Despite chaos at the start, The Streak continues

July 13, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sachsenring Results, by Bruce Allen 

In a déjà vu of Assen two weeks ago, chaos reigned at the start of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.  Hard rain was quickly giving way to clearing skies, and crews were rolling the dice on tire choices.  After the sighting lap, 14 bikes entered pit lane to change from wets to slicks, including all four of the factory Honda and Yamaha machines.  At the end of the day, though, it was Marc Marquez leading a Honda 1-2, joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Chaos at the Start of the German Grand Prix

In what appeared at the time to be a combined stroke of genius and gonads, Stefan Bradl, who had qualified third, took to the damp track on slicks, joined by plodders Karel Abraham and Hiro Aoyama, with nothing at stake on customer Hondas.  Six other open class bikes, on wet tires, formed up on the grid, producing one of the strangest images in the history of MotoGP—a nine bike grid, with 14 machines crowded into pit lane like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.  At the end of Lap 1, your race leaders were Bradl, Michael Laverty and Danilo Petrucci.  The joy in the LCR Honda, PBM and Ioda garages would prove extremely short-lived.

Bradl, despite a 10-12 second advantage at the start, was a victim of his crew today.  Although they managed to switch his tires as he sat on the grid, they were unable to change the suspension settings from wet to dry.  By Lap 2, the German was giving up two seconds per lap to the factory Hondas; by Lap 7, both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had passed him.  Figuratively stuck in fourth gear all day, Bradl would finish 16th in what his countrymen prayed would not be a preview of the World Cup final match versus Argentina later that evening.

A quarter of the way through the race, the Repsol Honda duo was running in clean air out front, while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, were still slicing their way through the field toward their rightful places in the top four.  Lorenzo, bouncing back strongly from his deplorable effort in Assen, claimed only his third podium of the year, while Rossi finished eight seconds farther back for his second consecutive off-the-podium finish after four rostrums in succession.  Today’s race marked the third Repsol 1-2 finish of the year, joining Austin and Argentina; let there be no argument that The Sachsenring is a Honda-friendly circuit.  Movistar Yamaha’s 3-4 finish today was probably as good as they could have hoped for, especially given the disorder at the start.

As regards the Marquez-Pedrosa duel from Lap 7 on, it was interesting, but fell short of compelling.  Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he pedrosa-marquezcould, was unable to get within half a second of his young teammate; the expression “close, but no cigar” comes to mind.  HRC announced this past week that Dani had signed another two year contract on the factory Honda, thus having earned the right to stare at Marquez’s tailpipes through the 2016 season.  For a man of Pedrosa’s ability and pride, the prospect of playing second fiddle to the 21 year-old Catalan phenom for another 2½ years must come as a very mixed blessing.

Elsewhere on the Grid

One of the best performances today came from Pramac Racing tough guy Andrea Iannone, who wrestled his Ducati Desmosedici from a pit lane start to a fifth place finish.  It is common knowledge that the Ducati performs best in wet conditions, and today was no exception, as the over-engineered and under-steering Italian machine claimed three of the top ten spots.  That Iannone on the junior Pramac team would thump the factory duo of Andrea Dovizioso (8th) and Cal Crutchlow (10th) says something about his skill and motivation.  It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the aggressive young Italian doesn’t end up with a seat on the factory team next year.  He’s earned it.

The Espargaro brothers, elder Aleix and junior Pol, engaged in another of their typical duels today, spending the bulk of the day Two Espargarosseemingly miles apart only to finish separated by mere seconds.  Once again, Aleix dominated the practice sessions leading up to the race and qualified fourth.  Once again, he ran up front with the second group most of the day.  And once again, little brother moved up late in the day to join him in the top ten.  At the end of Lap 10, Aleix was running 7th, while Pol was lollygagging back in 16th place.  My pre-season fantasy of seeing Aleix on a podium, his best chances having been here and Assen, is officially flushed.  Both brothers, however, have bright futures in the premier class.

One rider for whom The Sachsenring is perhaps his least favorite track has to be Pol’s Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith.  Smith, who crashed four separate times in practice, managed a fifth crash today on Lap 4, rejoined the race for some unknown reason, and finished 19th.  This was one of those weekends in which he inflicted somewhere around €300,000 worth of damage to his various bikes.  At least he didn’t do a “Zarco,” a term which came into existence during today’s Moto2 race in which Johann Zarco, on the Caterham Suter, crashed out midway through the race and had to sit, helplessly, in the gravel, watching his once-gorgeous motorcycle explode in a fireball of gasoline and fiberglass, eventually to be removed from the run-off area in a large wheelbarrow. ZarcoCapture

The Customer Honda Race

Each round, it seems the four non-prototype Hondas end the day in a small, tight wad of mediocrity, as if they’re having their own little private race-within-a-race.  Nicky Hayden, who made it through Q1 on Saturday, looked to have the best chance today to win the Taller Than Danny DeVito award, but his wrist, apparently permanently damaged, could not hold up over 30 laps.  At the finish, it was Gresini’s Scott Redding (one of The 14), Aspar’s Hiro Aoyama, Cardion’s Karel Abraham and Aspar #2 Hayden (another 14er) filling positions 11-14.  HRC, having shamelessly oversold the merits of the RCV1000R prior to the start of the season, owes these guys one.

Making the Turn on the Way to the Back Nine

If this were golf, the riders would be cooling off in the clubhouse, grabbing a beer, and chatting up the pretty young women selling hats and sweaters.  Instead, most will be heading to Brno, the Czech city in desperate need of a couple of vowels, for two days of testing on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Racing returns the second weekend of August at Indianapolis, yet another Honda-friendly track.  Dorna has informed Motorcycle.com that, since we are unwilling to disclose the birth weight of our managing editor’s mother, they will not be issuing press credentials to our erstwhile correspondent.  So, rather than lugging my laptop to the IMS media center, I’ll report on Round 10 from my kitchen table, as Marc Marquez continues his assault on every grand prix motorcycle racing record known to man.  Aloha.

Honda, Marquez look to repeat in Deutschland

July 8, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sachsenring Preview, by Bruce Allen

Going back to 2007, the Repsol Honda team has won five of the last seven MotoGP events at The Sachsenring, Ground Zero of German motorsports. Dani Pedrosa enjoyed a hat trick here between 2010 and 2012, while teammate Marc Marquez, for whom we have officially run out of superlatives, won last year, the first of four consecutive wins that would culminate in his claiming the 2013 premier class title. There exists no credible reason to believe the top two steps of the podium will not be draped in Repsol orange, red and black on Sunday afternoon.

Marquez swims across the lineThe longer The Streak continues, the harder it gets to suggest that someone other than Marquez will take the checkered flag on Sundays. A number of other publications, notably MotoGP.com, rattle on week after week about how Pedrosa, or the strongmen of the Movistar Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, look capable of heading off the 21 year-old Catalan. Our commitment to keeping it real, however, requires us to acknowledge that, barring an unforeseeable mechanical failure or carelessness on the part of another rider early in the race, Marquez is going to win in Germany. The guy does not beat himself.

This, then, is another instance in which we would prefer, all things being equal, to be wrong. Such was the case in 2010 when we predicted that Valentino Rossi was in for a miserable two years headlining the factory Ducati team. Or last year at this time, when we predicted that Cal Crutchlow, on his way to Ducati Corse, would trail both Tech 3 Yamaha riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, in the final 2014 standings. All of us have heard the adage in the paddock that MotoGP is 80% rider and 20% bike, an observation borne out by Casey Stoner in 2007. Marc Marquez is the only other rider we’ve seen since then capable of winning on the Ducati; as intelligent (and well-paid) as he seems, there is virtually no chance we’ll ever see him on the beastly Desmosedici.

