Posts Tagged ‘Indianapolis Motor Speedway’

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 21, 2014

Looking ahead to the shape of the MotoGP grid in 2015, we find

spanish_flag2  8 Spaniards, headed by Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.  Young Marquez and Rabat on the horizon.

 

italian-flag6 Italians, headed by Rossi, Dovizioso and Iannone.

 

british flag3 Brits, headed by Cal Crutchlow, upon whom the pressure must be immense.

 

flag_french2 Frenchman, Di Meglio and Baz and

 

  • 1 each from the under-cards at USA, Columbia, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Australian Youth League.

Forgiving, as you seem to frequently do, the division of the grid into tranches, along the lines of junk bonds:

Tranche A: Aliens Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Tranche B: Competitives:  Dovisiozo, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone.

Tranche C:  Redding, Bradl, Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smth, Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales.

Followed by all the rest.  Probably more competitive top to bottom than 2014; the bad teams aren’t going to be so consistently bad.  There exist the possibilities of upsets with two extra manufacturers adding machines that will complicate starts and early turns.  Expect more from Suzuki with Espargaro and Vinales aboard than with de Puniet.  Expect the Aprilias of Bautista and Melandri to lag.  Expect Nicky Hayden to see more top ten finishes but remain far from relevant.  Don’t know what to expect from Jack Miller who appears fearless at this point but hasn’t yet had the business end of a 1000 cc bike pointed at his helmet.  I hope to see success for Vinales, the Espargaros, the Brits and some new Aliens–a coupla Italians, Dovizioso and maybe Iannone–would be greatly refreshing.  Marquez may yet again run away with the title, but the battle for second could widen and increase interest in the sport itself, as ethnocentric as it is.  That would be helpful heading into 2016, the first year of Michelins, coincident with what one has to expect to be the full fruition of Dall’Igna’s mystic hand at Ducati.

2016 should be comparable to 2002, the year MotoGP went from 2-stroke 500 cc bikes to 4 stroke 990 cc bikes, which was a biggie.  The premier class, confirmed as 4-strokes going forward, checked back down to 800 cc in 2007 and back up to 1000 in 2012. An earlier draft of this article, which was consumed by WordPress, went on to present a series of mundane observations about riders and teams and their prospects for 2015.  It concluded by suggesting that the 2016 Repsol Honda team could easily be represented by Alex and Marc Marquez, and the factory Yamaha effort would feature Jorge Lorenzo and Tito Rabat.  This supposed that both Rossi and Pedrosa would be ready to go quietly. It wondered out loud about the near term prospects for riders Rabat, Vinales and Alex Marquez, while conceding the 2015 and, if history is a teacher, the 2016 titles to Marc Marquez, who has always shown himself to be a quick study when it comes to making major changes in delivery systems.

cropped-alex-and-marc.jpgBy the end of 2016 Marc Marquez remains #1 in the world, with three of the next four riders to include Lorenzo, Alex Marquez and Rabat.   Ignoring Lorenzo, The Three Amigos train harder than anyone, play harder than their peers, and attract sponsors the way bright lights do moths. By 2016, they will all have factory rider status, a term which, at times, gets watered down to meaning little more than high rider salaries.  They will still have the best machines, the best crews, and no money worries.  And, because I don’t know everything, I must confess that another rider, one from  Tranche B, will be in the battle for places two through five.  The cumulative effect of the rule changes being put into effect between now and the start of 2016 should make the fight for places five through 15–points–much less predictable and more fun to watch. Two new factory teams, one of which will be decent, one of which will be bad.  The new Honda customer engine.  Marc VDS. The Espargaro brothers. Lots of Ducatis, fronted by Dovizioso and Iannone. 25 riders on the grid. An explanation for why Alex de Angelis might even bother with Ioda Racing.  The looming entry of KTM in the builder’s competition on 2016.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornMotoGP claimed to draw its biggest crowds ever in 2014 and named Indianapolis the best GP of the year.  Hunh. Despite Dorna’s best efforts not to promote the sport through online outlets, and the fact that not a single American rider competes at anything close to a winning level, MotoGP seems to be drawing followers in the US.  The people at the IMS do a lot to promote the race in August, even though it always comes after a break in the schedule and at the start of what one might think of as “the back nine.” by which time Marquez may have already clinched. Seriously, the Indianapolis race may draw 65,000 people on Sunday and look practically empty.  Other races draw as few as in the 30,000’s. Indy’s not bad at all, but it looks bad on TV.

This is all part of an effort to keep the MotoGP conversation going in the off-season.  Feel free to argue or disagree.  I watch the sport and get paid to think about it.  You might at least wonder why that is.

Marquez streak on the line; silly season in full swing

August 5, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Indianapolis Preview, by Bruce Allen

After what seems like months the 2014 MotoGP season heads for the back nine, beginning at the historic Indianapolis Motor IMSSpeedway. While Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez has been basking in his ridiculous domination of the grid, a bunch of other riders have been busily defecting, or getting ejected, from their current teams, such that the 2015 grid will have a much different look to it. None of which will prevent Marquez from continuing to treat the premier class like his own personal sandbox.

For those of you who’ve slept since Round 9 at The Sachsenring, a rapidly-drying track there resulted in pandemonium at the start, with nine bikes comprising the grid and the other 14 wedged into pit lane, having changed from wet tires to slicks at the very last minute. Stefan Bradl, on the grid with a factory spec Honda and slicks, looked as though he might enjoy a cakewalk to his first premier class victory and an escape from the “underachiever” label he’d earned in two and a half seasons of virtually podium-free premier class racing.

Alas, Bradl was let down by his team, which neglected to change his suspension settings from wet to dry, resulting in a bitterly disappointing 16th place finish, the straw that broke the camel’s back of HRC Racing Director Livio Suppo’s patience. But while Bradl will be racing for others next season, Suppo’s young warhorse Marquez calmly sliced and diced his way through the field en route to his ninth win in a row. He was joined on the podium by teammate Dani Pedrosa, who stalked him all day, and Movistar Yamaha’s tarnished star, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s wingman Valentino Rossi, who had podiumed in four of the previous five rounds, slipped to fourth and out of a tie with Pedrosa for second place year-to-date.

