Posts Tagged ‘Yamaha’

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview–Part Two

March 9, 2020

© Bruce Allen. This column was written before the coronavirus kicked the hell out of the 2020 season schedule. We’re posting it anyway, as is. 

The Stuff I Left Out of Part One 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone 

It’s spring, and the swallows of optimism return to the Capistrano of the MotoGP grid. The best thing about the preseason is that everybody’s undefeated; unbounded hope and ridiculous projections are the order of the day. This extends to the heretofore downtrodden factory Aprilia entry. To say the 2020 version of the RS-GP is an improvement over the 2019 version is to not say much. But to hear Aleix tell it, the new bike is a burner, one upon which he would be a consistent podium threat were the season to start today. Isn’t that adorable?

Allegations of PED use by #2 Andrea Iannone are still unsettled at this writing, but it looks like the Italian will be drawing some kind of suspension, as if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the team. Iannone has protested his innocence while the attorneys did everything possible to get his status confirmed before the Qatar test. Didn’t. I would love it if the bike were suddenly fast; good for all concerned. Either way, 2020 appears to be a pivotal year for Aprilia in MotoGP. We would like to see them stick around.

LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow and Takaa Nakagami 

The odd couple. The grizzled, acerbic Brit we’ve known for so long alongside the calm Asian youngster coming off surgery that ended his season last year. Still recovering, still throwing it out there. Owned, lock stock and barrel, by HRC, who sees him as the Next Great Japanese Rider, one of which they’re in desperate need. Land of the Rising Sun and all that. No telling if Nakagami is that rider for the long haul, but he is for now, and can expect a slow start to the season. Last year, as a sophomore, he finished 13th, just behind Joan Mir, with two DNFs and the three DNS to end the season after his brutal off at Motegi, in front of the suits.

Cal, once again, must accept the fact that his bike was not designed around him, but around Marquez, and that he’ll never be as fast as Marquez despite “being on the identical bike,” which is true but misleading. Beyond that fact, he did an ankle, like, two years ago and it’s still messed up, plus he’s getting old. His gait, when he gets as old as me, will resemble three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan, Grandpa McCoy on The Real McCoys, a TV sitcom from back when men were men and women were glad of it, as my friend Joe observes.

Cal carries a lot of titanium and is old for his age. This should be his last year in MotoGP, unless he wishes to take a step backwards with a lesser team. As devoted to his family as he appears, I expect he will call it a career, one which might have been different if only blah blah blah. He had a couple of premier class wins in 2016 and a number of others since that slipped away. He will have trouble keeping it in the top ten in 2020 and will need to avoid the six retirements he endured last year.

So, Honda’s satellite team will have trouble putting either rider in the top ten for the season. 2021 appears to bear the promise of change in the ranks.

KTM MotoGP Program in General

This is about one manufacturer and two teams. The highly directive Austrians running the show see no reason they should not become the top manufacturer in MotoGP and Moto3. The riders, writers and critics, however, see oodles of reasons they will not soon displace Honda from the top of the heap. This infuriates the Austrians, who, in turn, devote yet more budget to their project, raising expectations and putting enormous pressure on the riders.

So, as most of you know, the riders on the #1 Red Bull team will be veteran little brother Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder, recently called up from Moto2, one of the last of the KTM Mohicans before its exit from Moto2, a South African rider accustomed to wrestling untamed bikes and watching Hondas flying by on the straights. The RC16 fits both descriptions. Binder, instead of Miguel Oliveira, got the #2 factory seat for a variety of reasons, most of which worked against Oliveira, who ends up on the #2 team again, this time “mentoring” another rookie call-up from Moto2, Iker Lecuona. The musical chairs at KTM are mostly a result of Johann Zarco saying no mas late in 2019, creating a hole in the program.

It would astonish me if any of the four KTM riders were to finish the 2020 season in the top five. The top ten would be less astonishing but still a major surprise. Pol claims a noticeable increase in grunt; I suspect that’s little more than the swallows returning to Capistrano. I have friends who read this stuff who are huge KTM buffs and get mad at me all the time for my negative outlook. To which I can be counted on to reply, “Scoreboard, baby.”

The Satellite Ducati Programs

The secondary and tertiary Ducati teams, Pramac and Reale Avintia, head into 2020 with decidedly different prospects. Pramac, whose riders have put pressure on the factory riders for a few years, boasts Australian badboy Jack Miller and Italian high-potential sophomore Pecco Bagnaia, both of whom will be seated upon brand-new GP20 Desmos, both of whom have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Miller seems destined to take over a factory seat in 2021, probably Petrucci’s, while Bagnaia undoubtedly has designs on Dovizioso’s ride in, say, 2023. Miller had a solid 2019, Bagnaia not so much, though on a year-old bike. Miller has a top five look to him while Bagnaia could be a top tenner if he can keep the shiny side up. As was the case last year, his positive pre-season testing results are once again raising expectations.

Reale Avintia Ducati, on the other hand, has a slightly sweetened deal with Ducati Corse but year-old bikes and two questionable riders. Johann Zarco, whose prospects as a Tech 3 Yamaha rider once seemed unlimited, came apart with KTM last year and now faces a rebuilding job on his reputation. A year-old Ducati may not be the best place to undertake such a task, but beggars can’t be choicey. Teammate Tito Rabat, a Moto2 world champion, is now a journeyman MotoGP rider with plenty of sponsor money hoping to score points, period. He, too, carries around a lot of titanium. Contract wise, his deal expires at the end of 2021, an off-year agreement that I’m sure someone somewhere understands.

Petronas Yamaha SRT

By now, a number of readers will have suspected that in my rush to get this to the editors I left out the most exciting young team on the grid. All eyes will be on the two satellite Yamaha riders when the season opens in Qatar. Sophomore sensation Fabio Quartararo, who sounds French but is mostly Spanish, had a phenomenal rookie-of-the-year season in 2019 and comes back this year on a full spec M1, ready to rumble with Marquez and Co. Franco Morbidelli, his Italian teammate, has great expectations as well, as the older Yamahas have, in many cases, out-performed the current version. Quartararo got his ticket to the factory team punched a few weeks ago.

Both riders were fast in the Qatar test, as were Vinales, and Rins on the Suzuki. In this last test, the Hondas were lagging all three days until, they claim, they found the elusive setting they sought and now everything is A-OK for the season opener. Please compare the results in last year’s Qatar test with the final 2019 standings.

The message here, if any, is that we are not to get too excited over what takes place during the Qatar test or, for that matter, the Qatar round, as it is an outlier in too many ways to be predictive for the season. At first glance it appears Yamaha and Suzuki are big fans of the new Michelin rubber, while the Honda and Ducati riders are singing the blues. Rookie Brand Binder was the top KTM rider during the last test, in P9. Aprilia, I’m hearing, is under pressure to cut ties with Andrea Iannone, facing a PED suspension, though there must be more to it than that. This appears to be a program in disarray, needing to decide if they are going to fish or cut bait, as it were. This getting hammered each week by what they probably view as inferior brands must be getting to some of the suits. Like standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand euro notes while getting screamed at. Living the dream.

Once again, during these long, predictable Marquez years, we find ourselves hoping that things won’t get settled until Valencia, but mostly believing it will be a bunch of really fast riders, Alien-class riders, chasing a fully-healed Marquez as the season makes the first big turn at Jerez. From there, it’s in God’s hands. If Marquez finishes 18 of this year’s 20 races, he will win the title. Assuming he does, the chasers will include Quartararo, Vinales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Rins and Miller. Mir, Petrucci, Rossi perhaps, for old time’s sakes; his protégé Bagnaia an occasional appearance. Much the same as last year. And the year before that. And, if memory serves, the year before that.

Seriously, I have told MO that I’m only going to post stuff when it’s important or I have a bee in my bonnet. At times this column becomes like work, and I was never all that whooped up about work. Same thing with reality. As Groucho Marx, my comedic hero, once observed, “I’m not that big on reality, but it’s still the only place you can get a decent meal.”

