Posts Tagged ‘Grand Prix motorcycle racing’

MotoGP Buriram Results

October 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Número ocho para Marc Marquez

On a day completely bereft of surprise, Marc Marquez secured his sixth MotoGP world championship and eighth overall with a merciless win over ascendant French rookie Fabio Quartararo. As he did in Misano back in September, Marquez spent the day glued to Quartararo’s back wheel, again testing young Fabio’s resistance to pressure. Finally, in the last turn of the last lap he broke the rookie’s heart with the expected cutback move and sprint to the flag. These, then, are the opening shots in what promises to be the next great rivalry in grand prix motorcycle racing.

By clinching the premier class title with four (4!) rounds remaining in the season, Marquez has freed us from having to pay too much attention to the big bikes for the next month. With 325 points in hand, he may make a run at the all-time season points record of 383 in MotoGP, feeding his discernible addiction to winning even when it’s not necessary. Less likely is his treating the remnant of the season as a six-week testing session, preparing to decimate the field again in 2020. Whatever. Any of y’all wishing to make a case for him not being one of the all-time greats in this sport please go outside and shake yourselves.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday once again belonged to the Yamaha cabal, with all four bikes ending the day in the top five. The Petronas satellite team acquitted themselves particularly well again, with Quartararo sitting on top of the pile and teammate Franco Morbidelli third. (One hesitates to observe that these lofty accomplishments generally occur on Fridays, which is the racing equivalent of a matrimonial rehearsal dinner.) It took Yamaha Racing 15 rounds to remove the RPM limiter from Quartararo’s M1 software, giving him 500 more to work with, and he took advantage.

Factory dudes Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi wedged themselves into second and fifth places, respectively, with Australian Jack Miller and his Ducati interloping in third. Marquez landed, literally, in sixth place after his most impressive high-side crash in years taking place at Turn 7 in FP1, after which he dropped in at a local hospital, laid around for a little while in the air conditioning, returning later in the session to take his place in the top ten. At times, the Ant Man seems indestructible.

Torrential rain, seemingly a tourist attraction in this part of the world, struck early Saturday morning, putting FP3 on rain tires and rendering Friday’s results decisive as regards automatic Q2 entrants. Among those who would have to fight their way into the pole fight were Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow and a wounded Pol Espargaro, wrestling his KTM GP-16 with one arm, a good-sized titanium plate in his left wrist courtesy of his calamity in Aragon two weeks ago.

Q1 saw Espargaro and Petrucci pass through into Q2, leaving Crutchlow on the outside looking in by 13/1000ths.

Q2 was about as exciting as it gets in this game. The former track record, set by Marquez last year, got hammered by three riders, with Quartararo emerging as the proud new owner. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales and Marquez, who was on pace for pole when he lost the front at Turn 5. Rossi had crashed out a bit earlier, and Quartararo a few moments later. Morbidelli headed Row 2, joined by Petrucci and Miller. Rossi and Dovizioso would start Sunday from Row 3, portending some kind of Thai-themed championship celebration on Sunday afternoon, as Dovi was the only man standing between Marquez and his eighth world championship and fourth in a row in the premier class. 

The Race 

Had there not been a championship in the balance, today’s tilt would have been a parade, albeit one held in an autoclave. The heat and humidity were hellish; Danilo Petrucci, sitting in his garage prior to taking to the track, looked as if he might spontaneously combust. By contrast, the 95,000 locals in the stands, accustomed to life in these miserable conditions, appeared cool and comfortable. Oddly, there were way more red #93 grandstanders than there were yellow #46 disciples. Perhaps it was the locale; perhaps that particular tide is turning. Either way, Valentino Rossi was just another rider today. What little action there was took place well in front of him.

Once the lights went out, Marquez and Quartararo went off for their private tête à tête. Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso settled in well behind them, with Franco Morbidelli, Joan Mir and Rossi trailing them. The Suzukis of Mir and Alex Rins were nosing around but posed no threat to podium. Other than a few unforced crashes and Aleix Espargaro’s customary mechanical failure, nothing much happened until the last few laps. Marquez took a swing at Quartararo on Lap 23, failed, took another on Lap 25, failed again, then made it stick on Lap 26.

Jack Miller stalled his Ducati right before the start, then spent the day pedaling furiously, ultimately finishing 14th. Cal “Who Cares Anymore?” Crutchlow started 13th and finished 12th. And Jorge Lorenzo’s ongoing humiliation was complete, as he started 19th and finished 18th, 54 seconds behind Marquez. That he will probably end up included in the Repsol Honda team championship win come November is simply an historical accident.

As a reminder that I am an equal opportunity offender, I am compelled to point out that young Fabio is continuing the French tradition established by Randy de Puniet of mostly finishing lower than he qualifies. In 15 rounds this year, he has qualified better than he finished 10 times. Sure, he’s a brilliant prospect with a bright future. But at this tender point in his evolution he is channeling RdP. Just sayin’. 

Moto2 

Despite qualifying on pole, series leader Alex Marquez did not have a great day today, finishing fifth behind Luca Marini, Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona and Augusto Fernandez in an exciting race for second place, Marini having gone off on his own early and winning easily. Fortunately for Marquez, his main rival in 2019, Jorge Navarro, had a rotten day, starting 22nd and finishing outside the points as Fernandez took over second place for the year. Young Alex, however, has learned big brother Marc’s trick of winning while losing, extending his series lead to 40 points with four rounds left. He appears poised to clinch his first Moto2 title in Australia or Malaysia. He will remain in Moto2 next season awaiting a choice ride and two-year MotoGP contract in 2021. As a footnote, KTM claimed two podium spots today, and their rookie Jorge Martin enjoyed his best outing to date, finishing sixth. 

Moto3 

The lightweight world championship, tight as wallpaper heading to Thailand, took a hit today on Lap 8, when “Dive Bomb Darryn” Binder initiated a crash which removed Aron Canet, John McPhee and, briefly, Tatsuki Suzuki from the proceedings. Having lived up to his nickname, Binder was assigned a ridethrough penalty. (In an apparent Act of Contrition he also voluntarily took a long lap penalty.) Series leader Lorenzo dalla Porta led the race for most of the day before getting caught up in a frantic fustercluck at Turn 12 on the last lap, losing out to Albert Arenas and just barely crossing the line in front of Alonso Lopez and Marcos Ramirez, all four riders within 4/10ths of a second of one another. The day’s events left dalla Porta 22 points ahead of a seething Canet, who left the track immediately after the race to have some harsh anti-Binder tattoos added to his already impressive ink collection. 

MotoGP Tranches 

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

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

After Buriram: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

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

A Look Ahead 

Two weeks until the start of the dreaded Pacific Swing, a three-rounds-in-three-weeks bane to riders, crews and the journalists contracted to cover it. As promised, we will focus our attention on Moto2 and Moto3 while giving short shrift to MotoGP. I will be plumbing the depths of my ignorance of the riders and teams and relying on my warehouse full of clichés and old jokes to get me through to Valencia. In addition, I have a little over a month to come up with a pithy quote to summarize the MotoGP season. I’m hoping to find one that fits a sporting season characterized by the utter domination thereof by one of the competitors. Readers are encouraged to submit suggestions via the comments section below.

Local Color

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Congratulations to Marc Marquez for being one of the dominant athletes of his generation in any sport in the world. Even if one is partial to Valentino Rossi-flavored Kool-Aid, you must tip your hat to the accomplishments, and those to come, of #93.

