Posts Tagged ‘Alvaro Bautista’

MotoGP 2017 Season Preview

March 11, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

With the start of the 2017 MotoGP season only weeks away, we take a look ahead at what will be on offer for racing fans this year.  [With clenched teeth, it is hereby affirmed that the opinions contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, publishers, and/or owners of Motorcycle.com] 

MotoGP is the fastest-growing motorsports flavor on earth.  That it has virtually no presence or accessibility in the US is a poor joke.  It appears the safety-conscious American parents of today are (understandably) reluctant to let their kids, most of them, anyway, learn to ride ATVs and motorbikes when they’re young.  Series organizer Dorna has recognized that a country wishing to develop world-class riders needs to have a formal development program, one of which was implemented in Great Britain just this year.  (Probably because of Cal Crutchlow, The Great English-As-A-First-Language Hope.)  Such leagues have existed in Spain and Italy for decades.

The fact is that the US, for its size, with expensive national marketing costs, doesn’t sell a lot of imported motorcycles, and it’s doubtful that showing more MotoGP races would change that.  So most of us Americans miss out.  Meanwhile the Aussies and Kiwis are all over this stuff, along with Europe and much of Asia.  No more giving up calendar dates in favor of F-1; MotoGP has MoMentum.  No more five weeks off in the middle of the summer, either.

Countries from Thailand and Indonesia to Hungary and Finland are clamoring to host races; pressure on the calendar, with four rounds still in Spain (quietly drumming my fingertips on the tabletop), is intense.  Even money says the calendar goes to 20 dates within five years.  And get rid of Aragon. Or Argentina.

Overall, 2017 has the look of a great season.  The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.

Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki.  Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017.  Another Alien in the making.

Due to last year’s amazing series of races which culminated in nine different riders standing on the top step of the podium, hope springs eternal for the riders and teams in the lower tranches.  Pramac, Aspar and Reale Esponsorama get new old hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista. It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.  (There are also rumblings that the team is planning to fold up its tent in the next year or two, possibly freeing up slots for a satellite Suzuki team.)

Let’s just look at this thing team by team, in alphabetical order.  We will wait until after the season opener to assign tranches to the various riders. 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

     Sam Lowes

     Aleix Espargaro

Sam and Aleix need to be prepared for a long season.  Hard luck Espargaro, having lost out to Iannone and Rins at Suzuki, takes a step down joining the Aprilia factory effort, on the upswing but still learning their way around.  The Aprilia and KTM projects are likely to be relatively underfunded for the foreseeable future, slowing their development, and reducing their prospects to those of satellite teams.  For Lowes, somehow promoted from Moto2 despite world-class inconsistency, there will be a lot of badly scuffed leathers.  Espargaro seems to be getting the hang of things more quickly.

For Fausto Gresini, for whom the allure of the premier class is almost irresistible, 2017 will be like shooting 108 on the golf course—enough good shots to keep you coming back, but a vast majority of poor to terrible swings.  Two unfamiliar riders.  A not-quite-competitive bike. Bring a book.

Ducati Factory Team

       Jorge Lorenzo

          Andrea Dovizioso

Going into 2017, the factory Ducati team is the most interesting group on the lot.  The Italians expect plenty, and soon, from their brand new triple world champion.  Jorge Lorenzo, in turn, suggested that the first real day of testing at Sepang was a bit terrifying, but with the help of Stoner and Michele Pirro is adapting to the GP17.  No more getting blitzed in the straights, but he needs to re-learn cornering if he is to avoid “pulling a Rossi,” which seems unlikely, unless he finds himself unable to keep the bike upright. A win in Qatar would do a lot to build his confidence, although the same could be said for every rider on the grid.  Nice writing.

Consistent Andrea Dovizioso has been flying under the radar during the offseason, allowing the cameras to focus on Lorenzo while he plots his strategy to win the title himself.  The latest iteration of the Desmosedici will probably be a great bike, and Dovi has four years in with the factory.  Personally, I would love to see him fighting for a title with Vinales and Marquez.  It could happen.  I think the odds favor him to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.

The Bologna bunch has recently received a patent for a new jet exhaust valve; don’t know what that’s for unless they’re interested in watching Lorenzo leaving Earth’s orbit.  It has also installed what is said to be an anti-chatter box behind the rider and bent the exhaust pipes and stuff around it.  They are keeping their 2017 fairing secret, but I expect it to resemble the new Yamaha innovation, with the interior wings in a laughable “bulge,” which is expressly forbidden under the rules, yet permitted by some guy named Danny.  “Y’see, it’s not so much of a “bulge” as it is a continuation of the radius…An’ that’s why they’ve blokes like me, to keep things strite, y’know.  Yeah.”

For me, the most interesting question is whether the big red bikes are to be housed in Lorenzo’s Land or Gigi’s Garage.

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow

My personal favorite rider.  To disparage, mock, call out and, ultimately, have to eat crow over.  Crashlow won his first two premier class races in 2016, after years of making excuses and broadcasting blame for not having won earlier.  He has burned bridges with Yamaha and Ducati, although he seems to be a fair-haired child for Honda as of late.  Complaining a month ago that “Honda are on it’s back foot,” or some other foolish British verb conjugation, it seems the litany has resumed.  With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again this season.

Marc VDS Racing Team NFL (Not For Long)

  Jack Miller

          Tito Rabat

The struggling #3 Honda team, at the end of the Sepang test in January, had neither rider fit to ride.  Tito Rabat was a great rider in Moto2 but is proving to be a bust in MotoGP.  Miller, tagged by HRC for greatness at a young age, is proving to be unable to keep the RC213V upright, piling up more serious injuries than The Black Night in the Monty Python classic, not to mention creating acres of shredded, brightly painted fiberglass.

This team could be out of existence in a year or two, providing an opportunity for the moon, the sun and the stars to align in such a way that, as Dani Pedrosa’s contract on the factory Honda team expires, young Miller is standing at the door, kindly showing him the way out.  A national day of celebration will follow in Australia, one in which Livio Suppo, team boss at Repsol Honda, having been out-voted by marketing folks seeking an Australian Alien, may not be participating.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Johann Zarco

          Jonas Folger

Hmmm. Two freshmen on the satellite Yamaha team.  Herve Poncharal, team boss, has a thing for Folger; perhaps he likes the cut of his jib, but I haven’t seen much in the way of dominating performances in Moto2 to justify a promotion.  Zarco arrived on the strength of having become the only rider in Moto2 to title twice, consecutively, and is probably disappointed at not having a factory bike of some kind at his disposal.

Both riders will be on steep learning curves this year, although Zarco faired surprisingly well at the Malaysia test.  He and Alex Rins figure to battle it out for rookie of the year honors.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

          Valentino Rossi

          Maverick Vinales

Lin Jarvis’ factory Yamaha team enters the season with GOAT candidate Valentino Rossi and the heir apparent, the aptly-named Maverick Vinales, recently graduated from a two-year riding academy with the factory Suzuki team.  During those two years, he figured out how to win (Silverstone 2016) on a relatively slow bike.  Now that he has earned arguably the fastest complete bike on the grid, great expectations abound.

