Posts Tagged ‘mugello’

Random Photos from Mugello

June 4, 2019

Images, um, obtained by Bruce Allen

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Riders at Mugello

Bagnaia Mugello 2019

Pecco Bagnaia

 

Dovi Mugello 2019

Dovi

Lorenzo Mugello 2019

The Spartan

Marquez Mugello 2019

ReMarcable Marquez

Marquez2 Mugello 2019

ReMarcable Marquez2

PEspargaro Mugello 2019

Pol Espargaro

Petrux Mugello 2019

Daring Danilo Petrucci

Rins Mugello 2019

Alex Rins

Rossi Mugello 2019

Dr. Rossi

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Naughty Fenati in Moto3

 

The Women of Mugello

Fabio MugelloJack Miller MugelloNakagami MugelloScreenshot (84)Screenshot (102)Vinales Mugello

Local Color–Ponte Vecchio and Rossiland

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Two Guys with Bright Futures

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Fabio Last Name No Longer Necessary

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Franco Last Name No Longer Necessary, Either

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 2, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Petrucci Prevails at Majestic Mugello 

If you’re into motorcycle racing—and why else would you be here reading this drivel?—today’s Italian Grand Prix was a work of art. 28-year old Danilo Petrucci, who six years ago was flogging something called an Ioda, fought off Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso for his maiden MotoGP win. The 83,000 frenzied fans saw 23 laps of knife fighting at close quarters in what must be the feel good moment of the 2019 MotoGP season. 

Petrucci, one of the most likable guys in the paddock, has waited his entire life for today’s checkered flag. Born in Terni, some 200 miles south, he has fought for years to make a career for himself in this sport, starting in the European Superstock 600 Championships back in 2007. He gradually moved up and through Italian Superstock 1000s and the FIM Superstock 1000 Championship before landing the first of several third-rate rides in MotoGP in 2012. Despite finishing 20th in the 2014 season, Ducati saw something they liked in the burly ex-policeman and saw him signed to a Pramac satellite contract in 2015 where he was, in my acidic words at the time, just another rider, filling the grid, getting pounded by the Lorenzos and Marquezes of the world week in and week out.

With every reason to give up on motorcycle racing and return to the beat, Petrucci hung in, worked on his skills and, during the last two years, dropped 10 kilos. The poaching of Gigi D’alligna from Aprilia a few years ago signaled a rise in Pramac’s fortunes, as the year-old bikes they were getting from Ducati became more potent and more competitive. From finishing 14th in 2016, Petrux climbed up to eighth in 2017. In 2018, he out-dueled teammate Jack Miller to win a one-year contract on the factory team following the departure of Jorge Lorenzo to Honda, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, for this season. Still, he remained winless in the premier class. Until today. For an Italian speed freak, it doesn’t get any better than winning your first race on a Ducati at Mugello. Especially when it takes, like, 13 years to get there. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Once again, the Sunday fortunes of a number of riders were decided on Saturday or, arguably, on Friday. We’re talking about Valentino Rossi, who was terrible on Friday, and who was reduced to a desperate last lap lunge at the flag during the waning moments of FP3. An issue with his front brake caused him to go walkabout on that lap and consigned him, along with names like Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Rins and Zarco, to the rabble in Q1, where he had nothing. Many of the usual suspects went directly through to Q2, along with Pol Espargaro on the KTM, Fabio (last name no longer necessary), Franco (ditto), rookie Pecco Bagnaia, and the overachieving Takaa Nakagami on Marc Marquez’ sled from 2018.

Q1 was a hoot, as Alex Rins and Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro plugged themselves in at the top of the sheet early in the gathering. Dovizioso bumped Rins out of his promotion late in the session, at which point both Rins and Rossi set their sights on trying to produce one last flying lap at the tail end, in the hope of escaping row five or worse on Sunday. Neither would succeed in this effort, as both got caught out, Rossi after a frightening moment, and each failed to cross the finish line before the checkered flag flew. The shameful result found Rins starting 16th and Rossi, dead in the water, at the back of row six.

Q2 was a record-breaking duel between Fabio LNNLN and Marquez, with both riders breaking Petrucci’s hours-old track record on their way to the front row, Marquez on pole, Fabio in the middle, and Petrucci, fire in the belly, in third. (Marquez now owns track records at nine [9] of the circuits on the 2019 calendar.) Franco put his satellite Yamaha in P4, while Rossi’s factory teammate, the formerly formidable Maverick Vinales, started from P7 on his way to a sixth-place finish facilitated by offs from Rossi, Morbidelli and Jack Miller. I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The Race 

With more passing than a 420 party, it was difficult in the extreme to determine who was leading the race DURING the race. The main straight at Mugello, itself a thing of beauty, promotes the fine art of slipstreaming, in which a rider leading the pack coming out of the last turn can find himself in eighth place entering Turn 1. A lead group of five—Marquez, Dovi and Petrucci, Alex Rins and Miller—put on an amazing show all day. Rins was blistering the field early, on cold tires and with a full tank, climbing from 16th at the start to P4 at the end of Lap 3. I’m pretty sure all five riders led the race at one point or another. Miller, on the Pramac Ducati, really had it going on, and turned in, at the time, the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15. Sadly, he folded the front on Lap 16, leaving the remaining four to slug it out for the last seven laps.

And what a seven laps it was. Rins started losing ground in the straights after a gritty fight to keep up with the blazing Honda and Ducatis (Dovi set a new MotoGP land speed record of 356.7 km/h on Saturday, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “lift-off speed.” Why watch four-wheeled vehicles race when the two-wheelers, riders with stones the size of hubcaps, are doing the same speeds? F1 machines would have to be hitting 400 mph to be as impressive. IMO.)

Nobody was getting away today. Marquez, sandwiched between the two red machines, went through on both Italians at Turn1 on the last lap, and I was thinking, “All that meat and no potatoes,” meaning it appeared the Ducs, having thrown their weight around all day, would end up getting spanked by the reMarcable Catalan. Not today. And not Dovizioso, either, who won here in 2017 and looked fully capable of a repeat.

Today was Danilo Petrucci’s day. Today was a day he has dreamed about since he was in short pants, a day he had worked for since he was in his teens. Today was the day he would stand on the top step of the Mugello podium, the Italian national anthem blaring, fountains of prosecco filling the air, all of the sweat and tears and injuries forgotten. Even if he never wins another race, which appears unlikely, he will have had his One Shining Moment. Bravo, Danilo! 

While this was going on, one imagines the scene in the factory Yamaha garage, an old, tired Rossi, having crashed out of last place on Lap 8, sitting in leathers looking like they had been chained and dragged behind a truck, pondering a glittering past and an uncertain future, one certain to be filled with exciting moments, but of the vicarious variety. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez, despite “only” scoring 20 points today, extended his tenuous lead over Dovizioso in the championship to 12 points, with Rins and, suddenly, Petrucci locked in a battle for third. There appears to be a slow-motion changing of the guard taking place in the premier class, with young riders like Miller, Rins, Quartararo, and Nakagami poised to take over from familiar veterans like Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo. Several other youngsters—Joan Mir, Bagnaia, perhaps Miguel Oliveira if he can get away from KTM—will be along soon, as they are busy paying union dues and getting hazed by the vets. One suspects their day will come sooner rather than later.

Tranches 

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

See as how I’ve missed my deadline today by about 10 hours, I will have more to say about today’s events—the cat fight in Moto3, Alex Marquez’ sudden resurrection in Moto2—later this week, right here. Two weeks to Catalunya.

