Rumor: Mir to Suzuki in 2019

May 25, 2018

© Bruce Allen   May 25. 2018

Sounds like Honda’s MotoGP program has lost out again.

https://www.crash.net/motogp/contentm/896822/1/gossip-mir-decides-suzuki-motogp

Apparently being Marc Marquez’s garagemate isn’t the most highly sought-after gig in the paddock. First they lose Zarco to KTM, now apparently Mir to Suzuki. Pecco Bagnaia has already signed with Pramac Ducati. Does HRC really want to invest another two years in the loyal but flawed Dani Pedrosa? Hard to imagine.

Joan Mir

Will we read about Mir signing with Suzuki in the next few weeks?  Bummer for HRC.

Jorge Lorenzo is so screwed

May 23, 2018

Lorenzo screwed.JPG

This article captures the situation in the premier class pretty well. Lorenzo will be unable to save his seat. He will take a serious pay cut no matter where he ends up. Suzuki looks the most likely. He could end up on a Yamaha satellite team. He will be a minister without portfolio. Rossi escaped Ducati with most of his skills intact and a place at Yamaha for as long as he wanted it. Lorenzo, presuming another gruesome outing in Mugello next weekend, appears to have few good options available going forward.

http://www.marca.com/en/more-sports/2018/05/20/5b01520d22601df35c8b45e0.html

 

Joan Mir – Alien in Waiting

May 22, 2018

© Bruce Allen       May 22, 2018

Young Joan Mir, age 20, is about to have his ticket punched. As a Twitter friend says, “Dude’s bank account gonna get laced.

Joan Mir

Joan Mir, winning the Moto3 trophy easily in 2017.

This young Spaniard has been killing it at every level. He won the Moto3 title at age 19 without breaking much of a sweat. Like Marc Marquez, he seems to be playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. We have been jocking him as a future Alien for a few years now. And after his maiden Moto2 podium last week at Le Mans, he is now an artículo caliente.

We had heard that Honda was interested in signing him to ride alongside Marquez beginning in 2019, forcing Dani Pedrosa to some kind of Plan B. We had also heard of interest from Suzuki, to have Mir join Rins on the factory team, until Lorenzo’s name started popping up in connection with Suzuki. Now we learn that Ducati is interested, too, that there are now three suitors for Mr. Joan’s services.

It is said that it would be hard to be Marc Marquez’s teammate. But HRC, having lost out in the Zarco lottery, cannot afford to pass on this young man. He practices for hours on 1000cc bikes. If he doesn’t get promoted this year, given the standard two year deals available on the top premier class teams, he would have to wait until 2021 to move up. Too long. Too much talent.

So, who will end up with Joan Mir on a factory ride next season? Mir, who is already contracted directly with Honda rather than the Estrella Galicia Moto2 team, is likely to join Repsol Honda. Suzuki will probably have to give a shot to Lorenzo. And Ducati will be better off with Dovi and Petrucci than Dovi and Mir. The Desmo can still be a career-buster; not referring to Jorge Lorenzo here.

Putting Lorenzo on a GP17 last year, after nine years refining his technique on the Yamaha, was like telling your all-star pitcher to start throwing with his glove hand. Just a simply terrible idea. Worse yet, Jorge and Ducati had just seen it only a few years earlier in the failed Valentino Rossi experiment. That Lorenzo would willingly repeat the career-busting change, for filthy lucre and ego, suggests he is now sleeping in a bed he made himself. He is more likely to be successful on the improving Suzuki than he ever will be on the Ducati, which has him thoroughly spooked.

Anyway, Joan Mir. Alien-in-waiting. Will he be wearing red, white, black and orange next season? Teal Blue? Bright red?

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

A win by Marquez in Yamaha Land chills the entire paddock

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history today, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. #93 enjoyed a walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s two sessions featured the likes of Zarco, Marquez, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Rossi, Miller, Viñales, Pol Espargaro and Pedrosa. In short, anyone who is anyone in the upper reaches of MotoGP. Everyone, actually. Except Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone, who were dawdling with Alex Rins in the low teens. As in, bound for Q1. Track records started falling on Saturday morning, as Viñales, Marquez, Rossi and Zarco beat the 2017 mark of 1’31.994. By the end of the day, Andrea Dovizioso had joined that short list.

