Posts Tagged ‘maverick vinales’

MotoGP 2020 Aragon I Results

October 18, 2020

© Bruce Allen

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Rins, Suzuki capture solid win; madness continues

Let’s just say this about the 2020 MotoGP season. Sensational Suzuki sophomore Joan Mir leads the championship chase with four rounds left. Yet Joan Mir has not won a race of any kind since 2017. There. 

Mir crushed Moto3 in 2017, winning 10 races, including Sepang late in the year, his last win, like, ever. He got promoted to Moto2 in 2018 and finished the year in P6, earning a sudden promotion to MotoGP. His rookie year in the premier class, he completed 14 out of 19 races and finished in P12. This year, other than two DNFs, one of which wasn’t his fault, he has finished no lower than P5, with podiums in his last three outings. I would be remiss if I failed to mention his similarity to Nicky Hayden in 2006, winning the MotoGP championship while recording only two (2) wins. In a year featuring eight winners in the first ten races, it is entirely possible for a Joan Mir to take the title without standing on the top step a single time. I’m sure he would take the trophy; not so sure he would want to live with the record.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday 

Missed watching FP1 and 2 but got the gist. The big news, of course, was that Rossi contracted the ‘Rona and would miss the race and probably Aragon II. We presume that a man at his youngish age and in his physical condition will come through it unscathed, and wish him a speedy and thorough recovery. Otherwise, on the cold dusty plain of Spain it was all Yamahas all the time. The three remaining riders for Big Blue locked out the top three spots, a barometer of things to come, but not a thermometer. Same thing occurred in FP2—rare that you get two top-three lockouts in one day from the same brand. The erratic Maverick Vinales led both sessions comfortably. Of course he did—his fuel tank was light and no one was throwing elbows at him.

Saturday

FP3 took place Saturday morning in the cold and resulted in no substantive changes in the combined top ten from FP2. The big news was a heavy crash for series leader Quartararo, who was still sitting on a stretcher off-track, appearing to have a real problem in his left knee or hip. Alex Marquez flogged his Repsol Honda directly into Q2 for the first time, unlike big hitters including Andrea Dovizioso, Zarco, hell, the entire Ducati contingent, and three of the four KTMs, Pol Espargaro being the exception, the cream of the KTM crop heading for Repsol Honda after Portimao. So Aprilia had a rider, Aleix Espargaro, moving directly to Q2 while Ducati did not. Jack Miller had a top ten lap waved off due to a yellow flag violation, adding insult to the championship injury he sustained last week when his #2 bike gave up the ghost in France.

One gets the distinct impression that the track characteristics at Aragon favor the Yamaha and frown upon the Italian and Austrian entries. Too, one can imagine the suits screaming at each other while deciding which tracks to include on the 2020 calendar. Ducati wanting Mugello over Aragon, Yamaha wanting out of Austria, Honda not really giving a rip. Dorna Big Cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta gleefully giving all the non-Spanish parties a thorough screwing by having half the calendar running in Spain. Marc Marquez signed off on the thing in June and it was done. Rounds 10 and 11 in the premier class (which did not run at Qatar due to the virus) would take place at Aragon, and KTM and Ducati could just bugger off.

To the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller laid down a fast lap late in the session to snatch Q1 from the aging veteran, joining the woke Danilo Petrucci, winner only six days ago, in advancing to Q2. Dovizioso was shown later slamming his glove to the floor, a sight you don’t usually see with the Italian. P13 is nowhere to start of you intend to stay in the hunt at Aragon. With all six manufacturers again represented in Q2, the top of the leader board looked like this:

Rider            Time Remaining

Morbidelli               12:00

Miller                       9:15

Quartararo               8:30

Vinales                     2:00

Quartararo               0.00

The first four rows, then:         

1        Fabio QUARTARARO

2        Maverick VIÑALES

3        Cal CRUTCHLOW

         

4        Franco MORBIDELLI

5        Jack MILLER

6        Joan MIR

         

7        Takaaki NAKAGAMI

8        Danilo PETRUCCI

9        Aleix ESPARGARO

         

10      Alex RINS

11      Alex MARQUEZ

12      Pol ESPARGARO

 

As some of you know, events here in Indiana prevent me from making time to take in Moto3 and Moto2 practice and qualifying. I’ll be watching them on Sunday. Apologies to all.

Race Day

Moto3 was its usual frantic self today. As late as Lap 16, there was an eight-bike lead group. Raul “Fast on Saturday” Fernandez started from pole and, when the smoke cleared, found himself on the third step of the podium, his first career grand prix podium at age 20. Darryn Binder, former Mad Bomber and now just a solid Moto3 contender, flirted with the lead numerous times only to end up on the second step. 19-year old Jauma Masia won today for the second time this year, the top seven bikes separated by less than 4/10ths of a second. Series leader Albert Arenas finished in P7, trailing the podium as well as my boy Romano Fenati, Everyone’s Favorite Scot John McPhee, and 18-year old Jeremy Alcoba. Arenas was fortunate today in that his close rivals had terrible outings—Ai Ogura P14, Italian teen heartthrob Celestino Vietti P9, and Tony Arbolino DNS with a COVID false alarm. As such, he stretched his series lead to 13 points over Ogura and 18 over Vietti. Arbolino, McPhee and Masia are still in the hunt for 2020, but everything needs to go right for them. Not likely.

Moto2 was all about people who have trouble dealing with success. Take former series leader Luca Marini, who laid his machine down on Lap 3, leaving the door wide open for a bevy of challengers. Or Fabio di Giannantonio, who crashed out of the lead on Lap 11. Or Marco Bezzecchi, leading the race and, at that moment, the championship, who crashed out on Lap 19. This made the dogged Sam Lowes, hanging around the backboard like Dennis Rodman, the winner, his second win in a row and third in four years. Runner-up Enea Bastianini took over the 2020 series lead by two points over Lowes, with Marini another three points back. Bezzecchi sits in P4, 25 points behind Bastianini. It’s still anybody’s title in Moto2.

Contrary to widely-held expectations, the MotoGP affair was not a Yamaha clambake. Despite dominating practice and qualifying (P1, P2 and P4), it was the Suzuki contingent of Rins and Mir, separated by the ascendent Alex Marquez in Repsol Honda colors, who hogged the podium today and shook up the 2020 standings. The chief protagonist was Suzuki pilot Alex Rins, a highly competent underachiever, who went through on frontrunner Maverick Vinales on Lap 8 and never relinquished the lead thereafter. A potential Suzuki 1-2, unseen in lifetimes, was interrupted by the startling performance of one Alex Marquez, the highly disrespected Tranche 4 Honda rider who captured his second silver medal in eight days, the first in the wet, today in the dry. Sure, it was a day on which three major competitors—Yamaha, Ducati and KTM—were experiencing purgatory on two wheels, Yamaha and Ducati collecting, collectively, 23 points each and KTM 11.

