Posts Tagged ‘Grand Prix Motorcycle’

MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain falls on an eventful 2019 

16-year old Sergio Garcia won his first grand prix race in Moto3, becoming the 12th rider in 19 rounds to stand on the top step. Brad Binder won again in Moto2, showing the world he’s ready for MotoGP. And Marc Marquez won yet again, clinching the triple crown—rider, team and manufacturer—for his brothers on the Repsol Honda team. Now, it’s 2020. If you believe what you hear, the team may feature an additional brother starting this week. 

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Lorenzo’s sudden retirement has tossed a spanner into the “who will be working where in 2020?” mechanism, which had appeared to have been sorted. Too many rumors to try to process, so I’ll ignore them and put some stuff on the blog until the picture becomes clear. My only thought of any consequence is that I bet HRC wishes they could get Brad Binder rather than Alex Marquez, if they decide not to go with Zarco. Plenty of food for thought. 

Practice and Qualifying 

As has become customary in the premier class, Yamahas owned Friday. FP1 was cold, and FP2 cool. Times were slow. Quartararo and Vinales topped the sheet with Morbidelli sitting in P5 and your boy Rossi, having crashed twice, loafing in P14. He would get somewhat more serious on Saturday.

FP3 saw ten riders in the 1:30’s, as track temps began to rise. Joan Mir joined mostly usual suspects passing straight into Q2, including Rossi. Rins and Pol Espargaro graduated from Q1 into Q2. After a somewhat uneventful Q2 it was Quartararo, Marquez and Miller on Row 1 and Vinales, Morbidelli and Dovizioso making up Row 2. Lorenzo’s all-time track record from 2016 remained sentimentally in place. Rossi made a hash of Q2 and would start Sunday from P12.

All KTM front row in Moto3 for Sunday, with Dalla Porta swinging from P7. In Moto2, it was Jorge Navarro on pole, up-and-coming Jorge Martin in the middle, and MV Augusta pilot Stefano Manzi third, titleist Alex Marquez putzing around in P15.

The Races 

Moto3 was a demolition derby that started with Aron Canet’s KTM depositing oil on Turns 5 and 6 and ended, later than scheduled, with Dennis Foggia in the hospital and 11 other riders hitting the deck, some for the duration. No word as this goes to press on Foggia’s condition, other than he was conscious on the track. Two 16-year olds, Sergio Garcia and Xavier Artigas, ended the day on the podium along with veteran Andrea Migno. The world awaits word on the condition of Foggia on a bad day for KTM.

The Moto2 race was proof that KTM promoted the right rider, as Brad Binder ended his Moto2 career with three straight wins, coming within three points of taking the 2019 title himself. Dude can ride a motorcycle. The Great South African Hope was joined on the podium by good ol’ Tom Luthi and Jorge Navarro, with MV Augusta hopeful Stefano Manzi coming this close to giving MV their first podium appearance since, ahem, 1961.

The MotoGP race was mostly dull—I know, right? —with Marquez seizing both the win and the team championship/triple crown. He was pursued to the line, after Lap 8, by Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller. Johann Zarco crashed out and, moments later, did another of his famed backflips, this time due to his having been submarined by a riderless KTM RC16 formerly occupied by Iker Lecuona. Somehow, both of Zarco’s legs weren’t broken, and he was seen afterwards sitting in the garage chatting with his crew, apparently no worse for wear. Fabio deservedly won the top independent rider and Rookie of the Year awards and has been promised a factory spec M1 starting during Tuesday’s Valencia test.

2019

This year, as in many others, we (me and the voices in my head) cut a few corners to come up with a quote or saying that endeavors to capture the essence of an entire season of grand prix motorcycle racing, a fool’s errand if ever there were. Was. This year, however, the premier class season seemed like a replay, like we can now take Marc Marquez’ brilliance for granted. Six titles in seven campaigns. Ho hum.

For me, the story was the fall of Jorge Lorenzo. King of the World in 2015, done and dusted in 2019. The memorable, for some, line from the song “Bright Eyes” by Mike Batt goes like this:

“How can the light that burned so brightly

suddenly burn so pale?”

My 2008 image is that of a 4th of July sparkler, so abrupt and dazzling at its ignition that it hurts the eyes before quickly going orange to gray to black. Lorenzo came up from the 250cc class and had the batteries to stick out his jaw at Valentino Fricking Rossi, one of the brightest stars in the firmament of MotoGP history, at the peak of his formidable powers. The competitive friction between the two forced the building of a temporary wall in the garage at each race venue. Lorenzo, lightning quick at 21 years old, spent two seasons sailing over handlebars as Rossi’s unwilling protégé before seizing his first premier class title in 2010. Stoner beat him in 2011, but he won again in 2012. Marquez arrived like a fireball in 2013, but Lorenzo took advantage of a bad RC213V to win again, at age 28, in 2015.

