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!

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

November 22, 2016

 

Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead

 

Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain.  By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left.  A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014.

 

Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap.  Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.  The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions.  A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.

 

Disorder at the Start

 

As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today.  Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7.  From there, he went like this:

 

Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5

Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7

Passed Vinales on Lap 10

Passed Rossi on Lap 12

 

It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process).  Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez.  One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.

 

Off the Podium

 

Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance.  Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10.  Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.

 

In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say.  Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury.  Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals.  Bravo Nicky!

 

Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati

 

The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away.  Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season.  They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.

 

In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much.  Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2.  (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.)  Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.

 

Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season.  No more whining.  He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one.  He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns.  As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50.  May the better man win.  But please, no more takedowns.

 

In the Junior Circuits

 

Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans.  (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder.  The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens.  I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.)  BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group.  At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds.  Give the people what they want—close racing.  Screw the displacement.

 

In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia.  This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane.  To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title.  Very impressive performance.

 

Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco.  By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point.  Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head.  Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.

 

The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific

 

All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing.  The rest of the contenders break down nicely.  Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second.  Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth.  Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth.  Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth.  And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th.  People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.

 

Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang;  26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today.  The math is easy.

 

Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders.  No rest for the wicked.  Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading.  Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.

 

MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Results

November 13, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo ends his tenure with Yamaha in style 

Heading into the finale of the 2016 season, the atmosphere in Valencia was mostly celebratory.  The title had been decided, the silly season was well over, and most of the riders were competing for pride alone.  The Ricardo Tormo circuit here is one of the top venues in this sport, loved by the Spanish riders and most of the others, too.  Bragging rights during the offseason are nice and all, but pale in comparison to a season finale with a title on the line such as we saw in 2013 and last year. 

During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday one got the feeling that this one would boil down to a duel between Honda world champion Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, who is defecting to the factory Ducati team after nine years and three titles with Big Blue.  Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.

In the end, it didn’t rain.  El Gato fished his wish, while Marquez had to be satisfied with simply being king of the moto racing world.  Jorge won the race, Marquez won the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating (like he had just won another world championship), and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he was crashing Lorenzo’s party.  The third rider on the podium, Andrea Iannone, did nothing maniacal and sacked up with a t-shirt thanking Ducati for allowing him to break so many expensive motorcycles before getting shunted off to the Suzuki team for next year.

Jorge Lorenzo and Q2 on Saturday 

Having been out of town all weekend, I was finally able to locate an internet connection in northern Arizona and catch Q2 late Saturday night.  It may have been the most interesting 15 minutes of the weekend.  Watching it, one inferred that Lorenzo was determined to start the race from pole.

After his out lap, he set a new track record with the first lap ever by a motorcycle under 1:30 in the history of the track.  He pitted, changed his front tire, got up to speed on his second out lap and proceeded to set a second track record before heading back to the pits.  Again, his crew put new rubber on his M-1 and sent him back out.  Again, after his out lap he set a third track record, claimed pole, and sent a message to the grid:  Kindly stay the hell out of my way tomorrow or my crew and I will convert you to a grease spot on the tarmac.  Marquez and Rossi made up the rest of the front row, to the dismay of riders who had been entertaining visions of becoming the 10th rider to win a race this season.

Lorenzo vs. Marquez on Sunday 

Though Marquez and Suzuki wonderkid Maverick Vinales were quickest in the morning warmup, while the factory Yamahas loitered in sixth and seventh, very few people could have been thinking this wasn’t going to feature the winners of the last four premier class titles battling hammer and tongs all day Sunday.

The race was over in ten seconds.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo, taking the hole shot, appeared to have been launched from a cannon, while Marquez, fighting inertia, gravity and a number of other laws of physics, found himself buried in the vicinity of sixth or seventh place in the first few turns, at a narrow, tight track that makes overtaking difficult.  At the same time, Andrea Iannone materialized on Lorenzo’s back wheel, after having started seventh.  The lead group formed up quickly, comprised of Lorenzo, Iannone, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, making a cameo after his seventh (!) collarbone surgery a month ago.

True, there was a bunch of jockeying around all over the track, but in terms of material effect there were basically three “events” today.  First, Lorenzo got away and started laying down a series of 1:31 laps, riding on rails, the old Jorge back and in charge.  The second occurred on Lap 19, when Marquez finally got past Rossi into second place, Rossi tuckered out from spending the entire afternoon jousting with Iannone.  The third took place on Lap 29 when Iannone, who appeared to be out of energy and rubber several laps earlier, went through on Rossi, pushing The Doctor off the podium.

