Posts Tagged ‘Honda’

MotoGP 2021 Round 4: Jerez

May 2, 2021

© Bruce Allen May 2, 2021

Fabulous Fabio leads a crowded group of young riders as the flying circus lands in Spain for the first of four (4) 2021 visits. Much of the pre-race talk, in my kitchen, in my head, centered on Yamaha and their riders, their plans for the future, and their prospects for the present, heading into the shank of the schedule.

1        Fabio QUARTARARO     Yamaha          FRA   61

2        Pecco BAGNAIA             Ducati          ITA    46

3        Maverick VIÑALES        Yamaha          SPA   41

4        Johann ZARCO               Ducati          FRA   40

5        Joan MIR                       Suzuki          SPA   38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO         Aprilia          SPA   25

7        Alex RINS                      Suzuki          SPA   23

8        Brad BINDER                 KTM             RSA   21

Any of the top eight would see his early season position scrambled by simply sliding out of a corner somewhere. At this point, it seems both Quartararo and Bagnaia have found their respective and considerable mojos. For the Yamaha racing project, one can find both good news and bad news lying around, depending on the date and location. Maverick was hot in Round 1, Fabio in 2&3. Frankie Morbidelli is experiencing a string of mechanical issues not seen since the CRT days. And poor Valentino Rossi, stuck with a bunch of unwanted SRT #46 gear, has seen his carefully-constructed edifice, that of the 21st century motorsports Renaissance Man, begin to crumble around the edges.

The latest speculation has Yamaha kicking him from rider to owner next season. The question then becomes–for which factory? Will the suits in Hamamatsu remove the Malaysian money from their satellite team in favor of Saudi money, with VR46 his damned self calling the shots? On the other hand, were Rossi to assume ownership of the Avintia Ducati team, he would have two fast young academy grads in the stable, his half-brother Luca Marini and Enea the Beast Bastianini.

For a new team owner with deep pockets, it is probably more difficult to find talented riders than a manufacturer ready, willing and able to provide competitive machines and crews. Rossi is a Morbidelli fan, so he would only have to find one rider for a VR46 MotoGP team. If I were Rossi, inheriting a Yamaha team with Morbidelli, I would snatch (lol) young Pedro Acosta from Moto3 and put him on an old bike for a year or two. Yes, young Pedro is Spanish, a character defect in Rossi’s view. But the boy has unearthly speed and a high racing IQ. In a world in which many of us try to identify The Next Great Rider, the next Marc Marquez, Pedro Acosta could be the guy. Not Fabio, not Mir, not Miller. Pecco Bagnaia—too soon to say. He’s finally getting with the program, with a riding style similar to Jorge Lorenzo. I’m losing interest in Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales. Rookie Jorge Martin, who seems completely likeable, impresses me as the new Black Knight of Monty Phython fame, who will spend much of his career on the injured list in search of wins, replacing Cal Crutchlow in that role.

Friday in Jerez

Marc Marquez managed P3 in FP1, removing any doubt that he is fit to race. He then took it on the chin at Turn 7 in FP2 with a heavy high side, putting him in the midst of Q1, same as in Portimao, shaken, not stirred. The chase in FP3 would also include Miller, Mir and Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez and, inevitably, Valentino Rossi, looking fully washed up. Aleix Espargaro appeared to have something going on with his Aprilia in P3 after two sessions.

Saturday

The ‘haves’, after FP3. Notice Aleix and Bradl. Nakagami, but no Pol, slowest of the five Hondas. Marc Marquez tested his repaired arm with an impressive high-side at Turn 7. Declared fit (read: still ambulatory).

The ‘have-nots’. Jack Miller missed by a hundredth. Bummer, dude.

During FP4, Frankie Morbidelli got sideways with Race Direction and got shoved back into Q1, elevating Jack Miller to Q2, to his immense relief. Hondas and Suzukis and Aprilias were flying off the track at a formidable pace during P4, #93 sitting in P14.

Morbidelli dominated Q1, joined in his passage to Q2 by KTM’s rugged Brad Binder. Once there, however, Frankie made hay while the South African made squat. Ducatis and Yamahas occupied six of the top seven spots in Q2, with a front row of Quartararo, Morbidelli and Miller, fastest of the Italian contingent. Row 2 has Pecco, Nakagami and Zarco, for a little variety. Row 3 would feature the shifty Vinales, Aleix and Alex Rins, with Joan Mir, Binder and wildcard Stefan Bradl completing the top twelve. The Suzukis, becoming notorious for their failure to launch, can at least see the front row this week.

Further down the order, in Mudville, the likes of Rossi, Pol, both Marquez brothers and Miguel Oliveira would start Sunday from the cheap seats, their seasons not going according to plan during this first quarter of 2021. Pol and Marc we get, due to Espargaro changing horses and Marquez bouncing slowly back from serious injury. Oliveira needs everything to go right at one of his friendly tracks; Rossi, it can now be said, stayed a year too long. The only real difference between his bike this year and his bike last year is the paint job. The other three Yamaha pilots are getting good returns from their rides. For Rossi, 2021 is The Last Hurrah.

In Moto2, the front row Sunday would be

1        87      Remy GARDNER             AUS          Red Bull KTM Ajo            

2        21      Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA          Federal Oil Gresini          

3        72      Marco BEZZECCHI         ITA       SKY Racing Team VR46

with Raul Fernandez, Sam Lowes and Xavi Vierge on Row 2. The championship is currently a three-man race between Gardner, Lowes and Fernandez.

After Q2 in Moto3, the best racing on the planet, it looked like this:

1        24      Tatsuki SUZUKI      JPN          SIC58 Squadra Corse      

2        52      Jeremy ALCOBA     SPA          Indonesian Racing Gresini

3        16      Andrea MIGNO       ITA          Rivacold Snipers Team    

4        2        Gabriel RODRIGO   ARG          Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3         

5        55      Romano FENATI     ITA          Sterilgarda Max Racing Team    

6        17      John MCPHEE         GBR          Petronas Sprinta Racing  

Runaway teenage freight train Pedro Acosta could manage no better than P13 in qualifying on Saturday. He does not appear to be someone who scares easily. He won from pit lane at Losail II. This, to me, on Saturday, appears to be no big deal. An annoyance, at worst. There are some hungry guys in front of him, who, thus far, have not caused him the slightest visible concern.

In all three classes, Sunday in Jerez held the promise of some classic competition.

Sunday

My boy rookie Pedro Acosta started the Moto3 race in P13 today and had to actually work to take the win, his third in four starts, aided by a brain fart from Dennis Oncu in the last turn which removed himself, Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder from contention and likely earned him a slap on the wrist in France. KTM has taken charge of Moto3, reflecting the enhanced resources available after the Austrian factory abandoned their works Moto2 program. Always good to see Romano Fenati on the podium, with young Jeremy Alcoba taking the third step. [I had written yesterday that Rossi should just hire Alcoba for his SKY VR46 MotoGP team now. Spent the entire race not wanting to have to re-write that part. As it turned out, nothing to worry about. Alien Under Construction.]

Moto2 doesn’t seem to have its usual luster this year. Perhaps it’s because the presence of so many Anglos—Dixon, Gardner, Lowes, Roberts—seems to lower the credibility of the division in a sport dominated, for 30 years by Latins. Rookie Raul Fernandez looks somewhat electric at times; certainly Steve and Matt get their P’s in a T on a consistent basis extolling Raul’s virtues. Sam Lowes has already failed in MotoGP; can’t think of anyone too excited about seeing him do so again. And I’m not convinced by Remy Gardner, as I take a dim view of nepotism in all its forms, the result, in part, of having grown up an only child with a non-entrepreneurial father.

Anyway, Moto2 offered a wire-to-wire procession led by Fabio de Giannantonio, Bezzechi taking P2 and Sam Lowes bouncing back to P3. For the year, Gardner leads with 69 points, followed by Lowes at 66, Fernandez 63, Bezzechi 56 and di Giannantonio 52. A somewhat dull race has produced a tight championship, which I’ll take anytime.

I still think what I thought in 2012—the Italian national anthem sounds like a drinking song.

As MotoGP began warming up, I joined fans everywhere wondering whether anyone had it in them to beat Fabio Quartararo. He loves him some Jerez, having taken pole the last four times out and winning there twice last year. Let’s be clear—there are many who have conceded today’s race to the Frenchman.

The MotoGP Race

Today’s race started out like a Yamaha clambake and ended as a Ducati dunk-fest. Jack Miller won his first race for Ducati and his own first dry race, not to mention Ducati’s first win at Jerez since, like, The Ice Age. With teammate Pecco Bagnaia, The Next Great Ducati Rider, claiming second ahead of Frankie Morbidelli’s Yamaha, it was a Ducati one-two, their first win of the year coming at a track described by Danilo Petrucci thusly:”If you’re fast at Jerez you can be fast anywhere.”

We don’t yet know around here what happened to Fabio Quartararo who, on Lap 6, my notes showed “clearing out.” But from there he was overtaken by Miller on Lap 16 and continued his descent to a P13 finish. I will wager that it is arm pump and that he will need surgery and will return in time for Le Mans.

