Posts Tagged ‘Marc Marquez’

MotoGP 2021 Round 4: Jerez

May 2, 2021

© Bruce Allen May 2, 2021

Fabulous Fabio leads a crowded group of young riders as the flying circus lands in Spain for the first of four (4) 2021 visits. Much of the pre-race talk, in my kitchen, in my head, centered on Yamaha and their riders, their plans for the future, and their prospects for the present, heading into the shank of the schedule.

1        Fabio QUARTARARO     Yamaha          FRA   61

2        Pecco BAGNAIA             Ducati          ITA    46

3        Maverick VIÑALES        Yamaha          SPA   41

4        Johann ZARCO               Ducati          FRA   40

5        Joan MIR                       Suzuki          SPA   38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO         Aprilia          SPA   25

7        Alex RINS                      Suzuki          SPA   23

8        Brad BINDER                 KTM             RSA   21

Any of the top eight would see his early season position scrambled by simply sliding out of a corner somewhere. At this point, it seems both Quartararo and Bagnaia have found their respective and considerable mojos. For the Yamaha racing project, one can find both good news and bad news lying around, depending on the date and location. Maverick was hot in Round 1, Fabio in 2&3. Frankie Morbidelli is experiencing a string of mechanical issues not seen since the CRT days. And poor Valentino Rossi, stuck with a bunch of unwanted SRT #46 gear, has seen his carefully-constructed edifice, that of the 21st century motorsports Renaissance Man, begin to crumble around the edges.

The latest speculation has Yamaha kicking him from rider to owner next season. The question then becomes–for which factory? Will the suits in Hamamatsu remove the Malaysian money from their satellite team in favor of Saudi money, with VR46 his damned self calling the shots? On the other hand, were Rossi to assume ownership of the Avintia Ducati team, he would have two fast young academy grads in the stable, his half-brother Luca Marini and Enea the Beast Bastianini.

For a new team owner with deep pockets, it is probably more difficult to find talented riders than a manufacturer ready, willing and able to provide competitive machines and crews. Rossi is a Morbidelli fan, so he would only have to find one rider for a VR46 MotoGP team. If I were Rossi, inheriting a Yamaha team with Morbidelli, I would snatch (lol) young Pedro Acosta from Moto3 and put him on an old bike for a year or two. Yes, young Pedro is Spanish, a character defect in Rossi’s view. But the boy has unearthly speed and a high racing IQ. In a world in which many of us try to identify The Next Great Rider, the next Marc Marquez, Pedro Acosta could be the guy. Not Fabio, not Mir, not Miller. Pecco Bagnaia—too soon to say. He’s finally getting with the program, with a riding style similar to Jorge Lorenzo. I’m losing interest in Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales. Rookie Jorge Martin, who seems completely likeable, impresses me as the new Black Knight of Monty Phython fame, who will spend much of his career on the injured list in search of wins, replacing Cal Crutchlow in that role.

Friday in Jerez

Marc Marquez managed P3 in FP1, removing any doubt that he is fit to race. He then took it on the chin at Turn 7 in FP2 with a heavy high side, putting him in the midst of Q1, same as in Portimao, shaken, not stirred. The chase in FP3 would also include Miller, Mir and Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez and, inevitably, Valentino Rossi, looking fully washed up. Aleix Espargaro appeared to have something going on with his Aprilia in P3 after two sessions.

Saturday

The ‘haves’, after FP3. Notice Aleix and Bradl. Nakagami, but no Pol, slowest of the five Hondas. Marc Marquez tested his repaired arm with an impressive high-side at Turn 7. Declared fit (read: still ambulatory).

The ‘have-nots’. Jack Miller missed by a hundredth. Bummer, dude.

During FP4, Frankie Morbidelli got sideways with Race Direction and got shoved back into Q1, elevating Jack Miller to Q2, to his immense relief. Hondas and Suzukis and Aprilias were flying off the track at a formidable pace during P4, #93 sitting in P14.

Morbidelli dominated Q1, joined in his passage to Q2 by KTM’s rugged Brad Binder. Once there, however, Frankie made hay while the South African made squat. Ducatis and Yamahas occupied six of the top seven spots in Q2, with a front row of Quartararo, Morbidelli and Miller, fastest of the Italian contingent. Row 2 has Pecco, Nakagami and Zarco, for a little variety. Row 3 would feature the shifty Vinales, Aleix and Alex Rins, with Joan Mir, Binder and wildcard Stefan Bradl completing the top twelve. The Suzukis, becoming notorious for their failure to launch, can at least see the front row this week.

Further down the order, in Mudville, the likes of Rossi, Pol, both Marquez brothers and Miguel Oliveira would start Sunday from the cheap seats, their seasons not going according to plan during this first quarter of 2021. Pol and Marc we get, due to Espargaro changing horses and Marquez bouncing slowly back from serious injury. Oliveira needs everything to go right at one of his friendly tracks; Rossi, it can now be said, stayed a year too long. The only real difference between his bike this year and his bike last year is the paint job. The other three Yamaha pilots are getting good returns from their rides. For Rossi, 2021 is The Last Hurrah.

In Moto2, the front row Sunday would be

1        87      Remy GARDNER             AUS          Red Bull KTM Ajo            

2        21      Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA          Federal Oil Gresini          

3        72      Marco BEZZECCHI         ITA       SKY Racing Team VR46

with Raul Fernandez, Sam Lowes and Xavi Vierge on Row 2. The championship is currently a three-man race between Gardner, Lowes and Fernandez.

After Q2 in Moto3, the best racing on the planet, it looked like this:

1        24      Tatsuki SUZUKI      JPN          SIC58 Squadra Corse      

2        52      Jeremy ALCOBA     SPA          Indonesian Racing Gresini

3        16      Andrea MIGNO       ITA          Rivacold Snipers Team    

4        2        Gabriel RODRIGO   ARG          Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3         

5        55      Romano FENATI     ITA          Sterilgarda Max Racing Team    

6        17      John MCPHEE         GBR          Petronas Sprinta Racing  

Runaway teenage freight train Pedro Acosta could manage no better than P13 in qualifying on Saturday. He does not appear to be someone who scares easily. He won from pit lane at Losail II. This, to me, on Saturday, appears to be no big deal. An annoyance, at worst. There are some hungry guys in front of him, who, thus far, have not caused him the slightest visible concern.