Let’s go racing.

MotoGP 2020 Season: Team Projections

February 29, 2020

Here’s our annual look-ahead, 2020 version, at the team results we expect to see at the end of Round 20 in Valencia:

  1. Repsol Honda—Marc and Alex combine for 475 points.
  2. Petronas Yamaha—Could challenge for top team.
  3. Factory Yamaha—Ditto.
  4. Suzuki—A step away, but ascending.
  5. Factory Ducati—No real progress since last year.
  6. Pramac Ducati—Challenging factory team for #5.
  7. LCR Honda—Cal has peaked, Nakagami is hurt.
  8. Red Bull KTM—Improving. Binder looks good early.
  9. Avintia Ducati—Don’t see Zarco top-tenning.
  10. Factory Aprilia Gresini—A shot at 9th place, maybe even 8th?
  11. Tech 3 KTM—Oliveira will endure another year of misery.

MotoGP 2020 Season Preview – Part One

February 27, 2020

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Marquez era marches on 

Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez is, as per usual, the early favorite to make it seven world championships in eight tries in 2020. Sure, there are a lot of fast challengers—Yamaha NKT (new kid in town) Fabio Quartararo, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s inconsistent Maverick Viñales topping that list—and Marquez is coming off right shoulder surgery. Sadly, the result is likely to be the same. If you’re planning to wager on anyone other than ReMarcAble Marc, best get yourself some odds.  

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The subtext to the season deserves some exploration. Several high-profile riders are approaching the end of the chain, career-wise. Names like Rossi, Crutchlow, even Dovizioso. Lorenzo is all but done. Likewise, as usual, there is a crop of dynamic young pretenders looking to get in on the big money. Guys like Fabio, the Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, Ducati’s Jack Miller. Now that Marquez is a true legend, mid-career, he will be the target of all these fast movers, young and old. Heading into a contract year, typically a two-year-commitment (unless you’re #93—more on that later), means plenty of musical chairs. Young guns on the way up versus grizzled vets with surgical scars on the way out. 20 rounds of grueling travel and high-stakes riding. Hidden agendas. Palace intrigues. No real offseason—always testing, testing, testing.

All of which takes place in a breathtakingly expensive pursuit of second place. And less than that for the two manufacturers, KTM and Aprilia, who have yet to deliver the results envisioned by them and for them a number of years ago. Hope springs eternal for their riders, including the Espargaro brothers, as both factories are looking to become the next Suzuki alongside Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. Top tier. They appear to have taken another step forward but don’t appear to be there yet.

Marquez wields a heavy-enough bat that he was able to get HRC to sign his little brother Alex, the reigning Moto2 world champion, for the #2 seat on the team. His contract for 2021-24 (!) is already done. He has skills well beyond those of mortal riders and he loves what he does. He has a powerful motorcycle built to his specifications that only he can ride, as young Alex is about to discover. The world, in 2020, is his oyster. You can cut the tension with a feather.

Management has insisted on a complete MotoGP season preview from me, despite the likelihood of another Marquez title. I have agreed but am limiting my comments and observations to things about which I’m relatively certain, which, as many of you know, are few and far between. Despite my suspension by FIM, and having been blackballed by Dorna, Motorcycle.com wishes that I continue to submit “racing news.” Beginning now, the deal is I submit articles when there’s real stuff going on. Maybe 15 or 20 columns tops per season. I’m happy, getting out of the October grind. Evans is happy for some relief on his ‘subcontractor’ budget. Now, if someone would just send me to Finland.

You, the reader, however, are stuck, because I still have a few things on my mind.

In an effort to illuminate the fact that MO is getting a great deal from me, I am dividing the 2020 preview into two parts: 1) Most of the Stuff, and 2) The Stuff I Left Out of Part One. This should give you, the reader, the greatest collection of news you can use from the world of MotoGP, even if the organization thereof is rather incoherent. ‘We’ here at MO are tired of the predictable old formats and are seeking ways to bill management without having to do actual research or check specific boxes. Our goal is to become the Jack Kerouac of motorcycle journalism. As an aside, have you ever seen a more schizophrenic use of the editorial “we?”

This, Then, is Most of the Stuff 

As of Valentine’s day, subsequent to the Sepang test, we have an idea what’s in store for each of the teams, the easiest way to compare prospects of riders and machines. In keeping with our Dharma Bums approach to 2020, they are presented in no particular order, mostly as an exercise to see if I can remember them all. My most vivid recollection of the recent off-season was how Karel Abraham, after years of loyal, if not productive, service, gets unceremoniously hoisted from his Avintia Ducati seat in favor of downtrodden journeyman Johann Zarco. This change damages the future of the Brno round, as Karel’s dad owns the track and much of the country, and may react poorly to his son, the attorney, getting publicly ejaculated from his chosen profession, etc. Anyway, here goes.

MotoGP Teams and 2020 Prospects

Repsol Honda: Marc and Alex Marquez 

The good news about this new familial partnership is that dad Julià Márquez can now have both of his usual mental breakdowns simultaneously. And while everyone knows about Marc, young Alex, the unexpected Moto2 champion in 2019 despite several mediocre years there, rode his brother’s coattails to a MotoGP ride on the baddest premier class team in existence. He has been presented with a 2019 RC213V and told to go to work.

It could easily be a long year for Alex, on a steep, painful learning curve while big bro is taking home all the hardware. A long couple of years, now that you mention it. Perhaps it’s genetic, and young Alex takes to the Honda as a fish to water and finds himself some early top tens. It is easy to envision Marc in the role of mentor, as they truly seem to get along. It can’t be easy being Marc Marquez’s little brother but give Alex credit for standing in there and letting the comparisons shower down while he learns his trade at the top of the world.

One recent bit of news is that Marc will not be 100% when the lights go out in Qatar, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder for three months instead of the prescribed six. Not sure why he waited until January to have the surgery. The single, solitary pinpoint of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel is if Marquez gets off to a slow start, not returning to full strength until, say, Jerez. That pinpoint of light would be in the form of an Alien rider, a Vinales or Quartararo, say, getting off to a quick start, winning two or three, and creating a gap to Marquez leaving Argentina. A 60 or 70 point gap. Then, we might have us a horse race.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. But it paints a pretty picture, Marquez finishing third for the year, still in all the podium pictures, but the dream having received a dent due to injury which must, one assumes, be expected in this sport. Having largely escaped serious injury since 2011 in Sepang, one could argue he is overdue. He’ll probably laugh off the shoulder and win the opener and win in Austin and head back home fully healed and ready to rumble again in 2020. #93.

The bad news, for the rest of the riders, is that Marquez’ new contract with HRC is a four year deal, twice as long as a “normal” contract. The somewhat contrived notation that Rossi, for instance, won titles with two different manufacturers, so there, gets flushed willingly by Marquez, who essentially has an entire division of a major international industrial conglomerate devoted to keeping him happy and on top. And no Andrew Luck nonsense for our boy Marc, who still keeps very little titanium in his person. For a guy who pushes the limits of adhesion for fun, he’s had surprisingly few bone-shearing crashes in his career. More hair-raising saves than wrecks.

Factory Movistar Yamaha Team: Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the 2020 championship, for a host of reasons. This will be nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi’s farewell tour, blowing kisses to legions of yellow-clad screamers amidst clouds of fluorescent yellow smoke, fright wigs in place, wanting to be able to tell their kids and grandkids  they saw the great Valentino Rossi during his final appearance at [insert track name here]. Rossi, on an improved Yamaha, settling for top-tens during his last season which should have probably been 2017.

Anyway, Rossi will be an absolute marketing machine in 2020 before taking over a MotoGP slot and going after more championships as an owner/operator. Some of the luster has come off his ranch, as a number of his fast young protégés have failed to launch in Moto2; for a while there it seemed like most of the young fast movers were all coming through Rossi’s academy. Rossi will not be a factor in the 2020 championship. He will, however, factor positively into the bottom line at Dorna, which will ride him hard this year. For me, the notion that he would accept a contract with a satellite team for 2021, even with Yamaha, is unfortunate, since doing so would make him just another top ten rider. Not good. Stop at the top.

