Posts Tagged ‘Aprilia’

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. 

Screenshot (159)

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.

 

 

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen        6/17/2018

Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo goes two for two.

The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.

Practice and qualifying 

At the close of business on Friday the fast five had a distinctly Latin look about it, as it consisted of the sons of families with names like Lorenzo, Iannone, Viñales, Dovizioso and Rossi. Spanish and Italian grand prix racing royalty. Marc Marquez was dawdling down in 12th place, at risk of having to pass through Q1, barring some kind of breakthrough in FP3. But his race pace was solid; it’s easy to suspect he was more concerned about what he might have to do in Q2 than he was about getting there.

In addition to the usual suspects, Hafiz Syahrin and Tito Rabat kept showing up in or near the top ten during the practice sessions. In FP3, they bracketed the four-time MotoGP champion in 8th, 9th and 10th places. Dutifully on to Q1 trudged Marquez, along with Syahrin, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins and the three KTMs, Kallio on another wildcard. During the somewhat meaningless FP4, Marquez recorded another historic save, in Turn 14, re-writing the laws of physics with his right elbow and knee sliders, dug into and destroyed by the tarmac. Marquez, reinvigorated, later led Taka Nakagami, a pleasant surprise on the second LCR Honda, into Q2.

Lorenzo screwedThe second qualifying session in Barcelona was, despite being virtually (statistically) random, a humdinger. Marquez laid down a quick early lap which looked like it might stand up, with Lorenzo in his garage having some kind of invective-soaked spasm. Andrea Dovizioso was whipping his Ducati GP18 into the front row, looking dangerous. Lorenzo returned to the track late and, on his last qualifying lap and stole the pole, making it 10 straight front row starts at Montmelo.

A late high-speed crash left my boy Cal Crutchlow starting from 10th. Vinales and Iannone were joined on Row 2 by gatecrasher Danilo Petrucci. Rossi and Johann Zarco found themselves consigned to Row 3, joined, again, by that Rabat guy on the Avintia Ducati. And poor Dani Pedrosa, his future unclear, whose spirit needed a boost and instead took a beating over the weekend, limped home to start 11th, having started from pole just last year.

What About The Flipping Race? 

Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo went through into a lead heMarquez Valencia 2017b wouldn’t have even considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, getting dogged himself by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This bummer, in turn, promoted a lurking Valentino Rossi into podium contention.

Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth place. Experience 1, Skill 0. And the racing itself was inferior to the Moto2 and Moto3 races, which were, as usual, off the hook. 

What We Learned at Montmelo

We think we learned that Ducati, Lorenzo and Honda may all be suffering from buyer’s remorse tonight, given his current form. Honda, at a minimum, keeps him off a Ducati that now suits him for the next two years. Lorenzo could stay hot for two or three more rounds and put himself back in the 2018 conversation.

Marquez rode a smart race, keeping Lorenzo honest all day without taking any undue risks. He also managed to stay clear of Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso’s title aspirations suffered a serious hit today as he crashed out of his third race in four outings. It’s gotta be in his head.

Rossi 2018Valentino Rossi is still relevant to the championship, but he will need something really, um, unlucky to happen to Marquez to be considered a serious contender for the title.

12 of the 26 starters failed to finish the race. Some good ones—Dovizioso, Rabat, Miller, Aleix and Syahrin–recorded DNFs. And so Franco Morbidelli gets two points for finishing three laps down.

What About the Big Picture

Marquez goes from leading Rossi by 23 to leading Rossi by 27. 11 points stand between riders #3 and #9. Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone all enjoy 66 points after 7 rounds. Lorenzo’s trajectory is straight up, while Dovi’s is straight down. Iannone is less predictable. One rider who is painfully predictable is Dani Pedrosa, who has crashed out of alternating rounds all season. Don’t bet on him to finish at Assen.