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

With Repsol Honda stud Marc Marquez off and running again in 2019, and since they’re racing at Mugello this week, it seems like a good time to pay some attention to Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008 he won his first seven (7) premier class races at this, his home crib. It’s where he became an immortal in Italian sports lore. He owns this place. 

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

It is not an overstatement to say he has a sense of the moment. Could this be his last credible chance to win the Italian Grand Prix in MotoGP? Despite not having won an actual MotoGP race since Assen in 2017 (and that one was controversial), Rossi has been competitive in 2019—two seconds, and top six in the other three. His main issue continues to be qualifying, where he has missed out on Q2 twice. If he makes it to Q2 he remains a threat to podium every time out, rear grip or no.

But here’s the other thing about Mugello and Rossi. Since 2009, he’s been a bitter disappointment to his homeys and their yellow 46s. Three third-place finishes and three DNFs, one the DNS in 2010. Despite everyone’s hometown hero racing just down the road, the bells announcing a win for Rossi at Mugello haven’t rung on Sunday afternoon in Tavullia in over a decade. Meanwhile, since 2013 that stronzo Marquez has been in full “win or bin” mode here, with a win and a second to go along with two DNFs and last year’s futile 16th place finish.

[Digging the fact that the winningest rider of late in Italy has been El Gato, Jorge Lorenzo, including last year’s breakthrough on the Ducati. Six wins here since 2011, five of which came when Yamaha was the perfect bike for him. Alberto Puig, formerly Pedrosa’s Svengali, now in charge of defending Lorenzo, tells us prosperity with Repsol Honda is just around the corner. If it is, he should win here on Sunday. El futuro es ahora, Alberto.] 

It is a foregone conclusion that Suzuki whiz kid Alex Rins, not Maverick Vinales, is preparing to take Rossi’s place in the Alien firmament. One suspects that Rossi may be thinking about putting his stamp on Mugello forever, with bookend wins in his first and last seasons. If that’s the case, and he makes it into Q2 either automatically or by coming through Q1, Sunday could be a big day in Italy. 2020, should he choose to continue for another season, could then be a farewell tour amidst clouds of yellow smoke, The Doctor blowing kisses to the fans, finishing eighth for the year. But people would talk about Mugello 2019 for a long time. As they said so often in the cult classic Office Space, that would be great.

Recent History at Mugello

2016 featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Honda. Other than his win at the Red Bull Ring, this may have been Iannone’s favorite career race. On the podium at Mugello, with no Rossi looking down on him.

In the 2017 main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium. National idol Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself. For the fans, other than the wrong Yamaha being on the podium, it was cause for celebration. You know, like every other day of the year.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as last year proved. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With the Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was, indeed a great day to be Italian. The 2018 standings tightened up a little bit. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds. By the time the circus rolled around to Germany it was pretty much over.

The Point, After All, is Points

The modern era of MotoGP racing has, with the exception of a number of outstanding seasons from Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, been about Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. Rossi holds the MotoGP record for points in a season of 373, set in 2008, the high-water mark of his career. He would take his last premier class title in 2009; many of his supporters say he was robbed by the evil Iberian axis of Marquez and Lorenzo in 2015. Marquez, amongst the long list of records belonging to him, reached “only” 362 in 2014. Had he not crashed out at Motegi he would surely have broken that record, too.

This year, with 95 points to date, Marquez is trending at around 360, which would put him within reach of Rossi’s record, since there are 19 rounds these days. One shudders to think what might have happened had Marquez not dropped the RC213V in Texas. Suppose Marquez had gone on to his usual easy win at COTA and sat currently with 120 points. He would be trending for an unthinkable 456 points. Shows the dangers inherent in straight-line projections. But any suggestion that he is not dominating 2019 is ridiculous.

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

Interesting that the “stupid season,” the one preceding the “silly season,” has begun. Jack Miller wants to move up to a factory ride, be the next Casey Stoner. Thus, hard luck Danilo Petrucci appears to be getting forced out. Alex Marquez (?) is in discussions with Pramac about a 2020 contract, lending weight to the Miller-to-factory rumors. Good luck with that, Alex. And brother Marc, perish the thought, has allegedly expressed interest in riding the Desmosedici at some unforeseen time. Several riders are openly considering taking their marbles to WSBK, which has to be loving this*. Gigi D’Alligna must have some serious motowood going on; everyone wants one of his bikes. Alberto Puig, recall, tells us all is well with Lorenzo. Unless it rains. Unless it’s hot. Unless it’s cold. Unless he breaks another bone or two…Would Honda or The Spartan bail on his 2021 contract if things don’t get turned around? And don’t you hate paragraphs that end with a question mark?

*Tranche 3 MotoGP defector Alvaro Bautista, riding for Ducati in WSBK, has won 11 of the first 13 races this season.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast suggests scattered showers on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warm—mid-70s—on Sunday. According to the Encyclopedia of Rider Complaints, under Sunny & Perfect on Race Day, the top whine from riders, with Cal Crutchlow sporting the individual trophy, is, “Not enough dry practice time.” Let’s just say that weather should not be a factor for the race. Whether it interferes with qualifying remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, it seems races are won and lost on Saturday, those riders excluded from Q2 generally unable to crack the top six.

Assuming Rossi qualifies in the top six, I look for him to share the podium with Marquez and Dovizioso, the Usual Suspects. Should The Doctor falter in qualifying, throw Alex Rins on the podium. For some reason, the Suzuki does well at tracks seemingly better-suited for the fast-moving Hondas and Ducatis. It seems unlikely that Jorge Lorenzo will be a factor in the race; ditto for Maverick Vinales, lost in the sauce. Jack Miller would love to impress the suits from Ducati Corse on Sunday and may contend early. His habit of punishing the tires almost always precludes his actually winning many races (one to be exact). As usual, the sentimental favorite, on multiple counts, is my boy Danilo Petrucci, who may decide to let it all hang out on Sunday. To get his maiden premier class win at Mugello on the Ducati could possibly be Danilo’s Ultimate Two-Wheeled Fantasy. For the locals, if Vale can’t pull it off, they will root for Danilo. If he can’t pull it off, root for Dovi. And if he can’t pull it off, pray for that piccolo scroto Marquez to slide out of the lead late in race, when it really hurts, to suffer at Mugello as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Personally, I don’t have a favorite rider, although watching Marquez make his impossible saves gives me goosebumps. For the sake of an easier race summary to write, it would be the bomb if Rossi could pull a rabbit out of his hat. Endless story lines therein. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching #93 enter his patented low-earth orbit and run circles around everyone else. We’ll have results and analysis here sometime Sunday—may be late due to real life getting in the way. Ciao.

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo wins for Ducati in Italian clambake 

Nature abhors a vacuum. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With an Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was another great day to be Italian. (Even if they don’t exactly have a government at present.) The 2018 standings have tightened up to some extent. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds.

Mugello circuit

Magnificent Mugello

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s two practice sessions produced a few surprises. Maverick Vinales—remember him?—had it going on, as did rookie Franco Morbidelli on the usually moribund Marc VDS Honda. Several high-profile riders, including Andrea Dovizioso (our pick to win the race), Dani Pedrosa and Alex Rins were on the outside looking in on Friday night. Suzuki roughneck Andrea Iannone, hours after declaring Suzuki had washed its hands of him for next year, put himself at the top of the heap in an effective show of spite.

