Posts Tagged ‘Cal Crutchlow’

Rossi: “10th is possible.” LOL.

November 13, 2018

MotoGP News: Rossi on 2019

“Sepang was a strong indicator there’s life in ‘The Doctor’ yet and could title number 10 come in 2019?”

This is the kind of clatter Dorna pays young people to write about big merchandise sellers. Rossi, indeed, led the Malaysian GP for most of the race. Under brutal conditions, with highly motivated riders snapping at his boot heels, on a suspect bike. He finally low-sided, succumbing to the pressure, the heat, his age, and, ultimately, the laws of physics. Fully aware of the limits of tire adhesion, he had to ask more of the front than it was willing or able to give him in order to maintain his lead over the loathsome Marquez. This sensation, then, is what it’s like to be a rider not named Marquez in the late 20-teens. You choose–watch him win, or crash. Like the old chi-chi joke they tell Down Under.

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

2017 photo

Just to be clear. Put Rossi in as a contender for 2019, and add Dovi, Vinales, and any other rider you want. I’ll take Marquez against the lot of them. To suggest, as the headline suggests, that a 10th world championship is there for the taking in 2019 based upon 16 solid laps in Sepang is fatuous. The things people do for money.

Marquez MotoGP Point Totals, by year

2013     334

2014     362

2015     242

2016     298

2017     298

2018     321+ Valencia

In short, his best year since 2014, when he made The All-Universe team. The ten-for-ten start? Remember? Dovi has had his year–2017. Rossi had his two decades. Vinales is not as good on the Yamaha as expected, and the 2019 that Rossi rode a few months ago was pronounced ‘no big improvement.’. Lorenzo can be expected to have another hellified learning curve. Zarco is fast but he’s older. Rins and Mir would need two solid years on the Suzuki to have their choice of rides for 2021/22, and one or the other could conceivably challenge MM for the championship in, like, 2022. All the Moto2 grads except Mir will be on satellite teams, and all will have their work cut out for them; Bagnaia could be the exception to that rule. KTM doesn’t appear to have a prayer in 2019; beyond that is anybody’s guess.

In short, to me it looks like clear sailing for Marc Marquez for the next three years. During this time, Pedrosa, Rossi, maybe Dovizioso and Crutchlow will age out/retire. The Young Guns with the big reputations will begin showing up on their million dollar handmade custom machines and are likely to be quick from the start. The continuing evolution of the sport, the machines and the men who ride them, is remarkable, as the science of going fast on two wheels becomes ever more complicated and intense. The money, the pressure, the pace, the heat, Newton’s laws, all of it is high-stakes, all-in, digitized, balls-to-the-wall execution at impossible speeds, tire marks on leathers, margins in the thousandths of a second. At least eight new track records in 2018.

There’s nothing like it, and it’s getting better.

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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 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 Results

September 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

SEE LOW RESOLUTION PHOTOS FOLLOWING THE ARTICLE

Ducati celebrates, Dovi dominates and JLo asphyxiates

2018 will go down in Bologna, Italy as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third. When Jorge Lorenzo stunned the 97,000 fans by sliding out of second place on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another crushing 8 points to his 2018 lead. When you can win while losing, you are The Man.

Practice and Qualifying 

Practice sessions on Friday favored Hondas and Ducatis, although the inscrutable Maverick Vinales found his way into the top five during both sessions. Dovizioso was quickest in both sessions; Crutchlow was blazing. Marquez turned in his customary pokey FP1, checking things out, before climbing into the top five in FP2. The rain in the forecast earlier in the week never materialized.

Valentino Rossi, expected by a number of readers to win on Sunday, limped home in 15th place in FP1 and 8th in FP2. Lucky for him, conditions early on Saturday led to slower times for most riders, a confounding FP3 showing Johann Zarco (?), Jack Miller (??), Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow topping the sheet while Rossi was dawdling down in 20th position. Somehow, Rossi weaseled his way straight into Q2, FP2 having saved his bacon. Joining him with free passes into Q2 were the usual suspects along with Alex Rins on the Suzuki in 7th and Miller’s Pramac Ducati 10th. 

