Posts Tagged ‘Ducati’

Another Crackpot MotoGP Theory Validated

May 22, 2022

I’m pretty sure I told you so. I’m pretty sure I told you that a long lap penalty. or having a last lap waved off for getting in the green, an untimely DNF. Any of these could decide the championship in a race that, in the words of my late Aunt Frannie, is tighter than a tick.

I’d like to think that I called it when I suggested an inverse relationship between the number of DNFs recorded by a rider and his rank in the chase. These top ten YTD standings are current as of 05/21/2022.

Rider                                                Points                                  #DNF

Quartararo                                          102                                       0

A. Espargaro                                         98                                        0

Bastianini                                               94                                       1

Rins                                                       69                                         1

Miller                                                     62                                         2

Zarco                                                      62                                        2

Bagnaia                                                   56                                        2

B. Binder                                                  56                                        1

Mir                                                           56                                         2

M Marquez                                               54                                        2

This illustrates, once again, that, as the expression goes, in order to finish first, one must first finish.

The four riders leading the 2022 chase have averaged, over the first seven rounds, half a DNF, with neither Quartararo nor Aleix haven’t  crashed once. Riders five, six and seven–Miller, Zarco and Bagnaia–have all crashed out of two races, returning us briefly to the days when the Desmo was considered unridable by anyone other than Casey Stoner. In fact, of riders five through eleven, all have crashed out twice other than Brad Binder, whose numbers suggest he is too stubborn to stay down, that he may have remounted once or twice.

The current poster child for this “win or bin” mentality is Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin, with DNFs in four of his first seven. Earlier in the season he looked ready to assume the second chair on the factory Ducati team. Lately, however, Mo Mentum, the famous sixth man in basketball, the 12th man in the Seattle Seahawks’ crazy home field advantage, seems to be smiling on your boy EBas, at the expense of Jack Miller, who would look good in KTM colors. Honda must be sweating  bullets trying to get Mir signed now that PEsp is feeling unwanted. Mir, one supposes, is not looking forward to wrestling the RC213V, at least the 2022 iteration. Neither of the LCR boys, Nakagami nor Little Brother, can ride the Honda. PEsp will have his moments at his tracks but is nothing like consistent. And, if you were a betting man, um, person, who would you rather have a grand on right now–Marquez, with 54 points or Bagnaia with 56.

Interesting that Maverick Vinales has a clean DNF record but only 33 points, suggesting he is not riding the Aprilia hard enough. Much the same could be said about PEsp. Oh, and just for the record I expect Ducati to crush Mugello, lock out the podium, and convince Fabio that his future does not lie with Yamaha, that he’s caught them with the OEM pendulum swinging in the wrong direction. Is this the weekend Zarco finally achieves liftoff speed? Can Marquez continue trying to catch a tow into Q2? Will young EBas continue his poised, efficient efforts to winning a premier class title as a sophomore in the Marquez era, or at least the close of it. Fabio knows he has to remain perfect in order to remain in contention, putting massive pressure on himself. And my boy Aleix is sitting there making it look easy on an Aprilia that finally does what it’s told.

One of the few things I remember from five years of university-level economics is the tendency of large numbers to regress to the mean, all things being equal, which they never are. In the immediate case, as is almost always the case, you have a new group of Aliens. It’s true. Your present group of Aliens includes EBas, Pecco, Fabio, Aleix. The jury is officially out on #93; we may be witnessing the end of an era, the emergence of Italy, fast young Italian Riders and the, ahem, iconic Italian brand, the Really Big Red Machine. Europe, in Ducati and Aprilia, seeming to enjoy the upper hand in recent times, Fabio and Yamaha holding on for dear life. The Suzuki boys, Rins and Mir, appear disillusioned, watching their teams disintegrate beneath them.

And so it goes in grand prix yachting. I expect that latest division amongst the racing cognoscenti is whether Marquez can bring it back home again, like, in 2023, 2024? He needs a better bike, which Honda has generally provided. No sense in gathering input from PEsp any longer, as his head is unlikely to still be in the game. Nor does he appear to be at all effective as a wingman. Anyway, I think the top three riders at this moment–Fabio, Aleix and EBas–will not be the same three at the top of the heap heading to Valencia. In my unsolicited opinion, I think Fabio is in trouble at tracks like Mugello and Red Bull Ring. Assen is the fastest track on the calendar. He is so unlikely to maintain his clean slate, and when it goes, there goes his lead in the series. Aleix is making it look easy, a third of the way through the season, and EBas is threatening to run away with things.

Somewhere in me resides the thought that the guys who’ve avoided gravel traps thus far are due for a visit. That once Fabio loses his grip on the title, his successor will have a brief ride at the top. The greatest movements, the worst movements, are a DNF at this point. The figures would argue that the riders most at risk of a DNF at this time are Fabio, Aleix, EBas and Rins. This is the type of season in which the MotoGP announcers begin wetting themselves,  waxing euphoric about “those precious _____ points.”

Similar to their race strategy at certain tracks, perhaps the riders don’t actually want to be in the lead this early in the season, especially since there is no runaway winner who needs stopping. It is simply vital that the riders gathered at the top of the heap today remain upright on race days, that they continue to gather points no matter what, that they know who and what is ahead of them and behind them. That they take no stupid risks that would jeopardize another rider.

So far, IMHO, this season is shaping up exactly the way fans want it. There are three Aliens at this moment. There is a host of challengers waiting for someone in front of them to fall. There is just so much riding on every turn, the race, the season, the silly season, which brand is on the upswing, which brand is heading down? Competition amongst the teams–first and foremost, beat your teammate.

It’s fair to expect financial pressures to force teams to cut costs, a process well beyond the scope of this effort. We’e been down this road before and have been breaking all-time track records along the way. If I were a betting man I would be that all the money spent on winglets is all the money that will get spent, i.e., no more R&D on winglets with wind tunnels and etc. Beyond that I don’t know, other than them that has, gets.

Some teams are scratching their heads this year.l LCR Honda. Factory Suzuki. Gresini, current employer of EBas. Jack Miller needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat to keep his current seat. Why does Alex Rins appear to be odd man out during this silly season? Riding Aprilia for Leopard Racing, that could work.

This week is Mugello, one of the great venues in this sport. So much history, none of which I can remember, but I know it’s out there. Perhaps the best slipstream anywhere, adds a whole new dimension to bike racing. The noise. As we like to say out here in Hoosierville, “MotoGP is one of God’s great gifts to mankind. It. Just. Is.

So go tell your friends. Tell them it’s the best sport on two wheels. Ever.

MotoGP 2022–The Grand Prix of Portugal, Round 5

April 25, 2022

Hello, MOrons. I’ve taken the offensive comment by Steve Day and moved it just below this one. Please rake a look and reply to his comment as appropriate. You guys are the best.

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It’s now Saturday afternoon. All of the action from Friday and today is complete. As race day approaches, the weather is improving and the times are dropping. Friday was Crash Day for the Ducati contingent, as four of their six stalwarts ended up in the gravel. Marc Marquez set the pace on Friday in the wet, showing us again that he has a big pair. Alex Marquez and Luca Marini, of all people, passed from Q1 into Q2, leaving names like Martin, Bastianini, Rins and Bagnaia behind. Bagnaia was shaken, not stirred, by a big high side in Q1; it appeared he may have lost consciousness, and my guess is he will be declared unfit to race before the lights go out tomorrow.

Q2 was run in bright sunshine, the track almost completely dry. Plenty of yucks in the last few minutes. Alex Marquez, celebrating his 26th birthday, held pole with 4 minutes left in the session; he would end up in P7. In order, the pole sitter parade featured, Johann Zarco, then Quartararo for an instant, followed by Joan Mir, Zarco again, and Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro was left chewing asphalt with less than two minutes remaining; the yellow flag accompanying his off cost Quartararo, then Marquez, pole. Once the clock hit all zeroes, the fun really began, as Mir, then Aleix, then, finally, Zarco, put down fast laps, although none came close to challenging Bagnaia’s track record lap from last year.

Tomorrow’s race promises to be madness, with Zarco, Mir and Aleix on Row 1, Miller, Quartararo and Bezzecchi (?) on Row 2, the Marquez brothers and Luca Marini (??) on Row 3, and Pol Espargaro and the factory KTM boys on Row 4. Farther back in the pack and newsworthy are Jorge Martin (off the first row for the first time this year), series leader Bastianini in P18 (???) Lorenzo Savadori (what the hell is he doing here this week with both Aleix and Vinales running?) and Alex Rins, sucking canal water in P23. Perhaps Savadori is racing this weekend because the Aprilia team has been hoarding soft rears and had so many they decided to waste a dozen or so on the hapless Italian.