In order to keep the KoolAid drinkers off my neck, I’m promoting Rossi to Tranche 1 with Marquez. It’s something of an honorific, as his best days are clearly behind him. 12 wins since 2009. But still finishing races, still standing on the podium, ready, willing and able to step up to the top whenever circumstances permit. He deserves respect, but you really shouldn’t bet on him to win anymore.

Marquez is holding things together at the top, making saves other riders can only dream about. If Lorenzo goes off and wins the next three, all Marquez needs to do is keep it close. His margin is such that, short of a royal blowout, Lorenzo’s hopes of a title in 2018 are modest.

Make Big Money Tranching at Home!

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

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

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

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

Bits and Pieces

To no one’s surprise, Jack Miller has signed a new one-year contract with Pramac Ducati, joining Pecco Bagnaia on what promises to be a fascinating 2019 team. It turns out that Petrucci’s contract with the factory Ducati team is also for one year only. When is this guy ever going to get some respect? He has been winning with inferior equipment his whole career. Now that he is fully up to speed as a factory Ducati rider he should be a consistent threat to podium.

Here’s an instant quiz: How many total world titles across all classes were standing on the podium on Sunday afternoon? Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi?

Today, as in Mugello, was Hammer Time for Lorenzo, looking more like the old Lorenzo, on rails, churning out lap after lap within 2/10ths of each other. He is mesmerizing; I literally nodded off, having slept poorly the night before.

Sitting here thinking I don’t expect Lorenzo to fare as well at Assen as he did today at Montmelo. But I didn’t expect him to win here either. OR at Mugello. So what do I know. I pretty much just work here. If, miraculously, Lorenzo does dominate in the Low Countries, he must be considered a legitimate threat to fight for the title.

A fortnight ago, Lorenzo was ‘washed up and left for dead,’ in the words of Mick Jagger. Tonight, he’s thinking about a hat trick, an effort that would cement his claim to have earned a part in the championship conversation.

In the meantime, as we submit this piece, we hope Aron Canet is OK after a big crash in the Moto2 race. He was stretchered off the track to the medical center. 

The Undercards, in eight seconds each:

In Moto3, Enea Bastianini punked Marco Bezzecchi at the wire, with Argentine Gabriel Rodrigo third. Jorge Martin led a parade of riders who crashed out of the race, leaving the door open. Rodrigo secured his first career podium in grand prix racing.

In Moto2, 19-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo took his first win, stiff-arming KTM star Oliveira pretty much all day, with Alex Marquez holding onto third. At the top of the Moto2 food chain, Pecco Bagnaia leads Oliveira by a single point after seven rounds, trailed by Marquez and Lorenzo Baldassarri.  The races in both divisions are regularly breathtaking, worth the price of the video subscription.

On to Assen

The MotoGP Flying Circus returns to The Cathedral at Assen in two weeks, a revered place capable of delivering upsets. Anything can, and often does, happen at Assen. Expect huge heaping doses of optimism from all the top riders, as it’s in their contracts that they must bubble over with pre-race excitement.

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

After Mugello, the 2018 Fight is a Fight Again

Virtually lost amidst the frenzied game of musical chairs being played in MotoGP is the fact that, pursuant to his careless crash in Italy ten days ago, Marc Marquez has returned to Earth. Though the title still appears to be his to lose, his margin of error has been trimmed. Another off in the next few rounds will breathe life into his six closest pursuers. Or, he could win the next three rounds without breaking a sweat, forcing us to start thinking about 2019. Dude records way more wins than DNFs. 

Points-wise, the aforementioned pursuers are tight as ticks: 

2        Valentino Rossi                72

3        Maverick Viñales              67

4        Andrea Dovizioso             66

5        Johann Zarco                    64

6        Danilo Petrucci                 63

7        Andrea Iannone                60

These six fast movers are highly motivated to put some real pressure on Marquez. Rossi wants to show the world he still has it (?) at age 39. Dovi was this close last year and can still taste the title. Zarco has the fastest Yamaha on the track and believes he can pull it off, becoming the first satellite rider to win a premier class title EVER. Petrucci, bubbling over with confidence, wants to impress Gigi Dall’Igna even more than he already has. And Iannone wants to stick his thumb in the eye of the suits at Suzuki who lost confidence in him last year. As for Viñales, he simply wants to stay in the mix long enough for Yamaha to give him a bike he can win on.

