MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

September 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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. 

2016-09-25-12Q2 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.2016-09-25-18

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.

2016-09-25 (19).png

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 Aragon Preview

September 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere.  In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished.  It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in.  Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

It’s getting crowded up front.

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable.  Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011.  When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks.  His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race.  The forecast is for dry and warm conditions.  He has everything going for him and should win the race.  As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds.  Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez.  Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable.  Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled.  Exhibit A:  The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively.  Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall.

While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know–the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati.  (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece.  By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Too Tall Baz.)

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains.  Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place.  Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day.  But the diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year.  Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.”  This is not meant as criticism.  It might explain why Hondo so willingly signed him for another two years.  If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even.  And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

Rossi           69

Crutchlow    54

Marquez      53

Vinales        53

Pedrosa       49

Lorenzo       40

Dovizioso     40

Iannone       33

My original idea for the Misano race summary—a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow—which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers.  (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help.  Nor did the outburst that followed.)  The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish.  My apologies.  I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

As for Rossi, the world is correct.  An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia.  (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore.  You can have sixteen strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider.  Then count points.  A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season.  It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha—his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice.  Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.  Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems–just a flesh wound—but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule.  And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off.  The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend.  It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas.  Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days.  Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso.  Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS.  I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Misano Results

September 11, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

First win for Dani Pedrosa since Sepang 2015

For the first time since 1949 when MotoGP invented itself, eight different riders have won a premier class race in a single season.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career, winless in 2016, busted out today on the shores of the sun-drenched Adriatic with a convincing win over Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.  For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation worked well enough to keep his margin at 43 points with five rounds to go.

Practice

The WCMS at Misano is one of those “technical” tracks where the bikes don’t peg the throttle in 6th very much.  Top speeds are “low.”  On Friday the Ducatis had trouble breaking the top six.  It’s a great track with something for every taste and budget but does not play well to the Ducati’s strengths.  On Friday, it looked like it might be prime hunting grounds for Maverick Vinales, who gets around those tight areas with ease on his GSX-RR, if it weren’t too hot at race time. (BTW they’re going to love Vinales in Yamahaland.)

Lorenzo looked strong in FP1.  Rossi took FP1 because he felt like it—home race and all–and Marquez was keeping his powder dry. Pol Espargaro had a great Friday. Iannone took himself out of Round 13 at least with a formidable high-side in FP1 and a resulting cracked vertebra, his place on the factory-issue bike being taken by the very capable Michele Pirro.  There was a Pedrosa sighting during FP2.  By Q2 time it was hot but not insanely, Sepang-style hot. During the Sunday morning warm-up, it was Marquez, Rossi, Pirro and Dovizioso, team Ducati having apparently fixed a few things overnight:

FP1:    Rossi     PEspargaro      Vinales

FP2:   PEspargaro  Pedrosa    Dovizioso

FP3:   Marquez      Lorenzo       Vinales

FP4:        No               One             Cares

Q2:    Lorenzo       Rossi           Vinales        Marquez

 

Marquez, Pirro and Dovizioso made up the second row, with Crashlow qualifying 7th and Pedrosa 8th.

Eight for Eight

My notes make no mention of Pedrosa until Lap 5 when he went through on Maverick Vinales’ Suzuki into 5th place.  The factory Yamahas dominated early, with Lorenzo taking the holeshot into the early lead, only to give it up to Rossi on Lap 2.  Misano, a sea of yellow, is the only circuit on the calendar that offers a home court advantage to a rider—Rossi—which is palpable and can affect the outcome of the race.  For 20 laps today it appeared the homeboy would win.  But Pedrosa, having qualified 8th, his struggle continuing, took our advice today, said “to hell with it,” put his head down, and won by 2.8 seconds over a disappointed Rossi, with Lorenzo ending the day in third, equally disgusted at having been unable to get away early.

