Posts Tagged ‘Alvaro Bautista’

MotoGP 2014 Losail Results

March 23, 2014

Marquez starts where he left off; major fail for Lorenzo 

 

Marquez in Sepang 2013

After a shocking offseason, in which the MotoGP world appeared to have been turned on its head, it was mostly the usual suspects occupying the podium as the big bikes of MotoGP kicked off 2014 in fine style under the lights of Losail.  Defending world champion Marc Marquez, six weeks after breaking his leg, barely held off a resurgent Valentino Rossi for the win, with Dani Pedrosa sneaking onto the podium in third place.  Double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has been singing the blues for months, crashed out of the lead on Lap One and landed squarely behind the eight ball. 

Before getting into the race itself, let’s examine the rule changes in microcosm, by comparing the second qualifying sessions from 2013 and this past Saturday.

2013 and 2014 QP2 Capture

MotoGP 2014: The Playing Field Leveled

In the run-up to the race, considerable discussion centered around the off-season rule changes and the effects those changes would have on life in the upper reaches of the premier class.  (See this great article in Cycle World for a fascinating look behind the scenes of these changes.)  A comparison of the 2013 QP2 and 2014 QP2 illustrates how far off base many of those conversations were. Without exception, every rider who made it through to QP2 in 2014 improved his time compared to last year.

The expectation that the 2014 Open class would be more competitive than the 2013 CRT class has been clearly met.  The groaning and gnashing of teeth emanating from the Movistar Yamaha team that the new rules punish them for their previous success ring hollow, in that they, too, improved their qualifying times from last year.  The “unfair advantage” Ducati allegedly enjoys by opting to run in the Open class is a myth; in 2013, Ducatis qualified 4th, 10th and 11th, while this year they managed 4th, 8th and 11th.  And even poor Nicky Hayden, whose Honda Production Racer is, according to him, only slightly faster than a 1986 Vespa, improved on his time from last year, just not by enough to make it to QP2.  Waah waah waah.

The last word on this subject:  the most fascinating aspect of all of this is the remarkably reduced spread in the QP times.  Last year, the difference between Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro was 2.3 seconds.  This year, the margin between Marquez and Pol Espargaro is a mere .6 seconds.  Despite the sniveling and whining from Lorenzo and Rossi, this portends much more exciting racing in 2014.

But What about the Race?

With a front row comprised of Repsol Honda’s wonderkid, FUN&GO Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista, and Monster Tech3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith, the offseason madness looked set to continue into the season opener.  Movistar Yamaha’s Lorenzo?  Fifth.  Repsol Honda veteran Pedrosa?  Sixth.  Aging factory Yamaha icon Rossi?  Tenth.  Expectations were all over the board.  NGM Forward Yamaha poster boy Aleix Espargaro, who had owned the offseason and the first three practice sessions in Doha, choked on a bone in qualifying, crashing both of his bikes, and started from ninth place.  Of the first 12 qualifiers, four were factory studs, another four represented satellite factory teams, and four enjoyed Open class advantages in fuel and tire choices, three of which were Ducatis.

Anything could happen.

The race got off to a clean start, with Lorenzo vaulting into the lead, putting his ambition to become a Spanish blues singer on hold.  Then, in turn 15 of Lap One, the unthinkable occurred—Lorenzo crashed out of the lead, an unforced error which just as suddenly revived his musical aspirations.  As the riders crossed the start/finish line for the first time, it was Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, Marquez, Smith, Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, and Rossi leading the way.  My thoughts, at that point:

  • Stefan Bradl?  He’ll crash.
  • What are Dovizioso and, moreover, Iannone doing up front?
  • What happened to Bautista?  Did he crash already?
  • Where’s Elmo Dani Pedrosa?
  • Does Bradley Smith look like a chemo patient with eyebrows, or what?

Gradually (ignoring the Lorenzo debacle) a state of normalcy began to settle over the field.  Iannone crashed out on Lap Two, but would recover sufficiently to finish tenth.  Both Bautista and Pedrosa began picking riders off and moving up the chart.  Rossi, who I thought had been sandbagging over the winter, suddenly materialized in fourth place on Lap Six.  Bradl crashed out at turn six of Lap Nine, at which point the top five riders were Marquez, Rossi, Smith, Pedrosa and Bautista.  Instead of a 2013 front group consisting of one or two riders, there were four or five in the picture.  Things were getting interesting.  And by “interesting”, I mean that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi, Tomorrow and Yesterday, suddenly found themselves in a cage match that would provide 13 laps of grand prix motorcycle racing at its finest.

Ultimately, Smith crashed his satellite Yamaha on Lap 19, giving up 11 championship points in the process, and Bautista laid his RC2013V down on Lap 21, handing third place to Pedrosa.  That Marquez would enjoy his seventh career win in the premier class was not a shock; for him, a broken leg seems about as bothersome as a head cold.  That he would need every ounce of skill, daring and luck he owns to nip Rossi at the flag is remarkable.  Rossi is not a seven time premier class champion for nothing, and his ability to adjust to pretty much anything—outside of a Ducati Desmosedici—is firmly established.  There must be some serious head-shaking going on in the Movistar Yamaha garage tonight, as the new boss has, for the time being, given way to the old boss.  And I wonder how Jeremy Burgess, Rossi’s former crew chief, is feeling about now.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro, despite his miserable QP and inauspicious start, ended the day in fourth place, and must still be feeling wildly optimistic about his prospects for the season.  The two other Brits in the field, Cal Crutchlow on the Ducati and rookie Scott Redding on the production Honda, ended up sixth and seventh, sticking it in the eye of the American contingent of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who still had relatively good days.  Hayden drove his Vespa to an eighth place finish, while the 40 year old Edwards enjoyed his first top ten finish in over a year aboard the #2 NGM Forward Yamaha.  Edwards insists that he will switch to the FTR frame once it is ready, while teammate Espargaro seems pretty happy with the status quo.  As noted above, Andrea Iannone completed today’s top ten.

Five Things We Learned Heading to Austin

  1. The world has never seen anything like Marc Marquez.
  2. Valentino Rossi still belongs in MotoGP.
  3. Aleix Espargaro may not win the 2014 title, but his stock is way high.
  4. It could be a very long year for Jorge Lorenzo.
  5. After a number of dull, predictable years, MotoGP is BACK.

Top Ten after 1 Round

The State of the Game: MotoGP in 2014

March 23, 2014

Then, There Were Eight 

The decision, announced on February 28, 2014, that the once-proud Ducati factory would compete the 2014 MotoGP season on the “Open” side of the tracks suggests that Dorna chieftain Carmelo Ezpeleta’s not-so-secret mission to dumb down the sport is working.  As the season starts, 15 of the 23 bikes on the grid will be running in the Open class. 

In 2012, Dorna introduced us to the CRT class of bikes, for which I was never able to come up with satisfactory filler for the acronym.  While expanding the grid from the mid-teens to the mid-20’s, the move increased the number of bikes traveling at relatively slow speeds (BTRSS) without increasing competition at the top of the food chain (TFC) where only three riders won races in 2013.

In the midst of last season, the two dominant MotoGP factory operators, Yamaha and Honda, announced that they would be making equipment available to the Open teams in 2014.  Yamaha announced its intent to lease, not sell, what are basically year old M-1 engines and swing arms, while Honda would be selling, not leasing, entire bikes, in this case a cranked-up version of their World SuperBike RCV1000R, affectionately known as the Honda Production Racer.

