MotoGP Projected 2015 Final Standings

December 1, 2014

MotoGP for Dummies 12/1/2014, by Bruce Allen

It being December 1, MotoGP enters its self-imposed two month hiatus, the only real break in a season which has, as is true in most sports, expanded and filled the calendar.  A competition season schedules 18 races over 31 weeks and includes a few dead spots. Pre-season work (“spring practice”) begins in early January, the same way spring football practice does at The University of Alabama.  It ends, finally, for everyone, at the end of November.  Crewing, owning, managing, and riding are, for all practical purposes, year-round occupations.  Highly intense year-round occupations.

Before I forget, here are the final 2015 standings, in an effort to relieve you of the need to actually watch Marquez win.  The rest, obviously, is totally SWAG-ed.  Top to bottom, the grid appears tighter than in years past, more solid, with more solvent mid-range teams and fewer struggling lower-tier teams.

  1.  Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda2014 MotoGP World Champion
  2. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha
  3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha
  4. Andrea Dovisioso, Factory Ducati
  5. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda
  6. Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati
  7. Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 Yamaha
  8. Scott Redding, Marc VDS
  9. Cal Crutchlow CWM LCR Honda
  10. Bradley Smith, Tech 3 Yamaha
  11. Stefan Bradl, NGM Forward Yamaha
  12. Aleix Espargaro, Factury Suzuki
  13. Nicky Hayden, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  14. Danilo Petrucci, Pramac Ducati
  15. Jack Miller, CWM LCR Honda
  16. Maverick Vinales, Factory Suzuki
  17. Yonny Hernandez, Pramac Ducati
  18. Alvaro Bautista, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  19. Marco Melandri, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  20. Karel Abraham, Cardion AB Honda
  21. Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati
  22. Mike di Meglio, Avintia Ducati
  23. Eugene Laverty, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  24. Loris Baz, NGM Forward Yamaha
  25. Alex de Angelis, Octo Ioda Racing

The odds against this being the actual standings at the end of next year are incalculable.  However, if you, the nit-picking reader, would like, I would have much more confidence in the list if it were broken into tranches:

cropped-jorge-lorenzo-20131.jpgTranche 1:  Marquez↑, Lorenzo↑, Rossi↓, Pedrosa↓, Dovizioso↑

Tranche 2:  Iannone↑, The Espargaros↔, Redding↑, Crutchlow↑, Smith↔, Bradl↓Andrea Iannone

Tranche 3:  Hayden↑, Petrucci↑, Miller↔, Vinales↔, Hernandez↔, Bautista↓, Melandri↔

Tranche 4:  Abraham↓, Barbera↓, Di Meglio↔, Laverty↔, Baz↔ and De Angelis↓

In years past, when I’ve attempted to tranche the grid–it was a smaller grid back then–I would usually come up with five groups.  Next year it’s only four, suggesting, again, that the grid will be tighter, top to bottom, than in past years.  More financially stable, too.  Tighter competition, regardless of where it takes place during a race, is what gets the fans going. It needs a 25-bike grid that is generally well-financed and capable of generating, capturing, and using the data which seem to drive the sport–a sport that desperately needs a TV deal eliminating commercials during the 45 minutes it takes to run the race.

Anyway, on the day it becomes illegal to test machines, the best we can do is to speculate on next year’s prospects, at the top, middle and bottom of the food chain.  Even writing this, I sense that several of my picks are over- or under-rated, at least within their tranches.  Personally, I think it would be a blast to see either of the two young rookies, Vinales and Miller, do well, by which we mean performing at a high level before predictably crashing in four or five races.  Marquez surprised us in his rookie year by crashing out only once. Maybe one of these guys could do the same.  In his rookie year on the LCR Honda Casey Stoner finished eighth.Jack Miller

Nicky Hayden still has the ability to ride anything, and his Honda this year is going to be more competitive than last year’s model.  Still, he finds himself, turning 34, at the top of the third tranche, happy to be running for a Honda-supported team, prevailing most weeks against the two youngsters as well as a bunch of Ducatis and Aprilias.

Tranche Four has low expectations.  Or perhaps its just me, who has low expectations for them.  The fact is, Karel Abraham should lead this rather sorry group, but one or two of them may end up in tranche three. This is, career-wise, a downward socially mobile group, as their appearance in MotoGP, even at the back of the grid, will, for some, mark the high water mark of a career that will often end up in World Super Bikes or British Super Bikes.  Abraham, again, is the exception, as his dad owns much of the world they inhabit.  He can ride MotoGP until he decides to join the Czech bar and practice law.

So, perhaps the main surprise is my perception that the factory Ducati will improve, under the direction of GigiDall’Igna, to the point that Dovizioso will displace Pedrosa as The Fourth Alien. That Pedrosa may have, once and for all, lost a step, a step that left with his hope of winning a title in over the past four years.  My guess is that Pedrosa’s contract won’t be renewed after the 2016 season .  And that Alex Marquez will take the #2 seat on the Repsol Honda team beginning in 2017.

Talk about Tito Rabat.  Let’s assume Tito Rabat repeats as Moto2 champion in 2015, as expected, and decides that he wants to move up the following year.  It won’t be with the Repsol Honda team, who tried to field a three-bike team back in the day that didn’t work out. It could easily be as the second Marc VDS bike alongside Scott Redding, which might work out just fine, depending on the level of factory support MVDS is getting from Japan.

