Posts Tagged ‘fabio quartararo’

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez looking for four “on the trot” 

MotoGP fans must be open to the idea that Aragon is on its way to becoming another #93Wins track, joining Austin and the Sachsenring as places where he is virtually automatic. Out here in northeast Spain, Marquez won as a rookie in 2013, went MIA in 2014 and 2015, then started reeling off wins in 2016.

A win this year would make him 4-for-4 of late. The fact that so many riders still have all this motivation to pull out the stops on the way to the top step of the rostrum, while he has so little—basically, remain upright and finish in the points somewhere—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. Winning never gets old. His victory celebrations, however, are starting to resemble those of Jorge Lorenzo back in the day and need to be dialed down a notch or two.

Rookie Fabio Quartararo proved to me last week that he is the real deal. He is not just a one-lap wonder, skilled at qualifying. He turned in a win-worthy race on Sunday under the worst pressure imaginable in this business, i.e., with Marc Marquez glued to his rear tire the entire effing time. On the final lap, per the script, Fabio got passed for the first time by Marquez in Turn 1, but struck back immediately, giving the five-time premier class champion a little of THIS, before settling for second. That’s what you want to see in wannabe Aliens.

Was Marquez toying with the Frenchman? I think so, but he is sufficiently emotionally and politically astute not to suggest anything other than Quartararo has mad skills and big balls and will be a threat to his title next year yeah sure right. Maybe not for real, but he has a credible shot at #2 next year, assuming he ever wins his first race. Nicky Hayden won the title in 2006 with two wins. One needs points every weekend, just not necessarily 25.

Fabio Quartararo on a factory Yamaha in 2021 will be a beast. Until then, readers must guard against “irrational exuberance;” let him get a win somewhere (the schedule gets incrementally easier after Marquez clinches the title), another year on the satellite Yam, then the major leagues, the heir apparent to The House That Rossi Built. Is he seriously going to be, a year and a half from now, The New Kid in Town? He’ll be 22 years old. Salad days for Marc Marquez may be drawing to a close sooner than we thought. 

Recent History at Aragon

In 2016, Repsol Honda upstart Marquez took a big step toward seizing the MotoGP title with an impressive win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers of Lorenzo and Rossi, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds in 2017.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder looked to gather momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and the then-exiled Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, diminished.

Last year, Marc Marquez had likely grown weary hearing about how great the Ducati is, how great Dovizioso and Lorenzo are, how they’d been making a chump of him since August. Marc Marquez, despite his calm exterior, is a fiercely competitive young man. A year ago, in front of his home fans, with no pressure and no real incentive other than pride, he went out and beat Andrea Dovizioso and a surprisingly competitive Andrea Iannone (SUZ), assuring his followers that he may be many things, but a chump isn’t one of them. 

Zarco Out; Kallio In 

The messy situation at the KTM factory team has, for the time being, been resolved. Disaffected Frenchman Johann Zarco, who had requested out of his 2020 contract, was removed from the remainder of his 2019 contract in favor of test rider Mika Kallio, who will race in Aragon this weekend. Zarco’s fall from grace has become rapid, and many readers of other, less enlightened publications are highly critical of his comportment.

My take is that he realized he had made a losing bet—regardless of how it got made—accepting the contract offer from KTM without having first resolved the interest from Honda, which probably would also have been a mistake, too, in that JZ needs a Yamaha or Suzuki beneath him. It wasn’t going to get any better this year or next. He is currently losing face, but is a talented rider who, like Lorenzo, needs a specific type of bike to be successful, and for Zarco, the KTM wasn’t it. It is not impossible to get resurrected from Test Rider to Rider in MotoGP; paging Jonas Folger. One thing for certain is that, career-wise, Zarco cannot afford any more face-plants; the next one will probably be his last.

Briefly, Moto3 and Moto2

Moto2 championship leader Alex Marquez had nine points taken out of his series lead on Sunday as Augusto Fernandez elbowed his way to the win, Marquez finishing third, now up by 26 points heading to Aragon. Fabio di Giannantonio took the second podium step and missed out on what would have been a well-earned win by a full 18/100ths of a second. Slacker.

Moto3 offered its customary barn-burner with the first four riders crossing the line within 7/10ths of a second. Hard-luck Tatsuki Suzuki, riding for Paolo Simoncelli’s team at the track named for his late son, took the win with some fancy riding and good luck, bringing the elder Simoncelli to tears. Sure, they played the Japanese national anthem during the podium celebration, but it surely must have sounded like Il Canto degli Italiani to the SIC58 Squadra Corse team.

See, good things happen in MotoGP. Just not in the premier class.

