Posts Tagged ‘johann zarco’

MotoGP: Life in Tier Two

August 30, 2020

© Bruce Allen

With an off weekend on our editorial hands, we thought it might be fun to take a quick look at the riders outside the top ten, get inside their heads a little, speculate as to what’s up with their 2020 season and, likely, beyond.

#11     Franco Morbidelli     Italian     Petronas Yamaha

Moto2 title in 2017. Paid a year of dues on a weak satellite Honda as a rookie in 2018. More than doubled his point production in 2019 on the satellite Yamaha. He’s had two good races this year–P5 at Jerez I and P2 at Brno–and three lousy ones. Has collected a total one one (1) point in the last two rounds, joining Vinales and Quartararo in the Yamaha Hate Austria club. He’s 25; these grand prix riders peak in their mid-20’s. He’s also one of a number of riders, age-wise, whose careers are getting squeezed by Marquez at 27 and Quartararo at 21 years. He needs to get more consistent, will probably never win a MotoGP title, but a formidable rider nonetheless.

#12     Johann Zarco     French     Exponsorama Ducati

Zarco, a classic underachiever, is 30 years old. One assumes there is stuff in his personal life that affects his career decisions, for he was, briefly in 2017, as a rookie in MotoGP, burning like a 4th of July sparkler. He needed to wear shades. But from there, it’s been mostly downhill. A lack of progress on the 2018 Yamaha led him to make a terrible career decision to ride for KTM in 2019, a debacle that lasted 13 rounds. Somehow, he’s landed at Ducati with a GP19 that howls and a riding style that, somehow, fits the Desmo. With his guest membership in the YHA club, (2 points in Austria) he looks like a field horse who will be fun to watch, who will occasionally show up on a podium, but will never finish in the top five for the year. At least he’s back, and lucid.

#13     Alex Rins     Spain     Suzuki Ecstar

Another fast rider whose career has been slowed by injuries, most of which have been unforced errors. Apparently, unlike Marquez, he doesn’t practice the art of the harmless lowside crash. Anyway, once again in 2020, despite his overall bright future, he banged himself up early in the season, had surgery, came back sooner than he should have, and will now be at risk for the rest of the year. He opened with a P10 at Jerez I, his P4 at Jerez II was a bit of a miracle before the roof caved in. He began to get things sorted at Red Bull II. Rins is young and fast, but he has to quit hurting himself. Another rider book-ended by Marquez and Quartararo.

#14     Danilo Petrucci     Italy    Factory Ducati

This, 2020, is the beginning of the end of Danilo, who had a glance at the big time after years and years of paying dues. He has lost his seat to Pecco Bagnaia for ’21-’22 and has taken up residence with KTM for 2021. He saw the writing on the wall months ago, re Bagnaia. With a season best P7 at Austria I he appears to be outgunned or on “Cruise.”  Whatever. He has had his last big contract, and appears to be a happy guy. All the best to Danilo at KTM. Perhaps he can join Binder and Oliveira who are breaking the beast along with Espargaro.

#15     Alex Marquez     Spain     Repsol Honda

Little brother keeps his big fast Honda upright. He does the best he can with his overarching goal being to complete the race, not crash, not get anyone hurt. He had a P8 at Jerez II and will be taking over Cal Crutchlow’s seat at LCR Honda next season with full factory support. When he was a teenager he was said to have been faster than Marc, and that Rins could beat both of them. Whatever. Alex appears to be a Tranche 3 or 4 rider. Don’t know why that would ever change, with all the young fast Italian riders on the way. [His transfer made possible Repsol’s signing of Pol Espargaro to ride alongside Marc–that should be rich–for ’21-’22. It also showed Crutchlow the door; no surprise there.]

#16     Aleix Espargaro     Spain     Factory Aprilia

The MotoGP equivalent of Sisyphus, doomed to spend his life pushing the rock up the mountain only to see it roll down again. I think little brother Pol could now beat Aleix on a same-bike match race. But Aleix has never, in a career seemingly spanning decades in MotoGP, had a decent ride beneath him. Other than 2014 on the Forward Yamaha, on which he finished P7 for the year. He’s going nowhere on the still-sick Aprilia while the world awaits the turnaround KTM is experiencing this year. Meanwhile, Aleix pedals as hard as he can, generally to little avail. Someone’s going to take his job one of these days.

#17     Iker Lecuona     Spain     Tech3 KTM

First, a confession about the KTM rookie. I get tickled every time I hear his name, as it provokes in me (I’m a musician on the side) a rhythm, a rhythm that reminds me of a tune in Disney’s Lion King, called, for whatever reason, “Hakuna Matata,” and has this hypnotic beat attached to it. I hear #27 and my neck and shoulders start moving, like they do when I hear Motown anthems.

Late selection rookie brought onboard, finally, to take Zarco’s seat. He is young, and he is wrestling the RC16, which is a beast to point and shoot. His fate is not, as it appears, tied to KTM. He may find, or at least seek, greener pastures on a different bike, should the opportunity arise in the future. For now, he is a back-bencher. He is young, and could become something in a few seasons. KTM picked him for 2020 mostly on purpose, as future star Jorge Martin was not ready to move up. Martin appears to be ready and is rumored to have signed a Ducati contract for 2021. Dude has Alien written all over him. Sorry, not Lecuona. Martin is the future Alien; jury is still out on Iker.

#18     Pecco Bagnaia     Italy     Pramac Ducati

Promising young rookie, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, has a bright future at Ducati. A broken leg in Jerez has trashed his 2020 campaign, but he is reported to have already signed his contract to move up to the factory team in 2021-22 to ride alongside Jack Miller, the factory Ducati group getting younger and stronger in the process. Bagnaia appears to have a preferred riding style that will do well at some tracks, so-called Ducati-friendly tracks. I think he is young enough to get a peak at a world championship in MotoGP; his future appears bright. His present, not so much, although he is healing and will possibly try to return for a few rounds in 2020. How am I supposed to know, out here in Hoosierville?

#19     Bradley Smith     Great Britain     Factory Aprilia

After being in and out of MotoGP Smith caught a ride this season when Andrea Iannone failed a drug test. Were Smith a mechanic rather than a rider, 2020 would be another year of sitting around, turning wrenches. He must bring a pot of sponsor money, probably more than Aprilia pays him. He is a career field-filler. Nice guy. No future.

