Posts Tagged ‘Sepang’

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi Folds, Marquez Rolls in Malaysia 

Screenshot (338)

One helluva racetrack, Sepang shimmers in the heat.

For the first 16 laps of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to the days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls. We were brought hurtling back to Earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, handing the win to the trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the joyous podium celebration, but it felt like the end of an era. 

With the 2018 season now in its denouement, grand prix motorcycle racing has devolved from a tooth-and-fang battle for fame and glory to a tooth-and-fang battle for peer approval. Jorge Martin won today’s Moto3 race and clinched his first world championship, while Pecco Bagnaia had more than enough to hang with Miguel Oliveira all day and clinch the Moto2 title in the process. Beneath the rare air at the top of the food chain, in all three classes, riders are still furiously pushing themselves and their machines, trying to position themselves for the only thing most of them always have to look forward to: Next Year. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Conditions on Friday and Saturday morning for the winnowing were dry and hot, resulting in ten Q2 lambs with no surprises. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, with Alex Rins sixth and Marquez, trying stuff out, in 10th. FP2 scrambled things slightly, with Rins, Marquez, Miller, Viñales and Petrucci on top trailed by Rossi, Dovi and Zarco. The weather changed Saturday afternoon, as did the fortunes of a number of contestants.

With Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro matriculating into Q2 and an old-fashioned Sepang frog-strangler in between the two qualifying sessions, things got Vitamixed during the pole session. Marquez appeared to take pole easily but was penalized six grid spots for obstructing Andrea Iannone in the racing line and being a recidivist, giving fuel to his haters. This produced a front row of Zarco and Rossi on Yamahas and the aggrieved Iannone third. The second row was an all-Ducati affair, featuring Dovi, Miller and Petrucci. Marquez headed row 3 alongside Rins and Bautista. The big loser in the changed conditions was Maverick Viñales, who went from the top Q2 qualifier to 11th on the grid, unable to get anything going in the wet.

Jorge Lorenzo, after sitting around in Spain for a few weeks, flew to Malaysia, gave his fractured wrist a go on Friday, and pronounced himself out of the race on Saturday morning, thus putting the screws to Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, who might have had another memorable weekend on the heels of their success in Australia had he just manned up and stayed home. Fill-in Jodi Torres, subbing for the long-gone Tito Rabat, suffered a heavy crash in FP4 that would keep him out of the race and give him one more thing—for a total of three—in common with Lorenzo. (Spanish, motorcycle racer, DNS at Sepang.) Michele Pirro, however, came up a winner as he stepped onto Lorenzo’s bike on Saturday and qualified comfortably.

So the Yamahas of Zarco and Rossi suffered in the dry, while Viñales suffered in the wet. Sunday’s forecast, with a chance of Biblical rain at any time, caused Race Direction to move the starting time up two hours in an effort to frustrate the rain gods. They could have just as easily moved it BACK two hours, since when the rain would arrive, or not, was problematic. 

The Race 

At the start, the leaders heading out of Turn 1 were Rossi, Zarco, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, hoping against hope for a final career podium, was in the picture, while Maverick Viñales, the questionable Future of Yamaha factory racing, was not, having started 11th and running 10th early. Marquez had a major moment at Turn 15 which he rescued with Another Great Save, but Andrea Iannone, on his back wheel at that moment, had to brake to avoid #93, which sent him skidding into the kitty litter, a case of pure bad luck.

Marquez, pushing for the love of the game only, went through on Miller on Lap 2 and Zarco on Lap 5, while Karel Abraham was busy running off track. Michele Pirro, the latest tenant of Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati, crashed out a lap later. Despite Andrea Dovizioso having won the last two iterations of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a miserable weekend for the Ducati contingent, with Lorenzo in street clothes and, at the end, Dovizioso leading the brand representatives in 6th, followed immediately by Alvaro Bautista, Miller and Danilo Petrucci, nearly boiled alive by the perspiration inside his leathers.

By Lap 11, Rossi led Marquez by over a second, with Zarco, Pedrosa, my boy Alex Rins, Dovizioso and a recovering Viñales trailing. Rins soon went through on Pedrosa into 4th and set his sights on Zarco. Rossi led Marquez by 1.3 seconds.