There were moments during the race when one thought it was definitely a Marquez on the Honda, but the similarity between #73 and #93 is, at times, fascinating. How hard must it be, being Alex Marquez. At one point in your young life, reputed to have been faster than Marc, if not quite as fast as Rins. But then Marc becomes Charles Atlas, the most powerful force ever in your chosen sport. You might have taken up soccer, say, in order to escape his engulfing shadow. But you chose instead to live in the shadow and work on your skills and, if there is a God, show the world one day that you are every bit as fast as Marc Marquez. That it runs in the family and he didn’t get it all. I suspect, if nothing else, young Alex has spit in the eye of the HRC suit who demoted him to the LCR team for 2021 before he had ever raced the bike. The official who made that decision screwed up on three counts. One, he surely pissed off Marc. Two, he wasted a terrific opportunity for the people in marketing to promote Marquez Brothers gear. Three, he may have missed out on a rider who is going to win a few races in his time. Boss Lucio at LCR is bound to be a happy camper these days.

Todays hijinks did little to shake up the top six, as follows:

Round 9

Rider

Points

Round 10

Rider

Points

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

MIR

121

 

MIR

105

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

DOVIZIOSO

97

 

VINALES

109

 

VINALES

96

 

DOVIZIOSO

106

 

NAKAGAMI

81

 

NAKAGAMI

92

 

MORBIDELLI

77

 

MORBIDELLI

87

Other than young Fabio’s tires turning to gruyère, things pretty much stayed the same. This is still anyone’s championship, but the guy with the fewest issues seems to be Joan Mir; he stays pretty calm and takes extremely good care of his tires. I was surprised to see him fade today, thought at around Lap 18 or so that he could win the race.

From Aragon to Aragon

Next week we do it all over again, but with different expectations. The main difference could be the weather, should it turn. That, and the unlikely but not entirely impossible return of Marc Marquez to the grid. That would amp things up.

I’ve prepared a look at the teams and will post it in a few days.

Ciao.

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MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

All three races on Sunday offered clear examples of socially redeeming values. In Moto3, South Africa’s second-favorite son, little brother Darryn Binder, exhibiting perseverance, winning his first ever grand prix race, a virtual and joyful two-wheeled deflowering. In Moto2, Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, won again, showing great intestinal fortitude in holding off a surprisingly upright Sam Lowes. Finally, in MotoGP, NKIT Fabio Quartararo, his good sense and team mentality on clear display, politely took the lead from teammate Franco Morbidelli on Lap 9, held off a late rush by the Suzuki contingent, and seized the lead in the 2020 MotoGP European Championship.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

Left on the outside looking in after FP2: Rins, Miller, Dovizioso, Oliveira, Bagnaia. All four Yams in top ten.

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

FP3, every rider’s worst nightmare, unfolded with relatively few surprises in the premier class. Four Yamahas and 3 KTMs advanced directly, led by Quartararo. Danilo Petrucci surprised in P6 as did fellow Ducati pilot Johann Zarco in P4. Sneaking into Q2 (P10) in front of Pecco Bagnaia was Suzuki New Kid In Town #36, Joan Mir. The poor souls having to endure Q1 would include Jack Miller and series leader Dovi, Rins, the LCR contingent, both of whom ended up in the kitty litter, and the usual suspects. Cal Crutchlow has cemented his reputation as the Black Knight of MotoGP. As he left the track medical center, having moments earlier been cleared to return to racing post-surgically for arm pump, he lost his footing and ruptured a tendon or two in his ankle. Cal soldiered on in FP3 but could only manage P16, one of more than a few riders caught out at Turns 2 and 5, which seem especially treacherous when it’s windy.

Just to be clear. If you’re an Andrea Dovizioso, say, contending for a world championship and you have to go through Q1, you must proceed directly from a full FP4 to Q1, then finish that 15-minute session in P1 or P2 in order to earn the right to proceed directly to Q2, take a leak in there somewhere, where you must finish in the top three to just be on the front row on Sunday, from where you desperately hope to fight for a win, or at least a podium, and you’re six-tenths slower than Quartararo in the time attack. That is what we used to call a long row to hoe. Especially when the margins are so thin. It appeared reasonable, on Saturday, to expect a new series leader heading into the off week.

This competition, by the way, is what we were hoping for back in the dark, dreary days of 2014, when it was The Big Three and a bunch of world class junk. From the sounds of it, one gets the sense that, after all this time, perennial back markers—Tito Rabat, Bradley Smith, perhaps Aleix—will be having to tell their sponsors that Ducati and Aprilia no longer want their money. Lots of young talent in Moto2; management wants results in the premier class and is less interested in the sponsor money you bring if you can’t compete for a top six on a regular basis.

Over in Moto2, Sam Lowes is doing his FP3 impression of one of my favorite riders from back in the day, Frenchman Randy de Puniet who, in 2013, finished each race that season (when he did not DNF) from a lower position than he qualified, thus earning the sobriquet Fast on Saturday. Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon, the token Anglo-Saxons, would be working in Q1. Again, it appeared reasonable to believe Sam, or someone, would set a new all-time track record during Q2, being only a tenth or two down in FP3.

FP3 in Moto3, I’m told, found an unusual variety of overachievers and underachievers. All three series leaders– Albert Arenas, John McPhee as per usual, and Ai Ogura–would have to fight their way through Q1.

MotoGP Q2 on Saturday afternoon was your basic Yamaha clambake. One by one, Quartararo, Rossi (!), Vinales and, finally, Morbidelli took aim at pole, attempting to dislodge either a teammate or a brand-mate. Late in the session Frankie got it all going at one time and posted the only sub-1:39 lap of the weekend, a tenth off Lorenzo’s lap record set in 2018. On Michelins.

Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi would make up Row 1 on Sunday, with Vinales starting from the middle of Row 2. Jack Miller lunged into P4 on his last set of qualifying tires. Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder would rep KTM in the top 10, while Miller, Zarco and Petrucci would do the same for Ducati. Joan Mir, on the Suzuki, hovered in P8. And, lest we forget, series leader Andrea Dovizioso would be starting Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 6.

Sunday 

Moto3: Series leader Albert Arenas gets skittled on Lap 6 by a morose John McPhee, who hurt his own championship aspirations as well. With too many lead changes to count, the frontrunners, at various points in the day, included Gabriel Rodrigo, Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia. The last lap provided a showdown between leader Arbolino and challenger Binder, who went through on the Italian at Turn 5 and held him off, nervous as Sean Connery in a spelling bee, for the rest of the lap. Ai Ogura, in P2 for the year heading into the race, was curiously unable to gain any real ground on the grounded Arenas, delivering a P11 and a series of confused, stunned looks. Arbolino sits in P4 for the year, a point ahead of Celestino Vietti. Heading into the second half of this strange year, it’s still anyone’s championship. Just as a point of reference, Ogura’s 122 points at this time compares to Marc Marquez’s point total for the entire 2019 season—420. A compressed season and serious competition at every round. At one point today there was a 20-bike lead group. Gotta love it.

Moto2:  Italian heartthrob Luca Marini, he of the Rossi family, did nothing on Sunday to discourage those people considering him for a satellite Ducati seat in MotoGP next season, winning today’s race and adding to his series lead with a very grown-up performance. He fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from Brit Sam Lowes, who was leading late but whose tires were in tatters with three laps to go. Marini, with his half-brother’s sense of the moment, chose the last lap of the race to go back through on Lowes for the win. Fabio de Giannantonio came in a lonely third, Jorge Navarro in P4 and the American guy, Joe Roberts, managed a highly respectable P5. Enea Bastiannini, in second place for the year and also moving to MotoGP next season, recovered from a poor start to finish in P6.