The Evolution of Romano Fenati

July 12, 2019

© Bruce Allen July 12, 2019

Image result for romano fenati

Photo courtesy Motorsport.com

Let me assure you that at some point we will actually discuss Romano Fenati. He’s a rider in the Moto3 World Championship currently in 17th place, his year ruined by four consecutive DNFs beginning at COTA and ending, for now, at Mugello. He has been de-fanged.

But first I want to talk about human evolution from early on, when all we had was what I refer to as “lizard brain,”–highly reactive, split-second decisions and reactions with incomplete information, damn-the-torpedoes, here goes nothing, etc. You get the picture. Fight or flee. Over eons, as a species, our intellectual capabilities have evolved to where we rely almost exclusively on reason, rather than reaction. We revert to our “lizard brain” under moments of extreme stress. We flood. And there are, it seems, varying, recognizable levels of evolution at work in individuals, one of whom bears mentioning is Fenati.

If we assert an evolutionary continuum on a scale with “lizard brain” on the left and, say, John Le Carré on the right, I would assert that Fenati’s lineage is, for some reason, less-highly evolved than most professional motorcycle riders. Farther to the left. This being the case, he has, at least in the recent past, seen his lizard brain take over things and, for instance, reach over to hit Stefano Manzi’s brake lever at 200 km/h during a race. Hitting some other guy’s kill switch during practice. The problem is not Fenati’s behavior which, itself, is, in fact, a problem–The Red Mist. The real problem is that Fenati’s problem–overly-quick reversion to lizard brain during races–is evolutionary in nature an unlikely to be “fixed” in this century.

He made a run at a Moto3 world title in 2017 at the age of 21, finishing second for the year, brave in the extreme, earning a reputation by passing other riders on the outside of turns. But he was snappish, overly aggressive at times, typical “little guy” mentality. Probably came up either poor or rich in a chaotic environment, which he unconsciously seeks to repeat in his current life. In 2018 he lost his license for the episode with Manzi and appeared to be headed out of grand prix racing. But he was later welcomed back by his team, looking forward to an exciting 2019 season. Which has since turned to, uh, dust.

Fenati is, I think, a gifted athlete with a bad temper and no accountability. Now that he’s “mellow,” he’s no good on the track. Compare him to Eric Clapton, who was a much better guitarist when he was a junkie than later when he got clean. Perhaps this is only a maturity issue for the young Italian, but it is an issue nonetheless. To be meandering in 17th place after a year in Moto2 and a strong Moto3 season in 2017 tells me Samson’s hair has been cut.

He had Alien written all over him in 2017. Not any more.

I’m glad I’m not Romano Fenati. It is a hard thing to watch the guy on track, struggling, waiting for his tires to go off, waiting for him to go off.

Dovi wins the hard ones, Marquez wins the easy ones

July 9, 2019

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There is a point in here somewhere. We use the total number of turns in the race as a proxy for overall difficulty. Any blivet can ride a motorcycle straight down the road. It’s in the turns where these guys make a living.

Ranking the difficulty of the tracks, with Argentina the median, we see that four of Dovizioso’s most recent five wins have come at the most demanding circuits, while six of Marquez’s last nine have came at or below the median. Marquez wins the easy ones. (I deleted Vinales, Rins, Petrucci and Lorenzo as not being statistically significant.)

Over the past 12 months, the world has been Marquez’s oyster. Dovi might have had himself a world title or two in ’17 and ’18 if only. But he now holds exactly zero track records, suggesting that the Hondas at least have caught up in top-end speed, and suggesting further that young Fabio could be the next big thing.

There’s an image on Motorcycle.com showing Marquez, Vinales and Rins in a turn, with #93 hugging the ground, with #42 riding almost straight up, with #12 in the middle both ways. The Suzuki seems to allow Rins to ride more vertically/less scarily. Marquez demonstrates that the combobulation of man and machine is what makes him so fast. I’m pretty sure combobulation is a word, since discombobulation and re-combobulation clearly are. You have to go through security at the Milwaukee Airport for that last one.

Reaching at this point, perhaps the graphic is best interpreted as illustrating the difference, not those of the riders, but of the manufacturers, between being fast and being quick. The Ducati is fast, no doubt about that one. The RC213V is, at least in Marquez’s hands, remarkably quick in tight, point-and-shoot circuits. Out of 19 rounds, there are probably half a dozen that are neutral for the two brands, with maybe eight having advantages for Honda and five doing so for the Ducati cadre. This is now starting to reflect itself in the track records analysis.

Track records after Nine rounds 2019

 

*Qualifying in 2019 at Le Mans was on a wet track. Excluded from calculations.

With five new track records in eight rounds, it appears the riders are adapting to the Michelins. The older records at the four venues last on the schedule reflect the increasingly demanding nature of the Pacific swing, as well as the aggregate loss of motivation accompanying, say, the early clinching of a championship by you know who.

Tune in later this week when we discuss the evolution of the human brain from its lizard origins by looking at Renato Fenati in comparison to the rest of the riders on the Moto3 grid.

MotoGP Midseason Report Card

July 24, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.                      July 24, 2018

In the words of numerous shell-shocked generals throughout history, immediately after losing great battles, as we make the turn in MotoGP 2018, we must ask, with slightly slurred voices, “What happened?”

How could a year which held the promise of a serious four- or five-man competition all the way to Valencia—supported by the breathtaking finish at Losail—arrive at its midpoint in such a competitive shambles? Repsol Honda’s young, virtually invincible Marc Marquez sits, in mid-season and at the peak of his prodigious skills, in complete command of the championship. Toying with those fools.

A reader suggested we remove him and his 165 points from the picture, figuratively speaking, whence the standings would be:

Rossi            119

Vinales         109

Dovizioso       88

Zarco            88

Lorenzo          85

This is close to what I expected, with MM sitting at the top with, say, 133 points. As The Beach Boys (including two of the originals) sang the other night, under the stars, “Oh wouldn’t it be nice…” But Marquez, with his crushing 165 points, has taken the air out of the place. I never want to see a rider injured. But I suspect I’m not alone enjoying the vision of Marquez receiving a two-round suspension for throwing down and getting K.O’d in a Czech gravel trap by someone like Andrea Iannone.

Here in realityland, we’re looking at the season from Round 1 through Round 9 to understand how the results at Losail–Dovizioso beating Marquez to the line by the width of a wheel—enhanced our collective, overly-optimistic belief, now dashed, that the season would go down to the wire. In Qatar, Dovizioso and Marquez had their own war over the last three laps; earlier, the front group had consisted of nine riders. Rossi podiumed. Things looked tight—the top six riders all finished within four seconds of one another. After the race I posted the following:

  • Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow. (In my excitement about the race, I forgot my mantra: Losail is an outlier.)

On to Argentina, where the wettish start of the race was a memorable fustercluck, Jack Miller on pole getting hosed by the rules. Marquez stalls at the start and jumpstarts his bike, turns around and re-takes his place, having gone mental. Penalized, furious, but lucky that he wasn’t black-flagged, he went on to bump and grind with a number of riders, lizard brain in control, before finishing 18th. After two rounds, he sat in fifth place, trailing Crutchlow 38-20. Dovizioso, Zarco and Vinales were also in his way, Zarco having finished second at Rio Hondo behind Crutchlow.

It looked, as the expression goes, like we had us a horse race. But in truth Marquez had great race pace all weekend in Argentina and could have easily podiumed had he not stalled his bike, a once-in-a-career screw-up. The standings after Round 2 were misleading. Yamaha fans actually believed their guys could be competitive all year without actually winning races. Ducati fans, still basking in the afterglow of Qatar, could overlook the fact that Jorge Lorenzo sat in 15th place after two rounds.

