Posts Tagged ‘Racing’

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez chasers hoping for, like, snow 

You know things are rough in the upper tranches of MotoGP when riders are reduced to praying for inclement weather as a means of slowing down Honda’s putative 2018 world champion Marc Marquez. Iconic Silverstone is the first of a quartet of races that should bring Marquez’ magic number into view. While the weather figures to be a factor, it may not be enough to slow down the Catalan savant.

Andrea-Dovizioso

Recent History at Silverstone 

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 BS (Before Sepang) that season was shaping up as a Marquez/Honda–Lorenzo/Yamaha cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the historic layout during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi.  Rain finally arrived just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain, in front of Petrucci and Dovizioso, put him 12 points ahead of Lorenzo, who had predictably faded in the wet, as the flying circus headed for Vale’s home away from home at Misano. The all-Italian podium headed by #46 had the church bells ringing in Tavullia that afternoon.

2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Valentino Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points, Misano-bound.

Last year, on another perfect Cotswolds après-midi, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of what may have been his one-off dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping Vinales, with Rossi right there, too, at the flag. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an impulsive plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick on a, uh, dang it, on a, something that starts with a T… Tighter than a tick on a… should be three syllables for rhythmic purposes… .

Jack Miller at a Tipping Point 

Jack Miller 2018Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia

At the start of the season Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci were locked in a duel for the 2019-20 #2 factory Ducati seat being foreclosed on Jorge Lorenzo. And over the first five rounds Miller finished in the top ten every time, including two 13-pointers. (This after three consecutive top-tens to close out 2017.) Mugello was held on June 3, and the announcement that Petrucci would join the factory team was dated June 6. I’m guessing Miller was told one of two things before the start of the Italian race. Either he had already lost the job to Petrucci, or the result would depend entirely upon his beating Petrucci that day. The resulting pressure, or utter lack thereof, may have contributed to his crashing out; the Italian finished seventh, 11 seconds out of first. Game over. (For the record, if indeed Le Mans was the decider, Miller finished fourth. Petrucci started from the front row and almost won the race, finishing second.)

Since then, Miller’s best finish has been 10th, equal to his worst finish in the first five rounds. Finishing 18th in Austria on the Ducati GP17 is weak. I get the sense that Miller may be mailing them in at this point, wishing to save his body for next year and a fresh start as the #1 rider for Pramac. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2019, hotshot rookie Pecco Bagnaia is the #1 rider for the Pramac team. At this level, mailing them in, even once, is bush. Guys are risking their lives; this ain’t no game. And if Miller does lose out to Bagnaia, this will have been the high-water mark of his career; it will be downhill from there. No standing still in MotoGP; you’re either headed up or headed down. (cc: Rossi fans)

The Road to Buriram

Here are some important numbers heading to the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand, Round 14. Based upon what needs to happen between now and Valencia, Marquez has only three challengers—Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso. These three he currently leads by 59, 71 and 72 points. Let’s assume that all four riders do well between now and Buriram, that Rossi, pedaling as hard as he can and not gaining any ground, loses a little and that Lorenzo and Dovi both pick up small gains. Doing so would put the three chasers at deficits in the 60’s; plugging in my guesswork, I put Marquez around 275, Dovi @-60, Lorenzo @-64, and Rossi @-68.

What all this means, if anything, is that Marquez’ magic number—76 after Motegi—should be clearly in view leaving Thailand. Working backwards, it appears likely the chasers are going to have to throw caution to the wind during the next three rounds to avoid getting squeezed like lemons at The Chang. Then, assuming events conspire to deny Marquez the title in Japan, this will allow them to endure the crowd reveling over Marquez’ sixth premier class title in (a dialect of) English, Down Under-style.

With Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso all well back, but all relatively bunched, it makes no sense for Marquez to challenge anyone specific in these next few rounds. All he needs to do is his usual brilliant work. But suppose at Buriram his nearest competitor is Dovi, trailing by 60 points. With a chance to clinch the title and playing with house money you would expect Marquez to push Dovizioso to the limit in the hope of forcing him to violate the laws of physics. Few of which, it seems, apply to Marquez himself.

