Posts Tagged ‘Jack Miller’

MotoGP 2022 Round 16: Motegi

September 25, 2022

Jack Miller dominates; Quartararo extends series lead

The 2022 Japanese Grand Prix, after getting skipped by The Powers That Be for the last two years, gave the fans an odd little race. The kind of race it was today: Series leader Fabio Quartararo, stuck in the mid-pack mud all day, finished in P8 and extended his series lead. Everyone’s favorite underdog, Aleix Espargaro, got undone on the sighting lap, something terminal with the electronics on his Aprilia, forcing him to pit, drop his bike, jump on his #2 bike, and start from pit lane in a distant P25. Aleix rode his ass off all day only to finish in P16, pointless.

Factory Ducati pilot Pecco Bagnaia, he of the gi-normous expectations heading into the season, found himself slugging it out in the aforementioned mud with his rival, series leader Quartararo, on the final lap. Young Pecco choked on the lowside, trudging through the gravel, clapping his hands in mock appreciation for what he later implied was an error by someone on his crew. Oh, and factory Ducati #2 pilot Jack Miller owned the place all weekend, seized the lead in today’s race on Lap 3 when he went through on Pramac brother-in-arms Jorge Martin and proceeded to lay down a Marquez-esque vapor trail on his way to his fourth win in the premier class.

Ducati did well, as expected, today. Placed five machines in the top ten and two on the podium. Gigi–gotta love this guy–sitting in the garage during the race, looking relaxed, wondering whether he should order more tiramasu. There was a point in the race when Matt Birt stopped to observe that he had just seen a Ducati turn inside a Yamaha for the first time ever. Having seen the results before watching the tape, on Lap 23 I wrote, “KITTENS COMING,” in anticipation of the meltdown Matt and Louis would suffer watching Pecco coming unglued on the last lap. Sure enough, right on cue, here they came. I could only be thankful that Steve Day is no longer in the booth, as he was always the one having kittens.

Fabio may be The Blessed Rider again this year; if so, it would represent a truly great season-long body of work on a sadly inferior machine. But really, he struggled all day to manage P8 which would have been P9 had Pecco not surrendered to the laws of physics. Aleix had the best qualifying of the four contenders in P6 prior to the debacle at the start. EBas started from P15 before finishing in P9. And Bagnaia hamstrung himself today by slogging to a P12 during Qualifying #2. It appears that most of our fearless leaders are feeling the pressure of having a premier class championship within their reach. The answer, in all likelihood, will lie, as we have been saying all year, in the number of crashes/DNFs the riders accumulate, as follows:

Rider Points DNF

Fabio Quartararo 219 2

Pecco Bagnaia 201 5

Aleix Espargaro 194 1*

Enea Bastianini 170 4

*mechanical failure at the start

Looking at things this way, it’s entirely possible to project Espargaro winning the title. Fabio spending his entire days on the limit is a blueprint for disaster. Bagnaia has people wondering why he doesn’t get it, that if he would only keep the shiny side up a little more often he would be leading the championship. That he doesn’t should great hope to the Espargaro family. Here’s what the season would look like if Quartararo and Bagnaia were to crash out in Thailand, allowing Aleix to win and EBas to place second:

Quartararo 219

Espargaro 219

Bagnaia 201

Bastianini 190

With four rounds left, I’m confident both Fabio and Pecco will slide out of one of them. The question is whether Aleix can keep his nose clean for an entire season. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy seeing him take the title after so many years of fruitless toil.

Marc Marquez seized pole on Saturday, just to remind folks how extraordinarily successful he has been here in the past. He took the hole shot and held the lead for three or four turns before getting swallowed up by a gaggle of riders not riding with one arm. He sat in P5 pretty much all day before taking Miguel Oliveira’s lunch money on the final lap for P4.

The factory KTM operation had things going their way today, placing Binder on the podium and Oliveira in the top five, too. Another guy I’ve been ignoring, but who is getting harder and harder to ignore, is Luca Marini. The sophomore has scored points in 13 of the 16 rounds to date. He worked his way up front and was tagging along with the lead group by the end of the day. The grid these days seems absolutely packed with fast young Italian riders, another node of The Rossi Effect. Another example–Marco Bezzecchi, late of the VR46 Academy, will be the runaway winner of the 2022 ROY award aboard his Desmosedici. The future is bright for Ducati pilots in the years to come. Ecstar Suzuki, on the other hand, had one rider out injured, a second retired with a mechanical issue, and their test rider/wild card had to make a hasty exit from his GSX-RR which was, at that moment, engulfed in flames. Doing a Zarco is what we call that around here.