Screenshot (330)

Rossi, down and out in Malaysia

On Lap 13, Marquez put the hammer down and initiated a serious chase of his rival. Unlike the usually quick cheetah-running-down-the-gazelle, Plains of Serengeti-style, Marquez’ takedown of Rossi was more of a fox and hounds affair, in which Marquez simply pressured Rossi to exhaustion, allowing the heat and Rossi’s age to combine for an unforced error that continued Rossi’s lamentable descent to the status of Just Another Rider. One might consider that a bold statement until ruminating over the fact that Rossi today finished just behind one Xavier Simeon, he of a single point for the year, who will someday tell his grandkids about The Day He Beat the Greatest Rider of All Time.

Once Rossi lost the lead, Marquez eased up, 4.5 seconds ahead of Zarco, who found himself, his tires seemingly Teflon-coated, being tracked down by Rins and Pedrosa. Rins would overtake the Frenchman on the final lap for second place, while Pedrosa equaled his season-best result, finishing 5th and securing the Colin Edwards “Stayed a Year Too Long” award for 2018. Rins thrusted himself into contention for the Best of the Rest, tied with Zarco for P5 for the year. These two, at least, will head for Valencia with something on the line. 

Screenshot (333)

Alex Rins, up and coming

The Big Picture 

With Dovizioso having clinched second, it remains up to teammates Rossi and Viñales to face off in Valencia in two weeks for the dubious honor of third place for 2018, Rossi enjoying a two-point advantage as the Flying Circus returns to Europe for its death rattle. Any joy for Rossi today occurred during the Moto2 race, as Luca Marini won the race and Pecco Bagnaia, his teammate on Rossi’s SKY46 team, secured the title. With Jorge Martin having secured the Moto3 crown over Marco Bezzechi, the 2018 season is done and dusted, framed and behind glass.

The announcers today were whispering about a rumor that Rossi is considering backing out of his 2019-2020 contract with Yamaha, or at least the second half thereof. He has no interest whatsoever in further sullying his pristine reputation by winning a Colin Edwards award. I think it highly likely that he will compete next year and then call it a career, allowing Yamaha corporate to promote Franco Morbidelli to the factory team in an orderly fashion. Even the most rabid Rossi fans out there, looking at his record over the past three or four seasons, must admit that he’s lost a step. Either that or a bunch of other top riders have all gained one. 

Static Tranches 

After Phillip Island

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

After Sepang

Tranche 2:   Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Bautista, Iannone

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

Done:          Crutchlow, Rabat

Two Weeks Until Winter

All I can think to say about Round 19 in Valencia is that the race will be three laps shorter than last year. We’ll be right here to bring it to you in living color. Thanks to everyone except Rocky Stonepebble who submitted suggestions for the quote that captures the essence of MotoGP 2018. That, and the testing that starts on Tuesday the 20th, are pretty much all that’s left to look forward to for this year. Ciao.

Screenshot (335)

Boy, this picture gets older every year.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 30, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Battle for #2 Alien Rages in the Tropics 

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

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

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

Recent History at Sepang 

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

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

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

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

Ducati GP18 and Alvaro Bautista

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

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

Your Weekend Outlook

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

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

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

We’ll be back again on Sunday. Cheers.

MotoGP Sepang Results

October 29, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Valencia WILL Decide as Dovizioso Wins in Malaysia 

Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)

Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend

Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track

Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track

Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending

Dani Pedrosa

Valentino Rossi

Andrea Dovizioso

Johann Zarco once more, and, finally

Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya.

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After his first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday.  Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him.  (Though he would not win today’s race, he did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results.  The Ferrari F-1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world.  Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it.  The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been.  Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014.  He had won the first 10 races that year.  He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title.  He had been fast all weekend in practice.  Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again.  Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley—Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points—would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race—our fervent hope all season—it provides about as much drama as watching iron rust.