Pedrosa, looking like the Alien of old, went through on teammate Marc Marquez in Turn 14 of Lap 14, leaving two Yamahas and half a race between him and the win.  He tracked down Lorenzo in Turn 14 of Lap 17.  Finally, he took down Rossi in Turn 4 of Lap 22, not once showing the Italian any daylight between there and the flag.  The podium photo could have been straight out of 2009 when the same three Aliens dominated the sport.  Back in the dark CRT days, could anyone foresee the day when eight different riders would claim a win in a single season?  In eight consecutive races?  Andrea Dovizioso and Scott Redding need to step up.

Dani Pedrosa accomplished his entire To Do list today:  Win the race.  Beat Marquez.  And keep Lorenzo and Rossi from gaining ground on his teammate.  Check, check and check.

In Defense of Crutchlow Bashers and Lovers

When we divide the season into two halves, we discover the first half winners:

Marquez      170

Lorenzo       122

Rossi           111

Pedrosa         96

Vinales          83

PEspargaro    72

Barbera          65

Iannone         63

Dovizioso       59

Crutchlow      40

First five rounds of the second half:

Rossi            77

Crutchlow    73

Marquez      71

Vinales        57

Dovizioso     58

Lorenzo       41

Despite his eighth place finish today, which was lowered to ninth over a rules infraction, Crutchlow could win the second half of the season.  He’s done well during the first half of the second half.  Which, in turn, suggests he could win an entire season, simply by winning both halves.  Of both halves.  Those of you who have been bugging me about under-tranching him must acknowledge that he left Assen in 14th place.  We know at least some of it wasn’t his fault—mechanicals.  But now having been on a hot streak, suddenly he’s an Alien?  No.

Today, with five rounds left, Cal Crutchlow sits in 8th place, 52 points outside the top four, and 130 behind Marquez.  It’s in Honda’s interest to give him the best equipment they’ve got, factory team or not.  He has recovered from his disastrous start to the season.  He is legitimately fast and skilled.  He is battling Marquez and was, until today, dusting Pedrosa.  He hasn’t crashed since Assen; some would say he’s overdue.  We don’t call him Crashlow for nothing.  So why are we spending so much time talking about him?

If he wins the second half he’s an Alien.  And I’m a monkey’s uncle.  Dude is 30 going on 31.  At a minimum, he needs to start acting like he’s been here before.  He can afford to be gracious after good performances.  Save funny for the Tuesday interviews.  Now, if both of you Brits reading this would kindly step off my neck…

Elsewhere on Sunday

Brad Binder won the Moto3 race, applying a virtual death grip on the 2016 title.  I think some people are unexcited by this prospect due to a lingering negative hangover around historic South African racial practices, combined with the sheer size of his lead.  Crushing your opponents is frowned upon in all three MotoGP divisions as it takes the edge off the competition.  No question the fast South African is moving on up, but I suspect he has fewer fans in his fan club than, say, Valentino Rossi.

Rossi’s VR46 Racing seems to have identified and developed an entire posse of fast young Italian riders who are punching above their weight in Moto2 and Moto3.  The sport seems to be becoming less Spanish and more Italian.  For American fans, this change can be characterized as trivia.  For Italian fans, it’s another compelling reason to love #46, as he and his team appear to be elevating the profile of motorcycle racing across the country.  Lorenzo Baldassarri’s first grand prix win today in Moto2 supports this idea.

The Big Picture

With five rounds left—Aragon, the Pacific swing and Valencia—Marquez leads the series by 43 over Rossi and 61 over Lorenzo.  Pedrosa seized 4th place back from Vinales today.  Dovizioso leads Iannone by three points, while Crutchlow leads Pol Espargaro by four.  Hector Barbera rounds out the top ten.  Marquez increases his working margin today while struggling with grip and corner acceleration.  It’s hard to see how he can avoid capturing the 2016 title.  On, however, to the dusty plains of Aragon, the rabbit warren at Motegi, the cold, cutting winds of Phillip Island, the brain-melting heat of Sepang and, one hopes, the tension of the final race of the year in November at Valencia.  We hope there is a compelling reason to race at Round 18.  Whether there is or isn’t likely depends mostly upon Marquez.  And his suddenly tough little wingman.