Let’s just pile on with one more observation about Marquez and The Sachsenring. He’s been racing grand prix bikes there since he was 15 years old. The last time he lost in Germany, he was 16. It’s one of his favorite tracks. The summer break just can’t come soon enough.

Recent History at The Sachsenring

Up until last year, one had to regard Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa as The Man at this track. He won there in 2010, 2011 and again in Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-3802012. During the second of his three consecutive wins, in 2011, he led teammate and eventual championship winner Casey Stoner and Yamaha gunner Jorge Lorenzo on a merry chase through the German countryside. Stoner appeared to have second place in the bag until Lorenzo slipped past him on Lap 30, punking him by a tenth. Stoner, having lost the battle, would win the war, taking the next three rounds, while Lorenzo crashed hard in practice at Philip Island, losing the tip of a finger in the accident, and ending his hopes for that year.

In 2012, Pedrosa again spent the afternoon with Stoner glued to his rear wheel. But, late on the last lap, the racing gods intervened, sending the Australian into a dramatic, long, agonizing lowside that looked like a slow-motion replay of itself. Suddenly, Pedrosa was home free, while a stunned Lorenzo moved up to second place, and an even more surprised Andrea Dovizioso waltzed onto a podium finish in third. It marked the first time in 22 starts that Stoner had failed to finish. Lorenzo, thus blessed, went on to claim the 2012 title, with no clue it might possibly be his last.

Last year, while both Lorenzo and Pedrosa sat out nursing broken wings, Marquez took the win by 1.6 seconds over a determined Cal Crutchlow, with Rossi another eight seconds back. Pedrosa had been leading the championship through Round 7, and 2013 appeared to finally be his year until he went flying over his handlebars on Saturday morning, landing hard, out of title contention once again. Marquez took the lead in the 2013 title race that day and never let go, despite a picky and unnecessary disqualification at Phillip Island that made the final standings appear closer than they actually were.

A Reversal of Fortune at Movistar Yamaha

Rossi & LorenzoHad you been living in a cave in Borneo for the past two weeks, and I told you that the factory Yamaha team had signed one of its riders for the next two seasons, would you have guessed that the rider in question was Valentino Rossi? That Yamaha would sign the aging legend, who will be 37 when this latest contract runs out, before doing a deal with Jorge Lorenzo? Furthermore, had I told you that a premier class rider admitted to the press after Assen that he was frightened by the wet conditions and was thus unable to compete for a podium, would you have guessed I was talking about Karel Abraham, or double world champion Jorge Lorenzo?

We have been suggesting here for some time that Marc Marquez has gotten inside Lorenzo’s head, where he is causing all kinds of problems for the Mallorcan, this last bit of candor being but the most recent. Now, it appears that Rossi, once again, is the alpha male in the factory Yamaha garage; shades of 2008 and 2009, years in which the immensely talented Lorenzo could not stand being #2 to his teammate, a situation that became so desperate the teams had to build a wall down the center of the garage to keep the two separated. Lorenzo found it difficult to be Rossi’s wingman before winning two titles; I doubt he will find it any easier now.

Six months ago I suspected Rossi was in his last contract with Yamaha, and that Lorenzo would be with them until 2020. Now, 180 degrees later, it appears Rossi will finish his career on The Big Blue Machine, while Lorenzo could conceivably go looking for greener—or redder, or turquoiser (?)—pastures. The domino effect engendered by Marc Marquez is, indeed, having some unforeseen consequences.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprisingly, Weather.com is calling for clear skies and warm temperatures in Saxony this weekend. We had our share of cool and wet last time out in Assen, and can look forward to more of the same when we return to Silverstone at the end of August. Weather does not appear likely to be a factor for Round 9.

Which, in a way, is a shame. MotoGP needs something to shake up the status quo in what is becoming a dreadfully predictable season. Sure, a lot of us used to enjoy watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to title after title, but the Pippens and Rodmans helped make them possible. In an individual sport like MotoGP, utter domination by one rider is fun to watch if you happen to be a fan of that rider. Otherwise, you’re probably recording the races, checking for spoilers online, and cutting the grass, rather than watching Marc Marquez flash his boyish grin while he’s hoisted in the air by his team week after week after week, as if he had lost his virginity the night before.Marquez hoisted

The race goes off at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

Marquez overcomes weather and odds, remains perfect

June 28, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Results, by Bruce Allen

The conditions confronting the riders and teams at the 2014 Iveco Daily TT Assen couldn’t have been worse. It had rained off and on all weekend, and race day featured everything from bright sunshine to hail (hail!) prior to the Moto2 tilt. The MotoGP teams were confounded by tire choices as the flag-to-flag contest unfurled. But when the rain and smoke cleared, Repsol Honda sophomore Marc Marquez had made it 8-for-8 in 2014.

Marquez swims across the line

Marquez swims across the line at Assen.

Round Eight of the 2014 season provided perfect conditions for upsets amongst the usual suspects. Jack Miller, leading the Moto3 league, crashed out of his race on Lap 2, leaving the door open for little brother Alex Marquez to win again today and significantly tighten the 2014 race. In Moto2, the feel good moment of the year occurred as Ant West, the grizzled field horse, doubled his career win total by prevailing on a drying track, winning for the second time in his grand prix career at the site of his first win back in 2003. As this goes to press, our crack research team is hunting down the “longest period between wins, career” stat in the archives.

Qualifying on Friday was a cluster. GO&FUN Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and factory Ducati Brit Cal Crutchlow had managed to sneak through Q1. Though the track for Q2 was dry, rain was fast approaching. The riders knew they would need to get their flying laps in early, the result being that the session looked like a race, with most of the 12 riders grouped together up front. Marquez appeared to have streaked to the pole with perhaps eight minutes left. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha flew across the start/finish line, 1.4 seconds better than Marquez for the first pole by a non-major factory rider in over a decade. The eight minute qualifying session ended with Espargaro, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on the front row, Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone, Crutchlow and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Bradley Smith on the second, and a dazed Jorge Lorenzo funking around in 9th place.

Wet at the Start, Dry at the Finish

Rain was falling as the big bikes lined up on the grid, beneath a patchwork of blue skies and black rainclouds. Factory Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati wannabe Yonny Hernandez were the only riders opting to start the race on slicks. Rossi changed his mind on the sighting lap, opting to start on rain tires from pit lane; having qualified 12th, he wasn’t giving up that much. Hernandez stuck to his guns, resulting in two (2) tire changes during the race and a 19th place finish, a lap down to Marquez and company.

As is usually the case at the start of a race, the qualifying order became jumbled immediately. Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez jumped out in front of Pedrosa, Espargaro and pesky overachiever Iannone. By Lap 2, Lorenzo had worked his way up to 6th place as the rain, which had been pouring down minutes earlier, pretty much stopped. For the Ducati riders, wet tracks are the great equalizer, as the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas drops down to where the Ducati runs all the time. Thus, at the end of Lap 4, the top six riders included Dovizioso in second, Iannone in fifth and Crutchlow in sixth. Alas, the rain stopped spitting, and the Aliens, or at least most of them, began heading for the front of the pack.

By Lap 6, Dovizioso was again sniffing Marquez’s rear, and it was time to switch bikes. The leaders pitted, did their Pony Express thing, and exited pit lane on slicks. During this Brief Shining Moment, Lorenzo held the lead with Nicky Hayden, who had managed to qualify 22nd, occupying second place. The two would ultimately finish 13th and 17th, respectively; Assen’s reputation as The Cathedral would be incomplete without a few martyrs.

Drama on Lap 7

Pushing hard on his out lap, Marquez ran wide, briefly went walkabout, and re-entered the fray trailing Dovizioso by four seconds, Doviziosowith Aspar plodder Hiro Aoyama sandwiched between the two fast movers. By then, the sky was mostly black, and it appeared another Pony Express change was in the wind. Had it occurred, with a number of the riders, including Aoyama, still on their rain tires, the results could have easily gotten scrambled.

