Posts Tagged ‘KTM’

MotoGP 2022 Round 16: Motegi

September 25, 2022

Jack Miller dominates; Quartararo extends series lead

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

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

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

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

Rider Points DNF

Fabio Quartararo 219 2

Pecco Bagnaia 201 5

Aleix Espargaro 194 1*

Enea Bastianini 170 4

*mechanical failure at the start

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

Quartararo 219

Espargaro 219

Bagnaia 201

Bastianini 190

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2022 – Aragon Round 15

September 19, 2022

Fabio crashes, the championship tightens up, and Marc Marquez is getting flamed

Looking back over the season this coming winter, (I know, right?) one may conclude that Round 15 was the decisive race in a terrific season in which, with five rounds to go, there are still four riders with a genuine chance to title. My original thesis this season–that consistency (not crashing) would be the determining factor–is proving true. Almost. Somehow, somewhere, the law of averages is beavering away, tagging each rider with the “likely to crash again” label, others with the “hasn’t crashed enough, is long overdue” tag. Yes, that means that the law of averages is of absolutely no help in predicting the 2022 champion.

The race itself, in a nutshell, went something like this. Aleix, a few of the Ducatis, and rugged KTM pilot Brad Binder got off to quick starts. Marc Marquez, in his latest return to racing, failed to make it out of Q1, starting in P15. When the lights went out, #93 decided to damn the torpedoes and head for the front, carving up the field, elbows out, narcissistically unconcerned about the fortunes of the riders actually competing for the championship. (This is early on Lap 1, friends, with a full tank and cold tires.) In the thick of things (P7) surrounded by contenders, Marquez had a moment which resulted in championship leader Fabio Quartararo piling into the rear of his bike, parting company with his YZR-M1, going boom on the asphalt, down and out.

Poetic justice saw to it that the collision would render the #93 bike unrideable by Lap 2. Marquez discovered an issue involving his rear tire and a crumpled fairing by clattering Takaa Nakagami out of the race later in Lap 1. Having knocked Quartararo off his safe perch in the title chase, with virtually nothing to gain, he retired from the race, changed into regular clothing, and returned to the pits, to the catcalls and jeers of everyone not wearing Repsol black, red and orange.

Anyway. Most of the race had Pecco Bagnaia blazing the trail, with EBas, Aleix and the gritty Binder in hot pursuit. Mostly processional until the last two laps, when the prospect of the two fastest riders in the game on the fastest machine in the game becoming teammates next year came into sight, the 2023 team championship having become a foregone conclusion. With both riders able to summon fast laps late in the race, both able to conserve rubber at full race distance, MotoGP 2023 is looking a lot like F1 back in the day when Schumacher and Barrichello owned the world. Italian engineering on full display.

Essentially, Bastianini calmly put Bagnaia in his rearview midway through Lap 23 after dogging him all day. Aleix and his Aprilia passed Binder for the final podium spot on Lap 22. Bastianini, it seems, likes the effect he has on other riders when he’s on their rear wheel with two laps left. Pecco is as fast as fast gets, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo in appearance and riding style. But he doesn’t seem to have the fire in the belly that his new teammate possesses. My money will be on EBas to win the 2023 title.

Here are the before and after shots of the 2022 MotoGP title, post Aragon:

Rider Points after Austria Points after Aragon 2022 DNF/DNS Manufacturer

Quartararo 211 211 2 Yamaha

Bagnaia 181 201 4 Ducati

AEspargaro 178 194 0 Aprilia

Bastianini 138 163 4 Ducati

All season long we have been saying, along with the entire Sioux nation, that Fabio would have to have what amounts to a perfect race every time out in order to repeat as world champion. And he has been riding the wheels off his vastly inferior Yamaha. But he faltered at Assen and got skittled yesterday, events which the Brits currently refer to as “wet lettuce.” Again, as predicted, we are sticking with Pecco Bagnaia as the 2022 world champion. Despite four DNFs, he has the wind at his back, while Fabio has contusions all up and down his torso from yesterday.

Looking at the upcoming tracks (not sure about Thailand) it appears the Ducati phalanx will enjoy Motegi (stop and shoot) as well as Phillip Island and Sepang, both long and wide. Fabio, being the Yamaha phalanx, may have a bit of an advantage at Buriram and Valencia. Unfortunately, I suspect that his performance in Round 20 will have little to do with the title. And then there’s Aleix, still in the hunt, still not having turned his RS-GP over after 15 tries. Overdue? Cautious? Blessed? A great dark horse for a wager if you’re into that sort of thing. If he maintains his season-long consistency, and both Quartararo and Bagnaia have another off between now and November, it could be an Espargaro wearing the crown in 2022. THAT would be fun.

I watched both races on the undercard. My only real interest these days is trying to identify future Aliens amongst the array of teenage prodigies toiling in the “lightweight” classes. In Moto3, I really like Izan Guevara, who is going to win the title this year and just turned 18 in June. Another fast kid is this David Munoz, #44, who just turned 16 in the spring and has begun terrorizing the grizzled veterans.

In Moto2 it was Vote for Pedro day again, as Acosta made a convincing case for returning to the presumptive Alien class in the foreseeable future. Despite breaking his femur at Assen, he has come back and, at least yesterday, looked again like he did in Moto3 last year, when he was tagged as a phenom. He will likely win the Moto2 title next year for KTM and get bounced up to MotoGP in 2024.

The first Asian flyaway rounds are coming up starting this week. Imagine having raced in Aragon and having five days to prepare/pack to travel to Japan and Thailand. Then a week off, then freezing at Phillip Island and, broiling at Sepang, where Pecco will clinch the title, before finishing, as usual, on the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

Damn, this is fun.

This from our mid-season report after Assen: The GasGas duo of Garcia and Guevara is, once again, putting a thorough Teutonic beatdown on the grid, same as Gardner and Fernandez did last year in Moto2. I fully believe Guevara is a future Alien and perhaps the most impressive of the impressive crop of young riders passing through the intermediate classes in the past 3-4 years. Young Izan should continue this trend, as it appears both he and teammate Garcia will graduate into Moto2 for 2023.

Mandalika–The “Fires of Hell” GP Quenched

March 20, 2022

Miguel Oliveira won the first Indonesian Grand Prix in 25 years on Sunday, holding off French challengers “Fabulous” Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco. The podium celebration featured a KTM, a Yamaha and a Ducati. Notably absent were representatives from Honda; it looks like it’s going to be another difficult year for the Suzuki and Aprilia contingents.

After two rounds, there are four riders within six points of series leader Enea Bastianini, with another four riders tied at ten points back. Pre-season fave Pecco Bagnaia and his GP22 have accumulated a total of one (1) point; a couple more outings like the first two and his unvarnished optimism is going to get shellacked. And please don’t get me started about Marc Marquez, whose dramatic high-side during the morning warm up came close to cracking his head wide open and led to his being declared unfit for the race.

Practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, appeared to be taking place inside an autoclave. The oppressive heat wreaked havoc with the riders, their machines, and the racing surface itself. Soft tires became the only viable choice for most of the teams, and on Saturday’s qualifying sessions they were going through them like salted nuts

Q1 was the most interesting such session I’ve seen since the qualifying format changed in 2013. A number of high-profile riders, including names such as Bagnaia, M Marquez, P Espargaro and Mir, had failed to pass through to Q2, due in no small part to surprisingly competent practice session from Oliveira and FDG. Exhibit A for the radical competition in Q1 was the fact that Marquez went through a passel of soft tires and crashed twice, subsequently landing in P15. He actually would have started the race in P14 but for the picky sanction applied to Frankie Morbidelli for violating some obscure rule about practice start procedures at the end of FP3.

During Sundays warm-up, Marquez went airborn in the most spectacular high-side I’ve seen since Jorge Lorenzo practically achieved a low earth orbit in China in 2009.

Naturally, Sunday was a frog strangler, with rain holding up the proceedings in the premier class for an hour. It was still wet when the lights went out. Since most of you have access to the results of the race by now (the MotoGP website has an excellent summary) I have virtually nothing to say about the race. The season-to-date standings are something else, though. The Beast added 5 points to the 25 he earned in Lusail (when did Losail become Lusail?) and still sits at the top of the standings, followed in close order by the surprising Brad Binder, a dangerous Quartararo, and today’s race winner Miguel Oliveira. Of particular interest is Marquez sitting down in P12 and, as mentioned above, Pecco Bagnaia resting in P20 with the likes of KTM rookies Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner. Amazingly, rookie little brother Darryn Binder, enjoying a jump shift (for you bridge players) from Moto3 made his way into the Top 10 today.

