Posts Tagged ‘KTM’

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

For the tenth year in a row, The Sachsenring lay down and gave it away to Marc Marquez, who didn’t even have to buy it a wrist corsage. Starting, as usual, from pole, Marquez seized the lead on the back side of the first turn, entered the express lane, and never broke a sweat on his way to the win and a ghastly, dispiriting 58-point lead as the series heads for summer vacation.  

Worse yet, French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his first premier class race and was unable later to locate his lopsided grin. 

For quite a while, it appeared my pre-race podium prediction of Marquez, Rins and Vinales would come up a winner, until Rins once again crashed out of a podium unassisted in Lap 19, a week after having done so in Assen. In so doing, he has removed himself from championship consideration and must now keep an eye on Joan Mir, who may be entertaining thoughts of becoming the #1 rider for the factory Suzukis. But Cal Crutchlow, who arrived at the weekend having seriously injured himself at home opening a can of paint, took advantage of Rins’ gaffe to usurp the third step on the podium. Mir, who spent much of the day in the second group, finished seventh, showing more progress, moving up the learning curve. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was more or less predictable for 2019. Quartararo, Marquez, Rins and Vinales were all sniffing around the top of the sheet. Marquez was the only one to put in a lap in the 1:20’s, within half a second of his 2018 track record, on Day 1. Pecco Bagnaia had a heavy crash late in FP1 which kept him out of FP2 but allowed him back for a cautious FP3. Crutchlow arrived in town hobbled by a non-riding accident suffered at home. Wanker.

Repsol Honda slotted homeboy Stefan Bradl in Lorenzo’s seat. With Fabio and Maverick sitting in the top five at the end of the day, FP3 on Saturday would determine whether Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, a tenuous 10th on the day, would have to fight and claw his way into Q2 or would pass smoothly, naturally, like a field mouse through an owl. We also learned of Danilo Petrucci’s well-deserved new contract for 2020 with the factory Ducati team. Bravo, Danilo! 

FP3 delivered guys like Marquez, Quartararo, Vinales and Rins directly to Q2, consigning, yet again, the famously struggling Valentino Rossi, along with Dovizioso and Zarco to the fighting and clawing of Q1. Even with his back to the wall, Rossi is unable to coax the same speed out of the M1 as Vinales and either of the satellite guys. He does not appear to have lost much overall, but the quick thin blade, flashed so often at the end of races as he routinely snatched victory from less-confident foes, is gone. If you’re leading a race and have a handful of gunners chasing you, including Rossi, Vale is no longer your primary concern. Of particular interest at the end of the session was Quartararo, on the gas, apparently injuring his left shoulder on another “tank-slapper,” as the Brits call them. Shades of Assen. Marquez was caught flirting with his 2018 track record at the end of the session.

Rossi appeared determined to make it out of Q1 and did so. Andrea Dovizioso, watching his faint title hopes fade, appeared determined, too, to make it out of Q1 and would have, were it not for the heroic efforts of one Takaa Nakagami, riding when he should be in traction, stealing Dovi’s ticket to Q2 well after the checkered flag had flown.

The new group of Usual Suspects—Vinales, Rins, Quartararo—took turns going after Marquez’s soft-tire lap times during Q2, to no avail. The Catalan made it ten-for-10 on pole in Germany, joined on the front row by Quartararo and Vinales. Row two would be comprised of Rins, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.  Rossi could do no better than P11, the weakest of the four Yamahas in the first four rows. Oh, and just for the record, Marquez on Saturday set a new track record for motorcycles at the Sachsenring. 

The Race 

This German Grand Prix was no work of art, a high-speed procession punctuated by falls from rather high-profile riders. Rookies Quartararo and Oliveira both crashed out in Lap 2, though the Portuguese rider would re-enter the race, for whatever reason. KTM sad sack Johann Zarco crashed out at the same spot a lap later. Pecco Bagnaia went walky on Lap 8, taking himself out of points contention.

But it was Rins, all alone in second place, laying his Suzuki down on Lap 19. Crutchlow could never catch Vinales. Dovizioso could never catch Petrucci. And no one currently living could catch Marc Marquez, who was thinking about COTA and how he would not let that happen today. 

The Big Picture 

The big picture is as ugly as an outhouse on an August afternoon. With 58 points in hand at the clubhouse turn, Marquez could leave his woods in a locker and walk the back nine with just a putter, a wedge, a three-iron, a seven-iron and a sleeve of Titleists in a Saturday bag and win the club championship. While the riders scrambling for a top-ten finish in 2019 are sweating blood, Marquez makes this hugely demanding, physically debilitating job look easy, effortless. His team is a well-oiled machine that never looks stressed out. He stops on his way to the garage to get his picture taken with a four-year old boy wearing #93 gear. I’m pretty much convinced he hasn’t started shaving yet. He lives with his brother. Haters hate him because he’s got mad skills. Haters gonna hate. Just sayin’.

Beyond Marquez, you have a bunch of riders with significant pedigrees snapping and tearing at one another over scraps. Last week I observed how some celebrants—OK, it was Vinales—were celebrating having held Marquez to 20 points. Today, the remaining Aliens and top tenners seem relieved to have held Marquez to a mere 25 points. For the rest of the paddock, The Sachsenring has become like Phillip Island was to Casey Stoner and how Mugello once was to Valentino Rossi.

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

This is the week when we come clean and give Marc Marquez his own tranche.

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

* * * 

MotoGP now hobbles off to summer vacation, a number of riders to lick wounds, several to entertain existential crises, and others to just chase women and enjoy being young, wealthy and in shape. We, obviously, will be hanging with the latter group. Should anything noteworthy occur during the interlude, I shall faithfully report on it at Late-Braking MotoGP, your site for all the stuff not good enough to make it to the pages of Motorcycle.com. We’ll have a preview of the Brno round here at the end of the month. Ciao.

