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MotoGP 2020 Aragon II Results

October 25, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Franco rules Aragon; communists alarmed

No, not that Franco! Franco Morbidelli, the Italian motorcycle racer, who won today’s MotoGP race in Aragon in front of two Spanish riders on Suzuki machines, Alex Rins and Joan Mir. The title chase in MotoGP, usually over by this time of year, features a legit Top Four—two Suzukis, two Yamahas—separated by a mere 25 points with three rounds left. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP are all competitive heading into November. What was once just a weird year has become fascinating.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

FP1 and FP2 were generally about the Hondas, with three delegates in the top 6, led by Takaa Nakagami, my emotional favorite to become winner #9 in 11 rounds. Cal Crutchlow and his deposer Alex Marquez were quick. Vinales and Quartararo were fast for Yamaha, as expected. The surprise rider of the day was Tech 3 rookie Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona, who joined defector Pol Espargaro in the top 10. Pol’s older brother was in there, too, on the Aprilia; he finished in P7 here last year. There was no joy at Ducati Corse on Friday as all six Ducs were back markers. Different strokes for different folks—no denying the affinity of certain manufacturers for certain tracks. The Ducs and KTMs aren’t big fans of the Motorland.

  1. T Nakagami            Honda
  2. M Vinales               Yamaha
  3. C Crutchlow           Honda
  4. F. Quartararo         Yamaha
  5. J Mir                      Suzuki
  6. A Marquez              Honda
  7. A Rins                    Suzuki
  8. I Lecuona               KTM
  9. A Espargaro           Aprilia
  10. P Espargaro            KTM

Saturday

FP3, the Great Divide between coasting into Q2 and fighting for one’s life in Q1, featured few changes. Miguel Oliveira showed up, and Franco Morbidelli came up with the One Fast Lap he needed. The Espargaro brothers got bumped back into Q1. Joan Mir held on to P10 by the skin of his teeth, Jack Miller and Aleix breathing down his neck. Nakagami laid down a vapor trail early in the session, then sat around his garage waiting for someone, anyone, to beat it. Morbidelli found his acorn after the flag. It’s somewhat of a jolt to see the Hondas, with their top rider on the sidelines, making things look so easy.

HRC announced that Nakagami and Alex will be on full factory equipment starting next year, and Takaa signed a nice new contract, his near future assured. If he were 22 instead of 28 I’d stick a ‘prospective Alien’ label on him. But he could win a few races in the next several years as Honda seems to have upped its game of late. This, of course, puts more pressure on Pol Espargaro to impose his will on the RC213V next year. Career-wise, Espargaro must now keep track of both Nakagami and Marquez in his rear-view mirror.

Pol Espargaro and latecomer Johann Zarco graduated from Q1, with the Frenchman jumping up into P2 well after the flag. There ensued plenty of action in Q2, as the front row was a fluid thing until the bitter end. Takaa Nakagami eventually flogged his 2019 Honda to his first premier class pole, getting the better of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Rins for a unique front row; for Rins, it was only his third front row start in MotoGP ever. (!) The remainder of the first four rows, then, included:

         4 M Vinales

        5  J Zarco

         6 F Quartararo

        7  P Espargaro

          8 C Crutchlow

         9 I Lecuona

          10 M Oliveira

          11 A Marquez

          12 J Mir (yes, the series leader would start from the back of Row 4. Tsk tsk.)

MotoGP Race

It’s a safe bet that Alberto Puig, the Svengali of Honda Racing, entertained visions of having two of his pilots on the podium on Sunday afternoon. LCR pilot Nakagami had been on a tear all weekend, including the morning warm-up, was starting on pole and, according to the announcers, was the bookies’ favorite to win today, becoming the ninth different winner this year, and tying 2012 for the most winners. Rookie Alex Marquez, the younger brother of you-know-who, was coming off his first two career podiums and doing well in practice.

Puig’s fantasy came to an end 20 seconds into the race, when Nakagami, in his excitement at having taken the hole shot, forgot his cold tires weren’t going to hold his speed in Turn 4 and low-sided out of the race, continuing the futility of Japanese riders who haven’t won a premier class race since 2004. But Marquez, the only rider on the grid having chosen a hard front, was one his way up the chart from his P10 start, looking quick, taking advantage of an earlier mishap involving Brad Binder and Jack Miller. On Lap 6 he went through on Vinales into P5. A few laps later he took out the plucky Johann Zarco. By Lap 12, he was running fourth behind the unflappable Franco Morbidelli and the Suzuki tandem of Alex Rins, last week’s winner, and Joan Mir, the series leader.

The air came out of the remaining Honda balloon at Turn 2 of Lap 14, when he skidded out of the race, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t, in fact, his brother Marc. Until today, Nakagami and Marquez had been the only riders on the grid to have finished every race, with the Japanese rider having been in the points every time. Today, the law of averages caught up with both, and most people were disappointed, more, perhaps, by Takaa, less, because of the family name, by Marquez.

Once Alex went walky, the race became a procession. The Ducati contingent, aside from Zarco, suffered again. Andrea Dovizioso, standing fifth in the championship, has no business in the title conversation, finishing in P13, sitting fifth for the year, and heading for two races at Valencia, another track where the Ducatis suck. Aleix Espargaro endured another rather predictable Aprilia mechanical on Lap 20, removing him from P9 at the time. KTM’s Miguel Oliveira and Zarco had a bit of a joust over the last few laps, with Zarco pimping the Portuguese rider at the flag. Almost overlooked, by me, was Pol Espargaro, who flogged his own KTM to a quiet P4 finish, missing out, by a mile, on his fourth podium of the year.

The late-season fade being experienced by Yamaha pilots Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, at least at Aragon, deserves mention. Vinales has now failed to podium in eight of his last nine outings. Quartararo has amassed 15 points in the last three rounds and lost more ground again today, trailing the ascendent Joan Mir and his Suzuki by 14 points. He led the Spanish rider by eight after Catalunya. Mir, on the other hand, has podiumed the last three times out, and is a threat to become the first rider in any class to win a title without having won a race since 1999 in the 125cc class. A really good MotoGP writer would go look up the name. Here, if you feel a need to know, you can look it up!

And so, with three rounds remaining, the top four premier class riders are separated by 25 points. Quartararo, sitting on his M-1 in P2, should enjoy Valencia, but his star has been waning of late. Mir, leading, and Rins in P3, on their quick and nimble GSX-RR machines, figure to be muy confident heading into the next two rounds. And Morbidelli now sits in P4 after residing in P11 as recently as Red Bull II. It appears, for the not-so-young Italian, that Jupiter may have finally aligned with Mars.