Preparing for Valencia

We have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season.  Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels.  The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season.  The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season.  Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

For the fourth time in five premier class seasons, Honda’s remarkable Marc Marquez stands on the cusp of a championship. His win in Australia last week left him with a short to-do list this week in Malaysia: 1. Try to finish no worse than second. 2. Try to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 3. If both #1 and #2 fail, lose to Dovizioso by seven points or less. Otherwise, he will have to return to Valencia in two weeks for some kind of decider. Probably the best thing for #93 would be to euthanize this title chase Sunday under the cover of darkness, many time zones removed from home, setting up a triumphal fait accompli return to Spain. We couldn’t disagree more. 

Recent History at Sepang

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. Though the title had already been settled, the grid was taking the competition seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to finish.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl somehow finished fourth, coming close yet again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.

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

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 3:   Rins, Folger, P Espargaro, Iannone, Baz, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Crutchlow, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

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↓

I can tell from here that whatever problem Ducati experienced at Phillip Island translated into these rankings. All six riders who dropped a spot ride for Ducati. But Scott Redding and Karel Abraham each climbed a notch, again on Ducatis. I can’t think of any rider who belongs with Marquez in Tranche 1 at the moment. Sepang, where the title race will probably be decided, will be the last round fought in anger, and thus the last round for ranking the riders.

I welcome any and all readers to argue with my assertion that Marquez currently is in a class by himself. All too often we hear riders talking about “having a good rhythm,” which, watching carefully, one can understand. I recall Cal Crutchlow commenting that if you got out of shape in Turn 2 at COTA you would be screwed all the way through Turn 9. Marquez seems to have found his rhythm this year at Catalunya, since, other than the engine problem in England, he hasn’t been off the podium since and has racked up five wins in the process. Perhaps it takes four or five races to get fully acclimated to a new RC213V each year. At present, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the bike stops and Marquez starts, so closely are they intertwined.

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

My reflexive response to this question is, “Nobody.” That’s probably an overstatement.  Rossi will still be in the mix.  Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales should improve next season and, depending on the speed and handling of next year’s M1, may push Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso my have another career year with Ducati, but our confidence in his abilities this season has been shaken.

Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Jonas Folger will not become serious title threats, if ever, until they secure factory rides. Danilo Petrucci needs to learn how to be fast in dry conditions.  Jorge Lorenzo will, I’m pretty sure, simply serve out his sentence at Ducati and go looking for a better gig starting in 2019.  The young guns coming up from Moto2—Nakagami, Morbidelli, Luthi and Simeon—present no real threat in 2018, other than to the riders they may collect crashing out of their first few races.

One thing is certain. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and KTM are going to engage in a hellishly expensive silly season next year positioning themselves for 2019. There is a rumor going around that KTM has offered Marquez a blank check to defect after next season.

A final word about next season. Most MotoGP people I know are excited about the improvements visible in the Aprilia and KTM bikes, while Suzuki took awhile this season before starting to show renewed signs of life. All three figure to be stronger next season. Even so, it would take a miracle, in my opinion, for any of them to contend seriously for a championship before 2020. Conversation for another day.

Your Weekend Forecast

Before I go to weather.com to confirm, let me guess that conditions in central Malaysia will be brutally hot with a chance for torrential downpours at any given moment. Yes. Temps will approach 90° each day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms all weekend and, from the looks of it, the rest of the year. There will be some gruesome stuff growing inside those leather racing suits by Sunday evening.

As for who will do what, I’m lacking any real insight, as the last few rounds of the MotoGP season remind me of the last few games of the NBA season which, for non- playoff-bound teams, is generally garbage time.  I am virtually certain that Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. If it’s a wet race I expect to see a Ducati on the podium as well, perhaps Petrucci. The third spot on the podium is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with Rossi, the default choice for a podium every single week.