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen   July 2, 2019

Universe Needs Marquez to Slide Out Sunday 

Here we go again. Up by 44 heading to The Sachsenring, a Marquez clambake in the works. Aliens celebrate winning a race while holding #93 to 20 points, suggesting 2019 has already been conceded. 

Marquez at sachsenring

Worse yet, Marquez can afford to play things a little safe, which he thankfully won’t. This situation will require a joust, in which a rider, say Alex Rins, decides to go one-on-one with Marquez in the early corners, looking for trouble, likely to find it. Vinales escaped with his life at Assen, despite his best performance in ages. For this to be a season, it will require more. It will require a duel. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine. 

Let us light a candle in gratitude for Marquez having put it on the floor while easily leading at COTA, another personal sandbox. Track conditions contributed to that fall, and he is unlikely to make that mistake again soon; once he takes the lead he often gets away. Had he gone on to win in Texas, he would now have 185 points. To Dovi’s 114. When Dovi takes him on for the win, late in races, he’s gone four for five. It can be done. It just needs to be done early in the race, with the same level of aggression Marquez shows the other riders. There needs to be some contact. Moto3 stuff. Catalunya stuff, with Marquez caught up in it. Something.

The “young lion” image has found its way into the comments on these articles. On Sunday, one of the young guns—Quartararo, Rins, Vinales, Mir—needs to announce his intention to become the new alpha male, at some point, early in the next decade most likely, just sayin’. Although ten straight wins in Germany would be something to see.

Business as usual will find young Marquez, world by the balls, leaving for summer vacation leading the series by at least 49 points. Racing fans will start going for long, solitary rides instead of watching more of The Marquez Show. Fortunately for me, keeping readers engaged in this “analysis” does not require the championship be at all competitive. The wonderful handful of folks who actively track MotoGP at Motorcycle.com demand so little… 

Recent History 

2016 in Saxony was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate tire, The Taint, for those less civilized amongst you.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

Two years ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. Real competition in the premier class.

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. Same as the previous year. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Viñales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP made the turn heading for the back, um, 10, which would start at Brno in August. And we all know how that turned out. 

Chatter 

Most of the noise I’ve been hearing this week concerns Jorge Lorenzo’s future in racing. Going all Black Knight in an effort to unseat Marquez at the top of the Honda heap? WSBK? No. Decide it’s not worth his future mobility to try to be the best again? Understand that if he were to leave Honda his only possible destination would be with, like, Avintia. There will be no satellite Suzuki team in 2020. Maybe Zarco bails at KTM—would The Spartan wish to go from the Japanese frying pan to the Austrian fire?

MotoGP.com is jocking the general competitiveness of the 2019 season—five riders on four different bikes—both factory Ducatis—gracefully sidestepping the fact that Marquez leads by 44. I find it almost physically painful to read the articles on the MotoGP site. They reflect a top-down assignment of “interest” articles—’gimme 200 words on how competitive the season is, blah blah blah’—without nuance or wit. Some poor Spanish bastard is working in a second language trying to make it sound right. Which is to say, sound British. Which should be funny but isn’t.

They could hire me to turn the English translation into a stand-up routine. I’ve almost always been very complimentary of Sr. Ezpeleta.

Over at Moto2 and Moto3

Assen was eventful in both classes. Tony Arbolino seized a razor’s edge win from Lorenzo Dalla Porta, allowing Aron Canet to maintain his narrow lead in the 2019 chase. It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone from the current top ten won the title this year. People who turn their noses up at the lightweight classes miss those ground level camera shots that show the Moto3 bikes flying past, Doppler effect in full force, literally a blur.

In Moto2, our old buddy Tom Luthi took back the lead in the series as prior leader Alex Marquez was knocked out of the race by BadAss Baldassarri, with things getting a little physical in the gravel trap. There are perhaps five or six riders capable of winning in 2019. Apparently, Marc Marquez is lobbying hard for brother Alex to receive a seat on the 2021 Pramac team. I failed to write it down, but one of the Japanese riders made a comically-ridiculous save after getting tagged, nothing connecting him to his bike but his hands.                          

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for the greater Hohenstein-Ernstthal metro is for clear and cool conditions over the weekend. 70°. The great equalizer. There was a day in MotoGP when riders would routinely exit the pits on a cool morning and crash before ever getting their tires warmed up. You don’t see nearly enough of that stuff these days. The cool weather will, to some extent, help the Yamahas and take away an advantage for the Hondas. It pains me to say it, but on Sunday’s podium with Marquez I’m seeing Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins. None of the war horses, the grizzled veterans, the legends in their own minds.

The MotoGP world is being re-shaped before our eyes. Quartararo, Mir and Nakagami and Bagnaia are standing in the wings. Now, if someone could just do something about that pesky Marquez guy, we could have a helluva series. We’ll be back on Sunday morning with results, analysis and purloined photos.

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MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Screenshot (196)

Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

A few random photos from Assen

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MotoGP Assen Preview

June 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen    June 24, 2019

Assen—A Good Place for an Upset 

We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates—Bradley Smith—and rivals—Jorge Lorenzo—with them. With Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen? 

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday portends more of the usual. 

Notes from Catalunya 

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well—scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10. 

Recent History at Assen 

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race—two in a row for The Netherlands—was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group—take THAT, Moto3—and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Maverick Vinales, about whom plenty has been said already. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents cannot be said to have a preference. 

