Posts Tagged ‘suzuki’

MotoGP: Rossi Getting Overtaken

July 17, 2019

© Bruce Allen    July 17, 2019

Here are results for the four Yamaha riders since the championship returned to Europe:

ROSSI RESULTS JEREZ - SACHSENRING

The Petronas satellite riders, Quartararo and Morbidelli, are on used chasses fitted with new engines, and are more than capable of holding their own with the 2019 factory bikes. The Yamaha racing effort has been on an upswing since Assen, and now looks capable of competing again with Honda and Ducati. And Suzuki.

Testing coming up at Brno on the 2020 M1 prototype. Suppose for the sake of argument the new bike is a second quicker than the current one. Does Rossi still have what it takes, along with guys like Marquez and Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro, and Danilo Petrucci to wrestle these machines to where they obey you? Is there any reason to expect that the rest of the 2020 team won’t also be a second or so faster as well?  The point is, even if the new bike is great, it is not likely to propel him past all three of his brand-mates. Vinales and Quartararo appear to be the real deal, and the Frenchman is exactly half Rossi’s age. Even if you just add Marquez, Rins and Dovizioso to the mix, Rossi’s still fighting for, what? Sixth?

Rossi must find the idea of fulfilling his 2020 contract to be irresistible. A victory lap for a hall-of-fame career. A bright future as a team owner and industry heavy. Perhaps, over the season, a moment or two of heroic riding, moments that remind us of when he was the New Kid in Town, the Fastest Gun in the West, The Doctor., when such moments were routine, and the bells of Tavullia were ringing seemingly every summer Sunday afternoon.

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

There will never be another like him.

The Rossi Era has given way to the Marquez Era which, as far off as it seems today, will give way to the Next Era which, once Marquez has finally surrendered the top spot, might be subject to a variety of champions over the following period of years, featuring names like Quartararo, Rins, Mir and a handful of Italian graduates from the VR46 riders academy on Rossi’s ranch.

At the risk of tempting fate and earning the ire of the many Rossi worshipers still out there, I think he’s already won his last MotoGP race, at Assen in 2017. The Brno test that has everyone on edge probably won’t mean much for Rossi in 2020. And so it goes. Fabio Quartararo, against all odds, may be The New Kid in Town. Eagles 1976

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 7, 2019

© Bruce Allen     July 7, 2019

Marquez crushes the field, leaves for vacation 

Marquez at sachsenring

For the tenth year in a row, The Sachsenring lay down and gave it away to Marc Marquez, who didn’t even have to buy it a wrist corsage. Starting, as usual, from pole, Marquez seized the lead on the back side of the first turn, entered the express lane, and never broke a sweat on his way to the win and a ghastly, dispiriting 58-point lead as the series heads for summer vacation.  

Worse yet, French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his first premier class race and was unable later to locate his lopsided grin. 

For quite a while, it appeared my pre-race podium prediction of Marquez, Rins and Vinales would come up a winner, until Rins once again crashed out of a podium unassisted in Lap 19, a week after having done so in Assen. In so doing, he has removed himself from championship consideration and must now keep an eye on Joan Mir, who may be entertaining thoughts of becoming the #1 rider for the factory Suzukis. But Cal Crutchlow, who arrived at the weekend having seriously injured himself at home opening a can of paint, took advantage of Rins’ gaffe to usurp the third step on the podium. Mir, who spent much of the day in the second group, finished seventh, showing more progress, moving up the learning curve. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was more or less predictable for 2019. Quartararo, Marquez, Rins and Vinales were all sniffing around the top of the sheet. Marquez was the only one to put in a lap in the 1:20’s, within half a second of his 2018 track record, on Day 1. Pecco Bagnaia had a heavy crash late in FP1 which kept him out of FP2 but allowed him back for a cautious FP3. Crutchlow arrived in town hobbled by a non-riding accident suffered at home. Wanker.

Repsol Honda slotted homeboy Stefan Bradl in Lorenzo’s seat. With Fabio and Maverick sitting in the top five at the end of the day, FP3 on Saturday would determine whether Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, a tenuous 10th on the day, would have to fight and claw his way into Q2 or would pass smoothly, naturally, like a field mouse through an owl. We also learned of Danilo Petrucci’s well-deserved new contract for 2020 with the factory Ducati team. Bravo, Danilo! 

FP3 delivered guys like Marquez, Quartararo, Vinales and Rins directly to Q2, consigning, yet again, the famously struggling Valentino Rossi, along with Dovizioso and Zarco to the fighting and clawing of Q1. Even with his back to the wall, Rossi is unable to coax the same speed out of the M1 as Vinales and either of the satellite guys. He does not appear to have lost much overall, but the quick thin blade, flashed so often at the end of races as he routinely snatched victory from less-confident foes, is gone. If you’re leading a race and have a handful of gunners chasing you, including Rossi, Vale is no longer your primary concern. Of particular interest at the end of the session was Quartararo, on the gas, apparently injuring his left shoulder on another “tank-slapper,” as the Brits call them. Shades of Assen. Marquez was caught flirting with his 2018 track record at the end of the session.