Rabat could negotiate a one year deal with MVDS, leaving him free to join Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha team if and when Rossi is not renewed after the 2016 season.  Of course, if the Repsol Honda team could figure out a way to have the three amigos–both Marquez brothers and Rabat–racing in the same colors it would be in complete cosmic alignment with the stars and spirits and incapable of defeat.  A karmic troika. Plenty of Spanish national anthems on podium celebrations.

(Don’t get me going on the Spanish national anthem.  My friend says it is an instrumental–people stand around humming–because the lyrics became illegal every few years as succeeding regimes demanded their own.)

So, is there anyone willing to argue that Marquez is not a lock in 2015?

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/26/2014

November 26, 2014
Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

 

LORENZO: SUGGESTION RE FLAG-TO-FLAG RACES IGNORED

I believe this to be true, having read it in a reputable publication.  This is a perfect example of why organizations that make decisions from the bottom up tend to do well, while organizations that make decisions from the top down tend to flounder.

This is the suggestion of one of the top three riders on earth that the rules be changed, as is often done at the drop of a hat, to force riders to pit within 2 laps of a white flag, rather than currently allowing them to do so.  It makes the white flag a consensus from all areas of the track, at which point it is out of the riders hands upon two laps.  It would effectively head off situations such as we saw this fall in which rain played an overly important role in the outcome of several races, far beyond the intent of the current rule.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDNot only did this recommendation arise from the bottom, but it arose from Jorge Lorenzo, a double world champion who has been on the sharp end of these rules, has ridden his million dollar motorcycle down, has walked away, and has been carried off.  He, better than the suits at Dorna and their committees, knows a good rule when he sees one.  The Powers That Be determine that the present rule is okay for now.  Someone’s back is getting scratched.

For riders, it is another reminder that they are, in general, employees, employees asked to  give a lot of feedback at high speeds about their employer’s machines.  If they were owners, say, they could vote to change the rules themselves.  As employees, though, those things are better left to the suits who write the checks.

MotoGP white flagThis expendable posture from owners toward riders, ultimately, leaves them little reason to compete hard outside of the team, but to do their best to best their teammate before all things.  So Lorenzo and Rossi go after each other, aware that Marquez travels in another dimension for now.  Pedrosa, one suspects, is training and training and training.  Pedrosa has a two year contract that could easily see him replaced by Alex Marquez after the 2016 season.

So.  Rain will continue to be allowed to affect the outcome of MotoGP races more than it should.  Riders will continue to subject themselves and those around them to elevated risks, continuing to run slicks in wet conditions past the time most suitable for making the change to a wet bike.  The suits, you see, have this thing…

Lorenzo is cool for stepping up and saying something constructive about one of the top issues in rider safety in the entire sport, a Subject Matter Expert if ever there was one. Having watched the 2008 Indianapolis GP in Hurricane Ike, I was astounded as to how much rain Race Direction allowed before calling a halt to the race at Lap 18, with the wind blowing the rain sideways, the cherry-picker camera and helicopter long gone.  That these guys run in rain at all is, in my opinion, ridiculous.  That they run in tropical storms is absurd.  Yet run they do.

There is something vaguely gladiatorial about keeping riders out on the track on slicks in the rain.  Management, whoever they are, makes these decisions for reasons other than good sense.  The driving force in this sport, according to many, is to increase rider safety while increasing wheel-to-wheel competition.  Leveling the field, allowing more riders to compete in the front group, more variation in podiums, higher ratings in more countries.

None of which has anything to do with getting riders off their slicks within two laps, to reduce their risk by taking away a decision that often results in a crash.  The suits are basically asking, “So, what does this Lorenzo guy know about it?”  One suspects that the rule change will take place on its own within two years, by which time the FIM will have claimed the idea as their own.  Regardless, it will probably be known as The Lorenzo Rule.

dumb as meetingsOne of my favorite Demotivator posters shows a group of suited men’s hands together in a huddle, with the caption “None of us is a dumb as all of us.”  So the rule for 2015 stays in place. Lorenzo is thanked for his suggestion, and MotoGP rolls the dice, praying that it either rains or it doesn’t.  Having reported the biggest crowds of their history, Dorna wants to build upon this success and is reluctant to change  a dynamic which appears to be working.  There are teams clamoring to join the fray, with 25 riders on the grid for 2015 as it stands, with KTM in the wings for 2016. Suzuki under pressure from Dorna to create a satellite team.

MotoGP seems happy to remain a boutique sport in the U.S., as Dorna continues to make little effort to cultivate American journalists.  Rather than taking guys like me out to dinner, they give us a hard time getting the kind of credentials they give to they guys who work for print publications, making it hard for us to do our jobs, and forcing us to make things up when we can’t find out what’s really going on.

Personally, I’m inclined to wonder or presume what folks are doing and saying.  As an example, it’s not a big reach to suggest that Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa are concerned about beating Marquez in 2015.  It’s not a big reach to suggest that sponsors and owners have “high level” concerns which transcend those of the gentlemen who ride the bikes, the Spanish guys.

Interest in  MotoGP in Spain is like what they get at NASCAR events n the U.S., the difference being the Spanish economy is in the toilet, while the US economy, while recovering, is still sputtering and trying to get a grip.  Interest in  NASCAR, which peaked some years ago, is its own problem, probably due in part to the economic downturn and saturation in US motor sports.  Somehow, MotoGP continues to draw in Spain, four times a year, more than any spanish_flag2other country.  All the great Spanish riders.  Remarkable.

November of 2014:  Lorenzo recommends that white flag mean mandatory pit within two laps.  Let’s try to remember this, so we can come back to it when it becomes law.  My favorite Russian stand up comic, Yakov Smirnoff, used to joke that back in the old Soviet Union, everything that was not forbidden was mandatory.  The tendency of any bureaucracy is to make more things mandatory; read the MotoGP by-laws some day.  Thus, the institutional inertia favors The Lorenzo Rule.  Just, not now.