NGM Forward racing, featuring Colin Edwards and veteran older brother Aleix Esparagaro, jumped all over the Yamaha offer and slotted M-1 engines in their FTR frames.  Pretty much everyone else at all serious about actually competing in the premier class went with the Honda production bike, including Aspar with both Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama onboard, and Fausto Gresini, who bought one for Scott Redding to learn on while #1 rider Alvaro Bautista gets to keep his RCV for another year.  Karel Abraham’s dad bought him one.  The Avintia Blusens team plods on for another year with their Kawasaki powered FTRs, while Paul Byrd Motorsports continues with Paul designing his own frames for Aprilia powerplants.  Ioda Racing, which had been planning another two-rider season with Aprilia, saw their main sponsor Came walk and now looks shaky as the season starts, putting the screws to Brit rider Leon Camie, whose premier class tenure appears to have lasted, um, less than one race.  Whether the team, and Danilo Petrucci, finish the season together remains to be seen.

So, propulsion this season will come from four Ducati engines, six Yamahas and eight Hondas; Aprilia will power three riders and Kawasaki two.  With most of the juice still residing in the two top factory teams, Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha (with one notable exception), the season opener, now less than a week away, brings with it a lot of unforced whining from some unexpected places.  Actually, pretty much everyone but Aleix Espargaro is whining about something, as follows:

  • Defending world champion Marc Marquez is placidly copacetic about the leg he broke in training last week.  This may portend something of a slow start for the super sophomore, or nothing at all.  We tend to lean toward the latter.  He’s not whining now, but if he gets off slowly this season, we’ll be waiting for it.
  • Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, always good for a complaint or two, and with a few more microphones poked at him since Casey Stoner retired in 2012, was bitching about the lack of grip from the new Bridgestones, until the Phillip Island test, where he was the fastest guy on the track.  (One way Dani could improve grip would be to put on a few pounds.)  Dani is now on the back nine of his career, and fewer of us will be paying attention to his periodic rants as things wind down for him.
  • Double champion Jorge Lorenzo, put off by the new fuel limits and the tires, doubts he’ll be able to manage much better than second place this year.
  • Lorenzo’s Yamaha teammate, the legendary Valentino Rossi, whose last three seasons were utterly forgettable, has been laying down some very fast laps while holding his cards tightly to his chest and saying little of substance.  Perhaps he and his new crew chief have something going on.  Personally, I would love to see Rossi come back and challenge for wins again.  The game needs another Alien.
  • LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl seems to spend a lot of time in fifth place.  Just sayin’.  He’s on the same bike as Marquez and Pedrosa.
  • Gresini Honda, sponsored again this year by GO&FUN, features chronic underachiever Alvaro Bautista on their #1 RC and recent Moto2 grad Scott Redding on their #2 RCV1000R.  Bautista has tested in the top ten, Redding in the bottom ten.  Redding will finish the season closer to Bautista than he has been during testing thus far.
  • The satellite Yamaha Tech 3 team, featuring Bradley Smith and injured rookie Pol Espargaro, seems to be having its own problems with tires and fuel mixture.  However, they will be working with the new Yamaha seamless shift transmissions this season.  Most of the interest in this duo will have to do with their intra-team competition, rather than their top-ten-but-never-contending-for-a-win performance during races. They will have a problem, however, if the Forward Racing team starts beating them on a regular basis, suggesting that engines, gas and development outweigh software and the sanctity of the “factory-made” label.
  • Bear with me while I try to think of something positive to say about the Drive M7 duo of Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama turning laps on their HPRs.  OK, their livery looks minty fresh.  There.
  • The team making the most positive noise during offseason testing, without question, is the Open team at NGM Forward Racing.  Aleix Espargaro has been consistently running in the top three and appears to be loving his new Yamaha powerplant.  With four extra litres of fuel, seven extra engines during the season, a softer rear tire and Yamaha power, it figures to be only a matter of time before Espargaro becomes the first Open class rider to win a race.  My guess would be Assen or Sachsenring this year.  Funny, though, that HRC is whining in the media about how the NGM project is “outside the intent” of the new regulations.  In my half-baked opinion, that would be true only if the new FIM regulations required Open teams to finish in the bottom third of the grid.  I’ve checked—it’s not in there.  And the NGM joke is that the ancient Colin Edwards is hanging around not to milk another mediocre season out of Aspar’s horde of sponsors, but to “mentor” Espargaro, who is running circles around him.  My sides are splitting.
  • The revelation that all four Ducati Desmosedicis will run in the Open class this season is big.  Big, in that the new Powers that Be in Bologna have decided that, though the Dorna software is marginally inferior to Ducati’s own, having twice as many engines to break, more fuel, and the ability to continue development of the engine during the season, which Ducati desperately needs, far outweigh the loss of a couple of 10ths due to the software.  Dovizioso’s sentence has one more year to run, while Cal Crutchlow has now really put himself in it, having signed on for two years of Open class competition and second-rate results, but for a bigger paycheck.  Yonny Hernandez and Andrea Iannone will keep the wheels turning over at Pramac; Crazy Joe may challenge Crutchlow a few times this year, which will be great fun to watch.  Crutchlow will also have to sit around next year as the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, with Suzuki making its return, go about the process of pushing wheelbarrows full of Benjamins at Marquez and Lorenzo, with Rossi and Pedrosa on hand to drive up the bidding.
  • Life goes on at Avintia Blusens and Paul Byrd Motorsports, both of whom must have the best, most understanding, least demanding sponsors in motorsports.  Two riders per team, with a Top Ten finish for one of the four once in a while. 

The newest release of the “Dorna software” appears to be a sizeable step up, especially for Ducati.  So sizeable that Dorna and FIM threw together a third class of bikes, “Factory 2”, to which contestants running in the Open class will be dispatched if and when they start appearing on podiums on a regular basis.  Open 2 bikes basically split the difference on engines and fuel, compared to the two “established” classes.  This cobbled-up class was apparently developed, on the back of a cocktail napkin, in response to the howls of protest emanating from the Yamaha and, especially, Honda camps concerning the unexpected competitiveness of some of the Open class bikes.  Perhaps they should refer to it as The Espargaro Rule.

Until Marquez got hurt last month, it looked to be a no-brainer predicting the 2014 world champion, and it doesn’t really look much different today.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa have had some issues during the offseason testing sessions, while Valentino Rossi looks strong again, and Aleix Espargaro looks like a factory rider.  If Rossi has, indeed, regained the step he had obviously lost since 2010, and if Espargaro has the bike to remain in the top five on a regular basis, it promises to be a more interesting season than was 2013.  Marquez, even with a tender start, looks to be dominant, and Pedrosa and Lorenzo will be fine.  Issue Alien cards to Rossi and Espargaro, and it will be a fun season to watch.

As well as further evidence that Ezpeleta’s evil plot is working.

Pedrosa wins at Sepang; Marquez extends lead

October 13, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this story, complete with non-bootlegged images, will appear on Motorcycle.com tonight or tomorrow. Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Repsol Hondas finish one-two in the Malaysian heat 

pedrosa_marquez

For factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was going to be a statement race.  Lorenzo’s intent, clear from the outset, was to beat rookie Marquez at any cost.  Pedrosa, the victim of plain bad luck at Aragon, looked determined to prove that he was still a force at the top of the MotoGP food chain.  And Marc Marquez, on his way to the 2013 title, wanted the world to know that his brain is bigger than his balls. 