Rossi appeared determined to make it out of Q1 and did so. Andrea Dovizioso, watching his faint title hopes fade, appeared determined, too, to make it out of Q1 and would have, were it not for the heroic efforts of one Takaa Nakagami, riding when he should be in traction, stealing Dovi’s ticket to Q2 well after the checkered flag had flown.

The new group of Usual Suspects—Vinales, Rins, Quartararo—took turns going after Marquez’s soft-tire lap times during Q2, to no avail. The Catalan made it ten-for-10 on pole in Germany, joined on the front row by Quartararo and Vinales. Row two would be comprised of Rins, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.  Rossi could do no better than P11, the weakest of the four Yamahas in the first four rows. Oh, and just for the record, Marquez on Saturday set a new track record for motorcycles at the Sachsenring. 

The Race 

This German Grand Prix was no work of art, a high-speed procession punctuated by falls from rather high-profile riders. Rookies Quartararo and Oliveira both crashed out in Lap 2, though the Portuguese rider would re-enter the race, for whatever reason. KTM sad sack Johann Zarco crashed out at the same spot a lap later. Pecco Bagnaia went walky on Lap 8, taking himself out of points contention.

But it was Rins, all alone in second place, laying his Suzuki down on Lap 19. Crutchlow could never catch Vinales. Dovizioso could never catch Petrucci. And no one currently living could catch Marc Marquez, who was thinking about COTA and how he would not let that happen today. 

The Big Picture 

The big picture is as ugly as an outhouse on an August afternoon. With 58 points in hand at the clubhouse turn, Marquez could leave his woods in a locker and walk the back nine with just a putter, a wedge, a three-iron, a seven-iron and a sleeve of Titleists in a Saturday bag and win the club championship. While the riders scrambling for a top-ten finish in 2019 are sweating blood, Marquez makes this hugely demanding, physically debilitating job look easy, effortless. His team is a well-oiled machine that never looks stressed out. He stops on his way to the garage to get his picture taken with a four-year old boy wearing #93 gear. I’m pretty much convinced he hasn’t started shaving yet. He lives with his brother. Haters hate him because he’s got mad skills. Haters gonna hate. Just sayin’.

Beyond Marquez, you have a bunch of riders with significant pedigrees snapping and tearing at one another over scraps. Last week I observed how some celebrants—OK, it was Vinales—were celebrating having held Marquez to 20 points. Today, the remaining Aliens and top tenners seem relieved to have held Marquez to a mere 25 points. For the rest of the paddock, The Sachsenring has become like Phillip Island was to Casey Stoner and how Mugello once was to Valentino Rossi.

Go. Race. Lose. Repeat. 

Tranches 

This is the week when we come clean and give Marc Marquez his own tranche.

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

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

* * * 

MotoGP now hobbles off to summer vacation, a number of riders to lick wounds, several to entertain existential crises, and others to just chase women and enjoy being young, wealthy and in shape. We, obviously, will be hanging with the latter group. Should anything noteworthy occur during the interlude, I shall faithfully report on it at Late-Braking MotoGP, your site for all the stuff not good enough to make it to the pages of Motorcycle.com. We’ll have a preview of the Brno round here at the end of the month. Ciao.

Some local color:

Yamaha galsSuzuki girlPramac girlMonster girlsMonster girl

More local color:

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MotoGP Assen Results

June 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Screenshot (196)

Vinales leads Yamaha assault; Rossi DNF 

After a two-year drought, Yamaha finally won a grand prix today, with Maverick Vinales finishing first, rookie Fabio Quartararo third, and his teammate Franco Morbidelli fifth. Marc Marquez extended his championship lead, but Valentino Rossi was a non-factor in perfect conditions at a track he loves. The Doctor needs a doctor. 

Though lacking much of the drama and action of last year’s tilt, the 2019 TT Assen offered up some noteworthy achievements. Vinales, who has been AWOL since Phillip Island last year (although his three DNFs this season were assisted by other riders) finally got himself a win that did next to nothing for his 2019 season other than to provide a little window dressing. Marc Marquez was in the hunt all day until he threw in the towel with two laps left and smartly settled for second. Rookie wonder Fabio Quartararo started from pole and led for over half the race before fading to third beneath the onslaught of #12 and #93. Andrea Dovizioso flogged his Ducati to a face-saving P4, as Marquez extended his lead over the Italian to 44 points with the Sachsenring looming next Sunday. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday was a good news, bad news kind of day.  Happy campers included the increasingly imposing Fabio Quartararo who, along with Maverick Vinales, put Yamahas in the top two spots in both sessions, with a dogged Danilo Petrucci placing his Ducati in P3 twice. Alex Rins, loving him some Assen, was in the top five all day. Valentino Rossi improved from 12th in the morning to 9th in the afternoon, while Marc Marquez spent the day twiddling his thumbs at sixes and sevens, as they used to say 500 years ago. Vinales flirted with Rossi’s track record in the afternoon, with those of us who follow such things expecting the record to fall on Saturday afternoon, if not before.

The central event of the day, a really bad one, didn’t show up in the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo, once again riding in pain after crashing during the Catalunya test two weeks ago, suffered another brutal off with about five minutes left in P1. As the marshals helped him out of the gravel trap, his gait resembled Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz; something was clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say he probably came within 10 kph of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, having fractured his T6 and T8 vertebrae and being declared unfit for Assen and the Sachsenring, at least.