Errata

I will post Moto2 and Moto3 stuff on, say, Tuesday. I watched the races—Moto3 was its usual chaotic self, while Moto2 offered the rare parade that put Sam Lowes, of all people, in the lead for the year. Reluctant as I am to give many props to Sam, who for years has struck me as all hat and no cattle, I credit the inestimable Estrella Galicia team for making him a success this year. Those guys produce winners, even out of re-treads like Sam. I think it unlikely that Lowes will get another shot in MotoGP even if he titles in Moto2. Or perhaps he’s just vastly improved and I will have to eat these words.

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Typical scene from Moto3–20 bike lead group.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

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MotoGP Team Goings-On

October 20, 2020

© Bruce Allen

motogp-logo

2021 won’t look like 2020

MotoGP is, finally, becoming a team sport. One of the unwritten rules of grand prix motorcycle racing has always been First: Beat Your Teammate. Then think about where you might end up in the race. These are hyper-competitive world-class athletes—most of them—and they, um, respond to challenges like this. We hear so much talk about “team orders,” but rarely, if ever, see them issued. It got so bad at the factory Yamaha team with Lorenzo and Rossi that they had to build a wall down the center of the garage each round to keep the teams and riders from throwing down on each other.

In 2020, The Year of Weirdness, problems and issues seem more team-centric. With six manufacturers, we see multiple instances of, say, one of the satellite teams having a better go of it, most weeks, than the factory group of the same brand. The Repsol Honda team has different concerns than the LCR team. Ducati’s lead satellite team tends to outshine the factory pair. Some of this is reflected in the fact that we’ve had eight winners in ten races this season; in Marquez’s absence, the love is getting spread around. Take a fast look:

Yamaha—Their two best riders are on satellite bikes. That will be addressed, in part, next season as Dr. Rossi and Fabulous Fabio trade seats. Morbidelli’s star is rising, while Vinales’ is waning, owing to his demonstrated inability to get to the front at the start of races except when he’s on pole. Rear grip is a common issue among all four bikes, but Fabulous generally handles it better than the rest. There are engine limit issues with Vinales, too; I suspect he’s signed his last contract with Yamaha. Too many fast young riders who would sell their mothers to the Taliban for a chance to wear factory Yamaha colors, rear grip issues or no. Yamaha generally fixes stuff like this. And Rossi is gone after next season. Someone is going to catch a fine ride; for a number of riders, despite the fact that they’ll probably be losing to Marquez, they will be auditioning for the upcoming seat on the Petronas team beginning in 2022.

Honda—Their primary issue, that being the absence of the incandescent Marc Marquez with a broken arm, looks as though it may be addressed starting in Valencia. Even with little brother Alex breaking through in the wet at Le Mans and again in the dry at Aragon I, the RC213V is too hard for mere mortals to ride. Now that they’ve found all that horsepower they need to get the bike rideable again. Too bad they sent Dani Pedrosa packing; he could have helped, as he is doing a great job with KTM. Their rider situation is resolved beginning in 2021, presuming Marquez returns to his previous form and Pol Espargaro has time to learn how to wrestle the beast. With Alex Marquez and Takaa Nakagami repping for the satellite LCR team, they can turn their attention to smoothing out the power delivery of the RC.

Ducati—Their rider issues are sorted other than announcing the #2 seat on the Avintia team next year, with Tito Rabat having apparently seen the writing on the wall and allegedly asking out. Since Enea Bastianini has already announced his promotion from Moto2 to MotoGP next season with Ducati, this would not be big news. Bagnaia and Miller on the factory bikes, Zarco and Jorge Martin on the Pramacs, Bastianini and perhaps Luca Marini on the Avintias. What would stop Rossi from buying the Avintia team from Esponsorama or whomever in 2021, with his boys already under contract, and then working the Yamaha and Suzuki suits, the result being a SKY VR46 Racing team in MotoGP with two academy grads in the saddles in 2022? And not on year-old Ducati equipment.

The 2020 bike seems to have taken a step backward this year. I’m sure Gigi Dall’Igna is on it and will have another competitive Desmo on the grid again next year.

KTM—Having made great strides this year, they have assembled a high-quality group of riders for 2021 on a bike that is fast but still a little hard to turn. The company is sinking big dollars into the MotoGP project and will likely fix the agility issues, not like Suzuki has, but well enough to compete with everyone but Marquez going forward. With Oliveira and Binder on the A team and Lecuona and Petrucci on the B squad they should be in podium fights on a regular basis and on the top step at Red Bull Ring pretty much every year.

Suzuki—The boys from Hamamatsu have witnessed a changing of the guard this year as Alex Rins has gone from #1 to #2 in favor of NKIT Joan Mir, who sits second in the championship chase this season, his sophomore year in MotoGP.

Rins still has moments of greatness, but will probably end up chasing championships on a different bike. Mir appears here to stay and may be capable of challenging Marquez on a regular basis next year. Interesting that the under-powered Suzuki has some of its best outings on the fast, sweeping circuits in Brno and Austria. In order to generate more data and so make improvements to the bike more quickly, Suzuki will probably have to scare up a #2 team. Plenty of guys who would enjoy the ride.

Aprilia—As if things weren’t bad enough, the FIM and powers that be are still arguing about Andrea Iannone, whether he should be handed an 18-month suspension for alleged doping. What gets me is that the process itself is going to take 18 months, after which they pretty much have to acquit him or convict him and let him go with time served. It would also be a bit of a cluster to take 18 months to find him not guilty. In any case, I suspect he is probably gone, to be replaced by either Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso, a massive step down for either rider. Riding for a factory team, even the worst one on the grid, is apparently better than any satellite team option. Reminds me of what some guys I’ve known say about receiving oral sex—the worst they ever had was great.

Thanks for the kind applause. I’m here all week. Please try the veal.

MotoGP 2020 Aragon I Results

October 18, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (134)

Rins, Suzuki capture solid win; madness continues

Let’s just say this about the 2020 MotoGP season. Sensational Suzuki sophomore Joan Mir leads the championship chase with four rounds left. Yet Joan Mir has not won a race of any kind since 2017. There. 