How, you’re wondering, do I know these things to be true?  Pure deduction, based upon things that were said during the week, and the actions of the riders during the race.  At the Thursday press conference, Jorge Lorenzo went OFF, delivering a scathing critique of Marquez’ relentless risk taking and Race Direction’s lame season-long response thereto.  To paraphrase Lorenzo’s tongue-in-cheek outburst, he claimed that Marquez approaches MotoGP as if it were NASCAR, bumping and grinding his competitors every time out, with but three “penalty points” to show for his behavior.  Actually, three penalty points and a World Championship.  Lorenzo, it seems, is put out over how Race Direction has rewarded bad behavior on Marquez’ part with a trophy and a bit of toothless punishment.  Thankfully, he didn’t play the Marco Simoncelli card as an example of what can happen to the fast and the reckless.

Dani Pedrosa gave us one of his trademarked “slingshot” starts today, moving from fifth position on the grid to sitting on Lorenzo’s pipes in the middle of Lap 1.  He and Marquez had been fast all weekend in practice, but Pedrosa looked determined not simply to podium today, but to win.  On Lap 5, having just received a mapping change from his pit crew, he bumped Lorenzo out of his way—just racing!—and took over first place for the duration.  Never looking back, he won by almost three seconds, for the first time since Le Mans.  Two years ago, when he had this kind of pace, Pedrosa would win by 12 seconds, and would have felt great afterwards.

Two years ago he had no Marc Marquez to deal with.

Marquez, for his part, looked mainly interested in staying out of trouble today.  He seemed surprised at Lorenzo’s Thursday outburst, and tried to make light of it, before figuring out that Jorge was seriously furious with him.  Settling into third position at the start, he joined Pedrosa in slipping past Lorenzo on Lap 5.  The Yamaha icon was simply not having it today.  He came right back at the rookie and gave him a good bump on Lap 6, briefly moving back into second place.  The two went at each other tooth and fang through Lap 7, when Marquez went through for good, pushing Lorenzo out onto the candystripes exiting a late corner, and essentially sealing the 2013 championship in the process.

Having put Lorenzo away, you expected Marquez to go after Pedrosa in the hunt for another gratuitous win.  Instead, he appeared to lay back, content to simply manage the gap between himself and Lorenzo.  In addition to being his teammate, Dani Pedrosa is absolutely no threat to his title aspirations.  The mountain of criticism piled upon Marquez after Aragon, most of it undeserved, clearly had an effect on the young Spaniard.  Thus, he was able to emerge from today’s race with no further damage to his reputation, and with a bigger lead in the championship race than he had at the start of the day.  All in all, a good day’s work.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Valentino Rossi on Saturday enjoyed his best QP since 2010, starting from the second spot on the grid.  On Sunday, this advantage lasted all of 10 seconds, as both Lorenzo and Pedrosa blew by him on the way to the first turn.  Rossi spent the entire day—all 20 laps—in fourth place, and appeared to be hanging around, waiting for one of the leaders to fall, or run wide, something, anything, in the hope of securing yet another hollow podium.  I get it that Rossi is a marketing machine who makes cash registers ring for Yamaha, but his diminishing presence on the team means Lorenzo is getting double-teamed every week.  And as the standings show, the result is going to be another world championship for Honda.

With the bulk of the field strung out in a ghastly premier class procession, the only real contest of the day involved Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow and GO&FUN pilot Alvaro Bautista, who spent the day jousting over fifth place.  Crutchlow, with the slower bike and zero motivation, eventually succumbed to Bautista, losing out by a couple of tenths.  While LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl missed today’s race due to a broken ankle suffered in FP4 on Saturday, Bautista moved past Bradl into sixth place for the season.

With two of the four Ducatis on the grid retiring with mechanical problems—Iannone with exhaust issues, Hayden with a blown engine—Yonny Hernandez made a respectable showing on his Pramac Ducati, finishing 10th after starting 16th.  Hector Barbera, riding for the Avintia Blusens team, weathered a ride-through penalty for jumping the start and still managed 14th place for the day.  Fellow jumpers Colin Edwards and Michael Laverty fared slightly worse, with Edwards coming home in 15th place and Laverty crashing out on Lap 13.

The Big Picture, Heading to Australia

The season has developed what feels like a grinding inevitability, as Valenciana draws closer and Marquez’ lead in the standings grows larger.  The rookie demonstrated today that he is not, in fact, compelled to try to win every single round, that he appreciates where he sits in the standings and what he must to do stay on top.  He showed a little respect (or was it pity?) for his teammate by laying off and not trying to out-race him yet again today, when there was nothing to be gained from such showboating but a few more haters.

Stoner testing

With Phillip Island looming, the Magic Numbers are now clearly in focus.  Lorenzo trails Marquez by 43 points; Pedrosa trails by 54.  Unless Pedrosa wins in Australia, he will be eliminated next week.  If Marquez wins and Lorenzo finishes third or worse, the fat lady will be singing “Advance Australia Fair” next Sunday afternoon.  The moment it was announced that Bradl would miss Round 16, rumors started circulating that Casey Stoner would return to try for a seventh (!) consecutive win at his home track, a rumor both Honda and Stoner currently deny.  But the alignment of the MotoGP stars and planets is such that Stoner’s appearance on the LCR Honda next weekend wouldn’t surprise, or disappoint, too many fans.  With three rounds left, there is precious little else to cheer for.

TOP TEN YTD AFTER SEPANG.

MotoGP Brno 2013 Results

August 25, 2013

By Bruce Allen

Marquez wins again, Aliens in shock 

Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez won today’s Czech Grand Prix by 3/10ths over teammate Dani Pedrosa, with Yamaha double champion Jorge Lorenzo another two seconds behind.  Once again making it look easy, Marquez now leads Pedrosa by 26 points and a disheartened Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left in the 2013 season.  Had the rookie not crashed out of the lead at Mugello back in June, this thing would be over already. 

Marquez is now smashing all time records every time out, a proverbial bull in the 65 year-old MotoGP china shop.  He became the first rookie ever to win at Laguna Seca in July.  Last week, ignoring the footnote, he became the first rider ever to win three rounds in the United States.  And today he became the first rider ever to win five races in his rookie season, having prevailed in the last four rounds.  The sky appears to be the limit for the young Spaniard, as he does not appear quite fast enough to enter a low earth orbit.

22 Masterful Laps

During the practice sessions leading up to qualifying, it was the usual suspects at the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo, LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, Monster Tech 3 defector Cal Crutchlow and Marquez taking turns leading a session.  Q2, the main qualifying event, was a little weird, as most of the riders could only manage four laps over the long Brno circuit, and resulted in a front row of Crutchlow, GO&FUN loose cannon Alvaro Bautista and Marquez.  The second row featured Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Tech 3 rookie Bradley Smith, with Valentino Rossi, the now-former Alien, in seventh.

Once things got underway, Lorenzo got off to an impressively fast start, with Marquez and Pedrosa in hot pursuit.  Crutchlow started poorly, immediately back in fourth position, tangling with Bautista and Rossi most of his truncated day, his hopes of a maiden premier class win shattered in the first lap.  Adding injury to insult, the Brit, with seven races left until his self-imposed exile with Ducati for the next two years, crashed out on Lap 9 and eventually finished out of the points in 17th.  So much for sitting on the pole.

Lorenzo led the first group for most of the day, but was unable to get away, while the two Repsol Hondas were relaxing in his slipstream, biding their time, probing for signs of weakness.  Marquez feinted several times before going through for good in the final turn of Lap 16, a replay of what Pedrosa did to Lorenzo on the last lap in 2012.  Three laps later, Pedrosa himself went through on Lorenzo, hoping to overtake his thoroughly annoying rookie teammate in the last three laps.  It was not to be, as Pedrosa didn’t have enough left to mount the late charge he desperately needed.

