Posts Tagged ‘Aprilia’

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

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

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

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

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

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

For the tenth year in a row, The Sachsenring lay down and gave it away to Marc Marquez, who didn’t even have to buy it a wrist corsage. Starting, as usual, from pole, Marquez seized the lead on the back side of the first turn, entered the express lane, and never broke a sweat on his way to the win and a ghastly, dispiriting 58-point lead as the series heads for summer vacation.  

Worse yet, French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his first premier class race and was unable later to locate his lopsided grin. 

For quite a while, it appeared my pre-race podium prediction of Marquez, Rins and Vinales would come up a winner, until Rins once again crashed out of a podium unassisted in Lap 19, a week after having done so in Assen. In so doing, he has removed himself from championship consideration and must now keep an eye on Joan Mir, who may be entertaining thoughts of becoming the #1 rider for the factory Suzukis. But Cal Crutchlow, who arrived at the weekend having seriously injured himself at home opening a can of paint, took advantage of Rins’ gaffe to usurp the third step on the podium. Mir, who spent much of the day in the second group, finished seventh, showing more progress, moving up the learning curve. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was more or less predictable for 2019. Quartararo, Marquez, Rins and Vinales were all sniffing around the top of the sheet. Marquez was the only one to put in a lap in the 1:20’s, within half a second of his 2018 track record, on Day 1. Pecco Bagnaia had a heavy crash late in FP1 which kept him out of FP2 but allowed him back for a cautious FP3. Crutchlow arrived in town hobbled by a non-riding accident suffered at home. Wanker.

Repsol Honda slotted homeboy Stefan Bradl in Lorenzo’s seat. With Fabio and Maverick sitting in the top five at the end of the day, FP3 on Saturday would determine whether Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, a tenuous 10th on the day, would have to fight and claw his way into Q2 or would pass smoothly, naturally, like a field mouse through an owl. We also learned of Danilo Petrucci’s well-deserved new contract for 2020 with the factory Ducati team. Bravo, Danilo! 

FP3 delivered guys like Marquez, Quartararo, Vinales and Rins directly to Q2, consigning, yet again, the famously struggling Valentino Rossi, along with Dovizioso and Zarco to the fighting and clawing of Q1. Even with his back to the wall, Rossi is unable to coax the same speed out of the M1 as Vinales and either of the satellite guys. He does not appear to have lost much overall, but the quick thin blade, flashed so often at the end of races as he routinely snatched victory from less-confident foes, is gone. If you’re leading a race and have a handful of gunners chasing you, including Rossi, Vale is no longer your primary concern. Of particular interest at the end of the session was Quartararo, on the gas, apparently injuring his left shoulder on another “tank-slapper,” as the Brits call them. Shades of Assen. Marquez was caught flirting with his 2018 track record at the end of the session.

Rossi appeared determined to make it out of Q1 and did so. Andrea Dovizioso, watching his faint title hopes fade, appeared determined, too, to make it out of Q1 and would have, were it not for the heroic efforts of one Takaa Nakagami, riding when he should be in traction, stealing Dovi’s ticket to Q2 well after the checkered flag had flown.

The new group of Usual Suspects—Vinales, Rins, Quartararo—took turns going after Marquez’s soft-tire lap times during Q2, to no avail. The Catalan made it ten-for-10 on pole in Germany, joined on the front row by Quartararo and Vinales. Row two would be comprised of Rins, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.  Rossi could do no better than P11, the weakest of the four Yamahas in the first four rows. Oh, and just for the record, Marquez on Saturday set a new track record for motorcycles at the Sachsenring. 

The Race 

This German Grand Prix was no work of art, a high-speed procession punctuated by falls from rather high-profile riders. Rookies Quartararo and Oliveira both crashed out in Lap 2, though the Portuguese rider would re-enter the race, for whatever reason. KTM sad sack Johann Zarco crashed out at the same spot a lap later. Pecco Bagnaia went walky on Lap 8, taking himself out of points contention.

But it was Rins, all alone in second place, laying his Suzuki down on Lap 19. Crutchlow could never catch Vinales. Dovizioso could never catch Petrucci. And no one currently living could catch Marc Marquez, who was thinking about COTA and how he would not let that happen today. 

