Posts Tagged ‘suzuki’

Day One at Rio Hondo

March 30, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Ain’t nobody really care a lot about what happens on Fridays unless FP3 looks to be wet, which it doesn’t. But the forecast for Sunday shows thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the area, generally around mid-day. So, according to my calculations, all four free practice sessions become rather useless when two days of dry vanish on race day. Keeps things interesting. Keeps bookies checking their phones.

Notable accomplishments, comments and attitudinal insights from Friday:

  • Your boy Valentino Rossi put himself back in the conversation with a solid F2. Both he and Vinales improved, Vinny sitting third for the day. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me to hear Vinny announce his goal was to take the pole on Saturday. Not a word about winning on Sunday. Such a Vinny thing to say, or not say.
  • Andrea Dovizioso led the combined sessions and noted with a smile and a wink that the 2019 bike is better than the GP18. He said he had not expected to be so fast so soon. Kind of like dad used to say when applying corporal punishment, “I didn’t mean to hit you. So hard.” Dovi is oozing confidence. The Ducati contingent performed better than expected on Friday, including one-two for the day.
  • Marc Marquez reportedly ran 19 laps on a used rear tire in FP2. #93 finished eighth overall on what Jack Miller described as a “filthy” track off the racing line. Track management should call in the country’s national curling teams, both men and women, and instruct them to sweep the entire track, paint to paint, by Sunday morning. Anyway, Marquez seems serenely confident heading into Saturday.
  • Not so for #99 Jorge Lorenzo on the #2 Repsol Honda as he limped home in 21st position, predicting he would be fast on Saturday, on Sunday, in Austin, after the circus returns to Jerez. He was observing how he trailed Dovi by a second, deftly sidestepping the issue of the 19 riders between them.
  • I keep finding myself surprised when Jack Miller shows up near the top of time sheets as he did on Friday. Perhaps this “consistent surprise” is a symptom of some kind of bias against the brash Australian. On the other hand, he finished 2018 in 13th place and has zero points in 2019. I dunno.
  • Danilo Petrucci is keeping a very low profile in 13th place after FP2.
  • In his fortnightly whine, The Black Knight complained about, let’s see, problems in corner entry. “But a P4 for last year’s Argentina GP winner on Friday with room to improve suggests the Briton is well in the hunt.” This last one was borrowed from the MotoGP website as an example of how to get your colon in a twist trying to get the pertinent information and proper nationalist spin in a single sentence. Raise your hand if you don’t know we’re discussing Cal Crutchlow.
  • Seeing Suzuki pilot Alex Rins sitting 7th at the end of day one, hot on Rossi’s tail, is not as surprising as seeing Franco Morbidelli on the Petronas Yamaha in 9th. And, for the second round in a row, teenager Fabio Quartararo put his own Petronas Yamaha in the top five on Friday. Things appear to be looking up for Morbidelli, who has paid his dues and appears ready for top-ten finishes. Suzuki rookie phenom Joan Mir had a bad morning and a better afternoon.

We’ll see what Saturday brings besides Marquez on the front row. It will then be up to the weather gods to determine the nature of Sunday’s confrontation. A flag-to-flag affair early in the season could easily scramble the standings for the first half of 2019. And perhaps I’m the only one thinking of Jorge Lorenzo, facing a wet race day on the belligerent Honda RC213V, envisioning himself flying over the windscreen, landing gently in a track-side pool of water, with three points to show for his 2019 campaign. This is a guy who wants a dry race.

MotoGP Rio Hondo Preview

March 24, 2019

© Bruce Allen

ACCUWEATHER UPDATE 3/28: CLEAR, HOT AND HUMID ALL THREE DAYS.

[TRACK RECORD IS FIVE YEARS OLD. JUST SAYIN’.]

It’s Marquez Time. Again. 

Having uncorked the 2019 season in fine fashion in Qatar, where money talks, MotoGP heads to exurban South America for the Motul Grand Prix of the Republic of Argentina. Based upon practice times, where he generally pulverizes everyone, Marc Marquez should be undefeated down south, heading into the sixth Argentine round of modern times. Would be, too, were it not for crashes in 2015 and 2017 and the stalling-at-the-start hilarity at last year’s clambake. Fans are anxious to see if 2019 is win or bin for #93. 

Recent History at Rio Hondo 

Year three in Argentina was 2016, the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.)  After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Two years ago, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament at the time, were set to square off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, seized the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer in 2017. A most impressive rookie debut for #21 on the Yamaha M1. Rossi and Honda’s Crutchlow shared the podium, perhaps the high-water mark of the season for the factory Yamaha team.

Last year’s epic race (in which Marquez, at the start, had his stalled bike pointed southeast while the rest of the grid, pointing in a more northwesterly direction, eagerly awaited the green flag) featured your boy Cal Crutchlow pimping his youngish French rival Johann Zarco for the win, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins on the Suzuki. The Ducati contingent suffered in the tropical heat, Dovizioso on the factory bike at the top of that particular heap in 6th. When last seen, icon Valentino Rossi was loitering in 18th place, 52 seconds out of the lead. There would be no bells ringing in Tavullia that evening. 

Stories from the Past Fortnight 

I’ve seen several articles critical of the crop of Moto2 grads this year, which is, of course, junk. Having expected Quartararo to be the slowest of the four, he was “unconsciously competent” in practice and qualified his Yamaha 5th. Bagnaia, one suspects, would have done very well on the Ducati at Losail had he not broken a (front) wing in the first turn of the race. Alien-apparent Joan Mir spurred his Suzuki as high as 4th before finishing 8th, joining teammate Alex Rins in the top ten. And Oliveira rode his unimpressive KTM RC-16 well enough to get a little public love from team owner Hervé Poncharal.

All this compares to the relative lack of excitement existent in the top ten over at Moto2. New Moto3 grad Jorge Martin, a very macho guy, just had surgery on his forearm, fortunately at a gap in the season. Fellow grad Marco Bezzecchi had a forgettable rookie debut as well. The holdovers, including Qatar winner Lorenzo “BadAss” Baldassari, don’t really scare you too much. Tom Luthi? Alex Marquez, who, after winning the Moto3 title in 2014 and was supposed to power through Moto2 years ago on his way to join his brother with Honda in the premier class? Dude cannot get out of his own way, and looks doomed, never able to earn a proper ride in MotoGP, never able to win a title even in Moto2. The perpetual Little Brother. Augusto Fernandez?  Luca Marini? Enea Bastianini? Xavi Vierge? Not yet anyway.

And please don’t ask me about Moto3 just yet. Still trying to get my bearings on this year’s collection of unpronouncables.

What kind of shape must Jorge Lorenzo be in to not actually notice he had a broken rib at Round One? He figures to be close to 100% until the next time he goes airborne on the twitchy, torque-y Honda rocket. I share most people’s sense that he will be fast at some point in the season, but his health, or lack thereof, may hinder his progress. Too much bouncing around on macadam.

The Appeal Continues

The kerfuffle about a swingarm winglet on the factory Ducati bikes in Qatar—a protest to Race Direction from the other manufacturers, minus Yamaha, which has its own problems. Race Direction, as usual, ruled in favor of the defendant, whereupon the plaintiffs appealed the ruling to some silly MotoCourt of Appeals somewhere, perhaps featuring a Spanish Judge Judy character. The “court” has had the “case” for two weeks. Really? The suspense is killing everyone. I will take the uninformed opinion that this is mostly sour grapes from the companies who failed to figure this thing out. Perhaps over-engineered, the Desmosedici has some clever folks working with aerodynamics and fiberglass. No doubt, regardless of whatever they ask Gigi to change for Argentina, Dovi and Petrux’ results from the desert will certainly stand.

