Posts Tagged ‘pol espargaro’

MotoGP 2020 Portimao Season Finale

November 22, 2020

© Bruce Allen        November 22, 2020

Arenas and Bastianini join Mir as World Champions

On a sun-drenched day straight out of a travel magazine, in southern Portugal, Albert Arenas snagged his first, and last, Moto3 championship, edging Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino, as it were, his P12 finish just good enough for the title. In Moto2, series winner #BeastMode watched from P5 as a great race unfolded between Remy Gardner, Luca Marini and Sam Lowes and ended with him being handed the 2020 trophy despite a conservative P5 finish.

In MotoGP, homeboy Miguel Oliveira won today’s battle, while 2020 champion Joan Mir retired with a mechanical and no worries, having clinched the title last time out. To have two world championships decided on the same day, with only a handful of points separating the top three finalists in each class, well, it just doesn’t get much better than this in racing.

Estoril vs. Portimao

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The two Portuguese tracks aren’t that different in layout. Portimao has the beautiful variations in topography, while Estoril has created so many memories over the years. Say the word “2006” to a MotoGP fan and he will, if his consciousness is sufficiently elevated, automatically think of Estoril. Pedrosa and Hayden. One thing they have in common is a long main straight ending in a difficult Turn 1, Estoril’s being somewhat more acute than Portimao. Watch Turn 1 in all three races, see if somebody doesn’t exit the premises.

Friday

FP1—What does it say about a track when it appears to be Aprilia-friendly? Aprilia in P3 (Aleix) and P4 (Savadori). WTF.

The rumor that Yank Joe Roberts could inherit Andrea Iannone’s seat with Aprilia after fellow Moto2 fast mover Marco Bezzecchi allegedly turned them down is tantalizing. An American in the premier class. The last to toil so was Ben Spies, a bit of a flash in the pan, and unlucky to boot, back in 2015. I hope Joe gets the shot and that he can carve a successful career out of motorcycle racing.

Saturday

MotoGP FP3 did its job on Saturday morning, separating the goats from the lambs. Four of the riders in the money on Friday were out of the money on Saturday, including Aleix, Binder, world champion Mir and top three battler Franco Morbidelli. Of the four, Q1 will be the most pressing for Morbidelli, locked in a cage match with Alex Rins for P2 for the year, leading by four but now having to make it through Q1 to get close to Rins on the grid. On a tight, windy course like Algarve, getting out front would be important, especially for the Yamahas, which do not like heavy traffic. It was mostly usual suspects in Q2 other than Stefan Bradl, who put Marc Marquez’ RC213V in P10. Homeboy Miguel Oliveira put himself in Q2 late in the session, looking froggy, like he might want to jump.

After an invigorating Q1, which saw sentimental favorite Cal Crutchlow join Fast Frankie Morbidelli en route to Q2, Saturday’s main event was typically engaging. Yamahas under Morbidelli, Quartararo and even Maverick spent brief periods on pole, with Morbidelli sitting on it for 10 minutes of the 15-minute session. But low and behold, in what Dad used to refer to as the nickel of time, homeboy Miguel Oliveira threw down a 1:38.892 to steal pole from Morbidelli, with Jack Miller completing the front row. A bit of significant weirdness found Stefan Bradl starting from P6 and Alex Rins from P10. Rins, one of the riders with skin in the game on Sunday, has his work cut out for him on this twisty, up-and-down track. Not even an afterthought—his name was called perhaps once during Q1—was Valentino Rossi, starting from P17, thousands of fans across the globe wishing he would just walk away from the Petronas SRT next season and get started on Chapter 2. For Methuselah, Chapter 1 is ending poorly.

These days, The Doctor is Just Another Rider.

Race Day

Moto3: Runaway Raul Rules Portugal; Arenas Enjoys Ice Cream Sunday

Late-season sensation Raul Fernandez went wire-to-wire today to win the Grand Prix of Portugal. A better start to the season would certainly have allowed him to challenge for the title. But a win is a win.

Of the top four finishers today, none had anything to do with the championship being contested. Of those contenders, Tiger Tony Arbolino had arguably the best day, starting from P27 (yeah, I know, right?) and climbing all the way to P5 before running out of tire and energy. Ai Ogura, second when the day dawned and needing to beat Arenas, solidly, to win a title instead managed only an uninspired P8. All this on a day when Arenas was having problems, making mistakes, getting overtaken every time one turned around, and ending the day in P12, appearing mildly abashed accepting the world champion trophy on the podium later on.

Ain’t nobody care. Dude has his ticket punched to Moto2 next year, along with Ogura and Arbolino, so the fledgling rivalry can continue, although likely lower on the food chain. His Wikipedia page gets a nice update and upgrade. The ice cream thing with Arenas I don’t fully get, though it played a part in his post-race celebration. So that’s not a typo in the headline above.

Moto2: Remy Gardner Wins From Pole; #BeastMode Seizes 2020 Title

Always fun to watch a rider earn his first grand prix win, crying during the national anthem and all, and Australian Remy Gardner was no exception today, outracing, then dusting, championship contenders Luca Marini and Suffering Sam Lowes and helping Enea Bastianini clinch the 2020 Moto2 championship. Plenty of overtaking all over the board, in a race Sam Lowes, with his injured hand, would have sat out were he not in the thick of the chase. As things turned out, he finished in P3. The good news is that all four of his serious rivals are moving up to MotoGP next year and he should pretty much have the Moto2 field to himself.

Aside from Bastianini, Marini, Lowes, Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin completed the top five for 2020. Gardner, in P6 for 2020, will return, too. Perhaps we can watch a couple of Anglos fight for the title in 2021 for a change.

