Posts Tagged ‘laguna seca’

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone.  His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left.  Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

MotoGP 2014 Jerez Preview

April 29, 2014

“The Marquez Years” appear to have begun

In order to understand what we are currently witnessing in MotoGP, it is necessary to examine some semi-recent history in F-1 racing.  (You know, the four-wheel set.)  I am reluctant to do this, in that I believe contraptions with four wheels should be going 400 mph to match the terror of traveling 200 mph on two wheels, which F-1 most certainly does not.  But a short primer on F-1 between 2000 and 2004 will shed some light on what we may have to look forward to for the next few seasons. 

Between 2000 and 2004, known to fans as “The Schumacher Years,” German driver Michael Schumacher won five F-1 championships, dominating the competition like no driver before or since.  During the period, he started 85 races, finished 77 and won 48.  While this was going on, interest in F-1 and race attendance dropped significantly; ten years later, both have recovered, but needless to say this utter dominance was bad for the sport.  (It is interesting to note that it was a rule change concerning tires prior to the 2005 season that leveled the playing field, or at least pissed in Ferrari’s gas tank.  Otherwise, the procession could have gone on years longer.)

Meanwhile, over in MotoGP, between 2001 and 2005 Valentino Rossi was doing roughly the same thing—five championships, 83 starts, 78 finishes and 51 wins.  So why, then, when one Googles “The Rossi Years” does the top article in the search talk about the Ducati Desmosedici in 2011 and 2012?  I think it’s because, compared to F-1, MotoGP was a cute little boutique sport followed mainly by Europeans with next to no TV coverage outside of Italy and Spain.  The first race in North America wasn’t held until 2005 at Laguna Seca.  Compared to today, there was essentially no audience to lose.  But the marketing machine that Dorna has constructed over the past decade is at risk due to the phenomenon that is Marc Marquez.

A number of writers, myself included, have complained about Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta’s constant tinkering with the rules, the upshot of which is that by 2016 all the bikes on the grid will be using the same electronic control software.  But perhaps we should be more circumspect in our criticism.  Rather than trying to simply make MotoGP less expensive, at which he seems to be failing, his plan may be to avoid The Marquez Years that could effectively bring the sport to its knees, financially.  Honda may bail on MotoGP, as they’ve been hinting, but MotoGP will likely continue to exist.  Rather than simply dumbing down MotoGP, Ezpeleta may, in fact, be saving it from itself.

Post-Argentine Excuse Fest

In case you missed it, the Grand Prix of Argentina resulted in Repsol Honda riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha stalwart Jorge Lorenzo claiming the podium, with Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, LCR Honda German Stefan Bradl and Pramac Ducati heartthrob Andrea Iannone capturing spots four through six.  Perusing the racing media on Monday, I made note of the blizzard of excuses offered by many of the top riders following their performances on Sunday:

  • Pedrosa suffered from a slow start and blamed himself, believing that his trademarked slingshot start from, say, 2010 might have given him the win, which is rubbish.
  • Lorenzo called Sunday’s third place finish the sweetest of his career, but blames the rules prohibiting in-season engine development for what will likely be his worst season since he was a rookie in 2008.  More rubbish.
  • Rossi claimed he would have beaten Lorenzo to the podium had he not been pushed wide by a late braking Bradl when they were busy slugging it out on Lap 5.  He had nothing to say concerning the other instances when he ran wide and lost time all by himself.
  • Bradl himself offered no excuses for finishing fifth, despite having returned from his Q2 crash with his brains scrambled, convinced he was Iron Man.
  • The Tech 3 Yamaha guys, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, both complained that their YZR-M1s didn’t perform as well with a full fuel load as they did later in the day.  Not exactly a news flash there.
  • Andrea Dovizioso blamed his fall from second place to ninth on a shoddy front tire and reduced engine power which resulted from “losing some oil” early in the race.  As he vividly demonstrated on Saturday when he blew an engine to Kingdom Come, it could have been worse.
  • Andrea Iannone blamed HIS fall from third place to sixth on tire wear, which only happens to every rider in every class in every race.
  • Finally, Aleix Espargaro, after crashing out on Lap 2, was only able to recover to finish 15th due to a broken handlebar, proving that it’s always something when you don’t have Repsol or Movistar stamped on your leathers.

Jerez track

Wasn’t This Supposed to be a Jerez Preview? 

Right.  Back in 2011, Ducati pilot Valentino Rossi’s low-side on Lap 8 took Repsol Honda icon Casey Stoner out of a race he looked very capable of winning, leaving the door open for Lorenzo’s Yamaha.  2011 was the year that marked the low water mark of MotoGP, as only 17 riders started the race and but 12 finished.  Repsol Honda bridesmaid Dani Pedrosa took a lucky second after both Ben Spies and Colin Edwards “retired” late in the race, but trailed Lorenzo by 19 seconds.  Ten seconds farther back was the plucky Nicky Hayden, who earned his annual podium on the Ducati.

The Jerez round in 2012 was a barnburner, with Stoner edging Lorenzo by a second and Lorenzo, in turn, “pipping” Pedrosa at the flag by 4/10ths.  The wet conditions that hampered the Moto2 race gave way to sunny skies and a great win for Stoner in a year that ultimately belonged to Lorenzo.  2012, you will recall, was the year Stoner discovered he is lactose-intolerant.  Gag me.

