Rossi, Yamaha exploit Honda disaster Down Under

October 19, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Results, by Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi & LorenzoSimply looking at the final results, the 2014 Tissot Australian Grand Prix appears to have been a clear Yamaha triumph. In fact, it was a demolition derby in which the winners managed to survive, rather than dominate, the proceedings. True, at the end it was an all Yamaha podium, featuring Rossi on top, followed by Lorenzo and first-timer Bradley Smith. But with nine riders having crashed out or retired, the phrase “you need to be in it to win it” has never been more true.

The weekend featured the debut of Bridgestone’s latest creation, the asymmetric front tire, one which looked great on paper but proved to be the ruin of several top riders. Designed to withstand the searing temperatures generated on the left side of the tire in high speed lefthanders, it proved ineffective in cool conditions under braking into the rights, causing the shocker of the day–series leader Marc Marquez crashing out of a four second lead on Lap 18, appearing as though his front tire was made of glass, replicating the almost identical crash Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo experienced in FP1. Young Pol Espargaro suffered the same fate on Lap 25 while challenging for his first ever premier class podium. From a spectator’s point of view, it appears Bridgestone still has some work to do on this particular model. Plenty of work, in fact.Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380

That the top Honda finisher today was Alvaro Bautista in 6th place demonstrates the scale of the Debacle Down Under for the Minato factory. Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa got hit in practice by Karel Abraham, then got assaulted again on Lap 6 by crazy “Crazy Joe” Iannone, who plowed into the rear of Pedrosa’s bike without a prayer of getting through cleanly. Iannone and his Pramac Ducati went flying up and off the track, while Pedrosa managed to stay upright, only to pit on Lap 7 in sheer disgust. The incident will be looked at by Race Direction in Sepang, with a stern slap on the wrist possible for the Italian rider, while Pedrosa’s chances to finish second for the season suffered a serious blow. Iannone appeared to suffer a bump on his knee, which qualifies as “just desserts” in our opinion.

The third bizarre incident took place on Lap 19 and involved LCR Honda defector Stefan Bradl and Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro, who graduates to the factory Suzuki team next year. Similar to the incident on Lap 6 (and an earlier incident at Indianapolis), Bradl attempted to fit himself into space that didn’t exist, smashing into the rear of Espargaro’s bike. Bradl and bike immediately left the premises, while Espargaro continued on for a few hundred yards before pulling off into the grass and smashing his windscreen in frustration. He was probably irked, in part, by the thought that his little brother would overtake him in their season-long battle for 6th place in the standings. But Smith’s podium and Pol’s own crash means they’re still separated by a single point, only now fighting for 7th, as Smith went through on both of them.Bradl

The fourth and final shocker today involved my boy Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified his Ducati GP14 in second place—on a dry track—and had climbed from 9th place on a terrible first lap to third at the end of Lap 22. On the next Lap he blew by Lorenzo into second place and appeared interested in Rossi’s whereabouts, his Desmosedici looking fast, stable and dangerous. On the final lap, with second place firmly in his grasp, and a second podium in three outings his for the taking, he simply lost the front for no visible reason. In doing so, he reminded us of an NFL wide receiver who gets behind the defense, makes the catch, high-steps 30 yards all alone, and spikes the ball on the five yard line. And so it is that Crutchlow, with a higher opinion of his riding ability than almost anyone anywhere, remains stuck at 63 points for the season and, as predicted here last year, sits well behind both of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders, proof that in MotoGP as elsewhere, you gotta be careful what you wish for.

crutchlowAfter the race, Rossi was ecstatic, having won in Phillip Island for the first time since 2005. Lorenzo was dejected, complaining that his front tire was destroyed, and that his poor choice prevented him from challenging for the win. Tech 3 pilot Bradley Smith who, from a distance, appears to have no eyebrows, was shocked and elated to discover, only after the checkered flag flew, that he had podiumed, so busy with what was happening around him that he was completely unaware of what had been going on in front. He acknowledged getting pushed around earlier in the race, and was suitably self-effacing during the press conference, attributing his first premier class podium to luck and the work of his team. It is gradually becoming easier to understand why Herve Poncharal chose Smith for his #2 bike back in 2012 rather than Scott Redding, although Redding’s future is exceedingly bright, with the Marc VDS team soon to be in the premier class fold.

Calamity at the Top = Celebration at the Bottom

With the likes of Marquez, Pedrosa, Bradl, et al failing to finish today, it became an all-you-can-eat banquet for the back markers of the premier class. Danilo Petrucci, the heavily-bearded hope of Octo IodaRacing and soon to be Pramac #2, saw his season points total increase by 44%, adding four points to his previous total of nine. For Avintia’s Mike di Meglio it was a 50% increase, the last rider crossing the finish line adding two points to his previous four.

From there, the percentage increases were otherworldly. Alex de Angelis, having taken Colin Edwards’ seat on the Forward Racing team, doubled his point total for the season by finishing ninth, going from 7 points to 14 for the year. Another big winner today, in percentage terms, was Paul Byrd’s hapless Michael Laverty. Laverty, who is seeing his MotoGP career come to an end just as his brother Eugene’s is starting, experienced a 150% increase in his point total for the season in just one cool, windy afternoon. Coming into Round 16, he had amassed two (2) points in 2014. Today, he earned four. And although this may not sound like much, in truth, well, it really isn’t. Byrd and Laverty have some fierce defenders amongst the readers of this column, but they’re just not terribly good at either the racing or the business of raising money and bamboozling sponsors. Fans of David versus Goliath will applaud every single point these guys earn, but there has to be a better way to make a living than this.

The king of the have-nots today, however, was Hectic Hector Barbera, once again propelled by Ducati power for Avintia after a year and a half away from Pramac Racing. Not only was he the top Open class finisher today, but his 11 point, fifth-place finish, on top of the three points he had earned all season before today, represent an almost incalculable increase of 366%.

That, my friends, is some racing. A day of functionality in a season of despair.

The Road to Kuala Lampur

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were the big losers today, Marquez coming back to the pack while Pedrosa dropped from a tie for second for the season to fourth place. We will be traveling to Malaysia this coming week to keep an eye on things at Sepang next weekend, posting a few extra bits between now and then on Facebook and Twitter .

Unlike Phillip Island, Sepang is a very Honda-friendly place, and we look for Marc and Dani to get back some of the mojo they left behind in Australia. But Rossi and Lorenzo, each having now won twice this season, both believe they can compete with the Hondas, so it promises to be an exciting “penultimate” round of racing. Watch this space during the coming week for news and views from the self-styled Land of Adventure.

Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo ready to rumble for 2nd place

October 18, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

In what is likely to be a preview of the rest of the decade in MotoGP, three Aliens not named Marquez will begin their assault on the vice-championship this week at Phillip Island. Heading into Round 16 Down Under, a mere three points separate Yamaha ironman Jorge Lorenzo from teammate Valentino Rossi, who sits tied with Repsol Honda mini-Marc Dani Pedrosa. While world champion Marc Marquez’ mom dusts off some space in the family trophy case for the 2014 hardware, there’s plenty of racing left this season. victory helmet

Late in 2012, while MotoGP legend Casey Stoner was busy winning his sixth consecutive Australian GP here, we suggested it might be fitting to rename the track Stoner Island, an idea widely ignored in Australia but adopted, strangely enough, in San Marino, which renamed its own circuit in memory of the late Marco Simoncelli. Given the fact that Simoncelli missed his chance to win a premier class race, while Stoner’s victory count is somewhere in the 40’s, you wouldn’t expect much resistance to the idea from the locals, who have precious little else to brag about. A couple of tennis players from back in the 60’s, maybe. Whatever.

Who, you may be wondering, holds the record for the second-most wins at Phillip Island, presuming Stoner owns the record? I mean, after all, we’re squarely in the midst of trying to generate some excitement over an impending battle for second place in 2014. So, again, who has the second most career wins at Phillip Island? Casey Stoner, that’s who, with his six. Valentino Rossi, with seven, holds the record, with one win having come in the 500cc class in 2001 and two in the 250cc class in 1998 and 1999. OK, so Stoner had the most premier class wins; we’ll give him an asterisk for his trouble.