Before the race, it was generally acknowledged that crunch time had arrived for Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo, that another loss to either Repsol Honda at the flowing Brno circuit would spell ruin for the 2013 season.  Similarly, for Pedrosa and Lorenzo, allowing Marquez to work them again would be another sure sign of the career apocalypse looming before both.  The two veterans, masters of their craft, gave this race everything they had, but it wasn’t nearly enough.  To the casual observer, the all-Spanish podium would appear to spell joy for the three honorees.  In fact, for two of them, it spelled despair.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Once Crutchlow went walkabout on Lap 9 (joining teammate Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 DNF party) the battle for fourth place between Bautista and Rossi raged all day, a measure of how much Rossi’s game has slipped in the past few years.  While Rossi would eventually prevail, a hollow victory to be sure, he finished 10 seconds behind Marquez, which would have been unthinkable as recently as 2010.

At 200 mph, things can go downhill in a hurry.  In fact, it may not be much of an overstatement to suggest that Rossi is on his way to becoming Colin Edwards, the thoroughly faded Yamaha veteran, other than the fact that Rossi has 80 premier class wins to zero for Edwards.

Stefan Bradl spent a lonely day in 6th place, turning laps, finishing 10 seconds behind Bautista and 15 seconds ahead of the factory Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.  Dovi and Hayden, after their latest close encounter at Indianapolis, had been hauled in front of both Race Direction and Ducati brass over their tendency to trade paint with one another, and refrained from doing so today.

[Before the season started, a Ducati mouthpiece told the media the company expected the two to challenge for wins this season on the ever-changing Desmosedici, providing further evidence, as if more were needed, that the Bologna factory is hopelessly out of touch with reality.]

Andrea Iannone, onboard the Pramac Ducati, ended the day in 9th place, followed once again by Aleix Espargaro, the top finisher in the now non-operative CRT class.  The only other result of note was that of Michele Pirro, subbing for the now-finished Ben Spies, who managed a respectable 12th place finish.  Looks like Pirro will finish the season racing, rather than testing, for Ducati Corse.  Spies, who had surgery on both shoulders this past week, should now be spoken of only in the past tense when discussing MotoGP.

The Big Picture

The standings tell the story.  For Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, their only remaining hope is that Marquez will crash out of a race or two, and it’s bad racing karma to wish such things for your rivals, especially a teammate.  Crutchlow’s gaffe today puts him 16 points behind Rossi in 5th place, but serves as valuable preparation for the next two years of his career.  After an outstanding weekend at Laguna Seca, of all places, Bradl has now settled back to earth and looks beatable by Dovizioso, assuming Dovi can resist further opportunities to mix things up with his teammate.

Top Ten after 11 rounds

On to Silverstone

Shakespeare’s “winter of our discontent” has now become Pedrosa and Lorenzo’s summer of nausea.  The nagging apprehension they likely felt toward Marquez heading into the season has now been replaced by fully-formed dread, as the Honda rookie has proven himself to be, as it were, truly re-Marc-able.  It is impossible to imagine that he will not destroy yet another all-time record next week, eclipsing Rossi’s rookie record of 10 podiums in a single season.

Since moving from Donington Park to Silverstone, Jorge Lorenzo has won the British GP twice, sandwiched around Stoner’s win in 2011.  As such, it would appear that this year’s tilt represents Lorenzo’s last gasping breath of hope for a third premier class championship in 2013.  Pedrosa has a lousy history at Silverstone, and his chances for anything more than a podium finish would appear dubious at best.  Crutchlow and Smith will be completely geeked up for what surely must be a disappointing homecoming weekend.  And Rossi will flash his trademarked smile all the way to the bank while trying to remain within an excuse or two of the podium.

Going forward, a number of interesting questions remain, most of them having to do with who will be riding what for whom in 2014.  The one I can’t get out of my head today has to do with what might have happened had Marquez been running against Casey Stoner on identical bikes this year.  Had it been Stoner and Marquez on the Repsol Hondas this season, the world might have seen some truly epic racing.  The late Robert F. Kennedy captured this sentiment perfectly when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’  I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?’”

The Passing of the Torch

July 27, 2013
Rossi vs. Marquez stalking Bradl

Rossi vs. Marquez as they stalk Bradl, Lap 4, looking into Turn 8

Two beautiful images of what will become a historic moment for MotoGP, the moment Marc Marquez announced he didn’t need no steenkin’ rules, he was just going for the win.  (Borrowed shamelessly from Tom White, who has posted these and a number of others at Motomatters.com.)

Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

We don’t need no steenkin’ rules, we’re going for the win. See you later.

While we’re at it, and before we forget, let’s mention how maddening it is to have to wait to hear about Crutchlow.  It is far more interesting, though, to learn that MotoGP has learned something from the NBA and the NFL, namely that a 2 year contract can now become a one year contract with the team (i.e., team owner) holding the option for year two.  Which, in turn, means riders like Bradl, Bautista,, and Smith may be soon looking for work.  Add to this the new rules allowing up to four riders per team, the availability of both Honda and Yamaha satellite bikes, as well as Yamaha engines on other frames.  Plus, chassis manufacturers have now joined the ranks of engine manufacturers as being viewed as owners, subject to the complex rules of one class versus the other.

The only thing we know for sure at this time is that they will be referred to only as “works” teams and “non-works” teams.  Period.  The continental divide in all of this is, of course, how do teams configure their bikes in order to maximize power, i.e., with a Honda or Yamaha engine, while still being allowed 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines per season.  that question sits in front of Suzuki as they plot their re-entry into the fray in 2015.  BMW drops out of WSB.  Aprilia must be considering fielding a works team of them own at some point, as world economics appear to be gaining strength, freeing up sponsorship money for teams willing to go all in on the leased engines and ambiguous rules.

There may likely be riders suddenly available with some real whiskers, including Bradl, Bautista, Smith and Hayden.  Espargaro and Redding moving up from Moto2.  Lots of wildcards in the US rounds.  Ducati needing to do something big to remain relevant in the premier class, as they have no presence in the lower  classes.  Surely they are trying to convince Crutchlow that being competitive is over-rated, while traveling in luxury never goes out of style.  Nicky Hayden had a pretty pleasant last six years of his career with Ducati,, only won three races in his career, nice guy.  I hope he can find a way to dominate WSB like in the old days of dirt tracks and state fairs.

Crutchlow will begin a domino effect that should be fun to watch.  With, it appears, all but the Aliens suffering with one year deals, the so-called silly season in MotoGP will be somewhat sillier this year than in those previous.

MotoGP Assen 2013 Results

June 29, 2013

Rossi Wins, Bionic Lorenzo 5th in Dutch TT 

It was a thoroughly hectic weekend for factory Yamaha kingpin Jorge Lorenzo at the 2013 Dutch TT Assen.  Broke his collarbone in a routine highside in FP2 on Thursday afternoon, chartered a jet to Barcelona that day, had a couple hours of surgery early Friday morning, grabbed a bite to eat, flew back to Assen, slept a little on the plane, started 12th and finished 5th in the race.  Had to be helped off his bike at the end.  Ho hum. 

Another day at the office for Lorenzo.  This is a man chasing a third championship. This is a man with a pair the size of hubcaps.  Less than 36 hours after receiving a titanium plate and eight screws to hold it on, Lorenzo, The Bionic Man, in a world of pain, risks life and limb, so to speak, in order to stay within range of series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa.

