Posts Tagged ‘Nicky Hayden’

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 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

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

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

Recent History at Silverstone

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

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

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

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

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

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

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

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

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

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

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

Whither the Weather

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

MotoGP 2016 Brno Preview

August 16, 2016

© Bruce Alllen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Aliens Seek Redemption in Round 11

After getting schooled by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team in Austria, the fast movers at Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda look to get even this week in The Czech Republic.  These ambitions appear justified, in that the Automotodrom Brno has a healthy number of what are called “turns,” whereas the Red Bull Ring is more of a long straight with a couple of kinks in it.  It will take a heroic effort from the Ducs to convince the racing world that Sunday’s historic result wasn’t an outlier.

Despite this rather sour outlook, the stock of the Ducati program jumped this past weekend.  Series leader Marc Marquez this week shared his opinion with the media that the Andreas will be a force to be dealt with for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  They will be fronting Jorge Lorenzo in 2017 and 2018, which will raise their prospects yet another notch.  They should also be competitive at three of the fast circuits left on the 2016 calendar—Brno, Silverstone and Sepang.  Only their execrable start to the season appears to stand between them and Alien status.

Recent History at Brno

In 2013 rookie Marc Marquez, suddenly the blessed heir apparent, won at Brno for a fourth straight victory, edging teammate Pedrosa by 3/10ths with Lorenzo another two seconds back.  He ended the day leading Pedrosa by 26 points and Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left.

An anxious Lorenzo got off early from the five hole, hoping to blitz the field, but the Hondas gradually reeled him in, Marquez going through on Lap 16 and Pedrosa three laps later.  Valentino Rossi, gradually rounding into form on the Yamaha after two years in red, pipped pretender Alvaro Bautista at the flag for 13 points but still trailed Lorenzo by 26. It was at this point of the season that many people began getting comfortable with the idea, previously unthinkable, that rookie Marquez would take the title that year.

Brno was the site where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying.  #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole.  Again.  Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief.  It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Lorenzo by a few tenths and Rossi by five seconds.  Those were the days where Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.

The “anyone but Marquez” mentality that had gradually descended upon the grid was in full force that day. It was Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati who tangled with Marquez twice early, with Rossi assigned to keep the rookie at bay later in the race.  Not that it mattered, as the 2014 championship had been decided well before then.  Marquez would head to Silverstone leading Pedrosa by 77 points and Lorenzo by 90, what we in Indiana refer to as “a country mile.”  I suppose if you ask Aliens whether they ride for titles or records they will usually choose titles; records can be broken, taken away.  Titles, not so much.

The 2015 bwin Grand Prix České republiky gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started.  One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year.  Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day.

With Marquez wrestling his 2015 RC213V to a draw most of the season, the Rossi/Lorenzo rivalry would keep growing until the first round of the Pacific flyaway in Sepang, when Marquez and Rossi tangled for the second time, the first having come at Assen. The wheels proceeded to come off the championship chase, so to speak, in a firestorm of hard feelings and bad sportsmanship, culminating in an ugly season finale in Valencia in which Rossi was forced to endure a last row start after some highly unbecoming behavior in Japan.

Irrational Exuberance

Paraphrasing the words of ex-Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, most of the riders in the premier class grid can be accused of being overly optimistic about their prospects on a given weekend.  Nicky Hayden, now competing in World Superbike, was perhaps the most prominent example of this thinking.  Having won his only world championship during the down year of 2006, with but three premier class wins to his name during a 13-year career, The Kentucky Kid was generally convincing when describing his chances at any race, other than those few in which he was injured, as being good.  His usual take— “Well, we’ll wind it up, try to stay with the front group, look for some opportunities to steal a spot or two, and see what happens.  The reason they run these danged things is on account of you never know who might win.”  All this, during his last five seasons, generally on his way to 12th place and four points.