MotoGP 2016 Misano Preview

September 6, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez looks to deliver knockout blow in San Rimini 

The picturesque Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli welcomes the 2016 round at a critical point in the season.  Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez sits on the cusp of clinching his third premier class title, with the Movistar Yamahas of Vale Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in desperate pursuit.  Four non-Aliens have won the last four rounds.  Parity has set in.  The Suzuki, factory Ducati and LCR Honda teams are legit.  The Aliens finally have company—the premier class is no longer just their sandbox. 

Fifty points in 2016 is a lot more than it was in 2013.  More contenders, more traffic at the front, faster back markers.  Rain becoming the norm.  Pacific Swing looming.  The Yamahas will, by definition, be pressing—win or bin is all that is left for them.  Marquez can afford to play very carefully.  He can also afford to occasionally vent his competitive juices with a multi-lap high-speed joust with the GOAT in Britain.

Marquez is now the careful, strategic thinker.  Cal Crutchlow, with three podia including a win in his last four, has suddenly become the fast, semi-demonic force that Marquez was back in 2013, despite being a decade older.

Final Thoughts on Silverstone 

  • Loris Baz ankle injury and Pol Espargaro bumps and bruises: Could have been worse. Think falling down a flight of concrete stairs.
  • Factory Ducatis had arm pump issues Sunday.   Dovizioso is hurt and Iannone still too excitable.
  • Silverstone has the race again next year, with a track option for 2018. Is Wales ever going to happen, or is it just another pipe dream gone up in smoke?  At least the executive director of the group trying to put Ebbw Vale on the map got his home landscaping upgraded.
  • Great to see MM and VR and CC bare their teeth and get a chance to really go at one another, fast and clean and ridiculous. Rossi has forgotten more about racing than most guys ever know, and Marquez has the gyroscope and reflexes to do the impossible.  Crutchlow is on a hot streak, hot enough to send Marquez into the Great Wide Open Sunday after contact late in the race.

Recent History in Misano

Round 13 in 2013: rookie Marc Marquez breezed into San Marino in first place, leading teammate Dani Pedrosa by 30 points and defending champion Lorenzo by 39.  Lorenzo gave the crowd one of his machine-like performances, taking the lead early, putting his head down, and recording 27 smooth, fast laps, with Marquez unable to get any closer than 3 seconds and second place.  As the day ended, Marquez increased his lead to 34 points with five rounds left in the season.

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini will be remembered locally for a number of pleasant things.  The fans got to see their idol, Movistar Yamaha wraith Valentino Rossi, win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time in Italy-ish since San Marino in 2009.  They were lifted by the joy of watching that stronzo Marquez lay down his Repsol Honda going perhaps 80 kph.  They saw their national bike, Ducati, place two Italian riders in the top five.  All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.  In the end it was a better year to be Marc Marquez.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the weather gods were thoroughly bored, watching Jorge Lorenzo put another methodical sleeper on rivals teammate Valentino Rossi and the annoying Marc Marquez.  So they decided to have a little fun, turning on the rain around Lap 6 and turning it off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory.

When the laughter died down, Marc Marquez had a win, Smith and Redding finished on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead to 23 with five left. Jorge Lorenzo was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires and in desperate need to catch Rossi.  Per fake Yamaha press release hours later, “Comrade Lorenzo has no issues riding in the rain. That is an order.”

Told You So.  Mostly.

Some time back I did a segment in which I was banging on about how riders who jump ship for big money during the season go on to have down years.  Turns out I’m mostly right.  As re: Maverick Vinales–a closet Republican, I’m one of those who view facts that contradict my thesis as mere inconveniences.

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
LORENZO 224 146
IANNONE 150 96
SMITH 115 42
VINALES 67 125

The exception to the rule—there’s always one, or two or, in this case, three–are the brothers Espargaro.  Pol leaves Tech 3 next year for KTM, while Aleix leaves Suzuki, reluctantly, for the Gresini factory Aprilia effort.  Here are their numbers, carrying this whole brother thing a little far, in my opinion:

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
P.ESPARGARO 81 60
A.ESPARGARO 81 60

OK, fine.  Here’s the rest of the guys I’m interested in who stayed put:

RIDER 2015 AFTER 12 ROUNDS 2016 AFTER 12 ROUNDS
ROSSI 236 160
MARQUEZ 159 210
DOVIZIOSO 120 89
PEDROSA 102 120
CRUTCHLOW 74 86

As a recovering economist, I could easily argue that staying put produces a random and largely neutral distribution of outcomes.  But, if your rider just got signed by the competition, be prepared for a bad season.