Your Weekend Forecast

The Racing Gods appear anxious to get into the act this weekend, with bright sunshine predicted, interspersed with heavy rain showers. Something for every taste and budget. This is good news for the grid, for whom sunny and bright spells certain doom. The news isn’t all that good when one accounts for the fact that Marquez handles sketchy weather conditions better than anyone else out there and makes music with crew chief Santi Hernández such that they rarely guess wrong on tires or setup.

Conceding the win to Marquez, I’m inclined to see Rossi and Dovizioso on the podium this weekend. The youngsters—Quartararo, Vinales, Rins—can have the weekend off. This is the last European round until November, the last chance to make some positive impressions on the continent before flying off to crazy time zones and brutal weather conditions. I want to believe the veteran campaigners understand this better than the young bucks, and that this weekend will be for them.

We’ll have results and analysis right here mid-day on Sunday.

MotoGP San Marino Results

September 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez rains on Yamaha’s Italian parade 

In a memorable last-lap duel, the incomparable Marc Marquez took brash French rookie Fabio Quartararo’s lunch money, after threatening to take it for 26 laps. In the process he was able to check off all five boxes on his Sunday to-do list:

  • Win a last-lap battle;
  • Rain on an Italian parade, no Rossi or Morbidelli;
  • Put young Fabio in his place, if possible;
  • Deny #20 an Alien card if possible; and
  • Extend his 2019 series lead to an appalling 93 points.

This, then, is me eating my prediction from Wednesday that Yamahas would not put four bikes in the top five in this race. Let’s agree that Yamaha has fixed their acceleration problem and is no longer holding Vinales or Rossi back. Let’s stipulate that the Petronas satellite bikes are at least as fast as the 2019 version when fitted with the same engine.

And let’s agree that Marquez played young Fabio today, let him feel the pressure all day, stayed on his rear tire, just watching. Saving his tire. Figuring out where to mount the assault. Turn 1 of the final lap, followed moments later by an exchange of places out of which Marquez emerged with the lead. He blocked young Fabio at every turn, so to speak, on the second half of the lap to hold on for another convincing win, one made a touch sweeter by taking place in Italy, where he is roundly loathed. Vinales found his way to the third step of the podium, more Pop Gun today than Top Gun. And Rossi finally found his way past #21 Morbidelli late in the day, the teacher outrunning the student to the flag. Having discounted Vinales I had either #21 or #46 on the podium. 

Currently, Jorge Lorenzo is Just Another Rider 

After 13 rounds last year, factory Ducati #2 Lorenzo had 130 pts and Petrucci, on the Pramac Ducati, 110. This year Lorenzo has 23 points on the Honda while Petrux has 151 on the factory machine. Don’t let anyone tell you that Danilo couldn’t outride Lorenzo on the GP19. It says here that Lorenzo now has the yips on the RC213V. Been saying it for a while. I think he would be slower this year on the Ducati than he was at the end of last year, too. Today he started 18th and finished 19th.

Alberto Puig who, I sense, has a little-man complex, said as much. Lorenzo is unable to admit that he is terrified by the unpredictability of the RC213V and is not unaware that it came close to putting him in a wheelchair. In my unsolicited opinion, Jorge needs to examine those things that are important in his life and retire from motorcycle racing, let it go, be thankful for three world premier class titles. While he can walk away, literally, on his own terms, Honda undoubtedly happy to accommodate a waving of his contract commitment for 2020 without penalty. Let Honda worry about the #2 factory seat; Lorenzo needs to worry about Lorenzo. He has more than enough money for a lifetime of leisure, which he has richly earned. Make Casey Stoner his role model. Retire as close to the top of your game as possible. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday belonged to 2019 ROY lock Fabio Quartararo, who flogged his Petronas Yamaha M1 to the top of both timesheets. Saturday’s hero was Pol Espargaro, who passed directly into Q2 and thence to the middle of the first row of the grid on Sunday, the first ever front row qualifying session for KTM in MotoGP.

World Circuit Marco Simoncelli proved itself to be a very friendly venue, one enjoyed by Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Suzuki, with Ducatis, despite their strong recent history, lagging and Aprilia once again up the creek.

Q2 started with Vinales and Quartararo favored for pole. Two Suzukis in Q2, 2 KTM. Yamahas occupied three of the top four spots and four of the top seven, paced by Maverick Vinales on pole, Quartararo in P3, and a strong-looking Franco Morbidelli on the inside of Row 2.