It should be noted that Marquez was chasing down Lorenzo over the last four or five laps, closing the gap from over five seconds to under two seconds.  Had the race lasted another two or three laps, there is no doubt here that Marquez would have won and avoided the aforementioned awkward podium celebration.  The hard front tire Marquez had chosen appeared to have a lot more life left in it than Lorenzo’s medium, which appeared to be shedding in some super slo-mo shots late in the race.  Just sayin’.

Bits and Pieces 

Cal Crutchlow, seemingly everyone’s favorite rider, took advantage of Dani Pedrosa’s crash on Lap 7 (which opened the door for a sixth-place finish for the year) by sliding off on Lap 17, apparently not wishing to kick a swarthy, diminutive Spanish rider when he’s down.  And Jack Miller, seemingly everyone’s second-favorite rider, finished 15th and earned yet another point.  Thanks to both for not messing with my assertion that neither is an Alien-class rider.

Mika Kallio rode his KTM machine well for much of the day before retiring with electronics issues.  Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro look to have a long year in store for themselves in 2017, but I, for one, expect KTM to make great strides in the next few years.  Despite being a low budget operation in MotoGP, they have that German engineering thing working for themselves; a little early success next year would be great.  Most folks are dazzled by the progress shown by Suzuki over the past two seasons.  KTM (and Aprilia) will benefit from the concessions available to non-race winning brands.  Assuming they can manage the finances, it would be great to have five or six competitive constructors filling the grid in a few years.

Today’s win put a halt to the disturbing victory drought that has haunted Lin Jarvis since Catalunya.  Losing Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati is bad, true, but gaining Maverick Vinales, The Next Great Rider, is good.  Better, perhaps, given the eight-year difference in their ages.

Happy Trails to You

The most interesting season in recent memory is now history.  More than half of the top riders will be on new equipment starting Tuesday, which supports my contention that next year’s title fight will be primarily between Rossi and Marquez.  I spent the last few days driving a rented Ford Expedition around Arizona and can assure any of you still reading that I would have been faster and more comfortable in one of my own smaller, slower, more familiar cars.  One must assume that the same is true in grand prix motorcycle racing.

We end the 2016 campaign the same way we end every campaign, by disinterring some dusty chestnut of a quote that captures the essence of the season in a few words.  This seemed appropriate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

                                                             –Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For young Marc Marquez, five-time world champion at age 23, the clear, ringing answer is, “Kicking their butts all over the playground.  Dominating their sport, living their dreams.  And waiting for my beard to come in, so I can look more badass, like Hector Barbera.”  Perhaps this is not the response Dr. King sought, back in the day.  It is, however, The Truth.

See you next spring.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Preview

November 7, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain closes on a fine season 

What will people reading this remember about the 2016 MotoGP season?  A Marquez year, his third of many, for sure.  The year Crutchlow won his first two races?  The year Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales each won his first?  The year Suzuki and Ducati and Australia broke their droughts?  The year Yamaha started one of their own?  My fave is the year nine different riders stood on the top step of the podium, some for the first time and some, perhaps, for the last. 

Dorna big cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Great Leavening proceeds apace.  The field has become more level, the notion of a win more plausible for the riders who aren’t Top Four or Five material; Jack Miller, currently residing in 17th place for the season, won in Assen.  Though one goal going in had been to make MotoGP more affordable, a laughable proposition, it did serve its twin purpose of delivering more competitive racing front to back on the grid.  It enticed Aprilia and KTM (wildcarding this weekend with Mika Kallio onboard) back into the fold.  It got Ducati back into big boy pants.

Lap times haven’t changed much.  It’s not as sexy as the custom ECU setup was, but I, for one, like it.  More rider, (slightly) less technology.  And next year, no wingies.  You readers are making me into some kind of old school purist. 

Previous History at Valencia 

Lorenzo’s 2013 finale win was a hollow victory; having needed the win, he was unable to keep Marquez out of the top five, which he also needed to do, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez, who ultimately finished third. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth; this was back when they were getting along.

The 2014 race was wet-ish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race with six laps left. Marquez took the win, blowing kisses to his fans during his victory lap, and was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous week, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.  El Gato’s fans were delirious, but the rest of the world seemed ticked off.

