MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Before we get going, WordPress is messing with me with a new, apparently mandatory content formatting tool, which involves a number of workarounds and, once complete, is at about half the ordinary size, straining my already weak eyes. So if this turns out to be crap, blame it on The Man.

MotoGP Posts Photos of ‘The Crash at Red Bull Ring.’ Here are the two I was talking about in the article.

This is Morbidelli’s Yamaha, passing in front of Rossi after somehow just missing Vinales.

This is what remains of Zarco’s Ducati as it sails inches over the head of Rossi, who saw it coming and ducked out of the way.

Apparently Dorna feels someone should be punished for all this, but it’s more the track layout; this applies to both wrecks, including the Moto2 crash that ensued when Hafez Syahrin pulled out into the slipstream and smack into Enea Bastiannini’s abandoned Kalex. I couldn’t seen what happened between Zarco and Morbidelli, but I sense it was Zarco running up the Italian’s back perhaps? Someone out there knows.

Thanks to long time reader Mad4TheCrest, who took time out of his busy schedule earlier in the week to point out that I had mistakenly put Aussie Remy Gardner back in Moto3 on Sunday. I have since corrected this amateurish mistake. I get up early on race days and am never at my best at 6 in the morning. It is a comfort to know that someone, somewhere actually reads this stuff.

Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro these days reminds me–and please don’t take this wrong–of Marco Simoncelli in 2012 (yes I know the year he died on the track in Sepang). But here’s the similarity. Sic had been around for awhile coming up, too tall for the small bikes, overly aggressive on the Gilera as a rookie in the premier class in 2011. 2012 dawns and he discovers that, for whatever reason, he is suddenly fast. Fast enough to crash out of four of the first ten races of 2012. But over five of the last six races of his life he recorded three P4, a P3 and a P2 at Phillip Island.

Pol Espargaro, suddenly fast on the KTM, looking forward to getting even faster on the Honda RV213V, is who Warren Zevon referred to in his unforgettable anthem, “Excitable Boy.” No, he doesn’t go around slicing up his girlfriends. But he is currently a hazard to himself and those around him, and will be until he gets used to the idea that he doesn’t have to ride like a madman to be in the mix.

Quick Hitters

Loyal follower Allison gave me props in a comment about my sheer prescience when it some to the subject of Joan Mir, who took P2 on Sunday [after I had been jocking him since he was in Moto3.] Yes, from this lofty roost I occasionally can spot one–Rins is another; wonder why they end up at Suzuki?–but I never saw Brad Binder coming, having discounted KTM Moto2 riders as simply being unable to secure Hondas. Binder seems to be another one of these guys constructed from steel cables who is capable of wrestling the KTM, or a Honda or Ducati, to a draw, with all that speed as a bonus. His ride on Sunday, from 17th to 4th, was olympic… My boy OldMoron picked that one… And I’m still waiting to hear from MOron Sayyed on the subject of KTM and its place in the racing universe. I think old Sayyed is strictly a Motorcycle.com guy… The crap they put people through on this site to make comments gripes me to no end. If enough people agree we can move these comments back to MO and use the Dorna press releases they are now posting as a comments section for the Dummies stuff. Let me know, or perhaps I’ll just start leaving comments on MO and y’all can follow if you wish.

In the interregnum of Marquez’ broken arm, the racing and competition is tight as wallpaper in all three classes. Having a MotoGP season in which the result is not predetermined is a blast. Aside from Albert Arenas in Moto3 no one is really getting away. The premier class will tighten up considerably once Marquez and Bagnaia are back in the fold. But there is not time in the schedule for healing and the doubles and triples cause the riders to have to perform at less than full strength, increasing the likelihood of more mishaps. This calendar is going to cost some riders and some teams dearly.

Finally, it seems Zarco cracked a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s maelstrom. He certainly won’t be at full strength, if he rides at all, this weekend.