So it’s off to Thailand to see how riders under extreme pressure perform in an autoclave. I think such conditions favor the younger riders who are physically more able to withstand the heat. But the veterans have been here before and to Sepang and know how to hold up over race distance. For Fabio, Pecco and Aleix, the season is now. Young Bastianini is going to have to ignore the championship, keep his head down, and score as many points as possiblle each time out. Oh, and remember not to crash.

MotoGP 2022 Round 13 – Spielberg

August 21, 2022

Sunday was a lovely day for racing at what must be considered one of the finest stops on the MotoGP calendar. The immaculate circuit, as fast as any, despite the layout which keeps most riders out of 6th gear all day. The postcard quality scenery. World-class brolly girls. A microclimate enriched by the thousands of pine trees in the vicinity. Seeing Carlos Ezpeleta, The Big Boursin of MotoGP in lederhosen, looking like Wally from Dilbert. Three exciting races. Championships tightening.

This is how racing is supposed to be. Fans on first-name bases with the riders. Longstanding rivalries renewed every week. Rampant nationalism. Racing margins so thin they make the blink of an eye seem like a long time. Riders separated by thousandths of a second at the flag. All coming to us at breathtaking speeds. And all on two wheels.

We will cover the high points of all three races but not in our usual depth. I have things to do.

Moto3: Sasaki Wins from Waaaaaay Back

The Crazy Boy, Ayuma Sasaki, was having a bad day. Two long lap penalties early in the race saw him fall to as low as P24 on Lap 5. 18 laps later he was firmly lodged in P1 and on his way to his first grand prix victory ever. Research indicates that riders with the name “Crazy”, by itself or in combination with other words, in their “track name” correlate highly with truncated careers. Over the long term, Crazy typically morphs into “retired.”

First Japanese 1-2 at any level since 2001.

Today’s race: Sasaki Suzuki Munoz (16 years old!)

2022: S Garcia 193 Izan Guevara 188 Dennis Foggia 144

Moto2: P2-OK

Today’s Moto2 race was plodding along, minding its own business with Honda Team Asia riders Ai Ogura (ticket to MotoGP next year already punched) and Thai speedster Somkiat Chantra having carved out a considerable lead on the field, Chantra running as Ogura’s wingman. Over the last five laps of the race it appeared Chantra was having to rein in his bike, that he had better pace than Ogura in addition to the expectation from every member of the team and the media that he would never (NEVER) challenge Ogura during this race, possibly removing him from the lead in the 2022 championship.

So what happened on the last lap. Did young Chantra lose his effing mind? Yes, it was Chantra muscling up on his teammate and good friend, taking the lead on Turn 8 of the final lap before surrendering it again on Turn 9, getting up close and personal and causing team principal Hiro Aoyama to blow a head gasket, oil and smoke pouring from his ears. And though the race ended well for the Honda team, young Chantra will probably be headed to the woodshed with Aoyama and some Asian guys in expensive suits to discuss his comportment in an atmosphere of free and frank conversation.

Personally, I believe Chantra intended to keep it clean and intended to yield the lead to Ogura at the end. The two are good friends; to me it looked like one friend saying to the other, “Congratulations on a great win. I could have beat you any time I wanted. Your mom said to tell you hi.”

Today’s race: A. Ogura S. Chantra J. Dixon

2022: A Ogura 183 A Fernandez 182 C. Vietti 156

MotoGP: Fabio Takes on Five Ducatis, Beats Four

Today’s premier class tilt saw French heartthrob Fabio Quartararo lined up at the start in the middle of row 2, with Bologna Bullets going all Charge of the Light Brigade on him, (Desmosedicis to the left, Desmosedicis to the right, Desmosedicis in front), the Italian brutes occupying five of the top six spots on the grid. By the time he saw the checkered flag, young Fabio had dispensed with Jack Miller, Jorge Martin, Enea Bastiannini and Johann Zarco; given an additional lap, he might very well have tracked down Pecco Bagnaia for the win, as the Italian’s final margin for the win was a mere 4/10ths.