Saturday brought more drama, in spades, with searing temps more like Sepang than Assen. Valentino Rossi, reduced once again to trying for Q2 by completing one fast flying lap at the end of FP3, found one, but ran through green paint in the final chicane, exceeding the track limit, scrubbing the lap, and ending up, again, in Q1. For the fourth time this year, he failed to advance to Q2 and would start 14th on Sunday, the slowest of the four Yamahas. His track record got splintered by Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales and, bigly, Fabio Quartararo, who became the youngest rider ever in MotoGP to start two consecutive races from pole and now owns the fastest lap ever at Assen and Jerez. Dude is for real.

The frantic chase for pole during the last three minutes of Q2 produced a front row of Quartararo, Vinales and Alex Rins, who came through Q1 to do it, with Marquez, up-and-comer Joan Mir and Takaa Nakagami on Row 2. Andrea Dovizioso, second in the championship chase, was unable to get out of his own way during Q2 and would start from the middle of the fourth row, his season slipping away. France, having failed in the World Cup on Friday, must now hope for the first French winner in a MotoGP race in 20 years. The four Spaniards snapping at his heels on Saturday, however, looked interested in extending the drought on Sunday.

Let’s just award #20 the Rookie of the Year Award already and pay attention to other stuff for the rest of the season, shall we? 

The Race 

Alex Rins took the hole shot with Suzuki teammate Joan Mir gunning himself into second place for the first few laps; the last time two Suzukis led a MotoGP race was, probably, never. Once Rins crashed out of the lead unassisted on Lap 3 and Mir erred his way down to fourth, things returned to normal. Quartararo took the lead after Rins’ departure and, in conjunction with Vinales, kept Marquez in a Yamaha sandwich for most of the day. The rookie’s tires went off around Lap 16, allowing both Vinales and Marquez through, and the two factory riders went at each other hot and heavy for eight scintillating laps. Discretion took the better of valor late in the day when it became clear to Marquez that it was Vinales’ day, and he backed off, happy with his 20 points and looking forward to returning to Saxony next week, where he is undefeated since, like, the Bush administration.

The first Bush administration. Kidding. He’s only nine-for-nine in Germany.

Rossi, thwarted in his effort to pass through to Q2 in both FP3 and Q1, was running in 11th place, going nowhere, on Lap 5 when he apparently took Takaa Nakagami and himself out of the race; I was unable to watch a replay by the time I had to move on to other, real-world things. Assen was the site of Rossi’s last win, a track where he has won ten (10!) different times, on a day that was breezy but not too hot for the M1. Under perfect conditions at a track he loves he was just another rider.

Here’s a quick quiz for the Rossi apologists in the audience: What does Vale have in common with Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaro? No wins in at least two years. Sure, the other four have never won a MotoGP race. But sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business. I’m not sure Lin Jarvis, the Big Cheese of Yamaha racing, gives a rip about how many hats and t-shirts Rossi sells. With three Yamahas finishing in the top five—when has that ever happened?—there may be a brief inquisition in store for #46 this evening. 

The Big Picture 

Marquez tightened his grip on the 2019 title, slightly disappointed at getting beaten by Vinales, but delighted to have gained ground on Dovi, Danilo Petrucci (5th) and Rins. Quartararo got himself another podium, another pole and another track record; pretty good weekend for the charismatic young Frenchman. Vinales got one of many monkeys off his back and can look forward to getting thrashed next week. All six Ducatis managed to finish the race, worth a mention here but little else. Assen was an opportunity lost for the Suzuki team as Mir faded to eighth at the flag. Aprilia had their most successful weekend yet, garnering 10 points with Iannone finishing in P10 and Espargaro in P12.

After eight rounds the 2019 championship is on life support, with Marquez likely to be standing on the air hose next Sunday. The Dovizioso, Petrucci and Rins camps will be discussing this for the next few days, with someone in each bound to mention that Marquez crashed at COTA and it could happen again. Uh-huh. Mostly, the riders are now reduced to playing “Beat Your Teammate” and being glad they’re not Jorge Lorenzo, who is wearing a body brace and a stiff upper lip.

I feel worse for Lorenzo now than I did in 2017. The only way he can generate enough speed to compete with Marquez & Co. is to violate the laws of physics, putting himself in terrible danger. The Honda RC213V is like Tiger Woods’ driver. People can’t expect someone who isn’t Tiger Woods to pick it up and yank a golf ball 340 yards down the middle of the fairway. Worse yet, there does not appear to be an exit ramp for Jorge. Friday’s crash could seriously mess with his head, never mind his back and chest. 

This Tranche Stuff is Going to Tick Some People Off 

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

After Assen: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales, Joan Mir

Tranche 3: Valentino Rossi 😊, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro

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

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

A few random photos from Assen

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MotoGP Assen Preview

June 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen    June 24, 2019

Assen—A Good Place for an Upset 

We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates—Bradley Smith—and rivals—Jorge Lorenzo—with them. With Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen? 

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday portends more of the usual. 

Notes from Catalunya 

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well—scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10. 