In all three classes, Sunday in Jerez held the promise of some classic competition.

Sunday

My boy rookie Pedro Acosta started the Moto3 race in P13 today and had to actually work to take the win, his third in four starts, aided by a brain fart from Dennis Oncu in the last turn which removed himself, Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder from contention and likely earned him a slap on the wrist in France. KTM has taken charge of Moto3, reflecting the enhanced resources available after the Austrian factory abandoned their works Moto2 program. Always good to see Romano Fenati on the podium, with young Jeremy Alcoba taking the third step. [I had written yesterday that Rossi should just hire Alcoba for his SKY VR46 MotoGP team now. Spent the entire race not wanting to have to re-write that part. As it turned out, nothing to worry about. Alien Under Construction.]

Moto2 doesn’t seem to have its usual luster this year. Perhaps it’s because the presence of so many Anglos—Dixon, Gardner, Lowes, Roberts—seems to lower the credibility of the division in a sport dominated, for 30 years by Latins. Rookie Raul Fernandez looks somewhat electric at times; certainly Steve and Matt get their P’s in a T on a consistent basis extolling Raul’s virtues. Sam Lowes has already failed in MotoGP; can’t think of anyone too excited about seeing him do so again. And I’m not convinced by Remy Gardner, as I take a dim view of nepotism in all its forms, the result, in part, of having grown up an only child with a non-entrepreneurial father.

Anyway, Moto2 offered a wire-to-wire procession led by Fabio de Giannantonio, Bezzechi taking P2 and Sam Lowes bouncing back to P3. For the year, Gardner leads with 69 points, followed by Lowes at 66, Fernandez 63, Bezzechi 56 and di Giannantonio 52. A somewhat dull race has produced a tight championship, which I’ll take anytime.

I still think what I thought in 2012—the Italian national anthem sounds like a drinking song.

As MotoGP began warming up, I joined fans everywhere wondering whether anyone had it in them to beat Fabio Quartararo. He loves him some Jerez, having taken pole the last four times out and winning there twice last year. Let’s be clear—there are many who have conceded today’s race to the Frenchman.

The MotoGP Race

Today’s race started out like a Yamaha clambake and ended as a Ducati dunk-fest. Jack Miller won his first race for Ducati and his own first dry race, not to mention Ducati’s first win at Jerez since, like, The Ice Age. With teammate Pecco Bagnaia, The Next Great Ducati Rider, claiming second ahead of Frankie Morbidelli’s Yamaha, it was a Ducati one-two, their first win of the year coming at a track described by Danilo Petrucci thusly:”If you’re fast at Jerez you can be fast anywhere.”

We don’t yet know around here what happened to Fabio Quartararo who, on Lap 6, my notes showed “clearing out.” But from there he was overtaken by Miller on Lap 16 and continued his descent to a P13 finish. I will wager that it is arm pump and that he will need surgery and will return in time for Le Mans.

LRC Honda rep Takaa Nakagami pulled everything together for an encouraging P4. Ahead of Mir and Aleix Espargaro, making the Aprilia look good. Vinales, Zarco, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro completed the top ten, another gritty performance from Marquez. Around Lap 20 it appeared Bagnaia had a notion about going after Miller, after which his screen flashed “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” P2 at Jerez, for Ducati, is nothing to sneeze at, ignoring the whole Marquez asterisk* thing.

Funny, other than a cameo at Jerez last year, the last time Marquez was racing in anger he was up against guys named Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Rossi and Iannone. Now, he’s having to get himself together going up against Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Miller, Mir, Quartararo and more. Real competition from the KTMs and Aprilias of the world. The past year has brought a lot of change to MotoGP, and Marquez had to sit out almost all of it. The new bunch is young, strong and fast. Other than Rossi, who is now embarrassing himself, there are no riders out there just because they have sponsor money. Most of these guys can compete for top tens. And Moto2 and Moto3 are lousy with great young riders, some of whom are teenagers.

After four rounds in MotoGP, Bagnaia leads Quartararo by two points, 66-64. Then comes Vinales with 50, Mir with 49, and Zarco with 48, followed by Miller with 39, Aleix with 35 and Morbidelli with 33. Rins sneaks into the top ten with 23 points and a crashing headache, suffered at both Portimao and Jerez. Binder completes it with 21. Fans of Marc Marquez should be happy he doesn’t compete in Moto3, where 16-year old rookie phenom Pedro Acosta has already accumulated 95 points. As it is, Marquez trails Bagnaia by a mere 50 points. I think it would be hard to find many thoughtful people in the paddock who believe the title chase is over for Marquez for the year.

So, to recap. There is, at present, one viable contestant in Moto3, three in Moto2, and two in MotoGP. Surprising, isn’t it, how the best racing still takes place in Moto3. That everyone in Moto3 at Jerez knows that something wild is going to happen in Turn 13 on the last lap of the race. It did again today. Personally, I hope Pedro Acosta is The Next Great Rider and that he and Marquez get to go one-on-one while Marquez still has it. 12 year age difference. Marquez wearing, as always, Repsol Honda colors, while Acosta is wearing SKY VR46 Yamaha colors. That would be a season for the ages,

As for the season we’ve got, I’m loving it so far. Loving that it’s so wide open in MotoGP, loving that it’s regressing to the mean, ethnically, with Spanish and Italian riders re-asserting themselves in Moto2, and loving that a star has been born in Moto3, the first guy to have ‘can’t miss’ written all over him since Marc Marquez.

Two weeks to Le Mans where, if it doesn’t rain for three days straight, one feels lucky.

                                         Marquez warming things up in Jerez.

MotoGP 2021: Round 3 – Portimao

April 18, 2021

© Bruce Allen  April 18, 2021

Quartararo Dominates in Portugal, Seizes Series Lead

After being dogged for most of the race by Suzuki’s Alex Rins, the Frenchman shook loose from the pack as Rins, then Zarco, crashed out of the fray late while in contention, a capital offense in racing. Pramac Ducati rising star Pecco Bagnaia, denied pole, was probably gratified with P2 after getting stuck in P11 during qualifying. Defending champion Joan Mir hung around near the front, stayed out of trouble, and added 16 points to his portfolio. 28.571% of the riders who started recorded DNFs, meaning points for all the survivors. But it’s starting to feel like Fabio’s year.

