Posts Tagged ‘KTM’

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!

MotoGP Jerez Preview

April 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Returning to Europe, the Plot Thickens 

After three store-bought rounds, MotoGP 2019 returns to Europe, where it is totally legit, to Jerez, one of the sport’s shrines, for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, at the recently-renamed Circuito Jerez – Angel Nieto. The title chase appears closer than it really is due to Marc Marquez’ unforced error in Austin. Never having missed the podium in seven previous premier class visits here, one expects Marquez to be highly motivated to put things in their proper order come Sunday afternoon. 

On his way to 70 points and an imposing lead in the 2019 championship, multi-world champion Marc Marquez lost his marbles on one of the trademarked rumblestrips at COTA last time out for his first DNF of the year. (Last year, his first DNF of the season came at Phillip Island, after he had clinched and no longer gave a rip.) His challengers—Andrea Dovizioso, Vale Rossi and Alex Rins, at this point—need to eat their Wheaties this weekend, need to keep him in sight. Other reputed contenders entering the season—Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Vinales and poor Jorge Lorenzo—have already shredded their seasons. They are fast enough to contend at times (maybe this weekend) and will undoubtedly appear on podia this year. Marquez’ only real title challengers, heading into Round 4, number three. So far so good for #93.

Many of you are surprised to see upstart Alex Rins, age 23, among the big boy Alien crew on his suddenly-competitive Suzuki. Me too, although I’ve been a fan for a while. He will be juiced to return to Spain, but aware that his history here is poor. Besides, he, like Marquez, is a Catalan, which locals think of as a separate country from Spain. Whatever. ‘Home race’ card coming your way soon. As for Dovizioso and Rossi, though they lead the championship now, it is difficult to see either of them winning it, absent some disastrous crash for Marquez. Sorry, but there it is. Dovizioso has not appeared on a Jerez podium since 2007, in his 250cc days. And of Rossi’s nine career wins here, eight of them came before 2010.

Expect Marc Marquez to gain ground on all three this weekend. 

Recent History at Jerez 

2016 was a Yamaha kind of year at Jerez. The Doctor made a house call on soon-to-be-former teammate Lorenzo, winning here for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge from his restless teammate, with Marquez running a strangely quiet third. It was a Yamaha year, starting and finishing in the top two slots. The church bells rang in Tavullia as Rossi spit in the eye of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  For Rossi fans, this was a keeper.

2017, on the other hand, was your basic Honda year. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won, leading wire-to-wire for his first win since Misano in 2016.  Teammate and defending champion Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those Dani Days. Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterwards, felt like a win. This “win” started a string of nine off-podium finishes that turned his season to mud. Still, Lorenzo loves him some Jerez.

Entering last year’s race, five riders were separated by eight points. (Recall Marquez’ comedic disaster in Argentina.) This year, we have four riders separated by nine points after #93’s carefree off in Texas—what, a month ago? Anyway, last year’s race featured the memorable Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso, clearing the field for a dominating win from Marquez. As is usually the case, when big names go down, smaller names rise. Thus it was that Johann Zarco, then toiling for Yamaha, claimed second place while Andrea Iannone, Suzuki #2 at the time, found the third step. [Incidentally, both riders would give their bicuspids to be back with their previous teams after offseason moves to KTM and Aprilia, respectively.] 

Current Events 

Elsewhere on the grid, some riders are visibly happy these days, Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Takaa Nakagami (Honda), Jack Miller (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) amongst them. 19-year old Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) sits in the top ten. He’s happy. Guys like Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia) and anyone riding for KTM, not so much. Poor Hafizh Syahrin has a goose egg going on, drawing the close attention of team owner Herve Poncharal. Zarco looks like his dog died. Rookie Miguel Oliveira is happy to be making C’s in his first year in college. Pol Espargaro is having the best year of the four, sitting in ninth place. Again.

In the lighter classes—it no longer seems right to apply that term to the 765cc Triumphs in Moto2—Lorenzo Baldassarri appears to be the cream of the crop, despite not having completed a single lap at COTA. In Moto3, 18-year old Jaume Masia and veteran Aron Canet lead a pack of Hondas on their KTMs. We are pleased to report that so far in 2019, fully unreformable Italian headjob Romano Fenati has not attempted to grab the brake levers on anyone’s bike but his own. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend is typically Jerez—hot and sunny. Honda weather for sure, not helpful to the Ducati and Yamaha contingents. Jury is out on the Suzukis. Much of the circuit has been repaved, which is good and bad. Good, in that the owners wouldn’t have made the investment in the track if Dorna were going to take it off the calendar anytime soon. Bad, in that it will have different asphalt in different sectors, which the riders hate. But, hey, it’s Jerez. Everyone suck it up.