Recent History at Assen 

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race—two in a row for The Netherlands—was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group—take THAT, Moto3—and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Maverick Vinales, about whom plenty has been said already. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents cannot be said to have a preference. 

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Vinales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.”  But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral. Forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Vinales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Avoids Bedlam, Cruises at Montmelo 

Marc Marquez was probably going to win the Catalan GP anyway. But once Repsol Honda teammate Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo skittled Andrea Dovizioso and both factory Yamaha riders out of the proceedings on Lap 2, it was done and dusted in Barcelona. The Catalan’s lead in the world championship ballooned from 12 to 37 points. Valencia is groaning, joined by most of the rest of the motorcycle racing world. Here we go again. 

After the Lap 2 histrionics, an exhausting battle for second place developed, won by insolent French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, who, starting from pole, edged Ducati veteran Danilo Petrucci for the honor of his first premier class podium. Eleven riders failed to finish today, which explains some of the other confusing point hauls. There were a host of hard feelings filling the air after the race; plenty of riders felt they deserved better. Not to mention the caustic fact that Marc Marquez was the main beneficiary of Lorenzo’s gaffe, allowing him to put his boot on the throat of the 2019 championship. Ain’t nobody need that. 

Practice and Qualifying 

The fact that 20-year-old rookie Quartararo dominated the practice timesheets again, on both days at Montmelo, two weeks after surgery for arm pump, needs to stop arriving as a surprise, at least to me. In November of last year, as the last promotee signed, I considered him the least qualified of the four Moto2 riders making the leap. Still sporting stitches, he captured FP1:P2  FP2:P1 FP3:P2  FP4:P1. Has a certain symmetry to it. He has been doing stuff like this all year, then going out and making a mess of qualifying or making rookie mistakes in races.

Marquez conducted a bit of a race simulation on worn tires for most of FP2 after leading FP1, cruising home knowing he had the pace, if needed, to improve on his combined P9 position heading into Saturday. Dovi, Takaa Nakagami on the #2 LCR Honda, veteran Pol Espargaro keeping his KTM upright, and rookie underachiever Pecco Bagnaia (four DNFs in six rounds) delivered impressive performances on Friday and comprised a rather surprising top five (four behind Quartararo).

MotoGP, at all three levels, has developed three qualifying sessions, two official and one, um, ex officio, as it were. The scramble to pass directly to Q2 makes FP3 its own qualifier, as it was here on Saturday. It produced good news for several riders, and not so good news, on the lamb-goat continuum, for others. FP3 begets Q1 begets Q2.

Q1 would include names like Miller, Nakagami and Morbidelli, three young guns who had lit it up on Friday. Drive for show, putt for dough. Aleix, rookie Bagnaia and the hapless, likely-to-be-bought-out/defector Johann Zarco (“Chumley, get me OUTTA HERE!”), effing around in 19th. Sylvain Guintoli, guesting with Suzuki, enjoying the experience, once again, of beating someone at something, posterizing my boy, the apparently doomed Hafizh Syahrin, lately of Tech 3 KTM, who has WSBK written all over him. Sometimes I just go on and on.

In Q1, Morbidelli and Joan Mir won promotions to Q2, at the expense of Pramac Ducati representatives Miller and Bagnaia. As usual, Q2 was worth the price of admission all by itself. When the dust cleared, it was the New Kid in Town, Quartararo, on his second premier class pole, sandwiching Marquez between Yamahas, Vinales sitting in third. Morbidelli, Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso comprised the all-Italian second row. Alex Rins had a great shot at a front row start but crashed during his second Q2 run and would start in P8.

After the session Vinales was penalized three grid spots for impeding Quartararo, who had already clinched pole. This is what is meant by the term “unforced error.” Another example of why Vinales is still not an Alien. 

The Race 

Dovizioso and Marquez shared the holeshot, with the Italian emerging from Turn 1 in the lead, which wouldn’t last. Almost nothing would, as riders began hitting the deck almost immediately. Bradley Smith, guest-crashing for Aprilia and his victim Karel Abraham—boom. Lorenzo and victims Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi—boom. Aleix Espargaro—pffft. Hafizh Syahrin—boom. Pecco Bagnaia—boom. Franco Morbidelli—boom. And, not to be outdone, having just moved past Jack Miller into P4, Cal Crutchlow—boom. Cal’s analyst says it’s poppycock to suggest he’s afraid of success.

With a plurality of these unseated riders lolling in the top ten for the year, rookie Joan Mir captured 10 points in a gratifying P6. Pol Espargaro snagged nine points for the desperate KTM project. Takaa Nakagami, Tito Rabat (?) and the morose Johann Zarco closed out the top ten. Mir and Zarco both had their best day of the season, by default. 

The Big Picture 

After seven rounds, with Assen in two weeks and The Sachsenring in three, the big picture is sucking. Hard. Once again, Marquez has become metronomic, and once again the rest of the grid is proving itself completely unable to cope. Sure, it was fun to see Danilo Petrucci win at Mugello and Rins at COTA. OK, I enjoyed Marquez getting pimped by Dovizioso in the desert back in March. But, come on. It is intellectually dishonest to purport that any rider out there this season is going to seriously challenge Marquez for the 2019 title.