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Vinales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.”  But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral. Forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Vinales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Avoids Bedlam, Cruises at Montmelo 

Marc Marquez was probably going to win the Catalan GP anyway. But once Repsol Honda teammate Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo skittled Andrea Dovizioso and both factory Yamaha riders out of the proceedings on Lap 2, it was done and dusted in Barcelona. The Catalan’s lead in the world championship ballooned from 12 to 37 points. Valencia is groaning, joined by most of the rest of the motorcycle racing world. Here we go again. 

After the Lap 2 histrionics, an exhausting battle for second place developed, won by insolent French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, who, starting from pole, edged Ducati veteran Danilo Petrucci for the honor of his first premier class podium. Eleven riders failed to finish today, which explains some of the other confusing point hauls. There were a host of hard feelings filling the air after the race; plenty of riders felt they deserved better. Not to mention the caustic fact that Marc Marquez was the main beneficiary of Lorenzo’s gaffe, allowing him to put his boot on the throat of the 2019 championship. Ain’t nobody need that. 

Practice and Qualifying 

The fact that 20-year-old rookie Quartararo dominated the practice timesheets again, on both days at Montmelo, two weeks after surgery for arm pump, needs to stop arriving as a surprise, at least to me. In November of last year, as the last promotee signed, I considered him the least qualified of the four Moto2 riders making the leap. Still sporting stitches, he captured FP1:P2  FP2:P1 FP3:P2  FP4:P1. Has a certain symmetry to it. He has been doing stuff like this all year, then going out and making a mess of qualifying or making rookie mistakes in races.

Marquez conducted a bit of a race simulation on worn tires for most of FP2 after leading FP1, cruising home knowing he had the pace, if needed, to improve on his combined P9 position heading into Saturday. Dovi, Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda, veteran Pol Espargaro keeping his KTM upright, and rookie underachiever Pecco Bagnaia (four DNFs in six rounds) delivered impressive performances on Friday and comprised a rather surprising top five (four behind Quartararo).

MotoGP, at all three levels, has developed three qualifying sessions, two official and one, um, ex officio, as it were. The scramble to pass directly to Q2 makes FP3 its own qualifier, as it was here on Saturday. It produced good news for several riders, and not so good news, on the lamb-goat continuum, for others. FP3 begets Q1 begets Q2.

Q1 would include names like Miller, Nakagami and Morbidelli, three young guns who had lit it up on Friday. Drive for show, putt for dough. Aleix, rookie Bagnaia and the hapless, likely-to-be-bought-out/defector Johann Zarco (“Chumley, get me OUTTA HERE!”), effing around in 19th. Sylvain Guintoli, guesting with Suzuki, enjoying the experience, once again, of beating someone at something, posterizing my boy, the apparently doomed Hafizh Syahrin, lately of Tech 3 KTM, who has WSBK written all over him. Sometimes I just go on and on.

In Q1, Morbidelli and Joan Mir won promotions to Q2, at the expense of Pramac Ducati representatives Miller and Bagnaia. As usual, Q2 was worth the price of admission all by itself. When the dust cleared, it was the New Kid in Town, Quartararo, on his second premier class pole, sandwiching Marquez between Yamahas, Vinales sitting in third. Morbidelli, Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso comprised the all-Italian second row. Alex Rins had a great shot at a front row start but crashed during his second Q2 run and would start in P8.

After the session Vinales was penalized three grid spots for impeding Quartararo, who had already clinched pole. This is what is meant by the term “unforced error.” Another example of why Vinales is still not an Alien. 

The Race 

Dovizioso and Marquez shared the holeshot, with the Italian emerging from Turn 1 in the lead, which wouldn’t last. Almost nothing would, as riders began hitting the deck almost immediately. Bradley Smith, guest-crashing for Aprilia and his victim Karel Abraham—boom. Lorenzo and victims Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi—boom. Aleix Espargaro—pffft. Hafizh Syahrin—boom. Pecco Bagnaia—boom. Franco Morbidelli—boom. And, not to be outdone, having just moved past Jack Miller into P4, Cal Crutchlow—boom. Cal’s analyst says it’s poppycock to suggest he’s afraid of success.

With a plurality of these unseated riders lolling in the top ten for the year, rookie Joan Mir captured 10 points in a gratifying P6. Pol Espargaro snagged nine points for the desperate KTM project. Takaa Nakagami, Tito Rabat (?) and the morose Johann Zarco closed out the top ten. Mir and Zarco both had their best day of the season, by default. 

The Big Picture 

After seven rounds, with Assen in two weeks and The Sachsenring in three, the big picture is sucking. Hard. Once again, Marquez has become metronomic, and once again the rest of the grid is proving itself completely unable to cope. Sure, it was fun to see Danilo Petrucci win at Mugello and Rins at COTA. OK, I enjoyed Marquez getting pimped by Dovizioso in the desert back in March. But, come on. It is intellectually dishonest to purport that any rider out there this season is going to seriously challenge Marquez for the 2019 title.

So why watch? Well, despite the artistry of Marquez himself, there is the scrotum-shrinking speed. There is the arrival of bright young talent, guys like Quartararo, Rins, Mir, Morbidelli and more. There is the top-to-bottom improvement in the grid, illustrated this week by Fabio Quartararo and Hafizh Syahrin during qualifying. Rocketman Quartararo seized pole with a lap time of 1:39.48. Syahrin dragged his hopeless derriere across the line in 24th position clocked at 1:41.75.

There is no justice in this world.

There is, however, a contest worth watching in an emerging battle for second place. The factory Ducatis of Dovi and Petrucci are separated by five points, with Great Suzuki Hope Alex Rins also in the midst. Not mist, midst. If Marquez is going to run off and hide again this year, at least these three appear capable of providing some civilized competition in 2019. 

