the 2016 season, in rough order. Not all of them are actual events.

  1. Danilo Petrucci earns promotion over Redding to a full factory ride at Pramac for 2017. The moment?  Valencia.  Started 14 races, finished in the top ten eight times.  Flirted with a front row start at The Sachsenring, tied Rossi, in fact, but fell to fourth over some obscure tie-breaker. At 26 and relatively burly he’s not Alien material, but he can handle the Desmosedici as well as any of the satellite riders and is a baller in the rain.  On a full factory bike Mr. Petrucci could easily challenge for a podium or three in 2017.

    iannone-and-dovi-in-argentina

    Iannone collects Dovizioso in Argentina

  1. Andrea Iannone gets his first premier class win in Austria while working himself out of a job—slide-off at Losail; collects Dovi at Rio Hondo; crashed out of second place at Le Mans; crashes at Catalunya, Silverstone and Sepang. By mid-season the fearless Italian was being encouraged by Gigi to consider a change of teams for next season, with Suzuki eventually drawing the winning number.
  1. The decline of Dani Pedrosa. The moment?  When the lights went out at Losail.  More losailDNFs in 2016 than wins.  Another Motegi collarbone, this time in FP2.  But a brand new contract nonetheless.  Dani peaked in 2012 (seven wins, finished second to Lorenzo by 18 points), and is definitely on the back nine of his career.  An entire career spent with one manufacturer is impressive in itself.  Pedrosa, although well-liked in the paddock, has always struck me as a kind of brooding guy, when he wasn’t displaying his “little man” complex and beating hell out of the field at joints like Laguna Seca.  To embark upon another two years of non-Alien level competition may prove to be a mistake.  The next Colin Edwards.
  1. The Silly Season. Jonas Folger, Johann Zarco, Sam Lowes and Alex Rins earn promotions from Moto2. The return of the prodigal lawyer, Karel Abraham, to Aspar Ducati, his pockets bulging with sponsor money.  Out the door are Eugene Laverty to WSB in a very raw deal (I thought he earned another MotoGP season), Stefan Bradl, taking his declining game to WSB as well, and the unfortunate Yonny Hernandez, who had a great 2015, a lousy 2016 and not enough backers to keep his ride.  A healthy number of current riders changed scenery, as usual, but a 23- bike grid with six manufacturers offers a number of alternatives for those journeymen seeking the elusive factory ride.  Paging Bradley Smith.
  1. Cal Crutchlow rises from the dead after a difficult start to the season (five points incrutchlow the first four rounds) with wins at Brno and Phillip Island. The moment:  Brno, Lap 16, on a drying track.  Crutchlow goes through on Iannone and quickly gets away, having made the correct tire choice in one of the 2016 rounds that started wet and ended dry.  First win by a British rider since the earth cooled.  At Phillip Island he went out and thumped the field (Marquez having already secured the title), establishing himself as a credible podium threat in 2017, when he will have even more microphones shoved in his face, to which we look forward with great enthusiasm.
  1. Marquez titles after a difficult 2015. Uncharacteristically settles for third in Jerez marquezbehind Rossi and Lorenzo, showing a maturity that wasn’t there in previous years.  The moment?  Motegi, when both Rossi and Lorenzo crashed out.  His win on Honda’s home field suddenly made him world champion for the third time.  Some people will say his save in practice at Assen was the moment, but he has made a career out of impossible saves.  Winning titles is what makes him go.

marquez-season-graph-jpeg

  1. maverick-vinales-wiki-profile-picture

    The Next Great Rider == Maverick Vinales

    Maverick Vinales gets first podium at Le Mans, wins at Silverstone on his way to the factory Yamaha team. The Next Great Rider secured Suzuki’s first podium since 2009 at Le Mans, then broke their 10-year non-winning streak with a scintillating win at Silverstone.  Nature, and Yamaha executives, abhorring a vacuum, he was the only real choice when Lorenzo announced his impending departure.  Vinales’ Alien Card is stamped and waiting.  The best part?  See him in civilian clothes and he looks like a cabana boy at the Ritz.

 

  1. Nine race winners. Moment—when Dovizioso crossed the finish line at Sepang to become #9.  I expect some of you to quibble about whether an entire season can be somehow characterized as a “moment.”  If this really bothers you, I encourage you to read Nietzsche, and to remember that, when considered across the eons of time in the frigid vacuum of space and an expanding galaxy, the entire 2016 MotoGP season is the blink of an eye.  So go quibble somewhere else.

lorenzo

  1. Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati announcement on April 19. One of the worst-kept secrets entering the season was that triple world champion Lorenzo would defect from the factory Yamaha team to Ducati in 2017.  It was confirmed prior to the Jerez round, with Big Blue having already signed teammate and rival Rossi through 2018.  The forthcoming changes amongst the Alien contingent in 2017 produced undertones that seemed to color the entire season.  A number of factors conspired to limit Lorenzo to a disappointing third place finish in 2016, but he seems certain the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.  We shall see.
  1. Rossi blows an engine at Mugello. The turning point of the season.  Despite a careless slide-off in Austin, Rossi entered Italy with the scoreboard reading Lorenzo 90, Marquez 85, Rossi 78.  A three-man race.  He left Italy bereft, with Lorenzo 115, Marquez 105, Rossi 78.  He had completed Lap 8 checking out Lorenzo’s back wheel when, at the bottom of the main straight, his engine went up, just as Lorenzo’s had without consequence during practice.  Control of his 2016 future went up with it, in the thick white smoke pouring from his bike.  The bad luck he needed caught up with Lorenzo in the Teutonic territories of Holland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, but Marquez sailed through the season unscathed.

valentino-rossi-mugello

2016 was a season Rossi could have won.  Coulda?  Woulda?  Shoulda?  Didn’t.  Dude will be fired up for next year.  That makes two of us.