Other than Bagnaia taking the hole shot and holding the lead for almost the entire race, there didn’t seem to be a key moment that changed the course of things. Joan Mir crashed out early as his season of horrors continues. EBas, in some early race contact I missed, left with a damaged rim on his front that allowed air to escape, rendering the bike unrideable. Luca Marini enjoyed his best day in the premier class, finishing in P4 after overtaking a number of more experienced riders from P13.

Today’s race: P Bagnaia F Quartararo J Miller

2022: F Quartararo 200 A Espargaro 168 P Bagnaia 156

The graphic below is chock full of information. Someone—what all does this tell us?

San Marino in two weeks. Andrea Dovizioso’s swan song.

Lots of info here.
One long-stemmed rose.
Low rez, terrible.
Where does Monster find them?
Very orderly Teutonic devotees.
Aryan beauty on display.

MotoGP 2022 Round 12: Silverstone

August 7, 2022

Vinales blinks, Pecco wins British Grand Prix

There are people who don’t like racing at Silverstone, for whatever reason. The cafeteria in the press room is inferior? The air conditioning lacks gusto? It’s flat as a board? Its military roots are offensive to the universe? Silverstone is long and fast and wide, allowing for more overtakes than you see in any other race on the calendar. The result is what we saw today, 20 laps of brilliant riding, strategies working and failing, five Ducatis in the top ten, and Pecco closing the gap to Fabio by 17 points.

After a warm weekend of practice and qualifying, the view from here, waiting for the lights to go out, was that Fabio’s Yamaha would be at a decided disadvantage versus the Ducs and Apes. Pecco Bagnaia, everyone’s pre-season favorite, was likely to continue his recent form of either winning or crashing out. Aleix and his Aprilia looked fast all weekend until it launched him into a low Earth orbit during FP4, causing him to race with one leg/ankle/foot combination and one leg/etc. He managed a respectable P9 in a race most mortal humans would have mailed in. Johann “Bridesmaid” Zarco, still looking for his first premier class win, and looking swarthier than ever with the elegant full beard, won pole with another seven riders who broke Marc Marquez’s previous track record set in 2018. And, lo and behold, who comes lurking around the upper echelons of the racing food chain but one Maverick Vinales, aka Cole Trickle. He appeared to be preparing for a stirring comeback to the top step of the podium in merry England, but was unable to mount a successful challenge to Bagnaia on the final lap, appearing to come slightly unglued in the process. P2 is a nice result for Pop Gun as he attempts to resurrect his once promising career with the Noale factory,

Zarco took the holeshot on his Pramac Ducati and led the race for five laps until bad luck, the only kind he knows, undid him, sliding out of the lead into a general Gallic funk. Jack Miller, the forgotten man in MotoGP, spent most of (qualifying and) the race in P3, ultimately securing 16 points for his day’s work. Alex Rins appeared to have good pace all weekend and looked strong early today, but developed what appeared to be grip issues before fading to P7 at the flag.

So, after Zarco led at the start, Rins took over the lead until he was passed by Pecco on Lap 12, who was never seriously challenged thereafter. Vinales moved up the leader board over the last few laps, creating the anticipated Bagnaia vs. Vinales challenge on the last lap. But Pop Gun’s resurrection will have to wait, as he was unable to bring the fight to Bagnaia due to several twitches. Pecco never blinked.

Fabio ended up limping home in P8. EBas, who started in P8 and had nothing going on most of the day, rallied late to secure P4 and feel good about himself heading to Austria in two weeks.

Silverstone Top 10

Bagnaia

Vinales

Miller

Bastiannini

JMartin

Oliveira

Rins

Quartararo

Espargaro

Bezzecchi

2022 top 10 after 12 rounds

Quartararo          180

Espargaro            158

Bagnaia                131

Bastiannini            118

Zarco                     114

Miller                     107

BBinder                   98

Rins                          84

Vinales                     82

Oliveira                     81

Screenshot (24)

Another Crackpot MotoGP Theory Validated

May 22, 2022

I’m pretty sure I told you so. I’m pretty sure I told you that a long lap penalty. or having a last lap waved off for getting in the green, an untimely DNF. Any of these could decide the championship in a race that, in the words of my late Aunt Frannie, is tighter than a tick.