Now, suddenly, Dani Pedrosa is sounding an awful lot like Hayden.  His last three outings have produced a total of 23 points.  In the midst of what has arguably been his least productive premier class season ever, the following words came out of his cake hole yesterday: “It’s very wide, with some very fast corners, and you must be able to hit the best lines to set good lap times, as it doesn’t forgive the smallest mistake.”  He continued, “I just hope that the weather is stable so we can use all the practice time and try to build up some more confidence and speed.”  Finally, “In this second part of the season, we should find some more suitable tracks for us. Of course Brno has some long straights that can be demanding for us, but it’s a track that I’ve liked since I started racing, and I always have a good feeling there.”   The headline which accompanied this soliloquy read “Pedrosa upbeat on Brno prospects.”  Jeesh.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions in the greater Brno area are expected to deteriorate as Sunday approaches.  The best chance of rain appears to be on Sunday, with a weather system moving in on Saturday night.  I’m starting to sound like Al Roker.  Practice sessions should be dry, but Sunday could give us another hilarious flag-to-flag event.  Both Moto3 and Moto2 could have a red flag in their future on Sunday morning.

As to the podium, I am leaning toward Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  #93 is a fast healer and will want to get back in the mix after the problems he experienced in Austria.  Lorenzo and Rossi count Brno among their favorite tracks, assuming the weather cooperates.  I would like to see a Ducati or two on the podium, but fear Iannone and Dovizioso may still be nursing hangovers from last time out, in addition to a little irrational exuberance.  Those two will be praying for rain.

We’ll have results and analysis right here early Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Preview

July 12, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

It’s starting to feel a lot like 2013

Misfortune having found Movistar Yamaha icons Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last time out in Assen, Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez looks to be getting away with the 2016 championship. For the riders currently trailing Marquez, i.e., everyone, the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland couldn’t come at a worse time.

The German Grand Prix arrives in the midst of a two-races-in-68-days drought; there are simply no opportunities to play catch-up until mid-August. Then, beginning with the newfangled Austrian Grand Prix, the grid confronts an eight- races-in-77-days stretch, culminating at Sepang at the end of October. Marquez has fared well during the orderly every-other-week schedule that opened the season. Once The Red Bull Ring arrives, teams will have few opportunities to make adjustments, with the frantic Pacific swing looming in the fall.

Scheduling issues aside, the Alien contingent faces major challenges cutting into Marquez’ lead in Germany, where he is undefeated since 2009. He has won every MotoGP race he has started here, from pole each time. (If you wish to take issue with the fact that he’s hung onto his 2014 chassis, feel free.) Meanwhile, Rossi hasn’t won here since 2009, with but two podia to show for his efforts since then. Jorge Lorenzo has never won here in the premier class, his high water mark having been four consecutive second place results between 2009 and 2012. And Dani Pedrosa, suffering out loud with the Marquez specs built into his 2016 RC213V, owned the joint until 2013. Although he’s finished second here the last two seasons, his fortunes have taken a downturn this year. One doubts he will see the podium this weekend.

Anyone thinking, “Well, what about Jack Miller?” at this juncture needs to make a New Year’s resolution to quit sniffing glue in 2017.

Recent History in Dresden

2013 looked like it would be Dani Pedrosa’s year. He had avoided injury early in the season, and led the championship heading into Round 8 in Germany. Lorenzo was wounded in Assen, Rossi was still getting re-acquainted with the Yamaha after two years at Ducati, and rookie Marquez was, well, a rookie. Instead, Pedrosa went flying over the handlebars in FP3 on Saturday morning, returning to Spain for yet another surgery on his re-pulverized collarbone. Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring the collarbone he broke at Assen; with two Aliens missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots. Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish until 2015. Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified well in the middle of the front row on the Tech 3 Yamaha, finished second for his best premier class result ever, eight seconds ahead of Rossi.

