Posts Tagged ‘motorcycling’

MotoGP Misano Preview

September 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Rossi Out—Then There Were Four

MotoGP turns its sights on stunning San Marino once again, returning this weekend for Round 13 minus The Doctor, who, as everyone knows by now, badly broke his leg in a training accident last week. Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, perhaps the Italian erede apparente, leads the now diminished 2017 chase pursued by three Spaniards. He and the two youngsters, Marc Marquez and Maverick Vińales, can only feel relieved that the yellow 800-pound gorilla has left the room. Dani Pedrosa, the third challenger, his prospects now marginally improved, hangs in contention by a thread.

If it turns out that this season was, indeed, Rossi’s last flirtation with a title, it will mark the end of an astonishing era. Even if he returns to racing this year and again in 2018, his more lucid fans cannot realistically expect him to compete for a tenth world championship. He would simply be honoring his contract with Yamaha, in his inimitable style. And so it goes amongst the yachting set.

Yamaha announced on Monday that no replacement would take Rossi’s spot on the grid at Misano. My guess, that Yamaha’s best test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, would take Rossi’s place was, not surprisingly, wrong. (Some readers will remember the Katman’s samurai performance at Valencia in 2012 when he ended up, after some weirdness, on the second step of the podium.)

It saddens me to consider the possibility that, one day, we will have watched Valentino Rossi race a MotoGP bike for the last time. But over the years we’ve learned not to write him off. He will likely ride again this year and, as regards returning for Yamaha in 2018 (drum roll please…wait for it…) Let Valencia Decide.

Recent History at Misano

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini saw Movistar Yamaha homey Rossi win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time on quasi-Italian soil since San Marino in 2009. The fans immensely enjoyed watching the loathesome Marc Marquez crash his Repsol Honda out of the proceedings at around 50 mph. Two Italian riders on Ducatis claimed spots in the top five. All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory. When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. Some folks lost a lot of money betting on Vale for the championship at that point of that season.

Last year, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career and winless in 2016, busted out on the picturesque sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, worked well enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.

To the casual observer, the Marco Simoncelli Circuit at Misano would appear to be Honda-friendly, with two wins in a row for the Repsol team. Series leader Andrea Dovizioso has started here nine times in the premier class, has finished every race, and has never podiumed. But that was then, and this is now.

The long-range forecast for the weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps heading well into the 80’s on Sunday—Honda conditions. But as we’ve seen numerous times this year, more and more tracks are becoming Ducati-friendly. DesmoDovi, with a lead to protect, needs a podium this time around. A third consecutive win would be totally convenient. At that point we might have to reconsider the entire concept and discuss tracks that are “rider-friendly,” Austin and Marquez leap to mind. And, interestingly, there is a Misano Man, Jorge himself, in the field.

Let’s Tranche Again!

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucci, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rins, Redding
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Rabat, Smith Lowes

After Round 12:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2 Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins↑, A Espargaro↓
Tranche 4: Miller↓, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

A word or two of explanation is in order. Jorge Lorenzo and Scott Redding are up one week and down the next; perhaps they deserve their own Tranche Yo-Yo. The Espargaro brothers are a conundrum. I want to keep Aleix in #2, as he is clearly improving and getting more from the Aprilia than Moto2-bound Sam Lowes. His demotion is due to two poor outings in a row. Finishing 11th and punking Tito Rabat at the flag last time out on the KTM, Little Brother Pol would have easily earned a promotion to Tranche 4 had he not crashed on the warm-down lap, which is sufficiently embarrassing to leave him where he is.

Jack Miller, Ducati-bound next year, just doesn’t give a rip anymore.

I would like to see Too Tall Loris Baz on the Ducati GP16; I think he has the juice to climb into Tranche 2 if he had a better bike. And Alex Rins (9th at Silverstone), now more or less fully healed, is making great strides on his Suzuki and could find himself in #2 as early as next week, especially if, as is his practice, Lorenzo follows up his positive result at Silverstone with a stinker at Misano. Memo to the Zarco and Folger jocks out there: I still think Alex Rins is going to be a baller in MotoGP.

Finally, a word of congratulations to veteran Thomas Luthi on having earned a promotion to MotoGP (Marc VDS) after seven years of loyal service in Moto2. He turns 31 this week, and will team with Franco Morbidelli on what is expected to be a satellite Honda. His Moto2 seat is being taken by a humbled Sam Lowes, sufficiently remorseful about his abrupt dismissal from the Aprilia MotoGP program to immediately announce his intention of winning the Moto2 title in 2018. Dude has stones; not so sure about the chops or the IQ.

Thailand? Thailand.

It’s official—MotoGP will start traveling to Thailand’s Chang International Circuit next year, with Finland coming onboard in 2019. The Powers that Be have announced that next year’s provisional calendar will be released soon. Many of us are wondering what this addition will do to the annual Pacific flyaway rounds. I’m thinking that four races in four weeks, most of them in grueling hot conditions, could push several teams, and a number of journalists covering MotoGP, to the brink. God forbid MO gets invited to send someone to Thailand next year, because that someone would probably be me, and the trip to Malaysia in 2014 put me in the hospital for three days afterwards.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunny and hot weather. No #46. Cubic miles of thick yellow smoke pouring from the grandstands of the faithful. Major pressure on Dovizioso and Vinales, the sole factory Yamaha rep this weekend. Both Repsol Hondas on the podium. Dovizioso on the podium.

Just for the sake of cosmic symmetry, let us assume that Sunday’s results find Pedrosa repeating his win from last year, Marquez second, Dovizioso third, and Vinales fourth. This would produce the following Top Five heading for Aragon:

Misano proj.         Total
1. ADovizioso    3rd place 183 +16= 196
2. MMarquez    2nd place 174 +20 = 194
3. MVinales       4th place 170 +13 =  183
4. DPedrosa       1st place 148 +25 =  173
5. VR                          DNS 157 + 0 =     157

Sorry I can’t get these columns to align correctly.

Am I projecting a Honda 1-2? Seems that way. We’ll have results and analysis here as quickly Sunday as possible. Ciao.

MotoGP 2016 Philip Island Results

October 23, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Cal Crutchlow wins again as Marquez dozes off 

Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided.  Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he seemed to lose focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Crutchlow.

