Posts Tagged ‘fabio quartararo’

MotoGP 2020 October 2 Tranching Around

October 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen      October 2, 2020

MotoGP 2020 October 1 Tranching Around

Twiddling our collective thumbs during this week off before Le Mans, I thought it a worthy idea to take another look at the purely subjective rider rankings you and I embrace. I’m not yet at the point where I can do this much beyond the top ten in Moto2 and Moto3. Here, however, in the premier class, we aim to generate some light along with the heat, top to bottom, as follows:

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Tranche I     Marc Marquez in absentia; Fabio Quartararo; Joan Mir

Tranche II    Valentino Rossi; Andrea Dovizioso; Maverick Vinales; Jack Miller; Franco Morbidelli; Johann Zarco

Tranche III   Pecco Bagnaia; Takaa Nakagami; Alex Rins; Miguel Oliveira; Brad Binder; Pol Espargaro; Danilo Petrucci

Tranche IV   Alex Marquez; Aleix Espargaro; Cal Crutchlow; Iker Lecuona

Tranche V    Tito Rabat; Bradley Smith; Stefan Bradl

Without question, there is a wealth of young talent whose stars are rising. Some of these may have received lower rankings then they perhaps deserve because they are still learning their trade and making too many mistakes, i.e., Pecco Bagnaia. Their inability to recognize life-threatening situations, however, is a career asset in racing. Other riders whose careers are in descent—Rossi, Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci—can expect to see their rankings fall later in the season as they begin to lose interest, relatively speaking. Absolutely able to race and race hard, just no longer willing to risk life and limb in the skinny places.

Re-Alignment of Teams and Riders at Ducati

So, the puzzle pieces are mostly slotted in at Ducati for next year, with Pecco Bagnaia getting his factory seat after turning 24 in January. He and Jack Miller will front the factory team. Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin, having received the rumored call-up from Moto2, will be the faces of Pramac Racing. Enea Bastianini, currently laboring in Moto2, has the inside track on the second Avintia Racing seat next to Tito Rabat, who is under contract for 2021 but may find himself bought out in favor of red-hot Luca Marini. Which is how it should be. Avintia should be the natural training ground for Moto2 grads moving up to MotoGP, with Pramac there to accept the successful grads and the factory team always looking to poach someone in the pipeline.

Very Darwinian in how it works in MotoGP. Do well in Moto3, go to Moto2. Do well in Moto2, go to MotoGP. Godspeed from there.

VR46 Racing to be a Yamaha Team?

Color me surprised. With the Petronas team kicking ass and the factory team being, well, the factory team, and with Suzuki in need of a second team, and with Rossi wanting perhaps to prove that it was Rossi, not Yamaha, who delivered all those titles, this headline at Crash took me by surprise. I didn’t read the article but suspect this might have been part of the Petronas 2021 deal, that Vale would get a third Yamaha team beginning in 2022. To keep the boys at Ducati and KTM honest during the Marquez Era at Honda, don’tcha know.

Le Mans Looms

Typically, it seems the Ducs and Yamahas like things in France, but there’s always the weather to contend with, as it seems to rain here as often as it doesn’t. One thing, though, is fairly certain: it should be cold, with daytime highs only in the 50’s F. Which means it could be in the 40’s in morning practice sessions. Add a little rain and you have a recipe for an extravagant comedy of errors. We’ll take a closer look at the forecast for Sarthe and environs next week. Ciao.

MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

All three races on Sunday offered clear examples of socially redeeming values. In Moto3, South Africa’s second-favorite son, little brother Darryn Binder, exhibiting perseverance, winning his first ever grand prix race, a virtual and joyful two-wheeled deflowering. In Moto2, Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, won again, showing great intestinal fortitude in holding off a surprisingly upright Sam Lowes. Finally, in MotoGP, NKIT Fabio Quartararo, his good sense and team mentality on clear display, politely took the lead from teammate Franco Morbidelli on Lap 9, held off a late rush by the Suzuki contingent, and seized the lead in the 2020 MotoGP European Championship.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

Left on the outside looking in after FP2: Rins, Miller, Dovizioso, Oliveira, Bagnaia. All four Yams in top ten.

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

FP3, every rider’s worst nightmare, unfolded with relatively few surprises in the premier class. Four Yamahas and 3 KTMs advanced directly, led by Quartararo. Danilo Petrucci surprised in P6 as did fellow Ducati pilot Johann Zarco in P4. Sneaking into Q2 (P10) in front of Pecco Bagnaia was Suzuki New Kid In Town #36, Joan Mir. The poor souls having to endure Q1 would include Jack Miller and series leader Dovi, Rins, the LCR contingent, both of whom ended up in the kitty litter, and the usual suspects. Cal Crutchlow has cemented his reputation as the Black Knight of MotoGP. As he left the track medical center, having moments earlier been cleared to return to racing post-surgically for arm pump, he lost his footing and ruptured a tendon or two in his ankle. Cal soldiered on in FP3 but could only manage P16, one of more than a few riders caught out at Turns 2 and 5, which seem especially treacherous when it’s windy.

Just to be clear. If you’re an Andrea Dovizioso, say, contending for a world championship and you have to go through Q1, you must proceed directly from a full FP4 to Q1, then finish that 15-minute session in P1 or P2 in order to earn the right to proceed directly to Q2, take a leak in there somewhere, where you must finish in the top three to just be on the front row on Sunday, from where you desperately hope to fight for a win, or at least a podium, and you’re six-tenths slower than Quartararo in the time attack. That is what we used to call a long row to hoe. Especially when the margins are so thin. It appeared reasonable, on Saturday, to expect a new series leader heading into the off week.