The Big Picture 

The big picture is as ugly as an outhouse on an August afternoon. With 58 points in hand at the clubhouse turn, Marquez could leave his woods in a locker and walk the back nine with just a putter, a wedge, a three-iron, a seven-iron and a sleeve of Titleists in a Saturday bag and win the club championship. While the riders scrambling for a top-ten finish in 2019 are sweating blood, Marquez makes this hugely demanding, physically debilitating job look easy, effortless. His team is a well-oiled machine that never looks stressed out. He stops on his way to the garage to get his picture taken with a four-year old boy wearing #93 gear. I’m pretty much convinced he hasn’t started shaving yet. He lives with his brother. Haters hate him because he’s got mad skills. Haters gonna hate. Just sayin’.

Beyond Marquez, you have a bunch of riders with significant pedigrees snapping and tearing at one another over scraps. Last week I observed how some celebrants—OK, it was Vinales—were celebrating having held Marquez to 20 points. Today, the remaining Aliens and top tenners seem relieved to have held Marquez to a mere 25 points. For the rest of the paddock, The Sachsenring has become like Phillip Island was to Casey Stoner and how Mugello once was to Valentino Rossi.

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

This is the week when we come clean and give Marc Marquez his own tranche.

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

* * * 

MotoGP now hobbles off to summer vacation, a number of riders to lick wounds, several to entertain existential crises, and others to just chase women and enjoy being young, wealthy and in shape. We, obviously, will be hanging with the latter group. Should anything noteworthy occur during the interlude, I shall faithfully report on it at Late-Braking MotoGP, your site for all the stuff not good enough to make it to the pages of Motorcycle.com. We’ll have a preview of the Brno round here at the end of the month. Ciao.

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Screenshot (196)

Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

A few random photos from Assen

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MotoGP Assen Preview

June 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen    June 24, 2019

Assen—A Good Place for an Upset 

We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates—Bradley Smith—and rivals—Jorge Lorenzo—with them. With Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen? 

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday portends more of the usual. 

Notes from Catalunya 

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well—scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10. 

Recent History at Assen 

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race—two in a row for The Netherlands—was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group—take THAT, Moto3—and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Maverick Vinales, about whom plenty has been said already. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents cannot be said to have a preference. 

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Vinales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.”  But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral. Forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Vinales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Avoids Bedlam, Cruises at Montmelo 

Marc Marquez was probably going to win the Catalan GP anyway. But once Repsol Honda teammate Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo skittled Andrea Dovizioso and both factory Yamaha riders out of the proceedings on Lap 2, it was done and dusted in Barcelona. The Catalan’s lead in the world championship ballooned from 12 to 37 points. Valencia is groaning, joined by most of the rest of the motorcycle racing world. Here we go again. 

After the Lap 2 histrionics, an exhausting battle for second place developed, won by insolent French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, who, starting from pole, edged Ducati veteran Danilo Petrucci for the honor of his first premier class podium. Eleven riders failed to finish today, which explains some of the other confusing point hauls. There were a host of hard feelings filling the air after the race; plenty of riders felt they deserved better. Not to mention the caustic fact that Marc Marquez was the main beneficiary of Lorenzo’s gaffe, allowing him to put his boot on the throat of the 2019 championship. Ain’t nobody need that. 

Practice and Qualifying 

The fact that 20-year-old rookie Quartararo dominated the practice timesheets again, on both days at Montmelo, two weeks after surgery for arm pump, needs to stop arriving as a surprise, at least to me. In November of last year, as the last promotee signed, I considered him the least qualified of the four Moto2 riders making the leap. Still sporting stitches, he captured FP1:P2  FP2:P1 FP3:P2  FP4:P1. Has a certain symmetry to it. He has been doing stuff like this all year, then going out and making a mess of qualifying or making rookie mistakes in races.

Marquez conducted a bit of a race simulation on worn tires for most of FP2 after leading FP1, cruising home knowing he had the pace, if needed, to improve on his combined P9 position heading into Saturday. Dovi, Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda, veteran Pol Espargaro keeping his KTM upright, and rookie underachiever Pecco Bagnaia (four DNFs in six rounds) delivered impressive performances on Friday and comprised a rather surprising top five (four behind Quartararo).

MotoGP, at all three levels, has developed three qualifying sessions, two official and one, um, ex officio, as it were. The scramble to pass directly to Q2 makes FP3 its own qualifier, as it was here on Saturday. It produced good news for several riders, and not so good news, on the lamb-goat continuum, for others. FP3 begets Q1 begets Q2.