FP3 on Saturday was a different story. Marquez set the fastest lap in the history of Mugello. Dovizioso set the fastest top speed ever recorded in MotoGP, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls ‘liftoff speed,’ and was able to sneak into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Michele Pirro, on a Ducati GP18 wildcard, executed a 160-mph high-side at the end of the main straight, going all ragdoll and ending up in the hospital with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, a testament to the technical prowess of Alpinestars and Arai. (While his injuries kept him out of Sunday’s race, he is lucky not to have become Humpty Dumpty. In the photo of him giving the thumbs up from his hospital bed, he looked as if he had fallen from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.) Rins found something on Saturday, but Dani Pedrosa, Jack Miller and Vinales were shunted off to the Q1 corral. Interesting to note that at the end of free practice, #3 and 4 were Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, giving the day a bit of a vintage feel. This feeling would arise again after the race.

Early Rossi and Lorenzo

Rossi and Lorenzo early in their careers

Q1 held little drama, other than the continued sufffering of Pedrosa, who was unable to crack the top ten at all until Q1, ending up 20th on the grid. Vinales and Miller made it into Q2, which was a different story, as rider after rider broke the old track record (putting the author at 3 out of 4 for the season, batting .750). In a bit of poetic justice, the much-maligned (by me) Doctor Rossi laid down the fastest lap EVER at Mugello while securing pole, joined on the front row by The Squishy-Soft Spartan and Vinales. Two Yamahas on the front row after months of singing the blues. Iannone, Petrucci and Marquez on Row 2. Several balloons popped as Dovi could manage only 7th, Zarco 9th, and Miller 11th. None of which, to my way of thinking, would have much to do with Sunday’s race result. Wrong again.

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Yellow Mugello

Race Day

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By the time the main event rolled around, the racing surface was approaching 50° C, the hottest conditions of the weekend. Marquez had found success in the morning warm-up going with the hard front/hard rear combination, which would help him hold up later in the race. By comparison, both Rossi and Dovizioso went with hard/medium, and Mr. Softee, Lorenzo, went with medium/soft. Before the lights wnt out, we were thinking we’d already seen this movie, in which Lorenzo takes off like a scalded cat only to get devoured in the second half of the race.

Not today. In a salute to Michelin, Lorenzo was able to make the softer rubber hold up all day after taking the holeshot at the start. He fought off a challenge from Marquez, who crashed on Lap 5, and began creating a bit of a working margin on his pursuers, who included Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Later in the race, Danilo Petrucci showed up, with Alex Rins tagging along on his own factory Suzuki.

By mid-race, it was clear that Dovizioso, running second, wasn’t going to challenge Lorenzo, nor was Rossi, sitting happily in third, going to challenge Dovizioso. On Lap 12, Petrucci went through into third place, visions of an all-Ducati podium dancing in the head of Gigi Dall’Igna. But Petrucci’s tires went up with about six laps left, allowing both Rins and Cal Crutchlow through, demoting him to a demoralizing 7th. Which is more than his rival and competitor for a factory ride in 2019, Jack Miller, could say, as he crashed out on Lap 2, joining Dani Pedrosa, Scott Redding, Karel Abraham and Tom Luthi in making early exits from the proceedings.

So, what did we learn today? That Jorge Lorenzo is, somehow, BACK? No. He admitted as much himself in the post-race presser, in which he said the track and the conditions need to be right, as they were today, for him to compete for a win. That Marc Marquez is, somehow, beatable? Not really, since the last time he crashed out was over a year ago; it’s way too early to think of this as a thing. That Valentino Rossi is, somehow, at age 39, still capable of competing at a high level? Absolutely. Though he still hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008, he gave the fans a show. (And while 40 is not the new 30 in MotoGP, third place on the podium is as good as a win for Rossi in 2018.) That age and experience can still, on occasion, beat young and quick? Yes. Lorenzo (31), Dovizioso (32) and Rossi (39) dusted the likes of Marquez (25), Vinales (23) and Rins (22). Mugello respects its elders.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ lead at the top has been cut from 36 points over Vinales to 23 points over Rossi. Vinales in 3rd and Iannone in 7th are separated by seven points. Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller are slugging it out for 8th, while Lorenzo has suddenly appeared in the top ten, if only for the moment.

In our preview the other day, we suggested at least one of the top five riders might hit the floor today; Marquez and Miller complied. We suggested that Andrea Dovizioso needed to come through at his home crib, which he did, to the tune of +20 points. We thought Petrucci, Rossi and, yes, Jorge might make some noise. Check. We commented during the week how qualifying had little to do with race results, and were wrong, despite Maverick Vinales having started 2nd and finished 8th. We thought Johann Zarco might carry the colors for Yamaha; he finished 10th. Just goes to show that if one makes enough predictions, a few are likely to work out.

The Undercards

Once again, the Moto3 race was breathtaking. Teammates Jorge Martin and Fabio DiGianntonio on the Del Conca Gresini Hondas fought it out all day with KTM’s Marco Bezzecchi. At the flag, Martin crossed the line first, a full .019 seconds ahead of Bezzecchi, with DiGianntonio lagging another .024 back. Three riders within half a second at the flag. Another day at the office in Moto3.

Moto2 was equally compelling. Both Marcel Schrotter and Mattia Pasini crashed out of the lead, Schrotter failing to complete a single lap. The front group then consisted of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM versus Lorenzo Baldassarri on the Pons HP40 Kalex and, at the end, rookie Joan Mir on the Marc VDS Kalex. Francesco Bagnaia, on his way to the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team next year, finished fourth. Once again, all four riders finished within half a second of Oliveira. Prior to the race it was confirmed that Mir would be signing a contract with the Suzuki ECSTAR team to ride alongside Alex Rins beginning next year. THAT will become a formidable team.

Not-Quite-Groundless Speculation

The announcers were speculating whether today’s win by Lorenzo would save his seat on the factory Ducati team next year. I’m thinking maybe, as long as the impossibly proud Lorenzo is willing to take about a 75% pay cut, which doesn’t seem likely. The speculation continued later, with Petronas, the massive Malaysian energy company, rumored to be considering a leveraged buyout of the Marc VDS team and forming a satellite Yamaha team fronted by Lorenzo and Syahrin. Such a team would, presumably, give way to a Rossi-run SkyVR46 team in 2021.

Back to Spain in Two Weeks

The flying circus returns to Barcelona in two weeks, to Montmelo, the favorite track of those whose favorite track isn’t Mugello. Today was a day for the Italians; June 17th is likely to be a day for the Spaniards. To give you, the reader, something over which to ruminate in the interim, your newest tranching tool follows.

 

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Iannone, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Zarco, Vinales, Miller

Tranche 3:   Lorenzo, Pedrosa, A Espargaro, Rins, Rabat

Tranche 4:   Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Bautista, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Redding, Luthi, Simeon, Smith

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Mugello Madness

MotoGP Mugello Preview

May 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati, contenders must make a stand this week

How many times since 2013 have we heard a Nick Harris say, “Marquez appears to be getting away at the front?” Plenty. And I have a hard time remembering the last time he crashed out of the lead in one of those. This season is getting away from us. Mugello, with its rich history, is home base to the Rossi and Iannone delegations, as well as Ducati’s home crib. Armed with his new contract, it is step-up time for an Italian rider on Italian equipment with an Italian crew performing in an Italian shrine.

It is Andrea Dovizioso’s time. He is the #1 rider for Ducati Corse. This is his best Andrea-Dovizioso.jpgopportunity to slow down the runaway freight train with the number 93. The Desmosedici has been designed to perform well here. He won last year’s race.