The 2014 fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of a rapidly drying track at the start. Homeboy Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up on the grid with slicks and enjoying a 12 second advantage over the Alien contingent on the first lap. Alas, though his crew had thoughtfully mounted slicks on his LCR Honda, they had neglected to change the setting from wet to dry, causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish, seemingly running in molasses. Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.

2015: The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast last year they appeared to have snuck their MotoGP machines into a World Superbike race. Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, led every practice session. As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to also-ran status. Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season.

Marquez owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Six consecutive wins, six consecutive poles. Fastest lap ever. Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is receding into memory. It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one this year and pummels it into submission in 2017.

2017 Rider Lineup

Unconfirmed riders in italics:

Repsol Honda
Marc Marquez
Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha
Valentino Rossi
Maverick Vinales

Ducati Factory
Jorge Lorenzo
Andrea Dovizioso

Suzuki Ecstar
Andrea Iannone
Alex Rins

KTM Factory
Bradley Smith
Pol Espargaro

Aprilia Gresini
Sam Lowes
Aleix Espargaro

LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow

Marc VDS Honda
Jack Miller
Tito Rabat

Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Jonas Folger
Johann Zarco

Pramac Ducati
Scott Redding
Danilo Petrucci

Aspar Ducati (Suzuki?)
Yonny Hernandez
Alvaro Bautista

Avintia Ducati
Hector Barbera
Loris Baz

It would not surprise me if the Avintia team were to jettison hard-luck Loris Baz in favor of noted underachiever Stefan Bradl, the highest profile rider not to have a seat lined up for next year. Bradl, not known for his ability to develop a bike, needs no such skills in order to pedal a two-year-old Ducati.

Quick Hitters

Aleix Espargaro abandoned all hope for eventual Alien status by accepting the second seat on the factory Aprilia Gresini team for the next two years. Factory money should soothe some of the pain…Nicky Hayden continues to perform respectably during his rookie season in World Superbikes with Honda, securing a podium and a fifth place finish at Laguna Seca over the weekend. He currently stands sixth for the season, a mere 13 points out of fourth, but a country mile from third. There are Aliens in WSB, too…Loris Baz returns from injury this week, having missed the last two rounds with around a dozen titanium screws in his foot. No FMLA for this guy, as his seat with Avintia for next season would appear to be in jeopardy, in part due to his recent extended absence…The elusive Circuit of Wales has applied for a new funding “scheme,” the same week it was revealed that one of its executives had $42,000 worth of landscaping performed at his home and billed to the track. In the UK, they don’t call these things schemes for nothing.

Your Weekend Forecast

At this writing, Weather.com tells us to expect wet conditions for much of the weekend, with temps rising from Friday to Sunday. If such turns out to be the case, it will bode well for the Ducati contingent, neutral for Marquez and Rossi, and negative for Lorenzo, who may show up with a note from his mom excusing him from any wet sessions. If, as is generally the case, Weather.com has it completely wrong, look for sunny skies on race day with temps around 80° F.

Speaking of completely wrong, the layout and expected weather conditions would seem to favor the Hondas and Suzukis; the Ducatis will rarely get out of fifth gear. I can visualize Marquez, Rossi and Vinales on the podium, with Jorge Lorenzo nowhere in sight. The tradition of leaving on holiday during the heat of the summer commences on Sunday evening, erasing all interest in MotoGP across the globe until mid-August. As usual, the race goes off early in the morning on Sunday in the states, and we will have results and analysis here around noon EDT.

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone.  His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left.  Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

MotoGP 2016 Jerez Preview

April 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dog Bites Man – Lorenzo to Ducati 

So Jorge Lorenzo’s move from the factory Yamaha team to the factory Ducati team is now old news.  Maverick Vinales appears set to abandon the Suzuki team to take Lorenzo’s place.  We don’t know which of the current Andreas laboring for Ducati will be dislodged next year, but Sam Lowes has been tagged to move up from Moto2 to unseat either Bautista or Bradl on the Gresini Aprilia.  Dani Pedrosa’s seat with Repsol Honda appears to be in play; Suzuki is said to covet him or Dovizioso for 2017-18.  With several up-and-comers expected to graduate from Moto2 along with Lowes—Alex Rins and Johann Zarco first and foremost—the silly season is becoming more interesting than the 2016 championship season itself. 