 

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

With six different winners in the last six races, trying to predict a winner for Round 12 is a fool’s errand.  The usual suspects (minus Dani Pedrosa), Iannone, Miller, Crutchlow—who’s next?  During this period, series leader Marc Marquez has built his lead over his nearest pursuers by being aggressive when he can and protective when he can’t.  With #93 up 50+ heading to the two-thirds marker, there’s an eerie absence of pressure.  Marquez can be cautious from here on out, while the Yamahas, or at least Rossi, have already conceded defeat.  Sunday’s race should be a nice stroll in the Northamptonshire countryside, then.

Except for crazed, ravenous guys like Crutchlow, winner last time out, Iannone, who popped his premier class cherry in Austria, and even The Black Knight, Jack Miller, who insists his latest injury is “only a flesh wound.”  Dani Pedrosa needs a win in the worst possible way.  Andrea Dovizioso is long overdue for his second.  And, with an assist from the weather, guys like Scott Redding might easily see themselves perched on the top step of the podium as #Sevenofseven. 

Recent History at Silverstone

The 2013 British GP was one of the great contests since I started covering MotoGP in 2008.  Marquez, with a 26-point lead over Dani Pedrosa after Brno, dislocated his shoulder in the morning WUP (nearly taking Alvaro Bautista’s RC213V in the teeth as he, too, slid off seconds later), then commenced a day-long chase of Jorge Lorenzo before finally succumbing at the flag by a microscopic 8/100ths of a second.  Pedrosa, in the mix all day, podiumed in third, a second and a half behind Lorenzo. The Spanish slugfest up front left Rossi and the other factory bikes sucking wind off in the distance.  On a day that appeared ripe for the field to close the gap on the leader, Marquez left Great Britain sore, but leading the championship by more than when he arrived.  Battle lost.  War won.  Perhaps the best British Grand Prix in the modern era.

2014’s gorgeous British GP made it three dry races in a row.  With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards again went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead.  Marquez took a run at him on Lap 14, but couldn’t make it stick.  On Lap 18, though, after a little bumping and grinding, the young Catalan wonder went through for good on the way to his 11th win of the season.  At the wire, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), with the top five made up of Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2).  The win put Marquez 10 for 11 on the year, brimming with confidence heading to Misano.

2015: Round 12 of the season was shaping up as another Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the two brightest lights of the sport hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, making up the top four.  The weather waited to intervene until just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

The main Spanish contingent at the 2015 race got rolled, as Marquez flipped his Repsol Honda RC213V out of second place in pursuit of Rossi at Turn 1 of Lap 13 while Pedrosa could manage but a weak fifth.  Lorenzo, who led early, gave us no reason to doubt that he hates riding in the rain; having fallen as far back as sixth by mid-race, he managed to recover sufficiently to finish fourth, going through on Pedrosa late, well after Marquez had left the building.  With all of his damage-control modules flashing red, Lorenzo managed to limit his debit to teammate Rossi today to 12 points; it could have been much worse.  Having started the race dead even, Lorenzo left down 12 with six left.  No hill for a climber.

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

Rossi—a fourth, a third and a win last year.

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

  • Dovizioso’s knee injury called “small” on MotoGP.com, quoting Dovi as saying,“…at the end of the test in Misano unfortunately my foot got stuck in the gravel and my knee twisted. I strained the medial collateral ligament and the anterior cruciate. Thanks to the Medical Centre at the Misano World Circuit for the instant support, my staff and the Fisiology Center; we are doing everything possible to be in the best condition to race the Silverstone GP.” Dovizioso’s status for Silverstone is Probable.
  • Bradley Smith leg injury: Slumming at the Oschersleben 8 Hours, Smith crashed during the free practice session.  No femur break, but definitely going to leave a mark. Brit Alex Lowes, who recently tested the Tech 3 M-1, will replace Smith at Silverstone and Misano.  Dude has DNF written all over him.
  • Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider Alex Rins (Moto2), contender, broke his left collarbone in a training crash. The Spanish Moto2™ rider suffered the injury during routine training on Wednesday, and underwent surgery on Thursday. Dr. Xavier Mir performed the operation in Spain. Go figure.  Rins’s status for Silverstone is, ahem, Probable.  No one, however, should doubt that rival Johann Zarco will become history’s first repeat winner in the Moto2 class.
  • Eugene Laverty’s pride. Despite having outpointed his competitors in Tranches 4 and 5, he is forced to step down to World Superbike:
  • Laverty 63
  • Scott Reading 54               Satellite Ducati
  • A Espargaro 51                   Satellite Ducati
  • Jack Miller 42                     Satellite Honda
  • Bradley Smith 42              Factory KTM
  • (Stefan Bradl) 39               WSBK, tail between legs
  • Alvaro Bautista 35              Satellite Ducati
  • Loris Baz 24                          Satellite Ducati
  • Yonny Hernandez   8         Satellite Ducati

So how does Gene Laverty not get an offer for 2017 and the likes of Bautista, Baz and Hernandez do? The obvious and unfortunate answer is, disappointingly, money.  Laverty, the Northern Ireland Brit, cannot make it rain the way some of these other guys can. If MotoGP is, indeed, 70% rider and 30% bike, owners are missing a bet overlooking Laverty on two-year-old hardware.  And, in a rather refreshing manner, he is one who avoids talking about his ability at length and instead comes across as humble, scrambling for a non-humiliating ride for 2017 which turns out to be a Ducati in WSBK, perhaps contending for a title.  Too old for a second visit to MotoGP in two years even if he has some success at Super Bikes.  He’ll be 33, and Rossi’s young Italians will be all over the place.