Round 3, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, became, for Marquez, his 10th or 12th win on American soil; he has never not won a race in the U.S. Although he won easily, as expected, those following him—Vinales, Iannone, Rossi, Dovi and Zarco—generated a top five, after three rounds, separated by eight points, with Marquez still trailing Dovi by a point. Tight, as we said back then, as tree bark. Tranche 1 included Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales. The series returned to Europe and civilization slavering at the prospect of running at Jerez.

At Jerez, Jorge Lorenzo first adopted his current habit of running the softest tires available, being able to lead the first half of races before fading to 7th place at the end. A reader sent the following note, a conversation he allegedly overheard outside the Ducati garage at Jerez:

“Gigi, I want the soft tire! I will win the first half of the race, and then the championship!”

“You don’t get points for the first half, Jorge.”

“Give it to me, the soft!”

“We put the softest tire we have on it, Jorge. They don’t make them any softer.”

“Then marinate it in the mantequilla and leave it out in the sun! It must be softer! The Spartan commands it!”

Unsurprisingly, Lorenzo led the early part of the race until Marquez ate his lunch on Lap 8 at the new Jorge Lorenzo corner lol. Marquez was leading the race on Lap 20 when a decisive 2018 moment occurred, as Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa got tangled up, Pedrosa going airborne, ending up in a heap in the gravel, bikes and riders everywhere. A racing incident in which either Lorenzo or Pedrosa was the “procuring cause.” No penalties assessed, but Lorenzo and Pedrosa saw their faint title hopes go up in smoke and ash. Dovizioso’s would go up later in the year.

Marquez found himself with clear sailing late in the day. This is what is meant by the expression, “Katie bar the door.” It was after Jerez that we awarded the 2018 championship to Marquez, Tranche 1 looking like this: Marquez, Zarco, and Dovizioso, with the latter two hanging by a thread. Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa and Miller made up Tranche 2 at this point, with The Great Australian Hope Jack Miller, especially, looking much stronger than expected.

Round 5 in France: Homeboy Johann Zarco became the first Frenchman to start from pole in The French Grand Prix since The Norman Conquest and finished an impressive 2nd.    At what had generally been a Yamaha track Marquez put the fear of God in the field. After Zarco, then Dovizioso, crashed out in front of him, Marquez found himself in the lead, beating Petrucci and Rossi to the flag, and stoking his margin over Vinales for the season to 95-59. Zarco and Rossi were crowding Vinales at this point, the three separated by three points.

Marquez had taken 95 of a possible 125 points for the season and could have easily had another 20 in Argentina but for his mental meltdown.

It was Round 6 at Mugello where he had the grace to slide out on Lap 5, allowing Jorge Lorenzo the unexpected privilege of winning a MotoGP race for the first time since Valencia 2016 while the series leader remounted and finished out of the points in 16th. Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill the surprising vacuum and breathed a little life into the series. Marquez’ margin over Vinales was cut to 23, the pack bunched up behind them through Crutchlow in eighth.

Jorge Lorenzo gave us another vivid reminder of who he used to be at Catalunya where he won again, this time after being pursued by Marquez, who didn’t have enough today. Following these two were Rossi, Crutchlow and Pedrosa, who pimped Vinales at the wire. Although relatively insignificant in the big picture, Marquez added four points to his season lead and, more importantly, reduced the total number of 2018 points available to his pursuers by one round. The Yamahas and Ducatis will never catch him treading water like this. With two rounds left until the summer break, everyone knew it was “Anyone but Marquez” time heading to Assen. Marquez could effectively break the field with wins in The Netherlands and Germany.

Round 8 at Assen provided us with one of the great races of all time, a record total of 175 overtakes from start to finish. Roughly six different riders led at one time or another. Marquez ultimately took the win. Alex Rins, finally showing some of the massive potential he possesses, stole second place from Vinales at the flag. Vinales, in turn, punked Dovizioso, who punked Rossi, trailed closely by Crutchlow and Lorenzo. Seven riders within five seconds of the winner. It was a huge win for Marquez, and a huge letdown for every other Alien and pretender. It was surely starting to look like one of those Marquez years again. Plus, the next stop was The Sachsenring, where Marquez had been incandescent for almost a decade.

On July 15, Marquez goes out at The Sachsenring and just brutalizes the field. Says afterwards he had more pace if he had needed it. Oozing confidence after his ninth consecutive win at this track, back to when he was a teenager. He becomes the fifth rider this season to break a track record, joining Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco in that luminous group. The championship feels like a foregone conclusion.

Valencia, it appears, is screwed, which is probably also true for Sepang and, perhaps, Phillip Island. I suppose it’s mathematically possible for Marquez to clinch at Buriram, which would send the locals straight into madness. At this point we’re guessing Australia. 

Part Two: The Lambs and the Goats from the First Half 

1        Yamaha Factory Racing           228

2        Repsol Honda Team           214

3        Ducati Team                    173

4        Pramac Racing                 141

5        Team Suzuki MotoGP           128

6        Tech 3                             110

7        Team LCR                         89

Repsol Honda Team: Marquez be Marquez, while Dani Pedrosa, dealing with the erosion of his skills and desire, more titanium screw holes in him than Swiss cheese, announces his decision to retire at the end of the year rather than ride a non-competitive bike, i.e., a satellite Yamaha for the next two years. HRC immediately sacks up and signs Jorge Lorenzo to join Marquez in 2019-2020.

Movistar Yamaha Team: Running second and third to Marquez most of the season, Rossi and Vinales must feel like Beaver Cleaver when Eddie Haskell would come over and mess up his hair, call him a punk. Rossi hasn’t won since Assen last year, while Vinales’ last win was at Le Mans 2017. Johann Zarco has been more impressive on his two-year old sled. Yamaha engineers need to read the book “Good to Great.”

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso, who seriously challenged Marquez for the title last year, has been this year’s single biggest disappointment, having scored 35 fewer points this season than at this time last year. Jorge Lorenzo, last year’s biggest disappointment, pulled rabbits out of his hat twice this year to regain a little of his lost swagger. He is also defecting to Honda, his seat being taken by the deserving Danilo Petrucci.

Suzuki Ecstar Team: Consistently inconsistent since Round 1.

Suzuki team YTD

In but three of nine rounds have both riders finished the race, Rins has shown flashes of brilliance, while Iannone, no longer the Maniac, appears content to finish races, making hay seemingly only when misfortune strikes other riders. The team has dismissed Iannone and signed wonderkid Joan Mir from Moto2 for two years beginning in 2019. Rins, once he finds the limit of the Suzuki, will be a baller. For this year, both riders are disappointments. Iannone takes a step down to the factory Aprilia program for the next two seasons.

Red Bull KTM Factory Team: Once again, despite fierce loyalty from KTM owners and fans, the Austrian MotoGP program has been a dud in 2018. Owners and fans see great things on the horizon. I see Pol Espargaro with 32 points and Bradley Smith with 13 points after nine rounds. I see Miguel Oliveira stepping up from Moto2 to take a Tech 3 seat. I see test and wildcard rider Mika Kallio escape destruction by the thinnest of margins in his practice crash at The Sachsenring. They pick up a satellite team with the acquisition of Tech 3 racing; Johann Zarco will join Espargaro on the factory team, while Oliveira will team up with Hafiz Syahrin on the Tech 3 team, which will ride full factory bikes. Hafiz Syahrin is on his way to becoming very good rider on what is likely to become very good equipment and should feel very fortunate.