Danilo Petrucci and the amazing aching Dani Pedrosa fought their way through Q1, leaving behind names such as Rins and Crutchlow. Like James Bond’s martini, Cal was shaken, not stirred, in a memorable high side in Q1 (after destroying his #1 bike in FP4), but was reported resting uncomfortably, no broken bones, in a local hospital and seemed unlikely to be in any condition to be competitive on Sunday. Sneering, asking Le Mans, like the Black Knight before him, if that’s all he’s got.

Question: Why would anyone with their #1 bike in pieces on the garage floor push their only remaining bike hard enough to highside, with a start on the first four rows already guaranteed? This, to me, is evidence of a rider who has lost control of his emotions or a rider with a low racing IQ. Just sayin’. Yes, there were over 100 crashes across all three classes this weekend. But discretion remains the better part of valor. No way Crutchlow should have been pushing that hard in Q2.

Qualifying, as exciting as it is, is, at this point in the sport’s gestation, much less meaningful than the start the riders get coming off the line. With the top ten or twelve riders separated by a mere second, it’s important to get to the first turn at or near the front. A front row starter who fails to get off can easily get lost in the sauce and enter Turn 2 in 12th place, having to burn up their tires to get back to the front. No way to run an airline.

For what it’s worth, Johann Zarco wrote his own story in French motorsports history on Saturday and started from pole in the 2018 French Grand Prix at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans, the first French rider to pole since 1988. There will be plenty of French babies born next February named Johann and Johanna. Joining him on the front row would be #93, looking dangerous as ever, and one Danilo Petrucci, making a case to join the factory Ducati team in 2019 rather than being trundled off to the struggling factory Aprilia endeavor. For Valentino Rossi, it was a good news, bad news day. The good news was that he broke the previous year’s track record in qualifying. The bad news was that he would be starting 9th on the grid.

Adding further weight to last week’s argument, the top eleven qualifiers were within a second of polesitter Zarco’s track-record time. The top nine qualifiers beat the former track record. Two conclusions: 1. Qualifying doesn’t mean nearly what it used to mean, if ever it did. 2. Our pre-season assertion that “track records would fall like dominoes in 2018” is proving to have been on the money. (Cue Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life”) Track records have been set at Jerez and now Le Mans. Qatar was a no, Argentina was a wet race, and the deteriorating condition of the self-proclaimed Circuit of the Americas will see lap times increase every year until the track is re-surfaced. So, I’m saying throw out Argentina and Texas and I’m two for three. Hall of Fame in baseball.

Another Master Class by Marquez

Jorge Lorenzo, currently earning something like €12 million from Ducati Corse, has been reduced in stature to that of a rabbit. Electing to race on soft tires, his job now is to get out front and push the early pace, in hopes of having 23 riders crash behind him. Short of that, he gets picked off over and over and over again, today ending up where we had him pegged, in 6th place. At the start of Lap 2, the lead group consisted of Lorenzo, Zarco, Dovizioso, Petrucci, Marquez and Rossi.

No Ducati has ever won a premier class race at Le Mans. Andrea Dovizioso kept that streak intact today, going through on homeboy Zarco into the lead on Lap 6 and immediately losing the front at La Chappelle. This left a top three of Lorenzo, Zarco and Marquez, who appeared very comfortable, keeping his powder dry. After trading places with Marquez several times on Lap 9, Zarco slid off at Turn 8, and it was like someone turned a switch. The bedlam of 105,000 blissful fans yelling their lungs out instantly became one of dead silence. There was no joy in Mudville today—mighty JZ had struck out.

By Lap 11, it was the African savannah in microcosm. Lorenzo, the gazelle, was being pursued by Marquez, the cheetah. Cheetahs are faster than gazelles, and gazelles know this. Thus, it came as no surprise when Marquez went through forcefully on Lorenzo on Lap 11 and made it stick. Having been stood up by Marquez, Lorenzo could only seethe as Petrucci snuck through as well. Rossi took his turn with Lorenzo on Lap 14, Jack Miller had his way with the poor Mallorcan on Lap 15, and even Dani Pedrosa, held together with baling wire, punked him on Lap 22. Both riders vying for Lorenzo’s seat on the factory Ducati team next year beat him like a rented mule today.

