MotoGP 2017 Qatar Preview

March 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Is This Maverick Viñales the Real Deal? 

Welcome, everyone, to the 2017 presentation of MotoGP, The Greatest Show on Earth now that the circus has folded.  The first year of six manufacturers, three of which have an honest shot at the title.  And the year fans will likely remember not for the debut of an upstart KTM team, but for the introduction of Yamaha’s Apparent Next Great Modern Rider, Maverick Viñales, to polite society. 

Of course, it is way early to lay this title on him.  Call me a frontrunner.  Viñales completed his demolition of the offseason by casually finishing first in Qatar.  He, Andrea Dovizioso and, surprisingly, Dani Pedrosa have been the only contenders not having visible or audible (read: complaining) problems adjusting to this year’s machines.  Seems I may have been premature suggesting Dani Pedrosa is vectoring down if one ignores the fact that he gets hurt every year.  Honda’s decision to develop their new big bang engine has coincided with Viñales’ sudden arrival on the M-1, putting defending champion Marc Marquez’s title in jeopardy.  Marquez crashed three times on Sunday in final Qatar testing. Pedrosa (and Crutchlow) seem to be adjusting just fine.

Then there’s €46, Valentino Rossi, reminiscent of Mario Andretti in his later years at the Indy 500, “slowing down” in the back straight.  He is not a contender right now, entering the 2017 season.  But Rossi defines the expression “a guy who shows up on Sunday.” He will contend, as the season grinds away, unless he gets overly aggressive early in the year and gives away points sliding through the kitty litter.

Former teammate Jorge Lorenzo’s switch to Ducati has been predictably difficult, but, like Rossi, he’s an Alien, capable of wondrous things on two wheels.  Some people will take offense when I point out that Rossi has been seeking his 10th world championship since 2010.  He would probably do better on a one year contract–now or never.  Win or bin.  Etc.

In 2015, defending champ Marc Marquez failed to repeat.  In 2016, defending champ Jorge Lorenzo failed to repeat.   If Marquez is destined to lose his title this season, most people assume it will be to Viñales.  As a fan, I am looking forward to those two giving us a show every time out.  With four years in the saddle, I like Marquez to repeat.  He will ride an inferior bike to the title over Viñales because young Maverick is going to get overly excited.  Just like rookie Lorenzo in 2008.  You and I know what happens when that occurs.

Marquez vs Vinales

Keeping them honest, you’ve got your Crutchlow, your Dovizioso, your Iannone, your Bautista (?!), and this Jonas Folger fella, who, alongside teammate Johann Zarco, have set themselves up as the top Moto2 grads thus far, on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team.  I wish Folger well and drop the phrase “flash in the pan” only for its descriptive value.  Alex Rins, I feel, belongs in the top ten. The rest of the field will all find something to brag about.  “Hey, so we ran 10th at San Marino, y’know, which isn’t so terribly bad for a brand-new team.”  Kidding, kidding.  (All the Aliens must have crashed out.) 

Recent History at Losail

Back in 2014, everyone was all whooped up about Marc Marquez, who, as a rookie in 2013, had imposed his will upon the field, taken advantage of injuries to Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and stormed to the title in front of a delirious crowd at Valencia in November.  Among the records he would establish in 2014 were most wins in a season, youngest rider to repeat as world champion, and the most poles. 

A mere six weeks after breaking his leg in the pre-season, Marquez barely held off a resurgent Valentino Rossi for the season-opening win, with Dani Pedrosa sneaking onto the podium in third place.  Double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who had been singing the blues for months, crashed out of the lead on Lap 1 and subsequently faced an uphill struggle the entire season.

In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi delivered a vintage performance in the 2015 season opener, going knives-in-a-phone booth with factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths of a second to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since, well, 2010.  Marquez got pushed way wide into the gravel on Lap 1, ultimately finishing fifth.

Both factory Ducatis ended up on the all-Italian podium, leading to grossly overinflated expectations for Maniac Joe Iannone and a persistent golden halo resting upon the brow of one Gigi Dall’Igna.  Here’s my favorite bit from the 2015 post mortem: “(Cal) had taken time out of his busy schedule, during a TV interview, to flame Mike di Meglio of Avintia Racing for getting in his way during, like, FP1. Cal has morphed from one of the charming, likable hard-luck guys on the grid to another mid-level clanging gong, and needs to take a nap.”  Lorenzo finished a disappointing fourth that night. 

Yamaha must have known 2016 would be Jorge Lorenzo’s last year with the team.  Coming off his third world championship in 2015, he had won that year’s opener, enhancing the swagger amongst his declining number of fans, who believed a fourth title might be in the offing in 2016.

