MotoGP 2014 COTA Preview

April 9, 2014

Visit Motorcycle.com for an edited version of this, complete with un-stolen photos.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Marquez at Aragon

Marquez, HRC look to dominate, deep in the heart 

When last we saw our helmeted heroes in action—it seems like months ago—Honda’s brilliant Marc Marquez out-raced grizzled Yamaha veteran Valentino Rossi to the flag in a riveting season opener in Qatar.  Rossi’s teammate and two time world champion Jorge Lorenzo lost his marbles on Lap One, ending up in the kitty litter, any chance he might have had for a third premier class title vanishing in a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. 

Things in the Movistar Yamaha garage are unlikely to improve this weekend, as The Circuit of the Americas—COTA to those in the know—appears to have been custom- built for the Honda RC213V.  With but one long straight and a mess of first-gear corners, COTA places a premium on rapid acceleration, where the Honda has, in recent years, enjoyed a clear advantage over the Yamaha YZR-M1.  Some will point out that Yamaha installed its own “magic box” transmission in the M1 in the midst of last season, leveling the playing field to a degree.  But only the wildest of Yamaha devotees would suggest that HRC will not enjoy a productive outing in Austin this weekend.

Recent History at COTA 

MotoGP history at COTA defines “recent”, as last year’s race marked the circuit’s premier bash.  Marquez and Pedrosa dominated the timesheets during practice, with Lorenzo pressing to keep up and Rossi having all kinds of problems, ranging from smoke and water damage to his bike (from a fire in the Tech 3 garage on Thursday night) to braking issues that would plague him for most of the year.

LCR Honda handfeste Stefan Bradl and then-Yamaha Tech 3 Brit Cal Crutchlow had a few shining moments leading up to the race, but ultimately it was Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo starting and finishing one-two-three.  In the process, Marquez became the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race, an accomplishment that launched him on the way to becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class world championship.

Marc Marquez does love himself some COTA.

Jorge Lorenzo—Fearing Marquez, Blaming Bridgestone

Q:  From a distance, how can you tell when a MotoGP rider is complaining about Bridgestone tires?

A:  His lips are moving.

Generally, MotoGP riders, at least those not winning championship trophies, blame a lot of their problems on tires.  The four current pilots who have won premier class titles—Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden—generally have fewer, if any, complaints about rubber.  (This calls to mind the old expression that a poor carpenter blames his tools.)  I’ve made my position on this topic clear in the past: in the absence of a grid-wide tire failure (such as NASCAR/Goodyear experienced in Indianapolis in 2008), when tires become an issue, either the team selected the wrong compound or the rider doesn’t know how to manage them properly during the race itself.

Which is why I find it so surprising that Jorge Lorenzo, of all people, should have spent so much time this winter and spring complaining about the new heat-resistant slicks that Bridgestone developed specifically to mitigate tire degradation under race conditions.  At Losail in March, it became a veritable chant—no rear grip, no rear grip—despite which he managed to qualify 16/100ths of a second behind polesitter Marquez.  His inglorious exit late on Lap One did nothing to confirm his complaints, for two reasons: first, he blamed himself for having been too aggressive on cold tires (doing a reasonable impression of Alvaro Bautista in the process) and second, Valentino Rossi spent the day on Marquez’ pipes running the same tires on the same bike.  Tires weren’t an issue for The Doctor.

I believe Jorge Lorenzo spent much of the offseason contemplating another year of chasing Marc Marquez around the globe and that Marquez is now firmly planted inside his head.  I believe Lorenzo was shocked and appalled when Marquez took the pole in Qatar, on a Yamaha track and with a broken leg.  I believe Lorenzo believes he is incapable of beating Marquez’ Honda on his own Yamaha.  Which is why I believe Lorenzo may consider switching teams—perhaps with Dani Pedrosa—during the silly season that commences in the early fall.  Life is short, and no one more competitive than Lorenzo; if you can’t beat ‘em, it might just be best to join ‘em.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

An Open Class Rider on the Podium?  It Could Happen.

Austin is one of those tight layouts were Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, he of the Yamaha power, soft tires, plentiful fuel load and unbridled optimism, should have his first real chance to podium on one of the new Open class machines.  He was highly competitive at Losail despite trashing both of his bikes in practice—channeling Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”—thus starting ninth, and ultimately finishing fourth.  He has been legitimately fast all winter and topped the timesheets during the first three practice sessions in Qatar, on a track not particularly well-suited to his strengths.  If he can manage a front row start in Texas, I expect him to joust with Rossi in a tooth and nail battle to join Marquez and Pedrosa on the podium.

The other pleasant surprises at Losail—Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, Hayden and Scott Redding on Honda Production Racers and the factory Ducati pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow—will have their work cut out for themselves in Texas.  Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha, Bautista on the Gresini Honda and LCR’s Bradl were fast, too, for awhile. Should any of these guys finish on the podium, in my late dad’s words, I’ll buy you a good cigar.

The mental condition of Jorge Lorenzo, facing what amounts to his season opener 25 points in arrears of Marquez, remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if he crashes out again this week, some serious questions will arise in the factory Yamaha garage and above. (The possibility exists that Marquez crashes out and Lorenzo wins in Texas, putting my first month’s worth of work here squarely in the hopper.)