Especially if Repsol Honda’s luminous Marc Marquez strolls out and dominates Jerez this weekend.  Which is entirely possible, after what he’s shown us recently in Argentina and Texas.  He appears to be, ahem, back.  The looming question as the season rolls into Round Four: who will be Marquez’s teammate starting next year?

Recent History at Jerez

Dani Pedrosa won a close 2013 affair after going through on polesitter Lorenzo on Lap 6, Marquez running third.  The three spent the next 20 laps in that order, coloring in between the lines, but the heat began to take a toll on Lorenzo’s tires, and he appeared to be struggling as the race wore on.  Pedrosa and Marquez, on the other hand, looked fresh and, on Lap 27, the rookie began lining up Lorenzo as if he wasn’t a defending double world champion.  The two traded positions in Turn 6, Lorenzo refusing to yield.  But in the Jorge Lorenzo Corner, of all places, its namesake ran a smidge wide and Marquez, lizard brain calling the shots, dove inside.  As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, the Mallorcan being forced wide into third place for the day and the season.  To say he was unamused in Parc Fermè is a serious understatement.

The 2014 race featured an incandescent Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10.  Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the young season; at that time we had no idea he would end up on the rostrum 13 times on the way to finishing second for the year.  Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late in the day for the last podium spot, another indication that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the Mallorcan’s year.  Coming on the heels of his crash in Qatar, a flailing 10th place finish in Austin and a desperate 3rd in Argentina, Lorenzo’s 2014 season was over before it had fully started.

Last year’s race was pure vintage Lorenzo.  Qualify on pole, get out in front early, attach bike to rails, press “Go,” and keep the last 26 laps within half a second of one another.  Regular as a piston, as dad used to say.  The resulting procession left Marquez (nursing a broken pinkie on his right hand) alone in 2nd and Rossi likewise in 3rd.  Cal Crutchlow managed a respectable 4th place on the Come What May LCR Honda, with Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro closing out the top five.  My prediction of having two Ducatis on the podium was met with derision, as Maniacal Joe Iannone topped the Italian effort in 6th place, teammate Dovizioso having gone walkabout on Lap 2 on his way to a disappointing 9th.

The Big Early Contract Effect

From our Department of Undiluted Speculation comes this idea that riders signing big fat new contracts early in the season go on to underperform that year.  While our crack research department is looking back at earlier instances of this, we have in front of us two credible examples, with a possible third in the works:

  • Valentino Rossi re-ups with Yamaha weeks ago and is assured of a sweet ride through the end of 2018. Coincidentally (?) he’s off to his worst start since 2001, ignoring the lucrative Ducati dumpster fire of 2011-2012.
  • Bradley Smith, late of the satellite Yamaha team and moving on to richer pastures with the nascent factory KTM project next season, has amassed 16 points thus far this year. In 2014 he had 20; last year he was at 26.  Something has interrupted his trajectory, and I think it’s the money, a semi-conscious effort to avoid crashing before the big payday arrives.
  • On Monday it was announced that Lorenzo had signed his deal with Ducati, in exchange for wheelbarrows full of euros, 12-15 million at last estimate. The end of the 2015 season left the proud Spaniard’s ego bruised, with Yamaha unable to celebrate his championship in a “suitable” fashion while Rossi fumed and spat about a Lorenzo/Marquez conspiracy to deprive him of the title.  Jorge chalked up seven wins in the last 15 rounds last season.  It says here he will fall short of that mark this year.  On some level, conscious or otherwise, he may wish to punish Yamaha for their reverence of his rainmaking teammate and rival.  Saving himself for his new love and avoiding risk this season would manifest such desire; a rejuvenated Marquez would increase the possibility.