MotoGP:Red Bull Ring I

August 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich offered something for every taste and budget on Sunday. A lead group in Moto3 consisting of 15 riders separated by less than a second. Red flags in both the Moto2 and MotoGP races, two amazing crashes that, miraculously, left no rider seriously injured. The narrow escape provided to Valentino Rossi in the main event–one motorcycle, upside-down, flashing directly in front of him, when another, a split second later, this one airborne, barely missed his head, forcing him to duck–proves that he has been blessed by God to ride motorcycles for as long as he wants.

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At the flag, it was Andrea Dovizioso, followed by a jubilant Joan Mir and a disappointed Jack Miller. It was in a script somewhere that Dovi, who only 24 hours earlier had announced his intention to leave Ducati at the end of the season, would take a decisive win on the Desmosedici for Ducati’s first win of the season. We got to witness the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations by Suzuki rising star Joan Mir. Jack Miller, who had gambled on soft tires for the 20 lap second race, lost his wager after having led in the early laps of the race.

MotoGP Qualifying and Practice, Etc.

The changing of the guard amongst the riders was in full view on Friday. The combined sheets for FP1 and FP2 showed two veterans in the top ten, Dovizioso and Zarco (it took the Frenchman awhile to get to MotoGP). Younger bucks took eight of the top ten times during FP1, as FP2 started way wet and gradually dried, but not enough for anyone to get within two seconds of their FP1 times.

The culling of the herd into Q1 and Q2 that takes place in FP3 was further evidence that the character of the neighborhood is changing. Veterans Pol Espargaro and Dovi occupied spots 1&2, followed by eight young(-ish)  fast movers. Of the 12 riders not cruising into Q2 unaccosted, two were subs and seven were veterans, including, notably, Rossi and Crutchlow, who is old for his age. (The three remaining cull-ees were rookies, two of them on KTM, including Brad Binder, at a track where he should excel, in front of the corporate brass, placing 16th on the time sheets after FP3. This is the same Brad Binder who won at Brno last time out. Young Brad had some work to do later on Saturday.)

Team Yamaha managed to put three of their four bikes directly into Q2. Left on the outside looking in, and not for the last time, was the estimable Valentino Rossi. Many, including myself, expected to see Rossi sail into Q2, neither, in the lyrics of Arlo Guthrie, tired nor proud, ready to go to work for a spot in the front row. He barely managed to slide under the tag on his last Q1 lap; had this been a soccer match, his game-winning goal would have come during injury time, well after the clock showed all zeroes. Johann Zarco, looking quick on the Esponsorama Ducati, laid down a fast lap early in Q1 and joined Rossi.

QP2 was its usual thrilling self. At one point at least six riders held the top spot during the 15 minute session. When the smoke cleared, it was Vinales, Miller and Quartararo in the front row, followed by Dovizioso, a steely-eyed Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir, apparently starting to get this whole qualifying thing figured out. Morbidelli, Rins and Zarco comprised Row 3, while Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira and, yes, Valentino Rossi made up Row 4. His last-lap heroics in Q1 still left him sucking canal water.

With the addition of KTM to the ranks of manufacturers with race day credibility, there is just more competition out there. In Q2, half a second is all that stood between teammates Vinales on pole and Rossi wiping up the rear. Honda, its lack of rider depth exposed by Marquez’ injury, placed a grand total of one (1) rider in the top 12.

Oh, and Dovi and Ducati are splitting at the end of the current season, initiating a feeding frenzy from the top levels of MotoGP to the dregs of Moto3. Nature, it has been observed elsewhere, abhors a vacuum, and a sudden vacancy on the factory Ducati team creates a powerful one. Riders, considered and/or discarded, suddenly become viable again, like dominoes standing back up after having been knocked down. Bagnaia, Zarco and even multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo are suddenly back in the conversation for a factory seat on the big red machine. Is this Andrea Dovizioso retiring? Or considering a move of some kind to KTM after a gap year? Fascinating if you’re into that kind of thing.

Race Day in Austria

The premier class race was proceeding swimmingly, with KTM pilot and defector-in-waiting Pol Espargaro leading the parade, followed in close order by Miller and Dovizioso on Ducatis and Alex Rins, playing hurt, in fourth. Suddenly, behind the lead group, Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli got tangled up, both drivers going down hard and both bikes, released from their tethers, getting the wind in their sails and refusing to fall over. The consequences, to either or both Vinales and Rossi, could have been lethal. That neither rider suffered a scratch is nothing short of a miracle. Out came the red flags, to Espargaro’s everlasting dismay.