By now, you’ve probably discerned that I, along with most of the civilized world, expect Marc Marquez to win Sunday’s race. I would enjoy seeing him and Rins square off. I would REALLY like to see Alex Rins school Marquez one time, take a little chink out of his armor, announce his arrival, motivate Suzuki to go ahead and pull the trigger on a second factory-supported team starting in 2020. Most lucid people would also expect to see Valentino Rossi on the podium again—points is points. So that would be my top three—Marquez, Rins and Rossi.

Visit Motorcycle.com on Sunday evening for results, analysis and classy high-rez photos from Jerez. Or, just come here early Sunday afternoon for everything but the pix, which you can find anywhere.

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

MotoGP: Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

February 13, 2019

© Bruce Allen

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

Screenshot (191)

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

* * *

There you have it. We’ll hold onto the original for after the season is over and see who has the last laugh.

Sepang Day One–Season Over

February 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen     February 6, 2019

Capture

Alex Rins on Wednesday at Sepang. Photo courtesy of Crash.net

Today marked the first day of the first pre-season testing for the 2019 MotoGP championship battle. Table courtesy of Crash.net:

  1. Marc Marquez SPA Repsol Honda (RC213V) 1m 59.621s
  2. Alex Rins SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR) 1m 59.880s +0.259s
  3. Maverick Vinales SPA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 1m 59.937s +0.316s
  4. Tito Rabat SPA Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 1m 59.983s +0.362s
  5. Danilo Petrucci ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 2m 0.051s +0.430s
  6. Valentino Rossi ITA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 2m 0.054s +0.433s
  7. Takaaki Nakagami JPN LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.158s +0.537s
  8. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosesdici) 2m 0.197s +0.576s
  9. Stefan Bradl GER Honda Test Rider (RC213V) 2m 0.214s +0.593s
  10. Pol Espargaro SPA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 0.313s +0.692s
  11. Jack Miller AUS Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici) 2m 0.383s +0.762s
  12. Franco Morbidelli ITA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1) 2m 0.460s +0.839s
  13. Aleix Espargaro SPA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 0.602s +0.981s
  14. Cal Crutchlow GBR LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.681s +1.060s
  15. Francesco Bagnaia ITA Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici)* 2m 0.694s +1.073s
  16. Miguel Oliveira POR Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16)* 2m 0.902s +1.281s
  17. Yamaha Test Bike #1 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 0.965s +1.344s
  18. Fabio Quartararo FRA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1)* 2m 0.985s +1.364s
  19. Mika Kallio FIN KTM Test Rider (RC16) 2m 1.054s +1.433s
  20. Johann Zarco FRA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 1.121s +1.500s
  21. Andrea Iannone ITA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 1.249s +1.628s
  22. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Suzuki Test Rider (GSX-RR) 2m 1.286s +1.665s
  23. Joan Mir SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR)* 2m 1.432s +1.811s
  24. Karel Abraham CZE Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 2m 1.627s +2.006s
  25. Yamaha Test Bike #2 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 1.736s +2.115s
  26. Hafizh Syahrin MAL Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16) 2m 1.853s +2.232s

Coverage of Wednesday’s session included a piece on Marquez and his rehabilitation from left shoulder surgery, which has gone as expected. He winces a lot. I suspect he would claim that the shoulder is at 80%. Since the last outing in Jerez, the only time he had been on a bike was a 100cc mini on a dirt track for a couple of laps. In full leathers. Wednesday, in the interminable Malaysian heat, for the first time since Jerez, Marquez stepped onto the 2019 RC213V.

Wait. This guy has won the last three premier class titles and five of the last six. His shoulder was so loose last year that Scott Redding popped it out accidentally while congratulating him for the win at Motegi. So Marquez had the surgery and should be close to 100% by the time the lights go out at Losail.

Great.

The second aspect of Wednesday, somewhat disturbing, was that Marquez set the fastest time of the day, a day without teammate Jorge Lorenzo, nursing a wrist. And then sat out and watched his chasers spend an hour not beating his time. Now, there are some of you who will holler that the first day of the first practice session of the season in early February is a little early to be handing the November title to someone.

