Posts Tagged ‘Aprilia’

MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Curtain Falls on Another Marquez Masterpiece 

MotoGP’s traditional Valenciana finalé, in years like this, resembles a boxing match in which the undercards are vaguely entertaining, and the main event is moved from late Saturday night to Tuesday afternoon and closed to the public. Sure, it would still be great to have a ticket. Even with all three championships decided, you could still get solidly buzzed, maybe work on your tan, and stoke a few adrenaline rushes of your own for your €100. Get your picture taken with a bunch of bored fashion models, too. 

There’s teammates Rossi and Vinales battling for rear grip and third place; we’re picking Rossi, who can do more with less than Vinales. You’ve got Alex Rins, Johann Zarco and Danilo Petrucci locked in an interesting joust for fifth which Rins will win, setting off a mild celebration in my kitchen. Alvaro Bautista may be auditioning for 2020. Franco Morbidelli appears to be a lock for Rookie of the Year. And guys always want to win races, so there will be plenty of hair-raising action, if not as much urgency. Still, at 180 mph, it’s never really dull.

With three classes competing, and a dizzying array of sub-championships to be awarded—team, constructor, color scheme, catering, brolly girls—trying to provide an overview would turn this into a term paper. As we used to claim in grad school, giddy, smugly, “Such questions are, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper.” Look ‘em up and share with the group. 

Recent History 

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while his loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his encounter with Marquez in Sepang two weeks prior, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only!) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team, especially Marquez, appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps. Rossi fans will never get over 2015. And so it goes.

Two years ago, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration. Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward; the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he, the 2017 world champion, were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Last year, we at MO had been chanting the mantra, “Let Valencia Decide” since March. With the title unsettled heading into the November weekend, the opportunity for a riveting finale existed (if only mathematically), Marquez holding a 21-point lead over Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso as the riders lined up on the grid. The math caught up with Dovi on Lap 25 when, desperate to get past insubordinate teammate Jorge Lorenzo, he ran hot into Turn 8, ultimately laying his GP17 down gently in the gravel. And so the 2017 championship, having been essentially decided some weeks earlier, concluded, as usual, at Valencia, with Pedrosa, Zarco and Marquez on the podium. In all likelihood it was Dani Pedrosa’s last career MotoGP win.

Screenshot (333)Finishing Strong – Points Since Silverstone 

Constantly looking for ways to shore up my passive-aggressive support of Alex Rins and Suzuki, I thought we could take a look at point totals since the cluster at Silverstone. I’ve taken the liberty of removing Marquez and his 120 points from the mix to add to the illusion.

Andrea Dovizioso               91

Alex Rins                           83

Maverick Vinales                80

Valentino Rossi                  53

Andrea Iannone                 49

Johann Zarco                     45

Alvaro Bautista                  42

Danilo Petrucci                   39

Conclusions? None. Suggestions? Plenty.

Rins says the new engine he received at Assen made a difference; the numbers support that. (Iannone has benefited from the change, too.) Bautista has been punching above his weight on a GP17. Petrucci is saving himself for the factory money. Cal Crutchlow is on IR, and Dani has been reduced to a sentimental favorite. As the current crop of Aliens, excluding #93, begins to age out, who will be the New Kids in Town in the next few years? Names like Mir, Bagnaia, Martin and Bezzechi would be my guess. These four, especially, seem to be highly upwardly-mobile. Careers in the ascendancy, as it were. [The winner of this year’s Pithy Quote award is herein foreshadowed; it is the abridged lyrics to a 70’s song. Hint: MO wouldn’t post it in 2011.]

Several talented riders who will be working for KTM during this period might appear above, were it not for two small words pertaining to their MotoGP program:

  1. Over.
  2. Rated

Further, I think it entirely possible that Suzuki could, so to speak, overtake Yamaha for #2 in the constructors’ championship once they secure a satellite team. (Loyal readers will recognize much of the preceding as a feeble attempt to generate controversy late in the season.) These days, Suzuki is doing more with less than Big Bad Blue. Those of you with long memories will recall Bautista riding for Suzuki back in the day. Wouldn’t it be cool to see that again in 2020.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range forecast for the greater Valencia area over the weekend calls for Silverstone-like conditions, temps in the 60’s and “light” rain in the area all three days. If the forecast holds, those of you with imaginary bookies might consider giving them an imaginary call and placing a small imaginary wager on a rider like Jack Miller or Danilo Petrucci or even, at the right odds, Hafizh Syahrin to win on Sunday. A flag-to-flag finale with so many riders injured or otherwise unconcerned about the outcome could provide an opportunity for substantial imaginary returns on some, um, dark horses. Like Johann Zarco. Alex Rins.

