Posts Tagged ‘Grand Prix of Argentina’

MotoGP Rio Hondo Preview

March 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen

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

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

It’s Marquez Time. Again. 

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

Recent History at Rio Hondo 

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

Blah blah blah.

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

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

Stories from the Past Fortnight 

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

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

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

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

The Appeal Continues

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

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

Vinales’ Stunning Revelation

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

I will update the weather during the week.

Greatest of All Time

April 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez Valencia 2017b

Discussions of who is the greatest whatever of all time are usually tiresome affairs, made up of people who possess one or two indelible facts or impressions they then use to bludgeon any other arguments to pieces. This fruitless argument becomes more fruitless each year, as records and riders extend back to bygone eras where virtually nothing was the same as it is now, as regards machinery. It’s not just moto racing, it’s any sport.

It’s the usual problem with “of all time” comparisons. The historical context is everything. We humans, with our small brains and limited attention spans, both of which are generally focused on sex, don’t have the bandwidth to try to fully understand the competitive conditions extant, say, in the 1960s and 1970s when Giacamo Agostini was winning titles, lapping the field.

We have a hard time getting fully engorged by Angel Nieto, who won all those titles, mostly in the 70’s, on 80cc and 125cc bikes. We look at Rossi with his nine, seven in the premier class, and shake our heads, certain it would have been higher had he not reigned during the nascence of The Alien Class of riders, any number of whom will have their own claim to Hall of Fame stature in the years to come. Stoner. Lorenzo. Marquez.

Inevitably, we run into old school types like Matt Oxley or Kevin Schwantz who criticize the electronics in today’s bikes, making them sound like video games, over-powered and over-engineered pocket rockets that can practically ride themselves. This, I believe, is where the “of all time” argument gets complicated. I believe the video game aspect of today’s bikes is an extra layer of difficulty the riders from the 20th century didn’t have to deal with.

Here’s what I think. I think Marc Marquez, arguably the best rider of the current decade, could adjust to the bikes going back to the 1970s with little trouble , especially given his dirt-track riding style. The idea of taking a Wayne Rainey or a Mick Doohan out there, putting them on a 2018 MotoGP bike and saying, “Take it away!” is laughable. They wouldn’t be able to get out of pit lane. I think Marquez, on the other hand, is strong enough to enjoy racing the 500cc two-strokes.

There. In order to discuss the greatest of all time in MotoGP, you have to examine the context. In order to level the playing field, one must account for the difference in the machinery, which can only be done by some crude indexing. For instance, whereas Giacomo Agostini rated 98% on the 350cc MotoGP bike, he would rate only, say, 40% on today’s Yamaha M1. Rossi or Marquez, on the other hand, are up in the 90’s on the MotoGP bike and could get well up into the 80’s in a day or two on  the 350.

Marquez has the fundamental, intuitive balance and reflexes of a great rider. He also has the full array of video game skills and a powerful frame. He is the complete package.

Given the genesis of MotoGP, the impossible speeds and lean angles and the increasingly complicated electronics, I would vote for Marquez, presuming his career maintains its current arc, as the GOAT. If he can win three or four more titles in the next five years, he will be The Man. He’s facing the same problem Rossi faced starting in 2010–a new generation of riders. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Alex Rins. A rejuvenated Andrea Dovizioso. A bunch of fast movers in Moto2 anxious for factory rides in MotoGP beginning next year. Names like Bagnaia, Baldassarri, Mir and Fenati.

To me, it feels like we’re watching something special during what will be referred to as The Marquez Years. I pray it ends someday in triumph, on his terms, fully intact and ready for the next phase in his remarkable story.

Lorenzo - Marquez

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

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

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

Rossi seizes the day, extends championship lead

April 19, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Rio Hondo Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The second Grand Prix de la República Argentina of the modern era started out as a parade and ended with everyone—riders, fans, announcers—gasping for air, going mad over the events on Lap 24. Defending world champion and Honda poster boy Marc Marquez would have, could have and should have won this race. But two errors on his part, combined with one of Valentino Rossi’s finest hours, spelled disaster for the young Catalan, who now sits squarely behind the eight ball heading to Jerez.

AleixResults of the practice sessions on Friday looked as though Carmelo Ezpeleta had drawn the names out of a hat. FP1 included Suzuki #1 Aleix Espargaro 1st, Pramac Racing homeboy (sort of) Yonny Hernandez 4th, Avintia Racing’s hapless Mike di Meglio 8th, and Marquez 10th, sandwiched between non-contenders Alvaro Bautista and Jack Miller. The factory Yamaha contingent featured Rossi in 14th and Jorge Lorenzo 20th. FP2 was closer to form, ignoring Rossi loitering in 9th place.

By Saturday afternoon, things were mostly squared away. Marquez qualified on pole, with my boy Aleix 2nd (Suzuki’s first front row qualifying run since Loris Capirossi at Mugello in 2009) and factory Ducati #2 Andrea Iannone edging CWM LCR Honda hothead Cal Crutchlow for 3rd place. Lorenzo could manage only 5th place, while Rossi would qualify 8th; more about that later.