#20     Tito Rabat    Spain     Esponsorama Ducati

See #19 above.

#21     Cal Crutchlow     Great Britain     LCR Honda

Despite a respectable career, Cal is going out on a low note, having been declared redundant by HRC. This chafes the Brit who, at age 34, has arrived at the end of the line. If he doesn’t get off here and retire to a life of leisure on the Isle of Mann, he will end up in a bad neighborhood, career-wise, but guys like Cal are hard to convince. He is, at this moment, homeless starting next season. With a lifetime of arthritis ahead of him, I hope Cal calls it a career and goes home to wife and daughter. It would be fun to hear him behind a microphone at some point, during races.

***

So, there you have it. We’ll get back on topic after Labor Day, in advance of Misano I. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids, and we’ll try to reply to every one, plus send you a secret decoder ring you can show off to your friends. Tell them you care about motorcycle racing and casual research. Show them that a little knowledge, combined with a fairly extensive vocabulary, can achieve success in a community of people who make odd, unhealthy choices in what they read.

Here are some images from last year in San Marino.

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MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Before we get going, WordPress is messing with me with a new, apparently mandatory content formatting tool, which involves a number of workarounds and, once complete, is at about half the ordinary size, straining my already weak eyes. So if this turns out to be crap, blame it on The Man.

MotoGP Posts Photos of ‘The Crash at Red Bull Ring.’ Here are the two I was talking about in the article.

This is Morbidelli’s Yamaha, passing in front of Rossi after somehow just missing Vinales.

This is what remains of Zarco’s Ducati as it sails inches over the head of Rossi, who saw it coming and ducked out of the way.

Apparently Dorna feels someone should be punished for all this, but it’s more the track layout; this applies to both wrecks, including the Moto2 crash that ensued when Hafez Syahrin pulled out into the slipstream and smack into Enea Bastiannini’s abandoned Kalex. I couldn’t seen what happened between Zarco and Morbidelli, but I sense it was Zarco running up the Italian’s back perhaps? Someone out there knows.

Thanks to long time reader Mad4TheCrest, who took time out of his busy schedule earlier in the week to point out that I had mistakenly put Aussie Remy Gardner back in Moto3 on Sunday. I have since corrected this amateurish mistake. I get up early on race days and am never at my best at 6 in the morning. It is a comfort to know that someone, somewhere actually reads this stuff.

Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro these days reminds me–and please don’t take this wrong–of Marco Simoncelli in 2012 (yes I know the year he died on the track in Sepang). But here’s the similarity. Sic had been around for awhile coming up, too tall for the small bikes, overly aggressive on the Gilera as a rookie in the premier class in 2011. 2012 dawns and he discovers that, for whatever reason, he is suddenly fast. Fast enough to crash out of four of the first ten races of 2012. But over five of the last six races of his life he recorded three P4, a P3 and a P2 at Phillip Island.

Pol Espargaro, suddenly fast on the KTM, looking forward to getting even faster on the Honda RV213V, is who Warren Zevon referred to in his unforgettable anthem, “Excitable Boy.” No, he doesn’t go around slicing up his girlfriends. But he is currently a hazard to himself and those around him, and will be until he gets used to the idea that he doesn’t have to ride like a madman to be in the mix.

Quick Hitters

Loyal follower Allison gave me props in a comment about my sheer prescience when it some to the subject of Joan Mir, who took P2 on Sunday [after I had been jocking him since he was in Moto3.] Yes, from this lofty roost I occasionally can spot one–Rins is another; wonder why they end up at Suzuki?–but I never saw Brad Binder coming, having discounted KTM Moto2 riders as simply being unable to secure Hondas. Binder seems to be another one of these guys constructed from steel cables who is capable of wrestling the KTM, or a Honda or Ducati, to a draw, with all that speed as a bonus. His ride on Sunday, from 17th to 4th, was olympic… My boy OldMoron picked that one… And I’m still waiting to hear from MOron Sayyed on the subject of KTM and its place in the racing universe. I think old Sayyed is strictly a Motorcycle.com guy… The crap they put people through on this site to make comments gripes me to no end. If enough people agree we can move these comments back to MO and use the Dorna press releases they are now posting as a comments section for the Dummies stuff. Let me know, or perhaps I’ll just start leaving comments on MO and y’all can follow if you wish.

In the interregnum of Marquez’ broken arm, the racing and competition is tight as wallpaper in all three classes. Having a MotoGP season in which the result is not predetermined is a blast. Aside from Albert Arenas in Moto3 no one is really getting away. The premier class will tighten up considerably once Marquez and Bagnaia are back in the fold. But there is not time in the schedule for healing and the doubles and triples cause the riders to have to perform at less than full strength, increasing the likelihood of more mishaps. This calendar is going to cost some riders and some teams dearly.

Finally, it seems Zarco cracked a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s maelstrom. He certainly won’t be at full strength, if he rides at all, this weekend.

MotoGP: 23 Things We Learned at Brno

August 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP gave its fans a memorable Sunday in the Czech Republic today. The Moto3 race was the usual fire drill, featuring a 10-man lead group, before Dennis Foggia led Albert Arenas and Ai Ogura across the finish line in another great example of how racing is supposed to work.

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Over at Moto2, the race itself was a parade, but its implications  were important. The win by Enea Bastiannini established him as an early favorite to become The Next Big MotoGP Rider. Sudden Sam Lowes finished in second, his first appearance on a podium of any kind since, like, 2016. And Joe Roberts, The Great American Hope, took third after starting from pole, delivering the first grand prix podium of his career. As one of the few Americans to give a rip about MotoGP, I feel great for Joe Roberts and his team.

The main event in MotoGP offered more “first ever” accomplishments than I can remember in a motorcycle race; I’m counting at least seven off the top of my head. Eighth on that list belongs to my moto-friend Sayyed Bashir, who has been yelling at me in DISQUS for three years about how KTM is on their way; today must have been joyous for him. Before getting to that list, let’s note that Brad Binder won on a KTM RC-16, Franco Morbidelli took second on an SRT Yamaha, and Johann Zarco, resurrected on the Ducati GP19, held off Alex Rins for third place. Imagine appearing on the podium almost exactly a year after bolting on KTM, thinking his grand prix racing career was over. It’s not.