MotoGP:  Despite young Fabio Quartararo claiming the win in today’s race, even with three bikes in the top nine, it felt kind of like a loss for Team Yamaha today, when Valentino Rossi, the legend himself, crashed out of P2 on Lap 16, an unforced error, for a second consecutive DNF. Franco’s P4 could have been a win but for tires. Lord only knows how Vinales worked his way up from P5 at the start to P15 at the end of the first lap, then took all day and several crashers in front of him to manage a top ten, this the guy with expectations of fighting for a title.

In his 350th start, with a chance to claim his 200th premier class podium, Vale let it get away from him. Though his tires may have contributed to his fall, the rider is, first and foremost, responsible for managing his rubber. Yesterday he signed his contract to ride for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team next year on a one year deal. This, one suspects, will allow for his well-deserved 2021 victory lap, as well as opening up vast new marketing opportunities, putting #46 in teal and black. It will set the stage for the entry of a VR46 racing team in the MotoGP grid for 2022.

The team that must have felt like the real winners today was Suzuki factory racing, fronted by Joan Mir and Alex Rins. In finishing in P2 and P3 respectively, they broke a string of 20 years without a Suzuki on a Montmelo podium, and put two riders on a podium of any kind for the first time since 2007. Rins started in P13 and had plenty of tire left at the end. Mir, out of P8, might have had a chance to reel in Fabio were there two or three more laps. The standings at the top of the heap got a little scrambled today:

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Looking Ahead

Two weeks to Le Mans, followed directly by two rounds in Aragon, which has the ring of the old joke in which the contest featured a first prize of a week in Philadelphia and a second prize of two weeks in Philadelphia. Whatever. Plenty of history lying around in that part of the world. The Ducs and Yamahas have done well at Le Mans of late, and there’s always the chance for rain. A good flag-to-flag race would be just the thing to separate the men from the boys.

The suits at Yamaha must be impressed by the performance their engineers have coaxed out of the 2020 YZR-M1, after a couple of years being the dogs of the big three. With three promising riders, a living legend, and a competitive package for next year all but assured, these guys all need Foster Grants. One hopes the success Suzuki has experienced on track of late translates into increased sales. This is an industry that deserves to survive the pandemic. I have heard it referred to as “the yachting class,” but there’s plenty of everyday people cheering their lungs out when it’s not the plague out there.

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

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Fabio leaning

From the top: Rossi stoppie; Jack Miller on it; Fabio shoulder down.

And some local color for those of you into such things:

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MotoGP 2020 Misano II Results

September 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Vinales prevails; championship tighter than wallpaper 

Maverick Vinales, on Sunday, had every right to finish second. Starting from pole, he took the lead early and held it until Lap 6 when Pramac Ducati fast mover Pecco Bagnaia ate his lunch. Young Bagnaia managed the gap for the next 15 laps, until he unaccountably slid out of the lead on Lap 21 while leading by 1.4 seconds. Vinales inherited a 4-second lead and won easily, trailed by a rampaging Joan Mir and a happy-to-be-back-on-the-podium Fabio Quartararo. Young Fabio, however, was assessed a three-second post-race penalty for getting into the green, elevating a delighted Pol Espargaro to the podium. The 2020 championship is so up for grabs. 

Saturday 

Right, so I missed all of Friday and most of Saturday due to My Life having intruded upon the usual race weekend routine. Despite my devil-may-care persona I have managed to stay married to the same ornery, but saintly, woman for 45 years this month. She has a disorder which causes her to forget a joke almost immediately upon hearing it, which is a huge advantage for me, in that it allows me to recycle my limited inventory of material almost endlessly. Not that I ever received guffaws from her, or anything close to ROTFLMAO. But I still get that smile and the occasional laugh. As she often reminds me, my motto should be, “Funny to me.” In truth, she gives me as many laughs as I give her.

What I did see on Saturday was MotoGP Q2. I know the Yamahas had been having a good weekend again and that Pecco Bagnaia was riding the wheels off his 2019 Desmo. I knew that he and all four Yams passed directly to Q2, along with Takaa Nakagami, HRC’s Great Japanese Hope, Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder on their suddenly formidable KTMs, future KTMer Danilo Petrucci, and Joan Mir on the Suzuki. The fast movers would later be joined in Q2 by Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso on their big bad GP20s, Dovi, with his new sponsor, “Unemployed,” stitched on his leathers, slid under the tag at home plate to sneak into Q2, as it were, while Miller smoked the field early. Left on the outside looking in were, among others, Alex Rins, KTM pilots Oliveira and Lecuona, Aleix and the usual back markers.

Q2 was, as usual, fascinating, as if where a rider qualifies on the first three rows makes any real difference. First two rows, anyway. On Saturday, Vinales and Bagnaia took turns on the provisional pole, with Maverick again breaking the all-time track record, something he’s getting good at with Marquez sidelined. Bagnaia, late in the session, recorded the first ever sub-1:31 lap at Misano, and we have pictures to prove it. Bagnaia sub 1_31 nonrecord

However, he was discovered with both wheels in the green midway through the lap and it got taken away, putting him in the #5 spot, from where he would challenge for the win on Sunday. He was, by far, the fastest rider in the field this weekend, with Vinales again fast in practice and qualifying. The question with him is, always, can he get out of his own way during the first six laps of the race and fight for the win? Not yet this year, anyway. Rossi would start at the top of the third row, with Mir and Nakagami sucking canal water, the LCR rider going through probably a quarter million euros’ worth of motorcycles on Saturday alone, with formidable crashes coming in QP4 and again at the same turn in Q2. Dude.

All I can do for you folks as regards the goings-on in the lighter classes is refer you to the PDFs on the website. I could, I suppose, publish my login and password and let any of you who wish to watch all the practice and qualifying you want. Not gonna do it. Let’s do this. The front row on Sunday in Moto2 was comprised of Luca Marini, Marco Bezzecchi and Xavi Vierge. Moto3 featured Raul Fernandez on pole, joined by Tony Arbolino and Andre Migno.

Race Day

Sunday’s Moto3 race was the usual fire drill. A lead group of Arenas, Arbolino, Fernandez, Celestino Vietti and our old friend Romano Fenati formed up and took turns in the lead or getting knocked back into 6th place. Brad Binder, on one of his typical charges from the rear, made it as far as P4 before highsiding out on Lap 19. Young Vietti, another Rossi protégé, held the lead most of the day. With five guys looking for an opening heading into the last three turns, Vietti tried to go inside on Ogura, sending both of them wide and opening the door for the apparently lucid Fenati, who has not always appeared so. The podium, then, was Fenati, Vietti and Ogura, with series leader Arenas, Jaume Masia and Fernandez taking P4-P6.