We could say much the same thing about Andrea Iannone, who has done well here of late, except that he now rides for Ecstar Suzuki. He’s posted a second and a third here in the last three years and must be considered a bona fide challenger on Sunday. How well the GSX-RR holds up on the long Straight of Mugello will determine whether he can take a shot at Marquez. Or Dovizioso.

Sunday’s Contestants in The Main Event

(Channeling Vince McMahon at this moment.) “The challengers in this year’s Rumble in Tuscany include, next to Andrea and Andrea, wearing #9 in red, from Terni, Italy, on the Praaaaaaamac Ducati, ladies and gentlemen, (as the crowd goes wild) 2018-MotoGP-Jack-Miller-Danilo-Petrucci-3.jpg

DanEEEEEElo PetrrrUUUUUUUUUcci!” Petrucci seems to have taken the bit in his teeth of late, understanding that his main rival for a factory Ducati next year is no longer a triple world champion. It is the suddenly fast Jack Miller, on a GP-17 who, given everything we know about him, could win Sunday’s race. Petrucci finished on the podium last year and is at the top of his game right now. Winning at Mugello is something he could tell his grandkids about one day.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, wearing #99 in red, from Mallorca, Spain, on the factory Ducati, triple MotoGP world champion and heavy underdog, please welcome

Lorenzo screwedHorrrrrrrrhay LoooooooooRENzo!” OK, so Lorenzo is 0-for-Ducati. He is getting even worse results this year than last year. And 2017 was a dumpster fire. But he loves Mugello, winning here five times between 2011 and 2016, when he edged out Marquez by 1/100th in one of his best races ever. Ever, I say. Plus, he has a lot riding on this one, having received “l’embarrassment du choix” from the suits at Ducati Corse, in the person of Gigi Dall’Igna. Win on Sunday or seek employment elsewhere next year. Bitch.

Jorge needs it not to rain.

“Here’s a man who needs no introduction. Wearing #46 in blue and yellow, from Tavullia, Italy, just down the road, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Il Dottore,

Rossi 2018VaLLLentino Rrrooooooooosi!!!” True, it’s been awhile for Rossi in his home crib. Nonetheless, this venue offers the venerable Italian an opportunity for two podia in a row, after finishing third last time out in France. As crummy as the YZR-M1 has been this year, it has always been well-suited to this track. His teammate, Maverick Viñales, took second last year, and somehow sits in second place for 2018 despite being winless after five rounds. His 57 points compare to 85 (and three wins) in 2017. This, then, is a fairly graphic illustration of how far off the pace the 2018 M1 is. A win by Yamaha on Sunday would require much bad juju on the Honda and Ducati teams.

Almost done bashing Yamaha. They do have the electric Johann Zarco riding what is becoming a vintage M1. It’s entirely likely that any Yamaha win on Sunday would arrive wearing #5. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, in my opinion. I believe he will tone down his aggressive riding style in the years to come, that much of what we saw last year and occasionally this year is intentional, the intent being to gain respect, a reputation that you will not be pushed around in the turns. Having accomplished that, he can go about trying to win a championship with KTM.

Personally, Mugello is my favorite circuit on the calendar, bucket list material. None of this stop-and-go stuff, holds a bunch of yellow smoke and 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans without much else to cheer about, and features the #1 sports idol in the whole country, Valentino Rossi. As we remarked last year, it is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won here since 2008. Which makes no difference whatsoever to his fans, who have short memories. Unless it comes to telling you all about Laguna Seca 2008, when Rossi put Stoner’s dick in the dirt on the next-to-last lap (I refuse to use the term penultimate) on his way to the win and the world championship.

Who’s Under Contract for 2019

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso
Ecstar Suzuki: Alex Rins
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

This leaves half the grid signed, the other half scrambling. It appears Scott Redding and Bradley Smith will not be in MotoGP next year. High-profile riders like Lorenzo and Iannone, Petrucci and Miller are waging their own wars in the midst of the races, trying to build arguments for factory rides next year. There will always be the Karel Abrahams of the world, riders with more sponsor money than talent. Without big backers, the riders at the bottom of the food chain will be scrambling for one-year deals somewhere. As one of our readers observes, this is life among the yachting set.

Your Weekend Forecast

From a week out, the weather looks reasonably good for metropolitan Scarperia this weekend. Chance of rain both Friday and Saturday, but clear and warm conditions are expected for race day. Something—the weather, food poisoning, a flood in the garage from a plugged commode—needs to intervene in the metronomic consistency of Marc Marquez and his Honda. Two years ago both Jorge Lorenzo and Rossi blew engines after bottoming out at the end of the main straight, bouncing, and over-revving. Rossi’s misfortune was that it happened in the race, where he had the pace to win.

Interesting to observe that of the top seven riders in the standings, only Zarco and Iannone have failed to finish every race, both having crashed out at Le Mans. This tells me that some of the other five—Marquez, Vinales, Rossi, Petrucci and Miller—are overdue for a DNF. Given the fact that no one seems to understand how it is that Vinales sits in second place for the year, and that he will be pushing hard, he would be my guess to record a DNF on Sunday. Surely one of the top guys will. Dovizioso, who has failed to finish his last two races, will NOT crash out again this week. Gazing into my Magic 8 Ball, conditions appear favorable for Dovizioso, Marquez and Petrucci.
motogp-san-marino-gp-2017-danilo-petrucci-pramac-racing-marc-marquez-repsol-honda-team-and

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states, and we’ll have results and analysis right here around lunchtime. Ciao!

MotoGP Mugello Results 2017

June 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Leads Ducati Charge; Rossi Fades 

Sunday at magnificent Mugello was that rarest of days, when one gets to hear the Italian national anthem played three separate times.  Italians placed 1-2 in a mind-bending Moto3 tilt.  Italian heartthrob Franco Morbidelli didn’t win in Moto2 today, but beloved countryman Mattia Pasini did.  In the main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium.  

National idol Valentino Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Danilo Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself.

A good day to be Italian, i.e., any day ending in the letter Y.  If only Vale could have…you know… 

Ducati placed five bikes in the top nine today, buttressing the argument that speed is of the essence here, and the Ducati Desmosedici is built for nothing if not speed.  Crutchlow had been quoted early in the weekend saying the race was Dovizioso’s for the taking.  Personally, it is my favorite circuit on the calendar, none of this stop-and-go drag racing, holds 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans, and annually features the #1 sports figure in the whole country, Valentino Rossi.  It is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s practices in ideal conditions produced some strange-looking timesheets. FP1 was Ducati Day at Mugello, with red bikes led by Andrea Dovizioso occupying five of the first seven spots, punctuated by the factory Yamahas.  FP2 was held Through the Looking Glass, with Aliens (or recovering Aliens) at 11th (Jorge Lorenzo), 12th (the injured Rossi), 13th (Vinales) and 14th (Marquez), Cal Crutchlow sitting astride the lot.  On Saturday, FP3 ended with Rossi, looking good, in P1 followed by Marquez and Lorenzo.  Fine.  But Alvaro Bautista in 4th? And Tito “One Fast Lap” Rabat, a Tranche Five stalwart, sitting 6th?  The Usual Suspects, the factory Yamahas, Hondas and Ducatis, made it into Q2 joined by Rabat on the Marc VDS Honda, Aleix Espargaro on the factory Aprilia, and the satellite Ducati delegation of Bautista and Pirro.