Petrucci, having survived Q1 and later putting his GP18 on the front row, added a second-place finish to his resume, making a strong statement for the bosses. Rossi found his way to the podium for the first time since Qatar, looking relieved to still be relevant. Jack Miller continued to make me eat my words with a very credible fourth place finish. And Providence prevailed today as both Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia and Alex Rins on the Suzuki managed to take the checkered flag and a top ten finish. Maverick Viñales rallied late to earn 9 points, while Cal Crutchlow did a heroic salvage job to claim 8th place in a race he probably should have been watching from his hospital room.

The Big Picture

As the announcers noted, there are but 13 points separating second and ninth positions in the standings. But there are 36 points between Marquez in first and Viñales in second. The season has developed a whiff of 2014, when Marquez spun off 10 wins in a row to start the season, leaving the field to fight over second place. He has now passed Mick Hailwood and tied Casey Stoner with 38 premier class wins. He loves the 2018 RC213V, and it appears to love him. His closest competitors took a major step backward today. A few more of these, and we’ll have to switch our focus to Moto2 and Moto3. For the record, the Moto3 race was nothing short of amazing today, with an ending you couldn’t even make up. Moto2 wasn’t as entertaining, despite scintillating performances from Pecco Bagnaia and Xavi Vierga.

Two weeks to Mugello. This is what MotoGP is all about—the iconic tracks, the history, the traditions, the memories of remarkable fights from years past. If this were The Master’s golf tournament, this part of the season would be Amen Corner. Jerez. Le Mans. Mugello. Catalunya. And Assen.

Marc Marquez has his boot on the windpipe of the 2018 season. Someone needs to knock him off in the next month, otherwise Valencia will be a fashion show.

Tranche This

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Zarco, Dovizioso, Miller, Pedrosa, Petrucci, Iannone
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Aleix, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat
Tranche 4: Syahrin, Morbidelli, Nakagami, Smith, Bautista
Tranche 5: Luthi, Simeon, Redding, Abraham

MotoGP Le Mans Preview 2018

May 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Vinales need to fish or cut bait

The 30th running of the Grand Prix de France at Le Mans—Round 5, for those of you keeping score at home—arrives at a critical time for the factory Yamaha team. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have been struggling with the YZR-M1 this year, searching in vain for feeling in the front and grip in the rear. Le Mans has been très Yamaha-friendly of late, M1s having gone three-for-three since 2015. Sunday would be a really good time for a replay.

Last year at this time, Rossi and Vinales sat 1-2 in the standings, at 62 and 60 points respectively. (Marquez, who had gotten off to a relatively slow start, was right there at 58 points.) This year, it’s Marquez and his formidable Repsol Honda at the head of the class with 70 points, atop Vinales in third (-20) and Rossi in sixth (-30). With super soph Johann Zarco sitting second on the Tech 3 Yamaha, a surprising Andrea Iannone fourth on the factory Suzuki, and hard luck Andrea Dovizioso fifth on the factory Ducati, it’s crowded at the top of the food chain. Not to mention Cal Crutchlow’s favorite rider, Cal Crutchlow, lurking a mere two points behind Rossi.

Marquez’ dominant performance at Jerez pumped some unwanted air into the standings. Heading to Andalucía, the top five riders were separated by a mere eight points. Today it’s 24. With the factory Yamaha team struggling, bitching and moaning, it may be up to Monsieur Zarco to carry the flag for the Hamamatsu brand on Sunday. A win by Marquez here in Yamahaland would send a chill through the entire paddock.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2015, on an idyllic Gallic afternoon, the Movistar Yamaha team delivered a clear

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01

Lorenzo and Rossi during better days

message to Marc Marquez: any Catalan plotting a third consecutive world championship in 2015 would need to first dislodge The Boys in Blue. Lorenzo, in a replay of his cakewalk in Jerez the previous round, got away early and was never challenged. Rossi, starting on the third row, had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014. Dovizioso whipped his GP15 to third place. It was a forgettable Sunday for the Repsol Honda team, as Marquez, wrestling the nasty 2015 Honda chassis, crossed the line fourth, while teammate Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

 

Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. Maverick Vinales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him. Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here last year, leading the race for the first six laps until Vinales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Vinales into the lead on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Vinales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] With Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place.