This competition, by the way, is what we were hoping for back in the dark, dreary days of 2014, when it was The Big Three and a bunch of world class junk. From the sounds of it, one gets the sense that, after all this time, perennial back markers—Tito Rabat, Bradley Smith, perhaps Aleix—will be having to tell their sponsors that Ducati and Aprilia no longer want their money. Lots of young talent in Moto2; management wants results in the premier class and is less interested in the sponsor money you bring if you can’t compete for a top six on a regular basis.

Over in Moto2, Sam Lowes is doing his FP3 impression of one of my favorite riders from back in the day, Frenchman Randy de Puniet who, in 2013, finished each race that season (when he did not DNF) from a lower position than he qualified, thus earning the sobriquet Fast on Saturday. Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon, the token Anglo-Saxons, would be working in Q1. Again, it appeared reasonable to believe Sam, or someone, would set a new all-time track record during Q2, being only a tenth or two down in FP3.

FP3 in Moto3, I’m told, found an unusual variety of overachievers and underachievers. All three series leaders– Albert Arenas, John McPhee as per usual, and Ai Ogura–would have to fight their way through Q1.

MotoGP Q2 on Saturday afternoon was your basic Yamaha clambake. One by one, Quartararo, Rossi (!), Vinales and, finally, Morbidelli took aim at pole, attempting to dislodge either a teammate or a brand-mate. Late in the session Frankie got it all going at one time and posted the only sub-1:39 lap of the weekend, a tenth off Lorenzo’s lap record set in 2018. On Michelins.

Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi would make up Row 1 on Sunday, with Vinales starting from the middle of Row 2. Jack Miller lunged into P4 on his last set of qualifying tires. Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder would rep KTM in the top 10, while Miller, Zarco and Petrucci would do the same for Ducati. Joan Mir, on the Suzuki, hovered in P8. And, lest we forget, series leader Andrea Dovizioso would be starting Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 6.

Sunday 

Moto3: Series leader Albert Arenas gets skittled on Lap 6 by a morose John McPhee, who hurt his own championship aspirations as well. With too many lead changes to count, the frontrunners, at various points in the day, included Gabriel Rodrigo, Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia. The last lap provided a showdown between leader Arbolino and challenger Binder, who went through on the Italian at Turn 5 and held him off, nervous as Sean Connery in a spelling bee, for the rest of the lap. Ai Ogura, in P2 for the year heading into the race, was curiously unable to gain any real ground on the grounded Arenas, delivering a P11 and a series of confused, stunned looks. Arbolino sits in P4 for the year, a point ahead of Celestino Vietti. Heading into the second half of this strange year, it’s still anyone’s championship. Just as a point of reference, Ogura’s 122 points at this time compares to Marc Marquez’s point total for the entire 2019 season—420. A compressed season and serious competition at every round. At one point today there was a 20-bike lead group. Gotta love it.

Moto2:  Italian heartthrob Luca Marini, he of the Rossi family, did nothing on Sunday to discourage those people considering him for a satellite Ducati seat in MotoGP next season, winning today’s race and adding to his series lead with a very grown-up performance. He fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from Brit Sam Lowes, who was leading late but whose tires were in tatters with three laps to go. Marini, with his half-brother’s sense of the moment, chose the last lap of the race to go back through on Lowes for the win. Fabio de Giannantonio came in a lonely third, Jorge Navarro in P4 and the American guy, Joe Roberts, managed a highly respectable P5. Enea Bastiannini, in second place for the year and also moving to MotoGP next season, recovered from a poor start to finish in P6.

MotoGP:  Despite young Fabio Quartararo claiming the win in today’s race, even with three bikes in the top nine, it felt kind of like a loss for Team Yamaha today, when Valentino Rossi, the legend himself, crashed out of P2 on Lap 16, an unforced error, for a second consecutive DNF. Franco’s P4 could have been a win but for tires. Lord only knows how Vinales worked his way up from P5 at the start to P15 at the end of the first lap, then took all day and several crashers in front of him to manage a top ten, this the guy with expectations of fighting for a title.

In his 350th start, with a chance to claim his 200th premier class podium, Vale let it get away from him. Though his tires may have contributed to his fall, the rider is, first and foremost, responsible for managing his rubber. Yesterday he signed his contract to ride for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team next year on a one year deal. This, one suspects, will allow for his well-deserved 2021 victory lap, as well as opening up vast new marketing opportunities, putting #46 in teal and black. It will set the stage for the entry of a VR46 racing team in the MotoGP grid for 2022.

The team that must have felt like the real winners today was Suzuki factory racing, fronted by Joan Mir and Alex Rins. In finishing in P2 and P3 respectively, they broke a string of 20 years without a Suzuki on a Montmelo podium, and put two riders on a podium of any kind for the first time since 2007. Rins started in P13 and had plenty of tire left at the end. Mir, out of P8, might have had a chance to reel in Fabio were there two or three more laps. The standings at the top of the heap got a little scrambled today:

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Looking Ahead

Two weeks to Le Mans, followed directly by two rounds in Aragon, which has the ring of the old joke in which the contest featured a first prize of a week in Philadelphia and a second prize of two weeks in Philadelphia. Whatever. Plenty of history lying around in that part of the world. The Ducs and Yamahas have done well at Le Mans of late, and there’s always the chance for rain. A good flag-to-flag race would be just the thing to separate the men from the boys.