Mir crushed Moto3 in 2017, winning 10 races, including Sepang late in the year, his last win, like, ever. He got promoted to Moto2 in 2018 and finished the year in P6, earning a sudden promotion to MotoGP. His rookie year in the premier class, he completed 14 out of 19 races and finished in P12. This year, other than two DNFs, one of which wasn’t his fault, he has finished no lower than P5, with podiums in his last three outings. I would be remiss if I failed to mention his similarity to Nicky Hayden in 2006, winning the MotoGP championship while recording only two (2) wins. In a year featuring eight winners in the first ten races, it is entirely possible for a Joan Mir to take the title without standing on the top step a single time. I’m sure he would take the trophy; not so sure he would want to live with the record.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday 

Missed watching FP1 and 2 but got the gist. The big news, of course, was that Rossi contracted the ‘Rona and would miss the race and probably Aragon II. We presume that a man at his youngish age and in his physical condition will come through it unscathed, and wish him a speedy and thorough recovery. Otherwise, on the cold dusty plain of Spain it was all Yamahas all the time. The three remaining riders for Big Blue locked out the top three spots, a barometer of things to come, but not a thermometer. Same thing occurred in FP2—rare that you get two top-three lockouts in one day from the same brand. The erratic Maverick Vinales led both sessions comfortably. Of course he did—his fuel tank was light and no one was throwing elbows at him.

Saturday

FP3 took place Saturday morning in the cold and resulted in no substantive changes in the combined top ten from FP2. The big news was a heavy crash for series leader Quartararo, who was still sitting on a stretcher off-track, appearing to have a real problem in his left knee or hip. Alex Marquez flogged his Repsol Honda directly into Q2 for the first time, unlike big hitters including Andrea Dovizioso, Zarco, hell, the entire Ducati contingent, and three of the four KTMs, Pol Espargaro being the exception, the cream of the KTM crop heading for Repsol Honda after Portimao. So Aprilia had a rider, Aleix Espargaro, moving directly to Q2 while Ducati did not. Jack Miller had a top ten lap waved off due to a yellow flag violation, adding insult to the championship injury he sustained last week when his #2 bike gave up the ghost in France.

One gets the distinct impression that the track characteristics at Aragon favor the Yamaha and frown upon the Italian and Austrian entries. Too, one can imagine the suits screaming at each other while deciding which tracks to include on the 2020 calendar. Ducati wanting Mugello over Aragon, Yamaha wanting out of Austria, Honda not really giving a rip. Dorna Big Cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta gleefully giving all the non-Spanish parties a thorough screwing by having half the calendar running in Spain. Marc Marquez signed off on the thing in June and it was done. Rounds 10 and 11 in the premier class (which did not run at Qatar due to the virus) would take place at Aragon, and KTM and Ducati could just bugger off.

To the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller laid down a fast lap late in the session to snatch Q1 from the aging veteran, joining the woke Danilo Petrucci, winner only six days ago, in advancing to Q2. Dovizioso was shown later slamming his glove to the floor, a sight you don’t usually see with the Italian. P13 is nowhere to start of you intend to stay in the hunt at Aragon. With all six manufacturers again represented in Q2, the top of the leader board looked like this:

Rider            Time Remaining

Morbidelli               12:00

Miller                       9:15

Quartararo               8:30

Vinales                     2:00

Quartararo               0.00

The first four rows, then:         

1        Fabio QUARTARARO

2        Maverick VIÑALES

3        Cal CRUTCHLOW

         

4        Franco MORBIDELLI

5        Jack MILLER

6        Joan MIR

         

7        Takaaki NAKAGAMI

8        Danilo PETRUCCI

9        Aleix ESPARGARO

         

10      Alex RINS

11      Alex MARQUEZ

12      Pol ESPARGARO

 

As some of you know, events here in Indiana prevent me from making time to take in Moto3 and Moto2 practice and qualifying. I’ll be watching them on Sunday. Apologies to all.

Race Day

Moto3 was its usual frantic self today. As late as Lap 16, there was an eight-bike lead group. Raul “Fast on Saturday” Fernandez started from pole and, when the smoke cleared, found himself on the third step of the podium, his first career grand prix podium at age 20. Darryn Binder, former Mad Bomber and now just a solid Moto3 contender, flirted with the lead numerous times only to end up on the second step. 19-year old Jauma Masia won today for the second time this year, the top seven bikes separated by less than 4/10ths of a second. Series leader Albert Arenas finished in P7, trailing the podium as well as my boy Romano Fenati, Everyone’s Favorite Scot John McPhee, and 18-year old Jeremy Alcoba. Arenas was fortunate today in that his close rivals had terrible outings—Ai Ogura P14, Italian teen heartthrob Celestino Vietti P9, and Tony Arbolino DNS with a COVID false alarm. As such, he stretched his series lead to 13 points over Ogura and 18 over Vietti. Arbolino, McPhee and Masia are still in the hunt for 2020, but everything needs to go right for them. Not likely.

Moto2 was all about people who have trouble dealing with success. Take former series leader Luca Marini, who laid his machine down on Lap 3, leaving the door wide open for a bevy of challengers. Or Fabio di Giannantonio, who crashed out of the lead on Lap 11. Or Marco Bezzecchi, leading the race and, at that moment, the championship, who crashed out on Lap 19. This made the dogged Sam Lowes, hanging around the backboard like Dennis Rodman, the winner, his second win in a row and third in four years. Runner-up Enea Bastianini took over the 2020 series lead by two points over Lowes, with Marini another three points back. Bezzecchi sits in P4, 25 points behind Bastianini. It’s still anybody’s title in Moto2.

Contrary to widely-held expectations, the MotoGP affair was not a Yamaha clambake. Despite dominating practice and qualifying (P1, P2 and P4), it was the Suzuki contingent of Rins and Mir, separated by the ascendent Alex Marquez in Repsol Honda colors, who hogged the podium today and shook up the 2020 standings. The chief protagonist was Suzuki pilot Alex Rins, a highly competent underachiever, who went through on frontrunner Maverick Vinales on Lap 8 and never relinquished the lead thereafter. A potential Suzuki 1-2, unseen in lifetimes, was interrupted by the startling performance of one Alex Marquez, the highly disrespected Tranche 4 Honda rider who captured his second silver medal in eight days, the first in the wet, today in the dry. Sure, it was a day on which three major competitors—Yamaha, Ducati and KTM—were experiencing purgatory on two wheels, Yamaha and Ducati collecting, collectively, 23 points each and KTM 11.

There were moments during the race when one thought it was definitely a Marquez on the Honda, but the similarity between #73 and #93 is, at times, fascinating. How hard must it be, being Alex Marquez. At one point in your young life, reputed to have been faster than Marc, if not quite as fast as Rins. But then Marc becomes Charles Atlas, the most powerful force ever in your chosen sport. You might have taken up soccer, say, in order to escape his engulfing shadow. But you chose instead to live in the shadow and work on your skills and, if there is a God, show the world one day that you are every bit as fast as Marc Marquez. That it runs in the family and he didn’t get it all. I suspect, if nothing else, young Alex has spit in the eye of the HRC suit who demoted him to the LCR team for 2021 before he had ever raced the bike. The official who made that decision screwed up on three counts. One, he surely pissed off Marc. Two, he wasted a terrific opportunity for the people in marketing to promote Marquez Brothers gear. Three, he may have missed out on a rider who is going to win a few races in his time. Boss Lucio at LCR is bound to be a happy camper these days.