Lorenzo - Marquez

Last year, late in the day, Pedrosa held a slight lead over rookie Marquez and Lorenzo, who were battling furiously for second place.  Neither was giving an inch, Spanish machismo firmly in place, until the last lap, as reported here:  “Finally, though, at, of all places, the Jorge Lorenzo corner, its namesake went a shade wide and Marquez, lizard brain firmly in control, dove inside.  As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, with Lorenzo being forced wide into third place both for the day and the season.”  This marked the beginning of the Lorenzo-Marquez rivalry that continues today, with Marquez in command, and Lorenzo able to muster little more than brave smiles and repeated vows to, somehow, do better next time.

Jerez is a Honda track.  Is there anyone out there who doubts Marquez and Pedrosa will end the day 1 and 2?

What about the Weather Forecast?

Cristina-Capella3Spanish beautyRight again.  Weather.com calls for hot and sunny conditions for all three days, temps in the upper 80’s, and the crowd full of tall, tan, scantily-clad Andalusian beauties.  The Honda RC213V likes it hot, so check off another advantage for the Repsol team.  Can Jorge Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi pull a rabbit out of his hat?  Will Aleix Espargaro’s homecoming feature a podium parade?  The race goes off at 8 am EDT on Sunday, and we’ll have results, hi-rez photos and analysis right here later in the day.

 

MotoGP Brno 2013 Results

August 25, 2013

By Bruce Allen

Marquez wins again, Aliens in shock 

Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez won today’s Czech Grand Prix by 3/10ths over teammate Dani Pedrosa, with Yamaha double champion Jorge Lorenzo another two seconds behind.  Once again making it look easy, Marquez now leads Pedrosa by 26 points and a disheartened Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left in the 2013 season.  Had the rookie not crashed out of the lead at Mugello back in June, this thing would be over already. 

Marquez is now smashing all time records every time out, a proverbial bull in the 65 year-old MotoGP china shop.  He became the first rookie ever to win at Laguna Seca in July.  Last week, ignoring the footnote, he became the first rider ever to win three rounds in the United States.  And today he became the first rider ever to win five races in his rookie season, having prevailed in the last four rounds.  The sky appears to be the limit for the young Spaniard, as he does not appear quite fast enough to enter a low earth orbit.

22 Masterful Laps

During the practice sessions leading up to qualifying, it was the usual suspects at the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo, LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, Monster Tech 3 defector Cal Crutchlow and Marquez taking turns leading a session.  Q2, the main qualifying event, was a little weird, as most of the riders could only manage four laps over the long Brno circuit, and resulted in a front row of Crutchlow, GO&FUN loose cannon Alvaro Bautista and Marquez.  The second row featured Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Tech 3 rookie Bradley Smith, with Valentino Rossi, the now-former Alien, in seventh.

Once things got underway, Lorenzo got off to an impressively fast start, with Marquez and Pedrosa in hot pursuit.  Crutchlow started poorly, immediately back in fourth position, tangling with Bautista and Rossi most of his truncated day, his hopes of a maiden premier class win shattered in the first lap.  Adding injury to insult, the Brit, with seven races left until his self-imposed exile with Ducati for the next two years, crashed out on Lap 9 and eventually finished out of the points in 17th.  So much for sitting on the pole.

Lorenzo led the first group for most of the day, but was unable to get away, while the two Repsol Hondas were relaxing in his slipstream, biding their time, probing for signs of weakness.  Marquez feinted several times before going through for good in the final turn of Lap 16, a replay of what Pedrosa did to Lorenzo on the last lap in 2012.  Three laps later, Pedrosa himself went through on Lorenzo, hoping to overtake his thoroughly annoying rookie teammate in the last three laps.  It was not to be, as Pedrosa didn’t have enough left to mount the late charge he desperately needed.

Before the race, it was generally acknowledged that crunch time had arrived for Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo, that another loss to either Repsol Honda at the flowing Brno circuit would spell ruin for the 2013 season.  Similarly, for Pedrosa and Lorenzo, allowing Marquez to work them again would be another sure sign of the career apocalypse looming before both.  The two veterans, masters of their craft, gave this race everything they had, but it wasn’t nearly enough.  To the casual observer, the all-Spanish podium would appear to spell joy for the three honorees.  In fact, for two of them, it spelled despair.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Once Crutchlow went walkabout on Lap 9 (joining teammate Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 DNF party) the battle for fourth place between Bautista and Rossi raged all day, a measure of how much Rossi’s game has slipped in the past few years.  While Rossi would eventually prevail, a hollow victory to be sure, he finished 10 seconds behind Marquez, which would have been unthinkable as recently as 2010.

At 200 mph, things can go downhill in a hurry.  In fact, it may not be much of an overstatement to suggest that Rossi is on his way to becoming Colin Edwards, the thoroughly faded Yamaha veteran, other than the fact that Rossi has 80 premier class wins to zero for Edwards.

Stefan Bradl spent a lonely day in 6th place, turning laps, finishing 10 seconds behind Bautista and 15 seconds ahead of the factory Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.  Dovi and Hayden, after their latest close encounter at Indianapolis, had been hauled in front of both Race Direction and Ducati brass over their tendency to trade paint with one another, and refrained from doing so today.

