Posts Tagged ‘Ducati’

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez leads 2019 heading to his favorite venue 

It was back in 2015 that we, meaning I, started referring to all-world champion Marc Marquez as Captain America, since, at that time, he was undefeated on American soil. Here in early 2019 he is still undefeated in the U.S. Someone please give me a reason not to make him the odds-on favorite to keep his record immaculate, deep in the heart, next Sunday. And no astrology, please. 

Last time out, Marquez demonstrated what could be a new race strategy in 2019. Rarely, in recent years, has he put on a scalded cat routine (paging Dani Pedrosa) as he did in Argentina. Generally, he has put himself in the lead group, done some assessing of the other riders’ lines, conserved his tires, and broken their spirits with two or three laps to go. [The notable exceptions being his recent last-lap duels with Andrea Dovizioso, in which he’s gone 1-for-5.]

Honda appears to have wound up the power and torque in the 2019 RC213V without sacrificing grip, so he’s getting out of turns even quicker and not giving away 30 meters to the Ducs in the straights. Assuming he poles on Saturday—I’m starting to hate this stuff—he may try to take the hole shot and get away at the start. I would if I were him. COTA is a point and shoot layout, ideally suited to the Honda. All of which is appalling news for those of us interested in a real championship competition, last seen in 2015, the year Rossi was to have won his 10th and final world championship and Lorenzo won his. 

Recent History in Austin 

2016 was the race in which Pedrosa skittled Dovizioso. With Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, went all lowside and took Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew what hit him, as it were. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16, paying penance for his egregious takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso two weeks earlier.  Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day. 

The 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for another much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and triple world champion Marquez.  Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place. The rostrum that day featured Marquez, Rossi 2nd and Dani Pedrosa 3rd.

Last year’s race was enthralling until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. After fooling with Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki for half a lap, #93 seized the lead and gave the grid another facial, just like he administered last week in Argentina. Iannone took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and was able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced. Iannone made little effort to keep Maverick Vinales out of second, and withstood a rather tepid challenge from Rossi, who took 4th.

Rookie Update

MotoGP.com is beavering away, promoting the “intense competition” amongst the fast movers up from Moto2—Pecco Bagnaia on the Pramac Ducati, Miguel Oliveira on the KTM Warthog, Joan Mir on the Suzuki and impudent French teenager Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha. Of the four, Quartararo has gotten off to the quickest start, qualifying 5th in Qatar before stalling the bike and starting from pit lane, qualifying 7th and finishing 8th in Argentina. MotoGP calculated that his time in Qatar would have put him in the top ten; he finished out of the points in 16th.

Anyway, back to the intense competition. Heading into round three, here are your point totals for the Aliens-in-Waiting:

Quartararo             8

Mir                        8

Oliveira                 5

Bagnaia                 2

Total                     23

Collectively, they trail Alex Rins by a single point. Of course, I’m being unfair here, as all four look to make some noise in the premier class in the not-too-distant future. What gets me is Dorna’s persistence in jocking every single angle of the sport in its incessant efforts to attract paid subscribers.

Let’s try “A Poor Carpenter Blames His Tools” for $800, Alex

Cal is calling the penalty in Argentina “ridiculous,” despite the fact that he was rolling forward at the start. True, the punishment was way out of proportion to the violation—a potential gain of .001 seconds turns into a 30 second penalty—but that requires a rule change–two categories of jumps, the lesser of the two penalties on the “long lap” instituted this year.

Maverick Vinales blurted this past week about the “serious problem” he’s had with the Yamaha for the past two and a half years. Presumably Rossi has had the same problems, he’s just dealt with them better. Maverick, similar to Jorge Lorenzo, seems to need everything just perfect in order to compete. The bad news is that things are rarely, if ever, perfect in this sport, or any other. Some of us are starting to think that his start with Yamaha was a fluke and that he is, indeed, only a Tranche Two rider after all.

Jorge Lorenzo took time out of his busy schedule to complain about everything associated with the Honda—a clutch problem in Qatar, accidentally hitting the pit lane speed limiter at the start in Argentina (refuting my theory that he was simply in third gear), brake and handlebar grips going from too hard to too soft, on and on and on. A hot track? Karel Abraham putting a sharp pass on him late in the race? Like Maverick, Jorge needs to learn to roll with things a little better. Funny how all the guys chasing Marquez have a list of complaints, while #93 doesn’t usually complain about anything at all.

“Alex, why are Maverick, Jorge and Cal whiny little bitches?”

Your Weekend Forecast

Seriously, who cares about the weather on race weekend? It will either be clear and warm—favoring Marquez—or it won’t, again favoring #93. Long range forecast is for clear and warm, but the long-range forecasters rarely know squat. It doesn’t matter. As my NCAA basketball brackets proved beyond question, it rarely pays to pick underdogs. Any reader wishing to predict a winner other than The Antman needs to arrive in the comments section loaded with reams of data.

I’ve consulted my Magic Eight Ball again this week, looking for cosmic insights into the premier class podium on Sunday. I didn’t bother asking about Marquez, fearing a new “Are you stupid or what?” response from the cheap plastic ball. Re Vinales: “Not likely this decade.” Re Dovizioso: “Signs point to no.” Re Crutchlow: “If he doesn’t foul his breeches.” Re Rossi: “No, but he will sell a lot of gear.” Re Jorge Lorenzo: “Don’t make me laugh.” Re Jack Miller: “You might be surprised.” So there you have it. Marquez, Crutchlow and Miller on Sunday’s rostrum.