Despite the troubles they had on both Friday and Saturday, Team Ducati still placed four riders on the front three rows. Martin and Bastianini, both in the conversation for the title this year, will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. My Magic 8 Ball tells me to keep an eye on Joan Mir, #93 and Aleix, upon whom my money is riding for podium honors for Round


Sunday’s race saw Fabio Quartararo become the first two-time winner this season, having taken the lead from Joan Mir on Lap 4 and cruising to an easy 5.4 second victory over fellow countryman Johann Zarco, with Aprilia Boss Aleix Espargaro taking yet another podium in his happy season. The chase for the 2022 championship is tight as a tick after five rounds, Quartararo tied at the top with the suddenly formidable Alex Rins, who carved his way from P23 at the start to P4 at the end. Aleix sits pretty in P3, a mere 3 points separating him from the leaders, A suddenly mortal Enea Bastianini sits in P4, five points “in arrears”, as the Brits say, to Espargaro.

Buried in the footnotes to today’s race–

  • Pecco Bagnaia, who tried to break his collarbone on Saturday and came damned close, hanging tough on Sunday, starting from P25 and finishing in P8. He and Zarco were the sole bright lights for Team Ducati, Jorge Martin having crashed out around Lap 6 and Jack Miller, chasing a podium, sliding off the track on Lap 19 and collecting Mir in the process. Luca Marini did finish in the points, while Marco Bezzecchi, starting from P6, worked his way down to P15 at the finish.
  • Marc Marquez, starting from P9, got lost in the sauce early, worked his ass off all day, and just barely beat little brother Alex by 2/100ths at the flag for 10 points. What the hell is Alex Marquez doing fiddling around just behind the lead group(s)?
  • With Miller and Mir getting skittled late, everyone trailing them got promoted two spots. Marquez, who could have started on pole were it not for teammate Pol Espargaro bringing out the yellow flags in Q2, might as easily have finished in P8. He thumped his noggin on the asphalt again on Saturday, but his diplopia, which may be becoming chronic, did not appear.
  • The first 1-2 finish for French riders since the Earth cooled.
  • Miguel Oliveira, the Great Portuguese Hope, finished in P5 at his home crib, but his name was only called two or three times all day.
  • Fabio is starting to resemble former Yamaha pilot Maverick Vinales. He is dominant when running in clean air at the front, but unable to slice and dice his way through the field like Marquez, Rins and Bagnaia. Accordingly, I make him a long shot to take the 2022 title.
  • Valentino Rossi showed up at today’s race, the first time he has graced the paddock since his retirement at the end of last season.

Loyal readers of this column will notice a comment recently affixed (approved by me) to the post about Simon Crafar and Steve Day from last year, in which I cast some aspersion on both gentlemen. Simon, since then, has impressed me, especially when he is in the booth during practice sessions. But it’s Steve Day who took time out of his busy schedule yesterday to insult me and, by extension, the loyal readers who follow this column. This after getting tossed from the booth by Dorna or whoever. I expect you MOrons to respond to Mr. Day on my behalf, defending me from the slings and arrows, etc. Mentioning the fact that he resembles Flounder in Animal House would be helpful as well. If you choose to defend me, might as well do it below, rather than paging back through piles of gibberish. I hope Steve will see that he started a bit of a MotoGP shitstorm.

Next week Jerez. I attended the race there in 2010; it was one of those memorable Lorenzo moments.

Cheers.

2022 MotoGP Argentina, Termas de Rio Hondo – Race Results

April 4, 2022

Originally posted by Crash. net

Aleix Espargaro makes history with his and Aprilia’s first-ever MotoGP win, in his 200th premier-class start, after a tense race-long duel with Jorge Martin at Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina.

Espargaro had been fastest not only in qualifying but also free practice and warm-up, presenting the Spaniard with a perfect chance to finally break his victory drought.

But when the red lights went out, Espargaro got a shaky getaway and lost out to fellow front-row starters Jorge Martin and Luca Marini, plus younger brother Pol by turn two, before recovering to second behind Martin by the end of the lap.

It also threatened to put Espargaro within range of the pursuing Rins, but the Aprilia rider regrouped with the fastest lap of the race to clamp back onto Martin’s rear wheel.

With 8 laps to go Espargaro slipstreamed ahead of Martin along the back straight to lead for the first time, but promptly ran wide at the following hairpin allowing Martin to casually return to the front.

Espargaro repeated the attempt, with the same result, soon after. But it was a case of third time lucky as Espargaro held his line into the hairpin with five laps to go.

Martin wasn’t done, clinging persistently to the RS-GP until the final lap, where Espargaro finally edged out of reach for an emotional victory. 

Until today, Aleix had been the only rider on the MotoGP grid without a grand prix win, in any class, to his name while the RS-GP had taken just one prior podium,with Espargaro at Silverstone last year. A dream day was made complete by Espargaro now also leading the world championship standings.

Pol was among those flocking to congratulate Aleix, his brother’s triumph helping soothe the disapointment of crashing out of fourth place with 11 laps to go, leaving Rins to complete the podium ahead of Suzuki team-mate Joan Mir.

Starting 13th and 14th after a problematic Saturday, factory Ducati team-mates Francesco Bagnaia and Jack Miller failed to gain early ground. Bagnaia then chipped his way up the order to fifth but Miller couldn’t make an impression on the race and finished 14th.

Maverick Vinales, who had also enjoyed his best Aprilia weekend heading into the race, lost a few places from fifth on the grid before stabilising in seventh.

Reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo was shuffled from sixth on the grid to 13th in the early laps. The Monster Yamaha star gained a place when countryman Johann Zarco slid off ahead of him, but could only recover to eighth.

Marco Bezzecchi was the top rookie in ninth for VR46, with team-mate Marini fading to eleventh.

Qatar winner and world championship leader Enea Bastianini began the race twelfth on the grid, reached a peak of eighth, but then ran wide and dropped to 13th. Bastianini completed the top ten by the chequered flag.

The RNF Yamaha team seemed to suffer tyre warmer generator problems on the grid for both Andrea Dovizioso and Darryn Binder. Dovizioso then entered the pits at the end of the opening lap before re-joining the race.

Dovizioso wasn’t the only Yamaha rider in technical trouble with Monster’s Franco Morbidelli looking to suffer some kind of rear tyre issue as he entered the pits with 18 laps to go.

All riders chose to race with the hard front and soft rear tyre combination.

Marc Marquez, who suffered a new episode of double vision in the aftermath of his huge warm-up accident in Indonesia, missed this weekend’s event and was replaced by HRC test rider Stefan Bradl.

After a medical check last Monday, Marquez’s Ophthalmologist Dr Sánchez Dalmau said there had been a “a very favourable evolution in the paralysis of the fourth right nerve affected by the fall that occurred at the Indonesian Grand Prix.”

But he added: “Recovery is not yet complete, and Marc Marquez must follow the established therapeutic regime with conservative treatment.”

It is thus not yet known if Marquez will return for COTA next weekend, one of his most successful circuits, or re-join sometime during the European season, which begins in Portimao on April 22-24.

Fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami also looked set to miss this weekend after testing positive for Covid-19 and being unable to leave Japan. However, the cancellation of Friday combined with subsequent negative Covid results meant Nakagami was able to get to Termas in time for Saturday’s start.

MotoGP was returning to Termas de Rio Hondo for the first time since March 2019, with the event cancelled for the past two years due to the Covid pandemic. That also meant the current ‘standard’ rear tyre construction, introduced in 2020, had not previously been used at the track.

Barring any freight issues, MotoGP will be back on track in Austin, Texas on Friday.

THUNDERATION—MotoGP 2022 Cleared for Takeoff

February 27, 2022

By Bruce Allen

[Note: The scurrilous opinions, mis-statements of fact and otherwise actionable slurs below do not represent the views of Motorcycle.com. In fact, we are surprised if they represent the views of anyone at all.]

MotoGP, the fastest sport on two wheels in the known universe, is back for what promises to be one of the most competitive seasons in history. Twelve well-financed teams. 24 riders, of which only a handful can be excluded from consideration for multiple podium appearances during a 21-round campaign stretching from the streets of Indonesia to the jungles of South America to the Gulf of Finland. And the machines, hand-built to inconceivable tolerances, with power-to-weight ratios comparable to strapping a pair of big Evinrudes on the ass end of a dinghy.

In the past ten seasons, only four men have claimed the title of MotoGP world champion. Jorge Lorenzo, gone but not forgotten, won it all during his Yamaha days in 2012 and 2015. Joan Mir, the young Spanish speedster with the girl’s name, claimed his win in 2020*, winning a single race in a season decimated by Covid. French heartthrob Fabio Quartararo became a world champion in 2021*.

The asterisks signify seasons in which Spanish king of kings, Marc Marquez, who won the other six titles during the period, was injured or trying to return from injury. It doesn’t require much imagination to suggest that, had Marquez been healthy, both Mir and Quartararo would have watched him claim his seventh and eighth premier class crowns. For those of you new to the sport, he is the Michael Jordan, the Tom Brady of grand prix motorcycle racing. Those of us who watched him during those years remain unworthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.

