Posts Tagged ‘Aprilia’

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen     September 17, 2018

Simple: Dovi Must Run the Table 

Mid-September and it’s come down to this, for the handful of riders (other than Marc Marquez) entertaining increasingly-unlikely notions of winning the 2018 title. For the remainder of the season, it’s win or bin. No more brave smiles from the second step of the podium. In the lasting words of the late Roy Orbison, “It’s Now or Never.” Unless you get stoked finishing, you know, second, or third. 

I have given this last statement a bit of thought. Finishing second is vastly different in the sports of motorcycle racing and, say, boxing. Finishing second for the year in MotoGP is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just more forgettable. Unless, of course, it’s decided at Valencia. Not this year.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2015, Lorenzo put on an M1 clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result for what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card. Looking back on it, this was the year Rossi’s fans learned to loathe #93, allegedly blocking for his countryman, later in the season. Much the same might have been said about Pedrosa here.

In 2016, Repsol’s suddenly-cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, 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, #14 in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder gathered 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.

Marquez and Petrucci at Misano 2017

Petrucci and Marquez, Aragon 2017

History Aside, Here We Are

As fall approaches in the U.S., where virtually no one reads this, the 2018 MotoGP championship chase hangs by a thread. The top chaser, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, conceded the season to Marquez publicly last week; possibly playing head games, probably not. The rest of the contenders—Rossi, Vinales, Lorenzo—are either too inconsistent, too over-the-hill, or too under-horsed to mount any kind of a real challenge this year. Even in the unthinkable case that Marquez would allow himself to crash out of two of the remaining six rounds, that would only put things back in play for maybe one of the three. And it would be a long row to hoe from there.

As our British friends observe, there are 150 points “on offer” in the last six rounds of 2018. Marquez, again, AOBFO, has 67 points “in his pocket” and probably holds every tie-breaker known to man. Which translates, roughly, to one of the three main chasers winning, like, five of the last six races (!!!) while Marquez goes all Aleix Espargaro and fails to podium once for the remainder of the year. This, then, is what one finds when looking up the term “unlikely” in one’s online dictionary.

 MotoGP

TRACK RECORDS: RIDER, YEAR AND MANUFACTURER AFTER 13 ROUNDS 

LOSAIL                    2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RIO HONDA[1]        2014           Marc Marquez               Honda 

COTA[2]                   2015           Marc Marquez                Honda 

JEREZ                      2018          Cal Crutchlow               Honda 

LE MANS                2018           Johann Zarco                Yamaha 

MUGELLO             2018           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

CATALUNYA         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                Ducati 

ASSEN                     2015           Valentino Rossi              Yamaha 

SACHSENRING     2018           Marc Marquez               Honda 

BRNO                       2016           Marc Marquez               Honda 

RED BULL RING   2016           Andrea Iannone            Ducati 

SILVERSTONE[3]  2017           Marc Marquez                Honda         

MISANO M.S.         2018           Jorge Lorenzo                 Ducati

ARAGON                  2015            Marc Marquez                   Honda

CHANG                    2018

MOTEGI                   2015            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

PHILLIP ISLAND     2013            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

SEPANG I.C.              2015            Dani Pedrosa                   Honda

RICARDO TORMO   2016            Jorge Lorenzo                   Yamaha

[1] Weather

[2] Track conditions poor

[3] 2018 race cancelled

Ten eligible rounds this year—dry races on suitable surfaces—with seven new all-time records. 70 percent, year-to-date, with Buriram, by definition, in the W column. With  the highly-criticized Michelins and common control ECU. The remaining records this year are not terribly recent, with Marquez’ at Phillip Island recorded in 2013 when he was a rookie. Lorenzo’s records late in the season are impressive and endangered. He is also the only rider to record track records on different bikes. Also impressive. Not endangered. Investigative journalism like this is why MO pays me the big bucks. I know you were wondering.

Here’s what I’m wondering, wishing I had access to MotoGP historical numbers I could manipulate to back up my otherwise-baseless assertions. I think the big deal about winning pole is vastly overrated, should be and is treated like its own little “mini-accomplishment,” on jelly-soft tires with no gas for one lap, torpedoes be damned. Win a big tricked-out BMW. I suspect qualifying on the front row doesn’t significantly hurt one’s chances of winning the race compared to winning pole. Just sayin’ qualifying on the front row should be the emphasis. Not pole. Pole is mostly a notch on a bedpost. Other than in places like Misano, where it is a curse; no winner from pole in nine years.

Wondering about the correlation between winning pole and winning the race. About winning the pole and securing the podium. About the correlation between qualifying second and finishing first or second. About the correlation between qualifying third and finishing on the podium. Someone with better abilities to manage data from online sources please do the math over the past 20 years and provide the analysis in the COMMENTS section below. Some poor guy in, like, Bali is holding his breath.

Track records are, in my opinion, a big deal. The vast majority are pole laps. To the extent that winning pole produces a new track record, I’m down. Otherwise, it’s just a big Beamer. Marquez has a barn full of them and lets little brother Alex drive one whenever he wants. They both know poor Alex will never have one of his own.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast for the three-day weekend in metropolitan Alcañiz calls for sunny skies and hot temps—real hot on Friday, hotter on Saturday, and hellish on Sunday. And dusty. These races favor the leader, especially one on a Honda RC213V, since conditions will add an additional layer of stress for all the Marquez chasers, notably the Yamahas. With their mathematical chances of a premier class title in 2018 approaching the abscissa, they must nonetheless exude confidence, risking life and limb in a heroic but mostly symbolic attempt to pull off the impossible, and live up to the mythic expectations of teams, families, fans, sponsors and, ultimately, owners. Lots of constituents. Lots of pressure. Lots of pressure not to let the pressure show. Never let them see you sweat.

I really don’t give a rip if Jorge Lorenzo swipes pole again. This race needs to be Dovizioso attacking Marquez late in the day, Marquez either withstanding the attacks, running away, or not. Even if Dovi beats Marquez to the flag it will be a big-picture win for #93, as he would drop only 5 points to Dovi with but five rounds left, four of which are in those pesky Pacific time zones where things can go from bad to worse. Things like Marquez clinching in Australia. Things like that. As for third place, probably a Crutchlow on the Honda in the heat.

A new track record at Aragon, however, would be very cool. Marquez recording some kind of DNF would add interest to the next round in Thailand.

We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday before lunch EDT.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Chasers be advised—this is a Honda track 

The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon. 