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

Conditions in the greater Austin area for Friday through Sunday are expected to be sunny and quite warm, with the possibility of Sunday turning cloudy and slightly cooler.  Curiously, Bridgestone has announced that it is unable to supply the new heat-resistant slicks this weekend and that the 2013 tires will be the only choices on offer.  Based upon his litany of woe these past few months, this should be seen as good news for Jorge Lorenzo.  The bad news?  He and Rossi got spanked pretty good last year, the Repsol Hondas outscoring the factory Yamahas 45-26.

One more example of how you need to be careful what you wish for.

We’ll have race results and analysis right here for you on Sunday evening.

MotoGP 2014 Losail Results

March 23, 2014

Marquez starts where he left off; major fail for Lorenzo 

 

Marquez in Sepang 2013

After a shocking offseason, in which the MotoGP world appeared to have been turned on its head, it was mostly the usual suspects occupying the podium as the big bikes of MotoGP kicked off 2014 in fine style under the lights of Losail.  Defending world champion Marc Marquez, six weeks after breaking his leg, barely held off a resurgent Valentino Rossi for the win, with Dani Pedrosa sneaking onto the podium in third place.  Double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has been singing the blues for months, crashed out of the lead on Lap One and landed squarely behind the eight ball. 

Before getting into the race itself, let’s examine the rule changes in microcosm, by comparing the second qualifying sessions from 2013 and this past Saturday.

2013 and 2014 QP2 Capture

MotoGP 2014: The Playing Field Leveled

In the run-up to the race, considerable discussion centered around the off-season rule changes and the effects those changes would have on life in the upper reaches of the premier class.  (See this great article in Cycle World for a fascinating look behind the scenes of these changes.)  A comparison of the 2013 QP2 and 2014 QP2 illustrates how far off base many of those conversations were. Without exception, every rider who made it through to QP2 in 2014 improved his time compared to last year.

The expectation that the 2014 Open class would be more competitive than the 2013 CRT class has been clearly met.  The groaning and gnashing of teeth emanating from the Movistar Yamaha team that the new rules punish them for their previous success ring hollow, in that they, too, improved their qualifying times from last year.  The “unfair advantage” Ducati allegedly enjoys by opting to run in the Open class is a myth; in 2013, Ducatis qualified 4th, 10th and 11th, while this year they managed 4th, 8th and 11th.  And even poor Nicky Hayden, whose Honda Production Racer is, according to him, only slightly faster than a 1986 Vespa, improved on his time from last year, just not by enough to make it to QP2.  Waah waah waah.

The last word on this subject:  the most fascinating aspect of all of this is the remarkably reduced spread in the QP times.  Last year, the difference between Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro was 2.3 seconds.  This year, the margin between Marquez and Pol Espargaro is a mere .6 seconds.  Despite the sniveling and whining from Lorenzo and Rossi, this portends much more exciting racing in 2014.

But What about the Race?

With a front row comprised of Repsol Honda’s wonderkid, FUN&GO Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista, and Monster Tech3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith, the offseason madness looked set to continue into the season opener.  Movistar Yamaha’s Lorenzo?  Fifth.  Repsol Honda veteran Pedrosa?  Sixth.  Aging factory Yamaha icon Rossi?  Tenth.  Expectations were all over the board.  NGM Forward Yamaha poster boy Aleix Espargaro, who had owned the offseason and the first three practice sessions in Doha, choked on a bone in qualifying, crashing both of his bikes, and started from ninth place.  Of the first 12 qualifiers, four were factory studs, another four represented satellite factory teams, and four enjoyed Open class advantages in fuel and tire choices, three of which were Ducatis.

Anything could happen.

The race got off to a clean start, with Lorenzo vaulting into the lead, putting his ambition to become a Spanish blues singer on hold.  Then, in turn 15 of Lap One, the unthinkable occurred—Lorenzo crashed out of the lead, an unforced error which just as suddenly revived his musical aspirations.  As the riders crossed the start/finish line for the first time, it was Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, Marquez, Smith, Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, and Rossi leading the way.  My thoughts, at that point:

  • Stefan Bradl?  He’ll crash.
  • What are Dovizioso and, moreover, Iannone doing up front?
  • What happened to Bautista?  Did he crash already?
  • Where’s Elmo Dani Pedrosa?
  • Does Bradley Smith look like a chemo patient with eyebrows, or what?

Gradually (ignoring the Lorenzo debacle) a state of normalcy began to settle over the field.  Iannone crashed out on Lap Two, but would recover sufficiently to finish tenth.  Both Bautista and Pedrosa began picking riders off and moving up the chart.  Rossi, who I thought had been sandbagging over the winter, suddenly materialized in fourth place on Lap Six.  Bradl crashed out at turn six of Lap Nine, at which point the top five riders were Marquez, Rossi, Smith, Pedrosa and Bautista.  Instead of a 2013 front group consisting of one or two riders, there were four or five in the picture.  Things were getting interesting.  And by “interesting”, I mean that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi, Tomorrow and Yesterday, suddenly found themselves in a cage match that would provide 13 laps of grand prix motorcycle racing at its finest.