So, instead of facing a barely comprehensible 32 point deficit, Lorenzo heroically manages to stay in second place, within 9 points of Pedrosa.  That Pedrosa would cooperate by having an uncharacteristically bad outing and finishing 4th was good fortune itself.  It’s still a race, albeit an uphill one for Lorenzo, for the title.  For today, the race had about the best possible outcome for Lorenzo, who is somewhat miraculously bent, not broken.

Meanwhile, Back at the Race

Largely overlooked in all this were two performances, one serene, the other sublime, almost surreal.  The first was Monster Tech 3 Yamaha ruffian Cal Crutchlow, winning the pole as a Brit for the first time in 11 years, the first satellite bike on the pole since yank Ben Spies, on the same bike, did it in Indianapolis in 2010.

Despite a poor start, and despite looking like he could crash out of a podium at any moment, as is his wont, Crutchlow went through on Pedrosa on Lap 21 to finish 3rd, a great result for the suddenly hot Englishman.  His late run at Honda rookie Marc Marquez didn’t work out, as the two bikes touched, Marquez held his line, and Crutchlow lost his.  End of story for second place.  Crutchlow richly earns his third podium of the season and does nothing to diminish his prospects for 2014.

The surreal picture of the day, of course, was that of Valentino Rossi starting 4th, going through on Stefan Bradl into 3rd place on Lap 1.  Flying, looking eerily like the Rossi of 2008, he went through easily on Marquez on Lap 5 into 2nd place.  From there, it was one more lap until he slipped past Pedrosa on Lap 6 and won, not by a mile, but going virtually unchallenged over the last 20 laps.  It was fun watching, in turn, Bradl, Pedrosa, and finally Marquez thinking, “Holy s**t.  I’ve got Valentino-frigging-Rossi on my tail, and he’s got pace.  God help me.”  I wrote Rossi off earlier in the year, before his epiphany with the brakes this past week.  Let’s see how he does in Germany and Laguna, the rest of Amen Corner, before giving him his Alien membership card back.

As good a day as it was individually for Lorenzo and Rossi and Crutchlow, it was a great day for Team Yamaha, putting three bikes in the top five and two on the podium, with Lorenzo averting disaster, living to fight again another day for the 2013 title.  And, for the record, we are wondering when the last time was that neither Pedrosa nor Lorenzo stood on the podium after a race.  We should have that answer for you within two weeks.  All I can say is Jorge Lorenzo makes me shake my head—about Ben Spies.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Repsol Honda #2 Marc Marquez finished second today after three consecutive wins here over the past three years in the junior leagues.  He also has three wins in a row at Sachsenring, so expect him to be competitive again next time out.  Pedrosa has  three consecutive premier class wins there, too, while Lorenzo has four seconds in a row, some kind of frustration record.

Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda qualified for his first premier class front row, started well, but faded to his usual 6th place finish.  Brit Bradley Smith qualified 6th on his Tech 3 Yamaha but slipped to 9th at the flag.  In between the two were Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda and Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia CRT.  Bautista was celebrating not having taken a factory Yamaha out on Lap 1 and little else.

Andrea Dovizioso finishing 10th and Nicky Hayden 11th on the factory Ducatis were the high point of a lousy weekend for the Bologna branch of Audi Corporation.  Dovizioso, presumably, is smarting from having been assessed a penalty point, a whole penalty point, along with Hector Barbera resulting from a close encounter in qualifying in which they were observed trying to pimp-slap one another.  The penalty points, new this season from your friends at Race Direction, were for “fighting like girls.”

Dovizioso, who managed to qualify a sterling 15th on his shiny factory Ducati, said he has a clear conscience about the entire incident.  If you can willingly abandon a Yamaha ride for a Ducati ride, I guess you can have a clear conscience about lots of things.  Former partner and teammate Cal Crutchlow is fighting for podiums on the satellite Yamaha, and Dovi is slapfighting with Spaniards on the way to 10th place finishes.  Spaniards who’ve already been beaten up by their girlfriends this season.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Dani Pedrosa maintains his lead in the series, now leading Lorenzo by nine points.  In third sits Marquez, with 113 points, 14 behind Lorenzo.  Farther back, Rossi and Crutchlow are virtually deadlocked for fourth place, with Crutchlow at 87 and Rossi 85.  Here is the top ten after seven rounds in 2013:

Top 10 Riders after 7 rounds.

Heading to Germany, a very Honda-friendly track, Pedrosa will expect to extend his lead over Lorenzo, while Marquez, too, will be thinking career win #2.  Lorenzo, one thinks, would be delighted to finish second at the Sachsenring again this year, in his condition.  Perhaps his wingman Rossi can take up some of the slack and keep the Repsol boys at bay while the Mallorcan continues to heal.

As for Dani Pedrosa, despite an ordinary outing today, he leads the championship, perhaps at a later stage in the season than ever before.  He’s uninjured—did we mention that Marquez broke a toe and a finger in practice yesterday?—and leading the series, with some friendly circuits coming up.  It’s too early for him to begin thinking about getting conservative, about just not crashing.  But one gets the sense that, at some point, it will be time.  For the first time in his premier class career, he may find himself later this season with a trophy to protect.

Today, in the Netherlands, Team Yamaha had its day in the sun.  We’re only halfway to Valencia, but the 2013 Repsol Honda team must be feeling pretty sunny themselves.

MotoGP Catalunya 2013 Results

June 16, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this column will appear on Motorcycle.com.

Jorge Lorenzo Repeats; Championship Tightens 

Factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo won a number of battles today at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya.  He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to the finish line for his second consecutive win of 2013 and his second in a row at Montmelo.  He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars.  He beat the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive.  So why does he seems destined to finish second in 2013? 

Race weekend 2013 in greater Barcelona was sunny, warm and confusing.  There was a different leader in each of the free practice sessions leading up to Saturday’s qualifying, in which series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa took the pole—his first ever here—in his 200th grand prix start.  The front of the starting grid today was weirdness itself:

  • a first row comprised of Pedrosa, Yamaha Tech 3 overachiever Cal Crutchlow and Lorenzo.
  • a hilarious second row featuring satellite Honda jug head Alvaro Bautista, factory Ducati #2 Nicky Hayden and Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez; and
  • an all-Italian third row of factory Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, satellite Ducati comer Andrea Iannone and factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso.

One of the areas in which Lorenzo has improved his game over the past few years is starting races.  Back in 2010 and 2011, he would routinely qualify brilliantly, only to enter the first turn of races in, like 6th place.  This, in comparison to rival Pedrosa, who generally started races as if he had been launched by the catapult on an aircraft carrier.  Again today, in a repeat of his performance at Mugello two weeks ago, Lorenzo entered Turn 1 aggressively ahead of polesitter Pedrosa, a critical move that would make his win today possible.

25 Laps of High Anxiety

By the end of the first lap, the top five consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Crutchlow and a frisky-looking Rossi, who appeared capable of a podium, if not a win.  Rossi has enjoyed six career wins here, but another poor qualifying practice, in a season full of them, consigned him to a fifth consecutive off-the-podium finish after his triumphant second-place result in Qatar.  More on Rossi later.

The next 24 laps reminded me of playing Bingo in a church basement, which offers players a unique combination of boredom and anxiety.  The only change in the top four positions occurred when Cal Crutchlow, heavily jinxed by me in last week’s preview, slid off the track and out of the race on Lap 6 for his first DNF of the season.  As in Mugello, Lorenzo desperately fended off the determined Pedrosa until his fuel load dropped, at which point he was again able to breathe, while not actually “breaking” Pedrosa until the last three laps.