Now, for $500 and the game, who won the race in 2006, in between Rossi’s four in a row and Stoner’s six? Nicky Hayden? No, dude has only three career wins in the premier class, none of which came in Australia. Dani Pedrosa? No, he was a sullen, aggressive rookie in 2006 and finished 15th that year. Drum roll, please…the winner of the 2006 Australian Grand Prix was… Marco Melandri onboard the Gresini Honda.

More Recent History at Phillip Island

STONER_PI2012 marked the last of Stoner’s six wins at his home crib. That year, Jorge Lorenzo struggled to second place, some nine seconds in arrears. Five seconds behind Lorenzo was Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha, scoring his second career podium in the premier class that day. Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he could over the second half of the season to catch leader Jorge Lorenzo, lost his marbles on Lap 2 and saw his day and his season come to another dismal end. The best race-in-the-race that day saw Andrea Dovizioso win a thrilling run to the flag, punking both Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl and their respective Hondas by a few hundredths of a second.

Last year’s race was a fiasco from start to finish. Over the previous winter, the track owners had invested $3 million resurfacing the circuit, making it the grippiest, fastest circuit on the calendar. And, incidentally, the most rubber-hungry surface on earth. With its host of high-speed bends, the riders were generating enormous amounts of heat in the tires, which were decomposing beneath them as fast as the crews could put them on. Bridgestone, in its infinite wisdom (read: unwillingness to spend the money testing their tires on the new surface), arrived in Australia to a symphony of complaints, ranging from Carmelo Ezpeleta to the kid who drives Jorge Lorenzo’s scooter in the pit area.

By Sunday, Race Direction was issuing Orders of the Day every half hour. The race was shortened from 27 laps to 26, then to 19, then to 19 with a mandatory tire change by the end of Lap 10. The teams set up two bikes for each rider, each equipped with soft tires and half a tank of gas, and the lights went out. As Lap 10 was ending, Lorenzo and Marquez were leading, running shoulder to shoulder. Lorenzo exited into pit lane as Marquez, inexplicably, kept right on going, only to pit at the end of Lap 11.marc-marquez-black-flag

The combination of a flurry of ad hoc rule changes being translated into three or four different languages with riders’ lives and millions of dollars of machinery hanging in the balance proved too much for Marquez and his team, whose late tire change resulted in a black flag DQ on Lap 15, handing the race to Lorenzo. The win kept the Mallorcan in contention for the title, which he only grudgingly surrendered two weeks later in Valencia. Pedrosa and Rossi made up the rest of the podium, with Rossi pipping Crutchlow and Bautista at the finish for the only satisfying moment of the entire day.

You Heard It Here Last

We have been somewhat derelict in keeping up with the rider changes happening in the second echelon of MotoGP in preparation for the 2015 season. This is due in part to the fact that every single motorcycle publication on earth has published the abundant team press releases, including ourselves. At this point, all but two or three seats have been claimed.

Familiar faces changing livery for 2015 are headlined by Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl, as the Brit takes over for Bradl on the #1 LCR Honda and Bradl downshifts to join Forward Racing. Danilo Petrucci goes from the Ioda Racing frying pan to the Pramac Ducati fire, where he will join Yonny Hernandez on the junior Corse team. And Aleix Espargaro gets to realize his dream of riding for a factory team, as he moves from Forward Racing’s Open class machine to the new Suzuki GSX-RR.

At least four new faces will grace the grid next season. The Drive 7 Aspar team is giving Hiro Aoyama the boot in favor of Eugene Laverty, who joins the premier class, alongside teammate Nicky Hayden, after several productive seasons in World Superbike. With Paul Byrd folding up his tent next year, we are spared the sight of two Lavertys on the grid, as brother Michael is “evaluating opportunities” in WSBK and British Superbike, i.e., scrambling to find some kind of ride on road courses rather than dirt ovals.

Up-and-coming Moto2 grad Maverick Vinales brings his game to MotoGP joining Aleix Espargaro on the factory Suzuki. Forward Racing, having ejected Colin Edwards and, in turn, been jilted by the elder Espargaro, will make a go of it with Bradl and Frenchman Loris Baz, all 6’3” of him, who will try to fold himself around the Yamaha powered machine, elbows and knees sticking out all over the place, sure to remind some of us of Super Sic the way he used to look on his Gresini Honda. But without question, the highest profile rookie heading into 2015 will be Jack Miller, the young Australian skipping a grade, moving directly to the premier class from Moto3 on a three year deal, the first of which is likely to be spent in various hospitals around the globe. Crikey, but that’s a steep learning curve, Mr. Miller.

Fausto Gresini, in his eternal quest for Italian riders for his satellite squad, has abandoned his relationship with Honda in favor of a low budget operation with Aprilia for the next few years, with Alvaro Bautista somehow retaining his #1 seat with the team, a second rider yet to be named. Scott Redding moves to Marc VDS Racing and their shiny new factory spec Honda, which should elevate the Brit’s game and set up some interesting fights with countryman Crutchlow on the same bike. Hayden, Laverty, Miller and Karel Abraham will be the beneficiaries of an upgrade in the so-called customer Hondas, as the Japanese factory switches out the severely underpowered RCV1000R in favor of what they’re calling the 213V-RS, powered by this year’s fire-breathing RC213V engine in conjunction with a standard ECU and complete with Open class fuel, engine, testing and tire concessions.

Like I said 1400 words ago, there’s still plenty going on in MotoGP. The Marquez Years are upon us, and we must look past young Marc, seeking our pleasure in the profane, the ridiculous and the sublime, all of which are in lavish supply as the 2014 season wends its way to the finish line at Valencia in November.

We’ll have Phillip Island results right here on Sunday evening.

Samurai Marc Marquez seizes second consecutive premier class title

October 12, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Motegi Results by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

On a cloudy, cool Saturday afternoon in Haga District, Tochigi, Japan, 21-year old Repsol Honda pilot Marc Marquez clinched his second world championship in the premier class of MotoGP. This follows earlier championships in the Moto2 and 125 classes, giving him four titles in five years of grand prix racing. We at Motorcycle.com are impressed.

Victory signGrand prix motorcycle racing fans often speak about the Alien class of riders, typically comprised of the four savants that make up the factory Honda and Yamaha teams. In almost every round of every season, it is these four souls from which the three podium celebrants emerge. This lack of variety is one of the shortcomings of the sport, at least in the premier class. In the two underclasses, the concentration of power is more diluted, and the result is more exciting, less predictable races.

Heading into today’s race at Motegi, all four of this year’s Aliens had a part to play in the drama which unfolded. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and Movistar Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi were responsible for keeping young Marquez from securing the title by whatever means necessary; one or both had to beat him to keep the chase alive heading to Phillip Island next week.

Jorge Lorenzo, who has fairly dominated the second half of the 2014 season after a calamitous first half, was under no such pressure, having been eliminated from title contention weeks ago. For him, the war was over, despite having several battles left to wage. An accidental collision with Marquez, however, would not be the worst thing for his factory Yamaha team on this day. Such things are, after all, possible on two wheels in close quarters at high speeds. And a possible explanation for the presence of Yamaha factory test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga as a wildcard entry on a factory spec YZR-M1 for Divine Wind Racing. Just sayin’.

Disorder at the Start

Being on the wrong side of the International Date Line, qualifying at Motegi took place locally on Friday, with the resulting grid finding all four Aliens in the middle of a Ducati sandwich, factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso having qualified brilliantly for his second career pole, and Pramac Racing overachiever Andrea Iannone starting from the six hole. The special status Ducati enjoys in the premier class, somewhere between factory and open specs, allows the Dueling Andreas to qualify on pillow-soft rear tires that would not last a third of a race, but which are great for front row starts.

The start of every race, when the red lights go out and 20-some guys release their brake and clutch handles at the same time, is the most dangerous 20 seconds of the entire day. The mad dash to the first turn results in a substantial amount of contact between riders. In the lower classes, especially Moto3, it is not surprising to see half a dozen riders leave the macadam, stomping their feet and shaking their fists at one another. On the big bikes, riders generally trade a little paint and keep on trucking, occasionally falling back in the pack but staying upright.