Friday

The Executive Committee at Late-Braking MotoGP took a decision today to largely ignore Fridays going forward, unless something out of the ordinary takes place. For instance, Takaa Nakagami went all ragdoll during FP2 and had to pretty much blow off Saturday, starting last on the grid for the race. Oh, and Marc Marquez—remember him?—started where he left off last year, securing P3 in FP1 and P6 in FP2. He appeared to be roughly 83.726% fit. Seeing him back on the #93 Repsol Honda made it seem like the world is back on its axis, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem ready to push 100% yet. Yet even at less-than-complete fitness, I was thinking it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see him on the podium come Sunday.

Saturday

FP3 was chicken and biscuits for Franco Morbidelli, rookie Luca Marini and veteran Aleix Espargaro. Doing the MotoGP bump, they left feathers and entrails for defending champ Joan Mir, six-time MotoGP champion Marquez and the aforementioned Nakagami. Mir and Marquez were relegated to Q1; Nakagami to the medical tent, where he was pronounced fit to continue his Portuguese adventure, “fit” meaning, in racing parlance, that he was in better shape than he would have been had someone pushed him down a flight of concrete stairs in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

Last year’s winner, homeboy Miguel Oliveira, wasn’t a factor in today’s race.

Speaking of falling down stairs, hot Pramac rookie Jorge Martin did what a lot of young riders experiencing early success on the Ducati do—went flying over the handlebars in FP3 and landed in the hospital, facing surgery on his right hand and foot. Whether he will return in time for Jerez is iffy. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson, i.e., just because one can go 350 kmh on two wheels doesn’t mean one should.

Mir and Marquez climbed back into Q2 with productive outings in Q1, to the chagrin of Alex Marquez and Pol Espargaro. For $1,000 and the game, name the last time two riders with seven (7) premier class titles between them moved through Q1 to Q2. Answer, according to our crack research team at WildGuess.com: Never.

Q2 was a comedy, as the new caution lights, meant to replace the flags came into play several times. Maverick Vinales had his fastest lap taken away for exceeding track limits, dropping him down to P12 for Sunday’s start. But factory Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia, Alien-in-Waiting, had an incandescent lap (4/10ths under the previous track record) and a P1 start taken away for a yellow ‘flag’. He was still fist-pumping during his warm-down lap before receiving the news and found himself alongside Vinales in P11 when the dust settled. Thus, two potential denizens of the front row would be grinding their teeth, mopping up Row 4. Fabio, on the factory Yamaha, inherited pole and a new track record along with the notion that Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo.

[Sidebar. The contrast in performance between teammates on several of the teams is stark. Aleix Espargaro would start in P7 for the Aprilia team, with teammate Lorenzo Savadori sitting in P20. Marquez would start in P6; teammate Pol Espargaro in P14. Under the heading “How Far the Mighty Have Fallen,” rugged Frankie Morbidelli would start in P5, while legendary teammate Valentino Rossi, clearly playing out the string, would be looking at the backs of 16 other riders when the lights go out on Sunday. Rossi, at this point, appears to be in it only for the contract.]

Marquez was slotted comfortably in P6 for Sunday but admitted late on Saturday that he was suffering and expected to continue to do so on Sunday. If he were just human, I might buy the argument, but because he is Marquez, I would still be comfortable, on Saturday evening, putting $100 on him to podium on Sunday.

Sunday

Pre-race musings…Two Anglos, flash-in-the-pan Sam Lowes and Remy Gardner, sitting at the top of Moto2? In a sport dominated by Spaniards and Italians…Matt Dunn, partner of Neil Morrison, sounds like some posh London racing savant on both Adderall and helium…And is it true that over on Reddit some folks are referring to your boy Simon Crafar as Captain Xanax?…Funny how no one’s scared of Joan Mir…Just sayin’…I really missed last year’s finale here, the emotion associated with Oliveira’s win at his home crib…Is it just me, or does the dead air soundtrack at MotoGP.com sound like a porn film?…16 year-old Moto3 rookie Pedro Acosta looks, in uniform and glaring at the camera, like he’s been up past his bedtime. He just punked Dennis Foggia to take win #2 and lengthen his series lead in 2021…When did Jack Miller go from cute to scary?… Morbidelli, #2 overall in 2020, is stuck on a 2019 bike by SRT Yamaha? What’s with that?…So nice not having Dennis Chung penciling out all the good stuff.

Sam justified my faith in him during the Moto2 race by crashing out at Turn 1 on Lap 1. Just when I was thinking I was wrong about the guy.

The MotoGP race, won by Quartararo easily after chasers Rins and Zarco crashed out, proved that Yamaha has solved its bike problems of recent years. It has not solved its rider problem, however, as Maverick ‘Pop Gun” Vinales finished in P11 after having spent some (low) quality time as far down as P20. Quartararo prevailed over Pecco Bagnaia, who flogged his Desmo from P11 at the start to P2 at the close. Joan Mir, the sole Suzuki to finish, took third place after hovering in the lead group all day without ever leading. But points is points.

Marc Marquez started in P6 and finished in P7, yielding a spot to a beaming Aleix Espargaro, who finally seems to have a functional bike beneath him. For Marquez, finishing today’s race was a win. He now has two weeks to continue rehab before taking the track again in Jerez.

My boy Frankie Morbidelli was denied a spot on the podium, but was back to his persona from last year, finishing P4. Brad Binder, fronting for the entire KTM program, suffering from front tire stability, managed P5 after starting P15. Alex Marquez managed P8, one of many riders to benefit from having so many studs leave the building. These included, in rough order, Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira (rejoined), Rossi, Rins and Zarco. With 21 starters and six DNFs, everyone received a participation award today, even Lorenzo Savadori and Iker Lecuona. And Takaa Nakagami finishing in the top ten is kind of a miracle given his physical condition this weekend.

Alex Rins can’t stand success.

So, the top ten for the season, after three rounds, looks like this:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          61

2        Francesco BAGNAIA         Ducati           46

3        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          41

4        Johann ZARCO                 Ducati           40

5        Joan MIR                         Suzuki          38

6        Aleix ESPARGARO             Aprilia           25

7        Alex RINS                        Suzuki          23

8        Brad BINDER                    KTM             21

9        Enea BASTIANINI             Ducati           18

10      Jorge MARTIN                  Ducati           17

Other than Honda, which is in the midst of a dumpster fire, all five remaining manufacturers have at least one representative in the top ten, four of which are from Ducati, which has yet to win a race. And Fabio won twice at Jerez last year, clearly enjoying the prospect of padding his lead in two weeks.