UPDATE: DUCATI WINS THE CASE. HONDA, KTM, SUZUKI ALL IN A SNIT. FIBERGLASS DESIGNERS STOKED.

Vinales’ Stunning Revelation

A recent article entitled “Yamaha’s Vinales to try different riding styles in MotoGP races” begs the subhead: “Spaniard decides to go for wins rather than schvitzing about messing up his paint job.” Which, in turn, begs the lede, “If Vinales finds himself unwilling or unable to go fast in traffic, a subject in which his partner has endowed a chair at the University of Bologna, his career may have already peaked.” He clearly doesn’t have enough bike to run away from the field and stay on his preferred racing line all day. So it’s likely to be tough sledding for the Maverick until his masters give him a faster bike.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended forecast for Termas do Rio Hondo and environs calls for hot weather on Friday and Saturday, with slightly cooler temps on Sunday. Safe to say that a week out no one really knows for sure. (I will update this later in the week.) Prudence would suggest light clothing, umbrellas and sunscreen, as hot and humid is the norm, with those damnable “pop-up PM thundershowers” always a possibility.

As we have come to learn, the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis do not. Making predictions for Round Two is about as fruitful as making predictions for Round One. But I like the Hondas and Suzukis at this track at this time of year. I would expect Marquez, Crutchlow and one of the Suzuki kids, possibly the impertinent Mir, on the podium. We learn little about the true powers in MotoGP at Qatar and Rio Hondo, but the racing is sensational anyway.

I will update the weather during the week.

MotoGP Quick Takes

March 16, 2019

© Bruce Allen

The following is meant to fill the “dead air” resulting from MotoGP decisions which allow three weeks between races. These happen two or three times a year, proof positive that the teams and manufacturers have more clout than the poor schlubs in marketing who try to develop interest in the sport. Just as the season enjoys something of a “cymbal crash,” such as we experienced in Qatar, there’s this multi-week void of action, with little more than vids of the riders’ cats on minibikes…

Given the plethora of errors and omissions, for which I have insurance, in the Qatar race results article I am compelled to present a fast summary of what I have learned and/or now know as relates to the state of the sport. Let’s start with my boy Pecco Bagnaia, defending Moto2 champion on the Pramac Ducati GP18. He was my dark horse for a podium, but, as we’ve learned, got his right aero wing trashed, accidentally, by factory teammate Danilo Petrucci in the sauce at Turn 1 of Lap 1. By mid-race it was flapping like the baseball cards clothes-pinned to the front fork of your bicycle when you were a kid. I retain high hopes for young Bagnaia at the more Ducati-friendly tracks on the calendar.

Jorge Lorenzo, on the heels of a 13th place finish at Qatar, let it be known that he suffered a rib “fissure” on his welcome-to-Honda high-side on Saturday, and that he hopes to be fit in time for Argentina on March 29-31. We’ve watched the guy ride five days after having a titanium splint and half a dozen pins surgically inserted into his collarbone. A cracked rib would be unlikely to keep JLo out of the second round of the season if the race were tomorrow.

All four of the rookie graduates of Moto2 have reason to feel pretty good about themselves with the 2019 curtain raised. Bagnaia, with the Lorenzo-style of riding on the formidable Desmosedici, cutting his MotoGP teeth on the red machine, is going to be a force. Fabio Quartaro, the impudent French teenager, could have had himself a dreamy debut in the desert were it not for a silly, grade-school mistake at the start, stalling his bike. Dude lost 10 seconds starting from pit row, fought his way back and through the back markers, ultimately finishing 16th, just out of the points, 15 seconds behind Dovi. Herve Poncharal is all warm and fuzzy about Miguel Oliveira and his progress on the KTM R16. True or not, it’s good for Oliveira, who has a long row to hoe, to hear such things from the boss. And Joan Mir, wingman to Alex Rins on the factory Suzuki, looks eerily like the guy we watched dominate Moto3 in 2017. Despite having under-performed in Moto2, I’m just sayin’ that give that young man a year or two and a few more horses under him and he will be off to the races.

MotoE, the aspiring new class of electric racing bikes debuting their own championship this year, suffered an amazingly bad blow on March 14 at Jerez when a huge fire mostly obliterated everyone’s equipment, all of which having, apparently, been stored in one place. No mention of foul play. The season opener has been postponed and the schedule is being re-written as we speak. There must be an unbelievably furious process going on to get things replaced immediately if the season is to be saved. Somewhere, an insurance company executive is holding his head in his hands, face down on his desk. In Spain, a Dorna executive is hurling a string of profanity at his misfortune, an unfair blow to his corporate aspirations. Act of God or not, Year 1 of MotoE is going to be expensive.

Other than the complete domination of Kalex and Triumph in Moto2–closeout of the top ten–I don’t have that much to say about what’s going on over there. Way too early and I missed the race at Losail. Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi are the big deal graduates of Moto3 moving on up, but Martin just had surgery for arm pump (?) and Bezzecchi had something happen causing him to finish a minute and a half down and out of the points. Alex Marquez doesn’t scare anyone. Badass Baldassarri won Round One. Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Xavi Vierge should all be contenders. Tom Luthi, returning to the class after a miserable experience in MotoGP, finished second on the podium, having re-discovered his own personal level of competence. Good on Tom.

Nothing at all on Moto3 so far. I plan to watch all three races in Argentina and will hopefully hear some familiar names called during Moto3 which will hint at who’s fast and who’s not. Otherwise, please rest assured that I’m aware that Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo ride for the satellite Petronas Yamaha team, and that Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin ride for the satellite KTM team. How’s that for insight?

 

 

MotoGP Losail Results

March 10, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Punks Marquez in Repeat of 2018 Stunner 

In a virtual carbon copy of last year’s riveting Grand Prix of Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso, the second-best rider on the planet today, edged defending world champion Marc Marquez by .023 seconds to capture the win. Cal Crutchlow, the Black Knight of MotoGP, took the third step on the podium on a right ankle held together with bandaids and baling wire. Parity has arrived in MotoGP, with tonight’s race producing the 8th closest podium in history and the fastest Top 15 ever. 

Last year, Dovizioso’s winning margin was .027 seconds, suggesting Marquez, his surgically-repaired shoulder mostly healed, is making progress. Comparing this year’s top seven riders to last year, the only significant difference is Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Last year Rins, whose season started miserably despite my jocking him all over the place, crashed out mid-race. This year, he was in the mix the entire time, led the race for a couple of partial laps, and finished fourth, barely 14/100ths behind Crutchlow. He was followed by Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (who started 14th), Ducati factory rider Danilo Petrucci and polesitter Maverick Vinales who, with a full fuel tank and cold tires, rides like the second coming of James Ellison. Last year, behind Dovi and Marquez, it was Rossi, Crutchlow, Petrucci and Vinales. This, I suggest, is what they mean by “the usual suspects.”