Maverick Vinales, once considered championship material, now considered by most to be contender material, recently signed for 2021-22 with Yamaha, positioning himself as the unquestioned #1 rider on what was once the best bike in the business, pre-Marquez. The 2020 M1 has impressed management enough to sign Vinales to a new deal, confident he will be able to compete for a title on the latest iteration. Maverick Vinales will battle for second place this year—you heard it here first.

Factory Ducati Team: Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci

Early rumblings from Petrucci suggest the 2020 Desmosedici has surrendered the advantage it enjoyed as recently as last year on tracks with long straights, lowering expectations. He turned in a credible performance at the Sepang test while Dovizioso dawdled in the teens, just not really into it. Dovizioso, who entertained dreams of world championships as recently as three years ago, has probably reached the conclusion shared by many others that this is not going to happen. He will settle for the money, the notoriety, the top-five finishes, the celebrity. Not a bad way to earn a living. Capable of scoring a win here or there.

Danilo Petrucci is, to put it bluntly, too normal-sized to win a title in MotoGP. He regularly rides the wheels off his Ducati only to finish seventh, the victim of rear spin and tire wear. Seems like every team owner wants to get rid of him, and that Gigi was shopping his seat to Vinales this past winter. Dude came from nothing, riding an Ioda-Suter in 2013, to within fractions of a second of fame and glory, a story shared by other riders in The Marquez Era. Paging Dani Pedrosa. Now, his size still a factor, he contends, especially at friendly tracks, such as Mugello, where he recorded his first career premier class win last year. I find myself pulling for Danilo; not sure why. Local boy makes good, perhaps. They are going to take away his factory seat next year, pretty sure. Very Darwinian around here.

So I figure Dovizioso fourth for the season, Petrucci 8th. Does that constitute a successful season for Ducati Corse? I think not. I think the racing division needs to ask itself some serious questions about the bike and the riders. They do not appear destined to factor in the championship to any great extent. And a hypothetical 2021 team of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia would not be expected to threaten Marquez.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR: Alex Rins and Joan Mir

The 2020 Suzuki team, one of the few outfits without a satellite team, does have itself a young pair of badass riders. As has been the story ever since the factory returned to MotoGP in 2015, the GSX-RR handles like a dream but still lacks sufficient top-end to compete for the full-season podium. These two guys are IMO prime candidates to switch teams heading into 2021, as they may both believe their careers are being stifled by the hardware. Doing so may be the answer to their dreams or the stuff of nightmares. Paging El Gato.

Rins, beginning his fourth premier class season, has shown steady progress, going from 16th to 5th to 4th last season, certainly capable of a top three finish as long as the creek don’t rise. Smooth and fast, he continues to make unforced errors in races that cramp his overall results. In between crashes, he is a consistent top four threat, and had his first two career wins last year.

Mir, a blur in Moto3, a fast learner in Moto2, enjoyed his rookie season enough to place 12th for the year with 92 points, three DNFs and two DNS. His second time around should be majorly improved; he was truly remarkable in Moto3 and has that same extra something that #93 has. Cat quickness. An internal gyroscope turning high RPMs. Rins, I believe, will enter the Alien ranks within three years. Just probably not on a Suzuki. Same for Mir.

While We’re on the Subject 

Without wishing to get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep one eye on the teams that will have open seats at the end of the 2020 season. Not the factory Honda or Yamaha teams. Petronas Yamaha will have at least one. Suzuki may have two, as could Ducati. KTM and Aprilia, almost certainly, depending upon how the year goes. Riders seeking greener pastures in 2021 will not likely find them on the top two teams.

Part Two will post in the next few days.

MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 12, 2019

© Bruce Allen

A Marquez family clambake coming up at Ricardo Tormo 

Poor Lorenzo Dalla Porta, first-time grand prix champion, winner of the 2019 Moto3 title. The Italians in the crowd will support him but he is doomed to get lost in the sauce of the Marquez brothers’ dual championships in Moto2 and MotoGP. Someone please just keep papa Julian off camera. 

MOTORSPORT - MotoGP, GP Czech Republic

Readers unhappily suffering through The Marquez Era in MotoGP will be doubly put off this week. Little brother Alex wins his first Moto2 title and second overall. He is staying in Moto2 for another year, waiting for a Pramac Ducati seat to open up for 2021-22. Things appear set for Ducati Corse to declare Danilo Petrucci a failure, Jack Miller a success, and Pecco Bagnaia the eventual successor to Andrea Dovizioso assuming all goes well and the creek don’t rise. This would make Alex and Bagnaia teammates for, say, a season, with one of them getting promoted to the factory team when Dovi retires or gets retired. My money would be on the Italian. 

Recent History at Ricardo Tormo 

In 2016, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration. Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title in P2, and the podium celebration was awkward; the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he, the 2017 world champion, were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Two years ago, we had been chanting the mantra, “Let Valencia Decide” since March. With the title unsettled heading into the November weekend, the opportunity for a riveting finale existed (if only mathematically), Marquez holding a 21-point lead over Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso as the riders lined up on the grid. The math caught up with Dovi on Lap 25 when, desperate to get past insubordinate teammate Jorge Lorenzo, he ran hot into Turn 8, ultimately laying his GP17 down gently in the gravel. And so the 2017 championship, having been essentially decided some weeks earlier, concluded, as usual, at Valencia, with Pedrosa, Zarco and Marquez on the podium. It was Dani Pedrosa’s last career MotoGP win.

Last year, the MotoGP race 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. 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 emotionally unglued, stood on a MotoGP podium for the first, and not the last, time in KTM colors. Probably the best outcome one could have hoped for on a wet, gray postscript of an afternoon. Half price on all MotoGP gear in the concession tents after the races. 

Rummaging Through the Attic 

Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to Lorenzo: Fish or cut bait. Fascinating article claiming your boy Carmelo delivered some advice, via the interwebs, to my boy Jorge. As if these issues don’t consume El Gato every waking hour, as he wallows in his season of existential disaster, worse by far than his first year with Ducati, which was a dumpster fire itself. World championships in 2010, 2012 and 2015. The experience at Ducati reminded him he’s human. The experience at Honda reminds him that he makes a living at 220 mph and that one more unexpected bad moment could end his life.

I would like to see Jorge retire for health reasons. Dorna, in the person of Ezpeleta, apparently agrees. Lorenzo is, at this stage, bad for the Repsol brand, bad for the MotoGP brand, bad even for the Lorenzo brand, and these guys are brand managers first and foremost. Honda could slot Zarco or Stefan Bradl on a one-year deal and see how it goes, line up an Alien for 2021-22.

Just in order to avoid being accused of forgetting this milestone altogether, I should acknowledge #93 having set the all-time single season MotoGP points record over 18 rounds in Sepang. Captain America is now Captain Earth.

Iker “Hakuna Matata” Lecuona will step on up this week in MotoGP for KTM, taking the seat of his injured future teammate Miguel Oliveira. This should be a valuable learning experience for the Spanish teen. Recall our chestnut that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. I expect that we’ll see young Iker on the deck a few times this weekend at his home crib. The RC16 more bike than he’s used to.

Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, Bradley Smith—lost souls currently on the refuse pile of MotoGP. Growing up, they were all among the best young riders in their entire respective countries, and they can’t make a decent living in the big leagues. We assume it goes on even more in Moto2 and, especially, Moto3, for the riders and teams living at the bottom of the food chain. Comparable to the alphabet soup days in MotoGP, with ART and CRT works lucky to finish on the lead lap on Sundays, teams being asked to hold their paychecks. Stuff you don’t normally think about watching them go ‘round and round.