Rossi stood seventh after a late Q2 altercation with Marquez (P5), upon which fans will be divided as to who was at fault. I couldn’t tell, but at the moment it occurred Marquez had two red bars, was shooting for pole and Rossi wasn’t, ergo Rossi had less to lose in a close encounter, ergo he took it upon himself to punish, vigilante-style, Marquez running wide after his having blitzed Rossi on the inside, by pushing him into the green, nullifying the lap entirely for both riders, then putting on a bit of a block-pass, causing Marquez to apply the brakes and raise his hand, no mas, no mas. Marquez seen laughing about it shortly thereafter in his garage. Race Direction asked if they could stop by later to discuss the incident, which resulted in nothing other than some excellent beer, wine and cheese all around, Marquez beaming, Rossi impassive, seething. Robbed of his crown by this impertinent, disrespectful, egotistic Spaniard; sick and tired of it all. In his home crib. As they say in Tennessee, “disgracious.”

One wonders what would have happened had their encounter taken place for the win on Sunday. 

The Race 

Much like my cheese sauce, today’s race quickly separated into several clots of riders, the races inside the race generating much of the interest on Sunday. Marquez and Quartararo went off on their own, leaving the Yamaha machines of Vinales, Morbidelli and Rossi to tussle over the final podium spot. Vinales failed to take real advantage of his first pole since Qatar but had enough to hold off the reigning GOAT and young Franco, who keeps looking better and better, with Dovizioso closing in sixth. KTM’s Pol Espargaro celebrated beating an ascendant Joan Mir (SUZ) for P7, with Jack Miller and Danilo closing out the top ten in their non-threatening Ducs. Riders who failed to see the flag included Ducati wild card Michele Pirro, as well as pretenders Cal Crutchlow (HON), Alex Rins (SUZ) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC).

We have stated our belief that no one, not even young heartthrob Fabio, can get their Alien card until they’ve beaten a Marquez or a Rossi or a Dovizioso, etc., mano a mano for their first MotoGP win. (Danilo Petrucci did that at Mugello and no one sought to make him an Alien.) Today might have been Quartararo’s day to become a full-fledged Alien, had he been able to hold off Marquez on that eventful last lap.

Despite Marquez’ difficult recent last-lap encounters with Rins and Dovi, I don’t believe #20 had a prayer today. Today, I think, was “On behalf of the Aliens and myself, welcome to MotoGP, Fabio, please find a way to be happy finishing second. Let me know when you feel capable of winning.” 

Tranches 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Up Next: Aragon

MotoGP teams must not pass GO, may not collect $200, and must proceed directly to dusty Aragon for Round 14 of an increasingly discouraging 2019 season. The track, with its fake 3,000-year-old stones juxtaposed against the gigantic video walls is a memorable sight. If there is a positive note about today’s outcome, it’s that it eliminated any possibility that #93 could clinch the title this time around. The odds of a title at Buriram went to 35% while Motegi climbed to 65%.

Local Color, courtesy of MotoGP.com:

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Rossiland

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Beautiful place to visit or live.

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Ducatitown

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We will be back mid-week with a look ahead at the Aragon round.

MotoGP San Marino Preview

September 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Italy’s Adriatic Riviera is lovely this time of year 

Sorry. We arrive at Round 13 of 19 in the heart of the 2019 MotoGP season, at one of the iconic racetracks in all of Europe, jocking the amazing sport that is grand prix motorcycle racing, trying to stifle a yawn. The 2019 title, all over but the shouting, fans left to gape at perhaps the most accomplished rider of this or any other generation, is not up for discussion. We must focus on other things. With seven races in the next nine weekends there should be plenty of chatter to keep us occupied.

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Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli

One item that is up for discussion concerns the seating arrangements for the 2020 KTM season, Johann Zarco having departed from the factory team for points unknown, Brad Binder getting bumped up from Moto2 to take Hafizh Syahrin’s seat on Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 satellite team. Speculation, which I share, is that Miguel Oliveira will move to the factory team, leaving a sizeable hole in Poncharal’s effort. A reader recently took time out of his busy schedule to excoriate me for not knowing that Alvaro Bautista was already in place to take the factory seat vacated by Zarco. Bautista did leap, but within WSBK, from Ducati to Honda, whining something about Ducati having abandoned him etc. If you want to talk about this stuff, all you must do is agree to Jim Rome’s admonition: Have a take, and don’t suck.

Crickets. Talking about Alvaro Bautista.

Lots of people talking about Fabio Quartararo, who may, indeed, be The New Kid in Town. He casually turned a 1:31.639 during the recent Misano test, a full hundredth off the official track record of 1:31.629, Lorenzo’s 2018 pole lap, almost half a second in front of Danilo Petrucci. That Yamaha filled four of the top five positions shows how meaningless these tests are. If they do the same thing on Sunday I’ll eat that one. But at this point there is no denying that young Fabio is a fast mover. I worry for him, that such sudden success may cause him to take more risks than he should.