Q1 saw a very casual Johann Zarco, who waited until the session was more than half over, stroll out on the track and easily pass through to Q2 along with a slightly more frenetic Danilo Petrucci, who was making hay while the sun shines for once.  Q2 was the usual last-minute cluster, ending with the factory Yamahas up front (Vinales on pole) joined on the first row by a dangerous looking Andrea Dovizioso, with the second row consisting of Pirro followed by the two Repsol Hondas, Pedrosa in 5th.  Three Italians in the front four; the locals be habbin’ dat.

Lorenzo could manage only P7, while Zarco, perhaps a little too relaxed, started the race Sunday 11th, not what he had in mind when he left France.  Tech 3 Yamaha teammate and fellow rookie sensation Jonas Folger crashed out of Q1 and started the race 15th.  Crutchlow, bad karma having tagged him, missed out moving on to Q2 by 8/100ths, started in the 13 hole today, deep in the weeds.  He would get collected by Dani Pedrosa late in the day and was seen shoving the diminutive Spaniard while Pedrosa was trying to apologize.  As if Cal hadn’t been running 11th at the time, in hot pursuit of five points.

What About the Race?

Exiting Turn 1 of Lap 1, it was Rossi and Vinales, with Lorenzo (!), Dovizioso and Marquez chasing.  The high point of Jorge Lorenzo’s day was Lap 2, as he briefly took the lead before being passed, excruciatingly, one at a time, by at least seven other riders, finishing 8th with few visible excuses.  The top six coalesced, by Lap 7, as Vinales, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci on the Octo Pramac Ducati GP 17, a struggling Marc Marquez and a gripless Lorenzo.  Marquez spent much of the last half of the race jousting with Alvaro Bautista and his GP 16, and was unable to close the deal, finishing sixth, staying in the 2017 game but not helping himself.

Dovizioso went through on Vinales on Lap 14 for keeps, but was unable to get away.  Vinales and Petrucci gave valiant chase, but didn’t have it, not even at Slipstream City, the front straight at Mugello that is a racing wonder.  (In the Moto3 race you could be leading crossing the line and enter Turn 1 in eighth place.)  Rossi, the crowd-generated clouds of yellow smoke serving as incense in the cathedral of Italian racing, was unable to compete at the end, one assumes, due to injury.  The Italian press will call him a hero for simply showing up.  Just sayin’.

Dani Pedrosa on the #2 Repsol Honda lost his grits late on Lap 23, performed an awesome low slider, and took the pins right out from under Crutchlow.  In the process, Dani took himself out of second place, replaced there by Dovizioso and his shiny new 25 points.  The rest of the top nine, in addition to the Ducs, consisted of three Yamahas—Johann Zarco making something of a late charge after a poor start from 11th—and Marquez’s lonely Honda.  The second Honda to cross the line?  Tito Rabat on the Marc VDS wreck.

The MotoGP tranches took a beating today. We will look closely at them this coming week, as Catalunya is the second of back-to-back weekends.

The Big Picture

Vinales finished second and extended his championship points lead to 26 over Dovizioso.  Rossi sits at 75, Marquez and Pedrosa tied for fourth with 68 points, and Zarco sixth with 64.  Lorenzo, Petrucci, Jonas Folger and Crutchlow complete the top ten.  So, a third of the way through the season, young Maverick leads the entire Sioux nation by more than a full race’s margin.

Zarco and the remaining Aliens are fighting for second place, hoping #25 would be kind enough to crash out in Catalunya next week.  Until he does crash—and, statistically, he will—the world is his oyster.  The Repsol Honda team is in relative disarray.  The Ducs are only competitive at places like here, Brno, Austria, Phillip Island and Sepang if it don’t rain.  Suzuki is not a good fit for Andrea Iannone.  The Aprilias and KTMs will probably do better at the tighter, slower tracks yet to come.

Maverick Vinales is calmly, methodically working toward his first MotoGP championship.

Quick Notes

The continuing tributes to Nicky Hayden in all three classes and the circuit itself fail to make it easier to accept that he is really gone.  Another serious blow to American bike racing.  So many kids have grown up wanting to be like Nicky Hayden.  Not so many, I expect, are coming along wanting to be like Ben Spies.

Regarding Michele Pirro’s wildcard on the Ducati GP17, reporting elsewhere refers to his becoming the third full factory GP17 on the grid, which, in turn, suggests Petrucci may not be on a full factory 17.  Which could help explain his relative lack of success until today, as I accused him of underachieving last week.  My acknowledged non-golden touch at work.

Herve Poncharal has already re-signed his two rookie wonderkids, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, to contracts for 2018.  The world expects Zarco to get scooped up by a factory team for the two years following.  Jury is still out on Folger, whom Poncharal describes as “careful,” citing the amount of data he produces.  That’s what known around here as a backhanded compliment.

Back at y’all on Wednesday.

MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

Last time out in France, the racing gods smiled upon Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa while flipping off Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. The jam-packed top four took a beating, with Vinales now enjoying a 17-point lead over series #2 Pedrosa.  Rossi is hurt.  The Hondas are a pain to ride.  There’s lots on the line heading to Mugello and Round 6. 

[Before we start, I wanted to acknowledge, having met him several times, how much I respected Nicky Hayden as a person. His family must be shattered. Greatly respected in the paddock, I probably sold his racing skills short for years.  He touched the lives of countless people and will be missed by many more.  Kevin Duke’s tribute was just right.]

 “Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own. Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP™ – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.”  MotoGP press release 5/29/2017

Bollocks.  Mugello is a heavyweight brawl, staged in front of thousands of passionate, mostly Italian, fans of one rider/bike or other, in various stages of inebriation, celebrating speed, nationalism, camaraderie, and the unbridled joy that comes with winning what is, for them, the Super Bowl.  People thumping their chests, proclaiming, “The EU is great.  Whatever.  WE’RE ITALIAN!!!” 

The Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley is usually one of the most dramatic events of the MotoGP year. Home to Rossi and Ducati, Mugello is a MotoGP shrine; this is a week in which everyone’s Italian.  Unfortunately, it has arrived at a moment when Ducati Corse is having a rough time—five mechanical retirements at Jerez–and local hero Rossi has hurt himself in a training accident after crashing out of 20 certain points in Spain.

With three accomplished Aliens chasing him–something like a combined 175 years of racing experience–Vinales must take care of the knitting this weekend.  Memo to #25:  Riders coming to Mugello leading by 17 have left leading by 42.  Or trailing by eight.  This is one of the pivot points of the season; rookie mistakes are not tolerated.  Races like this are the reason Yamaha is giving you wheelbarrows full of euros.  Places like Mugello are where you earn money and reputation.  Keep your head down.

Recent History at Mugello

In 2014, Jorge Lorenzo, then Yamaha icon, despite having led for 21 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, getting pimped by 12/100ths, with Rossi third, at least finishing the race, if not winning it.  The win put Marquez six-for-six in 2014 while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, put both riders on the podium but was unable to take the win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53-point margin over Rossi, the season reduced to a race for second.

2015 was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what he had delivered in France two weeks earlier.  Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans.  Polesitter Andrea Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a long list of injuries.  Rossi was able to dismiss a healing Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium.  Marquez crashed out mid-race during his season of discontent.  The locals went home happy with two paisans and a Ducati on the podium.

Last year featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Ducati.