Factory Aprilia Team: Another year on the learning curve for the Italian team, as Aleix has 16 and Redding, on his way out in favor of Iannone, has 12. Aleix pushes the bike past the limit and has once again recently spent time in the hospital as a result. Redding, despite his brimming self-confidence, is too big to ride with these midgets. Aprilia will have to take the plunge on a satellite team at some point if they’re ever going to generate enough data to become competitive at this level.

Alma Pramac Ducati Team: Like a lot of B teams, this group seems to lose their best rider fairly often. After this year, Danilo Petrucci, who has been enjoying a very strong (84 vs 66 in 2017) season, leaves to join the factory Ducati effort alongside Dovizioso. Jack Miller, #2 on the team, is also having an improved year—57-41—over 2017. He will be joined next season by fast mover Peco Bagnaia, on his way up from Moto2. Promises to be wild and woolly next year as the rookie learns to tangle with the beast that is the Ducati Desmosedici.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha:  With Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger slated to return from encouraging rookie seasons, Herve Poncharal had room to feel optimistic, until the day early this year when he learned Folger would not be returning. In quiet desperation, he turned to out-of-work Malaysian mudder Hafiz Syahrin, who has stepped in this year and done a workmanlike job of learning a big new bike on the fly. Teammate Zarco has not improved noticeably over last season and has struggled down the stretch through Sachsenring this year. The KTM deal must be a distraction. Whatever.

Team LCR: Both Cal Crutchlow on the Castrol version and Taka Nakagami on the Idemitsu version have provided marginal improvements to the team’s fortunes compared to last year, when it was Cal only. Nakagami has disappointed badly with his measly 10 points, while Crutchlow is up marginally—79-64—over last year. Both riders on this team insist the Honda is difficult to ride, a complaint you don’t hear very often from the factory riders. Cal is sticking around for next year, as is Nakagami, who has in the first year of a two-year HRC contract.

Angel Nieto Team              48

Red Bull KTM                     45

Avintia Racing                    30

Aprilia Racing Team           28

Marc VDS Racing                19

The rest of the teams I just have a hard time caring about these groups. Sure, there are some competitive riders in here—Rabat, the Espargaros, Morbidelli—but overall it’s a big Who Cares?

* * *

Halfway through the round, sitting in the clubhouse, I am approaching the second half with an almost Nordic sense of existential dread, that this might turn into an Agostini-like s**tshow with 23 riders fighting for scraps. From what we’ve seen since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when the Honda chassis was unrideable, none of the current riders on the grid appears capable of staying with Marquez over the course of an entire season. Which, in turn, means that it will have to be one of the young guns who take him down. Remember when Lorenzo arrived in 2008, a very hot property, to join The Doctor, the undisputed god of MotoGP, and put a hurting on him only two years later.

For Marc Marquez, these are his salad days. Top of his game, in full command of all his prodigious skills. Nobody on the grid with the chops or the nuts to challenge him. Able to tame the unruly RC213V when other great riders can’t. Practices saving lowside crashes with his knees and elbows. You can see other riders and teams watching him and just shaking their heads.

This is Year Six of The Marquez Era, 2015 being the exception that makes the rule. He should, by my estimate, enjoy perhaps four more years before someone gives him a serious challenge. Starting in 2021 Rossi will be horse-whipping those young Italian Sky VR46 Yamaha riders, insulting their manhood until one of them wins a title. Guys like Maverick Vinales and Jack Miller will chase Marquez for most of their careers. Guys like Zarco and Dovi will flare up during certain years, shedding more light than heat in what will likely be futile attempts to put the squeeze on #93.

As for an actual report card on the riders, I think the tranches after Round 9 reflect the grading curve for the first semester:

A:      Marquez

B:      Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

C:      Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

D:      Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

E:       Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

MotoGP returns to Motorcycle.com on July 31st with the Brno preview. Enjoy the break, fools.

How Do Our Tranches Compare to CRASH.net?

July 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen   07/03/2018

MO Tranching After Eight Rounds

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeo

 

CRASH.net Ratings: Assen 

POINTS      RIDER

10               Marquez

9, 8             Rins, Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Crutchlow

7                 Bautista, P Espargaro, A Espargaro, Redding, Miller, Zarco

6                 Abraham, Smith, Petrucci, Syahrin, Nakagami, Iannone

5, 4, 3         Simeon, Rabat, Luthi, Pedrosa

Not classified          Morbidelli (injured)

Please keep in mind that our tranches factor in momentum, either positive or negative, as well as the competitiveness of the bike, over the entire season, rather than a snapshot of just one race. For example, Tito Rabat is not having a Tranche 5 season. More of a “body of work” approach. Just sayin’. Otherwise, I believe the rankings are comparable.

MotoGP 2018 Losail Results

March 18, 2018

DesmoDovi Punks Marquez for Early Season Lead

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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

Practice and Qualifying

Of the top ten riders on the combined practice timesheets, the top five included, as most of you know, three Ducs and both Suzukis. The factory Hondas sat 6th and 7th. Crutchlow, Rossi and Zarco also made it straight into Q2, wiping up the rear, as it were. Jack Miller got hot on his GP17 during Q1 and moved through to Q2, followed by Vinales, who also found something late in the day. Both appeared to be capable of making noise in Q2. Overall, Dovizioso led three of the four practice sessions (Zarco the other), topping the charts for the Q2 cabal. KTM had nothing going on, but Aprilia was showing signs of life, Aleix sitting 12th after FP3.

Q2 was seriously better than a lot of races. Fifteen minutes of straight adrenaline, with the last three minutes simply breathtaking. Riders including Dovi, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rins took turns aiming at the 10-year old track record set by white-hot rookie Lorenzo to open the 2008 season, falling short each time. But on the day’s last lap, the remarkable Johann Zarco, who we refuse to call The Flying Frenchman, pedaling his two-year old Yamaha, put down a vapor trail, crushing Lorenzo’s former record by 2½ tenths and substantially raising the price of poker in the Zarco contract sweepstakes for 2019-20. Not to mention administering a facial to factory riders Rossi (8th) and Vinales (12th). “Hey Johann, it’s that Honda guy again on line 2.”

Marquez and Petrucci, as expected, ended Q2 second and third, respectively, both also breaking the previous record. My pick for pole, Dovizioso, held it for quite some time before sagging to the middle of the second row during the final two minutes. Interesting that the first two rows of riders, all of whom appear capable of winning on Sunday, exclude three genuine Aliens—Lorenzo, Rossi and Vinales. As Steven Stills sang eons ago, “There’s something happening here.” Several weeks ago we suggested “track records appear set to fall like dominos.” Even without qualifying tires.

Batting a thousand so far on that one. [And can’t you still hear the separate guitar parts in “For What It’s Worth?” Boom.] Saturday evening, Zarco said his race pace was a concern. Right. I hope everyone got to watch the interview with Marc Marquez in which the clever young Brit interviewer managed to get him to admit, smiling widely, that tire selection for the race is very important and no we are not yet sure which tires we will use tomorrow. Wow. We journalists really get down to it sometimes.

A Race for the Ages

The 2018 Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix unfolded as if it had been scripted. The hot French sophomore on the two-year old Yamaha—let’s call him Johann Zarco–took the hole shot from pole and led a snappish bunch of veteran riders on a merry chase for 16 laps. Suddenly, his tires turned to cheese, and those veterans began going through, Sherman-through-Georgia style. Both Dovizioso and Marquez passed through at Turn 1 of Lap 17, with Rossi following suit later in the lap. Ultimately, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa would push the impudent Gaul to 8th place. In golf they say you drive for show, putt for dough. In MotoGP, you gotta save some tire for late in the race.