But parity sits on the horizon in MotoGP. Never thought I’d see the day.

We’ll do some tranching before Jerez, as well as something about Moto3 and Moto2.

MotoGP: Call It Day 3 of Practice @Losail

March 11, 2021

© Bruce Allen      March 11, 2021

The second Losail test, coming on the heels of the first Losail test, will finish this week on Friday. The riders lit up the track on Wednesday, with Miller and Quartararo getting under the official track record. The rest of the top ten, courtesy of Crash, are presented below. Again, I agree with our reader in British Columbia who thinks Pecco Bagnaia needs a boot in the ass.

The laughable 2021 MotoGP pre-season testing schedule ending this week will shed light on one subject: How do the 2021 MotoGP bikes run at Losail? As we’ve been banging on about since forever, Round 1 in the desert is hardly a reliable predictor of what will eventuate in November. No Jerez, no Sepang, no ‘real’ conditions, tire anomalies.

No Marquez. (One reason, perhaps, both factory Yamahas finished in the top three today.)

Of the four riders considered rookies this year (they’re counting Savadori as a rookie despite his replacement rides for Aprilia late last year) Enea Bastianini was top in P14, followed by Jorge Martin P19, Luca Marini P22 and Savadori P25. This lot will be starting from square one when the show moves on to Portugal in April. Other than Savadori, the alleged rookie who crashed out with three laps remaining at Portimao last year.

Savadori is a sophomore who earned enough credits by exam that he is no longer a freshman.

Top 10 Day 3:

  1. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – 1:53.183
  2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) + 0.080
  3. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha) + 0.327
  4. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.716
  5. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.716
  6. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.788
  7. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.895
  8. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.960
  9. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 1.053
  10. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 1.079
Screenshot (440)

Image courtesy of motorsport.com

MotoGP 2021 Losail/Season Preview

March 8, 2021

2021 MotoGP Teams and Riders

Joan Mir                          Factory Suzuki

Alex Rins                         Factory Suzuki

Lorenzo Savadori             Factory Aprilia

A. Espargaro                    Factory Aprilia

Maverick Vinales              Factory Yamaha         

F. Quartararo                   Factory Yamaha

F. Morbidelli                     Petronas SRT Yamaha

Valentino Rossi                Petronas SRT Yamaha

Brad Binder                     Factory KTM

Miguel Oliveira                 Factory KTM

D. Petrucci                       KTM Tech 3

Iker Lecuona                    KTM Tech 3

Pol Espargaro                   Factory Honda

Marc Marquez                  Factory Honda

Takaa Nakagami              LCR Honda

Alex Marquez                   LCR Honda

Jack Miller                       Factory Ducati

Pecco Bagnaia                  Factory Ducati

Johann Zarco                   Pramac Ducati

Jorge Martin ®                Pramac Ducati

Luca Marini   ®                Avintia Ducati

E. Bastianini ®                Avintia Ducati

As we have been saying for several years, this is the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mentality at work in MotoGP. Ever since I can remember—2008—there have always been a few retreads on the grid, riders well past their prime who could still attract sponsor dollars and therefore earned (bought) their spots on the grid. For those guys, a top ten finish would be a season high point. Those guys aren’t out there anymore.

Instead, you have brash, aggressive, fearless young blood, and plenty of it, in the form of Jorge Martin, Luca Marini, and Enea Bastianini, as well as the young vets—Mir, Rins, Bagnaia, Quartararo, etc. A fast field, with every team in the battle for points every week. There are whispers KTM has taken advantage of the rules and secretly improved their engine over the winter. There are other whispers, emanating most assuredly from the Aprilia media folks that this is it, this is the year when the Noale factory hits the jackpot and starts reeling in some podiums, restoring Aleix Espargaro’s faith in mankind in general.

Moreover, you have, top to bottom, perhaps the fastest overall field in history. Lap time differences will be measured in thousandths. Less than a second will likely separate most of the top ten qualifiers each week. Plenty of opportunities for a hot rider on a friendly track to score some surprising early points in 2021 while Himself, the 800 lb. gorilla we haven’t discussed, gets in sufficient shape to compete, spotting one of his rivals/pretenders, say, 75 points over the first four rounds. This aligns with the natural order of things, in that a rider of Marquez’s ability should get handicapped, just the way they do in horse racing. Give the other ponies a chance. Should the season evolve in this way, it promises a hair-raising chase to Valencia at season’s end, the inimitable Marc Marquez working some poor young riders in hot pursuit of another world championship. Don’t call it a comeback.

Personally, I have no idea which team I would predict to take the team championship this year. Further, I have no idea which manufacturer will win either. The sun and the stars have aligned such that no clear favorite emerges entering the season. The Repsol Honda gang would normally be favored, but Pol Espargaro needs to learn his way around the RC, and Marquez is still recovering from what sounds like a serious injury followed by a botched surgery. The Factory Yamaha team, which got spanked by the SRT kids last season, has an unproven machine and two inconsistent riders, both of whom have shown flashes of brilliance, both of whom have thus far failed to close the deal in the clutch, as it were. If memory serves, and it does, three of the four Yamaha riders finished last year in Tranche 3. The factory Ducati team, a perennial contender, promises to be young and fast this year, compared to last year, when they were old and surprisingly un-fast.

Suzuki seized the championship last year and shows no reason to mess with a good thing. No changes for 2021 (other than the ruinous loss of team boss Davide Brivio, who left for a bigger gig in F1. He has a resume to be proud of, having left the team in much better shape than when he arrived, with a competitive bike, two gifted young riders and a world championship in the locker.) And KTM’s immediate future is in the ascendancy, with a sterling collection of riders on a machine which made great strides last year. Both Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira are top five threats every time out. The jury, as usual, is still out on the Aprilia works; everyone’s an optimist in early March. They have settled on the Italian Savadori to team up with the hapless Aleix on this year’s edition which the flacks have touted as a real breakthrough, one in a series which, thus far, hasn’t produced the desired results.