Last year’s Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium had been building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, the wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged.

And So Here We Are

At the dawn of another testosterone-pumping MotoGP season, there is optimism everywhere.  The first formal practices of the year loom under the eerie spotlights in the desert.  For all three classes.  Moto3 and Moto2 both promise tons of effervescent wheel-to-wheel stuff, the numbers and aggressiveness of the riders well above the relatively staid comportment, and smaller grids, of the premier class.

With four of its top riders having graduated to the majors, Moto2 appears to be wide open, with the likes of veteran Thomas Luthi and…gasp…Alex Marquez having encouraging off-seasons.  There is a surfeit of fast young Italian riders out there, some affiliated with Rossi’s SKY Racing Team VR46, some not.  Malaysians are getting very excited about the prospects for their boy Hafizh Syahrin, who managed a respectable ninth place finish last season and has podium ambitions.  (This is a shout out to the Malaysian National Board of Tourism, which paid for my junket to Sepang in 2014, and for whom I failed to produce the somewhat flowery article requested, in exchange, by The Government.)

Moto3 is simply too much for me.  I love to watch the races but am so unfamiliar with the riders I can’t generate sufficient comedic material to obscure my lack of insight.  Since 2008 I’ve picked up enough about the premier class to more or less keep up, but Moto3 reminds me of the Rat Races they used to hold every year at an American Legion hall in Covington, Kentucky, where you could hardly tell one little racer from another, them piling on top of one another in the corners, occasionally heading the wrong way and such. Lots of yelling, parimutuel-style betting and heavy drinking, all for a good cause.  Moto3 is great fun, but I’m mostly just a spectator.

Sunday Night—S—U—N—D—A—Y!!!

Sounds like it should be dragsters.  At Losail, more than any other race of the season, practice sessions and qualifying runs are closely watched and competed, bikes being raced in real anger for the first time since November.  In conditions resembling a moonscape, with two-wheeled missiles between their legs, these guys will go at it for real.  Again.  Qualifying will tell much of the story.  I am unwilling to try to predict a race winner, as Qatar has become a true outlier.  Over the past four seasons, only one race winner here has won the title—Marquez in 2014.

I am willing to predict that, as the red lights go out, the front row will consist of Marquez, Viñales, and Dovizioso, in whatever order you like.

OK–Viñales, by less than two seconds over Marquez.

FINE–Crutchlow third.  Just don’t bet on it.  The race goes off at 2 pm EST Sunday.  We will post results and analysis right here before suppertime.

Let’s start this party.

Michelin MotoGP: Tech and Tires

March 19, 2017

Michelin, the sole provider of tires for the premier class of MotoGP, the crème de la crème of two-wheeled racing, has been beavering away all winter working on new stuff.  Since Bridgestone vacated the premises after the 2015 season, the French monolith has been in charge of rubber and seems to be running stride for stride with the manufacturers and riders entering Year Two.  Better compounds.  More choices.  Bells and whistles.

Along with the rubber work, Michelin has implemented radio technology in the tires which will display, in homes outside the U.S., which compound each rider is using.  The veddy British broadcast crew for the MotoGP video feed includes Dylan Gray working trackside.  Dylan is very good at his job, half of which has suddenly disappeared, as it was Dylan in recent years going on during the last half hour before the start about tire choices. Now, the compounds (three fronts and three rears available at every race) will show on the screen in real time, something of which Dorna is very capable.

With more choices of compound available, this decision by the rider becomes more difficult.  Nine possible configurations to choose from.  Throw out the top two and bottom two and he still has five configurations to figure out.  One hopes the riders will become less inclined to blame the tires for their dismal showing and instead blame themselves for having chosen the wrong tires.  That would be refreshing.

Michelin must be given credit for the resources–human, manufacturing and financial–they are throwing at this program.  The fact that lap times in 2016 were competitive, in the presence of the standard ECU, suggests Michelin was fairly well prepared for last year and totally prepared for this year.  No new circuits on the calendar in 2017, meaning they have data for every track.

233_Michelin_Michelin-Logo-2013-Frame_1

Unless you have a ridiculously spectacular seat at a MotoGP race, I would strongly argue you get much more watching the video feed.  The guys in the broadcast booth are knowledgeable, sure, but they are sometimes guilty of over-sharing.  And loveable Nick Harris is getting along in years.  But the camera work and the on-screen information–revs, lean angles, now tires–is hugely helpful to those poor folks who have to write about this stuff for a living.  I used to bring my laptop to the Indianapolis round and the AP guys would watch the race on my computer.