We’ll have results right here early Sunday evening. Those of you lucky enough to be attending the race please have a great time and ride safely.

MotoGP Rio Hondo Results

March 31, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rules Argentina; Rossi Sighting on Podium 

What, you are wondering, do Argentina, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany have in common? They are owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez. A benevolent dictator, Marquez allows the other MotoGP riders to follow him around these tracks, not bothering to charge for lessons. Today’s easy win at Rio Hondo gives the Catalan 15 wins from 18 starts at his three personal sandboxes.

Practice and Qualifying

Conditions on Friday and Saturday were clear and warm, conducive to fast times. The top five finishers at the end of the day on Friday included Dovizioso, Jack Miller (?), Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and impertinent rookie Fabio Quartararo, enjoying another fast, fun weekend on the Petronas Yamaha M1. Marquez, getting serious on Saturday, led the way into Q2 joined by Lorenzo, both factory Ducatis and all four Yamahas. Jack Miller on the Pramac Ducati and Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda completed the front row and rounded out the lambs heading straight for Q2.

The Q1 goatfest was dominated by ascendant Japanese heartthrob Takaa Nakagami who was, in turn, joined in the bar mitzvah to Q2 by little brother Pol Espargaro and his KTM RC-16, who annoyingly stole the Q2 promotion very late in the session from older brother Aleix on the Aprilia. The second-most surprising report for the day was submitted by the Suzuki team of Rins and Mir, neither of whom could get anything going and who would start Sunday from 16th and 19th positions respectively. I had picked one of them for a podium the following day. As if.

Q2 took off in short order and Marquez shot to the top, working a two-stop strategy. He messed up the hot lap on his #2 tire, returned to the pit, waited while the crew mounted a third rear tire (bike #2 being unavailable after having the chain come off during FP4), and went back out to set the pole lap in front of Dovizioso and Vinales. Row 2 was comprised of Rossi, Miller and Franco Morbidelli, one of four (4!) Yamahas to qualify in the top seven. The 2019 iteration of the Yamaha M1 is better than the 2018 version in that it is able to generate at least one hot lap per session. This is big news. As is Cal slipping to 8th after being fast all weekend. And Jorge slipping down to 12th after his 11th place “hot lap” was deleted for exceeding track limits.

As Saturday drew to a close, the grid shared several major concerns. One, would Marquez take the hole shot on Sunday and vanish into the ether, leaving the other 21 riders to fight over second place? And two, would the weather end up being as bad as the forecast promised, tossing a major spanner into the works of most of the teams?

Finally, the first two days of the Argentine round proved one thing beyond any doubt: The Bridgestones were faster than the Michelins. At least here. No one came within a half second of Marquez’ 2014 qualifying lap of 1:37.683. Moto2 saw another track record fall, this time to Xavi Vierge, a full-size man, as the big Triumph engines appear to have considerably more grunt than the previous 600cc Hondas. Nothing new in Moto3 concerning Miguel Oliveira’s amazeballs track record from 2015. Comparing the top Moto2 qualifiers to the bottom MotoGP qualifiers in Qatar and Argentina, there is only a 2½ second difference. Last year it averaged over 4 seconds after two rounds.

A Stroll in the Park…

If only there were some way to inject some drama in today’s race for the flag. Marquez had things his way all weekend, other than the mechanical issue in FP4. Practices were a breeze, qualifying was a breeze, and the race was a laugher, over almost before it started. Under clear skies, Marquez took the hole shot at the start, found clean air on the back side of Turn 1, and was off to the races. He led the field by 2.5 seconds at the start of Lap 3. His lead got above 12 seconds late in the race before he backed off, and he still won by over 8 seconds, an eternity in MotoGP. Valentino Rossi returned to the podium for the first time since Germany in 2018, finally overtaking Andrea Dovizioso for good on the last lap and sending his thousands of disciples into paroxysms of joy, the 197th podium of his ridiculous career.

…Amidst a Confederacy of Dunces

Although he clearly won it on his own, Marquez had plenty of help from his challengers. Both Maverick Vinales and Jorge Lorenzo got completely swamped at the start, Vinales converting a second spot on the grid to his customary 8th position after two laps, The New Vinales looking much the same as The Old. Lorenzo, meanwhile, appeared to be in third gear when the red lights went out, quickly falling to last place before reaching the first turn. Lorenzo did manage to finish—12th, 28 seconds behind his teammate—while Vinales got taken down from behind by fellow Yamaha pilot Franco Morbidelli on Lap 25. Morbidelli’s brain fart cost Yamaha two additional spots in the top eight, and what might have been a post-race party in the factory garage may have become, instead, an inquisition.

Cal Crutchlow, another fast mover all weekend, did his part to ensure Marquez’ win by jumping the start and assuming 22nd position exiting his ride-through penalty. He ended up scoring three (3) points on a day he should have podiumed. After the race, he appeared to be in hurry-up mode on his way to Race Direction for a free frank exchange of ideas, where Mike Webb would squelch most of his ire with electronic proof of his error.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Jack Miller had his Pramac Ducati in the top five all day before finishing 4th, while Danilo Petrucci ended his day 6th after starting on the fourth row. My boy Alex Rins, who got faced in qualifying, starting 16th, got his groove on late in the day and settled for 5th place after a brief podium flirtation with a couple laps to go. His teammate Joan Mir was stuck in the mud all weekend, and called it a day with four laps left, gremlins at work in his machine. As proof that every dog has his day, KTM pilots Pol Espargaro and rookie Miguel Oliveira placed 10th and 11th, while Aleix Espargaro put his Aprilia in the top ten along with LCR Honda’s Takaa Nakagami and that pesky rookie Fabio Quartararo again. To me, when it comes to Yamaha, there’s Rossi, and then there are the other three guys.