We will post results and analysis sometime Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast.  Enjoy the show.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2015 Sepang Results

October 25, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Marquez clash; title up for grabs in Valencia

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race. Not for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. Today will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his emotions to get the better of him, such that putting Marc Marquez in the weeds and out of the race became a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

rossi-marquez_gold_and_gooseA one-sided war of words had erupted between Rossi and Marquez during Thursday’s press conference, when Rossi, unprompted, went off on Marquez for pretty much everything he could think of outside of halitosis. While a number of the top riders have criticized Marquez for his occasionally reckless riding style, up until this week no one had made things personal, which Rossi did. Slinging a bunch of defamatory accusations at a fellow rider is not against the rules, but it showed surprisingly bad form on Rossi’s part. Many of us thought it was purposefully overstated, Rossi playing mind games with Marquez, snubbing his teammate and championship rival Lorenzo, and/or putting the race stewards on alert for any misbehavior on Marquez’ part that could work to Lorenzo’s advantage.

Looking back, Rossi’s comments now appear genuine and perhaps even understated. What had gotten personal in the pressroom became personal on track today, with ramifications both immediate and forthcoming. The only good news resulting from today’s antics is that the season finale in Valencia has moved up the intensity chart, from “relevant” to “riveting” to, now, “epic.”

Business as Usual at the Start

Thanks to a fast final lap in qualifying on Saturday, Rossi climbed up to the front row of the grid, pushing Lorenzo back to fourth, with the thoroughly revived Dani Pedrosa sitting on pole after the fastest lap in Sepang history on a motorcycle and the ever-present Marquez sitting second. When the lights went out, Pedrosa took the hole shot and led heading into the first turn, trailed by Marquez and Rossi, Lorenzo having been swamped at the start. No worries. Midway through the lap, Lorenzo sliced past both factory Ducatis into fourth place, setting up an Alien encounter for the ages.

On Lap 2, Lorenzo went through on Rossi into third place while factory Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone was experiencing a mechanical failure that would end his day. In Turn 4 of Lap 3, Marquez (intentionally?) ran wide, allowing Lorenzo through, at which point Pedrosa and Lorenzo got away from their teammates and the drama that would follow. It appeared that Lorenzo, staying out of the fray in the media, was simply pushing hard to put some track between himself and Rossi. At this point we can’t know whether Marquez allowed this to occur or not. Matt Brit, the color guy on the announcing team, did ask, “How often do we see Marc Marquez going backwards in the standings?”

Four Unforgettable Laps

Lap 4 started with Rossi going through cleanly on Marquez, at which point it seems Marquez must have changed the setting on his dashboard from, like, “3” to “Get that Italian bastard.” Lap 5 was simply ridiculous, as the two went through on each other perhaps six or eight times, seeming to get more aggressive each time. The action continued on Lap 6 as Rossi, having passed Marquez once again, made a hurry-up signal with his left hand that I read as, “Come on, stronzo, you want some more of this?” Marquez, unafraid with his dad and brother in the garage, responded in the affirmative, setting up the events of Lap 7.

In a vivid example of the notion that reality is subjective, people will have wildly differing opinions on what actually occurred midway through Lap 7. Rossi, in the lead, appeared to drift wide in a fast right-hander, running slower than expected. As Marquez approached on his left, the Italian looked to his left once, then again, then appeared to slow down even more while veering farther left off the racing line. Marquez, expecting Rossi to accelerate, found himself with a Yamaha M1 closing in from his right and the curb approaching from his left. The two made contact, Marquez’ right front with Rossi’s left rear, causing Marquez to collapse the front and end up in the gravel. Rossi, having disposed of his new nemesis, went on to finish third; the last 13 laps were uneventful. As in, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

FIM Rule Changes and Race Direction

FIM_LogoImmediately after the collision, it was announced that Race Direction would be reviewing the incident. After the race, it was announced that Rossi had been assessed three penalty points for intentionally causing contact with another rider, similar to the penalty Hector Barbera had received in the morning for carelessly putting Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro in the gravel during the warm-up practice. The automatic appeal from Rossi’s people was unanimously declined.

Please bear with me while I go David Emmett for a minute. The three points, by themselves, would not have resulted in any kind of sanction for Rossi either today or at Valencia in two weeks. However, Rossi had received a penalty point at Misano earlier in the year for slow riding in the racing line during practice. It is this seemingly innocuous fourth point that is going to cause Rossi some major heartburn at the finale. FIM rules state that once a rider reaches four penalty points in a calendar year, he must start the next race from the last position on the grid.