In 2022, having returned to full health (or close to it) Marquez will have his work cut out for him. There is more talent on the grid today than there was in 2013, and, despite his boyish good looks, he has a lot of miles on his odometer and is, in fact, a veteran rider. Not a grizzled veteran like my boy Cal Crutchlow, but a veteran nonetheless. He turned 29 in February, in a sport where eyebrows begin to raise at anyone over 30.

When Last Seen

The 2021 calendar was goofed up, again due to the Covid pandemic. There were a full 18 rounds, but it was cobbled together, with two each at Losail, Red Bull Ring Portimao and Misano. Quartararo won five rounds—Losail II, Portimao I, Mugello, Assen and Silverstone, coasting to the championship at season’s end. Upstart Pecco Bagnaia, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, captured four of the last six rounds to make the final standings look closer than they were. Ducati pilot Jack Miller won two early rounds, at Jerez and Le Mans, but failed to launch thereafter, going winless over the final 13 rounds.

Other winners included KTM’s Brad Binder at his home gym in Austria, and the wounded Marc Marquez, who, riding with one arm, managed wins at the Sachsenring and COTA, both of which he basically owns, and Misano II. In a harbinger of great things yet to come, rookie Jorge Martin, the second coming of Dani Pedrosa, recorded a great win at Austria I. And, in a footnote, the bedraggled Maverick Vinales, once considered the next great thing, won Round One in the desert and was hardly heard from thereafter. He switched teams in mid-season, falling out of grace from the factory Yamaha team and landing in a heap with Aprilia. He has gone from the next great thing to a trivia question, all due to the size of his ego.

The Off-Season

Since the final 2021 round at Valencia up until this week, actually, teams have been installing new riders and scrambling to come to terms with the 2022 iterations of their bikes. Rules governing what goes on in the off-season have been tightened drastically in recent years in an effort, I guess, to cut costs. Personally, what I learn each year from testing and the race at Losail is essentially nothing. IMO, Losail, for me anyway, marks the end of pre-season testing, but with the riders able to score points. Winning at Losail in March counts for about as much as the Cincinnati Reds winning their opening game in March. It has no predictive value.

The Grand Prix of Qatar has always been a strange choice for the season opener. They run it at night under gigantic lights, with sand blowing across the track. The racing surface is wide enough to tow a fifth-wheel trailer. March is one of the few months where local air temperatures are under 150 degrees. And attendance usually runs to about 1500 fans, most of whom are oil sheiks, crypto miners and political assassins. Not normal.

New Faces

This season starts with seven underclassmen, three sophomores and four freshmen. New to the premier class last year were Italian speedsters Luca Marini (half brother of the legendary Valentino Rossi) and Enea Bastianini, along with rising Spanish star Jorge Martin. The 2022 crop of rookies includes a pair of KTM guys, apparently chained at the wrists and ankles—Australian Remy Gardner and Spanish fast mover Raul Fernandez. These two don’t like each other, causing us to hope for a repeat of the hilarious scene back in the day when Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi shared a garage and had a wall built down the middle to keep them from gouging each other’s eyes out.

Two more Italians complete the 2022 grid, starting with Fabio di Giannantonio, repping the Gresini Ducati team. (We will be forced to refer to him this season as FDG in order to conserve our dwindling inventory of lower case N’s.) Last, and perhaps least, is young Marco Bezzecchi, filling the #2 seat on Valentino Rossi’s Mooney VR46 Racing Team. Marco’s coiffure suggests he thinks of himself as the second coming of the late Marco Simoncelli; I prefer to consider him the MotoGP version of Sideshow Bob.

The Machines

Oh, what a different couple of paragraphs this would be had motorcycle whisperer Gigi Dall’igna not defected from Aprilia to Ducati in 2013. Over the past ten years he has transformed the Ducati Desmodici from a rocket sled into the best bike on the grid. Anyone who wishes to question this statement should seek counseling. At present, were we to tranche grand prix motorcycles, the ranking would look as follows:

Tranche 1: Ducati

Tranche 2: Your mother

Tranche 3: Honda

Tranche 4: Yamaha, Suzuki

Tranche 5: KTM

Tranche 6: Aprilia

This season there will be eight (8) Ducatis on the grid. Were it possible, there would probably be 18. Seems every rider wants a Desmo, wants to blow up his rivals on the long straights. It’s as fast as it’s aways been, only now the riders can wrestle it through the turns without giving themselves colitis. And it appears to improve each year. By 2025 Ducati Corse could conceivably sweep the top three or four spots for the year. Wow.

Despite winning the 2021 championship, Yamaha appears to have slipped a bit; Fabio is the only rider able to coax results out of the M1, with Morbidelli starting to smell like an underachiever. The aging Andrea Dovizioso and whippersnapper Darryn Binder, called up from Moto3 where he wasn’t all that, on the #2 team appear destined for the lower links of the food chain.

Honda appears to have similar problems. Clearly, the RC213V has been designed around Marc Marquez; what manufacturer in his right mind wouldn’t? Pol Espargaro, the #2 rider on the factory team, keeps talking a good game and keeps not winning races. Sure, he managed a second place finish last year at Misano II. Big whoop.The riders on the satellite team, Alex Marquez and Taka Nakagami, show occasional flashes of mediocrity, but are second division contestants. The day either of them wins a grand prix I will buy all of you a good cigar. (How you split it up between youse is your problem.)

Suzuki, to my way of thinking, can’t really be taken seriously as a championship-level outfit without a second team to generate more data. Sure, someone is bound to point out that Joan Mir won the 2020 title for Suzuki, and most people I know were happy for him and them. But 2020 was a crazy, one-off year. And, in winning the title, he managed the top step of the podium exactly one (1) time. Nicky Hayden won the Taller Than Danny DiVito Award in 2006 for Honda with two wins. Just for the love of the game, allow me to compare Marc Marquez’ points haul in 2019 with Mir’s in 2020:

Marquez 2019: 420 pts  (19 rounds)

Mir 2020:         171 pts  (14 rounds)

Where was I? Right. KTM, which appeared to be an ascendant MotoGP organization in 2020, took a definite step backward last year, despite the rugged Brad Binder having captured his maiden premier class win at Red Bull Ring, his home crib. In 2020 the two teams managed 200 points in 14 rounds of racing. In 2021, over 18 outings, they scored only 205 points. There has been plenty of sturm and drang during the off season. Another year like last year and there’s going to be some serious Teutonic ass-kicking going on in Mattighofen. Just sayin’.

Which brings us to Aprilia, the racing organization made famous by having let Gigi Dall’igna defect to Ducati. Just think about what this tranche might look like had they had the sense to pay him. But without a satellite team, their brave annual pronouncements about this finally being their year generate choruses of yawns from the racing press. Please don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Tell me what you’ve done.

Everyone’s Favorite Segment

At this point in the 2022 season, tranching the riders is a fool’s errand. And I’m just the fool to take it on. But I’m only willing to separate the riders into sheep and goats. If you have a problem with this, I suggest you write your congressman.

Tranche I—Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco, Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro, Brad Binder, Pol Espargaro, Raul Fernandez, Andrea Dovizioso

Tranche II—Alex Rins, Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli, Taka Nakagami, Alex Marquez, Enea Bastianini, FDG, Luca Marini, Remy Gardner, Maverick Vinales, Darryn Binder, Marco Bezzecchi

Our mid-season report will revert to the traditional format. Until then, I welcome your taunts and hoots.

Short Takes

Fabio Quartararo should have his leathers re-worked. Listening to him talk, he’s no more Spanish than I am. El Diablo needs to become Le Diable…Raul Fernandez is my pick for Rookie of the Year…MotoGP will change when teenager Pedro Acosta, The Next Really Great Rider, moves up next year. If he doesn’t title in Moto2 this year it will only be due to his having spent some serious time in traction…Jorge Martin is a rider to keep one’s eye on. Fearless and fast. He needs to concentrate on spending less time getting launched over his handlebars…Between his right arm and his damaged vision, we may have already seen the best Marc Marquez has to offer this sport. His lizard brain, the part firing the synapses behind his “Oh, my!” saves, may be slightly hesitant on the heels of two serious accidents…Pecco Bagnaia is my pick as the 2022 world champion, in case anyone asks.

The American FAA lists 234 miles per hour as “takeoff speed,” the speed at which an airplane leaves terra firma and begins its ascent. This is equal to 376 kmh. During FP4 at last year’s opener in the desert, Johann Zarco recorded 362.4 kmh on the main straight. The Ducati contingent, with their various winglet designs, will probably approach takeoff speed in the next two seasons. This could mark the invention of a new term in motorcycle racing—the overpass.

“Have a Take, and Don’t Suck”

This, for decades, has been the mantra of your boy Jim Rome. For internet journalists like myself (okay, internet hacks) our currency in trade is reader engagement. Late-Braking MotoGP has, for years, hosted informed, civil conversations, without the vitriol, insults and foul language found in most online forums. You, the faithful reader, have the choice of simply consuming our work or helping to create it by sharing your opinions, insights and reactions.