Unless it’s an Espargaro, in which case it will also be a bad season.  But for different reasons.

Thinking about it some more, it is obvious that the number of riders each year who experience an objectively good season can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather this weekend is expected to be Riviera-ish, low 80’s and dry on Friday and Saturday, with a chance of weather moving in on Sunday afternoon (!).  Personally, I doubt it will rain, based solely upon the law of averages.

As to who might end up on the top step of the podium:  Candidates include Marquez, Rossi, Crutchlow and Vinales.  Lorenzo if conditions are perfect and no one calls him any bad names.  Iannone if he can pay attention for the full 45 minutes.  Dani Pedrosa if he simply says, “To hell with it,” puts his head down and rides.

The practice sessions on Friday and Saturday will be revealing.  Who will be the hot rider this weekend?

We’ll have results and analysis right here later on Sunday.

 

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Results

September 4, 2016

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Seven winners in seven rounds as Vinales breaks Suzuki streak 

A red flag on Lap 1 lead to a 19 lap race on Sunday in the British midlands.  For the first time since 2007, a Suzuki won a premier class race, Maverick Vinales ending his day standing on the top step of the podium.  He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow, who kept another streak alive, and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who fought Marc Marquez tooth and nail for the final podium spot.  Despite this, Marquez leaves Britain leading the season by 50 points, having gotten some angry juju out of his system. 

Vinales got out front early in both starts, and led wire to wire in the race that counted.  Cool weather, dry track and a friendly layout led to the seventh different winner in the last seven races, a clear sign that Carmelo Ezpeleta’s diabolical scheme to have a 21-bike tie for first in Valencia in 2018 is working.  No question that it’s better than the same four guys each time out.

Plenty went on behind Vinales.  An all-day joust for second place evolved featuring Rossi, Crutchlow and Marquez, with Iannone and Dani Pedrosa in supporting roles.  Crutchlow, on the heels of his surprising win in Brno last time out, finished a very competent and aggressive second, thereby keeping the record of no Brit having ever won the British Grand Prix intact for another year at least.  If there was any such thing as a moral victory in MotoGP, today’s award would surely go to Crutchlow.

The most entertaining rider of the day was, of course, Marquez, who enjoys competing with Valentino Rossi.  The two spent a good part of the day together grinding their teeth before Marquez tried to put an extraterrestrial move on the Italian at Lap 18 and ended up running off (for the second time) and losing two spots.  Those two or three laps, with Rossi fighting for his life and Marquez seeing red, were as good as it gets.  In the context of the rivalry, it was Rossi and Stoner 2008 Redux, the intensity off the chart.  But, Marquez is the future, Rossi the past.

Rossi’s best efforts today resulted in getting briefly punked by Marquez on Lap 17 and failing to make a meaningful dent in the Catalan’s daunting championship lead.  At a track he, Rossi, loves.  With Lorenzo fighting to remain relevant, crossing the line in eighth place.  There is no joy in the Movistar Yamaha digs tonight.

Silverstone failed to mark, at the 2/3rds pole, an inflection point for the 2016 season, in either direction.  Marquez could have left leading by a number approaching 60 or 70 but failed to close the deal.  He could have crashed out, lizard brain in control, and watched his challengers halve his lead.  Though he surrendered a podium in today’s race, it didn’t really hurt him.  He took on all comers—Crutchlow, Rossi (epic), and Pedrosa, who, finishing fifth, gave us a glimpse into our recent past.  The Ducatis should have loved this track, but Iannone lost his marbles, a wounded Dovi could manage only sixth, and the remaining combatants were shut out of the top ten. 