Thumbs up to Michelin IMO.  MotoGP demands more from riders than any form of automobile racing, and tire choice has become more important.  Michelin is doing their part to see that the two tiny tire patches–all that stand between riders and a sudden visit to the inflatable wall–are the best they can be.  Like offensive linemen in American football, anonymity is a good thing for the tire providers, since the only time you get noticed is when you screw up.  Now, if the riders would just man up.

MotoGP 2017 Season Preview

March 11, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

With the start of the 2017 MotoGP season only weeks away, we take a look ahead at what will be on offer for racing fans this year.  [With clenched teeth, it is hereby affirmed that the opinions contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, publishers, and/or owners of Motorcycle.com] 

MotoGP is the fastest-growing motorsports flavor on earth.  That it has virtually no presence or accessibility in the US is a poor joke.  It appears the safety-conscious American parents of today are (understandably) reluctant to let their kids, most of them, anyway, learn to ride ATVs and motorbikes when they’re young.  Series organizer Dorna has recognized that a country wishing to develop world-class riders needs to have a formal development program, one of which was implemented in Great Britain just this year.  (Probably because of Cal Crutchlow, The Great English-As-A-First-Language Hope.)  Such leagues have existed in Spain and Italy for decades.

The fact is that the US, for its size, with expensive national marketing costs, doesn’t sell a lot of imported motorcycles, and it’s doubtful that showing more MotoGP races would change that.  So most of us Americans miss out.  Meanwhile the Aussies and Kiwis are all over this stuff, along with Europe and much of Asia.  No more giving up calendar dates in favor of F-1; MotoGP has MoMentum.  No more five weeks off in the middle of the summer, either.

Countries from Thailand and Indonesia to Hungary and Finland are clamoring to host races; pressure on the calendar, with four rounds still in Spain (quietly drumming my fingertips on the tabletop), is intense.  Even money says the calendar goes to 20 dates within five years.  And get rid of Aragon. Or Argentina.

Overall, 2017 has the look of a great season.  The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.

Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki.  Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017.  Another Alien in the making.

Due to last year’s amazing series of races which culminated in nine different riders standing on the top step of the podium, hope springs eternal for the riders and teams in the lower tranches.  Pramac, Aspar and Reale Esponsorama get new old hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista. It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.  (There are also rumblings that the team is planning to fold up its tent in the next year or two, possibly freeing up slots for a satellite Suzuki team.)

Let’s just look at this thing team by team, in alphabetical order.  We will wait until after the season opener to assign tranches to the various riders. 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

     Sam Lowes

     Aleix Espargaro

Sam and Aleix need to be prepared for a long season.  Hard luck Espargaro, having lost out to Iannone and Rins at Suzuki, takes a step down joining the Aprilia factory effort, on the upswing but still learning their way around.  The Aprilia and KTM projects are likely to be relatively underfunded for the foreseeable future, slowing their development, and reducing their prospects to those of satellite teams.  For Lowes, somehow promoted from Moto2 despite world-class inconsistency, there will be a lot of badly scuffed leathers.  Espargaro seems to be getting the hang of things more quickly.

For Fausto Gresini, for whom the allure of the premier class is almost irresistible, 2017 will be like shooting 108 on the golf course—enough good shots to keep you coming back, but a vast majority of poor to terrible swings.  Two unfamiliar riders.  A not-quite-competitive bike. Bring a book.

Ducati Factory Team

       Jorge Lorenzo

          Andrea Dovizioso

Going into 2017, the factory Ducati team is the most interesting group on the lot.  The Italians expect plenty, and soon, from their brand new triple world champion.  Jorge Lorenzo, in turn, suggested that the first real day of testing at Sepang was a bit terrifying, but with the help of Stoner and Michele Pirro is adapting to the GP17.  No more getting blitzed in the straights, but he needs to re-learn cornering if he is to avoid “pulling a Rossi,” which seems unlikely, unless he finds himself unable to keep the bike upright. A win in Qatar would do a lot to build his confidence, although the same could be said for every rider on the grid.  Nice writing.

Consistent Andrea Dovizioso has been flying under the radar during the offseason, allowing the cameras to focus on Lorenzo while he plots his strategy to win the title himself.  The latest iteration of the Desmosedici will probably be a great bike, and Dovi has four years in with the factory.  Personally, I would love to see him fighting for a title with Vinales and Marquez.  It could happen.  I think the odds favor him to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.

The Bologna bunch has recently received a patent for a new jet exhaust valve; don’t know what that’s for unless they’re interested in watching Lorenzo leaving Earth’s orbit.  It has also installed what is said to be an anti-chatter box behind the rider and bent the exhaust pipes and stuff around it.  They are keeping their 2017 fairing secret, but I expect it to resemble the new Yamaha innovation, with the interior wings in a laughable “bulge,” which is expressly forbidden under the rules, yet permitted by some guy named Danny.  “Y’see, it’s not so much of a “bulge” as it is a continuation of the radius…An’ that’s why they’ve blokes like me, to keep things strite, y’know.  Yeah.”

