Posts Tagged ‘alex rins’

MotoGP 2020 Valencia I

November 8, 2020

© Bruce Allen November 8, 2020

Mir Self-Actualizes in Valencia as Suzuki reigns

Sunday in Valencia, as my reader often reminds me, was another fine day amongst the yachting class. The chase in Moto3 tightened considerably after a dramatic Lap 2 crash. The chase in Moto2 tightened considerably after a non-dramatic Lap 16 crash. But the chase in MotoGP became more problematic for everyone not named Joan Mir in what was a clambake of historic proportions for Team Suzuki Ecstar. The last time Suzukis finished 1-2 in MotoGP was shortly after the signing of The Treaty of Ghent.

Valencia I 2020 will be remembered, in the premier class, as the nadir of the Yamaha racing program’s recent history. Wet weather on Friday and Saturday, combined with dry weather on Sunday, produced some ugly numbers. Qualifying: P9, P11 and P18, with Vinales coming out of pit lane. Race: P11, P13, P14 and Rossi DNF mechanical. Constructor championship points removed as punishment for unapproved early season changes to the engine. Rossi infected with the Rona. Firing Jorge Lorenzo as test rider. More heads gonna roll. As good as things are at this moment for Suzuki, they are equally bad for Team Yamaha.

Friday

The whole Valencia practice fiasco was the fault of the weather gods, who double-crossed the combatants by bringing rain on Saturday morning, after having spoiled FP1 and messed with FP2 and, unabashedly lying, promised sunshine for Saturday. The consequence was that the only practice session that mattered (by way of separating the Q2 lambs from the Q1 goats) was FP2. As usual, there was a lot of jockeying late in the session but it ended, oddly, with Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli topping the combined chart. Left on the outside looking in were names including Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and Miguel Oliveira, in addition to the usual suspects and the two newbies, both of which were a second faster than the cruising Tito Rabat, blowing kisses to his fans.

Saturday

FP3 in the rain became meaningless, other than assuring that the Yamahas would likely struggle in the wet on Sunday if Sunday woke up wet. Valentino Rossi, dead last, running in the rain, was actually eighth in his FP3 heat. Hmmm. That was not as bad as teammate Maverick Vinales, who had to uncrate a sixth (?) engine for the year and was thus relegated to a delayed pit lane start. Dude is a mess, although most of his woes have more to do with Yamaha than Maverick. (Personally, I think Maverick Vinales is a highly talented head case.) My other reader observes that if he were her boyfriend, she would have broken up with him before now.

FP4, it was clear, would be either wet or dry or some combination of both. I didn’t pay too much attention, distracted as I was by some ongoing family issues ☹ and the announcement of the results of the U.S. presidential election. 😊

Qualifying, both Q1 and Q2, were the usual last-minute chaos, guys racing against the clock rather than each other. Where track records are set. Although track records in MotoGP have gone mostly unchallenged this year, and again this weekend. But it’s still great stuff, seeing these guys getting it on their last flying laps. Miguel Oliveira and Johann Zarco slipped through Q1 into Q2. “Pole” Espargaro topped the Q2 sheet, followed in close order by Alex Rins and Takaa Nakagami, all of whom looked capable of winning in this unpredictable season. Series leader Joan Mir would start, menacingly, from P6.

Sunday

Moto3 was unusual, in that a race leader, Raul Fernandez, avoided some serious trouble just behind him on Lap 2, got away from the pack, and led comfortably to the flag for his first grand prix career win. Running in P2, contender Celestino Viette went unannounced over the handlebars, causing series leader Albert Arenas to check up and Alonso Lopez, suddenly in an untenable position, to rear-end Arenas, putting Lopez out of the race and breaking Arenas’ bike. Arenas, his bike wired back together, watched his 2020 lead shrink from 19 points to 3 to Ai Ogura, but not until after having been black-flagged for inserting himself into a lead group while three laps down, a serious breach of racing etiquette. He may pay a bit of a price next week for giving in to his pique today. For the year, Ogura now trails Arenas by three for the title, while Tony Arbolino now trails Vietti by 3 in the fight for P3, Jaume Masia (one of a number of crashers today) a single point behind Vietti. Sergio Garcia ended up on the second step of the podium today, with Ogura third, having pimped Arbolino at the flag.

In a reversion to form, Sam Lowes, winner of the last two Moto2 races, running second, slid unassisted out of the race on Lap 16, giving up P1 for the 2020 season to Enea Bastianini. Marco Bezzechi led from Lap 3 and was never seriously challenged. His rival from Moto3, Jorge Martin, claimed second, with Aussie Remy Gardner landing on the third step of the podium. Contender Luca Marini was nowhere early, but mounted a late rally to finish in P6. American Joe Roberts, who qualified in P2, led Lap 1 briefly before crashing out. He has also lost his seat with Tennor American Racing to Cameron Beaubier, getting booted up from a successful stint in WSBK.

The MotoGP race today was, for everyone associated with the Suzuki MotoGP Project, a wet dream come true. Sophomore sensation Joan Mir topped teammate Alex Rins for his first career win in MotoGP, giving him a 37 point lead in the season series with two rounds left, and leaving teammate Rins holding P2 for the year. As they say down in the holler, “It just don’t get any better than this, do it?” Suzuki only returned to grand prix racing in 2015 and was a pretty sorry outfit at the time. Five years later they are poised to claim the top two slots in the 2020 championship. “Pole” Espargaro tailed the Zooks all day to finish a plucky P3 after starting from pole. Words cannot express how badly Espargaro wants a KTM win before defecting to Honda for next season. Those of us who hoped today was the day can hope for next Sunday, same time, same place. Mir, displacing Fabio Quartararo as The New New Kid in Town, became the ninth winner in 12 rounds in a brilliant MotoGP season.