For now, we go into the 2015 season with plenty on our plates.  Open, factory and hybrid bikes, more asterisks than the law should allow, all hoping to make some kind of impression in 2015 that will bring them some grace headed into the abyss of 2016 and the beginning of The Michelin Years which, one fears, could easily coincide with and become inseparable from The Marquez Years, into which we’ve already descended.Marquez in Sepang 2013

 

 

 

 

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/24/2014

November 24, 2014

Man bites dog.

lin jarvisYamaha factory racing mullah Lin Jarvis declared over the weekend his belief that both Rossi and Lorenzo are capable of beating Repsol Honda double world champion Mark Marquez in 2015.

As if.

Jarvis, better than anyone, knows that the only way either of his current guys wins the world championship in the next two years is if Marquez injures himself.  Always a possibility in this punishing pastime; ask Lorenzo and Pedrosa especially.  At risk from oneself and from others. Difficult to insure.  Etc.

I love it when one the three things I remember from two degrees in economics makes itself useful. Ceteris paribus is the Latin phrase for “all things being equal,” which they never are.  The entire Western economic theoretical construct is based upon a premise that is true in the long run but definitely not true in the short.

Ahem.  Ceteris paribus, Marquez wins the next seven titles for Honda.

Jarvis is being a faithful corporate manager who is telling the bosses what they want to hear.  He is putting pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi to reach deep and become as great as they once were.  He is praying for rain and relying on Marquez’ aggressive riding style to ultimately lead to his, say, missing six rounds in a year and losing the title accordingly.Marquez at Aragon

It could happen.

So could Rossi or Lorenzo winning the title in any year in which Marquez did not injure himself.  It’s mathematically possible, but would be an upset in either case.  To suggest otherwise, as Jarvis did, is to put pressure on ownership, riders and engineers to try to keep up with what Honda is doing to them.

Jarvis’ team–engineering and design people are obviously brilliant.  They are also consistently a step or two behind their Japanese counterparts.  The most recent iteration of this fact is that Honda was first to the seamless transmission up, which later Yamaha put in place and which helped their performance.

Until Honda put in place the seamless downshift model, which Yamaha is currently trying to put together.

Always a step behind.

Rossi at ValenciaIt is unreasonable to assume that Rossi at age 35 is going to improve over the next two years; statistically, his best years are behind him.  Like Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago White Sox, Rossi gave two of his very best years to the Ducati program for naught but roughly €34 million. Rossi is not as good today as he was eight years ago.

One looks at Marquez’ balance and timing, his reflexes, his riding style, which has become the dominant style in the sport, adopted by riders and teams, with design implications, anxious to ride “more like Marquez.”

The current M-1 is not built to ride like the Honda.  It is designed to maintain speed, to enter corners from a different angle than the Hondas, which enjoy an overall advantage in corner exit speeds in those configurations.  The truth remains that at certain tracks–Austin and Argentina come to mind–the Hondas are going to enjoy a tremendous advantage, and that the number of so-called Yamaha-friendly tracks will continue to diminish as Marquez continues to win races.

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

The conversation veered to consideration of the so-called “bench,” the next generation of riders plugged into becoming factory Yamaha riders, naming only Pol Espargaro as a sure thing.  Ignoring, for now, the possibility that a 27 year old Tito Rabat would be an interesting successor to Rossi if, indeed, young Alex Marquez ends up as his brother’s teammate at Repsol in 2016.  Espargaro, Jarvis admits, would likely defect if not given a factory ride by the end of the 2016 season.  He seemed to regret the fact that his team was unable to sign Maverick Vinales.

Bottom line:  Jarvis doesn’t believe any of this.  He knows that Marquez on the Honda can beat either Rossi or Lorenzo on the Yamaha at his pleasure, generally as long as he finishes the race.  Marquez will fix his approach to riding in the rain, and that will be that.  Rossi says much the same, knowing how unlikely it is that it might be true.  Lorenzo ain’t talking, but he must be wondering how he will adapt to riding more like Marquez.cropped-alex-and-marc.jpg

One last thought.  We think the elevation of Alex Marquez to the factory Honda team in 2016 is a done deal.  This is a thought to put fear in the hearts of competing teams.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 21, 2014

Looking ahead to the shape of the MotoGP grid in 2015, we find

spanish_flag2  8 Spaniards, headed by Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.  Young Marquez and Rabat on the horizon.

 

italian-flag6 Italians, headed by Rossi, Dovizioso and Iannone.

 

british flag3 Brits, headed by Cal Crutchlow, upon whom the pressure must be immense.

 

flag_french2 Frenchman, Di Meglio and Baz and

 

  • 1 each from the under-cards at USA, Columbia, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Australian Youth League.

Forgiving, as you seem to frequently do, the division of the grid into tranches, along the lines of junk bonds:

Tranche A: Aliens Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Tranche B: Competitives:  Dovisiozo, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone.

Tranche C:  Redding, Bradl, Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smth, Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales.