MotoGP: Oliveira Dominates Wire-to-Wire in Portugal; Mir Backs Into Title

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So the MotoGP race ended almost exactly the way KTM stud Miguel Oliveira hoped it would, and almost exactly NOT the way Suzuki world champion Joan Mir hoped it would. Oliveira, taking note of Raul Fernandez’ performance in the earlier Moto2 race, took the holeshot and won unchallenged, crushing the field. Confirming that KTM is no longer some stepsister, but a full-fledged member of MotoGP royalty, deserving of the respect that all except Aprilia receive. Meanwhile, Mir, who experienced electronics issues during Q1 and started from P20, had yet more bike trouble today, possibly as a result of a hip check he delivered to Pecco Bagnaia early in the race that left the young Italian with a dislocated shoulder.

Similar to last week, if one is willing to disregard Oliveira, was the joust today between Fast Frankie Morbidelli and Jack Miller. Once again, Miller dogged #21 for most of the second half of the race. Once again, Morbidelli prevailed, the only Yamaha rider to get anything at all from the M-1: Vinales P11, Rossi P12, Quartararo P14. Ugh. For the year, the final standings:

1        J Mir           

2        F Morbidelli           

3        A Rins         

4        A Dovizioso           

5        P Espargaro           

6        M Vinales              

7        J Miller                  

8        F Quartararo         

9        M Oliveira             

10      T Nakagami           

2020 in a Nutshell

When the cat’s away the mice will play,

and when they do, they should play hard.

Though this does not qualify as one of the more poetic sentiments enshrined here through the years, it most certainly applies to MotoGP 2020.

Rider rankings after Jerez I:

Tranche I:    Marc Marquez*, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche II:  Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins*

Tranche III:  Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow*, Valentino Rossi, >Joan Mir<, Brad Binder, Danilo Petrucci, Miguel Oliveira

Tranche IV:  Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Iker Lecuona

Tranche V:   Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Bradley Smith

When Marc Marquez suffered what would become a season-ending injury during Jerez I, I had Mir in Tranche III, nowhere near Alien status. The unflappable Mallorcan saw an opening, one that literally might not occur again in the next five years and thought to seize it. He then went out and crashed in two of the first three races, Jerez I and Brno, with an off-podium finish in Jerez II to show for his efforts. 11 points in the first three rounds, Quartararo sitting on top, 48 points ahead. A good time to start thinking about next year. But after Brno, and despite a poor showing at LeMans in the wet, Mir was money. On or near the podium every time out. Quartararo and the Yamahas, other than Frankie Morbidelli, ran into problems during the season. Ducati had Miller and little else. KTM made some moves, but not enough to threaten anything. And Honda, without #93, was a shadow of its former self.

Any other year, a performance like Mir’s—one win all year—would have been plenty good enough for a solid P2 or P3. But this was the year that it could win him a title. Assuming Marquez returns next season—assuming there is a 2021 season—it is unrealistic for people to expect Mir to repeat. But he has assuredly earned his Alien Card, along with Fast Frankie and Thriller Miller. They and Marquez are the Alien Class for 2021. You heard it here first.

To my readers, both of you, thanks for following me again this year during what is becoming an increasingly challenging period. I miss the old days of deadlines and templates, but at least the racing itself was first-class this year. We will try to keep an eye on goings-on during the winter and look forward to returning in February. Peace and love to you all, and our best wishes for the Christmas season.

Local Color

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Gardner takes the lead from Marini in Moto2.


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Raul Fernandez ran away with things in the Moto3 race.


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Jack Miller, a bridesmaid once again.


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A preview of things to come later in the race.

MotoGP 2020 Valencia I

November 8, 2020

© Bruce Allen November 8, 2020

Mir Self-Actualizes in Valencia as Suzuki reigns

Sunday in Valencia, as my reader often reminds me, was another fine day amongst the yachting class. The chase in Moto3 tightened considerably after a dramatic Lap 2 crash. The chase in Moto2 tightened considerably after a non-dramatic Lap 16 crash. But the chase in MotoGP became more problematic for everyone not named Joan Mir in what was a clambake of historic proportions for Team Suzuki Ecstar. The last time Suzukis finished 1-2 in MotoGP was shortly after the signing of The Treaty of Ghent.

Valencia I 2020 will be remembered, in the premier class, as the nadir of the Yamaha racing program’s recent history. Wet weather on Friday and Saturday, combined with dry weather on Sunday, produced some ugly numbers. Qualifying: P9, P11 and P18, with Vinales coming out of pit lane. Race: P11, P13, P14 and Rossi DNF mechanical. Constructor championship points removed as punishment for unapproved early season changes to the engine. Rossi infected with the Rona. Firing Jorge Lorenzo as test rider. More heads gonna roll. As good as things are at this moment for Suzuki, they are equally bad for Team Yamaha.

Friday

The whole Valencia practice fiasco was the fault of the weather gods, who double-crossed the combatants by bringing rain on Saturday morning, after having spoiled FP1 and messed with FP2 and, unabashedly lying, promised sunshine for Saturday. The consequence was that the only practice session that mattered (by way of separating the Q2 lambs from the Q1 goats) was FP2. As usual, there was a lot of jockeying late in the session but it ended, oddly, with Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli topping the combined chart. Left on the outside looking in were names including Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow and Miguel Oliveira, in addition to the usual suspects and the two newbies, both of which were a second faster than the cruising Tito Rabat, blowing kisses to his fans.

Saturday

FP3 in the rain became meaningless, other than assuring that the Yamahas would likely struggle in the wet on Sunday if Sunday woke up wet. Valentino Rossi, dead last, running in the rain, was actually eighth in his FP3 heat. Hmmm. That was not as bad as teammate Maverick Vinales, who had to uncrate a sixth (?) engine for the year and was thus relegated to a delayed pit lane start. Dude is a mess, although most of his woes have more to do with Yamaha than Maverick. (Personally, I think Maverick Vinales is a highly talented head case.) My other reader observes that if he were her boyfriend, she would have broken up with him before now.