Go ahead and holler. All I’m willing to give is that we haven’t seen Lorenzo on the Honda. Even so, the odds are remote that JLo could challenge for the title in his first year on the bike. He could be a contender during the second half of the season, but MM is likely to make hash of him until then.

The Battle For Second–Wednesday’s Top Ten

Hmmm. Alex Rins on the Suzuki. Nosing out Vinales and the (new and improved Yamaha M1, most likely at the cost of at least one man’s career in Japan. The surprising presence of Tito Rabat on a newer Ducati in fourth threw something of a damper on the validity of the whole thing, as Rabat is still mending from last year. A constant underachiever in MotoGP, one should not forget that he was a baller in Moto2 and training buddy with the Marquez brothers. It is possible, I suppose, that Rabat could be a top ten rider this season, but not top five. Yeah, right, I know, it’s early.

Petrucci (factory Ducati), Rossi (factory Yamaha) and that pesky Nakagami (LCR Honda) who somehow won the last practice session last year occupied fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Petrux, one hopes, has adapted to the new bike, and makes the most of his one year contract. Rossi, for whatever reason, is still interested but it, IMO, a top five rider at this point in his career. We’ve been through this now for a few years.

Dovizioso (factory Ducati), Bradl (Honda test rider) and Pol Espargaro (factoryt KTM) completed the top ten. Espargaro the only salve on the ongoing wound that is KTM racing, who riders other than Pol occupied spots #16, 19, 20 and 26 on the time sheets on day one. Again, you KTM folks please spare me the agony of listening to the “just you wait” diatribe so early in the year. Please save it for year’s end, when perhaps Zarco makes it into the top ten. Sorry. Does not appear to be happening in 2019.

Suzuki rookie Joan Mir ended day one, his cherry intact, in 23rd place, shaken, not stirred. I took a stand last year with Rins and Suzuki and was rewarded handsomely. I will take the same stand with Mir, although I am happy to spot him the 2019 season to figure out the bike and the lay of the land, Was it ever more obvious that Suzuki needs a second team in order to run with the big dogs? Sure, Sylvain Guintoli (22nd) is a great guy and all. Suzuki needs a sponsored B team. Shouldn’t be all that hard, if one ignores the global financial shock waves emanating from Brexit in advance of what appears to be some kind of ad hoc “no deal” exit from the EU in late March. By then, MotoGP will have started up and most of us will ignore the rest of the world and stay focused on what matters. Suzuki can make a powerful argument for corporate team sponsors. They are an ascendant organization. As opposed to, say, Great Britain.

About this Column

I have not heard anything concerning 2019 from my friends at Motorcycle.com. Spent the winter not thinking about MotoGP and wondering if I really wanted to do this on my own. I had already purchased the 2019 video feed in November.

So I don’t know. Some weeks things may get a little sparse around here. I would love to resume my spot as the most engaging writer at Motorcycle.com, but the ball is in their court. I await their call.

In the meanwhile, let’s keep an eye on Sepang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (353)