Of the four riders formally-known-as-Aliens, Pedrosa has the best record here, with three wins and three podia in ten starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 16 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in seven premier class starts, has three wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win, a place and a show in three MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat; I’d like to see him race here when the pressure’s on.  For those of you who insist, Cal Crutchlow DNF’d the 2013 race, got beat at the flag by Dovizioso in 2014 on his way to 5th place, and found himself in 9th position last year, 36 seconds off the pace.  There.

Sidebars

Most of the intrigue this weekend will emanate from the middle of the grid.  The civil war at Pramac Ducati is almost over; Petrucci has Redding by 16 heading into Valencia in the contest for factory GP17 next year.  Ducati pilots Hector Barbera and Andrea Iannone are fighting furiously for 9th place for the season, with Barbera holding a one point advantage coming into the weekend.  Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty, in his MotoGP swan song. will try to hold on to his single point lead over Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista in the fight for 12th place.

Random Thought 

I have a thought that needs airing out.  It may not be new, but it goes like this:  Marquez, since clinching in Motegi, still wants to win and has attacked the last two races hard, but has crashed out of each.  He had podium written all over him until he went down.  This illustrates the subconscious effect mindset (between fighting for a title and playing out the string) has on one’s focus, judgment and even balance.  Had he been in the midst of a title fight, I have no doubt he would have kept the bikes up.

While I’m at it, I’ve had a second thought for a while.  About how much fun it would be to listen to a digital recording from the inside of Valentino Rossi’s helmet during a race.  45 minutes of yelling, cursing, grunting, praying, and more cursing, all at high speed and pitch and, best of all, in Italian, so all you would understand is the names of the riders toward whom the invective is directed.  Not sure what the F*word is in Italian (cazzo, actually), but I bet you would hear it in the recording once or twice.  Possibly directed at Lorenzo’s mother.

What the heck.  Dani Pedrosa, should he fulfill his final two-year contract with Honda, would become the Spanish Loris Capirossi.  Long, distinguished careers without a single MotoGP championship.  All that meat and no potatoes.  And is it possible he might actually forego his final contract and call it a career, clearing the way for a Crutchlow vs. Miller tussle for the second Repsol seat?  The fact that he will be in Valencia this weekend makes that notion doubtful.

Your Season Ending Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for greater Valencia this weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps in the low 70’s.  The 2016 war being over, there is one last battle to be fought on Sunday.  With so few of the riders having any skin left in the game, this one will be for bragging rights only.  With the exception of Marquez, Rossi, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, many of the top ten are vulnerable to a drop in the standings, while some still have an opportunity to profit.  For instance, if Pedrosa is unable to post for the start, Cal Crutchlow is likely to nab sixth place for the season.  Great.

As to the results to come, I like Rossi this weekend.  Guy still has a chip on his shoulder and is still fast.  Marquez will compete for the win just for fun.  Lorenzo says he wants a finish to his Yamaha tenure he can be proud of.  Pedrosa will be in no shape to win but will still show up.  The rest of the fast movers—the Dueling Andreas, Crutchlow, Vinales—are always up for a podium chase.  My picks for the weekend?  Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Yamaha ends it’s losing streak, Vinales primps for his big boy debut next season, the podium celebration is as awkward as possible, and Lorenzo leaves team Yamaha with his head held high.

Next year starts on Tuesday.

This Just In

I am traveling most of Sunday.  The Valencia race results will post on Monday morning.  Thanks for your patience, real or imagined.  Ciao.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

MotoGP 2016 Philip Island Results

October 23, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Cal Crutchlow wins again as Marquez dozes off 

Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided.  Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he seemed to lose focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Crutchlow.

Saturday

Due to what the locals call “a bit of weather” and visitors often refer to as “a bloody howling gale” practice on Friday was basically a windy washout, FP1 being a scramble and FP2 called off entirely.  Which meant that the revised practice schedule and times on Saturday would be crucial in getting through to Q2.  The solution would require the use of differential equations.

Whereas the weather on Friday had been impossible, by Saturday it had improved to awful.  Marc Marquez, homeboy Jackass Miller and the Espargaro brothers peopled the top of the timesheets in FP3.  Beer sales in Australia jumped.  FP4 featured more rain and a top five of #Merican Nicky Hayden, Marquez, big brother Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki, plucky Loris Baz and Miller the mudder.  Beer sales in the United States were unaffected.