Here and There

In Moto2, an unlucky Jake Dixon fractured his wrist and is likely done for the year.

It’s official—Luca Marini will replace Tito Rabat next year on the Esponsorama Ducati faction. He will team up with Enea Bastiannini for a very young, very Italian team with elevated prospects for the foreseeable future. The former Avintia group may not find many podiums next year, but they’ll surely get their ashes hauled more than any other single team.

This is why Suzuki needs a second team. Ducati has now scooped up three of the top riders in Moto2 in one fell swoop, so to speak. Some of these are likely development projects, but that’s fine. They have room on their teams to develop young riders. And, once you’ve learned to ride the Desmo, you can probably ride anything.

Garrett Gerloff

Yamaha tagged American WSBK rider Garrett Gerloff as Valentino Rossi’s replacement for the MotoGP European Grand Prix, after The Doctor failed several recent COVID-19 tests. Gerloff – a former MotoAmerica Superbike rider – held his WSBK coming out party this year with the GRT Yamaha squad and scored three podiums, at Catalunya and Estoril. [Imagine Garrett’s surprise when the cadre of guys in expensive suits and Italian loafers show up for a sit-down to discuss, broadly, his perspective around a prospective, um, temporary promotion to a factory M-1 for the MotoGP knees-up in Valencia.] Anyway, his weekend ended on Friday as Rossi cleared the Rona and returned for Saturday. Not young, approaching 26, Mr. Gerloff nonetheless made a lot of positive impressions and was fast, on Rossi’s bike, on a track he had maybe visited once before. Even getting to Moto3 would be a solid for an aging American with fire in the belly.

BTW, Gerloff was not the only virgin at the European GP, as Aprilia, having finally shown Brit Bradley Smith the door, anointed Italian stud/test rider Lorenzo Savadori to pilot the struggling RS-GP for the final three rounds of 2020. I hope Aprilia corporate is doing well because their MotoGP program needs oxygen. [As things turned out, Rossi retired with a mechanical on Lap 5, and Savadori left the premises on Lap 26, to the surprise of no one.]

Yamaha Fires Test Rider Lorenzo After He Mouths Off, etc.

I read this somewhere and believe it to be true. An article in GPOne described Lorenzo criticizing, mildly, Andrea Dovizioso’s failure to take advantage of Marc Marquez’s absence in 2020 to win the title. Yamaha Corporate, probably sick and tired of Jorge’s incessant complaining, promptly fired the three-time world MotoGP champion and opened discussions with Dovizioso to return as a test rider in 2021. The Japanese have always been good at the smiling, nodding coup de grace, after which one can find oneself unemployed. Or impaled.

∞∞∞∞∞

We’re back again next week to try this again. Lots going on these days à chèz Allen, so please bear with me.

Local Color

Screenshot (181)

Valencia from the air


Screenshot (180)

Valencia oranges, I’m guessing.

Screenshot (177)

Screenshot (179)

MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

No, not that Franco! Franco Morbidelli, the Italian motorcycle racer, who won today’s MotoGP race in Aragon in front of two Spanish riders on Suzuki machines, Alex Rins and Joan Mir. The title chase in MotoGP, usually over by this time of year, features a legit Top Four—two Suzukis, two Yamahas—separated by a mere 25 points with three rounds left. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP are all competitive heading into November. What was once just a weird year has become fascinating.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 and FP2 were generally about the Hondas, with three delegates in the top 6, led by Takaa Nakagami, my emotional favorite to become winner #9 in 11 rounds. Cal Crutchlow and his deposer Alex Marquez were quick. Vinales and Quartararo were fast for Yamaha, as expected. The surprise rider of the day was Tech 3 rookie Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona, who joined defector Pol Espargaro in the top 10. Pol’s older brother was in there, too, on the Aprilia; he finished in P7 here last year. There was no joy at Ducati Corse on Friday as all six Ducs were back markers. Different strokes for different folks—no denying the affinity of certain manufacturers for certain tracks. The Ducs and KTMs aren’t big fans of the Motorland.

  1. T Nakagami            Honda
  2. M Vinales               Yamaha
  3. C Crutchlow           Honda
  4. F. Quartararo         Yamaha
  5. J Mir                      Suzuki
  6. A Marquez              Honda
  7. A Rins                    Suzuki
  8. I Lecuona               KTM
  9. A Espargaro           Aprilia
  10. P Espargaro            KTM

Saturday

FP3, the Great Divide between coasting into Q2 and fighting for one’s life in Q1, featured few changes. Miguel Oliveira showed up, and Franco Morbidelli came up with the One Fast Lap he needed. The Espargaro brothers got bumped back into Q1. Joan Mir held on to P10 by the skin of his teeth, Jack Miller and Aleix breathing down his neck. Nakagami laid down a vapor trail early in the session, then sat around his garage waiting for someone, anyone, to beat it. Morbidelli found his acorn after the flag. It’s somewhat of a jolt to see the Hondas, with their top rider on the sidelines, making things look so easy.

HRC announced that Nakagami and Alex will be on full factory equipment starting next year, and Takaa signed a nice new contract, his near future assured. If he were 22 instead of 28 I’d stick a ‘prospective Alien’ label on him. But he could win a few races in the next several years as Honda seems to have upped its game of late. This, of course, puts more pressure on Pol Espargaro to impose his will on the RC213V next year. Career-wise, Espargaro must now keep track of both Nakagami and Marquez in his rear-view mirror.