FP4, it was clear, would be either wet or dry or some combination of both. I didn’t pay too much attention, distracted as I was by some ongoing family issues ☹ and the announcement of the results of the U.S. presidential election. 😊

Qualifying, both Q1 and Q2, were the usual last-minute chaos, guys racing against the clock rather than each other. Where track records are set. Although track records in MotoGP have gone mostly unchallenged this year, and again this weekend. But it’s still great stuff, seeing these guys getting it on their last flying laps. Miguel Oliveira and Johann Zarco slipped through Q1 into Q2. “Pole” Espargaro topped the Q2 sheet, followed in close order by Alex Rins and Takaa Nakagami, all of whom looked capable of winning in this unpredictable season. Series leader Joan Mir would start, menacingly, from P6.

Sunday

Moto3 was unusual, in that a race leader, Raul Fernandez, avoided some serious trouble just behind him on Lap 2, got away from the pack, and led comfortably to the flag for his first grand prix career win. Running in P2, contender Celestino Viette went unannounced over the handlebars, causing series leader Albert Arenas to check up and Alonso Lopez, suddenly in an untenable position, to rear-end Arenas, putting Lopez out of the race and breaking Arenas’ bike. Arenas, his bike wired back together, watched his 2020 lead shrink from 19 points to 3 to Ai Ogura, but not until after having been black-flagged for inserting himself into a lead group while three laps down, a serious breach of racing etiquette. He may pay a bit of a price next week for giving in to his pique today. For the year, Ogura now trails Arenas by three for the title, while Tony Arbolino now trails Vietti by 3 in the fight for P3, Jaume Masia (one of a number of crashers today) a single point behind Vietti. Sergio Garcia ended up on the second step of the podium today, with Ogura third, having pimped Arbolino at the flag.

In a reversion to form, Sam Lowes, winner of the last two Moto2 races, running second, slid unassisted out of the race on Lap 16, giving up P1 for the 2020 season to Enea Bastianini. Marco Bezzechi led from Lap 3 and was never seriously challenged. His rival from Moto3, Jorge Martin, claimed second, with Aussie Remy Gardner landing on the third step of the podium. Contender Luca Marini was nowhere early, but mounted a late rally to finish in P6. American Joe Roberts, who qualified in P2, led Lap 1 briefly before crashing out. He has also lost his seat with Tennor American Racing to Cameron Beaubier, getting booted up from a successful stint in WSBK.

The MotoGP race today was, for everyone associated with the Suzuki MotoGP Project, a wet dream come true. Sophomore sensation Joan Mir topped teammate Alex Rins for his first career win in MotoGP, giving him a 37 point lead in the season series with two rounds left, and leaving teammate Rins holding P2 for the year. As they say down in the holler, “It just don’t get any better than this, do it?” Suzuki only returned to grand prix racing in 2015 and was a pretty sorry outfit at the time. Five years later they are poised to claim the top two slots in the 2020 championship. “Pole” Espargaro tailed the Zooks all day to finish a plucky P3 after starting from pole. Words cannot express how badly Espargaro wants a KTM win before defecting to Honda for next season. Those of us who hoped today was the day can hope for next Sunday, same time, same place. Mir, displacing Fabio Quartararo as The New New Kid in Town, became the ninth winner in 12 rounds in a brilliant MotoGP season.

Here and There

In Moto2, an unlucky Jake Dixon fractured his wrist and is likely done for the year.

It’s official—Luca Marini will replace Tito Rabat next year on the Esponsorama Ducati faction. He will team up with Enea Bastiannini for a very young, very Italian team with elevated prospects for the foreseeable future. The former Avintia group may not find many podiums next year, but they’ll surely get their ashes hauled more than any other single team.

This is why Suzuki needs a second team. Ducati has now scooped up three of the top riders in Moto2 in one fell swoop, so to speak. Some of these are likely development projects, but that’s fine. They have room on their teams to develop young riders. And, once you’ve learned to ride the Desmo, you can probably ride anything.

Garrett Gerloff

Yamaha tagged American WSBK rider Garrett Gerloff as Valentino Rossi’s replacement for the MotoGP European Grand Prix, after The Doctor failed several recent COVID-19 tests. Gerloff – a former MotoAmerica Superbike rider – held his WSBK coming out party this year with the GRT Yamaha squad and scored three podiums, at Catalunya and Estoril. [Imagine Garrett’s surprise when the cadre of guys in expensive suits and Italian loafers show up for a sit-down to discuss, broadly, his perspective around a prospective, um, temporary promotion to a factory M-1 for the MotoGP knees-up in Valencia.] Anyway, his weekend ended on Friday as Rossi cleared the Rona and returned for Saturday. Not young, approaching 26, Mr. Gerloff nonetheless made a lot of positive impressions and was fast, on Rossi’s bike, on a track he had maybe visited once before. Even getting to Moto3 would be a solid for an aging American with fire in the belly.

BTW, Gerloff was not the only virgin at the European GP, as Aprilia, having finally shown Brit Bradley Smith the door, anointed Italian stud/test rider Lorenzo Savadori to pilot the struggling RS-GP for the final three rounds of 2020. I hope Aprilia corporate is doing well because their MotoGP program needs oxygen. [As things turned out, Rossi retired with a mechanical on Lap 5, and Savadori left the premises on Lap 26, to the surprise of no one.]

Yamaha Fires Test Rider Lorenzo After He Mouths Off, etc.