Thus, it was not surprising today to watch #5 starter Lorenzo veer into #4 starter Marquez heading into turn one, causing the defending champion to briefly rise up and lose two or three spots. He would regain them in the next half lap, by which time Rossi led the field, followed in close disorder by Dovizioso, Iannone and Lorenzo. Marquez and Pedrosa were, at this moment, kind of lost in the sauce, an increasingly frequent problem for Pedrosa in 2014. But by the end of Lap 1, the leaders were Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Pedrosa. Two minutes into the race, one must guess Marquez had but three things on his mind: Must. Catch. Rossi.Rossi 2014

Marquez Seeks Out #46

The rest of the afternoon was, in hindsight, fairly predictable. On Lap 4, Marquez passed Iannone into 4th place, with Pedrosa doing the same to the Italian the next time around. Lap 5 was noteworthy as Lorenzo went through on teammate Rossi into the lead he would maintain for the rest of the day. On Lap 6 I noted that Pedrosa was running alone in 5th place watching his season end in front of him.

On Lap 9, Dovizioso ran his Ducati a bit wide in one of the mid-lap turns, allowing Marquez through into 3rd place with the blue and yellow of #46 now directly in front of him. Rossi’s pit board immediately informed him that, in essence, the weight of the world now rested squarely on his shoulders, that it was up to him to hold off the young Spaniard for 15 laps or else turn out the lights on the 2014 season. As we now know, it was too much to ask for the 35-year old nine time world champion, or anyone else for that matter.

Marquez Finds #46

Lorenzo, by this time, was in his private place, leading by roughly 3 seconds and laying down fast laps one after the other; sadly, aside from his team, no one seemed to care too much. The 43,000 fans in attendance were focused on the contest for second place as Marquez gradually, inexorably tracked down his idol, closing the gap steadily until Lap 15, when the two briefly traded positions, Rossi surviving the first challenge. The second would come on the following lap, as Marquez smoothly, cleanly and effortlessly went through on the Yamaha and made it stick. Both Rossi and Pedrosa would push their machines to the absolute limit for the remaining 10 laps in a doomed effort to overtake Marquez.

It wasn’t happening.

And that was that. The day ended with Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi on the podium for the fourth time this year. The celebrations in both the Yamaha and Honda camps seemed just a shade muted, as Yamaha claimed a double podium on a day in which they were eliminated from the title chase, while Honda locked down another world championship but was denied the pleasure of seeing Marquez on the top step of the podium.

victory helmetYoung Marc did claim the mantle of utter coolness by virtue of the gold helmet he wore for his victory lap and the elaborate Samurai ceremony staged to honor him as a new member of the esteemed warrior class of ancient Japan. In it, Marquez unsheathed the sword of honor and used it to cut the string that tethered a white balloon with the #1 stenciled on it, releasing the balloon toward the heavens and securing the young Spaniard’s place in his adoptive country’s ancient tradition of sledgehammer symbolism and truly whacked out honorifics.

Samurai celebration

On to Phillip Island

MotoGP now confronts a month of anticlimactic denouement. True, the contest for second place for the year could not be closer, with Rossi and Pedrosa tied and Lorenzo trailing the two by a mere three points. We’ll see a few wildcard entries, with Suzuki scheduled to make a cameo appearance at Valencia prior to its full-fledged return to the premier class next year. We’ll catch you up on the last sips of the silly season and forthcoming news from the Marc VDS and Gresini Aprilia teams. A measure of the existential crisis confronting the rest of the premier class season is the growing anticipation of the post-race testing slated for Valencia in November.

How fitting is it that the sun should begin to set on the 2014 season in The Land of the Rising Sun? Congratulations to world champion Marc Marquez!

MM victory continues

Countdown to a championship begins in Hondaland

October 7, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Motegi Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

pedrosa-marquezThe Motul Grand Prix of Japan marks the beginning of the annual late season three-races-in-three-weeks “Pacific flyaway” during which the MotoGP world championship is usually clinched. Last year, for only the second time in 21 years, the grid traveled to Valencia with the title, eventually won by then rookie Marc Marquez, up for grabs. This year appears certain to revert to form, as Marquez stands on the cusp of his second premier class title.

Before one of our more devoted readers blasts us for ignoring the fact that there are still 100 points “on offer” for the 2014 season, let me clarify a point raised last time out, when we asserted that Marquez’ magic number was/is one (1). We were expressing Marquez’ objective relative to his closest rival, teammate Dani Pedrosa, who trails him today by exactly 75 points. Should Pedrosa maintain his grip on second place this weekend—he leads Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi by a scant three points—and sees his deficit to Marquez increase by a single point, Marquez clinches. THAT is the one point we were discussing. We are ignoring the possibility that Marquez could go 0-for-October and November, just as we ignore the possibility that the same reader could, in theory, jump over the Empire State Building.empire_state_building1

Clearly, the question is not “if.” The question is “when.”

In our reader’s defense, the young Spaniard has looked remarkably ordinary in three of his last four outings. Sure, he won at Silverstone, beating Yamaha double champion Jorge Lorenzo by 7/10ths in a riveting battle that raged all day. But he gave us the curious 4th place finish at Brno the previous round, and followed his triumph in Britain with the mystifying lowside at Misano and the ill-conceived crash in the rain at Aragon. The fact remains that Marquez has a virtually insurmountable lead with four rounds left. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if our crack research staff were to comb the archives and determine that no rider in the history of MotoGP has failed to clinch the title when leading by 75 points with four rounds left.

(I take that last one back. In that we don’t actually have a crack research staff, it would surprise me immensely if “they” were to discover anything at all about MotoGP, bird-watching, or the price of beer.)

Recent History at Motegi

twin ring motegi

From the air, Motegi resembles a heavy-duty stapler.

The fabled Twin Ring Motegi Circuit is the home track of Honda Racing Corporation, where HRC does the testing that produces arguably the fastest grand prix prototypes on the planet. Ducati fans will, at this point, protest, citing the Italian bike’s higher top end speed, which is relevant in places like the Bonneville Salt Flats but less so on the road courses that comprise grand prix racing. Suffice it to say that Honda has won more constructor championships in the premier class than any other manufacturer, including the last three. If your bum is planted on a factory spec Honda, you have no viable excuse for finishing outside the top six every week.

It is, therefore, surprising that Honda has enjoyed so little recent success at its home crib. Since the Japanese Motorcycle Grand Prix returned to Motegi from Suzuka in 2004, Honda has won here exactly three times, in 2004, 2011 and 2012, the last two courtesy of Dani Pedrosa. One fears that a number of ritual suicides may have occurred at HRC headquarters in the intervening years, as a string of executives lost serious face to Yamaha and even Ducati during the period. In hindsight, the three consecutive years in which Loris Capirossi rode his Ducati to victory (2005-2007) must have been particularly chilling.

Back in 2011, Pedrosa comfortably outpaced Lorenzo’s Yamaha and teammate Casey Stoner after Stoner ran himself out of contention and into the gravel early on. The young, charismatic Marco Simoncelli rode his San Carlo Gresini Honda to an impressive fourth place finish, and would surpass that result the next time out when he podiumed in second place at Phillip Island. Sic would start the final race of his career the following week at Sepang.Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380

In 2012, Pedrosa would repeat at his employer’s home track, followed again by Lorenzo, with the unpredictable Alvaro Bautista claiming thirdplace on what I think of as Simoncelli’s satellite Honda. Dani was in the process of winning six of the last eight races of the year in a futile attempt to overtake Lorenzo. He would win again the following week at Sepang, only to see his season come to a grinding halt at Phillip Island in a slow-motion lowside eerily evocative of Simoncelli’s own tragic lowside the previous year in Malaysia. Pedrosa, thankfully, would live to race again.

Last year, on top of to two typhoons and a 7.1 earthquake on Friday night, rookie Marquez put his title chances in deep peril with a violent high side in the Sunday morning warm-up that left him with a sore shoulder and neck rather than the broken collarbone he probably deserved. Demonstrating unexpected toughness, he stayed close enough to the leaders to claim third place and hold Lorenzo at bay. Lorenzo, in an effective impression of Pedrosa the preceding year, won five of the last seven races to finish the year, allowing Marquez to claim the title by a scant four points.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Part of the mystique attached to Marc Marquez derives from the way the two previous seasons ended. Leaving Valencia in 2012, one couldn’t help believing that 2013 could be Dani Pedrosa’s year, that he had finally found the formula for winning a title. Along comes rookie Marquez, who puts that theory to rest with a sensational rookie campaign, having made a lot of hay while Pedrosa was injured in the middle of the season. Fast forward to the end of 2013, when Lorenzo sets expectations for his 2014 season—both of his titles came in even-numbered years—sky high. Instead, Lorenzo finds himself down 80 points to Marquez after five rounds, gasping for air, his season in ruins. So much for expectations.