Apropos of nothing, the nomadic lifestyle of the families of young riders coming up in AMA Flat Track would make a nice Mark Neale film. Living in big RVs, humping from Arizona to California to Illinois, hoping to win enough at each race to pay for gas and food. Hoping Junior doesn’t get hurt. Mom and dad, siblings, lots of racing gear, the bike, on and on. Looking at the world through a windshield, the Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen version. Entire families making huge sacrifices hoping their boy is the next Nicky Hayden. Probably hasn’t changed that much in 30 years. 

Your Weekend Forecast 

The weather forecast for the weekend calls for cold temps and bright skies. Perfect for raking leaves, not so great for racing, with morning lows dipping into the 40’s. The MotoGP grid, remaining more or less intact for next year—unless something dramatic happens at Repsol Honda—has very little to race for this round. Lecuona will want to make a good first impression. Vinales and Rins may have a thing about who finishes third. Fabio, Petrucci and Rossi will argue about fifth place, Danilo fighting for his professional life at this point. And Fabio needs a win in the worst way. I’m just not sure this is the right track, in the right conditions.

As usual with Moto2 and Moto3, I have no idea who will appear on the podium, since I rarely do and a meaningless season finale is more unpredictable than other rounds. With Alex Marquez and Lorenzo Dalla Porta having nothing but their pride on the line, Valencia appears to be a good place for some ambitious young riders to try to get in the lead group and make some noise while most folks are looking ahead to 2020.

We will be here on Sunday for the wrap. Thanks for your unyielding patience putting up with this drivel. This late in the season, it’s all we got.

MotoGP Sepang Results

November 3, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Alex Marquez sheds monkey, wins Moto2 title 

It’s all over but the shouting for grand prix motorcycle racing in 2019. With Alex Marquez seizing the day in Moto2 from the second step of the podium, all three titles are now settled. Round 19 in Valencia will be largely window dressing, a fashion show, a curtain call for some riders and a resume-builder for others. 

Today’s races, as actively announced as any all year, Matt and Steve occasionally yelling their lungs out, were mostly pseudo-suspenseful. Sure, there was some action worth the price of admission, especially in Moto3, but both Moto2 and MotoGP were high-speed parades. This late in the season, most fans are seeking entropy, disorder, a shaking up of the usual order of things. With the exception of the cluster on Lap 7 of the Moto3 race, things proceeded in a painfully orderly fashion. 

Before we get too far into it, lost in the sauce of Phillip Island (read: overlooked by the writer) last week were several indications that the members of the highly touted 2019 rookie class not named Quartararo are starting to get things hooked up. Pecco Bagnaia missed his first podium by 5/100ths, and Joan Mir flogged his Suzuki to a season best P5. They’re coming. Miguel Oliveira, despite being consigned to the KTM satellite team again next year, appears to be the real deal. These four guys will stir things up in 2020 and complicate contract considerations for all of the teams heading into 2021.

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“Dude, where’s my bike?”

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Practice and Qualifying

The grid would be missing two riders this weekend. Tito Rabat was DNS with injuries from Aragon. Oliveira gave it a go in FP1 and subsequently declared himself out with injuries inflicted during practice last week. Rabat’s team went out of its way to issue a release stating with utter confidence their belief that Tito will heal completely by the time Valencia rolls around and will be there fighting for the podium in front of his Spanish compatriots. Of course he will.

Dani Pedrosa’s lap record from 2015 was shattered over and over again, starting Friday with Fabio Quartararo in FP2, when he broke the previous record, set by himself in FP1. Fabio was in a different world on Friday. Kind of the way Marquez is on Sundays. Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi were hanging around in the top five, but Sepang on Friday was all Fabio and The Chasers. Marquez was loafing in sixth after FP2, having completed 18 laps all day compared to Mir’s 34. With Marquez joining The Chasers, the rest of the lambs included Miller, Bagnaia, Rins and our boy Johann Zarco who, passing directly to Q2 in P10, is busy proving that, as hard as it is to ride the Honda, it’s not as hard as riding the KTM.

The main combatants in Q1 included Crutchlow, Petrucci, Mir and Aleix. When the dust cleared, Cal ruined everyone’s day with the fastest lastest lap of the session, keeping Mir and Espargaro on the outside looking in. The end of Q2 saw Marquez get his just desserts after spending the entire session dogging Fabio, getting under his skin. His “cheeky” behavior was rewarded by a cosmic highside late in the session, putting him in P11 on Sunday.

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Marquez losing it in Q2.

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That’s going to leave a mark.

Subsequently, Franco Morbidelli, Maverick Vinales and, finally, young Fabio himself broke the all-time track record, putting three Yamahas on the front row, two of them from the new Petronas team, punching well above its weight. Miller, Crutchlow and Rossi made up Row 2. And Johann Zarco put his RC213V in P9 for Sunday, on just his second date with the Honda. Quartararo etches his name yet again on the list of all-time track records.

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In the not-dead-yet Moto2 contest, series leader Alex Marquez took pole, joined on the front row by Tetsuma Nagashima and Brad Binder. Xavi Vierge, contender Tom Luthi and rookie Jorge Martin would start from Row 2. The top 12 qualifiers were in the 2:05’s, tighter than a nun’s knees. In Moto3, Marcos Ramirez seized pole and bragging rights, joined on the front by Aron Canet and Albert Arenas. Row 2 would feature John McPhee, Kaito Toba and champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta, who could easily adopt a “win or bin” attitude on Sunday.

The Races 

The Moto3 race was proceeding swimmingly until Lap 6, when Gabriel Rodrigo, fighting for the lead with Tatsuki Suzuki and Marcos Ramirez, initiated an appalling high side in the middle of everyone, taking Suzuki with him and running Ramirez into the grass for 200 yards, dropping him from third to 12th. Alonso Lopez, minding his own business in sixth place, caught something out of the corner of his eye moments before finding an expensive 250cc racing motorcycle lying on the asphalt directly in front of him, with which he collided, sending bike and rider skyward and causing him to land ¾ on his shoulder an ¼ on his head, with a big dent in his left foot for good measure.

Aside from champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta winning the race, it needs to be pointed out that three of the main contestants included Jaume Masia (age 19), Celestino Vietti (18) and second place finisher Sergio Garcia, winning his first podium for the Estella Galicia team at the tender age of 16 years.

Moto2 was all Brad Binder, Alex Marquez and Tom Luthi all day. Binder led most of the way, looking great, but there was very little action to speak of. For Luthi and Binder, short of assaulting Marquez on track with a tire iron, all they could do was to go as fast as possible. Winning the podium battle on a day like today is awesome unless one is knowingly, simultaneously losing the war. Kind of like a big old kiss from one’s sister.

MotoGP, which had been billed as a possible Petronas Yamaha clambake, didn’t turn out as expected. The podium of Vinales, Marquez and Dovizioso was a bit of a letdown. A bigger letdown was watching Valentino Rossi dog Andrea Dovizioso for a full 14 laps without ever finding a way through onto his first podium in 14 rounds. In the olden days Rossi would have found a way around his power disadvantage and de-pantsed a Dovizioso in his sleep. That day has now passed. Morbidelli and Quartararo finished the day sixth and seventh, respectively.

The Suzuki factory boys of Alex Rins and Joan Mir were feeling fractious today. Rins banged into Jack Miller on Lap 7 and lost one of his aero fins, while Miller appeared to have small pieces of his bike falling off for the rest of the day. Later, on Lap 18, Mir hip-checked Johann Zarco out of eighth place and onto the deck, having to take a long-lap penalty afterward that cost him a spot or two. Zarco has been solid on the Honda after a quick handshake and two chaperoned dates. Good for him.