  1. Taka Nakagami finished at the top of the sheet on day two, proving there was a range of objectives riders brought with them to Jerez. Let’s not hyperventilate, pretending that Taka, riding Crutchlow’s bike from last year, is the fastest guy out there.
  2. Marc Marquez is as cool as a cucumber. Everything is chill on the #93 side of the Repsol Honda garage.
  3. Maverick Vinales is now top dog at Movistar Yamaha and they’re building the bike for him. Time for the wall.
  4. Jorge Lorenzo put his shiny new Repsol Honda up into P4 on day two, showing remarkable progress both in his adaptation to the Honda and the recovery of his wrist. 2019 could feature a number of double-Honda podiums. This one may work out for old Jorge.
  5. Danilo Petrucci knows this is his chance. A one year contract, 28 years old, needs to lose more weight, but he has a chance to flirt with Tranche 1. He appears to be the next Andrea Dovizioso.
  6. Franco Morbidelli is looking solid on the Petronas Yamaha. I see him battling Pecco Bagnaia for a good part of next season. Both fast movers, both accustomed to success, both on credible machines.
  7. Jack Miller, now the lead dog on the Pramac Ducati team with Bagnaia, needs to spend more time with the rubber down and the paint up. His inability to finish races is hard on him and his team. We get it that he’s fearless, but he needs to be a little smarter.
  8. Andrea Dovizioso will again chase Marquez all year long, collect a couple of wins and some podiums, perhaps a pole or two. Maid of Honor and head bridesmaid in 2019.
  9. Pecco Bagnaia on the #2 Pramac Ducati should figure in the Rookie of the Year competition along with Joan Mir. The second coming of Jorge Lorenzo will put it on rails now and again.
  10. Alex Rins is my guess to be the fifth Alien, along with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales and Lorenzo. I Screenshot (333)will stick my neck out again and predict a potential P3 for Rins in 2019 on an improved GSX-RR.
  11. Valentino Rossi seems to be getting sick of the whole thing. 2019 is likely to be his last year. He doesn’t have the input he is used to having, the 2019 bike doesn’t work for him, and it’s looking like a long two years. In all likelihood he won his last race at Assen in 2017.
  12. Fabio Quartararo, the 19 year old French wonder, needs a year or two to get himself settled in at 1000cc. He appears to be a baller-in-waiting at the Petronas Yamaha team, upon which will be lavished plenty of corporate largesse. Lots of people seem to want him to succeed.
  13. Tito Rabat will return for Reale Avintia Ducati. Not sure why, other than the money and the women and the free medical care.
  14. Joan Mir, who dominated Moto3 in 2017, has arrived at Suzuki after the obligatory year in Moto2 with much fanfare, giving the Ecstar team a potentially powerful one-two punch in the rider department. Let’s just go ahead and say that Mir will be an Alien in short order. 2021, 2022…
  15. Pol Espargaro, the fastest of the KTM contingent, winner thereby of the Taller Than Mickey Rooney Award. KTM looking weak, top to bottom. There’s grumbling in the cheap seats.
  16. Karel Abraham, #2 on the Reale Avintia Ducati team, races bikes to enhance his law practice, his sex life, and his standing with dad. Finishing, for Karel, is not that different from finishing in the points.
  17. Andrea Iannone, consigned for sins committed early in his tenure with Suzuki to #2 rider on the struggling Aprilia team. Underfunded, underpowered, the effort promises to be one of consistent frustration again in 2019. Iannone will DNF pretty often in the first half of the season, asking more from the bike than it has to give. For Suzuki, Mir is the right choice.
  18. Johann Zarco appears doomed to a Tranche 3 or 4 season onboard the KTM. Openly disappointed, he appears to be suffering buyer’s remorse over having spurned the satellite Yamaha team. Bummer.
  19. Aleix Espargaro, the #1 rider on the factory Aprilia team, a position with a world of prestige and little else. Aleix appears doomed again to spending another year with no podium result. Aprilia’s MotoGP program may not be sustainable if there is a worldwide recession, which would be a bummer for Aleix, Iannone, Brad Smith and MotoGP in general.
  20. Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira–teammates on the Tech 3 KTM team will be fighting one another most of the season–everyone else will be in front of them.

Cal Crutchlow missed both the Valencia and Jerez tests as MotoGP folds up its tents on 2018. He appears to be a top five or six guy in 2019. Overall, the four new guys from Moto2–Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo–have way more talent than the four–Bautista, Redding, Smith and Luthi–that left. They are younger, faster and well-financed. The championship will be closer in 2019 than 2018–other than Marquez running away with the title–and closer yet in 2020, the second year of most of the contracts. By 2021 some of these guys will be on Marquez’ rear tire on a regular basis, at which point we could have us a horse race again, as in 2013 and 2015. Life goes on in The Marquez Era.

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP: Jorge Martin Thumbs Up

November 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Jorge Martin

Jorge learns the Moto2 756cc Triumph works differently than the Moto3 250cc Honda.

“LOST: male dog, has one eye, mangled left ear, paralyzed hind leg, crooked tail, accidentally neutered. Answers to ‘Lucky’.”

Final MotoGP Scoring; Alien Sightings

November 21, 2018

POINTS PROJECTION JPEG AFTER 19 ROUNDS

At this point I’m not sure why I continue to pursue this nugget; at one time, it seemed important.

For this final exercise I went back and did calculations after Jerez, Round 4. Back in grad school, some professor would have wanted to know the correlation coefficient between the final standings (and point totals), compared to the projections from early in the season. Before doing the math, I can tell you that Round 4 is too early in the season to try to predict this stuff, other than Marquez wins.. Three one-off rounds and the first European round. Definitely would have gotten better correlations after, say, Catalunya or Mugello.

