Heading back to Spain, Marquez needs to focus

September 22, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Previiew

Bruce Allen  © Motorcycle.com

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

raineyrossi1vt

Wayne Rainey and Vali

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

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

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Quick Hitters

308_p01_pirro_portrait

Michele Pirro

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

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

Rossi seizes the moment; Marquez goes down

September 14, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Misano Results, by Bruce Allen

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

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

Ten Laps of High Drama

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

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

18 Laps of a High Speed Parade

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

Valentino Rossi Day at Misano

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

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

As for the Constructors

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

Top Finishers Today

2014 Standings after 13 Rounds

Marquez in control as Round 13 comes into view

September 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Misano Preview, by Bruce Allen

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

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

Seriously, can 2015 come soon enough?

Keystone Kops Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Misano

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

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

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

Current Events

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

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

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

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

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

August 17, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Brno Results, by Bruce Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture Doesn’t Change

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

2014 Brno MotoGP Top Ten

Elsewhere in MotoGP

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

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

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

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

Farther Down the Food Chain

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

20145 World Champ Top Ten after Round 11

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

For Marc Marquez, 10 down, eight to go

August 12, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Brno Preview, by Bruce Allen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Brno

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

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

An Apology, of Sorts Espargaro and Smith

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

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

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

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

Marquez rolls on; Lorenzo places, Rossi shows

August 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Indianapolis Results, by Bruce Allen 

If you had watched only the first six laps of today’s Indianapolis Grand Prix, you might think the Marquez magic had ended back in July.  It was an absolute dogfight, with Italians on Yamahas and Ducatis holding the upper hand, or hands.  Ultimately, though, as the day wore on, the natural order of things in the premier class was restored, and Marc Marquez secured his 10th win in 10 tries in 2014. 

One thing at the Brickyard has definitely changed, and for the better.  The reconfiguration of the infield section of the track and the new racing surface therein has switched Indy from a “Honda track” to “Yamaha track.”  Compared to past years, there is much more flow, and less stop/start, such that Marquez’ qualifying time on Saturday fell by more than six seconds from last year, though the circuit is barely 50 meters shorter than it had been.  Further proof is evidenced by the fact that all four Yamaha prototype bikes finished in the top six today, with a double podium to boot.  And if the IMS folks were to just throw up their hands and run the GP on the 2½ mile oval, it’s possible one of the factory Yamahas could actually beat Marquez’ Repsol Honda.

Otherwise, as they say in New Jersey, fuggedaboudit.

DoviziosoCapture

Italians Fast While they Last

Polesitter Marquez enjoyed a rather leisurely start to the race, slipping from first to fourth or fifth in the first few turns.  As the leaders de-bunched, it was Rossi leading the Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, with Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo a bit farther back.  Lap 1 also saw Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac Ducati and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda get tangled up and out of the race.  Though it was never shown on the broadcast, I’m willing to believe that it was Bautista who tagged Hernandez, especially after watching the Spaniard go all ragdoll in a spectacular FP4 highside on Saturday.

BautistaCaptureBautista2Capture

 

 

 

 

 

Though it would be unfair to argue that the Ducati contingent has not shown noticeable progress this year under the hand of Gigi D’alligna, there are still plenty of issues to be sorted out at Ducati Corse.  The first is that they devour tires; the modified Open option they somehow cajoled from Dorna has its downside.  Thus, they are often very quick early, but can also be counted on to fade later in the day, unless racing in the snow at Assen.  Dovizioso started the day challenging for the lead and ended it 21 seconds behind Marquez.  Secondly, they have this annoying tendency to just stop running, leaving riders (in today’s case Iannone) leaning casually against a wall a mile from the pit area wanting to punch someone in the throat.  Cal Crutchlow has enjoyed this experience more than once this year, and it needs to stop.  One basically never (never) sees this from the Hondas and Yamahas.

As for the King of the Italians, Valentino Rossi looked frisky and fast leading the first five laps, until he and Dovizioso touched on Lap 6, running them both wide and allowing Marquez to sneak from third place into first.  Lorenzo, running at the absolute limit all day, went through on Dovizioso into third place.  And although Rossi would go through on Marquez again briefly on Lap 8, by Lap 12 Marquez was running in clean air with Lorenzo in hot pursuit.  Rossi spent the last 15 laps making sure Dani Pedrosa, who had both qualified and selected his race tires poorly, didn’t snake him for the last podium spot, spoiling, in the process, my prediction for the podium result today.  What’s up, Dani?