[Before the season started, a Ducati mouthpiece told the media the company expected the two to challenge for wins this season on the ever-changing Desmosedici, providing further evidence, as if more were needed, that the Bologna factory is hopelessly out of touch with reality.]

Andrea Iannone, onboard the Pramac Ducati, ended the day in 9th place, followed once again by Aleix Espargaro, the top finisher in the now non-operative CRT class.  The only other result of note was that of Michele Pirro, subbing for the now-finished Ben Spies, who managed a respectable 12th place finish.  Looks like Pirro will finish the season racing, rather than testing, for Ducati Corse.  Spies, who had surgery on both shoulders this past week, should now be spoken of only in the past tense when discussing MotoGP.

The Big Picture

The standings tell the story.  For Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, their only remaining hope is that Marquez will crash out of a race or two, and it’s bad racing karma to wish such things for your rivals, especially a teammate.  Crutchlow’s gaffe today puts him 16 points behind Rossi in 5th place, but serves as valuable preparation for the next two years of his career.  After an outstanding weekend at Laguna Seca, of all places, Bradl has now settled back to earth and looks beatable by Dovizioso, assuming Dovi can resist further opportunities to mix things up with his teammate.

Top Ten after 11 rounds

On to Silverstone

Shakespeare’s “winter of our discontent” has now become Pedrosa and Lorenzo’s summer of nausea.  The nagging apprehension they likely felt toward Marquez heading into the season has now been replaced by fully-formed dread, as the Honda rookie has proven himself to be, as it were, truly re-Marc-able.  It is impossible to imagine that he will not destroy yet another all-time record next week, eclipsing Rossi’s rookie record of 10 podiums in a single season.

Since moving from Donington Park to Silverstone, Jorge Lorenzo has won the British GP twice, sandwiched around Stoner’s win in 2011.  As such, it would appear that this year’s tilt represents Lorenzo’s last gasping breath of hope for a third premier class championship in 2013.  Pedrosa has a lousy history at Silverstone, and his chances for anything more than a podium finish would appear dubious at best.  Crutchlow and Smith will be completely geeked up for what surely must be a disappointing homecoming weekend.  And Rossi will flash his trademarked smile all the way to the bank while trying to remain within an excuse or two of the podium.

Going forward, a number of interesting questions remain, most of them having to do with who will be riding what for whom in 2014.  The one I can’t get out of my head today has to do with what might have happened had Marquez been running against Casey Stoner on identical bikes this year.  Had it been Stoner and Marquez on the Repsol Hondas this season, the world might have seen some truly epic racing.  The late Robert F. Kennedy captured this sentiment perfectly when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’  I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?’”

MotoGP 2012 Indianapolis Preview

August 14, 2012

An edited version of this article, and some  fab high-rez images, will appear on Motorcycle.com on Wednesday or Thursday.  In the meantime, enjoy this in its original state.

Aliens Take Aim at the IMS Infield Track

At Laguna Seca, Repsol Honda’s receding star, Casey Stoner, laid down a statement:  Those of you who thought the 2012 championship was over should perhaps revisit this idea.  His solid win over factory Yamaha primo Jorge Lorenzo, with teammate Dani Pedrosa finishing third, brought the Australian to within 32 points of Lorenzo, heading into Round 11.  The diminutive Pedrosa, in the midst of an outstanding season, is also in the midst of his two rivals, trailing Lorenzo by 23.  All three need to eat their Wheaties this weekend.

The history of MotoGP at Indianapolis is starting to become etched in my mind, more than other circuits since I get better seats here in my home town.  The 2008 inaugural race was held during Hurricane Ike, and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, who became Yamaha’s  prodigal son this past week, tracked down Repsol Honda homeboy Nicky Hayden in a remarkably “wet race” called after 18 laps.  In 2009 Rossi, who could have slammed the door on teammate Lorenzo, instead crashed out as Lorenzo won going away, being joined on the podium by Alex de Angelis (?) and Nicky Hayden, the Kentucky Kid’s sole visit to the rostrum that season.  Back home again in Indiana.

Two years ago, Lorenzo led the series comfortably in the scorching heat at Indy.  Pedrosa unexpectedly dominated the race, and Lorenzo managed a satisfactory third, but the day belonged to Ben Spies. The American, in the middle of his Rookie of the Year season on the Tech 3 Yamaha, took the pole late in the QP, ran with the big dogs all day, and held on to second place, the first podium for a satellite Yamaha since Colin Edwards’ at Sepang in 2008.  Stoner wrestled with his Ducati all weekend, qualifying sixth and crashing out on lap eight.

Last year, Repsol Honda owned the world and the IMS, running away from the factory Yamahas.  Stoner and Pedrosa blew away Spies and Lorenzo, spoiling the young American’s second consecutive podium in his home crib.  It marked Indianapolis’ first look at Valentino Rossi wearing (some) Ducati red, and it wasn’t pretty, as The Doctor qualified 14th and finished 10th, one of the most painful outings Rossi has endured in the premier class.  Ever.

Seeking a trend, we can summarize: Rossi and Hayden, Lorenzo and Hayden, Pedrosa and Spies, Stoner and Pedrosa.  Something for every taste and budget.  No telling who may have the hot hand this year, other than the Ducati boys, who won’t.