The suits at Yamaha must be impressed by the performance their engineers have coaxed out of the 2020 YZR-M1, after a couple of years being the dogs of the big three. With three promising riders, a living legend, and a competitive package for next year all but assured, these guys all need Foster Grants. One hopes the success Suzuki has experienced on track of late translates into increased sales. This is an industry that deserves to survive the pandemic. I have heard it referred to as “the yachting class,” but there’s plenty of everyday people cheering their lungs out when it’s not the plague out there.

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

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Fabio leaning

From the top: Rossi stoppie; Jack Miller on it; Fabio shoulder down.

And some local color for those of you into such things:

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September 13, 2020

MotoGP San Marino I Results

Franco Morbidelli breaks through; championship tightens

After three rounds in perdition, this was the week Yamaha revived its outlook on life. Hogging the top four spots in Q2. Winning the race while putting three bikes in the top six. Not having any engines blow up on them, although there was that moment before the race. And giving Valentino Rossi an opportunity to earn his 200th premier class podium, with another one looming next week. Just another goofy weekend in a goofy season.

Notes from Friday

Friday, all four Yamahas in top six; all four KTMs in the top nine.

New racing surface seems likely to yield track records. Riders seem to love it.

Top three in FP1 were on different rears.

Lecuona apparently didn’t like the whispers about getting sent back to Moto2, putting in a P4 during FP2. Like water, he later sought his natural level, and would take part in Q1.

Ringing the church bells in Tavullia again this year?  FP3–shades of yesteryear as Valentino, on his last lap before the flag, scorched Misano, rocketing from P15 and Q1 to Q2, dreaming of a front row start. Rossi’s last win, 2017 at Assen, might need an update.

Cal Crutchlow, The Black Knight of Monty Python fame, would not ride on Saturday or Sunday, having recently undergone surgery for arm pump, on top of everything else. Complications. The Universe is on line 4, Cal—take the call.

Notes from Saturday

I recall the last time Yamaha closed out the top four in a MotoGP Q2 session: Never. After two rounds in the outhouse in Austria, Yamaha takes the express to the penthouse in FP3 and Q2 on Saturday, which, as it turned out, was also Bring Your Teammate to Work Day. At the conclusion of Q2, the four Yamaha pilots were seen playing a drunken game of euchre. The Pramac Ducati guys, Jack and Pecco, celebrated P5 and P6 together with an intense game of cornhole. Alex Rins and Joan Mir were having a late dinner and arguing about which was the greatest after taking P7 and P8. Dovizioso and Zarco, suddenly his heir apparent, were forced to have their picture taken together having finished 9th and 10th. And KTM, the luster of Red Bull Ring and its red flags but a memory, had to settle for putting Espargaro and Oliveira in the first four rows. Not a Honda on the lot.

Recall we came up with the snappy slogan at Red Bull Ring—Yamaha Hate Austria. Having sold out of the original bumper stickers, we are now happy to offer Yamaha Love Jerez, Hate Austria But Do Love Some Serene Republic of San Marino appliques, at the same low price. (The added copy has necessitated reducing the font, making the things unreadable from greater than four feet, but you gotta like the idea.)

In winning pole, Maverick broke Jorge Lorenzo’s all-time track record dating back to, like, 2016. Like I said, the riders mostly love the new asphalt, although they mentioned bumps and swirls, caused, presumably, by F1? I heard 90% of the track was smooth and 10% wasn’t which, apparently, is good.

Notes from Sunday

Moto3: John McPhee wins from P17 on the grid. Albert Arenas crashed out of the lead group late in the race, giving up a big chunk of his championship lead. Ai Ogura, who finished second, now trails Arenas for the year by five points. Two Japanese riders finished on the podium for the first time since 2001, Tet Suzuki finishing third. There were more lead changes than you could count in what is perhaps the world’s best racing.

Moto2: What started out as a parade led by Valentino Rossi’s SKY VR46 racing bros, Luca Marini and Marco Bezzechi got tight late, with the two exchanging the lead several times. Enea Bastianini, he of the recent promotion to MotoGP with Ducati for 2021, gave futile chase from 3rd, got a podium, but may have felt he left some out on the track. Xavi Vierge pushed Bastianini for the last few laps but never showed him a wheel. All Italian podium in San Marino. Covid-19 will find some new customers tonight in the bars and bistros of the city.

MotoGP: From the outset, it appeared Franco Morbidelli, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Rins and Joan Mir were going to dominate the conversation at the front. Vinales, however, did another of his disappearing acts, dropping from pole to P7 before finally rallying over the last dozen laps to salvage P6.

Morbidelli took the hole shot, established a bit of a lead in front of Rossi (!) and ran away with the race, Marquez-style. Pretty much everyone watching, myself included, wanted another example of Rossi’s sense of the moment, rooting for him to capture his 200th career premier class podium at Misano, his home away from home. Instead, he was supplanted by one of his proteges, Pecco Bagnaia, who gave a sensational performance, as well as young upstart Joan Mir, who put an aggressive move on Rossi late in the day to steal P3 and deny Rossi another chunk of history. Jack Miller appeared to lose the day-long argument he was having with his injured shoulder, finally surrendering to the pain and a P9.

Fabio Quartararo, looking very human of late, slid out of the race on Lap 8, re-joined, entered the pits on Lap 19, immediately returned to the track, and crashed for a second time on cold tires on his second out lap. Awesome. Gave up his lead in the 2020 championship. We know he can race at Jerez, but it’s been steadily downhill from there.