For me, the most interesting question is whether the big red bikes are to be housed in Lorenzo’s Land or Gigi’s Garage.

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow

My personal favorite rider.  To disparage, mock, call out and, ultimately, have to eat crow over.  Crashlow won his first two premier class races in 2016, after years of making excuses and broadcasting blame for not having won earlier.  He has burned bridges with Yamaha and Ducati, although he seems to be a fair-haired child for Honda as of late.  Complaining a month ago that “Honda are on it’s back foot,” or some other foolish British verb conjugation, it seems the litany has resumed.  With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again this season.

Marc VDS Racing Team NFL (Not For Long)

  Jack Miller

          Tito Rabat

The struggling #3 Honda team, at the end of the Sepang test in January, had neither rider fit to ride.  Tito Rabat was a great rider in Moto2 but is proving to be a bust in MotoGP.  Miller, tagged by HRC for greatness at a young age, is proving to be unable to keep the RC213V upright, piling up more serious injuries than The Black Night in the Monty Python classic, not to mention creating acres of shredded, brightly painted fiberglass.

This team could be out of existence in a year or two, providing an opportunity for the moon, the sun and the stars to align in such a way that, as Dani Pedrosa’s contract on the factory Honda team expires, young Miller is standing at the door, kindly showing him the way out.  A national day of celebration will follow in Australia, one in which Livio Suppo, team boss at Repsol Honda, having been out-voted by marketing folks seeking an Australian Alien, may not be participating.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Johann Zarco

          Jonas Folger

Hmmm. Two freshmen on the satellite Yamaha team.  Herve Poncharal, team boss, has a thing for Folger; perhaps he likes the cut of his jib, but I haven’t seen much in the way of dominating performances in Moto2 to justify a promotion.  Zarco arrived on the strength of having become the only rider in Moto2 to title twice, consecutively, and is probably disappointed at not having a factory bike of some kind at his disposal.

Both riders will be on steep learning curves this year, although Zarco faired surprisingly well at the Malaysia test.  He and Alex Rins figure to battle it out for rookie of the year honors.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

          Valentino Rossi

          Maverick Vinales

Lin Jarvis’ factory Yamaha team enters the season with GOAT candidate Valentino Rossi and the heir apparent, the aptly-named Maverick Vinales, recently graduated from a two-year riding academy with the factory Suzuki team.  During those two years, he figured out how to win (Silverstone 2016) on a relatively slow bike.  Now that he has earned arguably the fastest complete bike on the grid, great expectations abound.

His “win” at the Sepang test in January affirms those who expect him to title in his first Yamaha season.  Marc Marquez, reigning and triple world champion, has been encouraging this thinking, talking publicly about how concerned he is with Vinales. Intentionally adding to the pressure, getting inside Vinales’ head.  Rossi-like.

Rossi maintains his Alien status, but it will be tested again this year.  (Dani Pedrosa is now an Alien Emeritus.)  He still has the passion and the conditioning and the experience.  But does he have the reflexes and balance he did when he was 28?  I think not.  I think he is also less of a risk taker now than he was a decade ago.  He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.  The intra-team competition could tighten significantly, however, if Vinales finds himself cartwheeling through a lot of gravel traps this spring.

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

      Danilo Petrucci (GP17)

          Cheesed Off Scott Redding (GP16)

The #2 Ducati team.  Danilo Petrucci, the burly ex-cop, may find himself in the mix once in a while (probably in the rain) this season onboard the GP17 he won fair and square in the intra-team competition with Scott Redding last year.  Redding, sadly, will not be in the mix on his GP16, as he seems unable to get over the hump in the premier class after a glittering (?) run in Moto2.  With three name sponsors, it seems likely the team will have plenty of frames and fairings to replace for Redding as he goes bumping around the tracks of the world, muttering about how it just isn’t fair.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

Alvaro Bautista (GP16)

Karel Abraham (GP15)

A satellite Ducati team with upset potential.  Alvaro Bautista, like Barbera, has been a consistent underachiever in the premier class.  His own high water mark occurred in 2008, when he finished second in the 250cc class behind a guy named Simoncelli.  In 2012 and 2013 he flogged Fausto Gresini’s close-to-factory spec Honda to 5th and 6th place finishes, respectively.  Meanwhile, enter Karel Abraham, previously employed by his dad before serving a one year sentence in WSB last year.  He’s back, for whatever reason, this time on a GP15.

Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity.  This year, again mimicking Barbera, he has a chance to peek at a podium or two after two grinding years with Aprilia.  This may also be the best bike HE has ever ridden, although the Honda back in 2012-2013 was badass.

We will stick our necks out here and predict zero podiums for the Aspar team in 2017.

Reale Esponsorama Racing (formerly Avintia)

  Hector Barbera (GP16)

          Too Tall Baz (GP15)

Another second-string Ducati team that could surprise, 2017 features Barbera on a GP16 and Baz on a GP15.  Hectic Hector’s career saw its high-water mark in the 250cc class in 2009 when he finished second to Hiro Aoyama.  Once he arrived in MotoGP, never having been the beneficiary of first class equipment, his career has leveled off. He has battled slow bikes, injury, and a low racing IQ to a series of undistinguished finishes.  Last year he showed some improvement which, if it continues this year, could actually make him a consistent top ten finisher.

Meanwhile, young Frenchman Loris Baz, who is, like, 6’3” tall, had an up and down second MotoGP season.  Three distinct episodes of “start slowly, improve, then crash” marked his year, including a fourth-place finish at Brno and a fifth at Sepang.  Riding a Ducati at 6’3” suggest you’re going to prefer the long flowing circuits over the tight squinchy ones.  He will need to learn to keep the bike upright if he is to continue in MotoGP.

Oh, and I checked—the French name Loris translates in English as “Loris.”  The only other Loris I ever knew was a girl. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith

          Pol Espargaro

Teammates on the Tech 3 Yamaha for the past two seasons, these two get factory rides with the rookie KTM factory team.  The Austrians have enjoyed decades of success elsewhere and feel it is but a matter of time before they start winning in MotoGP.  Years, perhaps many, in my opinion, but what do I know?

Of the two riders, I prefer Espargaro, a year younger, with a title under his belt in Moto2.  Smith seems like a nice guy, but appears snake bit.  It’s always something with Bradley–an injury, a mechanical issue, a head cold.  Whatever.  I will gladly back Espargaro this year in the intra-team rivalry, the only competition that will mean much of anything to this group.

The factory rollout of the KTM entries in all three classes included words from the Chief Cheddar at KTM Itself, Stefan Pierer, announcing his intention to fight with Honda for a MotoGP world championship in the not-too-distant future.

Patience, grasshopper.

Repsol Honda Team

   Dani Pedrosa

          Marc Marquez

Along with the factory Yamaha and Ducati teams, HRC is royalty in the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.  Repsol Hondas have been ridden by world champions Mick Doohan, Àlex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez.  Its prospects are decidedly mixed heading into 2017.

With several new engines to figure out, the Sepang test was a bit of a struggle, with Marquez working hard to finish second behind Vinales, but able to deliver several impressive 20-lap race simulations.  Appears to be another year in which Marquez will have to manage an inferior bike to battle for the title with the other Aliens.  He did it last year.  I believe Vinales will collect a number of wins and an equal number of DNFs, allowing a mature Marquez to slug it out with Jorge, Dovi and Vale again this year.  With two new riders, Suzuki Ecstar will not threaten.  Iannone?  Dovizioso?  I think not.

As for Dani Pedrosa, I look for him to finish seventh or eighth this season, as he has clearly lost a step since his prime in 2012.  Whether he’s interested in serving as Marquez’ wingman in 2017 is problematic.  If he slips out of the top ten Honda may buy out his last year and bring Miller or, more likely, Crutchlow onto the factory team in 2018.  Miller may blossom this year.  Probably not.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

  Andrea Iannone

          Alex Rins

The second most interesting team on the grid, a rapidly improving Suzuki will have two new riders in 2017.  Andrea Iannone worked himself out of a job on the factory Ducati last season and landed with Suzuki, which may be a piece of good luck for both parties.  Thus far in his premier class career, Iannone has been unable to harness his impossible speed, his temperament and aggressiveness often getting the better of him.  It would be loads of fun to see him battle with the front group this season, and it could happen.  Unless The Maniac is still, well, a maniac.

Alex Rins has had Alien written all over him since he was about 15.  Although he never titled in the lower MotoGP classes, he recorded two seconds and two thirds in three Moto3 and two Moto2 seasons. The Rins and Marquez families do not exchange Christmas cards, setting up a new rivalry for the next few years while Rins earns his whiskers.  He figures to become a problem for both Marquez and Vinales in that time.  Definite Alien potential here.

I see a couple of podiums in store for Suzuki in 2017, perhaps a handful.  Unless the bike is greatly improved they may not compete for a win, but the Suzuki program seems to be progressing nicely.  Perhaps 2018 will be their year.