I read this somewhere and believe it to be true. An article in GPOne described Lorenzo criticizing, mildly, Andrea Dovizioso’s failure to take advantage of Marc Marquez’s absence in 2020 to win the title. Yamaha Corporate, probably sick and tired of Jorge’s incessant complaining, promptly fired the three-time world MotoGP champion and opened discussions with Dovizioso to return as a test rider in 2021. The Japanese have always been good at the smiling, nodding coup de grace, after which one can find oneself unemployed. Or impaled.

∞∞∞∞∞

We’re back again next week to try this again. Lots going on these days à chèz Allen, so please bear with me.

Local Color

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Valencia from the air


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Valencia oranges, I’m guessing.

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2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

The French, renown for their cuisine but despised for their weather, lived up to their reputation today, with a dry race in Moto3, a wet race in MotoGP, and a drying track in Moto2. A day for underdogs (Alex Marquez) as well as the contenders in Moto2 and Moto3. Sam Lowes wins a race for the first time in four years, while teenagers dominate Moto3. As they say around here, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which is apropos of nothing whatsoever but demonstrates my facility with the French language.

Recent History in Sarthe

Johann Zarco was a rookie here in 2017, leading his home race for the first six laps on the Tech 3 Yamaha until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those few fanatics who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Zarco to waltz into racing history in 2018, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing unassisted out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a depressing 36-point lead in the 2018 championship.

We had this to say after last year’s race: “We’ve seen some of this before. In the MotoGP tilt, Marc Marquez took the hole shot, held off an early challenge from Ducati hothead Jack Miller, and won the French Grand Prix going away, never seriously challenged. This, after little brother Alex, whose last win came in Japan in 2017, survived the demolition derby that was Moto2 and brought joy to Catalans everywhere. After the race, jubilant dad Julià sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens.”

Last year’s rostrum included Marquez, Dovizioso and Petrucci, the Ducs lovin’ themselves some Le Mans. Jack Miller and Rossi got punked at the flag by Danilo, one of the favorite finishes of his career, I expect.

This year, the big story, other than a great championship battle, was the weather for race weekend. A lot of the top riders had never ridden a wet lap at Le Mans, and no one was familiar with the grippy Michelin rain tires. With highs only in the low 60’s and lows dipping into the 40’s, there was likely to be an abundance of crashers.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

FP2 was one of those damp things in which most riders worked out on rain tires while several went out on slicks. Slightly less weird than FP1 but plenty of anomalies, chief among them Crutchlow, The Black Knight, and little brother Alex Marquez flogging their Hondas to end the day in P5 and P6, respectively. With the exception of Miguel Oliveira, who found a hot lap at the end that elevated him to P2, and Joan Mir, the new fair-haired boy who could manage no better than P12, it was The Usual Suspects moving directly to Q2. Led by NKIT Fabio Quartararo, The Ten would later be joined by Danilo Petrucci and Pecco Bagnaia, who successfully graduated from Q1.

The last two minutes of MotoGP Q2 are always the best of the weekend, in the absence of a real-time nail-biter at the flag. When the dust settled on a dry Q2, Zarco’s track record from 2018 stood unscathed. As usual when it doesn’t rain in Sarthe, the Ducs and Yamahas thoroughly enjoy this venue, comprising nine of the top 12 slots for Sunday. Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda in P4, is currently being held together with duct tape and baling wire, but it seems to agree with him. When the Q2 music stopped, young Fabio found himself in the top chair.

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

With real life again intruding on my writing career, I’ve missed most of the weekend. I managed to watch all three races on Sunday, and have this to offer. (I didn’t miss the fact that American Joe Roberts sits on pole in Moto2. The hearts and minds of a grateful nation are completely oblivious to this fact, given the sport’s remarkable lack of presence in the USA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following piece of conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“ I write about MotoGP.”
“What’s that?”

Anyway, since the passing of Nicky Hayden, given the rarity of opportunities to demonstrate at least a little homerism, “GO JOE!”)

Race Day

Seems like every Moto3 race can be summarized as follows: The lead group of (X = 9) riders traded places and paint more times than humans can count. Over the last (Y=4) laps, the top four for the day, and perhaps the year, got down to it. Celestino Vietti, Tony Arbolino, Albert Arenas and Jaume Masia went wheel to wheel, abandoning caution to the wind. This, as it turned out, was the top four today. After the podium celebration, Arenas leads Ai Ogura, who hung around in the 20’s for much of the day before struggling to P9, by six points, with Vietti 10 farther back and Tony Arbolino trailing the other Italian teenager by four. John McPhee, with a mechanical issue seemingly caused by a dramatic save, remains stuck at 98 points.

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

The MotoGP race was a refreshing change of pace, a wet race that wasn’t all that wet providing questionable grip, especially for the eight or so riders who had never completed a wet race lap in MotoGP. Six of those riders had predictably bad days—Quartararo finished in P9; Joan Mir P11; Brad Binder P12; Pecco Bagnaia P13; Iker Lecuona in P15. Franco Morbidelli crashed out, but Miguel Oliveira did cross the line in P6. Of the eight, the one remaining rider who had a demonstrably not bad day was young Alex Marquez, defending Moto2 champion, little brother of You Know Who, starting from P18 but finding the conditions sufficiently exhilarating to put him in P2 at the finish, his first premier class podium, shades of yesteryear. Brother Marc must have been bouncing off the walls back home in Cevera.

We would be negligent in our reporting responsibilities were we to ignore the fact that the much-abused Danilo Petrucci collected his second premier class win today, putting brandmates Dovizioso and Miller away in the process. Likewise Pol Espargaro, who came from P8 on the grid to P3 at the finish. And we salute those riders who managed to stay upright for the entire 26 laps on behalf of those who did not, including Valentino Rossi (third DNF in a row but he’s not slowing down), Miller (mechanical), Morbidelli (black flag), Crutchlow, Rabat and Smith. Alex Rins (black flag) had to apply this bumper sticker to the back of his leathers:” Please call Davide Brivio if you see parts falling off.”