The dynamic Reale Avintia duo of Karel Abraham and Tito Rabat found separate gravel traps mid-race within about a minute of one another. And, in another example of Not Really Giving a Rip, moody Andrea Iannone started and finished last, quickly working himself out of a job, possibly dreaming of posterizing Alvaro Bautista over in World SuperBike.

All in all, the worst fears of the entire industry were realized as Marc Marquez seized the lead in the championship, dunking on the pseudo-Aliens and now heading to COTA, Circuit of The Antman. For his putative challengers at the top of the MotoGP food chain, this must feel like being duct-taped to a steel bench having to watch a video loop of Marquez passing them over and over again, each time bumping them into a trackside mud puddle. Painful, frustrating and embarrassing. No wonder everyone’s in such a hurry to get back to Spain.

First Tranches of 2019

Before Losail:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco Morbidelli,  Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

After Rio Hondo:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 2:   Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3:   Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:   Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

A Few Action Shots from Rio Hondo

Moto2 screenshotScreenshot1Screenshot2Screenshot3

Day One at Rio Hondo

March 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Ain’t nobody really care a lot about what happens on Fridays unless FP3 looks to be wet, which it doesn’t. But the forecast for Sunday shows thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the area, generally around mid-day. So, according to my calculations, all four free practice sessions become rather useless when two days of dry vanish on race day. Keeps things interesting. Keeps bookies checking their phones.

Notable accomplishments, comments and attitudinal insights from Friday:

  • Your boy Valentino Rossi put himself back in the conversation with a solid F2. Both he and Vinales improved, Vinny sitting third for the day. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me to hear Vinny announce his goal was to take the pole on Saturday. Not a word about winning on Sunday. Such a Vinny thing to say, or not say.
  • Andrea Dovizioso led the combined sessions and noted with a smile and a wink that the 2019 bike is better than the GP18. He said he had not expected to be so fast so soon. Kind of like dad used to say when applying corporal punishment, “I didn’t mean to hit you. So hard.” Dovi is oozing confidence. The Ducati contingent performed better than expected on Friday, including one-two for the day.
  • Marc Marquez reportedly ran 19 laps on a used rear tire in FP2. #93 finished eighth overall on what Jack Miller described as a “filthy” track off the racing line. Track management should call in the country’s national curling teams, both men and women, and instruct them to sweep the entire track, paint to paint, by Sunday morning. Anyway, Marquez seems serenely confident heading into Saturday.
  • Not so for #99 Jorge Lorenzo on the #2 Repsol Honda as he limped home in 21st position, predicting he would be fast on Saturday, on Sunday, in Austin, after the circus returns to Jerez. He was observing how he trailed Dovi by a second, deftly sidestepping the issue of the 19 riders between them.
  • I keep finding myself surprised when Jack Miller shows up near the top of time sheets as he did on Friday. Perhaps this “consistent surprise” is a symptom of some kind of bias against the brash Australian. On the other hand, he finished 2018 in 13th place and has zero points in 2019. I dunno.
  • Danilo Petrucci is keeping a very low profile in 13th place after FP2.
  • In his fortnightly whine, The Black Knight complained about, let’s see, problems in corner entry. “But a P4 for last year’s Argentina GP winner on Friday with room to improve suggests the Briton is well in the hunt.” This last one was borrowed from the MotoGP website as an example of how to get your colon in a twist trying to get the pertinent information and proper nationalist spin in a single sentence. Raise your hand if you don’t know we’re discussing Cal Crutchlow.
  • Seeing Suzuki pilot Alex Rins sitting 7th at the end of day one, hot on Rossi’s tail, is not as surprising as seeing Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha in 9th. And, for the second round in a row, teenager Fabio Quartararo put his own Petronas Yamaha in the top five on Friday. Things appear to be looking up for Morbidelli, who has paid his dues and appears ready for top-ten finishes. Suzuki rookie phenom Joan Mir had a bad morning and a better afternoon.

We’ll see what Saturday brings besides Marquez on the front row. It will then be up to the weather gods to determine the nature of Sunday’s confrontation. A flag-to-flag affair early in the season could easily scramble the standings for the first half of 2019. And perhaps I’m the only one thinking of Jorge Lorenzo, facing a wet race day on the belligerent Honda RC213V, envisioning himself flying over the windscreen, landing gently in a track-side pool of water, with three points to show for his 2019 campaign. This is a guy who wants a dry race.

MotoGP Rio Hondo Preview

March 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen

ACCUWEATHER UPDATE 3/28: CLEAR, HOT AND HUMID ALL THREE DAYS.

[TRACK RECORD IS FIVE YEARS OLD. JUST SAYIN’.]

It’s Marquez Time. Again. 