Marquez Leads the Parade for 11 Laps

Yonny on fire

At the start, Marquez jumped out to the early lead, which grew to over four seconds midway through the race. Crutchlow, feeling his oats in his first visit to Rio Hondo, led the trailing group, followed by the two factory Ducatis and the factory Yamahas. Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 6. Moments later, Pramac’s Hernandez was on fire, literally, the Colombian’s bike spewing flames until Yonny, suddenly aware that he was “doing a Zarco”, pulled off-track and ran away before the inevitable explosion, which failed to materialize as the marshals assailed the inferno with half a dozen fire extinguishers. Anyone in the market for a used Ducati?

By Lap 9, Lorenzo had fallen off the pace, his 2015 season starting to resemble the debacle he experienced during the first half of 2014. In quick succession, Rossi, his fuel load having dropped, went through on Iannone in Lap 9, spanked Crutchlow on Lap 10, and disposed of Dovizioso on Lap 11, emerging in second place, over four seconds behind Marquez. It was at about that time that many of us, presumably including Marquez, realized the first of his two mistakes today: he had abandoned the extra hard rear tire for the softer option after the first sighting lap. Rossi had stuck with his original choice of the harder option, a decision which would prove crucial as the race progressed.

Suddenly, It’s a Race

I quit taking notes on Lap 14, and instead jotted down the gap between Marquez and Rossi, as follows:

Lap 14 4.1 seconds Rossi
Lap 15 3.7
Lap 16 3.5
Lap 17 3.0
Lap 18 3.1
Lap 19 2.3
Lap 20 2.0
Lap 21 1.2
Lap 22 1.15
Lap 23 0.4

Things came together, in more ways than one, on Lap 24. Rossi appeared rock solid, breathing down Marquez’s neck. Marquez’s rear tire appeared made of Crisco, as he was sliding all over the place, both tires adrift in the corners. The riders exchanged places twice, leaving Rossi in the lead by a nose. In the middle of turn five the two touched, to no one’s surprise, Marquez dropping back ever so slightly. But at the exit of turn five, they came together again hard, Rossi in front and on the line, the front of Marquez’ Honda folding up, leading to a fast lowside, bike and rider sliding 50 yards into the grass. Race Direction looked at the incident for a full 20 seconds before declaring no foul. End of story.

Marquez’ second mistake? Realizing that Rossi had the pace, and being too stubborn, too willful to allow him through and settle for second place and the 20 points that would have accompanied it. Yes, he has the heart of a champion, and two world titles to show for it. Yes, his lizard brain was fully in charge at that moment. But he needs to understand that he cannot win every race, even those that appear to be his for the taking. Instead, he now trails the fully rejuvenated Rossi by 30 points. Hell, he even trails the toasted Jorge Lorenzo, not to mention both factory Ducatis. He has put himself in a bad place, with no one to blame but himself.

As promised, here’s a quick question for Rossi fans. What do today’s race, the 2015 season opener at Qatar and Phillip Island 2014 all have in common? In all three, Rossi qualified 8th and won the race. For Vale, his career has reached the point where his starting position on the grid is essentially irrelevant. With the right tires and the right setup, one thinks he can win from anywhere on the grid. At age 36, he may be as strong as he’s ever been. He has surpassed Lorenzo as the #1 rider on the Yamaha team, and he may eclipse Marquez as the 2015 world champion. Dude is tougher than a two dollar steak.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The Espargaro brothers had an interesting day. Aleix, on the factory Suzuki, started from the middle of the first row. Pol, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, started from the outside of row six. Aleix managed to finish 7th, three seconds in front of his brother in 8th.

crutchlow and millerThe CWM LCR Honda team enjoyed a successful day, with Crutchlow’s prototype pipping Iannone at the flag for third place, while Jack Miller, on the production version, finished 13th to take the top open classification award for the day, what I like to think of as the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award.

What I can’t figure out is why Cal always seems to be pissed at someone. He can pretty much be counted upon to complain about something or someone at every single round. Yesterday, he was honked at Jorge Lorenzo (a double premier class world champion) and/or Maverick Vinales for preventing him from qualifying on the pole. As if. Today, given Marquez’ ill fortune, he lucks into the last step on the podium on a day he would normally finish fifth. During the obligatory post-race interview with Dylan Gray, he goes all ungracious, thanking “all the people that wrote me off” for the win. For a guy who makes millions of dollars doing something he loves to do, he has a very unbecoming supersized chip on his shoulder. Today’s majestic, awe-inspiring triumph rocketed him up from 7th place coming into the weekend all the way up to 6th. I, for one, am blown away.

From where I sit, Crutchlow ran a good race. On a factory spec Honda, he should.

On the Horizon: Jerez

Among other things, Marc Marquez needs some home cooking. He’ll get it in two weeks at Jerez, where he will need to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone, put himself in third place for the season, and start chipping away at Dovizioso and Rossi. Last year he dealt with the pressure of reeling off 10 consecutive wins to start the season. This year, he has a different kind of pressure to deal with. This year we’ll see what he’s made of.