LRC Honda rep Takaa Nakagami pulled everything together for an encouraging P4. Ahead of Mir and Aleix Espargaro, making the Aprilia look good. Vinales, Zarco, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro completed the top ten, another gritty performance from Marquez. Around Lap 20 it appeared Bagnaia had a notion about going after Miller, after which his screen flashed “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” P2 at Jerez, for Ducati, is nothing to sneeze at, ignoring the whole Marquez asterisk* thing.

Funny, other than a cameo at Jerez last year, the last time Marquez was racing in anger he was up against guys named Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Rossi and Iannone. Now, he’s having to get himself together going up against Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Miller, Mir, Quartararo and more. Real competition from the KTMs and Aprilias of the world. The past year has brought a lot of change to MotoGP, and Marquez had to sit out almost all of it. The new bunch is young, strong and fast. Other than Rossi, who is now embarrassing himself, there are no riders out there just because they have sponsor money. Most of these guys can compete for top tens. And Moto2 and Moto3 are lousy with great young riders, some of whom are teenagers.

After four rounds in MotoGP, Bagnaia leads Quartararo by two points, 66-64. Then comes Vinales with 50, Mir with 49, and Zarco with 48, followed by Miller with 39, Aleix with 35 and Morbidelli with 33. Rins sneaks into the top ten with 23 points and a crashing headache, suffered at both Portimao and Jerez. Binder completes it with 21. Fans of Marc Marquez should be happy he doesn’t compete in Moto3, where 16-year old rookie phenom Pedro Acosta has already accumulated 95 points. As it is, Marquez trails Bagnaia by a mere 50 points. I think it would be hard to find many thoughtful people in the paddock who believe the title chase is over for Marquez for the year.

So, to recap. There is, at present, one viable contestant in Moto3, three in Moto2, and two in MotoGP. Surprising, isn’t it, how the best racing still takes place in Moto3. That everyone in Moto3 at Jerez knows that something wild is going to happen in Turn 13 on the last lap of the race. It did again today. Personally, I hope Pedro Acosta is The Next Great Rider and that he and Marquez get to go one-on-one while Marquez still has it. 12 year age difference. Marquez wearing, as always, Repsol Honda colors, while Acosta is wearing SKY VR46 Yamaha colors. That would be a season for the ages,

As for the season we’ve got, I’m loving it so far. Loving that it’s so wide open in MotoGP, loving that it’s regressing to the mean, ethnically, with Spanish and Italian riders re-asserting themselves in Moto2, and loving that a star has been born in Moto3, the first guy to have ‘can’t miss’ written all over him since Marc Marquez.

Two weeks to Le Mans where, if it doesn’t rain for three days straight, one feels lucky.

                                         Marquez warming things up in Jerez.

MotoGP After Round 3: Portimao

April 22, 2021

© Bruce Allen    April 22, 2021

In which we engage in some casual tranching and try to put the 2021 season, thus far, in something approaching perspective. With a nod to both Moto2 and Moto3.

Back in March, had I wagered that, after three rounds, none of the following riders would be found in the top ten, I expect I could have found some takers:

Frankie M

Thriller Miller

Pol Espargaro (?)

Takaa Nakagami

Miguel Oliveira and, of all people,

Valentino Rossi

And here we are, with The New Young Guns clearly running things in the top ten, other than what are likely to be temporary appearances by Johann Zarco and Aleix. The inmates done taken over the asylum. As predicted by most of you, back in 2018-2019.

But what about this lot? NONE of them in the top ten after three? What’s to say about them? Frankie has had mechanical issues for the first 10% of the season? How can Yamaha allow that to happen? Jack, the latest version of Marco Simoncelli, is so elated to be fast that he has become a hazard to himself and those around him. This is not to say that he is heading for disaster. It means he needs to assert his will on the Desmo, the way his teammate Pecco has. He trails #20 by 47 points; all is not lost.

Zarco (P4, 40 pts) and Rins (P7, 23 pts) seem to have trouble dealing with success. Also qualifying, as Rins has been on the front row in something like 6 of 66 races. Zarco could have been top three had he not slid out; same with Rins. There is no noticeable improvement in the 2021 Suzuki vs. the 2020 version; it will take a helluva rider, a Joan Mir, to coax enough points out of his Gixxer to give #20 and #93 a beating. Zarco has only himself to blame, having come into the race with two silver medals from Qatar, which he has since had bronzed for posterity.

The two Honda pilots, Espargaro and Nakagami, are on the outside looking in for different reasons. Espargaro, because he’s still trying to get the hang of the RC213V. Nakagami had a dreadful two rounds in Qatar before suffering a heavy crash in practice at Portimao and is currently being held together by duct tape and clarinet reeds. His star should begin ascending again in Jerez.

Miguel Oliveira won last year’s final race, in Portugal, leading me to expect more from him in 2021. The tire issues plaguing the entire KTM project have caught him as well. And Valentino, The Doctor, sporting four points for the season. He looks bad, having problems none of the other Yamaha riders are experiencing. There can be little doubt he should have taken his victory lap last year and called it a career. This is hard to watch.

Despite a win and a P5 in the desert, Maverick Vinales’ P11 at Portimao seemed inevitable. With all the potential in the world, young Vinales is so terribly inconsistent. This is not a characteristic often found in world champions. A female reader of this column has observed, that if #12 were here boyfriend she would have dumped him in 2019. The editorial team here has predicted that he will not spend his entire racing career with Yamaha.

Aleix Espargaro has a mediocre Aprilia beneath him this season, which is a large step up from what he’s been riding most of his career. He appears able to put himself in the top ten for the year, but it will be uphill all the way. I’d like to see what he could do on Vinales’ bike.

Brad Binder has been the consummate team player thus far, sharing with all three other KTM riders his considerable front tire problems.

The three riders as yet unmentioned in the top ten include Alien-in-Waiting Pecco Bagnaia, who seems to have come into his own after two seasons of underachieving in on the Ducati. The two rookies, Enea Bastianini in P9 and Jorge Martin in P10, have looked good and great, other than Martin having put himself in the hospital and out of Rounds 3 and 4 with a big high-side in practice in Portugal. He will, accordingly, drop out of the top ten in Jerez, which is okay, because dude has major stones and a bright future in MotoGP.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro, Bagnaia

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Vinales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

Moto2 After 3 Rounds

After sailing home with wins in the opening rounds in Qatar, Sam Lowes reverted to form by crashing out at Portimao at Turn 1 of Lap 1, hence crashing into P3 for the season, in a tight three-man contest with Aussie Remy Gardner and rookie Raul Fernandez, who, according to announcers Matt and Steve, is the Next Next Great Rider. American Joe Roberts was hip-checked out of a second career podium at Portimao in the last turn by Gardner and/or Aron Canet—couldn’t see well—putting him in P7 for the season. American rookie Cameron Beaubier finished the race in a respectable P9, sitting in P12 for the year.

There appear to be perhaps eight or ten competitive riders in Moto2 this year. I would expect one of the top three to claim the title. Of the three, it looks to me like Fernandez is the only one to have a legitimate shot at a promotion to MotoGP in the immediate future. Lowes has been there, done that, while Gardner does not seem to be the second coming of either his dad or Casey Stoner.

Moto3 After 3 Rounds

Remember this name: Pedro Acosta. The insouciant rookie appears to have been born to race motorcycles. He entered his racing career before he entered puberty, racing at Estoril in 2018 at age 13. He double dipped last season, running in both the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship (P3 for the year) and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, which he won. Out of a combined 23 races, he finished first nine times, and was on the podium another eight times. Marquez-caliber numbers. He has earned 70 of a possible 75 points thus far this year in Moto3, making a number of grizzled veteran riders look, well, silly in the process. Dude is 16 years old as we speak.

I could speculate that Jaume Masia or maybe Darryn Binder could offer Acosta a run for his money later in the year, but I don’t believe it. I believe Acosta will be in MotoGP in two years and that he stands a good chance of being the man to shoot Marc Marquez out of his saddle within two years after that. I’m impressed.

MotoGP 2020 Portimao Season Finale

November 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen        November 22, 2020

Arenas and Bastianini join Mir as World Champions

On a sun-drenched day straight out of a travel magazine, in southern Portugal, Albert Arenas snagged his first, and last, Moto3 championship, edging Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino, as it were, his P12 finish just good enough for the title. In Moto2, series winner #BeastMode watched from P5 as a great race unfolded between Remy Gardner, Luca Marini and Sam Lowes and ended with him being handed the 2020 trophy despite a conservative P5 finish.

In MotoGP, homeboy Miguel Oliveira won today’s battle, while 2020 champion Joan Mir retired with a mechanical and no worries, having clinched the title last time out. To have two world championships decided on the same day, with only a handful of points separating the top three finalists in each class, well, it just doesn’t get much better than this in racing.