The odds are against him. His last title was a decade ago. His last win was in Assen last year. The 2018 Yamaha M1 is lagging its major competitors across the board. The software doesn’t appear to have kept up with the hackers at Honda and Ducati. It has grip and acceleration issues. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales appears to have thrown in the towel on 2018; wonder if he’s having buyer’s remorse over having already signed for 2019-20? But, as Nick Harris used to say about Rossi, “Write him off at your peril.” 

Recent History at San Marino 

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, the fast-drying track forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.  When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. At that point of the season, folks bet a lot of money on Vale for the championship, at short odds. Later, they would have some explaining to do.

In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo.  For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go. 

Last year, Marc the Magnificent delivered a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch generational rider Marc Marquez perform at the height of his formidable powers.

Silverstone Post Mortem

Funny to me that Ducati Corse wishes to complain about the notification procedures around the riders meeting which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the race. This despite the virtually unanimous opinions from the riders that the track was too dangerous to race on. (I understand it was mostly families of Italian passengers on The Titanic who complained afterwards about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the ship’s stern at the time of the encounter with the iceberg.)

Standing water and motorcycle racing do not mix. Ask Marquez, whose premier class career almost ended before it started, in practice at Sepang in 2011—yes, I know, the Marco Simoncelli disaster—when he hit a hidden pool of standing water, smacked his helmet on the tarmac in a violent lowside crash, and had double vision for six months afterwards. Consider not only what we lost that day, but what we almost lost, too.

As I see it, there are at least three problems with the track. There is a lack of positive soil drainage in numerous places around the circuit that will require culverts to divert rain and runoff. There are numerous places on the track where there is negative slope on the asphalt itself, which should never have occurred in the re-surfacing of the track. These produce standing water even when off-track drainage is adequate. Finally, several riders complained about bumpy sections of the track, perhaps F1 braking zones, where any bumps should have been eliminated during the re-surfacing. And if the pavement is so fragile that a single F1 race can tear it up, they should undertake a complete do-over or move back to Donington.

As my dad used to say,

Once More, with Feeling 

Marquez       201

Rossi            142

Lorenzo        130

Dovizioso     129

If you drink heavily enough, this becomes an interesting problem in mathematics, probability and pressure. Conventional wisdom is that, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, Marquez will probably clinch at Motegi. Certainly, if he should record a DNF in the next three rounds all bets are off. But presuming he doesn’t, a presumption supported by the numbers, the likelihood of his claiming the 2018 title in Thailand aren’t bad.

Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.

Look at Marquez’s record late in the seasons in which he titled in MotoGP.

Marquez stats 2013 - 2017Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Item #1: In 2013, over the last 10 rounds, he podiumed every round other than the silly rookie mistake DQ in Australia. In 2014, one DNF over the last 10 rounds. Throw out 2015, as he was out of contention and his don’t-give-a-rip factor was sky high. 2016—one crash in last ten rounds. 2017, a blown engine at Silverstone. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes late in seasons in which he titles. As for Phillip Island, well, it’s clearly win or bin territory for young Marc. Fastest track on the calendar, most picturesque, cold, windy, wild and woolly. Usually, by that time of the year, he’s playing with house money and can afford a loss or two.

Item #2: Crash = Fail. For Marquez, a crash simply pushes the numbers back a week. What would a native Malaysian coronation ceremony look like, in leathers and boots? For the other three, crash and it’s bye, Felicia. Psychologically, advantage Marquez.

Item #3: Going down the pecking order, as things stand now, Marquez would need to add 42 points to his margin over Rossi in the next 3 rounds, but only 17 in the next four. Should Rossi DNF, things fall to Lorenzo. If Jorge keeps things upright, he must stay within 31 points of Marquez over the next three, or within six (6, i.e., even) in the next four. Dovizioso, pretty much the same—32 in three or seven in the next four. Looking at Marquez’ historic numbers, the efforts required from these chasers in San Marino, Aragon and Thailand appear extraordinary and conditions need to be perfect.

Your Weekend Forecast

Not that it really matters, but the weather forecast for the greater Rimini area over the weekend is, in a word, iffy. Temps in the high 70’s-low 80’s, but showers in the area all three days. Not what the chasers need.

As for the race results on Sunday, I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (again, thanks, dad) that I have no clue who will end up on the podium. Predicting Marquez feels like frontrunning. Weather could be a factor. With the factory Ducati guys, like major league baseball pitchers, they will need to have their curveball working. Rossi in Italy is a wild card. Crutchlow, since 2012, has a chip on his shoulder. And if you look up “motivated” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Danilo Petrucci gritting his teeth with his name in parentheses below it.

BTW, the whole BeIn Sports thing has got to go. Dorna needs to make MotoGP accessible to the world via TV, even with the lame announcers. Unless they want to keep it a rich man’s parlour game.

We’ll have results and analysis here on Sunday within two hours of the race.

Ciao.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen    Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez fails to extend his lead as race cancelled by rain 

The entire weekend devoted to the GoPro British Grand Prix seemed to be accompanied by a sense of foreboding due to the weather. One had the sense that dry practice sessions and a wet race could lead to carnage and confusion; Exhibit A occurred near the end of FP4. In the end, the carnage and confusion was restricted mainly to the race organizers, sponsors and rider Tito Rabat. After hours and hours of hemming and hawing, the British round of the 2018 MotoGP season was scrubbed. 

Screenshot (204)

Zarco in hot pursuit during a dry practice session in England

Practice and Qualifying 

As a salve for their wounded pride, FP1 was declared Yamaha Awesome Midlands Session #1. In what can only be described as poetic justice, it was Vinales and Rossi sitting atop the timesheet at the end of the session. (The idea of a small, unofficial podium celebration was considered and abandoned.) FP2 then fired off and became the “fast” session of a cold, windy weekend. In it, the top six lambs who would be heading off into Q2 on Saturday emerged: Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Vinales, Marquez, Lorenzo (off of one fast lap) and Jack Miller. Yeah, I know, Jack Miller. He likes it here. Reminds him of Phillip Island.

Saturday’s FP3 was even more Finnish than Friday. Only one rider, Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati, made any significant progress, leaping from 12th going into FP3 to 7th coming out. This, in turn, caused hard luck Alvaro Bautista, World Super Bike-bound, to fall out of Q2 and have to try to slug his way out of Q1. One more bummer in a season of bummers for the Spaniard. But Cal Crutchlow, at one of only two tracks where people aren’t charmed by his accent, looked exceedingly quick both days. With mixed conditions expected on Sunday, he became a legitimate threat to crash out of the lead at his home grand prix. He did, however, sign a new two-year deal with LCR last week, so he’s got that going on.