We don’t need lurkers. We need full-throated voices from riders, whether you agree or disagree with the silly, semi-informed opinions you find here. Are you friends with a Saudi assassin? Defend him here. Are you okay with me talking about your mother? Take me down a peg. This stuff is not the war in Ukraine. This is pure entertainment, offered to whet your appetite for MotoGP and to generate myriad requests to Motorcycle.com management to assign me more work. And trust me, I need work. So keep those cards and letters coming, kids.

I will return after Round 11 with some cheeky mid-season analysis. Until then.

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In memory of Nancy P. Gillespie 3/19/1952 – 8/17/2021


 [BA1]

MotoGP 2021 Journal–Round 5: Le Mans

May 16, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 14, 15 and 16, 2021

Friday

Alas, Round 5 of the 2021 MotoGP season brings us once again to Sarthe, smack in the middle of France and, believe it or not, the weather is a major factor for the weekend, as it often is here. Cool breezy temps with “spotty” showers, a nightmare for the riders and teams. The possibility of a flag-to-flag is strong, as is the possibility that the halving of the field, typically determined in FP3, could occur on Friday. The likelihood of a Yamaha or Ducati winning on Sunday, based upon what we saw today, is high, too. Unless the Weather Gods get involved and make a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.

Screenshot (512)

A little local color from Le Mans.

Friday started wet and finished dry. As anticipated, FP2 became the determinant as regards slick passage into Q2 or having to fight one’s way through Q1 simply for the opportunity to get one’s brains bashed by the really fast movers, all of whom are well-rested and raring to go, in Q2. This was true in all three classes. One interesting note is that the wettish MotoGP FP3 found #93 at the top of the sheet. Otherwise, the various dies were cast on Friday.

Missing from the Q2 qualifiers were some big names, as usual:

Moto3–The only guy I want to discuss is rookie Pedro Acosta, currently sitting P18. How can one not pick him to advance to Q2, to qualify well, and then podium on Sunday?

Moto2–Baldassarri, Ogura, the two Americans, Beaubier and Roberts, Vietti, Dalla Porta.

MotoGP–Rins and Mir, series leader Pecco Bagnaia, the three rookies left standing bringing up the rear.

As for the guys who had it going on in FP2, please include, in Moto3, Gabriel Rodrigo, the pesky Darryn Binder, and Antonelli. Moto2–Lowes, two Fernandezes and Remy Gardner. MotoGP– both French riders, Viñales, POL Espargaro on the Honda, and Frankie Morbidelli. Three Yamahas in the top five. They should thrive in the dry, assuming there’s any to be had on Sunday. Typically, the mudders ride for Ducati, but Zarco must be feeling it, at home, on a bike he seems to love, in the wet.

Saturday

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Saturday was, again, wettish at the start and slowly drying. FP3 times were slow. Waiting for the caterers to do their thing prior to qualifying in Moto3, I looked at the sky, best described by the word “sullen.”

Such weather conditions would not rival those of the first race I ever attended, in 2009, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The city was on the receiving end of the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Most of the events scheduled for the weekend–exhibition riding, loop-the-loops in Broad Ripple–were rained out. On Sunday it was pouring. The camera crew from MotoGP raised the boom truck that would allow them shots from, like, 200′ in the air. They took it down about five minutes later. By the time the lights went out in the premier class, it was getting biblical. Apparently there were contracts in place that dictated that the race could not be delayed; I’ve seen races since then delayed for weather conditions less severe than in Indianapolis that day.

[That was the day, prior to the race getting red-flagged about 18 laps in, where Valentino Rossi chased down homeboy Nicky Hayden, with the rain blowing sideways. The few remaining fans were miffed. That race jinxed the Indianapolis round, which never got traction and disappeared after about five years.]

The maddening aspect of the weather at Le Mans is its unpredictability. I find myself rooting for a flag-to-flag that will scramble the standings at the top. It’s early in the season. Let’s see Tito Rabat win a race.

Qualifying

Moto3 Q1: Acosta finished P7 and will start on the 7th row on Sunday. Andrea Migno ruled Q2, with longshot Riccardo Rossi and Jaume Masia joining him on the front row.

Moto2: Hotshot rookie Raul Fernandez takes his first Moto2 pole, followed by Marco Bezzecchi and American Joe Roberts.

MotoGP: In a frenzied finish, what had been a Honda lockout became two factory Yamahas and a factory Ducati on the front row. A strong second row features Morbidelli, Zarco and Marquez. Lotta fast riders out there in MotoGP. Quartararo took his third pole in succession, with Viñales and Miller in hot pursuit.

Sunday

The casual observer, looking at the results of the Moto3 race, would infer that my boy Pedro Acosta must have had a bad day, an ordinary P8 while Sergio Garcia and a couple of non-factors, Filip Salac and Riccardo Rossi, stood around on the podium, stunned. The 16-year old “Vote for Pedro” Acosta had never visited Le Mans, nor had he ever raced a Moto3 bike in the wet. He choked qualifying, crashed while in the middle of the pack, and extended his 2021 championship lead. This conforms to my theory of The Blessed NFL Quarterback, whose identity each year is a mystery until he wins the Super Bowl.

Things could not have been worse for young Acosta, yet those closest him—Antonelli, poleman Migno, Fenati and Masia—fainted. So he takes a 54 point lead to Mugello. And if it rains there, he’s now been there, done that. He appears to be a quick study. He appears to be The Blessed Rider in Moto3.

Moto2

Rookie phenom Raul Fernandez cruised to victory in the dampish Moto2 race, ahead of Remy Gardner and Marco Bezzecchi, with Tony Arbolino making his first meaningful appearance of the season, finishing in P4. Thus, KTM teammates Gardner and Fernandez lead the 2021 series with 89 and 88 points, respectively, with Bezzecchi 17 down and Sam Lowes, who recorded another DNF, now trailing by 23. Both American riders crashed out, Roberts early from P2 and Beaubier late from P6.

MotoGP

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The sky at the start of the “dry” MotoGP race.

For the first time in four years the premier class put on a flag-to-flag show and it added some extra spice to what was already shaping up to be an exciting race. As expected, given the generally wet conditions, the Ducatis were in charge today. Miller and Zarco finished on the podium, along with Fabio, while Pecco Bagnaia, having started from P16, flogged his Desmo to P4 before running out of laps. With six riders failing to finish and three more trailing Miller at the end by over a minute, there were points all around for the survivors. Other than poor Frankie Morbidelli, who crashed and banged up his already banged-up knee, eventually completing 23 laps before the marshals dragged him off the track.

That makes it two in a row for Jack Miller, who suddenly has momentum. For awhile today, right after everyone changed bikes, Marc Marquez led a MotoGP race. It was only briefly, as he crashed a bit later, and then again a bit later than that.  But it was nice to see him competing, even though he says the muscles in his upper right arm are only at 50%. Anyway, here are the standings year-to-date:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          FRA    80

2        Pecco BAGNAIA                Ducati           ITA     79

3        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           FRA    68

4        Jack MILLER                     Ducati           AUS    64

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          SPA    56

6        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          SPA    49

7        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           SPA    35

8        Franco MORBIDELLI         Yamaha          ITA     33

9        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           JPN    28

10      Pol ESPARGARO               Honda           SPA    25

For the record, Maverick Viñales started today in P2 and finished P9. Valentino Rossi started in P9 and finished in P11. Aleix Espargaro retired with a mechanical. Alex Rins and Joan Mir crashed out a couple of times each, and want Le Mans taken off the calendar. Danilo Petrucci flogged his Tech 3 KTM to P5 and wants it to rain, heavily, for the rest of the season.

In Conclusion

We have tight races in Moto2 and MotoGP and the likely emergence of The Next Great Rider going on in Moto3. We’re heading into the meat of the schedule, with a back-to-back at Mugello and Catalunya followed by another back to back in Germany and at Assen. Valentino Rossi fans must be willing to admit that he overstayed his MotoGP welcome by a year. It appears Marc Marquez will resume his old form at some point, but probably not this year. The kids have taken over the schoolyard, and the fans are loving it.

A Little Tranching Music, Please

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Viñales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin*

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

MotoGP Tranches After Le Mans

Tranche I – Quartararo, Miller, Bagnaia

Tranche II – Zarco, Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Mir

Tranche III – Viñales, Rins, A Espargaro, Binder, M Marquez, Oliveira

Tranche IV – Petrucci, Rossi, Marini, A Marquez, Bastianini

Tranche V – Rabat, Savadori, Lecuona

 

Two weeks until Mugello. Can’t wait.

 

 

 

Jack Miller “Redeemed”?

May 12, 2021

© Bruce Allen  May 12, 2021

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It says right here on the MotoGP.com landing page that Jack Miller’s recent win at Jerez is the kind of stuff that transforms a rider’s career. One can only imagine the breathless narrative accompanying the slo-mo video. But wait.