He retired, scarred, battered and humbled, today. And that was that. Three premier class championships in six years. Today, 32 years old and crashing out on the back side of the apex of his career.

Lorenzo’s story illustrates how pride, of all the capital sins, is the root for the other six. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about Yamaha’s apparent favoring of Rossi in bike development matters. It was Lorenzo’s pride that angered him about the whole Rossi merchandising and money machine, such that it drove him to switch teams and defect to Ducati for the 2017 season, to team up with Andrea Dovizioso. It was Lorenzo’s pride, in wanting to teach Rossi and Yamaha a lesson, that led to his professional demise today.

It was so important to Jorge Lorenzo that he be #1 that he would give a three-year clinic on how to fold a generally stellar career. Alien-grade career. His leap to Ducati in 2017 was a grievous error. The subsequent switch to Honda this year was irretrievable.

Had he not come up against perhaps the greatest rider of all time in 2013 he would likely have won a few more titles. My late mother used to insist that timing is the essence of success; it was Lorenzo’s bad luck to come up against Marc Marquez the same way it was Rossi’s bad luck to come up against Lorenzo. It is worse for Lorenzo because he was younger when it occurred.

Like him or not, we should be grateful for the memories he gave us as an Alien in MotoGP. He showed some class in knowing when it was time to walk away. No hard feelings, Jorge. As the Irish say,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Exodus of the Aliens 

By this time next year, three of the original Aliens—Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—will have left the building. Under the reign of Honda ruler Marc Marquez the battle for #2 in the world will feature some new faces. Who will be the new Aliens?

The reality of The Marquez Era dictates that we adjust the format of the tranche “system” of rider rankings, as follows:

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

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

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

After Valencia:

Alien:                    Marc Marquez

Sub-Aliens:          Dovizioso, Vinales, Quartararo, Miller

Tranche 2:           Rossi, Petrucci, Rins, Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3:           Crutchlow, Mir, Oliveira, Zarco

Tranche 4:           Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, Kallio, Iannone

Tranche 5:           Lorenzo, Abraham, Rabat, Syahrin, (Nakagami)

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Until Next Year

MO and I have agreed to try this all over again next year. I’m pretty sure the reason they keep me around is all the quality comments we’re able to kick off on DISQUS by being highly opinionated, reasonably articulate, and semi-informed. Moreover, the discussions are generally smart and respectful, rising above the usual BS found in online forums. Thus, it is you, the reader, that I thank for the success of this side hustle that puts me well into four figures annually of which I give the IRS roughly half.

Good thing I’m not doing this for the money. My deal with Evans is that Dennis is not allowed to edit the race previews, no matter how libelous they may be. So what this gig does not provide in remuneration it provides in private laughs. And it’s true for all the real writers at MO who are being asked to do more for less each year, the squeeze of the domestic motorcycle market being felt in many places. My only gripe is that they don’t take me to Italy with them for EICMA and a little comic relief. I could fetch their espressos for them.

I will try to interject some thoughts during the off-season at Late Braking MotoGP. I say this every year and rarely come through. With the late season drama at Repsol Honda there may be some news for a few more weeks. Otherwise, it continues to be a gas being the MotoGP Correspondent at Motorcycle.com. Maybe next year they’ll make me the MotoGP Editor. And send me a hat or something.

Again this year, thanks to our loyal readers and erstwhile commenters. You are the bomb.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP San Marino Results

September 15, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez rains on Yamaha’s Italian parade 

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

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

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

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

Currently, Jorge Lorenzo is Just Another Rider 

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

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

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

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

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

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

The Race 

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

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

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

Tranches 

After Silverstone: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

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

Up Next: Aragon

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

Local Color, courtesy of MotoGP.com:

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Rossiland

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Beautiful place to visit or live.

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Ducatitown

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

Moto3 Valencia Results

November 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Young Turk Can Oncu making a name for himself

The Valencia round of the Moto3 world championship was less an event than an experience. It involved a bunch of young riders on fast motorcycles competing in wet conditions. As you might expect, roughly half of them fell off, though a few remounted in order to avoid the dreaded DNF. Formerly obscure 15-year old Can (pronounced ‘Chan’) Oncu ended up winning the race (!) in his first ever grand prix (!), becoming the youngest rider to win a GP in, like, 20 years and the first Turk to win anything at all since The Ottoman Empire. In a sport built, in part, on nationalism, it was another precinct heard from.