Marquez, along with his other traits, proved today that he is highly adaptive to changing conditions, and just plain lucky. Lucky, in that the rain held off, allowing him to methodically track down Dovizioso on Lap 16 and ultimately win by almost seven seconds. Early on, while the race was being delayed, neither he nor his team appeared excited or anxious while confusion reigned. Again, we were reminded of the words of Kipling, who wrote of being able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Crew chiefs were turning purple yelling instructions at their mechanics, and riders were running back and forth to the bathrooms. During all this, Marquez appeared relaxed, almost bored. I found myself wondering how often he shaves, if ever. With his smooth chin and easy smile he looks like a high school kid waiting for his date to finish doing her hair.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa fought a day-long duel for third place, with the racing world pulling hard for Espargaro, but it was not to be. Rossi, a mile behind the eight ball at the start, rode the wheels off his Yamaha YZR-M1, ultimately finishing fifth ahead of amico Iannone in fifth. Bautista managed not to cause any mayhem and moved up from 10th at the start to seventh at the close, followed by Smith, Crutchlow and LCR Honda’s Stafan Bradl.

The Big Picture

Marquez, now at 200 for 200, leads Pedrosa and Rossi by 72 points. Dovizioso sits in fourth, with a thoroughly messed up Jorge Lorenzo suffering in fifth place. Aleix Espargaro jumped ahead of brother Pol, who crashed twice today before retiring. Bradl, Iannone and Smith complete the top ten.

The Good News and the Bad News

If there is any good news for the riders at the top of the standings not named Marquez, it is that they are all relatively healthy. No broken collarbones sticking out like at this time last year, no ankles held together with screws and adhesive tape. The bad news is that The Sachsenring, next up on the calendar, is one of the two most Honda-friendly circuits on the tour, along with Motegi.

There is no reason to believe that Marquez will fail to repeat his win there last year, which would leave him undefeated at the halfway point of the season. With MotoGP’s annual summer vacation kicking in after that, the grid will have to deal with a rested and refreshed #93 when racing starts up again at Indianapolis in August. Awesome.

Since March, the concept of The Undefeated Season has shifted from Impossible to Implausible to Unlikely to Possible. If it continues, we will be forced to reverse our linguistic field, returning to Impossible on the eve of Valencia in November.

It could happen.

2014 Assen Top Ten Capture

2014 Top TenCapture

Magic Marquez leads pilgrimage to the Cathedral

June 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Preview, by Bruce Allen

Repsol Honda God-child Marc Marquez leads his team and the rest of the MotoGP grid to Assen, which has been hosting Marquez at Aragonmotorcycle races in one form or another on the last Saturday in June since 1925. During this period, the race has morphed from the Dutch TT to the Dutch Grand Prix, from a road race to a closed-course tilt, and from motorized bicycles to the fastest two-wheeled racing machines on earth. Revered by fans and riders, Assen would be a fitting place for Marquez to set yet another modern day record.

Rossi 2014Recall 2002, when the MotoGP God-child was a brash 23-year old Italian named Valentino Rossi. Rossi had entered the premier class in 2000 after having won titles in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. In 2001 he would win the first of five consecutive world titles, taking 11 of the 16 races that year aboard the 500cc Honda. In 2002, a rule change brought about the beginning of the four-stroke era, to which Rossi adapted almost immediately. In 2002, during his second premier class title year, he won seven races in succession, a mark that has stood ever since.

A mark which is likely to fall this Saturday afternoon to a new Marc.

In the modern era of MotoGP, no premier class rider has ever started stronger than has Marquez in 2014, winning the first seven contests of the season. Though the first five were relatively straightforward, the last two, at Mugello and Catalunya, have been bayonets at close quarters, and the young Catalan has not blinked. Assen, which, from the air, looks like a carelessly crushed little oval, boasts some of the highest average lap speeds on the tour, according to MotoGP. Yamahas have taken three of the last four races here, despite the shortest straight on the tour.Assen

Regardless, you can take all that talk, all those facts and figures, crumple them into a little ball and toss them in the trash. Marc Marquez is probably going to figure out a way to win Saturday’s race, establish a new record, and continue his ridiculous assault on 18-for-18.

Recent History at Assen

In 2011, Ben Spies, in his first year aboard the factory Yamaha YZR-M1, was the beneficiary of a first lap crash that took teammate and defending Assen and world champion Jorge Lorenzo out of contention. The charismatic and wildly erratic Marco Simoncelli, riding a factory spec Honda for Fausto Gresini, attempted to go through Lorenzo on cold tires, with negative consequences for both riders. Lorenzo re-entered the race in 15th position and worked his way back to a sixth place finish, while Repsol Honda pilots Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium.

The following year, Stoner, en route to his second world title, outdistanced teammate Dani Pedrosa by five seconds for the win. Running third again that day, this time on a satellite Yamaha, was Andrea Dovizioso. And again that year, Lorenzo was cut down by a Gresini Honda on Lap 1, this time by the narcissistic and spatially-clueless Alvaro Bautista. Four other riders crashed out that day, Colin Edwards retired with CRT problems, and Karel Abraham failed to start, having injured himself in practice. The 2012 race was notable for the fact that six (6) CRT bikes would finish in the points, owing to the demolition derby up front.

Last year, on a wet track, overachieving rookie Marquez chased a resurgent Valentino Rossi for a good part of the day, The Doctor prevailing for what would be his only win of the year on the factory Yamaha. Soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow, bitterly piloting the competitive satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, finished third, cementing his credentials to become a Factory Rider for Ducati Corse and, in the process, virtually ruining his career. Defending world champion Lorenzo fractured his collarbone during FP2, flew home for surgery, qualified 12th and managed to finish fifth in one of the grittiest performances many of us have ever seen. Pedrosa would endure his own season-screwing collarbone fracture the following round in Germany, the two injured Aliens leaving the door open for Marquez’ shocking rookie championship.

Marc Marquez winning the title in 2013 was a surprise. In 2014, the surprise will be if he doesn’t win the title. Assen has been the site of a number of unexpected outcomes over the years, so another could be in the cards this week. My only advice to the Spanish youngster for Saturday: steer clear of Bautista and Redding.

Colin Edwards

An Apology to Colin Edwards

Many of you have accused me of treating Colin Edwards rather harshly in recent years, and I have come to agree. His interview elsewhere this week clearly illustrated the fact that he has paid his dues, enjoyed a great deal of success, and is as candid and honest about the sport and his place in it as anyone ever. He and Nicky Hayden seem to be kindred spirits.

Edwards’ best years were behind him when I began following MotoGP seriously in 2008. He is old school Texas through and through, brings a kind of dirt bike mentality to the sport, and likely would have enjoyed more success later in his career but for the advances in the control electronics that now dominate the grid. His performance at Silverstone in 2011, finishing third in the rain a week after breaking his own collarbone at Catalunya, was epic, both in terms of skill and stones. That it would be the last podium of his career is almost poetic.

This publication is full of shootouts, a term that brings to mind lining up a pair of thundering bikes at a streetlight, winding them up and lighting them off. Even at age 40, in that setting, with two identical machines, I would put my money on Edwards against anyone. If he had a couple of beers under his belt, I’d give odds.

Congratulations on a great career, Colin. I hope Michelin pays you wheelbarrows full of money to help them develop the next generation of MotoGP tires.

Ducati logoDucati Corse is SMOKIN’!

Perhaps you saw the announcement last week that Ducati will be leasing the Desmosedici, rather than selling it, in 2015. The subject is a bit academic, in that no one bought a single copy in 2014. (Unless they’re referring to Pramac Racing, which I think of as a Triple A factory team anyway. And why would they bother announcing a change in their relationship with Pramac to the press when they can just send an email?)