Practice and Qualifying

The weirdest thing about the weekend—and a vivid reminder for us not to pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Persian Gulf—is that Rossi topped the timesheets in FP1 before going on a mini-vacation until the red lights went out. 17th in FP2. Fourth in FP3. 18th in FP4. Fourth again in Q1. 11th in the morning warm-up. He then went out and passed eight riders during the race, showing once again that he is the epitome of the Sunday rider, the Alan Iverson of MotoGP. “Practice? We don’ need no steenkin’ PRACTICE.” Vinales, to the contrary, was the bomb diggity in practice before going out and laying another egg for the first 16 laps or so. But 5th, 7th, 11th (Franco Morbidelli) and 20th (Hafizh Syahrin) suggests Yamaha has not answered many of the questions facing them at the end of last season.

Over in Hondaland, Marquez was fast all weekend but not laser rocket fast; Losail is still one of his least favorite tracks. New teammate Jorge Lorenzo experienced his first Honda high-side on Saturday morning, complaining afterwards that he hurt “everywhere.” He recovered enough to put in a credible performance in Q1, leading the way into Q2 until he folded the front with three minutes left in the session. During those last three minutes—the best racing of most weekends—he was forced to stand by and watch as the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and a rejuvenated Takaa Nakagami, rookie Pecco Bagnaia and old buddy Rossi slipped in front of him. Rossi, Lorenzo and Bagnaia ended up constituting possibly the strongest fifth row in MotoGP history.

Anyone interested in picking up an expansive array of French invective need only speak to Johann Zarco, who, regrettably, made the move from Yamaha to KTM last year. An indicator of the quality of that particular decision may be found in the fact that he started last year’s race from pole and this year from 18th place. Unlike last year, however, he managed to finish the race, earning one (1) championship point for his efforts. His preseason pronouncement that he expected to fight in the top five this season begs the question: “In Moto2 or Moto3?”  KTM’s MotoGP project is, to put it mildly, behind schedule. Ask any of their four riders, all of whom must be grinding their molars to dust trying to generate any results from the RC16.

Racing at its Finest

The Dorna PR machine is pumping out release after release these days claiming, without corroboration, that MotoGP is the best racing on the planet. And although I wouldn’t disagree, most of the other 8 billion inhabitants thereof might take issue with the assertion, having never seen a motorcycle race. Certainly, in the U.S. MotoGP ranks right up there with women’s curling and caber tossing. But for those of us who follow it, the sport appears never to have been better.

Much has been made during the offseason about Ducati’s mysterious “holeshot handle” which appeared below the dashboard on the GP19 and is alleged to minimize wheelies at the start. It appeared to work for Dovizioso, who led into Turn 1 from pole, but not for the other riders—Petrucci and Miller—whose starts were less than stellar. Jack Miller, who apparently longs for the bygone “Jackass” days, was experiencing some kind of difficulty early in the race, traced the problem to his seat cushion, and summarily removed it and dropped it into the middle of the mass of riders hot on his tail, somehow skirting disaster. The nicest term Steve Day could come up with to describe Miller’s faux pas was “random.” Jack may hear from Race Direction prior to the Argentina junket.

For the most part, Dovizioso led the entire race. There were a few moments here and there when Rins or Marquez would nose in front of him, only to get blasted by the wake of his Desmosedici when it hit the top of the main straight, morphed into an F-16 fighter jet at very low altitude, and re-took the lead into Turn 1, time and time again. Raw speed in MotoGP is like height in the NBA in that it is necessary but not sufficient. The speed of the Ducati in conjunction with the skill and experience of Andrea Dovizioso would likely dominate MotoGP were it not for the genius of Marc Marquez and his unruly Honda RC213V. The Honda is faster this year than last, and Marquez will, with two intact shoulders, be better than last year. If #93 suddenly washed his hands of MotoGP and took up fly fishing, Dovizioso could easily win a couple of titles. But there is little reason to expect either. 

Elsewhere on the Grid

French rookie Fabio Quartararo was the talk of the weekend. He put his Petronas SRT Yamaha surprisingly high on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, qualified for Q2, and started, or, rather, was scheduled to start the race, in the middle of the second row. The talk turned to sputtering gibberish when he stalled at the start of the warm-up lap, forcing him to start the race from pit lane on ice-cold tires. Having lost a full ten seconds as a result, he finished only 15-some seconds behind Dovizioso, a most impressive recovery. The top rookie of the day, however, was my boy Joan Mir on the #2 Suzuki who spent the day flirting with a podium before finally showing some respect and finishing 8th. Pecco Bagnaia, my dark horse earlier in the week, entered Turn 1 on Lap 13 at about a zillion miles an hour and rode almost through the gravel trap, needing a ticket to re-enter the fray. Alas, the race was a sellout, and his day ended early. (Prior to his going walky he was, sadly, not a podium threat.) Let me just say this out loud—the two Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are going to give second-tier riders some headaches this season. Mir, in fact, is probably the better of the two. Memo to Suzuki: GIVE THESE GUYS MORE HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR! They have mad skills.

No Tranching Allowed

We are not going to bother re-ranking the riders based upon Qatar. As we’ve seen in years past, it is a true outlier, and results here are not indicative of anything in other than broad strokes. Never fear, however—I’m already working on the post-Rio Hondo standings, he lied. Today, in my real life, was a perfect storm, leaving little time or mental energy for MotoGP. But March 31st will be different. Informative. Rib-tickling. Incisive. And on time.

 

 

MotoGP Losail Preview

March 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

It’s Marquez’ Title to Lose in 2019 

Welcome to MotoGP 2019, brought to you by Motorcycle.com and, well, me. I will be publishing everything I do here, and MO will, in turn, publish race results (only the results; no previews) on Sundays. My editor at MO worked hard to make this happen, and I’m happy to start my 11th season working for the friendly Canucks in Toronto and with the bozos in California.

MotoGP 2019 dawns on the heels of another Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda masterpiece last year. Despite extreme efforts from the likes of Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, the ageless Yamaha wonder Valentino Rossi, his teammate Maverick Vinales and Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins, Marquez sailed to his fifth premier class championship in six years, utterly dominant amongst the yachting class. He took the championship lead in Jerez and never looked back, winning nine times, on the podium for five others, going 14 for 18 with Silverstone rained out.

Although there have been a number of changes—riders leaving, moving up from Moto2, switching from, say, Ducati to Honda—there is no denying that Marquez will have to crash out of the championship, a rather unlikely outcome given the fact that he practices crashing and generally avoids the whole over-the-handlebars scene. His surgically-repaired shoulder should be close to 100% by the time the red lights go out in Qatar. His shoulder became such a mess last year that a congratulatory slap from Scott Redding at Motegi caused it to dislocate again. The thought that he was able to demolish the field in that condition makes the notion of his improving this year more palatable. Not. The bike is generally unchanged, unruly and good everywhere. Having Lorenzo in the garage will increase the testosterone quotient on both sides. One expects Lorenzo to start off as a top tenner and improve from there as the season progresses.

The times are a-changin’ at the factory Monster Yamaha garage, with the torch on its way to being passed from ageless wonder Valentino Rossi to the future of Yamaha racing, at least for now, Maverick Vinales. Both riders should make consistent appearances in the top six this season as the 2019 YZR-M1 appears improved over the 2018 version (currently being ridden well by Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team.) Rossi fans are outraged by the assertion that Rossi has lost a step when, in fact, he has remained somewhat static for the past five years, constrained over and over by a steadily improving Marquez, who will officially enter The Prime of his career this year and for the next four or five.

Great.

With Rossi still selling a lot of gear and Vinales poking around podia on a regular basis, the factory team must have as its goal for 2019 to show significant improvement over last year’s bike, which neither rider liked. It has gone from the best ride on the grid on Bridgestones to the third-best on Michelins. Neither rider is likely to win a title in 2019, but the show must go on. Data harvesting, y’know.