Q1 would include names like Miller, Nakagami and Morbidelli, three young guns who had lit it up on Friday. Drive for show, putt for dough. Aleix, rookie Bagnaia and the hapless, likely-to-be-bought-out/defector Johann Zarco (“Chumley, get me OUTTA HERE!”), effing around in 19th. Sylvain Guintoli, guesting with Suzuki, enjoying the experience, once again, of beating someone at something, posterizing my boy, the apparently doomed Hafizh Syahrin, lately of Tech 3 KTM, who has WSBK written all over him. Sometimes I just go on and on.

In Q1, Morbidelli and Joan Mir won promotions to Q2, at the expense of Pramac Ducati representatives Miller and Bagnaia. As usual, Q2 was worth the price of admission all by itself. When the dust cleared, it was the New Kid in Town, Quartararo, on his second premier class pole, sandwiching Marquez between Yamahas, Vinales sitting in third. Morbidelli, Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso comprised the all-Italian second row. Alex Rins had a great shot at a front row start but crashed during his second Q2 run and would start in P8.

After the session Vinales was penalized three grid spots for impeding Quartararo, who had already clinched pole. This is what is meant by the term “unforced error.” Another example of why Vinales is still not an Alien. 

The Race 

Dovizioso and Marquez shared the holeshot, with the Italian emerging from Turn 1 in the lead, which wouldn’t last. Almost nothing would, as riders began hitting the deck almost immediately. Bradley Smith, guest-crashing for Aprilia and his victim Karel Abraham—boom. Lorenzo and victims Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi—boom. Aleix Espargaro—pffft. Hafizh Syahrin—boom. Pecco Bagnaia—boom. Franco Morbidelli—boom. And, not to be outdone, having just moved past Jack Miller into P4, Cal Crutchlow—boom. Cal’s analyst says it’s poppycock to suggest he’s afraid of success.

With a plurality of these unseated riders lolling in the top ten for the year, rookie Joan Mir captured 10 points in a gratifying P6. Pol Espargaro snagged nine points for the desperate KTM project. Takaa Nakagami, Tito Rabat (?) and the morose Johann Zarco closed out the top ten. Mir and Zarco both had their best day of the season, by default. 

The Big Picture 

After seven rounds, with Assen in two weeks and The Sachsenring in three, the big picture is sucking. Hard. Once again, Marquez has become metronomic, and once again the rest of the grid is proving itself completely unable to cope. Sure, it was fun to see Danilo Petrucci win at Mugello and Rins at COTA. OK, I enjoyed Marquez getting pimped by Dovizioso in the desert back in March. But, come on. It is intellectually dishonest to purport that any rider out there this season is going to seriously challenge Marquez for the 2019 title.

So why watch? Well, despite the artistry of Marquez himself, there is the scrotum-shrinking speed. There is the arrival of bright young talent, guys like Quartararo, Rins, Mir, Morbidelli and more. There is the top-to-bottom improvement in the grid, illustrated this week by Fabio Quartararo and Hafizh Syahrin during qualifying. Rocketman Quartararo seized pole with a lap time of 1:39.48. Syahrin dragged his hopeless derriere across the line in 24th position clocked at 1:41.75.

There is no justice in this world.

There is, however, a contest worth watching in an emerging battle for second place. The factory Ducatis of Dovi and Petrucci are separated by five points, with Great Suzuki Hope Alex Rins also in the midst. Not mist, midst. If Marquez is going to run off and hide again this year, at least these three appear capable of providing some civilized competition in 2019. 

Tranches 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

The Undercards, Briefly 

Moto3 was a battle of attrition and as good a race as one is likely to see in the motorcycle biz. The 12th different winner in the last 12 rounds, Marcos Ramirez, won his maiden grand prix. Series leader Aron Canet managed to stay upright and accrued 20 points on a day when several of his competitors hit the deck. Young SKY46 VR racing academy grad Celestino Vietti started 21st and finished third. 31 starters were winnowed down to 19 finishers, three of whom re-mounted after offs. And your boy John McPhee got whacked and recorded The Save of the Decade, left leg pointed straight up in the air at one point, well off track; unbelievable stuff.

In Moto2 today, series leader Alex Marquez overcame a relatively poor start to win his third race in a row, outdueling veteran Tom Luthi in a bit of a procession. Lorenzo Baldassarri, who led the series until today, recorded yet another DNF, his third of the year, to go along with three wins, and would be well advised to stay away from proffered microphones, as his speaking voice brings to mind the Italian term, “castrato.” Dude has a kind of Graham Nash thing going on. 