His “win” at the Sepang test in January affirms those who expect him to title in his first Yamaha season.  Marc Marquez, reigning and triple world champion, has been encouraging this thinking, talking publicly about how concerned he is with Vinales. Intentionally adding to the pressure, getting inside Vinales’ head.  Rossi-like.

Rossi maintains his Alien status, but it will be tested again this year.  (Dani Pedrosa is now an Alien Emeritus.)  He still has the passion and the conditioning and the experience.  But does he have the reflexes and balance he did when he was 28?  I think not.  I think he is also less of a risk taker now than he was a decade ago.  He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.  The intra-team competition could tighten significantly, however, if Vinales finds himself cartwheeling through a lot of gravel traps this spring.

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

      Danilo Petrucci (GP17)

          Cheesed Off Scott Redding (GP16)

The #2 Ducati team.  Danilo Petrucci, the burly ex-cop, may find himself in the mix once in a while (probably in the rain) this season onboard the GP17 he won fair and square in the intra-team competition with Scott Redding last year.  Redding, sadly, will not be in the mix on his GP16, as he seems unable to get over the hump in the premier class after a glittering (?) run in Moto2.  With three name sponsors, it seems likely the team will have plenty of frames and fairings to replace for Redding as he goes bumping around the tracks of the world, muttering about how it just isn’t fair.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

Alvaro Bautista (GP16)

Karel Abraham (GP15)

A satellite Ducati team with upset potential.  Alvaro Bautista, like Barbera, has been a consistent underachiever in the premier class.  His own high water mark occurred in 2008, when he finished second in the 250cc class behind a guy named Simoncelli.  In 2012 and 2013 he flogged Fausto Gresini’s close-to-factory spec Honda to 5th and 6th place finishes, respectively.  Meanwhile, enter Karel Abraham, previously employed by his dad before serving a one year sentence in WSB last year.  He’s back, for whatever reason, this time on a GP15.

Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity.  This year, again mimicking Barbera, he has a chance to peek at a podium or two after two grinding years with Aprilia.  This may also be the best bike HE has ever ridden, although the Honda back in 2012-2013 was badass.

We will stick our necks out here and predict zero podiums for the Aspar team in 2017.

Reale Esponsorama Racing (formerly Avintia)

  Hector Barbera (GP16)

          Too Tall Baz (GP15)

Another second-string Ducati team that could surprise, 2017 features Barbera on a GP16 and Baz on a GP15.  Hectic Hector’s career saw its high-water mark in the 250cc class in 2009 when he finished second to Hiro Aoyama.  Once he arrived in MotoGP, never having been the beneficiary of first class equipment, his career has leveled off. He has battled slow bikes, injury, and a low racing IQ to a series of undistinguished finishes.  Last year he showed some improvement which, if it continues this year, could actually make him a consistent top ten finisher.

Meanwhile, young Frenchman Loris Baz, who is, like, 6’3” tall, had an up and down second MotoGP season.  Three distinct episodes of “start slowly, improve, then crash” marked his year, including a fourth-place finish at Brno and a fifth at Sepang.  Riding a Ducati at 6’3” suggest you’re going to prefer the long flowing circuits over the tight squinchy ones.  He will need to learn to keep the bike upright if he is to continue in MotoGP.

Oh, and I checked—the French name Loris translates in English as “Loris.”  The only other Loris I ever knew was a girl. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith

          Pol Espargaro

Teammates on the Tech 3 Yamaha for the past two seasons, these two get factory rides with the rookie KTM factory team.  The Austrians have enjoyed decades of success elsewhere and feel it is but a matter of time before they start winning in MotoGP.  Years, perhaps many, in my opinion, but what do I know?

Of the two riders, I prefer Espargaro, a year younger, with a title under his belt in Moto2.  Smith seems like a nice guy, but appears snake bit.  It’s always something with Bradley–an injury, a mechanical issue, a head cold.  Whatever.  I will gladly back Espargaro this year in the intra-team rivalry, the only competition that will mean much of anything to this group.

The factory rollout of the KTM entries in all three classes included words from the Chief Cheddar at KTM Itself, Stefan Pierer, announcing his intention to fight with Honda for a MotoGP world championship in the not-too-distant future.

Patience, grasshopper.

Repsol Honda Team

   Dani Pedrosa

          Marc Marquez

Along with the factory Yamaha and Ducati teams, HRC is royalty in the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.  Repsol Hondas have been ridden by world champions Mick Doohan, Àlex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez.  Its prospects are decidedly mixed heading into 2017.

With several new engines to figure out, the Sepang test was a bit of a struggle, with Marquez working hard to finish second behind Vinales, but able to deliver several impressive 20-lap race simulations.  Appears to be another year in which Marquez will have to manage an inferior bike to battle for the title with the other Aliens.  He did it last year.  I believe Vinales will collect a number of wins and an equal number of DNFs, allowing a mature Marquez to slug it out with Jorge, Dovi and Vale again this year.  With two new riders, Suzuki Ecstar will not threaten.  Iannone?  Dovizioso?  I think not.

As for Dani Pedrosa, I look for him to finish seventh or eighth this season, as he has clearly lost a step since his prime in 2012.  Whether he’s interested in serving as Marquez’ wingman in 2017 is problematic.  If he slips out of the top ten Honda may buy out his last year and bring Miller or, more likely, Crutchlow onto the factory team in 2018.  Miller may blossom this year.  Probably not.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

  Andrea Iannone

          Alex Rins

The second most interesting team on the grid, a rapidly improving Suzuki will have two new riders in 2017.  Andrea Iannone worked himself out of a job on the factory Ducati last season and landed with Suzuki, which may be a piece of good luck for both parties.  Thus far in his premier class career, Iannone has been unable to harness his impossible speed, his temperament and aggressiveness often getting the better of him.  It would be loads of fun to see him battle with the front group this season, and it could happen.  Unless The Maniac is still, well, a maniac.

Alex Rins has had Alien written all over him since he was about 15.  Although he never titled in the lower MotoGP classes, he recorded two seconds and two thirds in three Moto3 and two Moto2 seasons. The Rins and Marquez families do not exchange Christmas cards, setting up a new rivalry for the next few years while Rins earns his whiskers.  He figures to become a problem for both Marquez and Vinales in that time.  Definite Alien potential here.

I see a couple of podiums in store for Suzuki in 2017, perhaps a handful.  Unless the bike is greatly improved they may not compete for a win, but the Suzuki program seems to be progressing nicely.  Perhaps 2018 will be their year.

Phillip Island Test 

Three productive days of testing at Phillip Island in early February taught us little we did not already know.  Marquez and Vinales seem to be running in a league of their own.  Dani Pedrosa still has some juice left in the tank.  And rookie Jonas Folger can coax at least one fast lap per day out of his Tech 3 Yamaha.