Q1 saw Bradley Smith (find him in the dictionary under “too little too late”) jet into Q2, joined by Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who waited until well after the flag had waved to lay down a lap quick enough to earn the promotion, at the expense of Franco Morbidelli. (BTW, Morbidelli, on the Tuesday after Valencia, will move his posterior from a second-string Honda to an “A” version YZR-M1 on the new Petronas Yamaha team. In the game of bridge, this is referred to as a jump-shift.)

Q2 was the usual, um, Asiatic fire drill. When the dust cleared, the first four rows were bracketed by a pair of Ducatis on the front—Jlo! and Dovi—with Rossi and Vinales on the factory Yamahas wiping up the rear, as it were, in 11th and 12th places. Both Lorenzo and Dovi took their own sweet time getting to the front for the first Ducati 1-2 qualifying session since 2006. Rossi, though, looked like a rookie satellite rider as he was trying to organize a second attack late in the session, which he ultimately failed to do. Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco made a refreshing cameo front row appearance on the his two-year old sled. The second row of Crutchlow, Marquez and Petrucci looked every bit as dangerous as the front three.

The worst news of the weekend prior to Sunday was the multiple leg fractures suffered by Tito Rabat toward the end of FP4. He will be out indefinitely. Moments after crashing out, he got creamed in the gravel trap by teammate Franco Morbidelli’s runaway Honda. This is almost certainly a season-ending injury for Rabat, who was finally finding his way on the Ducati. Let’s hope it’s not a career-ender.

Most of the usual suspects showed up in the morning warm-up, with Vinales leading Dovi and Marquez on a dry surface. With rain expected in time for the race, start times adjusted to avoid it and failing, etc., it seemed Maverick could again find himself undone by the rain. Everyone wants to be the Second Coming of Jorge Lorenzo—Pecco Bagnaia, now Vinales, etc. I wonder how Bagnaia does in the wet. The critics persist even as Lorenzo blitzes the Silverstone pole in changing conditions.

British GP Takeoff Delayed 

On Saturday, with Sunday’s incoming weather resembling a meteorological Charge of the Light Brigade, race time was moved up 90 minutes, from 1pm local to 11:30am. (Imagine the Silverstone executives on hand with Mike Webb & Company, prancing about, trying to keep the wheels from falling off their TV deal.) Then, imagine their continuing angst when Sunday morning rolls around and the clouds go from dribbling and snorting to full-blown downpour at around 11:15, forcing another delay, this second one rather open-ended but for the assurance that the race would not, under any circumstances, be run on Monday, when it would make most sense, weather-wise. So, as of noon Sunday, it was race later in the day (or night) or bust.

The rain continued to fall all afternoon in the Cotswolds. The last gasp attempt to run the races, contingent upon the rain having stopped by 4 pm local, failed, as the back edge of the weather system, complete with clearing skies, could not arrive in time. So, the 2018 season would go on without the benefit of a British Grand Prix. To the extent that you feel bad about missing out, count yourself lucky that you’re not among the 90,000 people who have to get ticket refunds sorted out, sponsors going mental, TV execs with hours of dead air to fill, etc. The scene on the non-public side of the race could be sufficiently jacked up to kill off future races at Silverstone, unless some poor reinsurance company gets stuck with the tab.

The Big Picture

So, 2018 has become an 18-round season. Where there were once eight rounds to chase down Marc Marquez and his 59-point lead, The Three Chasers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso—now have but seven. On the other side of the same coin, Marquez now has one less round to pile on points toward his magic number. All three of the chasers must have liked their chances today. Rossi, who would have started 12th, the eternal optimist, is a Sunday racer and has won numerous times starting from the way back; the fourth row wouldn’t have been a great concern. Jorge and Dovi starting from the inside of Row 1 in a wet race, with soft rain tires, could have easily finished 1-2, given Lorenzo’s new-found comfort in damp and changing conditions.

Back in 1971 I spent two weeks in Cheltenham, England, just down the road from Silverstone, visiting British friends who had attended my high school in the states. My friend Cathy, who was my age, had, by that time, a boyfriend named Keck who was a Cotswolds Hell’s Angel. He and his bros, no doubt sensing a kindred spirit, welcomed me into their troupe, introduced me to scrumpy, a hard cider deeply loved by the locals, peeing in public, digging big trenches in the village green with one’s rear tire, and rolling their own cigarettes with about a 50/50 blend of tobacco and weed. By the end of two weeks, I had shifted my attentions to Cathy’s younger sister who, as luck would have it, was best friends with a girlfriend I had left stateside; no go. I had experienced half a dozen crippling hangovers, several awe-inspiring rides on a chopped 500cc Indian, and left for Amsterdam resolved never to seek membership in a US chapter. Just not cut out for the life.

Oh, the reason I mention this at all? From what I’ve seen, most of Great Britain is a bog. This is a country where people burn dirt to heat their homes. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

Two weeks to Misano. Two weeks to get over the funk that accompanies the scrubbing of an exciting afternoon of racing.

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez chasers hoping for, like, snow 

You know things are rough in the upper tranches of MotoGP when riders are reduced to praying for inclement weather as a means of slowing down Honda’s putative 2018 world champion Marc Marquez. Iconic Silverstone is the first of a quartet of races that should bring Marquez’ magic number into view. While the weather figures to be a factor, it may not be enough to slow down the Catalan savant.

Andrea-Dovizioso

Recent History at Silverstone 

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 BS (Before Sepang) that season was shaping up as a Marquez/Honda–Lorenzo/Yamaha cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the historic layout during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi.  Rain finally arrived just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain, in front of Petrucci and Dovizioso, put him 12 points ahead of Lorenzo, who had predictably faded in the wet, as the flying circus headed for Vale’s home away from home at Misano. The all-Italian podium headed by #46 had the church bells ringing in Tavullia that afternoon.

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points, Misano-bound.

Last year, on another perfect Cotswolds après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of what may have been his one-off dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping Vinales, with Rossi right there, too, at the flag. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an impulsive plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick on a, uh, dang it, on a, something that starts with a T… Tighter than a tick on a… should be three syllables for rhythmic purposes… .