Let’s be clear. The Three Chasers, as we will refer to them for at least the next few rounds, must finish on or near the podium at every round going forward. Not only that, but an out-of-the-points finish or DNF anywhere from here on out is the kiss of death. These three guys are on life support until Marquez starts crashing.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather will be a factor this weekend, with temps never getting out of the 60’s and rain around on Saturday. Let’s join the riders in praying that FP3 on Saturday morning is dry, as it usually separates the lambs of Q2 from the goats of Q1.

Not quite sure that any of the leading five riders is jazzed about the weather this weekend. It will impact tire choices. It will put Dani Pedrosa squarely behind the eight ball; he may have to leave his tire warmers on during track time. Some guys—Marquez, Cal Crutchlow—don’t mind changing conditions and cool temps. Others—Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales—like things either wet or dry but not in between. Rossi typically still has a hard time managing the 15-minute qualifying sessions on long circuits like Silverstone.

In short, it appears to be anyone’s race. Marquez needs to finish, preferably ahead of Rossi and Dovizioso; he doesn’t need the win if it’s not on offer. If Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso form a troika at the front and start going after each other, young Marc would be well advised to sit in fourth place and watch it unfold. An unconventional route to another podium, for sure, but potentially a prudent one beneath the cold summer clouds of Northamptonshire.

Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez. In that order.

MotoGP – New Track Records

June 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen June 19, 2018

Continuing our previous discussion about the setting of new track records in 2018.

Threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examining our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” even with Michelins and the control ECU and big stars singing the blues.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball. Cover of Sports Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, our Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 

Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16            16         59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW            0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9           35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted a “win or bin” mentality for this central part of the season. Compare his to Rossi’s plan, to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put backs and some offensive rebounds. And keep an eye on Danilo Petrucci flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out.

It feels like a good time to remind folks about a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks better than it did two rounds ago.

Here are some random screenshots from Catalunya 2018.

 

 

MotoGP 2018 Losail Preview

March 13, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Let the 2018 Games Begin! 

Nothing like the start of a new racing season to turn the iron in a man’s blood into the lead in his pencil. All the speculation, all the testing, all the contingencies will become moot once the lights go out in far-away Qatar. The Alien class—Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales—is sharpening their fairings in anticipation. Another handful of riders dream of getting their tickets punched in 2018.  

Riders like Johann Zarco (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) and Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) need to get off to a quick start if they want to challenge the usual suspects in 2018. Although the championship cannot be won this weekend, it can certainly be lost for those ending up in the kitty litter. The good news for 23 of the 24 riders lining up at the start—since 2008, only three riders who have won the opener have gone on to capture the title. Winning at Losail is not as important as finishing in the points.

Marc Marquez, the #1 rider on the planet, is the odds-on favorite to threepeat in 2018. During winter testing, he focused on eerily consistent simulations, turning hundreds of laps in metronomic fashion. He may have only topped the timesheets a time or two in the process, but he claims to love this year’s RC213V, exuding quiet confidence and entering the season in great physical shape. The caption for this photo should read, “In an effort to pander to the female readers of this stuff.”Marquez Cropped

Behind him stands a mixed bag of Aliens, former Aliens, and wannabe Aliens, with names like Viñales, Dovizioso, Zarco, Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Of these, the career tracks of the first three are ascendant while those of the last three are heading south. Further back, several young guns—notably Miller and Rins—think they have the juice to displace some of the leaders. Somewhat lost in the sauce are the prospects for guys like Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone who, if they were running backs in the NFL, would be referred to as “tweeners.” All three are capable of winning races. All three generally find ways not to.

Although there will be plenty of riveting action farther down the food chain, space limitations—read “your short attention span”—prevent us from talking about them too much. If you’re really interested in the prospects of Tom Luthi or Xavier Simeon, best visit their websites.

With the able assistance of Price Waterhouse, Coopers, Lybrand, Sacco and Vanzetti, we have gathered mountains of data and scuttlebutt to provide regular readers with a loose ranking of these fast movers. We use the term “tranche” instead of “group” to sound better-informed and more continental. The methodology behind this assessment is closely guarded, so much so that even I don’t understand it. We will publish the first of our 2018 rankings after the race.