Very Recent History at Indianapolis

Marquez at AragonLast year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix brought into focus the fact that then-rookie Marquez had more than a puncher’s chance of winning the 2013 title. He swept all four practice sessions, qualified on the pole, recovered easily from a less-than-stellar start and won going away for his third consecutive win that year. He remained undefeated on American soil and, counting his two seasons in Moto2, has won at Indianapolis the last three years. Indy is one of those narrow, slow tracks that tend to favor the Honda, if one ignores the huge main straight where Andrea Iannone is likely to enter a low Earth orbit this weekend on the Pramac Ducati.

With the exception of Nicky Hayden, who will miss both this week’s race and next week’s tilt in the Czech Republic, all of the top riders are as healthy as possible, compared to last year when both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were coming off broken collarbones. No matter. If someone can conjure up a scenario in which Marquez fails to make it ten in a row this weekend, contact the author at Motorcycle.com. In the subject line of your email, please type “MARTIANS ARE EXTRACTING THE MOISTURE FROM MY BOXER SHORTS” so I’ll know to delete your message before it clutters up my own thinking.

Crutchlow 2, Ducati 1

Ducati logoThe annual charade of Bums Seeking Seats and Seats Seeking Bums goes into overdrive annually at this time of year, owing, in part, to Dorna rules that preclude some forms of tampering until after July 31. Without question, the most amusing and admirable job of moving from the outhouse to the penthouse this year was pulled off by burly Brit Cal Crutchlow. Recall how barely a year ago Crutchlow sold his soul to the devil, abandoning the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team that had been so good to him for the filthy lucre of a factory Ducati ride to hell. Sure enough, he got paid, then proceeded to amass a grand total of 28 championship points in the first half of this season, compared to the 225 of Marquez and the 48 of Bradley Smith who appears to be (unsuccessfully) trying to get fired from the same Tech 3 team.

For the last two months, Crutchlow has been slamming Ducati Corse management, comparing his GP14 to a 1952 John Deere Model D crutchlowSpoker, and generally making himself as unpopular in Bologna as any man alive. All the while, he has been seeking a change of venue, wishing to take his game, such as it is, pretty much anywhere but his current residence, to no avail. Once it appeared there was nowhere else to go, he put on a stiff upper-lipped smile and, to management’s horror, agreed to honor his contract and stay with Ducati for the 2015 season. By this time, management had pretty much decided, correctly, that they love Andrea Iannone and wanted him to race alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2015, dueling Andreas on an all-Italian, occasionally competitive factory team capable of restoring a hint of pride to a national identity that has taken an incessant pounding since the 1930’s.

Suddenly, though, LCR Honda, and their new (British) sponsor CWM (Come What May?) Financial washed their hands of Stefan Bradl and decided they could do worse than having Crutchlow head their two bike effort in 2015. And here’s the best part: Ducati found themselves having to pay Crutchlow to leave in order to make room for Iannone, as three man factory teams are a no-no since Honda last tried it in 2011. Crutchlow scores big twice, with a significant financial boost and resurrection from the Desmosedici to a factory-spec Honda upon which he probably thinks he can attain Alien status. Ducati takes yet another financial bath, but has their ϋber-Italian team in place for the first time in recent memory. The Bologna factory has been down so long it looks like up to them, and probably views all of this as a win.

There is plenty of other news pertaining to Suzuki and Aprilia and KTM, with names like Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Eugene Laverty and even Alex de Angelis in the wind, but we’re out of room this week. Certainly, a number of loose ends, notably Jorge Lorenzo’s, will get tied up this weekend in Indianapolis, and so we’ll pick up where we left off next week in our Brno preview.

Weather and Assorted Other Hoosier Predictions

Sunny and warm conditions are expected to prevail in Indianapolis this weekend, a summer notable for its lack of extreme heat and abundance of rain. The infield portion of the track has been slightly re-configured and repaved, so lap times should be somewhat lower and the number of complaints about tire wear significantly so. It’s still too narrow, and the race runs in the wrong direction; the layout would probably work better if they ran clockwise, the way it was originally designed for F-1. Whatever. Marc Marquez is almost a mortal lock to take win #10 for the season, and I expect him to be joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Valentino Rossi’s only win here came in 2008 in the midst of Hurricane Ike.

Dawson'sFor you locals, if you want a peek at some of the riders during down time, head over to Lino’s Coffee or Dawson’s on Main in Speedway and be on the lookout for some short, tightly-wrapped guys with heavy foreign accents and lots of logos on their shirts. Don’t bother looking for MM on Friday night—he’ll be over at the State Fairgrounds grand marshalling the AMA Indy Mile which, if you have the time, is another great way to spend an evening.

The race goes off at 2:00pm EDT, and we’ll have results right here later Sunday evening.

Despite chaos at the start, The Streak continues

July 13, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sachsenring Results, by Bruce Allen 

In a déjà vu of Assen two weeks ago, chaos reigned at the start of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.  Hard rain was quickly giving way to clearing skies, and crews were rolling the dice on tire choices.  After the sighting lap, 14 bikes entered pit lane to change from wets to slicks, including all four of the factory Honda and Yamaha machines.  At the end of the day, though, it was Marc Marquez leading a Honda 1-2, joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Chaos at the Start of the German Grand Prix

In what appeared at the time to be a combined stroke of genius and gonads, Stefan Bradl, who had qualified third, took to the damp track on slicks, joined by plodders Karel Abraham and Hiro Aoyama, with nothing at stake on customer Hondas.  Six other open class bikes, on wet tires, formed up on the grid, producing one of the strangest images in the history of MotoGP—a nine bike grid, with 14 machines crowded into pit lane like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.  At the end of Lap 1, your race leaders were Bradl, Michael Laverty and Danilo Petrucci.  The joy in the LCR Honda, PBM and Ioda garages would prove extremely short-lived.

Bradl, despite a 10-12 second advantage at the start, was a victim of his crew today.  Although they managed to switch his tires as he sat on the grid, they were unable to change the suspension settings from wet to dry.  By Lap 2, the German was giving up two seconds per lap to the factory Hondas; by Lap 7, both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had passed him.  Figuratively stuck in fourth gear all day, Bradl would finish 16th in what his countrymen prayed would not be a preview of the World Cup final match versus Argentina later that evening.