Saturday

Due to what the locals call “a bit of weather” and visitors often refer to as “a bloody howling gale” practice on Friday was basically a windy washout, FP1 being a scramble and FP2 called off entirely.  Which meant that the revised practice schedule and times on Saturday would be crucial in getting through to Q2.  The solution would require the use of differential equations.

Whereas the weather on Friday had been impossible, by Saturday it had improved to awful.  Marc Marquez, homeboy Jackass Miller and the Espargaro brothers peopled the top of the timesheets in FP3.  Beer sales in Australia jumped.  FP4 featured more rain and a top five of #Merican Nicky Hayden, Marquez, big brother Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki, plucky Loris Baz and Miller the mudder.  Beer sales in the United States were unaffected.

After several computer runs, Race Direction concluded the following riders would have to pass through Q1 if they wished to participate in Q2:  For the first time since the current format was adopted, The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Bradley Smith, etc..

To make things worse, Lorenzo and Crutchlow took the top two spots in the session, leaving Vinales in 13th and Rossi in 15th and, joined by Smith, producing one of the strongest fifth rows in MotoGP history.  There would be some cutting up to do on Sunday.  Meanwhile, for the first time, Rossi failed to make it to Q2.  Timing, poor luck, karma, slowing synapses, whatever.

Q2 was run in drying conditions with rain expected to arrive mid-session.  Tire combinations ran the gamut.  The conventional wisdom was that pole would be decided in the first 10 minutes.  Interlopers included Repsol’s Hayden, Aprilia’s Bradl and Pramac striver Danilo Petrucci.

After a single lap on intermediates, Marquez, Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and Petrucci came back in to change tires.  Marquez changed over to slicks front and back.  As the skies darkened, Marquez went out and ran a series of fast laps, one of the only riders on slicks, ultimately capturing pole by 8/10ths of a second.  Moral:  With a trophy in your back pocket, you can afford to take a few extra risks.  And the rain never arrived.

He was joined on the front row by Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who pimped Jack Miller and brother Aleix on the last Q2 lap to jump from fifth to third.  Row 2 included Aleix, Jackass and Danilo Petrucci, the top Ducati qualifier.  For the record, Jorge Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha limped to an embarrassing 12th place on the grid, slow even on slicks on the final few laps.  Seems to be saving himself for Ducati, where he will have to re-learn how to ride fast in the rain and perhaps in general.

Nicky Hayden is in for Pedrosa this weekend.  Dude qualified seventh.  Ahead of guys named Dovizioso and Lorenzo and Vinales and Rossi.  With no time to learn his way around a bike that loves to throw you into the cheap seats.  (Had he podiumed, unlikely as it was, they could have made a movie out of it.  Paging Mark Neale.)

Kudos to Dorna for such beautiful helicopter images of the track and the ocean.  They call to mind a ground-level photo of #51 Sic on the gas, the air fractured around him, the ocean behind hin, head down, a week before Sepang 2011.

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix

A brilliant sun rose over the windswept beauty of the venue on Sunday, a visual spectacle, while on the track conditions were cold, raw, crisp, brisk, etc., and dangerous.  Getting heat into the tires, especially the fronts, was at the front of everyone’s mind.  Once the lights went out, Pol Espargaro took the holeshot from third into the early lead, but surrendered it to Marquez at Turn 4, from whence The Champ would eventually crash on Lap 10.  Crutchlow found himself sandwiched by the two Espargaros.

My notes on Lap 5 include “Here comes Rossi,” who, at that time, had worked his way from 15th to sixth.  The MotoGP version of trying to get to a center seat in a crowded theatre. “Excuse me…thank you…pardon…yes, thanks…sorry…many thanks…”

Crutchlow, now firmly ensconced in Tranche 2, appeared to put second place away by Lap 8 except for the pesky Rossi, who kept picking off riders—Pol Espargaro on Lap 7 to 5th place; Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati on Lap 8 into 4th; Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki on Lap 10 into 3rd. When Marquez went down, everyone received a promotion, Crutchlow into the lead.

During all of this, Rossi’s future teammate and Alien apprentice Maverick Vinales, also on a Suzuki, also starting from the southern end of the island in 13th place, was moving on up to join his teammate and Dovizioso as they sparred for third.  Though unable to attack Crutchlow, Rossi secured second place as the battle for third widened, and Dovizioso found himself sandwiched by Suzukis.

At the end of the day, Crutchlow, Rossi and Vinales stood on the podium.  Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro and an irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo, on his way to Tranche 3, trailed, with Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller completing the top 10.  Yes, Aleix crashed his Suzuki late in the day.  Yes, Scott Redding failed to make any real headway in his personal battle with teammate Petrucci for a factory GP in 2017, with Petrucci in the lead, contrary to what I wrote a week ago.  Yes, Bradley Smith came out of nowhere, after dawdling in the mid-teens most of the day.

And yes, Nicky Hayden crashed very late, courtesy of a nudge from an oblivious Jack Miller, so intent on securing his own lackluster place today that he would ruin Hayden’s likely last MotoGP appearance, at least in factory colors, ever.

Come on, man.  You’re racing for, like, 10th place in a season going nowhere, nothing really at stake, right next to a former world champion and MotoGP legend.  Give the guy a little space, cosmic or earthly; make up for it later.  Hayden has earned your respect.  They don’t call you Jackass for nothing I suppose.

The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang

Marquez is STILL the champion.  Rossi has now put some daylight between himself and teammate Lorenzo, carrying a 24-point lead for second place into Round 17.  Lorenzo, apparently loafing around these days, needs to start worrying about Maverick Vinales, who trails him by 11 points and vectoring upward.  Or maybe the Mallorcan is beyond worrying.

The injured Dani Pedrosa has fallen to fifth and is not expected to compete in Malaysia, opening the door for Crutchlow, who sits sixth after today’s win and could easily jump a spot next week.  Dovizioso trails the Brit by a mere four points and could have his own designs on fifth place.  Pol Espargaro appears to have eighth place to himself.  Andrea Iannone is expected back next week to defend his 12- point margin over Hector Barbera, who crashed out of both races in which he was allowed to ride The Maniac’s GP16, gaining no ground on the Italian whatsoever.  Mike Jones did a very credible job parachuting in for the Avintia Ducati.