The two Suzuki pilots, Rins and Mir, put on a show today. Rins spent the second half of the race threatening Vinales, Miller and Rossi, while Bagnaia was doing to him what he was doing to everyone else. Young Pecco went through on Rins on Lap 20 into P3, then took down Rossi on Lap 21 for second place, this mere weeks after breaking his leg on Friday at Brno. If he was having problems with pain or stamina it certainly didn’t show.

Joan Mir on Lap 27 was awesome. Dude is going to be an Alien if he’s not already.

Rossi fought hard all day, but in the end was taken down by men almost half his age. Yamaha, despite the disappointment around Fabio, finished the day with three bikes in the top six. Ducati landed Bagnaia, Dovizioso and Miller in the top ten. Both Suzukis were top five; I expect they are looking forward to next week. Takaa Nakagami put his LCR Honda in P8, the only Honda in the top ten, while Pol Espargaro put the only KTM machine in the top ten.

For years there has been a debate around MotoGP, whether it’s the rider or the bike that makes the difference. The debate is unresolved, and the answer seems to keep moving around. These days, given the parity between the factories—or at least five of them—I think we have to add another dimension to the chess game, that being the venue. Riders, and now bikes, it seems, have notable preferences. We’ve all become accustomed to the fact that Marc Marquez likes things in Austin and The Sachsenring and would prefer that MotoGP only use those two tracks all season long, back and forth. KTM bikes like the home cooking they get at Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas seem to like Jerez and Misano but loathe Brno and Austria. Ducatis love Mugello and Sepang. And so on. For those of you foolish enough to wager on this sport this year, let me remind you we’ve seen five winners in six premier class races.

MotoGP top ten 2020 after six rounds
Top ten after six rounds 2020

To me, this is what a top ten ranking should look like. 28 points between P1 and P10. Eight out of the ten riders with four years’ premier class experience or less.

In the words of Huey Long, in the words of Randy Newman, “Every man a king.” Well, not a king yet, but certainly harboring legitimate hopes of kingship. Perhaps Dorna should just ban Marc Marquez “for the good of the game.” This is way more fun than most years.

We’ll try to put something together for next weekend, but I’m on vacation this week, so if you want a preview one of you will have to write it yourself.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Misano I Preview

September 10, 2020

© Bruce Allen    September 10, 2020

I wasn’t going to do this but have been libel-shamed into giving you, the motorcycle intelligentsia who occasionally find my friends David and Jensen tiresome, something this week in the way of a preview of the next round. 1200 words, letter-perfect, pungent and spicy and seeking cheap laughs, often at the expense of riders who are world-class athletes. Occasionally, we observe reminders, as we did in Austria, that these guys go out on the track during every practice and every race not 100% certain they will make it back to the pits in one piece. Maverick and Rossi are both lucky; a split second, a 2% change in trajectory of the used bikes, and it’s a different season.

Stoner comes out this week and says out loud what a number of people have not been saying—that 2020 cannot go down in the books as a “season.” I guess I disagree. It will be an outlier. Kind of the way 2006 was an outlier, allowing Hayden to win a world championship with the fewest wins (2) of any other. Or 2015, the other year Marc Marquez didn’t win a title. In my mind, there is no question MotoGP is sustainable under the previous pre-Covid world order, nor that, within a few years, the sport can return to big crowds and ‘normalcy.’ The question is whether the teams and the venues, and thus the sport, can survive many years like this one, without the fan revenue they’ve been counting on.

Whatever. Misano, home of the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, where everyone’s Italian. One of the best stops on the MotoGP calendar, one I would sell my bicuspids for the chance to attend. Mountains and beaches, the Adriatic right there. A great layout. The weather is usually beautiful. What more can one ask for?

The are a number of reasons few riders are setting lap records this year. One of these, IMO, is the riders miss that little bit of extra juice that comes with lathered-up fans yelling their lungs out. These guys are dealing with hundredths of a second—two here, three here, before long you’ve got a tenth—and, despite the seriousness of the sessions, especially on Saturday and Sunday, the absence of fans lowers adrenaline levels and heart rates sufficiently to cost a couple of hundredths per lap or section of a lap. For everyone. It gives it a practice feel. As a recovering marketing director I can assure readers this could be solved quickly and easily by bringing back the brolly girls, with naughty, color-coordinated masks. These guys with arm hair holding the umbrellas on these hot summer days is, for me, a turnoff.

What Do the Tranches Look Like?

At this moment, nothing. I haven’t done any serious tranching for awhile. Heading into Misano, where most of the bikes seem to do well, here’s my sense of the relative trajectory of the relevant riders. We are approaching the halfway point of the season. Not having Marquez out there running circles around everyone else makes it a revealing season. I’ve been banging the drum about the changing of the guard in MotoGP. Other than Andrea Dovizioso who, at age 34, wants to jam one on Ducati, the hypothesis is generally holding together. That and Bagnaia’s broken leg, from which he should return this week.

Tranche I:    Quartararo, Vinales, Dovizioso, Miller

Tranche II:   P Espargaro, Rossi, Mir, Nakagami

Tranche III:  Oliveira, Morbidelli, Zarco, Binder, Rins

Tranche IV:  Crutchlow, Petrucci, Bagnaia, A Marquez, A Espargaro

Tranche V:   Smith, Rabat, Lecuona, Bradl

Sunday Riders Who’ve Won Here Previously, and More

Dovizioso and Rossi in MotoGP

Bagnaia, Zarco and Pol Espargaro in Moto2

Alex Rins in Moto3

*#93 has won in all three weight classes—Moto3 in 2010.