Race #2, a 20-lap affair, offered relatively little drama. A lead group of Miller, Dovizioso, Espargaro and Rins congealed up front. It was anybody’s race. Espargaro and fellow KTM traveler Miguel Oliveira crashed out on Lap 9 in a collision I missed and the broadcasters failed to replay. Rins crashed out of the lead on Lap 11 after putting on a great show getting to the front. After Rins dropped out, his place was taken by teammate Joan Mir, smelling blood, not having to deal with the likes of Marc Marquez, Espargaro and Rins. On the last lap, an apparent Ducati 1-2 was broken up by Mir, who went through on Miller late for his first premier class podium. Rossi and Vinales were never serious players in today’s race, as Vinales could only manage tenth, while Rossi, who has become Colin Edwards, hung around long enough to claim fifth.

Heading from Spielberg to Spielberg this week, the standings for the year show a baffling Fabio Quartararo (8th today, having been as far back as 20th) still leading the class, trailed by Dovizioso, Vinales, Brad Binder (4th today after starting 17th for KTM) and Rossi. Three young guys in the top five, seven in the top ten. Oh the times they are a-changing.

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The Undercards

The Moto3 race was another fire drill, as per usual. If anyone at Race Direction were to bother to count up the total number of overtakes in this race, not just within the lead group, I expect it would approach 300. Back and forth, the entire time, in the lead group, behind the lead group. At the front, where the slipstream shoots the relatively light 250cc bikes like snapping a whip. Series leader Albert Arenas stole this one  for KTM on the last lap, after keeping an eye on Jaume Masia, Ai Ogura and Darryn Binder all day; Scot John McPhee was in and out of there, along with polesitter Remy Gardner for awhile. For the year, Arenas stretched his lead over McPhee to 28 points, with Ogura breathing down McPhee’s neck. If ever the phrase “on any given Sunday” applied to a sport, Moto3 would be right up there.

The Moto2 race was red-flagged on Lap 4 after series leader Enea Bastiannini high-sided out of the lead in a bad place, leaving both rider and bike sitting in center field, exposed. The Italian got himself out of harm’s way, just in time to watch Hafez Syahrin, pulling out of someone’s slipstream, hit his used bike while accelerating, immediately blasting both machines to smithereens and sending Syahrin flying. The Malaysian rider, conscious and with feeling in all his extremities, is going to ache tomorrow. The 13-lap sprint following the track clean-up belonged to young Jorge Martin, who gave KTM their second win of the day and his first in Moto2, beating out Marini and Marcel Schrotter. Over in Mudville, the locals were celebrating another top ten finish for homeboy Joe Roberts.

For the year, Luca Marini takes over the series lead from Bastiannini, followed by Martin and Sam Lowes, tied for third, and Tetsuga Nagashima fifth. A mere 23 points separate the top five. This one should get decided in Portimao.

Let This One Percolate for a Few Days

A return visit to Red Bull Ring is just what MotoGP needs this week, after two red flags and more drama than I can get my head around in one day. Maybe we’ll do a little work with our tranching tool. Maybe not. Suffice it to say that The Year Without Marquez has been pretty damned good so far.

MotoGP: 23 Things We Learned at Brno

August 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with the MotoGP race:

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

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

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

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

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Maria Herrera with her brolly guy, from better days

MotoGP + Covid = No Brolly Girls

July 28, 2020

© Bruce Allen

A loyal reader wrote to remind me that I had neglected to go off on what might have been a classic rant having to do with the safety and well-being of the people, other than the riders, who have the greatest effect on me personally. Guys like Wayne Rainey in their wheelchairs–not why I watch. F1 guys from the 80’s I never heard of–couldn’t care less. Some Spanish soccer phenom with negative body fat percentage –so?