From freezing gale to equatorial heat in three days, the flying circus heads off for Kuala Lumpur, where it’s brutally hot and rainy.  The track at Sepang has recently been re-modeled and re-paved to eliminate much of the standing water of the type that almost cost Marquez his career, his 2011 hydroplaning practice crash there overshadowed by the Simoncelli events the next day.  He would experience double vision for six months, his career in jeopardy.  One trusts he will be more circumspect this time around.

2016 Phillip Island Results

MotoGP 2016 Championship Standings after 16 Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Motegi Results

October 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez – 2016 Campeón Mundial! 

For the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and legend Valentino Rossi—choked on their own bile, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error.  This unlikely confluence of events is responsible for, among other things, the very pedestrian championship celebration prior to the podium.  Nothing like the Bushido spectacle we watched in 2014. 

Notes from Practice and Qualifying 

Repsol              FP2–Pedrosa out; Aoyama in.  Pedrosa needs to think about retiring before he starts to resemble Quasimodo.  Second serious injury suffered here by “The Master of Motegi.”  The break, which left his right collarbone in four pieces, was described by the rider’s surgeon as the “least serious” of all of Dani’s collarbone breaks.  Right.

Ducati                   Iannone out; Barbera in.

Avintia                  Barbera out; Mike Jones in.

Yamaha                 Katman Nakasuga wildcard

Lorenzo, Dovi, Marquez and Vinales were quick on Friday.  Smith and Miller returned from injury, young Jack needing to get some laps in before fighting for the win at Phillip Island next week–in his head.  Smith is lapping very slowly on Friday and appears to be saving himself for KTM.  Miller starts 14th, with Smith alongside him in the last spot on the fifth row.

Rossi somehow took the pole everyone in the joint expected would belong to Marquez, with #93 second and Lorenzo somehow completing the front row.  An international second row formed up on the top Ducati qualifier, Italian Andrea Dovizioso, joined by Brit Cal Crutchlow and Spaniard Aleix Espargaro, who whipped his Suzuki hard, pushing teammate Maverick Vinales, in seventh by 4/100ths of a second, to the third row and feeling pretty good about it.

If nothing else, Mike Jones, the replacement for Barbera at Avintia, won the battle of “Who Gets to Wear #7?”, beating Hiro Aoyama who, denied his usual number by some guy named Mike Jones, went with #73 and a long story as to why.

Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez each have 64 poles across all classes.  Rossi’s been at it 21 years, Lorenzo 15 and Marquez nine.  And, by the way, 64 is the all-time record, which will get broken a number of times every year for the next decade at least.  Is this the Golden Age of motorcycle racing?  Possibly.

The Race 

The 2016 Japanese Grand Prix was, itself, a conventional, low-drama affair.  Early on, the Yamahas asserted themselves, as the front group consisted of Lorenzo, Marquz, Rossi and Aleix Espargaro, who, along with his teammate Maverick Vinales, discovered how much the Suzuki GSX-RR does love itself some Motegi.  Rossi took a couple of swings at Marquez early but couldn’t get anything to stick, while Lorenzo was riding with “bumps and bruises” suffered on Saturday morning that would leave most mortals lying in a hospital somewhere.  Marquez went through on Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 4.  Rossi crashed on Lap 7.  Lorenzo crashed on Lap 20.  Season over.  Oh, and Dovizioso claimed second while Vinales took third.

Historians will argue for years weeks as to where this race was actually won, or lost.  Some will insist it was at Turn 10 on Sunday when Rossi went lowside, unforced, for the third time this season.  Some will say it was at Turn 9 on Sunday, where Marquez went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 and where Lorenzo lost his grits on Lap 20, the moment at which Marquez effectively clinched the title.  Some will say it was Turn 2 on Saturday, when Lorenzo crashed heavily in FP3 and was airlifted to the local hospital, only to return in time for FP4.  After Lap 4, when Marquez took the lead for good, the only drama concerned whether the 2016 trophy would be awarded to Marquez in Japan or Australia.

Random Thoughts Before The Big Picture 

  • The pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi, especially, had to be immense while the riders waited for the red lights to go out. Rossi, who suffers notoriously from jetlag, can’t have been feeling great sitting on pole, while Lorenzo had been in a wheelchair with an IV drip barely 28 hours earlier.  It was pressure for one and pain for the other that forced the errors.  It also extended the Yamaha non-winning streak to 8.
  • Riders at Motegi spend 30% of their time on the brakes. Looks like the fabled braking power of the Yamaha M1 may be overrated, as Pol Espargaro was the top-finishing Yamaha 19 seconds behind Marquez.
  • In the Redding vs. Petrucci cage match going on at Pramac Ducati, Scott Redding exercised his “rope-a-dope” strategy to perfection, staying on teammate Danilo Petrucci’s rear wheel all day and conceding a single point to the Italian. Not sure what the official score is in the garage, as Petrucci was penalized by management for his takedown of Redding in Aragon.
  • Today’s race attendance was just over 52,000. Back in the late 70’s I was sitting in a friendly nickel-dime-quarter poker game one night and drew three cards inside to a straight flush for a $2.00 pot.  Marquez today probably felt at least a little like I did that night long ago, taking the world championship thousands of miles from home in front of a small crowd in the middle of the night.
  • What is the Repsol Honda team going to do with all the props they’ve packed away for the Phillip Island championship celebration? 

The Big Picture

With three races left, we turn our attention to the MotoGP undercards and the Moto2 title fight.  Johann Zarco gave himself some breathing room over challenger Alex Rins by taking second place today while Rins finished out of the points, presumably the result of a crash or a leisurely walkabout in the kitty litter.  Zarco’s 21-point cushion with three rounds left make him the odds-on favorite to become the first repeat Moto2 champion since the category came into existence.