Bits and Pieces

If the Marc VDS team weren’t the sorriest outfit on the grid, more people would be interested in the kerfuffle currently raging between owner Marc van der Straten and team manager Michael Bartholemy. Allegations of financial impropriety, meetings scheduled and cancelled, dueling press releases, etc. News outlets are reporting that interest in the team from Suzuki headquarters has cooled recently, due in part to the ongoing static. And while Honda is reportedly interested in keeping the team in its camp, for whatever reason, Yamaha appears to have the inside track to supply the team beginning in 2019. As an aside, rider Franco Morbidelli began to show signs of life at Jerez, having collected his first premier class top ten finish.

 

Gigi Dall'Igna

Rock–Gigi–Hard Place

Plenty of drama emanating from the Ducati contingent, as the grossly underpaid Andrea Dovizioso is playing hardball on salary negotiations for 2019-2020. He has them over a barrel. Gigi “Unibrow” Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda for the Italian factory, can’t wait to unload Jorge Lorenzo and therefore must sign Dovizioso. Dovi knows this, and is holding all the cards. Dall’Igna is quoted as saying the issue will be resolved by the Mugello round, making it sound like they will have a deal by then or it’s no deal. Right. Meanwhile, Dovi is busy wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. Dude’s bank account is gonna get laced.

 

Poor Bradley Smith. Confronting the fact that he’s just not very fast, he seems to be trying to talk his way onto the Tech 3 KTM satellite team for next year. Team principal Herve Poncharal put that idea to rest this past week, pointing out that it makes no sense to put a (mediocre, tapped-out) veteran rider in a developmental role on a satellite team. Look for Bradley in Moto2 or World Superbike next year. If he’s not bagging groceries at your friendly local Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended weather forecast for the Sarthe river region calls for dry, cool conditions all three days, with the warmest temps of the weekend, on Sunday only reaching the low 70s. We will assert this to be Yamaha weather, as the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis like it wet. (The Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia riders are not fond of weather period, being averse to any and all conditions. Cool, warm, dry, wet—all present problems. This is patently unfair to the Suzuki team, where Andrea Iannone is resurrecting his career at the same time Alex Rins is demolishing his.)

As for the race, we all know that predicting race results is a fool’s errand. Which is why I’m going to predict not one but two Yamahas on the podium. Rooting, as usual, for the championship to come down to a shootout in Valencia, I would enjoy seeing Zarco get his first win at home, followed by a factory Yamaha (pick one) and Marc Marquez. Dovizioso deserves a good outcome, but I fear Pedrosa will have trouble heating his tires. It would also be fun to watch Lorenzo and Crutchlow fighting it out for sixth place; the post-race interviews would be a conditional verb tense food fight.

Check back on Sunday afternoon for results and analysis. Feel free to chime in on the DISQUS comments section at Motorcycle.com to confirm Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

MotoGP Jerez Results 2018

May 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Magic Marquez avoids disaster, seizes series lead

Today’s Red Bull Grand Prix de España served as a vivid reminder that in the premier class of MotoGP there is Marc Marquez, and then there are a bunch of other riders. We are clearly living in the heart of The Marquez Era in MotoGP, which appears likely to extend into the future as far as the eye can see. With the best rider in our generation astride the best bike on the grid, in mid-career, an air of inevitability has settled over the 2018 championship.

Practice and Qualifying

Let me get one thing off my chest up front: Dorna goes out of its way to get us geeked up about qualifying as if it makes a particle of difference in the outcome of the race. The announcers were getting all breathless on Saturday afternoon at the prospect of Marquez having to start from all the way back in the middle of the second row. Piffle. Practice and qualifying are great fun to watch and occasionally instructive, but their predictive value is slight.