Tranches 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

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

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

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

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

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

The Undercards, Briefly 

Moto3 was a battle of attrition and as good a race as one is likely to see in the motorcycle biz. The 12th different winner in the last 12 rounds, Marcos Ramirez, won his maiden grand prix. Series leader Aron Canet managed to stay upright and accrued 20 points on a day when several of his competitors hit the deck. Young SKY46 VR racing academy grad Celestino Vietti started 21st and finished third. 31 starters were winnowed down to 19 finishers, three of whom re-mounted after offs. And your boy John McPhee got whacked and recorded The Save of the Decade, left leg pointed straight up in the air at one point, well off track; unbelievable stuff.

In Moto2 today, series leader Alex Marquez overcame a relatively poor start to win his third race in a row, outdueling veteran Tom Luthi in a bit of a procession. Lorenzo Baldassarri, who led the series until today, recorded yet another DNF, his third of the year, to go along with three wins, and would be well advised to stay away from proffered microphones, as his speaking voice brings to mind the Italian term, “castrato.” Dude has a kind of Graham Nash thing going on. 

Two Weeks to Assen 

Two weeks until Assen gets another opportunity to Keep Things Weird. In order to even maintain a pretense of suspense, it is important that someone other than Marquez take the gold medal in the Low Countries. Unusual names like Spies and Miller have appeared on the top step at The Cathedral in the not-too-distant past. The Yamahas and Suzukis enjoy this place; Marquez is mouthing words about how it will be so, so difficult to win in two weeks.

Pure shinola, of course. We’ll “be there” nonetheless, watching all the sessions, sending cosmic motivation to the challengers. For now, the universe is aligned in Marquez’ favor; we can only shake our heads in wonder. So we shall pay a visit to The Cathedral, lifting up a novena for a competitive second half of the season.

PHOTOS, UM, OBTAINED BY BRUCE ALLEN

Catalunya

Catlunya front lot

Catalunya at nightCatalunya back lotCatalunya3Catalunya2

The Women of Catalunya

AbrahamBagnaiaCanetEspargaroGardnerMarquezMillerMonsterMorbidelliQuartararoSchrotterVinales

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2019

© Bruce Allen.

It’s Officially Marquez vs. The World 

When it comes to motorcycle racing, a number of readers fail to understand, or simply don’t care about, the underlying resentments in the relationship between Catalonia, once its own country, and Spain. Increasingly-vocal Catalans take this stuff seriously and personally. For them, being a Catalan is different (and far better) than being a freaking Spaniard. Similar to the Basque situation in northern Spain. So, when they line up under the red lights on Sunday afternoon, Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, both Espargaros and Tito Rabat will be, for an hour or so, brothers in arms. Motto: Beat the hell out of the Spaniards and crush the Italians! 

If Catalonia was indeed its own country it would easily lead the world in grand prix motorcycle racing champions per capita. As for Marquez, Catalan to the core,  though he’s only collected one premier class win here, he’s been on the podium regularly, save for 2015 when he crashed out, suffering under the influence of an unrideable chassis. Jorge Lorenzo used to win here all the time with Yamaha and got his first win here with Ducati last year. But looking at his results this year on the Honda, it’s amazing we’re even talking about him.

Lorenzo 2019 to date

 

 

 

Even though Suzuki up-and-comer Alex Rins has only a DNS and a DNF here, it is the type of track that suits him, never mind the whole nationalistic/inspirational thing. Rossi has won here once since 2009, while teammate Maverick Vinales has never been any good at his home crib (discounting his Moto3 win here in 2012). Finally, Andrea Dovizioso has a solo win here in 2017 to go along with a bunch of nondescript results dating back to 2008.

Suffice it to say that neither Lorenzo nor Rossi nor Dovizioso is likely to win Sunday’s race. More likely, it will be Marquez, Rins, or a dark horse, a Jack Miller or a Franco Morbidelli. Danilo Petrucci could keep a new little tradition alive by winning back-to-backs in Mugello and here, the way Lorenzo did last year and Dovi the year before. That would tighten things at the top of the rider heap.

Recent History at Catalunya

The 2016 Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya featured a struggling but gritty defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannone-ed” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed; the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again managed a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and would never look back, cruising to his third premier class title in four seasons.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race here, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having absconded with Marquez’ lunch money on Lap 8, went through on Pedrosa into a lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later overtook Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race. It was not long ago that Dani Pedrosa was still relevant.

Last year, Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo and his Ducati went through into a lead the Mallorcan never considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, simultaneously getting sandwiched by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This, in turn, promoted a trailing Valentino Rossi into podium position. Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth.

Quick Hitters 

Surprise, for those of you jocking fabulous rookie Fabio Quartararo.  Wrestling the Yamaha M1 thus far in 2019 has him experiencing arm pump, which came as news to many of us. Thus, he had the remarkable Dr. Mir operate on him shortly after Mugello, news our bookies failed to share. He expects to return this week. This Spanish layout will test his machismo, what with his forearms resembling compression sleeves stuffed with chicken breasts.

Your boy Jack Miller, having a solid season on a Desmo GP19, has recently been quoted as having had a change of heart, to wit, rather than demanding a promotion over the head of one Danilo Petrucci onto the factory team alongside Dovizioso, he’s now saying he’s got a great deal right here at Pramac Ducati and would be tickled pink, actually, to remain with the team on a two year deal commencing next year. This change of heart was prompted by Petrucci’s dramatic, awesome, scintillating maiden win in front of his homeys at Mugello last time out. Danilo’s win was even more impressive than it looked as we realized his job for the next year or two with the factory Ducati crew depended on his result. Dude had a lot on the line, had Marquez sniffing around his drawers, and Dovi right behind him. He held up. His machismo was in fine shape, thanks.