Dani Pedrosa.

Screenshot (330)Valentino Rossi.

In the autumn of 2018, the height of The Marquez Era, the 2018 title securely stashed away, a number of riders entertain semi-realistic hopes of winning the Grand Prix of Valencia. But until Marquez clinches a title, he has become viewed as mostly unassailable. He wrestles the quick, fractious Honda RC213V into submission and will beat you if he’s able. He has learned patience and the right time to attack. He does not back away from contact. He makes saves on a routine basis that leave other riders shaking their heads. He’s 25 years old.

We’ll return Sunday with results, analysis and epilogue.[ BTW, I peeked at the 2018 Season Preview, preparing for the 2018 Report Card, and found myself to be pretty much dead on with the notable exception of #26, who wrecked my bracket. Otherwise, had it pretty much nailed. Lorenzo DNFs and DNSs killed his season. Petrucci won his factory seat for 2019 and nothing else afterwards. Whatever. Plenty of good reasons to watch the race on Sunday and argue about it on DISQUS.]

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MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen             Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Interrupts Yamaha Losing Streak 

Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, one mell of a hess. 

Back in the 60’s there was a TV genre known as the “military comedy,” Hogan’s Heroes being the first that comes to mind. In many of these shows, ten men, usually American and British prisoners, would be ordered to stand on a line. The laughable guard (“I know NUT-TINK!”) would demand a volunteer, and immediately nine of the men would take a step backwards. Presto, a volunteer. These were the thoughts going through my mind as Franco Morbidelli was being asked how it felt to finish eighth. This was a red-letter day in the lower tranches as Scott Redding, Taka Nakagami, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro and even the hapless Xavier Simeon all finished in the points. This is what happens when Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Marquez and Zarco are DNS or DNF. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday, The First Day of the Rest of the Season, demonstrated the psychology of the riders. Marc Marquez, justifiably exhausted and with nothing on the line, mailed it in. The remaining top ten rightly viewed this as an opportunity to win a frigging race, and went after it. FP1 was topped by Maverick Viñales on the Yamaha, Alex Rins found himself 15th and followed by a bevy of determined Ducati chasers—Miller, Petrucci and Dovizioso—and the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez. Rossi could do no better than 10th, with Aleix Espargaro 22nd. Andrea Iannone barged his way into first place in FP2, followed by Petrucci, Viñales, Dovizioso and Cal. Miller dropped to 8th behind Marquez, while Rins jumped into the top ten, with Vale running 10th again. Bad news as Crutchlow broke an ankle later on that will require surgery. So much for 2018 for the Battling Brit. Perhaps the slim chance of a cameo in Valencia.

On Saturday, the weather gods, bored to tears, decided to mix things up a little, weather-wise. Neither fish nor fowl, it was cold, windy, with intermittent rain to keep things interesting. FP3 ended with Viñales second and Rossi fifth, not to mention Rins in 13th and Danilo Petrucci sliding down to 17th. Andrea Iannone led the usual suspects directly into Q2, with Hafizh Syahrin crashing the party despite finishing 12th, 11th and 19th in the three practice sessions. Alvaro Bautista, with Lorenzo’s GP18 on loan, and Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM emerged from Q1, Bautista on strict instructions not to wreck JLo’s sled.