Since this post is only for record keeping, that’s it for now. My buddy OldMoron is going to take this post apart in his inimitable style, which is fine with me. And, for the record, somebody named Somkiat Chantra won his first grand prix in Moto2, while Dennis “The Menace” Foggia won the Moto3 tilt in comfortable fashion.

Next stop: Another dirty track in Argentina in two weeks. This season is going to be a blast.

Errata from Canadian correspondent Allison Sullivan. Posted completely without permission of the author.

THAT.HIGHSIDE. was gnarly. You could tell it was so unexpected that Marc basically had no idea what had happened. That he got up and walked away is testament to the technological marvels those suits are, but that has to mess with his already fragile head.

(Speaking of which, is anyone watching MotoGP Unlimited on Amazon? I’ve just finished Ep 3 where Jorge Martin comes back from his broken leg, and he’s matter-of-factly talking about how his suit recorded 26G of force and he should have been dead. O_O)

I’m a fan of the The Beast, but I wouldn’t have picked him to be leading the series after 2 races. Fabio looks strong again this year, the rest of the field can’t afford to be spotting that boy points (cough, cough, Pecco). Style points for this week go to Alex Rins for his very undignified bail of his flaming Suzuki, and the bad luck award goes yet again to Jorge Martin (if that boy didn’t have bad luck, he’d have none).

I’m passing on the main race (rain races are never good watches), but I did watch Moto3 because I have to cheer for Ana Carrasco this season. Foggia and Izan Guevara definitely look to be the class acts of that field this year. Tatsu stayed upright, huzzah. Looks like Pedro is not finding Moto2 to be the cakewalk everyone predicted – it will be interesting to see if he finds form once they get to Europe.

Thank you, Allison.

Marquez on his way to the medical center.

Miguel winning his fourth GP in the premier class.

THUNDERATION—MotoGP 2022 Cleared for Takeoff

February 27, 2022

By Bruce Allen

[Note: The scurrilous opinions, mis-statements of fact and otherwise actionable slurs below do not represent the views of Motorcycle.com. In fact, we are surprised if they represent the views of anyone at all.]

MotoGP, the fastest sport on two wheels in the known universe, is back for what promises to be one of the most competitive seasons in history. Twelve well-financed teams. 24 riders, of which only a handful can be excluded from consideration for multiple podium appearances during a 21-round campaign stretching from the streets of Indonesia to the jungles of South America to the Gulf of Finland. And the machines, hand-built to inconceivable tolerances, with power-to-weight ratios comparable to strapping a pair of big Evinrudes on the ass end of a dinghy.

In the past ten seasons, only four men have claimed the title of MotoGP world champion. Jorge Lorenzo, gone but not forgotten, won it all during his Yamaha days in 2012 and 2015. Joan Mir, the young Spanish speedster with the girl’s name, claimed his win in 2020*, winning a single race in a season decimated by Covid. French heartthrob Fabio Quartararo became a world champion in 2021*.

The asterisks signify seasons in which Spanish king of kings, Marc Marquez, who won the other six titles during the period, was injured or trying to return from injury. It doesn’t require much imagination to suggest that, had Marquez been healthy, both Mir and Quartararo would have watched him claim his seventh and eighth premier class crowns. For those of you new to the sport, he is the Michael Jordan, the Tom Brady of grand prix motorcycle racing. Those of us who watched him during those years remain unworthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.

In 2022, having returned to full health (or close to it) Marquez will have his work cut out for him. There is more talent on the grid today than there was in 2013, and, despite his boyish good looks, he has a lot of miles on his odometer and is, in fact, a veteran rider. Not a grizzled veteran like my boy Cal Crutchlow, but a veteran nonetheless. He turned 29 in February, in a sport where eyebrows begin to raise at anyone over 30.

When Last Seen

The 2021 calendar was goofed up, again due to the Covid pandemic. There were a full 18 rounds, but it was cobbled together, with two each at Losail, Red Bull Ring Portimao and Misano. Quartararo won five rounds—Losail II, Portimao I, Mugello, Assen and Silverstone, coasting to the championship at season’s end. Upstart Pecco Bagnaia, the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, captured four of the last six rounds to make the final standings look closer than they were. Ducati pilot Jack Miller won two early rounds, at Jerez and Le Mans, but failed to launch thereafter, going winless over the final 13 rounds.

Other winners included KTM’s Brad Binder at his home gym in Austria, and the wounded Marc Marquez, who, riding with one arm, managed wins at the Sachsenring and COTA, both of which he basically owns, and Misano II. In a harbinger of great things yet to come, rookie Jorge Martin, the second coming of Dani Pedrosa, recorded a great win at Austria I. And, in a footnote, the bedraggled Maverick Vinales, once considered the next great thing, won Round One in the desert and was hardly heard from thereafter. He switched teams in mid-season, falling out of grace from the factory Yamaha team and landing in a heap with Aprilia. He has gone from the next great thing to a trivia question, all due to the size of his ego.

The Off-Season

Since the final 2021 round at Valencia up until this week, actually, teams have been installing new riders and scrambling to come to terms with the 2022 iterations of their bikes. Rules governing what goes on in the off-season have been tightened drastically in recent years in an effort, I guess, to cut costs. Personally, what I learn each year from testing and the race at Losail is essentially nothing. IMO, Losail, for me anyway, marks the end of pre-season testing, but with the riders able to score points. Winning at Losail in March counts for about as much as the Cincinnati Reds winning their opening game in March. It has no predictive value.

The Grand Prix of Qatar has always been a strange choice for the season opener. They run it at night under gigantic lights, with sand blowing across the track. The racing surface is wide enough to tow a fifth-wheel trailer. March is one of the few months where local air temperatures are under 150 degrees. And attendance usually runs to about 1500 fans, most of whom are oil sheiks, crypto miners and political assassins. Not normal.

New Faces

This season starts with seven underclassmen, three sophomores and four freshmen. New to the premier class last year were Italian speedsters Luca Marini (half brother of the legendary Valentino Rossi) and Enea Bastianini, along with rising Spanish star Jorge Martin. The 2022 crop of rookies includes a pair of KTM guys, apparently chained at the wrists and ankles—Australian Remy Gardner and Spanish fast mover Raul Fernandez. These two don’t like each other, causing us to hope for a repeat of the hilarious scene back in the day when Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi shared a garage and had a wall built down the middle to keep them from gouging each other’s eyes out.

Two more Italians complete the 2022 grid, starting with Fabio di Giannantonio, repping the Gresini Ducati team. (We will be forced to refer to him this season as FDG in order to conserve our dwindling inventory of lower case N’s.) Last, and perhaps least, is young Marco Bezzecchi, filling the #2 seat on Valentino Rossi’s Mooney VR46 Racing Team. Marco’s coiffure suggests he thinks of himself as the second coming of the late Marco Simoncelli; I prefer to consider him the MotoGP version of Sideshow Bob.

The Machines

Oh, what a different couple of paragraphs this would be had motorcycle whisperer Gigi Dall’igna not defected from Aprilia to Ducati in 2013. Over the past ten years he has transformed the Ducati Desmodici from a rocket sled into the best bike on the grid. Anyone who wishes to question this statement should seek counseling. At present, were we to tranche grand prix motorcycles, the ranking would look as follows:

Tranche 1: Ducati

Tranche 2: Your mother

Tranche 3: Honda

Tranche 4: Yamaha, Suzuki

Tranche 5: KTM

Tranche 6: Aprilia

This season there will be eight (8) Ducatis on the grid. Were it possible, there would probably be 18. Seems every rider wants a Desmo, wants to blow up his rivals on the long straights. It’s as fast as it’s aways been, only now the riders can wrestle it through the turns without giving themselves colitis. And it appears to improve each year. By 2025 Ducati Corse could conceivably sweep the top three or four spots for the year. Wow.

Despite winning the 2021 championship, Yamaha appears to have slipped a bit; Fabio is the only rider able to coax results out of the M1, with Morbidelli starting to smell like an underachiever. The aging Andrea Dovizioso and whippersnapper Darryn Binder, called up from Moto3 where he wasn’t all that, on the #2 team appear destined for the lower links of the food chain.