Todays hijinks did little to shake up the top six, as follows:

Round 9

Rider

Points

Round 10

Rider

Points

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

MIR

121

 

MIR

105

 

QUARTARARO

115

 

DOVIZIOSO

97

 

VINALES

109

 

VINALES

96

 

DOVIZIOSO

106

 

NAKAGAMI

81

 

NAKAGAMI

92

 

MORBIDELLI

77

 

MORBIDELLI

87

Other than young Fabio’s tires turning to gruyère, things pretty much stayed the same. This is still anyone’s championship, but the guy with the fewest issues seems to be Joan Mir; he stays pretty calm and takes extremely good care of his tires. I was surprised to see him fade today, thought at around Lap 18 or so that he could win the race.

From Aragon to Aragon

Next week we do it all over again, but with different expectations. The main difference could be the weather, should it turn. That, and the unlikely but not entirely impossible return of Marc Marquez to the grid. That would amp things up.

I’ve prepared a look at the teams and will post it in a few days.

Ciao.

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2020 MotoGP Le Mans Results

October 11, 2020

© Bruce Allen                October 11, 2020

Marquez finishes P2 in France! Alex Marquez. 

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

Recent History in Sarthe

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

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

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

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s FP1 can be easily summarized as follows: 

P1  Bradley Smith  Aprilia.

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

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

1        QUARTARARO

2        MILLER

3        PETRUCCI

4        CRUTCHLOW

5        VIÑALES

6        DOVIZIOSO

7        BAGNAIA

8        P ESPARGARO

9        ZARCO

10      ROSSI

11      MORBIDELLI

12      OLIVEIRA

 

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Moto3 is the bomb-diggity.

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

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

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

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

     Good judgment comes from experience.

     Experience comes from bad judgment.

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

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

1        QUARTARARO        115

2        MIR                       105

3        DOVIZIOSO            97

4        VIÑALES                96

5        NAKAGAMI             81

6        MORBIDELLI           77

7        MILLER                   75

8        P ESPARGARO        73

9        OLIVEIRA               69

10      PETRUCCI               64

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

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

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One big old church.

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MotoGP 2020 October 2 Tranching Around

October 2, 2020

© Bruce Allen      October 2, 2020

MotoGP 2020 October 1 Tranching Around

Twiddling our collective thumbs during this week off before Le Mans, I thought it a worthy idea to take another look at the purely subjective rider rankings you and I embrace. I’m not yet at the point where I can do this much beyond the top ten in Moto2 and Moto3. Here, however, in the premier class, we aim to generate some light along with the heat, top to bottom, as follows:

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Tranche I     Marc Marquez in absentia; Fabio Quartararo; Joan Mir

Tranche II    Valentino Rossi; Andrea Dovizioso; Maverick Vinales; Jack Miller; Franco Morbidelli; Johann Zarco

Tranche III   Pecco Bagnaia; Takaa Nakagami; Alex Rins; Miguel Oliveira; Brad Binder; Pol Espargaro; Danilo Petrucci

Tranche IV   Alex Marquez; Aleix Espargaro; Cal Crutchlow; Iker Lecuona

Tranche V    Tito Rabat; Bradley Smith; Stefan Bradl

Without question, there is a wealth of young talent whose stars are rising. Some of these may have received lower rankings then they perhaps deserve because they are still learning their trade and making too many mistakes, i.e., Pecco Bagnaia. Their inability to recognize life-threatening situations, however, is a career asset in racing. Other riders whose careers are in descent—Rossi, Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci—can expect to see their rankings fall later in the season as they begin to lose interest, relatively speaking. Absolutely able to race and race hard, just no longer willing to risk life and limb in the skinny places.

Re-Alignment of Teams and Riders at Ducati

So, the puzzle pieces are mostly slotted in at Ducati for next year, with Pecco Bagnaia getting his factory seat after turning 24 in January. He and Jack Miller will front the factory team. Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin, having received the rumored call-up from Moto2, will be the faces of Pramac Racing. Enea Bastianini, currently laboring in Moto2, has the inside track on the second Avintia Racing seat next to Tito Rabat, who is under contract for 2021 but may find himself bought out in favor of red-hot Luca Marini. Which is how it should be. Avintia should be the natural training ground for Moto2 grads moving up to MotoGP, with Pramac there to accept the successful grads and the factory team always looking to poach someone in the pipeline.

Very Darwinian in how it works in MotoGP. Do well in Moto3, go to Moto2. Do well in Moto2, go to MotoGP. Godspeed from there.

VR46 Racing to be a Yamaha Team?

Color me surprised. With the Petronas team kicking ass and the factory team being, well, the factory team, and with Suzuki in need of a second team, and with Rossi wanting perhaps to prove that it was Rossi, not Yamaha, who delivered all those titles, this headline at Crash took me by surprise. I didn’t read the article but suspect this might have been part of the Petronas 2021 deal, that Vale would get a third Yamaha team beginning in 2022. To keep the boys at Ducati and KTM honest during the Marquez Era at Honda, don’tcha know.

Le Mans Looms

Typically, it seems the Ducs and Yamahas like things in France, but there’s always the weather to contend with, as it seems to rain here as often as it doesn’t. One thing, though, is fairly certain: it should be cold, with daytime highs only in the 50’s F. Which means it could be in the 40’s in morning practice sessions. Add a little rain and you have a recipe for an extravagant comedy of errors. We’ll take a closer look at the forecast for Sarthe and environs next week. Ciao.

MotoGP 2020 Catalunya Results

September 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen.         September 27, 2020

Fabulous Fabio fabulous at Montmelo 

All three races on Sunday offered clear examples of socially redeeming values. In Moto3, South Africa’s second-favorite son, little brother Darryn Binder, exhibiting perseverance, winning his first ever grand prix race, a virtual and joyful two-wheeled deflowering. In Moto2, Luca Marini, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, won again, showing great intestinal fortitude in holding off a surprisingly upright Sam Lowes. Finally, in MotoGP, NKIT Fabio Quartararo, his good sense and team mentality on clear display, politely took the lead from teammate Franco Morbidelli on Lap 9, held off a late rush by the Suzuki contingent, and seized the lead in the 2020 MotoGP European Championship.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday

Left on the outside looking in after FP2: Rins, Miller, Dovizioso, Oliveira, Bagnaia. All four Yams in top ten.