Briefly, then, free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning separated the goats from the lambs, with big names like Dovizioso, Viñales and Espargaro (x2) relegated to the prelims. #04 and #25 both made it through to Q2, Viñales by the skin of his teeth over Aleix, before getting ground up by the likes of Cal Crutchlow, who managed to set a new track record while taking pole. The Repsol Hondas had the pace and were loving the building heat. Johann Zarco pulled a late fast lap out of the back of his leathers for his eighth front row start “on the trot.” Even sad Jorge Lorenzo found his way to the top of the Row 2 (and the holeshot on Sunday) as his second consecutive epic fail of a season continued to unfold.

A Defining Moment for 2018

At the start, a five-man lead group materialized, consisting of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Zarco, Crutchlow and Marquez. Lorenzo, clearly wishing to lead any race whatsoever for at least one lap, was running soft tires front and back, the other contenders in various combinations of hards and mediums. By Lap 4 we found Lorenzo leading Marquez and Pedrosa, with Crutchlow lurking on the LCR Honda, Alex Rins’ Suzuki busy pedaling hard, and Dovizioso staying in touch. Zarco was the leader of a gaggle of miserable Yamahas, who suffered in the dry heat all weekend and are not competitive, as a brand, in 2018.

Marquez dispatched Lorenzo at the Jorge Lorenzo Corner—lol—on Lap 8 after Rins had left the building on Lap 6, joined in the kitty litter by my boy Cal Crutchlow minutes later. Marquez spent most of the next dozen laps not getting away, reminding me of a cat toying with an entire family of mice. During this period the most interesting sight occurred at the turn (11?) where Tom Luthi had crashed out on Lap 12, covering the track in gravel. Marquez, leading the race moments later, suddenly found himself at virtually full lean, 270 hp screaming beneath him, riding on marbles. Most normal riders would have hit the deck at this point; Marquez appeared to shake it off as he would a hangnail.

Jerez 2018 Crash Turn 6 Dry Sack

The big Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso appeared to be no one’s fault, simply a racing incident, albeit a spectacular one. I remember watching Jorge Lorenzo gather some big air at Shanghai in 2008; Dani Pedrosa, whose condition heading to Le Mans in two weeks is unknown at deadline, will remember today’s crash for a long time.

Jorge Lorenzo demonstrated again today his essential selfish nature, happily sitting second, gripping his six (6) points for the season fiercely, blocking teammate Andrea Dovizioso and his series-leading 46 points as Marquez was busy vanishing into the ether. Lorenzo was at the heart of today’s Lap 20 fustercluck, his teammate pushing desperately to get through, causing both riders to run wide at Dry Sack, opening the door for Pedrosa on the inside as the Ducatis veered back onto the racing line without Lorenzo having noticed Dani to his right. Boom. (Up until that point, I found myself watching for the hilarious MAPPING 8 signal from his garage indicating he should yield to Dovi. As we saw last year in Sepang, even if team orders are in place, Lorenzo is generally not one to acknowledge them. How his crew fits both Jorge and his ego into a single set of leathers is a headscratcher.)

With five laps to go, Marquez suddenly had clear sailing, while two of his closest competitors—Crutchlow and Dovizioso—were sitting out of the points and teammate Pedrosa was headed to the medical centre, next door to the medical center. Crashes like this (and the reliability of Cal crashing out unassisted) often cause a number of lower tranche riders to secure promotions they don’t necessarily deserve. Thus we find Andrea Iannone on the podium, Danilo Petrucci earning 13 points, and the increasingly less relevant Valentino Rossi (one win in his last 32 starts) accruing 11 points on a day he should have been wallering in single figures.

The Big Picture

See the season standings below. 2018 is now officially Marc Marquez’ season to lose. With the season less than 20% over, his 12-point lead over Zarco’s satellite Yamaha would easily be 37 were it not for the mess in Argentina. As was the case in Austin, the 2018 chase now appears to be for second place—yes, I am awarding the 2018 title to #93, similar to watching election night results coming in and having CNN call a contest two minutes after the polls close. Thank goodness Crutchlow finds the idea of copping to his own shortcomings distasteful or there wouldn’t be anything to laugh about. Next thing you know he’ll be gloating about Hillary.