Elsewhere on the Grid

As we often see in the midst of the so-called silly season, riders whose fortunes are changing, or whose fortunes have been changed for them, often approach their final days with their current teams in different fashions.  Today’s examples, class, are Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl and Scott Redding.

crutchlow

Wait. What? No, I’m with LCR Honda.

Crutchlow, who forced Ducati management to pay him to leave town, is understandably less committed to absorbing bodily injury than he was when it appeared he would be wearing red for another year.  His practice sessions were undistinguished, and it was only a single fast lap at the end of Q1 that got him into Q2, where he promptly finished 12th and last.  The only reason he managed a respectable eighth place finish today was that four of the riders who usually beat him like a drum—Iannone, Aleix Espargaro, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista—retired from the scrum.  Cal probably didn’t even need to shower after today’s race, just got dressed and headed for the plane and another half-assed effort next week.

Bradl is showing much of the same lack of competitive spirit.  He qualified a rousing 10th despite a white-hot lap in FP3, and was loafing in 9th place on Lap 12 when he completely lost focus and rammed the back of Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Racing Yamaha, taking himself out of the race and leaving the Spaniard well out in the runoff area with an annoying insurance claim to deal with.

Compare these two to rookie Scott Redding, who has been stuck all year paying dues on a very slow customer Honda on the Gresini team.  Redding, who by now must know he is inheriting Bautista’s factory spec prototype next season, attacked Q1, moved through to Q2 where he spanked Crutchlow, and rode his ass off today, eventually finishing 7/10ths of a second behind his countryman, whose factory Ducati can go roughly twice as fast as his own Honda plodder.  Redding showed character, fire and determination, and Fausto Gresini is going to love this guy on a real motorcycle starting next year.  If it were me, I would put him on the RC213V next week, but that’s just me.

Farther Down the Food Chain

There was joy in the Paul Byrd Motorsports (a bit of an overstatement, in my opinion) garage today as both Broc Parkes AND Michael Laverty scored championship points.  On the same day!  Leaving the team with a grand total of nine (9) points for the year.  What a pleasure it will be next year watching a new factory Suzuki outfit rather than this operation.

Homeboy Colin Edwards, in his final appearance in a MotoGP race on American soil, managed to score a coupla points, which was nice.  What was touching was watching him and his wife together during the national anthem, both visibly moved by the moment.  Edwards has announced his intention to race at Silverstone and Valencia before calling it a career.  Journeyman Alex de Angelis will be taking his place at the remaining events, which is always good for a laugh.

Next Week:  Brno

After sitting around for a month, MotoGP goes for three races in four weeks, with next week’s tilt at the financially desperate Brno circuit in the Czech Republic.  This will likely be the last visit to Brno for the foreseeable future, which the Yamaha contingent, at least, will regret, as it is one of the tracks in the Yamaha column on the calendar.  Marquez will have the chance to break another all-time record by starting the season with 11 consecutive wins.  Personally, I like his chances.

Marquez streak on the line; silly season in full swing

August 5, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Indianapolis Preview, by Bruce Allen

After what seems like months the 2014 MotoGP season heads for the back nine, beginning at the historic Indianapolis Motor IMSSpeedway. While Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez has been basking in his ridiculous domination of the grid, a bunch of other riders have been busily defecting, or getting ejected, from their current teams, such that the 2015 grid will have a much different look to it. None of which will prevent Marquez from continuing to treat the premier class like his own personal sandbox.

For those of you who’ve slept since Round 9 at The Sachsenring, a rapidly-drying track there resulted in pandemonium at the start, with nine bikes comprising the grid and the other 14 wedged into pit lane, having changed from wet tires to slicks at the very last minute. Stefan Bradl, on the grid with a factory spec Honda and slicks, looked as though he might enjoy a cakewalk to his first premier class victory and an escape from the “underachiever” label he’d earned in two and a half seasons of virtually podium-free premier class racing.

Alas, Bradl was let down by his team, which neglected to change his suspension settings from wet to dry, resulting in a bitterly disappointing 16th place finish, the straw that broke the camel’s back of HRC Racing Director Livio Suppo’s patience. But while Bradl will be racing for others next season, Suppo’s young warhorse Marquez calmly sliced and diced his way through the field en route to his ninth win in a row. He was joined on the podium by teammate Dani Pedrosa, who stalked him all day, and Movistar Yamaha’s tarnished star, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s wingman Valentino Rossi, who had podiumed in four of the previous five rounds, slipped to fourth and out of a tie with Pedrosa for second place year-to-date.