Honda appears to have similar problems. Clearly, the RC213V has been designed around Marc Marquez; what manufacturer in his right mind wouldn’t? Pol Espargaro, the #2 rider on the factory team, keeps talking a good game and keeps not winning races. Sure, he managed a second place finish last year at Misano II. Big whoop.The riders on the satellite team, Alex Marquez and Taka Nakagami, show occasional flashes of mediocrity, but are second division contestants. The day either of them wins a grand prix I will buy all of you a good cigar. (How you split it up between youse is your problem.)

Suzuki, to my way of thinking, can’t really be taken seriously as a championship-level outfit without a second team to generate more data. Sure, someone is bound to point out that Joan Mir won the 2020 title for Suzuki, and most people I know were happy for him and them. But 2020 was a crazy, one-off year. And, in winning the title, he managed the top step of the podium exactly one (1) time. Nicky Hayden won the Taller Than Danny DiVito Award in 2006 for Honda with two wins. Just for the love of the game, allow me to compare Marc Marquez’ points haul in 2019 with Mir’s in 2020:

Marquez 2019: 420 pts  (19 rounds)

Mir 2020:         171 pts  (14 rounds)

Where was I? Right. KTM, which appeared to be an ascendant MotoGP organization in 2020, took a definite step backward last year, despite the rugged Brad Binder having captured his maiden premier class win at Red Bull Ring, his home crib. In 2020 the two teams managed 200 points in 14 rounds of racing. In 2021, over 18 outings, they scored only 205 points. There has been plenty of sturm and drang during the off season. Another year like last year and there’s going to be some serious Teutonic ass-kicking going on in Mattighofen. Just sayin’.

Which brings us to Aprilia, the racing organization made famous by having let Gigi Dall’igna defect to Ducati. Just think about what this tranche might look like had they had the sense to pay him. But without a satellite team, their brave annual pronouncements about this finally being their year generate choruses of yawns from the racing press. Please don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Tell me what you’ve done.

Everyone’s Favorite Segment

At this point in the 2022 season, tranching the riders is a fool’s errand. And I’m just the fool to take it on. But I’m only willing to separate the riders into sheep and goats. If you have a problem with this, I suggest you write your congressman.

Tranche I—Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Joan Mir, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco, Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro, Brad Binder, Pol Espargaro, Raul Fernandez, Andrea Dovizioso

Tranche II—Alex Rins, Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli, Taka Nakagami, Alex Marquez, Enea Bastianini, FDG, Luca Marini, Remy Gardner, Maverick Vinales, Darryn Binder, Marco Bezzecchi

Our mid-season report will revert to the traditional format. Until then, I welcome your taunts and hoots.

Short Takes

Fabio Quartararo should have his leathers re-worked. Listening to him talk, he’s no more Spanish than I am. El Diablo needs to become Le Diable…Raul Fernandez is my pick for Rookie of the Year…MotoGP will change when teenager Pedro Acosta, The Next Really Great Rider, moves up next year. If he doesn’t title in Moto2 this year it will only be due to his having spent some serious time in traction…Jorge Martin is a rider to keep one’s eye on. Fearless and fast. He needs to concentrate on spending less time getting launched over his handlebars…Between his right arm and his damaged vision, we may have already seen the best Marc Marquez has to offer this sport. His lizard brain, the part firing the synapses behind his “Oh, my!” saves, may be slightly hesitant on the heels of two serious accidents…Pecco Bagnaia is my pick as the 2022 world champion, in case anyone asks.

The American FAA lists 234 miles per hour as “takeoff speed,” the speed at which an airplane leaves terra firma and begins its ascent. This is equal to 376 kmh. During FP4 at last year’s opener in the desert, Johann Zarco recorded 362.4 kmh on the main straight. The Ducati contingent, with their various winglet designs, will probably approach takeoff speed in the next two seasons. This could mark the invention of a new term in motorcycle racing—the overpass.

“Have a Take, and Don’t Suck”

This, for decades, has been the mantra of your boy Jim Rome. For internet journalists like myself (okay, internet hacks) our currency in trade is reader engagement. Late-Braking MotoGP has, for years, hosted informed, civil conversations, without the vitriol, insults and foul language found in most online forums. You, the faithful reader, have the choice of simply consuming our work or helping to create it by sharing your opinions, insights and reactions.

We don’t need lurkers. We need full-throated voices from riders, whether you agree or disagree with the silly, semi-informed opinions you find here. Are you friends with a Saudi assassin? Defend him here. Are you okay with me talking about your mother? Take me down a peg. This stuff is not the war in Ukraine. This is pure entertainment, offered to whet your appetite for MotoGP and to generate myriad requests to Motorcycle.com management to assign me more work. And trust me, I need work. So keep those cards and letters coming, kids.

I will return after Round 11 with some cheeky mid-season analysis. Until then.

* * *

In memory of Nancy P. Gillespie 3/19/1952 – 8/17/2021


 [BA1]

MotoGP 2021 Journal Round 6: Mugello

May 30, 2021

© Bruce Allen   May 30, 2021

What beats riding a Desmosedici in Tuscany?

Thursday 

How can anyone think the homeys with Ducati colors on their leathers aren’t going to occupy a couple of steps on the podium on Sunday? I’m inclined to give the nod to Bagnaia, the younger and more Italian of the two factory riders, with Miller and/or Zarco up there too, at one of the shrines of racing. Mugello is perhaps the best example on the calendar of the power of sling-shotting—sorry, slipstreaming—on the main straight. The track design also amplifies the noise in the same area, driving the already-loopy fans insane. Makes for a nice Sunday afternoon if you don’t mind breathing a lot of yellow smoke.

This, and Misano, are Valentino’s Last Stand, Rossi’s last chances to strut on the podium, in SRT teal and yellow, and bask in the adulation of his thousands of Italian fans. He has given them two decades of HOF performance and an Italian presence on the international sports stage. I expect, beginning next year, he will field a SKY VR46 MotoGP team that will be crushing it in the near future. Assuming he ends up with Ducati or Yamaha. If nothing else in 2021, the two brands have established themselves as the clear leaders in the premier class. The championship may remain in healthy doubt, but the hardware not so much.

One of these two brands will win the 2021 title, as it appears our perennial favorite, Repsol Honda legend Marc Marquez, is in poorer shape, racing-wise, than we expected. Looks like he hurried his return in order to have a shot at the title which, it says here, he never really had. I expect him back at 98% of himself next year, the missing 2% coming from the fearlessness he has shown his entire career. His lizard brain is going to try to interrupt during high-stress situations, causing him to pause for a small part of a second. I think he’ll lose a few close races he would have won three years ago. But it’s still going to be fierce to see him back at something approaching complete health.

Regarding 2022, let’s get ready to rumble.

Friday

Just like the old days, watching Rossi and Marquez battle it out, except that today it was an FP1 and they were battling for P16. OK, I get it, it was FP1 and they were sorting things out. But while they were sorting things out, four Ducati guys, three Yamaha guys and both of the Suzuki guys were top tenning it, 1.7 seconds ahead of #93. Oliveira in P10 was the top KTM. Weather was perfect, if a little cool; track 86F. I wonder if Rossi doesn’t find all of this somewhat embarrassing. He seems to be trying.

In Moto2, FP1 was again with the Anglos. What gives in Moto2? Roberts, Gardner and Lowes top three? Again, it’s FP1, I’m just sayin’.

In Moto3 my boy Pedro Acosta was loafing in P14 while Andrea “Fast on Friday” Migno led FP1. Watching Acosta reminds me of watching high school soccer games with two good teams and one exceptional player who stands out, who dominates midfield and wins games. Acosta appears to be that player. In a sport full of great riders, he seems to have, at age 16, focus, the ability to instantly measure openings, to know how much throttle he has available, when to brake, when to overtake, and all the things a veteran rider takes years to learn. He brings it with him to Moto3. He is beating full-grown men and making it look easy. Small grown men, but still…

Pedro Acosta may be due for a fall, but he rarely needs to make saves, seems to ride within himself almost all the time. Not reckless. Seems like he is, at his young age, beginning to think strategically; that he is getting good coaching and that he is coachable. His future is so bright he needs to wear shades.

Back in the premier class, old man Johann Zarco is becoming something of a pest, all these highlights, sniffing around the top during practice sessions, two front row starts and three podiums and all. He and the Duc seem to have found one another. He is fast in the wet and the dry. I wish I had put $100 on him to win it all in 2021. Probably around 50-1. Grrrr. P3 after five rounds, trails Quartararo by 12. No hill for a climber.