Moto3 Top 5 after 8 Rounds:

  1. Arenas 119
  2. Ogura 117
  3. McPhee 98
  4. Vietti 86
  5. Arbolino 75

Moto2 was a bit of a parade as the weather gods decided to have a little sport with the intermediate class. They delivered, in rapid order, sunshine rain breeze sunshine sunshine cloudburst sunshine, giving the guys in Race Direction whiplash, calling a red flag, followed by a delayed re-start, which was held as a 10-lap club race. Enea Bastianini, who led when the first race was stopped, charged past original polesitter Luca Marini on Lap 1 and never really looked back, although sophomore Marco Bezzecchi gave valiant chase at the end. Sam Lowes found the third step of the podium, followed by the frustrated Marini. Brit Jake Dixon fell from P6 to P9 on the last lap. At the top of the Moto2 standings, one will find:

  1. Marini 125
  2. Bastianini 120
  3. Bezzecchi 105
  4. Lowes 83

The MotoGP race was, if you’re willing to play along here, a snapshot of the 2020 season in microcosm. 21 bikes started the race, 13 finished. Six different winners in seven races. Riders crashing out of the lead; Bagnaia today, Quartararo for the season. Four of the top seven qualifiers left the party early today, including Pecco, Miller (mechanical), Brad Binder and Rossi, who both crashed and retired. Franco Morbidelli had intestinal issues all weekend and could only manage P9. Thus, today’s top seven finishers were what I think of as ‘young guys’—Vinales, Mir, Pol, Quartararo, Oliveira, Nakagami and, of all people, Alex Marquez.

So, let’s see. The field was truncated today the way the entire season has been. Things have been unpredictable, to the extreme. With Marc Marquez sidelined, effectively, for the season, all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ball game. Six winners in seven races. Today, Vinales got his first win since last year. Suzuki prodigy Joan Mir keeps getting closer; all he needs to do is to sort out qualifying and he’ll be right there on a regular basis. Dude can ball. There was some question, back in the spring, whether there would be a MotoGP season at all. That question has been answered with an emphatic YES.

Another thing. The competition for seats is heating up, too. From the rumors floating about over the past few days, placeholders like Smith and Rabat will be giving way to young guns like Bastianini and Marini. The competition is just so close that teams and manufacturers can’t afford not to have two competitive riders on their teams, any of which could actually win a race. At least this year. And once Marquez hangs up his leathers. Just saying. One more example of how this season will be remembered as an outlier for a long time.

The top ten standings for 2020 are simply ridiculous:

  1. Dovizioso 84
  2. Quartararo 83
  3. Vinales 83
  4. Mir 80
  5. Morbidelli 64
  6. Miller 64
  7. Nakagami 63
  8. Oliveira 59
  9. Rossi 58
  10. Espargaro 57

Top four riders separated by four points; next six separated by 7. Everyone in the top ten has a puncher’s chance of winning the title in this slightly out-of-round year. With lots of crashing going on, both in practice and during races, standings can change quickly. Had Bagnaia not kicked away his win, he would be just outside the top ten for the year. He’s young and coming back from a serious injury, so we’re going to cut him some slack and look forward to great things from him in the foreseeable future.

For awhile there, during the MotoGP race, it looked like we would get to hear the Italian national anthem four times today, the excruciatingly long version to open the festivities and the short instrumental version at the conclusion of all three races. Italians stood on the top two steps of the podium in Moto3 and Moto2; Pecco could have and should have made it a hat trick. Regardless, it was a good day to be Italian in Rimini.

Next week it’s Catalunya, where the natives are restless and most of the Spanish riders in MotoGP call home. No question this is a fun season for the fans, especially those of us who don’t have a dog in these fights but are in it to see the paint-trading. We will try to put something on paper mid-week to keep your short attention spans focused.

Rimini local color aerial

                                       A little local color from Rimini.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Before we get going, WordPress is messing with me with a new, apparently mandatory content formatting tool, which involves a number of workarounds and, once complete, is at about half the ordinary size, straining my already weak eyes. So if this turns out to be crap, blame it on The Man.

MotoGP Posts Photos of ‘The Crash at Red Bull Ring.’ Here are the two I was talking about in the article.

This is Morbidelli’s Yamaha, passing in front of Rossi after somehow just missing Vinales.

This is what remains of Zarco’s Ducati as it sails inches over the head of Rossi, who saw it coming and ducked out of the way.

Apparently Dorna feels someone should be punished for all this, but it’s more the track layout; this applies to both wrecks, including the Moto2 crash that ensued when Hafez Syahrin pulled out into the slipstream and smack into Enea Bastiannini’s abandoned Kalex. I couldn’t seen what happened between Zarco and Morbidelli, but I sense it was Zarco running up the Italian’s back perhaps? Someone out there knows.

Thanks to long time reader Mad4TheCrest, who took time out of his busy schedule earlier in the week to point out that I had mistakenly put Aussie Remy Gardner back in Moto3 on Sunday. I have since corrected this amateurish mistake. I get up early on race days and am never at my best at 6 in the morning. It is a comfort to know that someone, somewhere actually reads this stuff.

Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro these days reminds me–and please don’t take this wrong–of Marco Simoncelli in 2012 (yes I know the year he died on the track in Sepang). But here’s the similarity. Sic had been around for awhile coming up, too tall for the small bikes, overly aggressive on the Gilera as a rookie in the premier class in 2011. 2012 dawns and he discovers that, for whatever reason, he is suddenly fast. Fast enough to crash out of four of the first ten races of 2012. But over five of the last six races of his life he recorded three P4, a P3 and a P2 at Phillip Island.

Pol Espargaro, suddenly fast on the KTM, looking forward to getting even faster on the Honda RV213V, is who Warren Zevon referred to in his unforgettable anthem, “Excitable Boy.” No, he doesn’t go around slicing up his girlfriends. But he is currently a hazard to himself and those around him, and will be until he gets used to the idea that he doesn’t have to ride like a madman to be in the mix.

Quick Hitters

Loyal follower Allison gave me props in a comment about my sheer prescience when it some to the subject of Joan Mir, who took P2 on Sunday [after I had been jocking him since he was in Moto3.] Yes, from this lofty roost I occasionally can spot one–Rins is another; wonder why they end up at Suzuki?–but I never saw Brad Binder coming, having discounted KTM Moto2 riders as simply being unable to secure Hondas. Binder seems to be another one of these guys constructed from steel cables who is capable of wrestling the KTM, or a Honda or Ducati, to a draw, with all that speed as a bonus. His ride on Sunday, from 17th to 4th, was olympic… My boy OldMoron picked that one… And I’m still waiting to hear from MOron Sayyed on the subject of KTM and its place in the racing universe. I think old Sayyed is strictly a Motorcycle.com guy… The crap they put people through on this site to make comments gripes me to no end. If enough people agree we can move these comments back to MO and use the Dorna press releases they are now posting as a comments section for the Dummies stuff. Let me know, or perhaps I’ll just start leaving comments on MO and y’all can follow if you wish.

In the interregnum of Marquez’ broken arm, the racing and competition is tight as wallpaper in all three classes. Having a MotoGP season in which the result is not predetermined is a blast. Aside from Albert Arenas in Moto3 no one is really getting away. The premier class will tighten up considerably once Marquez and Bagnaia are back in the fold. But there is not time in the schedule for healing and the doubles and triples cause the riders to have to perform at less than full strength, increasing the likelihood of more mishaps. This calendar is going to cost some riders and some teams dearly.

Finally, it seems Zarco cracked a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s maelstrom. He certainly won’t be at full strength, if he rides at all, this weekend.

MotoGP:Red Bull Ring I

August 16, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich offered something for every taste and budget on Sunday. A lead group in Moto3 consisting of 15 riders separated by less than a second. Red flags in both the Moto2 and MotoGP races, two amazing crashes that, miraculously, left no rider seriously injured. The narrow escape provided to Valentino Rossi in the main event–one motorcycle, upside-down, flashing directly in front of him, when another, a split second later, this one airborne, barely missed his head, forcing him to duck–proves that he has been blessed by God to ride motorcycles for as long as he wants.