After several computer runs, Race Direction concluded the following riders would have to pass through Q1 if they wished to participate in Q2:  For the first time since the current format was adopted, The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Bradley Smith, etc..

To make things worse, Lorenzo and Crutchlow took the top two spots in the session, leaving Vinales in 13th and Rossi in 15th and, joined by Smith, producing one of the strongest fifth rows in MotoGP history.  There would be some cutting up to do on Sunday.  Meanwhile, for the first time, Rossi failed to make it to Q2.  Timing, poor luck, karma, slowing synapses, whatever.

Q2 was run in drying conditions with rain expected to arrive mid-session.  Tire combinations ran the gamut.  The conventional wisdom was that pole would be decided in the first 10 minutes.  Interlopers included Repsol’s Hayden, Aprilia’s Bradl and Pramac striver Danilo Petrucci.

After a single lap on intermediates, Marquez, Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and Petrucci came back in to change tires.  Marquez changed over to slicks front and back.  As the skies darkened, Marquez went out and ran a series of fast laps, one of the only riders on slicks, ultimately capturing pole by 8/10ths of a second.  Moral:  With a trophy in your back pocket, you can afford to take a few extra risks.  And the rain never arrived.

He was joined on the front row by Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who pimped Jack Miller and brother Aleix on the last Q2 lap to jump from fifth to third.  Row 2 included Aleix, Jackass and Danilo Petrucci, the top Ducati qualifier.  For the record, Jorge Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha limped to an embarrassing 12th place on the grid, slow even on slicks on the final few laps.  Seems to be saving himself for Ducati, where he will have to re-learn how to ride fast in the rain and perhaps in general.

Nicky Hayden is in for Pedrosa this weekend.  Dude qualified seventh.  Ahead of guys named Dovizioso and Lorenzo and Vinales and Rossi.  With no time to learn his way around a bike that loves to throw you into the cheap seats.  (Had he podiumed, unlikely as it was, they could have made a movie out of it.  Paging Mark Neale.)

Kudos to Dorna for such beautiful helicopter images of the track and the ocean.  They call to mind a ground-level photo of #51 Sic on the gas, the air fractured around him, the ocean behind hin, head down, a week before Sepang 2011.

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix

A brilliant sun rose over the windswept beauty of the venue on Sunday, a visual spectacle, while on the track conditions were cold, raw, crisp, brisk, etc., and dangerous.  Getting heat into the tires, especially the fronts, was at the front of everyone’s mind.  Once the lights went out, Pol Espargaro took the holeshot from third into the early lead, but surrendered it to Marquez at Turn 4, from whence The Champ would eventually crash on Lap 10.  Crutchlow found himself sandwiched by the two Espargaros.

My notes on Lap 5 include “Here comes Rossi,” who, at that time, had worked his way from 15th to sixth.  The MotoGP version of trying to get to a center seat in a crowded theatre. “Excuse me…thank you…pardon…yes, thanks…sorry…many thanks…”

Crutchlow, now firmly ensconced in Tranche 2, appeared to put second place away by Lap 8 except for the pesky Rossi, who kept picking off riders—Pol Espargaro on Lap 7 to 5th place; Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati on Lap 8 into 4th; Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki on Lap 10 into 3rd. When Marquez went down, everyone received a promotion, Crutchlow into the lead.

During all of this, Rossi’s future teammate and Alien apprentice Maverick Vinales, also on a Suzuki, also starting from the southern end of the island in 13th place, was moving on up to join his teammate and Dovizioso as they sparred for third.  Though unable to attack Crutchlow, Rossi secured second place as the battle for third widened, and Dovizioso found himself sandwiched by Suzukis.

At the end of the day, Crutchlow, Rossi and Vinales stood on the podium.  Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro and an irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo, on his way to Tranche 3, trailed, with Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller completing the top 10.  Yes, Aleix crashed his Suzuki late in the day.  Yes, Scott Redding failed to make any real headway in his personal battle with teammate Petrucci for a factory GP in 2017, with Petrucci in the lead, contrary to what I wrote a week ago.  Yes, Bradley Smith came out of nowhere, after dawdling in the mid-teens most of the day.

And yes, Nicky Hayden crashed very late, courtesy of a nudge from an oblivious Jack Miller, so intent on securing his own lackluster place today that he would ruin Hayden’s likely last MotoGP appearance, at least in factory colors, ever.