As regards 2015, I have only one question: To whom? Honda will surely beef up their production bike, in order to make amends with the likes of Aspar and Gresini. PBM Racing isn’t interested. There doesn’t appear to be a line forming of teams or riders anxious to risk life, limb and career on the Ducati. In fact, most of the current factory and Pramac riders appear willing to trade their current rides for just about anything short of an Evinrude-powered bathtub bolted to a couple of skateboards. Can the 2015 version really be a whole lot different/better than the 2014? Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Curious press release. If readers know more about this than meets the eye, please comment below.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

It’s a shame that the Dutch Grand Prix is always run on the last Saturday in June which, in The Netherlands, is late winter. Again this year, high temps are forecast in the 60’s, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8:00 am EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Saturday afternoon.

Marquez prevails in riveting Catalan GP

June 15, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Catalunya Results by Bruce Allen

As the bikes lined up for the start of the 2014 GP Monster Energy de Catalunya, the racing gods appeared to have had enough of Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez. His first crash of the season at the end of qualifying relegated him to the third position at the start, ending a string of seven straight poles. Teammate Dani Pedrosa looked ready to rumble, and storm clouds were building to the west; the smell of a flag-to-flag fiasco was in the air. Would his 2014 winning streak come to an end in the rain at his home track?

Um, no. Marquez engaged in a two-wheeled form of hand-to-hand combat with Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, followed by a knife fight with teammate Pedrosa, and ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi with Pedrosa settling for third. Those of us who thought we had seen the best of MotoGP at Mugello two weeks ago were treated to an even more compelling race today, as both Rossi and Pedrosa looked capable of winning. A Repsol one-two was only averted in Turn 11 of the last lap, when Pedrosa, desperate to overtake Marquez one last time, touched tires with his teammate, wobbled wide, allowing the opportunistic Rossi to capture second place. And the rain never fell.

Marquez at Aragon

Let’s be honest. After awhile, MotoGP fans become inoculated to the incomprehensible speeds at which these bikes operate. What we pay to see is overtaking in the turns, riders running shoulder-to-shoulder, teeth gritted and bared, massive slicks separated by centimeters and violent consequences likely when they make contact. At Mugello, Marquez and Yamaha star Jorge Lorenzo traded places perhaps a dozen times over the last third of the race, leaving the fans soaked in sweat and the announcers breathless. Today, I lost count of the encounters between the three eventual podium winners.pedrosa_marquez

Rossi spent most of the day leading a group of five, the four aliens and LCR Honda’s designated fifth-place finisher Stefan Bradl. Lorenzo had taken the early lead, but was dismissed by both Rossi and Marquez during Lap 4. Rossi held the lead for the next 16 laps, holding off challenges from the Repsol Hondas, who seemed to have the pace, while Lorenzo trailed in fourth, hoping for a mistake by someone. Over the last six laps, all three of the leaders held the lead at various points. Even though Marquez technically led the last six laps, the intra-lap drama was thick; it was literally anyone’s race. Suffice it to say that as hard as Marquez had to fight in Italy, he needed even more today. And, as we’ve seen all year, he’s had what it takes when he needed it.

So, on the day that officially marked the 65th anniversary of grand prix motorcycle racing, we had the first ever instance of two brothers winning grand prix races on the same day. Marquez’ little brother Alex started the Moto3 race from pole and won comfortably on the Estrella Galicia Honda. For Honda Racing Corporation and ultra-proud father Roser Marquez, 2014 was a Father’s Day for the ages.

Checking Pulses at the Top

2014 Catalunya podium

In Alienville, amongst the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, a quick status check is in order. Marquez remains untouchable, although his candy-colored tangerine flake enamel was slightly scuffed on Saturday when he failed to capture the pole. His win today marked the 100th win by a Honda bike during the four stroke era. It would surprise no one if Marquez is on board for their 200th win a few years down the road.

Dani Pedrosa once again looks dangerous, after having had surgery to correct an arm pump issue. Though he captured his first pole in a year on Saturday, he hasn’t won since Sepang last year, but appears to have recovered from his physical issues.

Valentino Rossi has reclaimed the #1 spot on the factory Movistar Yamaha team, four years after having ceded it to Jorge Lorenzo. With five podia in seven starts, there can be little doubt The Doctor still has it. Lorenzo showed us at Mugello that he can still compete, but psychologically he appears very fragile. In years past he would simply go out and seize wins. In 2014, the moon, the planets and the stars all need to align perfectly in order for him to have a chance of winning. Such alignment has yet to occur in 2014.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The brothers Espargaro, Aleix on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha and junior rookie Pol on the Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, spent most of the day eyeball-to-eyeball, with big brother Aleix ultimately prevailing in 6th position, birth order still of paramount importance in Latin countries. Earlier in the year, I had predicted that Aleix might take a win at Assen or The Sachsenring, but such appears unlikely now, the difference in factory versus Marelli ECU software being too great to overcome. Aleix greatly covets a factory ride, which may come next year wrapped in Suzuki colors.

The Ducati contingent was led again today by veteran Andrea Dovizioso in eighth place, followed closely by Joe Iannone in ninth and a consistent Yonny Hernandez in 11th. Wildcard entry Michele Pirro, whom I had earlier this week accused of being under-rated, made a liar out of me by finishing 14th, almost a full minute behind the leaders and 18 seconds behind Hernandez. And, for the fourth time in seven starts this season, Cal Crutchlow failed to finish, apoplectic this time over an electronics issue that forced him to retire from the race. As charming as Cal has been with the media this year, he must be an absolute dream with his team, all sweetness and light, whenever a mechanical issue arises that interferes with his crashing out of the race.

Two Sponsorship Notes

GO&Fun girlCaptureToday we noticed two interesting developments on the sponsorship front. Interpol, the global equivalent of the FBI, is now a sponsor for Ducati, having apparently signed on to help the Bologna factory locate its competitiveness, last seen in 2009. And the brolly girls of the Gresini GO & FUN team, upon casual examination, appear to be wearing Camel Toe jumpsuits. With nothing going on for either Alvaro Bautista or Scott Redding, the umbrella girls are stealing the show. If I were Fausto Gresini, I would put Redding on the prototype and Bautista on the customer bike to see if things could possibly turn out worse.

The Big Picture

With Marquez firmly in charge, Rossi and Pedrosa now look set for a season-long battle for second place. Lorenzo and Dovizioso are close for now, but Lorenzo is likely to slowly pull away as the season progresses. The Espargaro brothers and Bradl will battle for sixth place; I expect one of the two Yamahas to prevail over the lone LCR Honda. Iannone on the Ducati and Bradley Smith on the #2 Tech 3 Yamaha are likely to complete the top ten for 2014.

Returning to Assen

Up next on the calendar is the annual pilgrimage to The Cathedral at Assen, the scene of Valentino Rossi’s surprise win last season. Steeped as it is in motorcycle racing history, Assen appears to be a suitable place for Marc Marquez to continue his assault on the record books. Low speeds are a given in The Low Countries, meaning the factory Hondas will have a built-in advantage.

As if they need another.

2014 Catalunya Top Ten

Catalunya Top Ten Race FinalCapture

 

2014 Championship Standings after 7 Rounds

 

Champ Standings after 7 RoundsCapture

 

Marquez returns home, looks to stay perfect

June 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Catalunya Preview by Bruce Allen

Round 7 of the 2014 MotoGP season thunders into northeastern Spain, home to the historic Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and, as luck would have it, Repsol Honda boy wonder Marc Marquez. Marquez, who grew up 70 miles west of here, considers Montmeló his home track. Sunday is likely to be Friends and Family Day in Catalunya.

cropped-jorge-lorenzo-2013.jpgSince Mugello, a number of people, some of whom have an axe to grind, have suggested that double world champion and Yamaha kingpin Jorge Lorenzo is BACK. Certainly, his performance in Italy was his best of 2014 and one of his best ever. But, with his bike performing flawlessly, at a track seemingly designed to the strengths of the YZR-M1 and riding at the limit pretty much the entire day, he was only able to manage second place. Two or three years ago, a ride like that would have been an almost certain win. In 2014, as good as it was, it wasn’t good enough.