The MotoGP World Tips Slightly on its Axis

Whenever there is change on the factory teams, I go into a bit of altered consciousness trying to make the adjustments.  On the Repsol team–Stoner/Pedrosa to Pedrosa/Marquez.  On the Yamaha team–Lorenzo/Spies to Lorenzo/Rossi.

[Valentino Rossi back wearing Yamaha leathers in Alien-land.  The sun will rise in the east; all is again right with the world.  I’m flashing on baseball’s A-Rod, who went off to Texas to “win a championship” (good one, Alex) and ended up with the Yankees.]

At Ducati, Rossi/Hayden to Dovizioso/Hayden.  Audi has apparently been ordered by their new Italian employee to fix the GP12 or, um, well, actually, he’ll race for two years and leave in disgust after promising he won’t.  Perhaps Audi is already experiencing buyer’s remorse about owning the rights to an Andrea Dovizioso who feels free to tell them how to run their business.  Ducati is also said to be pursuing a new development strategy, fielding factory-supported A and B teams, grooming younger riders with big potential and wide shoulders to ride for their satellite squads.  See, Nicky Hayden, on a one year deal, is no spring chicken.  Just sayin’.

Andrea Dovizioso is additional proof that life on the factory teams, even Ducati, must be several orders of magnitude sweeter than life on the satellites.  Dovizioso, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, has been hammering podiums all year, and is intentionally throwing away any chance of continuing to do so for probably two full years, thus completing his personal negative career hat trick.  He got worked at Repsol Honda last year.  He got worked just last week by factory Yamaha.  And now he will turn himself inside out trying to race the Ducati, the Career Killer, for money.

Speaking of screwed, we’re witnessing the dizzying rise and fall of Cal Crutchlow, who took such an aggressive I’ll-Be-Doing-You-A-Bloody-Favor stance with the Bologna factory that they encouraged him to pound sand, as it were.  Crutchlow’s options, apart from remaining on the Tech 3 Yamaha, are few.  Cal needs new advisors less inclined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Next year, he won’t be the only Englishman on the grid, either.  There’ll be a new Brit in town, most likely Scott Redding.

Toni and the Wildcards

This, unfortunately, is not one of the bands you’ll hear in the infield this weekend.  With Hector Barbera questionable, dragging his three week old broken leg around, Toni Elias again brings his high-priced vagabond routine to the Pramac Ducati, which he was able to remain aboard at Laguna Seca for almost two full laps.

Steve Rapp returns with his Attack Performance Kawasaki-powered privateer after failing to qualify in Monterey.  He is joined by Aaron Yates, fronting for Hoosier-based GPTech, sporting another homegrown frame and powered by Suzuki, which is kind of an oxymoron, but they’re new, so we’ll overlook the irony.  Assuming one or both qualify, they’ll be battling with the CRT dregs and definitely trailing the Aprilia-powered ARTs beneath Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro.

Chasing Jorge Lorenzo

One of the things I’ve never spent much MotoGP energy on is arranging interviews with Big Stars.  This year, with a photographer and interpreter in tow, I’ve made a serious run at gaining an exclusive with Jorge Lorenzo Himself, as in Possibly This Year’s Repeat World Champion.  This would be a huge score amongst the gearheads who edit and publish this stuff, and would raise my stature with them immeasurably, given how low the bar currently sits.

Somehow, I located the email address of the Yamaha team flack, Mr. Gavin Matheson.  My proposal to him, in exchange for 10 minutes with his guy, was drinks and dinner at my place for him and Jorge, grilling some fresh salmon and Indiana sweet corn, with local summer tomatoes on the side.  Some down time away from the track, kickin’ it, with a Rolling Stone-style feature spread on the Motorcycle.com website the following day.  A few really penetrating questions, more to do with his private life and interests than bike stuff and the whole internationally-famous-jock-who-can’t-go-anywhere-in-Spain-without-armed-guards thing.

It’s not happening.

Gavin on Monday assured me that despite his almost overwhelming personal desire to see Jorge’s smiling face on the Motorcycle.com site, Jorge’s interview schedule is already jam-packed, which allows him time for video interviews, but not much else.  Here at Motorcycle.com we don’t take that kind of thing personally.  We are still young, and there will be plenty of other grands prix at which Lorenzo, perhaps even Rossi, will become putty in our hands, revealing things in This Publication that you can’t get anywhere else.

Just not this weekend.

Your Hurrying Hoosier Forecast

Indiana has been broiling all summer; last week I cut my lawn for the first time since, like, May.  But the weather forecast for race weekend is dry with temps in the 70’s.  The IMS has been promoting the race hard this year, and attendance is expected to be up, way in excess of what they drew at the “U.S.” Grand Prix in frigging California.  The Gen Con Convention is in town this weekend, billing itself as “the original, longest running, best attended, gaming convention in the world.” And Indy Fringe brings its “offbeat theatrical (freak) show” to Mass Ave. for 11 days starting on the 17th.

Let’s review.  On Friday and Saturday nights we’ll have thousands of motorheads, gamers, and thespians sharing the same space downtown. The opportunities for some epic flash mobs are virtually endless.  I’m taking the family down for a good old Hoosier family funfest on Saturday night, with pictures to follow.  Check back here on Sunday night or Monday for the race story.