Perhaps we’ve stumbled over an important consideration when trying to predict/wager on particular riders at specific tracks. The theory being that once a rider has won a big race, he runs the tape in his head for months. When he leaves pit lane the following year, he is likely to recall the feeling from a year earlier, and this gives his confidence a boost. Could this possibly be Rossi’s Last Stand?

**In the case of the missing Marquez, he has won everywhere and so many times that the GPS coordinates for braking points at every track on the calendar have become encoded in his DNA. Ergo, according to the above, one might consider avoiding a wager on him at any new track, like Portimao or Kymi Ring, assuming the paddock ever gets to Finland. This notion, then, is blown to smithereens by the fact that he won the first two races in Thailand in 2018 and ’19. Fair and balanced around here is what we are. And we believe it is fully OK to talk to yourself until you start saying, “Huh?”

So, What Do We Know Heading into Sunday?

Not much. The field, minus Marquez, is vastly more interesting. Yamaha is once again playing catch-up. KTM has arrived. Quartararo’s lead is paper thin in the face of a seriously motivated Andrea Dovizioso. Six points separate Brad Binder in P4 from Miguel Oliveira in P9. Takaa Nakagami on the LCR Honda appears to have some game. Both Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are underperforming due to Rin’s injury and Mir’s inconsistency. When the young Spaniard wasn’t busy crashing out at Jerez and Brno he recorded a P5, a P4 and  P2. Cal Crutchlow is facing either unemployment, a crappy MotoGP ride, or something else, a return to BSB? I dunno. As we’ve pointed out before, Cal has a lot of miles on him, needs to go chillax with mommy and daughter at his compound on the Isle of Man. Get a 150cc scooter, tool around scaring hell out of the locals. And stay away from the TT.

Is Misano the place the Yamahas return to their early-season form? Can KTM continue its assault on respectability by winning at Misano? (We know they’re good at Red Bull Ring. What about elsewhere?) Isn’t it weak when journos ask questions instead of answering a few? Honda’s best current hope is Nakagami? The bleeding continues. Why is there suddenly gossip around Bagnaia’s 2021-22 contract with the factory Ducati team alongside Jack Miller? I thought that was, as our favorite Brits like to say, done and dusted. If Bagnaia fails to ascend to the factory team, it leaves Jorge Martin stuck in Moto2, rather than moving, as planned, to Pramac Racing for 2021.

Having given this some thought, the Ducati solution now seems clear. Put Zarco, having a strong season on a year old bike, on the factory seat alongside Miller. Keep Bagnaia on Pramac#1 with Martin coming up from Moto2. Backfill on the Avintia team, alongside Rabat for 2021, with someone in Moto2, perhaps Bastianini or Marini.

KTM is full for 2021 up unless they decide to send Lecuona back to Moto2 for a year and sign a Crutchlow, or go young with a Tet Nagashima, who could also be a candidate. It would be Binder and Oliveira on the factory team with Petrucci and Lecuona on the Tech 3 effort.

Whatever. There will plenty to talk about after the races on Sunday.

Here’s a little stolen eye candy for you.

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MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Quartararo goes 2-for-2 in 2020; Yamaha podium lockout 

With injured defending champion Marc Marquez registering the first DNS of his premier class career, the grid mostly failed to take advantage of his absence. Seven of the top 12 qualifiers crashed out or retired. So, presume Marquez returns at 90% in Brno with Fabio enjoying a 50 point cushion, 11 rounds left. Who do you bet on for the title? 

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For Fabio, life is good.

This is yet another of example of how important it is to be careful what you wish for. The large, expanding ‘Anyone but Marquez Club’ seems to have delivered us simply a new incarnation of Marquez, a rider capable of rattling off five wins in a row. On a satellite Yamaha. Setting all-time track records along the way. Making it look simple. Pressured Marquez enough at Jerez I to contribute to his crash. Today, in his absence, young Fabio led from lights out to checkered flag and was never seriously challenged. There was some good action behind him. You know, the way it was when, you know, Marquez was kicking everyone’s ass. Same ass, different boot.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

What is there to learn on Friday during the second week of a back-to-back? On this particular Friday, for Round Two, we couldn’t help but notice several obvious things. Riders who should not have been in the hospital were crowded around the top of the time sheets, while riders who SHOULD have been in the hospital were grouped at the bottom, with Marquez not even bothering to suit up.

If you think this was business as usual, how about this: KTM occupied three of the top six spots on the combined time sheet, with Yamaha holding the other three. Jack Miller rode the top Ducati while Takaa Nakagami was the top Honda rep in P8.

One admires the grit and determination of Rins and Crutchlow and, apparently, Marquez, but the fact that they’re cleared to race grand prix motorcycles is a joke. #93 seemed to think he could podium at Jerez with one arm. Crutchlow and Rins must have suspected there were points at stake that they could potentially claim. But the Yams—Maverick, Rossi and Morbidelli—were quick on Friday. And Binder, Espargaro and Oliveira finding their way to the top six is damned remarkable. But it looked like it was probably a Friday thing, and that things would heat up for real in FP3 on Saturday morning.