Maverick Vinales may prove the exception to the rule, as he is still trying to earn his Alien card and likely feels a good deal of loyalty toward the Suzuki team that sent his star rising.  If and when he signs his deal with Yamaha, I would expect him to keep pushing for podiums and wins, which may be within his reach at some circuits on the calendar.  He’s young enough not to fully appreciate the risks inherent in his sport, and has, as far as I know, not a single gram of titanium in his body.  Compare this to Dani Pedrosa, 20% of whose body weight is metal.  When Dani goes through airport security, klaxon horns blare and the lights start strobing.

The Kentucky Kid Gains Traction

Fans of Nicky Hayden will note that he recorded his first WSBK podium this past weekend at Assen, pushing him up to fifth place for the season.  Having watched him jump on a cruiser and immediately break the rev limiter at the AMA Indy Mile a few years ago, I thought Superbike would be a walk in the park for a guy who’s been riding since he was three.  Not so.  But he seems to be figuring it out, and few North American racing fans can be sorry to see him doing better.  You’ll not find a nicer, more accessible guy in the paddock than Nicky Hayden.

Your Weekend Forecast

As of this writing, the weekend forecast for Jerez de la Frontera is pretty much ideal—dry with temps in the mid-70’s.  They’ve been racing bikes at Jerez longer than at any other circuit outside Assen, though her glory has faded somewhat in recent years as the Spanish economy bottomed out.  Having attended the race in 2010, when Lorenzo came from WAY back to overtake Pedrosa on the last lap, I would be reluctant to count Jorge out this weekend.  My personal forecast is for an all-Spanish podium, one which includes Maverick Vinales.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis later in the day.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Preview

April 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez has momentum heading for Texas

After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season.  Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere.  Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday. 

Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:

  • The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
  • The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
  • The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
  • The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
  • The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year.  With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
  • The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
  • In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.)  An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and who pushed the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year.  Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent.  Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture.  Kudos to all three.

Recent History at COTA

The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words:  Marc Marquez.  He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race.  He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati.  Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.

I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible.  The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight.  Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.  In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade.  In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.

OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control.  Big deal.  These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet.  To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.

A final thought concerning Marquez:  Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving.  I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin.  One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do.  (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)

WSBK and Nicky Hayden

Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball.  The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish.  As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points.  Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team.  It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.

Your Weekend Forecast

Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.

As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning.  Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.

Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium.  Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.

If you have access to the live broadcast—seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed—the race goes off at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP 2016 Losail Results

March 20, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Jorge Lorenzo kicks off 2016 with a gratifying win

The 2016 Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and standard electronics across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium had been soaring.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects had once again asserted their dominance of the sport.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDQualifying had produced an ethnically-striated grid—Spaniards filling up rows one and three, with an all-Italian second row and an all-British fourth.  Lorenzo laid down a fast lap early in the session, as did Marquez a bit later, and both held up despite Maverick Vinales and “Maniac Joe” Iannone taking serious runs at them at session’s end.  Vinales missed out on the two hole by 4/1000ths of a second.  Iannone could have easily moved up to the front row had he not been momentarily held up by Scott Redding, who appeared to be doing his best to get out of the way.  (A track record final lap by Marquez was tossed when it was determined he had started it one second after the checkered flag had waved.)

Having watched six of the top seven riders in Moto2 jump the start, the start of the MotoGP tilt appeared somewhat sluggish, especially for Marquez and Vinales, who got lost in the sauce.  Marquez, looking WAY more comfortable than he looked last season prior to switching to his 2014 chassis, escaped from the crowd to join the lead group in fourth position.  Vinales, perhaps concerned about making an early-season mistake, found himself mired behind Dani Pedrosa, where he spent the entire evening.