I’d like to think that I called it when I suggested an inverse relationship between the number of DNFs recorded by a rider and his rank in the chase. These top ten YTD standings are current as of 05/21/2022.

Rider                                                Points                                  #DNF

Quartararo                                          102                                       0

A. Espargaro                                         98                                        0

Bastianini                                               94                                       1

Rins                                                       69                                         1

Miller                                                     62                                         2

Zarco                                                      62                                        2

Bagnaia                                                   56                                        2

B. Binder                                                  56                                        1

Mir                                                           56                                         2

M Marquez                                               54                                        2

This illustrates, once again, that, as the expression goes, in order to finish first, one must first finish.

The four riders leading the 2022 chase have averaged, over the first seven rounds, half a DNF, with neither Quartararo nor Aleix haven’t  crashed once. Riders five, six and seven–Miller, Zarco and Bagnaia–have all crashed out of two races, returning us briefly to the days when the Desmo was considered unridable by anyone other than Casey Stoner. In fact, of riders five through eleven, all have crashed out twice other than Brad Binder, whose numbers suggest he is too stubborn to stay down, that he may have remounted once or twice.

The current poster child for this “win or bin” mentality is Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin, with DNFs in four of his first seven. Earlier in the season he looked ready to assume the second chair on the factory Ducati team. Lately, however, Mo Mentum, the famous sixth man in basketball, the 12th man in the Seattle Seahawks’ crazy home field advantage, seems to be smiling on your boy EBas, at the expense of Jack Miller, who would look good in KTM colors. Honda must be sweating  bullets trying to get Mir signed now that PEsp is feeling unwanted. Mir, one supposes, is not looking forward to wrestling the RC213V, at least the 2022 iteration. Neither of the LCR boys, Nakagami nor Little Brother, can ride the Honda. PEsp will have his moments at his tracks but is nothing like consistent. And, if you were a betting man, um, person, who would you rather have a grand on right now–Marquez, with 54 points or Bagnaia with 56.

Interesting that Maverick Vinales has a clean DNF record but only 33 points, suggesting he is not riding the Aprilia hard enough. Much the same could be said about PEsp. Oh, and just for the record I expect Ducati to crush Mugello, lock out the podium, and convince Fabio that his future does not lie with Yamaha, that he’s caught them with the OEM pendulum swinging in the wrong direction. Is this the weekend Zarco finally achieves liftoff speed? Can Marquez continue trying to catch a tow into Q2? Will young EBas continue his poised, efficient efforts to winning a premier class title as a sophomore in the Marquez era, or at least the close of it. Fabio knows he has to remain perfect in order to remain in contention, putting massive pressure on himself. And my boy Aleix is sitting there making it look easy on an Aprilia that finally does what it’s told.

One of the few things I remember from five years of university-level economics is the tendency of large numbers to regress to the mean, all things being equal, which they never are. In the immediate case, as is almost always the case, you have a new group of Aliens. It’s true. Your present group of Aliens includes EBas, Pecco, Fabio, Aleix. The jury is officially out on #93; we may be witnessing the end of an era, the emergence of Italy, fast young Italian Riders and the, ahem, iconic Italian brand, the Really Big Red Machine. Europe, in Ducati and Aprilia, seeming to enjoy the upper hand in recent times, Fabio and Yamaha holding on for dear life. The Suzuki boys, Rins and Mir, appear disillusioned, watching their teams disintegrate beneath them.

And so it goes in grand prix yachting. I expect that latest division amongst the racing cognoscenti is whether Marquez can bring it back home again, like, in 2023, 2024? He needs a better bike, which Honda has generally provided. No sense in gathering input from PEsp any longer, as his head is unlikely to still be in the game. Nor does he appear to be at all effective as a wingman. Anyway, I think the top three riders at this moment–Fabio, Aleix and EBas–will not be the same three at the top of the heap heading to Valencia. In my unsolicited opinion, I think Fabio is in trouble at tracks like Mugello and Red Bull Ring. Assen is the fastest track on the calendar. He is so unlikely to maintain his clean slate, and when it goes, there goes his lead in the series. Aleix is making it look easy, a third of the way through the season, and EBas is threatening to run away with things.