Having uncorked the 2019 season in fine fashion in Qatar, where money talks, MotoGP heads to exurban South America for the Motul Grand Prix of the Republic of Argentina. Based upon practice times, where he generally pulverizes everyone, Marc Marquez should be undefeated down south, heading into the sixth Argentine round of modern times. Would be, too, were it not for crashes in 2015 and 2017 and the stalling-at-the-start hilarity at last year’s clambake. Fans are anxious to see if 2019 is win or bin for #93. 

Recent History at Rio Hondo 

Year three in Argentina was 2016, the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.)  After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Two years ago, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament at the time, were set to square off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, seized the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer in 2017. A most impressive rookie debut for #21 on the Yamaha M1. Rossi and Honda’s Crutchlow shared the podium, perhaps the high-water mark of the season for the factory Yamaha team.

Last year’s epic race (in which Marquez, at the start, had his stalled bike pointed southeast while the rest of the grid, pointing in a more northwesterly direction, eagerly awaited the green flag) featured your boy Cal Crutchlow pimping his youngish French rival Johann Zarco for the win, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins on the Suzuki. The Ducati contingent suffered in the tropical heat, Dovizioso on the factory bike at the top of that particular heap in 6th. When last seen, icon Valentino Rossi was loitering in 18th place, 52 seconds out of the lead. There would be no bells ringing in Tavullia that evening. 

Stories from the Past Fortnight 

I’ve seen several articles critical of the crop of Moto2 grads this year, which is, of course, junk. Having expected Quartararo to be the slowest of the four, he was “unconsciously competent” in practice and qualified his Yamaha 5th. Bagnaia, one suspects, would have done very well on the Ducati at Losail had he not broken a (front) wing in the first turn of the race. Alien-apparent Joan Mir spurred his Suzuki as high as 4th before finishing 8th, joining teammate Alex Rins in the top ten. And Oliveira rode his unimpressive KTM RC-16 well enough to get a little public love from team owner Hervé Poncharal.

All this compares to the relative lack of excitement existent in the top ten over at Moto2. New Moto3 grad Jorge Martin, a very macho guy, just had surgery on his forearm, fortunately at a gap in the season. Fellow grad Marco Bezzecchi had a forgettable rookie debut as well. The holdovers, including Qatar winner Lorenzo “BadAss” Baldassari, don’t really scare you too much. Tom Luthi? Alex Marquez, who, after winning the Moto3 title in 2014 and was supposed to power through Moto2 years ago on his way to join his brother with Honda in the premier class? Dude cannot get out of his own way, and looks doomed, never able to earn a proper ride in MotoGP, never able to win a title even in Moto2. The perpetual Little Brother. Augusto Fernandez?  Luca Marini? Enea Bastianini? Xavi Vierge? Not yet anyway.

And please don’t ask me about Moto3 just yet. Still trying to get my bearings on this year’s collection of unpronouncables.

What kind of shape must Jorge Lorenzo be in to not actually notice he had a broken rib at Round One? He figures to be close to 100% until the next time he goes airborne on the twitchy, torque-y Honda rocket. I share most people’s sense that he will be fast at some point in the season, but his health, or lack thereof, may hinder his progress. Too much bouncing around on macadam.

The Appeal Continues

The kerfuffle about a swingarm winglet on the factory Ducati bikes in Qatar—a protest to Race Direction from the other manufacturers, minus Yamaha, which has its own problems. Race Direction, as usual, ruled in favor of the defendant, whereupon the plaintiffs appealed the ruling to some silly MotoCourt of Appeals somewhere, perhaps featuring a Spanish Judge Judy character. The “court” has had the “case” for two weeks. Really? The suspense is killing everyone. I will take the uninformed opinion that this is mostly sour grapes from the companies who failed to figure this thing out. Perhaps over-engineered, the Desmosedici has some clever folks working with aerodynamics and fiberglass. No doubt, regardless of whatever they ask Gigi to change for Argentina, Dovi and Petrux’ results from the desert will certainly stand.

UPDATE: DUCATI WINS THE CASE. HONDA, KTM, SUZUKI ALL IN A SNIT. FIBERGLASS DESIGNERS STOKED.

Vinales’ Stunning Revelation

A recent article entitled “Yamaha’s Vinales to try different riding styles in MotoGP races” begs the subhead: “Spaniard decides to go for wins rather than schvitzing about messing up his paint job.” Which, in turn, begs the lede, “If Vinales finds himself unwilling or unable to go fast in traffic, a subject in which his partner has endowed a chair at the University of Bologna, his career may have already peaked.” He clearly doesn’t have enough bike to run away from the field and stay on his preferred racing line all day. So it’s likely to be tough sledding for the Maverick until his masters give him a faster bike.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended forecast for Termas do Rio Hondo and environs calls for hot weather on Friday and Saturday, with slightly cooler temps on Sunday. Safe to say that a week out no one really knows for sure. (I will update this later in the week.) Prudence would suggest light clothing, umbrellas and sunscreen, as hot and humid is the norm, with those damnable “pop-up PM thundershowers” always a possibility.

As we have come to learn, the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis do not. Making predictions for Round Two is about as fruitful as making predictions for Round One. But I like the Hondas and Suzukis at this track at this time of year. I would expect Marquez, Crutchlow and one of the Suzuki kids, possibly the impertinent Mir, on the podium. We learn little about the true powers in MotoGP at Qatar and Rio Hondo, but the racing is sensational anyway.

I will update the weather during the week.

