Posts Tagged ‘alex rins’

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.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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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.

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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 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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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.

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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.  

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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

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MotoGP Motegi Results

October 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Relentless Marquez Dominates Japan 

It is now clear that Honda’s 2019 MotoGP champion Marc Marquez has his sights set on the single season points record of 383 set by The Rider Formerly Known as Jorge Lorenzo with Yamaha in 2010. Why else bother winning the Motul Grand Prix of Japan when a win would mean so much more to any number of other riders? Winning motorcycle races is in #93’s DNA, much they way it was with Nicky Hayden. He just can’t help himself.

With the real action behind him all day, and discounting Dovizioso, who has second place for the year by the throat, most of the attention today focused on young Fabio—could this be his week?—Vinales, Rins and Petrucci, all of whom have a dog in the fight for third place for the year. One rider who doesn’t, after today, is aging rock star Valentino Rossi, who crashed out, unassisted, of the race and the top tier of riders for 2019. Anyone feeling bad for Rossi is advised to feel bad instead for Lorenzo, who limped home in 18th place today, out of the points, no longer relevant in the premier class. It wasn’t that long ago that they were The Factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, capable of going one-two on any given weekend. C’est la guerre.

Practice and Qualifying

Valentino Rossi just snuck into Q2 on his last lap in FP2, knocking 7/10ths off his best previous lap on soft front and rear. Rain was in the forecast for Saturday. After FP2, Moto3 leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta was overheard whispering “I kicked your ass today, pendejo,” to second-place Aron Canet, having nosed him out of 11th by .001 second. FP1 and FP2 in Moto3 leave more to the imagination than do the same sessions in MotoGP. All those guys with foreign-sounding names on what seem like hundreds of teams. Matt and Steve earn their money herding cats, staying on top of Moto3. I can’t keep up yet.

On Friday in Moto2, series leader Alex Marquez was having his way with the likes of Brad Binder (KTM), KTM rookie Jorge Martin—finally—and Luca Marini, with Sam Lowes punching above his weight in fifth.  [Someone got in Alex’s ear during the last off-season and changed his outlook on life. Someone he respected had to have said to him, “Look. You need to sack up. You’re a freaking Marquez and have always practiced well against Marc. He thinks you can dominate Moto2 and earn a 2021 contract with the factory team of your choice. You’ll be 25. At which point he looks forward to kicking your butt. But you need to stay on the effing bike and quit effing around. You’ve got the bike and the team, now you need to blow these guys away.” And away, it seems, in 2019 he blows goes.

In MotoGP, after FP2, there were four Yamahas in the top six, joined by Marquez and Dovizioso. Why the Yams were doing so well here I had no idea, other than to remind myself and everyone else that Friday is Friday unless it rains on Saturday. We need the weather gods to make this one more interesting. Everyone wants to see Fabio bust his cherry. Son of Rossi and all that. One door closes, another opens, etc.

Sidebar: So our boy Cal Crutchlow is warning new teammate/temp Johann Zarco that the 2019 RC213V is harder to ride than the 2018 version. Just sayin’. One wonders why Cal doesn’t insist on using the 2018 chassis with the 2019 engine, the way Marquez did in 2015 when that year’s Honda MotoGP bike was unrideable. Marquez switched back to the 2014 frame and won the second half of the 2015 season going away. Coulda saved Lucio some money, too. It’s not like they’re doing a ton of development work at LCR.

Crutchlow and Rins escape Q1, on to Q2, while the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo would start 19th on Sunday, 1.8 seconds behind Crutchlow, up from last on the last two laps. A shadow of his former self. Tentative. Hurting his team. Dude needs to renounce second year of his contract and hang them up. He’s got enough money for several lifetimes. Time to rest on some laurels.

FQ and MM have taken 13 out of 15 poles 2019. Nakagami wounded but showing toughness in front of his homeys. The announcers pointed out what we’ve been saying here for some time—any weather is Marquez weather. He took his first premier class pole at Motegi on Saturday, closing the loop, having now poled at every circuit on the calendar. Franco Morbidelli and Quartararo join Marquez on the front row, making my pre-race prediction look less ridiculous, Miller back of the second row, together with Crutchlow and Vinales. As a postscript, Rossi would start tenth.

In Moto2, Luca Marini took pole, followed by Augusto Fernandez, BadAss Baldassarri, Alex Marquez fourth, Navarro fifth. Moto3 would start Sunday with a front row of Niccolo Antonelli, Alonso Lopez, and Tatsuki Suzuki. Series leader Dalla Porta starts from sixth; his nearest rival, Aron Canet, from eighth.