Moto2 Friday combined

1 S. Lowes

2 L. Marini   

3 M. Schrotter

4 F. Di Gianntonio

Moto3 Friday combined

1 R. Fernandez

2 J. Masia

3 R. Fenati

4 T. Arbolino

Saturday 

FP3, every rider’s worst nightmare, unfolded with relatively few surprises in the premier class. Four Yamahas and 3 KTMs advanced directly, led by Quartararo. Danilo Petrucci surprised in P6 as did fellow Ducati pilot Johann Zarco in P4. Sneaking into Q2 (P10) in front of Pecco Bagnaia was Suzuki New Kid In Town #36, Joan Mir. The poor souls having to endure Q1 would include Jack Miller and series leader Dovi, Rins, the LCR contingent, both of whom ended up in the kitty litter, and the usual suspects. Cal Crutchlow has cemented his reputation as the Black Knight of MotoGP. As he left the track medical center, having moments earlier been cleared to return to racing post-surgically for arm pump, he lost his footing and ruptured a tendon or two in his ankle. Cal soldiered on in FP3 but could only manage P16, one of more than a few riders caught out at Turns 2 and 5, which seem especially treacherous when it’s windy.

Just to be clear. If you’re an Andrea Dovizioso, say, contending for a world championship and you have to go through Q1, you must proceed directly from a full FP4 to Q1, then finish that 15-minute session in P1 or P2 in order to earn the right to proceed directly to Q2, take a leak in there somewhere, where you must finish in the top three to just be on the front row on Sunday, from where you desperately hope to fight for a win, or at least a podium, and you’re six-tenths slower than Quartararo in the time attack. That is what we used to call a long row to hoe. Especially when the margins are so thin. It appeared reasonable, on Saturday, to expect a new series leader heading into the off week.

This competition, by the way, is what we were hoping for back in the dark, dreary days of 2014, when it was The Big Three and a bunch of world class junk. From the sounds of it, one gets the sense that, after all this time, perennial back markers—Tito Rabat, Bradley Smith, perhaps Aleix—will be having to tell their sponsors that Ducati and Aprilia no longer want their money. Lots of young talent in Moto2; management wants results in the premier class and is less interested in the sponsor money you bring if you can’t compete for a top six on a regular basis.

Over in Moto2, Sam Lowes is doing his FP3 impression of one of my favorite riders from back in the day, Frenchman Randy de Puniet who, in 2013, finished each race that season (when he did not DNF) from a lower position than he qualified, thus earning the sobriquet Fast on Saturday. Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon, the token Anglo-Saxons, would be working in Q1. Again, it appeared reasonable to believe Sam, or someone, would set a new all-time track record during Q2, being only a tenth or two down in FP3.

FP3 in Moto3, I’m told, found an unusual variety of overachievers and underachievers. All three series leaders– Albert Arenas, John McPhee as per usual, and Ai Ogura–would have to fight their way through Q1.

MotoGP Q2 on Saturday afternoon was your basic Yamaha clambake. One by one, Quartararo, Rossi (!), Vinales and, finally, Morbidelli took aim at pole, attempting to dislodge either a teammate or a brand-mate. Late in the session Frankie got it all going at one time and posted the only sub-1:39 lap of the weekend, a tenth off Lorenzo’s lap record set in 2018. On Michelins.

Morbidelli, Quartararo and Rossi would make up Row 1 on Sunday, with Vinales starting from the middle of Row 2. Jack Miller lunged into P4 on his last set of qualifying tires. Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder would rep KTM in the top 10, while Miller, Zarco and Petrucci would do the same for Ducati. Joan Mir, on the Suzuki, hovered in P8. And, lest we forget, series leader Andrea Dovizioso would be starting Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 6.

Sunday 

Moto3: Series leader Albert Arenas gets skittled on Lap 6 by a morose John McPhee, who hurt his own championship aspirations as well. With too many lead changes to count, the frontrunners, at various points in the day, included Gabriel Rodrigo, Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia. The last lap provided a showdown between leader Arbolino and challenger Binder, who went through on the Italian at Turn 5 and held him off, nervous as Sean Connery in a spelling bee, for the rest of the lap. Ai Ogura, in P2 for the year heading into the race, was curiously unable to gain any real ground on the grounded Arenas, delivering a P11 and a series of confused, stunned looks. Arbolino sits in P4 for the year, a point ahead of Celestino Vietti. Heading into the second half of this strange year, it’s still anyone’s championship. Just as a point of reference, Ogura’s 122 points at this time compares to Marc Marquez’s point total for the entire 2019 season—420. A compressed season and serious competition at every round. At one point today there was a 20-bike lead group. Gotta love it.

Moto2:  Italian heartthrob Luca Marini, he of the Rossi family, did nothing on Sunday to discourage those people considering him for a satellite Ducati seat in MotoGP next season, winning today’s race and adding to his series lead with a very grown-up performance. He fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from Brit Sam Lowes, who was leading late but whose tires were in tatters with three laps to go. Marini, with his half-brother’s sense of the moment, chose the last lap of the race to go back through on Lowes for the win. Fabio de Giannantonio came in a lonely third, Jorge Navarro in P4 and the American guy, Joe Roberts, managed a highly respectable P5. Enea Bastiannini, in second place for the year and also moving to MotoGP next season, recovered from a poor start to finish in P6.

MotoGP:  Despite young Fabio Quartararo claiming the win in today’s race, even with three bikes in the top nine, it felt kind of like a loss for Team Yamaha today, when Valentino Rossi, the legend himself, crashed out of P2 on Lap 16, an unforced error, for a second consecutive DNF. Franco’s P4 could have been a win but for tires. Lord only knows how Vinales worked his way up from P5 at the start to P15 at the end of the first lap, then took all day and several crashers in front of him to manage a top ten, this the guy with expectations of fighting for a title.

In his 350th start, with a chance to claim his 200th premier class podium, Vale let it get away from him. Though his tires may have contributed to his fall, the rider is, first and foremost, responsible for managing his rubber. Yesterday he signed his contract to ride for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team next year on a one year deal. This, one suspects, will allow for his well-deserved 2021 victory lap, as well as opening up vast new marketing opportunities, putting #46 in teal and black. It will set the stage for the entry of a VR46 racing team in the MotoGP grid for 2022.