Penultimate Tranches 

After Phillip Island:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco 

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

After Sepang:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez 

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Jack Miller, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli 

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco 

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio 

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

Season Finale in Valencia

Two weeks until we button things up for the year. I confess to not being terribly interested in the desperate struggles taking place down in the food chain, i.e., which riders are locked in a knife fight for ninth place in Moto2. But the show will go on. We can look forward to the pleasure of seeing some new faces in new places over the winter and next spring. And we here at MO will be beavering away on finding the perfect quote to capture the essence of the season. And if we can’t find one we like, we’ll just make one up.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Brolly Girl of the Year

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Fabio got himself an upgrade this weekend.

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MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 29, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Moto2: The last good time in town 

Approaching Round 18, MotoGP and Moto3 have been decided. All that remains is for series leader and younger brother Alex Marquez to seize the 2019 Moto2 championship by the lapels and assert his heritage. He is a Marquez and he is overdue. He needs to put his boot on the throat of the title chase and clinch in Malaysia. Above all, he must avoid some kind of dogfight in Valencia, an opportunity to choke away a title and a budding career. Otherwise he gets stuck with the “little brother that couldn’t” label the rest of his life.

Alex Marquez

I doubt many people would have picked Alex to take the 2019 title back in February. He was, at that time, a classic underachiever in four well-funded seasons in Moto2 after a title in Moto3 in 2014. But by mid-season this year it looked like he couldn’t miss. Since the summer break he has, so to speak, come back to the field, such that Tom Luthi and Brad Binder are still mathematically in it.

By agreeing to stay in Moto2 for 2020 at a time it was assumed he would win the title, he essentially committed to winning two titles—2019, which was considered in the bag, and then 2020, giving him the pick of factory teams for a 2021-22 contract. But he needs 2019, since the 21-22 contracts will be getting signed in 2020 before the season ends. Even if he ends up winning in 2020 his bargaining position won’t be nearly as strong if he fails to secure the 2019 title.

Marquez does not want this to come down to a dogfight in Valencia. Does not. A podium in Malaysia would pretty much decide things. But his record here over four years stinks—two P7 and two DNF—so that seems unlikely. Whatever, he needs to find a way to clinch in Asia. 

Recent History in Malaysia 

“The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.” In a decade writing about this stuff, this was one of my favorite sentences. Sorry, where was I? Right, recent history.

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

Recall 2017, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, on the heels of a debacle in Australia, could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race with Marquez off the podium, Dovi ensured that the 2017 title would be formally decided two weeks later in Valencia. In the end the Spaniard’s lead was too big, and the championship ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the 2017 race, ignoring the importance of Dovi winning. At or near the last turn, Lorenzo did have the decency to run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” Good thing he doesn’t think he’s from Crete.

Last year: For the first 16 laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back in time to those days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls with Jordan. We were brought hurtling back to earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, his unforced error, crashing out of the lead no less, handing the win to that trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the podium celebration, but it kind of felt like the end of an era. For me, anyway.

Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.

News You Can Use

A bit of a re-shuffling of the deck from the original announcement from KTM re next year’s riders in the premier class. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original announcement from KTM have Lecuona moving up to the factory team with Espargaro? This being because Herve Poncharal originally didn’t want the factory team (after Zarco bailed) poaching Miguel Oliveira, whose future with KTM is as bright as anyone’s, if you catch my meaning. Now, it appears, all has been reconsidered. Brad Binder will join Espargaro on the factory team, with a snubbed Oliveira, feeling passed over, and Lecuona manning the Tech 3 team.

I think it was a mistake not to promote Oliveira knowing he felt, with some justification, that he had earned promotion in front of both rookies. I think Oliveira could ride the wheels off a Honda RC213V or a Ducati Desmosedici. I think having his feelings bruised could motivate him to look elsewhere for an opportunity to show the Austrians his skills. As for KTM, them Binder brothers seem pretty badass, Darryn in Moto3 the latest iteration of the young Marco Simoncelli, a hazard to himself and those around him. But fast. And big brother Brad now a real GP’er. Salad days and pure mental exhaustion for the Binder family.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for race weekend is hilarious if you’ve ever been to this part of Asia. Walking outside, day or night, is like being in a humidified walk-in oven. Thunderstorms boil up in the afternoon and give everything a thorough rinsing, after which the sun returns, temps rise again, flat surfaces steam, the tropical sauna in full effect. Which is exactly the forecast for all three days. At night I have seen full-grown men being carried off by the mosquitoes. Insane.

I’m thinking flag-to-flag, wondering if Alex Marquez has the stones to disregard the weather, play smart and win from the top step. There was the 2016 season in which Marc Marquez won the title and finished second to Lorenzo at Valencia. Jorge’s podium celebration, fist pump, jump, etc., was too much, while Marquez kind of stood next to him, beaming. Winning the champion’s trophy from the top step is the bomb.

Flag-to-flag affairs in the MotoGP and Moto3 divisions will be impossible to predict. One thing is relatively certain. Marc Marquez has decided to beat the single season record of 383 points set by Lorenzo on the Yamaha in 2010. With 375 points in hand and two rounds left, that looks pretty doable. Is it a good reason to watch the MotoGP race? What about the Moto3 race? I’m going to be up anyway, might as well watch. I find that when I have to take notes for three races I tend to miss stuff—Rossi leading early in Australia a good example—and it’s a busy time of year. I expect readers to continue to correct my numerous errors and oversights. It’s okay. I’m insured.

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No fake news around here. We shall return on Sunday with results and analysis.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 27, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dalla Porta clinches; Marquez flinches 

The second of three grand prix motorcycle championships was decided today as Italian veteran Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 title from the top step of the podium. In Moto2, Alex Marquez was unable to clinch the title, but held on to most of his margin, putting immense pressure on his pursuers heading to Malaysia. Over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez won another race. Ho hum. 

With Tom Luthi and Brad Binder still mathematically alive in Moto2, the season trudges on. Alex was unable to get anything going all day, finally finishing eighth, while KTM teammates Brad Binder and rookie Jorge Martin finished one-two and top challenger Luthi third. In other words, short of sailing over the handlebars, Marquez had about as bad a day as one can have in this business and still holds a 28-point cushion with two rounds left. The contest is not as close as the announcers would have you believe. 

Practice and Qualifying 

With a wet FP1 and a dry, surprisingly fast FP2 Yamaha and Vinales topped the day on Friday, to a resounding “So what?” Yamaha put all four bikes in the top nine, including young Fabio, whose F1 highside sent him to the medical center with a bad ouchie on his ankle and which would likely affect him not a whit on Saturday. The Yams were joined by Ducatis and Hondas, Marquez and Crutchlow (HON), Dovi, Miller and Petrucci (DUC). The Suzukis were struggling, the Aprilias showing improvement in the dry.

Marquez and Lorenzo had a close encounter in FP2 that folks would be talking about for the weekend. I didn’t hear the post-session comments, but it looked like Lorenzo slowed down on the racing line while MM was on a hot lap and MM brushed him on the pass. Mostly by accident. Any two other riders it wouldn’t amount to much at all. After all, it was Friday. As a footnote, Johann Zarco ended his first day on a 2018 Honda RC213V in P15, ahead of both Lorenzo (HON) and Pol Espargaro (KTM). Just sayin’.

On Saturday the weather gods, Arbitrary and Capricious, got involved, wind being their tool of choice, the result being a shambles in the premier class. Moto3 and Moto2 got all their sessions done, barely, but the MotoGP grid basically sat out FP3, after which FP4 was red-flagged, after which qualifications were pushed to Sunday. Fabio was limping around all day Saturday trying fruitlessly to avoid Q1; Miguel Oliveira had what the Brits call a “heavy crash” during FP4 that’s gonna leave a mark. Left on the outside of Q2 looking in were some big names—Quartararo first and foremost, along with Mir, Zarco and the KTM machines of Pol Espargaro and Oliveira. All would be sorted out on Sunday.