Jack Miller at a Tipping Point 

Jack Miller 2018Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia

At the start of the season Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci were locked in a duel for the 2019-20 #2 factory Ducati seat being foreclosed on Jorge Lorenzo. And over the first five rounds Miller finished in the top ten every time, including two 13-pointers. (This after three consecutive top-tens to close out 2017.) Mugello was held on June 3, and the announcement that Petrucci would join the factory team was dated June 6. I’m guessing Miller was told one of two things before the start of the Italian race. Either he had already lost the job to Petrucci, or the result would depend entirely upon his beating Petrucci that day. The resulting pressure, or utter lack thereof, may have contributed to his crashing out; the Italian finished seventh, 11 seconds out of first. Game over. (For the record, if indeed Le Mans was the decider, Miller finished fourth. Petrucci started from the front row and almost won the race, finishing second.)

Since then, Miller’s best finish has been 10th, equal to his worst finish in the first five rounds. Finishing 18th in Austria on the Ducati GP17 is weak. I get the sense that Miller may be mailing them in at this point, wishing to save his body for next year and a fresh start as the #1 rider for Pramac. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2019, hotshot rookie Pecco Bagnaia is the #1 rider for the Pramac team. At this level, mailing them in, even once, is bush. Guys are risking their lives; this ain’t no game. And if Miller does lose out to Bagnaia, this will have been the high-water mark of his career; it will be downhill from there. No standing still in MotoGP; you’re either headed up or headed down. (cc: Rossi fans)

The Road to Buriram

Here are some important numbers heading to the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand, Round 14. Based upon what needs to happen between now and Valencia, Marquez has only three challengers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso. These three he currently leads by 59, 71 and 72 points. Let’s assume that all four riders do well between now and Buriram, that Rossi, pedaling as hard as he can and not gaining any ground, loses a little and that Lorenzo and Dovi both pick up small gains. Doing so would put the three chasers at deficits in the 60’s; plugging in my guesswork, I put Marquez around 275, Dovi @-60, Lorenzo @-64, and Rossi @-68.

What all this means, if anything, is that Marquez’ magic number—76 after Motegi—should be clearly in view leaving Thailand. Working backwards, it appears likely the chasers are going to have to throw caution to the wind during the next three rounds to avoid getting squeezed like lemons at The Chang. Then, assuming events conspire to deny Marquez the title in Japan, this will allow them to endure the crowd reveling over Marquez’ sixth premier class title in (a dialect of) English, Down Under-style.

With Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso all well back, but all relatively bunched, it makes no sense for Marquez to challenge anyone specific in these next few rounds. All he needs to do is his usual brilliant work. But suppose at Buriram his nearest competitor is Dovi, trailing by 60 points. With a chance to clinch the title and playing with house money you would expect Marquez to push Dovizioso to the limit in the hope of forcing him to violate the laws of physics. Few of which, it seems, apply to Marquez himself.

Let’s be clear. The Three Chasers, as we will refer to them for at least the next few rounds, must finish on or near the podium at every round going forward. Not only that, but an out-of-the-points finish or DNF anywhere from here on out is the kiss of death. These three guys are on life support until Marquez starts crashing.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather will be a factor this weekend, with temps never getting out of the 60’s and rain around on Saturday. Let’s join the riders in praying that FP3 on Saturday morning is dry, as it usually separates the lambs of Q2 from the goats of Q1.

Not quite sure that any of the leading five riders is jazzed about the weather this weekend. It will impact tire choices. It will put Dani Pedrosa squarely behind the eight ball; he may have to leave his tire warmers on during track time. Some guys—Marquez, Cal Crutchlow—don’t mind changing conditions and cool temps. Others—Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales—like things either wet or dry but not in between. Rossi typically still has a hard time managing the 15-minute qualifying sessions on long circuits like Silverstone.

In short, it appears to be anyone’s race. Marquez needs to finish, preferably ahead of Rossi and Dovizioso; he doesn’t need the win if it’s not on offer. If Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso form a troika at the front and start going after each other, young Marc would be well advised to sit in fourth place and watch it unfold. An unconventional route to another podium, for sure, but potentially a prudent one beneath the cold summer clouds of Northamptonshire.

Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez. In that order.

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen.           Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Prepping to Czech Out at Brno 

15 years ago, if you happened to find yourself in the lead late in a MotoGP race, the last person you wanted materializing on your rear tire was #46, Valentino Rossi. That was, at the time, a portent of almost certain doom—for you—as Rossi was king of the jungle, until impudents like Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo came along. Today, the guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you is Marc Marquez, all hunkered down on his Honda RC213V to where you can barely tell where he stops and the bike starts. Turning laps four tenths faster than you, with plenty of tire left. 

Today in MotoGP this defines portent of doom. One of the few interesting questions around lately is how long—in years—will he maintain this stranglehold on the premier class? And who will be the next to take it from him? The first, last and only so far was Jorge Lorenzo in 2015. And this year is looking bad. Bad, as in there will be nothing on the line for the last few races if current trends continue. This is the point at which one of you often feels compelled to remind me that this is racing and anything can happen blah blah blah. That’s cool. If something happens and Marquez fails to win you can say you told me so. If it doesn’t, and he does, I may have to at least remind some readers about this exchange. (BTW, we conceded the title to #93 after Jerez. Just sayin’.) One more thing. If Marquez were to go down for a few rounds, I would definitely double down on my under wager on the 298 point over/under marker. 

Recent History at Brno 

The 2015 Brno race gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started.  One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year.  Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day. At this point, 2015 was looking like a grand season.

2016: With three wet/dry races in the previous four rounds, MotoGP fans had been getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  At Brno, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez, who set another new track record.  Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British motoracing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season standings.

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much weather-related pre-race drama, turned out to be a nice six-lap affair, after which many of the attendees flagellated themselves for blowing all that money on such a crummy race. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best weather guy of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back. This was another example of how his crew had the #2 bike properly fitted the way the rider wanted without any communication from him. Pretty awesome crew. “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.”

So Hondas have taken the last two races here. Rossi and Vinales probably like this track. The top Ducatis last year were Dovizioso and Petrucci in 6th and 7th. In 2016, Ducati Corse owned half of the top ten spots without all the fuss and bother of a podium. This looks to be a Lorenzo-friendly layout, and Marquez, last I heard, will be in the house, making him a threat to run and hide on Sunday. As one of our brilliant readers wrote recently, bet the house on Lorenzo winning the first half of the race anyway. And Alex Rins, who got skittled out of his race at The Sachsenring just as his credibility was on the rise, once again finds himself needing to prove he belongs. Such is life in the tall grass running with the big dogs.