Pol Espargaro and latecomer Johann Zarco graduated from Q1, with the Frenchman jumping up into P2 well after the flag. There ensued plenty of action in Q2, as the front row was a fluid thing until the bitter end. Takaa Nakagami eventually flogged his 2019 Honda to his first premier class pole, getting the better of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins for a unique front row; for Rins, it was only his third front row start in MotoGP ever. (!) The remainder of the first four rows, then, included:

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

          12 J Mir (yes, the series leader would start from the back of Row 4. Tsk tsk.)

MotoGP Race

It’s a safe bet that Alberto Puig, the Svengali of Honda Racing, entertained visions of having two of his pilots on the podium on Sunday afternoon. LCR pilot Nakagami had been on a tear all weekend, including the morning warm-up, was starting on pole and, according to the announcers, was the bookies’ favorite to win today, becoming the ninth different winner this year, and tying 2012 for the most winners. Rookie Alex Marquez, the younger brother of you-know-who, was coming off his first two career podiums and doing well in practice.

Puig’s fantasy came to an end 20 seconds into the race, when Nakagami, in his excitement at having taken the hole shot, forgot his cold tires weren’t going to hold his speed in Turn 4 and low-sided out of the race, continuing the futility of Japanese riders who haven’t won a premier class race since 2004. But Marquez, the only rider on the grid having chosen a hard front, was one his way up the chart from his P10 start, looking quick, taking advantage of an earlier mishap involving Brad Binder and Jack Miller. On Lap 6 he went through on Vinales into P5. A few laps later he took out the plucky Johann Zarco. By Lap 12, he was running fourth behind the unflappable Franco Morbidelli and the Suzuki tandem of Alex Rins, last week’s winner, and Joan Mir, the series leader.

The air came out of the remaining Honda balloon at Turn 2 of Lap 14, when he skidded out of the race, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t, in fact, his brother Marc. Until today, Nakagami and Marquez had been the only riders on the grid to have finished every race, with the Japanese rider having been in the points every time. Today, the law of averages caught up with both, and most people were disappointed, more, perhaps, by Takaa, less, because of the family name, by Marquez.

Once Alex went walky, the race became a procession. The Ducati contingent, aside from Zarco, suffered again. Andrea Dovizioso, standing fifth in the championship, has no business in the title conversation, finishing in P13, sitting fifth for the year, and heading for two races at Valencia, another track where the Ducatis suck. Aleix Espargaro endured another rather predictable Aprilia mechanical on Lap 20, removing him from P9 at the time. KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Zarco had a bit of a joust over the last few laps, with Zarco pimping the Portuguese rider at the flag. Almost overlooked, by me, was Pol Espargaro, who flogged his own KTM to a quiet P4 finish, missing out, by a mile, on his fourth podium of the year.

The late-season fade being experienced by Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, at least at Aragon, deserves mention. Vinales has now failed to podium in eight of his last nine outings. Quartararo has amassed 15 points in the last three rounds and lost more ground again today, trailing the ascendent Joan Mir and his Suzuki by 14 points. He led the Spanish rider by eight after Catalunya. Mir, on the other hand, has podiumed the last three times out, and is a threat to become the first rider in any class to win a title without having won a race since 1999 in the 125cc class. A really good MotoGP writer would go look up the name. Here, if you feel a need to know, you can look it up!

And so, with three rounds remaining, the top four premier class riders are separated by 25 points. Quartararo, sitting on his M-1 in P2, should enjoy Valencia, but his star has been waning of late. Mir, leading, and Rins in P3, on their quick and nimble GSX-RR machines, figure to be muy confident heading into the next two rounds. And Morbidelli now sits in P4 after residing in P11 as recently as Red Bull II. It appears, for the not-so-young Italian, that Jupiter may have finally aligned with Mars.

Errata

I will post Moto2 and Moto3 stuff on, say, Tuesday. I watched the races—Moto3 was its usual chaotic self, while Moto2 offered the rare parade that put Sam Lowes, of all people, in the lead for the year. Reluctant as I am to give many props to Sam, who for years has struck me as all hat and no cattle, I credit the inestimable Estrella Galicia team for making him a success this year. Those guys produce winners, even out of re-treads like Sam. I think it unlikely that Lowes will get another shot in MotoGP even if he titles in Moto2. Or perhaps he’s just vastly improved and I will have to eat these words.

Screenshot (153)

Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

Screenshot (159)Screenshot (158)

MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

All three races on Sunday offered clear examples of socially redeeming values. In Moto3, South Africa’s second-favorite son, little brother Darryn Binder, exhibiting perseverance, winning his first ever grand prix race, a virtual and joyful two-wheeled deflowering. In Moto2, Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, won again, showing great intestinal fortitude in holding off a surprisingly upright Sam Lowes. Finally, in MotoGP, NKIT Fabio Quartararo, his good sense and team mentality on clear display, politely took the lead from teammate Franco Morbidelli on Lap 9, held off a late rush by the Suzuki contingent, and seized the lead in the 2020 MotoGP European Championship.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

Left on the outside looking in after FP2: Rins, Miller, Dovizioso, Oliveira, Bagnaia. All four Yams in top ten.

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

FP3, every rider’s worst nightmare, unfolded with relatively few surprises in the premier class. Four Yamahas and 3 KTMs advanced directly, led by Quartararo. Danilo Petrucci surprised in P6 as did fellow Ducati pilot Johann Zarco in P4. Sneaking into Q2 (P10) in front of Pecco Bagnaia was Suzuki New Kid In Town #36, Joan Mir. The poor souls having to endure Q1 would include Jack Miller and series leader Dovi, Rins, the LCR contingent, both of whom ended up in the kitty litter, and the usual suspects. Cal Crutchlow has cemented his reputation as the Black Knight of MotoGP. As he left the track medical center, having moments earlier been cleared to return to racing post-surgically for arm pump, he lost his footing and ruptured a tendon or two in his ankle. Cal soldiered on in FP3 but could only manage P16, one of more than a few riders caught out at Turns 2 and 5, which seem especially treacherous when it’s windy.