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

MotoGP Losail Preview

March 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

It’s Marquez’ Title to Lose in 2019 

Welcome to MotoGP 2019, brought to you by Motorcycle.com and, well, me. I will be publishing everything I do here, and MO will, in turn, publish race results (only the results; no previews) on Sundays. My editor at MO worked hard to make this happen, and I’m happy to start my 11th season working for the friendly Canucks in Toronto and with the bozos in California.

MotoGP 2019 dawns on the heels of another Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda masterpiece last year. Despite extreme efforts from the likes of Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, the ageless Yamaha wonder Valentino Rossi, his teammate Maverick Vinales and Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins, Marquez sailed to his fifth premier class championship in six years, utterly dominant amongst the yachting class. He took the championship lead in Jerez and never looked back, winning nine times, on the podium for five others, going 14 for 18 with Silverstone rained out.

Although there have been a number of changes—riders leaving, moving up from Moto2, switching from, say, Ducati to Honda—there is no denying that Marquez will have to crash out of the championship, a rather unlikely outcome given the fact that he practices crashing and generally avoids the whole over-the-handlebars scene. His surgically-repaired shoulder should be close to 100% by the time the red lights go out in Qatar. His shoulder became such a mess last year that a congratulatory slap from Scott Redding at Motegi caused it to dislocate again. The thought that he was able to demolish the field in that condition makes the notion of his improving this year more palatable. Not. The bike is generally unchanged, unruly and good everywhere. Having Lorenzo in the garage will increase the testosterone quotient on both sides. One expects Lorenzo to start off as a top tenner and improve from there as the season progresses.

The times are a-changin’ at the factory Monster Yamaha garage, with the torch on its way to being passed from ageless wonder Valentino Rossi to the future of Yamaha racing, at least for now, Maverick Vinales. Both riders should make consistent appearances in the top six this season as the 2019 YZR-M1 appears improved over the 2018 version (currently being ridden well by Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team.) Rossi fans are outraged by the assertion that Rossi has lost a step when, in fact, he has remained somewhat static for the past five years, constrained over and over by a steadily improving Marquez, who will officially enter The Prime of his career this year and for the next four or five.

Great.

With Rossi still selling a lot of gear and Vinales poking around podia on a regular basis, the factory team must have as its goal for 2019 to show significant improvement over last year’s bike, which neither rider liked. It has gone from the best ride on the grid on Bridgestones to the third-best on Michelins. Neither rider is likely to win a title in 2019, but the show must go on. Data harvesting, y’know.

Recent History at Losail

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season.

The 2018 season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk in the Tech 3 garage. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian by hundredths. No TKO.

Returning to your Previously Scheduled Programming

The new satellite Petronas team features Franco Morbidelli, moving from a 2017 Honda to a 2019 Yamaha, and apparently thrilled by the difference. Rookie French teenage teammate, heartthrob Fabio Quartararo is riding, I believe, 2018 equipment, learning the premier class game on a less-valuable bike of which, it is expected, he will destroy a dozen or so as he makes his way up the learning curve at 200 mph. One of these guys will likely take over for Rossi on the factory team when he retires, possibly as early as the end of this year, no later than the end of next year. Makes for a no-shit intra-team rivalry for the year which, in turn, suggests they will consistently fight to be in the points, perhaps the top ten, over a long season, with the Frenchman recording his share of DNFs and the Italian prevailing, himself a VR46 Academy grad. Rossi, I believe, will need to finish the season in the top six in order to honor the second year of his contract. Anything less would, I sense, be unacceptable, clear evidence that the time to retire has arrived.

The factory Ducati team, whose title sponsor I can never remember other than it is weak—Minnie Willow?—has two strong Italian contenders on brand new Desmosedicis with high motivation and proven skills. Factory crew for Danilo Petrucci, which is a first. Andrea Dovizioso, who had his career year in 2017, should still win a few races, but his championship aspirations are largely past tense. Both are, however, amongst the favorites for the Forget Marquez and His 350 Points championship fight, featuring Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales and Suzuki’s Alex Rins.

The Pramac Ducati duo of Australian Jack Miller and rookie Italian VR46 rider Pecco Bagnaia will be wildcards at some venues especially, I suspect, at wet or flag-to-flag outings. Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, cutting his teeth on the Ducati, while Miller will need a bunch of top ten finishes to stay #1 on the #2 team. The #3 team, Avintia UnReale, fronts a recovering Tito Rabat alongside journeyman Karel Abraham, with only Rabat expected to find himself in the top ten on occasion. Dovizioso should win the intra-manufacturer trophy, but little else. (This, by the way, is the team Suzuki should look to buy out and pave the way for their satellite team.)

Speaking of Suzuki, the Ecstar team performed well enough to lose its previous concessions, forced this year to wear their big boy pants and slug it out with everyone else, same playing field. No sweat. Alex Rins is an Alien in the making and rookie teammate Joan Mir likewise, although he is a year or two behind Rins. Both are flogging improving bikes, a handful of horsepower from being consistently on the podium on a bike cognizant of Rossi’s famous words, “The front tire’s job is to inform me. The rear tire’s job is to obey me.” Suzuki gets that, and I believe a number of riders would be interested in their #2 team.

KTM, Austria’s gift to motorcycle racing, isn’t happening. Just getting that out there. The apologists are in full rant, defending performance which has been, at best, disappointing over two full years. Which, with the addition of the Tech 3 satellite operation, raised expectations amongst the PR types if few others. The factory team of Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro are, I sense, being asked to make bricks without straw, and the satellite team of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, also on 2019 equipment, is suffering likewise. The factory is throwing massive resources into a segment of the market in which it makes very little, leading some to believe that executives may be starting to use the term “or else” in their fantasy conversations with corporate rivals.