The team that must have felt like the real winners today was Suzuki factory racing, fronted by Joan Mir and Alex Rins. In finishing in P2 and P3 respectively, they broke a string of 20 years without a Suzuki on a Montmelo podium, and put two riders on a podium of any kind for the first time since 2007. Rins started in P13 and had plenty of tire left at the end. Mir, out of P8, might have had a chance to reel in Fabio were there two or three more laps. The standings at the top of the heap got a little scrambled today:

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Looking Ahead

Two weeks to Le Mans, followed directly by two rounds in Aragon, which has the ring of the old joke in which the contest featured a first prize of a week in Philadelphia and a second prize of two weeks in Philadelphia. Whatever. Plenty of history lying around in that part of the world. The Ducs and Yamahas have done well at Le Mans of late, and there’s always the chance for rain. A good flag-to-flag race would be just the thing to separate the men from the boys.

The suits at Yamaha must be impressed by the performance their engineers have coaxed out of the 2020 YZR-M1, after a couple of years being the dogs of the big three. With three promising riders, a living legend, and a competitive package for next year all but assured, these guys all need Foster Grants. One hopes the success Suzuki has experienced on track of late translates into increased sales. This is an industry that deserves to survive the pandemic. I have heard it referred to as “the yachting class,” but there’s plenty of everyday people cheering their lungs out when it’s not the plague out there.

We welcome your comments.

For your enjoyment:

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Fabio leaning

From the top: Rossi stoppie; Jack Miller on it; Fabio shoulder down.

And some local color for those of you into such things:

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September 13, 2020

MotoGP San Marino I Results

Franco Morbidelli breaks through; championship tightens

After three rounds in perdition, this was the week Yamaha revived its outlook on life. Hogging the top four spots in Q2. Winning the race while putting three bikes in the top six. Not having any engines blow up on them, although there was that moment before the race. And giving Valentino Rossi an opportunity to earn his 200th premier class podium, with another one looming next week. Just another goofy weekend in a goofy season.

Notes from Friday

Friday, all four Yamahas in top six; all four KTMs in the top nine.

New racing surface seems likely to yield track records. Riders seem to love it.

Top three in FP1 were on different rears.

Lecuona apparently didn’t like the whispers about getting sent back to Moto2, putting in a P4 during FP2. Like water, he later sought his natural level, and would take part in Q1.

Ringing the church bells in Tavullia again this year?  FP3–shades of yesteryear as Valentino, on his last lap before the flag, scorched Misano, rocketing from P15 and Q1 to Q2, dreaming of a front row start. Rossi’s last win, 2017 at Assen, might need an update.

Cal Crutchlow, The Black Knight of Monty Python fame, would not ride on Saturday or Sunday, having recently undergone surgery for arm pump, on top of everything else. Complications. The Universe is on line 4, Cal—take the call.

Notes from Saturday

I recall the last time Yamaha closed out the top four in a MotoGP Q2 session: Never. After two rounds in the outhouse in Austria, Yamaha takes the express to the penthouse in FP3 and Q2 on Saturday, which, as it turned out, was also Bring Your Teammate to Work Day. At the conclusion of Q2, the four Yamaha pilots were seen playing a drunken game of euchre. The Pramac Ducati guys, Jack and Pecco, celebrated P5 and P6 together with an intense game of cornhole. Alex Rins and Joan Mir were having a late dinner and arguing about which was the greatest after taking P7 and P8. Dovizioso and Zarco, suddenly his heir apparent, were forced to have their picture taken together having finished 9th and 10th. And KTM, the luster of Red Bull Ring and its red flags but a memory, had to settle for putting Espargaro and Oliveira in the first four rows. Not a Honda on the lot.

Recall we came up with the snappy slogan at Red Bull Ring—Yamaha Hate Austria. Having sold out of the original bumper stickers, we are now happy to offer Yamaha Love Jerez, Hate Austria But Do Love Some Serene Republic of San Marino appliques, at the same low price. (The added copy has necessitated reducing the font, making the things unreadable from greater than four feet, but you gotta like the idea.)

In winning pole, Maverick broke Jorge Lorenzo’s all-time track record dating back to, like, 2016. Like I said, the riders mostly love the new asphalt, although they mentioned bumps and swirls, caused, presumably, by F1? I heard 90% of the track was smooth and 10% wasn’t which, apparently, is good.

Notes from Sunday

Moto3: John McPhee wins from P17 on the grid. Albert Arenas crashed out of the lead group late in the race, giving up a big chunk of his championship lead. Ai Ogura, who finished second, now trails Arenas for the year by five points. Two Japanese riders finished on the podium for the first time since 2001, Tet Suzuki finishing third. There were more lead changes than you could count in what is perhaps the world’s best racing.

Moto2: What started out as a parade led by Valentino Rossi’s SKY VR46 racing bros, Luca Marini and Marco Bezzechi got tight late, with the two exchanging the lead several times. Enea Bastianini, he of the recent promotion to MotoGP with Ducati for 2021, gave futile chase from 3rd, got a podium, but may have felt he left some out on the track. Xavi Vierge pushed Bastianini for the last few laps but never showed him a wheel. All Italian podium in San Marino. Covid-19 will find some new customers tonight in the bars and bistros of the city.

MotoGP: From the outset, it appeared Franco Morbidelli, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Rins and Joan Mir were going to dominate the conversation at the front. Vinales, however, did another of his disappearing acts, dropping from pole to P7 before finally rallying over the last dozen laps to salvage P6.

Morbidelli took the hole shot, established a bit of a lead in front of Rossi (!) and ran away with the race, Marquez-style. Pretty much everyone watching, myself included, wanted another example of Rossi’s sense of the moment, rooting for him to capture his 200th career premier class podium at Misano, his home away from home. Instead, he was supplanted by one of his proteges, Pecco Bagnaia, who gave a sensational performance, as well as young upstart Joan Mir, who put an aggressive move on Rossi late in the day to steal P3 and deny Rossi another chunk of history. Jack Miller appeared to lose the day-long argument he was having with his injured shoulder, finally surrendering to the pain and a P9.

Fabio Quartararo, looking very human of late, slid out of the race on Lap 8, re-joined, entered the pits on Lap 19, immediately returned to the track, and crashed for a second time on cold tires on his second out lap. Awesome. Gave up his lead in the 2020 championship. We know he can race at Jerez, but it’s been steadily downhill from there.

The two Suzuki pilots, Rins and Mir, put on a show today. Rins spent the second half of the race threatening Vinales, Miller and Rossi, while Bagnaia was doing to him what he was doing to everyone else. Young Pecco went through on Rins on Lap 20 into P3, then took down Rossi on Lap 21 for second place, this mere weeks after breaking his leg on Friday at Brno. If he was having problems with pain or stamina it certainly didn’t show.

Joan Mir on Lap 27 was awesome. Dude is going to be an Alien if he’s not already.