Phillip Island Test 

Three productive days of testing at Phillip Island in early February taught us little we did not already know.  Marquez and Vinales seem to be running in a league of their own.  Dani Pedrosa still has some juice left in the tank.  And rookie Jonas Folger can coax at least one fast lap per day out of his Tech 3 Yamaha.

Cal Crutchlow and rookie Alex Rins ran almost identical fast laps on Friday.  Dovizioso and Lorenzo were running neck and neck for seventh and eighth places, respectively.  Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Alvaro Bautista finished ahead of Valentino Rossi, something you don’t get to report every day.  And lots of disappointed Ducati riders (six of the bottom nine) muttering to themselves farther back in the dust.  Not a great three days for Ducati Corse.

Vinales is making it hard not to envision him clutching a world championship trophy in his first premier class season.  If he can stay within himself and not get overly excited it could happen this year.  Then, when Rins joins the fray in 2019… 

* * *

There you have it.  Due to incessant demand, and for those of you interested in going into debt with your bookies, here’s my prediction for the Top Ten finishers, in order, for the 2017 season.  Bookmark this article so you can rub it in my face in November.  Expect a 404 Error Page Not Found at that time, especially if I’m way off:

  1. Marc Marquez
  2. Maverick Vinales
  3. Valentino Rossi
  4. Andrea Dovizioso
  5. Cal Crutchlow
  6. Jorge Lorenzo
  7. Dani Pedrosa
  8. Alex Rins
  9. Andrea Iannone
  10. Alvaro Bautista

MotoGP 2017 is here

January 27, 2017

For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week.  The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.

Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest.  The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development.  The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner.  If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title.  Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.

Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.

ducati-99-lorenzo-950504-edited

The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there.  The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.

vinales-on-yamahaedited

The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi.  Marquez remains in a league of his own.  He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers.  Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether.  Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.

Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years.  I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.

Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave.  He should win three races this season.  And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.

I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi.  Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017.  Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi.  If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces.  The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.

Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle.  Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP.  Welcome to the big league, rookies.

Visit crash.net  for practice times.

 

Moto2 Going to 750cc in 2018?

January 8, 2017

If you believe what you read online, there are reports, notably not on the MotoGP website, that Triumph will replace Honda as the sole engine supplier for Moto2, providing the series with a 750cc triple that would up the stakes in the junior class.

If this is true, this is news.  The domino effect is that it will probably cause Moto3 to raise the displacement on their bikes, too, to 400 or 500cc with a bunch of hyper-hormonal teenagers riding them.

niccolo-antonelli

Niccolo Antonelli, photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

What could possibly go wrong?

A Budding Love Story

January 4, 2017

Jorge Lorenzo, currently employed by Ducati, and hence Volkswagen, is serenely confident he will have no trouble adjusting to the Desmosedici for 2017.

lorenzo-in-china-2008

The last time he made such a pronouncement was in 2008 when he joined the then-Fiat Yamaha team as a double 250cc world champion.  Shown above are the results he achieved in the Chinese round that year.

Lorenzo goes on in the article to assert that he will not have to change his conditioning regimen in order to ride the big red bike.  I believe there are two words in his immediate future:

Arm pump.

At some point in the season Jorge Lorenzo will complain about arm pump. Even the stylish, more macho, fitted black Ducati practice leathers can’t make him man up enough to ignore it.  The Desmo being such a bitch to turn, it seems inevitable.

 

 

Marc Marquez Blowing Smoke

December 30, 2016

This piece from The Independent is part of a disinformation campaign designed to get inside the head of one Maverick Vinales.  In it, Marquez states that his greatest fear in 2017 is defending his title against both Rossi and Vinales, that Vinales is capable of titling in his first year on the factory Yamaha.  That Marquez would engage in such a devious endeavor shows how he is maturing into a complete Master of the Universe.

Marquez at AragonFor comparison purposes, I attach an almost illegible summary of Jorge Lorenzo’s rookie year on the M1 in 2008.  Note the four crashes.  In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo was the Next Great Rider, a 20-year-old, multi-titled up and comer.  With more wins on the way to the premier class than Vinales. On a bike that was, at the time, dominating its world.  (The same cannot be said for Yamaha in 2017 as Honda has taken three of the last four titles.)

lorenzo-2008

What I believe Marquez is doing in this interview is setting up Vinales to over-ride the maverick-vinales-wiki-profile-pictureYamaha in the beginning of the year.  If I’m Maverick Vinales and I hear that Marquez is worried about me titling in my first year with Yamaha I might get something of a vocational stiffie dreaming about doing so.  Because Marquez is a Master.  The connection is unavoidable.