So why watch? Well, despite the artistry of Marquez himself, there is the scrotum-shrinking speed. There is the arrival of bright young talent, guys like Quartararo, Rins, Mir, Morbidelli and more. There is the top-to-bottom improvement in the grid, illustrated this week by Fabio Quartararo and Hafizh Syahrin during qualifying. Rocketman Quartararo seized pole with a lap time of 1:39.48. Syahrin dragged his hopeless derriere across the line in 24th position clocked at 1:41.75.

There is no justice in this world.

There is, however, a contest worth watching in an emerging battle for second place. The factory Ducatis of Dovi and Petrucci are separated by five points, with Great Suzuki Hope Alex Rins also in the midst. Not mist, midst. If Marquez is going to run off and hide again this year, at least these three appear capable of providing some civilized competition in 2019. 

Tranches 

After Mugello: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

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

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

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

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

After Catalunya: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir

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

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

The Undercards, Briefly 

Moto3 was a battle of attrition and as good a race as one is likely to see in the motorcycle biz. The 12th different winner in the last 12 rounds, Marcos Ramirez, won his maiden grand prix. Series leader Aron Canet managed to stay upright and accrued 20 points on a day when several of his competitors hit the deck. Young SKY46 VR racing academy grad Celestino Vietti started 21st and finished third. 31 starters were winnowed down to 19 finishers, three of whom re-mounted after offs. And your boy John McPhee got whacked and recorded The Save of the Decade, left leg pointed straight up in the air at one point, well off track; unbelievable stuff.

In Moto2 today, series leader Alex Marquez overcame a relatively poor start to win his third race in a row, outdueling veteran Tom Luthi in a bit of a procession. Lorenzo Baldassarri, who led the series until today, recorded yet another DNF, his third of the year, to go along with three wins, and would be well advised to stay away from proffered microphones, as his speaking voice brings to mind the Italian term, “castrato.” Dude has a kind of Graham Nash thing going on. 

Two Weeks to Assen 

Two weeks until Assen gets another opportunity to Keep Things Weird. In order to even maintain a pretense of suspense, it is important that someone other than Marquez take the gold medal in the Low Countries. Unusual names like Spies and Miller have appeared on the top step at The Cathedral in the not-too-distant past. The Yamahas and Suzukis enjoy this place; Marquez is mouthing words about how it will be so, so difficult to win in two weeks.

Pure shinola, of course. We’ll “be there” nonetheless, watching all the sessions, sending cosmic motivation to the challengers. For now, the universe is aligned in Marquez’ favor; we can only shake our heads in wonder. So we shall pay a visit to The Cathedral, lifting up a novena for a competitive second half of the season.

PHOTOS, UM, OBTAINED BY BRUCE ALLEN

Catalunya

Catlunya front lot

Catalunya at nightCatalunya back lotCatalunya3Catalunya2

The Women of Catalunya

AbrahamBagnaiaCanetEspargaroGardnerMarquezMillerMonsterMorbidelliQuartararoSchrotterVinales

MotoGP Mugello 2019 Preview

May 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Rossi’s Last Stand 

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

valentino-rossi-argentina-2019-motogp-5

Rossi celebrating a podium in Argentina earlier this year.

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Mugello

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

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

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

The Point, After All, is Points

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

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

Before Getting Silly, Let’s Get Stupid 

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 19, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Brothers Rule in France 

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, dad Julià, jubilant, sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens. 

At various points during the weekend, it appeared the winner might come from any number of camps. The Petronas Yamaha and factory Ducati teams were heard from early. Marquez was buzzing around the top of the timesheets in each session. Maverick Vinales had some encouraging moments, and there was a Jorge Lorenzo sighting in the top five during FP2. Rossi would finagle his way onto the second row after a forgettable couple of days. The Suzukis were struggling, and KTM had but one rider, Pol Espargaro, who seemed capable of wrestling the RC-16 to a top ten finish. 

Practice and Qualifying

With the weekend forecast looking dismal, there came the growing possibility that Friday could determine which riders passed into Q2. This moved the majority to put on their big boy leathers and let it all hang out late in FP1, with startling rookie homeboy Fabio Quartararo topping the sheets, followed by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Vinales and Marquez. My boy Alex Rins didn’t get the memo about the weather, easing into 17th. Fan fave Johann Zarco and the legendary Valentino Rossi snuck into the top ten.

It stayed dry for FP2. Jorge Lorenzo somehow improved his time by a full 1.3 seconds. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia into the Top Ten Combined, as did Honda climber Takaa Nakagami. All of which came at the expense of Suzuki rookie Joan Mir, and the aforementioned Mssrs. Zarco and Rossi. When Saturday dawned wet, it confirmed that the three would be joining a gaggle of big names amongst the great unwashed in Q1, names like Crutchlow, Morbidelli, and Rins.

[Until this moment, I have underestimated the pressure some of these riders feel as they approach Q1. Should they fail to advance to Q2, their weekend will be effectively shot. Rossi and Zarco, especially, must have been tied in knots. Fifteen minutes that could have a real effect on their immediate career prospects; never mind the championship. And those minutes would likely unfold on a wet track.]