It was on Lap 21 that the contenders stepped in for the pretenders. Andrea Dovizioso, who had seized the lead on Lap 17, invited Marquez to a private tête-à-tête for the last three laps, an invitation the defending champion eagerly accepted. With Rossi reduced to lurking in 3rd, hoping for something to go wrong in front of him, the two best riders on Earth squared off for six minutes of unbridled, hair-raising battle, exchanging haymakers. Marquez, unable not to make a move on Dovi at some point, finally took his shot at Turn 16 on the final lap, in a virtual replay of the Red Bull Ring and Motegi duels the two fought last year. Consistent with those contests, Dovi took advantage of his superior corner exit speed to clip Marquez by 2/100ths of a second and take a narrow early lead in the 2018 title chase.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers

In addition to Dovizioso and Marquez, riders who could anticipate a tasty chicken dinner this evening include Rossi, who did manage to climb from 8th to 3rd, and Franco Morbidelli, who edged Hafizh Sayahrin for the top rookie participation trophy. Sayahrin, for his part, became the first Malaysian rider ever to start a MotoGP race and score points therein, a record he can never lose. Kudos to the luckiest rider on the grid. Jack Miller and Tito Rabat probably feel pretty good this evening, crossing the line in 10th and 11th places, respectively.

Riders going hungry tonight include Alex Rins, Jorge Lorenzo and Pol Espargaro, all of whom crashed out, Rins while traveling in 6th position. Zarco learned a lesson today. Maverick Vinales learned his lesson yesterday while laying an egg in Q2, starting from 12th place. He rode a hellified second half today, only to end up 6th. Not a disaster, but an opportunity lost. Scott Redding, who has apparently already lost his seat for next year to Danilo Petrucci, can say only that he managed to beat Xavier Simeon, a feat comparable to winning the Taller than Mickey Rooney contest.

Over in the Junior Leagues

Spaniard Jorge Martin stiff-armed countryman Aron Canet for the win in the Moto3 race, with the new guy at Leopard Racing, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, glomming onto the third podium spot milliseconds ahead of about six other guys. Enea Bastianini, taking over the #1 seat at Leopard with the graduation of 2017 champion Joan Mir to Moto2, crashed out of a podium spot, giving an ominous start to his 2018 campaign.

Pecco Bagnaia, late of the SKY Racing Team VR46, held on to the Moto2 win today, narrowly evading the clutches of Lorenzo Baldassarri, in a thrilling contest that also came down to the last turn. Little Brother Alex Marquez, who had been fast all weekend, started from pole and was cruising along in 3rd position, well within reach of the Marquez Moto2 Brakes on Fireleaders, when his rear brakes pinched the disc and, inexplicably, held on, at which point the disc quickly cooked, changed color from gray to red to white, back to gray when they finally came unstuck, killing his chances for the win but allowing him a podium nonetheless.

Unsubstantiated Rumors

Bagnaia, according to news reports, has already signed a contract to join Jack Miller with Alma Pramac Ducati next season. The dominoes look set to fall such that Petrucci heads over to Gresini Aprilia, and Redding for points west. Apparently Honda has the early inside track to sign Zarco to the factory team to ride alongside Marquez starting next year, with Pedrosa being shown the door, as feared. Earliest silly season I can ever remember. Rossi signed for two more years last week, in case you’ve been hanging out under a rock.

Rider Rankings After Round One

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Pedrosa, Miller
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Iannone, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Morbidelli
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Abraham, Bautista, Rabat
Tranche 5: Simeon, Redding, Nakagami, Smith, Luthi

Before you take to DISQUS to shred my rankings, remember Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

Argentina in two weeks. Be there. Aloha.

 

MotoGP 2018 Losail Preview

March 13, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Let the 2018 Games Begin! 

Nothing like the start of a new racing season to turn the iron in a man’s blood into the lead in his pencil. All the speculation, all the testing, all the contingencies will become moot once the lights go out in far-away Qatar. The Alien class—Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales—is sharpening their fairings in anticipation. Another handful of riders dream of getting their tickets punched in 2018.  

Riders like Johann Zarco (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) and Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) need to get off to a quick start if they want to challenge the usual suspects in 2018. Although the championship cannot be won this weekend, it can certainly be lost for those ending up in the kitty litter. The good news for 23 of the 24 riders lining up at the start—since 2008, only three riders who have won the opener have gone on to capture the title. Winning at Losail is not as important as finishing in the points.

Marc Marquez, the #1 rider on the planet, is the odds-on favorite to threepeat in 2018. During winter testing, he focused on eerily consistent simulations, turning hundreds of laps in metronomic fashion. He may have only topped the timesheets a time or two in the process, but he claims to love this year’s RC213V, exuding quiet confidence and entering the season in great physical shape. The caption for this photo should read, “In an effort to pander to the female readers of this stuff.”Marquez Cropped

Behind him stands a mixed bag of Aliens, former Aliens, and wannabe Aliens, with names like Viñales, Dovizioso, Zarco, Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Of these, the career tracks of the first three are ascendant while those of the last three are heading south. Further back, several young guns—notably Miller and Rins—think they have the juice to displace some of the leaders. Somewhat lost in the sauce are the prospects for guys like Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone who, if they were running backs in the NFL, would be referred to as “tweeners.” All three are capable of winning races. All three generally find ways not to.

Although there will be plenty of riveting action farther down the food chain, space limitations—read “your short attention span”—prevent us from talking about them too much. If you’re really interested in the prospects of Tom Luthi or Xavier Simeon, best visit their websites.

With the able assistance of Price Waterhouse, Coopers, Lybrand, Sacco and Vanzetti, we have gathered mountains of data and scuttlebutt to provide regular readers with a loose ranking of these fast movers. We use the term “tranche” instead of “group” to sound better-informed and more continental. The methodology behind this assessment is closely guarded, so much so that even I don’t understand it. We will publish the first of our 2018 rankings after the race.

Recent History at Losail 

In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi delivered a vintage performance in the 2015 season opener, going knives-in-a-phone booth with factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.  Marquez got pushed way wide into the gravel on Lap 1, ultimately finishing fifth. Andrea Iannone, then laboring for Ducati, made it an all-Italian podium and overinflated our expectations for him in beating Jorge Lorenzo to the line by half a second. 2015 would be remembered as the year Marc Marquez did not win a championship.

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

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

How Do YOU Spell Xenophobia? 

As the curtain prepares to go up on the 2018 MotoGP season, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the rampant nationalism that is baked into the sport. Spain and Italy have pretty much had things their way since Casey Stoner got PW’ed into retirement by the lovely Adrianna after the 2012 season. Italy fits into that sentence only relatively, having failed to win a title during the period but having managed, on the other hand, not to lose a war. The Italian presence in MotoGP, however, is undeniable, with Valentino Rossi still competitive in his dotage and the Ducati brand having regained much of its previously lost luster. Andrea Dovizioso is now The Great Italian Hope and represents a credible threat to unseat Marc Marquez at the top of the food chain.

With premier class riders now hailing from unfamiliar places like Belgium and Malaysia, the Spanish stranglehold is under assault. One surmises that TV viewership across the globe is expanding, except in the United States, where it’s easier to find Ozzie & Harriet reruns than live race coverage. Thailand, we understand, is losing its collective mind over hosting MotoGP beginning this year. One assumes Finland will experience the same in 2019. With F1 giving up ground of late, soccer and MotoGP have become the top two spectator sports in most of the free world. This, in turn, relieves me of the sensation that I am writing mostly for readers from other galaxies. Your comments via DISQUS reinforce this relief.