Ultimately, Smith crashed his satellite Yamaha on Lap 19, giving up 11 championship points in the process, and Bautista laid his RC2013V down on Lap 21, handing third place to Pedrosa.  That Marquez would enjoy his seventh career win in the premier class was not a shock; for him, a broken leg seems about as bothersome as a head cold.  That he would need every ounce of skill, daring and luck he owns to nip Rossi at the flag is remarkable.  Rossi is not a seven time premier class champion for nothing, and his ability to adjust to pretty much anything—outside of a Ducati Desmosedici—is firmly established.  There must be some serious head-shaking going on in the Movistar Yamaha garage tonight, as the new boss has, for the time being, given way to the old boss.  And I wonder how Jeremy Burgess, Rossi’s former crew chief, is feeling about now.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro, despite his miserable QP and inauspicious start, ended the day in fourth place, and must still be feeling wildly optimistic about his prospects for the season.  The two other Brits in the field, Cal Crutchlow on the Ducati and rookie Scott Redding on the production Honda, ended up sixth and seventh, sticking it in the eye of the American contingent of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who still had relatively good days.  Hayden drove his Vespa to an eighth place finish, while the 40 year old Edwards enjoyed his first top ten finish in over a year aboard the #2 NGM Forward Yamaha.  Edwards insists that he will switch to the FTR frame once it is ready, while teammate Espargaro seems pretty happy with the status quo.  As noted above, Andrea Iannone completed today’s top ten.

Five Things We Learned Heading to Austin

  1. The world has never seen anything like Marc Marquez.
  2. Valentino Rossi still belongs in MotoGP.
  3. Aleix Espargaro may not win the 2014 title, but his stock is way high.
  4. It could be a very long year for Jorge Lorenzo.
  5. After a number of dull, predictable years, MotoGP is BACK.

Top Ten after 1 Round

The State of the Game: MotoGP in 2014

March 23, 2014

Then, There Were Eight 

The decision, announced on February 28, 2014, that the once-proud Ducati factory would compete the 2014 MotoGP season on the “Open” side of the tracks suggests that Dorna chieftain Carmelo Ezpeleta’s not-so-secret mission to dumb down the sport is working.  As the season starts, 15 of the 23 bikes on the grid will be running in the Open class. 

In 2012, Dorna introduced us to the CRT class of bikes, for which I was never able to come up with satisfactory filler for the acronym.  While expanding the grid from the mid-teens to the mid-20’s, the move increased the number of bikes traveling at relatively slow speeds (BTRSS) without increasing competition at the top of the food chain (TFC) where only three riders won races in 2013.

In the midst of last season, the two dominant MotoGP factory operators, Yamaha and Honda, announced that they would be making equipment available to the Open teams in 2014.  Yamaha announced its intent to lease, not sell, what are basically year old M-1 engines and swing arms, while Honda would be selling, not leasing, entire bikes, in this case a cranked-up version of their World SuperBike RCV1000R, affectionately known as the Honda Production Racer.

NGM Forward racing, featuring Colin Edwards and veteran older brother Aleix Esparagaro, jumped all over the Yamaha offer and slotted M-1 engines in their FTR frames.  Pretty much everyone else at all serious about actually competing in the premier class went with the Honda production bike, including Aspar with both Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama onboard, and Fausto Gresini, who bought one for Scott Redding to learn on while #1 rider Alvaro Bautista gets to keep his RCV for another year.  Karel Abraham’s dad bought him one.  The Avintia Blusens team plods on for another year with their Kawasaki powered FTRs, while Paul Byrd Motorsports continues with Paul designing his own frames for Aprilia powerplants.  Ioda Racing, which had been planning another two-rider season with Aprilia, saw their main sponsor Came walk and now looks shaky as the season starts, putting the screws to Brit rider Leon Camie, whose premier class tenure appears to have lasted, um, less than one race.  Whether the team, and Danilo Petrucci, finish the season together remains to be seen.

So, propulsion this season will come from four Ducati engines, six Yamahas and eight Hondas; Aprilia will power three riders and Kawasaki two.  With most of the juice still residing in the two top factory teams, Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha (with one notable exception), the season opener, now less than a week away, brings with it a lot of unforced whining from some unexpected places.  Actually, pretty much everyone but Aleix Espargaro is whining about something, as follows:

  • Defending world champion Marc Marquez is placidly copacetic about the leg he broke in training last week.  This may portend something of a slow start for the super sophomore, or nothing at all.  We tend to lean toward the latter.  He’s not whining now, but if he gets off slowly this season, we’ll be waiting for it.
  • Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, always good for a complaint or two, and with a few more microphones poked at him since Casey Stoner retired in 2012, was bitching about the lack of grip from the new Bridgestones, until the Phillip Island test, where he was the fastest guy on the track.  (One way Dani could improve grip would be to put on a few pounds.)  Dani is now on the back nine of his career, and fewer of us will be paying attention to his periodic rants as things wind down for him.
  • Double champion Jorge Lorenzo, put off by the new fuel limits and the tires, doubts he’ll be able to manage much better than second place this year.
  • Lorenzo’s Yamaha teammate, the legendary Valentino Rossi, whose last three seasons were utterly forgettable, has been laying down some very fast laps while holding his cards tightly to his chest and saying little of substance.  Perhaps he and his new crew chief have something going on.  Personally, I would love to see Rossi come back and challenge for wins again.  The game needs another Alien.
  • LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl seems to spend a lot of time in fifth place.  Just sayin’.  He’s on the same bike as Marquez and Pedrosa.
  • Gresini Honda, sponsored again this year by GO&FUN, features chronic underachiever Alvaro Bautista on their #1 RC and recent Moto2 grad Scott Redding on their #2 RCV1000R.  Bautista has tested in the top ten, Redding in the bottom ten.  Redding will finish the season closer to Bautista than he has been during testing thus far.
  • The satellite Yamaha Tech 3 team, featuring Bradley Smith and injured rookie Pol Espargaro, seems to be having its own problems with tires and fuel mixture.  However, they will be working with the new Yamaha seamless shift transmissions this season.  Most of the interest in this duo will have to do with their intra-team competition, rather than their top-ten-but-never-contending-for-a-win performance during races. They will have a problem, however, if the Forward Racing team starts beating them on a regular basis, suggesting that engines, gas and development outweigh software and the sanctity of the “factory-made” label.
  • Bear with me while I try to think of something positive to say about the Drive M7 duo of Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama turning laps on their HPRs.  OK, their livery looks minty fresh.  There.
  • The team making the most positive noise during offseason testing, without question, is the Open team at NGM Forward Racing.  Aleix Espargaro has been consistently running in the top three and appears to be loving his new Yamaha powerplant.  With four extra litres of fuel, seven extra engines during the season, a softer rear tire and Yamaha power, it figures to be only a matter of time before Espargaro becomes the first Open class rider to win a race.  My guess would be Assen or Sachsenring this year.  Funny, though, that HRC is whining in the media about how the NGM project is “outside the intent” of the new regulations.  In my half-baked opinion, that would be true only if the new FIM regulations required Open teams to finish in the bottom third of the grid.  I’ve checked—it’s not in there.  And the NGM joke is that the ancient Colin Edwards is hanging around not to milk another mediocre season out of Aspar’s horde of sponsors, but to “mentor” Espargaro, who is running circles around him.  My sides are splitting.
  • The revelation that all four Ducati Desmosedicis will run in the Open class this season is big.  Big, in that the new Powers that Be in Bologna have decided that, though the Dorna software is marginally inferior to Ducati’s own, having twice as many engines to break, more fuel, and the ability to continue development of the engine during the season, which Ducati desperately needs, far outweigh the loss of a couple of 10ths due to the software.  Dovizioso’s sentence has one more year to run, while Cal Crutchlow has now really put himself in it, having signed on for two years of Open class competition and second-rate results, but for a bigger paycheck.  Yonny Hernandez and Andrea Iannone will keep the wheels turning over at Pramac; Crazy Joe may challenge Crutchlow a few times this year, which will be great fun to watch.  Crutchlow will also have to sit around next year as the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, with Suzuki making its return, go about the process of pushing wheelbarrows full of Benjamins at Marquez and Lorenzo, with Rossi and Pedrosa on hand to drive up the bidding.
  • Life goes on at Avintia Blusens and Paul Byrd Motorsports, both of whom must have the best, most understanding, least demanding sponsors in motorsports.  Two riders per team, with a Top Ten finish for one of the four once in a while. 

The newest release of the “Dorna software” appears to be a sizeable step up, especially for Ducati.  So sizeable that Dorna and FIM threw together a third class of bikes, “Factory 2”, to which contestants running in the Open class will be dispatched if and when they start appearing on podiums on a regular basis.  Open 2 bikes basically split the difference on engines and fuel, compared to the two “established” classes.  This cobbled-up class was apparently developed, on the back of a cocktail napkin, in response to the howls of protest emanating from the Yamaha and, especially, Honda camps concerning the unexpected competitiveness of some of the Open class bikes.  Perhaps they should refer to it as The Espargaro Rule.

Until Marquez got hurt last month, it looked to be a no-brainer predicting the 2014 world champion, and it doesn’t really look much different today.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa have had some issues during the offseason testing sessions, while Valentino Rossi looks strong again, and Aleix Espargaro looks like a factory rider.  If Rossi has, indeed, regained the step he had obviously lost since 2010, and if Espargaro has the bike to remain in the top five on a regular basis, it promises to be a more interesting season than was 2013.  Marquez, even with a tender start, looks to be dominant, and Pedrosa and Lorenzo will be fine.  Issue Alien cards to Rossi and Espargaro, and it will be a fun season to watch.

As well as further evidence that Ezpeleta’s evil plot is working.

The Times They Are A-Changing

December 7, 2013

So, first Valentino Rossi cuts Jeremy Burgess loose.  Then, Honda re-assigns Alberto Puig from his job as Svengali to Dani Pedrosa to developing young talent for HRC.  One gets the sense that both Rossi and Pedrosa are seen by their respective employers as being on the back nines of their careers, and the expensive advisors who have been with them since, like, forever, are no longer a good investment.  Colin Edwards is a relic, and appears to be being retained simply in order to mentor his new teammate.  If he is on the team in 2015 I’ll buy you a good cigar.  The racing world is holding its breath awaiting the arrival of Alex Rins in the premier class.