Two Weeks to Assen 

Two weeks until Assen gets another opportunity to Keep Things Weird. In order to even maintain a pretense of suspense, it is important that someone other than Marquez take the gold medal in the Low Countries. Unusual names like Spies and Miller have appeared on the top step at The Cathedral in the not-too-distant past. The Yamahas and Suzukis enjoy this place; Marquez is mouthing words about how it will be so, so difficult to win in two weeks.

Pure shinola, of course. We’ll “be there” nonetheless, watching all the sessions, sending cosmic motivation to the challengers. For now, the universe is aligned in Marquez’ favor; we can only shake our heads in wonder. So we shall pay a visit to The Cathedral, lifting up a novena for a competitive second half of the season.

PHOTOS, UM, OBTAINED BY BRUCE ALLEN

Catalunya

Catlunya front lot

Catalunya at nightCatalunya back lotCatalunya3Catalunya2

The Women of Catalunya

AbrahamBagnaiaCanetEspargaroGardnerMarquezMillerMonsterMorbidelliQuartararoSchrotterVinales

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

With Repsol Honda stud Marc Marquez off and running again in 2019, and since they’re racing at Mugello this week, it seems like a good time to pay some attention to Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008 he won his first seven (7) premier class races at this, his home crib. It’s where he became an immortal in Italian sports lore. He owns this place. 

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

It is not an overstatement to say he has a sense of the moment. Could this be his last credible chance to win the Italian Grand Prix in MotoGP? Despite not having won an actual MotoGP race since Assen in 2017 (and that one was controversial), Rossi has been competitive in 2019—two seconds, and top six in the other three. His main issue continues to be qualifying, where he has missed out on Q2 twice. If he makes it to Q2 he remains a threat to podium every time out, rear grip or no.

But here’s the other thing about Mugello and Rossi. Since 2009, he’s been a bitter disappointment to his homeys and their yellow 46s. Three third-place finishes and three DNFs, one the DNS in 2010. Despite everyone’s hometown hero racing just down the road, the bells announcing a win for Rossi at Mugello haven’t rung on Sunday afternoon in Tavullia in over a decade. Meanwhile, since 2013 that stronzo Marquez has been in full “win or bin” mode here, with a win and a second to go along with two DNFs and last year’s futile 16th place finish.

[Digging the fact that the winningest rider of late in Italy has been El Gato, Jorge Lorenzo, including last year’s breakthrough on the Ducati. Six wins here since 2011, five of which came when Yamaha was the perfect bike for him. Alberto Puig, formerly Pedrosa’s Svengali, now in charge of defending Lorenzo, tells us prosperity with Repsol Honda is just around the corner. If it is, he should win here on Sunday. El futuro es ahora, Alberto.] 

It is a foregone conclusion that Suzuki whiz kid Alex Rins, not Maverick Vinales, is preparing to take Rossi’s place in the Alien firmament. One suspects that Rossi may be thinking about putting his stamp on Mugello forever, with bookend wins in his first and last seasons. If that’s the case, and he makes it into Q2 either automatically or by coming through Q1, Sunday could be a big day in Italy. 2020, should he choose to continue for another season, could then be a farewell tour amidst clouds of yellow smoke, The Doctor blowing kisses to the fans, finishing eighth for the year. But people would talk about Mugello 2019 for a long time. As they said so often in the cult classic Office Space, that would be great.

Recent History at Mugello

2016 featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Honda. Other than his win at the Red Bull Ring, this may have been Iannone’s favorite career race. On the podium at Mugello, with no Rossi looking down on him.

In the 2017 main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium. National idol Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself. For the fans, other than the wrong Yamaha being on the podium, it was cause for celebration. You know, like every other day of the year.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as last year proved. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With the Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was, indeed a great day to be Italian. The 2018 standings tightened up a little bit. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds. By the time the circus rolled around to Germany it was pretty much over.

The Point, After All, is Points

The modern era of MotoGP racing has, with the exception of a number of outstanding seasons from Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, been about Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Rossi holds the MotoGP record for points in a season of 373, set in 2008, the high-water mark of his career. He would take his last premier class title in 2009; many of his supporters say he was robbed by the evil Iberian axis of Marquez and Lorenzo in 2015. Marquez, amongst the long list of records belonging to him, reached “only” 362 in 2014. Had he not crashed out at Motegi he would surely have broken that record, too.