Back in 2011, Lorenzo fought Andrea Dovizioso’s Repsol Honda, winning by one second with an elapsed time of 41:50.09. In 2012 he beat Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa by five seconds, with a time of 41:37.48. Last year he beat Pedrosa by five seconds with a time of 41:39.73. This year, even with the time lost exchanging places with Marquez a dozen times, his time was 41:38.37. Minus Marquez and the time lost fighting him, it would have been his fastest Italian Grand Prix ever.

Not good enough. We observe that the second fastest rider on the grid riding at the absolute limit at perhaps his favorite track on the tour is not fast enough to beat Marc Marquez. Thus, we are left to conclude that the only thing standing between Marquez and perhaps 25 wins in a row will be a careless crash or plain bad luck. A blown engine. A tire losing pressure. A hornet in his helmet. Getting “collected” the way LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl did at Mugello, by Cal Crutchlow’s riderless Ducati, grinding its way to the gravel pit.

Conventional wisdom in this sport has it that success is 80% rider and 20% bike. If you accept this, and unless you have a closet fullMarquez at Aragon of #93 gear, the prospect of the standard ECU in 2016 has to give you the creeps. I expect Marquez to come to grips, as it were, with the Michelin tires in 2016 as quickly as anyone and sooner than most. With a standard ECU and everyone running the same software, 80% may go to 90%. An unsettling prospect, to be sure.

Recent History at Catalunya

“Recent” is a relative word, especially when it comes to MotoGP. Looking back at the last three races here, we’ve seen the premier class change radically in 36 months. Exhibit A: 2011, when Marco Simoncelli took the pole on the Gresini Honda. During the race, Casey Stoner rode his Repsol Honda to the win by 2.4 seconds over Lorenzo, with Ben Spies’ factory Yamaha another 1.9 seconds in arrears. Three of the four top riders that day are no longer racing.

In 2012, the lactose intolerant Stoner started from pole, finishing off the podium as Lorenzo led Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso across the line. Last year, Pedrosa started from pole—an accomplishment he has yet to repeat—finishing second to Lorenzo, but beating the pesky Marquez to the line by 6/100ths.

Progress at Pramac: Fact or Fantasy?Pramac_Racing

Watching the races this season, I’ve caught myself thinking that the once laughable Pramac Racing team has really improved a lot in the past year. Recall 2009 when Aleix Espargaro, Niccolo “Pokey” Canepa and Mika Kallio, late of Moto2, fronted the Italian satellite Ducati team. Kallio had a decent campaign, despite “retiring” from five races, finishing the year with 71 points. But Canepa and the 20 year-old Espargaro collected a total of 54 points between them while Rossi was winning the championship with 309 by himself.

Last year, the team started the year with Michele Pirro and rookie Andrea Iannone. Pirro, who I think is somewhat under-rated, collected five top ten finishes before being replaced by Yonny Hernandez after San Marino. Iannone, who came up from Moto2, was unprepared for life on the Desmosedici, managing a scant 57 points for the season to go along with a number of DNFs and a collection of injuries. Anyway, after six rounds in 2013 the Pramac duo had 49 points.

Fast forward to 2014, with Iannone a year farther along and Hernandez figuring things out. Iannone, especially, calls to mind what Andrea Iannonefolks used to say about Kawasaki bikes—‘fast while they last.’ He has run with the leaders for brief periods, generally fading as his tires go, and having crashed out at Jerez and Le Mans. Hernandez has been “in the points” in every race this season, but has only 22 to show for his six outings. In short, the team has managed only seven more points than it had at the same time last season. Perhaps they’ve had a little more fun along the way.

As a footnote, Cal Crutchlow had 71 points at this time last season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Having earned his promotion to the Ducati factory team, he sits with 15 (15!) heading into Round 7. We’ve all heard how much Cal regrets the chain of events that brought him to where he is today. I’m wondering whether Ducati Corse doesn’t regret it at least as much as the burly Brit.

ECU Dispute

Ducati logoIn an effort to lower costs and level the playing field, Carmelo Ezpeleta and his minions at Dorna Sports declared prior to the start of the season that, commencing in 2016, every bike on the grid would run the same Electronic Control Unit and the same software. Since Dorna themselves wouldn’t know where to start designing the software, they decided that a committee comprised of engineers from the various factory teams—Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki—would assemble over bagels and coffee and, you know, just put their heads together and come up with the incredibly complex programming that keeps these machines from becoming airborne at every turn.

Honda-Racing-Corporation-Logo-623x275The Italian firm Magneti Marelli, headquartered in Bologna and assumed by many to be sleeping with the bosses at Ducati, has been offering its ECU to the Frankenbikes since the start of the CRT era in 2012. Honda, wanting nothing to do with Marelli or a control ECU, has threatened to pull out of MotoGP altogether over the issue, but seems to be bluffing, having signed Marquez through the 2016 season. The suits at Ducati are apparently screaming that Honda is having too much influence on the design of the software. Yamaha and Suzuki, like Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories, just be layin’ low, claiming, oddly, that they’ll be happy to work with whatever emerges from the coffee klatch/death match between Honda and Ducati. The dynamics of the whole deal—maximizing input without giving away trade secrets—are fascinating. Whether Ezpeleta & Co. designed this sideshow on purpose, or have been taken by surprise, it will be fun to watch for the next 20 months.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Sunny skies and mild temperatures are on tap for all three days, as one would expect for Marc Marquez’ homecoming parade. Anyone want to bet we won’t see the exact same podium this week as we did at Mugello? The lights go out at 8 am EDT; we’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

Marquez seizes sensational win from Lorenzo in Italy

June 2, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Mugello Results

By Bruce Allen       June 2, 2014

podium-mugello-2014

If you’re Marc Marquez, it just doesn’t get much better than this. The young Spanish champion brought his amazing game to Mugello, where team Yamaha has had its way for most of the last decade. Jorge Lorenzo, having won the last three races here, led 21 of 23 laps this afternoon. But when the checkered flag fell, it was Marquez and the Honda, making it six in a row in 2014 and looking invincible.

The last seven laps of the 2014 Gran Premio d’Italia TIM were championship motorcycle racing at its absolute finest. Premier class races in MotoGP often devolve into a leader entering a low earth orbit, leaving the rest of the field fighting over scraps. In Moto2 and Moto3, and even more so inAMA oval track tilts, one often observes two, three, sometimes four riders going hammer and tongs for the win. Today the big imports gave us a clinic in shoulder-to-shoulder racing at mind-numbing speed, with the final outcome decided by 12/100ths of a second, at one of the historic venues on the circuit. People will remember today’s race for years.

Looking over the notes I made during the race, there wasn’t a whole lot going on for much of the day. Pramac Ducati pretender Joe Iannone found himself in the middle of the front row at the start, the best ever qualifying performance by a satellite Ducati, sandwiched between Marquez on the pole and Lorenzo in third position. The top ten qualifiers were separated by half a second, putting less emphasis on starting position and more on racing performance.

Exhibit A for this last statement was Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, who started 10th after a poor tire choice for QP2. By Lap 4, Rossi was sitting in 3rd place behind leader Lorenzo and stalker Marquez, having driven the partisan Italian crowd into a foaming frenzy slicing through the field into podium contention. True, Rossi could drive an Italian crowd into a frenzy changing a tire on his car, but Mugello crowds come to see The Doctor eat up the competition. Sadly, in 2014, it’s not ALL the competition, just most of it.