MotoGP 2021 calendar

1                 3/28             Losail I

2                 4/04             Losail II

3                 4/18             Portimao

4                 5/02             Jerez

5                 5/16             Le Mans

6                 5/30             Mugello

7                 6/06             Catalunya

8                 6/20             Sachsenring

9                 6/27             Assen

10                7/11             KymiRing

11                8/15             Red Bull Ring

12                8/29             Silverstone

13                9/12             Aragon

14                9/19             Misano

15                10/03           Motegi

16                10/10           Buriram

17                10/24           Phillip Island

18                10/31           Sepang

19                11/14           Valencia

No Brno. No Argentina. No COTA. No three rounds in three weeks. For the handful of you intending to trek to Austin for the GP, that weekend on your calendar is now open. Good time to completely re-surface the COTA track to withstand the stresses of F1. Take out the bumps and you have one of the finest layouts in the world. Even if it is in Texas.

As usual, I didn’t pay much attention to MotoGP during the off-season, never do. Last year, Marquez was the odds-on favorite until late in Losail when, unbeknownst to us at the time, his season ended. Suddenly, the championship was a horse race; the door had been opened, incredibly, to several teams who had, up until that race, been plotting a strategy for finishing second in the championship.

Suddenly, the trophy was within reach.

This year, with Marquez missing the first however many starts, and probably not in top form for another month, allows the prospect of the best competition for a title in recent memory. Better than last year. Think about how many riders are legitimate podium threats every time out (once #93 is up to speed)—

Marquez

P. Espargaro

Quartararo

Morbidelli

Vinales

Mir

Rins

Miller

Bagnaia

Binder

Oliveira

11 riders competing for the top three spots sounds, from here, like big lead groups, low point totals for the early leaders, the top ten riders getting scrambled each time out, all this while Marquez does PT and rides easy motocross practice runs. I get the sense he will not be fully up to speed until close to mid-season, which would work out fine. If any of your friends are into motorsports and haven’t watched MotoGP, this could be the season for them to start. Despite, or perhaps because of my pandemic cabin fever I have renewed my video subscription for another season.

What’s the Point of Trying to Predict Losail I?

Seriously. Start with past performance, I guess:

2018: 1        04     Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Ducati Team

2        93     Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

3        46     Valentino ROSSI            ITA     Movistar Yamaha

4        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW              GBR   LCR Honda  

5          9      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Alma Pramac Racing       

6        25      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Movistar Yamaha

7        26      Dani PEDROSA                 SPA    Repsol Honda Team        

8          8      Johann ZARCO                 FRA    Tech 3 Yamaha

It’s taken me a moment to appreciate all the changes that have taken place in MotoGP since 2018 which, itself, doesn’t seem that long ago. But look at the names—Dovi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, who retired at the end of the year. Only Marquez and Vinales are on the same bikes as were in the top eight in 2018.

2019: 1        04      Andrea DOVIZIOSO          ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

2        93      Marc MARQUEZ              SPA    Repsol Honda        

3        35      Cal CRUTCHLOW            GBR   LCR Honda CASTROL       

4        42      Alex RINS     SPA              Team SUZUKI ECSTAR     S

5        46      Valentino ROSSI               ITA     Monster Energy Yamaha          

6        09      Danilo PETRUCCI              ITA     Mission Winnow Ducati    

7        12      Maverick VIÑALES            SPA    Monster Energy Yamaha

8        36      Joan MIR                          SPA    Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

2019’s Crutchlow and Dovi have been replaced. Both podiumed in 2019, the last year of the race.

2020                               No race due to Covid.

Let’s not forget that, even in normal times, Losail is an outlier and that the results there, barring any unexpected runaway performance, are rarely indicative of the season as a whole. And half the top four finishers in 2018, as well as two of the top three in 2019, will be occupied elsewhere on race day. Night.

Marquez is out, wounded. Rossi, it would seem, in 2021, should be blowing kisses to his fans amidst waves of yellow smoke while finishing eighth. But, for whatever reason, he likes this place. Take Dovi, Marquez and Crutchlow off the 2019 board, as has been cleverly done for us for this race, and you have a top three of Rins, Rossi and Petrucci last time out. Petrucci, who will be on new wheels, is not expected to contend. But Mir should be around the lead group, ready to pounce late. The racing world clutches its pearls waiting to see whether Top Gun or Pop Gun shows up for the factory Yamaha season opener. If history is a teacher, the bike will be manageable once again, championship caliber. And there is a bevy of names still out there who will be letting it out chasing the pole on Saturday and trying to manage their tires as the dew settles on the sandy Qatarian tarmac on Sunday night.

As they say downtown, “What the hell.” It promises to be good stuff, especially on Saturday and Sunday evenings. I remind myself that, in my heart I really don’t care who wins. Other than I would like to see Rossi on the top step one last time in his career. Then, he could start blowing kisses to his fans, the farewell tour underway. He won’t be competitive at a number of tracks, but he has it in him to stay in some races until late and see what happens, as he did in his last win at Assen in 2017, punking Marquez and stealing the win late in the race.

One more time for Il Dottore, I say. Let the bells ring in Tavullia one more time.

Until #93 returns and is up to speed—one feels a tremor at the flashing thought he may never be up to his former speed—the grid is in a bit of a state of suspended animation, riders jockeying for the lead, awaiting the return of one of the best riders, by consensus, ever. EVER. On a bike built for him by Honda Racing, for whom he is a gold mine. At the height of his formidable skills before his late wreck here ended his 2020 season before it started, a season, as we remember, in which he was prohibitively favored to repeat, once again, as world champion.

This is starting to feel like a Three Stooges film, in which the entire Army squad, with the exception of the pre-occupied Moe, Curly and Larry, upon a request for volunteers, takes a step backwards, leaving our heroes responsible for a critical, dangerous mission. We have a host of volunteers aware that the best rider of our generation is on his way back and will likely get up to speed on his Honda tout de suite, as it were. Figure Marquez bails on Losail I and II and makes his 2021 debut at Portimao, Round Three. Suppose one of the fast movers has won twice in the desert and sits with 50 points. Suddenly, those riders with aspirations of a title in 2021 are sweating bullets.

With 17 rounds left, what would it take to get you to bet against a rusty Marc Marquez, trailing by 50?