Rossi, it now seems certain, will stick around for 2020 to fulfill his final contract with Yamaha, a 20-round victory lap blowing kisses to the yellow hordes. It is hard to believe that his last career win came at Assen in 2017 at a time when we thought we would live to see another half dozen top steps for the Italian legend. His legion of followers insist he has enough gas left in the tank for another win before he hangs it up. Unlikely. I will gladly eat this one, too, if the day comes. 

Recent History at Marco Simoncelli 

In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo.  For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go. 

2017 saw Marquez deliver a last lap destined for his career highlight reel.  He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch a generational rider perform at the height of his formidable powers.

2018 will go down in Bologna as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third behind Dovi and Lorenzo. When ‘that Spanish stronzo Lorenzo’ stunned the 97,000 ravenous fans by sliding out of second on Lap 26, Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another discouraging 8 points to his 2018 lead. Rossi finished the day in seventh; Lorenzo in the gravel. For the year, Dovi took over second place, followed by Rossi and Lorenzo, with Marquez cruising in clean air. It was “Welcome once again to the Marquez Era.” 

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Find the motorcycle in this photo

Racing News 

Sudden Sam Lowes has signed a contract to join the Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Moto2 cadre in 2020, riding next to Alex Marquez. Sam, as is his wont, is wildly optimistic about his title chances in 2020, as per usual. These loudmouth Brits—Lowes, Crutchlow, Redding—keep me chuckling when they fail to back up all the talk, year after year. Sam is the worst, expecting to dominate in MotoGP, expecting to dominate in Moto2. Getting thoroughly faced in both. Destined for British Super Bikes. Scott Redding is apparently moving back up from BSB to Moto2, where he may once again be too big and heavy to score any wins. Hooked on the lifestyle, apparently. Seriously, what right-thinking Moto2 owner would sign Scott Redding? 

Weekend Forecast 

The weather in San Marino this weekend is expected to be perfect—sunny and warm, not too hot—which is bad news for the grid, as it needs unsettled conditions (snow, locusts, biblical rain, etc.) to slow down the Marquez express. Misano is one of the tracks where the Ducati works well, so the Italian contingent—six Ducatis, plus Rossi, Iannone and Bagnaia—will be on their “A” game. French rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo is being jocked in the racing media as the rider most capable of challenging Marquez for the win on Sunday. My advice to punters, however, is not to expect to hear La Marseillaise during the podium celebration. I feel compelled to urge young Fabio to avoid going down the road paved by Alvaro Bautista who, in recent years, had apparently paid more attention to his hairstyle and tats than winning in MotoGP.

Current odds, as posted at Bruce’s MotoGP Spacebook, show Marquez with a 5% chance of clinching the 2019 title at Aragon, a 35% chance of clinching at Buriram, and a 60% chance of clinching at Motegi.

For some strange reason, readers continue to urge me to take a stand and predict the top three finishers at each venue. I’m reluctant to do so, inclined to adhere to the old adage that it’s better to let people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. Nonetheless, in my perpetual effort to keep readers satisfied, I can see a Spaniard, an Italian and a Frenchman on Sunday’s podium. It would be poetic if Marquez were to be joined by Rossi and Quartararo; the rostrum would personify the metaphorical Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow meme. But it seems almost certain that a Ducati pilot will find his way into the top three, thereby upsetting my poetic intentions.

Whatever. We’ll be back on Sunday with results and analysis. Ciao for now.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 25, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rins mugs Marquez in last-turn British thriller 

Today’s GoPRO British Grand Prix unfolded according to script, a script seemingly written by some lightweight Hollywood hack. Plucky young challenger Alex trails peerless champion for the entire race, makes a late mistake, but recovers in time to steal the win by 13/thousandths of a second in one of the closest MotoGP tilts of all time. Marquez lost a relatively meaningless battle but happily extended his lead in the war to a dispiriting 78 points. 

The battle everyone was hoping for—Marquez vs. Quartararo—never got started, as the young Frenchman, starting from P4, got way too aggressive on cold tires early in Lap 1, high-sided, and dropped his Petronas Yamaha directly in front of Ducati hopeful Andrea Dovizioso, who had nowhere to go but up. Both riders ended their day in the gravel; both could be injured, as there is no report yet. Dovi clearly got the worst of the deal impact-wise, and it was Fabio’s crash. This Ducati debacle left a top five of Marquez, Rossi, Rins, Morbidelli and Vinales. The two Italians would later yield to the three Spaniards, producing an all-Spanish podium which approximated the race final at Jerez early in the year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

At least two things became immediately clear on Friday, as Petronas Yamaha prodigy Fabio Quartararo flirted with, then broke, the all-time track record at Silverstone, held by Marquez since 2017. First, the new racing surface is, as my dad used to say, “very adequate.” Second, Quartararo, who led both sessions, is fully capable of securing his first MotoGP win this weekend; the Yamaha contingent in general appears to love themselves some Silverstone.