Nonetheless, here are the final results, showing which riders out-performed their early-season expectations and which riders failed to do so. And, for regular readers, you will undoubtedly notice the relative standings of Johann Zarco and Alex Rins early in the year when I started banging on about Rins. Rins was an Alien for the last third of the season. I suspect he may pick up where he left off come March. His new teammate, Joan Mir, is about a year or two behind him. Ballers. Aliens-in-Waiting.

Points Since Jerez     Age in 2019

Marquez       251                26A

Dovizioso     199                 33A     

Rossi             158                 40

Rins               153                24A

Viñales           143                24A

Petrucci          110                 29

Zarco              100                 29

Iannone             86                30

So, who are the Aliens at this moment, besides Marquez and Dovizioso? Rossi? Vinales? Lorenzo? I have left Crutchlow and Lorenzo off this list due to their injuries and whining. It is my contention that the Alien class as of November 2018 includes Marquez, the aging Dovizioso, Viñales and Rins. The usual caveat applies–Marquez wins the next three MotoGP titles. But otherwise they’re all Aliens now. My nomination of Rins is premature, but there it is. And I’m STILL not sold on Maverick Viñales.

It is worth noting that Fabio Quartararo, newly promoted to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, turns 20 in April. Bagnaia and Mir are 21, and Oliveira is 23. The Alien class will look radically different three years from now than it does today. I think Johann Zarco is too old to start trying to make an Alien run, especially on the KTM. I expect he could be very fast on the Ducati. And no one will successfully accuse either Petrucci or Iannone of being Aliens, now or ever; hell, Petrucci has never even won a race.

At the top of the MotoGP food chain, the times they are a-changin’.

Moto2 Valencia Results

November 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Oliveira cruises to Pyrrhic victory 

Sunday’s Moto2 season finale was just one of those races. Polesitter Luca Marini got tangled up with two MotoGP promotees, Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, and just like that three of the day’s strongest favorites were scootering back to their garages, their day and bike trashed but their futures as bright as ever.  

Screenshot (354)

Trouble in Turn 2, Lap 1

With those three out of the way, Miguel Oliveira caressed his KTM to an easy win, having already lost the War of 2018 to Bagnaia. The weather sucked. The 97,000 fans saw a lot of crashes all day and got soaked for their trouble. If they arrived in time to watch the earlier Moto3 race they saw history being made—more on that later. Otherwise, it was a high-side festival in the wet with 29 seconds between first and fourth positions. A demolition parade, if you will. Very un-Moto2-ish.

Alex Marquez, the struggling Estella Galicia rider, younger brother of The King, won the Moto3 championship in 2014 and looked to be, as rumored, at least as fast as Marc. He has since spent the last four seasons underperforming in Moto2. He has made a career, at this point, of crashing out of contention, and is the main reason his team went winless in 2018 for the first time since The Armistice.

Marquez led much of the day, at home, looking the way he was always supposed to look. Having gone through on Oliveira into the lead on Lap 6, he found himself under constant pressure from the KTM #44. He again demonstrated how rain magnifies errors, turning them from twitchy little momentary heart-stoppers to crash and burn road rash, with river rocks in your nether regions. Our firm expectation that he would crash was met on Lap 14 in Turn 14, a slide-off which allowed him to re-mount and ultimately finish third, so great had been his lead at the time. Iker Lecuona accompanied Oliveira through and captured second place. (Having rarely seen Lecuona’s name written, I always heard the Brit announcers saying “Ikaleukawana” which, as you might expect, reminded me of the old Hawaiian rider Kamanawannalaya.)

So the last race of the Honda era of Moto2 was a bummer for pretty much everyone but Oliveira and KTM. The records have been set, the memories burned in, and a new era begins next week as the Triumph 765cc three-cylinder monsters take their place, a whole new ball game commencing in 2019. The four graduates into MotoGP—Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati), Oliveira (Tech 3 KTM), Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) and Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) will move on up the food chain, leaving as Moto2 favorites guys with names like Brad Binder, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Luca Marini and Xavi Vierge to slug it out for the championship. They will be joined by Moto3 fast movers Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi, presumably keeping Moto2 (and the Red Bull Rookies Cup) healthy and thriving. The racing is, on occasion, astonishing.

We will keep you posted on happenings in Moto2 during testing and the off-season. It’s about time.