This Track Record Stuff is Kind of Fun

Even with the season looking like a bit of a rout, we can still enjoy the lottery to see whether the track record—in this case set by Marc Marquez in 2016—will fall this weekend. The bogey is 1:54.596. I think the long layout and flowing turns of Brno lend themselves to another assault on the record this week. All of the top four brands will have riders winding up and firing at it during FP3 and Q2.

At 5-for-7 for the season, we are pulling for them. And any track record more than a year old is in jeopardy.

Petronas SIC Yamaha Rider #2

About Monsieur Fabio Quartararo. He had a 10th and a 13th place finish in two seasons in Moto3 sans podiums. Last year he finished 13th in Moto2. He was again headed nowhere this year until rumors started flying about him joining Franco Morbidelli on the new Petronas SIC Yamaha team for 2019, whereupon he won at Montmelo and finished second at Assen. Dude has a fairly thin resume, although he is ridiculously (currently 19) young. I get the feeling he is either Annointed or Hooked Up.

How does this guy get a premier class ride before, let’s see, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Xavi Vierge, or even Jorge Martin, currently leading in Moto3? Either he has a major sponsor or two in his pocket, or he was tagged at age 10 as having something “special,” or both. In any case, should he turn out to be the designee—when Pedrosa retired I was expecting Bautista—one must defer to the judgment of the people on the ground. Maybe he’ll be great. Maybe he’ll be Scott Redding.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range forecast for the greater Brno environs calls for hot, clear conditions all weekend. What we in the trade refer to as Honda conditions ain’t nobody want or need around here around now. We need intermittent showers, gusty winds and scudding clouds, give the place some sense of drama. Think Channel Islands.

As for qualifying and the race, I expect Marquez to win from pole, as does anyone remotely involved in this sport. I also expect him to keep his composure if events conspire to see him finish fifth. At the midpoint of the season, the pressure is on everyone but Marquez. If the race turns out to be low-hanging fruit right there in his face, he should go ahead and take the win. But if there are a couple of determined, quick contenders not backing down or making eye contact, finishing in the top five is an excellent outcome on one of those days when you don’t own the joint. The dumb thing would be to press and slide off, conceding the full 25 points. The 2013 iteration of Marc Marquez might have given that some serious thought. The 2018 version understands it’s the championship, not a race, that is his goal.

You read it here first: Marc Marquez will not crash out of another race until after he clinches the 2018 title. 

We will have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon, once the fog burns off amongst the smart set in Toronto.

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Retains Sachsenking Crown 

Screenshot (159)

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marc Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP makes the turn heading for the back, um, 10 starting at Brno in August. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Since FP4 doesn’t really count for anything and is mostly used for working on race set-up, the results after FP3 are important. This time around, the lambs heading directly into Q2 included most of the usual suspects. Dani Pedrosa snuck into 10th place in front of Andrea Dovizioso, sentencing the Italian to a second qualifying run—Q1—in his increasingly futile effort to chase down Marquez.

Notice how close Alex Rins (in 9th place) was to 1st place–.252 seconds—and to (Q1) 11th place–.125. Andrea Iannone pushed his Suzuki to within a tenth of the track record, which looked primed to fall. Rossi, struggling, only made it through on Saturday morning by the skin of his teeth. And let’s dispense with any discussion around his finishing Friday in 17th place being all part of the plan.

The Q1 goats included Dovizioso by .048, along with the suddenly tepid Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, who has cooled off, the KTMs and the rest of Tranches 4 and 5. The Ducatis failed to improve, sending only three riders—Petrucci, Lorenzo and Alvaro Bautista?—directly through to Q2. My concern that Bautista would join Morbidelli with the new Petronas team was apparently unfounded, as he is reportedly searching for a World Superbike seat for next season. Leaving unanswered, of course, the question of Morbidelli’s teammate, now that Pedrosa is hanging up his leathers. (I keep hearing the name Fabio Quartararo getting thrown around.)

Q1 was pretty straightforward, as Dovizioso responded to the imperative and made it through while Taka Nakagami, on the strength of one fast late lap, joined him on the passage through to Q2. Aleix Espargaro flirted with Q2 for much of the session, but it would have been for naught anyway, as he was penalized six grid spots for lollygagging in the racing line during FP3 (for the second time this season—repeat offender).

Q2 was another morality play in reverse, in which the swarthy underdog (played by Danilo Petrucci) who had never won a premier class pole sat in first position, owning the new track record, as the checkered flag waved. His impending problem was that Marquez, the fair-haired boy conqueror, had successfully started his final lap before the flag fell. During what felt like injury time in soccer, Marquez survived three separate wobbles to lay down a 1:20.270, relegating Petrucci to second and Jorge Lorenzo, looking dangerous, to third. Poor Danilo. And putting the staff here at 5-for-7 for the season, hitting .720 breaking track records for the year.

There it is again. Nine straight poles in Germany. Marquez looked utterly capable of dominating the proceedings on Sunday, especially if he were to enter Turn 1 of the first lap leading the pack. Petrucci and Lorenzo, his front row buddies, seem to be bristling, raring to go, another testament to the progress Ducati Corse has made during Dall’Igna’s tenure. Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi hogged the second row, giving them at least a puncher’s chance on Sunday. Iannone, doing a good Snidely Whiplash impression with his new stash, could manage no better than 8th after blistering the field twice in practice. This track is tight and moving through traffic is as difficult as anywhere on the calendar. I made myself a promise on Saturday: If someone from outside of Rows 1 or 2 won on Sunday I would renew all of your Late Braking MotoGP subscriptions for the next year. 

 

The Race

Other than the mayhem leading up to the race, the German grand prix was a bit of a snooze. The carnage started on Friday, when Mika Kallio, on a KTM wildcard, took a header into an inflatable wall followed closely by his bike. He sustained a serious knee injury which, it appears, will end his season. (It could also mean a gig next year for Bradley Smith as a test rider for KTM.) During the morning warm-up on Sunday, Aleix Espargaro attempted to launch his Aprilia into a low earth orbit, sustaining a chest injury that kept him out of the race. Franco Morbidelli gave his bad wrist a try on Friday before calling it a weekend, the team calling upon Stefan Bradl to sit in for him. On Lap 1, Pol Espargaro lost control of his KTM machine, which then took out an unsuspecting Alex Rins. And the LCR Honda contingent was pancaked during the race, Nakagami losing it on Lap 7, my boy Cal Crutchlow on Lap 10.