Come on, man.  You’re racing for, like, 10th place in a season going nowhere, nothing really at stake, right next to a former world champion and MotoGP legend.  Give the guy a little space, cosmic or earthly; make up for it later.  Hayden has earned your respect.  They don’t call you Jackass for nothing I suppose.

The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang

Marquez is STILL the champion.  Rossi has now put some daylight between himself and teammate Lorenzo, carrying a 24-point lead for second place into Round 17.  Lorenzo, apparently loafing around these days, needs to start worrying about Maverick Vinales, who trails him by 11 points and vectoring upward.  Or maybe the Mallorcan is beyond worrying.

The injured Dani Pedrosa has fallen to fifth and is not expected to compete in Malaysia, opening the door for Crutchlow, who sits sixth after today’s win and could easily jump a spot next week.  Dovizioso trails the Brit by a mere four points and could have his own designs on fifth place.  Pol Espargaro appears to have eighth place to himself.  Andrea Iannone is expected back next week to defend his 12- point margin over Hector Barbera, who crashed out of both races in which he was allowed to ride The Maniac’s GP16, gaining no ground on the Italian whatsoever.  Mike Jones did a very credible job parachuting in for the Avintia Ducati.

From freezing gale to equatorial heat in three days, the flying circus heads off for Kuala Lumpur, where it’s brutally hot and rainy.  The track at Sepang has recently been re-modeled and re-paved to eliminate much of the standing water of the type that almost cost Marquez his career, his 2011 hydroplaning practice crash there overshadowed by the Simoncelli events the next day.  He would experience double vision for six months, his career in jeopardy.  One trusts he will be more circumspect this time around.

2016 Phillip Island Results

MotoGP 2016 Championship Standings after 16 Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

Sadly, the race for the 2016 title is over, and we/I congratulate Marc Marquez on his third premier class championship.  But the end of the story of 2016 has yet to be written.  There will be controversy—will Marquez torment Valentino Rossi during these last three rounds, in the hope of elevating homeboy Jorge Lorenzo?  There will be paint-trading in the turns.  There will continue to be the races-within-the-race that capture so many people’s attention.  There will be Petrucci vs. Redding.  There will be crashes and run-offs and mistakes by guys operating at the outer limits of human endurance, testing the laws of physics at every turn.  What’s not to like?

Recent History at Phillip Island

2013:  Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista (on the satellite Gresini Honda) gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw the veteran Rossi beat Crutchlow and his LCR Honda by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini pilot by .053, the blink of an eye.  The race marked the first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium.  Marquez took a cheap DQ when, fighting for the lead, he neglected to pit in time, as Bridgestone, who ordered the mandatory mid-race pit stop, struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface.  Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014:  Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to ice.  23 riders start the race; 14 finish.  Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan sophomore, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium.  Ever.  None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.  In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of place.

2015:  The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone.  Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.  Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17.  What a difference a year made for Iannone, just twelve months ago the fair-haired child of Ducati Corse; this year a refugee to a possibly apprehensive Suzuki operation.

Sibling Rivalry

Such is the case with the brothers Espargaro.  A competition which undoubtedly started when younger brother Pol was still in diapers continues today as older brother Aleix tries to keep up with little bro.  At some point in the past, younger brother took the upper hand over big brother; glad I wasn’t there for that.  Pol, on the satellite Yamaha, brings a 24-point lead over the fraternal factory Suzuki into Round 16 and appears set to rub it in to Aleix’s face for the fourth year in a row.

Last year, on the same equipment, Pol was +9.  In 2014, Pol, still on the Tech 3 bike, with Aleix on the doomed Forward Racing Yamaha, put another 10 points on his sib.  In 2013, one would say that Pol won the day again, taking the Moto2 championship, while Aleix, slugging it out in the premier class on terrible ART hardware, claimed a decent 11th place finish.  Advantage Pol.

New digs for each next year.  Pol finally gets his factory ride with KTM, while Aleix moves down to the Gresini factory Aprilia, not yet competitive in the post Dall’Igna era.  The two bikes should be relatively competitive with each other, meaning that while the colors on the leathers may change, the appeal of an opportunity to give your brother a wet willie won’t.  MotoGP thrives on rivalries, even the friendlies.

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

Your boy Kevin Schwantz, world champion in 1993 in the 500cc two stroke era when men were men and women were glad of it, continues to milk notoriety from his reputation and is now approaching 23 years, more or less, of living off the fat.  Journalists still seek his opinions on moto racing and he is always willing to share them.  Bring the photographer.