The worst part about MotoGP in the age of Covid is the absence of brolly girls. In years past, when Marquez has clinched in Australia or Japan, they were the only things keeping people tuned in for the webcast for the last few rounds. Sure, not having the fans in the stands, no clouds of yellow smoke, all these things are missing. But no brolly girls? For those of you suffering from withdrawal, here’s a few fine memories.

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MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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For Fabio, life is good.

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

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

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

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

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

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

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

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

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

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

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

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

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

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

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

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

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

What else?

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

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

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

The Undercards

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

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

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

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

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

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

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

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

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

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

*Injured, likely to miss time.

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

 

MotoGP: Jerez 2010. We were there.

July 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Friday marks the 12th season opener I have covered, mostly during my time with Motorcycle.com. That it comes, for me, at Jerez brings back memories of my trip to the race in 2010, along with my wife, daughter and son-in-law, who was also the photographer. I connived Joe Magro, my boss at MO, to pay for part of a trip we were going to take anyway, pay for tickets (no credentials available for the likes of me), etc. Told him I’d send him the usual pap and a little something extra wink wink.

We stayed at a seaside hotel in Cadiz, on The Strip, listening to the big bikes light things up outside our rooms. The ladies spent Sunday lounging on the flat, long, snow-white beach, ordering drinks from room service, tracking down a place to eat, while the erstwhile Ryan and I made our way, via our rental car, to Jerez de la Frontera.

I wrote my two favorite MotoGP articles on Sunday afternoon after the race, in Cadiz, the only time I’ve ever gotten a quantity of wine in me that convinced me I’m a great writer. (Generally, I prefer caffeine and other stimulants, not alcohol.) They are re-printed below.

Getting to the Spanish Grand Prix is half the fun

For a couple of gringos, the road to MotoGP Jerez is a blast 

Last January, four of us decided to take a family vacation to southern Spain in early May.  I worked out a deal with my editor at Motorcycle.com to pay me handsomely to cover the Gran Premio bwin de Espana, subject to my securing press credentials, providing some extra copy and photos, and giving them way more than my usual vapid kitchen table rant.  In mid-April, after reserving and paying for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc., it became fully clear that Dorna, the Spanish company that owns the rights to MotoGP, was not going to sully their pressroom by credentialing the likes of me.  What had started out as a slam dunk junket had become a longshot. 

Four of us left for Spain from O’Hare on Friday afternoon.  I/we were lacking several of the necessities for most respectable journalists:  press credentials, tickets for the race, journalistic skills, and/or a clear idea of where the track was actually located.  When I say “we”, I’m including my intrepid son-in-law and budding photojournalist, Ryan Collins, who had the good sense several years ago to marry my youngest daughter Cate.  Ryan, who knows even less about motorcycle racing than I do, told me he was pretty much up for anything, up to and including trying to find the track, trying to get into the facility, and trying to provide some semblance of “covering” the race, as opposed to just missing a day on the beach, and instead sitting around with 130,000 drunk Spanish racing fans under a hot sun for eight hours.

Ryan and I set out from Cadiz, a jewel of a town that sits on the southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, on Sunday morning.  [By this time we had missed Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifications.  We had also survived a monstrous case of jetlag and the drive from Madrid to Cadiz in which I came uncomfortably close to getting us included in Spanish highway fatality statistics not once, but twice.  And although we missed the action at the track on Saturday, we caught the action on the strip in Cadiz on Saturday night, eating tapas amongst a bunch of riders and listening to the music of big bikes turning high RPMs on the seaside street in front of the restaurant all evening.]

Cadiz sits about 25 miles south of Jerez, and we had passed several Jerez exits on the drive down from Madrid on Saturday.  Once we cleared Cadiz on Sunday, the task of actually finding the track became pretty simple:  stay with the hundreds of bikes on their way to the race that morning.  Which sounds easier than it actually is, in that these bikes were mostly traveling in excess of 100 mph while the Guardia Civil politely turned a blind eye.  Finally, we were one of a handful of cars in a veritable sea of motorcycles, and getting to the parking lot was a breeze.  The way getting from point A to point B in a mosh pit is a breeze:  make no sudden movements, don’t resist, and go with the flow.

Problem #1 solved.