There was some good action farther back in the pack all day, but I’ve only got two hands. Suffice it to say that some people, perhaps fans of Danilo Petrucci, left today feeling buoyed by his razor-thin margins to Marquez in search of his first pole and Vinales in search of another podium. The ride of the day goes to Alvaro Bautista, horribly badmouthed in this space for years, who pushed his Ducati GP17 to fifth place, ahead of both Dovizioso and Lorenzo, the big factory studs. 

The Big Picture 

The 2018 MotoGP championship is now officially Marc Marquez’ to lose. He leads the ageless Valentino Rossi by 46 points heading into the break, with Rossi teammate Vinales another 10 points in arrears. Yamahas scored a lot of points today but were never a threat to actually win the race. Ducati riders turned in some blistering practice times, and their top four riders finished 4th through 7th, but again, they just weren’t competitive over the last three-quarters of the race. The virtually unavoidable conclusion is that this is Marquez’ personal sandbox and the rest of y’all can just tussle over second place. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Marquez camp votes to retain Sachsenring as the venue for the German Grand Prix. Rins took whatever hopes Suzuki entertained today with him as he got skittled on Lap 1. Oh, and for you KTM freaks out there, let us not fail to mention Brad Smith’s stunning top ten finish. 

Tranches After Assen

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Postscript 

By way of historical context, Germany’s “long racing heritage,” entirely missing today, is still celebrated here at what was, 75 years ago, ground zero for The Final Solution. Dresden was needlessly firebombed by Allied planes late in the war in retribution for the Nazi firebombing of Coventry, which the Allies knew was coming, but were prevented from warning the residents out of fear of revealing they had cracked the German military codes. We should not gloss this over. MotoGP doesn’t take us to a lot of places that were so brutally consumed by WWII, and we should honor them when we are visiting.

We hope you MOrons enjoy your summer vacation. We will try to craft a coherent mid-season review in the next several weeks, assuming I can pry the $$$ out of Toronto.

2018 Sachsenring Race Results

World Championship Standings after 9 Rounds

MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, which has high-rez images and snappy captions.

The field should be very afraid heading to Round Nine. 

If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the MotoGP 2018 championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino. But to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.  

Is there anyone on the grid ready, willing and able to take on the juggernaut that is Marc Marquez at The Knockwurstring in 2018? Anyone? What’s this noise I hear from some readers about Rossi being happy finishing third? Rins and Marquez don’t get along great; perhaps the Suzuki guy will be feeling froggy. 

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An unfamiliar image, taken from the front.

 

Recent History in Greater Dresden 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa were fast here in 2015.  How fast?  Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he lugged out after Montmelo, led every practice session.  As they had in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the macho factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to 3rd and 4th place afterthoughts, respectively.  At least for the day. But Rossi extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points and left for summer vacation all pumped up.

2016 was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate or “taint” tire, for those of you familiar with the term.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit chief Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

A year ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note.

As we’ve observed before, Marquez owns every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Eight consecutive poles, eight consecutive wins.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, soon-to-be former teammate Dani Pedrosa owns seven career wins here, but the most recent, in 2012, is mostly history.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Marquez and his RC213V leave for summer vacation having gone nine-for-nine in Germany. Your basic master of his craft working with a great machine and a great team in the prime of his career at a track he loves. Rarely beats himself. Like him or not, it’s an amazing thing to watch when he has it hooked up. The only thing left to add to his vast array of tools and skills is the chin slider, which will complete the mosaic of rider, bike and track.

Riders We Neglected to Slander After Assen

Pramac Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci, who arrived in the Netherlands fifth in the world. His luckless weekend ended when he crashed out of, like, 13th position on Lap 18. He is now tied for eighth with Andrea Iannone. He was doing great before we pointed out that he was doing great. The group of riders (below) characterized as Looking for Work in 2019 compiled, at Assen, two DNFs (Abraham and Simeon), 20th (Luthi), 19th (Nakagami), 17th (Smith), 16th (Rabat), and, somehow, Bautista in ninth. We will overlook Dani Pedrosa’s heartbreaking weekend. But Cal Crutchlow, who qualified on the front row, as well as Johann Zarco and Jack Miller seemed to be the only fast movers who didn’t lead Assen 2018 at some point.

Crutchlow closeup

Cal Crutchlow needs a podium.

Prediction Takes Some Shade at Assen

My “track records falling like dominoes” string came to a halt at Assen, with Marquez’s qualifying lap (1’32.791) failing to better Rossi’s fluky 2015 lap of 1’32.627. Sure, some writers would call this a rounding error and improve their stats by declaring it practically a win. Not around here we don’t. I go from 4-for-5 to 4-for-6–.667, still Hall of Fame numbers. Track records are getting challenged almost every time out. Just sayin’.

It’s Almost Official—22 Bikes on Grid in 2019-20

With the announcement that the Aspar team will leave Ducati to become the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team commencing next year, it appears to be curtains for the Marc VDS contraption. Speculation as to whom will be riding the new team’s “not quite fully up-to-date” M1s centers on Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli. One keeps hearing whispers that Pedrosa may, in fact, still retire, which would reportedly elevate one Alvaro Bautista to second chair, the boy toy once again landing on his feet in an unbelievable way. Loyal readers will recall that Bautista, loathed by Italian Fausto Gresini in 2011, was on his way out the MotoGP door until Marco Simoncelli lost his life in Sepang, leaving Gresini without a rider at all heading into 2012 and forcing him to swallow the alliance with the Spanish narcissist Bautista. Aspar could find himself in the same situation although, being Spanish, it wouldn’t be as painful. And OK, Bautista’s been Tranche Three for a few rounds.

Pretty sure it will be Pedrosa and Morbidelli. Pretty sure that Abraham, Bautista, Tom Luthi, Taka Nakagami, Brad Smith and Tito Rabat are looking hard right now for 2019 gigs. I thought I heard Simeon has a two-year contract/rider option. Scott Redding chooses half a loaf and agrees to testing with Aprilia. In case another full-grown rider comes along some day.

Pretty sure, too, that a Rossi-led SKY VR46 will become the satellite Yamaha team starting in 2021. (Perhaps the factory team.) Mr. Jorge Martinez seems to have bought himself two years to find another gig. Suzuki? Aprilia? Suzuki needs a satellite team like now, as their concessions, as of next year, appear to be toasting. And Ducati must have wanted to trim the 2019 roster; what better place to start than the shoestring operation that is Team Angel Nieto, and its deluxe duo of riders, Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista. Bye Felicia. Cull the herd.