Recent History at Losail

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

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

The 2018 season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk in the Tech 3 garage. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian by hundredths. No TKO.

Returning to your Previously Scheduled Programming

The new satellite Petronas team features Franco Morbidelli, moving from a 2017 Honda to a 2019 Yamaha, and apparently thrilled by the difference. Rookie French teenage teammate, heartthrob Fabio Quartararo is riding, I believe, 2018 equipment, learning the premier class game on a less-valuable bike of which, it is expected, he will destroy a dozen or so as he makes his way up the learning curve at 200 mph. One of these guys will likely take over for Rossi on the factory team when he retires, possibly as early as the end of this year, no later than the end of next year. Makes for a no-shit intra-team rivalry for the year which, in turn, suggests they will consistently fight to be in the points, perhaps the top ten, over a long season, with the Frenchman recording his share of DNFs and the Italian prevailing, himself a VR46 Academy grad. Rossi, I believe, will need to finish the season in the top six in order to honor the second year of his contract. Anything less would, I sense, be unacceptable, clear evidence that the time to retire has arrived.

The factory Ducati team, whose title sponsor I can never remember other than it is weak—Minnie Willow?—has two strong Italian contenders on brand new Desmosedicis with high motivation and proven skills. Factory crew for Danilo Petrucci, which is a first. Andrea Dovizioso, who had his career year in 2017, should still win a few races, but his championship aspirations are largely past tense. Both are, however, amongst the favorites for the Forget Marquez and His 350 Points championship fight, featuring Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales and Suzuki’s Alex Rins.

The Pramac Ducati duo of Australian Jack Miller and rookie Italian VR46 rider Pecco Bagnaia will be wildcards at some venues especially, I suspect, at wet or flag-to-flag outings. Bagnaia is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo, cutting his teeth on the Ducati, while Miller will need a bunch of top ten finishes to stay #1 on the #2 team. The #3 team, Avintia UnReale, fronts a recovering Tito Rabat alongside journeyman Karel Abraham, with only Rabat expected to find himself in the top ten on occasion. Dovizioso should win the intra-manufacturer trophy, but little else. (This, by the way, is the team Suzuki should look to buy out and pave the way for their satellite team.)

Speaking of Suzuki, the Ecstar team performed well enough to lose its previous concessions, forced this year to wear their big boy pants and slug it out with everyone else, same playing field. No sweat. Alex Rins is an Alien in the making and rookie teammate Joan Mir likewise, although he is a year or two behind Rins. Both are flogging improving bikes, a handful of horsepower from being consistently on the podium on a bike cognizant of Rossi’s famous words, “The front tire’s job is to inform me. The rear tire’s job is to obey me.” Suzuki gets that, and I believe a number of riders would be interested in their #2 team.

KTM, Austria’s gift to motorcycle racing, isn’t happening. Just getting that out there. The apologists are in full rant, defending performance which has been, at best, disappointing over two full years. Which, with the addition of the Tech 3 satellite operation, raised expectations amongst the PR types if few others. The factory team of Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro are, I sense, being asked to make bricks without straw, and the satellite team of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, also on 2019 equipment, is suffering likewise. The factory is throwing massive resources into a segment of the market in which it makes very little, leading some to believe that executives may be starting to use the term “or else” in their fantasy conversations with corporate rivals.

As for the intrepid, ever-optimistic Aprilia congregation, whose riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are keeping a stiff upper lip, Iannone suffering with his third bike in four years, his once-bright career in visible decline. Ducati to Suzuki to Aprilia. I suspect Suzuki would take him back if they did produce a #2 team, as he improved late in his previous tenure and folks say they canned him too soon.

Finally, before I forget, here are the preseason tranche projections, published previously in a separate article and cut/pasted for internal consistency:

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco  Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

I don’t expect the final standings to look too much like this, as this is a moving target during the year owing to injuries, mostly. But, heading in, rather than being a complete jerk and allotting Marquez Tranche 1 by himself, I decided to be gracious and at least tip my hat to the other riders, as if this were going to be a real race season and no one knows who’s going to win.

Predicting the outcome of the first race of the season, under the lights in The Persian Gulf, sand and glare everywhere, a surreal shakedown cruise for everyone, is commonly referred to as “a fool’s errand.” This foolish errand boy will therefore throw out four names, three of which will, I suspect, end up on the podium (drum roll, please):  Marquez  Vinales  Petrucci  Bagnaia.

Whatever. Let the games begin. 2019 is upon us.

MotoGP 2019 Season Preview

February 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen    February 27

World-Class Battle for Second Place Awaits MotoGP 

MotoGP, the working name for grand prix international motorcycle racing, has evolved in a number of ways in the last decade. Of the Big Three manufacturers in 2009—Yamaha, Honda and Ducati, respectively—Honda has booted Yamaha from #1 all the way to #3, a whisker ahead of the prodigal factory Suzuki crib. Jorge Lorenzo has been passed around like a party girl in a mosh pit. KTM and Aprilia have joined the fray, mostly to no avail.  

marc_marquez_2013_zdj_3

Marquez ca. 2013

Marc-Marquez-MotoGP-2019-690x460

Marquez 2019

Marc Marquez has melded his body and his Honda RC213V into a single working unit with a state-of-the-art gyroscope and a clear understanding of the laws and limits of physics, all of which make him the strong favorite to win his sixth title in seven (!) years, domination of the premier class unseen since, well, ten years ago, when Valentino Rossi sat astride the motoracing world. And though the torch was passed in 2016, Rossi fans insist he has a chance to take his 10th world championship this year and retire on top.

Rossi, they’ll tell you, records aside, is as good as ever. The Yamaha, they’ll tell you, is greatly improved over last year. Young maverick Maverick Vinales is telling the engineers the same things that Rossi is telling them, they’ll tell you, a synergy developing between the GOAT and the Next Great Rider to Come Along at the Wrong Time and Never Win a Title, Vinales a candidate for what we shall henceforth call The Dani Pedrosa Award, which is not given every year. Y’see, by the time Vinales overtakes Marquez in, say, 2023 he himself will get consumed by the likes of Alex Rins or Joan Mir or Pecco Bagnaia. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow appear to be the next batters on deck for The Pedrosa Award.

The only way Marc Marquez does not win the MotoGP title this year, or any of the next five, will be a crash or crashes that cause him to break a limb or give him a concussion. He has tamed the quick but unruly RC213V with a combination of balance, reflexes, strength and cojones, each season a highlight reel of impossible saves that leave even him shaking his head. No other Honda rider gets as much out of his front tire. He enjoys stalking a Dovizioso or a Lorenzo, then hitting them with three laps left and later complimenting them from the center seat of the press conference riders table. The one reserved for the race winner.

New Repsol teammate Jorge Lorenzo, formerly employed by both Yamaha and Ducati, entering the season with a surgically-repaired wrist, has given us reason to believe he will get the hang of the point-and-shoot Honda by mid-season. With Marquez virtually guaranteed to accumulate well over 300 points and Lorenzo capable of 200 himself, it’s hard to imagine Honda not taking the team and constructor trophies in 2019. Crutchlow and Nakagami will do better than Morbidelli and Quartararo.