Go Tranche Yourself

Tranche 1: Marquez, Zarco, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Miller
Tranche 3: Iannone, Rins, Rabat, A Espargaro, Petrucci
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Syahrin, Bautista, (Kallio)
Tranche 5: Smith, Abraham, Luthi, Redding, Simeon

Some Random Schvitzing

As some of you are aware, I’ve been having health issues of late that have temporarily lowered my IQ. Not possible, you say. Not enough oxygen getting to my brain, I say. Thus, my usually succinct post-race analysis must yield to the following random rants.

The crash on Lap 20, at the awkwardly named Dry Sack Corner, highlights the subtle irony to be found in Spanish humor. To wit, if one finds one’s motorcycle traveling upside down and backwards at speed, as Dani Pedrosa did today, one will likely be sporting anything but a dry sack. Even one or two such occurrences during a racing season tend to render one’s title chase problematic.

Marquez kept his premier class record at Jerez intact, having never been off the podium in six outings. Andrea Dovizioso maintained his equally pristine string here, having never once appeared on the podium in 11 premier class appearances dating back to 2008.

Is it just me, or did Cal Crutchlow’s brolly girl today bear a surprising resemblance to Cruella de Ville?

If this is going to be any kind of season at all, Johann Zarco needs to post his first premier class win at Le Mans in two weeks. Just sayin’.

Postscript: Earlier this year Jorge (Aspar) Martinez took it upon himself to re-brand his Aspar racing team as Team Angel Nieto in honor of the Spanish grand prix legend who passed away early this year. Prior to the race this weekend, the Circuito de Jerez followed suit, to be known henceforth as the Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto. In an effort to get in line with current trends in MotoGP I have decided to rename my lunchbox, which shall be referred to from now on as Lonchera Angel Nieto. If you spy me stuffing my face outside the Carmel Public Library on a shaded summer afternoon, rest assured my victuals have arrived respectfully.

 

Simon's Cribsheet

We caught a glance at Simon Crafar’s cheatsheet before today’s race. Christ.

 

MotoGP COTA Results

April 22, 2018

©Bruce Allen
Viñales Wins Fight for Second as Marquez Romps

The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.

None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas—Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.

Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.

Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Jack Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.

Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and Valentino Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, he laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”

Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and—guess who?—Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.

It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.

It Was Not a Great Race

Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.

Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.

Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters

Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.

Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.

Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.

The Big Picture

Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.

Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys—Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow—will win some races. The young guys—Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller—will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Viñales
Tranche 2: Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Zarco
Tranche 3: Rins, Iannone, Miller, Rabat, Aleix, Petrucci, Syahrin
Tranche 4: Pol, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Bautista
Tranche 5: Abraham, Simeon, Redding, Smith, Luthi

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.

 

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Results

April 8, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Crutchlow prevails in Argentina, leads series

Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday was a Honda clambake, with the factory guys and Cal Crutchlow hogging the top three spots on the combined FP1/FP2 timesheet. Dovi and Lorenzo looked dazed and confused in the dry, Dovi mailing in a clean 24th in FP2. Factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales were keeping their powder dry in 6th and 7th. The two anomalies in the top ten were Tito Rabat, Honda alum and current (GP17) Ducati pilot, sitting impudently in fourth position, as if he belonged there, and Andrea Iannone, copying him in 5th. My boy Alex Rins sat 8th after finding over a second in FP2. Zarco was loitering down in 9th, Jorge Lorenzo, in full Replay-of-the-Horror-of-2017 mode, lagging in 16th place. Miles to go before he sleeps.

Saturday’s wet FP3 meant the standings from FP2 stood, which, in turn, meant that big names, like Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci and Syahrin would have to slug their way out of Q1 to even have a shot at the first four rows on Sunday. Two satellite Ducatis (Rabat and Miller) found their way directly into Q2, along with a bevy of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. Q1 saw Aleix Espargaro flog his Aprilia into Q2, joined therein by Andrea Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Petrucci, eyeing a Ducati factory seat next year, starts from 18th, while Jorge Lorenzo, trying to defend one, could manage no better than 14th.