Thus, the inescapable conclusion that owners can do better financially and reputation-wise with a highly sponsored, non-competitive rider than with a leaner operation/pilot that threatens for podia on a regular basis.

The riders and their teams raise money and bring team sponsors along; guys like Hernandez must be almost irresistible: ”With warmest regards from my Colombian countrymen, here is more money than you’ve ever seen.  There will be some crashes.  Please be my team.  Thank you.”  I had Hernandez pegged for great things this year, based on what he had done during the offseason, but he doesn’t appear to have it any longer, if indeed he ever did.  Yet he will still be scoring MotoGP-caliber women, while Laverty will be relegated to Tranche 2 of the Rider Groupie guild.

Whither the Weather

Weather looks iffy this weekend.  As usual this time of year, the race goes off early Sunday morning Eastern time.  We will have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Preview

August 16, 2016

© Bruce Alllen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Aliens Seek Redemption in Round 11

After getting schooled by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team in Austria, the fast movers at Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda look to get even this week in The Czech Republic.  These ambitions appear justified, in that the Automotodrom Brno has a healthy number of what are called “turns,” whereas the Red Bull Ring is more of a long straight with a couple of kinks in it.  It will take a heroic effort from the Ducs to convince the racing world that Sunday’s historic result wasn’t an outlier.

Despite this rather sour outlook, the stock of the Ducati program jumped this past weekend.  Series leader Marc Marquez this week shared his opinion with the media that the Andreas will be a force to be dealt with for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  They will be fronting Jorge Lorenzo in 2017 and 2018, which will raise their prospects yet another notch.  They should also be competitive at three of the fast circuits left on the 2016 calendar—Brno, Silverstone and Sepang.  Only their execrable start to the season appears to stand between them and Alien status.

Recent History at Brno

In 2013 rookie Marc Marquez, suddenly the blessed heir apparent, won at Brno for a fourth straight victory, edging teammate Pedrosa by 3/10ths with Lorenzo another two seconds back.  He ended the day leading Pedrosa by 26 points and Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left.

An anxious Lorenzo got off early from the five hole, hoping to blitz the field, but the Hondas gradually reeled him in, Marquez going through on Lap 16 and Pedrosa three laps later.  Valentino Rossi, gradually rounding into form on the Yamaha after two years in red, pipped pretender Alvaro Bautista at the flag for 13 points but still trailed Lorenzo by 26. It was at this point of the season that many people began getting comfortable with the idea, previously unthinkable, that rookie Marquez would take the title that year.

Brno was the site where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying.  #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole.  Again.  Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief.  It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Lorenzo by a few tenths and Rossi by five seconds.  Those were the days where Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.

The “anyone but Marquez” mentality that had gradually descended upon the grid was in full force that day. It was Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati who tangled with Marquez twice early, with Rossi assigned to keep the rookie at bay later in the race.  Not that it mattered, as the 2014 championship had been decided well before then.  Marquez would head to Silverstone leading Pedrosa by 77 points and Lorenzo by 90, what we in Indiana refer to as “a country mile.”  I suppose if you ask Aliens whether they ride for titles or records they will usually choose titles; records can be broken, taken away.  Titles, not so much.

The 2015 bwin Grand Prix České republiky gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started.  One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year.  Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day.

With Marquez wrestling his 2015 RC213V to a draw most of the season, the Rossi/Lorenzo rivalry would keep growing until the first round of the Pacific flyaway in Sepang, when Marquez and Rossi tangled for the second time, the first having come at Assen. The wheels proceeded to come off the championship chase, so to speak, in a firestorm of hard feelings and bad sportsmanship, culminating in an ugly season finale in Valencia in which Rossi was forced to endure a last row start after some highly unbecoming behavior in Japan.

Irrational Exuberance

Paraphrasing the words of ex-Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, most of the riders in the premier class grid can be accused of being overly optimistic about their prospects on a given weekend.  Nicky Hayden, now competing in World Superbike, was perhaps the most prominent example of this thinking.  Having won his only world championship during the down year of 2006, with but three premier class wins to his name during a 13-year career, The Kentucky Kid was generally convincing when describing his chances at any race, other than those few in which he was injured, as being good.  His usual take— “Well, we’ll wind it up, try to stay with the front group, look for some opportunities to steal a spot or two, and see what happens.  The reason they run these danged things is on account of you never know who might win.”  All this, during his last five seasons, generally on his way to 12th place and four points.

Now, suddenly, Dani Pedrosa is sounding an awful lot like Hayden.  His last three outings have produced a total of 23 points.  In the midst of what has arguably been his least productive premier class season ever, the following words came out of his cake hole yesterday: “It’s very wide, with some very fast corners, and you must be able to hit the best lines to set good lap times, as it doesn’t forgive the smallest mistake.”  He continued, “I just hope that the weather is stable so we can use all the practice time and try to build up some more confidence and speed.”  Finally, “In this second part of the season, we should find some more suitable tracks for us. Of course Brno has some long straights that can be demanding for us, but it’s a track that I’ve liked since I started racing, and I always have a good feeling there.”   The headline which accompanied this soliloquy read “Pedrosa upbeat on Brno prospects.”  Jeesh.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions in the greater Brno area are expected to deteriorate as Sunday approaches.  The best chance of rain appears to be on Sunday, with a weather system moving in on Saturday night.  I’m starting to sound like Al Roker.  Practice sessions should be dry, but Sunday could give us another hilarious flag-to-flag event.  Both Moto3 and Moto2 could have a red flag in their future on Sunday morning.