MotoGP 2012 Laguna Seca Results

July 29, 2012

An edited version of this article will appear on Motorcycle.com on Monday, complete with hi-rez photos.  Until then, please enjoy this summary of the MotoGP 2012 U.S. Grand Prix.

Stoner Outduels Lorenzo in Replay of 2011 Classic

Defending world champion Casey drove his Repsol Honda RC213V past Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 22 of today’s U.S. Grand Prix for a convincing and refreshing win, his third at Laguna Seca.  This turn of events provided observers with a startling déjà vu of last year’s race.  Stoner’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa finished third both years, adding the same eerie similarity to the podium celebration and post-race press conference.

I knew something weird was happening in Monterey when I glanced at the results of the first two practice sessions and noticed that the top five spots in each were identical.  FP3 was mostly fogged out, and the Repsol Honda team blew it off in the garage playing euchre rather than tackling The Corkscrew blindfolded.  Lorenzo snatched the pole from Stoner on the last lap of the QP, and then Stoner topped Lorenzo in the warm-up practice on Sunday morning by a full 1/1000th of a second, after waiting an hour for the fog to clear.  Although the podium duplicated last year’s rostrum, the lead-up to the weekend was vastly different.

Recall last year.  Heading to California, Stoner was enjoying a string of seven straight podium finishes, and led defending champion Lorenzo by 15 points.  Lorenzo had been having a great season until he crashed out at Silverstone and finished a lowly sixth at Assen.  Curiously, on Saturday Stoner had given himself virtually no chance of winning, all but conceding the round to his Alien rivals, a master class in sandbagging.

Despite having amassed a total of eight (8) points in the last two rounds and trailing Lorenzo by 37, Stoner started this weekend quick and got better each day.  Curiously, he was the only one of the top six riders to choose the softer option rear tire on a day when the sun was quickly heating the racing surface.  My thought was he would try to jump out to the lead and hope his tire held up long enough to fend off his challengers late in the race.  And though he was able to go through on Pedrosa on lap 3, it took him 22 laps to pass Lorenzo.  At that point I, for one, expected the Spaniard to win the race, thinking that his rear tire would outlast Stoner’s.

Wrong.  The Australian did a masterful job managing his rubber, and still looked strong at the end of the day.  Lorenzo, visibly exhausted after the race, didn’t have enough left in his tank to mount a serious rally at the end.  Pedrosa observed after the race that the soft tire was too soft and the hard tire had no grip, and seemed pleased to have finished third.

When the tire dust cleared, the standings at the top of the 2012 chart had tightened slightly.  Stoner became the first three-time winner at Laguna, where Hondas have won four of the eight races since 2005; it is inarguably a Honda-friendly layout.  Lorenzo, with four consecutive poles but only one win, enjoys a larger lead leaving California than when he arrived.  Pedrosa is, as yet, uninjured in 2012.  Heading into the summer break, everyone has something they can feel good about.

Well, Not Exactly Everyone

Laguna Seca lived up to its reputation as a thorny place to ride motorcycles at high speeds.  By lap 2, both CRT pilot Michele Pirro and Pramac Racing designated victim Toni Elias had crashed out.  Two CRT pilots retired with mechanical problems or, more likely, Corkscrew-induced psychological issues, and James Ellison crashed on lap 20.  None of these mishaps had anything to do with anything.

That would change on lap 22, when the luckless Ben Spies endured an ugly crash out of fourth place, ruining yet another weekend for the wayward American.  No one on the grid tries harder, or has less to show for his efforts.  As the old blues standard laments, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Having injured his heel in a QP crash, Spies may have added to his medical woes ending his day with an Olympic-caliber double back flip in the tuck position, with a degree of difficulty of 4.3 out of 5.

The last and most surprising fall of the day occurred on lap 29, when Valentino Rossi, who never crashes, lost it at the top of the corkscrew for his first DNF of the season.  We knew Rossi had a lot on his mind before the race, with the speculation about his future with Ducati and rumors of a return to the factory Yamaha team swirling.  His Italian employers sent one of their Bigga Bosses to California to make The Doctor a final offer for next year, somewhere in the neighborhood of €17 million ($21 million) to waste another of the last few years of a great career wrestling the demonic Desmosedici.  Vale didn’t appear to have much on his mind at all after the crash, wandering around in the gravel looking like he’d had his bell rung, waiting for his own personal fog to clear.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow spent another lovely Sunday afternoon bashing each others’ brains in, finishing 4-5 for the fourth time this season.  Nicky Hayden, glowing after having signed another one year contract with the Italian factory, went through on rookie Stefan Bradl late in the day to claim 6th place, relegating the German to a still respectable 7th in his first visit to Laguna.

San Carlo Honda’s Alvaro Bautista started 7th and finished 8th, another nondescript day at the office for the young Spaniard.  Aleix Espargaro, clearly the cream of the CRT crop, finished ninth, with” Kareless” Abraham rounding out the top ten in his first return to action since Barcelona.

Bits and Pieces

The Hayden-Ducati marriage appears to work better for Nicky than for Ducati, as his best days are well behind him.  Over the past three seasons he’s managed a single third place finish each year, and the last of his three (3) premier class wins came back in 2006, when he somehow won the world championship with a thin 252 points.  (In 2008, Pedrosa would finish third with 249 points.)  Other than name recognition, the Kentucky Kid doesn’t bring much to the party any more.