As for the intrepid, ever-optimistic Aprilia congregation, whose riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are keeping a stiff upper lip, Iannone suffering with his third bike in four years, his once-bright career in visible decline. Ducati to Suzuki to Aprilia. I suspect Suzuki would take him back if they did produce a #2 team, as he improved late in his previous tenure and folks say they canned him too soon.

Finally, before I forget, here are the preseason tranche projections, published previously in a separate article and cut/pasted for internal consistency:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco  Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

I don’t expect the final standings to look too much like this, as this is a moving target during the year owing to injuries, mostly. But, heading in, rather than being a complete jerk and allotting Marquez Tranche 1 by himself, I decided to be gracious and at least tip my hat to the other riders, as if this were going to be a real race season and no one knows who’s going to win.

Predicting the outcome of the first race of the season, under the lights in The Persian Gulf, sand and glare everywhere, a surreal shakedown cruise for everyone, is commonly referred to as “a fool’s errand.” This foolish errand boy will therefore throw out four names, three of which will, I suspect, end up on the podium (drum roll, please):  Marquez  Vinales  Petrucci  Bagnaia.

Whatever. Let the games begin. 2019 is upon us.

MotoGP 2019 Season Preview

February 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen    February 27

World-Class Battle for Second Place Awaits MotoGP 

MotoGP, the working name for grand prix international motorcycle racing, has evolved in a number of ways in the last decade. Of the Big Three manufacturers in 2009—Yamaha, Honda and Ducati, respectively—Honda has booted Yamaha from #1 all the way to #3, a whisker ahead of the prodigal factory Suzuki crib. Jorge Lorenzo has been passed around like a party girl in a mosh pit. KTM and Aprilia have joined the fray, mostly to no avail.  

marc_marquez_2013_zdj_3

Marquez ca. 2013

Marc-Marquez-MotoGP-2019-690x460

Marquez 2019

Marc Marquez has melded his body and his Honda RC213V into a single working unit with a state-of-the-art gyroscope and a clear understanding of the laws and limits of physics, all of which make him the strong favorite to win his sixth title in seven (!) years, domination of the premier class unseen since, well, ten years ago, when Valentino Rossi sat astride the motoracing world. And though the torch was passed in 2016, Rossi fans insist he has a chance to take his 10th world championship this year and retire on top.

Rossi, they’ll tell you, records aside, is as good as ever. The Yamaha, they’ll tell you, is greatly improved over last year. Young maverick Maverick Vinales is telling the engineers the same things that Rossi is telling them, they’ll tell you, a synergy developing between the GOAT and the Next Great Rider to Come Along at the Wrong Time and Never Win a Title, Vinales a candidate for what we shall henceforth call The Dani Pedrosa Award, which is not given every year. Y’see, by the time Vinales overtakes Marquez in, say, 2023 he himself will get consumed by the likes of Alex Rins or Joan Mir or Pecco Bagnaia. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow appear to be the next batters on deck for The Pedrosa Award.

The only way Marc Marquez does not win the MotoGP title this year, or any of the next five, will be a crash or crashes that cause him to break a limb or give him a concussion. He has tamed the quick but unruly RC213V with a combination of balance, reflexes, strength and cojones, each season a highlight reel of impossible saves that leave even him shaking his head. No other Honda rider gets as much out of his front tire. He enjoys stalking a Dovizioso or a Lorenzo, then hitting them with three laps left and later complimenting them from the center seat of the press conference riders table. The one reserved for the race winner.

New Repsol teammate Jorge Lorenzo, formerly employed by both Yamaha and Ducati, entering the season with a surgically-repaired wrist, has given us reason to believe he will get the hang of the point-and-shoot Honda by mid-season. With Marquez virtually guaranteed to accumulate well over 300 points and Lorenzo capable of 200 himself, it’s hard to imagine Honda not taking the team and constructor trophies in 2019. Crutchlow and Nakagami will do better than Morbidelli and Quartararo.

The LCR Honda team, with separate sponsors and liveries for the Brit and Japanese riders, appears to be one of changing fortunes. Crutchlow, after a brutal ankle injury last year at Phillip Island is finding his way back but is not 100% and may never be again. Meanwhile, Takaa Nakagami, on the same bike Marquez rode to the title last year, was first on the last day of 2018 testing at Jerez and has been a regular in the top ten in both tests this year, his star apparently, somehow, on the rise. Suitably great news in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Yamahas

The fortunes of Yamaha racing hit rock bottom in 2018 after having signed both Rossi and Vinales to new two-year contracts. An executive shuffle at HQ and feverish work on electronics and stuff has produced a 2019 iteration of the YZR-M1 that appears competitive, if not dominating. Certainly better than last year, which both Rossi and Vinales spent singing the blues about one thing or another, Vinales throwing a mid-season hissy that cost his crew chief his job and cemented his reputation as a prima donna.

Rossi, to little surprise, is not enjoying having become the de facto #2 rider on the Yamaha team. This team never made much effort to designate a #1 or a #2 when it was Rossi and Lorenzo. They appear to be downplaying any talk of Rossi having lost a step. Vinales is not claiming anything, mostly keeping his head down and riding fast. The Big Question entering 2020 is whether Rossi will choose to vacate the second year of his contract and move strictly to ownership in 2021, perhaps with the occasional wild card? Mugello would fit into that picture. SKY VR46 Racing could easily become a satellite Suzuki team in 2021, purchasing the Reale Avintia spots on the grid and bringing the VR46 circus to MotoGPtown.