What broke Pedrosa today was less Lorenzo than teammate Marquez, who spent his entire day in third position.  Late in the race, when it became clear Pedrosa was not likely to overtake Lorenzo, the rookie decided to make a run at him.  He spent most of the last three laps of the race attached to Pedrosa’s pipes, like a terrier on a pants leg, until the last lap, when he had a “MotoGP moment” during a last-gasp move on Pedrosa that forced him to stand the bike up and concede second place (by 6/100ths of a second).  Marquez is a baller, with five podiums and a DNF in six rookie starts.  He will file today’s race under “Lessons Learned in 2013”.

Don’t be surprised if this is the last time Pedrosa ever tops Marquez in Catalunya.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Alvaro Bautista, onboard the FUN&GO Gresini Honda for what has to be the last season, once again exhibited his low racing IQ for the world to see.  Dude qualified fourth and had an outside shot at a podium.  But, heading into Turn 10 on Lap 1, he seemed to take aim at Rossi, went in hot, lost the front, and slid out, barely missing the Italian’s rear wheel and a repeat of their conjoined debacle in Mugello last time out.  Another bonehead move on cold tires, reminiscent of Assen last year where he almost wrecked Lorenzo’s season.  I join Fausto Gresini in wondering what the hell is up with this guy.

Riders enjoying a productive day today included LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, who salvaged 11 points after starting in 10th place, and Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Bradley Smith, who held on for sixth place in his best outing of the year.  Andrea Dovizioso managed seventh today despite running on the rims as he crossed the finish line.  Aleix Espargaro was again the top CRT rider, ending the day in eighth place.

Normally we ignore much of what happens in the lower tranches of MotoGP, but today we make two exceptions.  We congratulate Colin Edwards, on the NGM Forward Racing CRT, who, in 9th place, managed his first top ten result since finishing 5th at Phillip Island in 2011.  And we salute 10th place finisher Michelle Pirro for his versatility.  So far this season, he has been a test rider for Ducati.  He has been a wildcard on the Ducati “Lab Bike.”  He has been a substitute rider for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati.  Today, though, he was onboard the Lab Bike wearing Pramac colors, the third, and hopefully last, permutation of a second-stringer for Ducati Corse.  Will we ever again see Ben Spies in MotoGP?

As The Sun Sets on Valentino Rossi

Barring rain at a layout like Aragon, it’s possible Valentino Rossi has won his last race in the premier class of MotoGP.  The guy who defined the sport for most of a decade has lost a step, as was clear today.  Sitting alone in 4th place after Crutchlow’s crash, The Doctor was unable to mount any kind of challenge to Marquez over the next 19 laps.  He appeared to be hoping for something bad to happen to one of the leaders, which would have elevated him to a cheap podium.  As we’ve said here before, most knowledgeable MotoGP observers say it’s 80% rider, 20% bike in this league.  If you buy that reasoning, you may also buy the idea that Rossi is done as a championship contender.  The following graph shows Rossi’s wins per season since joining the premier class in 2000.

Rossi Wins per Year Since 2000

The Big Picture 

After six rounds, Dani Pedrosa still leads Jorge Lorenzo by seven points.  Marquez trails Lorenzo by 23, with Crutchlow 22 points behind the rookie.  Barring crashes, which is like barring respiration, it is a two man race again this year.  Pedrosa’s lead is actually larger than it looks, for two reasons:

  • There are only a couple of Yamaha-friendly circuits remaining on the 2013 calendar.
  • Lorenzo is currently working engine #4, while both Pedrosa and Marquez are on their second powerplants.  With a statutory limit of five engines for the season, the likelihood that Lorenzo will have to start from pit lane in several races cannot be denied.

True, Lorenzo’s primary gift is his consistency, supplemented by his patience and tire management skills.  Scrawled on his helmet today was his mantra “Constant as a Hammer”.  He’s a polished professional at the top of his game, getting everything possible from his Yamaha M-1.  But the smart money is saying it’s not going to be enough in 2013.

Top Ten after Six Rounds

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Results

June 2, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Lorenzo Rules Mugello as Marquez Crashes 

Midway through the first lap of the 2013 Italian Grand Prix, things looked bad for the Yamaha factory racing team.  Homeboy Valentino Rossi had been knocked out of the race.  Defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo had seized the early lead only to suddenly find BOTH Repsol Hondas dogging him, snarling and snapping, anxious to ruin his day and trash the season for Yamaha Racing.  Lorenzo would have none of it; he held his ground early, broke Pedrosa midway through, and saved the day for his team. 

The start of today’s race will be heavily replayed for the next few weeks, as Lorenzo and Pedrosa seemed to swap paint in the first turn, with no harm and no foul.  But in the second turn, Alvaro Bautista, on the FUN&GO Gresini Honda, changing direction, drifted into Rossi, sending both riders into the tires and hay bales at speed, with Rossi’s airbag going off, his day, and possibly his season, ruined.  The fans were incensed, Rossi looked stunned sitting in his garage, and Bautista looked, as they used to say in the Southwest Airlines commercials, like he wanted to get away.

Last year, Bautista did basically the same thing to Lorenzo at Assen, though that incident looked more careless than this one, which seemed to be what I call Limited Spatial Awareness on Bautista’s part, what other people might call a low racing IQ.  (When near him in a crowd, the other riders must feel the terror I feel approaching an intersection opposite a young woman in a 6,000 lb. SUV talking animatedly on a cell phone the size of a Chiclet.)  And while Lorenzo went on to win the 2012 title anyway, today’s incident took the pins out from under any remaining hopes Rossi might have entertained about finishing the season in the top three.  With 30 points and three riders between him and third place, it seems like a lot to ask.

As Regards the Repsol Honda Team

Early in the race, the Repsol Honda duo of Pedrosa and Marquez appeared to have everything exactly the way they wanted it.  Rossi was done for the day.  They were running two-three and appeared prepared, at their leisure, to double-team Lorenzo into submission on their way to a one-two finish at Mugello.  Which, for Honda, would have been epic, even ignoring the symbolic coup de grace of doing it with Rossi concussed in the garage.  Pedrosa would win his third race in a row while Marquez continued his apprenticeship.  Honda would enjoy a stranglehold on the constructor’s trophy, and Pedrosa, coming off a hat trick, would be the clear #1 rider on the team.

Pedrosa, who had stolen the pole on his last lap of qualifying, looked as if 2013 might finally be his year.  The Honda RC213V likes hot weather, a huge advantage later in the season, and Sunday was the warmest day of the weekend.  But Marquez, who had crashed three separate times in practice (and had to make it through Q1 before qualifying 6th in Q2), was lurking, ready to observe Rule #1 in MotoGP, which is to beat your teammate.  At this point, around Lap 16, I started to feel sorry for Repsol team manager Livio Suppo, who had to watch as his excitable rookie attacked his 2013 series leader.

As expected, on Lap 18 Marquez went through on Pedrosa very gently, leaving Pedrosa shaking his head, a vision of the future lingering on his visor, a future bereft of world championships.  We anticipated, before the season started, that Marquez would compete for the title only if he were able to avoid a lot of DNFs, which he has done.  Until today, when on Lap 21, riding alone, his rear tire suddenly materialized to his right—never a good thing—and he went down hard.  In the process, he surrendered 25 points to Lorenzo, 20 to Pedrosa and fell to third place for the year.  One rookie mistake takes him from six points out of the lead to six points ahead of 4th place Cal Crutchlow, the best non-Alien on the grid, who finished third today for his second consecutive rostrum.  [Will someone please explain to me, again, why Crutchlow is losing his seat to Pol Espargaro next year?]