As to the podium, I am leaning toward Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  #93 is a fast healer and will want to get back in the mix after the problems he experienced in Austria.  Lorenzo and Rossi count Brno among their favorite tracks, assuming the weather cooperates.  I would like to see a Ducati or two on the podium, but fear Iannone and Dovizioso may still be nursing hangovers from last time out, in addition to a little irrational exuberance.  Those two will be praying for rain.

We’ll have results and analysis right here early Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone.  His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left.  Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Preview

April 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez has momentum heading for Texas

After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season.  Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere.  Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday. 

Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:

  • The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
  • The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
  • The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
  • The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
  • The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year.  With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
  • The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
  • In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.)  An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and who pushed the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year.  Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent.  Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture.  Kudos to all three.

Recent History at COTA

The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words:  Marc Marquez.  He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race.  He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati.  Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.

I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible.  The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight.  Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.  In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade.  In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.

OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control.  Big deal.  These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet.  To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.

A final thought concerning Marquez:  Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving.  I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin.  One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do.  (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)

WSBK and Nicky Hayden

Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball.  The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish.  As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points.  Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team.  It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.

Your Weekend Forecast

Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.

As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning.  Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.

Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium.  Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.

If you have access to the live broadcast—seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed—the race goes off at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP Projected 2015 Final Standings

December 1, 2014

MotoGP for Dummies 12/1/2014, by Bruce Allen

It being December 1, MotoGP enters its self-imposed two month hiatus, the only real break in a season which has, as is true in most sports, expanded and filled the calendar.  A competition season schedules 18 races over 31 weeks and includes a few dead spots. Pre-season work (“spring practice”) begins in early January, the same way spring football practice does at The University of Alabama.  It ends, finally, for everyone, at the end of November.  Crewing, owning, managing, and riding are, for all practical purposes, year-round occupations.  Highly intense year-round occupations.

Before I forget, here are the final 2015 standings, in an effort to relieve you of the need to actually watch Marquez win.  The rest, obviously, is totally SWAG-ed.  Top to bottom, the grid appears tighter than in years past, more solid, with more solvent mid-range teams and fewer struggling lower-tier teams.

  1.  Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda2014 MotoGP World Champion
  2. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha
  3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha
  4. Andrea Dovisioso, Factory Ducati
  5. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda
  6. Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati
  7. Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 Yamaha
  8. Scott Redding, Marc VDS
  9. Cal Crutchlow CWM LCR Honda
  10. Bradley Smith, Tech 3 Yamaha
  11. Stefan Bradl, NGM Forward Yamaha
  12. Aleix Espargaro, Factury Suzuki
  13. Nicky Hayden, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  14. Danilo Petrucci, Pramac Ducati
  15. Jack Miller, CWM LCR Honda
  16. Maverick Vinales, Factory Suzuki
  17. Yonny Hernandez, Pramac Ducati
  18. Alvaro Bautista, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  19. Marco Melandri, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  20. Karel Abraham, Cardion AB Honda
  21. Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati
  22. Mike di Meglio, Avintia Ducati
  23. Eugene Laverty, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  24. Loris Baz, NGM Forward Yamaha
  25. Alex de Angelis, Octo Ioda Racing

The odds against this being the actual standings at the end of next year are incalculable.  However, if you, the nit-picking reader, would like, I would have much more confidence in the list if it were broken into tranches:

cropped-jorge-lorenzo-20131.jpgTranche 1:  Marquez↑, Lorenzo↑, Rossi↓, Pedrosa↓, Dovizioso↑

Tranche 2:  Iannone↑, The Espargaros↔, Redding↑, Crutchlow↑, Smith↔, Bradl↓Andrea Iannone

Tranche 3:  Hayden↑, Petrucci↑, Miller↔, Vinales↔, Hernandez↔, Bautista↓, Melandri↔

Tranche 4:  Abraham↓, Barbera↓, Di Meglio↔, Laverty↔, Baz↔ and De Angelis↓

In years past, when I’ve attempted to tranche the grid–it was a smaller grid back then–I would usually come up with five groups.  Next year it’s only four, suggesting, again, that the grid will be tighter, top to bottom, than in past years.  More financially stable, too.  Tighter competition, regardless of where it takes place during a race, is what gets the fans going. It needs a 25-bike grid that is generally well-financed and capable of generating, capturing, and using the data which seem to drive the sport–a sport that desperately needs a TV deal eliminating commercials during the 45 minutes it takes to run the race.

Anyway, on the day it becomes illegal to test machines, the best we can do is to speculate on next year’s prospects, at the top, middle and bottom of the food chain.  Even writing this, I sense that several of my picks are over- or under-rated, at least within their tranches.  Personally, I think it would be a blast to see either of the two young rookies, Vinales and Miller, do well, by which we mean performing at a high level before predictably crashing in four or five races.  Marquez surprised us in his rookie year by crashing out only once. Maybe one of these guys could do the same.  In his rookie year on the LCR Honda Casey Stoner finished eighth.Jack Miller

Nicky Hayden still has the ability to ride anything, and his Honda this year is going to be more competitive than last year’s model.  Still, he finds himself, turning 34, at the top of the third tranche, happy to be running for a Honda-supported team, prevailing most weeks against the two youngsters as well as a bunch of Ducatis and Aprilias.