Followed by all the rest.  Probably more competitive top to bottom than 2014; the bad teams aren’t going to be so consistently bad.  There exist the possibilities of upsets with two extra manufacturers adding machines that will complicate starts and early turns.  Expect more from Suzuki with Espargaro and Vinales aboard than with de Puniet.  Expect the Aprilias of Bautista and Melandri to lag.  Expect Nicky Hayden to see more top ten finishes but remain far from relevant.  Don’t know what to expect from Jack Miller who appears fearless at this point but hasn’t yet had the business end of a 1000 cc bike pointed at his helmet.  I hope to see success for Vinales, the Espargaros, the Brits and some new Aliens–a coupla Italians, Dovizioso and maybe Iannone–would be greatly refreshing.  Marquez may yet again run away with the title, but the battle for second could widen and increase interest in the sport itself, as ethnocentric as it is.  That would be helpful heading into 2016, the first year of Michelins, coincident with what one has to expect to be the full fruition of Dall’Igna’s mystic hand at Ducati.

2016 should be comparable to 2002, the year MotoGP went from 2-stroke 500 cc bikes to 4 stroke 990 cc bikes, which was a biggie.  The premier class, confirmed as 4-strokes going forward, checked back down to 800 cc in 2007 and back up to 1000 in 2012. An earlier draft of this article, which was consumed by WordPress, went on to present a series of mundane observations about riders and teams and their prospects for 2015.  It concluded by suggesting that the 2016 Repsol Honda team could easily be represented by Alex and Marc Marquez, and the factory Yamaha effort would feature Jorge Lorenzo and Tito Rabat.  This supposed that both Rossi and Pedrosa would be ready to go quietly. It wondered out loud about the near term prospects for riders Rabat, Vinales and Alex Marquez, while conceding the 2015 and, if history is a teacher, the 2016 titles to Marc Marquez, who has always shown himself to be a quick study when it comes to making major changes in delivery systems.

cropped-alex-and-marc.jpgBy the end of 2016 Marc Marquez remains #1 in the world, with three of the next four riders to include Lorenzo, Alex Marquez and Rabat.   Ignoring Lorenzo, The Three Amigos train harder than anyone, play harder than their peers, and attract sponsors the way bright lights do moths. By 2016, they will all have factory rider status, a term which, at times, gets watered down to meaning little more than high rider salaries.  They will still have the best machines, the best crews, and no money worries.  And, because I don’t know everything, I must confess that another rider, one from  Tranche B, will be in the battle for places two through five.  The cumulative effect of the rule changes being put into effect between now and the start of 2016 should make the fight for places five through 15–points–much less predictable and more fun to watch. Two new factory teams, one of which will be decent, one of which will be bad.  The new Honda customer engine.  Marc VDS. The Espargaro brothers. Lots of Ducatis, fronted by Dovizioso and Iannone. 25 riders on the grid. An explanation for why Alex de Angelis might even bother with Ioda Racing.  The looming entry of KTM in the builder’s competition on 2016.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornMotoGP claimed to draw its biggest crowds ever in 2014 and named Indianapolis the best GP of the year.  Hunh. Despite Dorna’s best efforts not to promote the sport through online outlets, and the fact that not a single American rider competes at anything close to a winning level, MotoGP seems to be drawing followers in the US.  The people at the IMS do a lot to promote the race in August, even though it always comes after a break in the schedule and at the start of what one might think of as “the back nine.” by which time Marquez may have already clinched. Seriously, the Indianapolis race may draw 65,000 people on Sunday and look practically empty.  Other races draw as few as in the 30,000’s. Indy’s not bad at all, but it looks bad on TV.

This is all part of an effort to keep the MotoGP conversation going in the off-season.  Feel free to argue or disagree.  I watch the sport and get paid to think about it.  You might at least wonder why that is.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 15, 2014

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-itw

Unauthorized Fausto Gresini Bio  GP Racing 1997-present

Fausto Gresini has been an owner in the most difficult of spots for most of his 27 years at the helm of grand prix motorcycle racing teams, generally burning his own money or money he has personally raised from sponsors.  As a rider himself in the 80’s, he won world titles in the 125 cc class.  His teams have included a kaleidoscope of title sponsors and have won titles in the  250 cc and Moto2 classes.  Heading into 2015, he has a right to feel jinxed.

We assume Mr. Gresini to be self-aware, able to acknowledge that his efforts to create championship racing teams over three decades has been a constant struggle against a number of tides.  A strong nationalist, Gresini has always wanted to run a purely Italian team, riding Italian machines with Italian riders and joyful Italian sponsors. However, as a satellite team owner, what we in youth soccer used to manage and refer to as a “B Team,” Gresini has experienced few highs and numerous lows, watching his teams compete for titles in the premier class of MotoGP.

Fausto Gresini, the owner of a satellite team, needs to divide his time between driving the techs and riders, and charming sponsors to sign on the dotted line.  Over the years, these have included names such as Elf, Avo, Telefonica, Fortuna, Movistar (in 2005), and, recently, San Carlo, the big Italian chip manufacturer–snacks, not integrated circuits–from 2008 through 2012.  It is impolitic to observe that during the period 2001 to 2014 his teams have experienced two world champions–Daijiro Kato in the 250 class in 2001 and Toni Elias, the winner of daijiro_katothe intial year of Moto2 bikes in 2009–and the loss of their two top riders, Kato in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli in 2011.

Despite Fausto Gresini’s best efforts, success, or budding success, has been followed twice by tragedy that has set his program, such as it is, into the state in which it now exists, one of tarnished former greatness.

Gresini Racing, including the label of the sponsor of the season, has always had to work harder than his factory counterparts, most recently the factory Yamaha and Honda teams.  Gresini was a Honda man for decades, through the years 2003-2005. Sete Gibernau finished second for the year in 2003 and 2004, with then youngster boy toy Marco Melandri taking 2nd in 2005, 4th in 2006, and 5th in 2007.