Very Recent History at Indianapolis

Marquez at AragonLast year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix brought into focus the fact that then-rookie Marquez had more than a puncher’s chance of winning the 2013 title. He swept all four practice sessions, qualified on the pole, recovered easily from a less-than-stellar start and won going away for his third consecutive win that year. He remained undefeated on American soil and, counting his two seasons in Moto2, has won at Indianapolis the last three years. Indy is one of those narrow, slow tracks that tend to favor the Honda, if one ignores the huge main straight where Andrea Iannone is likely to enter a low Earth orbit this weekend on the Pramac Ducati.

With the exception of Nicky Hayden, who will miss both this week’s race and next week’s tilt in the Czech Republic, all of the top riders are as healthy as possible, compared to last year when both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were coming off broken collarbones. No matter. If someone can conjure up a scenario in which Marquez fails to make it ten in a row this weekend, contact the author at Motorcycle.com. In the subject line of your email, please type “MARTIANS ARE EXTRACTING THE MOISTURE FROM MY BOXER SHORTS” so I’ll know to delete your message before it clutters up my own thinking.

Crutchlow 2, Ducati 1

Ducati logoThe annual charade of Bums Seeking Seats and Seats Seeking Bums goes into overdrive annually at this time of year, owing, in part, to Dorna rules that preclude some forms of tampering until after July 31. Without question, the most amusing and admirable job of moving from the outhouse to the penthouse this year was pulled off by burly Brit Cal Crutchlow. Recall how barely a year ago Crutchlow sold his soul to the devil, abandoning the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team that had been so good to him for the filthy lucre of a factory Ducati ride to hell. Sure enough, he got paid, then proceeded to amass a grand total of 28 championship points in the first half of this season, compared to the 225 of Marquez and the 48 of Bradley Smith who appears to be (unsuccessfully) trying to get fired from the same Tech 3 team.

For the last two months, Crutchlow has been slamming Ducati Corse management, comparing his GP14 to a 1952 John Deere Model D crutchlowSpoker, and generally making himself as unpopular in Bologna as any man alive. All the while, he has been seeking a change of venue, wishing to take his game, such as it is, pretty much anywhere but his current residence, to no avail. Once it appeared there was nowhere else to go, he put on a stiff upper-lipped smile and, to management’s horror, agreed to honor his contract and stay with Ducati for the 2015 season. By this time, management had pretty much decided, correctly, that they love Andrea Iannone and wanted him to race alongside Andrea Dovizioso in 2015, dueling Andreas on an all-Italian, occasionally competitive factory team capable of restoring a hint of pride to a national identity that has taken an incessant pounding since the 1930’s.

Suddenly, though, LCR Honda, and their new (British) sponsor CWM (Come What May?) Financial washed their hands of Stefan Bradl and decided they could do worse than having Crutchlow head their two bike effort in 2015. And here’s the best part: Ducati found themselves having to pay Crutchlow to leave in order to make room for Iannone, as three man factory teams are a no-no since Honda last tried it in 2011. Crutchlow scores big twice, with a significant financial boost and resurrection from the Desmosedici to a factory-spec Honda upon which he probably thinks he can attain Alien status. Ducati takes yet another financial bath, but has their ϋber-Italian team in place for the first time in recent memory. The Bologna factory has been down so long it looks like up to them, and probably views all of this as a win.

There is plenty of other news pertaining to Suzuki and Aprilia and KTM, with names like Maverick Vinales, Aleix Espargaro, Eugene Laverty and even Alex de Angelis in the wind, but we’re out of room this week. Certainly, a number of loose ends, notably Jorge Lorenzo’s, will get tied up this weekend in Indianapolis, and so we’ll pick up where we left off next week in our Brno preview.

Weather and Assorted Other Hoosier Predictions

Sunny and warm conditions are expected to prevail in Indianapolis this weekend, a summer notable for its lack of extreme heat and abundance of rain. The infield portion of the track has been slightly re-configured and repaved, so lap times should be somewhat lower and the number of complaints about tire wear significantly so. It’s still too narrow, and the race runs in the wrong direction; the layout would probably work better if they ran clockwise, the way it was originally designed for F-1. Whatever. Marc Marquez is almost a mortal lock to take win #10 for the season, and I expect him to be joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Valentino Rossi’s only win here came in 2008 in the midst of Hurricane Ike.

Dawson'sFor you locals, if you want a peek at some of the riders during down time, head over to Lino’s Coffee or Dawson’s on Main in Speedway and be on the lookout for some short, tightly-wrapped guys with heavy foreign accents and lots of logos on their shirts. Don’t bother looking for MM on Friday night—he’ll be over at the State Fairgrounds grand marshalling the AMA Indy Mile which, if you have the time, is another great way to spend an evening.

The race goes off at 2:00pm EDT, and we’ll have results right here later Sunday evening.

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


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