Recent History at Catalunya

2015, it will be recalled, was The Year of Discontent for Marc Marquez. It was on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he hit the deck, his day (and season) done and dusted. Lorenzo, having seized the lead on the first lap, was doing his best to get away, and Marquez had to try to force the issue early. Boom. Lorenzo edged Rossi by almost a second, with Dani Pedrosa arriving some 20 seconds later. At the end of the day, Marquez trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis after this round, found his mojo, and collected six podia over the second half of his lost season.

Iannone and LorenzoThe 2016 tilt featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed after the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and never looked back, cruising to his third premier class title.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having earlier absconded with Marquez’ lunch money, went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race.

Silly Season Singalong

“Well we’re movin’ on uppetrucci.jpg

To the east side

To a de-luxe apartment in the sky.

Movin’ on up

To the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie.”

–Theme song, The Jeffersons, being sung (in three-part harmony) by Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, and Joan Mir

Jorge Lorenzo’s defection from the factory Ducati team to Repsol Honda has given voice to Petrucci, who has been itching for a factory ride seemingly forever. Bagnaia and Mir are being promoted from Moto2 to the majors (Pramac Ducati and Suzuki Ecstar, respectively) and are singing backup to Petrux. Lorenzo’s switch must be viewed as a lateral, along with a joyful Hafiz Syahrin, who has been retained by the Tech 3 team in its forthcoming KTM iteration. Syahrin made it into the premier class the hard way, by being the last man standing when Jonas Folger was pronounced unfit to race this year due to illness.

A number of riders have little reason to sing at this point of the season. Andrea Iannone has been dropped down a notch or three, moving from Suzuki to Aprilia next year. Dani Pedrosa, after 13 years on a factory Honda, could end up anywhere; the rumors of a satellite Yamaha team sponsored by Petronas next year persist, with Pedrosa one of the two riders thereon. Jack Miller, speaking confidently of a factory ride in 2019 only a month ago, will likely stay put with Pramac. He will, however, probably pick up a little Italian profanity courtesy of Bagnaia.

Drunkenly singing the blues, in English, in a dark corner of this article are Scott Redding and Bradley Smith, both of whom appear to be on their way out of the premier class. The jury is still out on Taka Nakagami, Tom Luthi, Karel Abraham, Tito Rabat and Alvaro Bautista, with Nakagami and Rabat most likely to hang around for another year. Then there is Hectic Hector Barbera, whose downhill slide continues. Last year at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in the premier class. Last week at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in Moto2. Today he is unemployed, courtesy of a DUI in Valencia after Round 6.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather should not be a factor this weekend, as the extended forecast for greater Barcelona calls for clear skies and warm temps. As for the race, I have narrowed down my pick for the winner to five riders.  Marquez does not have great history here, but he is Marquez, a threat to win every time out, not to mention being a little cheesed off at the Italian fans who cheered wildly when he crashed at Mugello. Lorenzo, Rossi and Dovizioso have recorded wins here in the last three years; Lorenzo can be expected to try to prove that last week’s win wasn’t a fluke. Rossi and Dovi are in the midst of a title chase, giving them all the incentive they need.

My dark horse on Sunday is Dani Pedrosa. He is intimately familiar with Montmelo and has podiumed here the last six years. He has been jilted by his girlfriend of 13 years. He is looking for a ride next year and anxious to demonstrate that he has something left in the tank. And he would love to show Honda they’ve made a mistake—which is very possibly true—letting him go in favor of Lorenzo. The weather does not look to be a negative factor. And the fans, who simply want a Spaniard, any Spaniard, on the top step would get behind him if he finds himself in the lead. Stranger things have happened.