Rossi fought hard all day, but in the end was taken down by men almost half his age. Yamaha, despite the disappointment around Fabio, finished the day with three bikes in the top six. Ducati landed Bagnaia, Dovizioso and Miller in the top ten. Both Suzukis were top five; I expect they are looking forward to next week. Takaa Nakagami put his LCR Honda in P8, the only Honda in the top ten, while Pol Espargaro put the only KTM machine in the top ten.

For years there has been a debate around MotoGP, whether it’s the rider or the bike that makes the difference. The debate is unresolved, and the answer seems to keep moving around. These days, given the parity between the factories—or at least five of them—I think we have to add another dimension to the chess game, that being the venue. Riders, and now bikes, it seems, have notable preferences. We’ve all become accustomed to the fact that Marc Marquez likes things in Austin and The Sachsenring and would prefer that MotoGP only use those two tracks all season long, back and forth. KTM bikes like the home cooking they get at Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas seem to like Jerez and Misano but loathe Brno and Austria. Ducatis love Mugello and Sepang. And so on. For those of you foolish enough to wager on this sport this year, let me remind you we’ve seen five winners in six premier class races.

MotoGP top ten 2020 after six rounds
Top ten after six rounds 2020

To me, this is what a top ten ranking should look like. 28 points between P1 and P10. Eight out of the ten riders with four years’ premier class experience or less.

In the words of Huey Long, in the words of Randy Newman, “Every man a king.” Well, not a king yet, but certainly harboring legitimate hopes of kingship. Perhaps Dorna should just ban Marc Marquez “for the good of the game.” This is way more fun than most years.

We’ll try to put something together for next weekend, but I’m on vacation this week, so if you want a preview one of you will have to write it yourself.

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The obligatory helicopter shot.

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MotoGP Misano I Preview

September 10, 2020

© Bruce Allen    September 10, 2020

I wasn’t going to do this but have been libel-shamed into giving you, the motorcycle intelligentsia who occasionally find my friends David and Jensen tiresome, something this week in the way of a preview of the next round. 1200 words, letter-perfect, pungent and spicy and seeking cheap laughs, often at the expense of riders who are world-class athletes. Occasionally, we observe reminders, as we did in Austria, that these guys go out on the track during every practice and every race not 100% certain they will make it back to the pits in one piece. Maverick and Rossi are both lucky; a split second, a 2% change in trajectory of the used bikes, and it’s a different season.

Stoner comes out this week and says out loud what a number of people have not been saying—that 2020 cannot go down in the books as a “season.” I guess I disagree. It will be an outlier. Kind of the way 2006 was an outlier, allowing Hayden to win a world championship with the fewest wins (2) of any other. Or 2015, the other year Marc Marquez didn’t win a title. In my mind, there is no question MotoGP is sustainable under the previous pre-Covid world order, nor that, within a few years, the sport can return to big crowds and ‘normalcy.’ The question is whether the teams and the venues, and thus the sport, can survive many years like this one, without the fan revenue they’ve been counting on.

Whatever. Misano, home of the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, where everyone’s Italian. One of the best stops on the MotoGP calendar, one I would sell my bicuspids for the chance to attend. Mountains and beaches, the Adriatic right there. A great layout. The weather is usually beautiful. What more can one ask for?

The are a number of reasons few riders are setting lap records this year. One of these, IMO, is the riders miss that little bit of extra juice that comes with lathered-up fans yelling their lungs out. These guys are dealing with hundredths of a second—two here, three here, before long you’ve got a tenth—and, despite the seriousness of the sessions, especially on Saturday and Sunday, the absence of fans lowers adrenaline levels and heart rates sufficiently to cost a couple of hundredths per lap or section of a lap. For everyone. It gives it a practice feel. As a recovering marketing director I can assure readers this could be solved quickly and easily by bringing back the brolly girls, with naughty, color-coordinated masks. These guys with arm hair holding the umbrellas on these hot summer days is, for me, a turnoff.

What Do the Tranches Look Like?

At this moment, nothing. I haven’t done any serious tranching for awhile. Heading into Misano, where most of the bikes seem to do well, here’s my sense of the relative trajectory of the relevant riders. We are approaching the halfway point of the season. Not having Marquez out there running circles around everyone else makes it a revealing season. I’ve been banging the drum about the changing of the guard in MotoGP. Other than Andrea Dovizioso who, at age 34, wants to jam one on Ducati, the hypothesis is generally holding together. That and Bagnaia’s broken leg, from which he should return this week.

Tranche I:    Quartararo, Vinales, Dovizioso, Miller

Tranche II:   P Espargaro, Rossi, Mir, Nakagami

Tranche III:  Oliveira, Morbidelli, Zarco, Binder, Rins

Tranche IV:  Crutchlow, Petrucci, Bagnaia, A Marquez, A Espargaro

Tranche V:   Smith, Rabat, Lecuona, Bradl

Sunday Riders Who’ve Won Here Previously, and More

Dovizioso and Rossi in MotoGP

Bagnaia, Zarco and Pol Espargaro in Moto2

Alex Rins in Moto3

*#93 has won in all three weight classes—Moto3 in 2010.

Perhaps we’ve stumbled over an important consideration when trying to predict/wager on particular riders at specific tracks. The theory being that once a rider has won a big race, he runs the tape in his head for months. When he leaves pit lane the following year, he is likely to recall the feeling from a year earlier, and this gives his confidence a boost. Could this possibly be Rossi’s Last Stand?

**In the case of the missing Marquez, he has won everywhere and so many times that the GPS coordinates for braking points at every track on the calendar have become encoded in his DNA. Ergo, according to the above, one might consider avoiding a wager on him at any new track, like Portimao or Kymi Ring, assuming the paddock ever gets to Finland. This notion, then, is blown to smithereens by the fact that he won the first two races in Thailand in 2018 and ’19. Fair and balanced around here is what we are. And we believe it is fully OK to talk to yourself until you start saying, “Huh?”

So, What Do We Know Heading into Sunday?

Not much. The field, minus Marquez, is vastly more interesting. Yamaha is once again playing catch-up. KTM has arrived. Quartararo’s lead is paper thin in the face of a seriously motivated Andrea Dovizioso. Six points separate Brad Binder in P4 from Miguel Oliveira in P9. Takaa Nakagami on the LCR Honda appears to have some game. Both Suzuki riders, Rins and Mir, are underperforming due to Rin’s injury and Mir’s inconsistency. When the young Spaniard wasn’t busy crashing out at Jerez and Brno he recorded a P5, a P4 and  P2. Cal Crutchlow is facing either unemployment, a crappy MotoGP ride, or something else, a return to BSB? I dunno. As we’ve pointed out before, Cal has a lot of miles on him, needs to go chillax with mommy and daughter at his compound on the Isle of Man. Get a 150cc scooter, tool around scaring hell out of the locals. And stay away from the TT.