Rather than dragging you through our usual format, we present a list of bullet points, takeaways from Round 3 (or 4, depending) as the grid prepares to descend upon the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria for a couple of weeks in the salt flats. Nine turns–I have more than that between my bedroom and the kitchen in a small house. Whatever; at a minimum, it should help Ducati get back in the constructor’s championship race.

Let’s start with the MotoGP race:

  • First ever South African to win a premier class race in MotoGP.
  • Franco Morbidelli’s first ever premier class podium.
  • First ever podium for the Team Formerly Known as Avintia Racing Ducati.
  • First ever win in MotoGP for the KTM factory.
  • First ever win in the premier class for Brad Binder, in his third race.
  • First rookie to win a premier class race since Marc Marquez in 2013.
  • First time since they started keeping records of these things in 1973 that Frenchmen started 1-2 in a premier class race.

Pity that Pol Espargaro, hip-checked out of the race by Zarco, could not have been KTM’s first dry race winner, as he has paid his dues many times over.

  • Zarco’s hip check, in which his front tire was behind Espargaro’s, was very lightly penalized. His long lap penalty cost him exactly zero grid spots. That one called for a ride-through; no way Zarco should end up on the podium after putting another rider out of the race.
  • Yamaha, despite leading the team and constructor championships, has issues with rear tire grip, especially late in the race, as well as engine durability. Vinales, for example, has already used all five of his engines, with #2 blown to smithereens earlier in the season. A pit lane start lies in his future. A MotoGP championship in 2020 does not. Either he had remarkably bad tire issues–usually, at least in part, the fault of the rider–or he simply took today off, secure in the knowledge that he would still be in second place for the year heading to Austria, regardless.
  • Karel Abraham, Sr. needs to cough up the bucks to get the track here re-surfaced if he wants to keep the race. No Czech rider on the grid, and lots of venues banging to be let on the calendar, for whatever reason.
  • “I hear Portimao is nice in late November,” he lied.
  • The last American to appear on an intermediate class podium was Joe Kocinski in 1993. Yes, I have access to Wikipedia.
  • The top four riders in Moto3 are separated by 26 points; it’s anybody’s season right now, but Albert Arenas seems to be the best of the lot.
  • In Moto2, the top three riders, led by Bastiannini, are separated by a mere 18 points. Luca Marini in third appears to be a bigger threat to The Beast than Nagashima in second. There are some owners in MotoGP looking carefully at the big Italian, though where he might fit is a mystery.
  • Valentino Rossi had to work his ass of to finish fifth today. Most of his problems, aside from issues with the bike itself, are on Saturdays.
  • Andrea Dovizioso, his qualifying 18th possibly being a signal of where things stand regarding his next contract, managed to salvage five points at a track where he should have had things his way. Other than Zarco’s flukey podium, Round 3 was a washout for Ducati Corse.
  • Ducati, it appears, recognized that Zarco would be effective on the Ducati at tracks that are friendly to the Big Red Machine. Tracks like Brno and Red Bull Ring. Zarco could have himself a nice August.
  • With Pecco Bagnaia (broken leg) and Marc Marquez (broken arm) out of the race, a few people moved up from their usual neighborhoods. Alex Rins, who should probably be recovering from shoulder surgery, surprised most people today with a solid fourth place finish.
  • Romano Fenati will probably spend the rest of his career in Moto3. I thought he was going to be a star a few years ago. Nope.
  • KTM owes a big thank-you to Dani Pedrosa, whose input, one imagines, has been key in helping KTM get their prodigious power from the engine to the ground. This has been the big difference in the Austrian factory this year. I couldn’t understand why they would want a test rider who weighs 120 pounds; now I do.
  • Please to report that Alex Rins finally got rid of his terrible haircut.
  • After starting the race like a house on fire, Aleix Espargaro ended up settling for a nice top ten finish, putting a hurt on little brother Pol. Before Pol got knocked out, it looked like KTM was going to put three riders in the top ten. Miguel Oliveira’s tidy sixth-place finish had to be satisfying, perhaps as much as the word that this season’s last race will be held at his home track at Portimao.
  • Repsol Hondas started the day in P20 and P21. Try to look up the last time that happened.

We’ll be back again next with more. With Marquez and Bagnaia out for the foreseeable future, the championship is wide open, as open as I’ve seen it in a dozen years. This is fun. Even without the brolly girls.

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Maria Herrera with her brolly guy, from better days

Final Track Records 2019

November 20, 2019

Annotation 2019-11-20 072129

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi Folds, Marquez Rolls in Malaysia 

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One helluva racetrack, Sepang shimmers in the heat.

For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era. 

With the 2018 season now in its denouement, grand prix motorcycle racing has devolved from a tooth-and-fang battle for fame and glory to a tooth-and-fang battle for peer approval. Jorge Martin won today’s Moto3 race and clinched his first world championship, while Pecco Bagnaia had more than enough to hang with Miguel Oliveira all day and clinch the Moto2 title in the process. Beneath the rare air at the top of the food chain, in all three classes, riders are still furiously pushing themselves and their machines, trying to position themselves for the only thing most of them always have to look forward to: Next Year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Conditions on Friday and Saturday morning for the winnowing were dry and hot, resulting in ten Q2 lambs with no surprises. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, with Alex Rins sixth and Marquez, trying stuff out, in 10th. FP2 scrambled things slightly, with Rins, Marquez, Miller, Viñales and Petrucci on top trailed by Rossi, Dovi and Zarco. The weather changed Saturday afternoon, as did the fortunes of a number of contestants.

With Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro matriculating into Q2 and an old-fashioned Sepang frog-strangler in between the two qualifying sessions, things got Vitamixed during the pole session. Marquez appeared to take pole easily but was penalized six grid spots for obstructing Andrea Iannone in the racing line and being a recidivist, giving fuel to his haters. This produced a front row of Zarco and Rossi on Yamahas and the aggrieved Iannone third. The second row was an all-Ducati affair, featuring Dovi, Miller and Petrucci. Marquez headed row 3 alongside Rins and Bautista. The big loser in the changed conditions was Maverick Viñales, who went from the top Q2 qualifier to 11th on the grid, unable to get anything going in the wet.