Saturday

The culling of the herd in FP3 was a bit refreshing, topped by Yamahas and Ducatis. Fabio and Maverick punished the all-time track record. Jack Miller flogged his Ducati to third, with Takaa Nakagami overachieving in P4. Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci put Ducati in P5 and P6. The top ten was completed by gritty KTM rookie Brad Binder, Valentino, Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir. These riders would proceed directly to Q2. Oliveira and Morbidelli moved on through Q1 to Q2, edging out the brave Cal Crutchlow, who would start from P13.

The news that Marc Marquez was done for the weekend (!) arrived immediately after the completion of Q2. This changed the perspective for Sunday’s race back to what it was last Monday, when the idea of Marquez racing was ridiculous. I read somewhere that this type of fracture could end Marquez’ season. Right. He will return at Brno ready to rumble.

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

Don’t let anyone tell you that young Fabio Quartararo has not arrived on the MotoGP scene, Alien card in hand, expiration date years from now. Joined on the podium by fellow Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, I would also encourage the reader to ignore anyone suggesting The New Kid In Town is doing it on an inferior bike. Suddenly, the Yamaha loves Jerez, which suggests it will be happy pretty much everywhere left on the calendar. The bike is good enough to transport Rossi to the podium for the first time since last year in Austin. Just sayin’.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

Miguel Oliveira:      Came through Q1 to start from P5; crashed.

Franco Morbidelli:   Came through Q1 to start from P6; crashed.

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

Cal Crutchlow dragged his LCR Honda across the finish line to secure three points. KTM Rookie Iker Lecuona just had a forgettable day.

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

Moto3 gave us the usual spellbinder, as the first five riders to cross the finish line were separated by 8/10ths of a second. Chalk up the win to Tatsuki Suzuki, who took advantage of a crash by series leader Albert Arenas and his own sizzling pace to win today’s race, joined on the podium by Scottish veteran John McPhee and Italian teenager Celestino Vietti. This was a nail biter from start to finish, with eight more riders failing to finish. After wins at Qatar and Jerez I, Arenas was contending, looking to put some distance between himself and his pursuers, when he binned it. Rather than heading to Brno with 75 points on the trot and a sizeable lead in the series, he leaves with 50, a six point lead over Suzuki and ten over McPhee, the series tighter, as they say in Indiana, than wallpaper.

Moto2 was, for the second week in a row, more processional.  Enea Bastiannini led Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi on a merry chase all afternoon, and the three ended up on the podium, one completely lacking in suspense. The were joined in the top six by Sam Lowes, Aron Canet and Jorge Martin in what is starting to become The Usual Suspects of Moto2. Series leader Tetsuta Nagashima couldn’t get out of his own way today (P11), clearing a path for the all-Italian podium, the first such celebrazione in the intermediate class since 1998.

Most of these riders weren’t yet born in 1998.

Moto2 heads north and east with Nagashima sporting 50 points, Bastiannini 48 and Marini 45. Tighter than wallpaper, wait, sorry, never mind. Close. There are another six or eight riders with visions of greatness in their heads, but they would need a whole lot of things to go right to put themselves in serious contention. Martin, from what I read, already has a contract with Pramac Ducati in MotoGP for 2021-22. Not sure why they are waiting to announce it. It appears to be perhaps the last remaining open slot in the premier class for 2021.

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

It feels pretty good to look at the year-to-date standings and see three or four guys in each class who are legitimate threats to win this deeply asterisked season. Arenas, Suzuki, McPhee and Vietti appear to be the class of the class in Moto3. In Moto2, journeyman Nagashima, the Italians Bastiannini and Marini, and the Alien-in-waiting, Jorge Martin, all look capable of standing on the top step in Valencia. In MotoGP, with Marc Marquez down 50 heading into Round 3, the division, for the first time in, like, five years, is a horse race, with a handful of credible challengers for the trophy. Sad to say, this is how it’s supposed to be. The presence of a generational talent during one’s wonder years doesn’t necessarily improve the viewing experience, even if you’re a fan. The riders seriously need to seize upon Marquez’ misfortune, to put some more distance between themselves and him, to crush out any hope of a late-season comeback.

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

Screenshot (506)

The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

The 2020 MotoGP season got off with a bang, as the brutally hot conditions in southern Spain took a toll on all three classes. The most dramatic event today was Marc Marquez crashing heavily toward the end of the premier class race, after recovering from a costly early moment to challenge for the win. Yamaha took three of the top five spots, despite Rossi’s retirement on Lap 19; Ducati claimed the other two. With Marquez showing a zero for the first time ever, MotoGP 2020 may provide fans with some real drama for the first time in five years. 

One must concede that Marquez, despite being faster than everyone else out there, was a bit rusty. Coming off an 8-month layoff, and with riders having little real practice time under their belts, this race was unlikely to be a work of art. Two riders failed to start, five failed to finish, and several others went walkabout and re-entered. According to the announcers, the heat was worse than Sepang, worse than Buriram. This is what happens when you schedule stuff outdoors in southern Spain in July. 

Practice and Qualifying

I keep arguing with myself about the utility of Fridays at Round Ones, about trying to glean anything from the timesheets. Not too much there for me. The same cannot be said about the results of the combined FP1-FP3 practices that separate the goats from the lambs re: having to slog through the frying pan of Q1 just to get thrust immediately into the fire of Q2. On Saturday FP3 ended with Dovi on the inside looking out from P10 at the likes of Pol Espargaro, Rins, Petrucci, Zarco, Miguel Oliveira and, not for the last time, Alex Marquez.