(Note: I have been reluctant to jump on the Quartararo bandwagon with the readers who have, because I believe young Fabio still gets the yips at the end of close races. Until he displays the testicules d’acier one needs to stare down the likes of Marquez or Dovi on the last lap, he cannot be considered for an Alien card. Rins had to wait until his first win to receive his; it’s only fair. And he hasn’t yet won his first race. He may, in fact, be The New Kid in Town. He may be a flash in the proverbial pan. Too early to say.)

The track record took a pounding on Friday afternoon, then again, en masse, on Saturday morning. FP3 has ingeniously positioned itself as QØ. The last five minutes is a time attack on soft tires, trying to gain automatic entry to Q2, bypassing Q1 and being able to devote FP4 to race simulations. Friday afternoon saw four riders under the old record—Quartararo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi. On Saturday morning, 16 riders eclipsed the 2017 record, led by Fabio’s remarkable 1:58.547, 1.4 seconds faster than the target. There were four Yamahas in the top eight. Left out in the Q1 cold were names led by Dovizioso, Rins, and Nakagami; Jorge Lorenzo, limping around multiple seconds behind the leaders, must have been terrified. And this was all before FP4 and Q1. The weather was superb. There was a little rubber on the track.

Dovizioso and Rins made it through Q1 to set up an exhilarating Q2. With zeroes showing on the clock, and riders out on the track, the leaders, as best I recall, were Fabio, Rins and Vinales. Faster than you can blink your eyes, Rossi, Marquez and Jack Miller thundered across the finish line on to the front row, relegating the Frenchman and the two Spaniards to Row 2, juste comme ça. In the process, Marquez set yet another all-time track record, the fifth time this season he has done so in twelve rounds, one of which was wet. Rossi sitting second and Miller third set up a grand battle on Sunday, in which my two picks not named Marquez would start from P6 and P7. With the weather and the racing surface both close to perfect, Sunday’s race promised, well, more of what we’re used to, #93 taking the win and any of seven or eight other riders poised to join him on the rostrum, to carry his train, as it were. 

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Farther Down the Food Chain 

Valentino Rossi, his best days behind him and no threat to podium, managed to hold on to fourth place in front of countryman Franco Morbidelli and homeboy Cal Crutchlow, who said during the week he needs surgery, i.e., don’t come crying to him if you need a MotoGP win. Danilo Petrucci (P7) beat Jack Miller for Top Ducati of the Day to take the Taller Than Danny Di Vito Award for this week. Pol Espargaro and a shocking Andrea Iannone allowed KTM and Aprilia, respectively, to make token appearances in the top ten. Johann Zarco, in his season of discontent, took out fellow KTM peddler Miguel Oliveira on Lap 9, effectively ruining yet another Sunday for Pit Bierer & Co. [Sidebar: Aron Canet, currently toiling in Moto3, will someday wear KTM colors in MotoGP. Not this next year, but a year or two after that. Just sayin’.]

The Big Picture 

The 2019 championship staggered inexorably closer to the abyss today, as Marquez extended his series lead over the fallen Dovizioso to a game-over 78 points which, with a better script, would be 83. Rins took over third place from Petrucci and closed the distance between himself and Dovizioso. Vinales and Rossi are fighting amongst themselves for the honor of finishing fifth for the season. Miller, Quartararo and Crutchlow are tussling over P7. Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro are currently locked in a duel for the final spot in the top ten.

The Moto3 race today was, as usual, a barn-burner, with Marcos Ramirez sneaking across the line first, followed in close order by a hacked-off Tony Arbolino and Ramirez’ teammate Lorenzo dalla Porta, who leads the series by 14 points over Canet, whose own opportunity got skittled early in the race by Albert Arenas. Arbolino said in a post-race interview that he felt harshly treated by the two Leopard Hondas and swore revenge, perhaps as soon as Misano. This vendetta stuff among Italians is so pre-Renaissance.

Over in Moto2, Augusto Fernandez took advantage of a crash by series leader Alex Marquez to win in front of a clot of riders including Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and Remy Gardner. He took 25 points out of Marquez and now trails Little Brother by 35 points which, if nothing else, is less than 60. Lots of rumors flying around about Moto3 guys getting kicked up to Moto2 next year, including Ramirez and, of all people, Naughty Romano Fenati who, despite his trove of personality disorders, is fast on a motorcycle and would likely be excited beyond words to have 765cc roaring beneath him. More about that later. 