As little as qualifying means in the premier class, it means even less in the lightweights.

The Undercards

In Moto3 today, in a nutshell, series leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the race while his nearest pursuer, Spaniard Aron Canet on the KTM, crashed out of seventh place on his own, the 2019 Moto3 season having thereby been effectively decided on Lap 14 at Motegi. LDP sits with 47 points on Canet with three rounds left. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. For the record, Celestino Vietti, who turned 18 last week, captured the third step on the podium, his first, certainly not his last, on the dash to the flag. Onions.

In Moto2, Italian fast mover Luca Marini won his second consecutive race, putting himself in the conversation for second place for 2019 but, alas, not for first, as Alex Marquez, by fighting hard for a difficult 6th place finish, conserved his 2019 margin at 36 points, with second place now belonging to Luthi, who is, somehow, still in the game. If Marquez can avoid a DNF, which he narrowly accomplished several times today, he will win the title. A fall, and all of a sudden it’s a real race again. Oh, and his save during FP3 will go down as perhaps one of the greatest EVER.

The Big Pictures

MotoGP—Nothing here. People fighting for third and fourth. Rossi and Lorenzo on the back nine heading for the clubhouse. Fabio is The New Kid in Town.

Moto2—Alex Marquez will spend another year in Moto2 next year before heading off to the greener pastures of MotoGP in 2021. There are fast movers everywhere you look in Moto2, just not many who appear ready to make the leap to MotoGP. Which is why guys like Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham can still find rides year after year.

Moto3—With Dalla Porta seemingly a lock to move up to Moto2 next year, there are a number of fast young Italians joining the usual cast of Spaniards in the 250cc class. The impact of Valentino Rossi’s ranch is being felt in all three classes, especially in Moto3.

MotoGP Tranches

After Buriram:

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Motegi: Normalizing the Distribution 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Next Up: Phillip Island 

Other than the wind chill factor, Phillip Island is one of most everyone’s favorite tracks. The MotoGP season’s leaves are all changing color now; winter is closing in. Dalla Porta has his first break point this weekend. Alex Marquez is likely to have his in Sepang. We will be there, bringing you the contrived victory celebrations that make watching this part of the season worthwhile.

Local Color

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Greater Motegi metro area.

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The end of the Moto3 race.

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Stoppie.

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MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Moto3, Moto2, MotoGP: It’s all here

Now that Repsol Honda’s miraculous Marc Marquez has secured another premier class title—his sixth in seven seasons—we will be paying more attention to the goings-on in the “lightweight” classes. Marquez has announced his intention to assault the all-time single season points record, but it’s just not the same. Look at track records—Marquez holds none past Round 14. Subconsciously, perhaps, he occasionally takes a whisker off the throttle with the championship won. The season becomes a ham ’n’ egg breakfast; Marquez goes from being the pig, who is committed to the meal, to the chicken, who is interested.

Annotation 2019-10-15 053607

One name conspicuously missing

Honda also might want to consider relieving Lorenzo of his duties for 2020 and going with Stefan Bradl, who has been testing for them for a few years. Bradl does well enough on the latest RC213V on his wildcard weekends and can continue to provide feedback; he knows the drill. He also knows who is #1. Lorenzo is a basket case who needs to get away from the sport while he can, without further damage to his legacy. They will need to identify a new #2 in 2021; there will be a world of candidates at that time.

There is a report Johann Zarco will replace Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda for the last three rounds of the season. Such would be a high-risk proposition for Zarco as regards next year, since the RC213V is unlikely to suit his riding style. Or anyone else’s, for that matter. Nakagami is now signed for 2020. Zarco’s audition, assuming it occurs, will be for some other team as yet unidentifiable.

Moto2

In Moto2, Little Brother Alex Marquez (K) is starting to look invincible, needing only to stay in the points from here on out to claim his first Moto2 title. He is what my boy Boyd Crowder would call a “late bloomer,” taking his own sweet time to title in Moto2 after an impressive Moto3 championship at age 18 in 2014. (This was the story of 2014, Marquez edging, as it were, fellow teen Jack Miller by two points in a barnburner of a season that I largely missed. Miller got promoted the following year directly to the Pramac MotoGP team, skipping second grade entirely. He dipped below the curve for a few seasons on a slow Honda, then year-old Ducati, before currently appearing on the upswing, looking forward to full factory equipment in 2020. The impudent Aussie seems to have designs on the #1 seat on the factory Ducati team by as early as 2021.)