Estoril vs. Portimao

Screenshot (249)  Screenshot (248)

The two Portuguese tracks aren’t that different in layout. Portimao has the beautiful variations in topography, while Estoril has created so many memories over the years. Say the word “2006” to a MotoGP fan and he will, if his consciousness is sufficiently elevated, automatically think of Estoril. Pedrosa and Hayden. One thing they have in common is a long main straight ending in a difficult Turn 1, Estoril’s being somewhat more acute than Portimao. Watch Turn 1 in all three races, see if somebody doesn’t exit the premises.

Friday

FP1—What does it say about a track when it appears to be Aprilia-friendly? Aprilia in P3 (Aleix) and P4 (Savadori). WTF.

The rumor that Yank Joe Roberts could inherit Andrea Iannone’s seat with Aprilia after fellow Moto2 fast mover Marco Bezzecchi allegedly turned them down is tantalizing. An American in the premier class. The last to toil so was Ben Spies, a bit of a flash in the pan, and unlucky to boot, back in 2015. I hope Joe gets the shot and that he can carve a successful career out of motorcycle racing.

Saturday

MotoGP FP3 did its job on Saturday morning, separating the goats from the lambs. Four of the riders in the money on Friday were out of the money on Saturday, including Aleix, Binder, world champion Mir and top three battler Franco Morbidelli. Of the four, Q1 will be the most pressing for Morbidelli, locked in a cage match with Alex Rins for P2 for the year, leading by four but now having to make it through Q1 to get close to Rins on the grid. On a tight, windy course like Algarve, getting out front would be important, especially for the Yamahas, which do not like heavy traffic. It was mostly usual suspects in Q2 other than Stefan Bradl, who put Marc Marquez’ RC213V in P10. Homeboy Miguel Oliveira put himself in Q2 late in the session, looking froggy, like he might want to jump.

After an invigorating Q1, which saw sentimental favorite Cal Crutchlow join Fast Frankie Morbidelli en route to Q2, Saturday’s main event was typically engaging. Yamahas under Morbidelli, Quartararo and even Maverick spent brief periods on pole, with Morbidelli sitting on it for 10 minutes of the 15-minute session. But low and behold, in what Dad used to refer to as the nickel of time, homeboy Miguel Oliveira threw down a 1:38.892 to steal pole from Morbidelli, with Jack Miller completing the front row. A bit of significant weirdness found Stefan Bradl starting from P6 and Alex Rins from P10. Rins, one of the riders with skin in the game on Sunday, has his work cut out for him on this twisty, up-and-down track. Not even an afterthought—his name was called perhaps once during Q1—was Valentino Rossi, starting from P17, thousands of fans across the globe wishing he would just walk away from the Petronas SRT next season and get started on Chapter 2. For Methuselah, Chapter 1 is ending poorly.

These days, The Doctor is Just Another Rider.

Race Day

Moto3: Runaway Raul Rules Portugal; Arenas Enjoys Ice Cream Sunday

Late-season sensation Raul Fernandez went wire-to-wire today to win the Grand Prix of Portugal. A better start to the season would certainly have allowed him to challenge for the title. But a win is a win.

Of the top four finishers today, none had anything to do with the championship being contested. Of those contenders, Tiger Tony Arbolino had arguably the best day, starting from P27 (yeah, I know, right?) and climbing all the way to P5 before running out of tire and energy. Ai Ogura, second when the day dawned and needing to beat Arenas, solidly, to win a title instead managed only an uninspired P8. All this on a day when Arenas was having problems, making mistakes, getting overtaken every time one turned around, and ending the day in P12, appearing mildly abashed accepting the world champion trophy on the podium later on.

Ain’t nobody care. Dude has his ticket punched to Moto2 next year, along with Ogura and Arbolino, so the fledgling rivalry can continue, although likely lower on the food chain. His Wikipedia page gets a nice update and upgrade. The ice cream thing with Arenas I don’t fully get, though it played a part in his post-race celebration. So that’s not a typo in the headline above.

Moto2: Remy Gardner Wins From Pole; #BeastMode Seizes 2020 Title

Always fun to watch a rider earn his first grand prix win, crying during the national anthem and all, and Australian Remy Gardner was no exception today, outracing, then dusting, championship contenders Luca Marini and Suffering Sam Lowes and helping Enea Bastianini clinch the 2020 Moto2 championship. Plenty of overtaking all over the board, in a race Sam Lowes, with his injured hand, would have sat out were he not in the thick of the chase. As things turned out, he finished in P3. The good news is that all four of his serious rivals are moving up to MotoGP next year and he should pretty much have the Moto2 field to himself.

Aside from Bastianini, Marini, Lowes, Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin completed the top five for 2020. Gardner, in P6 for 2020, will return, too. Perhaps we can watch a couple of Anglos fight for the title in 2021 for a change.

MotoGP: Oliveira Dominates Wire-to-Wire in Portugal; Mir Backs Into Title

Screenshot (247)

So the MotoGP race ended almost exactly the way KTM stud Miguel Oliveira hoped it would, and almost exactly NOT the way Suzuki world champion Joan Mir hoped it would. Oliveira, taking note of Raul Fernandez’ performance in the earlier Moto2 race, took the holeshot and won unchallenged, crushing the field. Confirming that KTM is no longer some stepsister, but a full-fledged member of MotoGP royalty, deserving of the respect that all except Aprilia receive. Meanwhile, Mir, who experienced electronics issues during Q1 and started from P20, had yet more bike trouble today, possibly as a result of a hip check he delivered to Pecco Bagnaia early in the race that left the young Italian with a dislocated shoulder.

Similar to last week, if one is willing to disregard Oliveira, was the joust today between Fast Frankie Morbidelli and Jack Miller. Once again, Miller dogged #21 for most of the second half of the race. Once again, Morbidelli prevailed, the only Yamaha rider to get anything at all from the M-1: Vinales P11, Rossi P12, Quartararo P14. Ugh. For the year, the final standings:

1        J Mir           

2        F Morbidelli           

3        A Rins         

4        A Dovizioso           

5        P Espargaro           

6        M Vinales              

7        J Miller                  

8        F Quartararo         

9        M Oliveira             

10      T Nakagami           

2020 in a Nutshell

When the cat’s away the mice will play,

and when they do, they should play hard.

Though this does not qualify as one of the more poetic sentiments enshrined here through the years, it most certainly applies to MotoGP 2020.

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

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

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

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

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

When Marc Marquez suffered what would become a season-ending injury during Jerez I, I had Mir in Tranche III, nowhere near Alien status. The unflappable Mallorcan saw an opening, one that literally might not occur again in the next five years and thought to seize it. He then went out and crashed in two of the first three races, Jerez I and Brno, with an off-podium finish in Jerez II to show for his efforts. 11 points in the first three rounds, Quartararo sitting on top, 48 points ahead. A good time to start thinking about next year. But after Brno, and despite a poor showing at LeMans in the wet, Mir was money. On or near the podium every time out. Quartararo and the Yamahas, other than Frankie Morbidelli, ran into problems during the season. Ducati had Miller and little else. KTM made some moves, but not enough to threaten anything. And Honda, without #93, was a shadow of its former self.

Any other year, a performance like Mir’s—one win all year—would have been plenty good enough for a solid P2 or P3. But this was the year that it could win him a title. Assuming Marquez returns next season—assuming there is a 2021 season—it is unrealistic for people to expect Mir to repeat. But he has assuredly earned his Alien Card, along with Fast Frankie and Thriller Miller. They and Marquez are the Alien Class for 2021. You heard it here first.

To my readers, both of you, thanks for following me again this year during what is becoming an increasingly challenging period. I miss the old days of deadlines and templates, but at least the racing itself was first-class this year. We will try to keep an eye on goings-on during the winter and look forward to returning in February. Peace and love to you all, and our best wishes for the Christmas season.

Local Color

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Gardner takes the lead from Marini in Moto2.


Screenshot (259)

Raul Fernandez ran away with things in the Moto3 race.


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Jack Miller, a bridesmaid once again.


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A preview of things to come later in the race.

MotoGP 2020 Valencia II Results

November 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen  November 15, 2020

Championship in Valencia a M1R Formality

Suzuki #1 Joan Mir, Mallorca’s new favorite son, clinched the 2020 MotoGP championship with a smart, low-risk P7 in Valencia, giving him a 29-point lead over challenger Franco Morbidelli heading to Portimao. Frankie and Jack Miller conducted a breathtaking duel over the final eight laps today, but the Italian, the only one of four Yamaha pilots able to get anything out of the M-1, held off the ‘plucky’ Australian for his third win of the season. Moto3 and Moto2 offered plenty of reasons to watch racing today, too. But, in the premier class, Joan Mir is the new New Kid in Town.

In both of the undercards today, the outcome was not assured until the final fractions of a second. And in both undercards, the season winner has not yet been determined, although it’s partially visible in Moto3 and pretty damned obvious in Moto2. The most hackneyed expression in sports—“On any given weekend, anything can happen”—applies here. Always happy to go against the grain, we’ll suggest that Albert Arenas and Enea Bastiannini will earn some new hardware next week.