Screenshot (563)

At the flag, it was Andrea Dovizioso, followed by a jubilant Joan Mir and a disappointed Jack Miller. It was in a script somewhere that Dovi, who only 24 hours earlier had announced his intention to leave Ducati at the end of the season, would take a decisive win on the Desmosedici for Ducati’s first win of the season. We got to witness the first of what promises to be many podium celebrations by Suzuki rising star Joan Mir. Jack Miller, who had gambled on soft tires for the 20 lap second race, lost his wager after having led in the early laps of the race.

MotoGP Qualifying and Practice, Etc.

The changing of the guard amongst the riders was in full view on Friday. The combined sheets for FP1 and FP2 showed two veterans in the top ten, Dovizioso and Zarco (it took the Frenchman awhile to get to MotoGP). Younger bucks took eight of the top ten times during FP1, as FP2 started way wet and gradually dried, but not enough for anyone to get within two seconds of their FP1 times.

The culling of the herd into Q1 and Q2 that takes place in FP3 was further evidence that the character of the neighborhood is changing. Veterans Pol Espargaro and Dovi occupied spots 1&2, followed by eight young(-ish)  fast movers. Of the 12 riders not cruising into Q2 unaccosted, two were subs and seven were veterans, including, notably, Rossi and Crutchlow, who is old for his age. (The three remaining cull-ees were rookies, two of them on KTM, including Brad Binder, at a track where he should excel, in front of the corporate brass, placing 16th on the time sheets after FP3. This is the same Brad Binder who won at Brno last time out. Young Brad had some work to do later on Saturday.)

Team Yamaha managed to put three of their four bikes directly into Q2. Left on the outside looking in, and not for the last time, was the estimable Valentino Rossi. Many, including myself, expected to see Rossi sail into Q2, neither, in the lyrics of Arlo Guthrie, tired nor proud, ready to go to work for a spot in the front row. He barely managed to slide under the tag on his last Q1 lap; had this been a soccer match, his game-winning goal would have come during injury time, well after the clock showed all zeroes. Johann Zarco, looking quick on the Esponsorama Ducati, laid down a fast lap early in Q1 and joined Rossi.

QP2 was its usual thrilling self. At one point at least six riders held the top spot during the 15 minute session. When the smoke cleared, it was Vinales, Miller and Quartararo in the front row, followed by Dovizioso, a steely-eyed Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir, apparently starting to get this whole qualifying thing figured out. Morbidelli, Rins and Zarco comprised Row 3, while Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira and, yes, Valentino Rossi made up Row 4. His last-lap heroics in Q1 still left him sucking canal water.

With the addition of KTM to the ranks of manufacturers with race day credibility, there is just more competition out there. In Q2, half a second is all that stood between teammates Vinales on pole and Rossi wiping up the rear. Honda, its lack of rider depth exposed by Marquez’ injury, placed a grand total of one (1) rider in the top 12.

Oh, and Dovi and Ducati are splitting at the end of the current season, initiating a feeding frenzy from the top levels of MotoGP to the dregs of Moto3. Nature, it has been observed elsewhere, abhors a vacuum, and a sudden vacancy on the factory Ducati team creates a powerful one. Riders, considered and/or discarded, suddenly become viable again, like dominoes standing back up after having been knocked down. Bagnaia, Zarco and even multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo are suddenly back in the conversation for a factory seat on the big red machine. Is this Andrea Dovizioso retiring? Or considering a move of some kind to KTM after a gap year? Fascinating if you’re into that kind of thing.

Race Day in Austria

The premier class race was proceeding swimmingly, with KTM pilot and defector-in-waiting Pol Espargaro leading the parade, followed in close order by Miller and Dovizioso on Ducatis and Alex Rins, playing hurt, in fourth. Suddenly, behind the lead group, Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli got tangled up, both drivers going down hard and both bikes, released from their tethers, getting the wind in their sails and refusing to fall over. The consequences, to either or both Vinales and Rossi, could have been lethal. That neither rider suffered a scratch is nothing short of a miracle. Out came the red flags, to Espargaro’s everlasting dismay.

Race #2, a 20-lap affair, offered relatively little drama. A lead group of Miller, Dovizioso, Espargaro and Rins congealed up front. It was anybody’s race. Espargaro and fellow KTM traveler Miguel Oliveira crashed out on Lap 9 in a collision I missed and the broadcasters failed to replay. Rins crashed out of the lead on Lap 11 after putting on a great show getting to the front. After Rins dropped out, his place was taken by teammate Joan Mir, smelling blood, not having to deal with the likes of Marc Marquez, Espargaro and Rins. On the last lap, an apparent Ducati 1-2 was broken up by Mir, who went through on Miller late for his first premier class podium. Rossi and Vinales were never serious players in today’s race, as Vinales could only manage tenth, while Rossi, who has become Colin Edwards, hung around long enough to claim fifth.

Heading from Spielberg to Spielberg this week, the standings for the year show a baffling Fabio Quartararo (8th today, having been as far back as 20th) still leading the class, trailed by Dovizioso, Vinales, Brad Binder (4th today after starting 17th for KTM) and Rossi. Three young guys in the top five, seven in the top ten. Oh the times they are a-changing.

Screenshot (565)

The Undercards

The Moto3 race was another fire drill, as per usual. If anyone at Race Direction were to bother to count up the total number of overtakes in this race, not just within the lead group, I expect it would approach 300. Back and forth, the entire time, in the lead group, behind the lead group. At the front, where the slipstream shoots the relatively light 250cc bikes like snapping a whip. Series leader Albert Arenas stole this one  for KTM on the last lap, after keeping an eye on Jaume Masia, Ai Ogura and Darryn Binder all day; Scot John McPhee was in and out of there, along with polesitter Remy Gardner for awhile. For the year, Arenas stretched his lead over McPhee to 28 points, with Ogura breathing down McPhee’s neck. If ever the phrase “on any given Sunday” applied to a sport, Moto3 would be right up there.

The Moto2 race was red-flagged on Lap 4 after series leader Enea Bastiannini high-sided out of the lead in a bad place, leaving both rider and bike sitting in center field, exposed. The Italian got himself out of harm’s way, just in time to watch Hafez Syahrin, pulling out of someone’s slipstream, hit his used bike while accelerating, immediately blasting both machines to smithereens and sending Syahrin flying. The Malaysian rider, conscious and with feeling in all his extremities, is going to ache tomorrow. The 13-lap sprint following the track clean-up belonged to young Jorge Martin, who gave KTM their second win of the day and his first in Moto2, beating out Marini and Marcel Schrotter. Over in Mudville, the locals were celebrating another top ten finish for homeboy Joe Roberts.

For the year, Luca Marini takes over the series lead from Bastiannini, followed by Martin and Sam Lowes, tied for third, and Tetsuga Nagashima fifth. A mere 23 points separate the top five. This one should get decided in Portimao.

Let This One Percolate for a Few Days

A return visit to Red Bull Ring is just what MotoGP needs this week, after two red flags and more drama than I can get my head around in one day. Maybe we’ll do a little work with our tranching tool. Maybe not. Suffice it to say that The Year Without Marquez has been pretty damned good so far.