Tranche Four has low expectations.  Or perhaps its just me, who has low expectations for them.  The fact is, Karel Abraham should lead this rather sorry group, but one or two of them may end up in tranche three. This is, career-wise, a downward socially mobile group, as their appearance in MotoGP, even at the back of the grid, will, for some, mark the high water mark of a career that will often end up in World Super Bikes or British Super Bikes.  Abraham, again, is the exception, as his dad owns much of the world they inhabit.  He can ride MotoGP until he decides to join the Czech bar and practice law.

So, perhaps the main surprise is my perception that the factory Ducati will improve, under the direction of GigiDall’Igna, to the point that Dovizioso will displace Pedrosa as The Fourth Alien. That Pedrosa may have, once and for all, lost a step, a step that left with his hope of winning a title in over the past four years.  My guess is that Pedrosa’s contract won’t be renewed after the 2016 season .  And that Alex Marquez will take the #2 seat on the Repsol Honda team beginning in 2017.

Talk about Tito Rabat.  Let’s assume Tito Rabat repeats as Moto2 champion in 2015, as expected, and decides that he wants to move up the following year.  It won’t be with the Repsol Honda team, who tried to field a three-bike team back in the day that didn’t work out. It could easily be as the second Marc VDS bike alongside Scott Redding, which might work out just fine, depending on the level of factory support MVDS is getting from Japan.

Rabat could negotiate a one year deal with MVDS, leaving him free to join Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha team if and when Rossi is not renewed after the 2016 season.  Of course, if the Repsol Honda team could figure out a way to have the three amigos–both Marquez brothers and Rabat–racing in the same colors it would be in complete cosmic alignment with the stars and spirits and incapable of defeat.  A karmic troika. Plenty of Spanish national anthems on podium celebrations.

(Don’t get me going on the Spanish national anthem.  My friend says it is an instrumental–people stand around humming–because the lyrics became illegal every few years as succeeding regimes demanded their own.)

So, is there anyone willing to argue that Marquez is not a lock in 2015?

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/26/2014

November 26, 2014
Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

 

LORENZO: SUGGESTION RE FLAG-TO-FLAG RACES IGNORED

I believe this to be true, having read it in a reputable publication.  This is a perfect example of why organizations that make decisions from the bottom up tend to do well, while organizations that make decisions from the top down tend to flounder.

This is the suggestion of one of the top three riders on earth that the rules be changed, as is often done at the drop of a hat, to force riders to pit within 2 laps of a white flag, rather than currently allowing them to do so.  It makes the white flag a consensus from all areas of the track, at which point it is out of the riders hands upon two laps.  It would effectively head off situations such as we saw this fall in which rain played an overly important role in the outcome of several races, far beyond the intent of the current rule.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDNot only did this recommendation arise from the bottom, but it arose from Jorge Lorenzo, a double world champion who has been on the sharp end of these rules, has ridden his million dollar motorcycle down, has walked away, and has been carried off.  He, better than the suits at Dorna and their committees, knows a good rule when he sees one.  The Powers That Be determine that the present rule is okay for now.  Someone’s back is getting scratched.

For riders, it is another reminder that they are, in general, employees, employees asked to  give a lot of feedback at high speeds about their employer’s machines.  If they were owners, say, they could vote to change the rules themselves.  As employees, though, those things are better left to the suits who write the checks.

MotoGP white flagThis expendable posture from owners toward riders, ultimately, leaves them little reason to compete hard outside of the team, but to do their best to best their teammate before all things.  So Lorenzo and Rossi go after each other, aware that Marquez travels in another dimension for now.  Pedrosa, one suspects, is training and training and training.  Pedrosa has a two year contract that could easily see him replaced by Alex Marquez after the 2016 season.

So.  Rain will continue to be allowed to affect the outcome of MotoGP races more than it should.  Riders will continue to subject themselves and those around them to elevated risks, continuing to run slicks in wet conditions past the time most suitable for making the change to a wet bike.  The suits, you see, have this thing…

Lorenzo is cool for stepping up and saying something constructive about one of the top issues in rider safety in the entire sport, a Subject Matter Expert if ever there was one. Having watched the 2008 Indianapolis GP in Hurricane Ike, I was astounded as to how much rain Race Direction allowed before calling a halt to the race at Lap 18, with the wind blowing the rain sideways, the cherry-picker camera and helicopter long gone.  That these guys run in rain at all is, in my opinion, ridiculous.  That they run in tropical storms is absurd.  Yet run they do.

There is something vaguely gladiatorial about keeping riders out on the track on slicks in the rain.  Management, whoever they are, makes these decisions for reasons other than good sense.  The driving force in this sport, according to many, is to increase rider safety while increasing wheel-to-wheel competition.  Leveling the field, allowing more riders to compete in the front group, more variation in podiums, higher ratings in more countries.

None of which has anything to do with getting riders off their slicks within two laps, to reduce their risk by taking away a decision that often results in a crash.  The suits are basically asking, “So, what does this Lorenzo guy know about it?”  One suspects that the rule change will take place on its own within two years, by which time the FIM will have claimed the idea as their own.  Regardless, it will probably be known as The Lorenzo Rule.

dumb as meetingsOne of my favorite Demotivator posters shows a group of suited men’s hands together in a huddle, with the caption “None of us is a dumb as all of us.”  So the rule for 2015 stays in place. Lorenzo is thanked for his suggestion, and MotoGP rolls the dice, praying that it either rains or it doesn’t.  Having reported the biggest crowds of their history, Dorna wants to build upon this success and is reluctant to change  a dynamic which appears to be working.  There are teams clamoring to join the fray, with 25 riders on the grid for 2015 as it stands, with KTM in the wings for 2016. Suzuki under pressure from Dorna to create a satellite team.