Today’s Tranches 

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 4:  Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Two Weeks Until Rimini

As summer draws to a close the flying circus returns to Italy, to the Adriatic Riviera, to one of the sweetest venues on the calendar. Beaches, mountains, San Marino has it all, not to mention one of the world’s great racetracks. Despite the boorish comportment of #93, we will find things to discuss as we close in on November. A great number of readers seem to care a lot about Valentino Rossi and KTM motorcycles; not sure why, but we’re always happy to host the discussion.

A Little Local Color

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Quartararo, guilty of littering, discards his Yamaha in front of Dovizioso.

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Sequence of blurry photos attempting to show how Rins punked Marquez at the end of today’s race.

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And a little eye candy for you troglodytes.

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MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovi punks Marquez again in Austria 

In another classic late-race duel between the top two riders in MotoGP, Ducati royal Andrea Dovizioso went through on Repsol Honda savant Marc Marquez in the last turn for a heart-stopping win, his fifth in six close encounters of this kind.  Dovi’s first win since Round 1 in Qatar provided warm fuzzies by the gross for Ducati but had virtually no impact on the championship. The battle for second took a hit, as Dovizioso’s win put 36 points of daylight between him and teammate Danilo Petrucci.

Two streaks were up for grabs today. The first was a possible triple—Germany, Brno and Austria—for Marquez, which no one really wanted to see. The other was an Austrian four-peat for Ducati, to which many folks, including plenty in the grandstands, were looking forward. If one considers that German industrial monolith Audi owns Volkswagen Group, which, in turn, owns Lamborghini, which, in fact, owns Ducati, you could almost call it a home win for the locals, making it four in a row, Red Bull Ring remaining the only circuit on the calendar where Marquez has never won. Take that, scheißkopf. The “forever” part of that previous statement was negated this weekend when Dorna announced a new five-year deal with Red Bull for the Austrian Grand Prix. 

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Marquez and Dovizioso entering Turn 10, Lap 28.

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Same two riders exiting Turn 10.

Practice and Qualifying 

We learned one thing during FP1—the track record was going to get whacked on Saturday, weather permitting. Less than a second off during FP1, led by Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales. Miller, Rossi, Quartararo, Rins and Zarco all within 4/10ths of the Maverick. FP2 featured much of the same cast as Act I.

Saturday dawned as summer Saturdays do in Austria, clear and mild. FP3 would separate the lambs and the goats. At the end, the top nine riders were under 1:24. The last-minute maneuvering to avoid having to deal with QP1 left Cal Crutchlow, Miguel Oliveira and Franco Morbidelli disgruntled; Crutchlow, notably, gets a Chernobyl-like Zone of Exclusion around himself for 30 minutes after these things.

Lucky to automatically advance to Q2 along with The Usual Suspects were Valentino Rossi (on his last lap, as per usual), Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro, all of whom would say things went according to plan, all of whom were thanking their lucky stars they could sneak in one way or another. Marquez, late in FP3, on a pair of soft tires, turned a 1:23.251, a tenth off the track record, with Q2 yet to come. Ho hum.

Crutchlow and Pecco Bagnaia managed to advance through Q1, at the expense of rookie Miguel Oliveira, who had been salivating at the prospect of moving his KTM machine on to Q2 for the first time. The following is a recording: “Marc Marquez seized pole and set a new track record at (fill in before releasing) Red Bull Ring on Saturday, obliterating the field in the process.” He was joined on the front row by Fabulous Quartararo and Desperate Dovi and what looked increasingly like another Marquez clambake on tap for Sunday.

The Race

Lap 1 had too many changes to track, but at the end showed Quartararo leading Dovizioso, Rins, Miller and Marquez. Between Lap 1 and Lap 6, where the real action started, things got sifted. Dovi and Marquez went through on a hot and wide Fabulous after Rins had faded. Miller, running 4th, crashed out unassisted on Lap 8, promoting Rossi to 4th and Vinales to 5th. The three Yamahas held onto places 3-5 for the duration, with Quartararo earning his first premier class podium, holding off and showing up the factory riders yet again.

Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, on Lap 6, happily went off on their own for a cage match which would last until the dash to the flag. Two consummate professionals on million-dollar machines fighting for pride, in themselves, their countries, and their employers. For Marquez, consistently finding a way to lose these things would be a concern were he not usually leading his Italian rival by 50 points or so during most of them. After the race he was his usual gracious, intelligent self, but one suspects this whole getting-bombed-by-Dovi-in-the-last-turn thing is starting to get on his nerves.