As expected, FP3 was run on rain tires. Vinales, Marquez and Jack Miller put in the best times, followed in close order by Rins, Zarco and Petrucci. The session was significant only due to the conditions, as the radar made it appear likely we would get to see the WET RACE sign on Sunday. FP4 ran on a drying track that was too wet for slicks and too dry for wets. Such would be the conditions in Q1, in which Franco Morbidelli turned in the best lap on rain tires and Valentino Rossi, jumping out of the gate on slicks, beat the field by 1½ seconds, putting both in Q2 as the rain picked up steam and the track went from dryish to humid to damp to moist to wettish.

On rain tires, Marquez laid down his marker on Lap 2 of Q2 and it stood up, by 4/10ths, for the entire session. The two notorious Ducati mudders, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, completed the front row. The Italian crew on Row 2 included Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi and the overachieving Franco Morbidelli. Alas, homeboy Fabio Quartararo could not maintain the magic in the wet, qualifying 10th, while the erratic Top Gun, Maverick Vinales, once again made a hash of qualifying and would start Sunday in the middle of Row 4. At day’s end, riders Zarco (14th), Crutchlow (15th) and Rins (19th, currently second in the championship) were radioactive, glowing in the dark. Not Suitable for Interviewing.

During the Race

To everyone’s surprise, the 2019 Le Mans battle was a dry race, the riders, always with a complaint at the ready, complaining that they had not had enough practice time in the dry. Once Marquez had stiff-armed Miller and cleared off, the battle for second place commenced, involving three Ducatis and Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha. The Ducatis prevailed over the Yamaha. The factory Ducatis prevailed over Miller’s satellite job. And Ducati #1 Dovizioso prevailed over his #2, Danilo Petrucci. Announcers Steve and Matt seem to have overlooked the fact that the 2019 Honda RC213V has as much grunt as the Ducati Desmosedici, remarking lap after lap how the chasing Ducs were unable to rocket past Marquez on the main straight as in years past.

Danilo Petrucci spent the last few laps seriously dogging teammate Dovizioso, and looked fully capable of mounting a challenge, your basic late dive underneath the foe, on the last lap. Had he trailed any other rider, and with nothing to lose, he would have made the attempt. But unlike his predecessor Jorge Lorenzo, he took account of the fact that Dovi is in the thick of the championship chase and internalized the fact that the consequences of sending him flying into the scenery would have been dire indeed. So he backed off, saved his honor, gained a podium, and avoided a major bruhaha with his compatriot and teammate. Good on ya, Petrux.

Elsewhere on the grid, two riders were busy making lemonade out of lemons. Pol Espargaro took his KTM from 12th to 6th, while Alex Rins, after a disastrous Q1 on Saturday, made it into the top ten. Cal Crutchlow, who also made hash on Saturday, moved from 15th at the start to a less-nauseating 9th, maintaining his average of 7 points per round.

As for the locals, Johann Zarco, he of the dreamy eyes and stiff upper lip, started 14th and finished 13th, not precisely what he and his team were looking for. Heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, whom some analysts had tagged for the win today, started in trouble from 10th place, worked his way backwards into the low teens early on before recovering during the second half of the race and finishing a respectable 8th. Saving grace for the French fans is that neither got chain-whipped by any German riders. Plenty of Spaniards and Italians, sure, but not a loathsome Boche. Vive la France!

It’s Tranching Time Again… 

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Le Mans: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

On to Mugello

Two short weeks until we arrive at one of the shrines of racing, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, nestled in the Tuscan hills above the Adriatic Riviera. Mugello is such a cool track that everyone, from Marquez to Abraham, feels they have an advantage racing there. All the Italian riders, all the Ducati pilots, and a number of others will be playing the ‘home race’ card. The fact is that Mugello, with its massive front straight constructed so as to magnify the noise of the bikes and amplify slipstreaming, is an adrenaline firehose. Those chasing Marc Marquez in 2019, notably Dovizioso and Rossi, need to make hay while the summer sun shines on their home crib.

MotoGP Le Mans Preview

May 14, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

The record books show that Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi.  Maverick Viñales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him.  Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here in 2017, leading the race for the first six laps 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 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 Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, 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 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 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!

MotoGP Jerez Results

May 5, 2019
Cal Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow received an upgrade this week.

Jack Miller

As did Jack Miller.

© Bruce Allen     Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Rolls Again, Retakes Series Lead 

The MotoGP world, turned on its ear by qualifying on Saturday, was put back in its proper order today by the incandescent Marc Marquez, who led wire-to-wire. The Petronas Yamaha SRT team, which spent Saturday night in the penthouse, ended Sunday in the outhouse. Rising Suzuki star Alex Rins took second, and Maverick Vinales found the podium for the first time since Buriram 2018. Four riders were separated by nine points heading to Jerez; four riders remain separated by nine points heading to Le Mans. Life is good.

Practice and Qualifying 

Based upon the baffling buffet that was four free practice and two qualifying sessions, one could envision almost anyone on Sunday’s podium, with the possible exception of, like, Randy de Puniet or one of the Laverty brothers. FP1 gave us Marquez and Lorenzo, today and yesterday in the same Repsol Honda colors, with Rossi whistling “Dixie” in 18th position. A brutally hot FP2 somehow belonged to the Wishin’ Minnow (?) factory Ducati Team, with Danilo Petrucci, studmuffin #2, edging teammate Andrea Dovizioso on the fast new-in-places racing surface; Rossi sweating bullets in 14th.