Just to be clear. If you’re an Andrea Dovizioso, say, contending for a world championship and you have to go through Q1, you must proceed directly from a full FP4 to Q1, then finish that 15-minute session in P1 or P2 in order to earn the right to proceed directly to Q2, take a leak in there somewhere, where you must finish in the top three to just be on the front row on Sunday, from where you desperately hope to fight for a win, or at least a podium, and you’re six-tenths slower than Quartararo in the time attack. That is what we used to call a long row to hoe. Especially when the margins are so thin. It appeared reasonable, on Saturday, to expect a new series leader heading into the off week.

This competition, by the way, is what we were hoping for back in the dark, dreary days of 2014, when it was The Big Three and a bunch of world class junk. From the sounds of it, one gets the sense that, after all this time, perennial back markers—Tito Rabat, Bradley Smith, perhaps Aleix—will be having to tell their sponsors that Ducati and Aprilia no longer want their money. Lots of young talent in Moto2; management wants results in the premier class and is less interested in the sponsor money you bring if you can’t compete for a top six on a regular basis.

Over in Moto2, Sam Lowes is doing his FP3 impression of one of my favorite riders from back in the day, Frenchman Randy de Puniet who, in 2013, finished each race that season (when he did not DNF) from a lower position than he qualified, thus earning the sobriquet Fast on Saturday. Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon, the token Anglo-Saxons, would be working in Q1. Again, it appeared reasonable to believe Sam, or someone, would set a new all-time track record during Q2, being only a tenth or two down in FP3.

FP3 in Moto3, I’m told, found an unusual variety of overachievers and underachievers. All three series leaders– Albert Arenas, John McPhee as per usual, and Ai Ogura–would have to fight their way through Q1.

MotoGP Q2 on Saturday afternoon was your basic Yamaha clambake. One by one, Quartararo, Rossi (!), Vinales and, finally, Morbidelli took aim at pole, attempting to dislodge either a teammate or a brand-mate. Late in the session Frankie got it all going at one time and posted the only sub-1:39 lap of the weekend, a tenth off Lorenzo’s lap record set in 2018. On Michelins.

Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi would make up Row 1 on Sunday, with Vinales starting from the middle of Row 2. Jack Miller lunged into P4 on his last set of qualifying tires. Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder would rep KTM in the top 10, while Miller, Zarco and Petrucci would do the same for Ducati. Joan Mir, on the Suzuki, hovered in P8. And, lest we forget, series leader Andrea Dovizioso would be starting Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 6.

Sunday 

Moto3: Series leader Albert Arenas gets skittled on Lap 6 by a morose John McPhee, who hurt his own championship aspirations as well. With too many lead changes to count, the frontrunners, at various points in the day, included Gabriel Rodrigo, Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia. The last lap provided a showdown between leader Arbolino and challenger Binder, who went through on the Italian at Turn 5 and held him off, nervous as Sean Connery in a spelling bee, for the rest of the lap. Ai Ogura, in P2 for the year heading into the race, was curiously unable to gain any real ground on the grounded Arenas, delivering a P11 and a series of confused, stunned looks. Arbolino sits in P4 for the year, a point ahead of Celestino Vietti. Heading into the second half of this strange year, it’s still anyone’s championship. Just as a point of reference, Ogura’s 122 points at this time compares to Marc Marquez’s point total for the entire 2019 season—420. A compressed season and serious competition at every round. At one point today there was a 20-bike lead group. Gotta love it.

Moto2:  Italian heartthrob Luca Marini, he of the Rossi family, did nothing on Sunday to discourage those people considering him for a satellite Ducati seat in MotoGP next season, winning today’s race and adding to his series lead with a very grown-up performance. He fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from Brit Sam Lowes, who was leading late but whose tires were in tatters with three laps to go. Marini, with his half-brother’s sense of the moment, chose the last lap of the race to go back through on Lowes for the win. Fabio de Giannantonio came in a lonely third, Jorge Navarro in P4 and the American guy, Joe Roberts, managed a highly respectable P5. Enea Bastiannini, in second place for the year and also moving to MotoGP next season, recovered from a poor start to finish in P6.

MotoGP:  Despite young Fabio Quartararo claiming the win in today’s race, even with three bikes in the top nine, it felt kind of like a loss for Team Yamaha today, when Valentino Rossi, the legend himself, crashed out of P2 on Lap 16, an unforced error, for a second consecutive DNF. Franco’s P4 could have been a win but for tires. Lord only knows how Vinales worked his way up from P5 at the start to P15 at the end of the first lap, then took all day and several crashers in front of him to manage a top ten, this the guy with expectations of fighting for a title.

In his 350th start, with a chance to claim his 200th premier class podium, Vale let it get away from him. Though his tires may have contributed to his fall, the rider is, first and foremost, responsible for managing his rubber. Yesterday he signed his contract to ride for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team next year on a one year deal. This, one suspects, will allow for his well-deserved 2021 victory lap, as well as opening up vast new marketing opportunities, putting #46 in teal and black. It will set the stage for the entry of a VR46 racing team in the MotoGP grid for 2022.