Thus, the season finale finds the two top riders separated by a mere seven points, with the leader starting from the ninth row, while the challenger, Lorenzo, is likely to start from the first. I remember watching Marquez win a Moto2 race at Valencia starting from the back of the grid in 2012, and thought it was one of his most amazing feats. It is simply inconceivable that a rider, even a Valentino Rossi, can pull something like that off in the premier class. The question, then, becomes how far in front of Rossi Lorenzo can finish, assuming both finish the race. The last time I saw one of the Aliens start from the back row—Pedrosa, after an issue with a jammed tire warmer several years ago—he crashed out on Lap 1 grinding his teeth to dust trying to get back up front. Before moving on, let me remind you that Lorenzo holds the tiebreaker due to his having won more races this season than Rossi. Rossi’s seven point lead is actually six.

A Shocking Loss of Perspective

Today should have been a celebratory day for Valentino Rossi, as he became the all-time leader in grand prix racing starts with his 329th of a scintillating career. Today could have easily set up a spaghetti Western finish in Valencia, with the two rivals actually or effectively tied, facing one another, guns holstered and safeties off, at high noon in the middle of the dusty street. Instead, Rossi, the consummate veteran, the professional’s professional, allowed Marquez to get under his skin sufficiently to, in all likelihood, cost him a world championship.

Thus far this season, Rossi and Marquez have gotten physical three times. The first, in Argentina, left Marquez down and out, the first indication we received that his third premier class title might not be automatic. The second, in Assen, resulted in Rossi cutting the corner while Marquez ran wildly wide, giving Rossi his first win since Rio Hondo, the irony steadily building. Today’s clash left Marquez once again in the gravel as Rossi rode merrily on. The merriment, however, was short-lived.

Nothing gets sports fans going like a good blood feud, and we’ve got one now between two of the best ever, one at the tail end of his career, the other just beginning his own. Normally, it would be the younger combatant losing his cool and learning an important life lesson. Today, it was the grizzled veteran receiving a vivid reminder that one needs to keep his emotions off the track, that simply being annoying is not a violation of the rules, but administering an etiquette lesson at 100 mph is.

Looking forward to joining you all in Valencia in two weeks.

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01

Pedrosa wins at Sepang; Marquez extends lead

October 13, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this story, complete with non-bootlegged images, will appear on Motorcycle.com tonight or tomorrow. Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Repsol Hondas finish one-two in the Malaysian heat 

pedrosa_marquez

For factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was going to be a statement race.  Lorenzo’s intent, clear from the outset, was to beat rookie Marquez at any cost.  Pedrosa, the victim of plain bad luck at Aragon, looked determined to prove that he was still a force at the top of the MotoGP food chain.  And Marc Marquez, on his way to the 2013 title, wanted the world to know that his brain is bigger than his balls. 

How, you’re wondering, do I know these things to be true?  Pure deduction, based upon things that were said during the week, and the actions of the riders during the race.  At the Thursday press conference, Jorge Lorenzo went OFF, delivering a scathing critique of Marquez’ relentless risk taking and Race Direction’s lame season-long response thereto.  To paraphrase Lorenzo’s tongue-in-cheek outburst, he claimed that Marquez approaches MotoGP as if it were NASCAR, bumping and grinding his competitors every time out, with but three “penalty points” to show for his behavior.  Actually, three penalty points and a World Championship.  Lorenzo, it seems, is put out over how Race Direction has rewarded bad behavior on Marquez’ part with a trophy and a bit of toothless punishment.  Thankfully, he didn’t play the Marco Simoncelli card as an example of what can happen to the fast and the reckless.

Dani Pedrosa gave us one of his trademarked “slingshot” starts today, moving from fifth position on the grid to sitting on Lorenzo’s pipes in the middle of Lap 1.  He and Marquez had been fast all weekend in practice, but Pedrosa looked determined not simply to podium today, but to win.  On Lap 5, having just received a mapping change from his pit crew, he bumped Lorenzo out of his way—just racing!—and took over first place for the duration.  Never looking back, he won by almost three seconds, for the first time since Le Mans.  Two years ago, when he had this kind of pace, Pedrosa would win by 12 seconds, and would have felt great afterwards.

