Posts Tagged ‘Motorsports’

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

With the title decided, the factory Yamaha “team” of Rossi & Vinales, joined by Ducati ace Andrea Dovizioso—the top three riders in the remnant of the 2018 season left last time out in Japan—have determined to slug it out until the bitter end in Valencia in the chase for second best in 2018. The young upstart facing the current powerhouse facing the still-competitive old man in the figurative fight to caddy for Marquez as he golfs his way around his world during the winter. Only a mother could love this part of the season. 

Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, a wounded Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins have credible shots at passing Cal Crutchlow into fifth place for the year. Cal, with a bad ankle, has been put on injured reserve, Stephan Bradl getting the call to pilot the #1 LCR Honda in his stead. Bummer. Tito Rabat is MIA recovering from his terrible injury. Lorenzo has wrist and toe issues. And Zarco, KTM-bound in 2019, knows the Suzukis are coming into their own, threatening his current perch in seventh.

My insistence that Alex Rins has more than Johann Zarco is ready to be tested, the Frenchman’s margin reduced to a mere four points following Sunday’s astonishing crash. Rins, career in the ascendancy, is more motivated than the departing, now possibly gun-shy, Zarco. Iannone wants to prove, again, to Suzuki that they gave up on him too soon. Lorenzo has little on the line at this point; Petrucci needs to scrap to keep Ducati Corse folks happy they promoted him to the factory team next year and to continue chasing that elusive, overdue first premier class win. 

Recent History at Sepang 

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Reduced to an afterthought is the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  By the way, Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  As we wrote last year, “The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter; I know I have. Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their now-eccentric pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.” Sorry. I still believe Marquez, smarting from having screwed the pooch early in the year, baited his main rival and Rossi took the bait. Others I respect feel differently, i.e., Marquez stole Rossi’s last chance at a title for the sheer hell of it. Let it go.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. (The win opened a veritable floodgate for the Italian, as he has won nine more grands prix since.) Contenders Crutchlow, Marquez and Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the dissolving factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Recall last year, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title would be decided two weeks later in Valencia, Marquez’ lead too big, ending with a whimper, rather than a bang. Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the Sepang race, disregarding the importance of Dovi winning. At the last turn (?), Lorenzo did have the courtesy to accidentally run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” 

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

The domino effect came into play Sunday on the Angel Nieto Ducati team. Homeless #1 rider Alvaro Bautista rode a GP18, on loan from Jorge Lorenzo, to a highly competitive fourth place finish after spending most of the day in the lead group. His erstwhile teammate, well-funded attorney Karel Abraham, inherited Bautista’s GP17, which is a big step up from his GP16, and promptly put it in 11th place, doubling his point total for the year. Both riders, I expect, have told management that putting them on better bikes would produce better results, in direct contravention of Ducati Corse policy against speaking truth to power.

Bautista’s confidence coming into the race might have traced back to his high-speed crash in FP4, when he found it necessary to bail on the bike at speed. The now rider-less bike proceeded on its own, across the lawn, perhaps a hundred yards or so before smashing into the tire wall. At that moment, sitting in the grass, Alvaro might have realized that the GP18 can ride itself and all he needed to do was hold on. (Better yet, since it wasn’t even his bike, Sr. Aspar wouldn’t be yelling at him all week for destroying another Ducati.) All positives for the well-groomed man departing for WSBK at the end of the year, underachiever tag firmly in place, separated from greatness by tenths of a second per lap. The blink of an eye.

Your Weekend Outlook

Without even looking I can tell you that the weekend weather forecast calls for temps in the upper 80’s and low 90’s, humidity like a blanket, with torrential rain possible at any moment, generally in the afternoon. Brolly girls required. Although the tracks are very different, the conditions will be similar to Buriram where Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales podiumed. It’s one of those long circuits that makes the 15-minute qualifying sessions so difficult for some riders who, like Valentino, shall remain nameless.

In the words of the late lamented Mr. Spock, wagering on this race is illogical. I expect to see Rossi, Vinales and Dovizioso in the top five, joined, perhaps, by the likes of Bautista, Rins or Marquez. Marquez remembers his crash here in 2011, the one that almost cost him his career, and will tread gently in and around the puddles. And Valentino Rossi. Looking forward to Hafizh Syahrin playing the “home race” card and praying for rain.

With the season drawing to a close, I need to begin the process of locating a pithy historical quote which accurately sums up MotoGP 2018. Readers wishing to contribute suggestions (which, if selected, we will publish with attribution [to the person quoted and submitted by you, the reader]) may share them below in the Disqus Comments section. Pithy quotes need not apply to Marquez; I’m looking for something to say to the twenty-something riders who aren’t #93.

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the Chasers It’s Time to Fish or Cut Bait

MotoGP Madness descends upon the British Midlands this weekend as Round 12, the two-thirds mark of the 2017 season, arrives. Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez maintains his lead in the series at 16 points, but only 35 points separate the top five riders. A single mishap for #93 and it’s anybody’s season. Marquez was down by 37 points after Mugello, and has gained 53 points on the field in the last five rounds. His pursuers need to evacuate or get off the pot if they want to Let Valencia Decide.