Anyway, over at someothersite.com, Schwantz was asked about his impressions of Jack Miller, stating his belief the young Australian would become some kind of great rider in time.  (Assuming he still possesses all of his body parts when that time arrives.)  He also conceded that Marc Marquez “impresses” him, what with three MotoGP titles by age 23 and all.

This, you see, is exactly the kind of stuff the editors here at MO loathe.  Some guy whose glory days are way behind him, dispensing faint praise re the talents of riders, at least in the case of #93, would beat them like a drum on an identical equipment/same age basis.  But we’re not hating on it because it interests us.  We’re kind of going on and on about it because Marquez won the frigging title last week and we need something to rant about.

Back to the Race

The domino effect engendered by the injury to factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone continues in place this week, as Hector Barbera gets to wreck another brand new GP16 while Mike Jones takes his seat with the Avintia Ducati team.  Barbera and Jones were the last two riders to finish at Motegi, the Spaniard finishing outside the points due to an early mishap, whereas Jones finished a lap down but with his paint intact.  I imagine the bosses would prefer the latter to the former.

Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez having won here recently, Rossi the beneficiary of Marquez’ careless crash out of a four-second lead in 2014.  For the Yamaha teammates, they have attached blinders regarding whatever’s up with Marquez and are dialed in on one another, second place for the season and a load of machismo at stake.  Just as last year, Rossi enjoys a narrow lead over Lorenzo.  Lorenzo wants to arrive at Ducati in one piece but wants to beat Rossi more.  So it will be a great battle this time out.  Whatever happens thereafter we’ll take, too.

Conditions at Phillip Island this weekend are expected to be rough, with a 100% chance of rain on Friday giving way to clear skies on Sunday.  It’ll be the temps and the wind which will take its toll on riders and lap times, as temps are expected below 60° with cold northwest winds steady in the high teens, with stronger gusts.  A perfect weekend for Marc Marquez to lay low.  An imperfect setup for Lorenzo and Rossi, who must face off against one another in the teeth of the gale at perhaps the fastest track on the calendar.  The hint of rain spells advantage Rossi.

The race once again runs in the middle of the night in North America.  We will have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Motegi Results

October 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez – 2016 Campeón Mundial! 

For the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and legend Valentino Rossi—choked on their own bile, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error.  This unlikely confluence of events is responsible for, among other things, the very pedestrian championship celebration prior to the podium.  Nothing like the Bushido spectacle we watched in 2014. 

Notes from Practice and Qualifying 

Repsol              FP2–Pedrosa out; Aoyama in.  Pedrosa needs to think about retiring before he starts to resemble Quasimodo.  Second serious injury suffered here by “The Master of Motegi.”  The break, which left his right collarbone in four pieces, was described by the rider’s surgeon as the “least serious” of all of Dani’s collarbone breaks.  Right.

Ducati                   Iannone out; Barbera in.

Avintia                  Barbera out; Mike Jones in.

Yamaha                 Katman Nakasuga wildcard

Lorenzo, Dovi, Marquez and Vinales were quick on Friday.  Smith and Miller returned from injury, young Jack needing to get some laps in before fighting for the win at Phillip Island next week–in his head.  Smith is lapping very slowly on Friday and appears to be saving himself for KTM.  Miller starts 14th, with Smith alongside him in the last spot on the fifth row.

Rossi somehow took the pole everyone in the joint expected would belong to Marquez, with #93 second and Lorenzo somehow completing the front row.  An international second row formed up on the top Ducati qualifier, Italian Andrea Dovizioso, joined by Brit Cal Crutchlow and Spaniard Aleix Espargaro, who whipped his Suzuki hard, pushing teammate Maverick Vinales, in seventh by 4/100ths of a second, to the third row and feeling pretty good about it.

If nothing else, Mike Jones, the replacement for Barbera at Avintia, won the battle of “Who Gets to Wear #7?”, beating Hiro Aoyama who, denied his usual number by some guy named Mike Jones, went with #73 and a long story as to why.

Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez each have 64 poles across all classes.  Rossi’s been at it 21 years, Lorenzo 15 and Marquez nine.  And, by the way, 64 is the all-time record, which will get broken a number of times every year for the next decade at least.  Is this the Golden Age of motorcycle racing?  Possibly.