Valentino Rossi delighted the crowd with a third place finish, his first podium at Mugello since 2009.

Iannone, virtually alone on the soft rear tire, stayed amongst the leaders for a surprisingly long time, eventually finishing seventh. But the first 16 laps featured Marquez snapping at Lorenzo’s heals, Rossi alone in third, and some great action farther back in the field. Between Laps 3 and 4, three high profile riders crashed out of the race. Bradley Smith, having qualified a Tech 3 Yamaha well in seventh place, crashed out on his own late in Lap three. Moments later, Cal Crutchlow folded the front of his factory Ducati, which went down and out, taking an innocentStefan Bradl and his LCR Honda along with it. Bradl, who had crashed hard in the morning’s warm-up practice, “walked” off the track looking like Harley Staggers after a long night.

Iannone, Pol Espargaro on the other Tech 3 Yamaha, Ducati heartthrob Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa spent a good part of the day fighting over fourth place, with Pedrosa eventually prevailing. That he wasn’t among the top three, contending for a podium, could be attributed to a poor start from the four hole, an increasingly familiar sight in 2014. I’m sure there were some interesting tussles for spots farther down the food chain, but cannot muster enough interest to analyze the timesheets.

Dani Pedrosa prevailed in a battle against Pol Espargaro and Andrea Dovizioso.

For those of you who complain that I don’t pay enough attention to the dregs of the premier class, let it be noted that Michel Fabrizio, a late substitution on the Ioda Racing entry, retired with mechanical issues, and Hector Barbera, about whom virtually no one cares, crashed out of the race, continuing his 2014 odyssey toward World Superbike and/or oblivion. And Nicky Hayden’s woes continued this weekend, as he was forced to return to the U.S. for surgery on his arthritic wrist, leaving Hiro Aoyama to represent the sagging Aspar team on his own today.

The Battle Up Front

Today’s race was about Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. It pitted experienced composure and a Yamaha on a Yamaha circuit against a precocious raw talent aboard a Honda RC213V that is competitive anywhere. It was a throw-down between iron-willed determination facing a terribly difficult season and a prodigious young talent about whose potential nobody can know the limits. It featured the two best riders in MotoGP at the top of their respective games. And, like it or not, the better man won.

Marquez-Lorenzo, Lorenzo-Marquez, Marquez-Lorenzo. The two studs swapped leads several times with Marquez finishing ahead by just 0.121 seconds.

For most of the day, it appeared Marquez was once again biding his time, choosing the time and place at which he would blow Lorenzo away and calmly claim yet another effortless win. He went through on Lorenzo for the first time on Lap 17, and many of us watching the proceedings thought that was that.

Lorenzo, iron will in control, fought back again and again, taking the lead at least six more times between Laps 18 and 21, sometimes for mere seconds. Marquez, rather than playing the cat to Lorenzo’s mouse, suddenly seemed to be in a genuine fight. Lorenzo, completely unwilling to concede anything, held onto the lead until finally, at the first turn of Lap 23, Marquez went through for good.

In the post-race presser, Marquez was understandably jubilant, having kept Team Yamaha winless for 2014 at one of their home cribs. Lorenzo, keeping the glass half full, seemed surprisingly optimistic, looking ahead to more battles with the young usurper. And Rossi, the master of the media, spoke about his pleasure at again making it to the podium in front of his home fans. Looking forward, there appear precious few venues where the Movistar Yamahateam will enjoy homecourt advantage more than they did today. If Marquez fails to run the table in 2014, it will be due to a mistake, either one of his own or, more likely, by another rider, a Crutchlow or Bautista who takes him out early in a race.

Had you gone to one of the British racing books that accept wagers of this nature, what odds do you suppose you might have received on a bet that Marc Marquez would go undefeated in 2014? 1,000 to one? 10,000 to one? A zillion? The mind reels.

On to Barcelona

Two weeks from now the show goes on in Spain at Catalunya, the scene of some tremendous battles over the years. The optimists in the crowd will be hoping for another contest like todays at a circuit that has been known to favor the Yamaha riders. The pessimists may fear yet another Marquez win in what is becoming an eerily predictable season. For me, just the idea of a rider running the table in 2014 is bizarre in the extreme. As a Lorenzo fan for a number of years, and as one who detests frontrunners in any sport, I still find myself quietly rooting for the young Catalan wonder to pull it off. Surely, if he does, he will establish a standard that could stand for decades. Or, until he does it again. In any case, what we are watching these days is truly remarkable.

Perhaps reMarcable is a better description.

2014 MotoGP Mugello Top Ten Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda -
2 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha +0.121
3 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +2.688
4 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +14.046
5 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +15.603
6 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +17.042
7 Andrea Iannone Pramac Ducati +17.129
8 Alvaro Bautista GO&FUN Honda Gresini +27.407
9 Aleix Espargaro NGM Forward Yamaha +41.886
10 Yonny Hernandez Pramac Ducati +45.212
2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 6 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Honda 150
2 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 97
3 Dani Pedrosa Honda 96
4 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 65
5 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 63
6 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 49
7 Aleix Espargaro Forward Yamaha* 44
8 Stefan Bradl Honda 39
9 Alvaro Bautista Honda 34
10 Bradley Smith Yamaha 34
* indicates an Open Option entry.

The Chips are Down for Team Yamaha at Mugello

May 27, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Mugello Preview by Bruce Allen

mugello-circuit-aerial-viewMugello, one of the friendliest of the Yamaha-friendly circuits on the tour, hosts Round Six of the 2014 MotoGP world championship. In Italy, the Scarperia shrine sits just a notch below Assisi and The Sistine Chapel on the holiness scale. Since 2002, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, have won 10 of the 12 races held here. If, as expected, they get pierced again on Sunday by Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, the party is truly over.

Jorge Lorenzo, the struggling two-time world champion, has won the last three races at Mugello. Although the track sits a half hour from Rossi’s birthplace in Urbino, Lorenzo has treated it as his own personal playground since 2011. The first two of those wins came while Rossi was working for Ducati, one hand tied figuratively behind his back. Last year, Rossi returned to Team Yamaha and looked competitive in practice, only to get Bautista-ed on Lap 1. Last year’s race was notable, too, for being the only tilt of the year in which Marquez crashed out, leaving third place to burly Brit Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

Neither of those two events—Marquez crashing out, and Crutchlow finishing on the podium—are in any way likely to occur this year.

One recalls how Marquez spent a good portion of his rookie season parting company with his bike, including several times during marquez_crashSunday morning warm-up practices. He set an all-time MotoGP record last year at Mugello, calmly stepping off his RC213V at approximately 200 mph to avoid a close encounter with a concrete barrier on the main straight. It could be argued that the main difference between the 2013 version of Marquez and Marquez 2.0 is that he has learned how to keep his AIS—ass in seat. I don’t recall seeing him crash yet in 2014.

Whither Dani Pedrosa?

Marquez’ teammate, the Rodney Dangerfield of MotoGP, Dani Pedrosa, has evaded mention thus far. With a few notable exceptions, he has a formidable history at Mugello, with two wins, one of which came in MotoGP in 2010, the year Rossi went high side in practice and lost the #1 seat on Team Yamaha in the process. In eight premier class appearances at Mugello on the Repsol Honda, Pedrosa has collected the one win, three seconds, a total of five podia, and one DNF. He has finished second to Lorenzo the last two years. Although he sits in second place for the season, he is generally overlooked in most MotoGP conversations. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380The racing media is full of stories about how Suzuki wants to feature Pedrosa as it returns to the premier class in 2015. He has allegedly asked for eight million euros to pilot their #1 machine next year, perhaps in an effort to see if they’re really serious about spending what it takes to field a competitive team. The whole thing feels kind of like high school, when a girl with a bad reputation would return, looking kind of good, from a few years in another town. You might think about asking her out, knowing your own reputation would suffer. But it might be worth it wink wink.