In Moto2, Sudden Sam Lowes, Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge and Luca Marini moved on from Q1. The Q2 front row ended up comprised of Jorge Navarro, Brad Binder and hot Marini, going for a late-season hat trick on Sunday from P3. The second row included Fabio di Giannantonio, Jorge Martin (!) and Lowes, with aspiring champion Alex Marquez 7th, Tom Luthi 11th. As to Marquez’ chasers, they would start Sunday, respectively, from P11, P17, P1 and P2. Marquez can afford to let these guys bash each other’s brains in as long as he finishes in the top ten; he does not need to mix it up at the front with Brad Binder.

In Moto3 Can Oncu, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia and Tom Booth-Amos graduated to Q2. A wind-chill seemingly in the 30’s produced a front row of Marcos Ramirez, a stoked Aron Canet, and another hottie, Albert Arenas with a win and a second in his last two races. Plucky John McPhee (you just know he hates that label) sits dangerously at the top of Row 2 joined by Kaito Toba and LDP, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, the putative 2019 Moto3 world champion, needing only to beat Canet by five points on Sunday to clinch. If Aron Canet were in the NFL playoffs, his team would be down six with a minute left, facing 4th and 47 from their own one-yard line.

Quartararo and a surprising Andrea Iannone passed the Q1 test and were promoted to Q2. With times well off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole record, the race would start with Vinales, Quartararo and Marquez on the front row, followed by Rossi, Petrucci and Crutchlow. Five of these six would feature prominently in the race. Valentino Rossi, for those of you still paying attention, started fourth, finished eighth, and was a non-factor all day, although not to the extent that Jorge Lorenzo was, starting from P19 and finishing last, over a minute behind teammate Marquez, on the same bike, his nerves and spirit shot full of holes. 

The Races 

Moto3 featured your typical 17 bike lead group, the first six finishers within three-quarters of a second of one another. For the suspense to have been sustained to Sepang, after jinxed challenger Aron Canet DNF’ed for the fourth time in five rounds, Tony Arbolino would have had to win the race with Dalla Porta finishing no higher than ninth. By about Lap 5, with those two positions essentially reversed, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we watched everyone go round and round and absorbed another over-the-top podium celebration, par for the course for first-time winners. For all winners in this sport, come to think of it.

In Moto2 the two KTM factory machines found some love in the long, sweeping turns in Australia and won going away. Marquez spent his entire day mixing it up with the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri, Iker Lecuona, Remy Gardner and so on, risking a skittling that could have put a serious damper on his title aspirations. He was fortunate to finish eighth. The conditions will probably be more favorable for him in Malaysia. In my opinion, next week is his first real match point, and I expect he will put it between the white lines.

In MotoGP, in what has become a disturbingly familiar scenario, world champion Marc Marquez spent the entire day in second place, dogging the Yamaha race leader and ultimately breaking his heart into small shards on the last lap. In Buriram and Motegi it was rookie stud Fabio Quartararo. Today, it was Maverick Vinales who had his wings plucked off late in the day, at the time and place of Marquez’ choosing. Vinales panicked once Marquez went through on at Turn 1, asking more from his rear tire than it had to give, and finally lost his grits in Turn 9, gifting second place to Cal Crutchlow and a cheap podium to homeboy Jack Miller, who couldn’t have been more surprised. An early high side from Danilo Petrucci created collateral damage for young Fabio and ended his day on the first lap. 

Premier Class Tranches 

After Motegi:  

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

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

After Phillip Island: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco

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

Are There Any Big Pictures Left? 

Sure. Moto2. For about another week. 

A Look Ahead: Sepang 

Recall what we said a couple weeks ago: Freeze them off in Australia and fry ‘em up in Malaysia. Despite pulling for Alex Marquez to get the monkey off his back next week, I would love to see two or three riders heading to Valencia for the finale within a few points of one another. We’ll have a few thoughts on this and other subjects on Tuesday or so.

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Melbourne

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MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 22, 2019

© Bruce Allen  Late-Braking MotoGP

Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Come on Down! 

22-year old Italian Lorenzo Dalla Porta, in this, his fifth year in Moto3, will have a first career grand prix match point on his racket this Sunday at breathtaking Phillip Island in southeastern Australia. His mission: extend his current 47-point lead over KTM sacrificial lamb Aron Canet–20 years old, in his fourth Moto3 season– to 51 heading to Sepang (never mind the tiebreakers) and the 2019 title is his, lock, stock and barrel. If the price is right!

Sure, Marc Marquez has clinched in the premier class again, but there is a rather compelling fight going on for third place, compelling, that is, if you’re not an American, who is barely interested at all about Dovizioso in second. In Moto2, Alex Marquez, yes, THAT Marquez, has a 36-point lead, along with the same magic number (51) after Sunday. Depending upon the will of the racing gods, he could clinch this week or find himself in an oh-no dogfight with, say, Tom Luthi, for the title, which once appeared to be his for the taking after so many years of trials, tribulation, etc. Young Marquez NEEDS a win in Australia, and never mind magic numbers or anything else. He needs to take it now or at least kick the starch out of his pursuers, reduce their chances from plausible to mathematical.

Recent MotoGP History in Australia 

The 2016 Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from this great track after the championship had been decided.  Crown champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to another easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, went to Bermuda in his head for a few moments, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to an astonished Cal Crutchlow.

Cal was joined on the podium that afternoon by Rossi and Maverick Vinales, then employed by Suzuki Racing. As so often happens in this sport, the best contest of the day was the fight for 7th place, won by Scott Redding on the Pramac Ducati, trailed by Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, the gap from 7th to 10th a full 45/100ths of a second.

Honda’s defending champion Marquez, in a dogfight with Dovi for the 2017 title, survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group for the win in Australia that made the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second that day, teammate Maverick Vinales third. But landing both factory Yamahas on the podium was cold comfort on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship were extinguished.

Last year, despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Maverick Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Andrea Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. What with Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out world champion-in-waiting Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the lower steps of the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Jack Miller, aging legend Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis.

That day Vinales was joined on the podium by the dueling Andreas, Iannone on the Suzuki and Dovizioso on the Duc. Finishing an amazing fourth was my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of a Ducati Desmosedici GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium on Sunday. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. Four riders who would have beaten him were DNS or last seen gingerly leaving gravel traps. But in order to finish first one must first finish, etc. Occasionally I suck, and I apologize. Just quit futzing with your hair all the time.

Lecuona to MotoGP? 

Hacuna Matata of the Lion King team…wait. No, sorry, Iker (pronounced Eeker) Lecuona (hear the drums?), the up-and-coming 19 year-old Spaniard, having weathered the last two seasons in Moto2 purgatory with KTM, has reportedly been offered the vacant KTM factory MotoGP seat next to Pol Espargaro on a one-year deal, leaving Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder intact on happy Herve Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM satellite team. In the card game of bridge, such a promotion is known as a “jump shift,” indicative of a very strong hand or, in this case, a very brave young rider, willing to tackle the KTM RC16 mechanical bull. The 2020 bike, according to the same publication, has been made ‘easier to ride’ by input from Dani Pedrosa. Hey, it’s just what I’m hearing. Oh, and for the bike to work right, the riders simply need to get their weight down under 120 lbs.

Scott Redding 

Young Scott Redding, who I feel I personally ran out of town in MotoGP, causing untold pain and hardship for his family and for which I feel terrible, got some payback this past week by winning the 2019 British Superbike title. Congratulations, Scott, and thanks for verifying the Peter Principal for us, if in reverse, and on your impending promotion to a factory Ducati in the World Super Bike championship, replacing the aforementioned Bautista, who defected to Honda WSBK. Ya can’t tell the players without a program. There are a few MotoGP riders suffering in the premier class who could tear it up in World Super Bike. Paging Tito Rabat.

Moto3 

I will defer to some of our more energetic/unemployed readers to summarize, in the Comments section below, recent histories in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Seriously, I’ve got stuff going on. I’ll be watching Dalla Porta and Canet all weekend; feels like a fait accompli. I need to take a separate look at who will be on what and where for 2020.