Recent History at Losail 

In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi delivered a vintage performance in the 2015 season opener, going knives-in-a-phone booth with factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.  Marquez got pushed way wide into the gravel on Lap 1, ultimately finishing fifth. Andrea Iannone, then laboring for Ducati, made it an all-Italian podium and overinflated our expectations for him in beating Jorge Lorenzo to the line by half a second. 2015 would be remembered as the year Marc Marquez did not win a championship.

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU 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 were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season. 

How Do YOU Spell Xenophobia? 

As the curtain prepares to go up on the 2018 MotoGP season, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the rampant nationalism that is baked into the sport. Spain and Italy have pretty much had things their way since Casey Stoner got PW’ed into retirement by the lovely Adrianna after the 2012 season. Italy fits into that sentence only relatively, having failed to win a title during the period but having managed, on the other hand, not to lose a war. The Italian presence in MotoGP, however, is undeniable, with Valentino Rossi still competitive in his dotage and the Ducati brand having regained much of its previously lost luster. Andrea Dovizioso is now The Great Italian Hope and represents a credible threat to unseat Marc Marquez at the top of the food chain.

With premier class riders now hailing from unfamiliar places like Belgium and Malaysia, the Spanish stranglehold is under assault. One surmises that TV viewership across the globe is expanding, except in the United States, where it’s easier to find Ozzie & Harriet reruns than live race coverage. Thailand, we understand, is losing its collective mind over hosting MotoGP beginning this year. One assumes Finland will experience the same in 2019. With F1 giving up ground of late, soccer and MotoGP have become the top two spectator sports in most of the free world. This, in turn, relieves me of the sensation that I am writing mostly for readers from other galaxies. Your comments via DISQUS reinforce this relief.

Your Weekend Forecast

Expect dark, dusty, hot, repressive and oligarchical conditions in this feudal anachronism this weekend. I’ve read that within 50 years daytime highs in the country’s interior could reach 180° F, meaning they won’t be racing at Losail forever. You and I consistently place too much weight on the outcome of Round 1, which is a true outlier, the results of which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Screenshot (59)

That being said, I can confidently predict Andrea Dovizioso will win the 2018 opener. With three very competitive second place finishes in the past three years, an improved bike, and confidence instilled from last year’s championship chase, he is my solid favorite. Marc Marquez, pretty much everyone’s choice to title again this year, has won at Losail only once (2014) since joining the premier class. He should end the evening on the podium. In my mind’s eye I see Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of the lead, the factory Yamaha pair of Vinales and Rossi in the mix, and at least one party crasher making it into the top five. Jack Miller and/or Alex Rins could have a big night. Even Dani Pedrosa, in what may be his swan song for Honda in the Persian Gulf, could end up on the podium.

We will have results and analysis for you sometime on Sunday (?), since I’m unable to translate the start time and GMT zone into anything comprehensible. I will miss Nick Harris and Dylan Gray. The mad scrambles of Moto2 and Moto3 will be worth watching, and I’ll try to give them some space in the race summary.

In the words of the late great Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on. And if that song gets stuck in your brain for the rest of the day, you’re welcome.

MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso vs. Marquez: David vs. Goliath 2017 

So, 2017 has all come down to this–a technical showdown between Repsol Honda studmuffin Marc Marquez, gripping a 21-point lead, and a determined Andrea Dovizioso, virtually hopeless onboard the Ducati GP17, for all the marbles on Sunday. Even if Dovi wins, Marquez has to finish worse than 11th in order to choke this one away. To clarify, it is a showdown in only the most technical, theoretical sense. It will take a Dovizioso win and direct intervention by the racing gods to keep Marc Marquez from MotoGP title #4 on Sunday. 

Decades ago a nominally Catholic friend of mine came up with a premise as to which team eventually wins the NFL Super Bowl each season, The Blessed Quarterback Theory. Each year it’s just the blessed quarterback’s team that wins, regardless of anyone’s skill or resume. Paging Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. Works the same way in MotoGP. You look at the saves Marquez has made since coming up. Jorge Lorenzo was blessed in 2015. If Dovi somehow pulls it off on Sunday—millions hope he will—it will be because he, not Marquez, was the blessed rider in 2017. Otherwise, it’s status quo ante.