Saturday

FP3 in the premier class was instructive. Vinales and #93 missed out on Q2 late in the session, Vinales sliding out late and Marquez not having enough shoulder to sneak into the top ten on his last flying lap. Both Suzukis and the factory KTMs pass GO, collect $200. The spread between P1 and P10 in FP3 was 4/10ths.

About Pecco Bagnaia. 24 years old during Year II of the Marquez Interregnum. Sets a new track record in FP3. The freaking CEO of Ducati Corse drops by in shirtsleeves to say ‘hey’. A tightly-wrapped young Italian hunk on Italian hardware in Mugello, fighting for the title. How can this guy not have full-time wood issues?

Other notables trudging off to Q1: Nakagami, Rossi, Alex Marquez. Rossi has been sucking canal water all weekend. June looms.

Moto2 FP3: Oh great. Sam Lowes is fast in practice again. We can look forward to another front row start and early crash out of contention. The stunned, chagrined look. The piles of brightly-painted fiberglass scrap. The guys in the garage grabbing their faces, thinking, “Not again.” Wishing we were watching Moto3 or GP.

Is it just me, or do Bezzechi, Bastianini, the other Italian riders with big hair, consider themselves the second coming of Marco Simoncelli? Tall, brash, wild-haired, ultimately fast, too fast…

For those of you who don’t ride competitively but do what we east coast types call body surfing, I’m pretty sure the sensation of catching a Mugello slipstream is similar to the sensation of catching a big wave that you know will carry you a long way. In the surf, it’s getting on top of it. On the track, I expect it’s being in it. Letting the laws of physics do the hard work.

Qualifying in MotoGP was a hoot, as long as you’re not a big Maverick Vinales fan. The Spaniard made a mistake (perhaps we should call it a Mav) in FP3 which kept him from passing through to Q2. Then, a second Mav during Q1 cause him to fail to pass through at all, leaving him starting Sunday’s race from P13, effectively taking him out of contention. Again. Fabio was incandescent once more during Q2, seizing his fourth pole in succession. He was joined on the front row by my boy Pecco Bagnaia and a late-arriving Johann Zarco. The second row would include interloper Aleix Espargaro, who almost rode the slipstream to a front row start, Jack Miller, looking dangerous, and KTM pilot Brad Binder in P6. [Pop Quiz: When was the last time the three series leaders lined up, in order, on the front row? Our crack research staff is doing jellybean shooters and bong hits in Bruce’s Digital Library and should have an answer for us by, say, early 2023.]

Over in Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta made it into the front row for Sunday, flanked by Tatsuki Suzuki on pole and Gabriel Rodrigo in P3. Swiss rider Jason Dupasquier was airlifted to a nearby hospital with injuries suffered in a Q2 mix-up with Japanese rider Ayumu Sasaki and Spaniard Jeremy Alcoba. Dupasquier fell and was then hit by another bike; this is how bad injuries take place in MotoGP. Keeping my ears out to pick up any word on the young man’s condition. UPDATE: MOTOGP ANNOUNCED RIGHT BEFORE THE PREMIER CLASS RACE THAT DUPASQUIER HAD SUCCUMBED TO HIS INJURIES. A MINUTE OF SILENCE WAS OBSERVED IN HIS HONOR. HE WAS 19 YEARS OLD.

Moto2: Q1 gave us a feel-good moment when young Fermín Aldeguer, filling in on the MB Conveyors Speed Up team, laid down a fast lap and led four riders into Q2, including Somkiat Chantra, Marcos Ramirez and Bo Bendsneyder. Q2, in turn, gave us what are becoming the Usual Suspects in the first two rows, headed by Raul Fernandez, who has MotoGP written all over him. Joining him are Sam Lowes, underachiever Jorge Navarro, Remy Gardner, FDG (still having trouble spelling his last name, way too many N’s), Tony Arbolino and Marco Bezzecchi (P7).

Sunday

Moto3 was its usual frantic self, a 15-rider lead group for most of the 20 laps, the slipstream effect moving riders eight places—either way–in a kilometer. It is still the best racing on the planet. The eventual winner today, Dennis Foggia, won for the first time in 2021 and has nothing going on re the championship.  He was joined on the podium today by The series leader, Pedro Acosta, held the lead for parts of the day but, at the end, got swallowed up and finished in P7, subsequently dropped to P8 for exceeding track limits on the final lap rules is rules blah blah blah. I don’t think the point this cost him will have much of anything to do with the final standings. After six rounds, the top four looks like this:

P Acosta                111

J. Masia                   59

A Sasuki                  57

S. Garcia                  56

Once again, Acosta finishes well down in the points and retains the lion’s share of his 2021 lead. That’s how you do it. BTW, KTM has a surfeit of fast young Spanish riders—Acosta, Masia, Raul Fernandez, etc. The boys on the KTM MotoGP bikes will begin feeling the heat as the season progresses, notably Lecuona and Petrucci.

Moto2 was another exhibition of the strength of the Ayo KTM team, as series leaders Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez fought to the end, with Gardner emerging on top after gazing at Fernandez’s posterior all day. Joe Roberts had just got done dusting Marco Bezzecchi for the third podium spot at the flag when he was advised he was being dropped down a notch for exceeding track limits on the final lap, as picky a foul as you’ll ever see, if you missed the MotoGP race in which first Miguel Oliveira, then Joan Mir, were assessed the same penalty for the same reason. The fact that the penalties were imposed one at a time in the MotoGP race resulted in the final standings reflecting what actually happened, as opposed to the Moto2 result, about which Bezzecchi seemed to feel bad.

The MotoGP race featured a master class from young Fabio Quartararo, who led virtually wire-to-wire and was never seriously challenged after winning the holeshot. Lap two saw first Marc Marquez, then Pecco Bagnaia, slide out of the competition, narrowing the competitive field. Zarco, KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Suzuki champion Joan Mir all gave chase, and all gave in, as Fabio was not going to be denied today. Toward the end of the race Rins, Nakagami and Pirro all crashed out, artificially elevating the point hauls for several lower tranche riders. After six rounds #20 has stretched his lead over second place Johann Zarco to 24 points, with Bagnaia two points farther back. Miller, Mir and Vinales complete the six riders within shouting distance of the leaders.

The “exceeding track limits” rule needs to be changed. Keep the rule the same but change the language regarding enforcement to one of the judges’ discretion, so long as the tire is not more than halfway on the green, at which point the penalty is automatic. Since the penalty could be imposed whenever any part of the tire is on the green, this would eliminate any complaints that a rider’s tire was less than halfway out of bounds. Silly, meaningless infractions like we saw today would not be imposed, and Joe Roberts would have had a podium.

Everything else you need to know can be found on the MotoGP website or at crash.net. We look forward to bringing you the festivities from Barcelona next week. Four races in five weeks is a lot. I need a nap.

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Fernandez and Gardner running at Mugello. Your eyes are not going bad.

MotoGP After Round 3: Portimao

April 22, 2021

© Bruce Allen    April 22, 2021

In which we engage in some casual tranching and try to put the 2021 season, thus far, in something approaching perspective. With a nod to both Moto2 and Moto3.

Back in March, had I wagered that, after three rounds, none of the following riders would be found in the top ten, I expect I could have found some takers:

Frankie M

Thriller Miller

Pol Espargaro (?)

Takaa Nakagami

Miguel Oliveira and, of all people,

Valentino Rossi

And here we are, with The New Young Guns clearly running things in the top ten, other than what are likely to be temporary appearances by Johann Zarco and Aleix. The inmates done taken over the asylum. As predicted by most of you, back in 2018-2019.

But what about this lot? NONE of them in the top ten after three? What’s to say about them? Frankie has had mechanical issues for the first 10% of the season? How can Yamaha allow that to happen? Jack, the latest version of Marco Simoncelli, is so elated to be fast that he has become a hazard to himself and those around him. This is not to say that he is heading for disaster. It means he needs to assert his will on the Desmo, the way his teammate Pecco has. He trails #20 by 47 points; all is not lost.