Rumor has it that Fausto Gresini, the volatile manager of the San Carlo team, is courting Andrea Dovizioso to return to the Honda family that so unceremoniously dumped him last year.  Fausto has clearly lost whatever confidence he ever had in Bautista.  Whether he can convince Dovizioso to wear Honda colors again is problematic.  Personally, I think Dovizioso has earned the second factory Yamaha seat, and that Rossi could again be competitive on the factory-spec San Carlo Honda.

An interesting bit of trivia concerns the Constructors Trophy awarded each year to the manufacturer whose riders earn the most points.  Not surprisingly, Honda and Yamaha sit tied at the top of the pile.  But third place Ducati is much closer points-wise to the Aprilia ART bikes than to the two Japanese manufacturers.  We’ve come up with a term to describe the increasing irrelevance of the Ducati MotoGP program:  Suzukification.

2012 Laguna Seca Preview

July 25, 2012

An edited version of this story, complete with hi-rez photos, will appear on Motorcycle.com on Thursday.  Until then, enjoy.

Lorenzo and Pedrosa Ready to Rumble on Sunday

The U.S. Grand Prix, hosted by the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, welcomes ”those magnificent men in their flying machines” to kick off the second half of the 2012 season.  Yamaha CEO for a Day and 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo has recently put a little room between himself and the Repsol Hondas of challengers Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.  Over the past three seasons, no less than four riders have failed to finish this race each year, a reminder of how perilous life can be in the hills of the Monterey Peninsula; a single “MotoGP moment” could easily shake up the 2012 standings.

Recent History

The 2009 race here was fascinating, as Pedrosa disappeared at the start, while teammates Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi duked it out all day in a great battle for second place.  Rossi, that year’s ultimate champion, dispatched Lorenzo late in the day and set his formidable sights on Pedrosa, whose enormous early lead shrank steadily over the final 10 laps.  At the finish, Rossi trailed the Spaniard by only a third of a second, with Lorenzo another few seconds farther back.  Stoner was wrestling the Ducati and lactose intolerance that year and still managed a respectable fourth.  Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda teammate, crashed out early, joining three other riders in the gravel that day.

2010 was Lorenzo’s year, as he cruised to victory after Pedrosa crashed out of the lead unassisted.  Stoner drove his Desmosedici to a respectable second, while Rossi, still healing after his disastrous practice crash in Italy, managed third, just in front of Dovizioso’s RC211V.  2010 marked the beginning of what has become a recent trend, namely the appearance of wild card riders.  That year, Nicky Hayden’s little brother Roger Lee took over the LCR Honda for the injured Randy de Puniet and managed 5 championship points, finishing 11th.  His somewhat misleading result was a side effect of having five other riders crash out, although Roger Lee did manage to edge Alex de Angelis fair and square.

Casey Stoner won here last year in convincing style, due in part to the fact that both Lorenzo and Pedrosa were hurting.  Pedrosa was still recovering from injuries suffered at Le Mans, and Lorenzo was a basket case, having endured a vicious highside crash after taking the pole in the QP.  While both Spaniards hobbled their way up to the podium after the race, the most exciting match of the day saw Ben Spies punk Dovizioso at the flag to steal fourth place.  Ben Bostrom was the sacrificial wildcard that day, retiring after 10 terrifying laps to join the three riders that crashed out.

What to Expect on Sunday

Based upon recent results in Germany and Italy, it is tempting to predict a Lorenzo win, with Pedrosa placing and Stoner to show.  Last time out at Mugello, Lorenzo put on a clinic reminiscent of his 2010 championship season.  Pedrosa, consistent and uninjured all year, has appeared on the podium eight times, but has won only once, at the Sachsenring.  Defending champion Stoner seems to have misplaced his mojo, having won but once, at Assen, since announcing his impending retirement at Le Mans back in May.  As was true at Mugello, each has won here in the last three years.

Unlike Mugello, however, Laguna Seca is short and relatively slow, a layout more favorable to the Hondas than the Yamahas.  When he’s healthy, Pedrosa has the ability to get out in front of the field and take advantage of his superior speed exiting the turns.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that the two Spaniards will fight for the win, with Stoner and Tech 3 Yamaha stud Dovizioso likely contesting the final podium spot.  The Ducati team of Rossi and Nicky Hayden will fight over whatever’s left, joined by Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow.

One thing is certain.  This year’s wildcard, Steve Rapp on a CRT entry from Attack Racing powered by Kawasaki, will be nowhere near the podium at the race’s end.  Steve is a veteran AMA rider with plenty of credentials, but this is MotoGP, for God’s sake, and he can only hope to beat a few of the Frankenbikes.  His experience at Monterey may indeed help him embarrass one of the other Kawasaki-powered entries from Avintia Blusens, Ivan Silva and Yonny Hernandez.  For Rapp, that would probably count as a win.  Since the two CRT regulars have amassed a total of 11 points in nine rounds, that goal is definitely within reach.

Ben Spies “Gets Quit”

Word that Ben Spies would be leaving the factory Yamaha team at season’s end came as a surprise to many, although we have expected it here for some time.  Though the decision initially is being positioned as Ben’s, it seems likely he was asked to resign, while allowing him to maintain his dignity during the second half of the season.  The move, which must be a crushing disappointment for the American, may relieve some pressure on him, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have a vastly improved second half of the season, as he did last year.  Monterey seems like a good place to start.