More to come on the Pramac team before next year, as Pecco Bagnaia has been promised a GP20, and Miller is unsurprisingly expecting another. This, on a team that has, historically, had, at most, one current bike on offer.

Mired in the worst slump of his career, a series of results that makes his Ducati foray look like raging success, Jorge Lorenzo was quietly hauled over to HRC HQ in Japan by Alberto Puig, Chief Apologist, Repsol MotoGP Team. The rest of what follows is pure fiction. The board of directors of the racing division sat arrayed around a semi-circular conference table. In front of the table was a single ladder-backed chair with 1.755” sawed off the front two legs and a single light suspended on a chain above it. Lorenzo was encouraged to sit silently in the chair, trying not to slide on to the pristine floor, while the nine Japanese executives glared icily at him for two hours. Not a word was spoken. Afterwards, Puig had Lorenzo flown back to Europe. El Gato claims that now everyone involved with his RC213V team is on the same page and he looks forward to competing for the podium in Catalunya…[crickets]… 

Your Weekend Forecast 

So, the weather for the Umpteenth Barcelona Grand Prix appears, from a distance, to be perfect. Spain at its best—sunny and warm, hot in the sun, cool in the shade. Of an umbrella.

The lower divisions are giving us some of this and some of that. In Moto3 Aron Canet and young Jaume Masia on resurgent KTMs sit 1st and 4th, sandwiching Honda riders Lorenzo dalla Porta and the dashing Niccolo Antonelli in 2nd and 3rd. It’s anyone’s title this year, at this point, and the racing has been, as usual, sublime. In Moto2, a resurgent Alex Marquez has chased down “BadAss” Lorenzo Baldassarri with back-to-back wins in France and Italy, forging a virtual tie for the championship after six rounds. Veteran Tom Luthi, returning to Moto2 after a nightmarish year in MotoGP, is right there in third, pursued by young hotshot Jorge Navarro on the only Speed Up bike in the top nine. Kalex, as usual, has led the league in their accommodation of the big new Triumph 765s, gripping eight of the top nine spots in the current standings. Anyone’s title again, but Marquez has a ton of momentum, and we should not overlook the fact that, despite what seem like years of underachieving in Moto2, he is still only 23. Both he and Baldassarri appear likely candidates to graduate to MotoGP next season.

For the fantasists among you who loathe Marc Marquez and/or Jorge Lorenzo, visualize for a moment what it would look like to have #73 and #93 in the same Repsol liveries in 2020.

Marquez brothers exhibition spin 2013 at Valencia

The Marquez brothers go for a spin at Valencia in 2014 after each won a world title that day.

I think it’s a bad idea to bet against Marc Marquez on Sunday. He clearly understands how close he has come to perfection this year, similar to 2014. The washboard in Texas and two photo-finishes with factory Ducatis are all that stand between him and a perfect season after six rounds. The weather and the crowd will be in his favor on Sunday. And they don’t call it The Marquez Era for nothing.

As for the remaining steps on the podium, I can’t help you. Perhaps a factory Ducati, perhaps Vinales. It would be the bomb to see Franco Morbidelli or Jack Miller fight with the lead group. With Assen looming in only two weeks and The Sachsenring just a week after that, we are headed directly for the turn into the summer doldrums, and Marquez is looking like he wants to break away.

I suspect Valentino Rossi would love to make a liar out of me. That would be great.

We’ll return here a couple hours after the race with results and analysis. This article, or most of it, should appear on Motorcycle.com later on Tuesday. Sunday results and analysis will be here a couple hours after the race and on Motorcycle.com later that day.

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Petrucci Prevails at Majestic Mugello 

If you’re into motorcycle racing—and why else would you be here reading this drivel?—today’s Italian Grand Prix was a work of art. 28-year old Danilo Petrucci, who six years ago was flogging something called an Ioda, fought off Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso for his maiden MotoGP win. The 83,000 frenzied fans saw 23 laps of knife fighting at close quarters in what must be the feel good moment of the 2019 MotoGP season. 

Petrucci, one of the most likable guys in the paddock, has waited his entire life for today’s checkered flag. Born in Terni, some 200 miles south, he has fought for years to make a career for himself in this sport, starting in the European Superstock 600 Championships back in 2007. He gradually moved up and through Italian Superstock 1000s and the FIM Superstock 1000 Championship before landing the first of several third-rate rides in MotoGP in 2012. Despite finishing 20th in the 2014 season, Ducati saw something they liked in the burly ex-policeman and saw him signed to a Pramac satellite contract in 2015 where he was, in my acidic words at the time, just another rider, filling the grid, getting pounded by the Lorenzos and Marquezes of the world week in and week out.

With every reason to give up on motorcycle racing and return to the beat, Petrucci hung in, worked on his skills and, during the last two years, dropped 10 kilos. The poaching of Gigi D’alligna from Aprilia a few years ago signaled a rise in Pramac’s fortunes, as the year-old bikes they were getting from Ducati became more potent and more competitive. From finishing 14th in 2016, Petrux climbed up to eighth in 2017. In 2018, he out-dueled teammate Jack Miller to win a one-year contract on the factory team following the departure of Jorge Lorenzo to Honda, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, for this season. Still, he remained winless in the premier class. Until today. For an Italian speed freak, it doesn’t get any better than winning your first race on a Ducati at Mugello. Especially when it takes, like, 13 years to get there. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Once again, the Sunday fortunes of a number of riders were decided on Saturday or, arguably, on Friday. We’re talking about Valentino Rossi, who was terrible on Friday, and who was reduced to a desperate last lap lunge at the flag during the waning moments of FP3. An issue with his front brake caused him to go walkabout on that lap and consigned him, along with names like Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Rins and Zarco, to the rabble in Q1, where he had nothing. Many of the usual suspects went directly through to Q2, along with Pol Espargaro on the KTM, Fabio (last name no longer necessary), Franco (ditto), rookie Pecco Bagnaia, and the overachieving Takaa Nakagami on Marc Marquez’ sled from 2018.