As usual this time of year, Moto3 goes off at zero dark thirty in the Eastern US, with Moto2 and MotoGP following. We will bring you results and analysis around noon.

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo wins for Ducati in Italian clambake 

Nature abhors a vacuum. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With an Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was another great day to be Italian. (Even if they don’t exactly have a government at present.) The 2018 standings have tightened up to some extent. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds.

Mugello circuit

Magnificent Mugello

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s two practice sessions produced a few surprises. Maverick Vinales—remember him?—had it going on, as did rookie Franco Morbidelli on the usually moribund Marc VDS Honda. Several high-profile riders, including Andrea Dovizioso (our pick to win the race), Dani Pedrosa and Alex Rins were on the outside looking in on Friday night. Suzuki roughneck Andrea Iannone, hours after declaring Suzuki had washed its hands of him for next year, put himself at the top of the heap in an effective show of spite.

FP3 on Saturday was a different story. Marquez set the fastest lap in the history of Mugello. Dovizioso set the fastest top speed ever recorded in MotoGP, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls ‘liftoff speed,’ and was able to sneak into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Michele Pirro, on a Ducati GP18 wildcard, executed a 160-mph high-side at the end of the main straight, going all ragdoll and ending up in the hospital with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, a testament to the technical prowess of Alpinestars and Arai. (While his injuries kept him out of Sunday’s race, he is lucky not to have become Humpty Dumpty. In the photo of him giving the thumbs up from his hospital bed, he looked as if he had fallen from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.) Rins found something on Saturday, but Dani Pedrosa, Jack Miller and Vinales were shunted off to the Q1 corral. Interesting to note that at the end of free practice, #3 and 4 were Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, giving the day a bit of a vintage feel. This feeling would arise again after the race.

Early Rossi and Lorenzo

Rossi and Lorenzo early in their careers

Q1 held little drama, other than the continued sufffering of Pedrosa, who was unable to crack the top ten at all until Q1, ending up 20th on the grid. Vinales and Miller made it into Q2, which was a different story, as rider after rider broke the old track record (putting the author at 3 out of 4 for the season, batting .750). In a bit of poetic justice, the much-maligned (by me) Doctor Rossi laid down the fastest lap EVER at Mugello while securing pole, joined on the front row by The Squishy-Soft Spartan and Vinales. Two Yamahas on the front row after months of singing the blues. Iannone, Petrucci and Marquez on Row 2. Several balloons popped as Dovi could manage only 7th, Zarco 9th, and Miller 11th. None of which, to my way of thinking, would have much to do with Sunday’s race result. Wrong again.

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Yellow Mugello

Race Day

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By the time the main event rolled around, the racing surface was approaching 50° C, the hottest conditions of the weekend. Marquez had found success in the morning warm-up going with the hard front/hard rear combination, which would help him hold up later in the race. By comparison, both Rossi and Dovizioso went with hard/medium, and Mr. Softee, Lorenzo, went with medium/soft. Before the lights wnt out, we were thinking we’d already seen this movie, in which Lorenzo takes off like a scalded cat only to get devoured in the second half of the race.

Not today. In a salute to Michelin, Lorenzo was able to make the softer rubber hold up all day after taking the holeshot at the start. He fought off a challenge from Marquez, who crashed on Lap 5, and began creating a bit of a working margin on his pursuers, who included Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Later in the race, Danilo Petrucci showed up, with Alex Rins tagging along on his own factory Suzuki.

By mid-race, it was clear that Dovizioso, running second, wasn’t going to challenge Lorenzo, nor was Rossi, sitting happily in third, going to challenge Dovizioso. On Lap 12, Petrucci went through into third place, visions of an all-Ducati podium dancing in the head of Gigi Dall’Igna. But Petrucci’s tires went up with about six laps left, allowing both Rins and Cal Crutchlow through, demoting him to a demoralizing 7th. Which is more than his rival and competitor for a factory ride in 2019, Jack Miller, could say, as he crashed out on Lap 2, joining Dani Pedrosa, Scott Redding, Karel Abraham and Tom Luthi in making early exits from the proceedings.