The LCR Honda team, with separate sponsors and liveries for the Brit and Japanese riders, appears to be one of changing fortunes. Crutchlow, after a brutal ankle injury last year at Phillip Island is finding his way back but is not 100% and may never be again. Meanwhile, Takaa Nakagami, on the same bike Marquez rode to the title last year, was first on the last day of 2018 testing at Jerez and has been a regular in the top ten in both tests this year, his star apparently, somehow, on the rise. Suitably great news in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Yamahas

The fortunes of Yamaha racing hit rock bottom in 2018 after having signed both Rossi and Vinales to new two-year contracts. An executive shuffle at HQ and feverish work on electronics and stuff has produced a 2019 iteration of the YZR-M1 that appears competitive, if not dominating. Certainly better than last year, which both Rossi and Vinales spent singing the blues about one thing or another, Vinales throwing a mid-season hissy that cost his crew chief his job and cemented his reputation as a prima donna.

Rossi, to little surprise, is not enjoying having become the de facto #2 rider on the Yamaha team. This team never made much effort to designate a #1 or a #2 when it was Rossi and Lorenzo. They appear to be downplaying any talk of Rossi having lost a step. Vinales is not claiming anything, mostly keeping his head down and riding fast. The Big Question entering 2020 is whether Rossi will choose to vacate the second year of his contract and move strictly to ownership in 2021, perhaps with the occasional wild card? Mugello would fit into that picture. SKY VR46 Racing could easily become a satellite Suzuki team in 2021, purchasing the Reale Avintia spots on the grid and bringing the VR46 circus to MotoGPtown.

Where was I? Right, so I expect Vinales to outpoint Rossi this year, probably finishing third and fifth, respectively. Over at the new Petronas SIC team, Franco Morbidelli and French teenager Fabio Quartararo are getting acquainted with their own M-1s, Morbidelli on 2019 equipment. Their prospects appear somewhat dim, given the newness of everything, but Quartararo turned in a very hot lap toward the end of the Qatar test. Very hot. Both riders figure to finish in the points each time out barring, you know, the usual hiccups, cartwheeling through the gravel at high speed, that sort of thing.

The Ducatis

The factory team, riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, will end the season with a rider in Tranche 2 and one in Tranche 3 presuming Marquez gets Tranche 1 all to himself again. Petrucci’s history is one of taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. He broke into MotoGP in 2010 on board an Ioda beater, which became an Ioda-Suter beater midseason and for 2013. Junk. I used to make fun of him plodding along when, as others more perceptive than I realized, he had some skills. He hit rock bottom in 2014 riding an Aprilia production bike for a ragged ART team and getting smoked on a regular basis. He kept with it.

He got a crack with Ducati riding used equipment in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when, in beating the hapless Scott Redding in an inter-team competition at Pramac, he earned a factory spec bike for 2018. He rode well enough to take over the #2 factory seat when Jorge Lorenzo defected to Honda. He did not ride well enough (8th each of the last two years) to keep his ride for more than the one-year contract he signed. Not with the likes of Bagnaia on the immediate horizon. I have both riders in Tranche 2 heading into 2019.

Ducati Team #3, the Reale Avintia team, features Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham, two journeymen riders, neither of whom figures to be overly competitive. As satellite riders for Ducati in the Dall’Igna era they, too, get better used equipment each year. Rabat, rebounding from a serious leg injury suffered last year, is loving his new ride, while Abraham, a rich kid and an attorney in real life, keeps showing up with a fistful of dad’s sponsorship money. He generally makes about two appearances a year in the top ten. I have Rabat at the top of Tranche 4 and Abraham in Tranche 5.

The Suzukis

Given there are only two riders, the summary of their team’s prospects for 2019 shall be brief and to the point. They have two exciting riders, veteran Alex Rins and young gun Joan Mir, fresh out of a single year in Moto2, in a hurry to get to the premier class. They have a rapidly improving bike whose prospects, ironically, may be hampered by their success a year ago which resulted in the loss of concessions.

Nonetheless, I have been jocking Rins for several years after reading some stuff about the racing rivalry between the Rins and Marquez families—Tito Rabat is in there somewhere, too—but the point is that Rins is good enough to threaten for a podium each time out. I have him finishing second for the year, for God’s sake. Mir will take some time to get acclimated to the big bike and will suffer on occasion in his quest for points. I have him in Tranche 4 this season and wouldn’t be surprised to see him in #3 by the end of the season. In a year or two they will both be Alien candidates.

The KTMs

Despite what you might read, there is little joy in Mudville, Austria these days. The proud KTM logo has, since 2017, sucked hard in the premier class, despite the investment of countless man-hours and millions of euros. Domination in the lower classes, at least on occasion, clearly does not translate automatically to the big bikes. Pol Espargaro, the veteran of a group which includes Johann Zarco on the factory team, with Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syzhrin wearing Tech 3 colors, was raving at Sepang about the increased power in this year’s bike as its riders finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd.

KTM proponents in the real world are as bad as Rossi fans. Plenty of coulda, woulda and shouldas. Huge expectations going forward due to this reason or that. The brand has invested big time in MotoGP with nothing, really, to show for it. A third-place podium, at Valencia last year, in two seasons? This year they signed Johann Zarco and promoted Oliveira from Moto2, adding the satellite team, staying with Syahrin for sponsorship reasons, mostly, although he used to be a force in the rain.

This brand’s results promise to be disappointing once again. They will end up with two riders in Tranche 4 and two in Tranche 5 and will be doing victory dances and sending out press releases. Meanwhile, their fans, like dedicated Marxists, await the withering away of The State and a return to the Natural Order of Things, in which KTM wins it all. In my opinion, they have a long wait on their hands.

The Aprilias

Alas, the lonely Aprilias, plucky veteran Aleix Espargaro and a maturing Andrea Iannone on board the most tenuous factory team bikes in the game. We have observed elsewhere that there are entire planets in far away galaxies whose inhabitants worship images of Aleix Espargaro on the podium wearing Aprilia colors. I’m aware of few people that don’t want to see Aleix, or even Iannone, on the podium at least once this season. Perhaps a flag-to-flag in Assen or something weird. It would be good for everyone.

Pre-Season Rider Tranches

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Vinales

Tranche 2:   Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat,                                          Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco

Tranche 4:   Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone

Tranche 5:   Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin

Let’s get this party started.

 

MotoGP: Projected 2019 Final Team Standings

February 13, 2019

© Bruce Allen

As with everything else this time of year, trying to keep a few balls in the air, we bring you one of these lame predictions, this one for the final steam standings in November. These predictions are SWAGS—sophisticated wild-ass guesses—and are clearly subject to debate. Too bad so few of you are reading this stuff anymore. Anyway, here we go.