MotoGP Practice and Qualifying

11/14/20

Friday was Friday, similar in feel to Valencia I, Miller on top of the combined sheets along with Nakagami, the Yamahas generally suffering. Zarco and “Pole” Espargaro nosing around. Saturday morning was a little strange—I missed some of it, the early part of Moto3 FP3, missed the beginning of MotoGP FP3. All I can say for certain is that it was raining at the end of the Moto3 FP3, then guys were assaulting the track record late in the MotoGP session. Must have been your basic passing shower. Quick-drying track, something.

Anyway, three riders made saving moves towards the end, as always happens, to skate their way directly into Q2, including championship leader Joan Mir, who had been dawdling in P12, KTM rising star Miguel Oliviera, P17 on Friday, and wiley old Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia. These promotions came at the expense of the under-motivated pair of exiting veterans, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, and, surprisingly, Alex Rins, sitting in P2 for the year, unable to climb into Q2. Odd. As was the performance of fabulous Fabio, who got close but no cigar and found himself in Q1 for the first time in 2020.

[Here’s my free-form take on Aleix at Valencia. The track is one on which the riders spend almost no time in 6th gear. I think the Aprilia can run with most of the contenders in the first five. At the long tracks they get hammered by everyone, but at the tight little buggers like Valencia they have a puncher’s chance of a podium. After the gruesome year Aleix has had, a podium in Spain late in the year would improve his mood for the whole winter. I will also remind readers that the last bike I owned was an 80cc Yamaha built some time in the early 1960’s. My opinions are mostly hallucinatory. They come to me early in the morning when most of you are just going to bed. They have no basis beyond simple observation. They invite criticism. Thankfully, most of you don’t take the time.]

The dreadfully-named silly season continues unabated, as Aprilia, very late in the game, finds themselves in need of a #2 rider for 2021 after Andrea Iannone got hammered flat by The Powers That Be, career over. The leading candidate, Marco Bezzecchi, would find life at once better and worse. The lifestyle of a factory MotoGP rider is presumably full of BDE whether one slogs for Aprilia or flies for Ducati. Going from competing for titles in Moto3 and Moto2 to gunning for top tens will take some getting used to, especially for the aggressive Italian. It would also reunite him with Jorge Martin, the rivalry continuing to grow, Aprilia vs. Ducati this time. Avintia goes young with Luca Marini and Enea Bastiannini. Aprilia grooming Bezzecchi to take over #1 when Aleix calls it a career or has it called for him. Too bad Aprilia let Gigi get away; they could have been a force.

Anyway, Brad Binder and Quartararo survived Q1 but entered Q2 with but a single soft rear each, which they rode for the entire session, a light rain coming down the entire time. Franco Morbidelli, the only one of the four Yamaha pilots with anything going on, secured pole late in the session after everyone except Mir had occupied P1 at some point during the session. He was joined by the ever-present Jack Miller and Suddenly Takaa Nakagami on the front row. Mir was unable to take advantage of teammate Rins’ face plant in Q1 into P14, as he ended Q2 in P12. Mir’s unconditional magic number is currently 14; if he finishes Sunday on the podium he will become the 2020 MotoGP world champion, regardless of what Rins or Quartararo does or doesn’t do. Mir’s poor showing in Q2 is, I suspect, a reflection of the fact that he had way more to lose than to gain by chasing a largely meaningless higher spot on the starting grid in less-than-ideal conditions.

Race Day

11/15/20

Today’s Moto3 race evolved in much the same way they all do, a group of X riders fighting at the front, any of whom could win on any given Sunday. Today X=3, as Raul Fernandez, Sergio Garcia and Tony Arbolino got up close and personal for most of the last half of the race. Fernandez, who had led early, came back to the two challengers mid-way through, and a merry chase through the Spanish countryside ensued. On Lap 22, Arbolino made a nifty move, going through on both of his rivals into the lead. All three riders jockeyed for position on the last lap, with Garcia, all of 17 years old, looking like he might pull it off. At the flag, though, it was 20-year old Italian Arbolino holding on for the win.

Combined with Albert Arenas’ P4 and Ai Ogura’s P8, the three combatants head to Portugal next week with Arenas at 170, Ogura at 162, and Arbolino at 159. I say we get rid of the other 30 or 40 Moto3 riders next week and just have a match race with these three. As we’ve said around here for years, “Let Portimao Decide.” Arenas (P4 today) is the rider under the most pressure, skeezing out at the prospect of kicking the championship away on the last day of the season.

Moto2 offered the best race of the day, measured in drama per lap over the last two laps. Under extreme pressure from #2 Jorge Martin, race leader Fabio di Giannantonio folded at Turn 6 on the last lap, turning what looked like a sure maiden win to ashes, from the penthouse to the outhouse in a split second. Martin, who missed two rounds due to Covid and is heading to MotoGP next year, seized the lead after looking tired mid-race (he was probably just saving his tires) and being pronounced Out Of It by Steve and Matt.

Mathematically, Portimao will decide Moto2 too. But Enea Bastiannini, his ticket to MotoGP next year already punched, takes a 14 point lead to Portugal, trailed by a seriously wounded Sam Lowes, who, his right hand looking like a boxing glove, managed P14 today, no doubt the most painful two points of his racing career. With the shaken, not stirred Lowes at 180, Luca Marini sits at 176 and Marco Bezzecchi, who lost nine points on the last lap today, fading from first to third, sports 171. Bastiannini need only finish P4 or better next week to guarantee his 2020 Moto2 title. He and Marini will team up on the Avintia Ducati team next year for a white-hot duo on the same bike Dovizioso, Petrucci and Miller have been riding this year. We won’t have Avintia Ducati to kick around much longer.

Alas, Portimao will not decide the MotoGP championship, as Suzuki NKIT Joan Mir did enough today to clinch on points, leading Yamaha’s Morbidelli by 29 points after today’s action. Morbidelli won a great eight-lap battle with Jack Miller to take the win, tying him with his teammate for most wins in 2020. Fabio Quartararo, the aforementioned teammate, crashed out on Lap 9, desperately chasing a title which appeared to be his for the taking early in the year. But the second half of the season has been miserable for Fabio, and he looks lost on the M-1. The fighting in Portugal next week in the premier class will be for second place, with Morbidelli holding a four-point advantage over Suzuki #2 (lol) Alex Rins. Maverick Vinales, Quartararo, Andrea Dovizioso and Pol Espargaro will slug it out for fourth, the four riders currently separated by only five points.

One Down, Two to Go

And so 2020 draws to a close next week at a track with which few of the riders are familiar. Good—levels the playing field. Mir’s title this year will always bear an asterisk, due to Marc Marquez missing the entire year due to injury. But next year promises to be exciting, with Marquez, Rins, Morbidelli, Miller, Rins, Quartararo and possibly one or two more keeping things tight at the top. I suspect the salad days for Marc Marquez are over, that the field has gained a step on him in his absence. We will say goodbye to 2020 next week after I scour World Literature for the ideal pithy quote to summarize what has been a great season of racing.

Moto3 will bring with it some real drama, while Moto2 will be sporting the synthetic variety. MotoGP will be a bit pro forma, but the fights for second and fourth places are significant in this sport. Perhaps this week we’ll take a shot at some tranching.

Another bit of weirdness brought about by the pandemic will be the absence of testing immediately upon the close of the season. Historically, after Valencia, the riders move to their new teams for the following season and enjoy a few days of ‘get acquainted’ time with their new teams and machines. Now, the next time the riders will get together won’t be until February. There will be a healthy number of rookies and transfer students made nervous by this cost-cutting measure, not knowing until well into 2021 whether they and their new million-dollar girlfriends get along. Definitely a first world problem.

Local Color

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Welcome to Joan Mir’s playground.

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We saw a lot of this towards the end of the MotoGP tilt.

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Whatever this is–local color of something.

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Mir and a greatly relieved Davide Brivio, team boss for Suzuki since 2015.

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Random bird, cleared for takeoff.

MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

No, not that Franco! Franco Morbidelli, the Italian motorcycle racer, who won today’s MotoGP race in Aragon in front of two Spanish riders on Suzuki machines, Alex Rins and Joan Mir. The title chase in MotoGP, usually over by this time of year, features a legit Top Four—two Suzukis, two Yamahas—separated by a mere 25 points with three rounds left. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP are all competitive heading into November. What was once just a weird year has become fascinating.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 and FP2 were generally about the Hondas, with three delegates in the top 6, led by Takaa Nakagami, my emotional favorite to become winner #9 in 11 rounds. Cal Crutchlow and his deposer Alex Marquez were quick. Vinales and Quartararo were fast for Yamaha, as expected. The surprise rider of the day was Tech 3 rookie Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona, who joined defector Pol Espargaro in the top 10. Pol’s older brother was in there, too, on the Aprilia; he finished in P7 here last year. There was no joy at Ducati Corse on Friday as all six Ducs were back markers. Different strokes for different folks—no denying the affinity of certain manufacturers for certain tracks. The Ducs and KTMs aren’t big fans of the Motorland.