This year, with 95 points to date, Marquez is trending at around 360, which would put him within reach of Rossi’s record, since there are 19 rounds these days. One shudders to think what might have happened had Marquez not dropped the RC213V in Texas. Suppose Marquez had gone on to his usual easy win at COTA and sat currently with 120 points. He would be trending for an unthinkable 456 points. Shows the dangers inherent in straight-line projections. But any suggestion that he is not dominating 2019 is ridiculous.

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

Interesting that the “stupid season,” the one preceding the “silly season,” has begun. Jack Miller wants to move up to a factory ride, be the next Casey Stoner. Thus, hard luck Danilo Petrucci appears to be getting forced out. Alex Marquez (?) is in discussions with Pramac about a 2020 contract, lending weight to the Miller-to-factory rumors. Good luck with that, Alex. And brother Marc, perish the thought, has allegedly expressed interest in riding the Desmosedici at some unforeseen time. Several riders are openly considering taking their marbles to WSBK, which has to be loving this*. Gigi D’Alligna must have some serious motowood going on; everyone wants one of his bikes. Alberto Puig, recall, tells us all is well with Lorenzo. Unless it rains. Unless it’s hot. Unless it’s cold. Unless he breaks another bone or two…Would Honda or The Spartan bail on his 2021 contract if things don’t get turned around? And don’t you hate paragraphs that end with a question mark?

*Tranche 3 MotoGP defector Alvaro Bautista, riding for Ducati in WSBK, has won 11 of the first 13 races this season.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast suggests scattered showers on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warm—mid-70s—on Sunday. According to the Encyclopedia of Rider Complaints, under Sunny & Perfect on Race Day, the top whine from riders, with Cal Crutchlow sporting the individual trophy, is, “Not enough dry practice time.” Let’s just say that weather should not be a factor for the race. Whether it interferes with qualifying remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, it seems races are won and lost on Saturday, those riders excluded from Q2 generally unable to crack the top six.

Assuming Rossi qualifies in the top six, I look for him to share the podium with Marquez and Dovizioso, the Usual Suspects. Should The Doctor falter in qualifying, throw Alex Rins on the podium. For some reason, the Suzuki does well at tracks seemingly better-suited for the fast-moving Hondas and Ducatis. It seems unlikely that Jorge Lorenzo will be a factor in the race; ditto for Maverick Vinales, lost in the sauce. Jack Miller would love to impress the suits from Ducati Corse on Sunday and may contend early. His habit of punishing the tires almost always precludes his actually winning many races (one to be exact). As usual, the sentimental favorite, on multiple counts, is my boy Danilo Petrucci, who may decide to let it all hang out on Sunday. To get his maiden premier class win at Mugello on the Ducati could possibly be Danilo’s Ultimate Two-Wheeled Fantasy. For the locals, if Vale can’t pull it off, they will root for Danilo. If he can’t pull it off, root for Dovi. And if he can’t pull it off, pray for that piccolo scroto Marquez to slide out of the lead late in race, when it really hurts, to suffer at Mugello as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Personally, I don’t have a favorite rider, although watching Marquez make his impossible saves gives me goosebumps. For the sake of an easier race summary to write, it would be the bomb if Rossi could pull a rabbit out of his hat. Endless story lines therein. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching #93 enter his patented low-earth orbit and run circles around everyone else. We’ll have results and analysis here sometime Sunday—may be late due to real life getting in the way. Ciao.

MotoGP Jerez Preview

April 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Returning to Europe, the Plot Thickens 

After three store-bought rounds, MotoGP 2019 returns to Europe, where it is totally legit, to Jerez, one of the sport’s shrines, for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, at the recently-renamed Circuito Jerez – Angel Nieto. The title chase appears closer than it really is due to Marc Marquez’ unforced error in Austin. Never having missed the podium in seven previous premier class visits here, one expects Marquez to be highly motivated to put things in their proper order come Sunday afternoon. 

On his way to 70 points and an imposing lead in the 2019 championship, multi-world champion Marc Marquez lost his marbles on one of the trademarked rumblestrips at COTA last time out for his first DNF of the year. (Last year, his first DNF of the season came at Phillip Island, after he had clinched and no longer gave a rip.) His challengers—Andrea Dovizioso, Vale Rossi and Alex Rins, at this point—need to eat their Wheaties this weekend, need to keep him in sight. Other reputed contenders entering the season—Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Vinales and poor Jorge Lorenzo—have already shredded their seasons. They are fast enough to contend at times (maybe this weekend) and will undoubtedly appear on podia this year. Marquez’ only real title challengers, heading into Round 4, number three. So far so good for #93.