Jorge Lorenzo, after sitting around in Spain for a few weeks, flew to Malaysia, gave his fractured wrist a go on Friday, and pronounced himself out of the race on Saturday morning, thus putting the screws to Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, who might have had another memorable weekend on the heels of their success in Australia had he just manned up and stayed home. Fill-in Jodi Torres, subbing for the long-gone Tito Rabat, suffered a heavy crash in FP4 that would keep him out of the race and give him one more thing—for a total of three—in common with Lorenzo. (Spanish, motorcycle racer, DNS at Sepang.) Michele Pirro, however, came up a winner as he stepped onto Lorenzo’s bike on Saturday and qualified comfortably.

So the Yamahas of Zarco and Rossi suffered in the dry, while Viñales suffered in the wet. Sunday’s forecast, with a chance of Biblical rain at any time, caused Race Direction to move the starting time up two hours in an effort to frustrate the rain gods. They could have just as easily moved it BACK two hours, since when the rain would arrive, or not, was problematic. 

The Race 

At the start, the leaders heading out of Turn 1 were Rossi, Zarco, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, hoping against hope for a final career podium, was in the picture, while Maverick Viñales, the questionable Future of Yamaha factory racing, was not, having started 11th and running 10th early. Marquez had a major moment at Turn 15 which he rescued with Another Great Save, but Andrea Iannone, on his back wheel at that moment, had to brake to avoid #93, which sent him skidding into the kitty litter, a case of pure bad luck.

Marquez, pushing for the love of the game only, went through on Miller on Lap 2 and Zarco on Lap 5, while Karel Abraham was busy running off track. Michele Pirro, the latest tenant of Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati, crashed out a lap later. Despite Andrea Dovizioso having won the last two iterations of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a miserable weekend for the Ducati contingent, with Lorenzo in street clothes and, at the end, Dovizioso leading the brand representatives in 6th, followed immediately by Alvaro Bautista, Miller and Danilo Petrucci, nearly boiled alive by the perspiration inside his leathers.

By Lap 11, Rossi led Marquez by over a second, with Zarco, Pedrosa, my boy Alex Rins, Dovizioso and a recovering Viñales trailing. Rins soon went through on Pedrosa into 4th and set his sights on Zarco. Rossi led Marquez by 1.3 seconds.

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Rossi, down and out in Malaysia

On Lap 13, Marquez put the hammer down and initiated a serious chase of his rival. Unlike the usually quick cheetah-running-down-the-gazelle, Plains of Serengeti-style, Marquez’ takedown of Rossi was more of a fox and hounds affair, in which Marquez simply pressured Rossi to exhaustion, allowing the heat and Rossi’s age to combine for an unforced error that continued Rossi’s lamentable descent to the status of Just Another Rider. One might consider that a bold statement until ruminating over the fact that Rossi today finished just behind one Xavier Simeon, he of a single point for the year, who will someday tell his grandkids about The Day He Beat the Greatest Rider of All Time.

Once Rossi lost the lead, Marquez eased up, 4.5 seconds ahead of Zarco, who found himself, his tires seemingly Teflon-coated, being tracked down by Rins and Pedrosa. Rins would overtake the Frenchman on the final lap for second place, while Pedrosa equaled his season-best result, finishing 5th and securing the Colin Edwards “Stayed a Year Too Long” award for 2018. Rins thrusted himself into contention for the Best of the Rest, tied with Zarco for P5 for the year. These two, at least, will head for Valencia with something on the line. 

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Alex Rins, up and coming

The Big Picture 

With Dovizioso having clinched second, it remains up to teammates Rossi and Viñales to face off in Valencia in two weeks for the dubious honor of third place for 2018, Rossi enjoying a two-point advantage as the Flying Circus returns to Europe for its death rattle. Any joy for Rossi today occurred during the Moto2 race, as Luca Marini won the race and Pecco Bagnaia, his teammate on Rossi’s SKY46 team, secured the title. With Jorge Martin having secured the Moto3 crown over Marco Bezzechi, the 2018 season is done and dusted, framed and behind glass.

The announcers today were whispering about a rumor that Rossi is considering backing out of his 2019-2020 contract with Yamaha, or at least the second half thereof. He has no interest whatsoever in further sullying his pristine reputation by winning a Colin Edwards award. I think it highly likely that he will compete next year and then call it a career, allowing Yamaha corporate to promote Franco Morbidelli to the factory team in an orderly fashion. Even the most rabid Rossi fans out there, looking at his record over the past three or four seasons, must admit that he’s lost a step. Either that or a bunch of other top riders have all gained one. 

Static Tranches 

After Phillip Island

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

After Sepang

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

Two Weeks Until Winter

All I can think to say about Round 19 in Valencia is that the race will be three laps shorter than last year. We’ll be right here to bring it to you in living color. Thanks to everyone except Rocky Stonepebble who submitted suggestions for the quote that captures the essence of MotoGP 2018. That, and the testing that starts on Tuesday the 20th, are pretty much all that’s left to look forward to for this year. Ciao.

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Boy, this picture gets older every year.

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

A win by Marquez in Yamaha Land chills the entire paddock

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s two sessions featured the likes of Zarco, Marquez, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Rossi, Miller, Viñales, Pol Espargaro and Pedrosa. In short, anyone who is anyone in the upper reaches of MotoGP. Everyone, actually. Except Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone, who were dawdling with Alex Rins in the low teens. As in, bound for Q1. Track records started falling on Saturday morning, as Viñales, Marquez, Rossi and Zarco beat the 2017 mark of 1’31.994. By the end of the day, Andrea Dovizioso had joined that short list.

Danilo Petrucci and the amazing aching Dani Pedrosa fought their way through Q1, leaving behind names such as Rins and Crutchlow. Like James Bond’s martini, Cal was shaken, not stirred, in a memorable high side in Q1 (after destroying his #1 bike in FP4), but was reported resting uncomfortably, no broken bones, in a local hospital and seemed unlikely to be in any condition to be competitive on Sunday. Sneering, asking Le Mans, like the Black Knight before him, if that’s all he’s got.