So, during the course of the race, the Repsol Honda team again found itself with an identity crisis—who is the #1 guy?  Marquez has more pure speed, and is the future of not only his team but perhaps MotoGP itself.  But he’s a rookie, and has a reckless streak, too, as evidenced by his crash on Saturday when he calmly stepped off the bike at maybe 150 mph to avoid hitting a concrete wall.  Pedrosa is now the sentimental favorite, but whatever momentum he brought to Mugello, despite the podium, has vanished.  Both Lorenzo and Marquez have proven they can beat him.

To Honda’s chagrin, the team trophy is still up for grabs.  And Team Yamaha lives to fight again in Barcelona two weeks from now, their prospects seemingly dangling by a thread.

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Cal Crutchlow had another great weekend on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha despite his chilling daily medical report, spending much of the day in fourth place until Marquez left the building.  Finishing in the top three for the season is very doable for Cal.  Stefan Bradl’s torment ceased, at least for awhile, today as he drove his LCR Honda to a hotly-contested fourth place finish, beating out the factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.

There appears to be room for hope in the Ducati garage based on the performance of Michele Pirro on the so-called Lab Bike.  Pirro, a wildcard today despite Ben Spies missing his third consecutive race for Ignite Pramac Racing, qualified a respectable 10th in Q2 and finished the day in 7th place.  Ducati Corse might be kicking themselves for selecting Ben Spies over Pirro, a CRT rider last season reduced to factory testing this year.  He will probably return in the foreseeable future, as he clearly has more game than half the riders out there.  Including Spies.

Aleix Espargaro topped the charts for the CRT contingent, easily outdistancing Hector Barbera and Randy de Puniet once again.  Bradley Smith, whose entire body is being held together with duct tape and baling wire, managed a very respectable 9th place finish today on his Tech 3 Yamaha after several violent crashes over the weekend.  Both he and Crutchlow are physical wrecks, but both have their stiff British upper lips firmly in place, God Save the Queen, etc., etc. 

Saying Goodbye to the Tuscan Hills

From the air, the countryside around Mugello appears much as it must have during Roman days—lush, green, and fertile.  In the way of tradition and the very essence of MotoGP, the annual trip to Mugello is special for the riders and teams, similar to their reverential annual pilgrimage to “The Cathedral” at Assen.  If your career goal is to become a legend in MotoGP, you need to rise to the occasion at places like Assen, and Mugello.

Today, Jorge Lorenzo, a legend in the making, rose to the occasion.

TOP TEN RIDERS AFTER FIVE ROUNDS

Top Ten after Round 5

MotoGP News: Pedrosa Wins at Le Mans

May 19, 2013

This article is now published on Motorcycle.com.

Dani Pedrosa Wins Shocker in the Rain 

At the start of the 2013 French Grand Prix, the Alien with the faintest prospects had to be Repsol Honda minuteman Dani Pedrosa.  Since joining the premier class in 2006, he had never finished higher than third here.  Though his free practice sessions were good, he crashed in qualifying, putting him back in the 6 hole for the start.  He was eighth in the wet morning warm up practice.  But when the red lights went out, it was Pedrosa who dropped the hammer on his rivals, won the race, and put himself in the lead for the 2013 world championship.  Bravo, Dani! 

80,000 soaked French spectators received more shocks today than a nun in a cucumber patch:

  • Andrea Dovizioso led more laps on his factory Ducati than Valentino Rossi did in the last two years, before fading to fourth place.
  • Cal “It’s Only a Flesh Wound” Crutchlow drove his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to an exhilarating second place finish, providing his French team with its best result in years, with a cracked shinbone and too many contusions to count, courtesy of yet another hard fall on Saturday.
  • Rookie sensation Marc Marquez finished third—not a surprise—after driving his Repsol Honda all over the park, skirting the gravel more than once, and spending a good part of the day in eighth place.  Marquez is very good.  He also seems to be very lucky, a powerful combination.
  • Valentino Rossi, who struggled all weekend, started eighth on his factory M-1 and was looking strong, running third on Lap 14 when pressure from a streaking Crutchlow forced him into a lowside and an eventual 12th place finish.  Rossi can ill afford more disappointment at Mugello.  In the words of Satchel Paige, he’d best not look backwards, ‘cause something may be gaining on him.
  • Even Nicky Hayden had a good day, moving up from the 10 hole at the start to finish fifth, putting more Ducatis than Yamahas in the Top Five.
  • Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo will, at some point, tell us what the heck happened to his race today.  As our deadline looms, we’re left to wonder.  See below.

For the second year in a row, the race was run in the rain.  Last year, Lorenzo ran away from the field to win for the third time in four tries in France.  The Mallorcan started well today, dogging race leader Andrea Dovizioso and his red Ducati for two laps before dropping like a stone for a dozen laps to as far back as ninth place on Lap 17.  He would ultimately finish seventh behind Fun & Go Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista, for God’s sake.  Was it water vapor inside his visor?  A slow leak in his rear tire?  The heartbreak of psoriasis?  Whatever it was, it left him with a nine point day, buried in third place for the year.  Not exactly a momentum booster heading to Mugello in two weeks.

A Quick Word about MotoGP Qualifying

Across the board in motorsports, everyone makes a big deal about how important it is to qualify well.  MotoGP, buying heavily into this theory during the offseason, decided that it needed two qualifying sessions to sort out the finer points of determining who starts where.  Granted, the 15 minute qualifying sessions are a hoot, resembling a Chinese fire drill, especially at the longer circuits, where coming up with a single fast lap can be a challenge.

Today was a good example of the folly of such thinking.  The first three qualifiers were Marquez, Lorenzo and Dovizioso.  By the midpoint of the first lap, your race leaders were Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, who had started sixth, while Marquez was dawdling in 10th.  On the silliness scale, this ranks just behind the National Basketball Association, where teams play 82 regular season games to secure homecourt advantage in the playoffs, then go out and lose the first game in the series.   Just sayin’.

Elsewhere on the Grid

LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl crashed today for the third time in four outings in his rookie season onboard the Honda RC213V.  After winning the Moto2 title last year and tearing it up during offseason testing, young Stefan and Company must be shaking their heads, trying to get the taste of ashes out of their mouths.  The six points he earned today by finishing 10th are but cold comfort.

Perhaps the best eighth place finish of the year was turned in today by Michele Pirro, subbing for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati.  Pirro, called up two rounds ago when Spies’ physical problems put him on the shelf for Jerez, started in 14th place and moved steadily up on the field all day.  It must be said that Le Mans, especially in the rain, is a Ducati-friendly circuit.

Today’s race put the vast difference between the prototypes and the CRT bikes in clear perspective.  All 12 of the prototypes finished today, occupying the top 12 spots at the flag.  Five of the 12 CRT bikes failed to finish, including homeboy Randy de Puniet, whose Lap 17 crash left him with six (6) points for the season, as compared to teammate Aleix Espargaro’s 20.  De Puniet confirmed this weekend that he will be in Japan this coming week testing the 2014 Suzuki prototype, causing me to wonder who’s in charge of the racing program at the Hamamatsu factory, and what’s in his medicine cabinet.

The Big Picture

Today’s race shuffled the Top Ten standings for the year, elevating Crutchlow and Dovizioso at the expense of Bautista and Rossi, respectively.  The Repsol Honda team must smell blood with Mugello, historically a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, next up.  Everyone expects Yamaha to do well in Italy, with its wide, sweeping curves, thousands of Rossi supporters, and eight wins (plus two seconds) in the past 10 years.  But if Pedrosa and Marquez end up on the podium in suburban Florence, the 2013 constructor’s trophy is likely to go to Honda for the third year in a row.