In addition to the usual suspects, the lambs included Jack Miller and Joan Mir, both looking dangerous, Cal lame-ducking the LCR Honda, suddenly quick SRT TechTrois Yamaha heartthrob Franco Morbidelli and young Pecco Bagnaia, who, having crawled in 2019, appears to be walking on the Pramac Ducati in 2020. Rossi making it straight to Q2 is a relief for him and his team. Marc Marquez, who led Friday, was lurking, keeping his powder dry in P4, looking like he was ready to assert himself in qualifying. Fabio set a new track record on Saturday morning. But not having fans in the stands made it feel like testing.

Q1 on Saturday afternoon was, if you’re willing to call what these guys do in the last two minutes ‘routine,’ kind of routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty damned exciting. When the smoke cleared, Alex Rins’ Suzuki and Pol Espargaro’s KTM had made it into Q2 after an unusually strong performance by KTM rookie Brad Binder, a worker bee who bears watching.

Q2, featured strong performances from the eventual front row of Quartararo, Viñales and Marquez. Both Pramac Ducatis and, looking slightly deranged, Cal Crutchlow formed Row 2. Pol Espargaro, a quiet Andrea Dovizioso and a jinxed Alex Rins would have constituted Row 3, theoretically, had Rins not suffered a “fracture/dislocation” of his right shoulder with a minute left. Oww. So he was out for Sunday’s race and his entire 2020 season has likely been trashed. For those of you still reading, Franco Morbidelli and our old buddy Valentino Rossi joined a perplexing Joan Mir in Row 4. Pecco Baganaia, who was looking Lorenzo-like, and Joan Mir, my personal Alien-in-waiting, were the only real surprises from Q2.

Rins reminds us that although the championship cannot be won at Round One, it can be lost. Cal Crutchlow put himself out of the race with a hard crash in today’s warm-up. Twenty riders would start Round One in 2020; 15 would finish.

The Race

Today’s Spanish Grand Prix was bookended by two mishaps attributable to Marc Marquez. The first occurred on Lap 5, when, trying to get away from Maverick Viñales and the rest of the grid, he had a ‘moment,’ followed by an un-holy save–a career top-tenner–followed by a lengthy stroll through the gravel, followed by his re-entry into the fray in 16th position. There followed a remarkable display of riding, as Marquez sliced through the field all the way back to third place, with Viñales clearly in his sights and, in a perfect world, time to catch Quartararo. Chasing Viñales, blood in his eyes, furious with himself about Lap 5, Marquez endured the kind of violent high-side more typically associated with Jorge Lorenzo, clearly his most serious crash since 2011, when he came close to ending his career before it started in Sepang, suffering double vision for six months thereafter. Today’s crash looked bad. Any speculation as to his condition on our part would not be helpful.

With Rins, Crutchlow and, finally, Marquez out of the mix, a number of lesser riders had surprisingly good days. In addition to Fabio’s first career MotoGP win, Viñales made it a factory Yamaha 1-2, with Dovi putting his Ducati on the podium late in the game. Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli completed the top five. Boasting top ten finishes tonight are KTM’s Pol Espargaro (6th), Pramac Ducati youngster Pecco Bagnaia (7th) and KTM’s Miguel Oliveira (8th). Danilo Petrucci and Takaa Nakagami closed out the top ten. Team Suzuki, with Rins out hurt and Mir crashing, had a train wreck of a day. But all six Ducatis finished today’s race. KTM must be pleased with Espargaro, for now, and rookie Brad Binder who, until leaving the premises briefly on Lap 7, had been running in the top eight. Oliveira turned in a solid performance with his P8 finish. Aprilia, unfortunately, was still up to its old tricks, with a P15 and a DNF to show for its efforts to go along with the bubbly public relations campaign being waged by riders and team brass.

The Undercards

Albert Arenas, having won in Qatar sometime back around the spring equinox, won again today in a hotly (!) contested Moto3 tilt, edging out Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino. Moto3, with its 12-man lead groups, offers simply the best racing on the planet. Scot John McPhee, who came from back in the pack to challenge for the win, crashed out of the lead late shortly after Darryn Binder, another young rider with big ambitions. After two rounds, Arenas leads Ogura 50-36, with a host of riders sitting with between 16 and 20 points. Still plenty of racing left to go.

Same with Moto2, which gave us a somewhat atypical procession today. Luca Marini, who has MotoGP written all over him, fended off a brave challenge from journeyman (and series leader) Tetsuga Nagashima, while Moto2 sophomore Jorge Martin scored his third career Moto2 podium, holding Sam Lowes at bay for the last few laps. Plenty of action lower in the order; too much to keep up with here. Watch the video. But after two rounds, the top five in Moto2 include Nagashima, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Marini, Enea Bastiannini, and Aron Canet.

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

  • Why can’t Marc Marquez make it five in a row and seven for eight?
  • Who will emerge as the top challenger(s)?
  • Which of the young guns will make great strides and approach Alien status? (This may be a duplicate of the previous question.)
  • Will Rossi start to show his age or any sign of a give-a-rip attitude?
  • Can Suzuki provide sufficient horsepower to make Rins or Mir Aliens??
  • Will KTM show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will Aprilia show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will the virus allow the completion of even this bastardized schedule?
  • Like, how many top tens will Alex Marquez see this year?
  • Finally, how many of these questions are you comfortable answering after what is effectively Round One?

Our answers to those questions, after one scrap, go like this: Big crash at Jerez I. Fabio, Maverick and Miller. Bagnaia, Binder and Mir. Yes. No. Yes. No. Don’t know. Zero. Three.