Q1 was crowded, due to guest appearances by Michele Pirro on a Ducati GP18, Stefan Bradl on a Marc VDS-caliber Honda, and a rider I’ve never heard of, one Christophe Ponsson, taking the place of the injured Tito Rabat for the Avintia Reale Ducati bunch. The announcers had been jocking Andrea Iannone and Pirro to pass through to Q2, but it was, instead, the Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli making the grade. Again, conditions were dry as a bone.

Q2 was a Jorge Lorenzo tour de force. He hauled his Ducati GP18 around the track on his first flying lap and set a new track record. His second attack was fruitless, but his third established yet another record, putting the grid 6 out of 9 for the year, breaking track records-wise. Marquez, his competitive juices coming out his ears, got out quick early, but slid off after having put himself in third. By the time he legged it back to the garage and jumped on his second bike, his adrenaline levels peaking, he had time for one more charge. His troubles during the weekend in sector 2 bit him again, and the session ended with him sitting in fifth position, without a care in the world.

Lorenzo was joined on the front row by Miller—dude defines “unpredictable”—and Maverick Vinales, who put his Yamaha on the front row late in the session. Marquez ended up flanked on row 2 by Dovizioso and Crutchlow, who lost his grits during the session. Rossi headed row 3, trailed by Danilo Petrucci and Zarco. Conclusion: There are a lot of fast riders on the first three rows. Thoughts like this are why so many people tell me I have a genuine flair for the obvious.

Sunday Riders

At the start, Lorenzo took the holeshot as interloper Jack Miller kept his nose in second place, from whence he started. Dovizioso went through Miller later in the lap, followed by Marquez and a panicky Maverick Vinales, with Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow trailing. Lap 2 saw Marquez shove Lorenzo out of his way, after which Jorge returned the favor. By Lap 3, Jack Miller found his way to the kitty litter, and the two factory Ducatis took off on their own for what appeared to be a Beat Your Teammate afternoon. Such was not to be the case.

While all this was happening, the factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were accomplishing absolutely nothing. Rossi started and finished seventh, due, late in the day, to the thoughtfulness of Lorenzo. Vinales started third and worked his way back to fifth as time ran out, Dani Pedrosa eyeballing him for the last six laps. Only poor writers would ever wheel out the hackneyed “once-proud” label for a brand which will clearly bounce back soon. But there it is.

Anyway, Dovizioso went through on his teammate on Lap 6 and was never seriously challenged after that. He managed the gap, the tires, his physical energy and his emotions in earning a solid, well-deserved and ultimately meaningless first win at Misano. Lorenzo had second place written all over himself until his unforced error on Lap 26. He and Marquez had taken a few shots at one another over the last 20 laps, but, as future teammates, nothing serious or offensive. Marquez, understanding he didn’t have the pace of the Ducatis, kept his powder dry, stayed within shouting distance of the leaders, and was there to scoop up a few extra points at the end. As planned.

Can’t Let This Pass without Comment

So there was this staged reconciliation on Saturday between Marquez and Rossi, cameras firing away as Marquez offered his hand and which Rossi, apparently neither expecting nor wanting it, declined. I immediately caught a whiff of professional wrestling, with stunts staged and designed to encourage viewership. Rossi’s type of gratuitous snub rarely works, and then only when it is the rider leading by 60 points declining the proffered hand. The rider trailing by 60 points, his ego clearly intact, who then goes out and finishes seventh and who should have finished eighth, only diminishes his own stature by such a tacky display of disrespect.

The Big Picture

Marquez leads Dovizioso by 67 points and Rossi by 70 with five rounds left. Though they are separated by only three points, Dovizioso is in the ascendency while Rossi is descending. I’m calling it here that both Lorenzo and Rossi are officially out of it for 2018 and Dovi is on life support. Marquez now has what I think of as a rolling magic number relative to Dovi:  Add 34 points to his margin between now and the flag at Buriram. Failing that, add nine points to his margin between now and the finish of Motegi. Or, failing that, lose no more than 15 points to Dovizioso between now and a white flag at Phillip Island. For those of you who play lotteries involving both positive and negative numbers, the Pick Three today is 34/9/-15.