Q2, with weather threatening, ran the reverse of its customary save-everything-for-the-last-three-minutes form. Riders were out early trying to put down fast laps before it rained, producing a highly entertaining session. It ended with the prodigious Marquez on pole by half a second, the sheer unfettered joy of youth propelling him, nothing to gain, unburdened by concerns about old age and infirmity. Viñales and Zarco put two Yamahas on the front row. Rossi would start Sunday from the top of the third row, joined by Petrucci and Dovizioso. Miller, in sixth place, was the top Ducati qualifier as the brand suffered Down Under. Meanwhile, Suzuki, starting to flex their muscles a little, put both guys in the top five. My boy Alvaro Bautista, though, showed Gigi Dall’Igna why he’s losing his job this year, as he bailed from Lorenzo’s GP18 and could only watch as it continued, beautifully balanced and fully upright, as far as the tire wall, at which point it came to a sudden stop. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Marquez’ fifth pole in a row reminds us once again how much fun it would have been to watch him square off with Casey Stoner for a few years. Had Stoner decided to stay in the game, he and Marquez likely would have been teammates. That would have been a spectacle, especially here in Australia. 

The Race 

Despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. With Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Valentino Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis. Today, the latter would include Dovizioso and my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of the GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium today. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. My hat is off to him.

One couldn’t begin to count the overtakes today, as the incomparable Phillip Island circuit is designed to create opportunities. Iannone, Dovi, Miller, Rossi and Bautista all took sniffs of the lead and made determined efforts to end the day on the podium. Iannone, fast all weekend, went through on Dovizioso on Lap 23 and held fast. A seemingly happy Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, with Bautista closing out both Alex Rins on the #2 Suzuki and Valentino Rossi. Miller and Smith completed the top eight.

The announcers pointed out during the race that in 2014, 2016 and 2018 Marquez clinched the title in Motegi. In each of those years he went out the next week and recorded a DNF at Phillip Island. Today he was a victim of Zarco’s blunder but didn’t really care. The point here, if there is one, is that one’s mindset and reflexes react to the release of pressure opposite of the way they react to the application thereof.

For those of you keeping score at home, Lorenzo’s track record (from 2013) remained intact today. However, due to the wind and rain on Saturday, we are ignoring Phillip Island, leaving us 8 for 13 heading to Sepang. Marquez’ crash left him at 296 points for the year, meaning if he crashes out at both Sepang an Valencia my preseason projection for his point total will come true. As my friend Kevin used to observe, “Unlikely.” 

New Tranches 

As Chief Tranchistador, I have taken it upon myself to remove Marc Marquez from the game, the residue being a number of riders who couldn’t care less, having already lost seats for 2019 or on their way, and those who care a lot, careers still in the ascendency. These attitudes should affect the standings through Valencia. I have awarded Marquez Tranche 1 for the year; it’s his to keep. Going forward, we will start the ranking with Tranche 2. Next year we’ll reinstate Tranche 1 and pretend that the results won’t be the same as this year.

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Iannone, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

After Phillip Island

(The riders who have no real reason to give a rip are listed in brackets.)

[Injured]

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, (Zarco), Rins, Bautista, (Iannone)

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, (Morbidelli), (Pedrosa), ([Lorenzo]), Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, (Smith), Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   (Redding), (Abraham), (Luthi), Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Next week is Sepang, carved out of triple canopy jungle in the heart of steamy, exotic Malaysia. Another hair-raising exhibition weekend. The competition for the 2018 championship leftovers is still very much alive. Dovi and Rossi are reaching for each other’s throats, with Vinales in hot pursuit, in the fight for second. Idle Cal Crutchlow’s fifth place perch is threatened by a clutch of riders including Danilo Petrucci, Zarco, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rins. Xavier Simeon, I’m told, enjoyed the sensation of scoring a world championship point so much he vowed to try again next week.

We’ll take a look ahead at Sepang by early Tuesday. Enjoy these images from Sunday at PI.

Phillip Island 2018

Binder beats Mir by .036 in Moto2.

PI 2018 Best Look

Moto2 leaders from the best POV at PI.

PI 2018PI 2018AScreenshot (316)Screenshot (318)Screenshot (321)Screenshot (324)

Where to Watch PI 2018

Who wouldn’t love to watch a race from here?

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Subdues Dovizioso; Title Within Sight 

In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a ”by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Let’s see. FP1, often an outlier, concluded with a top five of Vinales, Rossi, Dovizioso, Miller and Marquez. Friday afternoon produced Dovi, Vinales (?), Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Pramac Ducati strongman Danilo Petrucci. Other than the Yamahas sniffing around, no big surprises lol. But Saturday morning arrived and FP3 produced a little drama. A late crash at Turn 4 scrubbed what would have been #93’s flying lap into Q2. Not only that, but with riders across the board having improved their times dramatically from Friday, this left MM 11th, having to suffer through Q1 for the second time in 2018 and only the fourth time since the current, pleasantly-Darwinian qualifying format was introduced in 2013.