A quarter of the way through the race, the Repsol Honda duo was running in clean air out front, while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, were still slicing their way through the field toward their rightful places in the top four.  Lorenzo, bouncing back strongly from his deplorable effort in Assen, claimed only his third podium of the year, while Rossi finished eight seconds farther back for his second consecutive off-the-podium finish after four rostrums in succession.  Today’s race marked the third Repsol 1-2 finish of the year, joining Austin and Argentina; let there be no argument that The Sachsenring is a Honda-friendly circuit.  Movistar Yamaha’s 3-4 finish today was probably as good as they could have hoped for, especially given the disorder at the start.

As regards the Marquez-Pedrosa duel from Lap 7 on, it was interesting, but fell short of compelling.  Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he pedrosa-marquezcould, was unable to get within half a second of his young teammate; the expression “close, but no cigar” comes to mind.  HRC announced this past week that Dani had signed another two year contract on the factory Honda, thus having earned the right to stare at Marquez’s tailpipes through the 2016 season.  For a man of Pedrosa’s ability and pride, the prospect of playing second fiddle to the 21 year-old Catalan phenom for another 2½ years must come as a very mixed blessing.

Elsewhere on the Grid

One of the best performances today came from Pramac Racing tough guy Andrea Iannone, who wrestled his Ducati Desmosedici from a pit lane start to a fifth place finish.  It is common knowledge that the Ducati performs best in wet conditions, and today was no exception, as the over-engineered and under-steering Italian machine claimed three of the top ten spots.  That Iannone on the junior Pramac team would thump the factory duo of Andrea Dovizioso (8th) and Cal Crutchlow (10th) says something about his skill and motivation.  It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the aggressive young Italian doesn’t end up with a seat on the factory team next year.  He’s earned it.

The Espargaro brothers, elder Aleix and junior Pol, engaged in another of their typical duels today, spending the bulk of the day Two Espargarosseemingly miles apart only to finish separated by mere seconds.  Once again, Aleix dominated the practice sessions leading up to the race and qualified fourth.  Once again, he ran up front with the second group most of the day.  And once again, little brother moved up late in the day to join him in the top ten.  At the end of Lap 10, Aleix was running 7th, while Pol was lollygagging back in 16th place.  My pre-season fantasy of seeing Aleix on a podium, his best chances having been here and Assen, is officially flushed.  Both brothers, however, have bright futures in the premier class.

One rider for whom The Sachsenring is perhaps his least favorite track has to be Pol’s Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith.  Smith, who crashed four separate times in practice, managed a fifth crash today on Lap 4, rejoined the race for some unknown reason, and finished 19th.  This was one of those weekends in which he inflicted somewhere around €300,000 worth of damage to his various bikes.  At least he didn’t do a “Zarco,” a term which came into existence during today’s Moto2 race in which Johann Zarco, on the Caterham Suter, crashed out midway through the race and had to sit, helplessly, in the gravel, watching his once-gorgeous motorcycle explode in a fireball of gasoline and fiberglass, eventually to be removed from the run-off area in a large wheelbarrow. ZarcoCapture

The Customer Honda Race

Each round, it seems the four non-prototype Hondas end the day in a small, tight wad of mediocrity, as if they’re having their own little private race-within-a-race.  Nicky Hayden, who made it through Q1 on Saturday, looked to have the best chance today to win the Taller Than Danny DeVito award, but his wrist, apparently permanently damaged, could not hold up over 30 laps.  At the finish, it was Gresini’s Scott Redding (one of The 14), Aspar’s Hiro Aoyama, Cardion’s Karel Abraham and Aspar #2 Hayden (another 14er) filling positions 11-14.  HRC, having shamelessly oversold the merits of the RCV1000R prior to the start of the season, owes these guys one.

Making the Turn on the Way to the Back Nine

If this were golf, the riders would be cooling off in the clubhouse, grabbing a beer, and chatting up the pretty young women selling hats and sweaters.  Instead, most will be heading to Brno, the Czech city in desperate need of a couple of vowels, for two days of testing on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Racing returns the second weekend of August at Indianapolis, yet another Honda-friendly track.  Dorna has informed Motorcycle.com that, since we are unwilling to disclose the birth weight of our managing editor’s mother, they will not be issuing press credentials to our erstwhile correspondent.  So, rather than lugging my laptop to the IMS media center, I’ll report on Round 10 from my kitchen table, as Marc Marquez continues his assault on every grand prix motorcycle racing record known to man.  Aloha.

Indianapolis MotoGP 2013 Results

August 18, 2013

An edited version of this story will appear later on Motorcycle.com. Until then, enjoy the raw copy.

Hat tricks abound for Marc Marquez at Indy 

Let’s be clear.  Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez is the new king of MotoGP.  His decisive win at Indianapolis in Sunday over teammate Dani Pedrosa marked his third consecutive win for the 2013 season.  It marked his third consecutive win in Indianapolis, having topped the last two Moto2 tilts here.  And, lest we forget, it marked three wins in a row in the U.S., following Austin and Laguna Seca.  Sunday’s win made it a veritable hat trick of hat tricks for the precocious Spanish youngster. 

Captain America - 1969

Captain America circa 1969

Marquez is a man in need of a nickname.  In that his triple triple coincided with the announcement that MotoGP will continue at Indianapolis for at least the next year—a hat trick, if you will, of American rounds—I’m going to suggest Captain America.  Marc Marquez likes racing in the United States, therefore we will pay homage to him with three American rounds.  Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda has been deposed.

You could see this one coming a mile away.  Marquez topped the timesheets in all four practice sessions and qualified on the pole, blowing away the previous track record set by Pedrosa last year.  His only lapse all weekend was at the start of the race, when he allowed both Pedrosa and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s Yamaha to beat him to the first turn, Lorenzo in front.  Things stayed this way until Lap 9, when Marquez went through smoothly on Pedrosa, in deference to his teammate’s injured collarbone.  Marquez immediately set his sights on Lorenzo, himself healing from his own twice-broken collarbone.

Captain America - 2013

Captain America circa 2013

On Lap 13, Marquez had Lorenzo lined up, and went through easily into the lead, from which he never looked back.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa managed to keep it close for the next dozen laps, but neither was going to chase down the rookie.  With two laps left and both riders tiring, Pedrosa managed to go through on Lorenzo into second place, which is how it ended.

At narrow circuits like Indianapolis (which would be a much more interesting track if they reversed the flow and ran clockwise, the way it was designed for F-1 back in the day) there usually isn’t much overtaking, which was the case today.  Sure, there was some jockeying going on in the back half of the grid, but most of us don’t give a rip about who edges whom for 18th place in these things.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well, and this one certainly did.