Tranche Action at the Top

Tranches After Red Bull Ring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Iannone, P Espargaro, Viñales, Rabat

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

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

Tranches 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

The Intermediate Classes

In Moto3 today, Lorenzo Dalla Porta recorded his first ever grand prix win with an exhausting photo finish over Jorge Martin, allowing Martin to take the season lead over Marco Bezzecchi, who high-sided out of the lead late in the day. “Perfect” Pecco Bagnaia cruised to an easy win in Moto2, causing Pramac Ducati to drool in anticipation of 2019 and triggering Jack Miller to see red over all the fuss. Should be an interesting match-up; don’t be surprised if there is a wall in the Pramac garage before the end of next year.

Oh, and for those few of you who didn’t think Romano Fenati is psychotic, check him out grabbing the brake lever of Stefano Manzi prior to getting black-flagged today. His penalty is to spend the entire weekend in Aragon swathed head to toe in bubble wrap.

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* * *

Five rounds left in 2018. Two weeks to Aragon, the Land of Sand and Massive Boulders. Two weeks as the Marquez countdown continues. Two weeks for Andrea Dovizioso’s team to figure out a way to slip a half cup of sugar into Marquez’ gas tank prior to the final sighting lap in Spain.

If Marquez’ brolly girl at Aragon is Italian, someone will need to keep an eye on her.

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His brolly girl. And Andrea Iannone.

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Smoke and madness. And disappointment.

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What a beautiful place to build a racetrack.

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Valentino Rossi’s ranch in Tavullia. It won’t be long before one of the VR46 Academy riders beats the old man.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 5, 2018

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Andrea-DoviziosoDovizioso, Lorenzo Lead Czech Charge 

One of Europe’s elite racing venues gave 140,000 fans a thoroughly enjoyable MotoGP race today. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo put a heavy Ducati double-team on series leader Marc Marquez as all three ended up on the podium. Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow had their own little late-in-the-day war for fourth place, won by Vale. Marquez, who finds a way to win while losing, extends his season lead over Rossi to 49 points heading to Austria. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Y’know how it is the first day back at work after vacay. Jetlagged, a little boated, still catching up on sleep, thirsty all the time. After Friday’s two practice sessions the fastest rider on grid was one Dani Pedrosa, showing the crowd he hasn’t yet retired. This Alvaro Bautista guy was deeply in the mix again, ending the day with the third fastest time, trying desperately to win a 2019 ride that doesn’t appear to exist. And your boy Hafez Syahrin showed up in fourth place on Friday, looking as perplexed as the rest of us. It’s worth mentioning that Maverick Viñales was, after FP2, sitting comfortably in sixth place, apparently poised to rock and roll in FP3.

As is generally the case, times on Saturday morning improved overall. A few riders and their crews, apparently having burned the midnight oil, figured out some serious stuff. Take Ducati enigma Jorge Lorenzo, please. He sliced almost two full seconds off his Friday best, jumping from 15th overall to third. Crutchlow, Rossi, Marquez and Iannone also found more than a second overnight. Alas, Messrs. Bautista, Syahrin and Viñales failed to hold onto their top ten perches and would have to fight their way through Q1. Methuselah, #46, would lead the way into Q2, looking quick despite his ongoing victory drought.

Viñales and Rins made it through Q1 without much heartburn. Alvaro Bautista gave it the old college try, as dad used to say, but crashed out on his last pass, forced to settle for the top of the fifth row on Sunday.

Q2 was the usual barnburner. Marquez laid down the first serious lap with four minutes gone. A minute later Jorge Lorenzo scorched Brno and repeated the feat again nine minutes later. With a minute left in the session, Marquez seized pole once again, but left the door open for the two alpha Italians. From seventh place starting the last lap, Andrea Dovizioso whipped his Ducati to pole, missing the 2016 track record by just over a tenth. Rossi, coming from 12th, worked his magic once again on the last lap, ending up in the middle of the front row, next to Marquez, who was relegated to third. Like he cared.