Many of you are surprised to see upstart Alex Rins, age 23, among the big boy Alien crew on his suddenly-competitive Suzuki. Me too, although I’ve been a fan for a while. He will be juiced to return to Spain, but aware that his history here is poor. Besides, he, like Marquez, is a Catalan, which locals think of as a separate country from Spain. Whatever. ‘Home race’ card coming your way soon. As for Dovizioso and Rossi, though they lead the championship now, it is difficult to see either of them winning it, absent some disastrous crash for Marquez. Sorry, but there it is. Dovizioso has not appeared on a Jerez podium since 2007, in his 250cc days. And of Rossi’s nine career wins here, eight of them came before 2010.

Expect Marc Marquez to gain ground on all three this weekend. 

Recent History at Jerez 

2016 was a Yamaha kind of year at Jerez. The Doctor made a house call on soon-to-be-former teammate Lorenzo, winning here for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge from his restless teammate, with Marquez running a strangely quiet third. It was a Yamaha year, starting and finishing in the top two slots. The church bells rang in Tavullia as Rossi spit in the eye of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  For Rossi fans, this was a keeper.

2017, on the other hand, was your basic Honda year. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won, leading wire-to-wire for his first win since Misano in 2016.  Teammate and defending champion Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those Dani Days. Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterwards, felt like a win. This “win” started a string of nine off-podium finishes that turned his season to mud. Still, Lorenzo loves him some Jerez.

Entering last year’s race, five riders were separated by eight points. (Recall Marquez’ comedic disaster in Argentina.) This year, we have four riders separated by nine points after #93’s carefree off in Texas—what, a month ago? Anyway, last year’s race featured the memorable Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso, clearing the field for a dominating win from Marquez. As is usually the case, when big names go down, smaller names rise. Thus it was that Johann Zarco, then toiling for Yamaha, claimed second place while Andrea Iannone, Suzuki #2 at the time, found the third step. [Incidentally, both riders would give their bicuspids to be back with their previous teams after offseason moves to KTM and Aprilia, respectively.] 

Current Events 

Elsewhere on the grid, some riders are visibly happy these days, Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Takaa Nakagami (Honda), Jack Miller (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) amongst them. 19-year old Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) sits in the top ten. He’s happy. Guys like Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia) and anyone riding for KTM, not so much. Poor Hafizh Syahrin has a goose egg going on, drawing the close attention of team owner Herve Poncharal. Zarco looks like his dog died. Rookie Miguel Oliveira is happy to be making C’s in his first year in college. Pol Espargaro is having the best year of the four, sitting in ninth place. Again.

In the lighter classes—it no longer seems right to apply that term to the 765cc Triumphs in Moto2—Lorenzo Baldassarri appears to be the cream of the crop, despite not having completed a single lap at COTA. In Moto3, 18-year old Jaume Masia and veteran Aron Canet lead a pack of Hondas on their KTMs. We are pleased to report that so far in 2019, fully unreformable Italian headjob Romano Fenati has not attempted to grab the brake levers on anyone’s bike but his own. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend is typically Jerez—hot and sunny. Honda weather for sure, not helpful to the Ducati and Yamaha contingents. Jury is out on the Suzukis. Much of the circuit has been repaved, which is good and bad. Good, in that the owners wouldn’t have made the investment in the track if Dorna were going to take it off the calendar anytime soon. Bad, in that it will have different asphalt in different sectors, which the riders hate. But, hey, it’s Jerez. Everyone suck it up.

By now, you’ve probably discerned that I, along with most of the civilized world, expect Marc Marquez to win Sunday’s race. I would enjoy seeing him and Rins square off. I would REALLY like to see Alex Rins school Marquez one time, take a little chink out of his armor, announce his arrival, motivate Suzuki to go ahead and pull the trigger on a second factory-supported team starting in 2020. Most lucid people would also expect to see Valentino Rossi on the podium again—points is points. So that would be my top three—Marquez, Rins and Rossi.

Visit Motorcycle.com on Sunday evening for results, analysis and classy high-rez photos from Jerez. Or, just come here early Sunday afternoon for everything but the pix, which you can find anywhere.

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

MotoGP: Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

February 13, 2019

© Bruce Allen

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

Screenshot (191)

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

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There you have it. We’ll hold onto the original for after the season is over and see who has the last laugh.