If and when the grid returns to 24 riders, I fully expect the newbies to be these speed merchants from Moto2 and Moto3, guys like Jorge Martin, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Xavier Vierge. These guys, with their reflexes and aggressiveness, will likely enjoy success in MotoGP, since the bikes are getting better and better, closer and closer. They will join November grads Miguel Oliveira, Peco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Guys will be able to make reputations in a hurry in the next 3-5 years.

Leading the chase for, you know, second place.

Your Weekend Forecast

If you believe that a win on Sunday for #93 is inevitable, the most you can hope for are interesting weather and track conditions. Like your basic life sandwich, your only real choice is whether you want it on wheat or white. Alas, writing on Monday, rain is in the forecast until Thursday, when perfect conditions take over—high 70’s and sunny all weekend. Comfortable air but high track temps. Honda weather. Great.

There is no obvious reason not to expect Marquez to be standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. There is no obvious reason to expect the Yamahas to do well here. The Ducatis have struggled here in years past. If the Hondas are to have things their way, I would expect to see Crutchlow on the podium with Marquez. Alex Rins is in “podium or bin” mode. Although I can see Valentino Rossi in third, I cannot see him genuinely happy about it.

alex-rins

Alex Rins with his game face.

MotoGP Assen Results

July 1, 2018

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez in Charge in Dutch Classic 

The Cathedral of Speed gave the 105,000 crazed Dutch fans in attendance a memorable liturgy today—the most closely grouped top 15 in MotoGP history, 16 seconds separating the lot. The action at the front—six different riders led at one point or other—was so intense it reduced the announcers to mere stuttering and grunting during the last three laps, panties in a full twist. At the end, the incomparable Marc Marquez put his stamp on a signature win, one of his best ever. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Practice sessions leading up to the two 15-minute MotoGP Qualifying Clusters were revealing. The factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales appeared to be enjoying themselves, despite a high-speed fail for Rossi during FP4. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki showed up in the top four a few times. Cal Crutchlow (Honda) and Andrea Dovizioso (Suzuki) were lurking in the neighborhood. Somehow, both Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro made it straight through to Q2.

But Marc Marquez was ubiquitous. Getting slightly ahead of ourselves, it appeared that though he led FP1, he sensed something needed fixed. He and his crew fixed whatever it was during FP2, which he mailed in. He then went out and led every session thereafter, including Q2 and the morning warm-up, earning pole in the process. Assen has always appeared to be a fun track for riders, and Marquez appears to enjoy the high-speed turns and right-left-right stuff.

The end of Q2 was like watching a video game. Johann Zarco, who had passed out of Q1 along with my boy Alex Rins, set a new MotoGP record, “Least Amount of Time on Pole in a Grand Prix Race” during the final moments, having led the pack for a full .407 seconds before being shredded by Marquez and pretty much everyone else. The standings projected on the screen flashed practically simultaneously at the end, the top 8 riders finishing separated by a three-tenths of a second. Blink of an eye. If you had the sound off it could have been Moto3.

In the words of Cal Crutchlow years ago, Q2 is “a lottery.” Prior to the race, I had doubts the remarkable qualifying results would have much to do with the race results, other than the likelihood that Marquez and Rossi would once again slug it out at the end. Marquez’ “win or bin” approach to MotoGP’s Amen Corner appeared firmly in place. My anticipation was that he would win or crash trying. Rossi appeared ready, willing and able to pick up the pieces if needed. Rookie Franco Morbidelli broke a bone in his hand on Saturday and was declared out of the race.

A Race for the Ages

I took six pages of notes during this one, trying to keep up with all the action, and failed. I captured most of the headline items, but there was too much going on, such that I, too, was reduced to stuttering and grunting. Let me try to give you the gist:

  • Lap 1. Jorge Lorenzo lights his solid rocket booster and catapults from 10th place to 2nd at Turn 1, went through on Marquez later in the lap, and led the race. Marquez survived a heavy hip check early in the day that would have floored most riders. He then went through on Lorenzo on Lap 2 and led the race.
  • Rossi and Lorenzo both went through on Marquez on Lap 4. Lorenzo led a tight top four, trailed closely by Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso.
  • Lap 5: Lorenzo, being dogged by Rossi, loses the front and gets tagged hard by Rossi. Somehow, neither rider falls. Dovi goes through on Marquez into third place.
  • Lap 7: Marquez and Dovizioso go through on Rossi. Marquez finds himself in the midst of a Ducati double-team, courtesy of Lorenzo and Dovizioso. At this point in the race there was a nine-man lead group.
  • Between Laps 8 and 11 Alex Rins, on the Suzuki, moves up from 5th to 3rd, schooling both Rossi and Dovizioso on the way. Johann Zarco appeared to be gaining on the leaders.
  • Lap 12: The impertinent Rins gives Marquez another bump, dropping the him to 4th. Marquez returned the favor to Rins on Lap 14.
  • By Lap 16, the leaders were Dovizioso, Marquez, Lorenzo and Vinales, with Rossi snapping at his teammate’s heels. Both factory Yamahas, at this point, were flying.
  • On Lap 19, Vinales went through on Dovizioso into the lead. This marked the first time in 2018 that a Yamaha had led a race. Oh, how far the once mighty have fallen.
  • Lap 22 saw Dovizioso and Rossi, running one-two at the time, run each other off the track, each refusing to yield to the other. Simultaneously, Marquez and Vinales were doing the same thing to a lesser degree, staying out of the kitty litter. Later in the lap, Marquez executed a double move, going through on both Dovi and Rossi, into a lead he would not relinquish.
  • The final lap: Alex Rins, running third, decided it would be second or nothing at all, dove inside on Vinales, and beat him to the line. Rossi, too, passed Dovi late, but messed up the last turn—unlike him—and had to settle for 5th, as his homeboy punked him in the last turn.

You gotta hand it to Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Chief Cheddar at Dorna. He set about making the grid more competitive five years ago and has succeeded wildly.

Moto2 and Moto3

Jorge Martin prevailed in another Moto3 classic over Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini, the season championship leader changing yet again. Very tight at the top; 24 points separate the top five riders.

The Moto2 tilt was won by the serene Peco Bagnaia, who stiff-armed Fabio Quartararo and Alex Marquez for a win which was easier than the timesheet would lead one to believe. Dude is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo. He looks like Lorenzo. He sounds like Lorenzo. He rides like Lorenzo—Mr. Smooth. And he wins like Lorenzo. Looking forward to seeing him on a Desmosedici next year.