Meanwhile, Marquez, the Espargaro brothers, and Scott Redding are the new young guns, the guys who will challenge for Alien status for the next five years.  Jorge Lorenzo will be working his ass off to keep Marquez from eclipsing Kenny Roberts’ record of three world championships in his first three years, but is unlikely to succeed in his efforts.  If Marquez can avoid meaningful injuries–a dubious prospect, given his riding style–he could win the next eight titles without breaking a sweat.  The return of Suzuki and Aprilia to full factory status in the next two years will have no effect on that.

Ezpeleta and Company will continue their mission of trying to level the playing field and dumbing down the equipment, hoping to end the domination of Spanish riders at the expense of the sport worldwide.  He would be better off supporting junior racing leagues in Italy, England and the United States, grooming some younger talent who could then arrive in Moto3 with some kind of chance to compete with the Spanish kids who’ve been racing since they were 10 years old.

Late Braking MotoGP logo

2014 Valencia Test, Day 3

November 13, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Final day of testing at Valencia 11/13/2013.  Results courtesy of Crash.net.

Young man has the world by the balls.

Young man has the world by the balls.

1. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 30.287s (Lap 54/56)
2. Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 30.598s (35/36)
3. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 1m 30.868s (20/54)
4. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 30.992s (32/70)
5. Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) 1m 31.229s (57/58)
6. Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 31.533s (12/28)
7. Andrea Iannone ITA Energy T.I. Pramac Racing (GP13) 1m 31.594s (49/69)
8. Aleix Espargaro ESP NGM Forward Racing (FTR-Yamaha M1) 1m 31.644s (45/49)
9. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 31.716s (33/36)
10. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 31.875s (44/54)
11. Michele Pirro ITA Ducati Test Team (GP13) 1m 31.883s (47/58)
12. Nicky Hayden USA Power Electronics Aspar (Honda RCV1000R) 1m 32.123s (37/40)
13. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Power Electronics Aspar (Honda RCV1000R) 1m 32.530s (27/60)
14. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 1m 33.055s (43/44)

What’s Bradley Smith doing up there with the four RC213V’s?  Pretty surprising.  Pol Espargaro is getting off to a great start on his shiny new YZR-M1.  Joe Iannone the fastest of the Ducati sloggers?  I guess.  Dovizioso and Crutchlow getting comfortable running 9th and 10th, with Dovizioso claiming to be “optimistic” about next year.  “Optimistic”, in this case, meaning only one year away from escaping from Ducati and getting back on a competitive ride.    Nicky Hayden’s second day not as good as his first, dawdling around with Hiro Aoyama.  Crazy.

2014 Valencia Test Times, Day 2

November 12, 2013

by Bruce Allen

11/12/2013            Courtesy of Crash.net

1. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 30.536s (Lap 75/77)
2. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 1m 30.768s (58/60)
3. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 30.948s (67/72)
4. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 1m 30.990s (57/60)
5. Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) 1m 31.208s (41/72)
6. Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 31.397s (77/78)
7. Valentino Rossi ITA Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 1m 31.414s (56/57)
8. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 31.661s (55/62)
9. Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 31.836s (66/72)
10. Andrea Iannone ITA Energy T.I. Pramac Racing (GP13) 1m 31.844s (61/68)
11. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 32.114s (53/53)
12. Michele Pirro ITA Ducati Test Team (GP13) 1m 32.473s (47/65)
13. Nicky Hayden USA Power Electronics Aspar (RCV1000R) 1m 32.576s (76/76)
14. Yonny Hernandez COL Ignite Pramac Racing (GP13) 1m 32.800s (26/27)
15. Aleix Espargaro ESP NGM Forward Racing (FTR-Yamaha M1) 1m 32.847s (17/18)
16. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (FTR-Yamaha M1) 1m 33.149s (21/34)
17. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 1m 33.672s (32/43)
18. Randy de Puniet FRA Paul Bird Motorsport (ART) 1m 33.833s (22/37)
19. Scott Redding GBR Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RCV1000R) 1m 34.541s (22/23)
20. Mike di Meglio FRA Avintia Racing (FTR-Kawasaki) 1m 34.618s (29/42)

Interesting notes–

Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Bradl all lap under 1:31, starting up where they left off on Sunday.

Dovi testing at ValenciaAfter a full year on the GP13, Andrea Dovizioso is half a second faster than Cal Crutchlow is after one full day.  Nicky Hayden slipped a mere 8/10ths from his qualifying time on the GP13 during his first day on the new Honda lite RCV1000R.  Little Brother Pol Espargaro, riding the Tech 3 satellite Yamaha, beat Big Brother Aleix on the FTR Yamaha  by a full second.  Randy de Puniet shows up out of nowhere and Paul Byrd puts him on the full ART, throwing Michael Laverty back on the so-called PBM-ART, from which Laverty thought he had graduated late last season; the Welshman can’t be too happy about that.  And Hector Barbera, fresh off signing a new two year deal with Avintia Blusens, is too drunk to get on the bike either day, but sober enough to give a gushing interview to the Italian media as to how excited he is by the prospect of finishing 16th most days for the next two years.  Jeesh.

Scott Redding is too banged up to give his new Honda lite a proper whipping.  Valentino Rossi, who unceremoniously threw his faithful and longstanding crew chief Jerry Burgess under the bus last weekend, still finds himself running behind the likes of Bradl, Bautista and satellite Yamaha rider Bradley Smith.  Vale, you’re on the same bike Lorenzo nearly won a third world championship on.  The problem is NOT the crew chief!