Question: Why would anyone with their #1 bike in pieces on the garage floor push their only remaining bike hard enough to highside, with a start on the first four rows already guaranteed? This, to me, is evidence of a rider who has lost control of his emotions or a rider with a low racing IQ. Just sayin’. Yes, there were over 100 crashes across all three classes this weekend. But discretion remains the better part of valor. No way Crutchlow should have been pushing that hard in Q2.

Qualifying, as exciting as it is, is, at this point in the sport’s gestation, much less meaningful than the start the riders get coming off the line. With the top ten or twelve riders separated by a mere second, it’s important to get to the first turn at or near the front. A front row starter who fails to get off can easily get lost in the sauce and enter Turn 2 in 12th place, having to burn up their tires to get back to the front. No way to run an airline.

For what it’s worth, Johann Zarco wrote his own story in French motorsports history on Saturday and started from pole in the 2018 French Grand Prix at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans, the first French rider to pole since 1988. There will be plenty of French babies born next February named Johann and Johanna. Joining him on the front row would be #93, looking dangerous as ever, and one Danilo Petrucci, making a case to join the factory Ducati team in 2019 rather than being trundled off to the struggling factory Aprilia endeavor. For Valentino Rossi, it was a good news, bad news day. The good news was that he broke the previous year’s track record in qualifying. The bad news was that he would be starting 9th on the grid.

Adding further weight to last week’s argument, the top eleven qualifiers were within a second of polesitter Zarco’s track-record time. The top nine qualifiers beat the former track record. Two conclusions: 1. Qualifying doesn’t mean nearly what it used to mean, if ever it did. 2. Our pre-season assertion that “track records would fall like dominoes in 2018” is proving to have been on the money. (Cue Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life”) Track records have been set at Jerez and now Le Mans. Qatar was a no, Argentina was a wet race, and the deteriorating condition of the self-proclaimed Circuit of the Americas will see lap times increase every year until the track is re-surfaced. So, I’m saying throw out Argentina and Texas and I’m two for three. Hall of Fame in baseball.

Another Master Class by Marquez

Jorge Lorenzo, currently earning something like €12 million from Ducati Corse, has been reduced in stature to that of a rabbit. Electing to race on soft tires, his job now is to get out front and push the early pace, in hopes of having 23 riders crash behind him. Short of that, he gets picked off over and over and over again, today ending up where we had him pegged, in 6th place. At the start of Lap 2, the lead group consisted of Lorenzo, Zarco, Dovizioso, Petrucci, Marquez and Rossi.

No Ducati has ever won a premier class race at Le Mans. Andrea Dovizioso kept that streak intact today, going through on homeboy Zarco into the lead on Lap 6 and immediately losing the front at La Chappelle. This left a top three of Lorenzo, Zarco and Marquez, who appeared very comfortable, keeping his powder dry. After trading places with Marquez several times on Lap 9, Zarco slid off at Turn 8, and it was like someone turned a switch. The bedlam of 105,000 blissful fans yelling their lungs out instantly became one of dead silence. There was no joy in Mudville today—mighty JZ had struck out.

By Lap 11, it was the African savannah in microcosm. Lorenzo, the gazelle, was being pursued by Marquez, the cheetah. Cheetahs are faster than gazelles, and gazelles know this. Thus, it came as no surprise when Marquez went through forcefully on Lorenzo on Lap 11 and made it stick. Having been stood up by Marquez, Lorenzo could only seethe as Petrucci snuck through as well. Rossi took his turn with Lorenzo on Lap 14, Jack Miller had his way with the poor Mallorcan on Lap 15, and even Dani Pedrosa, held together with baling wire, punked him on Lap 22. Both riders vying for Lorenzo’s seat on the factory Ducati team next year beat him like a rented mule today.

Petrucci, having survived Q1 and later putting his GP18 on the front row, added a second-place finish to his resume, making a strong statement for the bosses. Rossi found his way to the podium for the first time since Qatar, looking relieved to still be relevant. Jack Miller continued to make me eat my words with a very credible fourth place finish. And Providence prevailed today as both Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia and Alex Rins on the Suzuki managed to take the checkered flag and a top ten finish. Maverick Viñales rallied late to earn 9 points, while Cal Crutchlow did a heroic salvage job to claim 8th place in a race he probably should have been watching from his hospital room.

The Big Picture

As the announcers noted, there are but 13 points separating second and ninth positions in the standings. But there are 36 points between Marquez in first and Viñales in second. The season has developed a whiff of 2014, when Marquez spun off 10 wins in a row to start the season, leaving the field to fight over second place. He has now passed Mick Hailwood and tied Casey Stoner with 38 premier class wins. He loves the 2018 RC213V, and it appears to love him. His closest competitors took a major step backward today. A few more of these, and we’ll have to switch our focus to Moto2 and Moto3. For the record, the Moto3 race was nothing short of amazing today, with an ending you couldn’t even make up. Moto2 wasn’t as entertaining, despite scintillating performances from Pecco Bagnaia and Xavi Vierga.

Two weeks to Mugello. This is what MotoGP is all about—the iconic tracks, the history, the traditions, the memories of remarkable fights from years past. If this were The Master’s golf tournament, this part of the season would be Amen Corner. Jerez. Le Mans. Mugello. Catalunya. And Assen.

Marc Marquez has his boot on the windpipe of the 2018 season. Someone needs to knock him off in the next month, otherwise Valencia will be a fashion show.

Tranche This

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Zarco, Dovizioso, Miller, Pedrosa, Petrucci, Iannone
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Aleix, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat
Tranche 4: Syahrin, Morbidelli, Nakagami, Smith, Bautista
Tranche 5: Luthi, Simeon, Redding, Abraham

MotoGP Le Mans Preview 2018

May 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Vinales need to fish or cut bait

The 30th running of the Grand Prix de France at Le Mans—Round 5, for those of you keeping score at home—arrives at a critical time for the factory Yamaha team. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have been struggling with the YZR-M1 this year, searching in vain for feeling in the front and grip in the rear. Le Mans has been très Yamaha-friendly of late, M1s having gone three-for-three since 2015. Sunday would be a really good time for a replay.