Cal Crutchlow is the current poster boy for “willing to exchange speed for a paycheck.” Now in his late 20’s with virtually no chance of winning a world championship left to him, the dignified Pedrosa can be excused for being tempted to make the same trade. Certainly, Eugene Laverty will remind no one of Kevin Schwantz or Kenny Roberts Jr., the last two world champions to wear Suzuki colors. A team comprised of Pedrosa and, say, Andrea Dovizioso, who is a free agent after this season, could put an improved Suzuki product in podium contention.

Changes on the Horizon

Colin Edwards, #2 on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha team, will be riding a new team-built chassis this weekend, putting the bike at about 75% of what it will be next year when Yamaha reverts to supplying engines only, according to team manager Giovanni Cuzari. Edwards’ teammate Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is happy as a clam on the Yamaha frame, and intends to stick with it for the rest of the season. With Simone Corsi, the team’s Moto2 rider, having tested the MotoGP machine at the recent Jerez testing session, it is expected that Corsi will move up to take over Edwards’ seat in 2015.

Luigi Dall’Igna, the new Chief Cheddar at Ducati Corse, sprained his wrist this past week patting himself on the back for all the progress the team has made in 2014. He alluded to changes being made virtually every week in engine and frame, then changed gears, suggesting that Ducati might elect to design a completely new bike from the ground up. During all of this, reports continue to circulate that Andrea Dovizioso is actively shopping for a new ride next season, and that the disgruntled Cal Crutchlow may even buy out the second year of his contract while he’s still ambulatory.Ducati logo

Over at the Pramac Ducati team, the early impressive progress exhibited by Andrea Iannone has been blunted of late as he has recorded DNFs in his last two races. And Yonny Hernandez, who appeared to have a world of potential when he first joined the Ducati team in mid-2013 has failed to make any notable progress this season, yet another promising racing career nipped in the bud by the nasty Desmosedici. If Dovizioso and Crutchlow get out of Dodge, the silly season will reach new heights as Ducati Corse attempts to sign high profile riders willing to set their careers on hold for two years while Dall’Igna scrambles to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Paging Casey Stoner.

Finally, in the cruelest release of the season. Honda announced that they would be making “major upgrades” in the RCV1000R, but not until 2015. Thus, the poor chumps who elected to go with Honda rather than Yamaha in the “open” category will be effectively stuck in fourth gear for the rest of 2014. Nicky Hayden must be grinding his teeth to powder, as the last few good years of his racing life circle the drain on the severely underpowered “customer” Honda. No explanation was offered as to why Honda is not actively seeking to improve the engine this year, although the rules would appear to allow such changes sooner rather than later.

Last but Not Least

As you recall, the weather at Le Mans this year was, contrary to recent history, wonderful. But Mugello, where the weather is rarely an issue, has a dicey forecast for the upcoming weekend. Rain is expected both Friday and Saturday, with skies clearing for race day. If the forecast holds, it will put major pressure on the teams to come up with dry settings on Sunday after tweaking the bikes for wet settings in practice, giving everyone something to complain about. Can Marquez go six for six? Can Team Yamaha put both riders on the podium? We’ll have all the answers right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP 2014 Le Mans Results

May 18, 2014

Once again, it’s all Marquez, all the time 

Under a flawless blue sky in northwest France, 88,000 MotoGP fans witnessed the laying of another brick in the wall of fame being built by Marc Marquez.  The 21-year old Spaniard overcame a dicey start to become the youngest rider in this history of the sport to win five premier class races in a row.  Having shattered the all-time lap record at Le Mans in practice, the Repsol Honda phenom is re-writing the record books every time out.  Today, it appeared, was just another day at the office. 

Marquez the Man

Without wishing to suggest a conspiracy amongst the other top riders, the conventional wisdom for beating Marquez seems to have coalesced around the concept of “roughing him up” at the start of a race, pushing him back into pack traffic, allowing one of the other Aliens to jump out to a lead, and then praying collectively that he runs out of time going through the field.  This “anyone but Marquez” approach worked perfectly today, as he got off to a poor start—the sole remaining flaw in his otherwise flawless game—got pushed wide by Jorge Lorenzo early, and finished the Lap 1 in 10th place.  The thought crossed my mind that in order to make it interesting he occasionally allows this to happen, enjoying slicing and dicing the field on his way to the win.  Today at Le Mans it looked like this:

MarquezConquestCapture

So, with six consecutive poles under his belt dating back to Valenciana last year, he breaks the record set by Mike Hailwood in 1962 to become the youngest rider ever to take five premier class wins in a row.  Next up:  Casey Stoner’s record seven poles in a row set in 2008.  Next after that:  Mick Doohan’s incredible 10 wins in a row in 1997.  Once Marquez learns how to start these things quickly—recall Jorge Lorenzo was a terrible starter when he came up in 2008 and has become one of the best since then—he will have to find something else to hold his attention during races.  Capable of turning lap times over half a second faster than his nearest competitors—half a minute in dog years—he will be competing with himself for the foreseeable future. 

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Rossi 2014Valentino Rossi, who led the first half of the race and appears thoroughly rejuvenated, claimed his third 2nd place finish of the year and his 10th premier class podium at Le Mans.  Expect an announcement in at Mugello that Yamaha has signed the Doctor for two more years of chasing Marquez around the world.  The most surprising result today was the 3rd place finish of GO&FUN Honda pretty boy Alvaro Bautista, taking his third premier class podium ever and first since Motegi in 2012.  Starting seventh, Bautista quietly moved up the standings until Lap 12 when he went through on LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl into fourth position.  He then turned his attention to the surprising Pol Espargaro, who had placed his Tech 3 Yamaha on the first row of the grid and looked podium-worthy, going through on the rookie on Lap 18.  For me, seeing Bautista on the podium is about as jarring as seeing John Daly winning a golf tournament.

The two Honda surgical convalescents, Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa and LCR’s Stefan Bradl, fared surprisingly well today, less than two weeks after surgeries on their forearms.  Pedrosa, one of the toughest guys in MotoGP, spent a good part of the day in ninth position before his fuel load dropped, allowing him to recover to a respectable fifth place finish.  Alas, his string of eight consecutive podia came to an end today in a gutsy performance.  Bradl, seeming less affected by his own medical issues, spent a good part of the day in the top four before fading to seventh place at the flag.

Sandwiched in between the two Hondas at the end was Jorge Lorenzo—remember him?—who started and finished sixth, never Lorenzo at workappearing as much of a threat to anyone anytime.  Last year at this time, Lorenzo had two wins and four podia in five starts for 91 points and trailed series leader Pedrosa by 12.  This year, Lorenzo has appeared on the podium once, has managed 45 championship points, and trails Marquez by an unfathomable 80 points.  He is routinely getting schooled by teammate Rossi, and appears to have had his iron will broken by the untouchable Marquez.  Lorenzo desperately needs something—hypnosis, EST, perhaps a visit to a Jamaican voodoo practitioner—to get his fighting spirit restored.  He appears to be in a PTSD-like trance, and needs someone to slap him, piss him off, and get him to stop feeling sorry for himself.  Lorenzo needs to get mad; sad isn’t working.

Farther Down the Food Chain

The hapless Nicky Hayden—if it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all—got tangled up with Andrea Iannone early in the first lap and saw his day come to an early end.  Iannone apparently failed to escape unscathed, as he went down himself on Lap 2, followed shortly thereafter by the increasingly irrelevant Hector Barbera.  With Ioda Racing’s Danilo Petrucci sidelined with a broken wrist, the battle for 16th place raged all day, eventually won by Michael Laverty on the PBM nag.  The saddest sight of the day was Colin Edwards pushing his bike, Fred Flintstone-like, across the line with his boots, having apparently run out of gas late on the last lap.