KTM Bombshell

Over the weekend the Austrian hosts issued a bit of a release concerning their plans for 2020 and beyond. To wit, they would be re-branding all of their Moto3 bikes with the Husqvarna label, apparently in an effort to spur sales of Husky’s world-class dirt bikes. They casually mentioned that they would no longer provide chasses for Moto2 teams, leaving five teams and nine riders high and dry at this point. KTM says it will devote the resources freed up by these changes to building its MotoGP program and defending itself from lawsuits. For Herve Poncharal, with a Tech 3 team in both Moto2 and MotoGP, this was your basic good news/bad news weekend. He’s kind of screwed in Moto2 but life should improve in MotoGP, especially with today’s Moto2 winner, Brad Binder, replacing the hapless Hafizh Syahrin next year in MotoGP.

Sudden Silliness

Jack Miller, clearly jacked off about getting jacked around by Ducati concerning his bike and contract for next year, let it be known that his current employers are in discussions allegedly trying to re-acquire Jorge Lorenzo for the Pramac team next season. This rumor, which, if true, would set off a chain reaction in the paddock, appears to be getting put to rest, as the counter-rumor, that Ducati brass were flying in on Sunday to anoint the young Australian for another year, gained traction. The whole thing—Lorenzo to Pramac, Lorenzo to Petronas Yamaha (??), Miller to WSBK, Quartararo to Repsol, Tinkers to Evers to Chance—sounded fishy from the outset. Perhaps the salient point is to establish some interest between the parties in contracts that will begin in 2021.

You Say Tranches, I Say Tranches 

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Austria: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

I’ve left Dovi in #2 because he’s just come off two of the best Ducati tracks on the calendar with his deficit to Marquez unchanged. Leaving Oliveira in #4 due to one solid outing; he needs to show me more. Cal Crutchlow is wearing me out, as is Aleix Espargaro; tired of making excuses for these guys. As they say in the dogsledding business, no matter where you’re harnessed, if you’re not the lead dog, the view’s pretty much the same.

On to Silverstone

Two weeks to the British Grand Prix, two weeks of listening to guys like Matt and Steve hammer on about Cal Crutchlow’s home race and the irrational exuberance of Sam Lowes. I will post some notes at Late-Braking MotoGP about the sensational Austrian Moto2 and Moto3 races later this week. In the meantime, as previously noted, we shall ignore MotoGP until such time as they see fit to provide us with a scrap of competition for the 2019 trophy.

A Little Local Color

MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

A few random photos from Assen

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MotoGP Assen Preview

June 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen    June 24, 2019

Assen—A Good Place for an Upset 

We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates—Bradley Smith—and rivals—Jorge Lorenzo—with them. With Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen? 

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday portends more of the usual. 

Notes from Catalunya 

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well—scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10. 

Recent History at Assen 

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race—two in a row for The Netherlands—was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group—take THAT, Moto3—and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Maverick Vinales, about whom plenty has been said already. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents cannot be said to have a preference. 

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Vinales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.”  But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral. Forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Vinales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Petrucci Prevails at Majestic Mugello 

If you’re into motorcycle racing—and why else would you be here reading this drivel?—today’s Italian Grand Prix was a work of art. 28-year old Danilo Petrucci, who six years ago was flogging something called an Ioda, fought off Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso for his maiden MotoGP win. The 83,000 frenzied fans saw 23 laps of knife fighting at close quarters in what must be the feel good moment of the 2019 MotoGP season. 

Petrucci, one of the most likable guys in the paddock, has waited his entire life for today’s checkered flag. Born in Terni, some 200 miles south, he has fought for years to make a career for himself in this sport, starting in the European Superstock 600 Championships back in 2007. He gradually moved up and through Italian Superstock 1000s and the FIM Superstock 1000 Championship before landing the first of several third-rate rides in MotoGP in 2012. Despite finishing 20th in the 2014 season, Ducati saw something they liked in the burly ex-policeman and saw him signed to a Pramac satellite contract in 2015 where he was, in my acidic words at the time, just another rider, filling the grid, getting pounded by the Lorenzos and Marquezes of the world week in and week out.

With every reason to give up on motorcycle racing and return to the beat, Petrucci hung in, worked on his skills and, during the last two years, dropped 10 kilos. The poaching of Gigi D’alligna from Aprilia a few years ago signaled a rise in Pramac’s fortunes, as the year-old bikes they were getting from Ducati became more potent and more competitive. From finishing 14th in 2016, Petrux climbed up to eighth in 2017. In 2018, he out-dueled teammate Jack Miller to win a one-year contract on the factory team following the departure of Jorge Lorenzo to Honda, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, for this season. Still, he remained winless in the premier class. Until today. For an Italian speed freak, it doesn’t get any better than winning your first race on a Ducati at Mugello. Especially when it takes, like, 13 years to get there. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Once again, the Sunday fortunes of a number of riders were decided on Saturday or, arguably, on Friday. We’re talking about Valentino Rossi, who was terrible on Friday, and who was reduced to a desperate last lap lunge at the flag during the waning moments of FP3. An issue with his front brake caused him to go walkabout on that lap and consigned him, along with names like Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Rins and Zarco, to the rabble in Q1, where he had nothing. Many of the usual suspects went directly through to Q2, along with Pol Espargaro on the KTM, Fabio (last name no longer necessary), Franco (ditto), rookie Pecco Bagnaia, and the overachieving Takaa Nakagami on Marc Marquez’ sled from 2018.