Q1 was a hoot, as Alex Rins and Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro plugged themselves in at the top of the sheet early in the gathering. Dovizioso bumped Rins out of his promotion late in the session, at which point both Rins and Rossi set their sights on trying to produce one last flying lap at the tail end, in the hope of escaping row five or worse on Sunday. Neither would succeed in this effort, as both got caught out, Rossi after a frightening moment, and each failed to cross the finish line before the checkered flag flew. The shameful result found Rins starting 16th and Rossi, dead in the water, at the back of row six.

Q2 was a record-breaking duel between Fabio LNNLN and Marquez, with both riders breaking Petrucci’s hours-old track record on their way to the front row, Marquez on pole, Fabio in the middle, and Petrucci, fire in the belly, in third. (Marquez now owns track records at nine [9] of the circuits on the 2019 calendar.) Franco put his satellite Yamaha in P4, while Rossi’s factory teammate, the formerly formidable Maverick Vinales, started from P7 on his way to a sixth-place finish facilitated by offs from Rossi, Morbidelli and Jack Miller. I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The Race 

With more passing than a 420 party, it was difficult in the extreme to determine who was leading the race DURING the race. The main straight at Mugello, itself a thing of beauty, promotes the fine art of slipstreaming, in which a rider leading the pack coming out of the last turn can find himself in eighth place entering Turn 1. A lead group of five—Marquez, Dovi and Petrucci, Alex Rins and Miller—put on an amazing show all day. Rins was blistering the field early, on cold tires and with a full tank, climbing from 16th at the start to P4 at the end of Lap 3. I’m pretty sure all five riders led the race at one point or another. Miller, on the Pramac Ducati, really had it going on, and turned in, at the time, the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15. Sadly, he folded the front on Lap 16, leaving the remaining four to slug it out for the last seven laps.

And what a seven laps it was. Rins started losing ground in the straights after a gritty fight to keep up with the blazing Honda and Ducatis (Dovi set a new MotoGP land speed record of 356.7 km/h on Saturday, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “lift-off speed.” Why watch four-wheeled vehicles race when the two-wheelers, riders with stones the size of hubcaps, are doing the same speeds? F1 machines would have to be hitting 400 mph to be as impressive. IMO.)

Nobody was getting away today. Marquez, sandwiched between the two red machines, went through on both Italians at Turn1 on the last lap, and I was thinking, “All that meat and no potatoes,” meaning it appeared the Ducs, having thrown their weight around all day, would end up getting spanked by the reMarcable Catalan. Not today. And not Dovizioso, either, who won here in 2017 and looked fully capable of a repeat.

Today was Danilo Petrucci’s day. Today was a day he has dreamed about since he was in short pants, a day he had worked for since he was in his teens. Today was the day he would stand on the top step of the Mugello podium, the Italian national anthem blaring, fountains of prosecco filling the air, all of the sweat and tears and injuries forgotten. Even if he never wins another race, which appears unlikely, he will have had his One Shining Moment. Bravo, Danilo! 

While this was going on, one imagines the scene in the factory Yamaha garage, an old, tired Rossi, having crashed out of last place on Lap 8, sitting in leathers looking like they had been chained and dragged behind a truck, pondering a glittering past and an uncertain future, one certain to be filled with exciting moments, but of the vicarious variety. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez, despite “only” scoring 20 points today, extended his tenuous lead over Dovizioso in the championship to 12 points, with Rins and, suddenly, Petrucci locked in a battle for third. There appears to be a slow-motion changing of the guard taking place in the premier class, with young riders like Miller, Rins, Quartararo, and Nakagami poised to take over from familiar veterans like Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo. Several other youngsters—Joan Mir, Bagnaia, perhaps Miguel Oliveira if he can get away from KTM—will be along soon, as they are busy paying union dues and getting hazed by the vets. One suspects their day will come sooner rather than later.

Tranches 

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

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

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

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

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

See as how I’ve missed my deadline today by about 10 hours, I will have more to say about today’s events—the cat fight in Moto3, Alex Marquez’ sudden resurrection in Moto2—later this week, right here. Two weeks to Catalunya.

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

With Repsol Honda stud Marc Marquez off and running again in 2019, and since they’re racing at Mugello this week, it seems like a good time to pay some attention to Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008 he won his first seven (7) premier class races at this, his home crib. It’s where he became an immortal in Italian sports lore. He owns this place. 

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

It is not an overstatement to say he has a sense of the moment. Could this be his last credible chance to win the Italian Grand Prix in MotoGP? Despite not having won an actual MotoGP race since Assen in 2017 (and that one was controversial), Rossi has been competitive in 2019—two seconds, and top six in the other three. His main issue continues to be qualifying, where he has missed out on Q2 twice. If he makes it to Q2 he remains a threat to podium every time out, rear grip or no.

But here’s the other thing about Mugello and Rossi. Since 2009, he’s been a bitter disappointment to his homeys and their yellow 46s. Three third-place finishes and three DNFs, one the DNS in 2010. Despite everyone’s hometown hero racing just down the road, the bells announcing a win for Rossi at Mugello haven’t rung on Sunday afternoon in Tavullia in over a decade. Meanwhile, since 2013 that stronzo Marquez has been in full “win or bin” mode here, with a win and a second to go along with two DNFs and last year’s futile 16th place finish.