Cal Crutchlow and rookie Alex Rins ran almost identical fast laps on Friday.  Dovizioso and Lorenzo were running neck and neck for seventh and eighth places, respectively.  Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Alvaro Bautista finished ahead of Valentino Rossi, something you don’t get to report every day.  And lots of disappointed Ducati riders (six of the bottom nine) muttering to themselves farther back in the dust.  Not a great three days for Ducati Corse.

Vinales is making it hard not to envision him clutching a world championship trophy in his first premier class season.  If he can stay within himself and not get overly excited it could happen this year.  Then, when Rins joins the fray in 2019… 

* * *

There you have it.  Due to incessant demand, and for those of you interested in going into debt with your bookies, here’s my prediction for the Top Ten finishers, in order, for the 2017 season.  Bookmark this article so you can rub it in my face in November.  Expect a 404 Error Page Not Found at that time, especially if I’m way off:

  1. Marc Marquez
  2. Maverick Vinales
  3. Valentino Rossi
  4. Andrea Dovizioso
  5. Cal Crutchlow
  6. Jorge Lorenzo
  7. Dani Pedrosa
  8. Alex Rins
  9. Andrea Iannone
  10. Alvaro Bautista

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Reflection: The Riders

September 3, 2016

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP demands a number of difficult things from riders simultaneously.  The great ones find a way, mentally, to juggle all of this sensory input, to keep it all “under consideration” and as balanced as possible at 200 mph.  Very complex neural networks for most of these guys.  We see, over time, the top riders emerge.  The equipment is secondary; the Alien title is not bestowed on the machine but on the man who rides it.  His “to do” list during a race is staggering:

  • Beat teammate.
  • Do not crash.
  • Keep it on line.
  • Keep it on revs.
  • Keep positioned to overtake.
  • Keep it in gear.
  • Watch braking points
  • Watch gas and gauges.
  • Stay in lead group.
  • Conserve rubber.
  • Humiliate certain opponents, if possible.
  • Do not get schooled by other riders.
  • Watch settings.
  • Watch pit board, or not.
  • Win in turns.
  • In rain, double all of the above.

During all this, we can only imagine what a recording of a Valentino Rossi during the 45 minutes of a race would sound like, in Italian.  Imagine a grinding drone of guttural, high-pitched noise, interspersed with bits of epithets against riders and their mothers, as well as shards of prayers to The Virgin.  Perhaps 180 F bombs.  Each overtake accompanied by an airy “B-bye!!”  Late in the race, ideally, more of the same. In a perfect world, it’s a jubilant AMF! to his Spanish rivals. Occasional despair, stronzo this, stronzo that, and plenty of self-recrimination.  See blown engine in Mugello.

One of Rossi’s gifts, in addition to the ability to keep a lot of plates in the air, is his honesty, with himself, and, when convenient, with the public; he does shill for a lot of companies.  Bottom line—he has retained many of the above skills from the time he was the best rider on the planet, and has seen several others diminished.  He makes up for these losses by being more strategic, more of a long term thinker.

He’s seen it all before.  When he has the magical “pace”, he can still win races.  When he doesn’t he doesn’t over-ride to compensate.  Pretty much plays the cards dealt to him, but still plays as hard as ever.  And sells bazillions of hats, T shirts and leather riding jackets at what? $2500 per?  It’s good to be king.

I was told by a guy I worked for years ago that the way to become successful in business is by learning to enjoy and do well things other people don’t want to do.  It’s much the same in MotoGP, other than it’s something other folks CAN’T DO, to combine these skills—muscle tone, clarity of vision, balance, aggression, and courage.  Along with, ahem, mechanical aptitude.

These guys do for motorcycle folks what the NHL does for hockey folks.  Sure, you can wander down to the local high school and watch kids play hockey.  But an NHL game is radically faster, more precise, more violent, and, ultimately, way more interesting than the HS game unless your kid was starting on the #1 scoring line.

So it is for MotoGP riders and their bikes who, compared to normal “commute during the week and ride for fun on weekends” folks, operate on a different plane.  At speeds and lean angles most can only imagine.  I wish more people were into it.  The fact that Americans are no longer competitive at this level does not surprise us, but their absence puts makes it hard for the series to draw much interest from the U.S., despite the size of the market.  It’s a huge car market and a limited motorcycle market.

For every Yamaha sold in the U.S. probably 20 are sold worldwide, especially at the smaller displacement end of the range.  Asian markets are motorcycle markets—streets are congested, gas is confiscatory, speed doesn’t really matter.  People walk and ride bikes.  The main thoroughfares in most large Asian cities would not support their current traffic levels if everyone drove cars. So the U.S. will stay screwed re watching MotoGP on cable.  You have to go to pay-per-view or subscribe to the MotoGP feed.  Pricey, need to be a little nuts to do it. Or have money to burn.

It’s Silverstone race weekend 2016 and I’m thinking mostly about the riders.

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

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

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

Recent History at Silverstone

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

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

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

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

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

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

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

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

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

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

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

Whither the Weather

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

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

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

Recent History at Assen

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

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

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

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

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

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

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

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

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

Happenings in the Junior Classes

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

MotoGP 2016 Le Mans Preview

May 3, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo vs. Marquez vs. Rain Gods in France

Round 5 of the 2016 MotoGP championship brings those daring young men on their wingleted machines to the French countryside for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France.  The Loire river valley is wine country and, as most folks know, you need rain and mild temperatures to grow a decent sauvignon blanc.  What’s good for the grapes is, unfortunately, bad for motorcycle racing.  Without a clue who might win Sunday’s race, it’s a safe bet that the Rain Gods will play a part in the outcome.

Before we start, let’s address this writer’s predictions concerning Round 4 in Jerez.  I suggested that Rossi might be under-motivated, being handsomely contracted through the end of 2018, and that Lorenzo could be inclined to hold back in order to punish Yamaha for lovin’ on Vale so much that he jumped ship to Ducati for the next two seasons.  Accordingly, the two finished one-two in a Yamaha rout.  We’ll just set all that on a side burner to simmer for a while; I’m much better at discussing past events than predicting future ones.

Recent History at Le Mans

Early in 2013, Dani Pedrosa was having the best premier class season of his career.  Starting the year with a 4th in Qatar, he chased race winner and rookie Repsol Honda teammate Marc Marquez all over the joint in Austin before settling for second.  He followed that up with a decisive win in Jerez.  Somehow, in a steady downpour, he outran Cal Crutchlow and Marquez to the flag at Le Mans, extending his lead for the year.  He held this lead until a heavy crash in practice at Round 8 in Germany, clearing the way for Marquez to eventually take the title.  At Le Mans that year, Lorenzo and Rossi floundered, so to speak, ultimately finishing seventh and 12th, respectively.

The 2014 French Grand Prix was a dry race, during The Year of Marc Marquez. The defending champion continued his historic run of poles and wins in France, although the top six finishers—Marquez, Rossi, Alvaro Bautista, Pol Espargaro, Pedrosa and Lorenzo—were separated by a mere seven seconds.  Bautista, on the Gresini Honda, worked Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro by 6/10ths at the finish to deprive Herve Poncharal’s French team of what would have been an oh-so-sweet podium at their home race.