Tranche Time

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Miller,

Tranche 3:  Bautista, Iannone, Petrucci, Baz, Redding, Folger

Tranche 4:  A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Barbera, Lorenzo, (Rins)

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑↑, Folger↑, Dovizioso

Tranche 3:  Petrucci, Miller↓, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro↑, Iannone

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham↑, Smith↑

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

Generally, when folks argue about the relative merits of one team or one rider versus another, the argument ends with one of them bellowing, “SCOREBOARD, baby!”  In MotoGP, the bikes, anecdotally regarded as 20% of the package, allow the arbitrary and careless ranking of riders you see above without regard to the standings.  It may also reflect current trends different from those extant in Qatar or after Round 3.  Paging Jorge Lorenzo.  One last observation:  Danilo Petrucci is underperforming on the Ducati GP17.  He needs some serious rain.

Rossi’s Injury

Our crack research team has contacted Vale’s doctor and convinced him that Italy has no HIPPA regs to violate, in order to further convince him to provide us, complete strangers, with exclusive information on the rider’s current sitch.  As it turns out, his condition has been upgraded to “sore as hell.”  He has a list of internal injuries in which the word “kidneys” was included, which is never good.  But he is currently in the hot tub with a bevy team of qualified young nurses receiving intensive massage and should be somewhat recovered, if completely drained, as it were, come Friday.  MotoGP riders have great health insurance.  And high pain tolerance. Strong cores, too.

Look, they wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if he was bleeding internally.  The shame of it is that it comes at this time, when he desperately wants and needs to do well in front of his homeys.  The priests at his old country parish in Tivullia are praying for him.  This may turn out to be his last best chance to insert himself back into title contention this year.  He needs to cinch it up.

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

Aspar has re-upped with Ducati for 2018, suggesting there will be eight Desmosedici’s on the grid again next season.  With Dorna’s stated intent of having four bikes for each manufacturer, and Suzuki probably ready to field a satellite team, this is a surprising development.  There is also talk that Audi is interested in selling the Ducati business. The Aspar team is typically short of cash; perhaps the three newer OEMs were reluctant to sign up with a financially shaky operation like Martinez’s.  The 2018 deal could be adversely affected by a sale at the corporate level as well.

2015 Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent will be back on the Moto2™ grid at Mugello as he replaces injured Iker Lecuona at Garage Plus Interwetten while the Spaniard recovers from a broken collarbone.  This after a decent guest appearance in France in Moto3.  This after he walked out of his contract with Kiefer Racing in Moto2 earlier in the year.  And this after titling in Moto3 in 2016.  Guy’s getting passed around the MotoGP mosh pit.  One suspects he may have to serve a year’s perdition in Moto3 before finding a new full time ride in Moto2 for the following season.  Must still have plenty of sponsor money.  Memo to Danny:  Fix, or swallow, your problems–don’t walk away from them.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-term weekend weather forecast is for sunny and hot, conditions once favorable to the Hondas.  Since it’s hard to predict tomorrow’s weather, we’ll ignore Sunday’s for now, but rain is always possible.  As for results, it’s hard for me not to see both factory Yamahas and Marc Marquez on the podium.  Or one from the factory Ducati team if the weather holds.  Dani Pedrosa.  Cal Crutchlow. Jack Miller in the rain.  The mind reels.

Before some readers get wound up, let me acknowledge the likelihood that the Moto2 and Moto3 races will be breathtaking thrillers.  I’ll do what I can. The MotoGP race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S.  We will, as always, have results and analysis here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2016 Mugello Results

May 22, 2016

©  Bruce Allen

Lorenzo wins in Italy; Rossi blown away

For those of you whose loyalties lie elsewhere, let’s be clear:  Jorge Lorenzo deserved to win the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM today.  After a poor qualifying session on Saturday, he slingshotted his way into the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 1, withstood heated challenges from teammate Valentino Rossi and rival Marc Marquez, and crossed the finish line a blink of an eye in front of Marquez.  But heading into the second third of the 2016 season, storm clouds are building on his horizon.

Drama on Saturday

Ducati pilot Andrea Iannone, who had been a blur in practice all weekend, laid down his fastest lap midway through Q2 and goofed off thereafter, believing he had claimed pole.  He failed to account for #46 and his almost infallible sense of the moment.  Rossi scorched Mugello to secure the pole on his last flying lap, sending the crowd into paroxysms of joy.  Minutes later, teammate-in-waiting Maverick Vinales pushed his Suzuki to the very limit, crossing the line a mere 9/100ths of a second behind Rossi, dropping Iannone to third and Marquez to fourth, with an unhappy Jorge Lorenzo relegated to the five hole.  Aleix Espargaro managed sixth, producing a rock-hard first two rows featuring both Suzukis, two Yamahas, a single Honda and, somewhat surprisingly, Iannone’s lone Ducati.

The drama/collusion between Rossi and Vinales offers a useful glimpse into the future, as Vinales flirted with the all-time track record on a relatively inferior machine.  Remaining deferential to his soon-to-be teammate, his performance on Saturday served notice that Vale should dismiss any presumption of occupying the #1 seat on the team next year.  Maverick Vinales is, arguably, The Next Great MotoGP Rider.

Yamaha Blows Up on Sunday

I’m trying and failing to remember if I’ve ever seen a Yamaha four-stroke throw a rod in MotoGP.  Yet Jorge Lorenzo lost one in the warm-up practice on Sunday morning at the end of the front straight.  No harm done, other than putting a dent in his limited engine allocation for the year.  But when Valentino Rossi lost his engine on Lap 9 while in hot pursuit of Lorenzo, that was a different story.  What had been shaping up as a classic all day intra-team battle with title implications devolved instantly into Rossi’s second DNF of the season and a 37 points deficit to Lorenzo for the year.  Both incidents appeared to involve engine braking, perhaps pointing out a flaw in the seamless transmission Yamaha worked so hard to develop over the past few years.  Team press releases later this week will provide some clarity.

Fans Left Breathless at the Finish

The start of today’s race took the qualifying results from Saturday and dumped them into a VitaMix superblender.  Compare the starting grid with the standings after Lap 1:

Mugello Lap One

Rossi having left the building, Lorenzo was able to take a momentary breather until Marquez and his RC213V showed up on his rear tire.  Marquez remained there, apparently lining Lorenzo up, for 13 laps, with Lorenzo, the unmovable object, refusing to budge.  Twice Marquez tried to pass at the end of the front straight, both times running wide, allowing Lorenzo to retake the lead. The last lap was one for the ages, the riders trading paint and positions half a dozen times, with Marquez exiting the last turn with a 10 meter lead and minus his left elbow slider.  But Honda’s Achilles heel in 2016, crappy acceleration exiting the turns, once again bit Marquez, as Lorenzo slipped in behind him, pulled around 50 meters from the line, and won by a 100th of a second.

The record will show Lorenzo having led all 23 laps, apparently enjoying another of his patented cakewalks.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  He spent the first eight laps fighting off relentless pressure from Rossi; it was easy to envision the mutual disrespect, in conjunction with the primary MotoGP edict to beat your teammate, leading to disaster, with both riders in the gravel.  Suddenly, in contrast to the yellow smoke that had filled the air all day, there was an enormous cloud of white smoke billowing from Rossi’s pipes.  Some of the 99,000+ fans might have thought a new pope had been elected; the reality that their idol’s day was over sent a number of them heading for the exits, any reason for hanging around having gone up, as it were, in smoke.