[Digging the fact that the winningest rider of late in Italy has been El Gato, Jorge Lorenzo, including last year’s breakthrough on the Ducati. Six wins here since 2011, five of which came when Yamaha was the perfect bike for him. Alberto Puig, formerly Pedrosa’s Svengali, now in charge of defending Lorenzo, tells us prosperity with Repsol Honda is just around the corner. If it is, he should win here on Sunday. El futuro es ahora, Alberto.] 

It is a foregone conclusion that Suzuki whiz kid Alex Rins, not Maverick Vinales, is preparing to take Rossi’s place in the Alien firmament. One suspects that Rossi may be thinking about putting his stamp on Mugello forever, with bookend wins in his first and last seasons. If that’s the case, and he makes it into Q2 either automatically or by coming through Q1, Sunday could be a big day in Italy. 2020, should he choose to continue for another season, could then be a farewell tour amidst clouds of yellow smoke, The Doctor blowing kisses to the fans, finishing eighth for the year. But people would talk about Mugello 2019 for a long time. As they said so often in the cult classic Office Space, that would be great.

Recent History at Mugello

2016 featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Honda. Other than his win at the Red Bull Ring, this may have been Iannone’s favorite career race. On the podium at Mugello, with no Rossi looking down on him.

In the 2017 main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium. National idol Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself. For the fans, other than the wrong Yamaha being on the podium, it was cause for celebration. You know, like every other day of the year.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as last year proved. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With the Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was, indeed a great day to be Italian. The 2018 standings tightened up a little bit. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds. By the time the circus rolled around to Germany it was pretty much over.

The Point, After All, is Points

The modern era of MotoGP racing has, with the exception of a number of outstanding seasons from Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, been about Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Rossi holds the MotoGP record for points in a season of 373, set in 2008, the high-water mark of his career. He would take his last premier class title in 2009; many of his supporters say he was robbed by the evil Iberian axis of Marquez and Lorenzo in 2015. Marquez, amongst the long list of records belonging to him, reached “only” 362 in 2014. Had he not crashed out at Motegi he would surely have broken that record, too.

This year, with 95 points to date, Marquez is trending at around 360, which would put him within reach of Rossi’s record, since there are 19 rounds these days. One shudders to think what might have happened had Marquez not dropped the RC213V in Texas. Suppose Marquez had gone on to his usual easy win at COTA and sat currently with 120 points. He would be trending for an unthinkable 456 points. Shows the dangers inherent in straight-line projections. But any suggestion that he is not dominating 2019 is ridiculous.

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

Interesting that the “stupid season,” the one preceding the “silly season,” has begun. Jack Miller wants to move up to a factory ride, be the next Casey Stoner. Thus, hard luck Danilo Petrucci appears to be getting forced out. Alex Marquez (?) is in discussions with Pramac about a 2020 contract, lending weight to the Miller-to-factory rumors. Good luck with that, Alex. And brother Marc, perish the thought, has allegedly expressed interest in riding the Desmosedici at some unforeseen time. Several riders are openly considering taking their marbles to WSBK, which has to be loving this*. Gigi D’Alligna must have some serious motowood going on; everyone wants one of his bikes. Alberto Puig, recall, tells us all is well with Lorenzo. Unless it rains. Unless it’s hot. Unless it’s cold. Unless he breaks another bone or two…Would Honda or The Spartan bail on his 2021 contract if things don’t get turned around? And don’t you hate paragraphs that end with a question mark?

*Tranche 3 MotoGP defector Alvaro Bautista, riding for Ducati in WSBK, has won 11 of the first 13 races this season.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast suggests scattered showers on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warm—mid-70s—on Sunday. According to the Encyclopedia of Rider Complaints, under Sunny & Perfect on Race Day, the top whine from riders, with Cal Crutchlow sporting the individual trophy, is, “Not enough dry practice time.” Let’s just say that weather should not be a factor for the race. Whether it interferes with qualifying remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, it seems races are won and lost on Saturday, those riders excluded from Q2 generally unable to crack the top six.

Assuming Rossi qualifies in the top six, I look for him to share the podium with Marquez and Dovizioso, the Usual Suspects. Should The Doctor falter in qualifying, throw Alex Rins on the podium. For some reason, the Suzuki does well at tracks seemingly better-suited for the fast-moving Hondas and Ducatis. It seems unlikely that Jorge Lorenzo will be a factor in the race; ditto for Maverick Vinales, lost in the sauce. Jack Miller would love to impress the suits from Ducati Corse on Sunday and may contend early. His habit of punishing the tires almost always precludes his actually winning many races (one to be exact). As usual, the sentimental favorite, on multiple counts, is my boy Danilo Petrucci, who may decide to let it all hang out on Sunday. To get his maiden premier class win at Mugello on the Ducati could possibly be Danilo’s Ultimate Two-Wheeled Fantasy. For the locals, if Vale can’t pull it off, they will root for Danilo. If he can’t pull it off, root for Dovi. And if he can’t pull it off, pray for that piccolo scroto Marquez to slide out of the lead late in race, when it really hurts, to suffer at Mugello as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Personally, I don’t have a favorite rider, although watching Marquez make his impossible saves gives me goosebumps. For the sake of an easier race summary to write, it would be the bomb if Rossi could pull a rabbit out of his hat. Endless story lines therein. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching #93 enter his patented low-earth orbit and run circles around everyone else. We’ll have results and analysis here sometime Sunday—may be late due to real life getting in the way. Ciao.