Last year at this time, Rossi and Vinales sat 1-2 in the standings, at 62 and 60 points respectively. (Marquez, who had gotten off to a relatively slow start, was right there at 58 points.) This year, it’s Marquez and his formidable Repsol Honda at the head of the class with 70 points, atop Vinales in third (-20) and Rossi in sixth (-30). With super soph Johann Zarco sitting second on the Tech 3 Yamaha, a surprising Andrea Iannone fourth on the factory Suzuki, and hard luck Andrea Dovizioso fifth on the factory Ducati, it’s crowded at the top of the food chain. Not to mention Cal Crutchlow’s favorite rider, Cal Crutchlow, lurking a mere two points behind Rossi.

Marquez’ dominant performance at Jerez pumped some unwanted air into the standings. Heading to Andalucía, the top five riders were separated by a mere eight points. Today it’s 24. With the factory Yamaha team struggling, bitching and moaning, it may be up to Monsieur Zarco to carry the flag for the Hamamatsu brand on Sunday. A win by Marquez here in Yamahaland would send a chill through the entire paddock.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2015, on an idyllic Gallic afternoon, the Movistar Yamaha team delivered a clear

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01

Lorenzo and Rossi during better days

message to Marc Marquez: any Catalan plotting a third consecutive world championship in 2015 would need to first dislodge The Boys in Blue. Lorenzo, in a replay of his cakewalk in Jerez the previous round, got away early and was never challenged. Rossi, starting on the third row, had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014. Dovizioso whipped his GP15 to third place. It was a forgettable Sunday for the Repsol Honda team, as Marquez, wrestling the nasty 2015 Honda chassis, crossed the line fourth, while teammate Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

 

Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. Maverick Vinales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him. Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

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

Bits and Pieces

If the Marc VDS team weren’t the sorriest outfit on the grid, more people would be interested in the kerfuffle currently raging between owner Marc van der Straten and team manager Michael Bartholemy. Allegations of financial impropriety, meetings scheduled and cancelled, dueling press releases, etc. News outlets are reporting that interest in the team from Suzuki headquarters has cooled recently, due in part to the ongoing static. And while Honda is reportedly interested in keeping the team in its camp, for whatever reason, Yamaha appears to have the inside track to supply the team beginning in 2019. As an aside, rider Franco Morbidelli began to show signs of life at Jerez, having collected his first premier class top ten finish.

 

Gigi Dall'Igna

Rock–Gigi–Hard Place

Plenty of drama emanating from the Ducati contingent, as the grossly underpaid Andrea Dovizioso is playing hardball on salary negotiations for 2019-2020. He has them over a barrel. Gigi “Unibrow” Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda for the Italian factory, can’t wait to unload Jorge Lorenzo and therefore must sign Dovizioso. Dovi knows this, and is holding all the cards. Dall’Igna is quoted as saying the issue will be resolved by the Mugello round, making it sound like they will have a deal by then or it’s no deal. Right. Meanwhile, Dovi is busy wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. Dude’s bank account is gonna get laced.

 

Poor Bradley Smith. Confronting the fact that he’s just not very fast, he seems to be trying to talk his way onto the Tech 3 KTM satellite team for next year. Team principal Herve Poncharal put that idea to rest this past week, pointing out that it makes no sense to put a (mediocre, tapped-out) veteran rider in a developmental role on a satellite team. Look for Bradley in Moto2 or World Superbike next year. If he’s not bagging groceries at your friendly local Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended weather forecast for the Sarthe river region calls for dry, cool conditions all three days, with the warmest temps of the weekend, on Sunday only reaching the low 70s. We will assert this to be Yamaha weather, as the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis like it wet. (The Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia riders are not fond of weather period, being averse to any and all conditions. Cool, warm, dry, wet—all present problems. This is patently unfair to the Suzuki team, where Andrea Iannone is resurrecting his career at the same time Alex Rins is demolishing his.)

As for the race, we all know that predicting race results is a fool’s errand. Which is why I’m going to predict not one but two Yamahas on the podium. Rooting, as usual, for the championship to come down to a shootout in Valencia, I would enjoy seeing Zarco get his first win at home, followed by a factory Yamaha (pick one) and Marc Marquez. Dovizioso deserves a good outcome, but I fear Pedrosa will have trouble heating his tires. It would also be fun to watch Lorenzo and Crutchlow fighting it out for sixth place; the post-race interviews would be a conditional verb tense food fight.

Check back on Sunday afternoon for results and analysis. Feel free to chime in on the DISQUS comments section at Motorcycle.com to confirm Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

MotoGP Jerez Results 2018

May 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Magic Marquez avoids disaster, seizes series lead

Today’s Red Bull Grand Prix de España served as a vivid reminder that in the premier class of MotoGP there is Marc Marquez, and then there are a bunch of other riders. We are clearly living in the heart of The Marquez Era in MotoGP, which appears likely to extend into the future as far as the eye can see. With the best rider in our generation astride the best bike on the grid, in mid-career, an air of inevitability has settled over the 2018 championship.

Practice and Qualifying

Let me get one thing off my chest up front: Dorna goes out of its way to get us geeked up about qualifying as if it makes a particle of difference in the outcome of the race. The announcers were getting all breathless on Saturday afternoon at the prospect of Marquez having to start from all the way back in the middle of the second row. Piffle. Practice and qualifying are great fun to watch and occasionally instructive, but their predictive value is slight.

Briefly, then, free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning separated the goats from the lambs, with big names like Dovizioso, Viñales and Espargaro (x2) relegated to the prelims. #04 and #25 both made it through to Q2, Viñales by the skin of his teeth over Aleix, before getting ground up by the likes of Cal Crutchlow, who managed to set a new track record while taking pole. The Repsol Hondas had the pace and were loving the building heat. Johann Zarco pulled a late fast lap out of the back of his leathers for his eighth front row start “on the trot.” Even sad Jorge Lorenzo found his way to the top of the Row 2 (and the holeshot on Sunday) as his second consecutive epic fail of a season continued to unfold.