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Can (joined by his twin brother Dennis, both signed by Aki Ajo of KTM when they were 12 (!)), appeared as a wildcard in Sunday’s race. His practice results were surprisingly strong. FP1 9th. FP2 8th. Slipped in FP3 but qualified, comfortable in the rain, at the top of the second row. Tony Arbolino secured pole, followed by Nakarin Atiratphuvapat [one of the reasons I don’t usually cover Moto3] and Brit John McPhee, another known mudder. At one time or other, it seemed every rider either high-sided, ran off track, or experienced one of those long, low, mortifying slide-offs that allow one the pleasure of rejoining the race out of the points and with your fairings all scraped to hell and full of grass and mud.

Except for Oncu, who seemed to have something like a force field around him, keeping most of the other riders away and behind him. When Arbolino crashed, unassisted, out of the lead on Lap 12, there was the young Turk, suddenly leading his first ever grand prix.

At this point it became clear, at least to this observer, that the racing gods were drunk and playing the game with their feet. Kicking all the main protagonists and usual suspects into the grass or the gravel. Cracking up at the prospect of awarding a 15-year old Turkish kid, professionally groomed by KTM for three years, with three notable achievements, one of which he can never lose. He returned home after the race a national hero. In the U.S. probably a hundred people have ever heard of him.

Right, the race. Once he had taken the lead, the race became Oncu’s to lose, as he reeled off fast lap after fast lap, gradually extending his lead. Jorge Martin, the newly-crowned Moto3 champion, had gone off track earlier but recovered to second place with enough laps left to challenge Oncu for the lead if not snatch it from him. To his everlasting credit, he declined to do so, essentially allowing Oncu the win and the kickstart to his career that riders dream of. The stars aligned, and almost all the other riders crashed out. On a normal, dry day, Oncu probably would have been outside the top ten. But, as we pointed out last week, crazy stuff happens in the rain at motorcycle grands prix.

During the podium celebration, I, too, experienced a lifetime first. I got to hear the Turkish national anthem. Screenshot (358)

The two big defectors to Moto2 next season, Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, were unable to compete mano a mano on Sunday due to a variety of factors, but with the season already decided such a shootout would have had a bit of a pro wrestling flavor to it. The 97,000 fans, in for a day of mostly existential competition and soaked clothing, were at least able to say they witnessed history and, years later, yes, I’ve followed Can’s career closely ever since that ridiculous win in the rain at Valencia in 2018 blah blah blah.

This is a good place to note that Simon Crafar, the former rider now doing color on the videocast, has improved greatly since early in the year. He is at his best when talking specifically about being on track, approaching a turn, hydroplaning, the stuff only he, of the three announcers, really knows. His interview questions will improve over time, but he’s very good at explaining on-track stuff.

A star was born on Sunday in Spain. Let us hope that his career is brighter than the previously youngest rider ever to win a grand prix race, one Scott Redding, now fully grown, on his way from a dismal few years in MotoGP to British Super Bikes and, allegedly, damned happy to be doing it. Stepping away from all the money and women and fame, going from table stakes poker to penny ante. If he doesn’t dominate BSB next year he will need to think about a new career.

TOMORROW:

MotoGP Rider Performance vs. Projections since Silverstone

FRIDAY:

Track Records Analysis by Rider, Manufacturer and Year

MotoGP 2017 is here

January 27, 2017

For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week.  The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.

Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest.  The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development.  The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner.  If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title.  Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.

Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.

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The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there.  The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.

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The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi.  Marquez remains in a league of his own.  He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers.  Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether.  Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.

Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years.  I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.

Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave.  He should win three races this season.  And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.

I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi.  Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017.  Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi.  If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces.  The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.

Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle.  Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP.  Welcome to the big league, rookies.

Visit crash.net  for practice times.

 

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Results

November 13, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo ends his tenure with Yamaha in style 

Heading into the finale of the 2016 season, the atmosphere in Valencia was mostly celebratory.  The title had been decided, the silly season was well over, and most of the riders were competing for pride alone.  The Ricardo Tormo circuit here is one of the top venues in this sport, loved by the Spanish riders and most of the others, too.  Bragging rights during the offseason are nice and all, but pale in comparison to a season finale with a title on the line such as we saw in 2013 and last year. 

During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday one got the feeling that this one would boil down to a duel between Honda world champion Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, who is defecting to the factory Ducati team after nine years and three titles with Big Blue.  Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.

In the end, it didn’t rain.  El Gato fished his wish, while Marquez had to be satisfied with simply being king of the moto racing world.  Jorge won the race, Marquez won the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating (like he had just won another world championship), and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he was crashing Lorenzo’s party.  The third rider on the podium, Andrea Iannone, did nothing maniacal and sacked up with a t-shirt thanking Ducati for allowing him to break so many expensive motorcycles before getting shunted off to the Suzuki team for next year.