Last year, on a perfect afternoon, Movistar Yamaha delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Marquez:  anyone contemplating, say, a third world championship in 2015 would need to go through The Bruise Brothers.  Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez two weeks earlier, got away early and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career win in MotoGP.  Rossi had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014.  It was a forgettable Sunday for team Repsol Honda, as Marquez crossed the line fourth, while Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

Les Étrangers en France 

Of the three current Aliens—Pedrosa’s membership status is under double secret probation—Lorenzo has enjoyed the most success at Le Mans.  Since his promotion to the premier class in 2008 he has won four of his eight starts at the Bugatti Circuit, including last year.  Marquez, with eight starts across three classes (the first when he was 15) has stood on the top step twice, in 2011 (Moto2) and 2014.  Valentino Rossi, with 16 MotoGP starts has tasted victory only three times here, the most recent in 2008.  If history is a teacher, one would be reasonable to expect Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi to appear on Sunday’s podium.  Pedrosa could upgrade his Alien status with a podium finish, especially if he were to knock one of the Yamahas off.  Most especially if that Yamaha bore #46.

The Return of the Tranches

A tranche, as some of you will recall, is just a fancy word for stratum which, itself, is just a fancy word for a level or layer in a stack of widgets, which is a word economists use in place of “whatever.”  Back in the day, I used to assert that the grid would divide itself into rather discreet tranches based upon rider performance and character, or lack thereof in the case of Alvaro Bautista.  For the past few seasons it was difficult to discern natural breaks in the standings.  Not so after four rounds in 2016:

  • Tranche One: Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  The crème de la crème.
  • Tranche Two: Pedrosa, Pol Espargaro (Tech 3), and Team Suzuki Ecstar, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales.  Vinales figures to jump up sometime in the next year or two.
  • Tranche Three: Four Ducati pilots—Hector Barbera, Eugene Laverty, and the two Andreas, plus Tech 3 Yamaha slacker Bradley Smith.  Barbera and Laverty are punching above their weight, while Iannone and Dovizioso actually belong in Tranche Two, where they would reside were it not for bad luck (Dovizioso) and oversized testicles (Iannone).  Smith, so far this season, is making KTM as nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee about having tapped him for the next two years.
  • Tranche Four: Stefan Bradl (Gresini Aprilia), Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), Alvaro Bautista (Gresini) and Tito Rabat (Marc VDS Honda).  Redding and Rabat are underachieving while heading up; Bradl and Bautista are overachieving while heading down.  Imagine how these standings would look had Gigi Dall’Igna stayed at Aprilia.
  • Tranche Five: Cal (lol) Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati), Yonny Hernandez (Avintia) and Jack Miller (Marc VDS).  These four just can’t get arrested.  Crutchlow, especially, has top ten talent and a world of excuses to go along with his five (5) points for 2016.  Baz has potential but must overcome a height problem, a tall order indeed.  Yonny appears to have peaked a year or two ago, while Miller really has no business in the premier class at this point in his career.

Pramac Ducati hard luck case Danilo Petrucci is, as yet, untranched, having missed the entire season with injuries.  He is slated to return this week and is said to be anxious to claim a spot in Tranche Two.  Readers are encouraged to feign outrage over the tranching (?) of their favorite riders in the Comments section below.

What to Expect This Weekend

Wine in cardboard boxes and goatskins.  Rain at least one day.  Breathtaking brolly girls.  Lorenzo and Marquez in a cage match, with Rossi and Pedrosa tangling in the undercard.  Dovizioso on the podium if it rains on Sunday.  Herve Poncharal playing the “home race” card.  Michelin people everywhere, the dopey anachronistic Bib getting seriously outdrawn by the paddock gals.

People riding scooters smoking Gauloises.  Heavy security—guys in shorts and Jimmy Buffet t-shirts wearing black steel-toed boots, with machine pistols sticking out of their waistbands.  And at least one trio of Brits in those ridiculous head-to-toe Union Jack outfits, drunk out of their gourds, thinking they had bought tickets to a football match in Germany.

As of Monday evening, the weather looks promising, partly cloudy with temps in the 70’s and a slight chance of rain.  Rain is forecast for Monday and Tuesday; if it arrives early, Jorge Lorenzo will not win the race.  The Rain Gods, currently working overtime in the U.S., have yet to turn their attention to France.  If and when they do, anything can happen.

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states.  We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.

Marquez seizes sensational win from Lorenzo in Italy

June 2, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Mugello Results

By Bruce Allen       June 2, 2014

podium-mugello-2014

If you’re Marc Marquez, it just doesn’t get much better than this. The young Spanish champion brought his amazing game to Mugello, where team Yamaha has had its way for most of the last decade. Jorge Lorenzo, having won the last three races here, led 21 of 23 laps this afternoon. But when the checkered flag fell, it was Marquez and the Honda, making it six in a row in 2014 and looking invincible.

The last seven laps of the 2014 Gran Premio d’Italia TIM were championship motorcycle racing at its absolute finest. Premier class races in MotoGP often devolve into a leader entering a low earth orbit, leaving the rest of the field fighting over scraps. In Moto2 and Moto3, and even more so inAMA oval track tilts, one often observes two, three, sometimes four riders going hammer and tongs for the win. Today the big imports gave us a clinic in shoulder-to-shoulder racing at mind-numbing speed, with the final outcome decided by 12/100ths of a second, at one of the historic venues on the circuit. People will remember today’s race for years.

Looking over the notes I made during the race, there wasn’t a whole lot going on for much of the day. Pramac Ducati pretender Joe Iannone found himself in the middle of the front row at the start, the best ever qualifying performance by a satellite Ducati, sandwiched between Marquez on the pole and Lorenzo in third position. The top ten qualifiers were separated by half a second, putting less emphasis on starting position and more on racing performance.

Exhibit A for this last statement was Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, who started 10th after a poor tire choice for QP2. By Lap 4, Rossi was sitting in 3rd place behind leader Lorenzo and stalker Marquez, having driven the partisan Italian crowd into a foaming frenzy slicing through the field into podium contention. True, Rossi could drive an Italian crowd into a frenzy changing a tire on his car, but Mugello crowds come to see The Doctor eat up the competition. Sadly, in 2014, it’s not ALL the competition, just most of it.

Valentino Rossi delighted the crowd with a third place finish, his first podium at Mugello since 2009.

Iannone, virtually alone on the soft rear tire, stayed amongst the leaders for a surprisingly long time, eventually finishing seventh. But the first 16 laps featured Marquez snapping at Lorenzo’s heals, Rossi alone in third, and some great action farther back in the field. Between Laps 3 and 4, three high profile riders crashed out of the race. Bradley Smith, having qualified a Tech 3 Yamaha well in seventh place, crashed out on his own late in Lap three. Moments later, Cal Crutchlow folded the front of his factory Ducati, which went down and out, taking an innocentStefan Bradl and his LCR Honda along with it. Bradl, who had crashed hard in the morning’s warm-up practice, “walked” off the track looking like Harley Staggers after a long night.