Your Weekend Forecast

Expect dark, dusty, hot, repressive and oligarchical conditions in this feudal anachronism this weekend. I’ve read that within 50 years daytime highs in the country’s interior could reach 180° F, meaning they won’t be racing at Losail forever. You and I consistently place too much weight on the outcome of Round 1, which is a true outlier, the results of which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Screenshot (59)

That being said, I can confidently predict Andrea Dovizioso will win the 2018 opener. With three very competitive second place finishes in the past three years, an improved bike, and confidence instilled from last year’s championship chase, he is my solid favorite. Marc Marquez, pretty much everyone’s choice to title again this year, has won at Losail only once (2014) since joining the premier class. He should end the evening on the podium. In my mind’s eye I see Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of the lead, the factory Yamaha pair of Vinales and Rossi in the mix, and at least one party crasher making it into the top five. Jack Miller and/or Alex Rins could have a big night. Even Dani Pedrosa, in what may be his swan song for Honda in the Persian Gulf, could end up on the podium.

We will have results and analysis for you sometime on Sunday (?), since I’m unable to translate the start time and GMT zone into anything comprehensible. I will miss Nick Harris and Dylan Gray. The mad scrambles of Moto2 and Moto3 will be worth watching, and I’ll try to give them some space in the race summary.

In the words of the late great Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on. And if that song gets stuck in your brain for the rest of the day, you’re welcome.

MotoGP 2018 Season Preview, Part II

March 10, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Along the Watchtower

An odd subhead for a glance at the teams, the haves and have nots, those with title aspirations, and those barely aspirating at all. And, just to be clear, Jimi Hendrix’s cover kicked the crap out of Dylan’s original.

Angel Nieto (Aspar Ducati) Team
Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista

Have Nots. Always the flower girls, never a bridesmaid. This lot should find itself more or less where it ended last year, Bautista 12th and Abraham 20th. Both riders, now officially “journeymen,” on second-hand Ducatis, on a team that is usually under-financed. Only a true cynic would suggest Aspar re-named the team in order to attract more Spanish sponsorship money. Tranche-wise, a three and a four.

Aprilia Factory Racing
Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding

Have Nots. Scientists tell us there are entire planets in faraway galaxies whose inhabitants worship the image of Aleix Espargaro putting Aprilia on Earth’s MotoGP podium. He came close a few times last year, turned some fast laps in qualifying, but the bike does not yet appear to be there. Not enough grunt, too many mechanicals. In an effort to add grunt, the team signed the full-sized Scott Redding, who promptly found the bottom quartile of the timesheets at both Valencia and Sepang.

Redding and Espargaro finished 14th and 15th respectively last year, with Redding on the Ducati GP16. The expectation here is that Espargaro improves marginally and Redding continues his decline. The new Brit will be an improvement over Sad Sam Lowes, but expect the whining to commence at any moment. Aleix could be a two. Redding, who last year alternated between a three and a four, will likely drop a notch, alternating between a four and a five. Butt ugly.

Ducati Factory Team
Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo

Two Haves. JLo appeared to find his lost mojo at Sepang, only to lose it again at Buriram. Dovi ran 4th at Sepang, not seeming to break a sweat, and 7th at Buriram. There have always been tracks that were difficult for the Ducati, but Dovizioso figured most of them out last year. Should Lorenzo figure them out this year, Gigi Dall’Igna and company could have two fast packages to throw at Marc Marquez and Honda in 2018. I just have this feeling that JLo has lost something. Jorge is a man in need of a comeback.

Ducati Corse seems to continue devoting vast resources to this long-term project (code name: Project Leanangle) to get the Desmosedici to turn and has been doing so since the time Rossi was there. Gigi may, in fact, be finally leading them to The Promised Land. Tranche One may get crowded this season.

KTM Factory Team
Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro

Have Nots. So, the conventional wisdom is that KTM is, in its inexorable Teutonic fashion, preparing to conquer the MotoGP world. It is in the process of striking a deal to become the KTM satellite team. KTM wants, at the corporate level, to stick one in the eye of Honda Racing, going to far as to mimic Repsol colors in its livery. 😊

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be happening with the current tandem of Smith and Espargaro. KTM is grooming a stable of riders in Moto2 and Moto3, some of whom may eventually ride for them in MotoGP. Last year, the current pair finished 17th and 21st, the Spaniard taking team honors and little else. Due to a number of circumstances the team ended up with the same pair for 2018. So, it looks like another year to collect data, to work on the bike, all in preparation for some major rider contracts on offer later this year. Sadly, I expect both riders to hang out around tranches three and four. Espargaro may be slowed early in the season by a back injury sustained at the Sepang test.

LCR Honda
Takaaki Nakagami and Cal Crutchlow

One Have Not and a Maybe. LCR takes a step up the food chain as Honda buys a second rider, agreeable Moto2 grad and underachiever Taka Nakagami, to join up with the historically disgruntled Cal Crutchlow in a tandem readers of Richard Scarry’s children’s books will recognize as Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Crutchlow had a disappointing 2017 after closing 2016 with a couple of wins in 7th place, only to finish winless in 9th place last year. Some writers would say, “Told you so, mate.”

Nakagami had to be encouraged with 15th in Sepang, while Cal was cruising to a top three finish there. Life, in winter, is good. One would expect Cal to have a better season this year were it not for names like Miller and Rins and Zarco, never mind the factory Honda and Yamaha outfits. Outlook: Tranche 2 for Crutchlow, Tranche 4 for Nakagami.

Marc VDS Honda
Thomas Luthi and Franco Morbidelli

Have Nots. Two rookie Moto2 grads, one a journeyman, one a savant. Sadly, it will take more than a savant to get many top ten results on the satellite Honda. The Marc VDS MotoGP Racing Team is distinguished, as dad used to say, only by its utter lack of distinction. Their riders finished 11th and 19th last year with the former, Jack Miller, having thoroughly worn out his welcome with HRC in the process. Tito Rabat, who moved to the Reale Avintia Ducati team this year, is trying desperately to avoid the “Bust” tag being crafted for him, a 2012 Moto2 world champion.

Morbidelli, with two Moto2 championships in hand, must be hoping the team abandons Honda and joins up with Suzuki next year, a change which would brighten his future without much of a change of scenery. Luthi, one suspects, is simply happy to be here. Being a utility player in the big leagues beats the crap out of being an all-star in Triple A. As March approaches, Frankie looks like a three/four, Luthi a four/five.

Monster Yamaha Tech3
Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin

One Have, one Maybe. With Jonas Folger out for 2018, I was jocking Johnny Rea to get an American into MotoGP in a once-in-a-career opportunity. (I would argue he’s faster than anyone currently available. Contract-wise it was probably impossible.) So, unemployed Colombian Jonny Hernandez was called upon for the Sepang test and said, “Sure.” He did pretty well, never having been on a Yamaha before.

In a raging upset, Malaysian idol and Moto2 veteran Hafizh Syahrin was selected to saddle up next to Zarco this year, the first of his countrymen ever to do so. Syahrin is fearsome in the rain, but faces a steep, and likely painful, learning curve. We wish him well. He turned in a credible performance during his debut in Thailand, and another in Qatar. A podium in the rain could actually be in his future later in the season.