Marquez obliterated the Q1 field by 9/10ths and dragged Suzuki puzzle Alex Rins along into Q2, Rins having punked rookie Franco Morbidelli by 2/1000ths to avoid 13th place. Q2 would feature the factory Hondas and Yamahas, Dovizioso—a limping Lorenzo having packed it in after an impressive high side in FP2—both Suzukis, Crutchlow, and Johann and the Backups—Jack, Danilo and Alvaro. Singing four-part harmonies in four different languages. Worth the price of admission.

Late in a session led primarily by Marquez, your boy Valentino Rossi, with two minutes left in regulation, went out and scorched Chang International, launching himself into pole and simultaneously into the DNA of most of those in attendance. Alas, Marquez came back one more time and settled 1/100th of a second below Rossi, on pole, with the Italian, one feared, having shot his wad making it to the front row. Would he have any starch left for Sunday? It was easy to imagine Vinales starting, somehow, from fourth and running, according to form, ninth by Lap 5. Sure, there were two Yamahas in the top five in qualifications. If Rossi has another win in him, and Marquez encounters any difficulty, it could be memorable for the tens of thousands of crazed Thai fans, finally getting some respect AND getting to see Rossi get a win under duress. Then there’s Dovizioso, who should probably win the race, looking menacing on the front row.

For his part, all Marquez had going on Saturday was the setting of a new track record (during Q1!) and a new all-time record—first rider to pole after going through Q1. As the old song says, they can’t take that away from him. 

The Race 

If today you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted.

Conditions were rugged, as expected. Cal Crutchlow, who spent much of the day in fourth place cooking his tires, faded at the end, riding on the rims. Dani Pedrosa, looking like the old Dani, made it as far as fifth place from a seventh-place start and was likely dreaming of a career-capping podium when he low-sided out of the race on Lap 18.

Maverick Vinales put a Yamaha on the podium for the first time since Germany back in August, trailed by Valentino Rossi who, by any objective assessment, has now officially lost a step. An encouraging weekend for Yamaha, with two bikes in the top four, but not yet time to celebrate anything. I understand they have finally hacked the traction control software to their liking. It is not disloyal to state that almost winning pole or almost standing astride the podium is not as good as winning pole or standing on the podium. Just sayin’.

Though there was plenty of action in the middle of the grid, the top three stayed fairly consistent for most of the day. Dovizioso led the most laps, Valentino led for a fraction of a lap, and Marquez led at the end of the last lap, where they keep score.

Vinales, celebrating a return to the land of the living, picked Rossi’s pocket on Lap 19, was able to keep Dovi and Marquez honest, but never showed a wheel to either, grateful for a third step podium. One Rossi would, I suppose, reluctantly admit to coveting.

The Big Picture

Playing with house money, Marquez will face the first of four match points in Japan in two weeks: Beat Dovizioso, and the championship is over. His win today extended his lead over the Italian to 77 points, with four rounds left. Most observers had their hearts in their throats on the last lap when, in fact, there was little at stake. Now, should he not feel like making the whole Pacific trip, Marquez can return to action in Valencia leading Dovizioso by at least two points, making for an interesting season finale and avoiding the whole fustercluck that is three Pacific races in three weeks.

Of which one, perhaps two will be run after the championship has been decided. At that moment, the Dorna promotion machine will begin yammering about 2019, Lorenzo on Honda, Zarco on KTM, etc., etc. The same way there is now tons of Christmas décor in the stores in the first week of October—staying ahead of the game. PS—By definition, Buriram’s official track record was set in 2018. 8 for 12.

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Andrea Iannone on the grid at the start. Image poorly cropped.

Here and There 

Scott Redding is thrilled to be riding in British Super Bikes next year. Just let that one sit and ferment for a moment. Maybe just beating the living crap out of someone, anyone, will make him feel good again. Like going from table stakes poker to nickel-dime-quarter. Thrilling.

Rossi spoke last week of Thailand as “another important opportunity to improve our bike.” General Pickett, I believe, spoke of Gettysburg as “another important opportunity to improve our attack.” I’d say both were correct, but only one worked out.