MotoGP seems happy to remain a boutique sport in the U.S., as Dorna continues to make little effort to cultivate American journalists.  Rather than taking guys like me out to dinner, they give us a hard time getting the kind of credentials they give to they guys who work for print publications, making it hard for us to do our jobs, and forcing us to make things up when we can’t find out what’s really going on.

Personally, I’m inclined to wonder or presume what folks are doing and saying.  As an example, it’s not a big reach to suggest that Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa are concerned about beating Marquez in 2015.  It’s not a big reach to suggest that sponsors and owners have “high level” concerns which transcend those of the gentlemen who ride the bikes, the Spanish guys.

Interest in  MotoGP in Spain is like what they get at NASCAR events n the U.S., the difference being the Spanish economy is in the toilet, while the US economy, while recovering, is still sputtering and trying to get a grip.  Interest in  NASCAR, which peaked some years ago, is its own problem, probably due in part to the economic downturn and saturation in US motor sports.  Somehow, MotoGP continues to draw in Spain, four times a year, more than any spanish_flag2other country.  All the great Spanish riders.  Remarkable.

November of 2014:  Lorenzo recommends that white flag mean mandatory pit within two laps.  Let’s try to remember this, so we can come back to it when it becomes law.  My favorite Russian stand up comic, Yakov Smirnoff, used to joke that back in the old Soviet Union, everything that was not forbidden was mandatory.  The tendency of any bureaucracy is to make more things mandatory; read the MotoGP by-laws some day.  Thus, the institutional inertia favors The Lorenzo Rule.  Just, not now.

For now, we go into the 2015 season with plenty on our plates.  Open, factory and hybrid bikes, more asterisks than the law should allow, all hoping to make some kind of impression in 2015 that will bring them some grace headed into the abyss of 2016 and the beginning of The Michelin Years which, one fears, could easily coincide with and become inseparable from The Marquez Years, into which we’ve already descended.Marquez in Sepang 2013

 

 

 

 

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/24/2014

November 24, 2014

Man bites dog.

lin jarvisYamaha factory racing mullah Lin Jarvis declared over the weekend his belief that both Rossi and Lorenzo are capable of beating Repsol Honda double world champion Mark Marquez in 2015.

As if.

Jarvis, better than anyone, knows that the only way either of his current guys wins the world championship in the next two years is if Marquez injures himself.  Always a possibility in this punishing pastime; ask Lorenzo and Pedrosa especially.  At risk from oneself and from others. Difficult to insure.  Etc.

I love it when one the three things I remember from two degrees in economics makes itself useful. Ceteris paribus is the Latin phrase for “all things being equal,” which they never are.  The entire Western economic theoretical construct is based upon a premise that is true in the long run but definitely not true in the short.

Ahem.  Ceteris paribus, Marquez wins the next seven titles for Honda.

Jarvis is being a faithful corporate manager who is telling the bosses what they want to hear.  He is putting pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi to reach deep and become as great as they once were.  He is praying for rain and relying on Marquez’ aggressive riding style to ultimately lead to his, say, missing six rounds in a year and losing the title accordingly.Marquez at Aragon

It could happen.

So could Rossi or Lorenzo winning the title in any year in which Marquez did not injure himself.  It’s mathematically possible, but would be an upset in either case.  To suggest otherwise, as Jarvis did, is to put pressure on ownership, riders and engineers to try to keep up with what Honda is doing to them.

Jarvis’ team–engineering and design people are obviously brilliant.  They are also consistently a step or two behind their Japanese counterparts.  The most recent iteration of this fact is that Honda was first to the seamless transmission up, which later Yamaha put in place and which helped their performance.

Until Honda put in place the seamless downshift model, which Yamaha is currently trying to put together.

Always a step behind.

Rossi at ValenciaIt is unreasonable to assume that Rossi at age 35 is going to improve over the next two years; statistically, his best years are behind him.  Like Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago White Sox, Rossi gave two of his very best years to the Ducati program for naught but roughly €34 million. Rossi is not as good today as he was eight years ago.

One looks at Marquez’ balance and timing, his reflexes, his riding style, which has become the dominant style in the sport, adopted by riders and teams, with design implications, anxious to ride “more like Marquez.”

The current M-1 is not built to ride like the Honda.  It is designed to maintain speed, to enter corners from a different angle than the Hondas, which enjoy an overall advantage in corner exit speeds in those configurations.  The truth remains that at certain tracks–Austin and Argentina come to mind–the Hondas are going to enjoy a tremendous advantage, and that the number of so-called Yamaha-friendly tracks will continue to diminish as Marquez continues to win races.

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

The conversation veered to consideration of the so-called “bench,” the next generation of riders plugged into becoming factory Yamaha riders, naming only Pol Espargaro as a sure thing.  Ignoring, for now, the possibility that a 27 year old Tito Rabat would be an interesting successor to Rossi if, indeed, young Alex Marquez ends up as his brother’s teammate at Repsol in 2016.  Espargaro, Jarvis admits, would likely defect if not given a factory ride by the end of the 2016 season.  He seemed to regret the fact that his team was unable to sign Maverick Vinales.