Iannone, Pol Espargaro on the other Tech 3 Yamaha, Ducati heartthrob Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa spent a good part of the day fighting over fourth place, with Pedrosa eventually prevailing. That he wasn’t among the top three, contending for a podium, could be attributed to a poor start from the four hole, an increasingly familiar sight in 2014. I’m sure there were some interesting tussles for spots farther down the food chain, but cannot muster enough interest to analyze the timesheets.

Dani Pedrosa prevailed in a battle against Pol Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso.

For those of you who complain that I don’t pay enough attention to the dregs of the premier class, let it be noted that Michel Fabrizio, a late substitution on the Ioda Racing entry, retired with mechanical issues, and Hector Barbera, about whom virtually no one cares, crashed out of the race, continuing his 2014 odyssey toward World Superbike and/or oblivion. And Nicky Hayden’s woes continued this weekend, as he was forced to return to the U.S. for surgery on his arthritic wrist, leaving Hiro Aoyama to represent the sagging Aspar team on his own today.

The Battle Up Front

Today’s race was about Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. It pitted experienced composure and a Yamaha on a Yamaha circuit against a precocious raw talent aboard a Honda RC213V that is competitive anywhere. It was a throw-down between iron-willed determination facing a terribly difficult season and a prodigious young talent about whose potential nobody can know the limits. It featured the two best riders in MotoGP at the top of their respective games. And, like it or not, the better man won.

Marquez-Lorenzo, Lorenzo-Marquez, Marquez-Lorenzo. The two studs swapped leads several times with Marquez finishing ahead by just 0.121 seconds.

For most of the day, it appeared Marquez was once again biding his time, choosing the time and place at which he would blow Lorenzo away and calmly claim yet another effortless win. He went through on Lorenzo for the first time on Lap 17, and many of us watching the proceedings thought that was that.

Lorenzo, iron will in control, fought back again and again, taking the lead at least six more times between Laps 18 and 21, sometimes for mere seconds. Marquez, rather than playing the cat to Lorenzo’s mouse, suddenly seemed to be in a genuine fight. Lorenzo, completely unwilling to concede anything, held onto the lead until finally, at the first turn of Lap 23, Marquez went through for good.

In the post-race presser, Marquez was understandably jubilant, having kept Team Yamaha winless for 2014 at one of their home cribs. Lorenzo, keeping the glass half full, seemed surprisingly optimistic, looking ahead to more battles with the young usurper. And Rossi, the master of the media, spoke about his pleasure at again making it to the podium in front of his home fans. Looking forward, there appear precious few venues where the Movistar Yamahateam will enjoy homecourt advantage more than they did today. If Marquez fails to run the table in 2014, it will be due to a mistake, either one of his own or, more likely, by another rider, a Crutchlow or Bautista who takes him out early in a race.

Had you gone to one of the British racing books that accept wagers of this nature, what odds do you suppose you might have received on a bet that Marc Marquez would go undefeated in 2014? 1,000 to one? 10,000 to one? A zillion? The mind reels.

On to Barcelona

Two weeks from now the show goes on in Spain at Catalunya, the scene of some tremendous battles over the years. The optimists in the crowd will be hoping for another contest like todays at a circuit that has been known to favor the Yamaha riders. The pessimists may fear yet another Marquez win in what is becoming an eerily predictable season. For me, just the idea of a rider running the table in 2014 is bizarre in the extreme. As a Lorenzo fan for a number of years, and as one who detests frontrunners in any sport, I still find myself quietly rooting for the young Catalan wonder to pull it off. Surely, if he does, he will establish a standard that could stand for decades. Or, until he does it again. In any case, what we are watching these days is truly remarkable.

Perhaps reMarcable is a better description.

2014 MotoGP Mugello Top Ten Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda
2 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha +0.121
3 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +2.688
4 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +14.046
5 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +15.603
6 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +17.042
7 Andrea Iannone Pramac Ducati +17.129
8 Alvaro Bautista GO&FUN Honda Gresini +27.407
9 Aleix Espargaro NGM Forward Yamaha +41.886
10 Yonny Hernandez Pramac Ducati +45.212
2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 6 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Honda 150
2 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 97
3 Dani Pedrosa Honda 96
4 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 65
5 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 63
6 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 49
7 Aleix Espargaro Forward Yamaha* 44
8 Stefan Bradl Honda 39
9 Alvaro Bautista Honda 34
10 Bradley Smith Yamaha 34
* indicates an Open Option entry.

MotoGP 2014 Le Mans Results

May 18, 2014

Once again, it’s all Marquez, all the time 

Under a flawless blue sky in northwest France, 88,000 MotoGP fans witnessed the laying of another brick in the wall of fame being built by Marc Marquez.  The 21-year old Spaniard overcame a dicey start to become the youngest rider in this history of the sport to win five premier class races in a row.  Having shattered the all-time lap record at Le Mans in practice, the Repsol Honda phenom is re-writing the record books every time out.  Today, it appeared, was just another day at the office. 

Marquez the Man

Without wishing to suggest a conspiracy amongst the other top riders, the conventional wisdom for beating Marquez seems to have coalesced around the concept of “roughing him up” at the start of a race, pushing him back into pack traffic, allowing one of the other Aliens to jump out to a lead, and then praying collectively that he runs out of time going through the field.  This “anyone but Marquez” approach worked perfectly today, as he got off to a poor start—the sole remaining flaw in his otherwise flawless game—got pushed wide by Jorge Lorenzo early, and finished the Lap 1 in 10th place.  The thought crossed my mind that in order to make it interesting he occasionally allows this to happen, enjoying slicing and dicing the field on his way to the win.  Today at Le Mans it looked like this:

MarquezConquestCapture

So, with six consecutive poles under his belt dating back to Valenciana last year, he breaks the record set by Mike Hailwood in 1962 to become the youngest rider ever to take five premier class wins in a row.  Next up:  Casey Stoner’s record seven poles in a row set in 2008.  Next after that:  Mick Doohan’s incredible 10 wins in a row in 1997.  Once Marquez learns how to start these things quickly—recall Jorge Lorenzo was a terrible starter when he came up in 2008 and has become one of the best since then—he will have to find something else to hold his attention during races.  Capable of turning lap times over half a second faster than his nearest competitors—half a minute in dog years—he will be competing with himself for the foreseeable future. 

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Rossi 2014Valentino Rossi, who led the first half of the race and appears thoroughly rejuvenated, claimed his third 2nd place finish of the year and his 10th premier class podium at Le Mans.  Expect an announcement in at Mugello that Yamaha has signed the Doctor for two more years of chasing Marquez around the world.  The most surprising result today was the 3rd place finish of GO&FUN Honda pretty boy Alvaro Bautista, taking his third premier class podium ever and first since Motegi in 2012.  Starting seventh, Bautista quietly moved up the standings until Lap 12 when he went through on LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl into fourth position.  He then turned his attention to the surprising Pol Espargaro, who had placed his Tech 3 Yamaha on the first row of the grid and looked podium-worthy, going through on the rookie on Lap 18.  For me, seeing Bautista on the podium is about as jarring as seeing John Daly winning a golf tournament.