The team that must have felt like the real winners today was Suzuki factory racing, fronted by Joan Mir and Alex Rins. In finishing in P2 and P3 respectively, they broke a string of 20 years without a Suzuki on a Montmelo podium, and put two riders on a podium of any kind for the first time since 2007. Rins started in P13 and had plenty of tire left at the end. Mir, out of P8, might have had a chance to reel in Fabio were there two or three more laps. The standings at the top of the heap got a little scrambled today:

Screenshot (89)

Looking Ahead

Two weeks to Le Mans, followed directly by two rounds in Aragon, which has the ring of the old joke in which the contest featured a first prize of a week in Philadelphia and a second prize of two weeks in Philadelphia. Whatever. Plenty of history lying around in that part of the world. The Ducs and Yamahas have done well at Le Mans of late, and there’s always the chance for rain. A good flag-to-flag race would be just the thing to separate the men from the boys.

The suits at Yamaha must be impressed by the performance their engineers have coaxed out of the 2020 YZR-M1, after a couple of years being the dogs of the big three. With three promising riders, a living legend, and a competitive package for next year all but assured, these guys all need Foster Grants. One hopes the success Suzuki has experienced on track of late translates into increased sales. This is an industry that deserves to survive the pandemic. I have heard it referred to as “the yachting class,” but there’s plenty of everyday people cheering their lungs out when it’s not the plague out there.

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

Screenshot (76)Screenshot (82)

Fabio leaning

From the top: Rossi stoppie; Jack Miller on it; Fabio shoulder down.

And some local color for those of you into such things:

Screenshot (81)Screenshot (85)Screenshot (86)Screenshot (87)Screenshot (88)

September 13, 2020

MotoGP San Marino I Results

Franco Morbidelli breaks through; championship tightens

After three rounds in perdition, this was the week Yamaha revived its outlook on life. Hogging the top four spots in Q2. Winning the race while putting three bikes in the top six. Not having any engines blow up on them, although there was that moment before the race. And giving Valentino Rossi an opportunity to earn his 200th premier class podium, with another one looming next week. Just another goofy weekend in a goofy season.

Notes from Friday

Friday, all four Yamahas in top six; all four KTMs in the top nine.

New racing surface seems likely to yield track records. Riders seem to love it.

Top three in FP1 were on different rears.

Lecuona apparently didn’t like the whispers about getting sent back to Moto2, putting in a P4 during FP2. Like water, he later sought his natural level, and would take part in Q1.

Ringing the church bells in Tavullia again this year?  FP3–shades of yesteryear as Valentino, on his last lap before the flag, scorched Misano, rocketing from P15 and Q1 to Q2, dreaming of a front row start. Rossi’s last win, 2017 at Assen, might need an update.

Cal Crutchlow, The Black Knight of Monty Python fame, would not ride on Saturday or Sunday, having recently undergone surgery for arm pump, on top of everything else. Complications. The Universe is on line 4, Cal—take the call.

Notes from Saturday

I recall the last time Yamaha closed out the top four in a MotoGP Q2 session: Never. After two rounds in the outhouse in Austria, Yamaha takes the express to the penthouse in FP3 and Q2 on Saturday, which, as it turned out, was also Bring Your Teammate to Work Day. At the conclusion of Q2, the four Yamaha pilots were seen playing a drunken game of euchre. The Pramac Ducati guys, Jack and Pecco, celebrated P5 and P6 together with an intense game of cornhole. Alex Rins and Joan Mir were having a late dinner and arguing about which was the greatest after taking P7 and P8. Dovizioso and Zarco, suddenly his heir apparent, were forced to have their picture taken together having finished 9th and 10th. And KTM, the luster of Red Bull Ring and its red flags but a memory, had to settle for putting Espargaro and Oliveira in the first four rows. Not a Honda on the lot.

Recall we came up with the snappy slogan at Red Bull Ring—Yamaha Hate Austria. Having sold out of the original bumper stickers, we are now happy to offer Yamaha Love Jerez, Hate Austria But Do Love Some Serene Republic of San Marino appliques, at the same low price. (The added copy has necessitated reducing the font, making the things unreadable from greater than four feet, but you gotta like the idea.)

In winning pole, Maverick broke Jorge Lorenzo’s all-time track record dating back to, like, 2016. Like I said, the riders mostly love the new asphalt, although they mentioned bumps and swirls, caused, presumably, by F1? I heard 90% of the track was smooth and 10% wasn’t which, apparently, is good.

Notes from Sunday

Moto3: John McPhee wins from P17 on the grid. Albert Arenas crashed out of the lead group late in the race, giving up a big chunk of his championship lead. Ai Ogura, who finished second, now trails Arenas for the year by five points. Two Japanese riders finished on the podium for the first time since 2001, Tet Suzuki finishing third. There were more lead changes than you could count in what is perhaps the world’s best racing.

Moto2: What started out as a parade led by Valentino Rossi’s SKY VR46 racing bros, Luca Marini and Marco Bezzechi got tight late, with the two exchanging the lead several times. Enea Bastianini, he of the recent promotion to MotoGP with Ducati for 2021, gave futile chase from 3rd, got a podium, but may have felt he left some out on the track. Xavi Vierge pushed Bastianini for the last few laps but never showed him a wheel. All Italian podium in San Marino. Covid-19 will find some new customers tonight in the bars and bistros of the city.

MotoGP: From the outset, it appeared Franco Morbidelli, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Rins and Joan Mir were going to dominate the conversation at the front. Vinales, however, did another of his disappearing acts, dropping from pole to P7 before finally rallying over the last dozen laps to salvage P6.

