Posts Tagged ‘Losail International Circuit’

MotoGP 2016 Season and Losail Preview

March 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” 

Here we are again, nosing around the garage area and the vicinity of the start/finish line, anticipating a full new season of MotoGP.  Everyone is optimistic.  Everyone is putting their best foot forward.  The power brokers, the likes of Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis and Honda’s Livio Suppo, are maintaining low profiles, keeping their powder dry in case—this probably of more concern to Suppo than Jarvis—their 2016 project turns out to be a dumpster fire.

How have things shaped up as the season started in years past?

victory helmet2013–Heading into the season, with Stoner gone and Marquez arrived, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo looked ready, willing and able to repeat, with chase coming from Pedrosa, Rossi and Marquez. Rossi would take most of the year to get comfortable on the Yamaha in his first year back from Ducati purgatory.  Pedrosa and Lorenzo got hurt in the Netherlands and Germany.  Marquez made it look easy, snatching his first world championship as a rookie and assaulting the record books across the board.  Crutchlow, Bautista and Bradl were expected to make some noise at some point, and mostly didn’t.

2014–defending champion Marquez starts by reeling off 10 straight, then coasting to an effortless championship followed by Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, about as expected.

2015, it turns out, is not the three-peat envisioned by most Marquez fans.  He crashes out d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageof several races early, concedes the early lead to Lorenzo, concedes more to Rossi, and watches helplessly as the title devolves into a Rossi vs. Lorenzo scrap.  He mixes it up with Rossi on several occasions, the Italian getting the better of all of them.  Rossi and Lorenzo head into Valencia essentially tied for the lead but with Rossi having been severely punished for events in Sepang, resulting in him starting last on the grid and ultimately finishing fourth, with Lorenzo cruising to both the win and the championship, Marquez at his wing.

What Have We Learned During All This Winter Testing?

25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_originalSeveral things.  Lorenzo appears to be the man to beat.  Maverick Vinales intends to stick his nose in some podium contests and appears to have sufficient machine beneath him to do so.  Rossi, Marquez and Iannone appear destined to battle Vinales for second and third. Scott Redding may have found the right bike at the right time to propel him into a consistent top six performer.  (Remember him during his last season in Moto2 when he would ride the wheels off in the turns then get eaten alive in the straights.)  Dani Pedrosa needs to stay upright all season long if he wants to finish in the top four, otherwise he is destined for a second division seeding along with:

  • Andrea Dovisiozo
  • Cal Crutchlow
  • Aleix Espargaro
  • Pol Espargaro
  • Hector Barbera
  • Bradley Smith

Danilo Petrucci would have been in this group had he not broken his hand, and still might end up here.  Michelle Pirro will sub for DP in Qatar.

Those Aiming for Points Alone

The third tier, looking to make it into the top 15, will include Eugene Laverty, Loris Baz, Yonny Hernandez, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat.  Bradl sounds confident, but it smells of baloney.  Rabat says his goal is top ten finishes—he has his work cut out for him.

Winning at Losail—What Does it Mean?

Only three of the last eight winners at Losail went on to title in their respective years—ossi-vs-marquez-di-sepangStoner in 2011, Lorenzo in 2012 and Marquez in 2014.  Since they are also three of the last five, it’s clear to me that past performance has little to do with future performance.  Recent performance, however, might well have something to do with performance this year.

Let’s just say this.  If young Mr. Vinales challenges for the win in Doha, that is significant.  A track built nicely for the Ducs and Yamahas, the Suzuki has not enjoyed a great deal of success in the desert.  A second place finish would put pressure on the Aliens behind him, as well on teammate Aleix Espargaro, who is not getting nearly as much from his identical ride.

I also think there is room in this championship for a second division rider to compete toward the top of the timesheets.  I’m thinking here of someone like a Barbera (or a Redding) for whom the standard ECU is an improvement.  Perhaps Barbera’s practice times in Australia were more indicative of what he’s able to produce now that the electronics are mostly equal.

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And, let it not go unsaid that whichever teams get accustomed to the Michelins the quickest will end up doing the best.  This is what separates the factory Yamaha and Honda teams from the rest, the skill of their teams at finding settings that work over race distances.  On whatever rubber you got.  The Ducatis seem not to mind the Michelins.

Clearly, with 13 crashes in Australia, most of which were blamed on tires, Michelin has plenty to do as well.  Riders will need to beware on cold morning outlaps in the northern latitudes.

Silly Season Silliness

With almost all the primary riders in contract years in 2016, rumors are flying already about who’s gonna sign where and when.  Jorge Lorenzo seems to be giving ground to his masters at Yamaha, first insisting he needed a deal in hand prior to the start of the season and now, suddenly, agreeable to some mid-season negotiations.  Rossi is saying two years or nothing from here; Yamaha has not leaped into his arms as of this writing.