Jack Miller graduated directly from Moto3 to MotoGP in 2015. He won at Assen in the rain in 2016. He won again last time round. Where in this rather–sorry–ordinary story do we get to talk about “redemption”? As if Miller had recently put a serious beatdown on the MotoGP field, to revive a career many non-Australians considered disappointing.

Jack Miller is reportedly a helluva nice guy whose career has shown steady progress. In 2014 he was considered something of a phenom. I was at Sepang that year and he was always around yakking with the press, on his way to fame and glory in MotoGP at the tender age of 19, the next Great Australian Hope, a fitting follower in the mold of the legendary Casey Stoner.

No.

Miller has had a nice career, and now has two wins, joining what our crack research team guesses to be 100 other riders who have achieved similar “redemption.” It’s not like Jack has spent six years wallowing in the mud with the likes of Tito Rabat and then suddenly owns the joint. He has simply made himself relevant again, trailing series leader Pecco Bagnaia by 27 points, still in the lead group for the year.

A single career win on dry pavement does not a legend make. If it does, then make way for one of the other recent legends, Danilo Petrucci.

Enough with the hyperbole, MotoGP.

MotoGP 2021 Round 4: Jerez

May 2, 2021

© Bruce Allen May 2, 2021

Fabulous Fabio leads a crowded group of young riders as the flying circus lands in Spain for the first of four (4) 2021 visits. Much of the pre-race talk, in my kitchen, in my head, centered on Yamaha and their riders, their plans for the future, and their prospects for the present, heading into the shank of the schedule.

1        Fabio QUARTARARO     Yamaha          FRA   61

2        Pecco BAGNAIA             Ducati          ITA    46

3        Maverick VIÑALES        Yamaha          SPA   41

4        Johann ZARCO               Ducati          FRA   40

5        Joan MIR                       Suzuki          SPA   38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO         Aprilia          SPA   25

7        Alex RINS                      Suzuki          SPA   23

8        Brad BINDER                 KTM             RSA   21

Any of the top eight would see his early season position scrambled by simply sliding out of a corner somewhere. At this point, it seems both Quartararo and Bagnaia have found their respective and considerable mojos. For the Yamaha racing project, one can find both good news and bad news lying around, depending on the date and location. Maverick was hot in Round 1, Fabio in 2&3. Frankie Morbidelli is experiencing a string of mechanical issues not seen since the CRT days. And poor Valentino Rossi, stuck with a bunch of unwanted SRT #46 gear, has seen his carefully-constructed edifice, that of the 21st century motorsports Renaissance Man, begin to crumble around the edges.

The latest speculation has Yamaha kicking him from rider to owner next season. The question then becomes–for which factory? Will the suits in Hamamatsu remove the Malaysian money from their satellite team in favor of Saudi money, with VR46 his damned self calling the shots? On the other hand, were Rossi to assume ownership of the Avintia Ducati team, he would have two fast young academy grads in the stable, his half-brother Luca Marini and Enea the Beast Bastianini.

For a new team owner with deep pockets, it is probably more difficult to find talented riders than a manufacturer ready, willing and able to provide competitive machines and crews. Rossi is a Morbidelli fan, so he would only have to find one rider for a VR46 MotoGP team. If I were Rossi, inheriting a Yamaha team with Morbidelli, I would snatch (lol) young Pedro Acosta from Moto3 and put him on an old bike for a year or two. Yes, young Pedro is Spanish, a character defect in Rossi’s view. But the boy has unearthly speed and a high racing IQ. In a world in which many of us try to identify The Next Great Rider, the next Marc Marquez, Pedro Acosta could be the guy. Not Fabio, not Mir, not Miller. Pecco Bagnaia—too soon to say. He’s finally getting with the program, with a riding style similar to Jorge Lorenzo. I’m losing interest in Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales. Rookie Jorge Martin, who seems completely likeable, impresses me as the new Black Knight of Monty Phython fame, who will spend much of his career on the injured list in search of wins, replacing Cal Crutchlow in that role.

Friday in Jerez

Marc Marquez managed P3 in FP1, removing any doubt that he is fit to race. He then took it on the chin at Turn 7 in FP2 with a heavy high side, putting him in the midst of Q1, same as in Portimao, shaken, not stirred. The chase in FP3 would also include Miller, Mir and Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez and, inevitably, Valentino Rossi, looking fully washed up. Aleix Espargaro appeared to have something going on with his Aprilia in P3 after two sessions.

Saturday

The ‘haves’, after FP3. Notice Aleix and Bradl. Nakagami, but no Pol, slowest of the five Hondas. Marc Marquez tested his repaired arm with an impressive high-side at Turn 7. Declared fit (read: still ambulatory).

The ‘have-nots’. Jack Miller missed by a hundredth. Bummer, dude.

During FP4, Frankie Morbidelli got sideways with Race Direction and got shoved back into Q1, elevating Jack Miller to Q2, to his immense relief. Hondas and Suzukis and Aprilias were flying off the track at a formidable pace during P4, #93 sitting in P14.

Morbidelli dominated Q1, joined in his passage to Q2 by KTM’s rugged Brad Binder. Once there, however, Frankie made hay while the South African made squat. Ducatis and Yamahas occupied six of the top seven spots in Q2, with a front row of Quartararo, Morbidelli and Miller, fastest of the Italian contingent. Row 2 has Pecco, Nakagami and Zarco, for a little variety. Row 3 would feature the shifty Vinales, Aleix and Alex Rins, with Joan Mir, Binder and wildcard Stefan Bradl completing the top twelve. The Suzukis, becoming notorious for their failure to launch, can at least see the front row this week.

Further down the order, in Mudville, the likes of Rossi, Pol, both Marquez brothers and Miguel Oliveira would start Sunday from the cheap seats, their seasons not going according to plan during this first quarter of 2021. Pol and Marc we get, due to Espargaro changing horses and Marquez bouncing slowly back from serious injury. Oliveira needs everything to go right at one of his friendly tracks; Rossi, it can now be said, stayed a year too long. The only real difference between his bike this year and his bike last year is the paint job. The other three Yamaha pilots are getting good returns from their rides. For Rossi, 2021 is The Last Hurrah.

In Moto2, the front row Sunday would be

1        87      Remy GARDNER             AUS          Red Bull KTM Ajo            

2        21      Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA          Federal Oil Gresini          

3        72      Marco BEZZECCHI         ITA       SKY Racing Team VR46

with Raul Fernandez, Sam Lowes and Xavi Vierge on Row 2. The championship is currently a three-man race between Gardner, Lowes and Fernandez.

After Q2 in Moto3, the best racing on the planet, it looked like this:

1        24      Tatsuki SUZUKI      JPN          SIC58 Squadra Corse      

2        52      Jeremy ALCOBA     SPA          Indonesian Racing Gresini

3        16      Andrea MIGNO       ITA          Rivacold Snipers Team    

4        2        Gabriel RODRIGO   ARG          Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3         

5        55      Romano FENATI     ITA          Sterilgarda Max Racing Team    

6        17      John MCPHEE         GBR          Petronas Sprinta Racing  

Runaway teenage freight train Pedro Acosta could manage no better than P13 in qualifying on Saturday. He does not appear to be someone who scares easily. He won from pit lane at Losail II. This, to me, on Saturday, appears to be no big deal. An annoyance, at worst. There are some hungry guys in front of him, who, thus far, have not caused him the slightest visible concern.

In all three classes, Sunday in Jerez held the promise of some classic competition.

Sunday

My boy rookie Pedro Acosta started the Moto3 race in P13 today and had to actually work to take the win, his third in four starts, aided by a brain fart from Dennis Oncu in the last turn which removed himself, Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder from contention and likely earned him a slap on the wrist in France. KTM has taken charge of Moto3, reflecting the enhanced resources available after the Austrian factory abandoned their works Moto2 program. Always good to see Romano Fenati on the podium, with young Jeremy Alcoba taking the third step. [I had written yesterday that Rossi should just hire Alcoba for his SKY VR46 MotoGP team now. Spent the entire race not wanting to have to re-write that part. As it turned out, nothing to worry about. Alien Under Construction.]

Moto2 doesn’t seem to have its usual luster this year. Perhaps it’s because the presence of so many Anglos—Dixon, Gardner, Lowes, Roberts—seems to lower the credibility of the division in a sport dominated, for 30 years by Latins. Rookie Raul Fernandez looks somewhat electric at times; certainly Steve and Matt get their P’s in a T on a consistent basis extolling Raul’s virtues. Sam Lowes has already failed in MotoGP; can’t think of anyone too excited about seeing him do so again. And I’m not convinced by Remy Gardner, as I take a dim view of nepotism in all its forms, the result, in part, of having grown up an only child with a non-entrepreneurial father.

Anyway, Moto2 offered a wire-to-wire procession led by Fabio de Giannantonio, Bezzechi taking P2 and Sam Lowes bouncing back to P3. For the year, Gardner leads with 69 points, followed by Lowes at 66, Fernandez 63, Bezzechi 56 and di Giannantonio 52. A somewhat dull race has produced a tight championship, which I’ll take anytime.