Screenshot (191)

  1. Repsol Honda Team—Bet the house. Lock of the week. Marquez will almost certainly take the title, and Lorenzo could easily end up with 200 points himself. Lorenzo needs to avoid another series of injuries.
  2. Winning Minnow Factory Ducati Team—Dovizioso, at or near the top of his game, and a very hungry Danilo Petrucci will keep the team title close. It appears the latest iteration of Gigi’s handiwork is up to the task. If I could get some decent odds I’d take this bet, especially if Petrux gets the bit in his teeth, wins a race early, and decides he has a shot at Marquez, too.
  3. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP—The torch has been passed in the Yamaha factory garage, with Maverick Vinales the early favorite to take the intra-team title away from the GOAT. The bike does not appear to be sufficiently improved over last year’s vintage to make a title possible, but both riders are podium threats each time out.
  4. Team Suzuki Ecstar—a rapidly improving machine, one proven fast mover in Alex Rins, another on the way wearing #36, Joan Mir. This is a team that was crying to be slotted third, but I fear Mir may have a bit of a steep learning curve, having been riding 250cc bikes only two years ago. If Rins had six more horsepower under him he could give Marquez a go.
  5. Alma Pramac Racing—The volatile Jack Miller and New Kid in Town Pecco Bagnaia will qualify the hell out of their Desmos but will be too up and down to compete seriously. Each is podium worthy. Miller has something to prove on the 2019 bike. Bagnaia appears to be the second coming of JLorenzo. Bagnaia could be the #1 rider on this team by the end of the season.
  6. LCR Honda—Takaa Nakagami has shown some surprising signs of life at Jerez last fall and again at Sepang last week. One is convinced there has to be more to this guy than simply being a Countryman. He needs to be in the points pretty much every time out and appears able of doing so. Cal Crutchlow, alas, is taking over for Pedrosa as the Titanium Man, setting off airport security alarms all over the world. His ankle will never be right, he’s compensating like crazy around it, and is unlikely to improve upon a disappointing 2018.
  7. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing—Johann Zarco and Pol Espargaro versus the world. Espargaro was raving in print recently about the amazing boost in power the 2019 engine was putting out as he and the other three KTM bikes finished 17th, 18th, 19th and 23rd at Sepang. Who’s afraid of the big bad Austrian wolf?
  8. Petronas Yamaha SRT—Franco Morbidelli and teenager Fabio Quartararo will front for the new satellite Yamaha team. I assume Morbidelli gets a 2019 bike and the Frenchman a 2018. Everything is new for this team, and it will take awhile to gel and become a top satellite team. Points will be somewhat hard to come by this year. But better days ahead.
  9. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini—Fausto Gresini has managed to retain better riders, but the bike is not improving quickly. With Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso has two fast guys who often fail to finish races, for any of a dozen different reasons. As Gresini thanks God for a factory team, the results are going to continue to disappoint. So it goes in the lower tranches of MotoGP.
  10. Real Avintia Racing—Second-hand Ducatis in the hands of career underachiever Tito Rabat and career attorney/rich kid/rider Karel Abraham, who is pleasantly surprised whenever he finishes in the points. This is a team that needs to sell itself to Suzuki, hire some fast movers from Moto2 to ride for them, and close down the third wheel of the Ducati MotoGP program. No fun spinning wrenches on Sunday morning knowing, at the end of the day, the garage will be a smoking ruin.
  11. KTM Tech 3 Racing—Having tired of the relationship with Yamaha after a decade or so Herve Poncharal took his marbles to KTM, where he will be working with riders Miguel Oliveira, a rookie just called up from Moto2, and Malaysian Countryman Hafizh Syahrin, the luckiest of lucky riders. Oliveira has been riding for KTM for several years but is having a bit of trouble adjusting to the 1000cc bike. Syahrin, career-wise, has been okay in the rain and not so much in the dry, and is also having trouble transitioning from Yamaha M1 to the KTM. Long row to hoe on this team in 2019.

* * *

There you have it. We’ll hold onto the original for after the season is over and see who has the last laugh.

Sepang Day One–Season Over

February 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen     February 6, 2019

Capture

Alex Rins on Wednesday at Sepang. Photo courtesy of Crash.net

Today marked the first day of the first pre-season testing for the 2019 MotoGP championship battle. Table courtesy of Crash.net:

  1. Marc Marquez SPA Repsol Honda (RC213V) 1m 59.621s
  2. Alex Rins SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR) 1m 59.880s +0.259s
  3. Maverick Vinales SPA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 1m 59.937s +0.316s
  4. Tito Rabat SPA Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 1m 59.983s +0.362s
  5. Danilo Petrucci ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 2m 0.051s +0.430s
  6. Valentino Rossi ITA Monster Yamaha (YZR-M1) 2m 0.054s +0.433s
  7. Takaaki Nakagami JPN LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.158s +0.537s
  8. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosesdici) 2m 0.197s +0.576s
  9. Stefan Bradl GER Honda Test Rider (RC213V) 2m 0.214s +0.593s
  10. Pol Espargaro SPA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 0.313s +0.692s
  11. Jack Miller AUS Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici) 2m 0.383s +0.762s
  12. Franco Morbidelli ITA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1) 2m 0.460s +0.839s
  13. Aleix Espargaro SPA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 0.602s +0.981s
  14. Cal Crutchlow GBR LCR Honda (RC213V) 2m 0.681s +1.060s
  15. Francesco Bagnaia ITA Pramac Ducati (Desmosedici)* 2m 0.694s +1.073s
  16. Miguel Oliveira POR Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16)* 2m 0.902s +1.281s
  17. Yamaha Test Bike #1 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 0.965s +1.344s
  18. Fabio Quartararo FRA Petronas Yamaha SRT (YZR-M1)* 2m 0.985s +1.364s
  19. Mika Kallio FIN KTM Test Rider (RC16) 2m 1.054s +1.433s
  20. Johann Zarco FRA Red Bull KTM Factory (RC16) 2m 1.121s +1.500s
  21. Andrea Iannone ITA Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 2m 1.249s +1.628s
  22. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Suzuki Test Rider (GSX-RR) 2m 1.286s +1.665s
  23. Joan Mir SPA Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR)* 2m 1.432s +1.811s
  24. Karel Abraham CZE Reale Avintia (Desmosedici) 2m 1.627s +2.006s
  25. Yamaha Test Bike #2 N/A Yamaha Test Rider (YZR-M1) 2m 1.736s +2.115s
  26. Hafizh Syahrin MAL Red Bull KTM Tech3 (RC16) 2m 1.853s +2.232s

Coverage of Wednesday’s session included a piece on Marquez and his rehabilitation from left shoulder surgery, which has gone as expected. He winces a lot. I suspect he would claim that the shoulder is at 80%. Since the last outing in Jerez, the only time he had been on a bike was a 100cc mini on a dirt track for a couple of laps. In full leathers. Wednesday, in the interminable Malaysian heat, for the first time since Jerez, Marquez stepped onto the 2019 RC213V.

Wait. This guy has won the last three premier class titles and five of the last six. His shoulder was so loose last year that Scott Redding popped it out accidentally while congratulating him for the win at Motegi. So Marquez had the surgery and should be close to 100% by the time the lights go out at Losail.

Great.

The second aspect of Wednesday, somewhat disturbing, was that Marquez set the fastest time of the day, a day without teammate Jorge Lorenzo, nursing a wrist. And then sat out and watched his chasers spend an hour not beating his time. Now, there are some of you who will holler that the first day of the first practice session of the season in early February is a little early to be handing the November title to someone.

Go ahead and holler. All I’m willing to give is that we haven’t seen Lorenzo on the Honda. Even so, the odds are remote that JLo could challenge for the title in his first year on the bike. He could be a contender during the second half of the season, but MM is likely to make hash of him until then.

The Battle For Second–Wednesday’s Top Ten

Hmmm. Alex Rins on the Suzuki. Nosing out Vinales and the (new and improved Yamaha M1, most likely at the cost of at least one man’s career in Japan. The surprising presence of Tito Rabat on a newer Ducati in fourth threw something of a damper on the validity of the whole thing, as Rabat is still mending from last year. A constant underachiever in MotoGP, one should not forget that he was a baller in Moto2 and training buddy with the Marquez brothers. It is possible, I suppose, that Rabat could be a top ten rider this season, but not top five. Yeah, right, I know, it’s early.