Morbidelli took the hole shot, established a bit of a lead in front of Rossi (!) and ran away with the race, Marquez-style. Pretty much everyone watching, myself included, wanted another example of Rossi’s sense of the moment, rooting for him to capture his 200th career premier class podium at Misano, his home away from home. Instead, he was supplanted by one of his proteges, Pecco Bagnaia, who gave a sensational performance, as well as young upstart Joan Mir, who put an aggressive move on Rossi late in the day to steal P3 and deny Rossi another chunk of history. Jack Miller appeared to lose the day-long argument he was having with his injured shoulder, finally surrendering to the pain and a P9.

Fabio Quartararo, looking very human of late, slid out of the race on Lap 8, re-joined, entered the pits on Lap 19, immediately returned to the track, and crashed for a second time on cold tires on his second out lap. Awesome. Gave up his lead in the 2020 championship. We know he can race at Jerez, but it’s been steadily downhill from there.

The two Suzuki pilots, Rins and Mir, put on a show today. Rins spent the second half of the race threatening Vinales, Miller and Rossi, while Bagnaia was doing to him what he was doing to everyone else. Young Pecco went through on Rins on Lap 20 into P3, then took down Rossi on Lap 21 for second place, this mere weeks after breaking his leg on Friday at Brno. If he was having problems with pain or stamina it certainly didn’t show.

Joan Mir on Lap 27 was awesome. Dude is going to be an Alien if he’s not already.

Rossi fought hard all day, but in the end was taken down by men almost half his age. Yamaha, despite the disappointment around Fabio, finished the day with three bikes in the top six. Ducati landed Bagnaia, Dovizioso and Miller in the top ten. Both Suzukis were top five; I expect they are looking forward to next week. Takaa Nakagami put his LCR Honda in P8, the only Honda in the top ten, while Pol Espargaro put the only KTM machine in the top ten.

For years there has been a debate around MotoGP, whether it’s the rider or the bike that makes the difference. The debate is unresolved, and the answer seems to keep moving around. These days, given the parity between the factories—or at least five of them—I think we have to add another dimension to the chess game, that being the venue. Riders, and now bikes, it seems, have notable preferences. We’ve all become accustomed to the fact that Marc Marquez likes things in Austin and The Sachsenring and would prefer that MotoGP only use those two tracks all season long, back and forth. KTM bikes like the home cooking they get at Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas seem to like Jerez and Misano but loathe Brno and Austria. Ducatis love Mugello and Sepang. And so on. For those of you foolish enough to wager on this sport this year, let me remind you we’ve seen five winners in six premier class races.

MotoGP top ten 2020 after six rounds
Top ten after six rounds 2020

To me, this is what a top ten ranking should look like. 28 points between P1 and P10. Eight out of the ten riders with four years’ premier class experience or less.

In the words of Huey Long, in the words of Randy Newman, “Every man a king.” Well, not a king yet, but certainly harboring legitimate hopes of kingship. Perhaps Dorna should just ban Marc Marquez “for the good of the game.” This is way more fun than most years.

We’ll try to put something together for next weekend, but I’m on vacation this week, so if you want a preview one of you will have to write it yourself.

Screenshot (55)

The obligatory helicopter shot.

Screenshot (57)

MotoGP: Life in Tier Two

August 30, 2020

© Bruce Allen

With an off weekend on our editorial hands, we thought it might be fun to take a quick look at the riders outside the top ten, get inside their heads a little, speculate as to what’s up with their 2020 season and, likely, beyond.

#11     Franco Morbidelli     Italian     Petronas Yamaha

Moto2 title in 2017. Paid a year of dues on a weak satellite Honda as a rookie in 2018. More than doubled his point production in 2019 on the satellite Yamaha. He’s had two good races this year–P5 at Jerez I and P2 at Brno–and three lousy ones. Has collected a total one one (1) point in the last two rounds, joining Vinales and Quartararo in the Yamaha Hate Austria club. He’s 25; these grand prix riders peak in their mid-20’s. He’s also one of a number of riders, age-wise, whose careers are getting squeezed by Marquez at 27 and Quartararo at 21 years. He needs to get more consistent, will probably never win a MotoGP title, but a formidable rider nonetheless.

#12     Johann Zarco     French     Exponsorama Ducati

Zarco, a classic underachiever, is 30 years old. One assumes there is stuff in his personal life that affects his career decisions, for he was, briefly in 2017, as a rookie in MotoGP, burning like a 4th of July sparkler. He needed to wear shades. But from there, it’s been mostly downhill. A lack of progress on the 2018 Yamaha led him to make a terrible career decision to ride for KTM in 2019, a debacle that lasted 13 rounds. Somehow, he’s landed at Ducati with a GP19 that howls and a riding style that, somehow, fits the Desmo. With his guest membership in the YHA club, (2 points in Austria) he looks like a field horse who will be fun to watch, who will occasionally show up on a podium, but will never finish in the top five for the year. At least he’s back, and lucid.

#13     Alex Rins     Spain     Suzuki Ecstar

Another fast rider whose career has been slowed by injuries, most of which have been unforced errors. Apparently, unlike Marquez, he doesn’t practice the art of the harmless lowside crash. Anyway, once again in 2020, despite his overall bright future, he banged himself up early in the season, had surgery, came back sooner than he should have, and will now be at risk for the rest of the year. He opened with a P10 at Jerez I, his P4 at Jerez II was a bit of a miracle before the roof caved in. He began to get things sorted at Red Bull II. Rins is young and fast, but he has to quit hurting himself. Another rider book-ended by Marquez and Quartararo.