Two years ago he had no Marc Marquez to deal with.

Marquez, for his part, looked mainly interested in staying out of trouble today.  He seemed surprised at Lorenzo’s Thursday outburst, and tried to make light of it, before figuring out that Jorge was seriously furious with him.  Settling into third position at the start, he joined Pedrosa in slipping past Lorenzo on Lap 5.  The Yamaha icon was simply not having it today.  He came right back at the rookie and gave him a good bump on Lap 6, briefly moving back into second place.  The two went at each other tooth and fang through Lap 7, when Marquez went through for good, pushing Lorenzo out onto the candystripes exiting a late corner, and essentially sealing the 2013 championship in the process.

Having put Lorenzo away, you expected Marquez to go after Pedrosa in the hunt for another gratuitous win.  Instead, he appeared to lay back, content to simply manage the gap between himself and Lorenzo.  In addition to being his teammate, Dani Pedrosa is absolutely no threat to his title aspirations.  The mountain of criticism piled upon Marquez after Aragon, most of it undeserved, clearly had an effect on the young Spaniard.  Thus, he was able to emerge from today’s race with no further damage to his reputation, and with a bigger lead in the championship race than he had at the start of the day.  All in all, a good day’s work.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Valentino Rossi on Saturday enjoyed his best QP since 2010, starting from the second spot on the grid.  On Sunday, this advantage lasted all of 10 seconds, as both Lorenzo and Pedrosa blew by him on the way to the first turn.  Rossi spent the entire day—all 20 laps—in fourth place, and appeared to be hanging around, waiting for one of the leaders to fall, or run wide, something, anything, in the hope of securing yet another hollow podium.  I get it that Rossi is a marketing machine who makes cash registers ring for Yamaha, but his diminishing presence on the team means Lorenzo is getting double-teamed every week.  And as the standings show, the result is going to be another world championship for Honda.

With the bulk of the field strung out in a ghastly premier class procession, the only real contest of the day involved Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow and GO&FUN pilot Alvaro Bautista, who spent the day jousting over fifth place.  Crutchlow, with the slower bike and zero motivation, eventually succumbed to Bautista, losing out by a couple of tenths.  While LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl missed today’s race due to a broken ankle suffered in FP4 on Saturday, Bautista moved past Bradl into sixth place for the season.

With two of the four Ducatis on the grid retiring with mechanical problems—Iannone with exhaust issues, Hayden with a blown engine—Yonny Hernandez made a respectable showing on his Pramac Ducati, finishing 10th after starting 16th.  Hector Barbera, riding for the Avintia Blusens team, weathered a ride-through penalty for jumping the start and still managed 14th place for the day.  Fellow jumpers Colin Edwards and Michael Laverty fared slightly worse, with Edwards coming home in 15th place and Laverty crashing out on Lap 13.

The Big Picture, Heading to Australia

The season has developed what feels like a grinding inevitability, as Valenciana draws closer and Marquez’ lead in the standings grows larger.  The rookie demonstrated today that he is not, in fact, compelled to try to win every single round, that he appreciates where he sits in the standings and what he must to do stay on top.  He showed a little respect (or was it pity?) for his teammate by laying off and not trying to out-race him yet again today, when there was nothing to be gained from such showboating but a few more haters.

Stoner testing

With Phillip Island looming, the Magic Numbers are now clearly in focus.  Lorenzo trails Marquez by 43 points; Pedrosa trails by 54.  Unless Pedrosa wins in Australia, he will be eliminated next week.  If Marquez wins and Lorenzo finishes third or worse, the fat lady will be singing “Advance Australia Fair” next Sunday afternoon.  The moment it was announced that Bradl would miss Round 16, rumors started circulating that Casey Stoner would return to try for a seventh (!) consecutive win at his home track, a rumor both Honda and Stoner currently deny.  But the alignment of the MotoGP stars and planets is such that Stoner’s appearance on the LCR Honda next weekend wouldn’t surprise, or disappoint, too many fans.  With three rounds left, there is precious little else to cheer for.

TOP TEN YTD AFTER SEPANG.