Saturday was cloudy, lowering air and track temps. FP3 melded Friday’s results as Petrucci, Marquez and brazen Petronas Yamaha SRT rookie Fabio Quartararo topped the sheet; Rossi 11th and screwed to the fifth row on Sunday. Petrucci broke the old track record, surprising, I think, even himself. Jerez was once reputed to be unfriendly to the Desmosedici, but not anymore. The only notable results from FP4 were Maverick Vinales closing the session in 2nd place (after failing to make the cut into Q2) and Andrea Iannone being helped off the track with a left leg issue after a hard fall late in the session.

Q1 and Q2, apart from offering some of the most exciting moments of every weekend, were especially instructive at Jerez. Late in Q1, with Maverick Vinales and rookie protégé Pecco Bagnaia on the Ducati sitting 1-2, Doctor Rossi had enough time to attempt two flying laps, hoping to sneak into Q2 after a miserable two days. Most of the crowd clad in his colors held their breath for almost three minutes watching the GOAT not have enough. For Rossi, a Sunday driver who can podium from pretty much anywhere on the grid, it was just another in a series of vexing issues this weekend. But it would get worse in Q2, the teacher getting schooled by former students half his age.

The increasingly-irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo set the first marker in the 1:37s on his second lap out of the pits (on his way to P11.) Marquez stepped up 11/100ths of a second later with a 1:36.970, flirting with Petrucci, which held up for almost 10 minutes until the LTMOQ2 (Last Two Minutes of Q2), which are a thing to which we will refer going forward. Saturday’s madness edition—get this—ended with rookie Fabio Quartararo, who had the decency to turn 20 years old last month, on pole, holding both the track record and the record for youngest polesitter in MotoGP history, eclipsing #93 hisself. And, to make matters worse for the factory team, Franco Morbidelli, yet another Rossi protégé, finished second, putting two 2015 vintage M1s on the front row. You’d have to go back to the Bush administration to find the last time two satellite bikes have started a premier class race 1-2. Marquez completed the front row, backed by Dovizioso, an unconvincing Vinales and Cal Crutchlow lurking in Row 2. Nakagami 8th, Rins 9th, Bagnaia 10th and Mir 12th, but third in the Sunday morning WUP. 

Here’s How It Went 

Marquez took the hole shot and led exiting Turn 1, and never looked back. He was dogged by upstart Franco Morbidelli for the first ten laps until he decided to check out. Quartararo, having spent some quality time in third place, went through on Morbidelli into second place on Lap 11, as the Italian appeared to be developing grip issues. This, as Rins was making light work of Vinales. My notes on Lap 13 read, “AR will podium.”

It was on Lap 14 that Quartararo, seeking his first MotoGP podium in only his fourth race, found his gearbox stuck in third which, if you’re going to have a stuck gearbox, is a good gear in which to get stuck. It ended his race, however, and he showed us how remarkably young he is by dissolving in tears in his garage afterwards. Teammate Morbidelli found himself, as do so many early overachievers, with tires turning to suet beneath him, sliding from P2 to P7 over the last 15 laps, with Rossi exacting a modicum of revenge at the end to steal 6th place from him.

Factory Ducati teammates Dovizioso and Petrucci finished P4 and P5, a decent afternoon’s work at a track which no longer punishes them but does not favor them either. Cal Crutchlow, Takaa Nakagami and test rider Stefan Bradl put Hondas in the final top ten spots.

A word about Jorge Lorenzo, for whom Jerez was supposed to mark a re-birth of his thus far stillborn Honda career. After spending most of the day in P15, he finished 12th, through no fault of his own, but rather due to the retirements of Pecco Bagnaia, Quartararo, Joan Mir and Jack Miller in front of him. El Gato promised us he would return here, at Jerez. There are new reports The Spartan will make his initial 2019 appearance in Aragon. Whatever. The bike designed around Marc Marquez does not work for Jorge Lorenzo. Another two years down the drain. And a quick memo to Maverick: Shave. You look like a pedophile. 

Four Riders Separated by Nine Points 

Heading to Jerez:

Dovizioso     54

Rossi             51

Rins                49

Marquez       45

Heading to Le Mans:

Marquez       70

Rins                69

Dovizioso      67

Rossi               61

Tranche Warfare

After COTA: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

Tranche 3: Maverick Vinales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Jerez: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins

Tranche 2:  Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro

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

Tranche 5:  Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Coming Up:   Round Five        Le Mans 

The French Grand Prix, for some reason, rarely seems to live up to expectations, Perhaps it’s the storied Bugatti Circuit, a veritable straitjacket of a track. Maybe it’s the French weather, which ranges from wet to leaden to merde. Possibly the French fans, who will be schizoid this year having two (2) countrymen to inspire their typically rude behavior. Regardless, it’s good to be back in Europe on a race-every-other-week schedule. There are four manufacturers with legitimate title aspirations and a host of fast young riders. So bring it on, France. Everyone’s ready.