Today’s Moto2 race was particularly unsatisfying, on several counts. American Joe Roberts, having secured pole, started the race from the back of the grid, his crew unable to remove the back wheel prior to the start. Then, on-track officials, the guys with the flags, mis-started the race, the lights going out before Roberts had made it through Turn 14 and back to the grid. Joe recovered from this screwing to finish in P6, announcing his arrival as a legit contender. So there was that. Then, my punching bag Sam Lowes, who has improved this year, okay?, was chasing the charming Jake Dixon, on his way to his first grand prix podium, never mind win. Dixon had managed the gap with Lowes since Lap 12, when suddenly he slid out of the lead at Turn 14 of Lap 22, on his own, handing the win to the undeserving Lowes. Remy Gardner put a move on Marco Bezzecchi at the final turn to capture second place, which kind of made up for the whole Lowes thing.

Dixon’s ordeal calls to mind one of our core beliefs: 

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

Here’s an irritating outcome from the MotoGP race: Fabio Quartararo extends his series lead while finishing in P9.

The top ten in the premier class, after Le Mans:

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

Now it’s on to Aragon, in the dusty Spanish plain, for a doubleheader. Nine rounds in, five rounds left. Contested championship races in all three classes. Seven winners in nine races in the premier class thus far. There would seem to be some growing concerns about engine supply, especially with the Yamaha and Ducati contingents. Pit lane starts will do nothing to help the prospects of the gaggle of Yamaha contenders.

We hope to bring you something in the way of an Aragon I preview mid-week, but it’s a bit of a chore these days, life happening. Please keep those cards and letters coming

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One big old church.

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MotoGP 2020 Misano II Results

September 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Vinales prevails; championship tighter than wallpaper 

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

Saturday 

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Moto3 Top 5 after 8 Rounds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The top ten standings for 2020 are simply ridiculous:

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

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

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

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

Rimini local color aerial

                                       A little local color from Rimini.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Styria Results

August 23, 2020

© Bruce Allen                               August 23, 2020

Round 5 and It’s Anyone’s Year

Styria, in case you’re wondering, is the Austrian equivalent of Catalunya, a conquered state, many of whose natives still chafe (Spain) or have chafed (Styria) over the centuries. This part of the world has spent most of its ancient history getting run over, by Celts, by Romans, and by various barbarian hordes, ranging from Huns to Ostrogoths, before becoming loyal Franks, etc. Just trying to explain why there are two different consecutive Austrian MotoGP races this year is all.

Same deal as Jerez, Misano, Aragon and Valencia. Twofers. Since the fans are already screwed, the slimmed-down logistics don’t really hurt anyone.

Continued fallout from last Sunday’s demo derby. Johann Zarco must start from pit lane with his slightly broken wrist. Danilo Petrucci has been given an official written warning…gasp…and has been ordered to write, “NON LANCER MAI PIÙ ALEIX SULLA FOTOCAMERA.” 100 times. Sr. Ezpeleta expects hard copies of same on his Spielberg desk by Saturday noon. The crash involving Zarco and Morbidelli, and the ensuing chain of events it caused, made it all the way to CNN.

Screenshot (19)

The new safety fence at Turns 2 and 3.

A little Moto3 action.
A little Moto2 love between Martin and Bezzecchi, before RD got involved.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 finished with 21 riders—Zarco had a note from his doctor—within one second of each other. Miller and Dovizioso topped the sheets, but so what? Fabio was faster winning at Jerez II than he was winning Jerez I. (It also appears clear that young Fabio has tracks he likes and others he doesn’t. That will smooth out over time, I suspect. Early in his career I remember asserting there were tracks that were Marquez-friendly. Starting about five years ago it became clear that every track on the calendar had become Marquez-friendly.) The point here is that times this weekend should be faster than last week, what with all the extra practice.

The KTM bikes seem to love Red Bull Ring.

Over in Moto3, Celestino Vietti had his way with Albert Arenas in FP1, while Sam Lowes had a peek at the all time track record in leading a closely-knit cabal of riders in Moto2.

FP2, across the board, didn’t change much. Half the MotoGP riders improved their time, half didn’t. Notables not cracking the top ten for the day included Rossi, Quartararo, Petrucci and Crutchlow. In Moto2, almost all the fast times for the day occurred during FP1. Moto3 saw 17 riders within a second of the leader.

Saturday

In Moto3, it was generally the Usual Suspects in FP3 moving directly into Q2. Tatsuki Suzuki, in P15, was punished for dawdling, a full .022 seconds out of the money, along with Jaume Masia and Darryn Binder. These layabouts would have to glom on to a top four spot in Q1 to even think realistically about a win on Sunday.

MotoGP FP3 continued what has become a trend—a lot of older riders having to go through Q1. Rossi and Crutchlow, for starters. Zarco and Petrucci, starting to go gray around the muzzle. Aleix and Rabat. My boy Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to the top spot in FP3, possibly announcing his arrival in MotoGP after a silver medal last week here. Irritating, one suspects, for Rossi, trailing Mir by half a second and sitting in P15 heading to Q1. Note: Hot KTM rookie Brad Binder got caught loafing today, too, failing to pass automatically into Q2 by .003 seconds.

Red Bull Ring is not a track where one would expect the Suzuki to perform well. Only ten turns, and one is barely a turn at all, more like a lane change. Compared to, say, Assen with 18 turns, Austria is as close as MotoGP gets to a racing oval.

Sam Lowes, fast in Moto2 all weekend, had a heavy crash during FP3 but emerged shaken, not stirred, in P3, avoiding the blood, toil, tears and sweat of a Q1. But the packed nature of the field left a number of big names heading to Q1, including a surprising number of Italian riders. But just like their Moto3 days with KTM, Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzechi pushed their Kalex machines to the top of the combined F1-F3 sheets on Saturday morning.