Where was I? Right, so I expect Vinales to outpoint Rossi this year, probably finishing third and fifth, respectively. Over at the new Petronas SIC team, Franco Morbidelli and French teenager Fabio Quartararo are getting acquainted with their own M-1s, Morbidelli on 2019 equipment. Their prospects appear somewhat dim, given the newness of everything, but Quartararo turned in a very hot lap toward the end of the Qatar test. Very hot. Both riders figure to finish in the points each time out barring, you know, the usual hiccups, cartwheeling through the gravel at high speed, that sort of thing.

The Ducatis

The factory team, riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, will end the season with a rider in Tranche 2 and one in Tranche 3 presuming Marquez gets Tranche 1 all to himself again. Petrucci’s history is one of taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. He broke into MotoGP in 2010 on board an Ioda beater, which became an Ioda-Suter beater midseason and for 2013. Junk. I used to make fun of him plodding along when, as others more perceptive than I realized, he had some skills. He hit rock bottom in 2014 riding an Aprilia production bike for a ragged ART team and getting smoked on a regular basis. He kept with it.

He got a crack with Ducati riding used equipment in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when, in beating the hapless Scott Redding in an inter-team competition at Pramac, he earned a factory spec bike for 2018. He rode well enough to take over the #2 factory seat when Jorge Lorenzo defected to Honda. He did not ride well enough (8th each of the last two years) to keep his ride for more than the one-year contract he signed. Not with the likes of Bagnaia on the immediate horizon. I have both riders in Tranche 2 heading into 2019.

Ducati Team #3, the Reale Avintia team, features Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham, two journeymen riders, neither of whom figures to be overly competitive. As satellite riders for Ducati in the Dall’Igna era they, too, get better used equipment each year. Rabat, rebounding from a serious leg injury suffered last year, is loving his new ride, while Abraham, a rich kid and an attorney in real life, keeps showing up with a fistful of dad’s sponsorship money. He generally makes about two appearances a year in the top ten. I have Rabat at the top of Tranche 4 and Abraham in Tranche 5.

The Suzukis

Given there are only two riders, the summary of their team’s prospects for 2019 shall be brief and to the point. They have two exciting riders, veteran Alex Rins and young gun Joan Mir, fresh out of a single year in Moto2, in a hurry to get to the premier class. They have a rapidly improving bike whose prospects, ironically, may be hampered by their success a year ago which resulted in the loss of concessions.

Nonetheless, I have been jocking Rins for several years after reading some stuff about the racing rivalry between the Rins and Marquez families—Tito Rabat is in there somewhere, too—but the point is that Rins is good enough to threaten for a podium each time out. I have him finishing second for the year, for God’s sake. Mir will take some time to get acclimated to the big bike and will suffer on occasion in his quest for points. I have him in Tranche 4 this season and wouldn’t be surprised to see him in #3 by the end of the season. In a year or two they will both be Alien candidates.

The KTMs

Despite what you might read, there is little joy in Mudville, Austria these days. The proud KTM logo has, since 2017, sucked hard in the premier class, despite the investment of countless man-hours and millions of euros. Domination in the lower classes, at least on occasion, clearly does not translate automatically to the big bikes. Pol Espargaro, the veteran of a group which includes Johann Zarco on the factory team, with Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syzhrin wearing Tech 3 colors, was raving at Sepang about the increased power in this year’s bike as its riders finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd.

KTM proponents in the real world are as bad as Rossi fans. Plenty of coulda, woulda and shouldas. Huge expectations going forward due to this reason or that. The brand has invested big time in MotoGP with nothing, really, to show for it. A third-place podium, at Valencia last year, in two seasons? This year they signed Johann Zarco and promoted Oliveira from Moto2, adding the satellite team, staying with Syahrin for sponsorship reasons, mostly, although he used to be a force in the rain.

This brand’s results promise to be disappointing once again. They will end up with two riders in Tranche 4 and two in Tranche 5 and will be doing victory dances and sending out press releases. Meanwhile, their fans, like dedicated Marxists, await the withering away of The State and a return to the Natural Order of Things, in which KTM wins it all. In my opinion, they have a long wait on their hands.

The Aprilias

Alas, the lonely Aprilias, plucky veteran Aleix Espargaro and a maturing Andrea Iannone on board the most tenuous factory team bikes in the game. We have observed elsewhere that there are entire planets in far away galaxies whose inhabitants worship images of Aleix Espargaro on the podium wearing Aprilia colors. I’m aware of few people that don’t want to see Aleix, or even Iannone, on the podium at least once this season. Perhaps a flag-to-flag in Assen or something weird. It would be good for everyone.

Pre-Season Rider Tranches

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat,                                          Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

Let’s get this party started.

 

MotoGP Qatar 2013: A Look-back

February 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio Quartararo in 2018, Moto2

The discussion around “Is Fabio Quartararo too young to be riding in MotoGP?” prompted me to look back at the debut premier class race, in 2013, of the baddest young rookie of those CRT days, Marc Marquez. (If memory serves, his most recent race prior to the 2013 season opener was the 2012 Moto2 finale in Valencia where, for conduct unbecoming during the previous race or practice or something, he was forced to start from the back of the grid and won the race anyway, making a mockery of the field. The field that day included names such as Pol Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Johann Zarco, Takaa Nakagami and Hafizh Syahrin, all of whom he continues to school until this day.)