2013 Champ Standings after 4 Rounds Top Ten

Next Up:  Mugello

MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage to Tuscany in two weeks, to the legendary Mugello circuit outside Florence.  Ground Zero for the Renaissance is always one of the favorite stops on the MotoGP calendar.  This year, the pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi is enormous, as the season is starting to get away from them.

In our Le Mans preview last week, we compared the premier class battle between the factory Honda and Yamaha teams to the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, and found ourselves leaning toward the tortoise.  Perhaps we’ve been misled by this story for generations.  Perhaps, indeed, young and fast beats consistent and experienced.  We’ll find out in two weeks.

MotoGP Le Mans 2013 Preview

May 14, 2013

An edited version of this article, complete with hi-rez photos, is now available at Motorcycle.com.

Team Yamaha Ready to Rumble in the Rain 

As the fastest sport on two wheels heads into France for Round Four, one thing is certain—the stakes for the 2013 championship are higher than they’ve been in years.  The Repsol Honda team of Dani Pedrosa and rookie sensation Marc Marquez has youth and speed going for it.  The factory Yamaha duo of defending champion Jorge Lorenzo and prodigal veteran Valentino Rossi has consistency and experience in its corner.  And while it’s not quite the fabled Tortoise and the Hare, the analogy works. 

Sure, rookie Marquez has been setting the world on fire thus far.  And sure, Dani Pedrosa came through in Jerez when he really needed a win, aided by an assist from his young wingman.  Lorenzo, though, is a double world champion, and Rossi, who is still getting used to the factory M-1 on which he dominated the game for years, has another seven premier class trophies lying around his man cave back in Italy.  It’s just too early in the season to suggest that this is Marquez’s year, or Pedrosa’s year, or even Honda’s year.

In 2013, He Who Remains Upright will win the title.

Take a look back at the last four champions.  Rossi won in 2009 despite a comical wet/dry 16th place finish in France and crashing out in Indianapolis.  In 2010, Lorenzo didn’t crash all year, but won the trophy by 140 points and could have easily absorbed a few lowsides without damaging his championship prospects.  Casey Stoner in 2011 crashed out early in the season at Jerez and won the title convincingly.  And last year, Lorenzo repeated despite getting de-biked by Alvaro Bautista at Assen and falling unassisted in Valencia.

Let’s pile on a little.  Here is the spread in points between first and third place, by year since 2009, after three rounds:

Year            Leader/points     Third place/points       Spread 

2009               Rossi – 65          Lorenzo – 41                 24

2010             Lorenzo – 70        Dovizioso – 42              28

2011             Lorenzo – 65          Stoner – 41                   24

2012              Stoner – 66          Pedrosa – 52                14

2013           Marquez – 61             Lorenzo – 57                 4 

All of which is a rather long way of saying that a DNF this season, by any of the top four riders, will put him squarely behind the eight ball.  If Rossi can find a way onto the podium at Le Mans, surprising no one, it will make things that much tighter at the top of the class.  And, judging from Marquez’s comportment in Jerez, I would say that he is the most likely of the four to get separated from his machine in the first half of the season.  Even at 320 kph, slow and steady wins the race.

Recent History at Le Mans

2009 was the epic flag-to-flag affair that saw Lorenzo run away from the field, joined sometime later on the podium by one Marco Melandri on the Hayate Racing Kawasaki— I know, right?—and third place finisher Dani Pedrosa.  The following excerpt from that day’s coverage remains one of my all-time favorites:

The first rider to pit was Valentino Rossi, who was busily watching Lorenzo lengthen his lead until, on Lap 4,he couldn’t stand it anymore, and pitted to swap his wet bike for the dry.  Thus began one of the worst days of his premier class career.  In chronological order, he immediately executed a rousing lowside, limped back to the pits, traded his tattered dry bike for his original wet bike, got flagged for speeding on pit row, took his ride-through penalty, turned a few slow laps, pitted again, traded back his wet bike for his now-repaired dry bike, returned to the track and finished 16th, two laps down. He might as well have gone to Baltimore to watch the Preakness.

In 2010 it was Lorenzo again, joined onstage by Rossi and Dovizioso.  Stoner’s early crash left the door open for the Mallorcan.  At the end of the day Lorenzo led the Australian by 59 points, and Stoner’s dream of a title in 2010 lay in ruins.

Two years ago, Casey Stoner took his first career win at Le Mans with an easy stroll past Dovizioso and Rossi.  This was the race in which the late Marco Simoncelli undercut Pedrosa in one of the lefthanders and sent him flying off his bike and out of the 2011 championship race.  For Rossi, the 2011 French Grand Prix podium would be the high water mark in a brutal inaugural season with Ducati.

Finally, in 2012, Lorenzo again led the way, this time in a driving rainstorm, while Rossi enjoyed one of his two podiums last year, finishing second, ten seconds behind Lorenzo and two seconds in front of Casey Stoner, who had announced his impending retirement only days earlier.

Having enjoyed three wins out of his last four outings in France, in the wet, the dry and in-between, Jorge Lorenzo should be the favorite going into the weekend.  With weather conditions expected to be cold and damp, it’s not that hard to envision Rossi on the podium and Marquez in the gravel.  And with but one third place podium finish at Le Mans since 2007, not to mention his season-ruining crash in 2011, Dan Pedrosa’s expectations for the weekend are bound to be fairly modest.

Ben Spies MIA Again

As was the case last time out in Jerez, Ben Spies will be reclining in Texas this weekend, nursing his shoulder, chest and ego.  Michele Pirro will again be riding a Ducati on Sunday, this time as a substitute rider for the Ignite Pramac team.  Last time out he was a wildcard.  The difference being, this time he’s into Spies’ engine allotment, which can’t make Ben all too happy.  According to SpeedCafe.com, “After a medical check in Dallas, American Spies was advised that it was in his best interests to delay his comeback.”  Um, perhaps until 2014, in World SuperBikes, running around with Nicky Hayden and becoming relevant again.  Everyone’s pointing to Mugello, but we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Quick Hitters

Hectic Hector Barbera received a bit of community service as his punishment for getting beat up by his ex-girlfriend a few weeks ago in Jerez.  One wonders what the sentence might have been had he WON the fight…

Most of the CRT bikes are getting a software upgrade for their ECU units this weekend.  The exceptions are the ART entries of Espargaro, de Puniet, Abraham and Hernandez.  (No one seems to know, or actually care, whether Bryan Staring will be getting new software or not.)  One of the upgrades to the package is referred to as “anti-jerk”, which came along too late to be of any use to James Toseland…

The rumors of Cal Crutchlow’s impending demise at Monster Tech 3 Yamaha just won’t go away.  Stunning, in my opinion, that Pol Espargaro is being groomed to take the place of the gutsy Brit.  This could mean, of course, that Nicky Hayden is toast at Ducati, and that he will be consigned to promoting the Ducati brand in WSB, while Crutchlow will get his long-awaited factory ride.  (You gotta be careful what you wish for, Cal.  Ask Andrea Dovizioso.)  Following the dominoes, it suggests the brass at Yamaha corporate see the end of the Rossi era approaching, especially if Espargaro signs a one year deal with Tech 3.

The cool part will be watching the Espargaro brothers go at each other next season.  Recall 2011 when both were working in Moto2, as older brother Aleix punked Pol by a single point for the season.  Take that, bitch.

It’s a pretty good bet that last sentence won’t make it past the editors.  J


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