Young man has the world by the balls.

Young man has the world by the balls.

 

It was French humanist and scientist René Dubos who first observed that “trend is not destiny.” Marquez graduates from Moto2 and wins his rookie premier class campaign by four points. He returns the following year and wins by, let’s say, 50 points. (Should he break Mick Doohan’s record of 12 wins in a season it’ll be more like 100.) Does this suggest that he’ll take the 2015 title by 150 points? Hardly. Does it suggest that he could be winning championships for most of the next decade? Unequivocally. He will have to deal with Lorenzo and Pedrosa, Vinales and hermano pequeño Alex, perhaps an Espargaro or a Redding. But he will ultimately find himself in a place where guys like Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning and Michael Schumacher end up. In a league of their own, competing with themselves. And whether you’re a fan of #93 or not, it is a privilege to watch him do his job.

 

The Japanese Grand Prix goes off at 1 am EDT on Sunday. We’ll catch the video later in the morning and have results right here Sunday afternoon. Konichiwa.

Lorenzo wins flag-to-flag Alien crashfest

September 28, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Results, by Bruce Allen.  

The 800th MotoGP premier class race in history started today in conditions resembling the first, held in 1949 as the Isle of Man TT—cloudy, damp and cool. When the weather here is dry, the place looks like something straight out of Mad Max; the only things missing are the sidecars and tanker trucks. When it rains, anything can happen, as today’s results demonstrated.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon started under cloudy skies with a dry track, and had the makings of a typical all-Alien rout. Despite being hosted by the primary factory Yamaha team sponsor, both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo struggled all weekend, unable to find any grip or pace in practice. That they would qualify 6th and 7th, respectively, was actually something of a pleasant surprise, with Rossi having had to go through Q1 to get there. Meanwhile, the Repsol Hondas were blistering the tarmac, with putative champion Marc Marquez qualifying on the pole and teammate Dani Pedrosa second. The rest of the grid spent Friday and Saturday blowing engines, setting bikes on fire (Hector Barbera’s shiny new Avintia Ducati 14.2 converted into a smoking pile of black ash) and sliding off all over the place.

Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014Of special note prior to the start were the efforts of Ducati Corse and Magician-in-Chief Gigi Dall’Igna to provide machinery for every taste and budget. The result of their frantic preparations found factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso and rising Pramac star Andrea Iannone seated on the new GP14.2, and Avintia’s Barbera on a GP14.2 equipped with the spec ECU and open class software (providing a glimpse of 2016.) Pramac’s luckless #2 Yonny Hernandez and factory defector Cal Crutchlow were left to wrestle standard GP14s, hoping for rain. That their prayers were eventually answered shows the fickle nature of the racing gods, as follows.

A Dry First Half

The race announcers referred all day to “the mist”, an apparently British form of precipitation that had been thundering down on the track early in the morning, yielding to the more common form later in the day. And while it was officially declared a dry race at the start, the grass and runoff areas were bogs.

At the start, Iannone shot to the front from the #3 hole, followed in close order by Marquez, Lorenzo—on fire out of the #7 hole—and Pedrosa, with Rossi and Pol Espargaro not far behind. Iannone and Marquez traded positions twice on Lap 2 before Iannone, in the lead, ran wide and left the racing surface, something we have seen riders do hundreds of times.Rossi, Dutch MotoGP Race 2008

Typically, riders in this particular pickle run into the grass, slow way down, and eventually get things turned around, returning to the track down a few positions but otherwise intact. But as Iannone and, on Lap 4, Rossi discovered the hard way, today’s off-track conditions were anything but typical. Once they hit the grass, in almost identical postures, their bikes virtually stopped, throwing them over the handlebars, rider and machine then going ragdoll until coming to rest next to the wall. Iannone walked off, but Rossi was removed on a stretcher, reported later to be okay with the exception of a possible concussion. Thus, at the close of Lap 4, the leaders were Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Pol Espargaro and Dovizioso.

By mid-race, Lorenzo and Marquez had traded positions a few times, Pedrosa sat in third awaiting disaster in front of him, the rest of the field trailing, with Dovizioso having taking over fourth place from Espargaro the Younger. At this point, the racing gods yielded to the rain gods, and Round 14 of the 2014 season, #800 of all time, became perhaps the most memorable contest of the year.

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

By Lap 16, the mist had become something stronger, what we Americans call “rain”, with Race Direction waving first a white flag, then a white flag with a red cross taped to it, indicating the riders could return to the pits to swap out their machines for #2 bikes set up for the wet. Marquez and Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo, the expectation at that point that all three would pit together, with the Repsol teammates then going mano-a-mano to the flag, leaving Lorenzo a demoralizing third. Lap 17 saw Pedrosa and Marquez exchange places at least five times, leaving HRC kahuna Livio Suppo gasping for breath and Lorenzo dropping off the pace.

On Lap 18, Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro became the first rider to enter the pits followed in quick succession by pretty much everyone but the three remaining Alien leaders, who were still surfing around the circuit on slicks. Andrea Dovizioso crashed out on Lap 19, reducing the second GP14.2 to an engine, two wheels and a pile of recyclable materials. On a crucial Lap 20, Lorenzo pitted and Pedrosa crashed out of second place, got up, ran what seemed like a quarter mile to his idling RC213V, got it up and running and headed gingerly for the pits.

Marquez swims across the lineWhat did NOT happen on Lap 20 was Marquez entering the pits. For whatever reason—youthful exuberance, inexperience, a sense of infallibility—the defending champion rode past pit lane, his crew gesticulating wildly and thoroughly ignored. This single decision, reminiscent of his unfortunate DQ at Phillip Island last year, when he also pitted too late, cost him the win today. Inevitably, later in the lap, Marquez, now hydroplaning, lost the front, went down, and paid the price for his willfulness.

On Lap 21, the rain having become a downpour, Lorenzo found himself in the lead, with Marquez, still on slicks, still ignoring his team, acting like a stubborn child, his bike in tatters, dropping like a stone in the standings, finishing the lap in 10th position. Finally, on Lap 22, Aleix Espargaro having taken over second place, and Cal Crutchlow having miraculously materialized in third, Marquez entered pit lane, traded bikes, and returned to the track. Ultimately, he and teammate Pedrosa would cross the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Perhaps “disrespectively” would better describe their conditions at the end. Amazingly, while their day was ruined, their seasons were essentially unaffected by the day’s debacle.

The Big Picture

The most noteworthy occurrence at the 2014 Aragon GP was the historic performance of Aleix Espargaro, who deservedly became the first open class rider to secure a podium finish, providing, along with Barbera’s machine, a glimpse into the MotoGP world of 2016. The defiant Cal Crutchlow proved little else but that the Desmosedici can be competitive in the rain; on a normal day, he would have finished no better than sixth.Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

Remarkably, the standings at the top remained essentially unchanged. Marquez, who deserves to be taken to the woodshed by his ever-present father, came to Aragon leading Pedrosa by 74 points and left leading by 75. Pedrosa’s lead over Rossi for second place jumped from one to three points. Lorenzo was the big winner, gaining 25 points on his teammate, whom he now trails by only 12. Marquez’s magic number heading for the Pacific flyaway rounds is one, but it looks to be a dogfight for the next three positions for the 2014 season. MotoGP fans, I’m sure, join us in hoping Valentino Rossi is good to go for Motegi and beyond.

Postscript—The podium celebrations today were marred by the first ever, at least in my memory, appearance of a podium GUY. Usually, we are treated to the sight of two long-stemmed local beauties getting sprayed with champagne after the trophies have been handed out and the Spanish national anthem hummed. Hopefully, this appalling display of gender equality will, in the future, be confined to the workplaces and legislative chambers where it belongs. I, for one, am not ready for a big photo spread in Motorcycle.com or Crash.net of Motorcycle Hunks.