Zarco (P4, 40 pts) and Rins (P7, 23 pts) seem to have trouble dealing with success. Also qualifying, as Rins has been on the front row in something like 6 of 66 races. Zarco could have been top three had he not slid out; same with Rins. There is no noticeable improvement in the 2021 Suzuki vs. the 2020 version; it will take a helluva rider, a Joan Mir, to coax enough points out of his Gixxer to give #20 and #93 a beating. Zarco has only himself to blame, having come into the race with two silver medals from Qatar, which he has since had bronzed for posterity.

The two Honda pilots, Espargaro and Nakagami, are on the outside looking in for different reasons. Espargaro, because he’s still trying to get the hang of the RC213V. Nakagami had a dreadful two rounds in Qatar before suffering a heavy crash in practice at Portimao and is currently being held together by duct tape and clarinet reeds. His star should begin ascending again in Jerez.

Miguel Oliveira won last year’s final race, in Portugal, leading me to expect more from him in 2021. The tire issues plaguing the entire KTM project have caught him as well. And Valentino, The Doctor, sporting four points for the season. He looks bad, having problems none of the other Yamaha riders are experiencing. There can be little doubt he should have taken his victory lap last year and called it a career. This is hard to watch.

Despite a win and a P5 in the desert, Maverick Vinales’ P11 at Portimao seemed inevitable. With all the potential in the world, young Vinales is so terribly inconsistent. This is not a characteristic often found in world champions. A female reader of this column has observed, that if #12 were here boyfriend she would have dumped him in 2019. The editorial team here has predicted that he will not spend his entire racing career with Yamaha.

Aleix Espargaro has a mediocre Aprilia beneath him this season, which is a large step up from what he’s been riding most of his career. He appears able to put himself in the top ten for the year, but it will be uphill all the way. I’d like to see what he could do on Vinales’ bike.

Brad Binder has been the consummate team player thus far, sharing with all three other KTM riders his considerable front tire problems.

The three riders as yet unmentioned in the top ten include Alien-in-Waiting Pecco Bagnaia, who seems to have come into his own after two seasons of underachieving in on the Ducati. The two rookies, Enea Bastianini in P9 and Jorge Martin in P10, have looked good and great, other than Martin having put himself in the hospital and out of Rounds 3 and 4 with a big high-side in practice in Portugal. He will, accordingly, drop out of the top ten in Jerez, which is okay, because dude has major stones and a bright future in MotoGP.

The Desert Tranche, after Round Two:

Tranche I —  Quartararo, Mir, Zarco

Tranche II –  Vinales, Rins, A. Espargaro, Miller, Martin

Tranche III – Morbidelli, Binder, Bastianini, Oliveira, P. Espargaro, Bagnaia

Tranche IV – A. Marquez, Bradl, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Marini, Lecuona, Savadori, Petrucci

MotoGP Tranches After Portimao

Tranche I –   Quartararo, Mir, Bagnaia

Tranche II –  Zarco, Vinales, Rins, A Espargaro, Morbidelli, M Marquez, Martin

Tranche III – Binder, Bastianini, P Espargaro, A Marquez, Marini, Miller

Tranche IV – Oliveira, Rossi, Nakagami

Tranche V –  Petrucci, Savadori, Lecuona

Moto2 After 3 Rounds

After sailing home with wins in the opening rounds in Qatar, Sam Lowes reverted to form by crashing out at Portimao at Turn 1 of Lap 1, hence crashing into P3 for the season, in a tight three-man contest with Aussie Remy Gardner and rookie Raul Fernandez, who, according to announcers Matt and Steve, is the Next Next Great Rider. American Joe Roberts was hip-checked out of a second career podium at Portimao in the last turn by Gardner and/or Aron Canet—couldn’t see well—putting him in P7 for the season. American rookie Cameron Beaubier finished the race in a respectable P9, sitting in P12 for the year.

There appear to be perhaps eight or ten competitive riders in Moto2 this year. I would expect one of the top three to claim the title. Of the three, it looks to me like Fernandez is the only one to have a legitimate shot at a promotion to MotoGP in the immediate future. Lowes has been there, done that, while Gardner does not seem to be the second coming of either his dad or Casey Stoner.

Moto3 After 3 Rounds

Remember this name: Pedro Acosta. The insouciant rookie appears to have been born to race motorcycles. He entered his racing career before he entered puberty, racing at Estoril in 2018 at age 13. He double dipped last season, running in both the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship (P3 for the year) and the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, which he won. Out of a combined 23 races, he finished first nine times, and was on the podium another eight times. Marquez-caliber numbers. He has earned 70 of a possible 75 points thus far this year in Moto3, making a number of grizzled veteran riders look, well, silly in the process. Dude is 16 years old as we speak.

I could speculate that Jaume Masia or maybe Darryn Binder could offer Acosta a run for his money later in the year, but I don’t believe it. I believe Acosta will be in MotoGP in two years and that he stands a good chance of being the man to shoot Marc Marquez out of his saddle within two years after that. I’m impressed.

MotoGP 2020 Portimao Season Finale

November 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen        November 22, 2020

Arenas and Bastianini join Mir as World Champions

On a sun-drenched day straight out of a travel magazine, in southern Portugal, Albert Arenas snagged his first, and last, Moto3 championship, edging Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino, as it were, his P12 finish just good enough for the title. In Moto2, series winner #BeastMode watched from P5 as a great race unfolded between Remy Gardner, Luca Marini and Sam Lowes and ended with him being handed the 2020 trophy despite a conservative P5 finish.

In MotoGP, homeboy Miguel Oliveira won today’s battle, while 2020 champion Joan Mir retired with a mechanical and no worries, having clinched the title last time out. To have two world championships decided on the same day, with only a handful of points separating the top three finalists in each class, well, it just doesn’t get much better than this in racing.

Estoril vs. Portimao

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The two Portuguese tracks aren’t that different in layout. Portimao has the beautiful variations in topography, while Estoril has created so many memories over the years. Say the word “2006” to a MotoGP fan and he will, if his consciousness is sufficiently elevated, automatically think of Estoril. Pedrosa and Hayden. One thing they have in common is a long main straight ending in a difficult Turn 1, Estoril’s being somewhat more acute than Portimao. Watch Turn 1 in all three races, see if somebody doesn’t exit the premises.

Friday

FP1—What does it say about a track when it appears to be Aprilia-friendly? Aprilia in P3 (Aleix) and P4 (Savadori). WTF.

The rumor that Yank Joe Roberts could inherit Andrea Iannone’s seat with Aprilia after fellow Moto2 fast mover Marco Bezzecchi allegedly turned them down is tantalizing. An American in the premier class. The last to toil so was Ben Spies, a bit of a flash in the pan, and unlucky to boot, back in 2015. I hope Joe gets the shot and that he can carve a successful career out of motorcycle racing.

Saturday

MotoGP FP3 did its job on Saturday morning, separating the goats from the lambs. Four of the riders in the money on Friday were out of the money on Saturday, including Aleix, Binder, world champion Mir and top three battler Franco Morbidelli. Of the four, Q1 will be the most pressing for Morbidelli, locked in a cage match with Alex Rins for P2 for the year, leading by four but now having to make it through Q1 to get close to Rins on the grid. On a tight, windy course like Algarve, getting out front would be important, especially for the Yamahas, which do not like heavy traffic. It was mostly usual suspects in Q2 other than Stefan Bradl, who put Marc Marquez’ RC213V in P10. Homeboy Miguel Oliveira put himself in Q2 late in the session, looking froggy, like he might want to jump.

After an invigorating Q1, which saw sentimental favorite Cal Crutchlow join Fast Frankie Morbidelli en route to Q2, Saturday’s main event was typically engaging. Yamahas under Morbidelli, Quartararo and even Maverick spent brief periods on pole, with Morbidelli sitting on it for 10 minutes of the 15-minute session. But low and behold, in what Dad used to refer to as the nickel of time, homeboy Miguel Oliveira threw down a 1:38.892 to steal pole from Morbidelli, with Jack Miller completing the front row. A bit of significant weirdness found Stefan Bradl starting from P6 and Alex Rins from P10. Rins, one of the riders with skin in the game on Sunday, has his work cut out for him on this twisty, up-and-down track. Not even an afterthought—his name was called perhaps once during Q1—was Valentino Rossi, starting from P17, thousands of fans across the globe wishing he would just walk away from the Petronas SRT next season and get started on Chapter 2. For Methuselah, Chapter 1 is ending poorly.

These days, The Doctor is Just Another Rider.