Even with Zarco reverting to the 2016 M1 chassis, the visions of sugarplums dancing in Poncharal’s head vanished once it was determined that Folger would miss the entire season. Recall how Fausto Gresini ended up with the despicable Spaniard Alvaro Bautista in 2011 when he lost his #1 guy at Sepang. Hopefully Herve’s luck is better today than Gresini’s was back then. The serenely competent French sophomore looks ready to carry the load for the Monster team this season in Tranche Two; he may make a few appearances in the top tier. Although he is expected back next year, there is no guarantee that Jonas Folger will ever race again.

MoviStar Yamaha (Factory)
Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales

Two Maxima Haves. Yamaha suits are saying the 2018 M1 is built on a 2016-style chassis. They’ve already signed Viñales for 2019-2020, and Rossi is said to be weighing an offer of a new contract as this goes to press. Were he an American football player they would describe his condition as “year-to-year.” In the most recent photograph I’ve seen of him, he looked old, tired and worn out. But, in the words of Nick Harris, “Count Rossi out at your peril.”

Sepang was a puzzle for both riders, as they topped the timesheets on Day 2, changed nothing, and couldn’t get out of their own way on Day 3. The same thing happened in Thailand. Apparently this occurred several times last season as well. The gremlins in the Yamaha garage may have been sussed out in the last testing weekend. Both riders will sit in Tranche One on March 17.

Alma Pramac (Ducati) Racing
Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller

Jack Miller.

Knock me over with a feather. I need a new slot for these two: Kinda Maybes.

Although I generally ignore the Valencia testing, riders shaking hands with new bikes, I couldn’t help but notice that on the combined sheets Miller sat in 7th place, 6/10ths behind Marquez. On his first two days on a satellite Ducati. Fine. But then he shows up at Sepang and is eerily fast and consistent all three days. On a bike that is, according to Jorge Lorenzo, difficult to learn how to ride. Fine. Sepang is a Ducati layout; three of the top five times were recorded by Italian machines.

I’m already appalled at the volume of “Told you so, mate” comments heading my way from Down Under, with Kiwis piling on not simply because they share the accent; doing so reminds them, as does everything, of rugby.

Petrucci shows up in Sepang having lost 10 pounds from last year. Danilo needs to fish or cut bait this season. Riding essentially the same bike as Dovizioso and Lorenzo, he recorded two podiums and five DNFs in 2017. If he ever wants to toil for a factory team, any factory team, he needs to reverse those numbers. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine.

One of these two is going to spend most of the season in Tranche Two, the other in Three. Miller may finally demonstrate on the Ducati the potential he never showed on the Honda. Okay, he won a race. So did Chris Vermeulen.

Reale Avintia (Ducati) Racing
Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon

The oddest couple on the block. Rabat, whose career appears to have peaked in 2012 with his Moto2 title, and now Simeon, curiously promoted from Moto2 after having accomplished virtually nothing. Rabat, circling the bowl, trying to rescue his career on the Ducati, along with this second guy. Someone needs to explain to me the thinking behind signing Simeon. Eight years in Moto2, never finished higher than seventh, one win. Turns 29 this year. WTF.

His daddy must own a large chain of liquor stores.

Repsol Honda (Factory)
Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa

Two Maxima Haves. Last year, Marquez started the season in Tranche One; by season’s end, he was the only occupant therein. Dani Pedrosa, whose boy Alberto Puig has taken Livio Suppo’s seat as Chief Cheddar of the Repsol racing effort, looked strong in Sepang and again at Buriram. Pedrosa must realize it’s now or never. He needs to stay out of the hospital.

Marc Marquez, with four premier class titles in five years, looks formidable again this year. There will be more contenders than any in recent memory; to that extent, he will have to do more close work in the turns than he might prefer, but so it goes. His strategy last year was to hold on by his fingernails early in the season while some fast mover—Viñales, as it turned out—made a scalded-cat-type start in the early rounds, return to Europe and apply pressure, aiming to make the turn into the summer break in the lead. He then proceeded to blow away his competitors throughout the second half, finally breaking Dovizioso in Australia.

This would appear to be a sound strategy again in 2018.

Dani Pedrosa can no longer simply be Marquez’s wingman. Dani Pedrosa needs to fight for the championship this year, which promises to be his last credible opportunity to do so. Should he fail, HRC appears ready, willing and able to sign another rider in his place, for the first time in over a decade. Speculation as to whom that rider may be will occupy much of the season. This is true even with his Svengali and sponsor Puig at the reins.

Not to mention that Pedrosa might be an attractive candidate for KTM, Aprilia or Suzuki in 2019, his skills at sussing out performance issues and generating useable data second to none. Say what you will, Dani Pedrosa has forgotten more about grand prix racing than many of the fast movers in Moto2 and Moto3 have ever known. He could be an effective mentor, kind of a player/coach, for one of the younger teams.

Suzuki (Factory) Ecstar
Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins

Have Nots, but not for long. Concessions again. I keep reading that the top end speed is still insufficient, that they’re spending their money on the wrong stuff. Then I read that they’ve more power this year and could very well lose their concessions again. Rins seems pretty happy and should be vastly improved this season; his sixth-place work at Sepang did not go un-noticed. Iannone, as usual, is impossible to predict.

I will happily predict, therefore, that Rins will finish ahead of Iannone this season. Rins had mad skills in Moto3 and Moto2, comparable to Viñales. For him, 2017 was a learning experience: Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Alex Rins is a Tranche Two guy; Iannone a Three. As last year vividly illustrated, Suzuki needs a satellite team in MotoGP to generate enough data to effectively play catch-up with the big boys.

Your 2018 Forecast

You need rocks in your head to bet against Marc Marquez taking his fifth premier class title in 2018. He is, head and shoulders, the best rider out there. I suspect Dani Pedrosa (assuming he doesn’t break a collarbone or two) may prove that he is back by chasing Marquez to the end of the season, winning two or three races along the way. Third place appears to belong to Maverick Viñales, who needs a more competitive/consistent ride under him than was the case last year. I believe Andrea Dovizioso will end up fourth, and Valentino Rossi fifth. Dovi is everyone’s dark horse this year.
Riders six through ten could include Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller and Alex Rins. If Zarco and Pedrosa trade places, it wouldn’t surprise that many fans. That would be a handing of the baton.

Riders 11 through 15 could include Danilo Petrucci, Franco Morbidelli, Aleix Espargaro, Alvaro Bautista and Andrea Iannone.

Riders 16 through 24 will float between Tranches Four and Five: Nakagami, Rabat, Simeon, Redding, Pol Espargaro, Tom Luthi, Abraham, and Smith. Syahrin could end up in Tranche Four, with a potential look at Three by the end of the season.

So let the games begin. We will have a preview of each round, beginning with Qatar, on the Tuesday before the race, with race results and analysis posted as quickly as possible by a group of editors not accustomed to working on weekends. If you need more—yeah, I know—MotoGP, please visit my Facebook page.

Cheers!

MotoGP 2018 Season Preview

March 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Fierce Competition Awaits Marc Marquez in 2018

Part One
Overview

Here we go again. We, the fans, are fully amped on the glidepath to the start of another season of breathtaking, toe-curling two-wheeled racing. For a while after Valencia 2017 it was collect data, data and more data. In 2018, hot laps and consistent simulations became the targets. There was surprising Sepang, then that new Thai place Carmelo found one night, then the final official test at Qatar in early March, all pointed toward Round 1 under the lights, in the desert, as usual, at Losail on March 18. Optimism and jubilation reign; everyone, at this point, is undefeated.

Marquez Valencia 2017bIf you’re not familiar with MotoGP, most of what follows will not make much sense. If, however, you ARE familiar with MotoGP, most of what follows will not make ANY sense. But keep with it; it will grow on you, unless you’re hung up on things like, say, facts and accuracy. By the end of the season you’ll be all over DISQUS with the usual rabble, giving me a hard time about this and that, Valentino Rossi or my boy Cal Crutchlow.