The factory Yamaha contingent of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales are constrained in this effort by the appearance, if not the fact, that the 2016 M-1 carrying Tech 3 rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger around the great tracks of the world is a better bike than the 2017 iteration. We saw this previously at Honda, where the 2014 model of the RC213V was so superior to the 2015 model that Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis midway through the 2015 season in an effort to salvage his only non-championship campaign since coming up from Moto2 in 2013.

The opinions of the riders are mixed. I have not heard Rossi complaining about the bike any more this year than in previous years, other than 2011-12 when he was exiled to what was then Ducati Island. Vinales has no frame of reference. He undoubtedly thought he had died and gone to heaven when he won three of his first five premier class races on the Yamaha. Since Mugello, though, he has lost to at least one of the Tech 3 riders every time out. What other possible explanation can there be for two rookies snapping at the heels of a future hall-of-famer and the arguable GOAT? It’s gotta be the bike.

Recent History at Silverstone

2014 was The Year of Marquez. He had reeled off 10 wins in a row to start the season, followed by his curious 4th place finish last time out at Brno. With a lead in the championship of 53 points, many thought Brno was a bump in the road. Some thought otherwise, that somehow Marquez might have been “broken.” Silverstone, making it three dry races in a row in that wettish year, was where we would find the answer.

With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead. On Lap 18, after some classic paint-trading, Marquez bulled his way through on his countryman, proving that just because you haven’t started shaving yet doesn’t mean you aren’t sporting a large pair. At the finish, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), the top five completed by Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2). At least Vale had the pleasure of pimping Pedrosa at the flag. Dovi’s GP14 was still difficult to ride.

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 that season was shaping up as a Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi. The weather gods got involved just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding 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.

Last year, on a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 slimmed things down to a 19-lap joust. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales ending his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by my boy Cal Crutchlow and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who won a knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, leading the season by 50 points, not a whisker on his chin.

Yamaha-Friendly has become Ducati-Friendly

Andrea Dovizioso has won three times this year, at Mugello, Catalunya and now Austria. Throwing out Austria, which some say was added to the calendar for the express purpose of giving Ducati a venue they can dominate, we looked at recent results at the other two cribs. At each, Marquez won in 2014, with Yamahas taking both in 2015 and 2016. My conclusion is that Ducati’s success is coming at Yamaha’s expense. We have spoken over the years about how some tracks favor a particular brand, and for all those years it was only Honda or Yamaha. Now Ducati has been added to the mix. And Silverstone, with its long lines and fast turns, is built for speed.

Lastest Rider Reports for 2018

Courtesy of a bevy of releases and reports elsewhere, we suspect or know most of the following. Alvaro Bautista will stay at Aspar. Karel Abraham appears likely to stay as well. Takaaki Nakagami will officially join Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda. Reale Avintia Racing appears to want to sign Tito Rabat, for whatever reason. Perhaps they suspect his fortunes will improve on a satellite Ducati versus his lackluster results on a satellite Honda. Sam Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Mike Kallio and Thomas Luthi are rumored to be contending for the second Marc VDS bike alongside Franco Morbidelli. And Xavier Simeon, late of Moto2, is in the running to displace Loris Baz at Avintia. Many of these are still in the “rumor” stage.

Re-Tranching for the Helluvit

After Round 10:

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

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautistaꜛ, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucciꜜ, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rinsꜜ, Reddingꜛ
Tranche 5: P. Espargaroꜜ, Rabat, Smith Lowes

This is becoming a three-tiered Usual Suspects diagram. There are nine or ten riders consistently in the top two tranches, and another similar number regularly in the bottom two. Tranche three, the median, if you will, gets movement from both directions; there should be more variance in Tranche 3 than in the 1&2 and 4&5 combinations. Like it or not, Alvaro Bautista seems to be a Tranche 2 guy, Lorenzo a #3. Iannone, Rins Redding and Pol Espargaro have joined the have-nots and not-yets at the bottom of the bowl, all moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Meanwhile, Tranches 1 and 2 are more or less static.

A more enterprising writer with, say, an advanced degree in economics would model the rankings for each rider each week, compare it with the chart of their results, perform multiple regression analysis on the two curves, whip out a couple of derivatives, and lose to crushing boredom every single reader he ever had in one chart. He would, however, have an interesting graphic representation of the relationship between a rider’s objective performance and his subjective ranking. Perhaps all this tranching stuff is just a big popularity contest.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast from weather.com shows (what else?) cool and damp conditions expected for the weekend. Temps in the high 60’s, chance of rain each day. Perfect conditions for cultivating mold, not so much for motorcycle racing, especially for Honda, whose bikes like it hot. I expect to see two Spaniards and one Italian on the podium Sunday afternoon humming the Spanish national anthem. We’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as possible thereafter,

MotoGP 2017 is here

January 27, 2017

For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week.  The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.

Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest.  The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development.  The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner.  If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title.  Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.

Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.

ducati-99-lorenzo-950504-edited

The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there.  The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.

vinales-on-yamahaedited

The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi.  Marquez remains in a league of his own.  He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers.  Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether.  Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.

Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years.  I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.

Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave.  He should win three races this season.  And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.

I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi.  Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017.  Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi.  If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces.  The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.

Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle.  Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP.  Welcome to the big league, rookies.

Visit crash.net  for practice times.

 

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 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

Sadly, the race for the 2016 title is over, and we/I congratulate Marc Marquez on his third premier class championship.  But the end of the story of 2016 has yet to be written.  There will be controversy—will Marquez torment Valentino Rossi during these last three rounds, in the hope of elevating homeboy Jorge Lorenzo?  There will be paint-trading in the turns.  There will continue to be the races-within-the-race that capture so many people’s attention.  There will be Petrucci vs. Redding.  There will be crashes and run-offs and mistakes by guys operating at the outer limits of human endurance, testing the laws of physics at every turn.  What’s not to like?

Recent History at Phillip Island

2013:  Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista (on the satellite Gresini Honda) gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw the veteran Rossi beat Crutchlow and his LCR Honda by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini pilot by .053, the blink of an eye.  The race marked the first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium.  Marquez took a cheap DQ when, fighting for the lead, he neglected to pit in time, as Bridgestone, who ordered the mandatory mid-race pit stop, struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface.  Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014:  Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to ice.  23 riders start the race; 14 finish.  Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan sophomore, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium.  Ever.  None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.  In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of place.

2015:  The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone.  Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.  Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17.  What a difference a year made for Iannone, just twelve months ago the fair-haired child of Ducati Corse; this year a refugee to a possibly apprehensive Suzuki operation.

Sibling Rivalry

Such is the case with the brothers Espargaro.  A competition which undoubtedly started when younger brother Pol was still in diapers continues today as older brother Aleix tries to keep up with little bro.  At some point in the past, younger brother took the upper hand over big brother; glad I wasn’t there for that.  Pol, on the satellite Yamaha, brings a 24-point lead over the fraternal factory Suzuki into Round 16 and appears set to rub it in to Aleix’s face for the fourth year in a row.

Last year, on the same equipment, Pol was +9.  In 2014, Pol, still on the Tech 3 bike, with Aleix on the doomed Forward Racing Yamaha, put another 10 points on his sib.  In 2013, one would say that Pol won the day again, taking the Moto2 championship, while Aleix, slugging it out in the premier class on terrible ART hardware, claimed a decent 11th place finish.  Advantage Pol.

New digs for each next year.  Pol finally gets his factory ride with KTM, while Aleix moves down to the Gresini factory Aprilia, not yet competitive in the post Dall’Igna era.  The two bikes should be relatively competitive with each other, meaning that while the colors on the leathers may change, the appeal of an opportunity to give your brother a wet willie won’t.  MotoGP thrives on rivalries, even the friendlies.

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

Your boy Kevin Schwantz, world champion in 1993 in the 500cc two stroke era when men were men and women were glad of it, continues to milk notoriety from his reputation and is now approaching 23 years, more or less, of living off the fat.  Journalists still seek his opinions on moto racing and he is always willing to share them.  Bring the photographer.

Anyway, over at someothersite.com, Schwantz was asked about his impressions of Jack Miller, stating his belief the young Australian would become some kind of great rider in time.  (Assuming he still possesses all of his body parts when that time arrives.)  He also conceded that Marc Marquez “impresses” him, what with three MotoGP titles by age 23 and all.

This, you see, is exactly the kind of stuff the editors here at MO loathe.  Some guy whose glory days are way behind him, dispensing faint praise re the talents of riders, at least in the case of #93, would beat them like a drum on an identical equipment/same age basis.  But we’re not hating on it because it interests us.  We’re kind of going on and on about it because Marquez won the frigging title last week and we need something to rant about.

Back to the Race

The domino effect engendered by the injury to factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone continues in place this week, as Hector Barbera gets to wreck another brand new GP16 while Mike Jones takes his seat with the Avintia Ducati team.  Barbera and Jones were the last two riders to finish at Motegi, the Spaniard finishing outside the points due to an early mishap, whereas Jones finished a lap down but with his paint intact.  I imagine the bosses would prefer the latter to the former.

Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez having won here recently, Rossi the beneficiary of Marquez’ careless crash out of a four-second lead in 2014.  For the Yamaha teammates, they have attached blinders regarding whatever’s up with Marquez and are dialed in on one another, second place for the season and a load of machismo at stake.  Just as last year, Rossi enjoys a narrow lead over Lorenzo.  Lorenzo wants to arrive at Ducati in one piece but wants to beat Rossi more.  So it will be a great battle this time out.  Whatever happens thereafter we’ll take, too.

Conditions at Phillip Island this weekend are expected to be rough, with a 100% chance of rain on Friday giving way to clear skies on Sunday.  It’ll be the temps and the wind which will take its toll on riders and lap times, as temps are expected below 60° with cold northwest winds steady in the high teens, with stronger gusts.  A perfect weekend for Marc Marquez to lay low.  An imperfect setup for Lorenzo and Rossi, who must face off against one another in the teeth of the gale at perhaps the fastest track on the calendar.  The hint of rain spells advantage Rossi.

The race once again runs in the middle of the night in North America.  We will have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

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.