Michelin brought a fourth rear tire to Thailand. Cal Crutchlow probably didn’t like any of them.

Lorenzo tried to ride this week. Years ago, he rode a week after breaking his collarbone (and broke it again), so I expected him to ride and do poorly. His pride got the best of him on Friday. The Pacific Swing is on the horizon. Friday was a bad idea. It’s not like he’s chasing a championship. 

Tranches…Get Your Tranches Right Here 

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

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

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, (Rabat)

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

Here it Comes

Here come the dreaded flyaway rounds, three races in three weeks. Making things worse is the stranglehold in which Marc Marquez holds the championship. Bad enough to have to keep up with all these logistics when there’s something in the balance. But when it’s just filling out the schedule, and there aren’t any playoffs… Whatever. We’ll be back in two weeks with a glance at Twin Ring Motegi.

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 23, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Outduels Two Andreas, Extends Lead 

Since Sachsenring, Marc Marquez had grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’ve been making a chump out of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. Today, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso in front of his home fans, assuring them that he may be many things, but one of them is not a chump. 

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New Ant Man artwork at Turn 10

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was Ducati “Bring Your Desmo to Work Friday,” with GP18s (Dovi, Petrucci and Lorenzo) and a GP17 (Jack Miller) blanketing the top of the sheet. Rossi was idling in 15th with 14 minutes left but pushed himself into the top ten—a laughable goal not that many years ago—with some late speed.

FP2 was Marquez holding off the factory Ducatis, with Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone—I know, right?—rounding out the top five.  Rossi in 9th and Vinales in 10th put them on the inside looking out, but for how long? Marquez’ hot lap in FP2 was 7/10ths off the track record, within reach. Notables Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha) were buried in the deep teens. Better luck on Saturday.

FP3 was revealing, as all four Yamahas found themselves in the bottom 14 spots of the grid after the session, all four thereby consigned to the crapshoot that is Q1. The crash that left Rossi mired in 18th place after the session looked as if he simply lost concentration and folded the front on a routine fast turn, unmolested. Perhaps after 20-some years of routine practice session corners, they no longer grip The Doctor’s attention the way they used to. Anyway, Crutchlow and Marquez (and Pedrosa) on Hondas were busy slugging it out with Ducati representatives Miller and Dovizioso, not to mention the pesky Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki in the top five again.

The most glaring anomaly from FP4 was watching Valentino Rossi giving a reasonable impression of one of the Laverty brothers, closing the session in, again, 18th (eighteenth!) place. From there, he went on to finish 8th in Q1, meaning he would start Sunday’s race in—you guessed it—18th place. How he finished eighth in Q1 illustrates the growing fetish top riders seem have about not allowing “lesser” pilots to tailgate/slipstream them to a fast lap. My dog doesn’t like going on a walk with another owner and dog walking behind us, makes her nervous. I’m thinking Rossi’s thinking that, on his current sled, 2019-2020 seems like a long time.

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Rossi discussing his winning options–zero and none–with his team prior to the race.

Sitting eighth with new rubber and what seemed like five minutes left in the session, fetish on full display, Rossi spent four and a half of those minutes cruising the perimeter, waiting for other riders to go through on him and which they, in turn, cruising themselves, refused to do. His Wiley Coyote moment came when he realized there were 30 seconds left on the clock, and he was at least 45 seconds from the start/finish line. He never got his second flying lap started. Welcome to Row 6. BTW, Maverick Vinales waltzed into Q2, while Taka Nakagami snuck in just under the wire, consigning fellow rookie Franco Morbidelli to Row 5.

Q2 went the same way. Marquez laid down two sub-1:47 laps during his first attack, and the second stood up until a minute and a half after the flag waved. Again, much of that time was spent watching the riders and teams, um, standing around, waiting for “the right time” to attack the track record and claim pole. But, with the Racing Gods rewarding bad behavior, the two factory Ducatis apparently got it right. Long after the checkered flag waved, Dovizioso put his GP18 .07 in front of Marquez. Five seconds later, Jorge Lorenzo flashed across the line, taking his third consecutive pole, this by a full .014 seconds. Nice front row. But winning pole without setting a new track record—meh. Note: All Ducs on pole since summer break? No Yamaha starting from the top ten grid spots? Who put the pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?