Yonny Hernandez, on a factory spec GP13, finds himself running in 14th position.  Wait until he gets the dumbed-down version with the second rate software.  At least he’ll still have the pleasure of getting to burn out a dozen engines during the season, while Crazy Joe Iannone will have to settle for five engines and a fighting chance to run in Q2s and finish in the top ten at some tracks.

 

Captain America - 1969

This picture of Peter Fonda doing his Captain America bit from Easy Rider  is appropos of nothing, but there’s no editors at Motorcycle.com to take it down.  Gotta love that!  Pretty sure the crack about Barbera being drunk wouldn’t have made it through, either.

2014 Valencia Test Times, Day One

November 11, 2013

Here are the results from the first day of testing, courtesy of Crash.net:

1. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 1m 31.257s (Lap 46/48)
2. Valentino Rossi ITA Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 1m 31.350s (41/42)
3. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 1m 31.751s (25/40)
4. Andrea Iannone ITA Energy T.I. Pramac Racing (GP13) 1m 31.925s (46/49)
5. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 31.943s (30/36)
6. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (GP13) 1m 32.054s (36/39)
7. Michele Pirro ITA Ducati Test Team (GP13) 1m 32.698s (26/32)
8. Yonny Hernandez COL Ignite Pramac Racing (GP13) 1m 32.745s (33/37)
9. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Power Electronics Aspar (RCV1000R) 1m 33.020s (38/38)
10. Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 33.187s (32/45)
11. Scott Redding GBR Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RCV1000R) 1m 34.195s (31/34)
12. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART CRT) 1m 34.378s (16/17)
13. Martin Bauer AUT Remus Racing Team (S&B Suter-BMW CRT) 1m 35.115s (22/27)
14. Mike Di Meglio FRA Avintia Racing (FTR-Kawasaki) 1m 36.304s (19/26)

We should not assume that Mike Di Meglio will be riding the #2 bike for Avintia Racing next year.  Perhaps the Frenchman just had some time on his hands today.

Hector Barbera has reportedly signed with the team for two more years of second-rate performance, telling OmniCorse.it, ” We are very happy to have renewed with the team Avintia, a sign of great confidence that comes on both sides. With a two year contract, I will have the peace of mind and the desire to continue to work to do well. There is an interesting project and we will do everything to bring it to fruition . ”  I didn’t realize finishing 17th was so exhilarating.  And what is “fruition?”  13th?

Cal Crutchlow, after his first day on the factory Ducati, observed, “”I’m not familiar with Ducati motorcycles. After three years (with Tech 3), a different manufacturer will always feel alien, but I enjoyed it and it was fun. Working with the Ducati crew is also different than the usual but still good, so we enthusiastically await the coming days. ”  Trust me, Cal–this is the only time in the next two years your name and the word “alien” will ever appear in the same sentence.

More tomorrow.

Marc Marquez–2013 MotoGP Champion

November 10, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this story will appear on Motorcycle.com later today.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy. 

With 13 points separating defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo and rookie challenger Marc Marquez heading into the 2013 finale in Valencia, the tension leading up to the race couldn’t have been cut with a machete.  Unforced falls by leaders in the Moto2 and Moto3 tilts served as a reminder that, as Yogi Berra once observed, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  When it was over, however, Yamaha icon Lorenzo had won the race and handed over his crown to Repsol Honda’s boy wonder Marquez.  It feels like the beginning of a new era in grand prix racing. 

Final Podium of 2013-2

To take his third title in the last four years, Lorenzo needed a win and a load of bad karma to befall Marquez.  Winning, as it turned out, wouldn’t be a problem, as he had the pace all weekend while Marquez was in an uncharacteristic risk-aversion mode.  Lorenzo’s strategy early in the race was to take the lead, slow the pace, and see if mayhem might arise behind him.  Instead, he found himself in a cage match with Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who had been dispatched by his team with orders to harass and annoy Lorenzo.  As a result, the first ten laps of the race were as good as it gets in motorsports.

At the start, the two Japanese factory teams got away at the front, with Lorenzo and Pedrosa playing grab-ass while Marquez lay back slightly, bracing for an expected assault from Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, whose job was to attack Marquez and, hopefully, force him into a king-sized mistake.  Five separate times during the first seven laps, Lorenzo and Pedrosa exchanged positions twice, as Pedrosa would go through on Lorenzo and Lorenzo would immediately return the favor.  Meanwhile, Rossi, pedaling as hard as he could, was unable to mount the slightest challenge to Marquez, abandoning his teammate to the usual Repsol double-team.  [In his first year back from two purgatorial seasons with Ducati, The Doctor has officially been demoted to The Physician’s Assistant.  One hopes he gets out of the game before becoming The Registered Nurse.]

Lap 10 was decisive.  Pedrosa had gotten in front of Lorenzo once again, and the now-desperate Mallorcan dove inside hard enough to prompt an examination from Race Direction, pushing Pedrosa way wide and allowing Marquez to take the lead, with the ever-dangerous Alvaro Bautista, onboard the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, sneaking briefly into third place as Pedrosa re-entered in sixth.  Lorenzo and Marquez then traded passes late in the lap and again for the last time on Lap 11.  Rossi and Pedrosa went though on Bautista on Lap 12.  Pedrosa, with Lorenzo’s tire tracks on both sides of his leathers, passed Rossi for the last time on Lap 14, and was shown a little respect by Marquez on Lap 27, who sat up to allow him back into second place, cementing the final order of finish.