Heading back to Spain, Marquez needs to focus

September 22, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Previiew

Bruce Allen  © Motorcycle.com

For Repsol Honda super soph Marc Marquez, who flirted with perfection for much of the season, there remain but three goals for the 2014 MotoGP season. First and foremost—win the title, which is pretty much a done deal. Second—stay out of the hospital, which is to say take no unnecessary risks in a sport which is, by its very nature, risky. Third and last—break Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a single season.

raineyrossi1vt

Wayne Rainey and Vali

You and I would probably reverse the first two, which is one reason we’re not out there competing for world championships in anything. I was once told that to be successful in advertising, one had to lack the ability to recognize life-threatening situations. This goes without saying in motorcycle racing, where the trajectory of one’s life can change in an instant. Thus all the wheelchairs one sees at AMA events. And while we are consistently hard on the so-called back markers in the premier class, it must be admitted that all are hugely talented and courageous beyond belief. The difference between The Aliens and the Michael Lavertys is on the order of three to four seconds per lap. All of which validates the second of my tired clichés this week—the difference between good and great, in anything, is about 2%.

Marquez swims across the lineMarquez, with a 70-some point lead over teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, can clinch the title at Phillip Island with a couple of top two finishes between now and then. Not a tall order at all for the uniquely gifted young Spaniard. With 11 wins under his belt already, it is hard to imagine he won’t at least tie Doohan. And, should he tie Doohan with, say, two or three rounds left on the schedule, I expect he will go for the record. Despite the fact that he experienced the most serious crash of his career at Sepang in 2011, it would be tempting to go for history in the Honda-friendly Malaysian heat.

Recent History at Aragon

Despite the fact that Motorland Aragon was only added to the MotoGP calendar in 2010 as an emergency replacement for the still-born Hungarian circuit, there have been some great performances there in the years since. The track itself is a gorgeous place. The stacked stone wall looks like something straight out of the Inquisition, while the giant electronic billboard at the other end provides a stunning contrast, from medieval to ultra-modern. Too bad it’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere, 150 miles west of Barcelona. Not as remote as the Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, but not exactly convenient. To anywhere.

Back in 2011, Honda stalwart Casey Stoner, on his way to his second premier class title, arrived at Aragon leading defending champion and Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo by 35 points. At the start, Stoner and teammate Pedrosa went off to play by themselves, leaving Lorenzo to fiddle around with the likes of Gresini Honda pilot Marco Simoncelli and Yamaha teammate Ben Spies, both of whom he ended up beating soundly. Stoner took the top step on the podium and essentially clinched to 2011 title that day, leaving Lorenzo time to start getting accustomed to being referred to as “former champion.”

In 2012, it was Dani’s Revenge, as Pedrosa, who trailed the incandescent Lorenzo by 38 points on the heels of his last-row-start-first-lap-crash Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380at Misano two weeks earlier, won comfortably. Lorenzo claimed second that day, playing it safe, while Monster Tech 3 climber Andrea Dovizioso pushed his satellite Yamaha to the limit all day on his way to a satisfying third place finish. Pedrosa epitomized the “win or bin” mentality so often spoken of in racing, generally by Brits, by winning six of his last eight races that year and crashing out of the other two. Despite piling up his highest career point total in 2012, Pedrosa would end the year 18 points behind Lorenzo, a bridesmaid once again.

Last year, rookie Marc Marquez, not having been informed that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot, and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the two year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 12 seconds behind Lorenzo. Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the chippy DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, he clinched his first premier class title with a strong second place finish at Valencia on the last day of the season.

The Bottom Line

Marquez has now proven himself mortal, with his off-the-podium finish at Brno and the super slo-mo crash last time out at Misano. He doesn’t need to be sensational to achieve his #1 remaining 2014 goal, just good. He mustn’t lose concentration as the season winds down, in order to achieve his #2 goal. And, he will have several opportunities to secure his #3 goal, and further cement his place in MotoGP history, during the remaining rounds. This week’s race would actually be a good place to take a crack at #12, as Aragon is not what they call a terribly “technical” layout. With two wins here in the last three tries, he can go for the pole, check the competition in the first few laps, and decide mid-race whether conditions warrant going for the win. Moreover, he need not worry too much about what Lorenzo does, as the “threat”, such as it is, resides in Pedrosa and Rossi.

Quick Hitters

308_p01_pirro_portrait

Michele Pirro

This is the time of year when Gresini Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista typically rises from the dead. Since joining the Italian team in 2012, he has accumulated the bulk of his points in the second half of the season, narrowly averting a rough dismissal each year. This year, the team is leaving him; say hello to the factory Aprilia team, Alvaro. Perhaps Michele Pirro will become your teammate. He can certainly ride the Ducati, which means he can ride anything…KTM has announced it will join the grid in 2017 and begin testing at the end of next season. Having six manufacturers will certainly be more interesting than having three, although it probably won’t have much to do with goings-on at the top of the food chain…No word yet on whether Nicky Hayden will actually return to the sluggish Aspar customer Honda this round, this year, or ever again…Eugene Laverty, in a Field of Dreams moment, announced he will join the premier class next season, but that he doesn’t actually know, just now, with whom. Staging the announcement before signing the contract is the moto equivalent of “build it and they will come.”… Can two Lavertys be any more exciting than the one that has already accumulated three points this year? Just sayin’…Weather.com says it will be sunny and in the 70’s in Alcaniz this weekend, but Weather.com doesn’t know squat.

The race goes off again this week at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results later on Sunday, as the editorial staff at Motorcycle.com will have sobered up and returned to their customary post-equinox stations by then.

Rossi seizes the moment; Marquez goes down

September 14, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Misano Results, by Bruce Allen

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered for a number of things in years to come. The 54,543 Italian fans in attendance experienced the ecstasy of watching their idol, Movistar Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy since Misano in 2009. They witnessed the annual crash of the impertinent Marc Marquez, who laid his Repsol Honda down going perhaps 35 miles per hour in Turn 4 of Lap 10. They saw their national motorcycle, Ducati, place two riders in the top five. And, for the first time since The Renaissance, they could head home feeling their country may have turned the corner after 500 years of uninterrupted decline.

During the practice sessions leading up to today’s race, one could sense that defending world champion Marc Marquez wasn’t eating his Wheaties. He failed to top any of the practice sessions on his way to qualifying fourth, his first time off the front row since Catalunya last year. Meanwhile, the Ducatis and Yamahas were enjoying themselves immensely, the Ducatis dominant in the rain on Friday, the Yamahas—Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo—looking frisky and dangerous in the sunshine. Both qualified on the front row, sandwiching the increasingly impressive Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati; both would finish on the podium, joined by a dejected Dani Pedrosa, who struggled all day on his way to finishing third.

Ten Laps of High Drama

At the start, Lorenzo, whom we had picked to win today, jumped into the lead, with Rossi and Marquez filling out the first group. Marquez, looking as strong as ever, traded places twice with Rossi on Lap 3. Both he and Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 as the Mallorcan, the only Alien having chosen the hard front tire, lacked the edge grip enjoyed by his two rivals. By Lap 6, Lorenzo had faded slightly, leaving Rossi towing Marquez around the circuit and summoning recent memories of their head-to-head battles at Qatar and Catalunya earlier in the year.

How many times in the past few years have we watched the Repsol Hondas double-team a factory Yamaha into ruin? Today the tables were turned, as Rossi and Lorenzo had Marquez covered front and rear. Suddenly, in the slow Rio corner, Rossi sailed through, but Marquez slid into a slow motion lowside, barely marring the paint of his RC213V and narrowly avoiding a close encounter with the trailing Lorenzo. What ensued were perhaps 60 of the most frustrating seconds of young Marquez’ career as he tried over and over to restart his bike, the marshals finally helping him do so, after which he was roughly 90 seconds down on the Yamahas, his day effectively over. The predominantly Catholic crowd might have been tempted to remind Marquez that he was in Italy, that there is only one infallible person in that country, and his name is Francis.

18 Laps of a High Speed Parade

Not too much happened for the remainder of the race, reminding some of us of the interminable processions we so often saw in 2009 and 2010. By this time, two of the usual back markers—Mike di Meglio and Danilo Petrucci—had crashed out early on, joined in the kitty litter on Lap 7 by LCR Honda ejectee Stefan Bradl, whose season continues to disintegrate since his announced departure to NGM Forward Racing several weeks ago. Cal Crutchlow ran another very low risk race today, apparently determined to join his new LCR Honda team in November at the Valencia test with his body in one piece. And Aleix Espargaro, routinely getting schooled of late by little brother Pol on the Tech 3 Yamaha, made an uncharacteristic rookie mistake today, crashing out on the last lap and thereby ceding sixth place for the season to Pol.