The Big Picture

Marquez has now stretched his 2018 lead to 41 points, a comfortable margin heading to a track in Germany where he has never lost. Rossi and Vinales occupy spots two and three; expect the wall down the middle of the garage any day. Johann Zarco in fourth leads Andrea Iannone in ninth by eight points. Jack Miller and Alex Rins are battling for the last spot in the top ten.

Membership in “The Anyone but Marquez” club jumped on Sunday afternoon, along with the growing sense that he is toying with the field. A win at The Sachsenring in two weeks would give him five wins in nine outings, a brutal pace no one can keep up with. Jorge Lorenzo gave us some early thrills today, but ultimately reverted to his previously disappointing ways. It was good to see the factory Yamahas in the fight, but my sense is that Assen is one of the few tracks where they can compete effectively. And, to those of you who have been arguing that Alex Rins is a mutt, I will continue to jock him, as well as his future teammate Joan Mir. Those two are going to be ballers in the next few years.

Tranching After Eight Rounds

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Top Finishers Today

Top Riders YTD

MotoGP Assen Preview

June 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

All eyes on Lorenzo at The Cathedral 

With the 2018 season a third gone, the presumption that Marc Marquez would ease into his fifth premier class title in six years has become passé. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jorge Lorenzo has given us convincing wins at Mugello and Montmelo. Whether this is a two-off or the start of a trend could be revealed this weekend. 

Assen

After a dominating performance at Le Mans, Marquez led the Sioux Nation with 95 points, while Lorenzo was buried in 14th place with 16 points to his name. A relatively simple modification to the profile of his fuel tank transformed him from Clark Kent to Superman and led to two convincing wins on the trot. Although he still trails Marquez by around 50 points, at least people are talking about him again. Too soon, in my opinion, to speak of him as a legit 2018 title contender. Not to mention there are five other fast movers, in addition to Marquez, standing in his way. But with  a single rostrum appearance at Assen since 2010, a Lorenzo podium on Sunday could be a portent of more to come. 

Recent History at Assen 

2015 was the year the Marquez and Rossi families stopped exchanging Christmas cards, and it started at Assen. The last MotoGP Dutch TT to be run on a Saturday, Assen was the place Marquez, having a miserable year, introduced a hybrid 2015/2014 bike with the previous year’s chassis, and it was like throwing a switch. The two went at it hot and heavy during the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez careening wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, happily taking the shortcut through the gravel trap at speed, laughing inside his helmet, to win by 50 yards. Jorge Lorenzo finished third, a mile behind the two adversaries.

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.

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. Wouldn’t it be something if this turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?

New Track Records

I threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examing our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” with Michelins and the control ECU.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball at a cover-of-Sports-Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, MotoGP’s Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx   Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16             16        59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW              0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9               35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted, or at least backed into, a “win or bin” approach for this part of the season. Compare his plan to Rossi’s “NBA Old Man Strategy,” to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put-backs and some offensive rebounds. We mustn’t ignore Danilo Petrucci, happily flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out. Then, of course, there’s this Lorenzo guy…

We’ll keep an eye on a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks a little better than it did two rounds ago.

Bossa Nova in Brazil from 2021?

Dorna announced this past week a preliminary deal to bring MotoGP back to Brazil, and a new racing venue, starting in 2021. The last time the grid formed up on Brazilian soil was 2004, so the locals are probably pretty excited about the return of grand prix racing to the dance capital of the southern hemisphere.

A word of caution is in order. We’ve been here before, betting on the come in places like the Balatonring in Hungary and the aborted Ebbw Vale project in Wales. The failure to launch in Hungary brought us the Aragon round, for better or worse. (I’m one of those who believe hosting four grands prix in Spain is a little too much.) Racing on the new track in Finland is likely to start next season, although Michelin has yet to develop the titanium-studded slicks the riders will need to navigate the black ice in this Scandinavian jewel of a country.

The gestation of the racing calendar follows a simple logic: Go racing where they sell lots of motorcycles and scooters. Which is why there are races in Malaysia and Thailand and but a single lonely event in the entire United States. Another thing that gets me is how the calendar tilts towards these hot, humid third world locations. I would enjoy attending more races than I do, but would not look forward to spending four days with damp underwear in places like Sepang, Buriram, Rio Hondo, etc. Can a southern Mexican round be far behind? And what about the Central African Republic?

A word to the Finnish Ministry of Tourism: If you are interested in promoting your lovely country and its lustrous racing heritage (?), why not invite a bunch of motojournalists into town for race weekend next year? THAT would be a junket I could get behind. Dry boxers, free food, high-access credentials—I’m there.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather this weekend should be perfect, plenty of sunshine and air temps in the 70s. Most years, this would be a good opportunity to pick Valentino Rossi for the win, but the 2018 Yamaha is still sucking. As much fun as it would be to see a new face on the top step of the podium, one must figure guys like Marquez, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Dovizioso will be in the mix. Personally, I’m pulling hard for two riders: Dani Pedrosa and Danilo Petrucci. Pedrosa, so he can enjoy another win in Repsol colors; Petrucci, because he is getting achingly close to his first win, remaining humble, and racing as well lately as anyone on the grid.

Hopefully, we will also get some clarification of Pedrosa’s future as well as the number of teams that will be competing next year. One gets the impression there is lots going on behind the scenes, with Yamaha, Aspar, Pedrosa, Morbidelli, and the remnants of the Marc VDS team heavily involved in the discussions. Thus the live streaming of Dani Pedrosa announcing to the world, prior to Catalunya, that he didn’t know what he would be doing next year. I’ll be holding a press conference of my own on Friday morning to announce that I will be spending that afternoon bodysurfing in the Atlantic ocean.

We’ll have results and analysis of Sunday’s racing right here as soon as our crack editorial staff, which loathes working on Sundays, finishes cleaning out the garage and cutting the grass.

MotoGP – New Track Records

June 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen June 19, 2018

Continuing our previous discussion about the setting of new track records in 2018.

Threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examining our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” even with Michelins and the control ECU and big stars singing the blues.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball. Cover of Sports Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, our Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 

Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16            16         59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW            0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9           35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted a “win or bin” mentality for this central part of the season. Compare his to Rossi’s plan, to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put backs and some offensive rebounds. And keep an eye on Danilo Petrucci flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out.

It feels like a good time to remind folks about a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks better than it did two rounds ago.

Here are some random screenshots from Catalunya 2018.