The undercards in the premier class:

  • Rossi and Lorenzo recorded DNFs; Rossi’s margin over Lorenzo in the battle for second best remains 14.
  • Maverick Vinales leapt over the injured Dani Pedrosa into fourth place for the season with his 16 points today, to the delight of Team Suzuki.
  • Andrea Dovizioso’s podium today pushed him past Cal Crutchlow into sixth place. Crutchlow, for his part, rallied from a non-descript start to finish fifth and blamed disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field for his poor start.
  • Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro claimed 10 points today, breaking the tie for eighth place with the idle Andrea Iannone.
  • Suzuki pilot Aleix Espargaro, on the strength of his formidable fourth place finish today, cut Hector Barbera’s lead in the race for 10th to two points. This despite the fact that Barbera had a shiny new Avintia Racing GP16 to crash today, which he took full advantage of on Lap 9.

Marching to Pretoria

Round 16 launches this next week at Phillip Island.  As such, it kicks off the dreaded Epilogue section of the season, the three races (and three previews) we here at MO need to spice up to maintain your interest and engagement once the title has been decided.  (Not that our usual work has all that much to do with motorcycle racing anyway.)  Rest assured that we’ve kept our own powder dry and are fully prepared to speculate on things at least remotely related to MotoGP in Australia, Malaysia and Spain.

As Arlo Guthrie admitted in the folk classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” I’m not proud.  Or tired.

MotoGP 2016 Motegi Preview

October 4, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Yamaha non-win streak is a thing 

Round 15 of the 2016 MotoGP championship is the first leg of the annual Pacific flyaway, three races in three weeks during which the title will be decided.  Unlike 2013 and last year, this year’s finale at Valencia will not be the dramatic season-decider they love hosting in Spain in November.  A question gaining traction in the paddock raises the issue of whether it’s the Honda winning the title or the Yamahas losing it.  Big Blue hasn’t had a win this year since Rossi’s win over Marquez at Catalunya back in early June. 

After going four-for-four between Jerez and Catalunya, things have gone badly for the factory Yamaha team, their current winless streak their longest since, um, a long time ago.  Factory officials deny any problem, giving us the “it’s just one of those things that happen some years…” explanation.  Rossi continues to fight hard, the end of his career somewhere on the horizon.  Lorenzo, since Mugello, has amassed 67 points out of a possible 200.  Do people agree it’s a fair statement that most of the wins collected by the six non-Movistar winners have come at the expense of the Yamaha factory team, specifically Jorge?  Is it possible he has, subconsciously, checked out?  Seeing red, as it were?

The 2016-2017 workout conducted by the Repsol Honda team at Aragon on 9/28, their fifth day of the five allotted to them this season, was characterized as fruitful.

All of which puts a little extra pressure on young Vinales heading into 2017. 

Recent history at Motegi

The 2013 race, preceded by two typhoons and an earthquake, was won by, of all people, Jorge Lorenzo.  Marquez and Pedrosa followed, the only riders to finish within five seconds of the Mallorcan.  A good idea of how Rossi’s day went is the fact that he ended up in sixth place behind Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.

In 2014 it was All Aliens, All the Time as Lorenzo led a pack of highly-paid pursuers to the finish line, with Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa all following on their factory machines, the time between 1st and 4th a scant 3.1 seconds. Though Dovizioso took pole, the four Aliens were grouped 2 to 5. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and, in the process, clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which might have cost the Catalan the race, had it mattered. The second-world-title Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat overdone, testament to the belief of many that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Last year, Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair.  Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso on the Ducati.

Pedrosa would go on to win at Sepang.  He recorded seven wins in 2012 to two in 2015; he is well along the back nine of his distinguished career.

Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo stood at 18 points with three rounds to go.  The title was his to lose.

Elevated Frustration Coefficients 

Aside from Marquez, every rider on the grid is suffering from Elevated Frustration Coefficients (EFC) due to the circumstances of his 2016 season, the number raised by every piece of bad equipment, bad riding, bad luck and low rent under the sun.  Here are a few—

  • Valentino Rossi: a slide-off in Texas, an engine in Italy, a careless fall at Assen stand between him and a title chase. He loathes his teammate.  And he’s been caught on camera recently being somewhat crude.  Hurts t-shirt sales.  EFC unusually high.
  • Jorge Lorenzo: crashed in Argentina and Catalunya; made a hash of the middle of the season. Appears unable to compete on wet tracks.  Starting to look like a short-timer at Movistar Yamaha.  Trailing Rossi elevates his EFC.
  • Dani Pedrosa: disaster of a season somewhat revived by his stirring win at Misano. Continues to have grip problems on a bike being built to Marquez specifications.  Giving feedback on new equipment while #93 stays on his 2014 frame.  EFC somewhat dulled, along with expectations.
  • Maverick Vinales: on the cusp of greatness.  Already being called an Alien—he’s not.  But he soon will be on the factory Yamaha.  With Rossi there to guide him until they become rivals—figure six rounds next season—he will have a steep learning curve, nothing he can’t handle.  Less stressed than most.
  • Cal Crutchlow: in a perfect world he would be leading the championship series.  Just ask him.  As it is, he’s a midfielder with more quotes than podiums.  He won his race this season.  Will there be more?  EFC gets raised by waking up in the morning.

And so on and so on.  The lead that Marquez has built, one brick at a time, along with the drought at Movistar Yamaha, along with the startling EFC data, suggest he will have to be suckered into losing the 2016 title.  The only thing that can hurt him now is crashing out of a round or two.  People praying for a close premier class finish must necessarily pray for rain, otherwise it appears to be smooth sailing for Marquez and his third title in four seasons.

Here’s what 2017 looks like in Tranches 1-4:

Same Equip                New Equip

  1. Marquez (1)      Lorenzo (2)
  2. Rossi (2)            Vinales (2)
  3. Pedrosa (3)       Iannone (3)
  4. Crutchlow (2)  P Espargaro (3)
  5. Dovizioso (3)    Rins (3)
  6. Barbera (4)        A Espargaro (3)
  7. Redding (4)
  8. Bautista (4)
  9. Petrucci (3)

The changes at the top of the food chain—Lorenzo to Ducati, Vinales to Yamaha, Iannone and Rins to Suzuki—appear to weaken Marquez’s 2017 competition, as all of these guys will be on new equipment.  Rossi remains the exception, and will continue to press the detested Spaniard.  The 2017 Yamaha M1 is being advertised as a quantum evolution of the bike; one assumes Honda engineers have something going on to give the RC213V more grunt coming out of turns.  Can Yamaha improve their bike by more than enough to compensate for the growing realization that, mano á mano, Marquez, today, probably beats Valentino on identical equipment?  Can Lorenzo and Vinales crack the top five consistently on new rides?  What if it rains?  Is Crutchlow actually in Tranche 2?