I still think what I thought in 2012—the Italian national anthem sounds like a drinking song.

As MotoGP began warming up, I joined fans everywhere wondering whether anyone had it in them to beat Fabio Quartararo. He loves him some Jerez, having taken pole the last four times out and winning there twice last year. Let’s be clear—there are many who have conceded today’s race to the Frenchman.

The MotoGP Race

Today’s race started out like a Yamaha clambake and ended as a Ducati dunk-fest. Jack Miller won his first race for Ducati and his own first dry race, not to mention Ducati’s first win at Jerez since, like, The Ice Age. With teammate Pecco Bagnaia, The Next Great Ducati Rider, claiming second ahead of Frankie Morbidelli’s Yamaha, it was a Ducati one-two, their first win of the year coming at a track described by Danilo Petrucci thusly:”If you’re fast at Jerez you can be fast anywhere.”

We don’t yet know around here what happened to Fabio Quartararo who, on Lap 6, my notes showed “clearing out.” But from there he was overtaken by Miller on Lap 16 and continued his descent to a P13 finish. I will wager that it is arm pump and that he will need surgery and will return in time for Le Mans.

LRC Honda rep Takaa Nakagami pulled everything together for an encouraging P4. Ahead of Mir and Aleix Espargaro, making the Aprilia look good. Vinales, Zarco, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro completed the top ten, another gritty performance from Marquez. Around Lap 20 it appeared Bagnaia had a notion about going after Miller, after which his screen flashed “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” P2 at Jerez, for Ducati, is nothing to sneeze at, ignoring the whole Marquez asterisk* thing.

Funny, other than a cameo at Jerez last year, the last time Marquez was racing in anger he was up against guys named Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Rossi and Iannone. Now, he’s having to get himself together going up against Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Miller, Mir, Quartararo and more. Real competition from the KTMs and Aprilias of the world. The past year has brought a lot of change to MotoGP, and Marquez had to sit out almost all of it. The new bunch is young, strong and fast. Other than Rossi, who is now embarrassing himself, there are no riders out there just because they have sponsor money. Most of these guys can compete for top tens. And Moto2 and Moto3 are lousy with great young riders, some of whom are teenagers.

After four rounds in MotoGP, Bagnaia leads Quartararo by two points, 66-64. Then comes Vinales with 50, Mir with 49, and Zarco with 48, followed by Miller with 39, Aleix with 35 and Morbidelli with 33. Rins sneaks into the top ten with 23 points and a crashing headache, suffered at both Portimao and Jerez. Binder completes it with 21. Fans of Marc Marquez should be happy he doesn’t compete in Moto3, where 16-year old rookie phenom Pedro Acosta has already accumulated 95 points. As it is, Marquez trails Bagnaia by a mere 50 points. I think it would be hard to find many thoughtful people in the paddock who believe the title chase is over for Marquez for the year.

So, to recap. There is, at present, one viable contestant in Moto3, three in Moto2, and two in MotoGP. Surprising, isn’t it, how the best racing still takes place in Moto3. That everyone in Moto3 at Jerez knows that something wild is going to happen in Turn 13 on the last lap of the race. It did again today. Personally, I hope Pedro Acosta is The Next Great Rider and that he and Marquez get to go one-on-one while Marquez still has it. 12 year age difference. Marquez wearing, as always, Repsol Honda colors, while Acosta is wearing SKY VR46 Yamaha colors. That would be a season for the ages,

As for the season we’ve got, I’m loving it so far. Loving that it’s so wide open in MotoGP, loving that it’s regressing to the mean, ethnically, with Spanish and Italian riders re-asserting themselves in Moto2, and loving that a star has been born in Moto3, the first guy to have ‘can’t miss’ written all over him since Marc Marquez.

Two weeks to Le Mans where, if it doesn’t rain for three days straight, one feels lucky.

                                         Marquez warming things up in Jerez.

MotoGP After Round 3: Portimao

April 22, 2021

© Bruce Allen    April 22, 2021

In which we engage in some casual tranching and try to put the 2021 season, thus far, in something approaching perspective. With a nod to both Moto2 and Moto3.

Back in March, had I wagered that, after three rounds, none of the following riders would be found in the top ten, I expect I could have found some takers:

Frankie M

Thriller Miller

Pol Espargaro (?)

Takaa Nakagami

Miguel Oliveira and, of all people,

Valentino Rossi

And here we are, with The New Young Guns clearly running things in the top ten, other than what are likely to be temporary appearances by Johann Zarco and Aleix. The inmates done taken over the asylum. As predicted by most of you, back in 2018-2019.

But what about this lot? NONE of them in the top ten after three? What’s to say about them? Frankie has had mechanical issues for the first 10% of the season? How can Yamaha allow that to happen? Jack, the latest version of Marco Simoncelli, is so elated to be fast that he has become a hazard to himself and those around him. This is not to say that he is heading for disaster. It means he needs to assert his will on the Desmo, the way his teammate Pecco has. He trails #20 by 47 points; all is not lost.

Zarco (P4, 40 pts) and Rins (P7, 23 pts) seem to have trouble dealing with success. Also qualifying, as Rins has been on the front row in something like 6 of 66 races. Zarco could have been top three had he not slid out; same with Rins. There is no noticeable improvement in the 2021 Suzuki vs. the 2020 version; it will take a helluva rider, a Joan Mir, to coax enough points out of his Gixxer to give #20 and #93 a beating. Zarco has only himself to blame, having come into the race with two silver medals from Qatar, which he has since had bronzed for posterity.

The two Honda pilots, Espargaro and Nakagami, are on the outside looking in for different reasons. Espargaro, because he’s still trying to get the hang of the RC213V. Nakagami had a dreadful two rounds in Qatar before suffering a heavy crash in practice at Portimao and is currently being held together by duct tape and clarinet reeds. His star should begin ascending again in Jerez.

Miguel Oliveira won last year’s final race, in Portugal, leading me to expect more from him in 2021. The tire issues plaguing the entire KTM project have caught him as well. And Valentino, The Doctor, sporting four points for the season. He looks bad, having problems none of the other Yamaha riders are experiencing. There can be little doubt he should have taken his victory lap last year and called it a career. This is hard to watch.

Despite a win and a P5 in the desert, Maverick Vinales’ P11 at Portimao seemed inevitable. With all the potential in the world, young Vinales is so terribly inconsistent. This is not a characteristic often found in world champions. A female reader of this column has observed, that if #12 were here boyfriend she would have dumped him in 2019. The editorial team here has predicted that he will not spend his entire racing career with Yamaha.

Aleix Espargaro has a mediocre Aprilia beneath him this season, which is a large step up from what he’s been riding most of his career. He appears able to put himself in the top ten for the year, but it will be uphill all the way. I’d like to see what he could do on Vinales’ bike.

Brad Binder has been the consummate team player thus far, sharing with all three other KTM riders his considerable front tire problems.

The three riders as yet unmentioned in the top ten include Alien-in-Waiting Pecco Bagnaia, who seems to have come into his own after two seasons of underachieving in on the Ducati. The two rookies, Enea Bastianini in P9 and Jorge Martin in P10, have looked good and great, other than Martin having put himself in the hospital and out of Rounds 3 and 4 with a big high-side in practice in Portugal. He will, accordingly, drop out of the top ten in Jerez, which is okay, because dude has major stones and a bright future in MotoGP.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro, Bagnaia

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Vinales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

Moto2 After 3 Rounds

After sailing home with wins in the opening rounds in Qatar, Sam Lowes reverted to form by crashing out at Portimao at Turn 1 of Lap 1, hence crashing into P3 for the season, in a tight three-man contest with Aussie Remy Gardner and rookie Raul Fernandez, who, according to announcers Matt and Steve, is the Next Next Great Rider. American Joe Roberts was hip-checked out of a second career podium at Portimao in the last turn by Gardner and/or Aron Canet—couldn’t see well—putting him in P7 for the season. American rookie Cameron Beaubier finished the race in a respectable P9, sitting in P12 for the year.

There appear to be perhaps eight or ten competitive riders in Moto2 this year. I would expect one of the top three to claim the title. Of the three, it looks to me like Fernandez is the only one to have a legitimate shot at a promotion to MotoGP in the immediate future. Lowes has been there, done that, while Gardner does not seem to be the second coming of either his dad or Casey Stoner.

Moto3 After 3 Rounds

Remember this name: Pedro Acosta. The insouciant rookie appears to have been born to race motorcycles. He entered his racing career before he entered puberty, racing at Estoril in 2018 at age 13. He double dipped last season, running in both the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship (P3 for the year) and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, which he won. Out of a combined 23 races, he finished first nine times, and was on the podium another eight times. Marquez-caliber numbers. He has earned 70 of a possible 75 points thus far this year in Moto3, making a number of grizzled veteran riders look, well, silly in the process. Dude is 16 years old as we speak.