Problems #2 and #3—no press credentials, few journalistic skills—weren’t going to get solved this day.  This left Problem #4—no tickets to a sold out race.  On the walk from the parking lot to the track itself, I kept an eye out for ticket “vendors” on the street, and was finding none.  Plenty of guys and ladies selling a lot of other junk—Spanish flags, food, water, trinkets, belts (?), etc., from little improvised roadside stands.  No guys holding tickets in the air yelling “Got Four!” in Spanish and looking furtively over their shoulders for the aforementioned Guardia Civil who, one suspects, take a less generous view of ticket scalpers than they do speeders they’re unable to catch anyway.  A mile in and it was looking bleak, when we noticed a trailer set off on a little side “street” with a big sign on it reading “Taquillas”.  Ryan, my interpreter, said he had no idea what a taquilla is.  I, by this time, was hoping it was Spanish for “tequilas”, as I was ready to give in and spend the day drinking shots and eating limes.  It occurred to me that “tequilas” is already a Spanish word, and one very rarely used in the plural, but I shook off this notion.

We approached the trailer, and people were, indeed, stepping up to a window and purchasing SOMETHING, but we couldn’t really tell what.  Apparently, by this time Ryan and I were looking fairly furtive ourselves, for it was at this moment that a guy in a Lakers shirt approached me and asked, in pretty good English, if we needed tickets.  He, it turned out, was getting comped by Repsol (a friend of a friend of a friend…) and was going to stand with the great unwashed in the Pelousse, the fans’ and riders’ favorite section of the Jerez track, between Turns 10 and 11, where the crowd gets right on top of the riders.  We negotiated a mutually satisfactory price for his tickets and, suddenly, Problem #4 was solved.

We still don’t know what folks were buying at that trailer; I’ll try to report back on that later tonight.  We do know that we sat high in the stands between Turns 12 and 13 with a great view of the race.  We spent plenty of time wandering around the facility mingling and taking pictures of a few of the gorgeous women you find in quantity at these events.  We watched one helluva Moto2 tilt and a premier class event that was a procession for the first 22 laps and a heart-stopping thriller for the last three.  We made it back to the parking lot and thence our hotel in one piece without dying of dehydration or getting T-boned by any of the nutjobs they issue drivers licenses to in Spain.  And we captured the story; a beautiful day spent 4500 miles from home in a second language, with a manual transmission, on the road to Jerez.

[PS–it was tickets. They were selling tickets at the trailer. Don’t tell anyone. RBA 07/16/2020]

Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

Filet of Rossi on Lap 21; roasted Pedrosa on Lap 27 

The Gran Premio bwin de Espana at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday was a hash of the worst and the best that MotoGP has to offer.  The first 22 laps were an absolute parade with virtually no lead changes and little drama, aside from guys pushing 200 mph on two wheels.  The last five laps were a masterpiece by Jorge Lorenzo, who moved from fourth place to first for his first win of 2010.  In the process, he again demonstrated the patience and strategic thinking he has lacked until now.  It appears that his development as the heir apparent to Valentino Rossi may be in its final stages. 

Sunday was a perfect day on the dazzling Spanish Riviera.  The usual suspects had qualified well on Saturday, led, somewhat surprisingly, by homeboy Dani Pedrosa, who apparently solved the suspension problems that had plagued him all year.  Pedrosa was on the pole, followed by Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi.  Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards completed Tranche One on this round, and it looked as if the long-suffering Pedrosa might enjoy his first day in the sun since his win last year at Valencia.

Recall that Round 1 in Qatar had left Casey Stoner gasping for air, Valentino Rossi looking impregnable, and Jorge Lorenzo sporting the long-awaited maturity he had lacked as recently as last season.  Lorenzo’s balls-to-the-wall racing style had secured second place in the world in 2009, but the three DNFs he recorded in his reckless (not wreckless) style had probably cost him the championship.  At Qatar, Nicky Hayden looked rejuvenated, Andrea Dovizioso looked threatening, and rookie Ben Spies looked ready for prime time.

As they say here in Spain, “Bienvenido a Espana.”