And so we watch Marc Marquez becoming more of a strategic thinker.  We expect Honda to address its engine issues to give him a bike with better corner exit speed and acceleration to be able to compete with the Yamahas if not the Ducs.  We expect him to train as hard as Rossi with his brother Alex and their homeboy Tito Rabat.  We expect his reflexes and balance to remain better than anyone else on the grid.  And we expect him to duel Valentino Rossi, not Maverick Vinales, for the 2017 title.

rossi-marquez_gold_and_goose

Not many rookies win the title in their rookie season as did Marquez.  That there could be two in four years staggers the imagination.

2016 MotoGP Top Tenner

December 29, 2016

 

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, who, in accordance with their editorial calendar, have elected to hold it until January 6, 2017.

Here are the top ten “things” that defined the 2016 season, in rough order. Not all of them are actual events.

  1. Danilo Petrucci earns promotion over Redding to a full factory ride at Pramac for 2017. The moment?  Valencia.  Started 14 races, finished in the top ten eight times.  Flirted with a front row start at The Sachsenring, tied Rossi, in fact, but fell to fourth over some obscure tie-breaker. At 26 and relatively burly he’s not Alien material, but he can handle the Desmosedici as well as any of the satellite riders and is a baller in the rain.  On a full factory bike Mr. Petrucci could easily challenge for a podium or three in 2017.

    iannone-and-dovi-in-argentina

    Iannone collects Dovizioso in Argentina

  1. Andrea Iannone gets his first premier class win in Austria while working himself out of a job—slide-off at Losail; collects Dovi at Rio Hondo; crashed out of second place at Le Mans; crashes at Catalunya, Silverstone and Sepang. By mid-season the fearless Italian was being encouraged by Gigi to consider a change of teams for next season, with Suzuki eventually drawing the winning number.
  1. The decline of Dani Pedrosa. The moment?  When the lights went out at Losail.  More losailDNFs in 2016 than wins.  Another Motegi collarbone, this time in FP2.  But a brand new contract nonetheless.  Dani peaked in 2012 (seven wins, finished second to Lorenzo by 18 points), and is definitely on the back nine of his career.  An entire career spent with one manufacturer is impressive in itself.  Pedrosa, although well-liked in the paddock, has always struck me as a kind of brooding guy, when he wasn’t displaying his “little man” complex and beating hell out of the field at joints like Laguna Seca.  To embark upon another two years of non-Alien level competition may prove to be a mistake.  The next Colin Edwards.
  1. The Silly Season. Jonas Folger, Johann Zarco, Sam Lowes and Alex Rins earn promotions from Moto2. The return of the prodigal lawyer, Karel Abraham, to Aspar Ducati, his pockets bulging with sponsor money.  Out the door are Eugene Laverty to WSB in a very raw deal (I thought he earned another MotoGP season), Stefan Bradl, taking his declining game to WSB as well, and the unfortunate Yonny Hernandez, who had a great 2015, a lousy 2016 and not enough backers to keep his ride.  A healthy number of current riders changed scenery, as usual, but a 23- bike grid with six manufacturers offers a number of alternatives for those journeymen seeking the elusive factory ride.  Paging Bradley Smith.
  1. Cal Crutchlow rises from the dead after a difficult start to the season (five points incrutchlow the first four rounds) with wins at Brno and Phillip Island. The moment:  Brno, Lap 16, on a drying track.  Crutchlow goes through on Iannone and quickly gets away, having made the correct tire choice in one of the 2016 rounds that started wet and ended dry.  First win by a British rider since the earth cooled.  At Phillip Island he went out and thumped the field (Marquez having already secured the title), establishing himself as a credible podium threat in 2017, when he will have even more microphones shoved in his face, to which we look forward with great enthusiasm.
  1. Marquez titles after a difficult 2015. Uncharacteristically settles for third in Jerez marquezbehind Rossi and Lorenzo, showing a maturity that wasn’t there in previous years.  The moment?  Motegi, when both Rossi and Lorenzo crashed out.  His win on Honda’s home field suddenly made him world champion for the third time.  Some people will say his save in practice at Assen was the moment, but he has made a career out of impossible saves.  Winning titles is what makes him go.

marquez-season-graph-jpeg

  1. maverick-vinales-wiki-profile-picture

    The Next Great Rider == Maverick Vinales

    Maverick Vinales gets first podium at Le Mans, wins at Silverstone on his way to the factory Yamaha team. The Next Great Rider secured Suzuki’s first podium since 2009 at Le Mans, then broke their 10-year non-winning streak with a scintillating win at Silverstone.  Nature, and Yamaha executives, abhorring a vacuum, he was the only real choice when Lorenzo announced his impending departure.  Vinales’ Alien Card is stamped and waiting.  The best part?  See him in civilian clothes and he looks like a cabana boy at the Ritz.