Bottom line:  Jarvis doesn’t believe any of this.  He knows that Marquez on the Honda can beat either Rossi or Lorenzo on the Yamaha at his pleasure, generally as long as he finishes the race.  Marquez will fix his approach to riding in the rain, and that will be that.  Rossi says much the same, knowing how unlikely it is that it might be true.  Lorenzo ain’t talking, but he must be wondering how he will adapt to riding more like Marquez.cropped-alex-and-marc.jpg

One last thought.  We think the elevation of Alex Marquez to the factory Honda team in 2016 is a done deal.  This is a thought to put fear in the hearts of competing teams.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 15, 2014

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-itw

Unauthorized Fausto Gresini Bio  GP Racing 1997-present

Fausto Gresini has been an owner in the most difficult of spots for most of his 27 years at the helm of grand prix motorcycle racing teams, generally burning his own money or money he has personally raised from sponsors.  As a rider himself in the 80’s, he won world titles in the 125 cc class.  His teams have included a kaleidoscope of title sponsors and have won titles in the  250 cc and Moto2 classes.  Heading into 2015, he has a right to feel jinxed.

We assume Mr. Gresini to be self-aware, able to acknowledge that his efforts to create championship racing teams over three decades has been a constant struggle against a number of tides.  A strong nationalist, Gresini has always wanted to run a purely Italian team, riding Italian machines with Italian riders and joyful Italian sponsors. However, as a satellite team owner, what we in youth soccer used to manage and refer to as a “B Team,” Gresini has experienced few highs and numerous lows, watching his teams compete for titles in the premier class of MotoGP.

Fausto Gresini, the owner of a satellite team, needs to divide his time between driving the techs and riders, and charming sponsors to sign on the dotted line.  Over the years, these have included names such as Elf, Avo, Telefonica, Fortuna, Movistar (in 2005), and, recently, San Carlo, the big Italian chip manufacturer–snacks, not integrated circuits–from 2008 through 2012.  It is impolitic to observe that during the period 2001 to 2014 his teams have experienced two world champions–Daijiro Kato in the 250 class in 2001 and Toni Elias, the winner of daijiro_katothe intial year of Moto2 bikes in 2009–and the loss of their two top riders, Kato in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli in 2011.

Despite Fausto Gresini’s best efforts, success, or budding success, has been followed twice by tragedy that has set his program, such as it is, into the state in which it now exists, one of tarnished former greatness.

Gresini Racing, including the label of the sponsor of the season, has always had to work harder than his factory counterparts, most recently the factory Yamaha and Honda teams.  Gresini was a Honda man for decades, through the years 2003-2005. Sete Gibernau finished second for the year in 2003 and 2004, with then youngster boy toy Marco Melandri taking 2nd in 2005, 4th in 2006, and 5th in 2007.

Gresini Roars Back after Kato Death

Gresini had overcome the racing death of Kato in 2003 and had come back strong with Gibernau and Melandri in 2003 and beyond, San Carlo by his side from 2008-2012.  His fortunes turned south during 2007 with Melandri in MotoGP but turned north again in 2009 as journeyman Toni Elias won the Moto2 title.

Suddenly, in 2010 along comes Marco Simoncelli, the tall, gangly goofy-looking Italian free spirit who had managedMARCO-SIMONCELLI-1 to wrap his 6’something frame around the 250 cc bike in 2008 tightly enough to take the championship, followed by a third place finish in 2009. Gresini had signed the loose charismatic cannon to a two year contract in 2010 while the full-grown Melandri finished 10th and left for greener pastures.  Simoncelli himself managed 8th place in 2010,  getting joined by Hiro Ayoyama on the #2 bike who would take 10th the following year; the Italian spent most of the off season testing sessions near the top of the Alien rankings.

As the 2011 season approached, life was looking up for Fausto Gresini.  In addition to a for-real competitive MotoGP team of Somencelli on the #1 bike and Aoyama on the #2, he was looking at a promising Moto2 team featuring Michele Pirro, who can ride, and Yuki Takahashi, the great Japanese hope.  (Both would disappoint, with Pirro finishing ninth for the season and Takahashi 11th.)

Simoncelli, ruling the headlines but a hazard to himself and those around him, began the 2011 season showing promise on the factory-supported RC213V, but crashing out of three of the first six races, ruining the season of Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans, getting chippy with Lorenzo at a press conference, and slugging it out in the media with Albert Puig, Pedrosa’s Svengali, who seemingly had enough at that point to later re-define his job away from both Pedrosa and Simoncelli.

A disruptive force was Gresini Racing’s Marco Simoncelli in early 2011.

Lightning Strikes Again

Simoncelli, as we all now know, got things turned around in the second half of the 2011 season, with 4th place finishes at San Marino, Aragon and Motegi.  His second place finish at Phillip Island showed him capable of taking podia on a regular basis, all things being equal, which they never are.  Along came Sepang, along came the unthinkable, and Simoncelli was, instantly, snatched from the board.  The personal tragedy was accompanied by a corporate disaster, as the rug had suddenly been violently pulled out from under the Italian sponsors.  San Carlo would stick around for another year, a year in which they were left with Spanish underachiever Alvaro Bautista who was the only credible rider available late in the 2011 season, when they were suddenly bereft looking ahead to 2012.

Bautista who, one suspects, was never Gresini’s first choice on any count–ethnic, performance history–never did much with the Italian’s beloved factory-supported Honda (5th in 2012, falling to 11th in 2014) leading, ultimately, to Honda making it, um, unfeasible for Gresini to field a Honda-affiliated team in 2015.  This coincided with Aprilia’s decision to enter the MotoGP fray a year earlier than had been previously announced, intending to field a two-man factory team in 2015 under the expert direction of, guess who, Fausto Gresini, and giving themselves a year to adjust to the program before Michelin enters in 2016 with the new line of MotoGP tires.