Getting into too much detail here. The Q1 sessions were, as usual, desperately fought affairs, as those failing to advance would likely end up in the ass half of the pack. In MotoGP, Zarco and Petrucci crossed over, the Frenchman nursing a titanium screw in his wrist. In Moto2, Somkiat Chantra, The Great Thai Hope, led Tet Nagashima, Hector Garzo and Stefano Manzi into Q2. In Moto3, Jaume Masia, Niccolo Antonelli, Dennis Oncu and Darryn Binder escaped into Q2. The funny part of all of this, to me, is that, especially in the lighter classes, where one starts the race has virtually nothing to do with one’s chances of winning or at least appearing on the podium.

Which is to take nothing away from the best nine minutes in most MotoGP weekends—the last three minutes of Q2 in all three classes. The race for pole, not as meaningful as it perhaps once was, but still something that gets the blood raging in these young men. Moto3 gave us, once the smoke cleared, a front row of Gabriel Rodrigo, Raul Fernandez and Tetsuki Suzuki, with series leader Albert Arenas smirking in P9. In Moto2, we ended up with Aron Canet on pole, joined on the front row by Jorge Martin and Nagashima; series leaders Luca Marini (P12) and Enea Bastianini (P15) would be having an uphill slog on Sunday.

Q2 in MotoGP was the wild, wild west, as, one after another, at least eight riders spent time on the historical footnote known as the “provisional pole.” According to the PDFs on the MotoGP site, the suddenly relevant Pol Espargaro would start Sunday on his first pole since his Moto2 swan song in Valencia in 2013. Takaa Nakagami, another Great Japanese Hope on the LCR Honda, took his first career MotoGP front row start in P2, while Johann Zarco, of all people, “wound up” in P3, stiff upper lip and titanium screw firmly in place. Due to the unfortunate events last Sunday in the MotoGP race, Zarco would be starting Sunday’s race from pit lane, which is why “wound up” is in quotes. Zarco’s eviction from P3 allowed, respectively, Joan Mir, a wounded Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins to move up a spot. Along with everyone else in the field, of course, but it might make a difference with this lot, as rows one and two are always a nice place, if you’re entertaining thoughts of, well, winning.

The youth movement in MotoGP—once more, with feeling—continued in qualifying. (Someone please remind me to define younger and older riders this coming week. To be considered a young rider, for example, one must have less than three years of MotoGP experience or be under, say, 25 years old. Then crunch the numbers.)

On the first four rows there were three veterans and nine youngsters. Of the remaining ten riders, take away Pirro and Bradl, you have three young riders and five crusties. Marc Marquez, according to my thinking, is now an older rider. Were he on track he would smooth the numbers. And, as a reminder, if he were on track, he is the one who owns the track record around here, and he was about half a second faster last year than Pol is this year. Just sayin’. The fact that he is toast for 2020 is immaterial.

Race Day

You just can”t have too many aircraft pictures.

Once again, Moto3 failed to disappoint. More lead changes than one’s brain can process. 12-man lead groups. The primary combatants today included young Celestino Vietti (another from Valentino Rossi’s stable of young Italian riders), Tony Arbolino, Ai Ogura, John McPhee, and Gabriel Rodrigo. Series leader Albert Arenas, lacking the pace to compete for the win, hung around the backboard, picked up a few rebounds, and came away still leading the 2020 series, as follows:

1        Albert ARENAS       KTM             106

2        Ai OGURA               Honda          81

3        John MCPHEE         Honda           67

4        Celestino VIETTI     KTM             66

5        Tony ARBOLINO     Honda           60

6        Tatsuki SUZUKI      Honda           59

The Moto2 tilt was a bit of a replay from 2018, when Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi used to fight each other every round on their KTM Moto3 machines. Martin appeared capable of getting away today, but the Italian gradually moved up the field until he was in P2 and threatening. The last couple of laps all I saw was Martin defending and Bezzecchi attacking until they ran out of time, Martin crossing the line a few tenths ahead of his old rival. Almost immediately, Race Direction called down to say that, due to Martin having ‘exceeded track limits’ on the final lap, with both wheels just barely in the green, he was demoted one spot, handing the win to Bezzecchi, who gratefully accepted it. Australian Remy Gardner snagged third today, his second grand prix podium. The Moto2 standings after six races looks like this:

1        Luca MARINI                     Kalex            87

2        Enea BASTIANINI             Kalex            79

3        Jorge MARTIN                  Kalex            79

4        Tetsuta NAGASHIMA        Kalex            68

5        Marco BEZZECCHI            Kalex            65

6        Sam LOWES                    Kalex            59

The main event, featured, for the second consecutive week, a red flag event in the premier class. On Lap 17, with Joan Mir comfortably leading a group including Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro, Takaa Nakagami and Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales, minding his own business in, like P13, lost the brakes on his Yamaha M1, jumped off at around 130 mph, went all ragdoll rolling across the macadam, and watched in horror as his bike hit and popped the air fence and caught fire, taking yet another engine with it.

The second race, a 12-lap affair, gave us one of the great finishes in recent MotoGP history. The last lap started with Jack Miller desperately holding off Pol Espargaro, squarely in win or bin mode, with sophomore Miguel Oliveira lurking in third, hoping for something to happen in front of him. Sure enough, at Turn 10, the last turn on the last lap, Miller and Espargaro both went hot into the turn—shades of Dovi and Marquez last year—opening the door for a cutback from Oliveira and his first premier class win.