The last three minutes of Q2 are becoming my favorite part of the weekend. One by one, the Alien class and its aspirants reach back and take aim at pole, holding nothing in reserve, fuel loads minimized, soft new rubber on the back. One by one, they flash into pole position, only to be immediately deposed by the next red-eyed dervish with the throttle pegged. Marquez, incandescent all weekend, sat in pole position for most of the session, until he was blistered late, in the described fashion, by Alex Rins (?), Tito Rabat (??), Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa. While the announcers were busily gushing over Dani’s 50th grand prix pole, Jack Miller, who had pitted very late on a drying track to try a final lap on slicks and had his transponder go out on him, crossed the line almost unnoticed and stuck the fastest lap of the day on pole. In the process, he became the first satellite Ducati rider in history to occupy pole for a premier class grand prix.

Jack Miller has taken to the GP17 like, pardon the expression, a duck to water. Fast in Valencia last November. Fast all winter. Fast in practice in Qatar, although he whiffed on race day. Now, fast here, at least for one lap. Jack Miller is making a case for enhanced respect from these quarters. As is Tito Rabat, who seems to be breathing air again after two years of sucking canal water. Both on used Desmos.

Before the Lights Went Out

Due to the persistent light rain they have in this part of Argentina, which works the way my kitchen lights do when my grandson is fiddling with the switch, virtually everyone on the grid started bailing into pit lane five minutes before the start, all planning to switch from rain tires to slicks, all planning to start from pit lane. All except for one, the polesitter, Jack Miller, on his Alma Pramac Ducati, sporting slicks and ready to race. Race Direction, citing legitimate safety concerns pertaining to having 23 powerful men and machines crammed into the space of an eat-in kitchen, decided to change the rules of the sport on the spot, re-forming the grid three rows back of Miller.

The weirdly re-formed grid sat waiting for the lights to go on when Marquez, anxious in the six hole, waved to indicate his bike had stalled, pushed it a few yards, nonchalantly jump-started it, and pushed it back into his grid spot, waving off that Danny guy who was gesticulating wildly that Marquez needed to return to pit lane. So #93 started the race under a cloud, out of breath, suspecting he would be penalized. Unbalanced.

During the Race

There were so many key moments in the race that I can only bullet-point them:
• On the opening lap, Johann Zarco, jockeying with the factory Hondas up front, gave Pedrosa a slight hip check sufficient to send Little Big Man over the handlebars.
• Marquez went through on Miller on Lap 2 and the world prepared for him to get away, when
• He was given a ride-through penalty for dissing Mr. Aldridge at the start, entered pit lane in first place and exited in 19th with some serious motowood going on and that look in his eye. This left a top three of Miller, Rins and Zarco, with Crutchlow loitering in fourth, keeping his powder dry, thinking deep thoughts.
• Marquez, slicing his way recklessly through the field, dove through a non-existent opening, displacing Aleix Espargaro, who retired five laps later. For this second foul Marquez was ordered to give up one place, which became two in the midst of the pure confusion in command of the track.
• On Lap 17, Miller, whose tires were turning to syrup, ran so far wide that Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins all went through on him and stayed there. He deserved better on a day when he had, by himself, earned an enormous strategic advantage over the field which the powers that be took away from him.
• On Lap 21, Marquez, for no apparent reason, thought it would be smart to reprieve his stunt with Espargaro with his old buddy Valentino Rossi, who ran wide into mud. Down and out. A buzz went through the crowd. Not this again.
• Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins put on a sensational show over the last three laps. After two rounds there have been six separate riders on the two podia.
• Before being demoted to 18th position, Marquez had worked his way back from 19th to 5th, and, in the process, confirmed the opinions of everyone out there who already thought he was a jerk.

After the Race

Immediately after the race, Marquez and two of his handlers, with about 20 MotoGP.com video cameras on them, walked down to Rossi’s garage, to offer an apology for his comportment on the track. Mr. Rossi’s representative, a Mr. Vaffanculo, let it be known that Mr. Rossi was not currently interested in Mr. Marquez’ apology, and that perhaps Mr. Marquez should go perform a physically-impossible act. The cheek-turning exercise failed to produce the desired results. So now we have to spend the next six months listening to people bang on about The Rivalry. Which, if you believe what you hear, never actually went away.