For the bulk of the first 20 laps today, it was Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso going round and round.  There was some action in the seven-to-eleven spots, but I’m generally too busy to pay much attention to that stuff.  Several riders went walkabout early on, including the soon-to-be-late Loris Capirossi and Aleix Espargaro.  Pramac Racing’s Espargaro recovered and re-entered the race, only to spend most of his day working feverishly trying not to get lapped by Pedrosa.  Ben Spies retired on Lap 7 with mechanical issues.  By Lap 20, the guys in the row front of us started passing big joints around, noticeably bypassing us.  One of the gorgeous brunettes (a dime a dozen in these parts) in the stand next to us was fiddling with her split ends.  “Off in the distance, a dog howled.”

Suddenly, it became obvious that Jorge Lorenzo had found something.

On Lap 10 he had passed Hayden without breaking a sweat, and began patiently lining up Rossi.  By Lap 21 he was on top of Rossi, and then past him.  Pedrosa, who led all day by more than a second—plenty in MotoGP time—led Lorenzo by .8 at that point.  I was thinking it would end up Pedrosa/Lorenzo/Rossi, a nice day for the hometown crowd, when Lorenzo left Rossi in his wake and drew a bead on Pedrosa.

Everyone knows the depth of enjoyment Jorge Lorenzo experiences passing teammate and arch rival Valentino Rossi.  Judging from how Lorenzo handled himself on the last three laps of this race, it’s possible he enjoys taking down Dani Pedrosa equally well.  Teammate or countryman?  Countryman or teammate?  Who really knows what’s going on in Jorge Lorenzo’s head?

Not that it matters.  Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa performed as expected in the last five laps of the race.  Lorenzo exerted his will on his bike and his countryman.  Pedrosa rode well in the lead and folded when it mattered, running wide in a late right-hander and allowing Lorenzo through, conceding the path to the win.  Talking a brave game all week long and then lacking los cojones at the moment of truth to hold his ground and force Lorenzo on to the brakes.  The book on Dani is “doesn’t like to mix it up in the corners.”  The book had it dead right today.

All in all, it was a great day to be a Spanish racing fan.  Early in the morning, it was 18-year old Spaniard Daniel Ruiz starting the day by winning the first Rookie’s Cup race of the season.  Pol Espargaro took the 125cc race while many of the fans were still finding their way to their seats.  Toni Elias, fresh off his crash in Qatar and nursing a bad wrist, battled Thomas Luthi and Shoya Tomizawa all day and finally prevailed for his first Moto2 win before his home fans, most of whom were delirious with joy at the end of the race.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa took the top two spots on the premier class podium.  And although the fans claim to prefer Pedrosa to Lorenzo, as Jorge hails all the way from Barcelona, for God’s sake, it appears they’ve grown a little weary of Pedrosa’s mad Chihuahua routine, his underdog-singing-the-blues rap.  There was no shortage of Lorenzo fans in today’s crowd.

Elsewhere on the grid, Pramac’s Mika Kallio had a great day, starting dead last and finishing 7th.   Marco Melandri recovered from a dreadful outing in Qatar to finish 8th today.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet qualified 6th and finished 9th, making him two for two this year qualifying better on Saturday than he raced on Sunday.  Alvaro Bautista recovered from a last lap fall in Qatar to finish 10th and claim the Top Rookie of the Week award from Hiroshi Aoyama, who won it at Losail but struggled today, finishing 14th.

The top five finishers in a great 17 lap Moto2 race today included Elias, Shoya Tomizawa, Thomas Luthi, Yuki “Crash” Takahashi and Simone Corsi.  The race was red-flagged early due to a pile-up involving some nine bikes, the first of what promises to be many such collisions in the overcrowded Moto2 field.

The crowd seemed as interested in the 125s today as they were the big bikes.  Espargaro claimed the top spot on the podium, flanked by two other Spaniards, Nicolas Terol and Esteve Rabat.

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (495)

Rounds One and Two will be here at Jerez

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Miller

Veteran Jack Miller, the great Australian hope.

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

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

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

motogp-logo

 

 

 

MotoGP: Tire Warmers On

June 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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

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

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#93, gold helmet

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

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Young Fabio, new kid in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Joan Mir.

 


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