Lorenzo’s Pyrrhic victory displayed once again the heart of a champion, while Marquez’ well-considered third place result evidenced intelligence and coachability.  Having won the last three races of the season, two of which were contested at very Honda-friendly tracks, Lorenzo demonstrated that Yamaha’s new magic gearbox has decidedly leveled the field.  Thus, my coronation of Marquez as the inevitable ruler of the next decade appears to be somewhat premature.  Certainly, the next few seasons promise some epic duels between the two Spaniards, with Pedrosa and Rossi filling the undercards until they decide to hang up their leathers and call it a career.

2013 Valencia Top Ten Finishers

Valencia 2013 Top Ten

2014 Starts Tomorrow

Top tier team testing for next season begins tomorrow at Ricardo Tormo, although Yamaha will not take the track until Tuesday.  Cal Crutchlow, who crashed out of fifth position today, climbs aboard the Ducati Desmosedici for the first of what promises to be two years of well-paid ineptitude.  His former and now new teammate Andrea Dovizioso seemed at some point to lose interest in dragging the big red bike so far behind the leaders, having earned 81 points in the first half of the season and 59 thereafter.  Crutchlow’s place on the Monster Tech 3 team will be taken by Pol Espragaro, who graduates from Moto2 with the 2013 trophy in his mitts.

Brit Scott Redding, who finished the Moto2 season in second place, joins Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini team with one of the new production Honda RCV1000Rs beneath him, and will benefit from the extra horsepower that comes with it.  Both Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama will go to work tomorrow for the Aspar team, also riding the new Honda lite machine, with current riders Aleix Espargaro defecting to NGM Forward Racing to join Colin Edwards on Yamaha-powered hybrids, and Randy de Puniet slinking off to the Suzuki factory to test their anticipated 2015 entry for a year.  The Pramac junior Ducati team will retain Andrea Iannone on factory equipment and Yonny Hernandez on a spec version, with “The Seven Circles of Hell” embroidered on his leathers.  We’ll have to wait and see what transpires closer to the bottom of the premier class food chain.

A Thriller at Moto3 

The Moto3 race today was an object lesson for those of us who turn up our noses at the youngsters on the little bikes.  Three Spanish kids—Luis Salom, Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales—lined up at the start understanding this was a rare “winner take all” occasion.  Getting off cleanly from the front row, all three attacked the 24 laps of the Ricardo Tomo circuit, with Vinales and Salom taking turns in the lead, and young Rins sitting in third.  Unaccountably, on lap 15 Salom lost the front and slid unmolested into the kitty litter, leaving Vinales and Rins to slug it out for the title.  With four laps left, the riders dropped their gloves and started throwing hooks and haymakers, every turn contested, the gap separating them measured in hundredths of seconds.

Almost as if it were scripted, it came down to the final turn on the final lap, with Rins going through, running a tiny bit wide, and leaving the door ajar for Vinales, who eased through and won the sprint to the flag.  Vinales graduates to Moto2 next season, while Rins appears destined to remain in Moto3 for another year, where he is expected to contest the championship with teammate Alex Marquez on the way to their expected Moto2 debuts in 2015.  With Suzuki and now Aprilia having announced their intentions to re-enter the premier class fray in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and speculation rampant as to whom will pilot the new factory bikes, Vinales, Rins and Marquez the Younger would appear to be logical suspects.  By then, one of the three may have replaced Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda and a second received the baton from Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha.

A Final Word on the 2013 Season

Aside from Marquez’ brilliance, no discussion of the past year can take place without mention of Lorenzo’s two injurious crashes in the Netherlands and Germany or Pedrosa’s ruinous accident at the Sachsenring.  Last year, in anticipation of Marquez joining the premier class, we found an appropriate quote from Rudyard Kipling with which to close our season’s work.  This year, we sacrifice literary elegance for down-home wisdom, and turn to the late Don Meredith, the hilarious quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys back in the day.  It was Meredith who observed, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a merry Christmas?

christmas-candy-bark2

Enjoy the off-season, be well, and please join us here again next spring for more MotoGP news and analysis.  On time and on the money.

MotoGP Valencia: Thirty Laps to a Title

November 4, 2013

MotoGP Valencia 2013 Preview, by Bruce Allen.  

See the edited article on Motorcycle.com later this week.

Lorenzo - MarquezFor the first time since 2006, and only the second time in over two decades, the fast movers of MotoGP head to the season finale with a championship on the line.  Against all odds, Yamaha mullah and defending champion Jorge Lorenzo has a puncher’s chance of repeating, the first rider to do so since teammate Valentino Rossi in 2008 and 2009.  The problem facing Lorenzo:  Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquezwho, at age 20, looks ready to dominate the premier class for the next decade.

Lorenzo’s mission this weekend is to blow away the field, win going away, and hope that something, or someone, causes Marquez to finish worse than fourth.  With 13 points in hand, fourth or better gives Marquez the title, regardless of Lorenzo’s result.  And while “on any given Sunday” undoubtedly applies to MotoGP, the oddsmakers currently have Marquez at 1 to 5 and Lorenzo at 5 to 1.  Clearly, the betting world sees Marquez seizing the first of his many titles this weekend in Valencia.