The lead group formed up with Lorenzo leading the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati Iannoneteam, trailed by Valentino Rossi and Marquez.  At the start of Lap 2, both Ducatis flew past Lorenzo, Iannone in the lead.  Marquez slipped past Rossi on Lap 3 and began dogging Lorenzo on Lap 4.  I was just getting comfortable with the idea of Iannone winning his first premier class race when he lowsided out of the lead in Turn 13 of Lap 6, leaving Dovizioso to slug it out with the Aliens.  Sure enough, on Lap 9 Lorenzo found his way through on Dovizioso and that was that.  Marquez and Dovizioso would trade places a few times over the remaining 14 laps, but no one was able to mount any kind of serious challenge to Lorenzo once he found his rhythm.

Tell Us Again What We Learned This Winter

Nothing.  Elevated expectations for Vinales and Octo Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding didn’t pan out, at least in Round One.  This is a good time to point out that the Qatar GP usually offers up a few surprises to which followers of MotoGP give too much weight.  This is probably more true in 2016 than usual, given the technical changes everyone was dealing with.  Here’s what we know at this moment:

  • The top riders have already adjusted to the Michelins and the control ECU.
  • Dovizioso and Iannone will do well at the long, sweeping circuits like Brno and Phillip Island. We don’t know how they will hold up at the cramped little joints like The Sachsenring and Motegi.
  • Marc Marquez has finally learned that 16 points is better than none.
  • Valentino Rossi, now joined at the hip with Yamaha for the rest of his career, will have more fruitful days than he did today. Although he qualified better than usual, there was no late-race challenge from #46.  His choice of the harder option rear tire proved to have been in vain.
  • Michelin has figured out a lot of stuff in a very short time. Many of the riders set their fastest laps of the day late in the race.
  • Iannone has replaced the departed Nicky Hayden in the competition for the absolute worst haircut on the grid. At this point, he’s winning by a mile.
  • The competition for the top riders has already begun.

Early Season Silliness

RossiRight, so Rossi and Lorenzo were reportedly offered contracts for 2017-18 simultaneously, by email.  Rossi signs his immediately.  Lorenzo does not.  Rossi suggests Lorenzo is shopping Ducati.  (Lorenzo is, in fact, shopping Ducati.)  Lorenzo fires back that Rossi had no choice because no one else would want him.  Boom.  Bradley Smith, on the verge of eviction by Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal, signs a deal with KTM for next year, leaving Yamaha a spot with which to woo Alex Rins.

I would say the odds of Lorenzo moving to Ducati in 2017 increased at the close of Lap 1, when the lead group entered the front straight.  Lorenzo, at the front of the pack, could only sit and watch as both factory Ducatis effortlessly blew past him, Grant-through-Richmond style, forcing him to push harder in the turns than he might have wished for the rest of the race.  The speed of the Desmosedici (Iannone was clocked at 218 mph on Saturday) combined with the skills of Jorge Lorenzo herald a formidable force if, indeed, Lorenzo elects to switch.  He would probably enjoy, too, the prospect of winning a title or three at Ducati, which The Doctor was unable to do, albeit during the pre-Dall’Igna era.

Here’s an easy one:  If and when Lorenzo bolts for Ducati, Yamaha will immediately sign the 21 year-old Vinales for as long as they can.  He’s the hottest property in MotoGP right now, despite his mediocre performance today.  Honda, on the other hand, needs to decide soon if they really want another two years of hard-luck Dani Pedrosa, or if the future wouldn’t look much brighter with Marquez and Vinales (or Marquez and Rins) fronting the Repsol factory team.