In a year lacking a Marc Marquez, we have now seen four different winners in five races. Virtual parity in all three classes. The top six in the premier class:

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          70

2        Andrea DOVIZIOSO         Ducati           67

3        Jack MILLER                    Ducati           56

4        Brad BINDER                    KTM             49

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          48

6        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           46

This is good stuff. Four manufacturers in the top six, with Suzuki right on the verge. The paddock now gets two weeks off until the next pair of races, these at Misano, on the 13th and 20th of September, with Catalunya on the 27th. The hits just keep on coming.

MotoGP is the bomb-diggity.

Dominoes Falling Like Mad in MotoGP

June 6, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (459)

Sudden and/or impending rider contracts with rival teams and builders for 2021-22 have begun a sort of sequencing process that will be fun to watch. It was always going to happen going into a contract year. I had thought teams would wait until the remnant of the 2020 season was underway before beginning the actual poaching process.

In early June, and not having run a race in anger since last summer, the factory teams have decided that the theme heading into 2021 is Getting Better and Younger. This started with Yamaha orchestrating a trade between the factory and satellite teams in which The New Kid in Town, young Fabio Quartararo, the Spanish rider with the French name, takes the factory seat of the legendary Valentino Rossi alongside Maverick Vinales without so much as a fare thee well, and Rossi, graciously swimming in visions of an entire new line of gear branded with SRT for his swan song in 2021, accedes, a Yamaha team player first and foremost, his VR46 academy protege Franco Morbidelli gently under his wing. An investment banker on the side. These ranches aren’t cheap.

Vale apparently has several objectives in mind. He wants to appear on Barron’s list of the 500 wealthiest people in the world. He wants to own a MotoGP team, a Yamaha-supported satellite team, and to beat Honda Racing Corporation into the dirt with it. He’ll sell a lot of VR46 gear and assemble a great team behind the bike. Yamaha has fixed the issues that suddenly began plaguing it in 2017 and can run with Honda and Ducati on most of the world’s tracks.

So the factory Yamaha team gets younger with Fabio and Vinales.

Fabio Quartararo 2019 Age 19

Fabio in his Moto2 days.

The factory Honda team signed Marc Marquez to a contract which runs through 2024. (!) HRC shocked the world again this week, leaking the fact that Pol Espargaro, the younger of the Espargaro brothers, would take Alex Marquez’ seat on the #2 Repsol Honda for 2021-22 before poor Alex had ever turned a lap. This didn’t make the factory Honda team younger, but it certainly made it stronger. Pol Espargaro has been wrestling point-and-shoot bikes at KTM since 2016 and should find the RC213V relatively easy to ride. The difference is the Honda is very fast and the KTM RC16 is not. KTM has now taken  shot below the water line, losing its only experienced rider to a hated rival who is beating it like a rented mule.

Espargaro won Moto2 in 2013 and was a consistent top tenner in his first three years with Yamaha, his future brighter than big brother Aleix. But he got in bed with the good people at KTM in 2017 and became a top twenty rider, although a top data provider. He has been a big help in developing the bike even though it is still not yet competitive. Losing him is a blow to the KTM program, one that could be filled by an experienced leader such as Andrea Dovizioso.

So now it is assumed Alex Marquez will toddle on over to LCR Honda to team with Takaa Nakagami, owned and operated by HRC on behalf of Japan, and the LCR team gets younger. Poor Cal Crutchlow will then have to choose between an Aprilia, for God’s sake, or calling it a career.

Pramac Ducati loses Jack Miller to the factory team, but picks up new Moto2 KTM grad and fast mover Jorge Martin to ride alongside Pecco Bagnaia, and the Pramac team gets younger. Danilo Petrucci, booted from the factory team, is left to go out and find honest work again, possibly with Aprilia, possibly over at WSBK.

Suppose Andrea Dovizioso, never the object of much respect, his few career chances at a world championship turned to mud by the genius of Marc Marquez, goes for the money and jumps to KTM, the new career wrecker of MotoGP. When he joined Ducati it was, at the time, the career wrecker. He and Gigi D’Alligna have created a bike that is difficult to turn but has incomparable top end speed. A good question is who would take Dovizioso’s hypothetical seat, leaving Miller the #1 factory rider. Would the rumors of a Jorge Lorenzo return come to pass? The factory Ducati team would get a little younger, too, with Miller and Lorenzo aboard. KTM, losing Espargaro and Martin, is listing seriously. The Austrians need to work harder to get the bike up to snuff, lest it continue to wreck careers. It certainly didn’t do Pol Espargaro any good. If they can’t get Dovizioso they’ll have to make a run at Cal Crutchlow.

The two young guys at Suzuki, Joan Mir and Alex Rins, are signed for 2021-22. It would be nice to see Suzuki acquire a satellite team; their bike is competitive, needing only a few more horsepower to accompany its sweet-handling properties. Mir will be an Alien; Rins probably as well. For Suzuki. That is a good thing. See what 40 years in the desert will get you.

So, for a season which has, so far, been rendered an epic fail by Covid-19, there is suddenly a lot of activity, a silly season earlier than in a normal year when guys are actually racing. Barring a second peak in transmissions–the viral type–there is supposed to be some kind of MotoGP season commencing the end of July and running into the early winter. Mostly in EU countries. Asian, US and Argentinian rounds are still on it but looking sketchy, virus-wise. The heat of southern Europe in the summer should make the virus less active and less likely to spread as rapidly. For awhile, anyway. We here at my kitchen table look forward to bringing it to you.

 

 

 

MotoGP Brno Results

August 4, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez applies sleeper to grid; countdown begins 

The Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky was the kind of procession that gives MotoGP a bad name. Marc Marquez led wire-to-wire without breaking a sweat for his 50th premier class win and a 63-point lead heading to Austria. A bit of a scramble behind him left Ducati pilots Andrea Dovizioso and Jack Miller on the side steps of the podium. Golden Boy Fabio Quartararo finished in P7, finally showing some respect for his elders. The season grinds on. 