Valentino Rossi Day at Misano

Fittingly, the day belonged to The Doctor, whose sense of theatre has been finely honed by years of celebrity and national recognition. At the relatively advanced age of 35, in his home race, he would pick up his 107th career grand prix win. He would notch his 81st win in the premier class. And, he would surpass 5,000 career grand prix points, the only rider ever to achieve such supremacy.

Parenthetically, he would prove a point I’ve been making here since 2009—regardless of what anyone tells you, this is Italy. Call it what you want—San Marino, The Riviera di Rimini, Most Serene Republic of San Marino (!), braunschweiger, whatever you want—this is Italy, these are Italians, and Vali is right up there with Pope Francis and the holy trinity. Somewhere, Rossi’s late friend and understudy Marco Simoncelli, for whom the circuit is now named, is smiling down on his friend, saying, “ben fatto, fratello.”

As for the Constructors

Today was an important day for Yamaha Racing, as it got an enormous monkey off their back. The prospect of going 0-18 against Honda Racing Corporation had to be giving company executives in Japan a collective case of hives. Even if they win out, which they won’t, 2014 will be regarded as a disastrous year for the once-dominant Iwata factory.

Ducati Corse, on the other hand, is seeing substantial progress in its MotoGP program. Although still running a distant third to Honda and Yamaha, the margin between the top Ducati finisher and the winner of each round is narrowing. In addition, this past week they signed a deal to provide machinery for the Avintia team for next season, bringing the number of Desmosedicis on the grid to six, assuming Pramac Racing continues in the fold. Such a strategy reminds one of W.C. Fields’ dictum that “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Having trouble keeping up in the constructors trophy competition? Put a dozen bikes out there and see how things shake out.

The Big Picture

Clearly, despite his disappointment at Brno and today’s mistake, Marc Marquez is going to win the 2014 title, relegating the rest of the Aliens to battling for second place. In this residual fight, Rossi picked up nine points on Pedrosa, leaving him only two points out of second place for the season, with teammate Lorenzo trailing the Honda pilot by 37. Rossi has stated that his main goal for the season, aside from winning races, is to finish second; Lorenzo has made it clear that his remaining motivation in 2014 is to simply win a race. Dani Pedrosa, who has been mostly mute on the subject, assumedly shares Rossi’s objective, but must keep an eye on Lorenzo who, with four consecutive second place finishes, is eating into his margin. None of the three, who are so competitive they would want to whip your ass in tiddlywinks, can be very happy about battling over second place.

And so it’s on to Aragon, the last stop before the brutal Pacific flyaway rounds that precede Valencia. Marquez’ second consecutive coronation suffered a delay today, and now looks more likely to take place at Motegi. But delay is by no means defeat.

Top Finishers Today

2014 Standings after 13 Rounds

Marquez in control as Round 13 comes into view

September 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Misano Preview, by Bruce Allen

With Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez relentlessly closing in on the 2014 MotoGP championship, attention is gradually turning toward the 2015 grid, where confusion reigns. Players in this evolving Keystone Kops comedy include Scott Redding, Fausto Gresini, Mika Kallio, Aprilia, Honda and Marc van der Straten. Out on the horizon, teenagers Alex Marquez and Alex Rins are plotting their own invasion of the premier class in the not-too-distant future.

Marquez in Sepang 2013Let’s face it. The battle for the 2014 premier class title is over but for the huzzahs. Marquez enjoys an 89 point advantage over teammate Dani Pedrosa with six rounds left. He picked up 12 points winning at Silverstone, as Pedrosa could manage only a fourth place finish. From here, it looks like Marquez and factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo will slug it out until Marquez clinches, while Pedrosa and Lorenzo’s teammate Valentino Rossi appear consigned to battle over third place, Rossi currently trailing the diminutive Spaniard by 10 points. In any event, barring the remote possibility that Marquez lands himself in a hospital anytime soon, he will clinch at either Motegi or, at the latest, Phillip Island, leaving the remaining rounds of the 2014 season as an extended testing period for everyone.

Seriously, can 2015 come soon enough?

Keystone Kops Revisited

Fausto Gresini, owner/manager of the satellite GO&FUN Honda team, has two things everyone wants—a factory spec Honda RC213V and rider Scott ReddingScott Redding—and two things no one wants—a customer Honda RCV100R and rider Alvaro Bautista. He also has a financial problem, in that his main sponsor, Italian energy drink company GO&FUN, has had enough of bankrolling a hugely expensive and largely unsuccessful MotoGP team and will not be back next year. Thus, Redding’s expected graduation to the RC213V is suddenly in jeopardy, to the extent that Gresini is allegedly negotiating with Aprilia to run its seriously underfunded factory team in 2015. Where Redding and the factory Honda end up is, at this point, anyone’s guess. Where Bautista and the customer Honda end up, no one really cares.

Enter Marc van der Straten, owner/manager of the wildly successful Marc VDS Moto2 team, currently featuring campaign leaders Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio. Van der Straten is trying to round up the financing to field a Honda MotoGP team that would, ostensibly, feature Redding (who rode for him in Moto2 until this season) on the factory Honda. All this, while simultaneously maintaining his deluxe Moto2 team in 2015, with Rabat and Marc Marquez’s little brother Alex signed and the hard luck Kallio kicked to the curb.

Mika KallioKallio, who trails Rabat by a mere 17 points heading into Misano, must be one highly motivated Finn. Imagine contending for a world championship and having your ride commandeered by the—literally—second coming of Marc Marquez. Kallio’s options for 2015 appear terribly limited, as most of the competitive seats in MotoGP are already spoken for, while the Moto2 teams have to submit their proposed rider lists to Dorna by the Aragon round at the end of the month. In my mom’s words, Mika is between the devil and the deep blue sea, while deserving far better.

Should Kallio end up on the Pramac Ducati—where he previ
ously served a two year sentence in 2009-2010—he will be making the best of a bad situation and placing his racing future in the promising hands of Gigi D’alligna. “Promising,” in this instance, does not mean full of potential. It means D’alligna has made a lot of promises to a lot of people, most of whom will be at least mildly surprised if he is able to field a competitive set of bikes in 2015. Especially at Pramac, the ‘Second Hand Rose’ of team Ducati.

alex-rins-alex-marquezNote: Do not lose sight of one Alex Rins, who will be joining the Pons Moto2 racing team next season. I read an article several years ago which suggested that Alex Marquez is faster than big brother Marc, and Rins faster than little brother Alex. Spain’s economy may be in the toilet, but they continue to churn out impossibly fast motorcycle racers.

Recent History at Misano

The little jewel of a racetrack, sparkling on the shores of the Italian Riviera Adriatico, with the Alps and the ghost of Marco Simoncelli looming in the background, has been Jorge Lorenzo’s personal playground for most of the past six years. He has won here each of the last three years, preceded by three narrow second place finishes, losing to Rossi in 2008 and 2009 and Pedrosa in 2010.

In 2012, pandemonium reigned at the start of the race, initiated by a stalled Karel Abraham, and necessitating a rare yellow-flagged restart. Dani Pedrosa, who entered the weekend trailing Lorenzo by a mere 13 points, became the victim of a jammed tire warmer as the restart approached, and was forced to start from the last spot on the grid. In his haste to return to the front, he got involved with Hectic Hector Barbera and his Pramac Ducati, crashing out of the race and the 2012 world championship chase in one appalling first lap moment. Lorenzo was joined on the podium that year by then-Ducati icon Valentino Rossi and, of all people, Alvaro Bautista, who somehow managed to beat Andrea Dovizioso’s Tech 3 Yamaha to the finish line by 3/1000ths of a second. Ohi!

Last year, Marc Marquez arrived in San Marino leading teammate Dani Pedrosa by 30 points and Lorenzo by 39. Lorenzo gave us one of his patented machine-like performances, taking the lead early, putting his head down, and recording 27 smooth, fast laps, with Marquez unable to get any closer than 3 seconds once he went through on Pedrosa on Lap 18. At the end of the day Marquez had lost the race but won the war, increasing his lead to 34 points with but five rounds left in the season.

Current Events

While Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta waits impatiently for the construction of a new track in Wales, the eventual home of the British Grand Prix, Donington Park has stepped in to fill the breach created by the financial woes apparent at Silverstone. Donington has secured the 2015 race and may host again in 2016, as construction delays brought about by the customary 350 days of rain per year in Wales could easily forestall its debut until 2017. In Wales, it’s said, you can find 40 different shades of green, 37 of which are molds and mildew. Why Dorna wants to stage a race in this odd little country—quick, someone name the capital—is well beyond me.