Gresini, still today stuck with the increasingly dysfunctional Bautista, finally signed the aging, microscopic Melandri in early November to ride the second glued-together Aprilia factory entry in 2015 , as Melandri was going to be a victim of corporate Aprilia’s decision to support MotoGP at the apparent expense of a highly successful World Super Bikes program that had produced titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

There’s just something about running with the big dogs…

A Look Ahead

Gresini, for all his efforts, despite brutal events which disrupted the fabric of two separate teams, and through a financial crisis that continues in Italy, finds himself today heading up a factory Aprilia team that plans to enter two glued-together prototypes while they develop a new from-the-bottom-up prototype for 2016, complete with Michelin tires, for their amico, although they were, through financial worry and corporate dithering, unable to prevent chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna’s discouraging defection to Ducati Corse.

Despite his best efforts, Gresini is still stuck with Bautista and, now, with an aging Melandri, kind of an Italian Colin Edwards, whose grizzled features and extensive tenure are promoted as being directly helpful to Bautista, who has proven himself mostly un-coachable since winning the 2006 championship in the 125 cc class.  Bautista, always super-concerned with his appearance and less with his performance, has managed to finish twice in 13th place for the struggling factory Suzuki program in 2010 and 2011, and as a seriously underachieving factory spec Honda rider for Gresini in 2012 through 2014, able to deliver only 5th, 6th and 11th place finishes for the name sponsors in those years.

Honda said sayonara to Gresini at the same moment Aprilia decided to compress their timeline to enter MotoGP in 2015, putting Gresini in charge of two riders, lending to the belief that Gresini had been looking.  The program will be a bottom third team in the grand scheme of things, its riders likely to get lapped during a race or two.  Whether the underfunded Italian group can produce a competitive MotoGP setup for 2016 remains to be seen.

If Fausto Gresini has anything to say about it, Aprilia will come out in 2016 with an Italian name sponsor, factory support, a brand new bike and a new Italian rider to replace Bautista, with Melandri either hanging around or not, depending upon the availability of a stud Moto3 rider, such as Romano Fenati or Enea Bastianni, who could fill the vacuum at the top of the 2015 Moto3 class left by the graduation of Marquez, Miller, and Rins.  Such could presage the assumption of the #1 Aprilia bike in 2016 by an aggressive young Italian stud able to compete with a grid, all of whom are going to be adjusting to new controls and new tires.  A world full of Marquezes and Espargaros.  Rossis and Lorenzos. Vinales and Smiths.

It could happen.  One never knows.  Tires change everything.  Electronics and data have taken over.

At Least For Now

At least for now, Fausto Gresini will have some help from Aprilia keeping things together while life at the top of MotoGP prepares to adjust to common ECU hardware and new rubber in 2016.  Though there is less to do on the money side, there is much to do on the high octane side, which is where he’s probably most comfortable anyway.

Fausto Gresini’s MotoGP team will not challenge for a world championship in 2015.  He will probably be around, perhaps in a good way, in 2016, when things change for everyone.  He’s survived the loss of two riders and more sponsors than most people can name.  But there he is, riding herd on a group of paisano gearheads, still with that damned Spanish guy, and now with the old Italian guy, trying to glue together a credible effort for the home team in 2015 and beyond.

Are Fausto Gresini’s salad days behind him?  Probably.  Is he still in position to enjoy himself and get some visceral return on the investment of his time and effort as a year-round owner and operator?  Seems that way.

Perhaps he’s developed the perspective, after 27 years in the business, and with the passing of two riders, to be able to live life in the moment, to not obsess on what might have been, to accept his position in the corporate superstructure of a team as well as his prospects for achieving his goals, which haven’t changed in 27 years.  Perhaps he’s had to, in the words of Stonewall Jackson, “elevate them gun sights just a little lower, boys,” understanding where he currently stands in the scheme of GP racing, where there are the haves and the have nots.

Gresini is a poster child for an athlete incapable of generating consistent winning results as a coach, owner or engineer after a sparkling career behind the handlebars.  He could never coax performance at a level he could himself achieve from the bulk of the riders with whom he worked.  Kato and Simoncelli were exceptions, in more ways than one.

We return to the original question.  Questions, actually.

Does Fausto Gresini have a right to feel jinxed?  Most definitely.  Does Fausto Gresini have a realistic chance of coming back in 2016 with a competitive Aprilia factory team?  Depends on how you define realistic.  Is Fausto Gresini fully engaged in making things happen with his new team?  Undoubtedly.  Is Gresini, like Melandri, on the back end of his career?  Probably.  Would he do it all over again in much the same way?  Probably.  Would he give anything to have Kato and Simoncelli back?

You’re kidding, right?

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-#2

 

The best thing, in my opinion, would be for Fausto Gresini to purchase the Pramac Ducati team and bring the hot young Italian riders through on Ducati machines with factory support.  One thinks his contract has an out clause permitting him to do such a thing, and that he would then be in position to achieve his dream once again.  Hot Italian riders on third generation Ducati equipment with standard ECUs and new rubber.  A Pramac team, even one featuring Hernandez and  Petrucci, purchased in 2015, could be competitive in the new world of 2016.  Bring in the young Italian guns and let them go at it in 2016 with Dall’Igna calling the shots.  I think Fausto would thrive in such a situation.

*****************************************************

I know nothing.

As a recovering econ major, we learned that the only value of a theory was its ability to predict things.  So much of the previous stuff is pure conjecture on my part, which is why it needs a byline.  If, however, much of it turns out right, then you need to keep reading everything on this site.  The sponsors need you.  My future here depends on it.  I seek comments from all of you about this and that, and don’t mind poking you when you’re, um, wrong.  If you ride, you should actually read the other stuff, too, because those guys have forgotten more about bikes than I’ve ever known.  They’re very good at what they do.  They will help you make better decisions about how to spend your discretionary dollars in this business.  Unlike myself, they are helpful.