So, what did we learn today? That Jorge Lorenzo is, somehow, BACK? No. He admitted as much himself in the post-race presser, in which he said the track and the conditions need to be right, as they were today, for him to compete for a win. That Marc Marquez is, somehow, beatable? Not really, since the last time he crashed out was over a year ago; it’s way too early to think of this as a thing. That Valentino Rossi is, somehow, at age 39, still capable of competing at a high level? Absolutely. Though he still hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008, he gave the fans a show. (And while 40 is not the new 30 in MotoGP, third place on the podium is as good as a win for Rossi in 2018.) That age and experience can still, on occasion, beat young and quick? Yes. Lorenzo (31), Dovizioso (32) and Rossi (39) dusted the likes of Marquez (25), Vinales (23) and Rins (22). Mugello respects its elders.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ lead at the top has been cut from 36 points over Vinales to 23 points over Rossi. Vinales in 3rd and Iannone in 7th are separated by seven points. Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller are slugging it out for 8th, while Lorenzo has suddenly appeared in the top ten, if only for the moment.

In our preview the other day, we suggested at least one of the top five riders might hit the floor today; Marquez and Miller complied. We suggested that Andrea Dovizioso needed to come through at his home crib, which he did, to the tune of +20 points. We thought Petrucci, Rossi and, yes, Jorge might make some noise. Check. We commented during the week how qualifying had little to do with race results, and were wrong, despite Maverick Vinales having started 2nd and finished 8th. We thought Johann Zarco might carry the colors for Yamaha; he finished 10th. Just goes to show that if one makes enough predictions, a few are likely to work out.

The Undercards

Once again, the Moto3 race was breathtaking. Teammates Jorge Martin and Fabio DiGianntonio on the Del Conca Gresini Hondas fought it out all day with KTM’s Marco Bezzecchi. At the flag, Martin crossed the line first, a full .019 seconds ahead of Bezzecchi, with DiGianntonio lagging another .024 back. Three riders within half a second at the flag. Another day at the office in Moto3.

Moto2 was equally compelling. Both Marcel Schrotter and Mattia Pasini crashed out of the lead, Schrotter failing to complete a single lap. The front group then consisted of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM versus Lorenzo Baldassarri on the Pons HP40 Kalex and, at the end, rookie Joan Mir on the Marc VDS Kalex. Francesco Bagnaia, on his way to the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team next year, finished fourth. Once again, all four riders finished within half a second of Oliveira. Prior to the race it was confirmed that Mir would be signing a contract with the Suzuki ECSTAR team to ride alongside Alex Rins beginning next year. THAT will become a formidable team.

Not-Quite-Groundless Speculation

The announcers were speculating whether today’s win by Lorenzo would save his seat on the factory Ducati team next year. I’m thinking maybe, as long as the impossibly proud Lorenzo is willing to take about a 75% pay cut, which doesn’t seem likely. The speculation continued later, with Petronas, the massive Malaysian energy company, rumored to be considering a leveraged buyout of the Marc VDS team and forming a satellite Yamaha team fronted by Lorenzo and Syahrin. Such a team would, presumably, give way to a Rossi-run SkyVR46 team in 2021.

Back to Spain in Two Weeks

The flying circus returns to Barcelona in two weeks, to Montmelo, the favorite track of those whose favorite track isn’t Mugello. Today was a day for the Italians; June 17th is likely to be a day for the Spaniards. To give you, the reader, something over which to ruminate in the interim, your newest tranching tool follows.

 

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Iannone, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Zarco, Vinales, Miller

Tranche 3:   Lorenzo, Pedrosa, A Espargaro, Rins, Rabat

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

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

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Mugello Madness