#14     Danilo Petrucci     Italy    Factory Ducati

This, 2020, is the beginning of the end of Danilo, who had a glance at the big time after years and years of paying dues. He has lost his seat to Pecco Bagnaia for ’21-’22 and has taken up residence with KTM for 2021. He saw the writing on the wall months ago, re Bagnaia. With a season best P7 at Austria I he appears to be outgunned or on “Cruise.”  Whatever. He has had his last big contract, and appears to be a happy guy. All the best to Danilo at KTM. Perhaps he can join Binder and Oliveira who are breaking the beast along with Espargaro.

#15     Alex Marquez     Spain     Repsol Honda

Little brother keeps his big fast Honda upright. He does the best he can with his overarching goal being to complete the race, not crash, not get anyone hurt. He had a P8 at Jerez II and will be taking over Cal Crutchlow’s seat at LCR Honda next season with full factory support. When he was a teenager he was said to have been faster than Marc, and that Rins could beat both of them. Whatever. Alex appears to be a Tranche 3 or 4 rider. Don’t know why that would ever change, with all the young fast Italian riders on the way. [His transfer made possible Repsol’s signing of Pol Espargaro to ride alongside Marc–that should be rich–for ’21-’22. It also showed Crutchlow the door; no surprise there.]

#16     Aleix Espargaro     Spain     Factory Aprilia

The MotoGP equivalent of Sisyphus, doomed to spend his life pushing the rock up the mountain only to see it roll down again. I think little brother Pol could now beat Aleix on a same-bike match race. But Aleix has never, in a career seemingly spanning decades in MotoGP, had a decent ride beneath him. Other than 2014 on the Forward Yamaha, on which he finished P7 for the year. He’s going nowhere on the still-sick Aprilia while the world awaits the turnaround KTM is experiencing this year. Meanwhile, Aleix pedals as hard as he can, generally to little avail. Someone’s going to take his job one of these days.

#17     Iker Lecuona     Spain     Tech3 KTM

First, a confession about the KTM rookie. I get tickled every time I hear his name, as it provokes in me (I’m a musician on the side) a rhythm, a rhythm that reminds me of a tune in Disney’s Lion King, called, for whatever reason, “Hakuna Matata,” and has this hypnotic beat attached to it. I hear #27 and my neck and shoulders start moving, like they do when I hear Motown anthems.

Late selection rookie brought onboard, finally, to take Zarco’s seat. He is young, and he is wrestling the RC16, which is a beast to point and shoot. His fate is not, as it appears, tied to KTM. He may find, or at least seek, greener pastures on a different bike, should the opportunity arise in the future. For now, he is a back-bencher. He is young, and could become something in a few seasons. KTM picked him for 2020 mostly on purpose, as future star Jorge Martin was not ready to move up. Martin appears to be ready and is rumored to have signed a Ducati contract for 2021. Dude has Alien written all over him. Sorry, not Lecuona. Martin is the future Alien; jury is still out on Iker.

#18     Pecco Bagnaia     Italy     Pramac Ducati

Promising young rookie, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, has a bright future at Ducati. A broken leg in Jerez has trashed his 2020 campaign, but he is reported to have already signed his contract to move up to the factory team in 2021-22 to ride alongside Jack Miller, the factory Ducati group getting younger and stronger in the process. Bagnaia appears to have a preferred riding style that will do well at some tracks, so-called Ducati-friendly tracks. I think he is young enough to get a peak at a world championship in MotoGP; his future appears bright. His present, not so much, although he is healing and will possibly try to return for a few rounds in 2020. How am I supposed to know, out here in Hoosierville?

#19     Bradley Smith     Great Britain     Factory Aprilia

After being in and out of MotoGP Smith caught a ride this season when Andrea Iannone failed a drug test. Were Smith a mechanic rather than a rider, 2020 would be another year of sitting around, turning wrenches. He must bring a pot of sponsor money, probably more than Aprilia pays him. He is a career field-filler. Nice guy. No future.

#20     Tito Rabat    Spain     Esponsorama Ducati

See #19 above.

#21     Cal Crutchlow     Great Britain     LCR Honda

Despite a respectable career, Cal is going out on a low note, having been declared redundant by HRC. This chafes the Brit who, at age 34, has arrived at the end of the line. If he doesn’t get off here and retire to a life of leisure on the Isle of Mann, he will end up in a bad neighborhood, career-wise, but guys like Cal are hard to convince. He is, at this moment, homeless starting next season. With a lifetime of arthritis ahead of him, I hope Cal calls it a career and goes home to wife and daughter. It would be fun to hear him behind a microphone at some point, during races.

***

So, there you have it. We’ll get back on topic after Labor Day, in advance of Misano I. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids, and we’ll try to reply to every one, plus send you a secret decoder ring you can show off to your friends. Tell them you care about motorcycle racing and casual research. Show them that a little knowledge, combined with a fairly extensive vocabulary, can achieve success in a community of people who make odd, unhealthy choices in what they read.

Here are some images from last year in San Marino.

Screenshot (136)Screenshot (135)Screenshot (134)Screenshot (130)Screenshot (129)Screenshot (123)Screenshot (121)Annotation 2019-09-10 064742misano-circuit-1000x522

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.

Screenshot (506)

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

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

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

What else?

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

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

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

The Undercards

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

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

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

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

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

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

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

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

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

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

*Injured, likely to miss time.

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

 

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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.

Screenshot (275)

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.

Screenshot (86)

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 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

Screenshot (298)

The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.

MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen  Late-Braking MotoGP

Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Come on Down! 