Gresini Roars Back after Kato Death

Gresini had overcome the racing death of Kato in 2003 and had come back strong with Gibernau and Melandri in 2003 and beyond, San Carlo by his side from 2008-2012.  His fortunes turned south during 2007 with Melandri in MotoGP but turned north again in 2009 as journeyman Toni Elias won the Moto2 title.

Suddenly, in 2010 along comes Marco Simoncelli, the tall, gangly goofy-looking Italian free spirit who had managedMARCO-SIMONCELLI-1 to wrap his 6’something frame around the 250 cc bike in 2008 tightly enough to take the championship, followed by a third place finish in 2009. Gresini had signed the loose charismatic cannon to a two year contract in 2010 while the full-grown Melandri finished 10th and left for greener pastures.  Simoncelli himself managed 8th place in 2010,  getting joined by Hiro Ayoyama on the #2 bike who would take 10th the following year; the Italian spent most of the off season testing sessions near the top of the Alien rankings.

As the 2011 season approached, life was looking up for Fausto Gresini.  In addition to a for-real competitive MotoGP team of Somencelli on the #1 bike and Aoyama on the #2, he was looking at a promising Moto2 team featuring Michele Pirro, who can ride, and Yuki Takahashi, the great Japanese hope.  (Both would disappoint, with Pirro finishing ninth for the season and Takahashi 11th.)

Simoncelli, ruling the headlines but a hazard to himself and those around him, began the 2011 season showing promise on the factory-supported RC213V, but crashing out of three of the first six races, ruining the season of Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans, getting chippy with Lorenzo at a press conference, and slugging it out in the media with Albert Puig, Pedrosa’s Svengali, who seemingly had enough at that point to later re-define his job away from both Pedrosa and Simoncelli.

A disruptive force was Gresini Racing’s Marco Simoncelli in early 2011.

Lightning Strikes Again

Simoncelli, as we all now know, got things turned around in the second half of the 2011 season, with 4th place finishes at San Marino, Aragon and Motegi.  His second place finish at Phillip Island showed him capable of taking podia on a regular basis, all things being equal, which they never are.  Along came Sepang, along came the unthinkable, and Simoncelli was, instantly, snatched from the board.  The personal tragedy was accompanied by a corporate disaster, as the rug had suddenly been violently pulled out from under the Italian sponsors.  San Carlo would stick around for another year, a year in which they were left with Spanish underachiever Alvaro Bautista who was the only credible rider available late in the 2011 season, when they were suddenly bereft looking ahead to 2012.

Bautista who, one suspects, was never Gresini’s first choice on any count–ethnic, performance history–never did much with the Italian’s beloved factory-supported Honda (5th in 2012, falling to 11th in 2014) leading, ultimately, to Honda making it, um, unfeasible for Gresini to field a Honda-affiliated team in 2015.  This coincided with Aprilia’s decision to enter the MotoGP fray a year earlier than had been previously announced, intending to field a two-man factory team in 2015 under the expert direction of, guess who, Fausto Gresini, and giving themselves a year to adjust to the program before Michelin enters in 2016 with the new line of MotoGP tires.

Gresini, still today stuck with the increasingly dysfunctional Bautista, finally signed the aging, microscopic Melandri in early November to ride the second glued-together Aprilia factory entry in 2015 , as Melandri was going to be a victim of corporate Aprilia’s decision to support MotoGP at the apparent expense of a highly successful World Super Bikes program that had produced titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

There’s just something about running with the big dogs…

A Look Ahead

Gresini, for all his efforts, despite brutal events which disrupted the fabric of two separate teams, and through a financial crisis that continues in Italy, finds himself today heading up a factory Aprilia team that plans to enter two glued-together prototypes while they develop a new from-the-bottom-up prototype for 2016, complete with Michelin tires, for their amico, although they were, through financial worry and corporate dithering, unable to prevent chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna’s discouraging defection to Ducati Corse.

Despite his best efforts, Gresini is still stuck with Bautista and, now, with an aging Melandri, kind of an Italian Colin Edwards, whose grizzled features and extensive tenure are promoted as being directly helpful to Bautista, who has proven himself mostly un-coachable since winning the 2006 championship in the 125 cc class.  Bautista, always super-concerned with his appearance and less with his performance, has managed to finish twice in 13th place for the struggling factory Suzuki program in 2010 and 2011, and as a seriously underachieving factory spec Honda rider for Gresini in 2012 through 2014, able to deliver only 5th, 6th and 11th place finishes for the name sponsors in those years.

Honda said sayonara to Gresini at the same moment Aprilia decided to compress their timeline to enter MotoGP in 2015, putting Gresini in charge of two riders, lending to the belief that Gresini had been looking.  The program will be a bottom third team in the grand scheme of things, its riders likely to get lapped during a race or two.  Whether the underfunded Italian group can produce a competitive MotoGP setup for 2016 remains to be seen.

If Fausto Gresini has anything to say about it, Aprilia will come out in 2016 with an Italian name sponsor, factory support, a brand new bike and a new Italian rider to replace Bautista, with Melandri either hanging around or not, depending upon the availability of a stud Moto3 rider, such as Romano Fenati or Enea Bastianni, who could fill the vacuum at the top of the 2015 Moto3 class left by the graduation of Marquez, Miller, and Rins.  Such could presage the assumption of the #1 Aprilia bike in 2016 by an aggressive young Italian stud able to compete with a grid, all of whom are going to be adjusting to new controls and new tires.  A world full of Marquezes and Espargaros.  Rossis and Lorenzos. Vinales and Smiths.

It could happen.  One never knows.  Tires change everything.  Electronics and data have taken over.