The Big Picture

I’m not even sure there IS a big picture so early in the season.  Iannone’s impression of Lorenzo’s 2014 crash in the desert has needlessly put him behind the eight ball for the rest of the year; why he was pushing so hard so early in the race, with all that bike beneath him, is a mystery.  Rossi, his meal ticket punched for the next three years, may have lost a bit of intensity—about racing, that is.  He seems fully charged up for a season-long verbal feud with Lorenzo, and would probably welcome Marquez back into the fray as well.  Dorna, it seems, is not amused by Rossi’s baiting of his two Spanish rivals, and may try to convince him to cool his jets. Having a 27 year-old Rossi snarling and snapping at you was once a frightening prospect.  A 37 year-old Rossi, who has been beaten by both Lorenzo and Marquez, not so much.  Yamaha may live to regret their pre-emptive signing of Rossi, especially if it ends up costing them both Vinales and Rins.

Two Weeks to the Middle of Nowhere

The grid has a little time to screw things back together before heading off for a back-to-back, Round Two in Argentina and Round Three in Austin.  Even old econ majors like me are not too geeked up about hearing the teams yammer on about analyzing all the data they collected this weekend.  Whatever.  It’s good to have the bikes back on track competing in anger.  It’s great having Nick Harris calling the shots in the booth.  It’s good for the sport to have Marquez competitive again this year.  It will be good—next year—to have more bikes on the grid.  And it will be fascinating to see which bums end up on which seats as the season rolls on.

For now, Lorenzo rules.

MotoGP 2015 Valencia Results

November 8, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Jorge Lorenzo seizes win, snatches 2015 title from Rossi

The record books will show that Jorge Lorenzo’s win today, together with Valentino Rossi’s 4th place finish, gave the 2015 championship to Lorenzo by five points. There will be documentation attesting to the fact that Valentino Rossi passed 20 riders in the first 10 laps, ultimately making it up to 4th place on the grid, at which point he was spent.

LorenzoCaptureThere will be no explanation, visual or otherwise, why either of the Repsol Hondas didn’t give Lorenzo a serious go on the last two laps; the term “team orders” has ceased to exist. The three points given Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang were, in the end, decisive.

The bells are not ringing in Tavullia tonight.

Setting the Stage

Jorge Lorenzo laid down “the best lap of my life,” in his words, on Saturday to capture pole in a race where getting away at the front would solve a lot of problems. Joined on the front row by Repsol Honda troublemakers Marc Marquez and the suddenly-hot Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo earned the best possible track to the title on Saturday.

Everyone know Rossi would be starting from the back row. Everyone had done the math about where Rossi would arrive when. Lorenzo knew, as we all knew, that winning the race meant Rossi’s eventual placement was less of a concern; anything outside of second would put the Italian in 2nd place for the season.

pedrosa-marquezThus, on a Honda-friendly track, in front of a sellout crowd and actual millions watching on TV around the world, Jorge Lorenzo exerted his will upon the field and his top competitors to win in Valencia. In a must-win situation he showed us his mental toughness and again brings into question why he bothered to get involved in the Rossi/Marquez tiff. Had he floated above the controversy, his title would shine a lot brighter than it does. He reminds me of my wife’s strong suggestion that I never resist an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

On the Track…

…The Usual Suspects took their places, Lorenzo followed closely by Marquez, Pedrosa trailing and, eventually, Rossi occupying fourth, unable to do anything about the action so far in front of him. For Rossi to claim the title, he needed both Marquez and Pedrosa to treat Lorenzo rudely, going through to put the Mallorcan in third place.

Amazingly, Lorenzo led Marquez and Pedrosa at the end of Lap 1 and at the end of Lap 30, without having to withstand a serious challenge of any import along the way. This oddity, which also resulted in an all-Spanish podium, is a little fishy. The casual observer, if the top three wore the same livery, might deduce that #93 and #26 were protecting the back of #99. The world will never know.

The worst part of all of this, as we know, is that the specific sanction imposed upon Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang had a direct bearing on the outcome of the season. What if Race Direction had, in its wisdom, assessed Rossi a two point penalty, slapping him on the wrist but allowing him to qualify? Is it that hard to see him finishing second from a second row start on a day the factory Hondas were not getting froggy?