MotoGP Jerez II Results: Andalucía

July 26, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Quartararo goes 2-for-2 in 2020; Yamaha podium lockout 

With injured defending champion Marc Marquez registering the first DNS of his premier class career, the grid mostly failed to take advantage of his absence. Seven of the top 12 qualifiers crashed out or retired. So, presume Marquez returns at 90% in Brno with Fabio enjoying a 50 point cushion, 11 rounds left. Who do you bet on for the title? 

Screenshot (86)

For Fabio, life is good.

This is yet another of example of how important it is to be careful what you wish for. The large, expanding ‘Anyone but Marquez Club’ seems to have delivered us simply a new incarnation of Marquez, a rider capable of rattling off five wins in a row. On a satellite Yamaha. Setting all-time track records along the way. Making it look simple. Pressured Marquez enough at Jerez I to contribute to his crash. Today, in his absence, young Fabio led from lights out to checkered flag and was never seriously challenged. There was some good action behind him. You know, the way it was when, you know, Marquez was kicking everyone’s ass. Same ass, different boot.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

What is there to learn on Friday during the second week of a back-to-back? On this particular Friday, for Round Two, we couldn’t help but notice several obvious things. Riders who should not have been in the hospital were crowded around the top of the time sheets, while riders who SHOULD have been in the hospital were grouped at the bottom, with Marquez not even bothering to suit up.

If you think this was business as usual, how about this: KTM occupied three of the top six spots on the combined time sheet, with Yamaha holding the other three. Jack Miller rode the top Ducati while Takaa Nakagami was the top Honda rep in P8.

One admires the grit and determination of Rins and Crutchlow and, apparently, Marquez, but the fact that they’re cleared to race grand prix motorcycles is a joke. #93 seemed to think he could podium at Jerez with one arm. Crutchlow and Rins must have suspected there were points at stake that they could potentially claim. But the Yams—Maverick, Rossi and Morbidelli—were quick on Friday. And Binder, Espargaro and Oliveira finding their way to the top six is damned remarkable. But it looked like it was probably a Friday thing, and that things would heat up for real in FP3 on Saturday morning.

Saturday

The culling of the herd in FP3 was a bit refreshing, topped by Yamahas and Ducatis. Fabio and Maverick punished the all-time track record. Jack Miller flogged his Ducati to third, with Takaa Nakagami overachieving in P4. Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci put Ducati in P5 and P6. The top ten was completed by gritty KTM rookie Brad Binder, Valentino, Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir. These riders would proceed directly to Q2. Oliveira and Morbidelli moved on through Q1 to Q2, edging out the brave Cal Crutchlow, who would start from P13.

The news that Marc Marquez was done for the weekend (!) arrived immediately after the completion of Q2. This changed the perspective for Sunday’s race back to what it was last Monday, when the idea of Marquez racing was ridiculous. I read somewhere that this type of fracture could end Marquez’ season. Right. He will return at Brno ready to rumble.

Row I           Quartararo, Vinales and Bagnaia

Row II          Rossi, Oliveira, Morbidelli

Row III        Miller, Nakagami, Binder

Row IV         Mir, Petrucci, Pol Espargaro

The Race 

Don’t let anyone tell you that young Fabio Quartararo has not arrived on the MotoGP scene, Alien card in hand, expiration date years from now. Joined on the podium by fellow Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, I would also encourage the reader to ignore anyone suggesting The New Kid In Town is doing it on an inferior bike. Suddenly, the Yamaha loves Jerez, which suggests it will be happy pretty much everywhere left on the calendar. The bike is good enough to transport Rossi to the podium for the first time since last year in Austin. Just sayin’.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers 

“I’ve Seen Better Days”

Pecco Bagnaia:       Started 3rd; retired with mechanical

Miguel Oliveira:      Came through Q1 to start from P5; crashed.

Franco Morbidelli:   Came through Q1 to start from P6; crashed.

Jack Miller:             Started 7th; crashed.

Brad Binder:          Started 8th; crashed.

Cal Crutchlow dragged his LCR Honda across the finish line to secure three points. KTM Rookie Iker Lecuona just had a forgettable day.

“Let Me Thank Some Folks”

Rider            Qualified       #DNF*          Finished

Quartararo             1st          0                1st

Vinales                   2nd         0                2nd

Rossi                        4th         1                3rd

Nakagami              8th          4                4th

Mir                          10th        5                5th

Dovizioso              14th        7                6th

Espargaro              10th        6               7th

A. Marquez            21st         8               8th

*Of those who qualified in front of the rider.

The Undercards

Moto3 gave us the usual spellbinder, as the first five riders to cross the finish line were separated by 8/10ths of a second. Chalk up the win to Tatsuki Suzuki, who took advantage of a crash by series leader Albert Arenas and his own sizzling pace to win today’s race, joined on the podium by Scottish veteran John McPhee and Italian teenager Celestino Vietti. This was a nail biter from start to finish, with eight more riders failing to finish. After wins at Qatar and Jerez I, Arenas was contending, looking to put some distance between himself and his pursuers, when he binned it. Rather than heading to Brno with 75 points on the trot and a sizeable lead in the series, he leaves with 50, a six point lead over Suzuki and ten over McPhee, the series tighter, as they say in Indiana, than wallpaper.

Moto2 was, for the second week in a row, more processional.  Enea Bastiannini led Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi on a merry chase all afternoon, and the three ended up on the podium, one completely lacking in suspense. The were joined in the top six by Sam Lowes, Aron Canet and Jorge Martin in what is starting to become The Usual Suspects of Moto2. Series leader Tetsuta Nagashima couldn’t get out of his own way today (P11), clearing a path for the all-Italian podium, the first such celebrazione in the intermediate class since 1998.

Most of these riders weren’t yet born in 1998.

Moto2 heads north and east with Nagashima sporting 50 points, Bastiannini 48 and Marini 45. Tighter than wallpaper, wait, sorry, never mind. Close. There are another six or eight riders with visions of greatness in their heads, but they would need a whole lot of things to go right to put themselves in serious contention. Martin, from what I read, already has a contract with Pramac Ducati in MotoGP for 2021-22. Not sure why they are waiting to announce it. It appears to be perhaps the last remaining open slot in the premier class for 2021.

Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing after Two Rounds

It feels pretty good to look at the year-to-date standings and see three or four guys in each class who are legitimate threats to win this deeply asterisked season. Arenas, Suzuki, McPhee and Vietti appear to be the class of the class in Moto3. In Moto2, journeyman Nagashima, the Italians Bastiannini and Marini, and the Alien-in-waiting, Jorge Martin, all look capable of standing on the top step in Valencia. In MotoGP, with Marc Marquez down 50 heading into Round 3, the division, for the first time in, like, five years, is a horse race, with a handful of credible challengers for the trophy. Sad to say, this is how it’s supposed to be. The presence of a generational talent during one’s wonder years doesn’t necessarily improve the viewing experience, even if you’re a fan. The riders seriously need to seize upon Marquez’ misfortune, to put some more distance between themselves and him, to crush out any hope of a late-season comeback.

Let Valencia Decide.

MotoGP: Ten Things We Learned in Jerez

July 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

The 2020 MotoGP food chain was turned on its head this past weekend in Jerez due to the injuries suffered by Alex Rins, Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez. We saw some outstanding performances in gruesome conditions. We found ourselves disappointed, rather than surprised, by results elsewhere. Some teams found bad luck, others good.