Anyway, here is a re-post of the 2013 season opener in Qatar, won by defending two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha M-1, back when it, too, was the baddest machine on the grid. It was pretty clear even then that Marquez was special. How special we didn’t know, but would find out. This is almost timely, in that the big bikes will finish testing this weekend in Qatar.

I think the 2013 article is better than the stuff I’ve been doing lately; don’t know why. But here it is. You can decide if our outlook for young Mr. Marquez was accurate.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard. 

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly. Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to win his 8th premier class title this year.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years. The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith. Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10. Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies.

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.

 

 

MotoGP: Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

February 13, 2019

© Bruce Allen

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

Screenshot (191)

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

* * *

There you have it. We’ll hold onto the original for after the season is over and see who has the last laugh.

Ten Takeaways from MotoGP Sepang Test

February 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

REPSOL_HONDA_TeamPress19_JOC471

Keeping in mind that it is way early in the season, I believe we can find at least 10 things to think about after three days in the autoclave. Doing this reporting from my home provides you, the reader, with higher quality reporting than you might receive from a professional journalist, on the scene, with a rock star press pass, getting his brain baked for three straight days by the classic combination of equatorial heat and alcohol. From a distance, I argue, we gain a sober, bird’s-eye view of what we refer to as The Big Picture.

  • Marquez on pitch count is still fast. He will win the 2019 title. He led Day One just to show he could, then gave his shoulder a bit of a rest and ran 30 or 40 laps a day while others were approaching 80. He will not be 100% at Losail in two weeks, nor will he be 100% for the opener. He will be healthy enough to compete for the win.
  • Ducati has found something over the winter. In addition to the bigger black box they have a mystery switch on the front fork. Decoy? All four factory and Pramac riders in the top four at Sepang on Thursday. All four under the track record. Let’s see how they do in the desert.
  • There is life After Alvaro Bautista.
  • Lorenzo is downplaying his 2019 chances. I believe he is playing possum. He will be fast at some point in 2019; the question is not whether but when.
  • Seven riders unofficially broke the existing track record on Thursday. Last year eight track records were broken. It wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest another eight may fall this year. Better bikes, better riders, Michelin another year of data…
  • Alma Pramac Ducati rookie Pecco Bagnaia may be the New Kid in Town. Second overall in Malaysia is what I believe folks mean when they say “early flashes of brilliance.” Smooth operator, nonetheless.
  • Viñales is the alpha rider on the factory Yamaha team. Viñales is back. Yamaha may be back. Morbidelli and Quartararo are going to be consistently in the points as well. The plot thickens. Few seem to be taking Rossi seriously, some suggesting this may be his farewell tour. I expect not, as guys like Vale are way more likely to retire too late (paging Colin Edwards) than too early (paging Casey Stoner.)
  • Alex Rins is going to be in podium contention on a regular basis this year. Joan Mir, probably not. He will need a year to figure it out. Can Suzuki build an engine with enough grunt to allow Rins to compete for a title? The bike is great, he and Mir are both going to be great. They need a satellite team in the worst way. Work a deal with Ducati to take over the Avintia team. Bring in two rising stars from Moto2 with a year of racing Triumph 765’s behind them. Or rescue Dani Pedrosa from KTM oblivion.
  • What’s left of Cal Crutchlow’s ankle is enough to allow him to ride fast. He is now, officially, The Black Knight. “Is that all you’ve got?” Top ten guy until he injures himself again. Dude needs to get out and spend time with his young family. Too old, too beat up, still fast but never gonna be a champion.
  • Takaa Nakagami, who claimed the top of the last timesheet in Jerez back in November, may, somehow, be a top ten guy on the 2018 RCV, which would rock HRC’s world. Both Honda and Yamaha could be back to having four riders consistently in the points.
  • Gigi Dall’Igna has put Ducati squarely in the middle of the championship chase. Another four riders in the top ten or twelve. Very impressive. Dovi wishes he were 10 years younger; he could rule the world.
  • A bigger front group may evolve. The usual characters—Marquez, Dovi, Viñales and Rossi—will be joined by the likes of Rins, Petrucci, Miller occasionally, and Lorenzo at some point. The Knight. A hotshot rookie? One of the best things about the Moto3 and Moto2 races is the sheer size of the lead groups, especially at high-slipstream places like Mugello and Phillip Island, where riders can go from 1st to 8th in one turn. That stuff is what lifts fans’ hearts into their throats and keeps them coming back for more.
  • Aprilia and KTM are showing some signs of life. Aleix was one of the seven to break the old track record. But KTM is trying to sound happy over 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd. Perhaps the riders were just bonding this time out.
  • I will probably find myself referring to the gruesomely-named Mission Winnow Ducati team as the Wishing Minnow team. The Missing Window team. The Mishing Widow team. Vindow Vashers. Whatever. Those two are going to be fast movers this season. Fast enough to unseat Marquez? No. Fast enough to fight for second place? Absolutely. Danilo, especially, on his one-year contract appears to be on a Mission Window.

That has to be at least ten takeaways. I’m kind of looking forward to the Qatar test later this month. Maybe we can find ten more.