Race Day

Moto3: Runaway Raul Rules Portugal; Arenas Enjoys Ice Cream Sunday

Late-season sensation Raul Fernandez went wire-to-wire today to win the Grand Prix of Portugal. A better start to the season would certainly have allowed him to challenge for the title. But a win is a win.

Of the top four finishers today, none had anything to do with the championship being contested. Of those contenders, Tiger Tony Arbolino had arguably the best day, starting from P27 (yeah, I know, right?) and climbing all the way to P5 before running out of tire and energy. Ai Ogura, second when the day dawned and needing to beat Arenas, solidly, to win a title instead managed only an uninspired P8. All this on a day when Arenas was having problems, making mistakes, getting overtaken every time one turned around, and ending the day in P12, appearing mildly abashed accepting the world champion trophy on the podium later on.

Ain’t nobody care. Dude has his ticket punched to Moto2 next year, along with Ogura and Arbolino, so the fledgling rivalry can continue, although likely lower on the food chain. His Wikipedia page gets a nice update and upgrade. The ice cream thing with Arenas I don’t fully get, though it played a part in his post-race celebration. So that’s not a typo in the headline above.

Moto2: Remy Gardner Wins From Pole; #BeastMode Seizes 2020 Title

Always fun to watch a rider earn his first grand prix win, crying during the national anthem and all, and Australian Remy Gardner was no exception today, outracing, then dusting, championship contenders Luca Marini and Suffering Sam Lowes and helping Enea Bastianini clinch the 2020 Moto2 championship. Plenty of overtaking all over the board, in a race Sam Lowes, with his injured hand, would have sat out were he not in the thick of the chase. As things turned out, he finished in P3. The good news is that all four of his serious rivals are moving up to MotoGP next year and he should pretty much have the Moto2 field to himself.

Aside from Bastianini, Marini, Lowes, Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin completed the top five for 2020. Gardner, in P6 for 2020, will return, too. Perhaps we can watch a couple of Anglos fight for the title in 2021 for a change.

MotoGP: Oliveira Dominates Wire-to-Wire in Portugal; Mir Backs Into Title

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So the MotoGP race ended almost exactly the way KTM stud Miguel Oliveira hoped it would, and almost exactly NOT the way Suzuki world champion Joan Mir hoped it would. Oliveira, taking note of Raul Fernandez’ performance in the earlier Moto2 race, took the holeshot and won unchallenged, crushing the field. Confirming that KTM is no longer some stepsister, but a full-fledged member of MotoGP royalty, deserving of the respect that all except Aprilia receive. Meanwhile, Mir, who experienced electronics issues during Q1 and started from P20, had yet more bike trouble today, possibly as a result of a hip check he delivered to Pecco Bagnaia early in the race that left the young Italian with a dislocated shoulder.

Similar to last week, if one is willing to disregard Oliveira, was the joust today between Fast Frankie Morbidelli and Jack Miller. Once again, Miller dogged #21 for most of the second half of the race. Once again, Morbidelli prevailed, the only Yamaha rider to get anything at all from the M-1: Vinales P11, Rossi P12, Quartararo P14. Ugh. For the year, the final standings:

1        J Mir           

2        F Morbidelli           

3        A Rins         

4        A Dovizioso           

5        P Espargaro           

6        M Vinales              

7        J Miller                  

8        F Quartararo         

9        M Oliveira             

10      T Nakagami           

2020 in a Nutshell

When the cat’s away the mice will play,

and when they do, they should play hard.

Though this does not qualify as one of the more poetic sentiments enshrined here through the years, it most certainly applies to MotoGP 2020.

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, >Joan Mir<, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

When Marc Marquez suffered what would become a season-ending injury during Jerez I, I had Mir in Tranche III, nowhere near Alien status. The unflappable Mallorcan saw an opening, one that literally might not occur again in the next five years and thought to seize it. He then went out and crashed in two of the first three races, Jerez I and Brno, with an off-podium finish in Jerez II to show for his efforts. 11 points in the first three rounds, Quartararo sitting on top, 48 points ahead. A good time to start thinking about next year. But after Brno, and despite a poor showing at LeMans in the wet, Mir was money. On or near the podium every time out. Quartararo and the Yamahas, other than Frankie Morbidelli, ran into problems during the season. Ducati had Miller and little else. KTM made some moves, but not enough to threaten anything. And Honda, without #93, was a shadow of its former self.

Any other year, a performance like Mir’s—one win all year—would have been plenty good enough for a solid P2 or P3. But this was the year that it could win him a title. Assuming Marquez returns next season—assuming there is a 2021 season—it is unrealistic for people to expect Mir to repeat. But he has assuredly earned his Alien Card, along with Fast Frankie and Thriller Miller. They and Marquez are the Alien Class for 2021. You heard it here first.

To my readers, both of you, thanks for following me again this year during what is becoming an increasingly challenging period. I miss the old days of deadlines and templates, but at least the racing itself was first-class this year. We will try to keep an eye on goings-on during the winter and look forward to returning in February. Peace and love to you all, and our best wishes for the Christmas season.

Local Color

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Gardner takes the lead from Marini in Moto2.


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Raul Fernandez ran away with things in the Moto3 race.


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Jack Miller, a bridesmaid once again.


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A preview of things to come later in the race.

MotoGP 2020 Valencia I

November 8, 2020

© Bruce Allen November 8, 2020

Mir Self-Actualizes in Valencia as Suzuki reigns

Sunday in Valencia, as my reader often reminds me, was another fine day amongst the yachting class. The chase in Moto3 tightened considerably after a dramatic Lap 2 crash. The chase in Moto2 tightened considerably after a non-dramatic Lap 16 crash. But the chase in MotoGP became more problematic for everyone not named Joan Mir in what was a clambake of historic proportions for Team Suzuki Ecstar. The last time Suzukis finished 1-2 in MotoGP was shortly after the signing of The Treaty of Ghent.

Valencia I 2020 will be remembered, in the premier class, as the nadir of the Yamaha racing program’s recent history. Wet weather on Friday and Saturday, combined with dry weather on Sunday, produced some ugly numbers. Qualifying: P9, P11 and P18, with Vinales coming out of pit lane. Race: P11, P13, P14 and Rossi DNF mechanical. Constructor championship points removed as punishment for unapproved early season changes to the engine. Rossi infected with the Rona. Firing Jorge Lorenzo as test rider. More heads gonna roll. As good as things are at this moment for Suzuki, they are equally bad for Team Yamaha.

Friday

The whole Valencia practice fiasco was the fault of the weather gods, who double-crossed the combatants by bringing rain on Saturday morning, after having spoiled FP1 and messed with FP2 and, unabashedly lying, promised sunshine for Saturday. The consequence was that the only practice session that mattered (by way of separating the Q2 lambs from the Q1 goats) was FP2. As usual, there was a lot of jockeying late in the session but it ended, oddly, with Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli topping the combined chart. Left on the outside looking in were names including Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and Miguel Oliveira, in addition to the usual suspects and the two newbies, both of which were a second faster than the cruising Tito Rabat, blowing kisses to his fans.

Saturday

FP3 in the rain became meaningless, other than assuring that the Yamahas would likely struggle in the wet on Sunday if Sunday woke up wet. Valentino Rossi, dead last, running in the rain, was actually eighth in his FP3 heat. Hmmm. That was not as bad as teammate Maverick Vinales, who had to uncrate a sixth (?) engine for the year and was thus relegated to a delayed pit lane start. Dude is a mess, although most of his woes have more to do with Yamaha than Maverick. (Personally, I think Maverick Vinales is a highly talented head case.) My other reader observes that if he were her boyfriend, she would have broken up with him before now.

FP4, it was clear, would be either wet or dry or some combination of both. I didn’t pay too much attention, distracted as I was by some ongoing family issues ☹ and the announcement of the results of the U.S. presidential election. 😊

Qualifying, both Q1 and Q2, were the usual last-minute chaos, guys racing against the clock rather than each other. Where track records are set. Although track records in MotoGP have gone mostly unchallenged this year, and again this weekend. But it’s still great stuff, seeing these guys getting it on their last flying laps. Miguel Oliveira and Johann Zarco slipped through Q1 into Q2. “Pole” Espargaro topped the Q2 sheet, followed in close order by Alex Rins and Takaa Nakagami, all of whom looked capable of winning in this unpredictable season. Series leader Joan Mir would start, menacingly, from P6.