The impact of these injuries–especially Marquez–is that the premier class is effectively wide open for the first time since 2013. Imagine a meaningful competition not for third place or second place, but for first place. Those were the days.

Screenshot (506)

The confluence of events that produced Sunday’s results was auspicious. The heat was oppressive and, inside a helmet, enough to boil an otherwise calm brain. Everything was going swimmingly for Marquez, actually, until the moment on Lap 5 with the save and the trip through the gravel and all. Furious at himself for the careless error, and returning to the race in, like, 16th place, he suddenly had nothing to lose by kicking out the jams and turning up the volume. He then proceeded, methodically, to blow up the field, had Vinales in his sights in second place and time, most likely, to catch Quartararo. The red mist that used to envelope him in his early years was thick in his helmet.

Marquez wanted the win. He could have easily settled for second or third but wasn’t having it on Spanish soil in the season opener in a truncated, compressed calendar allowing no room for error. Were some of the other riders rusty? I can’t remember the last time three riders came out of a race facing surgery. Doesn’t matter. Quartararo, Vinales, Miller, Dovizioso, and probably a few others see an opportunity to steal a championship. For now, the king has left the room. The pretenders to the throne are free to compete for the 2020 crown. For Marquez, Rins and Crutchlow, on the other hand, their chances for a title in 2020 have generally come crashing down around them. During Round One. Hard to find a worse time to get hurt.

Remember back when Lorenzo broke a collarbone at Assen, returned to race at The Sachsenring, crashed and re-broke the same bone? That was hard to watch. I’m not really down with any of the three coming right back and running at 75% strength or whatever if another crash is going to mangle what’s still mending. Marquez has been known to run with a recently dislocated shoulder; nothing is impossible with this guy. I expect to see him, somehow, in Brno. Rins and Crutchlow, too. By then, however, it may be too late.

What else?

  • Fabio Quartararo is the real deal. Starting next year, he and Viñales  are going to make the factory Yamaha team formidable.
  • Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso have visions of Ducati-red sugar plums dancing in their heads.
  • Brad Binder may be a baller.
  • Alex Marquez may be smarter than I give him credit for.
  • I think the tranches are messed up this week. How can any right-thinking analyst put Alex Marquez in Tranche IV? He will probably turn out to be a three. (If enough people get hurt he may be a two.) Perhaps he sees the wisdom of simply finishing, rather than crashing out trying to win something. Maybe he’ll end up being a top ten guy. Too early to say.
  • Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli are upwardly mobile. Espargaro may have already caught his  shooting star; the Italian, other than joining Bagnaia in schooling their master, The Doctor, is still waiting for his.
  • KTM is looking stronger than last year. Having Espargaro leave will, however, hurt them. He’s the best they’ve got.
  • Aprilia, sadly, looks about the same as last year. The business with Iannone has to be a distraction. Bradley Smith is Mr. Any Port in a Storm. Aleix, despite his new two year deal, is up and down. The company has decided to reduce top end in order to gain reliability. Thus, a relatively slow bike appears destined, for now, to becoming slower.
  • Zarco, I believe, is cooked.
  • Suzuki is starting out their year behind the eight ball. 12 rounds of playing catch-up, sounds awesome.

So everyone is hanging out in Jerez or Cadiz, trying to rest up for the weekend-long sauna. Hydrating. Round Two, Jerez II, missing Marc Marquez, promises to be an exciting 45 minutes. We’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in our collective heads.

 

MotoGP Jerez Results

July 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Quartararo wins in the heat of Jerez; Marquez hurt 

The 2020 MotoGP season got off with a bang, as the brutally hot conditions in southern Spain took a toll on all three classes. The most dramatic event today was Marc Marquez crashing heavily toward the end of the premier class race, after recovering from a costly early moment to challenge for the win. Yamaha took three of the top five spots, despite Rossi’s retirement on Lap 19; Ducati claimed the other two. With Marquez showing a zero for the first time ever, MotoGP 2020 may provide fans with some real drama for the first time in five years. 

One must concede that Marquez, despite being faster than everyone else out there, was a bit rusty. Coming off an 8-month layoff, and with riders having little real practice time under their belts, this race was unlikely to be a work of art. Two riders failed to start, five failed to finish, and several others went walkabout and re-entered. According to the announcers, the heat was worse than Sepang, worse than Buriram. This is what happens when you schedule stuff outdoors in southern Spain in July. 

Practice and Qualifying

I keep arguing with myself about the utility of Fridays at Round Ones, about trying to glean anything from the timesheets. Not too much there for me. The same cannot be said about the results of the combined FP1-FP3 practices that separate the goats from the lambs re: having to slog through the frying pan of Q1 just to get thrust immediately into the fire of Q2. On Saturday FP3 ended with Dovi on the inside looking out from P10 at the likes of Pol Espargaro, Rins, Petrucci, Zarco, Miguel Oliveira and, not for the last time, Alex Marquez.

In addition to the usual suspects, the lambs included Jack Miller and Joan Mir, both looking dangerous, Cal lame-ducking the LCR Honda, suddenly quick SRT TechTrois Yamaha heartthrob Franco Morbidelli and young Pecco Bagnaia, who, having crawled in 2019, appears to be walking on the Pramac Ducati in 2020. Rossi making it straight to Q2 is a relief for him and his team. Marc Marquez, who led Friday, was lurking, keeping his powder dry in P4, looking like he was ready to assert himself in qualifying. Fabio set a new track record on Saturday morning. But not having fans in the stands made it feel like testing.

Q1 on Saturday afternoon was, if you’re willing to call what these guys do in the last two minutes ‘routine,’ kind of routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty damned exciting. When the smoke cleared, Alex Rins’ Suzuki and Pol Espargaro’s KTM had made it into Q2 after an unusually strong performance by KTM rookie Brad Binder, a worker bee who bears watching.

Q2, featured strong performances from the eventual front row of Quartararo, Viñales and Marquez. Both Pramac Ducatis and, looking slightly deranged, Cal Crutchlow formed Row 2. Pol Espargaro, a quiet Andrea Dovizioso and a jinxed Alex Rins would have constituted Row 3, theoretically, had Rins not suffered a “fracture/dislocation” of his right shoulder with a minute left. Oww. So he was out for Sunday’s race and his entire 2020 season has likely been trashed. For those of you still reading, Franco Morbidelli and our old buddy Valentino Rossi joined a perplexing Joan Mir in Row 4. Pecco Baganaia, who was looking Lorenzo-like, and Joan Mir, my personal Alien-in-waiting, were the only real surprises from Q2.

Rins reminds us that although the championship cannot be won at Round One, it can be lost. Cal Crutchlow put himself out of the race with a hard crash in today’s warm-up. Twenty riders would start Round One in 2020; 15 would finish.

The Race

Today’s Spanish Grand Prix was bookended by two mishaps attributable to Marc Marquez. The first occurred on Lap 5, when, trying to get away from Maverick Viñales and the rest of the grid, he had a ‘moment,’ followed by an un-holy save–a career top-tenner–followed by a lengthy stroll through the gravel, followed by his re-entry into the fray in 16th position. There followed a remarkable display of riding, as Marquez sliced through the field all the way back to third place, with Viñales clearly in his sights and, in a perfect world, time to catch Quartararo. Chasing Viñales, blood in his eyes, furious with himself about Lap 5, Marquez endured the kind of violent high-side more typically associated with Jorge Lorenzo, clearly his most serious crash since 2011, when he came close to ending his career before it started in Sepang, suffering double vision for six months thereafter. Today’s crash looked bad. Any speculation as to his condition on our part would not be helpful.