 

  1. Nine race winners. Moment—when Dovizioso crossed the finish line at Sepang to become #9.  I expect some of you to quibble about whether an entire season can be somehow characterized as a “moment.”  If this really bothers you, I encourage you to read Nietzsche, and to remember that, when considered across the eons of time in the frigid vacuum of space and an expanding galaxy, the entire 2016 MotoGP season is the blink of an eye.  So go quibble somewhere else.

lorenzo

  1. Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati announcement on April 19. One of the worst-kept secrets entering the season was that triple world champion Lorenzo would defect from the factory Yamaha team to Ducati in 2017.  It was confirmed prior to the Jerez round, with Big Blue having already signed teammate and rival Rossi through 2018.  The forthcoming changes amongst the Alien contingent in 2017 produced undertones that seemed to color the entire season.  A number of factors conspired to limit Lorenzo to a disappointing third place finish in 2016, but he seems certain the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.  We shall see.
  1. Rossi blows an engine at Mugello. The turning point of the season.  Despite a careless slide-off in Austin, Rossi entered Italy with the scoreboard reading Lorenzo 90, Marquez 85, Rossi 78.  A three-man race.  He left Italy bereft, with Lorenzo 115, Marquez 105, Rossi 78.  He had completed Lap 8 checking out Lorenzo’s back wheel when, at the bottom of the main straight, his engine went up, just as Lorenzo’s had without consequence during practice.  Control of his 2016 future went up with it, in the thick white smoke pouring from his bike.  The bad luck he needed caught up with Lorenzo in the Teutonic territories of Holland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, but Marquez sailed through the season unscathed.

valentino-rossi-mugello

2016 was a season Rossi could have won.  Coulda?  Woulda?  Shoulda?  Didn’t.  Dude will be fired up for next year.  That makes two of us.

 

An Argument for Smaller Engines

November 25, 2016

Here is a fascinating article from GPOne.com.  The line which caught my attention was the one in which he informed us that the 350 km speed Iannone achieved at Mugello is referred to in the aviation industry as “take-off speed.”  He argues for 600cc prototypes in MotoGP, emphasizing that today’s bikes have too much horsepower–280–compared to the theoretical limit of 300.  Which, in itself, is remarkable.  Oh, and not enough downdraft to keep them from going airborne.

He goes on to explain that without the wings there will be serious wheelie problems and that it will simply be hard to keep the rubber on the road, as it were.  This supports my recent speculation concerning our Mr. Dall’Igna, who, we believe, is designing a new front fairing that will include molded self-contained “winglets,” especially since it is his bikes that are most likely to approach a low earth orbit.

Hidden in the article, I believe, is the concern that MotoGP could have a year in which multiple riders lose their lives, and old F-1 kind of year.  Which, I think, is a reasonable concern.  Despite advances like airbags inside the leathers, it is still a frightening enterprise to consider throwing a leg over one of these engineering marvels.

 

MARCO-SIMONCELLI-1

Marco Simoncelli, who died at Sepang in 2011.  The changes recommended in this article would not have saved his life.

 

What the MotoGP fans get now is huge speed and relatively little action in the turns.  The reason the Moto2 and Moto3 races are so wonderful to watch is that there is so much action in the turns.  Never mind that they can’t top 160 mph in the long straights; what gets people juiced is seeing them trading paint in the turns.  The interviewee’s approached would appear likely to deliver, even if the bikes can’t exceed 180 mph.

* * *

Obviously, after last year it is clear Yamaha, at least, will have to include some kind of rev limiter on their 2017 bikes.  How cool would that be–a rev limiter that restricts the rider to no more than 18,000 rpm.

Lorenzo and Stoner Getting Along

November 22, 2016

In this article from Motorsport.com it says Jorge Lorenzo is interested in expanding Casey Stoner’s role in the garage. Sounds great to me.  Two of the best of all time in MotoGP putting their heads together as teammates.  Somewhat frightening if you’re, say, Valentino Rossi or Maverick Vinales.

By way of idle speculation, what would the paddock think if in 2018 the factory Ducati riders were Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner?  On the latest iteration of Gigi’s magic hand.

stoner-lorenzo-test-valencia-nov-2016

Photo courtesy of Stadiosport.it

 

Adrianna Stoner must have a pair of ViseGrips on Casey’s package in order to keep him off the track in the current set-up, with Dovizioso coming off contract at the end of the year. Partnering with Jorge Lorenzo on a very fast Ducati factory team would make most riders happy.

Casey, apparently, not so much.  Go Adrianna!