With #93 out for Rounds I and II, and if I were a betting man getting giant odds in a trifecta in Round I, I would have The Three M’s on the podium—Morbidelli, Miller and Mir. And remind readers that what happens in Round One is not predictable. We’re just doing this for fun these days—who’s gonna stop me?

We will do our first round of tranching, as well as usual canny insights and all the one-liners we can recall in looking at results in Losail, and previewing Round II under the lights, soon after the race. Until then, don’t forget to send off for the full set of teal SRT #46 gear you’ll need to fit in with the real Rossi fans. It’s half the reason he’s still working this year; lots of new leather jackets going out the door. If they didn’t make me look fat, old and stupid I’d get some myself.

Here, courtesy of crash.net, is the top 17 riders on the second day of testing at Losail. Fabio stuck in a hot lap late in the day to edge out Jack Miller and Aleix. Franco Morbidelli in P4. So, we don’t know, at this point, who to like on Sunday. Perhaps in a few weeks we’ll have a better idea. We do know, ahem, that Vale finished in P20 and Brad Binder, struggling, in P24.

It’s early.

Cheers.

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Final 2020 MotoGP Rider Tranches

November 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen  November 25, 2020

Now that the season is over, here is where we would put the riders at season’s end. The whole tranching thing is about momentum, below Tranche I. Marquez has earned the right to maintain his ranking from last year for obvious reasons, despite not having competed in 2020.

Tranche I: Marc Marquez; Joan Mir; Franco Morbidelli

Tranche II: Jack Miller, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Johann Zarco, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche III: Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi,  Maverick Vinales,  Brad Binder, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche IV: Danilo Petrucci, Alex Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro,  Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:  Tito Rabat, Brad Smith, Stefan Bradl

(Riders whose names are lined through are not returning in 2021.)

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A little gratuitous eye candy.

MotoGP 2020 Portimao Season Finale

November 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen        November 22, 2020

Arenas and Bastianini join Mir as World Champions

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

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

Estoril vs. Portimao

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

Friday

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

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

Saturday

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

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

These days, The Doctor is Just Another Rider.

Race Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1        J Mir           

2        F Morbidelli           

3        A Rins         

4        A Dovizioso           

5        P Espargaro           

6        M Vinales              

7        J Miller                  

8        F Quartararo         

9        M Oliveira             

10      T Nakagami           

2020 in a Nutshell

When the cat’s away the mice will play,

and when they do, they should play hard.

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

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

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

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

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

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

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

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

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

Local Color

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Gardner takes the lead from Marini in Moto2.


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Raul Fernandez ran away with things in the Moto3 race.


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Jack Miller, a bridesmaid once again.


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A preview of things to come later in the race.

MotoGP 2020 Valencia II Results

November 15, 2020

© Bruce Allen  November 15, 2020

Championship in Valencia a M1R Formality

Suzuki #1 Joan Mir, Mallorca’s new favorite son, clinched the 2020 MotoGP championship with a smart, low-risk P7 in Valencia, giving him a 29-point lead over challenger Franco Morbidelli heading to Portimao. Frankie and Jack Miller conducted a breathtaking duel over the final eight laps today, but the Italian, the only one of four Yamaha pilots able to get anything out of the M-1, held off the ‘plucky’ Australian for his third win of the season. Moto3 and Moto2 offered plenty of reasons to watch racing today, too. But, in the premier class, Joan Mir is the new New Kid in Town.

In both of the undercards today, the outcome was not assured until the final fractions of a second. And in both undercards, the season winner has not yet been determined, although it’s partially visible in Moto3 and pretty damned obvious in Moto2. The most hackneyed expression in sports—“On any given weekend, anything can happen”—applies here. Always happy to go against the grain, we’ll suggest that Albert Arenas and Enea Bastiannini will earn some new hardware next week.

MotoGP Practice and Qualifying

11/14/20

Friday was Friday, similar in feel to Valencia I, Miller on top of the combined sheets along with Nakagami, the Yamahas generally suffering. Zarco and “Pole” Espargaro nosing around. Saturday morning was a little strange—I missed some of it, the early part of Moto3 FP3, missed the beginning of MotoGP FP3. All I can say for certain is that it was raining at the end of the Moto3 FP3, then guys were assaulting the track record late in the MotoGP session. Must have been your basic passing shower. Quick-drying track, something.

Anyway, three riders made saving moves towards the end, as always happens, to skate their way directly into Q2, including championship leader Joan Mir, who had been dawdling in P12, KTM rising star Miguel Oliviera, P17 on Friday, and wiley old Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia. These promotions came at the expense of the under-motivated pair of exiting veterans, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, and, surprisingly, Alex Rins, sitting in P2 for the year, unable to climb into Q2. Odd. As was the performance of fabulous Fabio, who got close but no cigar and found himself in Q1 for the first time in 2020.

[Here’s my free-form take on Aleix at Valencia. The track is one on which the riders spend almost no time in 6th gear. I think the Aprilia can run with most of the contenders in the first five. At the long tracks they get hammered by everyone, but at the tight little buggers like Valencia they have a puncher’s chance of a podium. After the gruesome year Aleix has had, a podium in Spain late in the year would improve his mood for the whole winter. I will also remind readers that the last bike I owned was an 80cc Yamaha built some time in the early 1960’s. My opinions are mostly hallucinatory. They come to me early in the morning when most of you are just going to bed. They have no basis beyond simple observation. They invite criticism. Thankfully, most of you don’t take the time.]

The dreadfully-named silly season continues unabated, as Aprilia, very late in the game, finds themselves in need of a #2 rider for 2021 after Andrea Iannone got hammered flat by The Powers That Be, career over. The leading candidate, Marco Bezzecchi, would find life at once better and worse. The lifestyle of a factory MotoGP rider is presumably full of BDE whether one slogs for Aprilia or flies for Ducati. Going from competing for titles in Moto3 and Moto2 to gunning for top tens will take some getting used to, especially for the aggressive Italian. It would also reunite him with Jorge Martin, the rivalry continuing to grow, Aprilia vs. Ducati this time. Avintia goes young with Luca Marini and Enea Bastiannini. Aprilia grooming Bezzecchi to take over #1 when Aleix calls it a career or has it called for him. Too bad Aprilia let Gigi get away; they could have been a force.