The two Honda surgical convalescents, Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa and LCR’s Stefan Bradl, fared surprisingly well today, less than two weeks after surgeries on their forearms.  Pedrosa, one of the toughest guys in MotoGP, spent a good part of the day in ninth position before his fuel load dropped, allowing him to recover to a respectable fifth place finish.  Alas, his string of eight consecutive podia came to an end today in a gutsy performance.  Bradl, seeming less affected by his own medical issues, spent a good part of the day in the top four before fading to seventh place at the flag.

Sandwiched in between the two Hondas at the end was Jorge Lorenzo—remember him?—who started and finished sixth, never Lorenzo at workappearing as much of a threat to anyone anytime.  Last year at this time, Lorenzo had two wins and four podia in five starts for 91 points and trailed series leader Pedrosa by 12.  This year, Lorenzo has appeared on the podium once, has managed 45 championship points, and trails Marquez by an unfathomable 80 points.  He is routinely getting schooled by teammate Rossi, and appears to have had his iron will broken by the untouchable Marquez.  Lorenzo desperately needs something—hypnosis, EST, perhaps a visit to a Jamaican voodoo practitioner—to get his fighting spirit restored.  He appears to be in a PTSD-like trance, and needs someone to slap him, piss him off, and get him to stop feeling sorry for himself.  Lorenzo needs to get mad; sad isn’t working.

Farther Down the Food Chain

The hapless Nicky Hayden—if it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all—got tangled up with Andrea Iannone early in the first lap and saw his day come to an early end.  Iannone apparently failed to escape unscathed, as he went down himself on Lap 2, followed shortly thereafter by the increasingly irrelevant Hector Barbera.  With Ioda Racing’s Danilo Petrucci sidelined with a broken wrist, the battle for 16th place raged all day, eventually won by Michael Laverty on the PBM nag.  The saddest sight of the day was Colin Edwards pushing his bike, Fred Flintstone-like, across the line with his boots, having apparently run out of gas late on the last lap.

If Le Mans is the least abrasive racing surface on the MotoGP tour, Cal Crutchlow has become its most abrasive rider.  Crutchlow, who apparently believes the world owes him fame and fortune, barely got out of Q1, qualified last in Q2, started 12th and finished 11th.  He did manage to whip his factory Ducati to finish in front of Pramac’s Yonny Hernandez and three Honda “customer bikes”, winning the Taller Than Danny DeVito award again this week.  At my deadline, no explanation is available for how teammate Andrea Dovizioso managed to go from leading the race early from a front row start to an eighth place finish on a non-abrasive racing surface.  Praying he doesn’t attribute it to understeer, one of the hallmarks of the Desmosedici.  (Imagine an NFL quarterback attributing his five interceptions in a single game to the opposition having put 11 defenders on the field to cause him problems.)

On to Mugello in two weeks, one of the shrines of MotoGP racing, a track where Valentino Rossi could conceivably give Marquez a run for his money.  Rossi’s home race, on a Yamaha layout, with the crowd solidly behind him…  Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  One of the few remaining obstacles to Marquez running the table in 2014?  Unthinkable, sure, but the word is rapidly losing its meaning as the Catalan onslaught continues.

LeMansTopTenCapture

2014TopTenCapture

 

 

 

Marquez Goes Four for Four in 2014

May 4, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Jerez Results by Bruce Allen 

On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon in southern Spain, Marc Marquez took care of business, becoming the first polesitter to win in Jerez since Nicky Hayden in 2006.  He is the first rider to win the first four races of the season since Valentino Rossi in 2002.  He checked off Jerez on his list of Tracks Where I’ve Won Races, the last venue on the 2014 tour to make the list.  He is undefeated since clinching the world championship at Valencia in 2013.  In short, at age 21, he is the bomb-diggity of the MotoGP world. 

Before getting into the race itself, which was a procession up front and a dogfight in the middle of the pack, consider for a moment what it must be like to be #1 in the world at anything at age 21.  How about hitting .450 and winning the World Series in MLB?  Earning a ring while canning 40 points a game in the NBA?  Capturing the Grand Slam in the PGA?  For the Canadians reading this, scoring 200 points per season and hoisting Sir Stanley’s trophy?  Doing whatever it is they do at Manchester United really really well?  You get the point.  The question for Marquez is, other than the monotony of winning championship after championship for the next umpteen years, what’s left?

PodiumCapture

The 2014 Gran Premio bwin de España

Today’s race was riveting for perhaps the first half of the first lap, with Marquez on the Repsol Honda, Valentino Rossi and the desperate Jorge Lorenzo on the Movistar Yamahas, and dark horse Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati all leading the race for a few seconds.  Things sorted themselves out fairly quickly, with Marquez taking the lead followed by Rossi, Lorenzo and, by Lap 2, Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa.  Marquez then laid down a vapor trail and disappeared, leaving the other three Aliens free to slug it out all day for the less cool spots on the podium.  Things stayed this way until Lap 21, when Pedrosa finally managed to go through on Lorenzo, crushing his spirit on what had to be a miserable 27th birthday for the Mallorcan.

At day’s end, Marquez and Rossi appeared jubilant, Rossi having secured his second podium of the year.  At the post-race presser, Pedrosa appeared tired and subdued.  Lorenzo, naturally, was not invited to meet the press.  Having a hard time imagining what it’s like to be on top of the world at age 21?  Imagine what it must be like to feel past your prime at age 27. The 37 year-old Rossi appears rejuvenated, and pretty much announced today that he will remain in MotoGP after this year.  Rule #1 in this game is beat Cristina-Capella3your teammate, and Rossi is doing this.  Good for him.  Lorenzo’s sole consolation today was having been awarded the #1 brolly girl on the grid, a breathtaking long-stemmed brunette who made me regret once again not having studied Spanish in high school.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The battle for spots five through nine raged all day, with too many position changes to keep track of.  Ducati Corse #1 Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of a very good season, started sixth and held off a resuscitated Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda for fifth place.  Bautista, who had qualified 10th after crashing out of the first three races of the year, bought himself a little grace with his respectable sixth place finish today.  He will need to keep improving for the rest of the year to hold into his seat with the GO&FUN team next year.

Aleix Espargaro, the victim of another qualifying practice crash, started from the middle of the second row and finished seventh, not bad for an Open class entrant, but still disappointing after his stellar offseason.  Once again, the two Tech 3 Yamaha guys, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, occupied consecutive spots at the finish, having traded places during the race from their starting positions.  All this togetherness from the French team leads one to believe they sit down tout ensemble after races for some brie and a glass of sauvignon blanc, passing around their camera phones to compare photos and share a few laughs.