Here We Go Again

The MotoGP season is beginning to resemble a Red state/Blue state map of the racing world.  Both Honda and Yamaha (joined by Ducati) have tracks where they are expected to win, due to layout, design, average speed, average corner speed, etc.  Austin for the Hondas, Mugello for the Yamahas, etc.  Red and blue states if you will, where holding serve is imperative.  This, then, leaves the “battleground states,” the tracks where neither manufacturer enjoys a distinct advantage.  Teams fight desperately for wins in those battleground states, as they typically decide the title when things go according to form. They also present opportunities for upsets—see Assen over the years.

Marquez, with four wins and ten podiums, has scored points in blue and red states.  Starting to smell a landslide.

Riders Returning

Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Factory Ducati), and probably Jack Miller (Marc VDS Honda) will return to the track off of injuries, following Loris Baz, who came back for Avintia Racing at Aragon.  All the regulars should be out for practice on Friday.  Thank you very much to Alex Lowes, Michele Pirro and Nicky Hayden for helping to fill up the grid of late.

We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon on Sunday.

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

September 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead 

Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain.  By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left.  A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014. 

2016-09-25-12Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap.  Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.

The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions.  A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.2016-09-25-18

Disorder at the Start

As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today.  Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7.  From there, he went like this:

Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5

Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7

Passed Vinales on Lap 10

Passed Rossi on Lap 12

It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process).  Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez.  One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.

2016-09-25 (19).png

Off the Podium

Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance.  Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10.  Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.

In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say.  Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury.  Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals.  Bravo Nicky!

Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati 

The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away.  Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season.  They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.

In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much.  Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2.  (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.)  Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.

Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season.  No more whining.  He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one.  He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns.  As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50.  May the better man win.  But please, no more takedowns.

In the Junior Circuits

Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans.  (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder.  The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens.  I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.)  BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group.  At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds.  Give the people what they want—close racing.  Screw the displacement.

In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia.  This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane.  To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title.  Very impressive performance.

Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco.  By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point.  Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head.  Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.

The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific

All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing.  The rest of the contenders break down nicely.  Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second.  Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth.  Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth.  Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth.  And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th.  People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.

Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang;  26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today.  The math is easy.

Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders.  No rest for the wicked.  Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading.  Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.

MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Preview

September 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere.  In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished.  It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in.  Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

It’s getting crowded up front.

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable.  Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011.  When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks.  His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race.  The forecast is for dry and warm conditions.  He has everything going for him and should win the race.  As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds.  Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez.  Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable.  Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled.  Exhibit A:  The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively.  Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall.

While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know–the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati.  (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece.  By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Too Tall Baz.)

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains.  Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place.  Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day.  But the diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year.  Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.”  This is not meant as criticism.  It might explain why Hondo so willingly signed him for another two years.  If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even.  And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

Rossi           69

Crutchlow    54

Marquez      53

Vinales        53

Pedrosa       49

Lorenzo       40

Dovizioso     40

Iannone       33

My original idea for the Misano race summary—a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow—which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers.  (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help.  Nor did the outburst that followed.)  The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish.  My apologies.  I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

As for Rossi, the world is correct.  An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia.  (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore.  You can have sixteen strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider.  Then count points.  A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season.  It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha—his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice.  Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.  Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems–just a flesh wound—but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule.  And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off.  The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend.  It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas.  Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days.  Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso.  Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS.  I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Misano Preview

September 6, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez looks to deliver knockout blow in San Rimini 

The picturesque Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli welcomes the 2016 round at a critical point in the season.  Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez sits on the cusp of clinching his third premier class title, with the Movistar Yamahas of Vale Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in desperate pursuit.  Four non-Aliens have won the last four rounds.  Parity has set in.  The Suzuki, factory Ducati and LCR Honda teams are legit.  The Aliens finally have company—the premier class is no longer just their sandbox. 

Fifty points in 2016 is a lot more than it was in 2013.  More contenders, more traffic at the front, faster back markers.  Rain becoming the norm.  Pacific Swing looming.  The Yamahas will, by definition, be pressing—win or bin is all that is left for them.  Marquez can afford to play very carefully.  He can also afford to occasionally vent his competitive juices with a multi-lap high-speed joust with the GOAT in Britain.

Marquez is now the careful, strategic thinker.  Cal Crutchlow, with three podia including a win in his last four, has suddenly become the fast, semi-demonic force that Marquez was back in 2013, despite being a decade older.

Final Thoughts on Silverstone 

  • Loris Baz ankle injury and Pol Espargaro bumps and bruises: Could have been worse. Think falling down a flight of concrete stairs.
  • Factory Ducatis had arm pump issues Sunday.   Dovizioso is hurt and Iannone still too excitable.
  • Silverstone has the race again next year, with a track option for 2018. Is Wales ever going to happen, or is it just another pipe dream gone up in smoke?  At least the executive director of the group trying to put Ebbw Vale on the map got his home landscaping upgraded.
  • Great to see MM and VR and CC bare their teeth and get a chance to really go at one another, fast and clean and ridiculous. Rossi has forgotten more about racing than most guys ever know, and Marquez has the gyroscope and reflexes to do the impossible.  Crutchlow is on a hot streak, hot enough to send Marquez into the Great Wide Open Sunday after contact late in the race.

Recent History in Misano

Round 13 in 2013: rookie Marc Marquez breezed into San Marino in first place, leading teammate Dani Pedrosa by 30 points and defending champion Lorenzo by 39.  Lorenzo gave the crowd one of his machine-like performances, taking the lead early, putting his head down, and recording 27 smooth, fast laps, with Marquez unable to get any closer than 3 seconds and second place.  As the day ended, Marquez increased his lead to 34 points with five rounds left in the season.

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered locally for a number of pleasant things.  The fans got to see their idol, Movistar Yamaha wraith Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy-ish since San Marino in 2009.  They were lifted by the joy of watching that stronzo Marquez lay down his Repsol Honda going perhaps 80 kph.  They saw their national bike, Ducati, place two Italian riders in the top five.  All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.  In the end it was a better year to be Marc Marquez.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the weather gods were thoroughly bored, watching Jorge Lorenzo put another methodical sleeper on rivals teammate Valentino Rossi and the annoying Marc Marquez.  So they decided to have a little fun, turning on the rain around Lap 6 and turning it off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.