Another Great Race

“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.”   –Motorcycle.com, September 19, 2018 

Not sure how many of you got what you wanted from this race, but I did. The two best riders on earth on the two best bikes, standing 1-2 in the chase, squaring off for another last lap cage match. This after 22 laps of high drama and exquisite suffering, as they used to say on ABC’s Wide World of Sports—‘The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat.”

By taking the hole shot from the third spot on the grid, defending world champion Marc Marquez forced former world champion Jorge Lorenzo wide in the first turn, from whence he opened the throttle a touch early, lost the rear of his Ducati, and got flung over the windscreen, a dislocated toe adding injury to the insult of having crashed from pole for two consecutive rounds. His premature departure left a curious front group consisting of two usual suspects—Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso—and two unusuals—Suzuki pilots Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins. Dani Pedrosa, in his Aragon swan song, put his Repsol Honda in 5th place to stay after a few laps, and everyone’s favorite rider, Aleix Espargaro, put his own Aprilia RS-GP in sixth place for the duration, tying his best finish ever for the Italian brand, and adding over 50% to his point total for the season.

This is how things stood until around Lap 14. Dovi had led most of the way, with Marquez dogging him the entire time. The two Suzukis, acting as if they weren’t a Tier Two brand, stolidly held serve in third and fourth places, appearing very relaxed, while the two leaders looked anything but relaxed, Dovizioso bouncing on his rear tire braking at the end of both straights. The two leaders started exchanging the lead on Lap 14, back and forth. Mostly recreational, from a distance. Until around Lap 21.

On Lap 21, Marquez bulled his way inside Dovi at Turn 1, only to get passed by both Dovi and Iannone—where’d he come from?—before grabbing the lead back later on the same lap and closing the door from there. Dovizioso was unable to mount a serious challenge to Marquez over the last 2½ laps. Even if he had, the only thing that would have changed would have been who stood on the top step of the podium and who would stand on the second. The 2018 standings, atrocious from a competitive standpoint coming in, got only marginally worse. 

The Big Picture 

After Misano, Marquez led the Sioux Nation by 67 points with six rounds left. Today, he leads by 72 points with five remaining. Announcers Matt and Steve were banging on today about how Marquez couldn’t clinch the title in Thailand, as if anyone thought that to be remotely likely anyway. His chances of clinching in Japan improved, and his chances of clinching in Australia went way up. Put it this way. It would take a Boston Red Sox-scale collapse over the final five races of the season to deny Marquez his fifth premier class championship. By way of illustration, were Marquez to crash out of the next three rounds while Dovizioso was busy winning them, he would trail the Italian by three points heading to Sepang.

No other meaningful changes in the top ten. Danilo Petrucci jumped up two spots to sixth, as both Crutchlow, who crashed out on Lap 5 and which was not his fault, and Johann Zarco, finishing 14th today, dropped a spot. The only thing that changed in a meaningful way was the likelihood that Marquez would NOT win the 2018 title, which went down again today. He has increased his lead in the championship at every round since Mugello. Oh, and the guys failed to break the track record from 2015 today, putting them 7 for 11 for the year. Still worth talking about. As for the title, that thing is over.

One final note. Prior to the race, you could see delight in the eyes of Xavier Simeon, the sad sack #2 rider for Avintia Reale Ducati, knowing that Jodi Torres, subbing for injured teammate Tito Rabat, was someone he could beat. Today was the day Simeon would, assuming he could finish the race, not finish dead last. We are happy to report that his dream came true, as he managed to pound Torres by half a second for the day, although that elusive first championship point still eluded him. Different people spell “winning” in different ways. 

Tranching Tool 

After Misano

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Iannone, Viñales, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

After Aragon 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller

Tranche 4:   Bautista, Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami

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

Looking Ahead

Two weeks to the maiden Grand Prix of Thailand. No numbing “Recent History at Buriram” to deal with in the race preview, as this is the virgin MotoGP outing at Buriram International Circuit. But we’ll dig up some stuff for you between now and then. My wife and I are leaving tomorrow for a week in Maine—she thinks it might as well be Siberia—for some chowdah, lobstah and relief from another stifling Indiana summer. Ciao.

Local Color

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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