LCR pilot Stefan Bradl, on a factory spec Honda, started seventh on the grid and finished 10th on a track where his dad won a race decades ago.  He finished just in front of Nicky Hayden, Hiro Aoyama and Scott Redding, all of whom were riding “customer” Hondas.  For would-be Alien Bradl, such stunning under-achievement will surely tarnish his reputation if it continues.  Guter Gott allmächtig! 

Pain and Suffering at the Back of the Pack

Three riders had forgettable days in Andalusia.  Andrea Iannone, over-achieving on the Pramac Ducati all season, came crashing back to earth this weekend.  After threatening for podiums at both Austin and Argentina, he qualified 15th on Saturday and retired out of 18th place during the race.  We will keep an eye on him going forward to see which was the fluke, today or Rounds 1-3.

Cal Crutchlow, whose crash in Austin left him with a mangled right pinky and “bruised lungs” (?) missed the trip to Argentina and returned this weekend for three days of Churchillian blood, toil, tears and sweat.  Fighting the pain in his hand, he could only qualify 14th and retired on Lap 6 with a braking problem, i.e., every time he applied the brakes he cried out for his mama. Welcome to Ducati Corse, big guy.

Finally, we turn to Colin Edwards, whom many of you hold in much higher esteem than do I.  Having somehow made it into Q2, he spent most of the day running at the back of the pack with the likes of Michael Laverty and Broc Parkes before “retiring” on the final lap.  One has to be careful with that word these days, as Colin is apparently considering calling it a career before the end of the season, a rumor he denies.  But the three days of testing at Jerez commencing tomorrow will apparently see Simone Corsi, late of Moto2, on Edwards’ #5 NGM Forward Racing Yamaha.  Listen carefully, and you can hear the drumbeats off in the distance.

Tired of Tires

One of my least favorite subjects in this sport has to do with tires.  The race announcers were banging on about tire conservation during both the Moto2 and MotoGP races; other than Pedrosa, no one had much to say about tires after the race.  Rossi did credit his choice of the harder option front for his ability to hold off Pedrosa at the end, but tire selection and tire conservation are separate issues.

Bridgestone logoThe biggest announcement of the week, that Bridgestone was bailing as the official tire supplier to MotoGP after next season, produced a shockwave throughout the paddock, with every rider quoted on the story professing their profound respect and affection for the company and its products they’ve spent the past few years bashing continuously.  Dorna wants a single supplier, and has put out an RFP for same that expires in only a few weeks.  Perhaps some aggressive manufacturer will step up, perhaps not.  I, for one, would like to see MotoGP return to letting each team negotiate its own tire contract.  Given the profusion of classes on the grid—Factory, Factory 2, Open, Mongrel—it seems a little silly for Dorna to require one manufacturer to come up with the range of compounds necessary to allow each team to maximize its on-track performance.  Just sayin’.

Marquez Hat Trick in Argentina

April 27, 2014

New country, new continent, same outcome 

Repsol Honda crown prince Marc Marquez recovered from a confusing start to win the inaugural MotoGP chase at the picturesque Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo.  After slipping briefly into seventh (7th) place from pole position at the start, the charismatic Catalan sliced his way through the field, spent 13 laps in second place giving leader Jorge Lorenzo the heebie-jeebies, and went through Lorenzo’s Yamaha easily on Lap 17.  Cruising to the flag from that point, he became the first premier class rider to start the season with three wins from pole since Giacomo Agostini in 1971. 

Those of us fortunate enough to watch today’s race witnessed what is the greatest start to a MotoGP premier class season in 43 years.  Longer than most of you reading this have been alive.  Some have referred to Marc Marquez as the greatest rider to come along in a generation.  After his performance this weekend, he is arguably the best rider to have come along in two generations.  Maybe ever.

As a rookie, Marquez seized the title from Lorenzo, a reigning double world champion and one of the fine riders of the modern era.  Today, he spotted Lorenzo six positions and perhaps five seconds, punked him at the time and place of his choosing, and barely broke a sweat.  For Lorenzo, having given up 25 points to Marquez in Qatar and another 19 in Austin, finishing third today and appearing on the podium must have felt like a win.  A mere two years ago, a result like this would have had him cursing himself and spitting thumbtacks.  Down 53 points after three rounds in 2014, it promises to be six long months of brave smiles for the gentleman from Mallorca.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aside from the drama up front, there was plenty going on all over the grid today.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa had himself a rough start, too, falling back from the #3 hole on the grid and spending some quality time in seventh position before roaring back later in the day.  At the beginning of Lap 8 he sat in fifth place; by the end of Lap 9 he was running third, having put away both LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl and junior Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone.  Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by four seconds on Lap 12 and ended up beating him by a second and a half, despite having Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi in his rearview for most of the second half of the race.

Rossi, after watching his front tire get torn to smithereens in Austin, went with the Bridgestone Kevlar option today and was all over the board.  Finishing the first lap in second position, he ran wide on several occasions, one time courtesy of a hip check from Bradl, before finally settling into fourth place where he finished.  Having announced at the start of the season that the results in his first six races of this year would determine his future in MotoGP, I’d guess he’s still wondering whether he has what it takes to meet his own high standards.  Certainly, Rossi is too proud (and has too much branding to protect) to become the next Colin Edwards and continue suiting up years after his peak.

Stefan Bradl enjoyed a productive fifth place finish after starting ninth, courtesy of a brutal high side in qualifying that left him shaken, not stirred, in his team garage on Saturday afternoon.  Iannone, who has been impressive all year on the Pramac Ducati, ran with the first group again early in the day before finally finishing sixth, the top Ducati to cross the line, three spots ahead of factory rider Andrea Dovizioso who, occupying second place at the end of Lap 2, got passed like a hat at a revival meeting the rest of the day.

Let Me Just Say This about Alvaro Bautista

Dude seems to spend way more time and attention on his appearance than on his profession.  Cursed with abnormally good looks, he puts blond streaks in his hair, then has them removed.  Grows a nice two week beard, and today shaves it off.  Narcissists generally sit around wondering, “Gee, what can I do to make myself prettier?”  Alvaro Bautista shows all the symptoms.  Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, running Fausto Gresini’s factory spec Honda RC213V, he crashes out in Qatar, crashes out in Austin and today, with the pressure on, makes it as far as Turn 5 of the first lap before landing in the kitty litter.  This, barely five days after the volatile Gresini expressed “concern” about Bautista’s competitiveness, and three days after Bautista himself vowed to take no unnecessary risks in order to finish the race.

I expected Gresini to give Bautista the boot after 2012 and again after 2013.  There is just no way he will sign him to a new contract after this season.  With riders like Vinales and Rabat looking to move up from Moto2 next season, and Bautista’s history of underachievement and excitability—how many times has he found himself running up front early in races only to crash out, often taking other riders with him—Bautista is toast.  Devilishly handsome toast.  Adios, muchacho.

Quick Hitters

Once again this year, the Tech 3 Yamahas seem to be connected at the hip. It was 2012 when Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow seemed to spend the season fighting each other every lap of every week. Last year, Crutchlow had the advantage over then rookie Bradley Smith. This year, however, Smith and new teammate Pol Espargaro seem to be traveling in tandem again. Both riders crashed out in Qatar. In Austin, it was Smith finishing fifth and Espargaro sixth. Today, it was Smith seventh and Espargaro eighth. Unlike 2012, they are usually separated on the track most of the day, but somehow seem to end up back-to-back. Espargaro seems to be slightly ahead of where he was expected to be at this point, Smith slightly behind.