Sunday

Moto3 was unusual, in that a race leader, Raul Fernandez, avoided some serious trouble just behind him on Lap 2, got away from the pack, and led comfortably to the flag for his first grand prix career win. Running in P2, contender Celestino Viette went unannounced over the handlebars, causing series leader Albert Arenas to check up and Alonso Lopez, suddenly in an untenable position, to rear-end Arenas, putting Lopez out of the race and breaking Arenas’ bike. Arenas, his bike wired back together, watched his 2020 lead shrink from 19 points to 3 to Ai Ogura, but not until after having been black-flagged for inserting himself into a lead group while three laps down, a serious breach of racing etiquette. He may pay a bit of a price next week for giving in to his pique today. For the year, Ogura now trails Arenas by three for the title, while Tony Arbolino now trails Vietti by 3 in the fight for P3, Jaume Masia (one of a number of crashers today) a single point behind Vietti. Sergio Garcia ended up on the second step of the podium today, with Ogura third, having pimped Arbolino at the flag.

In a reversion to form, Sam Lowes, winner of the last two Moto2 races, running second, slid unassisted out of the race on Lap 16, giving up P1 for the 2020 season to Enea Bastianini. Marco Bezzechi led from Lap 3 and was never seriously challenged. His rival from Moto3, Jorge Martin, claimed second, with Aussie Remy Gardner landing on the third step of the podium. Contender Luca Marini was nowhere early, but mounted a late rally to finish in P6. American Joe Roberts, who qualified in P2, led Lap 1 briefly before crashing out. He has also lost his seat with Tennor American Racing to Cameron Beaubier, getting booted up from a successful stint in WSBK.

The MotoGP race today was, for everyone associated with the Suzuki MotoGP Project, a wet dream come true. Sophomore sensation Joan Mir topped teammate Alex Rins for his first career win in MotoGP, giving him a 37 point lead in the season series with two rounds left, and leaving teammate Rins holding P2 for the year. As they say down in the holler, “It just don’t get any better than this, do it?” Suzuki only returned to grand prix racing in 2015 and was a pretty sorry outfit at the time. Five years later they are poised to claim the top two slots in the 2020 championship. “Pole” Espargaro tailed the Zooks all day to finish a plucky P3 after starting from pole. Words cannot express how badly Espargaro wants a KTM win before defecting to Honda for next season. Those of us who hoped today was the day can hope for next Sunday, same time, same place. Mir, displacing Fabio Quartararo as The New New Kid in Town, became the ninth winner in 12 rounds in a brilliant MotoGP season.

Here and There

In Moto2, an unlucky Jake Dixon fractured his wrist and is likely done for the year.

It’s official—Luca Marini will replace Tito Rabat next year on the Esponsorama Ducati faction. He will team up with Enea Bastiannini for a very young, very Italian team with elevated prospects for the foreseeable future. The former Avintia group may not find many podiums next year, but they’ll surely get their ashes hauled more than any other single team.

This is why Suzuki needs a second team. Ducati has now scooped up three of the top riders in Moto2 in one fell swoop, so to speak. Some of these are likely development projects, but that’s fine. They have room on their teams to develop young riders. And, once you’ve learned to ride the Desmo, you can probably ride anything.

Garrett Gerloff

Yamaha tagged American WSBK rider Garrett Gerloff as Valentino Rossi’s replacement for the MotoGP European Grand Prix, after The Doctor failed several recent COVID-19 tests. Gerloff – a former MotoAmerica Superbike rider – held his WSBK coming out party this year with the GRT Yamaha squad and scored three podiums, at Catalunya and Estoril. [Imagine Garrett’s surprise when the cadre of guys in expensive suits and Italian loafers show up for a sit-down to discuss, broadly, his perspective around a prospective, um, temporary promotion to a factory M-1 for the MotoGP knees-up in Valencia.] Anyway, his weekend ended on Friday as Rossi cleared the Rona and returned for Saturday. Not young, approaching 26, Mr. Gerloff nonetheless made a lot of positive impressions and was fast, on Rossi’s bike, on a track he had maybe visited once before. Even getting to Moto3 would be a solid for an aging American with fire in the belly.

BTW, Gerloff was not the only virgin at the European GP, as Aprilia, having finally shown Brit Bradley Smith the door, anointed Italian stud/test rider Lorenzo Savadori to pilot the struggling RS-GP for the final three rounds of 2020. I hope Aprilia corporate is doing well because their MotoGP program needs oxygen. [As things turned out, Rossi retired with a mechanical on Lap 5, and Savadori left the premises on Lap 26, to the surprise of no one.]

Yamaha Fires Test Rider Lorenzo After He Mouths Off, etc.

I read this somewhere and believe it to be true. An article in GPOne described Lorenzo criticizing, mildly, Andrea Dovizioso’s failure to take advantage of Marc Marquez’s absence in 2020 to win the title. Yamaha Corporate, probably sick and tired of Jorge’s incessant complaining, promptly fired the three-time world MotoGP champion and opened discussions with Dovizioso to return as a test rider in 2021. The Japanese have always been good at the smiling, nodding coup de grace, after which one can find oneself unemployed. Or impaled.

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We’re back again next week to try this again. Lots going on these days à chèz Allen, so please bear with me.

Local Color

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Valencia from the air


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Valencia oranges, I’m guessing.

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MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

MotoGP is, finally, becoming a team sport. One of the unwritten rules of grand prix motorcycle racing has always been First: Beat Your Teammate. Then think about where you might end up in the race. These are hyper-competitive world-class athletes—most of them—and they, um, respond to challenges like this. We hear so much talk about “team orders,” but rarely, if ever, see them issued. It got so bad at the factory Yamaha team with Lorenzo and Rossi that they had to build a wall down the center of the garage each round to keep the teams and riders from throwing down on each other.

In 2020, The Year of Weirdness, problems and issues seem more team-centric. With six manufacturers, we see multiple instances of, say, one of the satellite teams having a better go of it, most weeks, than the factory group of the same brand. The Repsol Honda team has different concerns than the LCR team. Ducati’s lead satellite team tends to outshine the factory pair. Some of this is reflected in the fact that we’ve had eight winners in ten races this season; in Marquez’s absence, the love is getting spread around. Take a fast look:

Yamaha—Their two best riders are on satellite bikes. That will be addressed, in part, next season as Dr. Rossi and Fabulous Fabio trade seats. Morbidelli’s star is rising, while Vinales’ is waning, owing to his demonstrated inability to get to the front at the start of races except when he’s on pole. Rear grip is a common issue among all four bikes, but Fabulous generally handles it better than the rest. There are engine limit issues with Vinales, too; I suspect he’s signed his last contract with Yamaha. Too many fast young riders who would sell their mothers to the Taliban for a chance to wear factory Yamaha colors, rear grip issues or no. Yamaha generally fixes stuff like this. And Rossi is gone after next season. Someone is going to catch a fine ride; for a number of riders, despite the fact that they’ll probably be losing to Marquez, they will be auditioning for the upcoming seat on the Petronas team beginning in 2022.

Honda—Their primary issue, that being the absence of the incandescent Marc Marquez with a broken arm, looks as though it may be addressed starting in Valencia. Even with little brother Alex breaking through in the wet at Le Mans and again in the dry at Aragon I, the RC213V is too hard for mere mortals to ride. Now that they’ve found all that horsepower they need to get the bike rideable again. Too bad they sent Dani Pedrosa packing; he could have helped, as he is doing a great job with KTM. Their rider situation is resolved beginning in 2021, presuming Marquez returns to his previous form and Pol Espargaro has time to learn how to wrestle the beast. With Alex Marquez and Takaa Nakagami repping for the satellite LCR team, they can turn their attention to smoothing out the power delivery of the RC.

Ducati—Their rider issues are sorted other than announcing the #2 seat on the Avintia team next year, with Tito Rabat having apparently seen the writing on the wall and allegedly asking out. Since Enea Bastianini has already announced his promotion from Moto2 to MotoGP next season with Ducati, this would not be big news. Bagnaia and Miller on the factory bikes, Zarco and Jorge Martin on the Pramacs, Bastianini and perhaps Luca Marini on the Avintias. What would stop Rossi from buying the Avintia team from Esponsorama or whomever in 2021, with his boys already under contract, and then working the Yamaha and Suzuki suits, the result being a SKY VR46 Racing team in MotoGP with two academy grads in the saddles in 2022? And not on year-old Ducati equipment.