When the laughter died down, Marc Marquez had a win, Smith and Redding finished on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead to 23 with five left. Jorge Lorenzo was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires and in desperate need to catch Rossi.  Per fake Yamaha press release hours later, “Comrade Lorenzo has no issues riding in the rain. That is an order.”

Told You So.  Mostly.

Some time back I did a segment in which I was banging on about how riders who jump ship for big money during the season go on to have down years.  Turns out I’m mostly right.  As re: Maverick Vinales–a closet Republican, I’m one of those who view facts that contradict my thesis as mere inconveniences.

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
LORENZO 224 146
IANNONE 150 96
SMITH 115 42
VINALES 67 125

The exception to the rule—there’s always one, or two or, in this case, three–are the brothers Espargaro.  Pol leaves Tech 3 next year for KTM, while Aleix leaves Suzuki, reluctantly, for the Gresini factory Aprilia effort.  Here are their numbers, carrying this whole brother thing a little far, in my opinion:

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
P.ESPARGARO 81 60
A.ESPARGARO 81 60

OK, fine.  Here’s the rest of the guys I’m interested in who stayed put:

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
ROSSI 236 160
MARQUEZ 159 210
DOVIZIOSO 120 89
PEDROSA 102 120
CRUTCHLOW 74 86

As a recovering economist, I could easily argue that staying put produces a random and largely neutral distribution of outcomes.  But, if your rider just got signed by the competition, be prepared for a bad season.

Unless it’s an Espargaro, in which case it will also be a bad season.  But for different reasons.

Thinking about it some more, it is obvious that the number of riders each year who experience an objectively good season can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather this weekend is expected to be Riviera-ish, low 80’s and dry on Friday and Saturday, with a chance of weather moving in on Sunday afternoon (!).  Personally, I doubt it will rain, based solely upon the law of averages.

As to who might end up on the top step of the podium:  Candidates include Marquez, Rossi, Crutchlow and Vinales.  Lorenzo if conditions are perfect and no one calls him any bad names.  Iannone if he can pay attention for the full 45 minutes.  Dani Pedrosa if he simply says, “To hell with it,” puts his head down and rides.

The practice sessions on Friday and Saturday will be revealing.  Who will be the hot rider this weekend?

We’ll have results and analysis right here later on Sunday.

 

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Reflection: The Riders

September 3, 2016

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP demands a number of difficult things from riders simultaneously.  The great ones find a way, mentally, to juggle all of this sensory input, to keep it all “under consideration” and as balanced as possible at 200 mph.  Very complex neural networks for most of these guys.  We see, over time, the top riders emerge.  The equipment is secondary; the Alien title is not bestowed on the machine but on the man who rides it.  His “to do” list during a race is staggering:

  • Beat teammate.
  • Do not crash.
  • Keep it on line.
  • Keep it on revs.
  • Keep positioned to overtake.
  • Keep it in gear.
  • Watch braking points
  • Watch gas and gauges.
  • Stay in lead group.
  • Conserve rubber.
  • Humiliate certain opponents, if possible.
  • Do not get schooled by other riders.
  • Watch settings.
  • Watch pit board, or not.
  • Win in turns.
  • In rain, double all of the above.

During all this, we can only imagine what a recording of a Valentino Rossi during the 45 minutes of a race would sound like, in Italian.  Imagine a grinding drone of guttural, high-pitched noise, interspersed with bits of epithets against riders and their mothers, as well as shards of prayers to The Virgin.  Perhaps 180 F bombs.  Each overtake accompanied by an airy “B-bye!!”  Late in the race, ideally, more of the same. In a perfect world, it’s a jubilant AMF! to his Spanish rivals. Occasional despair, stronzo this, stronzo that, and plenty of self-recrimination.  See blown engine in Mugello.

One of Rossi’s gifts, in addition to the ability to keep a lot of plates in the air, is his honesty, with himself, and, when convenient, with the public; he does shill for a lot of companies.  Bottom line—he has retained many of the above skills from the time he was the best rider on the planet, and has seen several others diminished.  He makes up for these losses by being more strategic, more of a long term thinker.

He’s seen it all before.  When he has the magical “pace”, he can still win races.  When he doesn’t he doesn’t over-ride to compensate.  Pretty much plays the cards dealt to him, but still plays as hard as ever.  And sells bazillions of hats, T shirts and leather riding jackets at what? $2500 per?  It’s good to be king.

I was told by a guy I worked for years ago that the way to become successful in business is by learning to enjoy and do well things other people don’t want to do.  It’s much the same in MotoGP, other than it’s something other folks CAN’T DO, to combine these skills—muscle tone, clarity of vision, balance, aggression, and courage.  Along with, ahem, mechanical aptitude.

These guys do for motorcycle folks what the NHL does for hockey folks.  Sure, you can wander down to the local high school and watch kids play hockey.  But an NHL game is radically faster, more precise, more violent, and, ultimately, way more interesting than the HS game unless your kid was starting on the #1 scoring line.

So it is for MotoGP riders and their bikes who, compared to normal “commute during the week and ride for fun on weekends” folks, operate on a different plane.  At speeds and lean angles most can only imagine.  I wish more people were into it.  The fact that Americans are no longer competitive at this level does not surprise us, but their absence puts makes it hard for the series to draw much interest from the U.S., despite the size of the market.  It’s a huge car market and a limited motorcycle market.

For every Yamaha sold in the U.S. probably 20 are sold worldwide, especially at the smaller displacement end of the range.  Asian markets are motorcycle markets—streets are congested, gas is confiscatory, speed doesn’t really matter.  People walk and ride bikes.  The main thoroughfares in most large Asian cities would not support their current traffic levels if everyone drove cars. So the U.S. will stay screwed re watching MotoGP on cable.  You have to go to pay-per-view or subscribe to the MotoGP feed.  Pricey, need to be a little nuts to do it. Or have money to burn.

It’s Silverstone race weekend 2016 and I’m thinking mostly about the riders.