Petrucci (factory Ducati), Rossi (factory Yamaha) and that pesky Nakagami (LCR Honda) who somehow won the last practice session last year occupied fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Petrux, one hopes, has adapted to the new bike, and makes the most of his one year contract. Rossi, for whatever reason, is still interested but it, IMO, a top five rider at this point in his career. We’ve been through this now for a few years.

Dovizioso (factory Ducati), Bradl (Honda test rider) and Pol Espargaro (factoryt KTM) completed the top ten. Espargaro the only salve on the ongoing wound that is KTM racing, who riders other than Pol occupied spots #16, 19, 20 and 26 on the time sheets on day one. Again, you KTM folks please spare me the agony of listening to the “just you wait” diatribe so early in the year. Please save it for year’s end, when perhaps Zarco makes it into the top ten. Sorry. Does not appear to be happening in 2019.

Suzuki rookie Joan Mir ended day one, his cherry intact, in 23rd place, shaken, not stirred. I took a stand last year with Rins and Suzuki and was rewarded handsomely. I will take the same stand with Mir, although I am happy to spot him the 2019 season to figure out the bike and the lay of the land, Was it ever more obvious that Suzuki needs a second team in order to run with the big dogs? Sure, Sylvain Guintoli (22nd) is a great guy and all. Suzuki needs a sponsored B team. Shouldn’t be all that hard, if one ignores the global financial shock waves emanating from Brexit in advance of what appears to be some kind of ad hoc “no deal” exit from the EU in late March. By then, MotoGP will have started up and most of us will ignore the rest of the world and stay focused on what matters. Suzuki can make a powerful argument for corporate team sponsors. They are an ascendant organization. As opposed to, say, Great Britain.

About this Column

I have not heard anything concerning 2019 from my friends at Motorcycle.com. Spent the winter not thinking about MotoGP and wondering if I really wanted to do this on my own. I had already purchased the 2019 video feed in November.

So I don’t know. Some weeks things may get a little sparse around here. I would love to resume my spot as the most engaging writer at Motorcycle.com, but the ball is in their court. I await their call.

In the meanwhile, let’s keep an eye on Sepang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s What We Learned at Jerez MotoGP Test

December 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (353)

  1. Taka Nakagami finished at the top of the sheet on day two, proving there was a range of objectives riders brought with them to Jerez. Let’s not hyperventilate, pretending that Taka, riding Crutchlow’s bike from last year, is the fastest guy out there.
  2. Marc Marquez is as cool as a cucumber. Everything is chill on the #93 side of the Repsol Honda garage.
  3. Maverick Vinales is now top dog at Movistar Yamaha and they’re building the bike for him. Time for the wall.
  4. Jorge Lorenzo put his shiny new Repsol Honda up into P4 on day two, showing remarkable progress both in his adaptation to the Honda and the recovery of his wrist. 2019 could feature a number of double-Honda podiums. This one may work out for old Jorge.
  5. Danilo Petrucci knows this is his chance. A one year contract, 28 years old, needs to lose more weight, but he has a chance to flirt with Tranche 1. He appears to be the next Andrea Dovizioso.
  6. Franco Morbidelli is looking solid on the Petronas Yamaha. I see him battling Pecco Bagnaia for a good part of next season. Both fast movers, both accustomed to success, both on credible machines.
  7. Jack Miller, now the lead dog on the Pramac Ducati team with Bagnaia, needs to spend more time with the rubber down and the paint up. His inability to finish races is hard on him and his team. We get it that he’s fearless, but he needs to be a little smarter.
  8. Andrea Dovizioso will again chase Marquez all year long, collect a couple of wins and some podiums, perhaps a pole or two. Maid of Honor and head bridesmaid in 2019.
  9. Pecco Bagnaia on the #2 Pramac Ducati should figure in the Rookie of the Year competition along with Joan Mir. The second coming of Jorge Lorenzo will put it on rails now and again.
  10. Alex Rins is my guess to be the fifth Alien, along with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales and Lorenzo. I Screenshot (333)will stick my neck out again and predict a potential P3 for Rins in 2019 on an improved GSX-RR.
  11. Valentino Rossi seems to be getting sick of the whole thing. 2019 is likely to be his last year. He doesn’t have the input he is used to having, the 2019 bike doesn’t work for him, and it’s looking like a long two years. In all likelihood he won his last race at Assen in 2017.
  12. Fabio Quartararo, the 19 year old French wonder, needs a year or two to get himself settled in at 1000cc. He appears to be a baller-in-waiting at the Petronas Yamaha team, upon which will be lavished plenty of corporate largesse. Lots of people seem to want him to succeed.
  13. Tito Rabat will return for Reale Avintia Ducati. Not sure why, other than the money and the women and the free medical care.
  14. Joan Mir, who dominated Moto3 in 2017, has arrived at Suzuki after the obligatory year in Moto2 with much fanfare, giving the Ecstar team a potentially powerful one-two punch in the rider department. Let’s just go ahead and say that Mir will be an Alien in short order. 2021, 2022…
  15. Pol Espargaro, the fastest of the KTM contingent, winner thereby of the Taller Than Mickey Rooney Award. KTM looking weak, top to bottom. There’s grumbling in the cheap seats.
  16. Karel Abraham, #2 on the Reale Avintia Ducati team, races bikes to enhance his law practice, his sex life, and his standing with dad. Finishing, for Karel, is not that different from finishing in the points.
  17. Andrea Iannone, consigned for sins committed early in his tenure with Suzuki to #2 rider on the struggling Aprilia team. Underfunded, underpowered, the effort promises to be one of consistent frustration again in 2019. Iannone will DNF pretty often in the first half of the season, asking more from the bike than it has to give. For Suzuki, Mir is the right choice.
  18. Johann Zarco appears doomed to a Tranche 3 or 4 season onboard the KTM. Openly disappointed, he appears to be suffering buyer’s remorse over having spurned the satellite Yamaha team. Bummer.
  19. Aleix Espargaro, the #1 rider on the factory Aprilia team, a position with a world of prestige and little else. Aleix appears doomed again to spending another year with no podium result. Aprilia’s MotoGP program may not be sustainable if there is a worldwide recession, which would be a bummer for Aleix, Iannone, Brad Smith and MotoGP in general.
  20. Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira–teammates on the Tech 3 KTM team will be fighting one another most of the season–everyone else will be in front of them.

Cal Crutchlow missed both the Valencia and Jerez tests as MotoGP folds up its tents on 2018. He appears to be a top five or six guy in 2019. Overall, the four new guys from Moto2–Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo–have way more talent than the four–Bautista, Redding, Smith and Luthi–that left. They are younger, faster and well-financed. The championship will be closer in 2019 than 2018–other than Marquez running away with the title–and closer yet in 2020, the second year of most of the contracts. By 2021 some of these guys will be on Marquez’ rear tire on a regular basis, at which point we could have us a horse race again, as in 2013 and 2015. Life goes on in The Marquez Era.

Ciao for now.

 

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 18, 2018

© Bruce Allen.      Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Feel-Good Conclusion to Season of Changes 

With the championship already decided, what was there left for fans to root for in the MotoGP finale at Valencia? How about Pol Espargaro earning his first ever premier class podium? How about him doing it on a KTM machine, giving the Austrian factory their first MotoGP podium as well? How about Alex Rins giving Suzuki four podia in a row for the first time since 1994 and establishing his dominance over your boy Johann Zarco? 