Moto2 

Other than Binder and now Lecuona, I’m unaware of anyone else moving up to MotoGP in 2020. Plenty of things going on between teams and classes. With teams on a full-court press for the next three weeks I don’t expect any big news and promise to do a better job going forward in the news department.  One reader, Mr. Bashir, especially, is being relied upon (via Comments below) to keep readers up-to-date on goings-on in the KTM world he inhabits and which has so damaged his thought processes.

Rider lineups for both Moto2 and Moto3 will be released on November 11 or thereabouts. Musical chairs in the lightweight bikes is just as much fun as in the big league.

Your Weekend Forecast

Per Accuweather, conditions at Phillip Island should be typical for this time of year—windy, cold and wet. If Sunday turns up clear, the track will be thoroughly rinsed, hard and cold; out laps could be hazardous. Dry practice time could be at a premium. Brolly girls may be strictly decorative, which is fine. Everybody needs to get paid.

In Moto3 I expect Dalla Porta to clinch. In Moto2 I expect Alex Marquez to not clinch, but to put a stranglehold on the title, clinching at Sepang the following week. In MotoGP, this is the race Marquez generally blows off, either by a careless crash, a DQ or something. I see him finishing from pole with a handful of points, not necessarily on the podium, where I can envision Vinales, Fabio and Dovi spraying prosecco on one another after another playing of the Spanish national anthem, three bridesmaids having a bit of a knees-up before returning to the demoralizing chase for runner up.

We’ll be back yet again on Sunday with results and analysis from Down Under. It’s Round 17. These guys are fast. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

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MotoGP Motegi Results

October 20, 2019

© Bruce Allen

Relentless Marquez Dominates Japan 

It is now clear that Honda’s 2019 MotoGP champion Marc Marquez has his sights set on the single season points record of 383 set by The Rider Formerly Known as Jorge Lorenzo with Yamaha in 2010. Why else bother winning the Motul Grand Prix of Japan when a win would mean so much more to any number of other riders? Winning motorcycle races is in #93’s DNA, much they way it was with Nicky Hayden. He just can’t help himself.

With the real action behind him all day, and discounting Dovizioso, who has second place for the year by the throat, most of the attention today focused on young Fabio—could this be his week?—Vinales, Rins and Petrucci, all of whom have a dog in the fight for third place for the year. One rider who doesn’t, after today, is aging rock star Valentino Rossi, who crashed out, unassisted, of the race and the top tier of riders for 2019. Anyone feeling bad for Rossi is advised to feel bad instead for Lorenzo, who limped home in 18th place today, out of the points, no longer relevant in the premier class. It wasn’t that long ago that they were The Factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, capable of going one-two on any given weekend. C’est la guerre.

Practice and Qualifying

Valentino Rossi just snuck into Q2 on his last lap in FP2, knocking 7/10ths off his best previous lap on soft front and rear. Rain was in the forecast for Saturday. After FP2, Moto3 leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta was overheard whispering “I kicked your ass today, pendejo,” to second-place Aron Canet, having nosed him out of 11th by .001 second. FP1 and FP2 in Moto3 leave more to the imagination than do the same sessions in MotoGP. All those guys with foreign-sounding names on what seem like hundreds of teams. Matt and Steve earn their money herding cats, staying on top of Moto3. I can’t keep up yet.

On Friday in Moto2, series leader Alex Marquez was having his way with the likes of Brad Binder (KTM), KTM rookie Jorge Martin—finally—and Luca Marini, with Sam Lowes punching above his weight in fifth.  [Someone got in Alex’s ear during the last off-season and changed his outlook on life. Someone he respected had to have said to him, “Look. You need to sack up. You’re a freaking Marquez and have always practiced well against Marc. He thinks you can dominate Moto2 and earn a 2021 contract with the factory team of your choice. You’ll be 25. At which point he looks forward to kicking your butt. But you need to stay on the effing bike and quit effing around. You’ve got the bike and the team, now you need to blow these guys away.” And away, it seems, in 2019 he blows goes.

In MotoGP, after FP2, there were four Yamahas in the top six, joined by Marquez and Dovizioso. Why the Yams were doing so well here I had no idea, other than to remind myself and everyone else that Friday is Friday unless it rains on Saturday. We need the weather gods to make this one more interesting. Everyone wants to see Fabio bust his cherry. Son of Rossi and all that. One door closes, another opens, etc.

Sidebar: So our boy Cal Crutchlow is warning new teammate/temp Johann Zarco that the 2019 RC213V is harder to ride than the 2018 version. Just sayin’. One wonders why Cal doesn’t insist on using the 2018 chassis with the 2019 engine, the way Marquez did in 2015 when that year’s Honda MotoGP bike was unrideable. Marquez switched back to the 2014 frame and won the second half of the 2015 season going away. Coulda saved Lucio some money, too. It’s not like they’re doing a ton of development work at LCR.

Crutchlow and Rins escape Q1, on to Q2, while the pitiable Jorge Lorenzo would start 19th on Sunday, 1.8 seconds behind Crutchlow, up from last on the last two laps. A shadow of his former self. Tentative. Hurting his team. Dude needs to renounce second year of his contract and hang them up. He’s got enough money for several lifetimes. Time to rest on some laurels.

FQ and MM have taken 13 out of 15 poles 2019. Nakagami wounded but showing toughness in front of his homeys. The announcers pointed out what we’ve been saying here for some time—any weather is Marquez weather. He took his first premier class pole at Motegi on Saturday, closing the loop, having now poled at every circuit on the calendar. Franco Morbidelli and Quartararo join Marquez on the front row, making my pre-race prediction look less ridiculous, Miller back of the second row, together with Crutchlow and Vinales. As a postscript, Rossi would start tenth.

In Moto2, Luca Marini took pole, followed by Augusto Fernandez, BadAss Baldassarri, Alex Marquez fourth, Navarro fifth. Moto3 would start Sunday with a front row of Niccolo Antonelli, Alonso Lopez, and Tatsuki Suzuki. Series leader Dalla Porta starts from sixth; his nearest rival, Aron Canet, from eighth.

As little as qualifying means in the premier class, it means even less in the lightweights.

The Undercards

In Moto3 today, in a nutshell, series leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the race while his nearest pursuer, Spaniard Aron Canet on the KTM, crashed out of seventh place on his own, the 2019 Moto3 season having thereby been effectively decided on Lap 14 at Motegi. LDP sits with 47 points on Canet with three rounds left. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. For the record, Celestino Vietti, who turned 18 last week, captured the third step on the podium, his first, certainly not his last, on the dash to the flag. Onions.

In Moto2, Italian fast mover Luca Marini won his second consecutive race, putting himself in the conversation for second place for 2019 but, alas, not for first, as Alex Marquez, by fighting hard for a difficult 6th place finish, conserved his 2019 margin at 36 points, with second place now belonging to Luthi, who is, somehow, still in the game. If Marquez can avoid a DNF, which he narrowly accomplished several times today, he will win the title. A fall, and all of a sudden it’s a real race again. Oh, and his save during FP3 will go down as perhaps one of the greatest EVER.

The Big Pictures

MotoGP—Nothing here. People fighting for third and fourth. Rossi and Lorenzo on the back nine heading for the clubhouse. Fabio is The New Kid in Town.

Moto2—Alex Marquez will spend another year in Moto2 next year before heading off to the greener pastures of MotoGP in 2021. There are fast movers everywhere you look in Moto2, just not many who appear ready to make the leap to MotoGP. Which is why guys like Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham can still find rides year after year.

Moto3—With Dalla Porta seemingly a lock to move up to Moto2 next year, there are a number of fast young Italians joining the usual cast of Spaniards in the 250cc class. The impact of Valentino Rossi’s ranch is being felt in all three classes, especially in Moto3.

MotoGP Tranches

After Buriram:

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Motegi: Normalizing the Distribution 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Danilo Petrucci

Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir

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

Next Up: Phillip Island 

Other than the wind chill factor, Phillip Island is one of most everyone’s favorite tracks. The MotoGP season’s leaves are all changing color now; winter is closing in. Dalla Porta has his first break point this weekend. Alex Marquez is likely to have his in Sepang. We will be there, bringing you the contrived victory celebrations that make watching this part of the season worthwhile.