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

With six different winners in the last six races, trying to predict a winner for Round 12 is a fool’s errand.  The usual suspects (minus Dani Pedrosa), Iannone, Miller, Crutchlow—who’s next?  During this period, series leader Marc Marquez has built his lead over his nearest pursuers by being aggressive when he can and protective when he can’t.  With #93 up 50+ heading to the two-thirds marker, there’s an eerie absence of pressure.  Marquez can be cautious from here on out, while the Yamahas, or at least Rossi, have already conceded defeat.  Sunday’s race should be a nice stroll in the Northamptonshire countryside, then.

Except for crazed, ravenous guys like Crutchlow, winner last time out, Iannone, who popped his premier class cherry in Austria, and even The Black Knight, Jack Miller, who insists his latest injury is “only a flesh wound.”  Dani Pedrosa needs a win in the worst possible way.  Andrea Dovizioso is long overdue for his second.  And, with an assist from the weather, guys like Scott Redding might easily see themselves perched on the top step of the podium as #Sevenofseven. 

Recent History at Silverstone

The 2013 British GP was one of the great contests since I started covering MotoGP in 2008.  Marquez, with a 26-point lead over Dani Pedrosa after Brno, dislocated his shoulder in the morning WUP (nearly taking Alvaro Bautista’s RC213V in the teeth as he, too, slid off seconds later), then commenced a day-long chase of Jorge Lorenzo before finally succumbing at the flag by a microscopic 8/100ths of a second.  Pedrosa, in the mix all day, podiumed in third, a second and a half behind Lorenzo. The Spanish slugfest up front left Rossi and the other factory bikes sucking wind off in the distance.  On a day that appeared ripe for the field to close the gap on the leader, Marquez left Great Britain sore, but leading the championship by more than when he arrived.  Battle lost.  War won.  Perhaps the best British Grand Prix in the modern era.

2014’s gorgeous British GP made it three dry races in a row.  With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards again went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead.  Marquez took a run at him on Lap 14, but couldn’t make it stick.  On Lap 18, though, after a little bumping and grinding, the young Catalan wonder went through for good on the way to his 11th win of the season.  At the wire, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), with the top five made up of Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2).  The win put Marquez 10 for 11 on the year, brimming with confidence heading to Misano.

2015: Round 12 of the season was shaping up as another Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the two brightest lights of the sport hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, making up the top four.  The weather waited to intervene until just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

The main Spanish contingent at the 2015 race got rolled, as Marquez flipped his Repsol Honda RC213V out of second place in pursuit of Rossi at Turn 1 of Lap 13 while Pedrosa could manage but a weak fifth.  Lorenzo, who led early, gave us no reason to doubt that he hates riding in the rain; having fallen as far back as sixth by mid-race, he managed to recover sufficiently to finish fourth, going through on Pedrosa late, well after Marquez had left the building.  With all of his damage-control modules flashing red, Lorenzo managed to limit his debit to teammate Rossi today to 12 points; it could have been much worse.  Having started the race dead even, Lorenzo left down 12 with six left.  No hill for a climber.

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

Rossi—a fourth, a third and a win last year.

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

  • Dovizioso’s knee injury called “small” on MotoGP.com, quoting Dovi as saying,“…at the end of the test in Misano unfortunately my foot got stuck in the gravel and my knee twisted. I strained the medial collateral ligament and the anterior cruciate. Thanks to the Medical Centre at the Misano World Circuit for the instant support, my staff and the Fisiology Center; we are doing everything possible to be in the best condition to race the Silverstone GP.” Dovizioso’s status for Silverstone is Probable.
  • Bradley Smith leg injury: Slumming at the Oschersleben 8 Hours, Smith crashed during the free practice session.  No femur break, but definitely going to leave a mark. Brit Alex Lowes, who recently tested the Tech 3 M-1, will replace Smith at Silverstone and Misano.  Dude has DNF written all over him.
  • Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider Alex Rins (Moto2), contender, broke his left collarbone in a training crash. The Spanish Moto2™ rider suffered the injury during routine training on Wednesday, and underwent surgery on Thursday. Dr. Xavier Mir performed the operation in Spain. Go figure.  Rins’s status for Silverstone is, ahem, Probable.  No one, however, should doubt that rival Johann Zarco will become history’s first repeat winner in the Moto2 class.
  • Eugene Laverty’s pride. Despite having outpointed his competitors in Tranches 4 and 5, he is forced to step down to World Superbike:
  • Laverty 63
  • Scott Reading 54               Satellite Ducati
  • A Espargaro 51                   Satellite Ducati
  • Jack Miller 42                     Satellite Honda
  • Bradley Smith 42              Factory KTM
  • (Stefan Bradl) 39               WSBK, tail between legs
  • Alvaro Bautista 35              Satellite Ducati
  • Loris Baz 24                          Satellite Ducati
  • Yonny Hernandez   8         Satellite Ducati

So how does Gene Laverty not get an offer for 2017 and the likes of Bautista, Baz and Hernandez do? The obvious and unfortunate answer is, disappointingly, money.  Laverty, the Northern Ireland Brit, cannot make it rain the way some of these other guys can. If MotoGP is, indeed, 70% rider and 30% bike, owners are missing a bet overlooking Laverty on two-year-old hardware.  And, in a rather refreshing manner, he is one who avoids talking about his ability at length and instead comes across as humble, scrambling for a non-humiliating ride for 2017 which turns out to be a Ducati in WSBK, perhaps contending for a title.  Too old for a second visit to MotoGP in two years even if he has some success at Super Bikes.  He’ll be 33, and Rossi’s young Italians will be all over the place.

Thus, the inescapable conclusion that owners can do better financially and reputation-wise with a highly sponsored, non-competitive rider than with a leaner operation/pilot that threatens for podia on a regular basis.

The riders and their teams raise money and bring team sponsors along; guys like Hernandez must be almost irresistible: ”With warmest regards from my Colombian countrymen, here is more money than you’ve ever seen.  There will be some crashes.  Please be my team.  Thank you.”  I had Hernandez pegged for great things this year, based on what he had done during the offseason, but he doesn’t appear to have it any longer, if indeed he ever did.  Yet he will still be scoring MotoGP-caliber women, while Laverty will be relegated to Tranche 2 of the Rider Groupie guild.