Anyway, Brad Binder and Quartararo survived Q1 but entered Q2 with but a single soft rear each, which they rode for the entire session, a light rain coming down the entire time. Franco Morbidelli, the only one of the four Yamaha pilots with anything going on, secured pole late in the session after everyone except Mir had occupied P1 at some point during the session. He was joined by the ever-present Jack Miller and Suddenly Takaa Nakagami on the front row. Mir was unable to take advantage of teammate Rins’ face plant in Q1 into P14, as he ended Q2 in P12. Mir’s unconditional magic number is currently 14; if he finishes Sunday on the podium he will become the 2020 MotoGP world champion, regardless of what Rins or Quartararo does or doesn’t do. Mir’s poor showing in Q2 is, I suspect, a reflection of the fact that he had way more to lose than to gain by chasing a largely meaningless higher spot on the starting grid in less-than-ideal conditions.

Race Day

11/15/20

Today’s Moto3 race evolved in much the same way they all do, a group of X riders fighting at the front, any of whom could win on any given Sunday. Today X=3, as Raul Fernandez, Sergio Garcia and Tony Arbolino got up close and personal for most of the last half of the race. Fernandez, who had led early, came back to the two challengers mid-way through, and a merry chase through the Spanish countryside ensued. On Lap 22, Arbolino made a nifty move, going through on both of his rivals into the lead. All three riders jockeyed for position on the last lap, with Garcia, all of 17 years old, looking like he might pull it off. At the flag, though, it was 20-year old Italian Arbolino holding on for the win.

Combined with Albert Arenas’ P4 and Ai Ogura’s P8, the three combatants head to Portugal next week with Arenas at 170, Ogura at 162, and Arbolino at 159. I say we get rid of the other 30 or 40 Moto3 riders next week and just have a match race with these three. As we’ve said around here for years, “Let Portimao Decide.” Arenas (P4 today) is the rider under the most pressure, skeezing out at the prospect of kicking the championship away on the last day of the season.

Moto2 offered the best race of the day, measured in drama per lap over the last two laps. Under extreme pressure from #2 Jorge Martin, race leader Fabio di Giannantonio folded at Turn 6 on the last lap, turning what looked like a sure maiden win to ashes, from the penthouse to the outhouse in a split second. Martin, who missed two rounds due to Covid and is heading to MotoGP next year, seized the lead after looking tired mid-race (he was probably just saving his tires) and being pronounced Out Of It by Steve and Matt.

Mathematically, Portimao will decide Moto2 too. But Enea Bastiannini, his ticket to MotoGP next year already punched, takes a 14 point lead to Portugal, trailed by a seriously wounded Sam Lowes, who, his right hand looking like a boxing glove, managed P14 today, no doubt the most painful two points of his racing career. With the shaken, not stirred Lowes at 180, Luca Marini sits at 176 and Marco Bezzecchi, who lost nine points on the last lap today, fading from first to third, sports 171. Bastiannini need only finish P4 or better next week to guarantee his 2020 Moto2 title. He and Marini will team up on the Avintia Ducati team next year for a white-hot duo on the same bike Dovizioso, Petrucci and Miller have been riding this year. We won’t have Avintia Ducati to kick around much longer.

Alas, Portimao will not decide the MotoGP championship, as Suzuki NKIT Joan Mir did enough today to clinch on points, leading Yamaha’s Morbidelli by 29 points after today’s action. Morbidelli won a great eight-lap battle with Jack Miller to take the win, tying him with his teammate for most wins in 2020. Fabio Quartararo, the aforementioned teammate, crashed out on Lap 9, desperately chasing a title which appeared to be his for the taking early in the year. But the second half of the season has been miserable for Fabio, and he looks lost on the M-1. The fighting in Portugal next week in the premier class will be for second place, with Morbidelli holding a four-point advantage over Suzuki #2 (lol) Alex Rins. Maverick Vinales, Quartararo, Andrea Dovizioso and Pol Espargaro will slug it out for fourth, the four riders currently separated by only five points.

One Down, Two to Go

And so 2020 draws to a close next week at a track with which few of the riders are familiar. Good—levels the playing field. Mir’s title this year will always bear an asterisk, due to Marc Marquez missing the entire year due to injury. But next year promises to be exciting, with Marquez, Rins, Morbidelli, Miller, Rins, Quartararo and possibly one or two more keeping things tight at the top. I suspect the salad days for Marc Marquez are over, that the field has gained a step on him in his absence. We will say goodbye to 2020 next week after I scour World Literature for the ideal pithy quote to summarize what has been a great season of racing.

Moto3 will bring with it some real drama, while Moto2 will be sporting the synthetic variety. MotoGP will be a bit pro forma, but the fights for second and fourth places are significant in this sport. Perhaps this week we’ll take a shot at some tranching.

Another bit of weirdness brought about by the pandemic will be the absence of testing immediately upon the close of the season. Historically, after Valencia, the riders move to their new teams for the following season and enjoy a few days of ‘get acquainted’ time with their new teams and machines. Now, the next time the riders will get together won’t be until February. There will be a healthy number of rookies and transfer students made nervous by this cost-cutting measure, not knowing until well into 2021 whether they and their new million-dollar girlfriends get along. Definitely a first world problem.

Local Color

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Welcome to Joan Mir’s playground.

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We saw a lot of this towards the end of the MotoGP tilt.

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Whatever this is–local color of something.

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Mir and a greatly relieved Davide Brivio, team boss for Suzuki since 2015.

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Random bird, cleared for takeoff.

MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

No, not that Franco! Franco Morbidelli, the Italian motorcycle racer, who won today’s MotoGP race in Aragon in front of two Spanish riders on Suzuki machines, Alex Rins and Joan Mir. The title chase in MotoGP, usually over by this time of year, features a legit Top Four—two Suzukis, two Yamahas—separated by a mere 25 points with three rounds left. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP are all competitive heading into November. What was once just a weird year has become fascinating.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 and FP2 were generally about the Hondas, with three delegates in the top 6, led by Takaa Nakagami, my emotional favorite to become winner #9 in 11 rounds. Cal Crutchlow and his deposer Alex Marquez were quick. Vinales and Quartararo were fast for Yamaha, as expected. The surprise rider of the day was Tech 3 rookie Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona, who joined defector Pol Espargaro in the top 10. Pol’s older brother was in there, too, on the Aprilia; he finished in P7 here last year. There was no joy at Ducati Corse on Friday as all six Ducs were back markers. Different strokes for different folks—no denying the affinity of certain manufacturers for certain tracks. The Ducs and KTMs aren’t big fans of the Motorland.