Local Color

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Greater Motegi metro area.

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The end of the Moto3 race.

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Stoppie.

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MotoGP Buriram Results

October 6, 2019

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Número ocho para Marc Marquez

On a day completely bereft of surprise, Marc Marquez secured his sixth MotoGP world championship and eighth overall with a merciless win over ascendant French rookie Fabio Quartararo. As he did in Misano back in September, Marquez spent the day glued to Quartararo’s back wheel, again testing young Fabio’s resistance to pressure. Finally, in the last turn of the last lap he broke the rookie’s heart with the expected cutback move and sprint to the flag. These, then, are the opening shots in what promises to be the next great rivalry in grand prix motorcycle racing.

By clinching the premier class title with four (4!) rounds remaining in the season, Marquez has freed us from having to pay too much attention to the big bikes for the next month. With 325 points in hand, he may make a run at the all-time season points record of 383 in MotoGP, feeding his discernible addiction to winning even when it’s not necessary. Less likely is his treating the remnant of the season as a six-week testing session, preparing to decimate the field again in 2020. Whatever. Any of y’all wishing to make a case for him not being one of the all-time greats in this sport please go outside and shake yourselves.

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday once again belonged to the Yamaha cabal, with all four bikes ending the day in the top five. The Petronas satellite team acquitted themselves particularly well again, with Quartararo sitting on top of the pile and teammate Franco Morbidelli third. (One hesitates to observe that these lofty accomplishments generally occur on Fridays, which is the racing equivalent of a matrimonial rehearsal dinner.) It took Yamaha Racing 15 rounds to remove the RPM limiter from Quartararo’s M1 software, giving him 500 more to work with, and he took advantage.

Factory dudes Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi wedged themselves into second and fifth places, respectively, with Australian Jack Miller and his Ducati interloping in third. Marquez landed, literally, in sixth place after his most impressive high-side crash in years taking place at Turn 7 in FP1, after which he dropped in at a local hospital, laid around for a little while in the air conditioning, returning later in the session to take his place in the top ten. At times, the Ant Man seems indestructible.

Torrential rain, seemingly a tourist attraction in this part of the world, struck early Saturday morning, putting FP3 on rain tires and rendering Friday’s results decisive as regards automatic Q2 entrants. Among those who would have to fight their way into the pole fight were Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow and a wounded Pol Espargaro, wrestling his KTM GP-16 with one arm, a good-sized titanium plate in his left wrist courtesy of his calamity in Aragon two weeks ago.

Q1 saw Espargaro and Petrucci pass through into Q2, leaving Crutchlow on the outside looking in by 13/1000ths.

Q2 was about as exciting as it gets in this game. The former track record, set by Marquez last year, got hammered by three riders, with Quartararo emerging as the proud new owner. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales and Marquez, who was on pace for pole when he lost the front at Turn 5. Rossi had crashed out a bit earlier, and Quartararo a few moments later. Morbidelli headed Row 2, joined by Petrucci and Miller. Rossi and Dovizioso would start Sunday from Row 3, portending some kind of Thai-themed championship celebration on Sunday afternoon, as Dovi was the only man standing between Marquez and his eighth world championship and fourth in a row in the premier class. 

The Race 

Had there not been a championship in the balance, today’s tilt would have been a parade, albeit one held in an autoclave. The heat and humidity were hellish; Danilo Petrucci, sitting in his garage prior to taking to the track, looked as if he might spontaneously combust. By contrast, the 95,000 locals in the stands, accustomed to life in these miserable conditions, appeared cool and comfortable. Oddly, there were way more red #93 grandstanders than there were yellow #46 disciples. Perhaps it was the locale; perhaps that particular tide is turning. Either way, Valentino Rossi was just another rider today. What little action there was took place well in front of him.

Once the lights went out, Marquez and Quartararo went off for their private tête à tête. Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso settled in well behind them, with Franco Morbidelli, Joan Mir and Rossi trailing them. The Suzukis of Mir and Alex Rins were nosing around but posed no threat to podium. Other than a few unforced crashes and Aleix Espargaro’s customary mechanical failure, nothing much happened until the last few laps. Marquez took a swing at Quartararo on Lap 23, failed, took another on Lap 25, failed again, then made it stick on Lap 26.

Jack Miller stalled his Ducati right before the start, then spent the day pedaling furiously, ultimately finishing 14th. Cal “Who Cares Anymore?” Crutchlow started 13th and finished 12th. And Jorge Lorenzo’s ongoing humiliation was complete, as he started 19th and finished 18th, 54 seconds behind Marquez. That he will probably end up included in the Repsol Honda team championship win come November is simply an historical accident.

As a reminder that I am an equal opportunity offender, I am compelled to point out that young Fabio is continuing the French tradition established by Randy de Puniet of mostly finishing lower than he qualifies. In 15 rounds this year, he has qualified better than he finished 10 times. Sure, he’s a brilliant prospect with a bright future. But at this tender point in his evolution he is channeling RdP. Just sayin’. 

Moto2 

Despite qualifying on pole, series leader Alex Marquez did not have a great day today, finishing fifth behind Luca Marini, Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona and Augusto Fernandez in an exciting race for second place, Marini having gone off on his own early and winning easily. Fortunately for Marquez, his main rival in 2019, Jorge Navarro, had a rotten day, starting 22nd and finishing outside the points as Fernandez took over second place for the year. Young Alex, however, has learned big brother Marc’s trick of winning while losing, extending his series lead to 40 points with four rounds left. He appears poised to clinch his first Moto2 title in Australia or Malaysia. He will remain in Moto2 next season awaiting a choice ride and two-year MotoGP contract in 2021. As a footnote, KTM claimed two podium spots today, and their rookie Jorge Martin enjoyed his best outing to date, finishing sixth. 

Moto3 

The lightweight world championship, tight as wallpaper heading to Thailand, took a hit today on Lap 8, when “Dive Bomb Darryn” Binder initiated a crash which removed Aron Canet, John McPhee and, briefly, Tatsuki Suzuki from the proceedings. Having lived up to his nickname, Binder was assigned a ridethrough penalty. (In an apparent Act of Contrition he also voluntarily took a long lap penalty.) Series leader Lorenzo dalla Porta led the race for most of the day before getting caught up in a frantic fustercluck at Turn 12 on the last lap, losing out to Albert Arenas and just barely crossing the line in front of Alonso Lopez and Marcos Ramirez, all four riders within 4/10ths of a second of one another. The day’s events left dalla Porta 22 points ahead of a seething Canet, who left the track immediately after the race to have some harsh anti-Binder tattoos added to his already impressive ink collection. 

MotoGP Tranches 

After Aragon: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Buriram: 

Tranche 1:  Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:  Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli, Jack Miller

Tranche 3: Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir, Takaa Nakagami, Pecco Bagnaia, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira, Andrea Iannone, Mike Kallio

Tranche 5:  Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

A Look Ahead 

Two weeks until the start of the dreaded Pacific Swing, a three-rounds-in-three-weeks bane to riders, crews and the journalists contracted to cover it. As promised, we will focus our attention on Moto2 and Moto3 while giving short shrift to MotoGP. I will be plumbing the depths of my ignorance of the riders and teams and relying on my warehouse full of clichés and old jokes to get me through to Valencia. In addition, I have a little over a month to come up with a pithy quote to summarize the MotoGP season. I’m hoping to find one that fits a sporting season characterized by the utter domination thereof by one of the competitors. Readers are encouraged to submit suggestions via the comments section below.

Local Color

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Congratulations to Marc Marquez for being one of the dominant athletes of his generation in any sport in the world. Even if one is partial to Valentino Rossi-flavored Kool-Aid, you must tip your hat to the accomplishments, and those to come, of #93.


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