A Defining Moment for 2018

At the start, a five-man lead group materialized, consisting of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Zarco, Crutchlow and Marquez. Lorenzo, clearly wishing to lead any race whatsoever for at least one lap, was running soft tires front and back, the other contenders in various combinations of hards and mediums. By Lap 4 we found Lorenzo leading Marquez and Pedrosa, with Crutchlow lurking on the LCR Honda, Alex Rins’ Suzuki busy pedaling hard, and Dovizioso staying in touch. Zarco was the leader of a gaggle of miserable Yamahas, who suffered in the dry heat all weekend and are not competitive, as a brand, in 2018.

Marquez dispatched Lorenzo at the Jorge Lorenzo Corner—lol—on Lap 8 after Rins had left the building on Lap 6, joined in the kitty litter by my boy Cal Crutchlow minutes later. Marquez spent most of the next dozen laps not getting away, reminding me of a cat toying with an entire family of mice. During this period the most interesting sight occurred at the turn (11?) where Tom Luthi had crashed out on Lap 12, covering the track in gravel. Marquez, leading the race moments later, suddenly found himself at virtually full lean, 270 hp screaming beneath him, riding on marbles. Most normal riders would have hit the deck at this point; Marquez appeared to shake it off as he would a hangnail.

Jerez 2018 Crash Turn 6 Dry Sack

The big Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso appeared to be no one’s fault, simply a racing incident, albeit a spectacular one. I remember watching Jorge Lorenzo gather some big air at Shanghai in 2008; Dani Pedrosa, whose condition heading to Le Mans in two weeks is unknown at deadline, will remember today’s crash for a long time.

Jorge Lorenzo demonstrated again today his essential selfish nature, happily sitting second, gripping his six (6) points for the season fiercely, blocking teammate Andrea Dovizioso and his series-leading 46 points as Marquez was busy vanishing into the ether. Lorenzo was at the heart of today’s Lap 20 fustercluck, his teammate pushing desperately to get through, causing both riders to run wide at Dry Sack, opening the door for Pedrosa on the inside as the Ducatis veered back onto the racing line without Lorenzo having noticed Dani to his right. Boom. (Up until that point, I found myself watching for the hilarious MAPPING 8 signal from his garage indicating he should yield to Dovi. As we saw last year in Sepang, even if team orders are in place, Lorenzo is generally not one to acknowledge them. How his crew fits both Jorge and his ego into a single set of leathers is a headscratcher.)

With five laps to go, Marquez suddenly had clear sailing, while two of his closest competitors—Crutchlow and Dovizioso—were sitting out of the points and teammate Pedrosa was headed to the medical centre, next door to the medical center. Crashes like this (and the reliability of Cal crashing out unassisted) often cause a number of lower tranche riders to secure promotions they don’t necessarily deserve. Thus we find Andrea Iannone on the podium, Danilo Petrucci earning 13 points, and the increasingly less relevant Valentino Rossi (one win in his last 32 starts) accruing 11 points on a day he should have been wallering in single figures.

The Big Picture

See the season standings below. 2018 is now officially Marc Marquez’ season to lose. With the season less than 20% over, his 12-point lead over Zarco’s satellite Yamaha would easily be 37 were it not for the mess in Argentina. As was the case in Austin, the 2018 chase now appears to be for second place—yes, I am awarding the 2018 title to #93, similar to watching election night results coming in and having CNN call a contest two minutes after the polls close. Thank goodness Crutchlow finds the idea of copping to his own shortcomings distasteful or there wouldn’t be anything to laugh about. Next thing you know he’ll be gloating about Hillary.

Go Tranche Yourself

Tranche 1: Marquez, Zarco, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Miller
Tranche 3: Iannone, Rins, Rabat, A Espargaro, Petrucci
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Syahrin, Bautista, (Kallio)
Tranche 5: Smith, Abraham, Luthi, Redding, Simeon

Some Random Schvitzing

As some of you are aware, I’ve been having health issues of late that have temporarily lowered my IQ. Not possible, you say. Not enough oxygen getting to my brain, I say. Thus, my usually succinct post-race analysis must yield to the following random rants.

The crash on Lap 20, at the awkwardly named Dry Sack Corner, highlights the subtle irony to be found in Spanish humor. To wit, if one finds one’s motorcycle traveling upside down and backwards at speed, as Dani Pedrosa did today, one will likely be sporting anything but a dry sack. Even one or two such occurrences during a racing season tend to render one’s title chase problematic.

Marquez kept his premier class record at Jerez intact, having never been off the podium in six outings. Andrea Dovizioso maintained his equally pristine string here, having never once appeared on the podium in 11 premier class appearances dating back to 2008.

Is it just me, or did Cal Crutchlow’s brolly girl today bear a surprising resemblance to Cruella de Ville?

If this is going to be any kind of season at all, Johann Zarco needs to post his first premier class win at Le Mans in two weeks. Just sayin’.

Postscript: Earlier this year Jorge (Aspar) Martinez took it upon himself to re-brand his Aspar racing team as Team Angel Nieto in honor of the Spanish grand prix legend who passed away early this year. Prior to the race this weekend, the Circuito de Jerez followed suit, to be known henceforth as the Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto. In an effort to get in line with current trends in MotoGP I have decided to rename my lunchbox, which shall be referred to from now on as Lonchera Angel Nieto. If you spy me stuffing my face outside the Carmel Public Library on a shaded summer afternoon, rest assured my victuals have arrived respectfully.

 

Simon's Cribsheet

We caught a glance at Simon Crafar’s cheatsheet before today’s race. Christ.

 

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Results

April 8, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Crutchlow prevails in Argentina, leads series

Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday was a Honda clambake, with the factory guys and Cal Crutchlow hogging the top three spots on the combined FP1/FP2 timesheet. Dovi and Lorenzo looked dazed and confused in the dry, Dovi mailing in a clean 24th in FP2. Factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales were keeping their powder dry in 6th and 7th. The two anomalies in the top ten were Tito Rabat, Honda alum and current (GP17) Ducati pilot, sitting impudently in fourth position, as if he belonged there, and Andrea Iannone, copying him in 5th. My boy Alex Rins sat 8th after finding over a second in FP2. Zarco was loitering down in 9th, Jorge Lorenzo, in full Replay-of-the-Horror-of-2017 mode, lagging in 16th place. Miles to go before he sleeps.