The 2020 bike seems to have taken a step backward this year. I’m sure Gigi Dall’Igna is on it and will have another competitive Desmo on the grid again next year.

KTM—Having made great strides this year, they have assembled a high-quality group of riders for 2021 on a bike that is fast but still a little hard to turn. The company is sinking big dollars into the MotoGP project and will likely fix the agility issues, not like Suzuki has, but well enough to compete with everyone but Marquez going forward. With Oliveira and Binder on the A team and Lecuona and Petrucci on the B squad they should be in podium fights on a regular basis and on the top step at Red Bull Ring pretty much every year.

Suzuki—The boys from Hamamatsu have witnessed a changing of the guard this year as Alex Rins has gone from #1 to #2 in favor of NKIT Joan Mir, who sits second in the championship chase this season, his sophomore year in MotoGP.

Rins still has moments of greatness, but will probably end up chasing championships on a different bike. Mir appears here to stay and may be capable of challenging Marquez on a regular basis next year. Interesting that the under-powered Suzuki has some of its best outings on the fast, sweeping circuits in Brno and Austria. In order to generate more data and so make improvements to the bike more quickly, Suzuki will probably have to scare up a #2 team. Plenty of guys who would enjoy the ride.

Aprilia—As if things weren’t bad enough, the FIM and powers that be are still arguing about Andrea Iannone, whether he should be handed an 18-month suspension for alleged doping. What gets me is that the process itself is going to take 18 months, after which they pretty much have to acquit him or convict him and let him go with time served. It would also be a bit of a cluster to take 18 months to find him not guilty. In any case, I suspect he is probably gone, to be replaced by either Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso, a massive step down for either rider. Riding for a factory team, even the worst one on the grid, is apparently better than any satellite team option. Reminds me of what some guys I’ve known say about receiving oral sex—the worst they ever had was great.

Thanks for the kind applause. I’m here all week. Please try the veal.

2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

The French, renown for their cuisine but despised for their weather, lived up to their reputation today, with a dry race in Moto3, a wet race in MotoGP, and a drying track in Moto2. A day for underdogs (Alex Marquez) as well as the contenders in Moto2 and Moto3. Sam Lowes wins a race for the first time in four years, while teenagers dominate Moto3. As they say around here, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which is apropos of nothing whatsoever but demonstrates my facility with the French language.

Recent History in Sarthe

Johann Zarco was a rookie here in 2017, leading his home race for the first six laps on the Tech 3 Yamaha 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 few fanatics 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 Zarco to waltz into racing history in 2018, 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 unassisted 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 depressing 36-point lead in the 2018 championship.

We had this to say after last year’s race: “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, jubilant dad Julià sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens.”

Last year’s rostrum included Marquez, Dovizioso and Petrucci, the Ducs lovin’ themselves some Le Mans. Jack Miller and Rossi got punked at the flag by Danilo, one of the favorite finishes of his career, I expect.

This year, the big story, other than a great championship battle, was the weather for race weekend. A lot of the top riders had never ridden a wet lap at Le Mans, and no one was familiar with the grippy Michelin rain tires. With highs only in the low 60’s and lows dipping into the 40’s, there was likely to be an abundance of crashers.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

FP2 was one of those damp things in which most riders worked out on rain tires while several went out on slicks. Slightly less weird than FP1 but plenty of anomalies, chief among them Crutchlow, The Black Knight, and little brother Alex Marquez flogging their Hondas to end the day in P5 and P6, respectively. With the exception of Miguel Oliveira, who found a hot lap at the end that elevated him to P2, and Joan Mir, the new fair-haired boy who could manage no better than P12, it was The Usual Suspects moving directly to Q2. Led by NKIT Fabio Quartararo, The Ten would later be joined by Danilo Petrucci and Pecco Bagnaia, who successfully graduated from Q1.

The last two minutes of MotoGP Q2 are always the best of the weekend, in the absence of a real-time nail-biter at the flag. When the dust settled on a dry Q2, Zarco’s track record from 2018 stood unscathed. As usual when it doesn’t rain in Sarthe, the Ducs and Yamahas thoroughly enjoy this venue, comprising nine of the top 12 slots for Sunday. Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda in P4, is currently being held together with duct tape and baling wire, but it seems to agree with him. When the Q2 music stopped, young Fabio found himself in the top chair.

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

With real life again intruding on my writing career, I’ve missed most of the weekend. I managed to watch all three races on Sunday, and have this to offer. (I didn’t miss the fact that American Joe Roberts sits on pole in Moto2. The hearts and minds of a grateful nation are completely oblivious to this fact, given the sport’s remarkable lack of presence in the USA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following piece of conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“ I write about MotoGP.”
“What’s that?”

Anyway, since the passing of Nicky Hayden, given the rarity of opportunities to demonstrate at least a little homerism, “GO JOE!”)

Race Day

Seems like every Moto3 race can be summarized as follows: The lead group of (X = 9) riders traded places and paint more times than humans can count. Over the last (Y=4) laps, the top four for the day, and perhaps the year, got down to it. Celestino Vietti, Tony Arbolino, Albert Arenas and Jaume Masia went wheel to wheel, abandoning caution to the wind. This, as it turned out, was the top four today. After the podium celebration, Arenas leads Ai Ogura, who hung around in the 20’s for much of the day before struggling to P9, by six points, with Vietti 10 farther back and Tony Arbolino trailing the other Italian teenager by four. John McPhee, with a mechanical issue seemingly caused by a dramatic save, remains stuck at 98 points.

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

The MotoGP race was a refreshing change of pace, a wet race that wasn’t all that wet providing questionable grip, especially for the eight or so riders who had never completed a wet race lap in MotoGP. Six of those riders had predictably bad days—Quartararo finished in P9; Joan Mir P11; Brad Binder P12; Pecco Bagnaia P13; Iker Lecuona in P15. Franco Morbidelli crashed out, but Miguel Oliveira did cross the line in P6. Of the eight, the one remaining rider who had a demonstrably not bad day was young Alex Marquez, defending Moto2 champion, little brother of You Know Who, starting from P18 but finding the conditions sufficiently exhilarating to put him in P2 at the finish, his first premier class podium, shades of yesteryear. Brother Marc must have been bouncing off the walls back home in Cevera.

We would be negligent in our reporting responsibilities were we to ignore the fact that the much-abused Danilo Petrucci collected his second premier class win today, putting brandmates Dovizioso and Miller away in the process. Likewise Pol Espargaro, who came from P8 on the grid to P3 at the finish. And we salute those riders who managed to stay upright for the entire 26 laps on behalf of those who did not, including Valentino Rossi (third DNF in a row but he’s not slowing down), Miller (mechanical), Morbidelli (black flag), Crutchlow, Rabat and Smith. Alex Rins (black flag) had to apply this bumper sticker to the back of his leathers:” Please call Davide Brivio if you see parts falling off.”

Today’s Moto2 race was particularly unsatisfying, on several counts. American Joe Roberts, having secured pole, started the race from the back of the grid, his crew unable to remove the back wheel prior to the start. Then, on-track officials, the guys with the flags, mis-started the race, the lights going out before Roberts had made it through Turn 14 and back to the grid. Joe recovered from this screwing to finish in P6, announcing his arrival as a legit contender. So there was that. Then, my punching bag Sam Lowes, who has improved this year, okay?, was chasing the charming Jake Dixon, on his way to his first grand prix podium, never mind win. Dixon had managed the gap with Lowes since Lap 12, when suddenly he slid out of the lead at Turn 14 of Lap 22, on his own, handing the win to the undeserving Lowes. Remy Gardner put a move on Marco Bezzecchi at the final turn to capture second place, which kind of made up for the whole Lowes thing.

Dixon’s ordeal calls to mind one of our core beliefs: 

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

Here’s an irritating outcome from the MotoGP race: Fabio Quartararo extends his series lead while finishing in P9.

The top ten in the premier class, after Le Mans:

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

Now it’s on to Aragon, in the dusty Spanish plain, for a doubleheader. Nine rounds in, five rounds left. Contested championship races in all three classes. Seven winners in nine races in the premier class thus far. There would seem to be some growing concerns about engine supply, especially with the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Pit lane starts will do nothing to help the prospects of the gaggle of Yamaha contenders.

We hope to bring you something in the way of an Aragon I preview mid-week, but it’s a bit of a chore these days, life happening. Please keep those cards and letters coming

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One big old church.

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