The last American standing in grand prix motorcycle racing, Nicky Hayden, is being held out of this week’s tilt as his surgically-repaired right wrist continues to heal. The day is not too far off when there will be no (0) Americans riding in this sport, which cannot be good for Dorna’s efforts to market the product in the U.S. With Josh Herrin recently having lost his Moto3 ride and Colin Edwards getting shown the door by his former NGM Forward Racing team, the manufacturers are going to have to find another way to promote their machines in the biggest retail market on earth; as a theme, success in grand prix racing is not going to work. There is no truth to the rumor that Ducati is planning a Buy One Diavel, Get One Free campaign for all of 2015.

This weekend marks Marc Marquez’s—that’s called alliteration–first attempt to tie Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a single season. Waiting here in Indiana for the tornados to drop from the sky and whisk me away to Points Unknown, I’m inclined to place my imaginary wager on Jorge Lorenzo this week. He gave Marquez all he wanted last time out; with no chance left to run the table, and plenty of easy rounds left to eclipse Doohan, this might be one the defending champion will be willing to let get away.

Again this week, the race goes off at 8 am Eastern time. Our report on the race results may be slightly delayed, as the editorial staff in Toronto has already started its annual Two Weeks of Boozing in gleeful anticipation of the autumnal equinox.

Marquez streak squelched by Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months

August 17, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Brno Results, by Bruce Allen

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380Most of the 131,800 fanatics who attended Sunday’s Czech Grand Prix at Brno–hoping to boast to their grandkids that they were there the day Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez broke the record for consecutive wins to start a season–were reduced, at best, to bragging they were at the race Marquez lost in 2014, when he went 17 for 18 on the way to his second premier class title in two seasons. With Yamaha studs Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi joining winner Dani Pedrosa on the podium, it was just like the good old days, before the annoying Marquez came along, in 2012, when the three of them used to win everything.

Dani Pedrosa’s last premier class win came at Sepang in September of 2013. He has had a strong history at Brno, but in the pre-race chatter one kept hearing about and considering Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and continuing marvel Valentino Rossi, who reduced his own chances of winning on Sunday by crashing out unassisted in FP4 and damaging his left pinky, a bad place to get hurt in his profession, despite the fastest time on the FP4 grid. Could the factory Yamahas and Ducatis push the gifted and impudent young Honda rider hard enough early in the race to implement the “anyone but Marquez” strategy that had silently emerged at the top of the grid since April?

The notion that Brno is a Yamaha-friendly track appeared to have been blown up in qualifying on Saturday with the emergence of the Ducati contingent in spots two and three, leaving Yamaha prototypes in 4th, 6th. 7th and 9th positions. Ducati Corse now has the Desmosidici working, if one will forgive yet another golf analogy, tee to green, but must continue to work on its short game. The Ducati is capable of laying down a single hot lap in qualifying but unable to keep pace at race distance due primarily to tire wear. Thus, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, found themselves qualifying in the front row along polesitter Marquez, but did not figure to be around come podium time. Not this year. Driving for show, putting for dough as it were.

One of the topics we explore periodically is that of “team orders”, which we swear don’t exist in this class of the profession. Yet, it is easy to envision this imaginary private conversation between Livio Suppo, HRC Director of Racing, and Dani Pedrosa after the last team meeting of the day on Sunday morning:
Livio SuppoLS:”Dani, as a seasoned pro and teammate you know that the streak young Marquez is on is remarkable. I know you and I both support him continuing the streak as long as possible.”
DP:”Yes, sir.”
LS: “That the streak can end, but it can’t be you that ends it?”
DP:”Yes, sir.”
LS: “So then I can assure our masters in Japan that you will not keep Marquez from his place in the record books, and that, as an effective wingman, you will help, if necessary, fight off Lorenzo and Rossi so as to keep that record intact? Knowing I may have to commit ritual suicide if anything else at all were to happen?”
DP: “Yes, sir.”
LS: “Good. Thank you. Good luck this afternoon.”

As most of you know, it was Pedrosa, indeed, who ran off with the 2014 Czech Grand Prix, stalked by a determined Jorge Lorenzo and the hurt-not-injured Vale Rossi, with Marquez running a puzzling fourth. A recently re-signed Pedrosa telling Honda Racing that they have, indeed, not just one rider capable of winning races but two. A determined pro at the top of his own game, constantly kept from a premier class title by a cabal of legends owning MotoGP during his career. A rider who will not, at this stage in his career, take team orders. Pedrosa appears to have learned how to say “yes” and mean “no” from his own masters, who are legendarily good at it.

The premier class version of top-to-bottom competition typically devolves into a collection of little races-within-a-race for a variety of finishing positions. So it was early today as Pedrosa and Lorenzo engaged up front, dogged by Rossi and Marquez. Andrea Iannone gladly took on the odious task of getting in Marquez’s grill early in the day, the result being that the two bikes touched twice on Lap 5. While Pedrosa and Lorenzo went off to do their business, Valentino Rossi hung around to keep Marquez humble, and it worked.

At the end it included the Ducatis beneath Dovizioso and Iannone tangling for fifth place, Iannone prevailing. LCR ex-pat Stefan Bradl finished a ho-hum seventh. NGM Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, big brother, claimed eighth in front of the recently re-signed and relaxed Bradley Smith, who qualified in 4th place but could only manage 9th at the finish on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Note to Smith: The one year contract means you were the default accomplice to rising star (and today’s crasher) Pol Espargaro. They hope to replace you next season.

The Big Picture Doesn’t Change

Marc Marquez today fell from legendary to simply dominating, his winning streak besmirched, his temporary invincibility finally dismissed, without the expected fight for the winning shot. In the beginning of the race there was too much bunch with the field, and he fell from the pole to something like sixth place. Both Pedrosa and Lorenzo got up to speed early, while Marquez would have to fight his way past Dovizioso, Iannone and Valentino Rossi if he were going to at least podium in a contest that seemed, somehow, to get away from him early, without some unforgettable and memorable attempt to capture the lead, an effort that had appeared in numerous contests over a year and a half. No sign of it today.

2014 Brno MotoGP Top Ten

Elsewhere in MotoGP

Our suspicion concerning the “customer Hondas” at Gresini, Aspar and Cardion AB has been confirmed, with the announcement that the 2015 Open Honda teams would be getting upgraded to this year’s RC213V engine, complete with pneumatic valves. A radical increase in power for a bunch of riders who know how to ride but haven’t had a fair chance to compete owing to a lack of top end speed. With this issue now resolved for 2015, the top ten scrum should include several more competitive bikes, i.e. Aspar’s Nicky Hayden (2015 Customer Honda), Gresini’s Scott Redding (2015 factory RCV), LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (2015 factory RCV), the second Gresini bike (2015 Customer Honda) and a second LCR bike (2015 Customer Honda) currently on offer to Jack Miller in a rumored jump/shift from his KTM Moto3 team to the premier class.

What would it take to tighten the 2015 field like the one we see in Moto3, where eight bikes often fight in the front group? As we’ve seen, the Yamaha Open class bikes (factory rides equipped with last year’s engine) themselves appear to be 98% competitive with the factory entries; the teams just have to struggle with the financial side of the equation. If Honda hits 98% next year in its customer bikes, the grid will tighten considerably. If Dalligna’s 2015 Ducati improves its short game, it’s handling in the turns and tire consumption…Ducati logo

If Suzuki emerges from its lengthy layoff with a two rider team competitive with the Alien forces…If Aprilia, as rumored, moves its unofficial 2016 graduation to the premier class forward to 2015 rather than the Michelin tire change year, with some kind of low budget program sufficient to not lose face, and finds a rider or two—I’m thinking here of a Hector Barbara–willing to sacrifice body and soul to help get a program competitive, beginning next season… How does the grid not expand to 25 or 26 entries?

Nor do I know why it shouldn’t, other than some obscure language written into a contract with the tire supplier. One hears that the Paul Byrd Motorsports team will withdraw from MotoGP to form a new two-bike team in World Super Bikes, and the Ioda Racing team, being held together with clarinet reeds and duct tape, could go the way of all things next year. Certainly Danilo Petrucci plans to do better in 2015.