Fireworks Late in the Day

Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, who struggled all weekend after having recorded a win and two podium finishes in his last three races, spent most of the day loitering by himself in seventh place, trailing the likes of GO&FUN Honda hazard Alvaro Bautista, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha defector Cal Crutchlow and LCR Honda strongman Stefan Bradl.  Suddenly, with perhaps 12 laps left, Rossi regained consciousness and began laying down a series of quick laps.  He chased down Bradl on Lap 22, taking over 6th place, and punked Bautista the next time around, moving into 5th.

Next up was Cal Crutchlow, who had announced during summer vacation that he was sick of podiums and was taking his game to the factory Ducati team for two years of well-paid perdition, beginning next year.  Rossi and Crutchlow spent the last two laps trading paint and positions, back and forth, teeth bared, until Rossi finally crossed the line 6/100ths of a second in front of the Brit.  This is good training for Crutchlow, as he is unlikely to engage in any further champagne spraying during what’s left of the Obama administration.  Gut-wrenching losses could become his middle name.

The 60,000+ fans in attendance on Sunday continued roaring during the last lap as factory Ducati teammates Andrea Dovizioso and homeboy Nicky Hayden REALLY got into it heading for the finish.  Hayden, calling upon his dirt track heritage, went low on Dovizioso in Turn 16, causing both riders to jump the curb separating the bike track from the frigging IMS main straight.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornFor one shining moment, the two red Ducatis were airborne, side by side, the teammates snapping and snarling at one another as they tried to regain control.  Surprisingly, they both remained upright for a final dash to the flag, won by Hayden by a full 12/100ths of a second.  Unfortunately for them, while this drama was unfolding, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha second Bradley Smith calmly passed both of them to take eighth place, “pipping” Hayden by 1/100th.  Ta-ta for now, old boy.

 

The Big Picture

Marquez’ win puts him 21 points in front of Pedrosa and 35 ahead of Lorenzo with eight rounds left; the 2013 title is now officially his to lose.  Rossi sits in fourth place, just three points in front of Crutchlow.  Bradl, in sixth place, leads Dovizioso by six points, with Bautista, Hayden and Smith completing the top ten.  Dani Pedrosa’s pronouncement last week that the 2013 title would be decided in the next three rounds—Indianapolis, Brno and Silverstone—may have been off by two.  It very well may be that the 2013 title has already been decided, and we just don’t realize it.

A Little Rumor and Innuendo

Once Crutchlow decided to join Ducati next season, a number of other chips fell into place, as we now know that Bradl will stay with LCR, and Bautista with the Gresini team for 2014.  Still, there’s plenty we don’t know about next year.  Nicky Hayden is rumored to be in the running for a “production” Honda as the #2 rider for LCR next year.

NGM Forward racing, with Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti lugging FTR Kawasaki machines this year, is strongly suggesting they will lease a pair of Yamaha M-1s for next season, mentioning parenthetically that they are discussing their plans with Aleix Espargaro, Hayden and Jonathan Rea.  Owner Giovanni Cuzari insisted, “I will respect my two riders now – Colin (Edwards) and Claudio (Corti) – but of course I need to follow some requests from Yamaha.”  Meaning, in my opinion, that Edwards and Corti are screwed.

On the Other Side of the Tracks

Three riders whose fortunes took a turn for the worse this weekend, if such a thing is possible, were Ben Spies, Karel Abraham and Blake Young.  Spies, attempting a return after missing seven (7) rounds recovering from injury, crashed at Turn 4 in FP3 and dislocated his GOOD shoulder, putting him out of today’s race.  Abraham, too, crashed on Friday, suffering torn muscles in his shoulder that kept him out today and make him questionable for next week at his dad’s Czech Grand Prix.  And Young, the optimistic wildcard this weekend, ended the WUP with smoke pouring out of his Attack Performance frankenbike.  Though he was able to post for the start, he failed to finish a single lap.

On to Brno

The 2013 crash course in pain and glory starts up again a few days from now in eastern Europe, with the Czech Republic hosting the bwin Grand Prix České republiky at Brno, The Circuit That Needs to Buy a Vowel.  Mercifully, this is one of the tracks where the Yamahas can be expected to be competitive.  Whether Lorenzo or Rossi stands atop the podium on Sunday will be determined, in part, along the way—by Captain America.

MotoGP Indianapolis 2013 Preview

August 12, 2013

Three races, three weeks, three contenders 

Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa was quoted last week as saying he thought the 2013 MotoGP championship would be decided in the next three rounds.  His teammate, rookie Marc Marquez, sits squarely in the driver’s seat, leading Pedrosa by 16 points and factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo by an imposing 26.  Should young Marquez avoid DNFs over the next three weeks and record a win or two, the 2013 title appears to be his for the taking. 

Recent History at Indianapolis 

Though the race winners at Indy since 2008 haven’t been terribly surprising, the podiums have usually hosted at least one dark horse.  During the inaugural race in 2008, Yamaha mullah Valentino Ross, at his peak, methodically tracked down then Repsol Honda pilot and local fave Nicky Hayden during Hurricane Ike in a race that was ultimately red-flagged due to the weather.  Indy that year was one of Hayden’s two podium appearances, with third place going to Rossi’s rookie teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Rossi looked ready to repeat in 2009 until an ill-advised crash on Lap 9 handed the win to Lorenzo.  In August of 2009, Rossi had the championship title in the bag, and could have easily coasted to a podium finish.  Instead, he went balls to the wall, his usual style, and left the door ajar for Lorenzo, the eventual 2009 runner-up.  Joining Lorenzo on the podium in 2009 were Alex de Angelis on a satellite Honda and homeboy Hayden on the Ducati Desmosedici.  For both de Angelis and Hayden, Indianapolis marked their only podium appearance of 2009.

The mid-American weirdness continued in 2010, as Dani Pedrosa won on a brutally hot day, joined on the podium by Monster Tech 3 Yamaha polesitter Ben Spies and Lorenzo, who lost the battle that day but would win the war and his first world championship later that year.  In August of 2010, Spies’ future could not have looked any brighter.  He started on the pole and gave Pedrosa all he wanted that day, during a week that saw him anointed as the next factory Yamaha star for 2011-12.

[In retrospect, this was probably the high water mark of Spies’ MotoGP career, despite his stunning win in Assen the following season.  Since 2010, Spies has gone from The Great American Hope to a historical footnote, working his way down from factory Yamaha, to satellite Ducati, to completely irrelevant this year.  He returns to the fray this week after missing the last seven races, and figures to be looking for work in 2014.  Spies is articulate, thoughtful and self-effacing, but his MotoGP career is circling the bowl.  We wish him well.]

Pedrosa’s win in 2010 marked the first of three consecutive wins at Indy for the factory Honda team, as Casey Stoner cruised to victory in 2011 and Pedrosa repeated last year, again in brutally hot conditions.  Indianapolis is, without question, a highly Honda-friendly track, with the tight infield portion having much more to do with who wins than the orgasmic long main straight bisected by the start/finish line.  During the last two races, the podiums have become somewhat more predictable, as it was Stoner-Lorenzo-Andrea Dovizioso (on the Repsol Honda) in 2011 and Pedrosa-Lorenzo-Dovizioso (on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) last year.

My sole prediction for Sunday:  Andrea Dovizioso will not appear anywhere near the podium.  Take that to the bank.

Marc Marquez:  Best Rookie Ever?

Crash.net speculated this past week that Marc Marquez may be the best premier class rookie ever.  While our crack Research Department mulls that one over, I would be reluctant to argue the point.  In my 2013 season preview, I had him figured for 4th place this year, with eight podiums, two wins, 4 DNFs, and 220 points for the season.

Should Marquez extend his performance thus far over the second half, he would finish with six wins, two DNFs, 14 podiums, 326 points and a world championship.  Which would virtually duplicate his 2012 season in Moto2.  And he appears fresh as a daisy, none the worse for wear, compared to his main rivals Pedrosa and Lorenzo, both of whom are amongst the walking wounded.

We know three things on this subject as the second half of the season gets underway.  The Repsol Honda likes hot weather, the hotter the better.  Marquez, for whatever reason, seems to perform better in the second half of seasons than the first.  And, he is greatly familiar with pretty much every circuit left on the 2013 calendar.  (This last point is rather moot, in that he won both times he’s confronted a track for the first time, at Austin and Laguna Seca.)

Marquez simply doesn’t ride like a rookie.  His balance and reflexes are incomparable, Stoneresque, God-given gifts; he appears to be doing what he was put on Earth to do.  Now that we have virtually guaranteed his first coronation this year, it remains to be seen whether the Motorcycle.com jinx will rear up to bite him on the bum (paging Cal Crutchlow.)  If not, fans need to get ready for a decade or so of watching him effortlessly win races, championships, and the hearts of Spanish racing fans.

The world appears to be his oyster.

The Yamaha Magic Gearbox 

Our friend David Emmett over at MotoMatters.com is convinced Yamaha was using their version of the seamless shift gearbox during the recent private testing sessions held at Brno.  By measuring oscilloscope readings of sound recordings made trackside, he deduces that the “magic gearbox” decreases shifting time for the Yamaha YZR-M1 by some 143% compared to the conventional version.  This enhancement is significantly less than that provided by the Honda box, but still represents a major improvement.

Apparently, some reliability concerns remain, as there has been no announcement of a change in equipment for the Yamaha factory bikes as yet.  But Big Blue needs to get this system installed sooner rather than later, as the Honda RC213V is clearly superior at tracks with lots of low-gear turns, i.e., Austin, Laguna Seca and, most likely, Indianapolis.  Marquez and Pedrosa are going to be fast everywhere they go, whereas Lorenzo and Rossi need to dominate at tracks like Losail and Aragon and hold on for dear life at the tight, slower circuits.

[As things now stand, Ducati Corse hopes to have their version of the magic gearbox ready to go in time for the 2036 season, while the sober folks at Suzuki profess no belief in magic at all.  The riders who will be testing this stuff for the two B-level factories haven’t actually been born yet.  Just sayin’.]

Great Expectations

If you look up the word “optimist” in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a wildcard rider discussing his chances in an upcoming MotoGP tilt.  This time, it’s Blake Young, last seen trashing his Attack Performance APR Kawasaki bucket at Laguna Seca, along with one James Rispoli, who will be making his Moto2 debut in Indy with the GPTech team on a Tech 3 frame.  Such competition reminds me of a garage band entering a Battle of the Bands against Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and R.E.M..

Give the guys credit for showing up.  While you’re at it, please support their sponsors, who could likely get a better return on their investments tossing wads of $100 bills out of a helicopter.

Finally!  Your Weekend Forecast 

Indianapolis has enjoyed a remarkably temperate summer, and it looks to continue this weekend.  Skies are forecast to be fair, with temps in the high 70’s and low 80’s.  As this is probably your last chance to see MotoGP at the IMS; if you can come to town for the race, please do so.  (Next year you’ll have to travel to Argentina.)

As of this weekend, Fox Sports 1 will be the new home of MotoGP on TV.  Live coverage of all three classes starts Sunday at 11 am Eastern, with the big bikes going off at 2 pm.  We’ll have MotoGP results right here on Sunday evening.

 

 

The Passing of the Torch

July 27, 2013
Rossi vs. Marquez stalking Bradl

Rossi vs. Marquez as they stalk Bradl, Lap 4, looking into Turn 8

Two beautiful images of what will become a historic moment for MotoGP, the moment Marc Marquez announced he didn’t need no steenkin’ rules, he was just going for the win.  (Borrowed shamelessly from Tom White, who has posted these and a number of others at Motomatters.com.)

Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

We don’t need no steenkin’ rules, we’re going for the win. See you later.

While we’re at it, and before we forget, let’s mention how maddening it is to have to wait to hear about Crutchlow.  It is far more interesting, though, to learn that MotoGP has learned something from the NBA and the NFL, namely that a 2 year contract can now become a one year contract with the team (i.e., team owner) holding the option for year two.  Which, in turn, means riders like Bradl, Bautista,, and Smith may be soon looking for work.  Add to this the new rules allowing up to four riders per team, the availability of both Honda and Yamaha satellite bikes, as well as Yamaha engines on other frames.  Plus, chassis manufacturers have now joined the ranks of engine manufacturers as being viewed as owners, subject to the complex rules of one class versus the other.

The only thing we know for sure at this time is that they will be referred to only as “works” teams and “non-works” teams.  Period.  The continental divide in all of this is, of course, how do teams configure their bikes in order to maximize power, i.e., with a Honda or Yamaha engine, while still being allowed 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines per season.  that question sits in front of Suzuki as they plot their re-entry into the fray in 2015.  BMW drops out of WSB.  Aprilia must be considering fielding a works team of them own at some point, as world economics appear to be gaining strength, freeing up sponsorship money for teams willing to go all in on the leased engines and ambiguous rules.