Nicky Hayden got worked by teammate Hiro Aoyama at the finish line today. As if having one of the slowest bikes on the grid isn’t bad enough, the Kentucky Kid gets jammed by Aoyama, who was last seen in a MotoGP top ten at Motegi in 2011. Ugh.

Cardion AB rich kid Karel Abraham, with another dazzling 13th place finish today, has collected more points in 2014 (8) than he did in all of 2013 (5). That Honda Production Racer seems to be working wonders for him.

Finally, before we start licking our chops over Jerez next week, we must note another disappointing weekend for Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha. Once again, expectations were high after he qualified fourth. Once again they were dashed when he went walkabout on Lap 2. Although he recovered sufficiently to finish 15th, he looks capable of challenging for the podium every time out, but isn’t getting it done. We’re sticking with our earlier call that he will finally get his podium at Assen or The Sachsenring.

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MotoGP 2014 COTA Preview

April 9, 2014

Visit Motorcycle.com for an edited version of this, complete with un-stolen photos.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Marquez at Aragon

Marquez, HRC look to dominate, deep in the heart 

When last we saw our helmeted heroes in action—it seems like months ago—Honda’s brilliant Marc Marquez out-raced grizzled Yamaha veteran Valentino Rossi to the flag in a riveting season opener in Qatar.  Rossi’s teammate and two time world champion Jorge Lorenzo lost his marbles on Lap One, ending up in the kitty litter, any chance he might have had for a third premier class title vanishing in a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. 

Things in the Movistar Yamaha garage are unlikely to improve this weekend, as The Circuit of the Americas—COTA to those in the know—appears to have been custom- built for the Honda RC213V.  With but one long straight and a mess of first-gear corners, COTA places a premium on rapid acceleration, where the Honda has, in recent years, enjoyed a clear advantage over the Yamaha YZR-M1.  Some will point out that Yamaha installed its own “magic box” transmission in the M1 in the midst of last season, leveling the playing field to a degree.  But only the wildest of Yamaha devotees would suggest that HRC will not enjoy a productive outing in Austin this weekend.

Recent History at COTA 

MotoGP history at COTA defines “recent”, as last year’s race marked the circuit’s premier bash.  Marquez and Pedrosa dominated the timesheets during practice, with Lorenzo pressing to keep up and Rossi having all kinds of problems, ranging from smoke and water damage to his bike (from a fire in the Tech 3 garage on Thursday night) to braking issues that would plague him for most of the year.

LCR Honda handfeste Stefan Bradl and then-Yamaha Tech 3 Brit Cal Crutchlow had a few shining moments leading up to the race, but ultimately it was Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo starting and finishing one-two-three.  In the process, Marquez became the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race, an accomplishment that launched him on the way to becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class world championship.

Marc Marquez does love himself some COTA.

Jorge Lorenzo—Fearing Marquez, Blaming Bridgestone

Q:  From a distance, how can you tell when a MotoGP rider is complaining about Bridgestone tires?

A:  His lips are moving.

Generally, MotoGP riders, at least those not winning championship trophies, blame a lot of their problems on tires.  The four current pilots who have won premier class titles—Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden—generally have fewer, if any, complaints about rubber.  (This calls to mind the old expression that a poor carpenter blames his tools.)  I’ve made my position on this topic clear in the past: in the absence of a grid-wide tire failure (such as NASCAR/Goodyear experienced in Indianapolis in 2008), when tires become an issue, either the team selected the wrong compound or the rider doesn’t know how to manage them properly during the race itself.

Which is why I find it so surprising that Jorge Lorenzo, of all people, should have spent so much time this winter and spring complaining about the new heat-resistant slicks that Bridgestone developed specifically to mitigate tire degradation under race conditions.  At Losail in March, it became a veritable chant—no rear grip, no rear grip—despite which he managed to qualify 16/100ths of a second behind polesitter Marquez.  His inglorious exit late on Lap One did nothing to confirm his complaints, for two reasons: first, he blamed himself for having been too aggressive on cold tires (doing a reasonable impression of Alvaro Bautista in the process) and second, Valentino Rossi spent the day on Marquez’ pipes running the same tires on the same bike.  Tires weren’t an issue for The Doctor.

I believe Jorge Lorenzo spent much of the offseason contemplating another year of chasing Marc Marquez around the globe and that Marquez is now firmly planted inside his head.  I believe Lorenzo was shocked and appalled when Marquez took the pole in Qatar, on a Yamaha track and with a broken leg.  I believe Lorenzo believes he is incapable of beating Marquez’ Honda on his own Yamaha.  Which is why I believe Lorenzo may consider switching teams—perhaps with Dani Pedrosa—during the silly season that commences in the early fall.  Life is short, and no one more competitive than Lorenzo; if you can’t beat ‘em, it might just be best to join ‘em.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

An Open Class Rider on the Podium?  It Could Happen.

Austin is one of those tight layouts were Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, he of the Yamaha power, soft tires, plentiful fuel load and unbridled optimism, should have his first real chance to podium on one of the new Open class machines.  He was highly competitive at Losail despite trashing both of his bikes in practice—channeling Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”—thus starting ninth, and ultimately finishing fourth.  He has been legitimately fast all winter and topped the timesheets during the first three practice sessions in Qatar, on a track not particularly well-suited to his strengths.  If he can manage a front row start in Texas, I expect him to joust with Rossi in a tooth and nail battle to join Marquez and Pedrosa on the podium.

The other pleasant surprises at Losail—Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, Hayden and Scott Redding on Honda Production Racers and the factory Ducati pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow—will have their work cut out for themselves in Texas.  Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha, Bautista on the Gresini Honda and LCR’s Bradl were fast, too, for awhile. Should any of these guys finish on the podium, in my late dad’s words, I’ll buy you a good cigar.

The mental condition of Jorge Lorenzo, facing what amounts to his season opener 25 points in arrears of Marquez, remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if he crashes out again this week, some serious questions will arise in the factory Yamaha garage and above. (The possibility exists that Marquez crashes out and Lorenzo wins in Texas, putting my first month’s worth of work here squarely in the hopper.)

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

Conditions in the greater Austin area for Friday through Sunday are expected to be sunny and quite warm, with the possibility of Sunday turning cloudy and slightly cooler.  Curiously, Bridgestone has announced that it is unable to supply the new heat-resistant slicks this weekend and that the 2013 tires will be the only choices on offer.  Based upon his litany of woe these past few months, this should be seen as good news for Jorge Lorenzo.  The bad news?  He and Rossi got spanked pretty good last year, the Repsol Hondas outscoring the factory Yamahas 45-26.

One more example of how you need to be careful what you wish for.

We’ll have race results and analysis right here for you on Sunday evening.