I could speculate that Jaume Masia or maybe Darryn Binder could offer Acosta a run for his money later in the year, but I don’t believe it. I believe Acosta will be in MotoGP in two years and that he stands a good chance of being the man to shoot Marc Marquez out of his saddle within two years after that. I’m impressed.

MotoGP 2021: Round 3 – Portimao

April 18, 2021

© Bruce Allen  April 18, 2021

Quartararo Dominates in Portugal, Seizes Series Lead

After being dogged for most of the race by Suzuki’s Alex Rins, the Frenchman shook loose from the pack as Rins, then Zarco, crashed out of the fray late while in contention, a capital offense in racing. Pramac Ducati rising star Pecco Bagnaia, denied pole, was probably gratified with P2 after getting stuck in P11 during qualifying. Defending champion Joan Mir hung around near the front, stayed out of trouble, and added 16 points to his portfolio. 28.571% of the riders who started recorded DNFs, meaning points for all the survivors. But it’s starting to feel like Fabio’s year.

Friday

The Executive Committee at Late-Braking MotoGP took a decision today to largely ignore Fridays going forward, unless something out of the ordinary takes place. For instance, Takaa Nakagami went all ragdoll during FP2 and had to pretty much blow off Saturday, starting last on the grid for the race. Oh, and Marc Marquez—remember him?—started where he left off last year, securing P3 in FP1 and P6 in FP2. He appeared to be roughly 83.726% fit. Seeing him back on the #93 Repsol Honda made it seem like the world is back on its axis, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem ready to push 100% yet. Yet even at less-than-complete fitness, I was thinking it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see him on the podium come Sunday.

Saturday

FP3 was chicken and biscuits for Franco Morbidelli, rookie Luca Marini and veteran Aleix Espargaro. Doing the MotoGP bump, they left feathers and entrails for defending champ Joan Mir, six-time MotoGP champion Marquez and the aforementioned Nakagami. Mir and Marquez were relegated to Q1; Nakagami to the medical tent, where he was pronounced fit to continue his Portuguese adventure, “fit” meaning, in racing parlance, that he was in better shape than he would have been had someone pushed him down a flight of concrete stairs in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

Last year’s winner, homeboy Miguel Oliveira, wasn’t a factor in today’s race.

Speaking of falling down stairs, hot Pramac rookie Jorge Martin did what a lot of young riders experiencing early success on the Ducati do—went flying over the handlebars in FP3 and landed in the hospital, facing surgery on his right hand and foot. Whether he will return in time for Jerez is iffy. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson, i.e., just because one can go 350 kmh on two wheels doesn’t mean one should.

Mir and Marquez climbed back into Q2 with productive outings in Q1, to the chagrin of Alex Marquez and Pol Espargaro. For $1,000 and the game, name the last time two riders with seven (7) premier class titles between them moved through Q1 to Q2. Answer, according to our crack research team at WildGuess.com: Never.

Q2 was a comedy, as the new caution lights, meant to replace the flags came into play several times. Maverick Vinales had his fastest lap taken away for exceeding track limits, dropping him down to P12 for Sunday’s start. But factory Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia, Alien-in-Waiting, had an incandescent lap (4/10ths under the previous track record) and a P1 start taken away for a yellow ‘flag’. He was still fist-pumping during his warm-down lap before receiving the news and found himself alongside Vinales in P11 when the dust settled. Thus, two potential denizens of the front row would be grinding their teeth, mopping up Row 4. Fabio, on the factory Yamaha, inherited pole and a new track record along with the notion that Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo.

[Sidebar. The contrast in performance between teammates on several of the teams is stark. Aleix Espargaro would start in P7 for the Aprilia team, with teammate Lorenzo Savadori sitting in P20. Marquez would start in P6; teammate Pol Espargaro in P14. Under the heading “How Far the Mighty Have Fallen,” rugged Frankie Morbidelli would start in P5, while legendary teammate Valentino Rossi, clearly playing out the string, would be looking at the backs of 16 other riders when the lights go out on Sunday. Rossi, at this point, appears to be in it only for the contract.]

Marquez was slotted comfortably in P6 for Sunday but admitted late on Saturday that he was suffering and expected to continue to do so on Sunday. If he were just human, I might buy the argument, but because he is Marquez, I would still be comfortable, on Saturday evening, putting $100 on him to podium on Sunday.

Sunday

Pre-race musings…Two Anglos, flash-in-the-pan Sam Lowes and Remy Gardner, sitting at the top of Moto2? In a sport dominated by Spaniards and Italians…Matt Dunn, partner of Neil Morrison, sounds like some posh London racing savant on both Adderall and helium…And is it true that over on Reddit some folks are referring to your boy Simon Crafar as Captain Xanax?…Funny how no one’s scared of Joan Mir…Just sayin’…I really missed last year’s finale here, the emotion associated with Oliveira’s win at his home crib…Is it just me, or does the dead air soundtrack at MotoGP.com sound like a porn film?…16 year-old Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta looks, in uniform and glaring at the camera, like he’s been up past his bedtime. He just punked Dennis Foggia to take win #2 and lengthen his series lead in 2021…When did Jack Miller go from cute to scary?… Morbidelli, #2 overall in 2020, is stuck on a 2019 bike by SRT Yamaha? What’s with that?…So nice not having Dennis Chung penciling out all the good stuff.

Sam justified my faith in him during the Moto2 race by crashing out at Turn 1 on Lap 1. Just when I was thinking I was wrong about the guy.

The MotoGP race, won by Quartararo easily after chasers Rins and Zarco crashed out, proved that Yamaha has solved its bike problems of recent years. It has not solved its rider problem, however, as Maverick ‘Pop Gun” Vinales finished in P11 after having spent some (low) quality time as far down as P20. Quartararo prevailed over Pecco Bagnaia, who flogged his Desmo from P11 at the start to P2 at the close. Joan Mir, the sole Suzuki to finish, took third place after hovering in the lead group all day without ever leading. But points is points.

Marc Marquez started in P6 and finished in P7, yielding a spot to a beaming Aleix Espargaro, who finally seems to have a functional bike beneath him. For Marquez, finishing today’s race was a win. He now has two weeks to continue rehab before taking the track again in Jerez.

My boy Frankie Morbidelli was denied a spot on the podium, but was back to his persona from last year, finishing P4. Brad Binder, fronting for the entire KTM program, suffering from front tire stability, managed P5 after starting P15. Alex Marquez managed P8, one of many riders to benefit from having so many studs leave the building. These included, in rough order, Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira (rejoined), Rossi, Rins and Zarco. With 21 starters and six DNFs, everyone received a participation award today, even Lorenzo Savadori and Iker Lecuona. And Takaa Nakagami finishing in the top ten is kind of a miracle given his physical condition this weekend.

Alex Rins can’t stand success.

So, the top ten for the season, after three rounds, looks like this:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          61

2        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati           46

3        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          41

4        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           40

5        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           25

7        Alex RINS                        Suzuki          23

8        Brad BINDER                    KTM             21

9        Enea BASTIANINI             Ducati           18

10      Jorge MARTIN                  Ducati           17

Other than Honda, which is in the midst of a dumpster fire, all five remaining manufacturers have at least one representative in the top ten, four of which are from Ducati, which has yet to win a race. And Fabio won twice at Jerez last year, clearly enjoying the prospect of padding his lead in two weeks.

But parity sits on the horizon in MotoGP. Never thought I’d see the day.

We’ll do some tranching before Jerez, as well as something about Moto3 and Moto2.

MotoGP: Quartararo Loves Losail

April 5, 2021

© Bruce Allen     April 5, 2021

MotoGP 2021 Losail II: Preview AND Results! At one low price!! 

Here we go again, under the lights in the desert. Due to the falling out between Carlos Ezpeleta and Karel Abraham Sr., following the forced redundancy of rider Karel the Younger after the 2019 season, Senior, who owns much of the Czech Republic, declined to host the MotoGP Brno round this season, somehow leading to a second outlier round in Doha. Which, sidestepping a terrible run-on sentence, in turn makes Doha less of an outlier and something more than 10% of the entire season. A factor, in other words, in the 2021 title. A fight, after Round One, going to the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Would Round Two be any different? 

Cancelling Brno this year comes as bad news to the KTM and Ducati franchises, who have dominated there in recent years when #93 and #04 weren’t hanging around. The two teams dominated the podium last week, due, in part, to a scintillating run to the flag between Joan Mir, Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco. Apparently, the consensus from last week is that the wind made everyone’s engines work harder in certain areas of the track, and this put pressure on the Ducs regarding fuel consumption. In order to finish the race, they had to lean out the mixture, reducing their ridiculous top end speeds. Mapping, I believe they call it. Whatever they call it, Bagnaia and Zarco both turned theirs to the ‘OFF’ position and took advantage of a rare mistake by Mir to snatch—still love that verb—P2 and P3 on a day Mir appeared to have podiumed. Vinales, of course, won easily, but I’m not sold on Maverick Vinales and don’t know too many people who are.