Q1 was a hoot, as Alex Rins and Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro plugged themselves in at the top of the sheet early in the gathering. Dovizioso bumped Rins out of his promotion late in the session, at which point both Rins and Rossi set their sights on trying to produce one last flying lap at the tail end, in the hope of escaping row five or worse on Sunday. Neither would succeed in this effort, as both got caught out, Rossi after a frightening moment, and each failed to cross the finish line before the checkered flag flew. The shameful result found Rins starting 16th and Rossi, dead in the water, at the back of row six.

Q2 was a record-breaking duel between Fabio LNNLN and Marquez, with both riders breaking Petrucci’s hours-old track record on their way to the front row, Marquez on pole, Fabio in the middle, and Petrucci, fire in the belly, in third. (Marquez now owns track records at nine [9] of the circuits on the 2019 calendar.) Franco put his satellite Yamaha in P4, while Rossi’s factory teammate, the formerly formidable Maverick Vinales, started from P7 on his way to a sixth-place finish facilitated by offs from Rossi, Morbidelli and Jack Miller. I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The Race 

With more passing than a 420 party, it was difficult in the extreme to determine who was leading the race DURING the race. The main straight at Mugello, itself a thing of beauty, promotes the fine art of slipstreaming, in which a rider leading the pack coming out of the last turn can find himself in eighth place entering Turn 1. A lead group of five—Marquez, Dovi and Petrucci, Alex Rins and Miller—put on an amazing show all day. Rins was blistering the field early, on cold tires and with a full tank, climbing from 16th at the start to P4 at the end of Lap 3. I’m pretty sure all five riders led the race at one point or another. Miller, on the Pramac Ducati, really had it going on, and turned in, at the time, the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15. Sadly, he folded the front on Lap 16, leaving the remaining four to slug it out for the last seven laps.

And what a seven laps it was. Rins started losing ground in the straights after a gritty fight to keep up with the blazing Honda and Ducatis (Dovi set a new MotoGP land speed record of 356.7 km/h on Saturday, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “lift-off speed.” Why watch four-wheeled vehicles race when the two-wheelers, riders with stones the size of hubcaps, are doing the same speeds? F1 machines would have to be hitting 400 mph to be as impressive. IMO.)

Nobody was getting away today. Marquez, sandwiched between the two red machines, went through on both Italians at Turn1 on the last lap, and I was thinking, “All that meat and no potatoes,” meaning it appeared the Ducs, having thrown their weight around all day, would end up getting spanked by the reMarcable Catalan. Not today. And not Dovizioso, either, who won here in 2017 and looked fully capable of a repeat.

Today was Danilo Petrucci’s day. Today was a day he has dreamed about since he was in short pants, a day he had worked for since he was in his teens. Today was the day he would stand on the top step of the Mugello podium, the Italian national anthem blaring, fountains of prosecco filling the air, all of the sweat and tears and injuries forgotten. Even if he never wins another race, which appears unlikely, he will have had his One Shining Moment. Bravo, Danilo! 

While this was going on, one imagines the scene in the factory Yamaha garage, an old, tired Rossi, having crashed out of last place on Lap 8, sitting in leathers looking like they had been chained and dragged behind a truck, pondering a glittering past and an uncertain future, one certain to be filled with exciting moments, but of the vicarious variety. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez, despite “only” scoring 20 points today, extended his tenuous lead over Dovizioso in the championship to 12 points, with Rins and, suddenly, Petrucci locked in a battle for third. There appears to be a slow-motion changing of the guard taking place in the premier class, with young riders like Miller, Rins, Quartararo, and Nakagami poised to take over from familiar veterans like Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo. Several other youngsters—Joan Mir, Bagnaia, perhaps Miguel Oliveira if he can get away from KTM—will be along soon, as they are busy paying union dues and getting hazed by the vets. One suspects their day will come sooner rather than later.

Tranches 

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

See as how I’ve missed my deadline today by about 10 hours, I will have more to say about today’s events—the cat fight in Moto3, Alex Marquez’ sudden resurrection in Moto2—later this week, right here. Two weeks to Catalunya.