Practice and Qualifying 

Three wet practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning found an interesting group headed directly into Q2. A few names you’re used to seeing—Marquez, Dovi, Alex Rins. And a few you rarely see—Danilo Petrucci, big man on campus, heading the list, Dani Pedrosa, in his Swan Song, and the Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, together again, still shoving their respective stones up the mountain. Vinales and Rossi were nowhere to be seen in the spray, and the Q1 field was mostly full of guys with no reason to ride hard today. Bautista. Lorenzo. Bradley Smith. Scott Redding.

As if it needed to be less important, qualifying took place on an almost dry track. Andrea Iannone and Vinales led the Q1 lot, leaving Jorge Lorenzo (13th) and former world champion Valentino Rossi (16th) pondering cosmic questions. Marquez went down at the infamous Turn 4 on his first flying lap and re-injured his left shoulder. He was wheeled into the medical center, his left shoulder assembly unbolted, a new, pre-homologated shoulder module ratcheted on, whence he saddled up again and went back out with six minutes left. He could do no better than the middle of the second row. LOL. He has also used up his allotment of replacement joints for 2018. The front row of Vinales, Rins and Dovizioso looked strong, although I’m never fully convinced about The Maverick. 

The Three Races

Screenshot (355)Screenshot (358)

History was made today in the Moto3 race. If you would like to find out how, without any nasty spoilers, check the in-depth coverage of the race tomorrow at MotoGPforDummies.com.

Screenshot (354)

Early drama in Moto2

Today’s Moto2 tilt, the last of the 600cc Honda era, featured a multi-rider crash on the first lap that removed several notables from the festivities. The herd having been thinned, the field was cleared for the eventual winner, making the season’s final standings appear closer than they actually were. If you would like to find out more, check the in-depth coverage of the race Tuesday at MotoGPforDummies.com.

The first MotoGP race of the day was red-flagged after 13 laps when the rain, which had been annoying all day, went all Bubba Gump mid-race, forcing a re-start featuring 16 riders and 14 laps. By that time, both Espargaros, Jack Miller, Michele Pirro, Danilo Petrucci, Tom Luthi and Marquez were already down; Pol and Pirro were allowed to re-enter the race and started the second go.

Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins and Valentino Rossi quickly re-established a lead group after Maverick Vinales, who had been solid in the first race, crashed on the opening lap, with Rossi going through on Rins on Lap 7 and setting his sights on Dovi. The magic of a decade ago once again failed to materialize for The Doctor as he crashed off the podium for the second round in a row. At that point, it was clear sailing for Dovizioso, Rins found himself on the second step, and Pol Espargaro, coming unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and probably not the last, time, in KTM colors.

Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray afternoon postscript. If you like watching high-side crashes, be sure to catch the replay at MotoGP.com later in the week. A dreadful conclusion to a dreadful season for Team Yamaha, as Repsol Honda clinched the triple crown—rider champion, team  champion and constructor champion. After the race, Lin Jarvis looked nauseous. 

Screenshot (362)

Another satisfying win for Andrea Dovizioso.

As for the reference to change, today’s race found riders named Rins, Espargaro, Nakagami and Syahrin in the top ten, and riders named Lorenzo, Rossi, Bautista and Petrucci on the outside looking in. We eagerly anticipate the arrival of Mssrs. Bagnaia, Oliveira, Mir and Quartararo from Moto2. We said goodbye to Dani Pedrosa after a distinguished career, ignoring for now the whole ship pilot’s license fraud tempest and the tax stuff. And we wish the best to the other riders leaving the premier class after today, including Alvaro Bautista, Scott Redding, Jodi Torres, Bradley Smith and Tom Luthi. 

In Retrospect

Our friend Old MOron, in a letter to my advice column that I wrote for him, inquired as to my opinion regarding a key point in the season, perhaps The Turning Point of 2018. In my humble opinion, the turning point of the season occurred between May 6th and May 20th. Heading to Jerez, Dovizioso led Marquez by a single point, with both Vinales and Crutchlow right there with them. Leaving Le Mans, Marquez led Vinales 95 to 59, with Zarco at 58 and Rossi at 56. The big crash at Jerez, which violently removed Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Pedrosa from the proceedings, was the key crash in a season full of them. Dovizioso’s second consecutive out in France sealed things for him; 2018 wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2017. Someone else would have to beat Marquez this season, and that someone turned out to be no one.

Marquez was in front of the maelstrom in Spain and went on to win the race. He won again at Le Mans; 50 points in two rounds. Meanwhile, the people who would be trailing him after Round 5 scored as follows:

_________________Before Jerez           After Le Mans

Vinales         18                3rd                         2nd

Zarco           20                5th                         3rd

Rossi            27                7th                         4th

Petrucci        33                10th                        5th

Miller            23                8th                         6th

Crutchlow       8               4th                         8th

Dovizioso       0               1st                          9th

Up until Jerez, one might have argued that any of four or five riders had a legitimate shot at the title. My prediction that Marquez would accrue fewer than 298 points looked like a brick. Overlooked in all of this was his mental Mardi Gras in Argentina which resulted in a bizarre out-of-the-points finish, a performance unlikely to be repeated in this life cycle, at a race he could have easily won. Had he done so—he dominated practice—he would have accumulated 346 points and completed one of the highest scoring seasons in MotoGP history, winning the title by a margin of 102 points over Dovizioso.

The stalling of Marquez’ bike at Rio Hondo, perhaps, saved 2018 from being, from a competitive standpoint, one of the worst seasons in recent memory. Pity. Pity for guys like Dani Pedrosa and Alvaro Bautista. Pity for the fans in Valencia, who ended up with a kind of JV game. Plus, in a final slap in the face to the author, no new track record was recorded here this weekend, putting us 8 for 14 for the year. Further analysis will be available on the blog. 

Marc Marquez: New Kid in Town

This year’s inspirational text, intended to evoke the arc of modern MotoGP fan history, is borrowed from the Eagles’ song “New Kid in Town.” These days, that kid is Marc Marquez. Marquez this, Marquez that. There have been Lorenzo and Stoner and Rossi and Hailwood and Rainey and Roberts and Lawson, on down the line. Each had his reign. Each was considered the eighth wonder of the world in his day. And each will fade, or has already faded, inexorably into memory, some more vivid than others; the changing colors and numbers in the sea of pennants at races over the years attest to this.

Back in 2011, I wanted to post these words in a salute to the late Marco Simoncelli, as an editorial on the fragile nature of life and fame. It got red-penciled.

The rider who can regularly beat Marc Marquez isn’t in MotoGP yet. But he’s coming. And when he arrives, these words will be running through my head.

“There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.
People you meet, they all seem to know you.
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new.
Johnny come lately, the new kid in town.
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down…

There’s talk on the street; it’s there to remind you
that it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you.
They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.
Where you been lately? There’s a new kid in town.
Everybody loves him, don’t they?…”

If you’d like, you can listen to the entire song here. Crank it up and sing along, if that’s how you roll.

Thanks to all of you gearheads and grandpas who make it a point to read this stuff during the season. I look forward to your comments every time out. I hope to be covering MotoGP for Motorcycle.com next year. But if, as Huey Lewis used to sing, “this is it,” after ten years, I will miss the pageviews but will continue to flog away at what has become my favorite sport at the MotoGPforDummies.com blog until it becomes work or I keel over.