The Big Picture

The season standings have been reshuffled, which is good news for some and not-so-good news for others. To wit:

Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi each lost five spots in the championship chase. Marquez lost three, but it could have been worse, as many will argue he should have been black-flagged after the Rossi incident. He may still find himself with some penance to pay in Texas in two weeks.

Winners include Alex Rins, who went from zero to 9th place, Miller, who went from 10th to 6th, and Zarco, who moved from 8th to 3rd.

Of the top ten riders for the year, four ride satellite bikes and two ride Suzukis. And the top team thus far this season is LCR Honda.

Next time out is Austin, which is Marquez’ personal sandbox. If he faces any kind of challenge at COTA, it portends an interesting year. A year that’s getting off to a grand start.

Rider Rankings after Two Rounds

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Zarco, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Vinales, Rossi, Rins, Miller, Iannone
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Pedrosa, Rabat, Syahrin, Lorenzo, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Redding, Bautista, Nakagami, Morbidelli, P Espargaro
Tranche 5: Luthi, Abraham, Smith, Simeon

Greatest of All Time

April 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez Valencia 2017b

Discussions of who is the greatest whatever of all time are usually tiresome affairs, made up of people who possess one or two indelible facts or impressions they then use to bludgeon any other arguments to pieces. This fruitless argument becomes more fruitless each year, as records and riders extend back to bygone eras where virtually nothing was the same as it is now, as regards machinery. It’s not just moto racing, it’s any sport.

It’s the usual problem with “of all time” comparisons. The historical context is everything. We humans, with our small brains and limited attention spans, both of which are generally focused on sex, don’t have the bandwidth to try to fully understand the competitive conditions extant, say, in the 1960s and 1970s when Giacamo Agostini was winning titles, lapping the field.

We have a hard time getting fully engorged by Angel Nieto, who won all those titles, mostly in the 70’s, on 80cc and 125cc bikes. We look at Rossi with his nine, seven in the premier class, and shake our heads, certain it would have been higher had he not reigned during the nascence of The Alien Class of riders, any number of whom will have their own claim to Hall of Fame stature in the years to come. Stoner. Lorenzo. Marquez.

Inevitably, we run into old school types like Matt Oxley or Kevin Schwantz who criticize the electronics in today’s bikes, making them sound like video games, over-powered and over-engineered pocket rockets that can practically ride themselves. This, I believe, is where the “of all time” argument gets complicated. I believe the video game aspect of today’s bikes is an extra layer of difficulty the riders from the 20th century didn’t have to deal with.

Here’s what I think. I think Marc Marquez, arguably the best rider of the current decade, could adjust to the bikes going back to the 1970s with little trouble , especially given his dirt-track riding style. The idea of taking a Wayne Rainey or a Mick Doohan out there, putting them on a 2018 MotoGP bike and saying, “Take it away!” is laughable. They wouldn’t be able to get out of pit lane. I think Marquez, on the other hand, is strong enough to enjoy racing the 500cc two-strokes.

There. In order to discuss the greatest of all time in MotoGP, you have to examine the context. In order to level the playing field, one must account for the difference in the machinery, which can only be done by some crude indexing. For instance, whereas Giacomo Agostini rated 98% on the 350cc MotoGP bike, he would rate only, say, 40% on today’s Yamaha M1. Rossi or Marquez, on the other hand, are up in the 90’s on the MotoGP bike and could get well up into the 80’s in a day or two on  the 350.

Marquez has the fundamental, intuitive balance and reflexes of a great rider. He also has the full array of video game skills and a powerful frame. He is the complete package.

Given the genesis of MotoGP, the impossible speeds and lean angles and the increasingly complicated electronics, I would vote for Marquez, presuming his career maintains its current arc, as the GOAT. If he can win three or four more titles in the next five years, he will be The Man. He’s facing the same problem Rossi faced starting in 2010–a new generation of riders. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Alex Rins. A rejuvenated Andrea Dovizioso. A bunch of fast movers in Moto2 anxious for factory rides in MotoGP beginning next year. Names like Bagnaia, Baldassarri, Mir and Fenati.

To me, it feels like we’re watching something special during what will be referred to as The Marquez Years. I pray it ends someday in triumph, on his terms, fully intact and ready for the next phase in his remarkable story.

Lorenzo - Marquez