No mega-huge contracts for 2019-2020 for factory Ducati riders, just the normal run-of-the-mill wheelbarrows of cash. The GP-18, according to management, Casey Stoner and Michele Pirro, is significantly improved over last year, with nothing having been made worse in the process. Therefore, no need going forward to, ahem, overpay for touchy, egocentric triple world champions.

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Gigi Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda of Ducati’s MotoGP effort, it is said, has a few more tricks up his sleeve for 2018. As for 2019, he was recently overheard boasting that the GP19 will be so strong that he could win the title with Motorcycle.com’s own elderly Californian John Burns as his #1 rider.

The racing calendar extends from mid-March to mid-November, a full eight months. This, obviously, is too long. The momentum and drama of the title chase is diluted by the time spent during the summer standing around waiting for the next race. 2018 features 19 rounds, and it looks pretty clear 20 rounds will become the norm starting in 2019 when Finland goes on the calendar. The Dorna folks need to find a way to fit 20 rounds into seven months.

Honda, according to people who actually know stuff, appears to be the favorite for the constructor’s trophy heading into the season. If Sepang weren’t an outlier as regards layout, temps, rain and so forth, one could argue that Ducati should be the favorite. Yamaha has been dealing with gremlins, and the three junior manufacturers are not yet a threat, although Suzuki may be ready to move up. Ducati, with eight bikes on track, and Honda with six will be the main contestants unless The Boys in Blue, Viñales and Rossi, are fighting one and two for the title. Which, in early March, seems unlikely. So does the prospect of having only two Yamahas on track in 2019.

While the Sepang test was a win for Ducati, the Buriram test in late February was a win for Honda. Crutchlow, Marquez and Pedrosa recorded the top times on the three days, Pedrosa looking especially strong. Meanwhile, the Yamaha and factory Ducati contingents faltered. Jorge Lorenzo followed up his sizzling performance in Malaysia with a complete dud in Thailand, finishing the combined timesheets in a dismal 16th place, dazed and confused. As in comparing Chang International Circuit to Red Bull Ring, where Ducatis dominate, there being few reasons to have to turn the Desmosedici GP18 at either venue.

[On a personal note, it was good to have Ducati test pilot Casey Stoner back in January bitching about something. Seems he agrees with most of the planet that Sepang is a crappy place for winter testing. Or testing in any season, for that matter. But he has that gift for saying it in a way that just runs all over me.]

Interlopers in Thailand included last year’s rookie of the year, Johann Zarco, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, circa 2016, leaving southeast Asia with a silver medal. He was joined in the top six by two suddenly hot properties, Alex Rins on the Ecstar Suzuki and Jack Miller on the Alma Pramac Ducati GP17. Both looked good in Malaysia, both looked very good in Buriram. The pair slipped slightly in Qatar—ain’t nobody care about that. Over the last ten years, the rider winning the opener at Losail has won the title only three times.

Yamaha found itself behind the eight ball after two testing weekends, it appearing that the 2018 machine is worse than the 2017, which was worse than the 2016. The worst part, of course, is that at both Sepang and Buriram the effective settings they employed on Day Two refused to work on Day Three. This is disconcerting. Viñales finished the combined Buriram sheets eighth, Rossi 12th. But at the Qatar test, the Yamahas got things turned around, with super soph Zarco leading the way on the combined sheets for the Tech3 team, trailed by Rossi, Dovi, Crutchlow and Viñales.

Why 2018 Could Be Spectacular

The organizers of MotoGP must be prancing about re the potential competitiveness of the upcoming season. By my count, there are perhaps ten riders capable of winning on any given Sunday. These would include Marquez and Pedrosa, Rossi and Viñales, Dovizioso and Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Zarco, Miller and Rins. Maybe Petrucci, too. Of these ten or so, at least four—Rossi, Viñales, Dovizioso and Pedrosa—are capable of challenging Marc Marquez for the 2018 title. As is true in any year, some things have to go well for your guy and some things have to go badly for the other guys. In the paddock there is no more grousing about the control ECU or Michelins; lap records appear set to fall like dominoes.

2006 stands as the year the MotoGP title winner scored the fewest points in the 21st century, Nicky Hayden with 252 points over 16 rounds. Pro-rate that to 19 rounds and that number grows to 299. Marc Marquez, in winning the last two world championships, compiled 298 points in each 18-round season. Pro-rate that up to 315. Meaning he could have been expected to add 17 points in an additional round.

Here’s the point. This year figures to be unusually clogged among the top ten riders. There will therefore be more competition for the big scores, the 25, 20 and 16-point days that come with appearing on the podium. The prediction here is that, despite having added an additional race, the 2018 winner will end up south of 300 points when the curtain falls.

The 2019 silly season has already started, with Viñales and Marquez standing pat, Rossi preparing to sign another two-year Yamaha contract, and Tech 3 ready to announce a three-year affiliation with KTM which will provide them with factory spec bikes, indistinguishable from those of the factory team. This news may be enough to entice Zarco to stay with Tech 3 for the next few years; he is, without question, the hottest non-factory property in the driver corral.

Formula 1 is doing all it can to drive fans to MotoGP. Rumors that Ferrari may drop out dominate the conversation, right below the outrage engendered by Ecclestone & Co. have eliminated “track girls” from race weekends. One might as well watch the races on television.

MotoGP 2018 is going to be great fun. Don’t miss Part Two of our season preview next week, in which we defame examine each of the twelve teams.

 

MotoGP Valencia Setup

October 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.                      October 30, 2017

Nine years since Casey Stoner won on a Ducati at Valencia, yet Dovizioso has to win on Sunday or else. Yamahas have done OK, too.

Assume Marquez slides out of the race on Lap 1. I know, I know.

In addition to Dovi, not counting Jorge Lorenzo, who wouldn’t dare, there are still four or five guys who are ready, willing and able to win in Valencia, which means Dovi has his work cut out for him. Guys who could be leading or closing on him as the last lap approaches. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Rossi? Probably not, for a number of reasons. Dani Pedrosa, Marquez’ wingman for the weekend, who could win the race and give his teammate a title at the same time. Who doesn’t give a shit about Andrea Dovizioso or Ducati. Cal Crutchlow. Aleix.

So, what we may get is what we asked for—a last lap battle for a title—between Dovizioso and somebody, just not Marquez, with nine years of history running against the Italian. Marquez, one believes, is not going to do too much fighting this weekend. Dovi is going to do nothing but fight. And I can’t imagine too many people getting too geeked up watching Dovi win and Marquez finish a distant sixth, say, and winning the title anyway.

If, on the other hand, Marquez is running by himself in 7th place with two laps left, riders who might have been deferring to Dovi, if any, could change their minds and go after him. Even Lorenzo, whose team orders would have likely expired by then. I would pay good money to see Lorenzo and Dovi going neck and neck during the final lap, even with the title effectively out of reach. Lorenzo wanting his first win on the Ducati. Dovi wanting to keep his disappearing title chance alive.

That would be worth the price of admission. In fact, the odds, as I see them, are pretty high that we will have a dramatic last lap or three, with the title possibly on the line. Take THAT, F-1.

If this site had the horsepower, I would offer up a real survey.

Survey: Rider Most Likely to Fight with Dovizioso over the Last Two Laps:

◊ Maverick Vinales
◊ Johann Zarco
◊ Dani Pedrosa
◊ Cal Crutchlow
◊ Aleix Espargaro


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