Recent history at Valencia 

The 2014 race was wet-ish and the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race late in the day. Marquez took the largely decorative win joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in his first two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous round, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.

Last year, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.  Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone, who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Of the Aliens or former Aliens, Pedrosa has three wins and three podia in 11 starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 17 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in eight premier class starts, has four wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Vinales has bupkus, but this is a Yamaha track. Or used to be.

Marquez can boast a win, two places and a show in four MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat. Just once, I’d like to see him race here in anger with something on the line.  Back in 2012, he won the Moto2 race here after starting 33rd. As for the factory Ducati team, you have one rider who desperately needs to win on Sunday and his currently winless teammate who has dominated at Ricardo Tormo in recent years.

This could get interesting. What is that term again?  Team orders?

A Word About Valentino Rossi

“You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing.”

A.J. Hinch, Manager, World Champion Houston Astros

Over long periods of time, we all evaluate what these riders have done. The coach was referring to his leadoff hitter, and I’m talking about the folks who expect #46 to win his 10th, and last, MotoGP title in 2018. With Rossi, an objective assessment of what he’s done since his last title in 2009 suggests he peaked around 2008-2009. But the folks who wear goofy yellow wigs and set off smoke bombs and bombard me with constructive criticism believe in what Rossi can do—they’ve watched him do it for years—not what he’s doing. He is arguably the best MotoGP rider of all time. Just. Not. Now. Now, he is competitive—highly tranched, but not realistically expected to win titles. Unless you’ve got the wig and the smoke bombs and the Kool-Aid…

Final 2017 Tranches

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Rins, Iannone, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, Lorenzo

Tranche 4:   Baz, Bautista, Smith, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera 

After Round 17    Sepang 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro*, Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, (P Espargaro)↓, Bautista↑ 

Tranche 4:   Baz, Smith, Rabat, Iannone↓, Rins

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera, Abraham 

After Sunday’s race we will compare the above tranching to the actual results, i.e., how many of the riders were in the correct group according to the final points. Folger, a top tenner all year, will get hosed, but that’s the way it goes. He would likely be a 3. 

(Wonder how Zarco and Folger feel about moving UP to the 2017 Tech 3 Yamaha M1 next season. Wonder if they’ll ask to stick with the 2016 iteration.) Zarco’s bank account gonna get laced in 2019 fo’ sho’. 

Final Thoughts and Weekend Forecast

Perhaps the reason Valencia is awarded the last race each season is the weather. Not that it’s always great, but because when it is great, it’s really great. The long- range forecast for the weekend is sunny, breezy, dry and perfect, with daytime temps reaching 70° F. Enough sun to warm the track and tires for the riders, and paradise for the teams and fans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the best thing that could happen to this race would be for Marquez to blow an engine, slide or go walky out of the points in the first lap or two. This would eliminate any touchy, don’t-be-the-guy-who-cost-Marquez-the-title riding around him, which ain’t nobody need.

What it would do is make for an astonishingly meaningful race if Dovizioso is at or near the front with one or two of the other fast movers. Teammate and homeboy Lorenzo, who desperately wants his first win on the Ducati and has team orders to “help” Dovi. Homeboy Dani Pedrosa, untitled in the premier class, with team orders to beat Dovizioso. Homeboy Maverick Vinales, whose bike historically loves a dry Ricardo Tormo and who needs to fulfill my preseason prediction of four wins. Cal Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone. Sam Lowes. Someone.

So, as the sports seasons—football, basketball, hockey—start getting juicy in the United States, MotoGP is preparing to call it another year.  Reason #644 in my book 1000 Reasons MotoGP is Invisible in the United States, subtitled “Yet Another Reason I’m Not Rich and Famous.”

We are looking forward to a memorable race on Sunday, and will have results and analysis right here sometime, um, Sunday. Probably earlier if it is revealed that Andrea Dovizioso is the blessed rider of 2017. “Dog Bites Man” can wait until later in the day.