Herve Poncharal has delivered an ultimatum to his pair of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro:  The future is now.  If you cannot deliver podiums on a regular basis I will need to find riders who can.  As boss, Herve has the right to express his opinion.  My opinion is that both factory Yamahas, Marquez, a couple of the Ducatis and maybe Vinales are better than either Smith or Espargaro.  Asking the Tech 3 riders to produce consistent podiums is asking a lot.  Perhaps Poncharal is thinking more in terms of creating vacancies for Vinales or Rins/Zarco/Folger.

alex-rinsVinales and young Alex Rins in Moto2 are in the wind, pretty much everyone’s best guess as to Aliens-in-Waiting.  An aging Dani Pedrosa (dearly coveted by KTM for 2017) at Repsol Honda, a seriously aging Rossi at Yamaha; at some point the suits are gonna pull some plugs.  Plus, it’s impossible not to wonder when Casey Stoner, watching riders he considers barely his equal go flying over the handlebars trying to get it on with the Michelins, says “lol” and climbs back onboard for a wildcard at Phillips Island.  Could throw a spanner into the works of more than one rider at that point in the season.  Easier to envision if doing so were to provide him an opportunity to interrupt a Yamaha or a Honda on its way to the title.  Stoner could easily add some extra testosterone to the mix.

And what about Marquez?  Easy to see him spending his career at Honda, assuming he wants to.  What if the RC213V remains un-rideable for the next three years?  What if Yamaha or Ducati establish some genuine dominance in the category?  Is it so hard to visualize young Marquez in Yamaha blue or Ducati red?  Not for me.

Ducati, with eight riders working for them, has some keepers and some others.  Iannone, Petrucci, Redding and Baz appear to be capable of top ten finishes.  My pick as the next Ducati shining star is Iannone, but he needs to make something happen this year.  With KTM joining the fray next season interested in poaching high profile riders, and several riders talking about moving from World Superbike (Johnny Rea) and Moto2 (Johann Zarco, Rins) there could be new faces on any number of the Ducati teams.  Especially now that it’s not viewed as a career killer.

So I expect Honda to make a spirited run at Marquez and Yamaha to do the same with Lorenzo.  Beyond that, teams may keep their powder dry and wait/see, or look to strike pre-emptively and roll the dice on a Vinales or a Rins or a Bradley Smith or Pol Espargaro, someone capable of giving them regular looks at podia on the right bike, and with plenty of upside.

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The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Qatar is anyone’s race and 2016 is anyone’s season, most especially Jorge Lorenzo.  Will Marquez and Rossi find themselves drawn to one another, magnetically, Rossi spoiling to continue the 2015 vendetta?  Do Marquez, Vinales and Iannone have enough to challenge Lorenzo on a regular basis?  Is this Rossi’s “one season too many?”  Does Ducati push Honda out of #2 in the builder’s competition?  Is the Suzuki under Vinales for real?  Is Dani Pedrosa still relevant to the title conversation?

My only prediction is that due to the tires and the ECU, we won’t see very many processions, and we won’t have someone, other than perhaps Lorenzo if everything goes perfectly for him, run away with the title in the first third of the season.  My annual hope, for no parades and a tight title fight, looks pretty good right about now.

My second only prediction is that the top four will be comprised of Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Iannone, perhaps in that order, with Rossi and Redding or Smith fighting for fifth place.  In retrospect, my pre-season predictions—2013 predicting Lorenzo, 2014 and 2015 Marquez—are usually poor.  One for three among the current lot.

There will be plenty of video and plenty to discuss in 2016.  We look forward to enjoying your comments if, as Jim Rome used to insist, you have a take, and you don’t suck.  Profanity is never welcome, but contrasting points of view, especially those that are well-written, are always appreciated.  As I’ve discovered over the years, MO has a pretty serious readership when it comes to the finer points of this stuff.  So, watch the races, bring your comments, and let’s share…lol…

The race goes off at 2:00 pm EDT; as this goes to press the TV availability is problematic.  We’ll have results, analysis and commentary right here late Sunday.

MotoGP 2013 Qatar Results

April 8, 2013

An edited version of this story appears on Motorcycle.com, complete with high-rez images.

Lorenzo rules in defense of his title; Rossi second 

Under the lights of Losail, Jorge Lorenzo led the big bikes of the MotoGP premier class on a merry chase from wire to wire, winning the season opener without breaking a sweat.  He was joined on the podium by prodigal son and teammate Valentino Rossi, whose return from two years in exile couldn’t have been much more exciting.  Standing in third position on the podium was Wonder Kid Marc Marquez, who punked Repsol Honda teammate and preseason favorite Dani Pedrosa for the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations for the young Spaniard.

Past, Present and Future Champions full final

The new qualifying format, the Q1 preliminaries and the Q2 finale, resulted in an odd starting grid.  It included satellite Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow in second position, ahead of Pedrosa, whose weekend was basically terrible.  Qualifying in fourth on the Ducati—surprise surprise—was Andrea Dovizioso, while the best Marquez could manage was 6th.  Rossi starting in seventh place was more disappointing than surprising.

At the start, with 24 bikes on the grid, it looked like a Moto2 race on steroids. Lorenzo held his lead in turn one, stayed clean, put 20 meters between himself and the field, and began laying down sub-1:56 laps one after another in a fashion Nick the Announcer characterized as “metronomic.”  I might have chosen “piston-like.”