Marquez, the 20 year old Catalan, has dominated the discussion this season, with a rookie campaign that has thoroughly eclipsed those of the current and former Aliens.  Neither Rossi, Lorenzo, Casey Stoner or Marquez’ hard luck teammate Dani Pedrosa, as rookies, came within 100 points of what Marquez has already achieved this year.  He has set rookie records for points, poles, and wins, and probably a dozen others.  He has walked away from a number of crashes that would have put other riders in traction; in this regard, he seems overtly blessed.  His baby-faced good looks mask the heart of a champion and the competitive constitution of a honey badger.

Back in the day when I was clearing the bases playing slow-pitch softball, one of my more annoying teammates used to taunt the opposition with the sing-song chant “it hurts with two out, don’t it?”  Come-from-behind wins aren’t just wins; they are spirit-breaking insults that give opponents the sense that no lead is safe.  Of Marquez’ six wins thus far in 2013, most have come late in the day, giving the impression that he enjoys loafing near the front until his fuel load drops, and lowers the demoralizing boom on the leaders only when it suits him.  As if he’s playing a game of cat-and-mouse at 200 mph, toying with his opponents.  The truth is, absent a ridiculous gaffe by his team at Phillip Island which got him DQ’ed, he would have already clinched the title, and this weekend’s tilt would be another meaningless Valencian ring around the rosey.

Recent History at Valencia – Bah!

I’m not going to bother rehashing the past few years of the season finale, as this year’s race is fundamentally different from the last few.  A great deal of the chatter in cyberspace this week has centered on the roles to be played by each team’s #2 rider—Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa on the Honda.  Conspiracy theories abound, with a number of vicious suggestions out there regarding what Rossi should do to Marquez and/or what Pedrosa is likely to do to Lorenzo.

rossi-winning-at-brnoThe sole fact supporting these shameful ideas is that the riders have no fear of earning any laughable MotoGP “points on the license” in the last round of the season.  Fans of the two combatants might enjoy entertaining such thoughts, but they truly range from the ridiculous to the sublime.  These men have known each other for years, and will have relationships for decades into the future.  There is no real chance that anyone on the grid is going to intentionally sabotage either Lorenzo or Marquez.  Sure, accidents happen in the heat of battle, but in truth none of the other top ten riders on the grid has much skin in the game at this point.

It pleases me to observe that Jorge Lorenzo and I have something in common these days.  His approach to the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana is the same as my plan for retirement:  work like a dog and hope for the best.  The odds of Marquez and Lorenzo actually tangling the way they did at Jerez and again at Sepang are remote, as Marquez has nothing to gain and everything to lose by engaging in handlebar-to-handlebar combat with the Mallorcan.  One should expect Marquez to avoid contact with anyone on Sunday, with the possible exception of Alvaro Bautista who, earlier this year and in years past, had a tendency to get over-excited when running up front and inadvertently taking an Alien or two out with him.

What to Expect This Weekend

Simply stated, look for Lorenzo to follow what has become his only strategy of late, jumping out to as large a lead as possible and hanging on for dear life as the Repsol Hondas try to track him down. I envision Marquez shooting for third place, allowing teammate Pedrosa to go after Lorenzo if he so chooses, and staying clear of the inevitable Valentino Rossi in fourth place. Marquez will only need to up his pace in the event the Italian feels like mixing it up, and while this possibility exists, Marquez has had the pace all year to put down a vapor trail and leave the aging Rossi gasping in his wake.

Despite its reputation as a sun-drenched Mediterranean paradise, Valencia can be kind of English countryside this time of year, and Lorenzo in the rainweather, of all things, could play a part in the weekend’s festivities. The forecast for Friday through Sunday calls for highs in the mid-50’s, lows in the low 40’s, with the chance for rain ranging between 30% and 60% all three days. A wet race or, perish the thought, a flag-to-flag affair could easily throw a spanner into Marquez’ works. It has been observed elsewhere that Marquez is not a strong in the wet as he is on slicks. How ironic would it be that a season dominated by youth and injuries could be decided by something as mundane as the proverbial rain in Spain.

One of my many failings covering this sport is the complete lack of attention I pay to the lower classes. This weekend, however, I intend to make an exception, because the Moto3 race on Sunday promises to be epic. The three leaders—Luis Salom, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins (teammate of Alex Marquez, Marc’s hermanito)—are all young Spaniards, all riding KTM machinery, and are separated in the standings by a mere five points. As interesting as the MotoGP race promises to be, the Moto3 tilt should be one for the ages. Unless your cable provider offers more channels than mine, you’ll have a hard time finding the Moto3 race on TV.

The MotoGP race goes off at 8 am Eastern Standard Time. So far, I’m not finding it on Fox Sports 1. Rest assured, however, that we’ll have results of the Grand Prix of Valencia, and the entire 2013 season, right here on Sunday afternoon.

Lorenzo Wins at Motegi; Title Up for Grabs in Spain

October 27, 2013

Read all about it on Motorcycle.com.  Too tired tonight to do all the cutting and pasting.


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