Practice and Qualifying 

FP1 was its usual misleading self on Friday, as evidenced by, among other things, the presence of Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and 37-year-old Sylvain Guintoli (SUZ) in the top five. Further evidence came in the form of rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (YAM) sitting 18th and the hapless Johann Zarco (KTM) 23rd and last. Dovizioso, Marquez and Vinales were “row one” but the track was slow, with rain in the forecast for Saturday. The MotoGP equivalent of Where’s Waldo—Where’s Valentino?—found him tenth after the first session, alive and well.

The riders approached FP2 as if it were a qualifying session, since the forecast and gathering clouds promised a wet track on Saturday morning, and a semblance of order was restored. Quartararo, Marquez and Jack Miller (DUC) topped the sheet, followed in close order by Dovizioso, Vinales and Alex Rins. Waldo was sitting, all Cheshire cat-like, in P9, praying for rain. Only #20 and #93 broke 1:56, but there were another 13 riders who broke 1:57.

Sure enough, it was a wet, drying track for FP3, and Marquez dominated; riders who had previously prayed for rain as a way to slow down the Catalan Cruiser abandoned those prayers. The results from FP2 would stand, leaving names like Mir (SUZ), Zarco (KTM), Pol Espargaro (KTM) and rookie Pecco Bagnaia (DUC) on the outside looking in. That pesky old Guintoli guy showed up again in the wet but would have to come through Q1 anyway.

For the first time ever, two KTMs advanced through Q1, Johann Zarco uncharacteristically leading Pol Espargaro. Q2 was staged on a damp drying track, with a thunderstorm tossed in for the last three minutes. Toward the end of the session riders were out on wet tires and slicks, mediums and softs, something for every taste and budget. Marquez, as is his wont, switched to slicks before everyone else, went out, dodged the larger puddles, and stuck his Repsol Honda on pole again, this time by 2½ seconds. On his two final laps, on slicks, he skated through turns 13 and 14 in a downpour on his way to one of the ballsiest pole performances of all time. Pinch me–KTMs would start Sunday from P3 and P5; Petronas Yamahas from P10 and P12, not having things their way in eastern Europe. Rossi would start from P7, within striking distance, teammate Maverick Vinales suffering in P9, looking unlikely to make big noise on Sunday.

The Race Failed to Inspire

Looking at the results, it was The Usual Suspects everywhere you turned. Nine of the top ten riders for the season finished in the top ten today, Pol Espargaro having fallen to P11 after starting from P5 and fading slowly all day. Valentino Rossi started 7th, fought like hell to get as high as 5th, and finished 6th, right about where he belongs at this stage of his career. Teammate Maverick Vinales started from P9 and showed absolutely nothing all day on his way to finishing 10th. Alex Rins flirted with the podium most of the day before his rear tire turned to jelly, settling for fourth. Your boy Cal Crutchlow made P5 lemonade out of a P11 start. Johann Zarco wasted his impressive P3 start by clattering both Joan Mir and Franco Morbidelli out of the race early without having the decency to DNF himself, earning two points along the way. Not cool.

MotoGP is most entertaining when the unexpected occurs; today delivered a bunch of credible performances but few surprises. Since Qatar, only Marquez and Quartararo have secured poles. Although five riders have won races this year, four of them—Vinales, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci—are tied for second with a single win each. For the year, we will concede the title to Marquez. We look forward to watching Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins slug it out for second. Vinales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow and Quartararo look ready to fight over fifth place. Beyond that, the only people who care about what happens are sponsors and bookies. Such is life, as one of our readers likes to observe, amongst the yachting class.

For the record, Marquez’ track record from 2016 remained unchallenged.

The Big Picture

Time for a little sloppy statistical analysis. With a cushion of 63 points after 10 races, Marquez is adding an average of 6.3 points to his lead each week. Meaningful magic numbers for clinching the championship start showing up around Buriram. Here is a straight-line projection of where these two columns intersect:

Round Lead After Magic Number
Brno 63 251
Red Bull Ring 69 226
Silverstone 76 201
San Marino 82 176
Aragon 89 151
Buriram 95 126
Motegi 101 101
Phillip Island 107 76
Sepang 113 51
Valencia 119 26

The race announcers today were speculating that Marquez could clinch as soon as Aragon, presuming everything on earth were to go perfectly for Marquez and terribly for his pursuers. I think the smart money will be on Motegi once again this year.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Tranches 

After Sachsenring: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Cal Crutchlow

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami

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

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

After Brno: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

Next Stop: Spielberg

KTM’s home crib will again host Round 11 at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP’s version of Daytona. Red Bull Ring has a total of ten turns; The Circuit of the Americas has 11 right-handers (and nine lefts). Despite being KTM’s home, the track is designed perfectly for the Ducati, which still prefers going straight to all that curvy stuff. I expect if Gigi Dall’Igna had his way Dorna would schedule a round at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just a 45 mile drag race. A turn in the middle so everyone doesn’t end up wandering around the desert.

Glancing a little bit farther into the future, the 2020 calendar will be the longest ever, with 20 rounds on the schedule courtesy of the addition of the Grand Prix of Finland. It is also reasonable to expect that the 2020 silly season, jockeying for seats in 2021-22, will be hectic, with a host of rider contracts expiring at the end of 2020 and a number of quick Moto2 and Moto3 riders bucking for promotions. Plenty of stuff to look forward to, even if not knowing who will take the title for the next few seasons isn’t one of them.

A Little Local Color

 

MotoGP 2016 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

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

Recent History at Phillip Island

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

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

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

Sibling Rivalry

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

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

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

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

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

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

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

Back to the Race

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

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

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

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


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