  1. T Nakagami            Honda
  2. M Vinales               Yamaha
  3. C Crutchlow           Honda
  4. F. Quartararo         Yamaha
  5. J Mir                      Suzuki
  6. A Marquez              Honda
  7. A Rins                    Suzuki
  8. I Lecuona               KTM
  9. A Espargaro           Aprilia
  10. P Espargaro            KTM

Saturday

FP3, the Great Divide between coasting into Q2 and fighting for one’s life in Q1, featured few changes. Miguel Oliveira showed up, and Franco Morbidelli came up with the One Fast Lap he needed. The Espargaro brothers got bumped back into Q1. Joan Mir held on to P10 by the skin of his teeth, Jack Miller and Aleix breathing down his neck. Nakagami laid down a vapor trail early in the session, then sat around his garage waiting for someone, anyone, to beat it. Morbidelli found his acorn after the flag. It’s somewhat of a jolt to see the Hondas, with their top rider on the sidelines, making things look so easy.

HRC announced that Nakagami and Alex will be on full factory equipment starting next year, and Takaa signed a nice new contract, his near future assured. If he were 22 instead of 28 I’d stick a ‘prospective Alien’ label on him. But he could win a few races in the next several years as Honda seems to have upped its game of late. This, of course, puts more pressure on Pol Espargaro to impose his will on the RC213V next year. Career-wise, Espargaro must now keep track of both Nakagami and Marquez in his rear-view mirror.

Pol Espargaro and latecomer Johann Zarco graduated from Q1, with the Frenchman jumping up into P2 well after the flag. There ensued plenty of action in Q2, as the front row was a fluid thing until the bitter end. Takaa Nakagami eventually flogged his 2019 Honda to his first premier class pole, getting the better of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins for a unique front row; for Rins, it was only his third front row start in MotoGP ever. (!) The remainder of the first four rows, then, included:

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

          12 J Mir (yes, the series leader would start from the back of Row 4. Tsk tsk.)

MotoGP Race

It’s a safe bet that Alberto Puig, the Svengali of Honda Racing, entertained visions of having two of his pilots on the podium on Sunday afternoon. LCR pilot Nakagami had been on a tear all weekend, including the morning warm-up, was starting on pole and, according to the announcers, was the bookies’ favorite to win today, becoming the ninth different winner this year, and tying 2012 for the most winners. Rookie Alex Marquez, the younger brother of you-know-who, was coming off his first two career podiums and doing well in practice.

Puig’s fantasy came to an end 20 seconds into the race, when Nakagami, in his excitement at having taken the hole shot, forgot his cold tires weren’t going to hold his speed in Turn 4 and low-sided out of the race, continuing the futility of Japanese riders who haven’t won a premier class race since 2004. But Marquez, the only rider on the grid having chosen a hard front, was one his way up the chart from his P10 start, looking quick, taking advantage of an earlier mishap involving Brad Binder and Jack Miller. On Lap 6 he went through on Vinales into P5. A few laps later he took out the plucky Johann Zarco. By Lap 12, he was running fourth behind the unflappable Franco Morbidelli and the Suzuki tandem of Alex Rins, last week’s winner, and Joan Mir, the series leader.

The air came out of the remaining Honda balloon at Turn 2 of Lap 14, when he skidded out of the race, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t, in fact, his brother Marc. Until today, Nakagami and Marquez had been the only riders on the grid to have finished every race, with the Japanese rider having been in the points every time. Today, the law of averages caught up with both, and most people were disappointed, more, perhaps, by Takaa, less, because of the family name, by Marquez.

Once Alex went walky, the race became a procession. The Ducati contingent, aside from Zarco, suffered again. Andrea Dovizioso, standing fifth in the championship, has no business in the title conversation, finishing in P13, sitting fifth for the year, and heading for two races at Valencia, another track where the Ducatis suck. Aleix Espargaro endured another rather predictable Aprilia mechanical on Lap 20, removing him from P9 at the time. KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Zarco had a bit of a joust over the last few laps, with Zarco pimping the Portuguese rider at the flag. Almost overlooked, by me, was Pol Espargaro, who flogged his own KTM to a quiet P4 finish, missing out, by a mile, on his fourth podium of the year.

The late-season fade being experienced by Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, at least at Aragon, deserves mention. Vinales has now failed to podium in eight of his last nine outings. Quartararo has amassed 15 points in the last three rounds and lost more ground again today, trailing the ascendent Joan Mir and his Suzuki by 14 points. He led the Spanish rider by eight after Catalunya. Mir, on the other hand, has podiumed the last three times out, and is a threat to become the first rider in any class to win a title without having won a race since 1999 in the 125cc class. A really good MotoGP writer would go look up the name. Here, if you feel a need to know, you can look it up!

And so, with three rounds remaining, the top four premier class riders are separated by 25 points. Quartararo, sitting on his M-1 in P2, should enjoy Valencia, but his star has been waning of late. Mir, leading, and Rins in P3, on their quick and nimble GSX-RR machines, figure to be muy confident heading into the next two rounds. And Morbidelli now sits in P4 after residing in P11 as recently as Red Bull II. It appears, for the not-so-young Italian, that Jupiter may have finally aligned with Mars.

Errata

I will post Moto2 and Moto3 stuff on, say, Tuesday. I watched the races—Moto3 was its usual chaotic self, while Moto2 offered the rare parade that put Sam Lowes, of all people, in the lead for the year. Reluctant as I am to give many props to Sam, who for years has struck me as all hat and no cattle, I credit the inestimable Estrella Galicia team for making him a success this year. Those guys produce winners, even out of re-treads like Sam. I think it unlikely that Lowes will get another shot in MotoGP even if he titles in Moto2. Or perhaps he’s just vastly improved and I will have to eat these words.

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Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

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MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

MotoGP is, finally, becoming a team sport. One of the unwritten rules of grand prix motorcycle racing has always been First: Beat Your Teammate. Then think about where you might end up in the race. These are hyper-competitive world-class athletes—most of them—and they, um, respond to challenges like this. We hear so much talk about “team orders,” but rarely, if ever, see them issued. It got so bad at the factory Yamaha team with Lorenzo and Rossi that they had to build a wall down the center of the garage each round to keep the teams and riders from throwing down on each other.

In 2020, The Year of Weirdness, problems and issues seem more team-centric. With six manufacturers, we see multiple instances of, say, one of the satellite teams having a better go of it, most weeks, than the factory group of the same brand. The Repsol Honda team has different concerns than the LCR team. Ducati’s lead satellite team tends to outshine the factory pair. Some of this is reflected in the fact that we’ve had eight winners in ten races this season; in Marquez’s absence, the love is getting spread around. Take a fast look:

Yamaha—Their two best riders are on satellite bikes. That will be addressed, in part, next season as Dr. Rossi and Fabulous Fabio trade seats. Morbidelli’s star is rising, while Vinales’ is waning, owing to his demonstrated inability to get to the front at the start of races except when he’s on pole. Rear grip is a common issue among all four bikes, but Fabulous generally handles it better than the rest. There are engine limit issues with Vinales, too; I suspect he’s signed his last contract with Yamaha. Too many fast young riders who would sell their mothers to the Taliban for a chance to wear factory Yamaha colors, rear grip issues or no. Yamaha generally fixes stuff like this. And Rossi is gone after next season. Someone is going to catch a fine ride; for a number of riders, despite the fact that they’ll probably be losing to Marquez, they will be auditioning for the upcoming seat on the Petronas team beginning in 2022.

Honda—Their primary issue, that being the absence of the incandescent Marc Marquez with a broken arm, looks as though it may be addressed starting in Valencia. Even with little brother Alex breaking through in the wet at Le Mans and again in the dry at Aragon I, the RC213V is too hard for mere mortals to ride. Now that they’ve found all that horsepower they need to get the bike rideable again. Too bad they sent Dani Pedrosa packing; he could have helped, as he is doing a great job with KTM. Their rider situation is resolved beginning in 2021, presuming Marquez returns to his previous form and Pol Espargaro has time to learn how to wrestle the beast. With Alex Marquez and Takaa Nakagami repping for the satellite LCR team, they can turn their attention to smoothing out the power delivery of the RC.

Ducati—Their rider issues are sorted other than announcing the #2 seat on the Avintia team next year, with Tito Rabat having apparently seen the writing on the wall and allegedly asking out. Since Enea Bastianini has already announced his promotion from Moto2 to MotoGP next season with Ducati, this would not be big news. Bagnaia and Miller on the factory bikes, Zarco and Jorge Martin on the Pramacs, Bastianini and perhaps Luca Marini on the Avintias. What would stop Rossi from buying the Avintia team from Esponsorama or whomever in 2021, with his boys already under contract, and then working the Yamaha and Suzuki suits, the result being a SKY VR46 Racing team in MotoGP with two academy grads in the saddles in 2022? And not on year-old Ducati equipment.

The 2020 bike seems to have taken a step backward this year. I’m sure Gigi Dall’Igna is on it and will have another competitive Desmo on the grid again next year.

KTM—Having made great strides this year, they have assembled a high-quality group of riders for 2021 on a bike that is fast but still a little hard to turn. The company is sinking big dollars into the MotoGP project and will likely fix the agility issues, not like Suzuki has, but well enough to compete with everyone but Marquez going forward. With Oliveira and Binder on the A team and Lecuona and Petrucci on the B squad they should be in podium fights on a regular basis and on the top step at Red Bull Ring pretty much every year.