When the Qatar round was last run in 2019, the podium was Dovizioso, Marquez and Crutchlow, none of whom is around to play chase on Sunday. That was another of those sprints to the flag that Ducati won because of their incomparable top-end speed. Losail, with the long run out of the last turn, is built for the Ducati. If you’re on anything else, getting dogged by a big red machine on the last lap, and you lead by less than five bike lengths coming out of 16, you’re going to get smoked.

Plenty of riders had tire issues, Morbidelli his serious mechanical; #21’s issue is easy to fix. I remind myself that Losail is an outlier and that tire issues here may not mean tire issues in Europe or Asia. On the other hand, if after three rounds it becomes obvious that Michelin’s only rideable option is the soft/soft, this issue could dominate the season. I join with other readers who are tired of always talking about tires. I miss the Bridgestone days of hard carcasses and tires that could be managed over 25 laps. The riders who enjoyed consistent success were those who managed to be fast without grinding their rear tire to mush.

I remember receiving a great comment from a reader back in the days when Lorenzo, new on the Ducati, would run like hell for the first half of a race before he fell off, had a mechanical, etc. In the riff, our reader’s Lorenzo went on about how his strategy that year was to win the first half of every race and thus take the championship. (?????) Once again this year, this doesn’t appear to be a problem with the Suzukis. But the rest of the contenders need to pay more attention to what’s going on with the rubber.

Two things about Vinales’ win last time out. He had to throw a few elbows on his way from P5 and P6 to P1, and spent 15 laps doing so, something he hasn’t enjoyed in the past. Two, he’s apparently adjusted to new tires and full tank early in races, managing to stay in touch with the lead group if not actually lead, not fumbling around in P12 on Lap 2 as would happen so often in recent years.

It would probably be best for everyone if a Ducati were to win here on Sunday. It’s a place where they should win almost every time out. Their joint advantage with Yamaha here would be shared, leaving the championship wide open heading for Portugal. The Racing Gods, as we know, may have other plans. Here goes.

Friday

We’ve seen this just last week. Ducati owning Friday, led by Miller, Bagnaia and Zarco. We’re still at Losail. Nobody should have to give a rip about Friday numbers. Unless, obviously, there were a sandstorm or something during FP3 and everyone with any sense was safely ensconced in their garage.

Saturday

So there is a sandstorm going on in FP3. The results from Friday are going to stand, leaving names like Oliveira, Mir, Nakagami, Rossi, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder to slug it out in QP1. Ugh. Notice rookie Jorge Martin in P5.

Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira escape the frying pan of Q1 to the fire of Q2. It becomes a Ducati clambake, with red machines everywhere, claiming four of the top six spots, including soon-to-be-sensational rookie Jorge Martin, the apparent second coming of Dani Pedrosa. Little guy, does hand-to-hand combat with the Desmosedici in the turns then approaches liftoff in the long straights. He showed world class speed as a teenager in Moto3; Jorge Martin has Alien written all over him.

I’m just not getting it done with the lighter classes. It’s Easter, for crying out loud, there are eggs to hide, potatoes to cook, tables to set, rug rats underfoot killing each other. I’m playing catch-up at every turn. This will all return to normal—notice I didn’t say ‘good’—beginning in Jerez. All the results are there at MotoGp.com, anyway, as well as the videos for you non-cheapskates. At the dawning of the 2021 season I like the two Italians in Moto2—Fabio and Marco—and young Jaume Masia in Moto3, who was 16 when he entered the grand prix fray full-time in 2017. It’s easy to see all these guys in MotoGP.

It’s also easy to see Pramac Ducati speedster Martin, who had to surrender his former #88 to Oliveira, sliding down to #89, on podiums in the immediate future. He’s another one of these guys, like Marquez, and Pedrosa before him, who morph into a single entity with their bike, inseparable, flying down the straight sections, slipstreaming advisable but don’t get too close to the wash. Negative body fat percentage, wrapped very tight. And hungry, wants to win in MotoGP, now. You can see it in his eyes, which glitter at the thought, in TV interviews. Forgive him for thinking, suddenly, that life is going his way, stealing pole today with an incandescent last lap during injury time. The race isn’t on for another six hours. One would say, however, that his star is ascendant, waxing, as it were, taking the lead among the rookies and a few vets as contenders for 2021.

Compare to his old Moto3 rivel Bezzecchi, who is still pedaling as fast as he can in Moto2. Jorge Martin may be the next NKIT. New Kid in Town, for those of you unfamiliar with this stuff. Following the treadmarks of Marquez and Quartararo. Another Spanish fast mover. Cool. This sport needs young riders unafraid to challenge Marc Marquez upon his return.

Sunday

Fabio Quartararo wins at Losail, a Yamaha twofer

Losail II in 2021 was the coming out party for the guy who finished third, rookie Martin. He took the holeshot and led for 18 laps before running out of tire, energy and skill once young blonde Fabio went through, followed, tout de suite, by yet another Frenchman–the rejuvenated Johann Zarco–on yet another Pramac Ducati.

Again, the desert is not the best place to try to identify trends, but for much of the race Ducati held four of the top five or six spots, with Fabio and Rins surrounded by the purring Desmos. The only bad news for Ducati is that the satellite guys at Pramac put it to the factory team of Miller and Bagnaia. Again.

Though Alex Rins was in the mix all day, Pop Gun showed up for the factory Yamaha team, swamped at the start, spending most of the race flirting with P10 before rallying late for a face-saving P5, trading places with Quartararo from last week. Same bike, virtually the same conditions, same competitors. Competitive with the Ducatis in Doha, a good sign going forward. Yet Vinales gives us Exhibit A for why he will likely never win a title. He had everything going for him when the lights went out, and laid a bit of an egg, rather than seizing another win (paging Sam Lowes) and asserting one’s claim to the championship.

The bad news for Yamaha was the continuing underperformance of the 2021 Petronas SRT team fronted by Franco Morbidelli and the legendary Valentino Rossi. Morbidelli had mechanical issues last week and again this weekend which appear to have continued, incredibly, on Sunday. As for Rossi, it was a soul-sucking P21 in qualifying and another—P16—in the race. Trucking with the likes of little bro Luca Marini and Nakagami on a bad day. It is clear, at least around here, that Vale may have predictably lost interest in risking his life averaging two championship points per round. Morbidelli’s issues will resolve and he could yet be a factor in the 2021 season. But Rossi—yeah, sure, he qualified in P4 last week—had the worst qualifying practice of his career, followed by an undistinguished race. He was P12 last week after qualifying fourth. He is not racing well. The fire that once drove him has gone out, replaced by the ready smile and confident pronouncements, aware that, at this point, top ten is all he can realistically shoot for. He needs to move on, buy some teams, get cracking as an owner, find Italian boys who can beat the Spanish, still draw the crowds, etc. Enough already with the in-the-saddle part.

The Big Picture

Johann Zarco, with two P2s in the desert leads the championship, for now. My take is that the bike and the track combo at Losail worked especially well for Zarco. My take is that things won’t work quite so well on the mainland, as there is more turning and fewer 1 km straights. But for #5 2021 has started out like a dream. As follows:

Zarco           40

Quartararo    36

Vinales         36

Bagnaia        26

Rins             23

Mir               22

Atthe end of the race, the spread between P2—Zarco—and P14—Bradl—was just under four seconds. The total run time for Quartararo was 42:24, 12 seconds faster than Dovizioso in 2019. The spread between P2 and P14 that year was over 14 seconds. Let’s review: MotoGP is getting faster and more competitive than ever. Best competition in motorsports. Attracting the best riders in the world across all three classes, many in their teens. Racing wheel-to-wheel, not encased in any protective cage, at speeds comparable to F-1, clad in a helmet, boots, an airbag, and a set of leathers. Sporting, as so eloquently expressed by Bill Raftery, “onions.”

Sorry about Moto2 and Moto3. I know Lowes won again and leads in Moto2. Looking at the results in Moto3, 16-year old wonder rookie Pedro Acosta, having been penalized with a delayed pit lane start, still won the race…wait for it…leading a group of 15 riders separated, at the flag, by 2.26 seconds. Already being called one of the great races of all time in the lightweight class. The impudent rookie spanks the field, many of them grown men, and seizes the lead in the Moto3 world championship after two rounds. Brilliant. Best day of his life so far, I’d wager. Here’s more on young Pedro.

At 10 in the morning on Easter, EDT. Come on, man!

Dozens of lead changes. Sorry I missed it. I’ll try to win back your good graces by offering up a little tranching, minus Marc Marquez, whose status at this moment is unknown.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

Two weeks to Portimao. There, we will begin to discover who has the real power in the premier class. Wish I were going. To me, the tranching looks a little fishy. I don’t doubt our thinking in October will see plenty of changes to this lot.

PS–Finally watched the Moto3 race and it was, indeed, a classic. Would not have happened had four riders not found themselves in the kitty litter on the last few laps.


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