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 19, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Brothers Rule in France 

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

At various points during the weekend, it appeared the winner might come from any number of camps. The Petronas Yamaha and factory Ducati teams were heard from early. Marquez was buzzing around the top of the timesheets in each session. Maverick Vinales had some encouraging moments, and there was a Jorge Lorenzo sighting in the top five during FP2. Rossi would finagle his way onto the second row after a forgettable couple of days. The Suzukis were struggling, and KTM had but one rider, Pol Espargaro, who seemed capable of wrestling the RC-16 to a top ten finish. 

Practice and Qualifying

With the weekend forecast looking dismal, there came the growing possibility that Friday could determine which riders passed into Q2. This moved the majority to put on their big boy leathers and let it all hang out late in FP1, with startling rookie homeboy Fabio Quartararo topping the sheets, followed by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Vinales and Marquez. My boy Alex Rins didn’t get the memo about the weather, easing into 17th. Fan fave Johann Zarco and the legendary Valentino Rossi snuck into the top ten.

It stayed dry for FP2. Jorge Lorenzo somehow improved his time by a full 1.3 seconds. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia into the Top Ten Combined, as did Honda climber Takaa Nakagami. All of which came at the expense of Suzuki rookie Joan Mir, and the aforementioned Mssrs. Zarco and Rossi. When Saturday dawned wet, it confirmed that the three would be joining a gaggle of big names amongst the great unwashed in Q1, names like Crutchlow, Morbidelli, and Rins.

[Until this moment, I have underestimated the pressure some of these riders feel as they approach Q1. Should they fail to advance to Q2, their weekend will be effectively shot. Rossi and Zarco, especially, must have been tied in knots. Fifteen minutes that could have a real effect on their immediate career prospects; never mind the championship. And those minutes would likely unfold on a wet track.]

As expected, FP3 was run on rain tires. Vinales, Marquez and Jack Miller put in the best times, followed in close order by Rins, Zarco and Petrucci. The session was significant only due to the conditions, as the radar made it appear likely we would get to see the WET RACE sign on Sunday. FP4 ran on a drying track that was too wet for slicks and too dry for wets. Such would be the conditions in Q1, in which Franco Morbidelli turned in the best lap on rain tires and Valentino Rossi, jumping out of the gate on slicks, beat the field by 1½ seconds, putting both in Q2 as the rain picked up steam and the track went from dryish to humid to damp to moist to wettish.

On rain tires, Marquez laid down his marker on Lap 2 of Q2 and it stood up, by 4/10ths, for the entire session. The two notorious Ducati mudders, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, completed the front row. The Italian crew on Row 2 included Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi and the overachieving Franco Morbidelli. Alas, homeboy Fabio Quartararo could not maintain the magic in the wet, qualifying 10th, while the erratic Top Gun, Maverick Vinales, once again made a hash of qualifying and would start Sunday in the middle of Row 4. At day’s end, riders Zarco (14th), Crutchlow (15th) and Rins (19th, currently second in the championship) were radioactive, glowing in the dark. Not Suitable for Interviewing.

During the Race

To everyone’s surprise, the 2019 Le Mans battle was a dry race, the riders, always with a complaint at the ready, complaining that they had not had enough practice time in the dry. Once Marquez had stiff-armed Miller and cleared off, the battle for second place commenced, involving three Ducatis and Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha. The Ducatis prevailed over the Yamaha. The factory Ducatis prevailed over Miller’s satellite job. And Ducati #1 Dovizioso prevailed over his #2, Danilo Petrucci. Announcers Steve and Matt seem to have overlooked the fact that the 2019 Honda RC213V has as much grunt as the Ducati Desmosedici, remarking lap after lap how the chasing Ducs were unable to rocket past Marquez on the main straight as in years past.

Danilo Petrucci spent the last few laps seriously dogging teammate Dovizioso, and looked fully capable of mounting a challenge, your basic late dive underneath the foe, on the last lap. Had he trailed any other rider, and with nothing to lose, he would have made the attempt. But unlike his predecessor Jorge Lorenzo, he took account of the fact that Dovi is in the thick of the championship chase and internalized the fact that the consequences of sending him flying into the scenery would have been dire indeed. So he backed off, saved his honor, gained a podium, and avoided a major bruhaha with his compatriot and teammate. Good on ya, Petrux.

Elsewhere on the grid, two riders were busy making lemonade out of lemons. Pol Espargaro took his KTM from 12th to 6th, while Alex Rins, after a disastrous Q1 on Saturday, made it into the top ten. Cal Crutchlow, who also made hash on Saturday, moved from 15th at the start to a less-nauseating 9th, maintaining his average of 7 points per round.

As for the locals, Johann Zarco, he of the dreamy eyes and stiff upper lip, started 14th and finished 13th, not precisely what he and his team were looking for. Heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, whom some analysts had tagged for the win today, started in trouble from 10th place, worked his way backwards into the low teens early on before recovering during the second half of the race and finishing a respectable 8th. Saving grace for the French fans is that neither got chain-whipped by any German riders. Plenty of Spaniards and Italians, sure, but not a loathsome Boche. Vive la France!

It’s Tranching Time Again… 

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

On to Mugello

Two short weeks until we arrive at one of the shrines of racing, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, nestled in the Tuscan hills above the Adriatic Riviera. Mugello is such a cool track that everyone, from Marquez to Abraham, feels they have an advantage racing there. All the Italian riders, all the Ducati pilots, and a number of others will be playing the ‘home race’ card. The fact is that Mugello, with its massive front straight constructed so as to magnify the noise of the bikes and amplify slipstreaming, is an adrenaline firehose. Those chasing Marc Marquez in 2019, notably Dovizioso and Rossi, need to make hay while the summer sun shines on their home crib.

MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

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

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, 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. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!