22-year old Italian Lorenzo Dalla Porta, in this, his fifth year in Moto3, will have a first career grand prix match point on his racket this Sunday at breathtaking Phillip Island in southeastern Australia. His mission: extend his current 47-point lead over KTM sacrificial lamb Aron Canet–20 years old, in his fourth Moto3 season– to 51 heading to Sepang (never mind the tiebreakers) and the 2019 title is his, lock, stock and barrel. If the price is right!

Sure, Marc Marquez has clinched in the premier class again, but there is a rather compelling fight going on for third place, compelling, that is, if you’re not an American, who is barely interested at all about Dovizioso in second. In Moto2, Alex Marquez, yes, THAT Marquez, has a 36-point lead, along with the same magic number (51) after Sunday. Depending upon the will of the racing gods, he could clinch this week or find himself in an oh-no dogfight with, say, Tom Luthi, for the title, which once appeared to be his for the taking after so many years of trials, tribulation, etc. Young Marquez NEEDS a win in Australia, and never mind magic numbers or anything else. He needs to take it now or at least kick the starch out of his pursuers, reduce their chances from plausible to mathematical.

Recent MotoGP History in Australia 

The 2016 Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from this great track after the championship had been decided.  Crown champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to another easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, went to Bermuda in his head for a few moments, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to an astonished Cal Crutchlow.

Cal was joined on the podium that afternoon by Rossi and Maverick Vinales, then employed by Suzuki Racing. As so often happens in this sport, the best contest of the day was the fight for 7th place, won by Scott Redding on the Pramac Ducati, trailed by Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, the gap from 7th to 10th a full 45/100ths of a second.

Honda’s defending champion Marquez, in a dogfight with Dovi for the 2017 title, survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group for the win in Australia that made the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second that day, teammate Maverick Vinales third. But landing both factory Yamahas on the podium was cold comfort on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship were extinguished.

Last year, despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Maverick Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. What with Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out world champion-in-waiting Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the lower steps of the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis.

That day Vinales was joined on the podium by the dueling Andreas, Iannone on the Suzuki and Dovizioso on the Duc. Finishing an amazing fourth was my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of a Ducati Desmosedici GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium on Sunday. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. Four riders who would have beaten him were DNS or last seen gingerly leaving gravel traps. But in order to finish first one must first finish, etc. Occasionally I suck, and I apologize. Just quit futzing with your hair all the time.

Lecuona to MotoGP? 

Hacuna Matata of the Lion King team…wait. No, sorry, Iker (pronounced Eeker) Lecuona (hear the drums?), the up-and-coming 19 year-old Spaniard, having weathered the last two seasons in Moto2 purgatory with KTM, has reportedly been offered the vacant KTM factory MotoGP seat next to Pol Espargaro on a one-year deal, leaving Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder intact on happy Herve Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM satellite team. In the card game of bridge, such a promotion is known as a “jump shift,” indicative of a very strong hand or, in this case, a very brave young rider, willing to tackle the KTM RC16 mechanical bull. The 2020 bike, according to the same publication, has been made ‘easier to ride’ by input from Dani Pedrosa. Hey, it’s just what I’m hearing. Oh, and for the bike to work right, the riders simply need to get their weight down under 120 lbs.

Scott Redding 

Young Scott Redding, who I feel I personally ran out of town in MotoGP, causing untold pain and hardship for his family and for which I feel terrible, got some payback this past week by winning the 2019 British Superbike title. Congratulations, Scott, and thanks for verifying the Peter Principal for us, if in reverse, and on your impending promotion to a factory Ducati in the World Super Bike championship, replacing the aforementioned Bautista, who defected to Honda WSBK. Ya can’t tell the players without a program. There are a few MotoGP riders suffering in the premier class who could tear it up in World Super Bike. Paging Tito Rabat.

Moto3 

I will defer to some of our more energetic/unemployed readers to summarize, in the Comments section below, recent histories in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Seriously, I’ve got stuff going on. I’ll be watching Dalla Porta and Canet all weekend; feels like a fait accompli. I need to take a separate look at who will be on what and where for 2020.

Moto2 

Other than Binder and now Lecuona, I’m unaware of anyone else moving up to MotoGP in 2020. Plenty of things going on between teams and classes. With teams on a full-court press for the next three weeks I don’t expect any big news and promise to do a better job going forward in the news department.  One reader, Mr. Bashir, especially, is being relied upon (via Comments below) to keep readers up-to-date on goings-on in the KTM world he inhabits and which has so damaged his thought processes.

Rider lineups for both Moto2 and Moto3 will be released on November 11 or thereabouts. Musical chairs in the lightweight bikes is just as much fun as in the big league.

Your Weekend Forecast

Per Accuweather, conditions at Phillip Island should be typical for this time of year—windy, cold and wet. If Sunday turns up clear, the track will be thoroughly rinsed, hard and cold; out laps could be hazardous. Dry practice time could be at a premium. Brolly girls may be strictly decorative, which is fine. Everybody needs to get paid.

In Moto3 I expect Dalla Porta to clinch. In Moto2 I expect Alex Marquez to not clinch, but to put a stranglehold on the title, clinching at Sepang the following week. In MotoGP, this is the race Marquez generally blows off, either by a careless crash, a DQ or something. I see him finishing from pole with a handful of points, not necessarily on the podium, where I can envision Vinales, Fabio and Dovi spraying prosecco on one another after another playing of the Spanish national anthem, three bridesmaids having a bit of a knees-up before returning to the demoralizing chase for runner up.

We’ll be back yet again on Sunday with results and analysis from Down Under. It’s Round 17. These guys are fast. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Local Color from 2018

Where to Watch PI 2018Screenshot (324)Screenshot (321)Screenshot (318)Screenshot (316)PI 2018API 2018PI 2018 Best Look

 


%d bloggers like this: