Posts Tagged ‘Jack Miller’

MotoGP 2021 Journal–Round 5: Le Mans

May 16, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 14, 15 and 16, 2021

Friday

Alas, Round 5 of the 2021 MotoGP season brings us once again to Sarthe, smack in the middle of France and, believe it or not, the weather is a major factor for the weekend, as it often is here. Cool breezy temps with “spotty” showers, a nightmare for the riders and teams. The possibility of a flag-to-flag is strong, as is the possibility that the halving of the field, typically determined in FP3, could occur on Friday. The likelihood of a Yamaha or Ducati winning on Sunday, based upon what we saw today, is high, too. Unless the Weather Gods get involved and make a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.

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A little local color from Le Mans.

Friday started wet and finished dry. As anticipated, FP2 became the determinant as regards slick passage into Q2 or having to fight one’s way through Q1 simply for the opportunity to get one’s brains bashed by the really fast movers, all of whom are well-rested and raring to go, in Q2. This was true in all three classes. One interesting note is that the wettish MotoGP FP3 found #93 at the top of the sheet. Otherwise, the various dies were cast on Friday.

Missing from the Q2 qualifiers were some big names, as usual:

Moto3–The only guy I want to discuss is rookie Pedro Acosta, currently sitting P18. How can one not pick him to advance to Q2, to qualify well, and then podium on Sunday?

Moto2–Baldassarri, Ogura, the two Americans, Beaubier and Roberts, Vietti, Dalla Porta.

MotoGP–Rins and Mir, series leader Pecco Bagnaia, the three rookies left standing bringing up the rear.

As for the guys who had it going on in FP2, please include, in Moto3, Gabriel Rodrigo, the pesky Darryn Binder, and Antonelli. Moto2–Lowes, two Fernandezes and Remy Gardner. MotoGP– both French riders, Viñales, POL Espargaro on the Honda, and Frankie Morbidelli. Three Yamahas in the top five. They should thrive in the dry, assuming there’s any to be had on Sunday. Typically, the mudders ride for Ducati, but Zarco must be feeling it, at home, on a bike he seems to love, in the wet.

Saturday

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Saturday was, again, wettish at the start and slowly drying. FP3 times were slow. Waiting for the caterers to do their thing prior to qualifying in Moto3, I looked at the sky, best described by the word “sullen.”

Such weather conditions would not rival those of the first race I ever attended, in 2009, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The city was on the receiving end of the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Most of the events scheduled for the weekend–exhibition riding, loop-the-loops in Broad Ripple–were rained out. On Sunday it was pouring. The camera crew from MotoGP raised the boom truck that would allow them shots from, like, 200′ in the air. They took it down about five minutes later. By the time the lights went out in the premier class, it was getting biblical. Apparently there were contracts in place that dictated that the race could not be delayed; I’ve seen races since then delayed for weather conditions less severe than in Indianapolis that day.

[That was the day, prior to the race getting red-flagged about 18 laps in, where Valentino Rossi chased down homeboy Nicky Hayden, with the rain blowing sideways. The few remaining fans were miffed. That race jinxed the Indianapolis round, which never got traction and disappeared after about five years.]

The maddening aspect of the weather at Le Mans is its unpredictability. I find myself rooting for a flag-to-flag that will scramble the standings at the top. It’s early in the season. Let’s see Tito Rabat win a race.

Qualifying

Moto3 Q1: Acosta finished P7 and will start on the 7th row on Sunday. Andrea Migno ruled Q2, with longshot Riccardo Rossi and Jaume Masia joining him on the front row.

Moto2: Hotshot rookie Raul Fernandez takes his first Moto2 pole, followed by Marco Bezzecchi and American Joe Roberts.

MotoGP: In a frenzied finish, what had been a Honda lockout became two factory Yamahas and a factory Ducati on the front row. A strong second row features Morbidelli, Zarco and Marquez. Lotta fast riders out there in MotoGP. Quartararo took his third pole in succession, with Viñales and Miller in hot pursuit.

Sunday

The casual observer, looking at the results of the Moto3 race, would infer that my boy Pedro Acosta must have had a bad day, an ordinary P8 while Sergio Garcia and a couple of non-factors, Filip Salac and Riccardo Rossi, stood around on the podium, stunned. The 16-year old “Vote for Pedro” Acosta had never visited Le Mans, nor had he ever raced a Moto3 bike in the wet. He choked qualifying, crashed while in the middle of the pack, and extended his 2021 championship lead. This conforms to my theory of The Blessed NFL Quarterback, whose identity each year is a mystery until he wins the Super Bowl.

Things could not have been worse for young Acosta, yet those closest him—Antonelli, poleman Migno, Fenati and Masia—fainted. So he takes a 54 point lead to Mugello. And if it rains there, he’s now been there, done that. He appears to be a quick study. He appears to be The Blessed Rider in Moto3.

Moto2

Rookie phenom Raul Fernandez cruised to victory in the dampish Moto2 race, ahead of Remy Gardner and Marco Bezzecchi, with Tony Arbolino making his first meaningful appearance of the season, finishing in P4. Thus, KTM teammates Gardner and Fernandez lead the 2021 series with 89 and 88 points, respectively, with Bezzecchi 17 down and Sam Lowes, who recorded another DNF, now trailing by 23. Both American riders crashed out, Roberts early from P2 and Beaubier late from P6.

MotoGP

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The sky at the start of the “dry” MotoGP race.

For the first time in four years the premier class put on a flag-to-flag show and it added some extra spice to what was already shaping up to be an exciting race. As expected, given the generally wet conditions, the Ducatis were in charge today. Miller and Zarco finished on the podium, along with Fabio, while Pecco Bagnaia, having started from P16, flogged his Desmo to P4 before running out of laps. With six riders failing to finish and three more trailing Miller at the end by over a minute, there were points all around for the survivors. Other than poor Frankie Morbidelli, who crashed and banged up his already banged-up knee, eventually completing 23 laps before the marshals dragged him off the track.

That makes it two in a row for Jack Miller, who suddenly has momentum. For awhile today, right after everyone changed bikes, Marc Marquez led a MotoGP race. It was only briefly, as he crashed a bit later, and then again a bit later than that.  But it was nice to see him competing, even though he says the muscles in his upper right arm are only at 50%. Anyway, here are the standings year-to-date:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          FRA    80

2        Pecco BAGNAIA                Ducati           ITA     79

3        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           FRA    68

4        Jack MILLER                     Ducati           AUS    64

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          SPA    56

6        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          SPA    49

7        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           SPA    35

8        Franco MORBIDELLI         Yamaha          ITA     33

9        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           JPN    28

10      Pol ESPARGARO               Honda           SPA    25

For the record, Maverick Viñales started today in P2 and finished P9. Valentino Rossi started in P9 and finished in P11. Aleix Espargaro retired with a mechanical. Alex Rins and Joan Mir crashed out a couple of times each, and want Le Mans taken off the calendar. Danilo Petrucci flogged his Tech 3 KTM to P5 and wants it to rain, heavily, for the rest of the season.

In Conclusion

We have tight races in Moto2 and MotoGP and the likely emergence of The Next Great Rider going on in Moto3. We’re heading into the meat of the schedule, with a back-to-back at Mugello and Catalunya followed by another back to back in Germany and at Assen. Valentino Rossi fans must be willing to admit that he overstayed his MotoGP welcome by a year. It appears Marc Marquez will resume his old form at some point, but probably not this year. The kids have taken over the schoolyard, and the fans are loving it.

A Little Tranching Music, Please

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Viñales, 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

MotoGP Tranches After Le Mans

Tranche I – Quartararo, Miller, Bagnaia

Tranche II – Zarco, Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Mir

Tranche III – Viñales, Rins, A Espargaro, Binder, M Marquez, Oliveira

Tranche IV – Petrucci, Rossi, Marini, A Marquez, Bastianini

Tranche V – Rabat, Savadori, Lecuona

 

Two weeks until Mugello. Can’t wait.

 

 

 

Jack Miller “Redeemed”?

May 12, 2021

© Bruce Allen  May 12, 2021

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It says right here on the MotoGP.com landing page that Jack Miller’s recent win at Jerez is the kind of stuff that transforms a rider’s career. One can only imagine the breathless narrative accompanying the slo-mo video. But wait.

Jack Miller graduated directly from Moto3 to MotoGP in 2015. He won at Assen in the rain in 2016. He won again last time round. Where in this rather–sorry–ordinary story do we get to talk about “redemption”? As if Miller had recently put a serious beatdown on the MotoGP field, to revive a career many non-Australians considered disappointing.

Jack Miller is reportedly a helluva nice guy whose career has shown steady progress. In 2014 he was considered something of a phenom. I was at Sepang that year and he was always around yakking with the press, on his way to fame and glory in MotoGP at the tender age of 19, the next Great Australian Hope, a fitting follower in the mold of the legendary Casey Stoner.

No.

Miller has had a nice career, and now has two wins, joining what our crack research team guesses to be 100 other riders who have achieved similar “redemption.” It’s not like Jack has spent six years wallowing in the mud with the likes of Tito Rabat and then suddenly owns the joint. He has simply made himself relevant again, trailing series leader Pecco Bagnaia by 27 points, still in the lead group for the year.

A single career win on dry pavement does not a legend make. If it does, then make way for one of the other recent legends, Danilo Petrucci.

Enough with the hyperbole, MotoGP.

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 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

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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.


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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 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.

MotoGP:Red Bull Ring I

August 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich offered something for every taste and budget on Sunday. A lead group in Moto3 consisting of 15 riders separated by less than a second. Red flags in both the Moto2 and MotoGP races, two amazing crashes that, miraculously, left no rider seriously injured. The narrow escape provided to Valentino Rossi in the main event–one motorcycle, upside-down, flashing directly in front of him, when another, a split second later, this one airborne, barely missed his head, forcing him to duck–proves that he has been blessed by God to ride motorcycles for as long as he wants.

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At the flag, it was Andrea Dovizioso, followed by a jubilant Joan Mir and a disappointed Jack Miller. It was in a script somewhere that Dovi, who only 24 hours earlier had announced his intention to leave Ducati at the end of the season, would take a decisive win on the Desmosedici for Ducati’s first win of the season. We got to witness the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations by Suzuki rising star Joan Mir. Jack Miller, who had gambled on soft tires for the 20 lap second race, lost his wager after having led in the early laps of the race.

MotoGP Qualifying and Practice, Etc.

The changing of the guard amongst the riders was in full view on Friday. The combined sheets for FP1 and FP2 showed two veterans in the top ten, Dovizioso and Zarco (it took the Frenchman awhile to get to MotoGP). Younger bucks took eight of the top ten times during FP1, as FP2 started way wet and gradually dried, but not enough for anyone to get within two seconds of their FP1 times.

The culling of the herd into Q1 and Q2 that takes place in FP3 was further evidence that the character of the neighborhood is changing. Veterans Pol Espargaro and Dovi occupied spots 1&2, followed by eight young(-ish)  fast movers. Of the 12 riders not cruising into Q2 unaccosted, two were subs and seven were veterans, including, notably, Rossi and Crutchlow, who is old for his age. (The three remaining cull-ees were rookies, two of them on KTM, including Brad Binder, at a track where he should excel, in front of the corporate brass, placing 16th on the time sheets after FP3. This is the same Brad Binder who won at Brno last time out. Young Brad had some work to do later on Saturday.)

Team Yamaha managed to put three of their four bikes directly into Q2. Left on the outside looking in, and not for the last time, was the estimable Valentino Rossi. Many, including myself, expected to see Rossi sail into Q2, neither, in the lyrics of Arlo Guthrie, tired nor proud, ready to go to work for a spot in the front row. He barely managed to slide under the tag on his last Q1 lap; had this been a soccer match, his game-winning goal would have come during injury time, well after the clock showed all zeroes. Johann Zarco, looking quick on the Esponsorama Ducati, laid down a fast lap early in Q1 and joined Rossi.

QP2 was its usual thrilling self. At one point at least six riders held the top spot during the 15 minute session. When the smoke cleared, it was Vinales, Miller and Quartararo in the front row, followed by Dovizioso, a steely-eyed Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir, apparently starting to get this whole qualifying thing figured out. Morbidelli, Rins and Zarco comprised Row 3, while Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira and, yes, Valentino Rossi made up Row 4. His last-lap heroics in Q1 still left him sucking canal water.

With the addition of KTM to the ranks of manufacturers with race day credibility, there is just more competition out there. In Q2, half a second is all that stood between teammates Vinales on pole and Rossi wiping up the rear. Honda, its lack of rider depth exposed by Marquez’ injury, placed a grand total of one (1) rider in the top 12.

Oh, and Dovi and Ducati are splitting at the end of the current season, initiating a feeding frenzy from the top levels of MotoGP to the dregs of Moto3. Nature, it has been observed elsewhere, abhors a vacuum, and a sudden vacancy on the factory Ducati team creates a powerful one. Riders, considered and/or discarded, suddenly become viable again, like dominoes standing back up after having been knocked down. Bagnaia, Zarco and even multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo are suddenly back in the conversation for a factory seat on the big red machine. Is this Andrea Dovizioso retiring? Or considering a move of some kind to KTM after a gap year? Fascinating if you’re into that kind of thing.

Race Day in Austria

The premier class race was proceeding swimmingly, with KTM pilot and defector-in-waiting Pol Espargaro leading the parade, followed in close order by Miller and Dovizioso on Ducatis and Alex Rins, playing hurt, in fourth. Suddenly, behind the lead group, Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli got tangled up, both drivers going down hard and both bikes, released from their tethers, getting the wind in their sails and refusing to fall over. The consequences, to either or both Vinales and Rossi, could have been lethal. That neither rider suffered a scratch is nothing short of a miracle. Out came the red flags, to Espargaro’s everlasting dismay.

Race #2, a 20-lap affair, offered relatively little drama. A lead group of Miller, Dovizioso, Espargaro and Rins congealed up front. It was anybody’s race. Espargaro and fellow KTM traveler Miguel Oliveira crashed out on Lap 9 in a collision I missed and the broadcasters failed to replay. Rins crashed out of the lead on Lap 11 after putting on a great show getting to the front. After Rins dropped out, his place was taken by teammate Joan Mir, smelling blood, not having to deal with the likes of Marc Marquez, Espargaro and Rins. On the last lap, an apparent Ducati 1-2 was broken up by Mir, who went through on Miller late for his first premier class podium. Rossi and Vinales were never serious players in today’s race, as Vinales could only manage tenth, while Rossi, who has become Colin Edwards, hung around long enough to claim fifth.

Heading from Spielberg to Spielberg this week, the standings for the year show a baffling Fabio Quartararo (8th today, having been as far back as 20th) still leading the class, trailed by Dovizioso, Vinales, Brad Binder (4th today after starting 17th for KTM) and Rossi. Three young guys in the top five, seven in the top ten. Oh the times they are a-changing.

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The Undercards

The Moto3 race was another fire drill, as per usual. If anyone at Race Direction were to bother to count up the total number of overtakes in this race, not just within the lead group, I expect it would approach 300. Back and forth, the entire time, in the lead group, behind the lead group. At the front, where the slipstream shoots the relatively light 250cc bikes like snapping a whip. Series leader Albert Arenas stole this one  for KTM on the last lap, after keeping an eye on Jaume Masia, Ai Ogura and Darryn Binder all day; Scot John McPhee was in and out of there, along with polesitter Remy Gardner for awhile. For the year, Arenas stretched his lead over McPhee to 28 points, with Ogura breathing down McPhee’s neck. If ever the phrase “on any given Sunday” applied to a sport, Moto3 would be right up there.

The Moto2 race was red-flagged on Lap 4 after series leader Enea Bastiannini high-sided out of the lead in a bad place, leaving both rider and bike sitting in center field, exposed. The Italian got himself out of harm’s way, just in time to watch Hafez Syahrin, pulling out of someone’s slipstream, hit his used bike while accelerating, immediately blasting both machines to smithereens and sending Syahrin flying. The Malaysian rider, conscious and with feeling in all his extremities, is going to ache tomorrow. The 13-lap sprint following the track clean-up belonged to young Jorge Martin, who gave KTM their second win of the day and his first in Moto2, beating out Marini and Marcel Schrotter. Over in Mudville, the locals were celebrating another top ten finish for homeboy Joe Roberts.

For the year, Luca Marini takes over the series lead from Bastiannini, followed by Martin and Sam Lowes, tied for third, and Tetsuga Nagashima fifth. A mere 23 points separate the top five. This one should get decided in Portimao.

Let This One Percolate for a Few Days

A return visit to Red Bull Ring is just what MotoGP needs this week, after two red flags and more drama than I can get my head around in one day. Maybe we’ll do a little work with our tranching tool. Maybe not. Suffice it to say that The Year Without Marquez has been pretty damned good so far.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

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The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

The second of three grand prix motorcycle championships was decided today as Italian veteran Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 title from the top step of the podium. In Moto2, Alex Marquez was unable to clinch the title, but held on to most of his margin, putting immense pressure on his pursuers heading to Malaysia. Over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez won another race. Ho hum. 

With Tom Luthi and Brad Binder still mathematically alive in Moto2, the season trudges on. Alex was unable to get anything going all day, finally finishing eighth, while KTM teammates Brad Binder and rookie Jorge Martin finished one-two and top challenger Luthi third. In other words, short of sailing over the handlebars, Marquez had about as bad a day as one can have in this business and still holds a 28-point cushion with two rounds left. The contest is not as close as the announcers would have you believe. 

Practice and Qualifying 

With a wet FP1 and a dry, surprisingly fast FP2 Yamaha and Vinales topped the day on Friday, to a resounding “So what?” Yamaha put all four bikes in the top nine, including young Fabio, whose F1 highside sent him to the medical center with a bad ouchie on his ankle and which would likely affect him not a whit on Saturday. The Yams were joined by Ducatis and Hondas, Marquez and Crutchlow (HON), Dovi, Miller and Petrucci (DUC). The Suzukis were struggling, the Aprilias showing improvement in the dry.

Marquez and Lorenzo had a close encounter in FP2 that folks would be talking about for the weekend. I didn’t hear the post-session comments, but it looked like Lorenzo slowed down on the racing line while MM was on a hot lap and MM brushed him on the pass. Mostly by accident. Any two other riders it wouldn’t amount to much at all. After all, it was Friday. As a footnote, Johann Zarco ended his first day on a 2018 Honda RC213V in P15, ahead of both Lorenzo (HON) and Pol Espargaro (KTM). Just sayin’.

On Saturday the weather gods, Arbitrary and Capricious, got involved, wind being their tool of choice, the result being a shambles in the premier class. Moto3 and Moto2 got all their sessions done, barely, but the MotoGP grid basically sat out FP3, after which FP4 was red-flagged, after which qualifications were pushed to Sunday. Fabio was limping around all day Saturday trying fruitlessly to avoid Q1; Miguel Oliveira had what the Brits call a “heavy crash” during FP4 that’s gonna leave a mark. Left on the outside of Q2 looking in were some big names—Quartararo first and foremost, along with Mir, Zarco and the KTM machines of Pol Espargaro and Oliveira. All would be sorted out on Sunday.

In Moto2, Sudden Sam Lowes, Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge and Luca Marini moved on from Q1. The Q2 front row ended up comprised of Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and hot Marini, going for a late-season hat trick on Sunday from P3. The second row included Fabio di Giannantonio, Jorge Martin (!) and Lowes, with aspiring champion Alex Marquez 7th, Tom Luthi 11th. As to Marquez’ chasers, they would start Sunday, respectively, from P11, P17, P1 and P2. Marquez can afford to let these guys bash each other’s brains in as long as he finishes in the top ten; he does not need to mix it up at the front with Brad Binder.

In Moto3 Can Oncu, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia and Tom Booth-Amos graduated to Q2. A wind-chill seemingly in the 30’s produced a front row of Marcos Ramirez, a stoked Aron Canet, and another hottie, Albert Arenas with a win and a second in his last two races. Plucky John McPhee (you just know he hates that label) sits dangerously at the top of Row 2 joined by Kaito Toba and LDP, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, the putative 2019 Moto3 world champion, needing only to beat Canet by five points on Sunday to clinch. If Aron Canet were in the NFL playoffs, his team would be down six with a minute left, facing 4th and 47 from their own one-yard line.

Quartararo and a surprising Andrea Iannone passed the Q1 test and were promoted to Q2. With times well off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole record, the race would start with Vinales, Quartararo and Marquez on the front row, followed by Rossi, Petrucci and Crutchlow. Five of these six would feature prominently in the race. Valentino Rossi, for those of you still paying attention, started fourth, finished eighth, and was a non-factor all day, although not to the extent that Jorge Lorenzo was, starting from P19 and finishing last, over a minute behind teammate Marquez, on the same bike, his nerves and spirit shot full of holes. 

The Races 

Moto3 featured your typical 17 bike lead group, the first six finishers within three-quarters of a second of one another. For the suspense to have been sustained to Sepang, after jinxed challenger Aron Canet DNF’ed for the fourth time in five rounds, Tony Arbolino would have had to win the race with Dalla Porta finishing no higher than ninth. By about Lap 5, with those two positions essentially reversed, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we watched everyone go round and round and absorbed another over-the-top podium celebration, par for the course for first-time winners. For all winners in this sport, come to think of it.

In Moto2 the two KTM factory machines found some love in the long, sweeping turns in Australia and won going away. Marquez spent his entire day mixing it up with the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri, Iker Lecuona, Remy Gardner and so on, risking a skittling that could have put a serious damper on his title aspirations. He was fortunate to finish eighth. The conditions will probably be more favorable for him in Malaysia. In my opinion, next week is his first real match point, and I expect he will put it between the white lines.

In MotoGP, in what has become a disturbingly familiar scenario, world champion Marc Marquez spent the entire day in second place, dogging the Yamaha race leader and ultimately breaking his heart into small shards on the last lap. In Buriram and Motegi it was rookie stud Fabio Quartararo. Today, it was Maverick Vinales who had his wings plucked off late in the day, at the time and place of Marquez’ choosing. Vinales panicked once Marquez went through on at Turn 1, asking more from his rear tire than it had to give, and finally lost his grits in Turn 9, gifting second place to Cal Crutchlow and a cheap podium to homeboy Jack Miller, who couldn’t have been more surprised. An early high side from Danilo Petrucci created collateral damage for young Fabio and ended his day on the first lap. 

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

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

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir

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

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

Recall what we said a couple weeks ago: Freeze them off in Australia and fry ‘em up in Malaysia. Despite pulling for Alex Marquez to get the monkey off his back next week, I would love to see two or three riders heading to Valencia for the finale within a few points of one another. We’ll have a few thoughts on this and other subjects on Tuesday or so.

Local Color

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Melbourne

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MotoGP Aragon Results

September 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez crushes Aragon; Dovi keeps it alive 

On Sunday, the Marquez express continued to rumble through the MotoGP landscape, laying waste to the field in Round 14 at Motorland Aragon. Andrea Dovizioso, bless his heart, flogged his factory Ducati from 10th at the start to 2nd at the finish, keeping the championship at least breathing until Buriram. And Jack Miller put a second Ducati on the podium after out-dueling Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales.

Let’s not kid ourselves that this is suddenly a contest again. Marquez has a magic number of three heading to Thailand. If Marquez manages to add a mere three points to his present lead over Dovizioso he will clinch the title. A win would close out the world championship for the sixth time in his seven years in the premier class, regardless of what Dovi might do. 

Practice and Qualifying 

In the play Camelot, by law it cannot rain until after sundown. Which is what happened at Aragon on Friday and Saturday overnights. A dry Friday produced stylish results, Marquez and the Yamahas communing in both sessions. Unbeknownst to anyone, the fastest lap of the weekend would be Marquez in FP1 on his Lap 6, a 1:46.869, rendering my prediction of another fallen lap record on Saturday incorrect. A wet track on Saturday morning caused headaches in all three classes. In MotoGP, many of the riders didn’t bother going out for FP3, confident that today’s race would be dry, automatic passages to Q2 already decided. Order was restored in FP4 on a dry track with Marquez and the Yamahas back in charge. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro broke his wrist in a P4 fall and would miss the race, the Austrian MotoGP program seeming somehow snakebit.

Q1 included the customary, um, underachievers, peppered by the presence of Morbidelli, Rins and Petrucci. Morbidelli sailed through to Q2, with a dogged Andrea Iannone—remember him?—gliding his Aprilia into the second shuttle to Q2, destroying the moods of Rins and Nakagami, among others. Q2, conceded in advance by acclimation of the riders to #93, produced its usual frenetic finish and a crowd-pleasing front row of Marquez, Quartararo and Vinales, Rossi skulking in P6. Andrea Dovizioso and his Ducati, my third choice for the podium, the only remaining credible title threat to Marquez, looked haunted, sitting in P10, virtually dead in the water. 

The Race 

Marquez took the hole shot and got away from the start, leading the field by a second at the end of Lap 1. The contest for second place generally included Vinales, Quartararo, and Miller, later expanded to include Dovizioso. The Yamahas were strong early in the race but gradually, after getting pounded on the back straight for 23 laps, gave way to the superior power of the Ducatis. Valentino Rossi, looking more and more like a rider going through the motions, started sixth and finished eighth today, making no impression. Crutchlow managed a quiet sixth with Aleix Espargaro giving Aprilia one of their best outings by finishing in P7. Prior to the race there had been a lot chatter around the idea that Yamaha had fixed their problems from 2018 and early this year. Today, I think, was a vivid illustration that the problems remain.

Also on display today was the fact that the Suzuki team remains capable of having terrible Sundays, with Rins finishing in P9 and Joan Mir 14th. KTM, too, once Pol Espargaro was sidelined, had to settle for 13th, 18th and 21st, an exercise in futility. Saddest of all, limping home in P20 was The Rider Formally Known as Jorge Lorenzo.

The Big Picture 

2019 is over. A magic number of 3 in Thailand becomes a magic number of -22 in Japan. Bruce’s Spacebook now lists only two wagers, with an 85% chance of Marquez clinching at Buriram and a 15% chance at Motegi. 

Tranching Tool 

After Misano: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone

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

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

A Quick Look Ahead

Two weeks until the steam bath of Buriram, the championship hanging by a thread. This is where a number of you will likely lose interest in MotoGP. But any readers with an appreciation of racing history should be aware that Jorge Lorenzo’s 2010 single season point record of 383 is under assault this season. Marquez currently has 300 points with five rounds left, putting 383 well within his reach. That may be a record worth striving for and might cause Marquez to keep the hammer down this fall rather than letting up has he has been known to do in past seasons in which he has clinched early. I, for one, would be happy knowing I had followed the MotoGP season in which Marc Marquez set the standard for the next generation of young guns, in a 19-round season, when he was at the top of his game.

Eye Candy, courtesy of motogp.girls and motogpgirls at Instagram:

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Self curated images from Aragon weekend:

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MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

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

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 


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