Whither the Weather

Weather looks iffy this weekend.  As usual this time of year, the race goes off early Sunday morning Eastern time.  We will have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Results

August 21, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Cal Crutchlow first Brit since 1981 to win a GP 

With three wet/dry races in the last four rounds, MotoGP fans should be getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring, but was joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  Today, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez.  Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series.

The practice sessions leading up to today’s race were warm and dry, with most of the usual suspects at or near the top of the sheets.  As usual in 2016, at tracks where the new ECU and Michelins haven’t been tested, it took some of the riders awhile to sort things out.  Dani Pedrosa, for example, ended the respective sessions 11th, 15th, 6th and 4th, and had to make it out of Q1 before starting the race in ninth place.

As qualifying session two approached the 15-minute mark, it looked like a race—Marquez, chasing Lorenzo’s impossibly quick qualifying and track record lap, found himself, late in a very quick lap, in a close encounter with Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha and Rossi on his Movistar Yamaha.  Marquez went through on both, hot-knife-through-butter style, on his way to an inconceivable track record lap of 1:54.596.  Rossi, unaware he was in Marquez’s way, seemed surprised when #93 blew past him and then barely dodged the slower Espargaro.  At the end of the session, it was Marquez, Lorenzo and Iannone on a very strong front row.  Had Marquez been running in clean air, he could have touched 1:54.2.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

As we’ve seen numerous times this season, two sunny days of practice yielded to a rainy, wet, miserable Sunday.  This reduced the Sunday attendance from 138,000 last year to 85,000 today.  Moto3 ran in a downpour; Moto2 in a steady rain until the last few laps.  As the premier class tilt approached, there was mass confusion in the garages and on the grid regarding tire choices.  And, in the end, it was tire choices that determined the outcome of the race.

As everyone knows by now, the correct choice for this race was the hard option front and rear.  At this writing, I am aware that five of the top eight finishers put hard tires on the rear—Crutchlow, Rossi, Loris Baz (17th to 4th), Hector Barbera, and Eugene Laverty (15th to 6th).  Marquez, expecting a flag-to-flag affair, went with soft/soft, as did Andrea Iannone.  Danilo Petrucci, who finished seventh on his Pramac Ducati, appeared to have the hard rear, but this is unconfirmed.  And while the riders on the softer tires had things their way during the first half of the race, it was the harder options which delivered the win to Crutchlow, second to Rossi, and fourth to a surprised Loris Baz in his best ever MotoGP result.

Some selected glimpses of the standings at various points in today’s race show:

  • Crutchlow finishing Lap 7 in 12th place;
  • Rossi finishing Lap 9 in 10th;
  • Baz finishing Lap 8 in 14th; and
  • Eugene Laverty finishing Lap 11 in 14th.

All four finished in the top six.  Once the tires warmed up and the fuel loads dropped, the riders who had rolled the dice on the hard rears began rolling through the field, while the rest of the grid, with the notable exception of Marquez, began sinking like anvils.  Andrea Dovizioso waved the red flag on his Ducati when the center of his rear Michelin disintegrated on Lap 10.  Teammate Iannone finished the race with no rubber in the middle of either tire.

Marquez, who led briefly, realized early on that managing his tires would be critical to finishing the race, as the rain stayed away but the track remained damp.  And despite the fact that he spent a good deal of the day in fourth and fifth position, none of the riders in front of him presented any threat to his championship lead.  Rossi went through on Lap 16, but took only four points out of Marquez, while the Catalan’s lead in the 2016 championship stretched from 43 to 53 points.  Calling Marquez’s performance today a salvage job is inaccurate.  It was, to be fair, a strategic triumph after a bad roll of the dice on tires.

Which Brings Us to Jorge Lorenzo

The best metaphor to describe defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s experience this weekend is descending from the penthouse to the outhouse.  The man cannot race in the rain any longer, an Achilles heel that may stand in the way of any future championships for one of the best dry riders in history.  He owned the track record on Saturday; he failed to finish the race on the lead lap today having made at least two, and perhaps five, separate pit stops.  Race coverage of his travails ceased after the second stop.

His lap times for laps 17-21 were all well over two minutes.  He came in on 17 and basically stole his #2 dry bike over the animated objections of crew chief Ramon Forcada.  One lap later he returned to the pit and jumped back on his #1 wet bike.  From there it gets confusing, but on Lap 20, a lap down to the leaders, he suddenly appeared in the midst of Barbera and Marquez, acting as if he were fighting for the lead, having apparently lost his mind.  I’m not sure there is a journalist brave enough to attempt a post-race interview with Lorenzo.  He ceded second place in the 2016 race to his rival Rossi and embarrassed himself in the process.  For a man with a very high machismo coefficient, things cannot get much worse.

As to what follows, many of you knew it was coming.

“As Far as I’m Concerned, They’re All Wimps”

Thus spoke Cal Crutchlow in the post-race interview with Dylan Gray, preening over his ballsy choice of hard tires, about the other 19 riders on the grid, three of whom have won multiple premier class world championships.

Today was Cal’s first premier class win.  His beloved wife presented him with his first child several weeks ago.  He’s young, handsome, wealthy and getting paid ridiculous jack to do something he would gladly do for free had he arrived in this world with a trust fund.  Yet, somehow, he finds the need to insult his colleagues—all of them—irresistible, and in the most demeaning way imaginable.  By impugning their manhood.  By asserting he was the only rider—he wasn’t—intelligent and bold enough to make what amounted to a lucky choice of tires.  In essence, for having the balls and brains to have rolled a seven in a craps game.

You are the MAN, Cal.  Rolling a seven.  On a day when a Brit won a premier class race for the first time in 35 years.  At a track where, in dry conditions, you would have done well to finish sixth, if at all.  In the presence of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, each of whom would absolutely eat your lunch in a match race in dry weather on identical equipment.  I’m starting to think, as skilled as you are, you’re missing a chromosome.  That you may have invested a few thousand enrolling in the Donald Trump School of Tact and Grace.  And, finally, that you will never again appear on the top step of a MotoGP podium, that Brno 2016 will stand as the high water mark of your classless career.

Bravo.