Young Marquez’ closest pursuers, generally sucking canal water, include Augusto Fernandez (KAL), Brad Binder (KTM), Tom Luthi (KAL), and Jorge Navarro, (SPDUP). It is at points like this in the story where I hope to someday insert a humorous insight or two regarding one of the chasers. Binder has had his ticket punched to the satellite Tech 3 KTM MotoGP team for 2020. Fernando and Navarro are the two hot-blooded young Latins who crave the title and are, as we used to say, packing the gear, bucking for promotion. Belgian Thomas Luthi, a MotoGP retread, is older, turning wrenches, making a living at 200 KPH, living large, his star on the wane.

Moto3

Until last week, the championship had been a tight two-man race between Italian heart throb Lorenzo dalla Porta (H) and KTM’s ink-laden Spaniard Aron Canet. Canet got skittled by an overly-aggressive Darryn Binder (KTM) in Thailand and now trails dalla Porta by 22 points with four rounds left. Things being rather unpredictable amongst the 250cc set, dalla Porta is not a lock for the title, but he’s getting close, seemingly by default. Young Tony Arbolino (H) looks, at times, like the fastest rider out there. And your boy Romano Fenati is out injured, trying to scare up a Moto2 ride for 2020 that will heat his blood.

Recent History in Japan

2016–For the third time in four seasons, Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error. Lorenzo’s forthcoming departure from the team after Valencia appeared to be a sound idea.

In 2017, in a replay of their Red Bull Ring duel earlier that season, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez gave us another late-race blades-at-close-quarters gasper, a ten-point spread in the season standings at stake. And for the second time that season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of his earlier win in Austria. In winning the match, Dovi cut his deficit to Marquez from 16 points to 11 with two rounds left. (Marquez would employ the lesson he learned that day to win the same way the following year at Buriram.) Like Rossi in 2015, things would come unglued for Dovizioso at Sepang a week later. 2017, one reckons, was probably the high-water mark of Dovi’s career, likely destined to join Dani Pedrosa (and, in all likelihood, Maverick Vinales) as top premier class riders who coulda, woulda, shoulda, had it not been for Rossi/Stoner/Lorenzo/Marquez etc.

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt a year ago in a gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of aging Italian superstud Andrea Dovizioso who, chasing Marc Marquez for the series lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez last year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it was, and is again. 

News You Can Use 

Dorna announced this week an addition to the 2022-2026 calendars of Rio de Janeiro for The Grand Prix of Brazil. Carmelo Ezpeleta follows the money, imposing demonstrable hardships on the teams in his vast conspiracy to dominate the international motorsports space. With the struggles in F1 and NASCAR I’d say he’s doing pretty well. But adding Finland and Brazil to an already brutal travel schedule, extending the season, is hard on everyone. Worse yet, it makes when a rider gets hurt virtually equal to how badly, whether he misses a single race or misses three. More back to backs, an early Brazil/Argentina/COTA swing likely. That’s show business.

Brazil will contain the first post-Rossi generation in, well, generations. My bet is that Brazilians will have a lot of red #93 on their hats. Probably selling a lot of small motorcycles when they’re not busy clear-cutting the rainforest. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

Judging from radar maps, it appears Motegi might have gotten hammered by the typhoon last weekend. The forecast for race weekend is cool—60’s—with rain in the area, likely on Saturday. Riders, notably the Hondas, need to pay attention on morning out laps on cold tires. As of Tuesday, there was nothing on motogp.com mentioning conditions in that part of the country. Apparently the show will go on.

This, I suspect, will be one of Fabio’s three best opportunities to win a race, since Marquez will not take any crazy risks. The track is a point-and-shoot, stop-and-go kind of place, riders don’t appear to spend much time in 6th gear, while acceleration appears to be at a premium. A Honda/Ducati kind of place. Yet Quartararo has proven of late that he can ride pretty much anywhere. There will be still some highly motivated riders out there on Sunday; some will have more on the line than others is all.

Personally, I’d like to see Franco Morbidelli score a podium.

All I care about in the lightweight classes is that the chases tighten up. These early-season wins in MotoGP suck. Moto2 and Moto3 need to take us farther into the calendar.

So that’s it, then. Young guys. Quartararo for the win, Morbidelli third, and the ascendant Jack Miller second. Assuming, that is, they hold the race at all. If they do, we’ll be here sometime Sunday with results and analysis in all three classes. Hopefully, we will not be discussing what could be the worst podium prediction of all time.

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

MotoGP fans must be open to the idea that Aragon is on its way to becoming another #93Wins track, joining Austin and the Sachsenring as places where he is virtually automatic. Out here in northeast Spain, Marquez won as a rookie in 2013, went MIA in 2014 and 2015, then started reeling off wins in 2016.