There may likely be riders suddenly available with some real whiskers, including Bradl, Bautista, Smith and Hayden.  Espargaro and Redding moving up from Moto2.  Lots of wildcards in the US rounds.  Ducati needing to do something big to remain relevant in the premier class, as they have no presence in the lower  classes.  Surely they are trying to convince Crutchlow that being competitive is over-rated, while traveling in luxury never goes out of style.  Nicky Hayden had a pretty pleasant last six years of his career with Ducati,, only won three races in his career, nice guy.  I hope he can find a way to dominate WSB like in the old days of dirt tracks and state fairs.

Crutchlow will begin a domino effect that should be fun to watch.  With, it appears, all but the Aliens suffering with one year deals, the so-called silly season in MotoGP will be somewhat sillier this year than in those previous.

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Preview

May 27, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Team Yamaha Needs to Assert Itself 

As Round Five of the 2013 MotoGP championship season steams toward us, the very air crackling in its wake,  we are reminded of one of the oldest truths in motor sports.  We are reminded that championships are rarely won in the first quarter of the season.  They can, however, be lost.  Such is the inconvenient truth facing Yamaha pilots Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi this weekend at the circuit that will almost surely bear Rossi’s name someday. 

For Team Yamaha, finishing one-two at Mugello would be like holding serve—great, yeah, but nothing to really celebrate.  Anything less will range from a disappointment to a disaster, neither of which would be helpful at this point of this season.  Or, actually, any point.  Of any season.  Not helpful at all.

Expectations for Team Blue are high this weekend.  As are the stakes.

For the ebullient Repsol Honda team, fresh off their French triumph, putting one bike on the podium at Mugello is both necessary and sufficient.  Two would be a big win.  Zero only happens if someone fails to finish the race.  Two Hondas on the Italian podium spells trouble for the factory Yamaha team.  Trouble we might have seen coming, had we been paying closer attention to the season and less attention to Losail.

Losail gave us a false sense of Lorenzo/Rossi/Yamaha security.  Look at the points earned by the primary factory teams round by round:

Round/Venue

Repsol Honda Team

Factory Yamaha Team

     

One – Losail

29

45

Two – COTA

45

26

Three – Jerez

45

29

Four – Le Mans

41

13

 

Average (less Round One)

44

23

Losail affected our thinking, putting the end of last season, and the entire offseason testing program, out of our heads.  That was an error in perception. My error, though I’m probably not alone.  But Losail is, after all, the outlier, the season opener under the lights in the desert, and doesn’t really have much of anything to do with anything else.  So Lorenzo and Rossi’s surprising 1-2 at Losail obscured the fact that Honda appeared to have it very much going on heading into the season.  Other than at Losail.

Since then, that has been the exact case.  One/two, one/two and one/three in three “normal” rounds.   Yamaha might insist we throw out Le Mans as the second outlier—France in the cold and wet—but even doing so, the blue bikes are not keeping up.  Not in Texas or Jerez, which isn’t really surprising, given the layouts.  But not in Le Mans, either, where Yamaha success has generally come easily.  True, Rossi was flying when he crashed in France and looked to have podium written all over him, but such is life running with the big dogs.

Scoreboard. 

Changing of the Guard Underway?

If, as expected, Pol Espargaro signs a one year deal with Monster Tech3 Yamaha, it suggests the Rossi era at Yamaha will end, again, after the 2014 season, in The Doctor’s 35th year.  It will point to Lorenzo and Espargaro fronting the factory team versus Pedrosa and Marquez on the Hondas.  It means Yamaha will have to find more acceleration, while Honda seems to have found all it needs.

There is, too, the outside possibility Dani Pedrosa would not be offered a new contract at the expiration of his current deal after 2014. Lorenzo - Marquez To ride the Repsol Honda for nine (9) years, with all those wins, but no titles…And it doesn’t get any easier at age 30, which will be the age he turns in the first year of his next contract.  There must be those at Honda Racing HQ who have run out of patience with the gutsy little Spaniard.  They want titles; they don’t get all choked up listening to the Spanish national anthem.

Anyway.  If Marc Marquez is, indeed, The Next Great Thing and, by extension, Espargaro the Next Next Great Thing, then whom, we wonder, is the Next Next Next Great Thing?  Scott Redding?  Alex Rins?  Alex Marquez?

It was only 2011 when Marco Simoncelli looked like The Next Great Thing.

Whomever he turns out to be, he will enter MotoGP at a time when it is becoming homogenized.  When the prototype bikes will be getting slowed and the CRT bikes faster.  When teams will likely experience more sudden success and more thorough financial failure.  Where the rules will continue to bend in favor of the more democratic CRT bikes, and away from the monolithic factory behemoths and traditional sponsors who have funded and ruled the sport forever.

The revelation that Dorna Big Cheese and magnate Carmen Ezpeleta is a closet socialist is too sweet.  He’s starting to make MotoGP sound like kids’ rec league soccer, wanting “EVERYONE to get a trophy!”  “Yes, we would like 30 bikes that all go the same speed and that cost the teams €100,000 each only.  They can use as much fuel as they like and are limited to 12 engines for the season.  No other rules.  We don’t need no more steenkin’ rules.  12 engines.  €100,000 each.  Plenty of gas.  Brolly girls.  That’s IT.”  Which, in the opinion of a lot of purists, is in fact desirable.  Delusional, but fun to think about.

MotoGP is morphing, squeezed by economics , resembling World SuperBikes more each year.  Now, if Aprilia would step up with a two bike factory team, and if Suzuki could become relevant again.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see, say, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies united on a hot new Suzuki MotoGP team.  If not Hayden, then perhaps Spies and Redding, who currently rides 9kg over the weight floor in Moto2 and would be a force on 1000cc.    How about Big Brother Aleix Espargaro and Crutchlow fronting a factory Aprilia team?  If Little Brother gets a prototpe, it’s only fair that big brother gets one too.