Iannone won his second-half-of-the-race battle with Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium, which appeared to belong to Dovizioso until he made an uncharacteristic mistake on Lap 19, running hot and way wide, allowing both Iannone and Pedrosa through.  Having started 13th, having failed to advance through Q1, Dovi was probably happier today than he was yesterday.  Iannone undoubtedly enjoyed putting one in the eye of Ducati after losing his seat for next season.  With but a decent start he could have won the race today, as his pace after the third or fourth lap was dazzling.

Farther Down the Food Chain

Dani Pedrosa showed some pace during the last six or eight laps today, finishing fourth for the third round in a row, followed by Dovizioso.  Vinales ended his day in sixth place, his sensational qualifying performance long forgotten, while Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith enjoyed his best performance of the season, crossing the line in seventh.  The top ten was completed by Pramac tough guy Danilo Petrucci, Suzuki afterthought Aleix Espargaro and Michele Pirro on another Ducati wildcard.

For the record, LCR Honda egoist Cal Crutchlow doubled his point total for the season with a sparkling 11th place finish.  Shut my mouth.

The Big Picture

Lorenzo now leads the season by 10 points over Marquez, a source of confidence for the Mallorcan if not one of security.  Rossi, despite deserving better, finds himself 27 points behind Marquez and only 12 points ahead of Pedrosa, with Vinales another seven points back. A gaggle of riders sits in the 40’s—the Espargaro brothers, Hector Barbara and Iannone.  Eugene Laverty, the great Irish hope, closes out the top ten.  That Hector Barbera is the highest ranked Ducati pilot a third of the way through the season says something, though I’m not sure what.

A Question for Readers

Someone please enlighten me.  How is it that Honda, with a reputation for overly aggressive acceleration for years, comes into 2016 with a bike that accelerates so poorly as to cost young Marquez today’s race and several others already this year?  Most recently, Marquez blamed his crash at Le Mans on pushing too hard to compensate for the lack of power exiting the turns.  Put Marquez on the Yamaha and I would be happy to argue he would be undefeated this season.  Honda needs to thank their lucky stars they have Marquez; any other rider would be residing in Pedrosa’s neighborhood, with 60 or 70 points to his name.

About Those Storm Clouds on Lorenzo’s Horizon

Jorge Lorenzo is by no means a shoe-in for the 2016 title.  He has engine allocation concerns.  He has a number of circuits—Assen and The Sachsenring leap to mind—in his immediate future where he doesn’t normally do well.  He has a hungry and angry teammate to contend with.  Marquez is out-riding him on a slower bike which he suggested today in the post-race presser the engineers are getting figured out.

Vinales is juiced and will be a factor once he learns how to start races. Rossi was reported to have spent the damp FP1 doing practice starts, working on getting up to speed in a hurry without wheelies or burning up his clutch.  Vinales should take a lesson from his teammate.  This reminds me of the old joke in which a tourist with concert tickets, visiting New York City for the first time, accosts one of the locals. “Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, man, practice.”

Lorenzo ruins Italian clambake at Mugello

May 31, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Mugello Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDFor the third round in succession, Movistar Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead, switched on the autopilot on his YZR-M1, cranked up Kings of Leon on his MP3 player, and never broke a sweat in winning the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  What was suspected after Le Mans has now been confirmed at Mugello—Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat for the 2015 MotoGP championship.  The only way things could get any worse for Honda’s double defending world champion Marc Marquez would be if Lorenzo were to steal his girlfriend. 

Let’s face it.  Other than Ferrari’s periodic dominance in F-1 and the salad years of Agostini and Rossi, Italians haven’t had much to cheer about since the days of da Vinci and Michaelangelo.  The European Union has done little to dispel the rampant nationalism extant in most of the continent, and the motorsports rivalry between Italy and Spain has never been greater, with Spain having dominated MotoGP for the last five years.  The rejuvenation of Rossi and the resurgence of Ducati in 2015 have given hope to Italian racing fans, 91,000 of whom were in attendance today hoping for an Italian victory, whether by man or machine.  Were it not for Lorenzo, as strong as he’s ever been, they’d have fished their wish, as Andrea Iannone took second from pole on his Ducati GP15 while Valentino Rossi, the #1 athlete in the country, finished third on his Yamaha for his 10th podium in a row dating back to last year.

For Honda Racing Corporation and poster boy Marc Marquez it was another wretched weekend in a season of wretched weekends, the lone exception being Round 2 in Austin.  Saturday may have been the single worst day of Marquez’ premier class career, as he finished FP3 in 11th position, the meaningless FP4 in 5th, suffered the ignominy of consignment with the dregs to Q1, and failed to advance into Q2, resulting in his starting the race from 13th position, the only time in his MotoGP career he has failed to start from the first two rows.  But as the race started, he looked like the Marquez of 2013-14, climbing to 3rd place by Lap 3, looking loose and dangerous perched on Iannone’s pipes.

Iannone, Monty Python’s Black Knight of MotoGP, racing with a bad left shoulder and fractured right elbow, would marquez_crashbecome a brick wall around which Marquez was unable to navigate while Lorenzo was cruising off into the ether.  After 15 laps of trying, Marquez went after the Italian again in Turn 3 of Lap 18 where the front of his RC213V washed away, sending him into the gravel for his second DNF of the young year.

For HRC, Lap 18 would get worse.  Moments later, Rossi went through on the tough Dani Pedrosa, looking recovered from his arm pump surgery early in the season, and who had spent much of the day in fourth place.  Rossi, having started eighth and faded to 11th early in the day, outraced much of the field on his way to yet another podium.  Despite leading the 2015 championship, Rossi knows that he will ultimately fall to Lorenzo unless he can get his merda together in qualifying, something he has generally been unable to do since the advent of the two-15 minute QP sessions in 2013.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Andrea Dovizioso, who qualified 3rd on Saturday and spent a good part of Sunday running with the group challenging for second place, retired with a mechanical issue on Lap 14 described as “rear wheel chatter.”  The chatter may have been about Iannone challenging him for the #1 seat on the Ducati team; Dial A Nickname Joe does love himself some GP15.  Pedrosa finished fourth—bravo Dani—in front of up-and-coming Bradley Smith, who flogged his Tech 3 Yamaha from the 11 hole at the start to another credible 5th place finish, following the #1 rule in motorsports which is “Beat your teammate by half a second”, Pol Espargaro crossing the line sixth.

Suzuki girlsSteadily improving Maverick Vinales, on the #2 Suzuki Ecstar, finished seventh for his best result in MotoGP while teammate Aleix Espargaro, still struggling with injuries suffered at Jerez, had another “sorely” disappointing DNF.  Spots 8 through 10 were occupied by Ducati, with wildcard Michele Pirro driving a GP15 to eighth, Danilo Petrucci finishing ninth pending an inquiry from Race Direction concerning an incident on Lap 3, and Yonny Hernandez closing in tenth place.  Constructor-wise, Round 6 produced another top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, one Honda and one Suzuki.

In addition to Marquez, other high profile crashers today included Jack Miller, enduring his indentured servitude on the CWM LCR production Honda, aging Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda, Stefan Bradl, heading for oblivion on the Forward Racing Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow, who banged up a thumb in the morning warm-up and, like Marquez, chose the hard option front tire, which let him down on Lap 21 as he fought Smith for fifth place.

I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that part of Iannone’s success today, under extremely painful conditions, may have been due to the radically upgraded brolly girl assigned to keep him in the pre-race shade.  She, in turn, may have been to blame for Joe coming this close to jumping the start as the lights were going out.  Let’s just leave it at that.