A win this year would make him 4-for-4 of late. The fact that so many riders still have all this motivation to pull out the stops on the way to the top step of the rostrum, while he has so little—basically, remain upright and finish in the points somewhere—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. Winning never gets old. His victory celebrations, however, are starting to resemble those of Jorge Lorenzo back in the day and need to be dialed down a notch or two.

Rookie Fabio Quartararo proved to me last week that he is the real deal. He is not just a one-lap wonder, skilled at qualifying. He turned in a win-worthy race on Sunday under the worst pressure imaginable in this business, i.e., with Marc Marquez glued to his rear tire the entire effing time. On the final lap, per the script, Fabio got passed for the first time by Marquez in Turn 1, but struck back immediately, giving the five-time premier class champion a little of THIS, before settling for second. That’s what you want to see in wannabe Aliens.

Was Marquez toying with the Frenchman? I think so, but he is sufficiently emotionally and politically astute not to suggest anything other than Quartararo has mad skills and big balls and will be a threat to his title next year yeah sure right. Maybe not for real, but he has a credible shot at #2 next year, assuming he ever wins his first race. Nicky Hayden won the title in 2006 with two wins. One needs points every weekend, just not necessarily 25.

Fabio Quartararo on a factory Yamaha in 2021 will be a beast. Until then, readers must guard against “irrational exuberance;” let him get a win somewhere (the schedule gets incrementally easier after Marquez clinches the title), another year on the satellite Yam, then the major leagues, the heir apparent to The House That Rossi Built. Is he seriously going to be, a year and a half from now, The New Kid in Town? He’ll be 22 years old. Salad days for Marc Marquez may be drawing to a close sooner than we thought. 

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

Last year, Marc Marquez had likely grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’d been making a chump of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. A year ago, in front of his home fans, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso and a surprisingly competitive Andrea Iannone (SUZ), assuring his followers that he may be many things, but a chump isn’t one of them. 

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

The messy situation at the KTM factory team has, for the time being, been resolved. Disaffected Frenchman Johann Zarco, who had requested out of his 2020 contract, was removed from the remainder of his 2019 contract in favor of test rider Mika Kallio, who will race in Aragon this weekend. Zarco’s fall from grace has become rapid, and many readers of other, less enlightened publications are highly critical of his comportment.

My take is that he realized he had made a losing bet—regardless of how it got made—accepting the contract offer from KTM without having first resolved the interest from Honda, which probably would also have been a mistake, too, in that JZ needs a Yamaha or Suzuki beneath him. It wasn’t going to get any better this year or next. He is currently losing face, but is a talented rider who, like Lorenzo, needs a specific type of bike to be successful, and for Zarco, the KTM wasn’t it. It is not impossible to get resurrected from Test Rider to Rider in MotoGP; paging Jonas Folger. One thing for certain is that, career-wise, Zarco cannot afford any more face-plants; the next one will probably be his last.

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

Moto2 championship leader Alex Marquez had nine points taken out of his series lead on Sunday as Augusto Fernandez elbowed his way to the win, Marquez finishing third, now up by 26 points heading to Aragon. Fabio di Giannantonio took the second podium step and missed out on what would have been a well-earned win by a full 18/100ths of a second. Slacker.

Moto3 offered its customary barn-burner with the first four riders crossing the line within 7/10ths of a second. Hard-luck Tatsuki Suzuki, riding for Paolo Simoncelli’s team at the track named for his late son, took the win with some fancy riding and good luck, bringing the elder Simoncelli to tears. Sure, they played the Japanese national anthem during the podium celebration, but it surely must have sounded like Il Canto degli Italiani to the SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

See, good things happen in MotoGP. Just not in the premier class.

Your Weekend Forecast

The Racing Gods appear anxious to get into the act this weekend, with bright sunshine predicted, interspersed with heavy rain showers. Something for every taste and budget. This is good news for the grid, for whom sunny and bright spells certain doom. The news isn’t all that good when one accounts for the fact that Marquez handles sketchy weather conditions better than anyone else out there and makes music with crew chief Santi Hernández such that they rarely guess wrong on tires or setup.

Conceding the win to Marquez, I’m inclined to see Rossi and Dovizioso on the podium this weekend. The youngsters—Quartararo, Vinales, Rins—can have the weekend off. This is the last European round until November, the last chance to make some positive impressions on the continent before flying off to crazy time zones and brutal weather conditions. I want to believe the veteran campaigners understand this better than the young bucks, and that this weekend will be for them.

We’ll have results and analysis right here mid-day on Sunday.


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