But it must be a comfort to the millions of Rossi fans across the globe that he has finally, six years on, figured out the 15-minute qualifying sessions. The race Sunday would start with the two Italians and Marquez on the front row, stalked by Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci on Row 2. Maverick Viñales, who showed some signs of life on Friday, showed very little on Saturday and would start from the back of the fourth row. Dude is living in perdition these days, at war with his crew chief, while his teammate, not a care in the world, keeps hanging around up front, smiling and waving to the cameras.

A Pulsating Czech GP

Unlike last year, when the race was pretty much over by Lap 7, today’s tilt went right down to the wire. After Valentino had taken the holeshot on the opening lap (for the first time since, like, Viet Nam) the primary combatants featured the two factory Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Lorenzo, Marquez and Crutchlow on Hondas, and Rossi on the unfortunate Yamaha M1. Lap times were surprisingly slow, and by Lap 18 it looked like any of the five could take the win. Suddenly, Lorenzo, riding hard front/hard rear and looking like the 2012 version of himself, went through on both Marquez and Dovizioso. He made the pass stick on Marquez but ran wide and had to let Dovi back through. As the race approached its finale, it was Marquez lurking behind the two Ducatis, waiting for something to happen.

Let’s take a brief timeout and remind one another that Brno is almost custom-designed for the Ducati Desmosedici. The flowing layout, fast turns, and inimitable Horsepower Hill (sorry, Austin) give the red machines a discernible advantage here.

Marquez, whose prospects entering the weekend were suboptimal, for him, found himself in the midst of a Ducati doubleteam for most of the second half of the day. At the end, he did manage a rather weak pass on Lorenzo, who came back three turns later and forced him to sit up, leading to the final finishing order, the tightest top three finish since Estoril 2006.

Our prediction that Marquez was likely to win today was based, in part, on the fact that a Ducati had not won here since Casey Stoner in 2007. The factory Yamaha team now resembles Mutt and Jeff—Rossi, second for the year, generally on or near the podium every time out. But Maverick Viñales is just lost. Qualified 12th after having had to come through Q1. At war with his crew chief. And fails to make it out of Lap 1 today, getting caught up with Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith. Dovizioso snatched his 3rd place spot in the standings. All things being equal, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to accidentally drop his phone in the toilet night.

Anyway, with the Ducati contingent not having been a factor for a decade and the factory Yamaha team in disarray, it appeared Marquez had an opportunity to pull off the win. When asked prior to the race who he most feared on the grid on Sunday, he unhesitatingly answered, “Dovi.” He was right. It was somewhat gratifying that he would win the race two days after MotoGP.com ran an article titled “What’s Happened to Dovi?”

Elsewhere on the Grid

Pol Espargaro screwed the pooch in the morning warm-up today and is resting uncomfortably in a hospital somewhere in Spain with a broken left collarbone and chest contusions. He will be out for Red Bull Ring and perhaps Silverstone, too… With Smith having crashed out early in the race, it was another write-off weekend for KTM… Alvaro Bautista, blowing me away these days, managed another top ten finish, something that can’t be said of Alex Rins or Jack Miller… DNFs were recorded by Bradl and Viñales early on, and by Smith, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat later… Author is now five-for-eight on breaking track records for the year…(sigh)…

The Big Picture 

Marquez now leads the series by 49 points. Dovi passed Viñales for third behind Rossi, while Lorenzo went through on Zarco into a respectable fifth place for the year. Ask Marc Marquez how he would feel about Dovizioso and Lorenzo finishing one-two again next week in Austria and I think he would be fine with that. For now, Marc Marquez only has to worry that Valentino Rossi might stage some kind of Lazarus-ish comeback, win five in a row, and put the 2018 championship back on a competitive footing. For now, as he said in the post-race presser, all Marc Marquez needs to focus on is finishing each race until he clinches the title, just like we said last week. And Rossi, winless for over a year, would probably happily settle for a single win. Anywhere. The sooner the better.

Tranching Getting Easier

Now that things are getting stretched out a little in the standings, putting the riders in their proper slots is getting a little easier.

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, 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

Tranches After Brno

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

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

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 

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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.