MotoGP Jerez Preview

April 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Returning to Europe, the Plot Thickens 

After three store-bought rounds, MotoGP 2019 returns to Europe, where it is totally legit, to Jerez, one of the sport’s shrines, for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, at the recently-renamed Circuito Jerez – Angel Nieto. The title chase appears closer than it really is due to Marc Marquez’ unforced error in Austin. Never having missed the podium in seven previous premier class visits here, one expects Marquez to be highly motivated to put things in their proper order come Sunday afternoon. 

On his way to 70 points and an imposing lead in the 2019 championship, multi-world champion Marc Marquez lost his marbles on one of the trademarked rumblestrips at COTA last time out for his first DNF of the year. (Last year, his first DNF of the season came at Phillip Island, after he had clinched and no longer gave a rip.) His challengers—Andrea Dovizioso, Vale Rossi and Alex Rins, at this point—need to eat their Wheaties this weekend, need to keep him in sight. Other reputed contenders entering the season—Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Vinales and poor Jorge Lorenzo—have already shredded their seasons. They are fast enough to contend at times (maybe this weekend) and will undoubtedly appear on podia this year. Marquez’ only real title challengers, heading into Round 4, number three. So far so good for #93.

Many of you are surprised to see upstart Alex Rins, age 23, among the big boy Alien crew on his suddenly-competitive Suzuki. Me too, although I’ve been a fan for a while. He will be juiced to return to Spain, but aware that his history here is poor. Besides, he, like Marquez, is a Catalan, which locals think of as a separate country from Spain. Whatever. ‘Home race’ card coming your way soon. As for Dovizioso and Rossi, though they lead the championship now, it is difficult to see either of them winning it, absent some disastrous crash for Marquez. Sorry, but there it is. Dovizioso has not appeared on a Jerez podium since 2007, in his 250cc days. And of Rossi’s nine career wins here, eight of them came before 2010.

Expect Marc Marquez to gain ground on all three this weekend. 

Recent History at Jerez 

2016 was a Yamaha kind of year at Jerez. The Doctor made a house call on soon-to-be-former teammate Lorenzo, winning here for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge from his restless teammate, with Marquez running a strangely quiet third. It was a Yamaha year, starting and finishing in the top two slots. The church bells rang in Tavullia as Rossi spit in the eye of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  For Rossi fans, this was a keeper.

2017, on the other hand, was your basic Honda year. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won, leading wire-to-wire for his first win since Misano in 2016.  Teammate and defending champion Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those Dani Days. Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterwards, felt like a win. This “win” started a string of nine off-podium finishes that turned his season to mud. Still, Lorenzo loves him some Jerez.

Entering last year’s race, five riders were separated by eight points. (Recall Marquez’ comedic disaster in Argentina.) This year, we have four riders separated by nine points after #93’s carefree off in Texas—what, a month ago? Anyway, last year’s race featured the memorable Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso, clearing the field for a dominating win from Marquez. As is usually the case, when big names go down, smaller names rise. Thus it was that Johann Zarco, then toiling for Yamaha, claimed second place while Andrea Iannone, Suzuki #2 at the time, found the third step. [Incidentally, both riders would give their bicuspids to be back with their previous teams after offseason moves to KTM and Aprilia, respectively.] 

Current Events 

Elsewhere on the grid, some riders are visibly happy these days, Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Takaa Nakagami (Honda), Jack Miller (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) amongst them. 19-year old Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) sits in the top ten. He’s happy. Guys like Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia) and anyone riding for KTM, not so much. Poor Hafizh Syahrin has a goose egg going on, drawing the close attention of team owner Herve Poncharal. Zarco looks like his dog died. Rookie Miguel Oliveira is happy to be making C’s in his first year in college. Pol Espargaro is having the best year of the four, sitting in ninth place. Again.

In the lighter classes—it no longer seems right to apply that term to the 765cc Triumphs in Moto2—Lorenzo Baldassarri appears to be the cream of the crop, despite not having completed a single lap at COTA. In Moto3, 18-year old Jaume Masia and veteran Aron Canet lead a pack of Hondas on their KTMs. We are pleased to report that so far in 2019, fully unreformable Italian headjob Romano Fenati has not attempted to grab the brake levers on anyone’s bike but his own. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend is typically Jerez—hot and sunny. Honda weather for sure, not helpful to the Ducati and Yamaha contingents. Jury is out on the Suzukis. Much of the circuit has been repaved, which is good and bad. Good, in that the owners wouldn’t have made the investment in the track if Dorna were going to take it off the calendar anytime soon. Bad, in that it will have different asphalt in different sectors, which the riders hate. But, hey, it’s Jerez. Everyone suck it up.

By now, you’ve probably discerned that I, along with most of the civilized world, expect Marc Marquez to win Sunday’s race. I would enjoy seeing him and Rins square off. I would REALLY like to see Alex Rins school Marquez one time, take a little chink out of his armor, announce his arrival, motivate Suzuki to go ahead and pull the trigger on a second factory-supported team starting in 2020. Most lucid people would also expect to see Valentino Rossi on the podium again—points is points. So that would be my top three—Marquez, Rins and Rossi.

Visit Motorcycle.com on Sunday evening for results, analysis and classy high-rez photos from Jerez. Or, just come here early Sunday afternoon for everything but the pix, which you can find anywhere.