Jorge Lorenzo and Q2 on Saturday 

Having been out of town all weekend, I was finally able to locate an internet connection in northern Arizona and catch Q2 late Saturday night.  It may have been the most interesting 15 minutes of the weekend.  Watching it, one inferred that Lorenzo was determined to start the race from pole.

After his out lap, he set a new track record with the first lap ever by a motorcycle under 1:30 in the history of the track.  He pitted, changed his front tire, got up to speed on his second out lap and proceeded to set a second track record before heading back to the pits.  Again, his crew put new rubber on his M-1 and sent him back out.  Again, after his out lap he set a third track record, claimed pole, and sent a message to the grid:  Kindly stay the hell out of my way tomorrow or my crew and I will convert you to a grease spot on the tarmac.  Marquez and Rossi made up the rest of the front row, to the dismay of riders who had been entertaining visions of becoming the 10th rider to win a race this season.

Lorenzo vs. Marquez on Sunday 

Though Marquez and Suzuki wonderkid Maverick Vinales were quickest in the morning warmup, while the factory Yamahas loitered in sixth and seventh, very few people could have been thinking this wasn’t going to feature the winners of the last four premier class titles battling hammer and tongs all day Sunday.

The race was over in ten seconds.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo, taking the hole shot, appeared to have been launched from a cannon, while Marquez, fighting inertia, gravity and a number of other laws of physics, found himself buried in the vicinity of sixth or seventh place in the first few turns, at a narrow, tight track that makes overtaking difficult.  At the same time, Andrea Iannone materialized on Lorenzo’s back wheel, after having started seventh.  The lead group formed up quickly, comprised of Lorenzo, Iannone, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, making a cameo after his seventh (!) collarbone surgery a month ago.

True, there was a bunch of jockeying around all over the track, but in terms of material effect there were basically three “events” today.  First, Lorenzo got away and started laying down a series of 1:31 laps, riding on rails, the old Jorge back and in charge.  The second occurred on Lap 19, when Marquez finally got past Rossi into second place, Rossi tuckered out from spending the entire afternoon jousting with Iannone.  The third took place on Lap 29 when Iannone, who appeared to be out of energy and rubber several laps earlier, went through on Rossi, pushing The Doctor off the podium.

It should be noted that Marquez was chasing down Lorenzo over the last four or five laps, closing the gap from over five seconds to under two seconds.  Had the race lasted another two or three laps, there is no doubt here that Marquez would have won and avoided the aforementioned awkward podium celebration.  The hard front tire Marquez had chosen appeared to have a lot more life left in it than Lorenzo’s medium, which appeared to be shedding in some super slo-mo shots late in the race.  Just sayin’.

Bits and Pieces 

Cal Crutchlow, seemingly everyone’s favorite rider, took advantage of Dani Pedrosa’s crash on Lap 7 (which opened the door for a sixth-place finish for the year) by sliding off on Lap 17, apparently not wishing to kick a swarthy, diminutive Spanish rider when he’s down.  And Jack Miller, seemingly everyone’s second-favorite rider, finished 15th and earned yet another point.  Thanks to both for not messing with my assertion that neither is an Alien-class rider.

Mika Kallio rode his KTM machine well for much of the day before retiring with electronics issues.  Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro look to have a long year in store for themselves in 2017, but I, for one, expect KTM to make great strides in the next few years.  Despite being a low budget operation in MotoGP, they have that German engineering thing working for themselves; a little early success next year would be great.  Most folks are dazzled by the progress shown by Suzuki over the past two seasons.  KTM (and Aprilia) will benefit from the concessions available to non-race winning brands.  Assuming they can manage the finances, it would be great to have five or six competitive constructors filling the grid in a few years.

Today’s win put a halt to the disturbing victory drought that has haunted Lin Jarvis since Catalunya.  Losing Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati is bad, true, but gaining Maverick Vinales, The Next Great Rider, is good.  Better, perhaps, given the eight-year difference in their ages.

Happy Trails to You

The most interesting season in recent memory is now history.  More than half of the top riders will be on new equipment starting Tuesday, which supports my contention that next year’s title fight will be primarily between Rossi and Marquez.  I spent the last few days driving a rented Ford Expedition around Arizona and can assure any of you still reading that I would have been faster and more comfortable in one of my own smaller, slower, more familiar cars.  One must assume that the same is true in grand prix motorcycle racing.

We end the 2016 campaign the same way we end every campaign, by disinterring some dusty chestnut of a quote that captures the essence of the season in a few words.  This seemed appropriate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

                                                             –Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For young Marc Marquez, five-time world champion at age 23, the clear, ringing answer is, “Kicking their butts all over the playground.  Dominating their sport, living their dreams.  And waiting for my beard to come in, so I can look more badass, like Hector Barbera.”  Perhaps this is not the response Dr. King sought, back in the day.  It is, however, The Truth.

See you next spring.


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