Years ago I worked with a thoroughly lazy salesman who sat at home watching daytime TV instead of making sales calls.  Sure enough, management came in one day and asked him to join them in a conference room for a quick meeting, after which they announced he had resigned.  Later, when I asked him what happened, he replied, “I got quit.”  Such seems to be the case with Ben.  Hopefully, we will see him return to MotoGP in 2014 with a reinvigorated Suzuki team.  Until then, it appears World SuperBike is his best option.

Spies is a highly likeable guy who, unlike certain Australian world champions, rarely points the finger of blame at others when he fails to perform.  This feels more like a setback, albeit a big one, than a conclusion.  As for the identity of Jorge Lorenzo’s Italian teammate in 2013, we shall save that speculation for a later date.

Toni Elias Sighting Likely on Sunday

With “Hectic” Hector Barbera out for the foreseeable future with a badly broken leg suffered in practice this past week, Pramac Racing has hired Toni Elias to wear the ghastly green for Round Ten.  Elias, last seen floundering on the Aspar Moto2 Suter, had been given the boot there just in time to join Pramac for one (or two) of their final nine races in the premier class.  Despite his travails since having won the Moto2 title in 2010, Elias’ recent history at Laguna is pretty good, with a 7th in 2008 for Alice Ducati and a 6th in 2009 for the LCR Honda team.

Toni’s return screws up my intended weekend wordplay, as I had intended to discuss Hectic Hector’s departure in conjunction with “Kareless” Karel Abraham’s return to the grid after missing four rounds to injuries suffered at Silverstone.  As the lowest form of humor on earth, no one likes puns anyway, so we won’t bother.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

It promises to be perfect in the greater Salinas area, with temps in the low 70’s and plenty of sunshine.  The westerlies could be a bit of an issue, as they are most years.  Pretty much perfect conditions, especially if you’re an insanely fast Spanish motorcycle racing hombré in search of a world championship.

Sachsenring–MotoGP Traffic Report Saturday 7/18/09.

July 18, 2009

It was after Mugello, which Stoner won in late May to lead the standings that some of us began to suspect it might be his year again.  At round five, he looked very tough.  But then he was a wreck after Catalunya, having given up the lead, and he faded noticeably at Assen and again at Laguna.  Going into this mid-season weekend, he was thought by many, including moi-même, to have his work cut out for him at Sachsenring.  So, on a wet track he has the top practice lap on Friday.  Perhaps he’s feeling better?  A little too soon to say.

Notice how on Fridays (Thursdays in the Netherlands) guys like Toni Elias, de Puniet and de Angelis, de bums, always seem to have something going on.  Some weeks, it carries over to Saturday, and they end up in the second row on the grid, fully enjoying the sweeties with the umbrellas.  But it almost never carries over to Sunday.  De Puniet’s fourth in Jerez was a gift, de Angelis has finished as high as sixth—at Qatar—with Elias scoring a sixth at Laguna.  There’s a whole lot of difference between running one fast lap and running thirty fast laps.

And the sick part of this sport?  The hellers are doing laps in eighty-three seconds and the “bums” are taking all of eighty-five seconds.  Like they’re going slow.

Last year in Germany, Lorenzo and Pedrosa went out early.  Stoner beat Rossi (the last race Rossi would lose until October 5th at Philip Island), with Vermeulen on the podium and the aforementioned de Angelis in 4th place.  In the background, on the jukebox, you’d swear you could hear bits and pieces of Patsy Cline’s haunting, “Crazy…”               Yes, that’s right, Alex de Angelis finished in 4th place.

Will it be Germany where Stoner reasserts his claim to the top spot?  I think not.  But all that needs to happen is for, say, Stoner to win, Pedrosa to finish 2nd, Lorenzo 3rd, and Rossi, uh, 7th, whence the championship standings would look like this– 🙂 —

Stoner                160

Rossi                   160

Lorenzo              158

Pedrosa               112

At roughly the same time pigs fly. 

Bummer for our boy Casey, who hasn’t been sandbagging.  He’s probably not winning this race, nor is Signor Rossi going to loaf his way to seventh.  I expect Rossi and Pedrosa to slug it out, with Lorenzo injured, lurking and dangerous, Stoner fading, Dovizioso threatening, Hayden being heard from, and even a Marco Melandri around if it rains. 

And I hear your boys Dani and Dovi got themselves brand new engines for the Sachsenring Rennen.

My question–who’s gonna LOSE it this year at Sachsenring? 

Probably not Signor Rossi.

 *  *  *

The forecast: rain for qualifications; cloudy and cool on race day.

Rossi Puts Stoner in the Dirt at Laguna

July 21, 2008

Valentino Rossi gave a clinic on Sunday, out-riding Casey Stoner for his first ever win at Laguna Seca.  Stoner, despite having the faster qualifying times, could never catch Rossi after a first lap pass and ended up a distant second.  Points is points, but Rossi was clearly the more skilled rider in Monterey.