Back to Mugello

MotoGP success for team Yamaha in Italy—both bikes on the podium—would move the focus to the following three rounds,  spaced bi-weekly, more or less, in Catalunya, Assen and the Sachsenring  heading into the heat of the summer.  Catalunya favors Yamaha.  Assen and Germany both favor Honda, at least recently.  Let’s review.  Team Yamaha needs to score a lot of points in Italy and Catalunya, keep it close in northern Europe, and hope to still be in it heading for the U.S. in July and August.

Otherwise, we’ll be reduced to arguing Marc vs. Dani or Dani vs. Marc.  When we’re not scratching our heads over whatever became of Stefan Bradl.  Or ruminating about why Cal Crutchlow doesn’t get any respect from owners.

As to our hope for two competitive factory teams at the top of MotoGP in 2013, one of two possible answers will emerge in Tuscany:  If Pedrosa and Marquez continue their hot streak at Mugello, it will probably mean Honda all the way in 2013.  That would be a No.  If Lorenzo and Rossi find what they need and dominate the proceedings, that would be a Maybe.

Let’s not forget the 2010 race.  Mugello that year was Round Four.  After Round Three in France, Lorenzo led Rossi 70 to 61, Dovizioso trailing in 3rd with 42.  Rossi had his high side in practice and was suddenly down and out of the chase for the title.  After Mugello, it was Lorenzo 90, Pedrosa 65, (Rossi 61), Dovizioso 58.  It was essentially over, suddenly Lorenzo’s to lose.  In the blink of an eye.

At 200 mph on two wheels with the best in the world on the best of the world, as observed in Forrest Gump, “(stuff) happens.”  Marquez, to his credit, has been off his bike only once thus far in his premier class debut.  Pedrosa, on the other hand, has been separated from his too often to count over the years, generally with bad and lasting effects.  Marquez’s style seems to invite the close encounters he’s enjoyed over his brief career.  But he, too, has memories of Sepang, where he hit his head hard enough in 2011 to have double vision for the next six months.  While the rest of the world grieved for Sic, Marquez also dealt with the possibility that his promising professional career had ended before it fully started.

As we’ve already seen, such worries were misplaced.

See live coverage of the Italian Grand Prix Sunday at 7:30 am EDT on SpeedTV.  We’ll have the results of the race here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

April 8, 2013

An edited version of this story appears on Motorcycle.com, complete with high-rez images.

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard.

Past, Present and Future Champions full final

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly.  Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to do just that.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years.  The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith.  Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10.   Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.

MotoGP 2012 Indianapolis Preview

August 14, 2012

An edited version of this article, and some  fab high-rez images, will appear on Motorcycle.com on Wednesday or Thursday.  In the meantime, enjoy this in its original state.

Aliens Take Aim at the IMS Infield Track

At Laguna Seca, Repsol Honda’s receding star, Casey Stoner, laid down a statement:  Those of you who thought the 2012 championship was over should perhaps revisit this idea.  His solid win over factory Yamaha primo Jorge Lorenzo, with teammate Dani Pedrosa finishing third, brought the Australian to within 32 points of Lorenzo, heading into Round 11.  The diminutive Pedrosa, in the midst of an outstanding season, is also in the midst of his two rivals, trailing Lorenzo by 23.  All three need to eat their Wheaties this weekend.

The history of MotoGP at Indianapolis is starting to become etched in my mind, more than other circuits since I get better seats here in my home town.  The 2008 inaugural race was held during Hurricane Ike, and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, who became Yamaha’s  prodigal son this past week, tracked down Repsol Honda homeboy Nicky Hayden in a remarkably “wet race” called after 18 laps.  In 2009 Rossi, who could have slammed the door on teammate Lorenzo, instead crashed out as Lorenzo won going away, being joined on the podium by Alex de Angelis (?) and Nicky Hayden, the Kentucky Kid’s sole visit to the rostrum that season.  Back home again in Indiana.

Two years ago, Lorenzo led the series comfortably in the scorching heat at Indy.  Pedrosa unexpectedly dominated the race, and Lorenzo managed a satisfactory third, but the day belonged to Ben Spies. The American, in the middle of his Rookie of the Year season on the Tech 3 Yamaha, took the pole late in the QP, ran with the big dogs all day, and held on to second place, the first podium for a satellite Yamaha since Colin Edwards’ at Sepang in 2008.  Stoner wrestled with his Ducati all weekend, qualifying sixth and crashing out on lap eight.

Last year, Repsol Honda owned the world and the IMS, running away from the factory Yamahas.  Stoner and Pedrosa blew away Spies and Lorenzo, spoiling the young American’s second consecutive podium in his home crib.  It marked Indianapolis’ first look at Valentino Rossi wearing (some) Ducati red, and it wasn’t pretty, as The Doctor qualified 14th and finished 10th, one of the most painful outings Rossi has endured in the premier class.  Ever.

Seeking a trend, we can summarize: Rossi and Hayden, Lorenzo and Hayden, Pedrosa and Spies, Stoner and Pedrosa.  Something for every taste and budget.  No telling who may have the hot hand this year, other than the Ducati boys, who won’t.

The MotoGP World Tips Slightly on its Axis

Whenever there is change on the factory teams, I go into a bit of altered consciousness trying to make the adjustments.  On the Repsol team–Stoner/Pedrosa to Pedrosa/Marquez.  On the Yamaha team–Lorenzo/Spies to Lorenzo/Rossi.

[Valentino Rossi back wearing Yamaha leathers in Alien-land.  The sun will rise in the east; all is again right with the world.  I’m flashing on baseball’s A-Rod, who went off to Texas to “win a championship” (good one, Alex) and ended up with the Yankees.]

At Ducati, Rossi/Hayden to Dovizioso/Hayden.  Audi has apparently been ordered by their new Italian employee to fix the GP12 or, um, well, actually, he’ll race for two years and leave in disgust after promising he won’t.  Perhaps Audi is already experiencing buyer’s remorse about owning the rights to an Andrea Dovizioso who feels free to tell them how to run their business.  Ducati is also said to be pursuing a new development strategy, fielding factory-supported A and B teams, grooming younger riders with big potential and wide shoulders to ride for their satellite squads.  See, Nicky Hayden, on a one year deal, is no spring chicken.  Just sayin’.

Andrea Dovizioso is additional proof that life on the factory teams, even Ducati, must be several orders of magnitude sweeter than life on the satellites.  Dovizioso, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, has been hammering podiums all year, and is intentionally throwing away any chance of continuing to do so for probably two full years, thus completing his personal negative career hat trick.  He got worked at Repsol Honda last year.  He got worked just last week by factory Yamaha.  And now he will turn himself inside out trying to race the Ducati, the Career Killer, for money.