Behind him, however, it was bedlam.

Midway through the first lap, surging in 4th or 5th position, Rossi traded paint with Dovizioso, stood the bike up, and ended up back in seventh place, with the difficult Stefan Bradl and his factory spec Honda obstructing his efforts.  Pedrosa and Crutchlow had settled into second and third, respectively, and the Brit was grinding his teeth to dust trying to put Pedrosa behind him, with no success.  (Crutchlow, after a highly encouraging weekend and a front row start, ended up in fifth place, but not without a fight.)

Reviewing my notes, during Lap 2 I wrote “Here comes MM.”  Marquez, after a subdued start, started knocking down opponents like tenpins.  On Lap 2 he went through on Dovizioso into 4th place.  He passed Crutchlow on Lap 4 into 3rd, where he began actively disrespecting Pedrosa, even with an angry Brit glued to his pipes.  With Lorenzo by now having disappeared, things stayed mostly like this for the next 13 laps, at which point Marquez insolently moved past Pedrosa into 2nd.  A Lorenzo-Marquez-Pedrosa podium, at that point, looked pretty good.

Not so fast.  As tomorrow’s headlines will scream, “Rossi is BACK!”

On Lap 8, Rossi weaseled his Yamaha through on Bradl into 5th place.  Shortly thereafter, Bradl crashed out, apparently stunned at the difference between Vale 2012 and Vale 2013.  Having disposed of the German, and with a podium finish dominating his thoughts, Rossi gave us a 2008 vintage comeback.  He drew a bead on Crutchlow’s back and started laying down his own string of 1:56 laps until Lap 18, when he went through on the determined Brit who, trying to keep up, went hot into the next turn and took a brief detour across the lawn and out of contention.

Now running fourth and fast, seeing red (and orange) with two Repsol Hondas in front of him, Rossi gave us five of the most enjoyable laps EVER.  The Doctor went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19 and schooled rookie Marquez on Lap 20.  Marquez, not inclined to accept such a lesson gracefully, came right back at him.  After a few position swaps, Rossi eventually prevailed.  Thus, in some seven minutes, we were graced with a riveting tire-to-tire fight between the Future and the Past of grand prix racing excellence.  Score one for the old guy.

At the end of the day, or perhaps Monday morning local time, we find ourselves gleeful over the return of Butch and Sundance in the Yamaha garage, fascinated with Marquez, and feeling a little bad for Dani Pedrosa.  Pedrosa, who had won six of the last eight races in 2012 and had been lighting up the timesheets all winter, never got it rolling in Qatar.  The good news is that he is starting the season healthy, with arguably the fastest bike on the grid under him.  The bad news is that he was mostly a non-factor all weekend.  We will write this off as one bad outing, pending his performance in Texas in two weeks.

Ten Things We Learned at Losail 

  1. Jorge Lorenzo is not going to surrender his title willingly.  Someone is going to have to step up and TAKE it from him.
  2. Valentino Rossi is a legitimate threat to do just that.
  3. Marc Marquez’s future is so bright, he needs Ben Spies’ Ray-Ban contract.
  4. Andrea Dovizioso is going to have a long two years.  The 2013 Ducati is maybe a half step faster than the Power Electronics ART bikes.
  5. Contrary to his pronouncement last week, Colin Edwards is not going to run at the top of the CRT charts.
  6. The new qualifying format is a cluster.
  7. A podium celebration without champagne is like kissing your sister through a screen door in a submarine.
  8. If I were Herve Poncharal, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Scott Redding in my #2 seat than Bradley Smith.  Redding would have won the Moto2 race today if he hadn’t been carrying 20 more pounds than Espargaro.  Just sayin’.
  9. Having two Czech riders, Karel Abraham and Lukas Pesek, on the grid is about the same as having one.
  10.   Hector Barbera will not qualify 22nd very often this season.

The Big Picture

The Grand Prix of Qatar is so different from any other race on the calendar—sand, lights, night racing, etc.—that it doesn’t make much sense to project forward based upon what took place today.  But the Repsol Honda team is already, after one round, being forced to play catch-up to the Bruise Brothers on the factory Yamahas.  Jorge Lorenzo would have been even more comfortable sailing in front of the fray had he known that his wingman was back there harassing and eventually disposing of the big bad RC213V’s.  On the other hand, for Lorenzo, having Rossi as his “wingman” may be only a temporary convenience.  It was only three years ago that the two rivals needed a wall built between them in the garage.

Over on the CRT side of the tracks, teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet are once again the class of the class.  If anyone looks capable of giving them a run, it may be Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera or, my personal fave, Yonny Hernandez on the PBM ART.

On to Austin

Two weeks hence MotoGP will descend upon Austin, Texas for the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, so named because the race organizers could not come up with anything MORE pretentious.  It is always fun to watch the riders attack unfamiliar circuits, and COTA may have a leavening effect on the field, removing some of the advantage enjoyed by the veteran riders who know every crack and crevice at places like Mugello, to the benefit of the rookies

For his part, Marc Marquez doesn’t appear to need any more advantages.