The Big Picture

Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots a third of the way into the season, with Rossi still leading Lorenzo by a scant six points; those two warriors could easily trade places in Barcelona.  Tranche Two, The Ducati Strata, finds Dovizioso two points in front of teammate Iannone, Iannone having the momentum leaving Italy.  In fifth place sits the dejected Marquez, on the bubble.  Difficult to say at this point whether he will rally back into the top three or, instead, go all immature and find himself sulking with the Tech 3 and CWM LCR entries.  My prediction of his return to prominence this weekend looked good early, but it’s pretty clear that Honda will not win a title this year in MotoGP.  The two Suzukis and Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Octo Pramac Ducati close out the fight for top ten status.

Although Jorge Lorenzo is clearly one of the more popular riders in MotoGP, he doesn’t seem to inspire the rabid podium-mugello-2014fascination of fans the way Rossi and Marquez do.  Fortunately for you, the reader, I have discovered why this is.  When Lorenzo is dominant, as he has been for the last three trysts, the race becomes dull, at best a fight for second place.  When Rossi or Marquez is winning races, it’s almost always some kind of dramatic, come-from-behind, paint-trading, barely-under-control affair that sets fans’ blood boiling.  Watching Lorenzo win is like watching iron rust.  Watching Rossi tracking down some unfortunate frontrunner or Marquez barging his way into the lead brings on head-bobbing, body-twisting gesticulation, full of “oh nos” and “oh yesses”, punctuated by grunts, groans and shouts.  Put another way, watching Rossi and Marquez win is like having sex with a partner, while watching Lorenzo win is like being, um, home alone.  Fun, but not nearly as satisfying.

On to Barcelona!

Mugello Race Results

2015 Championship Standings Year to Date

Rossi and Lorenzo lead annual assault on Mugello

May 26, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Mugello Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives.  Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year.  Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together.  Right now would be a good time to do so. 

Rossi & LorenzoValentino Rossi, surprisingly sitting in first place, observes that Marquez would be in the thick of it today were it not for his decision to go for the win in Argentina rather than settling for second place.  The resulting crash cost him 20 points that he would dearly love to have in his treasury, the price of youthful exuberance combined, perhaps, with a sense of entitlement.  Reverse the standings at the top—Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Rossi—and you’d have pretty much what I expected back in March.  Of course, it was I who, after Catalunya 2013, wrote Rossi off, suggesting he had already won his last MotoGP race.  When it comes to consuming racing news, you get what you pay for.

Recent History at Mugello

Going back to 2012, Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has had things pretty much his way here.  Having won rather easily in 2012 and 2013, he got involved in a cage match with Marquez last year that left most people breathless, the young champion eventually “pipping” the not-as-young former champion by 12/100ths at the flag after half a dozen laps of shoulder-to-shoulder combat.

In the 2012 affair, Lorenzo gave us one of the performances he has recently turned in at Jerez and Le Mans, leading from Turn 1, metronomic in his consistency, his pace untouchable.  Dani Pedrosa took second that year, with Andrea Dovizioso providing the home fans with their only sunshine, punking LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl at the line, back when Bradl was relevant.  Rossi, in his second and final year flogging the Ducati GP13, ended up an exhausted fifth, while countryman Dovizioso was celebrating his third consecutive podium that season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha.

2013 proved an eventful weekend at Mugello.  That was the year rookie Marquez, during practice, calmly stepped off his marquez_crashRC213V at roughly 150 mph seconds before plowing it into a concrete wall, setting a record for getting unseated at the fastest speed ever and living to tell about it.  At the start of the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Bautista was able to avoid an off-track beatdown only by virtue of the fact that the concussed Rossi was seeing double and couldn’t figure out which Spanish dumbass to whip.

Later in the race, Marquez crashed out of the lead unassisted, handing the win to Lorenzo, second place to Pedrosa, and third to Tech 3 ruffian Cal Crutchlow, who crashed so many times in practice his medical report ran to seven or eight pages.  The crowd went home disappointed, having only the pleasure of seeing Marquez with road rash on his leathers as consolation.

Last year, Lorenzo, despite having led for 21 of 23 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, with Rossi third, less than three seconds behind.  The win made Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking invincible, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, was unable to take the desperately-needed win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53 point margin over Rossi, a lead which was to prove insurmountable despite a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.

Honda Suddenly Lousy?  No.

Take one bad decision and a broken finger by Marc Marquez, add discernible improvement from both the Yamaha and Ducati camps, and suddenly everyone wants us to believe the RC213V is an un-rideable piece of crap.  Let’s not forget that Casey Stoner swung his right leg over it in 2011 and won a world championship, and that Marquez did the same thing in 2013 and 2014.  The naysayers overlook Stoner’s relative struggles on the Ducati between 2008 and 2010, and claim it is only Marquez’s shimmering brilliance that has made the orange, red and white bucket of bolts competitive over the last two years.

Bologna.

Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding have added fuel to this fire by asserting that the Honda is much harder to ride than they had anticipated.  This sounds like Redding making excuses for a slow transition to new equipment.  And, as readers of this column know by now, we have heard little other than complaints and excuses from Crutchlow ever since he arrived in MotoGP from World Superbike in 2011.  Anyone wishing to cite Stefan Bradl’s lack of improvement in three years on the Honda need only look at what he’s managed to accomplish on the Yamaha this year to dispel that thought.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Honda was a more advanced bike than the Yamaha, and a world ahead of the Ducati, for a number of years heading into 2014.  Advances by both factories have closed the gap significantly.  With all the Honda pilots (except Pedrosa) complaining about a lack of rear grip, it may be that some modifications are necessary; it does not mean HRC needs to go back to the drawing board.  Take away the crash in Argentina and the busted finger; Marquez would be battling Rossi for the 2015 title and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

All of this may reflect a decision from HRC that, with the standard ECU going into effect next season, there is less incentive to improve the bike than has existed up until now; add in the Michelin factor, which will change everything, and it may be that what we’re seeing is Honda engineers marshalling their efforts in the calm before the storm.  If you had asked any of the riders graduating to MotoGP in the last five years what their first choice of bike would have been, almost all of them would have chosen the Honda.

Two Quick Hitters and the Weather Forecast

Espargaro brothersOK, we get it—the Espargaro brothers are as close as, well, brothers.  This past week’s news, that each had surgery after Le Mans, suggests they may be taking this whole filial thing a little too far.  With only four points separating them for the season, the Espargaros make me regret having been an only child.

I’m constantly irritated by how race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt bang on and on about former world champion this and 250cc world champion that every weekend.  Not wishing to sound negative, but it’s difficult to ignore the hard times a number of former world champions are currently having in MotoGP, especially compared to the standings of the collection of “mutts” who haven’t won anything:

Nicky Hayden (MotoGP 2006)  16th      Andrea Iannone (0)  5thH

Hiro Aoyama  (250cc 2009)      19th     Bradley Smith (0)   7th

Alvaro Bautista (125cc 2006)   20th    Aleix Espargaro (0)  9th

Stefan Bradl   (Moto2 2011)      22nd    Danilo Petrucci (0)  11th

I won’t even mention Yonny Hernandez and Scott Redding.  Just sayin’.

With sensational weather forecast for the greater Mugello environs this weekend, the riders should be able to dial in LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Host LL Cool J poses in the press room during the GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live at Club Nokia on December 1, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)perfect race day settings.  One would think that Rossi, racing in front of his homeys, and Lorenzo, on a hot streak, at a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, will dominate the proceedings.  Personally, my imaginary money’s on Marquez.  And, in the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback.  The 2015 season has a long way to go.