Suzuki—The boys from Hamamatsu have witnessed a changing of the guard this year as Alex Rins has gone from #1 to #2 in favor of NKIT Joan Mir, who sits second in the championship chase this season, his sophomore year in MotoGP.

Rins still has moments of greatness, but will probably end up chasing championships on a different bike. Mir appears here to stay and may be capable of challenging Marquez on a regular basis next year. Interesting that the under-powered Suzuki has some of its best outings on the fast, sweeping circuits in Brno and Austria. In order to generate more data and so make improvements to the bike more quickly, Suzuki will probably have to scare up a #2 team. Plenty of guys who would enjoy the ride.

Aprilia—As if things weren’t bad enough, the FIM and powers that be are still arguing about Andrea Iannone, whether he should be handed an 18-month suspension for alleged doping. What gets me is that the process itself is going to take 18 months, after which they pretty much have to acquit him or convict him and let him go with time served. It would also be a bit of a cluster to take 18 months to find him not guilty. In any case, I suspect he is probably gone, to be replaced by either Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso, a massive step down for either rider. Riding for a factory team, even the worst one on the grid, is apparently better than any satellite team option. Reminds me of what some guys I’ve known say about receiving oral sex—the worst they ever had was great.

Thanks for the kind applause. I’m here all week. Please try the veal.

MotoGP 2020 Aragon I Results

October 18, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rins, Suzuki capture solid win; madness continues

Let’s just say this about the 2020 MotoGP season. Sensational Suzuki sophomore Joan Mir leads the championship chase with four rounds left. Yet Joan Mir has not won a race of any kind since 2017. There. 

Mir crushed Moto3 in 2017, winning 10 races, including Sepang late in the year, his last win, like, ever. He got promoted to Moto2 in 2018 and finished the year in P6, earning a sudden promotion to MotoGP. His rookie year in the premier class, he completed 14 out of 19 races and finished in P12. This year, other than two DNFs, one of which wasn’t his fault, he has finished no lower than P5, with podiums in his last three outings. I would be remiss if I failed to mention his similarity to Nicky Hayden in 2006, winning the MotoGP championship while recording only two (2) wins. In a year featuring eight winners in the first ten races, it is entirely possible for a Joan Mir to take the title without standing on the top step a single time. I’m sure he would take the trophy; not so sure he would want to live with the record.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday 

Missed watching FP1 and 2 but got the gist. The big news, of course, was that Rossi contracted the ‘Rona and would miss the race and probably Aragon II. We presume that a man at his youngish age and in his physical condition will come through it unscathed, and wish him a speedy and thorough recovery. Otherwise, on the cold dusty plain of Spain it was all Yamahas all the time. The three remaining riders for Big Blue locked out the top three spots, a barometer of things to come, but not a thermometer. Same thing occurred in FP2—rare that you get two top-three lockouts in one day from the same brand. The erratic Maverick Vinales led both sessions comfortably. Of course he did—his fuel tank was light and no one was throwing elbows at him.

Saturday

FP3 took place Saturday morning in the cold and resulted in no substantive changes in the combined top ten from FP2. The big news was a heavy crash for series leader Quartararo, who was still sitting on a stretcher off-track, appearing to have a real problem in his left knee or hip. Alex Marquez flogged his Repsol Honda directly into Q2 for the first time, unlike big hitters including Andrea Dovizioso, Zarco, hell, the entire Ducati contingent, and three of the four KTMs, Pol Espargaro being the exception, the cream of the KTM crop heading for Repsol Honda after Portimao. So Aprilia had a rider, Aleix Espargaro, moving directly to Q2 while Ducati did not. Jack Miller had a top ten lap waved off due to a yellow flag violation, adding insult to the championship injury he sustained last week when his #2 bike gave up the ghost in France.

One gets the distinct impression that the track characteristics at Aragon favor the Yamaha and frown upon the Italian and Austrian entries. Too, one can imagine the suits screaming at each other while deciding which tracks to include on the 2020 calendar. Ducati wanting Mugello over Aragon, Yamaha wanting out of Austria, Honda not really giving a rip. Dorna Big Cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta gleefully giving all the non-Spanish parties a thorough screwing by having half the calendar running in Spain. Marc Marquez signed off on the thing in June and it was done. Rounds 10 and 11 in the premier class (which did not run at Qatar due to the virus) would take place at Aragon, and KTM and Ducati could just bugger off.

To the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller laid down a fast lap late in the session to snatch Q1 from the aging veteran, joining the woke Danilo Petrucci, winner only six days ago, in advancing to Q2. Dovizioso was shown later slamming his glove to the floor, a sight you don’t usually see with the Italian. P13 is nowhere to start of you intend to stay in the hunt at Aragon. With all six manufacturers again represented in Q2, the top of the leader board looked like this:

Rider            Time Remaining

Morbidelli               12:00

Miller                       9:15

Quartararo               8:30

Vinales                     2:00

Quartararo               0.00

The first four rows, then:         

1        Fabio QUARTARARO

2        Maverick VIÑALES

3        Cal CRUTCHLOW

         

4        Franco MORBIDELLI

5        Jack MILLER

6        Joan MIR

         

7        Takaaki NAKAGAMI

8        Danilo PETRUCCI

9        Aleix ESPARGARO

         

10      Alex RINS

11      Alex MARQUEZ

12      Pol ESPARGARO

 

As some of you know, events here in Indiana prevent me from making time to take in Moto3 and Moto2 practice and qualifying. I’ll be watching them on Sunday. Apologies to all.

Race Day

Moto3 was its usual frantic self today. As late as Lap 16, there was an eight-bike lead group. Raul “Fast on Saturday” Fernandez started from pole and, when the smoke cleared, found himself on the third step of the podium, his first career grand prix podium at age 20. Darryn Binder, former Mad Bomber and now just a solid Moto3 contender, flirted with the lead numerous times only to end up on the second step. 19-year old Jauma Masia won today for the second time this year, the top seven bikes separated by less than 4/10ths of a second. Series leader Albert Arenas finished in P7, trailing the podium as well as my boy Romano Fenati, Everyone’s Favorite Scot John McPhee, and 18-year old Jeremy Alcoba. Arenas was fortunate today in that his close rivals had terrible outings—Ai Ogura P14, Italian teen heartthrob Celestino Vietti P9, and Tony Arbolino DNS with a COVID false alarm. As such, he stretched his series lead to 13 points over Ogura and 18 over Vietti. Arbolino, McPhee and Masia are still in the hunt for 2020, but everything needs to go right for them. Not likely.

Moto2 was all about people who have trouble dealing with success. Take former series leader Luca Marini, who laid his machine down on Lap 3, leaving the door wide open for a bevy of challengers. Or Fabio di Giannantonio, who crashed out of the lead on Lap 11. Or Marco Bezzecchi, leading the race and, at that moment, the championship, who crashed out on Lap 19. This made the dogged Sam Lowes, hanging around the backboard like Dennis Rodman, the winner, his second win in a row and third in four years. Runner-up Enea Bastianini took over the 2020 series lead by two points over Lowes, with Marini another three points back. Bezzecchi sits in P4, 25 points behind Bastianini. It’s still anybody’s title in Moto2.

Contrary to widely-held expectations, the MotoGP affair was not a Yamaha clambake. Despite dominating practice and qualifying (P1, P2 and P4), it was the Suzuki contingent of Rins and Mir, separated by the ascendent Alex Marquez in Repsol Honda colors, who hogged the podium today and shook up the 2020 standings. The chief protagonist was Suzuki pilot Alex Rins, a highly competent underachiever, who went through on frontrunner Maverick Vinales on Lap 8 and never relinquished the lead thereafter. A potential Suzuki 1-2, unseen in lifetimes, was interrupted by the startling performance of one Alex Marquez, the highly disrespected Tranche 4 Honda rider who captured his second silver medal in eight days, the first in the wet, today in the dry. Sure, it was a day on which three major competitors—Yamaha, Ducati and KTM—were experiencing purgatory on two wheels, Yamaha and Ducati collecting, collectively, 23 points each and KTM 11.

There were moments during the race when one thought it was definitely a Marquez on the Honda, but the similarity between #73 and #93 is, at times, fascinating. How hard must it be, being Alex Marquez. At one point in your young life, reputed to have been faster than Marc, if not quite as fast as Rins. But then Marc becomes Charles Atlas, the most powerful force ever in your chosen sport. You might have taken up soccer, say, in order to escape his engulfing shadow. But you chose instead to live in the shadow and work on your skills and, if there is a God, show the world one day that you are every bit as fast as Marc Marquez. That it runs in the family and he didn’t get it all. I suspect, if nothing else, young Alex has spit in the eye of the HRC suit who demoted him to the LCR team for 2021 before he had ever raced the bike. The official who made that decision screwed up on three counts. One, he surely pissed off Marc. Two, he wasted a terrific opportunity for the people in marketing to promote Marquez Brothers gear. Three, he may have missed out on a rider who is going to win a few races in his time. Boss Lucio at LCR is bound to be a happy camper these days.