At Least For Now

At least for now, Fausto Gresini will have some help from Aprilia keeping things together while life at the top of MotoGP prepares to adjust to common ECU hardware and new rubber in 2016.  Though there is less to do on the money side, there is much to do on the high octane side, which is where he’s probably most comfortable anyway.

Fausto Gresini’s MotoGP team will not challenge for a world championship in 2015.  He will probably be around, perhaps in a good way, in 2016, when things change for everyone.  He’s survived the loss of two riders and more sponsors than most people can name.  But there he is, riding herd on a group of paisano gearheads, still with that damned Spanish guy, and now with the old Italian guy, trying to glue together a credible effort for the home team in 2015 and beyond.

Are Fausto Gresini’s salad days behind him?  Probably.  Is he still in position to enjoy himself and get some visceral return on the investment of his time and effort as a year-round owner and operator?  Seems that way.

Perhaps he’s developed the perspective, after 27 years in the business, and with the passing of two riders, to be able to live life in the moment, to not obsess on what might have been, to accept his position in the corporate superstructure of a team as well as his prospects for achieving his goals, which haven’t changed in 27 years.  Perhaps he’s had to, in the words of Stonewall Jackson, “elevate them gun sights just a little lower, boys,” understanding where he currently stands in the scheme of GP racing, where there are the haves and the have nots.

Gresini is a poster child for an athlete incapable of generating consistent winning results as a coach, owner or engineer after a sparkling career behind the handlebars.  He could never coax performance at a level he could himself achieve from the bulk of the riders with whom he worked.  Kato and Simoncelli were exceptions, in more ways than one.

We return to the original question.  Questions, actually.

Does Fausto Gresini have a right to feel jinxed?  Most definitely.  Does Fausto Gresini have a realistic chance of coming back in 2016 with a competitive Aprilia factory team?  Depends on how you define realistic.  Is Fausto Gresini fully engaged in making things happen with his new team?  Undoubtedly.  Is Gresini, like Melandri, on the back end of his career?  Probably.  Would he do it all over again in much the same way?  Probably.  Would he give anything to have Kato and Simoncelli back?

You’re kidding, right?

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-#2

 

The best thing, in my opinion, would be for Fausto Gresini to purchase the Pramac Ducati team and bring the hot young Italian riders through on Ducati machines with factory support.  One thinks his contract has an out clause permitting him to do such a thing, and that he would then be in position to achieve his dream once again.  Hot Italian riders on third generation Ducati equipment with standard ECUs and new rubber.  A Pramac team, even one featuring Hernandez and  Petrucci, purchased in 2015, could be competitive in the new world of 2016.  Bring in the young Italian guns and let them go at it in 2016 with Dall’Igna calling the shots.  I think Fausto would thrive in such a situation.

*****************************************************

I know nothing.

As a recovering econ major, we learned that the only value of a theory was its ability to predict things.  So much of the previous stuff is pure conjecture on my part, which is why it needs a byline.  If, however, much of it turns out right, then you need to keep reading everything on this site.  The sponsors need you.  My future here depends on it.  I seek comments from all of you about this and that, and don’t mind poking you when you’re, um, wrong.  If you ride, you should actually read the other stuff, too, because those guys have forgotten more about bikes than I’ve ever known.  They’re very good at what they do.  They will help you make better decisions about how to spend your discretionary dollars in this business.  Unlike myself, they are helpful.

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 12, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valencia Test Times Wednesday 11/12/2014

 

Day 3 Valencia Test Times

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 11, 2014

 

 

Valencia Test Times Monday 11/10/2014

Day 1 Valencia Test Times

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 10, 2014

Attention Dani Pedrosa: Here’s what the future looks like

 

Two years from today.  Video courtesy of MotoGP.com.

 

 

 

Marquez win caps epic MotoGP sophomore season

November 9, 2014

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

In the modern era of MotoGP, no rider has crafted a season comparable to Marc Marquez in 2014. Among the records he established this season are most wins in a single season, becoming the youngest rider to repeat as world champion, and claiming the most poles in one season. At age 21, the MotoGP world is his oyster. As announcer Nick Harris asked repeatedly during today’s contest, where will it all end?

2014 MotoGP World Champion

Double world champion Marc Marquez celebrates his 13th win of the season in Valencia.

The bulk of the on-track suspense today was provided by the weather which, having been idyllic all weekend, brought just enough rain during the premier class race to jumble what should have been an orderly procession. As the grid lined up, an azure sky suddenly filled with black rain clouds. Once the sighting lap had been completed, the pit crews commenced a frenzied effort to put the #2 bikes in wet setup, changing out virtually everything but the engines and decals in a few frantic minutes.

It began to rain lightly immediately after the start, which found Pramac Ducati overachiever Andrea Iannone leading the usual Alien suspects—Valentino Rossi, Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo—at the end of Lap 1. The factory Ducati contingent of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso were right up there too, and the crowd at the front had a number of fans watching through their hands, dreading what could easily have been a multi-bike, season-changing snafu which, somehow, the contestants managed to avoid. On Lap 2, Race Direction showed the white flag, indicating the riders could pit to change bikes at their leisure. By Lap 3, Movistar Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo had fallen back to 7th position, his psychological issues with wet tracks, born at Assen last year, clearly visible and a harbinger of bad things yet to come later in his day.

Randy_DePuniet_c_GnGjpg

Suzuki wildcard Randy de Puniet during his brief appearance at Valenia 2014.