If Le Mans is the least abrasive racing surface on the MotoGP tour, Cal Crutchlow has become its most abrasive rider.  Crutchlow, who apparently believes the world owes him fame and fortune, barely got out of Q1, qualified last in Q2, started 12th and finished 11th.  He did manage to whip his factory Ducati to finish in front of Pramac’s Yonny Hernandez and three Honda “customer bikes”, winning the Taller Than Danny DeVito award again this week.  At my deadline, no explanation is available for how teammate Andrea Dovizioso managed to go from leading the race early from a front row start to an eighth place finish on a non-abrasive racing surface.  Praying he doesn’t attribute it to understeer, one of the hallmarks of the Desmosedici.  (Imagine an NFL quarterback attributing his five interceptions in a single game to the opposition having put 11 defenders on the field to cause him problems.)

On to Mugello in two weeks, one of the shrines of MotoGP racing, a track where Valentino Rossi could conceivably give Marquez a run for his money.  Rossi’s home race, on a Yamaha layout, with the crowd solidly behind him…  Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  One of the few remaining obstacles to Marquez running the table in 2014?  Unthinkable, sure, but the word is rapidly losing its meaning as the Catalan onslaught continues.

LeMansTopTenCapture

2014TopTenCapture

 

 

 

MotoGP 2014 Le Mans Preview

May 13, 2014

All eyes on the streaking Marquez 

Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez sits atop the grand prix motorcycle racing world with expectations growing at a geometric rate.  Heading into Round 5, he has captured the last five poles, dating back to Valenciana last season, and has won every contest in 2014.  He has topped the timesheets in most of the practice sessions.  Aside from his boyish good looks, all he has going for him is timing, balance, reflexes, intelligence and a really good bike.  The only hope for the rest of the grid this weekend is rain and plenty of it. 

Luckily for the grid, the flying circus will be performing in France, where the last two races have been declared “wet.”  (When it’s heidi_klum_51raining pitchforks and hammer handles, having a marshal flashing a sign reading “WET RACE” is like watching Heidi Klum strut down a runway with some dweeb in the first row waving a sign reading “SUPERMODEL.”  Not exactly necessary.  Just sayin’.)

Recent History at Le Mans

The most recent dry race at the legendary Bugatti Circuit took place in 2011, when Repsol Honda chieftain Casey Stoner got away early on his way to a) the win, and b) that year’s championship.  Behind him, pandemonium reigned, as Marco Simoncelli put Stoner’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa out of the race and into the hospital with an ill-advised passing attempt on Lap 17.  Repsol #3 Andrea Dovizioso took advantage of Pedrosa’s misfortune to steal second place from Valentino Rossi, who put his Ducati Desmosedici on the podium for the first and only time that year.

In 2012, factory Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo ruled Le Mans in the rain, beating Rossi to the finish by 10 interminable seconds.  Rossi, in turn, punked Casey Stoner on the last lap, relegating the Australian, who had announced his surprise retirement that weekend, to third.  Afterwards, it was hard to tell whether Rossi was more jubilant over making it to the podium or sticking Stoner’s you-know-what in the dirt.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380Last year was Dani Pedrosa’s One Shining Moment, as the diminutive Spaniard, who had struggled all weekend and started out of the six hole, put the hammer down at the start and led the last 23 laps of the very wet race, launching himself into first place for the season.  Cal Crutchlow, in his final (competitive) year aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha, managed second place, despite having his entire body held together with Bondo and strapping tape.  Rookie Marquez made it to third place after a three day escapade during which he spent roughly as much time in the runoff areas as on the track.  The two factory Ducati bikes managed fourth and fifth, unable to shake the cursed “mudder” label.

Feast or Famine for Rossi at Le Mans

In his last six visits to the Loire River valley, Valentino Rossi has experienced the highs and lows of his chosen profession.  He followed up his win in 2008 with the comical flag-to-flag outing in 2009 in which he finished 16th.  In 2010 he finished second to Yamaha teammate Lorenzo, and podiumed in both 2011 and 2012 while wrestling the Ducati.  Last year, back again with Yamaha, he crashed out of third place in the middle of the race under pressure from Crutchlow and ended up finishing 12th.

Some years chicken; some years feathers.  After watching his teammate Lorenzo get overtaken late in the day in Jerez by Mr. Pedrosa, Rossi is probably looking forward to a little payback this weekend, especially with Dani coming in at less than 100% fitness.

Latest Honda Fad—Arm Pump Surgery 

Last week both Dani Pedrosa and LCR Honda strongman Stefan Bradl underwent surgery to repair muscles in their forearms that want to bust out of their casings like bratwursts on a hot grille.  Pedrosa, whom we weren’t aware was having any physical problems on his way to another solid third place finish in Jerez, might simply miss going under general anesthesia, as it’s been almost a year since his last collarbone surgery.

Bradl, it will be remembered, had problems in Jerez that indicated something was wrong; now we know what it was.  Although both riders have been cleared to race this weekend, Le Mans is one of those stop-and-go joints that demands a lot of hard braking.  Pedrosa will have his work cut out for him to keep his own personal string of eight consecutive podium finishes alive.

There is no truth to the rumor that Alvaro Bautista requested permission to have surgery on one of his forearms, in order to do a little bonding with the factory Honda riders who aren’t embarrassing themselves this season.  Bautista is not having arm pump issues, just every other issue imaginable.

This Just In—Cal Crutchlow Frustrated with DucatiCrutchlow

Last year, after four rounds, a fractious Cal “I’m Good Enough for a Factory Ride” Crutchlow sat in fourth place for the season with 55 points.  Later in the year, he achieved his goal of becoming a factory team rider, abandoning the Tech 3 Yamaha squad and hooking up with Ducati Corse to take on the badass Desmosedici.  Sure, the Big Red Machine was widely seen as a career buster.  Sure, even the Doctor was unable to get it to work right, suffering through two of the worst years of his life.  But, it was argued, Cal is big and burly and strong enough to bend the Ducati to his will.  He was going to show the world that it wasn’t just about the money.

Um, no.  Heading into Round 5, Cal sits mired in 16th place, a mere two points ahead of Karel Abraham, for God’s sake, with ten (10) championship points to show for his season thus far.  He’s now mouthing off in the media about the junk he’s being forced to ride.  He is the least productive of the four Ducati pilots, two of whom aren’t making “factory” money.  At this point, Cal needs to man up and start running with teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who podiumed in Austin and currently sits in fourth place for the year.  Having made his bed, the Brit needs to lie in it and STFU.  As they say back home, “Hard cheese, old boy.”

New Rubber Coming in 2016

Having grown weary of being the whipping boy for every rider from Valentino Rossi to Gabor Talmacsi since 2009, Bridgestone has announced that it will no longer be the sole supplier of tires to MotoGP after next season.  This leaves the field open for the other three candidates—Pirelli, Dunlop and Michelin—to step up to what is a thankless job.  Never mind all the data the company collects and then ostensibly uses to improve its retail lines.  Not a race goes by without some rider or 12 whining about grip, deterioration, etc.   From what little I’ve read on the subject, Michelin appears to have the inside track.  Similarly, there seems to be little debate that the change in tires will have a greater impact on the sport than the forthcoming changes in the ECUs.

What About the Weather in France This Weekend?

Glad you asked.  As of Tuesday afternoon, the forecast is surprisingly good, calling for fair skies and mild temps, with next to no chance of rain.  Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it.  If it turns out to be a dry race, I suspect there’ll be more Yamahas on the podium than Hondas.  If it’s wet, expect Andrea Dovizioso to find his way to the rostrum.  The race goes off at 8 am EDT on Sunday, and we hope to have results right here that afternoon, even though our favorite Motorcycle.com editor will likely be on his honeymoon.  Congratulations Dennis and Jackie.


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