With Rins, Crutchlow and, finally, Marquez out of the mix, a number of lesser riders had surprisingly good days. In addition to Fabio’s first career MotoGP win, Viñales made it a factory Yamaha 1-2, with Dovi putting his Ducati on the podium late in the game. Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli completed the top five. Boasting top ten finishes tonight are KTM’s Pol Espargaro (6th), Pramac Ducati youngster Pecco Bagnaia (7th) and KTM’s Miguel Oliveira (8th). Danilo Petrucci and Takaa Nakagami closed out the top ten. Team Suzuki, with Rins out hurt and Mir crashing, had a train wreck of a day. But all six Ducatis finished today’s race. KTM must be pleased with Espargaro, for now, and rookie Brad Binder who, until leaving the premises briefly on Lap 7, had been running in the top eight. Oliveira turned in a solid performance with his P8 finish. Aprilia, unfortunately, was still up to its old tricks, with a P15 and a DNF to show for its efforts to go along with the bubbly public relations campaign being waged by riders and team brass.

The Undercards

Albert Arenas, having won in Qatar sometime back around the spring equinox, won again today in a hotly (!) contested Moto3 tilt, edging out Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino. Moto3, with its 12-man lead groups, offers simply the best racing on the planet. Scot John McPhee, who came from back in the pack to challenge for the win, crashed out of the lead late shortly after Darryn Binder, another young rider with big ambitions. After two rounds, Arenas leads Ogura 50-36, with a host of riders sitting with between 16 and 20 points. Still plenty of racing left to go.

Same with Moto2, which gave us a somewhat atypical procession today. Luca Marini, who has MotoGP written all over him, fended off a brave challenge from journeyman (and series leader) Tetsuga Nagashima, while Moto2 sophomore Jorge Martin scored his third career Moto2 podium, holding Sam Lowes at bay for the last few laps. Plenty of action lower in the order; too much to keep up with here. Watch the video. But after two rounds, the top five in Moto2 include Nagashima, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Marini, Enea Bastiannini, and Aron Canet.

A Little Perspective

What were the big questions heading into MotoGP 2020?

  • Why can’t Marc Marquez make it five in a row and seven for eight?
  • Who will emerge as the top challenger(s)?
  • Which of the young guns will make great strides and approach Alien status? (This may be a duplicate of the previous question.)
  • Will Rossi start to show his age or any sign of a give-a-rip attitude?
  • Can Suzuki provide sufficient horsepower to make Rins or Mir Aliens??
  • Will KTM show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will Aprilia show any discernible improvements over 2019?
  • Will the virus allow the completion of even this bastardized schedule?
  • Like, how many top tens will Alex Marquez see this year?
  • Finally, how many of these questions are you comfortable answering after what is effectively Round One?

Our answers to those questions, after one scrap, go like this: Big crash at Jerez I. Fabio, Maverick and Miller. Bagnaia, Binder and Mir. Yes. No. Yes. No. Don’t know. Zero. Three.

We Brought Our Tranching Tool

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

*Injured, likely to miss time.

Next week we’ll try this again, likely missing a few premier class riders. It promises to be warm. Hopefully, the Grand Prix of Andalucía won’t be quite as hot as the Grand Prix of Spain.

 

Latest MotoGP Schedule 6/11/2020

June 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Attached is the latest 2020 MotoGP schedule released by FIM:

Screenshot (464)

Before getting too far into the nuts and bolts of the latest round of wishful thinking on the part of The Powers That Be, let us note that the usual blah blah blah about the virus is still in there, that this is only the latest, most radical attempt to salvage the remnants of what was to have been another Repsol/ Marquez coronation in 2020. It remains to be seen whether any actual races will take place. From a global perspective, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. This is a bad thing for all types of racing, including MotoGP.

For the sake of keeping our oar in the water, we can take a moment to shred the calendar, which features two back-to-back weekends and three triple-headers. An American swing and a truncated Asian swing are pinned to the end of the scheduled schedule. Like an addendum. Like the suits at Dorna and FIM spent hours arguing about leaving these rounds on the schedule at all, given how tenuous the European part of the schedule was looking already. To suggest that MotoGP will be spending Christmas in Malaysia strains the imagination.

Nonetheless. Two rounds at Jerez on the 19th and 26th of July. A round in Brno followed by a twofer at Red Bull Ring, in a tip of the hat to Ducati Corse. Then, two rounds in Misano–mmmm–and one in Catalunya. A week in France, then two weeks in Aragon as penance. Ending with two weeks at Valencia on November 15th. In italics, basically, is a fictional Americas swing to Austin and Argentina, with an additional “swing” to Thailand and Malaysia. At risk of running into the end of the calendar. All a fantasy.

I found myself thinking about what an awesome vacation it would be to spend 10 days or so in Misano. We might spend Saturdays at the track, otherwise catching Sundays as usual on the website and reporting the results sometime after the race. It occurred to me that neither I or my wife would want to go to Italy in the summer of 2020 with The Rona out there. Adriatic Riviera or not, it’s not a good idea, at least not for us, coming from the U.S. It’s just such a beautiful place, shoehorned in-between the mountains and the sea. Our health insurance wouldn’t work over there, etc. Not in the cards.

So I’m wondering whether any of this is more than a pipe dream, if it’s not just a little something to keep us occupied during this dreadful hiatus. If there is an amusing aspect to this latest and greatest calendar it is the refutation of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s hollow claim that MotoGP is more than just a Spanish sport. Seven of the scheduled 14 rounds are in Spain, at all four usual tracks. Catalunya, perhaps because of the heated current political environment there, only gets a single week, while the other three get a pair each. The remaining seven rounds are schedule for other places on the planet. Four of the eight tracks in 2020 are in Spain. The Spanish riders will enjoy an advantage.

No Mugello. No Sachsenring. No Finland. No Silverstone. No Motegi or Phillip Island. Perhaps two of the last four races listed after the schedule could take place; probably none of them will. Some of Marc Marquez’s bread and butter–Austin and Sachsenring–won’t happen. He should still do okay.

With all the drama surrounding the signings for 2021-22 it will be slightly weird to see the lame ducks–Petrucci, Pol Espargaro, Alex Marquez, Jack Miller in a way, possibly no Andrea Iannone–knowing they are headed to greener pastures in 2021 regardless of what, if anything, happens this year. Rossi’s last year on the factory Yamaha. The two Suzuki riders gunning for Alien status. Marquez fighting off all challengers. The era continues, assuming there is a racing season in 2020.

I suspect this latest schedule should be thought of as Hypothetical. So many things need to go right, and so few things can go wrong, that the odds against us watching these remarkable athletes racing in anger in 2020 are long. Will they pipe in noise? Will they let fans in? Will they provide all of the necessary yellow smoke? Will the marshals have masks? The mechanics?

At this point, the 2020 MotoGP schedule looks fantastic, as in a figment of someone’s fertile imagination. If it happens, I look forward to being wrong and getting jacked up on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t we all.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.


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