Speaking of screwed, we’re witnessing the dizzying rise and fall of Cal Crutchlow, who took such an aggressive I’ll-Be-Doing-You-A-Bloody-Favor stance with the Bologna factory that they encouraged him to pound sand, as it were.  Crutchlow’s options, apart from remaining on the Tech 3 Yamaha, are few.  Cal needs new advisors less inclined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Next year, he won’t be the only Englishman on the grid, either.  There’ll be a new Brit in town, most likely Scott Redding.

Toni and the Wildcards

This, unfortunately, is not one of the bands you’ll hear in the infield this weekend.  With Hector Barbera questionable, dragging his three week old broken leg around, Toni Elias again brings his high-priced vagabond routine to the Pramac Ducati, which he was able to remain aboard at Laguna Seca for almost two full laps.

Steve Rapp returns with his Attack Performance Kawasaki-powered privateer after failing to qualify in Monterey.  He is joined by Aaron Yates, fronting for Hoosier-based GPTech, sporting another homegrown frame and powered by Suzuki, which is kind of an oxymoron, but they’re new, so we’ll overlook the irony.  Assuming one or both qualify, they’ll be battling with the CRT dregs and definitely trailing the Aprilia-powered ARTs beneath Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro.

Chasing Jorge Lorenzo

One of the things I’ve never spent much MotoGP energy on is arranging interviews with Big Stars.  This year, with a photographer and interpreter in tow, I’ve made a serious run at gaining an exclusive with Jorge Lorenzo Himself, as in Possibly This Year’s Repeat World Champion.  This would be a huge score amongst the gearheads who edit and publish this stuff, and would raise my stature with them immeasurably, given how low the bar currently sits.

Somehow, I located the email address of the Yamaha team flack, Mr. Gavin Matheson.  My proposal to him, in exchange for 10 minutes with his guy, was drinks and dinner at my place for him and Jorge, grilling some fresh salmon and Indiana sweet corn, with local summer tomatoes on the side.  Some down time away from the track, kickin’ it, with a Rolling Stone-style feature spread on the Motorcycle.com website the following day.  A few really penetrating questions, more to do with his private life and interests than bike stuff and the whole internationally-famous-jock-who-can’t-go-anywhere-in-Spain-without-armed-guards thing.

It’s not happening.

Gavin on Monday assured me that despite his almost overwhelming personal desire to see Jorge’s smiling face on the Motorcycle.com site, Jorge’s interview schedule is already jam-packed, which allows him time for video interviews, but not much else.  Here at Motorcycle.com we don’t take that kind of thing personally.  We are still young, and there will be plenty of other grands prix at which Lorenzo, perhaps even Rossi, will become putty in our hands, revealing things in This Publication that you can’t get anywhere else.

Just not this weekend.

Your Hurrying Hoosier Forecast

Indiana has been broiling all summer; last week I cut my lawn for the first time since, like, May.  But the weather forecast for race weekend is dry with temps in the 70’s.  The IMS has been promoting the race hard this year, and attendance is expected to be up, way in excess of what they drew at the “U.S.” Grand Prix in frigging California.  The Gen Con Convention is in town this weekend, billing itself as “the original, longest running, best attended, gaming convention in the world.” And Indy Fringe brings its “offbeat theatrical (freak) show” to Mass Ave. for 11 days starting on the 17th.

Let’s review.  On Friday and Saturday nights we’ll have thousands of motorheads, gamers, and thespians sharing the same space downtown. The opportunities for some epic flash mobs are virtually endless.  I’m taking the family down for a good old Hoosier family funfest on Saturday night, with pictures to follow.  Check back here on Sunday night or Monday for the race story.

Sachsenring–MotoGP Traffic Report Saturday 7/18/09.

July 18, 2009

It was after Mugello, which Stoner won in late May to lead the standings that some of us began to suspect it might be his year again.  At round five, he looked very tough.  But then he was a wreck after Catalunya, having given up the lead, and he faded noticeably at Assen and again at Laguna.  Going into this mid-season weekend, he was thought by many, including moi-même, to have his work cut out for him at Sachsenring.  So, on a wet track he has the top practice lap on Friday.  Perhaps he’s feeling better?  A little too soon to say.

Notice how on Fridays (Thursdays in the Netherlands) guys like Toni Elias, de Puniet and de Angelis, de bums, always seem to have something going on.  Some weeks, it carries over to Saturday, and they end up in the second row on the grid, fully enjoying the sweeties with the umbrellas.  But it almost never carries over to Sunday.  De Puniet’s fourth in Jerez was a gift, de Angelis has finished as high as sixth—at Qatar—with Elias scoring a sixth at Laguna.  There’s a whole lot of difference between running one fast lap and running thirty fast laps.

And the sick part of this sport?  The hellers are doing laps in eighty-three seconds and the “bums” are taking all of eighty-five seconds.  Like they’re going slow.

Last year in Germany, Lorenzo and Pedrosa went out early.  Stoner beat Rossi (the last race Rossi would lose until October 5th at Philip Island), with Vermeulen on the podium and the aforementioned de Angelis in 4th place.  In the background, on the jukebox, you’d swear you could hear bits and pieces of Patsy Cline’s haunting, “Crazy…”               Yes, that’s right, Alex de Angelis finished in 4th place.

Will it be Germany where Stoner reasserts his claim to the top spot?  I think not.  But all that needs to happen is for, say, Stoner to win, Pedrosa to finish 2nd, Lorenzo 3rd, and Rossi, uh, 7th, whence the championship standings would look like this– 🙂 —

Stoner                160

Rossi                   160

Lorenzo              158

Pedrosa               112

At roughly the same time pigs fly. 

Bummer for our boy Casey, who hasn’t been sandbagging.  He’s probably not winning this race, nor is Signor Rossi going to loaf his way to seventh.  I expect Rossi and Pedrosa to slug it out, with Lorenzo injured, lurking and dangerous, Stoner fading, Dovizioso threatening, Hayden being heard from, and even a Marco Melandri around if it rains. 

And I hear your boys Dani and Dovi got themselves brand new engines for the Sachsenring Rennen.

My question–who’s gonna LOSE it this year at Sachsenring? 

Probably not Signor Rossi.

 *  *  *

The forecast: rain for qualifications; cloudy and cool on race day.


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