Todays hijinks did little to shake up the top six, as follows:

Round 9

Rider

Points

Round 10

Rider

Points

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

MIR

121

 

MIR

105

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

DOVIZIOSO

97

 

VINALES

109

 

VINALES

96

 

DOVIZIOSO

106

 

NAKAGAMI

81

 

NAKAGAMI

92

 

MORBIDELLI

77

 

MORBIDELLI

87

Other than young Fabio’s tires turning to gruyère, things pretty much stayed the same. This is still anyone’s championship, but the guy with the fewest issues seems to be Joan Mir; he stays pretty calm and takes extremely good care of his tires. I was surprised to see him fade today, thought at around Lap 18 or so that he could win the race.

From Aragon to Aragon

Next week we do it all over again, but with different expectations. The main difference could be the weather, should it turn. That, and the unlikely but not entirely impossible return of Marc Marquez to the grid. That would amp things up.

I’ve prepared a look at the teams and will post it in a few days.

Ciao.

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2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

The French, renown for their cuisine but despised for their weather, lived up to their reputation today, with a dry race in Moto3, a wet race in MotoGP, and a drying track in Moto2. A day for underdogs (Alex Marquez) as well as the contenders in Moto2 and Moto3. Sam Lowes wins a race for the first time in four years, while teenagers dominate Moto3. As they say around here, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which is apropos of nothing whatsoever but demonstrates my facility with the French language.

Recent History in Sarthe

Johann Zarco was a rookie here in 2017, leading his home race for the first six laps on the Tech 3 Yamaha until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those few fanatics who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Zarco to waltz into racing history in 2018, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing unassisted out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a depressing 36-point lead in the 2018 championship.

We had this to say after last year’s race: “We’ve seen some of this before. In the MotoGP tilt, Marc Marquez took the hole shot, held off an early challenge from Ducati hothead Jack Miller, and won the French Grand Prix going away, never seriously challenged. This, after little brother Alex, whose last win came in Japan in 2017, survived the demolition derby that was Moto2 and brought joy to Catalans everywhere. After the race, jubilant dad Julià sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens.”

Last year’s rostrum included Marquez, Dovizioso and Petrucci, the Ducs lovin’ themselves some Le Mans. Jack Miller and Rossi got punked at the flag by Danilo, one of the favorite finishes of his career, I expect.

This year, the big story, other than a great championship battle, was the weather for race weekend. A lot of the top riders had never ridden a wet lap at Le Mans, and no one was familiar with the grippy Michelin rain tires. With highs only in the low 60’s and lows dipping into the 40’s, there was likely to be an abundance of crashers.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

FP2 was one of those damp things in which most riders worked out on rain tires while several went out on slicks. Slightly less weird than FP1 but plenty of anomalies, chief among them Crutchlow, The Black Knight, and little brother Alex Marquez flogging their Hondas to end the day in P5 and P6, respectively. With the exception of Miguel Oliveira, who found a hot lap at the end that elevated him to P2, and Joan Mir, the new fair-haired boy who could manage no better than P12, it was The Usual Suspects moving directly to Q2. Led by NKIT Fabio Quartararo, The Ten would later be joined by Danilo Petrucci and Pecco Bagnaia, who successfully graduated from Q1.

The last two minutes of MotoGP Q2 are always the best of the weekend, in the absence of a real-time nail-biter at the flag. When the dust settled on a dry Q2, Zarco’s track record from 2018 stood unscathed. As usual when it doesn’t rain in Sarthe, the Ducs and Yamahas thoroughly enjoy this venue, comprising nine of the top 12 slots for Sunday. Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda in P4, is currently being held together with duct tape and baling wire, but it seems to agree with him. When the Q2 music stopped, young Fabio found himself in the top chair.

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

With real life again intruding on my writing career, I’ve missed most of the weekend. I managed to watch all three races on Sunday, and have this to offer. (I didn’t miss the fact that American Joe Roberts sits on pole in Moto2. The hearts and minds of a grateful nation are completely oblivious to this fact, given the sport’s remarkable lack of presence in the USA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following piece of conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“ I write about MotoGP.”
“What’s that?”

Anyway, since the passing of Nicky Hayden, given the rarity of opportunities to demonstrate at least a little homerism, “GO JOE!”)

Race Day

Seems like every Moto3 race can be summarized as follows: The lead group of (X = 9) riders traded places and paint more times than humans can count. Over the last (Y=4) laps, the top four for the day, and perhaps the year, got down to it. Celestino Vietti, Tony Arbolino, Albert Arenas and Jaume Masia went wheel to wheel, abandoning caution to the wind. This, as it turned out, was the top four today. After the podium celebration, Arenas leads Ai Ogura, who hung around in the 20’s for much of the day before struggling to P9, by six points, with Vietti 10 farther back and Tony Arbolino trailing the other Italian teenager by four. John McPhee, with a mechanical issue seemingly caused by a dramatic save, remains stuck at 98 points.

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

The MotoGP race was a refreshing change of pace, a wet race that wasn’t all that wet providing questionable grip, especially for the eight or so riders who had never completed a wet race lap in MotoGP. Six of those riders had predictably bad days—Quartararo finished in P9; Joan Mir P11; Brad Binder P12; Pecco Bagnaia P13; Iker Lecuona in P15. Franco Morbidelli crashed out, but Miguel Oliveira did cross the line in P6. Of the eight, the one remaining rider who had a demonstrably not bad day was young Alex Marquez, defending Moto2 champion, little brother of You Know Who, starting from P18 but finding the conditions sufficiently exhilarating to put him in P2 at the finish, his first premier class podium, shades of yesteryear. Brother Marc must have been bouncing off the walls back home in Cevera.

We would be negligent in our reporting responsibilities were we to ignore the fact that the much-abused Danilo Petrucci collected his second premier class win today, putting brandmates Dovizioso and Miller away in the process. Likewise Pol Espargaro, who came from P8 on the grid to P3 at the finish. And we salute those riders who managed to stay upright for the entire 26 laps on behalf of those who did not, including Valentino Rossi (third DNF in a row but he’s not slowing down), Miller (mechanical), Morbidelli (black flag), Crutchlow, Rabat and Smith. Alex Rins (black flag) had to apply this bumper sticker to the back of his leathers:” Please call Davide Brivio if you see parts falling off.”

Today’s Moto2 race was particularly unsatisfying, on several counts. American Joe Roberts, having secured pole, started the race from the back of the grid, his crew unable to remove the back wheel prior to the start. Then, on-track officials, the guys with the flags, mis-started the race, the lights going out before Roberts had made it through Turn 14 and back to the grid. Joe recovered from this screwing to finish in P6, announcing his arrival as a legit contender. So there was that. Then, my punching bag Sam Lowes, who has improved this year, okay?, was chasing the charming Jake Dixon, on his way to his first grand prix podium, never mind win. Dixon had managed the gap with Lowes since Lap 12, when suddenly he slid out of the lead at Turn 14 of Lap 22, on his own, handing the win to the undeserving Lowes. Remy Gardner put a move on Marco Bezzecchi at the final turn to capture second place, which kind of made up for the whole Lowes thing.

Dixon’s ordeal calls to mind one of our core beliefs: 

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

Here’s an irritating outcome from the MotoGP race: Fabio Quartararo extends his series lead while finishing in P9.

The top ten in the premier class, after Le Mans:

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

Now it’s on to Aragon, in the dusty Spanish plain, for a doubleheader. Nine rounds in, five rounds left. Contested championship races in all three classes. Seven winners in nine races in the premier class thus far. There would seem to be some growing concerns about engine supply, especially with the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Pit lane starts will do nothing to help the prospects of the gaggle of Yamaha contenders.

We hope to bring you something in the way of an Aragon I preview mid-week, but it’s a bit of a chore these days, life happening. Please keep those cards and letters coming

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One big old church.

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MotoGP 2020 October 2 Tranching Around

October 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen      October 2, 2020

MotoGP 2020 October 1 Tranching Around

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

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

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

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

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

Tranche V    Tito Rabat; Bradley Smith; Stefan Bradl

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

Re-Alignment of Teams and Riders at Ducati

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

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

VR46 Racing to be a Yamaha Team?

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

Le Mans Looms

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

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Styria Results

August 23, 2020

© Bruce Allen                               August 23, 2020

Round 5 and It’s Anyone’s Year

Styria, in case you’re wondering, is the Austrian equivalent of Catalunya, a conquered state, many of whose natives still chafe (Spain) or have chafed (Styria) over the centuries. This part of the world has spent most of its ancient history getting run over, by Celts, by Romans, and by various barbarian hordes, ranging from Huns to Ostrogoths, before becoming loyal Franks, etc. Just trying to explain why there are two different consecutive Austrian MotoGP races this year is all.

Same deal as Jerez, Misano, Aragon and Valencia. Twofers. Since the fans are already screwed, the slimmed-down logistics don’t really hurt anyone.