  1. T Nakagami            Honda
  2. M Vinales               Yamaha
  3. C Crutchlow           Honda
  4. F. Quartararo         Yamaha
  5. J Mir                      Suzuki
  6. A Marquez              Honda
  7. A Rins                    Suzuki
  8. I Lecuona               KTM
  9. A Espargaro           Aprilia
  10. P Espargaro            KTM

Saturday

FP3, the Great Divide between coasting into Q2 and fighting for one’s life in Q1, featured few changes. Miguel Oliveira showed up, and Franco Morbidelli came up with the One Fast Lap he needed. The Espargaro brothers got bumped back into Q1. Joan Mir held on to P10 by the skin of his teeth, Jack Miller and Aleix breathing down his neck. Nakagami laid down a vapor trail early in the session, then sat around his garage waiting for someone, anyone, to beat it. Morbidelli found his acorn after the flag. It’s somewhat of a jolt to see the Hondas, with their top rider on the sidelines, making things look so easy.

HRC announced that Nakagami and Alex will be on full factory equipment starting next year, and Takaa signed a nice new contract, his near future assured. If he were 22 instead of 28 I’d stick a ‘prospective Alien’ label on him. But he could win a few races in the next several years as Honda seems to have upped its game of late. This, of course, puts more pressure on Pol Espargaro to impose his will on the RC213V next year. Career-wise, Espargaro must now keep track of both Nakagami and Marquez in his rear-view mirror.

Pol Espargaro and latecomer Johann Zarco graduated from Q1, with the Frenchman jumping up into P2 well after the flag. There ensued plenty of action in Q2, as the front row was a fluid thing until the bitter end. Takaa Nakagami eventually flogged his 2019 Honda to his first premier class pole, getting the better of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins for a unique front row; for Rins, it was only his third front row start in MotoGP ever. (!) The remainder of the first four rows, then, included:

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

          12 J Mir (yes, the series leader would start from the back of Row 4. Tsk tsk.)

MotoGP Race

It’s a safe bet that Alberto Puig, the Svengali of Honda Racing, entertained visions of having two of his pilots on the podium on Sunday afternoon. LCR pilot Nakagami had been on a tear all weekend, including the morning warm-up, was starting on pole and, according to the announcers, was the bookies’ favorite to win today, becoming the ninth different winner this year, and tying 2012 for the most winners. Rookie Alex Marquez, the younger brother of you-know-who, was coming off his first two career podiums and doing well in practice.

Puig’s fantasy came to an end 20 seconds into the race, when Nakagami, in his excitement at having taken the hole shot, forgot his cold tires weren’t going to hold his speed in Turn 4 and low-sided out of the race, continuing the futility of Japanese riders who haven’t won a premier class race since 2004. But Marquez, the only rider on the grid having chosen a hard front, was one his way up the chart from his P10 start, looking quick, taking advantage of an earlier mishap involving Brad Binder and Jack Miller. On Lap 6 he went through on Vinales into P5. A few laps later he took out the plucky Johann Zarco. By Lap 12, he was running fourth behind the unflappable Franco Morbidelli and the Suzuki tandem of Alex Rins, last week’s winner, and Joan Mir, the series leader.

The air came out of the remaining Honda balloon at Turn 2 of Lap 14, when he skidded out of the race, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t, in fact, his brother Marc. Until today, Nakagami and Marquez had been the only riders on the grid to have finished every race, with the Japanese rider having been in the points every time. Today, the law of averages caught up with both, and most people were disappointed, more, perhaps, by Takaa, less, because of the family name, by Marquez.

Once Alex went walky, the race became a procession. The Ducati contingent, aside from Zarco, suffered again. Andrea Dovizioso, standing fifth in the championship, has no business in the title conversation, finishing in P13, sitting fifth for the year, and heading for two races at Valencia, another track where the Ducatis suck. Aleix Espargaro endured another rather predictable Aprilia mechanical on Lap 20, removing him from P9 at the time. KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Zarco had a bit of a joust over the last few laps, with Zarco pimping the Portuguese rider at the flag. Almost overlooked, by me, was Pol Espargaro, who flogged his own KTM to a quiet P4 finish, missing out, by a mile, on his fourth podium of the year.

The late-season fade being experienced by Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, at least at Aragon, deserves mention. Vinales has now failed to podium in eight of his last nine outings. Quartararo has amassed 15 points in the last three rounds and lost more ground again today, trailing the ascendent Joan Mir and his Suzuki by 14 points. He led the Spanish rider by eight after Catalunya. Mir, on the other hand, has podiumed the last three times out, and is a threat to become the first rider in any class to win a title without having won a race since 1999 in the 125cc class. A really good MotoGP writer would go look up the name. Here, if you feel a need to know, you can look it up!

And so, with three rounds remaining, the top four premier class riders are separated by 25 points. Quartararo, sitting on his M-1 in P2, should enjoy Valencia, but his star has been waning of late. Mir, leading, and Rins in P3, on their quick and nimble GSX-RR machines, figure to be muy confident heading into the next two rounds. And Morbidelli now sits in P4 after residing in P11 as recently as Red Bull II. It appears, for the not-so-young Italian, that Jupiter may have finally aligned with Mars.

Errata

I will post Moto2 and Moto3 stuff on, say, Tuesday. I watched the races—Moto3 was its usual chaotic self, while Moto2 offered the rare parade that put Sam Lowes, of all people, in the lead for the year. Reluctant as I am to give many props to Sam, who for years has struck me as all hat and no cattle, I credit the inestimable Estrella Galicia team for making him a success this year. Those guys produce winners, even out of re-treads like Sam. I think it unlikely that Lowes will get another shot in MotoGP even if he titles in Moto2. Or perhaps he’s just vastly improved and I will have to eat these words.

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Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

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#93 Return Date?

October 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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The writer observes that Portimao will be the last chance the Marquez brothers will have to race as teammates. Just sayin’. But the Repsol release sounds a little like, “Move along, nothing to see here…”

Here’s the Crash article.

MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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