Farther Down the Food Chain

It appears to be a very good year to be any kind of Moto rider these days, as guys like John Rea and Eugene Laverty are being flown in to interview for assorted Open class and minor factory rides. Most of the bottom third of the grid appears to be in conversation with these teams, suggesting a number of the “slower” riders—Broc Parkes, Michael Laverty and Petrucci among them–will continue to have seats in 2015.

That teams like Avintia and Ioda Racing can financially continue to mount any kind of meaningful 2014 campaign is a miracle of marketing for those suits selling the sponsorship “opportunities”. Think of standing under a cold shower, tearing up hundred dollar bills, or grinding them in a food processor with some water; sponsoring a back bench MotoGP team must be like that. Lots of outlay, not much in return. Expensive parties at the tracks to celebrate a team’s top finisher in 16th place. Stuff like that. Tepid applause. Big bills.

Avintia has announced its intention to replace its current two entry Kawasaki power plants with the new and improved Honda power plant available in the 2015 customer bikes. As my dad used to say, “It should live so long.”

Looking Ahead

Let’s see what happens at Silverstone, San Marino and Aragon, where Marquez and Lorenzo dueled all last year. Let’s see whether Marc Marquez continues to push at the front, or whether he somehow decides to sit back and play defense from here on in. With a 77 point lead and seven rounds now left, playing it safe could be the smart way out.

With Marquez, one expects to see levels of effort and accomplishment characteristically higher during the next several rounds. Wins or meaningful challenges for the top step. That his teammate prevailed today is one of those facts he must appear, by contract, to be happy about which, in the absence of his professional ownership by others, he would quietly loathe and despise coming from a teammate on the back side of his own career. The presence of the two Yamahas was undoubtedly less objectionable. The obstructionism of the Ducatis was expected. The only change in the year-to-date standings had older brother Aleix jumping over crashed-out brother Pol Espargaro in the battle for sixth place.

Marquez is nothing but a well-coached young gentleman. He will have nothing but good things to say about Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi, and that is one reason HRC loves this guy. He will promise to do his best at Silverstone, which must give the other riders cold chills. He is on his way to a remarkable career.

20145 World Champ Top Ten after Round 11

Silverstone’s likely last MotoGP appearance on the calendar comes up in two weeks. Starting in 2016 the British Grand Prix will be held in Wales, at a remote town no one can pronounce, at a location offering, if possible, worse weather conditions than the recently refurbished British track near Bletchley Park, the capital of the Allied decoding efforts against the Germans in WWII. New tires, new affiliations, new rivalries will exist in 2016. The British GP will have to be run somewhere in 2015; meanwhile, the last British GP as we’ve know them takes off in two weeks. We’ll be there.

For Marc Marquez, 10 down, eight to go

August 12, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Brno Preview, by Bruce Allen 

An idea that was once viewed as preposterous is now causing some MotoGP fans to become bored.  The notion that one rider could sweep an entire 18 race season, in the midst of Aliens, bad weather, reckless competitors, a bunch of ticky-tacky rules, and plain old bad luck, has been widely dismissed for the last 40 years, since the ancient days of Giacomo Agostini.  And yet here we are, on the cusp of one of the most amazing feats in motorsports history. 

DiMaggio460_1690402cThe athletic world, in general, recognizes greatness but worships consistency.  In the major sports, the MLB record least likely to ever fall is Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak in 1941.  The despicable New York Yankees won five straight World Series titles between 1949 and 1953.  Between 1966 and 1974, the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team won 88 games in a row, as well as seven consecutive national titles. Bill Walton 1972 And in high school sports, the Carmel, Indiana girls swim team holds the U.S. national record for all-time consecutive state championships with 28 in a row, beginning in 1986.  The girls who won it last year weren’t even born when the streak started.  This is the stuff of which legends are made.

Several years ago the Indianapolis Colts, at 14-0, had a shot at an undefeated season—the first since Miami in 1971-72—and kicked it away by resting their starters before the playoffs, in which they eventually lost before ever getting to the Super Bowl.  Colts management was viewed locally as idiots, giving up a chance to do something that had only ever been done once in favor of trying, and failing, to do something that had been done over 40 times; a number of fans, including yours truly, are still a little ticked off over that one.

AgostiniIn MotoGP, the three year period between 1968 and 1970 saw the legendary Giacomo Agostini go undefeated in every 500cc race he started, although he sat out a few rounds, for whatever reason.  In 1968, though, it was a 10 race season.  Throughout the period, Agostini’s MV Augusta enjoyed something like a 30 HP advantage over his nearest competitors, so the playing field wasn’t exactly level.

The same cannot be said about Repsol Honda pilot Marc Marquez in 2014.  With eight rounds left in the 2014 season, one would have to say the odds are still against him.  But they’re getting shorter every week.  Of the remaining circuits, only Brno and Phillip Island offer Yamaha a distinct advantage, the others being largely neutral or Honda-centric.  Clearly, the only rider capable of beating Marquez is Marquez himself, through a bad decision or just plain carelessness.  Of the two, at this point a bad decision—being overly aggressive in a turn, or somehow selecting the wrong tires—is more likely than a loss of concentration.

Marquez figures to clinch the title sometime around Aragon.  It will be interesting to see if he backs off even a smidge thereafter.  In this corner, we think he will go for greatness.  And, if he should accomplish the implausible this year, you get the sense he will aim for the impossible—a repeat performance—in 2015, before the global tire change takes place in 2016.

It could happen.  And whether he pulls it off or not, his legacy is already cast.  In Joni Mitchell’s words, he is “as constant as the North Star.”

Recent History at Brno

In 2012, Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa went one-on-four with the prototype Yamahas and came away the winner, “pipping” eventual world champion Jorge Lorenzo in the last two turns.  Cal Crutchlow, on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, enjoyed the first of four Tech 3 podiums with a surly third place finish, 12 seconds off the pace.  Other than the Lorenzo/Pedrosa tussle, there wasn’t much to cheer about at Brno in 2012.

Last year, there was plenty going on at Karel Abraham Sr.’s playground.  Lorenzo spent the day towing Marquez and Pedrosa around the track while the two Repsol riders kept their powder dry and waited for their fuel loads to drop.  Without so much as a “by your leave,” Marquez flew past Lorenzo on Lap 16, followed three laps later by Pedrosa, and that was that for Lorenzo’s last remaining thoughts of repeating as world champion.  Farther back in the pack, Valentino Rossi, returning on the factory Yamaha, schooled Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista on the last lap to secure fourth place.  Factory Ducati stud Andrea Dovizioso did much the same thing to teammate Nicky Hayden to finish seventh.  Aleix Espargaro did Colin Edwards, Danilo Petrucci did Hiro Aoyama and so on, all the way down to 19th place, where Karel Abraham, getting plenty of love from his homeys, punked Bryan Staring by 3/10ths. Something for every taste and budget, as it were.

An Apology, of Sorts Espargaro and Smith

I don’t know who writes a lot of this stuff, but their work leaves plenty to be desired.  Sunday’s Indianapolis results article, for example, completely ignored the heroic efforts of the Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.  The pair finished the day fifth and sixth, respectively, after each suffered grievous bodily harm during practice.  Smith had another impressive high side that “re-opened” his left pinky, whatever that means.  And Espargaro, during a huge moment in FP4, jammed his left boot into the asphalt, flew up in the air without losing his grip on the handlebars, and came down hard on his, um, package.  He joked with the announcers afterwards that he would be singing with the castralto section in the MotoGP choir practice that evening, sounding during the interview like Tiny Tim on helium.  One assumes he was wearing a cup during the race. PolEspargaroCapture

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

You would think that by now I would have learned to stay away from predictions, but I was an econ major in college and old habits die hard.  Two predictions I’m pretty confident about, though—Leon Camier will substitute again for Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda, and Alex de Angelis will spend some time on Colin Edwards’ Forward Racing FTR/Yamaha.  He will probably spend some time off the bike as well, if you catch my meaning.

The weekend weather forecast for the metropolitan Brno area is a little sketchy, with temps expected to be in the low- to mid-70’s and little chance of rain.  As for the race itself, one would need his head examined to suggest that Marquez will not win on Sunday.  All three of the other Aliens have enjoyed substantial success at Brno.  Personally, I believe we’ll see pretty much the exact same top four in Brno as we saw last week in Indianapolis.  Of course, as they like to say around here, some people believe chickens have lips.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 86 other followers