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

*Injured, likely to miss time.

Next week we’ll try this again, likely missing a few premier class riders. It promises to be warm. Hopefully, the Grand Prix of Andalucía won’t be quite as hot as the Grand Prix of Spain.

 

MotoGP 2020, Finally: Jerez I

July 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (495)

Rounds One and Two will be here at Jerez

MotoGP 2020 has, apparently, arrived, with Round One lifting off this weekend in Jerez. The series, which typically starts its season in late March, has suffered due to the virus, and is probably not done suffering. One thing is clear heading into 2020: MotoGP, despite its denials, despite its claims to be a global sport, is a Spanish-language sport. Half of the 14 scheduled races take place on Spanish soil, while many of the world’s great tracks lay fallow. The first language of this year’s MotoGP champion will be Spanish.

I get keeping the series in Europe for 2020. But no Mugello? No Assen? If there is a second wave of virus in Europe later this summer and/or fall it could cause the cancellation of rounds on the calendar today. The schedule is a compressed house of cards, and its viability over five months is questionable. It appears Dorna has scheduled 14, hoping to get in at least 10, which would qualify as a “season.” A season which would appear in the record books with an asterisk set in 72 point Helvetica Black.

Nonetheless, here we are. Most people, in my estimation, would include Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins and either Valentino Rossi or Jack Miller in their top five. But even if they do manage to avoid upcoming virus outbreaks and go 14 rounds, a single crash at the wrong time could gut anyone’s season. Miss two or three rounds in a 20-round season and you can still contend. Miss two or three rounds in a 12- or 14-round season and you’re toast. This makes it more random, which, I suppose, means less likely that Marc Marquez will take MotoGP title #7.

Screenshot (275)

Marc taking a different approach at Phillip Island last year, I think.

 

The changes for 2021 have become a blur, dominating conversation during the summer of our discontent. What we’re seeing is the racing equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. As fans, we are gracious enough to look beyond the virtual lock that is Marquez and allow ourselves to be distracted by silly season antics. It is now certain that the 2021 grid, assuming sports in general still exist, will in no way resemble the 2020 grid if and when. Imagine:

  • Valentino Rossi wearing SRT blue and yellow. Factory Yamaha #46 gear is now “vintage.” The two year goodbye tour begins, yellow smoke everywhere.
  • Fabio Quartaro in factory Yamaha colors and not for the last year.
  • Pol Espargaro in Repsol orange, black and red, rather then KTM orange, black and red. Honda often uses a white background to make the riders look taller.
  • Jack Miller and Jorge Lorenzo (? Really?) fronting the factory Ducati team.
  • Danilo Petrucci pedaling hard for KTM on their Tech3 team alongside Hakuna Matata. Iker Lecuona.
  • Cal Crutchlow working at Aprilia with great joy. Partying with Aleix.
  • Alex Marquez joining LCR Honda and Nakagami with full factory support, shooting for top tens. Nakagami riding year-old hardware.
  • Andrea Dovizioso taking a gap year to work on his short game, race some dirt bikes with Iannone. Trying to find a one year deal somewhere for 2022.
  • Jorge Martin, late of Moto2, joining Pecco Bagnaia at Pramac Ducati. Martin is an Alien-in-Waiting.

Screenshot (86)

Fabulous Fabio, living large

There may be more before the lights go out on Round One in 2021. I can’t imagine the consequences of 2020 won’t come home to roost for a number of racing and entertainment venues across the board; large gatherings, measured in the tens of thousands, may have become a relic of the past. Here’s a list of tracks that hosted a MotoGP race in 2019 and will not do so in 2020:

  • Yeah, I know the undercards ran in Qatar. This isn’t about them.
  • Qatar; Argentina; COTA; Mugello; Assen; Silverstone; The Sachsenring; Buriram; Sepang; Phillip Island; Motegi and the new track in Finland. Not a good year for the so-called ownership interests.
  • Until there is a vaccine available on a global basis, MotoGP will be making a host of compromises when it comes to length and breadth of the racing season. If, as predicted, the second wave, yet to arrive, is larger than the first, this may all be moot.

As an abashed American I find myself wondering about how the rest of the world views our country and our leadership. How most of Europe is prepared to ban Americans over health concerns. It must be something to be an ex-pat or English-speaker living abroad watching the big bad USA being brought to its knees by a virus most of the developed world has managed to contain. And

Jack Miller

Veteran Jack Miller, the great Australian hope.

how disinterested Americans are in MotoGP to begin with. I suppose if I’m writing for people in Australia and Canada I should be nicer to them, say nicer things about them. Go Jack Boy! Show ’em Euros how to ride a neffin’ motorcycle!

Bottom line, heading to Jerez for Round One of 2020: Marc Marquez is in full health, two functioning shoulders, and has two wins and a second here in the last three years. He could easily leave here on July 27th with 50 points and a discouragingly big lead in the championship. Andrea Dovizioso’s collarbone is healing from a MX crash during the hiatus. I expect to see a lot of offs on Friday and Saturday, riders getting all antsy to get out there and find out if they’ve got anything. Looking forward to the LTMOQP2 (the last two minutes of QP2) as much as the race itself.

Lord, it feels good to get back to something resembling MotoGP. I expect to have results and analysis right here on Sunday morning, with a special focus on the lame ducks, those riders changing manufacturers in 2021. Aloha.

motogp-logo

 

 

 

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

Final Track Records 2019

November 20, 2019

Annotation 2019-11-20 072129


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