Continued fallout from last Sunday’s demo derby. Johann Zarco must start from pit lane with his slightly broken wrist. Danilo Petrucci has been given an official written warning…gasp…and has been ordered to write, “NON LANCER MAI PIÙ ALEIX SULLA FOTOCAMERA.” 100 times. Sr. Ezpeleta expects hard copies of same on his Spielberg desk by Saturday noon. The crash involving Zarco and Morbidelli, and the ensuing chain of events it caused, made it all the way to CNN.

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The new safety fence at Turns 2 and 3.

A little Moto3 action.
A little Moto2 love between Martin and Bezzecchi, before RD got involved.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 finished with 21 riders—Zarco had a note from his doctor—within one second of each other. Miller and Dovizioso topped the sheets, but so what? Fabio was faster winning at Jerez II than he was winning Jerez I. (It also appears clear that young Fabio has tracks he likes and others he doesn’t. That will smooth out over time, I suspect. Early in his career I remember asserting there were tracks that were Marquez-friendly. Starting about five years ago it became clear that every track on the calendar had become Marquez-friendly.) The point here is that times this weekend should be faster than last week, what with all the extra practice.

The KTM bikes seem to love Red Bull Ring.

Over in Moto3, Celestino Vietti had his way with Albert Arenas in FP1, while Sam Lowes had a peek at the all time track record in leading a closely-knit cabal of riders in Moto2.

FP2, across the board, didn’t change much. Half the MotoGP riders improved their time, half didn’t. Notables not cracking the top ten for the day included Rossi, Quartararo, Petrucci and Crutchlow. In Moto2, almost all the fast times for the day occurred during FP1. Moto3 saw 17 riders within a second of the leader.

Saturday

In Moto3, it was generally the Usual Suspects in FP3 moving directly into Q2. Tatsuki Suzuki, in P15, was punished for dawdling, a full .022 seconds out of the money, along with Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder. These layabouts would have to glom on to a top four spot in Q1 to even think realistically about a win on Sunday.

MotoGP FP3 continued what has become a trend—a lot of older riders having to go through Q1. Rossi and Crutchlow, for starters. Zarco and Petrucci, starting to go gray around the muzzle. Aleix and Rabat. My boy Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to the top spot in FP3, possibly announcing his arrival in MotoGP after a silver medal last week here. Irritating, one suspects, for Rossi, trailing Mir by half a second and sitting in P15 heading to Q1. Note: Hot KTM rookie Brad Binder got caught loafing today, too, failing to pass automatically into Q2 by .003 seconds.

Red Bull Ring is not a track where one would expect the Suzuki to perform well. Only ten turns, and one is barely a turn at all, more like a lane change. Compared to, say, Assen with 18 turns, Austria is as close as MotoGP gets to a racing oval.

Sam Lowes, fast in Moto2 all weekend, had a heavy crash during FP3 but emerged shaken, not stirred, in P3, avoiding the blood, toil, tears and sweat of a Q1. But the packed nature of the field left a number of big names heading to Q1, including a surprising number of Italian riders. But just like their Moto3 days with KTM, Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzechi pushed their Kalex machines to the top of the combined F1-F3 sheets on Saturday morning.

Getting into too much detail here. The Q1 sessions were, as usual, desperately fought affairs, as those failing to advance would likely end up in the ass half of the pack. In MotoGP, Zarco and Petrucci crossed over, the Frenchman nursing a titanium screw in his wrist. In Moto2, Somkiat Chantra, The Great Thai Hope, led Tet Nagashima, Hector Garzo and Stefano Manzi into Q2. In Moto3, Jaume Masia, Niccolo Antonelli, Dennis Oncu and Darryn Binder escaped into Q2. The funny part of all of this, to me, is that, especially in the lighter classes, where one starts the race has virtually nothing to do with one’s chances of winning or at least appearing on the podium.

Which is to take nothing away from the best nine minutes in most MotoGP weekends—the last three minutes of Q2 in all three classes. The race for pole, not as meaningful as it perhaps once was, but still something that gets the blood raging in these young men. Moto3 gave us, once the smoke cleared, a front row of Gabriel Rodrigo, Raul Fernandez and Tetsuki Suzuki, with series leader Albert Arenas smirking in P9. In Moto2, we ended up with Aron Canet on pole, joined on the front row by Jorge Martin and Nagashima; series leaders Luca Marini (P12) and Enea Bastianini (P15) would be having an uphill slog on Sunday.

Q2 in MotoGP was the wild, wild west, as, one after another, at least eight riders spent time on the historical footnote known as the “provisional pole.” According to the PDFs on the MotoGP site, the suddenly relevant Pol Espargaro would start Sunday on his first pole since his Moto2 swan song in Valencia in 2013. Takaa Nakagami, another Great Japanese Hope on the LCR Honda, took his first career MotoGP front row start in P2, while Johann Zarco, of all people, “wound up” in P3, stiff upper lip and titanium screw firmly in place. Due to the unfortunate events last Sunday in the MotoGP race, Zarco would be starting Sunday’s race from pit lane, which is why “wound up” is in quotes. Zarco’s eviction from P3 allowed, respectively, Joan Mir, a wounded Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins to move up a spot. Along with everyone else in the field, of course, but it might make a difference with this lot, as rows one and two are always a nice place, if you’re entertaining thoughts of, well, winning.

The youth movement in MotoGP—once more, with feeling—continued in qualifying. (Someone please remind me to define younger and older riders this coming week. To be considered a young rider, for example, one must have less than three years of MotoGP experience or be under, say, 25 years old. Then crunch the numbers.)

On the first four rows there were three veterans and nine youngsters. Of the remaining ten riders, take away Pirro and Bradl, you have three young riders and five crusties. Marc Marquez, according to my thinking, is now an older rider. Were he on track he would smooth the numbers. And, as a reminder, if he were on track, he is the one who owns the track record around here, and he was about half a second faster last year than Pol is this year. Just sayin’. The fact that he is toast for 2020 is immaterial.

Race Day

You just can”t have too many aircraft pictures.

Once again, Moto3 failed to disappoint. More lead changes than one’s brain can process. 12-man lead groups. The primary combatants today included young Celestino Vietti (another from Valentino Rossi’s stable of young Italian riders), Tony Arbolino, Ai Ogura, John McPhee, and Gabriel Rodrigo. Series leader Albert Arenas, lacking the pace to compete for the win, hung around the backboard, picked up a few rebounds, and came away still leading the 2020 series, as follows:

1        Albert ARENAS       KTM             106

2        Ai OGURA               Honda          81

3        John MCPHEE         Honda           67

4        Celestino VIETTI     KTM             66

5        Tony ARBOLINO     Honda           60

6        Tatsuki SUZUKI      Honda           59

The Moto2 tilt was a bit of a replay from 2018, when Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi used to fight each other every round on their KTM Moto3 machines. Martin appeared capable of getting away today, but the Italian gradually moved up the field until he was in P2 and threatening. The last couple of laps all I saw was Martin defending and Bezzecchi attacking until they ran out of time, Martin crossing the line a few tenths ahead of his old rival. Almost immediately, Race Direction called down to say that, due to Martin having ‘exceeded track limits’ on the final lap, with both wheels just barely in the green, he was demoted one spot, handing the win to Bezzecchi, who gratefully accepted it. Australian Remy Gardner snagged third today, his second grand prix podium. The Moto2 standings after six races looks like this:

1        Luca MARINI                     Kalex            87

2        Enea BASTIANINI             Kalex            79

3        Jorge MARTIN                  Kalex            79

4        Tetsuta NAGASHIMA        Kalex            68

5        Marco BEZZECCHI            Kalex            65

6        Sam LOWES                    Kalex            59

The main event, featured, for the second consecutive week, a red flag event in the premier class. On Lap 17, with Joan Mir comfortably leading a group including Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro, Takaa Nakagami and Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, minding his own business in, like P13, lost the brakes on his Yamaha M1, jumped off at around 130 mph, went all ragdoll rolling across the macadam, and watched in horror as his bike hit and popped the air fence and caught fire, taking yet another engine with it.

The second race, a 12-lap affair, gave us one of the great finishes in recent MotoGP history. The last lap started with Jack Miller desperately holding off Pol Espargaro, squarely in win or bin mode, with sophomore Miguel Oliveira lurking in third, hoping for something to happen in front of him. Sure enough, at Turn 10, the last turn on the last lap, Miller and Espargaro both went hot into the turn—shades of Dovi and Marquez last year—opening the door for a cutback from Oliveira and his first premier class win.

In a year lacking a Marc Marquez, we have now seen four different winners in five races. Virtual parity in all three classes. The top six in the premier class:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          70

2        Andrea DOVIZIOSO         Ducati           67

3        Jack MILLER                    Ducati           56

4        Brad BINDER                    KTM             49

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          48

6        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           46

This is good stuff. Four manufacturers in the top six, with Suzuki right on the verge. The paddock now gets two weeks off until the next pair of races, these at Misano, on the 13th and 20th of September, with Catalunya on the 27th. The hits just keep on coming.

MotoGP is the bomb-diggity.


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