And with triple world champion Lorenzo in effect criticizing the penalty as too lenient, is there any reason to suppose the team won’t be building a wall down the middle of the garage again in 2016, the way it was in 2009? No warm and fuzzies here.

Elsewhere on the Grid

bradley_smithPol Espargaro lashed his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to the line three seconds in front of teammate Bradley Smith to capture fifth place for the day, Smith just showing Andrea Dovizioso and his Desmosedici the shade. Aleix Espargaro brought his factory Suzuki across the line in eighth, with Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci bringing the LCR Honda and the Pramac Ducati, respectively, to the flag filling out the top ten.

Farther down the food chain, Maverick Vinales, Michele Pirro and Yonny Hernandez ended their year in the points. Vinales will continue with Suzuki in 2016, Pirro will continue to test for Ducati, and Hernandez moves to Aspar team but will remain on the junior class Ducati, teaming up with Eugene Laverty who stays with Aspar. Today, in his last MotoGP start, American Nicky Hayden finished 17th and out of the money, but he finished, as has been declared a MotoGP Legend, with three career wins and a championship to show for his body of work in the premier class. I hope he can find a competitive team and win a title in WSBK, one of the genuine nice guys in the industry.

Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl finished 14th and 18th today, and will begin practicing on the new Aprilia MotoGP bike on Tuesday in Jerez. Brit Scott Redding ended his generally fruitless association with Marc VDS Honda and will be suiting up for Pramac Ducati alongside Petrucci. (Scott, wouldn’t it have been easier just to lose 15 pounds?) Marc VDS will, in 2016, be bringing Tito Rabat up from Moto2 to ride alongside Jack Miller. Loris Baz will join top open class rider Hector Barbera at Avintia Ducati.

The top factory and satellite teams are standing pat, meaning some riders will not have seats for next season. This is life in the slow lane of MotoGP.

The Final Big Picture of 2015

Lorenzo edges Rossi for the title, with Marquez third and Pedrosa fourth; the Aliens remain unchallenged. Andrea Iannone outpoints Brit Bradley Smith by seven to claim fifth, with Smith the top satellite rider in sixth. Dovizioso slips to seventh place for the year, ahead of Brit Crutchlow in eighth. And Pol Espargaro pips Danilo Petrucci by a single point in the race for ninth place. The two Suzukis finish 11th and 12th, Espargaro outpointing his rookie teammate by eight.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

So MotoGP now has four respectable, competitive manufacturers, two of which have Alien class riders. The rule and tire changes for 2016 will shuffle the deck to a degree, but should not change the order of Aliens. Several junior class riders—Alex Rins and Miguel Oliveira among them—are soon going to be working in the premier class, along with some talented young Italian riders.

The Marquez-Rossi flap this season has exposed some weakness in the relationship between teams and sponsors, with some sponsors seizing upon the opportunity to back out of agreements going forward. Repsol is having a terrible year, courtesy of cheap crude oil prices, and was offended by the event, as was Honda, as was Movistar, as was Yamaha. There is no reason to expect that these types of incidents won’t continue to occur in the coming years.

Indianapolis is gone from the calendar, replaced by Austria, and the calendar is lengthened by a week. Testing this week at Jerez marks the beginning of next season, new bums on new seats. New tires. New electronics.

Goodbye to 2015

Each year, we try to find a quote that summarizes the season we’ve just seen. Without even doing the research, I recalled a statement from a movie several years ago that I believe sums up 2015 for Jorge Lorenzo. Heading into the season, there was faint hope that he would be able to compete with Marquez. As Marquez faltered, Rossi rallied, and Lorenzo was in a season-long dogfight.

There were plenty of points in the season where Lorenzo could have given up. In response to one, he went on a four race win streak. He kept it close until the very last week of the season, and had enough left to seize the day when the opportunity presented itself. He kept the faith.

It could have been Jorge Lorenzo that the young proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was speaking about when he observed,

“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out,
it is not yet the end.”

We look forward to bringing you MotoGP again next season.