Approaching mid-race, a number of predictable things began to occur, as fuel loads dropped and Iannone’s tires began to decompose. On Lap 10, Marquez went through easily on Rossi into second place, waged war with Iannone for most of a lap, and went through on the Italian the next time around into the lead he would hold for the rest of the day. On Lap 13, wildcard Suzuki rider Randy de Puniet fulfilled our prediction and retired from the race, disappointing everyone, myself included, who had hoped for more from Suzuki’s return to MotoGP. By the end of Lap 15, the Aliens owned the top four spots on the grid, with Marquez leading Rossi, Pedrosa challenging from third, and Lorenzo seemingly holding on for dear life in fourth.

Rossi at Valencia

The ageless Valentino Rossi on his way to second place for the day and the 2014 season at Valencia.

The rain arrived again on Lap 18, with the leaders giving up roughly eight seconds per lap trying to stay upright. Lorenzo and Iannone, losing ground fighting over 4th place and with little to lose, pitted and changed bikes, a decision Lorenzo will have all winter to regret. Praying for a drenching rain that never came, the two re-entered the race out of the points. Predictably, their rain tires, with a lifespan measured in minutes running on dry asphalt, quickly dissolved, with Lorenzo retiring on Lap 25 and Iannone finishing a lap down. Once again, the rain had stopped as quickly as it started, and the race was dry for the duration. Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa, running 1-2-3 since Lap 12, would finish in that order, giving Rossi second place for the year, a remarkable accomplishment for the 35 year old wonder. Rossi, though still a force to be reckoned with, believes he can challenge for the title in 2015, a vivid example of the power of adrenaline over sound judgment.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The little races-within-the-race provided some excitement for folks who follow such things. Factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso pipped defecting teammate Cal Crutchlow at the flag for 4th place in a battle that raged all day. The Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, ran together most of the day, with little brother (and Rookie of the Year) Pol pushing his satellite Tech 3 Yamaha to a 3/10th margin over Aleix on the Forward Racing Yamaha, cementing 6th place for the season at big brother’s expense. Pol’s teammate, Brit Bradley Smith, had been in contention for sixth place for much of the second half of the season, but a brief off-track excursion late today produced a 14th place finish and confirmed an 8th place result for the season.

A Story of Two Half Seasons

A cursory examination of the results attained by the factory Honda and Yamaha teams in Rounds 1-9 versus Rounds 10-18 shows a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. Marquez and Pedrosa combined for 373 points in the first half versus 235 in the second. Rossi and Lorenzo combined for only 228 points in the first but came back with 320 in the second. Had Marquez not completely dominated the first half of the season, the championship battle leading up to today’s race would have been far more interesting. This, of course, is the old “if a bullfrog had wings” argument easily dismissed by discerning readers:

StatsCapture

The 2015 Season is Already Here

Having turned out the lights on the 2014 season today, we look forward to the changes on the 2015 grid that officially start tomorrow. The grid parts company with the PBM team and riders Michael Laverty and Broc Parkes, but is joined by the factory Suzuki team, Aleix Espargaro and Moto2 grad Maverick Vinales onboard (Vinales likely sporting a penalty point or two from his silly takedown of Mike Kallio in the Moto2 race today).

Jack Miller1

An unhappy Jack Miller, who got pushed around just enough to miss a world championship by two points in Valencia.

Moto3 tough guy Jack Miller, who won the riveting battle but lost the war to Alex Marquez in Moto3 today, jumps up to join Cal Crutchlow on an expanded LCR Honda team. Eugene Laverty makes the move from World Super Bike to MotoGP to join Nicky Hayden on an energized Drive 7 Aspar Honda team. Coming along for the ride is Frenchman Loris Baz, who will team up with Stefan Bradl at the Yamaha-powered NGM Forward Racing group. And great things are expected from Scott Redding next year, as he reunites with his homeys at Marc VDS Racing and their new MotoGP team, playing with a factory option Honda.

In addition to Bradl and Espargaro, Cal Crutchlow will change livery tomorrow, making his first appearance on a factory option LCR Honda. Alvaro Bautista rode his factory Honda for the last time today, having been deservedly demoted to the tenuous factory Gresini Aprilia “Modest Expectations” team, second rider, if any, yet to be named. Andrea Iannone gets bumped up from Pramac to the factory Ducati team alongside Dovizioso, the Italians seeking resurrection in 2015 under the mystical hand of Gigi Dall’igna. And Danilo Petrucci gets a boost from Octo IodaRacing to Pramac, with his spot going to a determinedly optimistic Alex de Angelis.

In Summary

A season which began with Jorge Lorenzo crashing out on Lap 1 at Losail ends with three symmetric podium celebrations at Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The new Moto3 world champion, Alex Marquez, stood on the third step of the podium today. The new Moto2 champion, Tito Rabat, stood on the second. And the new MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez, stood on the top. For the first time in MotoGP history, two brothers are champions, joined in triumph by their best friend and training companion. Allegedly, the three conduct the most vigorous in-season and off-season training regime in the sport. It is appropriate, therefore, that we salute all three with a quote from our old friend Aristotle, who observed centuries ago that “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Thanks to all of you who have faithfully followed this column this year. We look forward to hooking up with you again next spring for what promises to be another memorable year of grand prix racing.