Rossi spanks Stoner at Laguna Seca

Rossi spanks Stoner at Laguna Seca

Photo courtesy of motogp.com

CBS did a pretty good job of broadcasting the race, although the announcers kept cutting to commercial with breathless comments like, “My heart is beating!” and “This is exciting!”.  They caught Lorenzo’s high side crash pretty well, but had to spend too much time tracking the field while Stoner and Rossi ran away with the race.  Also, you would think that with a race this brief, around 45 minutes, CBS could afford fewer commercial breaks during the race, and hope to make up for the revenue shortfall by building viewership for future races.  I was also surprised by the utter lack of crowd shots; it was hard to tell if there was ANYONE actually there for the race.

With Lorenzo and Pedrosa healing from injuries (although with the summer break both are likely to be back at full speed in August), the 2008 season has become Stoner and Rossi.  The folks at the Motor Speedway have now started cranking up their PR machine in hopes of attracting 150,000 fans for race weekend in September.  Two of their flacks were also interviewed yesterday, expressing some surprise that a lot of attendees will be riding their bikes to Indianapolis, and wondering about things like parking.  Hello!!!

Other than a nice article by Phil Wilson in the Indianapolis Star, there wasn’t a lot of coverage out there early on.  MotoGP still suffers from a lack of awareness among American motorsports fans, a problem which the annual Indianapolis GP should help address.

Final Laguna Seca standings:

1 Valentino Rossi Yamaha Factory 44:04.311

2 Casey Stoner Ducati MotoGP 44:17.312

3 Chris Vermeulen Suzuki MotoGP 44:30.920

4 Andrea Dovizioso Honda Scot 44:39.212

5 Nicky Hayden Honda HRC 44:39.974

6 Randy De Puniet Honda LCR 44:41.979

7 Antonio Elias Ducati d Antin 44:45.940

8 Ben Spies Suzuki MotoGP 44:46.238

9 James Toseland Yamaha Tech3 44:47.330

10 Shinya Nakano Honda Gresini 44:48.702

11 Jamie Hacking Kawasaki Racing 44:50.569

12 Sylvain Guintoli Ducati d Antin 44:59.584

13 Alex De Angelis Honda Gresini 44:59.832

14 Colin Edwards Yamaha Tech3 45:06.691

15 Loris Capirossi Suzuki MotoGP 45:12.518

16 Marco Melandri Ducati MotoGP 45:15.273

17 Anthony West Kawasaki Racing 45:34.872

Latest MotoGP World Championship standings:

1 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team 212

2 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Team 187

3 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team 171

4 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team 114

5 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP 103

6 Colin EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha 100

7 Chris VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 89

8 Nicky HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team 84

9 James TOSELAND GBR Tech 3 Yamaha 72

10 Shinya NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini 70

11 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 61

12 Toni ELIAS SPA Alice Team 46

13 Alex DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini 41

14 Randy DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP 40

15 Sylvain GUINTOLI FRA Alice Team 38

16 John HOPKINS USA Kawasaki Racing Team 32

17 Marco MELANDRI ITA Ducati Team 32

18 Anthony WEST AUS Kawasaki Racing Team 22

19 Ben SPIES USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 10

20 Jamie HACKING USA Kawasaki Racing Team 5

21 Tadayuki OKADA JPN Repsol Honda Team 2

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Zemanta Pixie

Moto GP Motorcycle Racing 101, Circa April 2008

April 28, 2008

In 2006 Nicky Hayden, riding for Honda, won the World Moto GP championship. In 2007, Casey Stoner, riding for Ducati, took the crown. Both of these guys are in the process of becoming world famous rock star types. Thus far this year, after 3 races, Jorge Lorenzo, riding for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa, riding for Honda, share the point lead. Stoner, riding again for Ducati, won the season opener in beautiful Qatar. 3 weeks later, Pedrosa won in Spain. On April 20, Lorenzo won in Portugal, putting him in a tie with Pedrosa for the world title, with most of the season yet to go. Event #4 is this week in Shanghai. (Just what that country needs at this precise moment in time. C’est la guerre.)

There are 19 races worldwide in 2008, including Laguna Seca in Monterey, California on July 20 and Indianapolis on September 14. Monterey is race #11, and Indianapolis is #14 of the season.

Around 250,000 people have attended at Laguna Seca each year since its inception in 2005. Indianapolis could easily see 300,000 for its inaugural race. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, approximately 1.8 million motorcycles are registered within an easy day’s ride of Indianapolis. They are geeked about this race. If only one out of twelve attends, roughly 8%, there’s your 150,000 motorcycles in Indianapolis for the weekend.

Amazing. Can’t wait. It’s going to be epic.

2008 Moto GP International Schedule

………Event……………………………………..Winner

______________________________________________

March 9 Losail Qatar…………………………..Stoner

March 30 Jerez Spain………………………….Pedrosa

April 20 Estoril Portugal………………………Lorenzo

May 4 China Shanghai…………………………Rossi

May 18 Le Mans France

June 1 Mugello Italy

June 8 Catalunya Catalunya

June 22 Donington Great Britain

June 28 Assen Holland

July 13 Sachsenring Germany

July 20 Laguna Seca USA

August 17 Brno Czech Republic

August 31 Misano San Marino & Riviera di Rimini?

September 14 Indianapolis USA

September 28 Phillip Island Australia

October 5 Motegi Japan

October 19 Sepang Malaysia

October 28 Estoril Portugal

November 2 Ricardo Torma Valencia