Somewhere in me resides the thought that the guys who’ve avoided gravel traps thus far are due for a visit. That once Fabio loses his grip on the title, his successor will have a brief ride at the top. The greatest movements, the worst movements, are a DNF at this point. The figures would argue that the riders most at risk of a DNF at this time are Fabio, Aleix, EBas and Rins. This is the type of season in which the MotoGP announcers begin wetting themselves,  waxing euphoric about “those precious _____ points.”

Similar to their race strategy at certain tracks, perhaps the riders don’t actually want to be in the lead this early in the season, especially since there is no runaway winner who needs stopping. It is simply vital that the riders gathered at the top of the heap today remain upright on race days, that they continue to gather points no matter what, that they know who and what is ahead of them and behind them. That they take no stupid risks that would jeopardize another rider.

So far, IMHO, this season is shaping up exactly the way fans want it. There are three Aliens at this moment. There is a host of challengers waiting for someone in front of them to fall. There is just so much riding on every turn, the race, the season, the silly season, which brand is on the upswing, which brand is heading down? Competition amongst the teams–first and foremost, beat your teammate.

It’s fair to expect financial pressures to force teams to cut costs, a process well beyond the scope of this effort. We’e been down this road before and have been breaking all-time track records along the way. If I were a betting man I would be that all the money spent on winglets is all the money that will get spent, i.e., no more R&D on winglets with wind tunnels and etc. Beyond that I don’t know, other than them that has, gets.

Some teams are scratching their heads this year.l LCR Honda. Factory Suzuki. Gresini, current employer of EBas. Jack Miller needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat to keep his current seat. Why does Alex Rins appear to be odd man out during this silly season? Riding Aprilia for Leopard Racing, that could work.

This week is Mugello, one of the great venues in this sport. So much history, none of which I can remember, but I know it’s out there. Perhaps the best slipstream anywhere, adds a whole new dimension to bike racing. The noise. As we like to say out here in Hoosierville, “MotoGP is one of God’s great gifts to mankind. It. Just. Is.

So go tell your friends. Tell them it’s the best sport on two wheels. Ever.

Dispatches from the front updated my

October 2, 2021

Reports on the Grand Prix of the United States, or whatever, from our erstwhile reporters in the field.

Screenshot (557)

Maverick Vinales, will miss the race due to a death in the family.

Buzz Says:

Day 1: The gully washer storm turned into blistering heat and humidity. I missed FP1. FP2 was great to watch because, as the announcers were saying, the Saturday forecast was for more heavy rain so they were going to try to turn their best times in FP2.

Marquez went straight to the top in the early stages and then the tops spot became Fabio, Miller, Pecco but it was all for naught. At the end of the session 93 turned in a fast lap and finished FP2 #1.

Rossi finished the session with a wave and a wheelie as the fans cheered. 46 gear is everywhere as usual. What will MotoGP do without him?

Saturday morning: Wake up to bright blue skies! No rain in the forecast but it is Texas so wait 15 minutes as they say. Gonna be smoking hot today but hopefully not as humid.

Buzz Says:

Picked a Pecco of pickled peppers. Kaboom! Great Q2 session today. It was 93,93 93 at the top of the board and then Pecco turned up the heat and came flying by our turn 15 grandstand and snagged the pole as time was running out. The first Italian to claim 3 straight poles since Methuselah in 2009.

Many more people at the track today compared to yesterday. No rain. Just blistering heat and humidity. Can someone please tell Texas it’s fall now and it’s ok to cool down? It’s amazing what these guys can do riding this hard in full leathers in this heat. I was in shorts and a t-shirt and feeling Verklempt.

Moto2 qualifying has been awesome. My small group even agreed the triples sound better than the diesels at speed. Awesome shrieking sound and incredibly fast.

Overall, another great day. The vendors and other activities are naturally reduced compared to previous years but everyone here is so cheerful and so pleased we get to experience this again.

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.

Screenshot (512)

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

Screenshot (515)

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

Screenshot (514)

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.


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