The Race 

The 2016 Japanese Grand Prix was, itself, a conventional, low-drama affair.  Early on, the Yamahas asserted themselves, as the front group consisted of Lorenzo, Marquz, Rossi and Aleix Espargaro, who, along with his teammate Maverick Vinales, discovered how much the Suzuki GSX-RR does love itself some Motegi.  Rossi took a couple of swings at Marquez early but couldn’t get anything to stick, while Lorenzo was riding with “bumps and bruises” suffered on Saturday morning that would leave most mortals lying in a hospital somewhere.  Marquez went through on Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 4.  Rossi crashed on Lap 7.  Lorenzo crashed on Lap 20.  Season over.  Oh, and Dovizioso claimed second while Vinales took third.

Historians will argue for years weeks as to where this race was actually won, or lost.  Some will insist it was at Turn 10 on Sunday when Rossi went lowside, unforced, for the third time this season.  Some will say it was at Turn 9 on Sunday, where Marquez went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 and where Lorenzo lost his grits on Lap 20, the moment at which Marquez effectively clinched the title.  Some will say it was Turn 2 on Saturday, when Lorenzo crashed heavily in FP3 and was airlifted to the local hospital, only to return in time for FP4.  After Lap 4, when Marquez took the lead for good, the only drama concerned whether the 2016 trophy would be awarded to Marquez in Japan or Australia.

Random Thoughts Before The Big Picture 

  • The pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi, especially, had to be immense while the riders waited for the red lights to go out. Rossi, who suffers notoriously from jetlag, can’t have been feeling great sitting on pole, while Lorenzo had been in a wheelchair with an IV drip barely 28 hours earlier.  It was pressure for one and pain for the other that forced the errors.  It also extended the Yamaha non-winning streak to 8.
  • Riders at Motegi spend 30% of their time on the brakes. Looks like the fabled braking power of the Yamaha M1 may be overrated, as Pol Espargaro was the top-finishing Yamaha 19 seconds behind Marquez.
  • In the Redding vs. Petrucci cage match going on at Pramac Ducati, Scott Redding exercised his “rope-a-dope” strategy to perfection, staying on teammate Danilo Petrucci’s rear wheel all day and conceding a single point to the Italian. Not sure what the official score is in the garage, as Petrucci was penalized by management for his takedown of Redding in Aragon.
  • Today’s race attendance was just over 52,000. Back in the late 70’s I was sitting in a friendly nickel-dime-quarter poker game one night and drew three cards inside to a straight flush for a $2.00 pot.  Marquez today probably felt at least a little like I did that night long ago, taking the world championship thousands of miles from home in front of a small crowd in the middle of the night.
  • What is the Repsol Honda team going to do with all the props they’ve packed away for the Phillip Island championship celebration? 

The Big Picture

With three races left, we turn our attention to the MotoGP undercards and the Moto2 title fight.  Johann Zarco gave himself some breathing room over challenger Alex Rins by taking second place today while Rins finished out of the points, presumably the result of a crash or a leisurely walkabout in the kitty litter.  Zarco’s 21-point cushion with three rounds left make him the odds-on favorite to become the first repeat Moto2 champion since the category came into existence.

The undercards in the premier class:

  • Rossi and Lorenzo recorded DNFs; Rossi’s margin over Lorenzo in the battle for second best remains 14.
  • Maverick Vinales leapt over the injured Dani Pedrosa into fourth place for the season with his 16 points today, to the delight of Team Suzuki.
  • Andrea Dovizioso’s podium today pushed him past Cal Crutchlow into sixth place. Crutchlow, for his part, rallied from a non-descript start to finish fifth and blamed disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field for his poor start.
  • Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro claimed 10 points today, breaking the tie for eighth place with the idle Andrea Iannone.
  • Suzuki pilot Aleix Espargaro, on the strength of his formidable fourth place finish today, cut Hector Barbera’s lead in the race for 10th to two points. This despite the fact that Barbera had a shiny new Avintia Racing GP16 to crash today, which he took full advantage of on Lap 9.

Marching to Pretoria

Round 16 launches this next week at Phillip Island.  As such, it kicks off the dreaded Epilogue section of the season, the three races (and three previews) we here at MO need to spice up to maintain your interest and engagement once the title has been decided.  (Not that our usual work has all that much to do with motorcycle racing anyway.)  Rest assured that we’ve kept our own powder dry and are fully prepared to speculate on things at least remotely related to MotoGP in Australia, Malaysia and Spain.

As Arlo Guthrie admitted in the folk classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” I’m not proud.  Or tired.