2014 Valencia Race Top Ten

 

 

2014 Top Ten

Aliens have plenty at stake in MotoGP season finale

November 5, 2014

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

For the 20th time in 22 years, MotoGP steams into the season finale with the title already decided. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, fresh off his white-knuckled win in the Malaysian furnace arrives, title in hand, looking to break Mick Doohan’s 1997 record of 12 wins in a season. The Twin Powers at Movistar Yamaha, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, have an appointment at Circuit Ricardo Torma to decide whom will finish second in 2014. But Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, having screwed the pooch (twice) in Sepang, may have some plans of his own this weekend.

victory helmetMarquez, who clinched his first premier class title last year in Valencia with a strategic third place finish, comes back to Spain in 2014 confident, relaxed and ready to eclipse Doohan’s 1997 record. Generally, when the term “win or bin” is used in MotoGP, it’s an expression of desperation, i.e., unless I can find a way to win this thing I might as well pack it in. In Marquez’s case, it means quite the opposite. He has the freedom to go all out in pursuit of the win, with no real downside if he pushes his RC213V past the limit. Finishing second, in this case, gets him little more than a DNF; might as well go all out.

The battle for second place between Rossi and Lorenzo finds the Italian protecting a 12 point lead, with the Spaniard forced into the conventional “win or bin” posture while still needing help from the field. The most likely scenario in which tiebreakers would come into play would have Lorenzo winning the race and Rossi finishing fourth; other mathematical possibilities exist (Lorenzo finishes second, Rossi finishes seventh, etc.), but are so remote as to not deserve mention.Rossi & Lorenzo

The bottom line: If Lorenzo wins and Rossi finishes fourth or worse, Lorenzo takes second place. Likewise, if Rossi crashes out and Lorenzo finishes fourth or higher, Lorenzo wins. In any event, Lorenzo needs a dominating performance, and/or Rossi must suffer a Pink Floyd-esque momentary lapse of reason for the Mallorcan to have any chance of salvaging second place in 2014. The smart money is on Rossi.

Whither Dani Pedrosa

For Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa, Valencia represents an opportunity for a bit of redemption after a miserable last quarter of the season. Engaged in a knife fight with Rossi over second place for most of the year, he won at Brno, giving him a 13 point lead over the Italian and a comfortable 49 point lead over Lorenzo with seven races left. At that point, a top three finish in 2014 appeared to be a lock.

After getting edged out of a podium finish by Rossi at Silverstone and an acceptable 3rd place finish at San Marino, the wheels fell of Pedrosa’s 2014 season. A bad decision at Aragon, bad luck at Phillip Island and a bad race at Sepang brought it all crashing down. At Aragon, he waited one lap too long to pit as rain came to the Spanish plain. He was the victim of terrible decision-making by LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl at Phillip Island, getting taken down from the rear with no warning or means of avoiding the crash. And he lost the front not once but twice on the hot, greasy Malaysian tarmac, thereby guaranteeing himself an unsatisfying fourth place finish for the year.

pedrosa_marquezOther than having signed a new two year deal with Honda earlier in the year, 2014 has been forgettable for the diminutive Spaniard. This weekend’s fray, however, offers the opportunity for him to make a meaningful impact on the season itself, as follows:
• A win here, which would be his fourth in the premier class, would deprive his irritating teammate of a record he would dearly love to secure. Take THAT, gran bateador.
• Similarly, a win Sunday would almost certainly deprive countryman Lorenzo of his slim chance to finish second this year, which has some appeal of its own.
• Finally, a fight with Rossi, with nothing on the line, could result in the Italian finishing far enough down in the order to miss second place for 2014 and lose a small sliver of his legendary luster.

Clearly, these are hollow goals for a professional as competitive as Dani Pedrosa. But as the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, the least you can do is make lemonade, even if you happen to be traveling 190 mph wearing a funny-looking leather jumpsuit.

Randy de Puniet and the Return of SuzukiRandy_DePuniet_c_GnGjpg

RDP was in the news this week, discoursing about the present and future of the Suzuki MotoGP program and his place in it. De Puniet, who has spent the past year testing and developing the new GSX-RR bike, will be a wildcard at Valencia. He expressed some disappointment that he had not been tagged as one of the two factory team riders for 2015, but candidly admitted that both Vinales and Espargaro are faster than him. He also suggested that Suzuki would be well-served by fielding a two bike satellite team going forward, as such are the source of the data contributing to the relative success of the factory Honda, Yamaha and, to a lesser extent, Ducati programs.

Call me cynical, but I’m thinking de Puniet must have floated this particular balloon past the suits at Suzuki corporate more than once without any positive response. Having failed in that, he apparently decided to go public with idea, in the hope of generating some pressure on his Japanese masters in excess of that which he was able to generate on his own. I suspect the chances of this idea getting adopted, with Randy on one of the satellite bikes, are two—slim and none. At any rate, it will be good to see him back on track at Valencia, as he has ridden there every year since 1999. And, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he qualifies higher than he finishes. Just sayin’.

The Best Race of the Weekend: Moto3

Jack MillerWith Tito Rabat having clinched the Moto2 title last time out at Sepang, the only title still up for grabs is in Moto3. Season leader Alex Marquez, Marc’s little brother, holds an 11 point lead over young Australian overachiever Jack Miller, whom we were able to meet and chat with in Malaysia. The guy says all the right things, and is a legitimate threat to take the Moto3 title this weekend, if bad things happen to Marquez, which they are unlikely to do.

The set-up between Marquez and Miller is essentially identical to that of Rossi and Lorenzo, so there’s no point in going through the scenarios. The Moto3 battle up front in Malaysia was breathtaking start to finish, with neither rider, nor any of the top five finishers, showing any quit. Marquez can title by playing it safe, while Miller is squarely in “win or bin” mode, plus praying for help from the racing gods.

The weekend forecast for Valenciana is dry, so the finale should not get screwed up by the weather. The race goes off at 8:00 am Eastern time in the U.S., and we’ll have results, plus our annual literary reference summing up the season, right here on Sunday evening.


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