Is Misano the place the Yamahas return to their early-season form? Can KTM continue its assault on respectability by winning at Misano? (We know they’re good at Red Bull Ring. What about elsewhere?) Isn’t it weak when journos ask questions instead of answering a few? Honda’s best current hope is Nakagami? The bleeding continues. Why is there suddenly gossip around Bagnaia’s 2021-22 contract with the factory Ducati team alongside Jack Miller? I thought that was, as our favorite Brits like to say, done and dusted. If Bagnaia fails to ascend to the factory team, it leaves Jorge Martin stuck in Moto2, rather than moving, as planned, to Pramac Racing for 2021.

Having given this some thought, the Ducati solution now seems clear. Put Zarco, having a strong season on a year old bike, on the factory seat alongside Miller. Keep Bagnaia on Pramac#1 with Martin coming up from Moto2. Backfill on the Avintia team, alongside Rabat for 2021, with someone in Moto2, perhaps Bastianini or Marini.

KTM is full for 2021 up unless they decide to send Lecuona back to Moto2 for a year and sign a Crutchlow, or go young with a Tet Nagashima, who could also be a candidate. It would be Binder and Oliveira on the factory team with Petrucci and Lecuona on the Tech 3 effort.

Whatever. There will plenty to talk about after the races on Sunday.

Here’s a little stolen eye candy for you.

IMG-3921IMG-3922IMG-3923IMG-3924IMG-3925IMG-3926IMG-3927

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Styria Results

August 23, 2020

© Bruce Allen                               August 23, 2020

Round 5 and It’s Anyone’s Year

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

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

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

Screenshot (19)

The new safety fence at Turns 2 and 3.

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

Practice and Qualifying

Friday

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

The KTM bikes seem to love Red Bull Ring.

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

You just can”t have too many aircraft pictures.

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

1        Albert ARENAS       KTM             106

2        Ai OGURA               Honda          81

3        John MCPHEE         Honda           67

4        Celestino VIETTI     KTM             66

5        Tony ARBOLINO     Honda           60

6        Tatsuki SUZUKI      Honda           59

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

1        Luca MARINI                     Kalex            87

2        Enea BASTIANINI             Kalex            79

3        Jorge MARTIN                  Kalex            79

4        Tetsuta NAGASHIMA        Kalex            68

5        Marco BEZZECCHI            Kalex            65

6        Sam LOWES                    Kalex            59

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

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

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

1        Fabio QUARTARARO         Yamaha          70

2        Andrea DOVIZIOSO         Ducati           67

3        Jack MILLER                    Ducati           56

4        Brad BINDER                    KTM             49

5        Maverick VIÑALES            Yamaha          48

6        Takaaki NAKAGAMI           Honda           46

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

MotoGP is the bomb-diggity.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring II Warm-Up

August 19, 2020

© Bruce Allen

Before we get going, WordPress is messing with me with a new, apparently mandatory content formatting tool, which involves a number of workarounds and, once complete, is at about half the ordinary size, straining my already weak eyes. So if this turns out to be crap, blame it on The Man.

MotoGP Posts Photos of ‘The Crash at Red Bull Ring.’ Here are the two I was talking about in the article.

This is Morbidelli’s Yamaha, passing in front of Rossi after somehow just missing Vinales.

This is what remains of Zarco’s Ducati as it sails inches over the head of Rossi, who saw it coming and ducked out of the way.

Apparently Dorna feels someone should be punished for all this, but it’s more the track layout; this applies to both wrecks, including the Moto2 crash that ensued when Hafez Syahrin pulled out into the slipstream and smack into Enea Bastiannini’s abandoned Kalex. I couldn’t seen what happened between Zarco and Morbidelli, but I sense it was Zarco running up the Italian’s back perhaps? Someone out there knows.

Thanks to long time reader Mad4TheCrest, who took time out of his busy schedule earlier in the week to point out that I had mistakenly put Aussie Remy Gardner back in Moto3 on Sunday. I have since corrected this amateurish mistake. I get up early on race days and am never at my best at 6 in the morning. It is a comfort to know that someone, somewhere actually reads this stuff.

Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro these days reminds me–and please don’t take this wrong–of Marco Simoncelli in 2012 (yes I know the year he died on the track in Sepang). But here’s the similarity. Sic had been around for awhile coming up, too tall for the small bikes, overly aggressive on the Gilera as a rookie in the premier class in 2011. 2012 dawns and he discovers that, for whatever reason, he is suddenly fast. Fast enough to crash out of four of the first ten races of 2012. But over five of the last six races of his life he recorded three P4, a P3 and a P2 at Phillip Island.

Pol Espargaro, suddenly fast on the KTM, looking forward to getting even faster on the Honda RV213V, is who Warren Zevon referred to in his unforgettable anthem, “Excitable Boy.” No, he doesn’t go around slicing up his girlfriends. But he is currently a hazard to himself and those around him, and will be until he gets used to the idea that he doesn’t have to ride like a madman to be in the mix.

Quick Hitters

Loyal follower Allison gave me props in a comment about my sheer prescience when it some to the subject of Joan Mir, who took P2 on Sunday [after I had been jocking him since he was in Moto3.] Yes, from this lofty roost I occasionally can spot one–Rins is another; wonder why they end up at Suzuki?–but I never saw Brad Binder coming, having discounted KTM Moto2 riders as simply being unable to secure Hondas. Binder seems to be another one of these guys constructed from steel cables who is capable of wrestling the KTM, or a Honda or Ducati, to a draw, with all that speed as a bonus. His ride on Sunday, from 17th to 4th, was olympic… My boy OldMoron picked that one… And I’m still waiting to hear from MOron Sayyed on the subject of KTM and its place in the racing universe. I think old Sayyed is strictly a Motorcycle.com guy… The crap they put people through on this site to make comments gripes me to no end. If enough people agree we can move these comments back to MO and use the Dorna press releases they are now posting as a comments section for the Dummies stuff. Let me know, or perhaps I’ll just start leaving comments on MO and y’all can follow if you wish.

In the interregnum of Marquez’ broken arm, the racing and competition is tight as wallpaper in all three classes. Having a MotoGP season in which the result is not predetermined is a blast. Aside from Albert Arenas in Moto3 no one is really getting away. The premier class will tighten up considerably once Marquez and Bagnaia are back in the fold. But there is not time in the schedule for healing and the doubles and triples cause the riders to have to perform at less than full strength, increasing the likelihood of more mishaps. This calendar is going to cost some riders and some teams dearly.

Finally, it seems Zarco cracked a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s maelstrom. He certainly won’t be at full strength, if he rides at all, this weekend.


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