Saturday’s wet FP3 meant the standings from FP2 stood, which, in turn, meant that big names, like Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci and Syahrin would have to slug their way out of Q1 to even have a shot at the first four rows on Sunday. Two satellite Ducatis (Rabat and Miller) found their way directly into Q2, along with a bevy of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. Q1 saw Aleix Espargaro flog his Aprilia into Q2, joined therein by Andrea Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Petrucci, eyeing a Ducati factory seat next year, starts from 18th, while Jorge Lorenzo, trying to defend one, could manage no better than 14th.

The last three minutes of Q2 are becoming my favorite part of the weekend. One by one, the Alien class and its aspirants reach back and take aim at pole, holding nothing in reserve, fuel loads minimized, soft new rubber on the back. One by one, they flash into pole position, only to be immediately deposed by the next red-eyed dervish with the throttle pegged. Marquez, incandescent all weekend, sat in pole position for most of the session, until he was blistered late, in the described fashion, by Alex Rins (?), Tito Rabat (??), Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa. While the announcers were busily gushing over Dani’s 50th grand prix pole, Jack Miller, who had pitted very late on a drying track to try a final lap on slicks and had his transponder go out on him, crossed the line almost unnoticed and stuck the fastest lap of the day on pole. In the process, he became the first satellite Ducati rider in history to occupy pole for a premier class grand prix.

Jack Miller has taken to the GP17 like, pardon the expression, a duck to water. Fast in Valencia last November. Fast all winter. Fast in practice in Qatar, although he whiffed on race day. Now, fast here, at least for one lap. Jack Miller is making a case for enhanced respect from these quarters. As is Tito Rabat, who seems to be breathing air again after two years of sucking canal water. Both on used Desmos.

Before the Lights Went Out

Due to the persistent light rain they have in this part of Argentina, which works the way my kitchen lights do when my grandson is fiddling with the switch, virtually everyone on the grid started bailing into pit lane five minutes before the start, all planning to switch from rain tires to slicks, all planning to start from pit lane. All except for one, the polesitter, Jack Miller, on his Alma Pramac Ducati, sporting slicks and ready to race. Race Direction, citing legitimate safety concerns pertaining to having 23 powerful men and machines crammed into the space of an eat-in kitchen, decided to change the rules of the sport on the spot, re-forming the grid three rows back of Miller.

The weirdly re-formed grid sat waiting for the lights to go on when Marquez, anxious in the six hole, waved to indicate his bike had stalled, pushed it a few yards, nonchalantly jump-started it, and pushed it back into his grid spot, waving off that Danny guy who was gesticulating wildly that Marquez needed to return to pit lane. So #93 started the race under a cloud, out of breath, suspecting he would be penalized. Unbalanced.

During the Race

There were so many key moments in the race that I can only bullet-point them:
• On the opening lap, Johann Zarco, jockeying with the factory Hondas up front, gave Pedrosa a slight hip check sufficient to send Little Big Man over the handlebars.
• Marquez went through on Miller on Lap 2 and the world prepared for him to get away, when
• He was given a ride-through penalty for dissing Mr. Aldridge at the start, entered pit lane in first place and exited in 19th with some serious motowood going on and that look in his eye. This left a top three of Miller, Rins and Zarco, with Crutchlow loitering in fourth, keeping his powder dry, thinking deep thoughts.
• Marquez, slicing his way recklessly through the field, dove through a non-existent opening, displacing Aleix Espargaro, who retired five laps later. For this second foul Marquez was ordered to give up one place, which became two in the midst of the pure confusion in command of the track.
• On Lap 17, Miller, whose tires were turning to syrup, ran so far wide that Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins all went through on him and stayed there. He deserved better on a day when he had, by himself, earned an enormous strategic advantage over the field which the powers that be took away from him.
• On Lap 21, Marquez, for no apparent reason, thought it would be smart to reprieve his stunt with Espargaro with his old buddy Valentino Rossi, who ran wide into mud. Down and out. A buzz went through the crowd. Not this again.
• Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins put on a sensational show over the last three laps. After two rounds there have been six separate riders on the two podia.
• Before being demoted to 18th position, Marquez had worked his way back from 19th to 5th, and, in the process, confirmed the opinions of everyone out there who already thought he was a jerk.

After the Race

Immediately after the race, Marquez and two of his handlers, with about 20 MotoGP.com video cameras on them, walked down to Rossi’s garage, to offer an apology for his comportment on the track. Mr. Rossi’s representative, a Mr. Vaffanculo, let it be known that Mr. Rossi was not currently interested in Mr. Marquez’ apology, and that perhaps Mr. Marquez should go perform a physically-impossible act. The cheek-turning exercise failed to produce the desired results. So now we have to spend the next six months listening to people bang on about The Rivalry. Which, if you believe what you hear, never actually went away.

The Big Picture

The season standings have been reshuffled, which is good news for some and not-so-good news for others. To wit:

Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi each lost five spots in the championship chase. Marquez lost three, but it could have been worse, as many will argue he should have been black-flagged after the Rossi incident. He may still find himself with some penance to pay in Texas in two weeks.

Winners include Alex Rins, who went from zero to 9th place, Miller, who went from 10th to 6th, and Zarco, who moved from 8th to 3rd.

Of the top ten riders for the year, four ride satellite bikes and two ride Suzukis. And the top team thus far this season is LCR Honda.

Next time out is Austin, which is Marquez’ personal sandbox. If he faces any kind of challenge at COTA, it portends an interesting year. A year that’s getting off to a grand start.

Rider Rankings after Two Rounds

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Zarco, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Vinales, Rossi, Rins, Miller, Iannone
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Pedrosa, Rabat, Syahrin, Lorenzo, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Redding, Bautista, Nakagami, Morbidelli, P Espargaro
Tranche 5: Luthi, Abraham, Smith, Simeon

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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

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

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

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

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

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

Marquez Valencia 2017b

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

Blah blah blah.

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

This is a Preview, Right?

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

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

Idle Speculation

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

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

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

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

One Last Bit from Qatar

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

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

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

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

 


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