Q2 Worth the Price of Admission:  Notes

  • Marquez got bumped off the front row late by Vinales, crashing immediately, unhurt. Afterwards, he stood in the infield during the last two minutes and watched himself fade from second to fifth on the hellascreen.
  • Crutchlow chose his opening perfectly, laid down the untouchable lap. Could be the “one fast lap” phenomenon practiced by Simoncelli at times and perfected by Randy de Puniet who, by actual tally, finished every race of the 2011 season in a lower spot than where he started.
  • Rossi finds a way to the middle of the first row.  Lorenzo was there for a moment before falling, suddenly and late, to the nine hole, foiled again.
  • There was a Dani Pedrosa sighting as he, too, occupied the two hole on the grid for an instant before claiming fourth. Not a bad lap for the veteran.
  • Dovizioso hurt again late in practice.
  • Notable–Eugene Laverty, chasing his first career premier class pole at the end of the session, crashes out very late. Excitable young man.  Watch out WSBK.
  • Alex Lowes looking great thus far on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

On Saturday night, it looked like Sunday was going to be dry.  Excuse me for the déjà vu, of covering my very first MotoGP race in Laguna in 2008 when Rossi put Stoner’s dick in the dirt and I thought, having watched it on cable TV (knowing nothing about it), that it seemed pretty cool.  Vinales denying Crutchlow an important win and applying a facial to the rest of the field felt like deferred gratification rewarded.  We knew the 21-year-old Spaniard would start winning races sooner than later.  Happy he gave the win to Suzuki; it’s not as touching when it’s the factory Yamaha in Parc Fermé.  His Alien card is stamped and waiting.

Sidebar:  Jorge Lorenzo leaves Yamaha for Ducati on a pronounced downturn, winless since Mugello.  Vinales leaves Suzuki for Yamaha on a definite upturn, great expectations intact.  The Great Ducati Jinx continues.

Re-Tranching the Premier Class

Tranche One:  Marc Marquez

Tranche Two:  Rossi, Lorenzo, Vinales, Pedrosa and Dovizioso

Tranche Three:  Iannone, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Barbera and Laverty

Tranche Four:  Aleix Espargaro, Redding, Petrucci, Miller, and Smith

Tranche Five:  Bautista, Bradl, Rabat, Baz, Pirro*, Hernandez and Alex Lowes*

The Big Picture

The above standings constitute The Big Picture.  Marquez is in a class by himself this season; the championship is probably over already; we just haven’t heard the echo.  I may be being generous with Pedrosa and Dovizioso and mean to Iannone and Crutchlow.  Don’t care, it’s my column.  Plus it gets a lot of readers off their bums logging into their Disqus accounts.  My last line of defense:  Scoreboard.

Lorenzo could fall out of Tranche Two if he doesn’t get his act together soon.  Saving himself for Ducati?

What we learned today in Britain:  Vinales has finally arrived.  No more excuses, no more feeling sorry.  He is a legitimate threat in the right (dry, cool) conditions.  Crutchlow, had he not laid waste to the first half of his season, could be in contention for a top four finish this year.  I under-tranche him just for sport.  Rossi may be showing his age slightly, while Lorenzo looks lost out there, capable of going slowly in both wet and dry conditions.  The Dueling Andreas may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Dani Pedrosa is still fast.  Scott Reading still has plenty to learn.  Loris Baz and Pol Espargaro are lucky to have only been injured during their close encounter on the first lap.  Seeing riders laid out on the tarmac is a vision I never want to see again.

Over at Moto2

Tom Luthi, somehow, won the Moto2 tilt; homeboy Sam Lowes got worked and dumped by Johann Zarco, who had 30 naughty seconds added to his time—ride-through equivalent–in addition to having possibly ruined Lowes’ season.  The penalty makes things easier for wounded Alex Rins, who now trails Zarco by only 10 points.  Great year continues in Moto2.

Looking Ahead

Only one week to Misano, Round 13.  This is the venue I want my masters at MO to send me to for next year’s race.  Mountains, The Adriatic Riviera, beautiful women, high octane gasoline, and an expense account.  It just doesn’t get any better.

 

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Reflection: The Riders

September 3, 2016

© Bruce Allen

MotoGP demands a number of difficult things from riders simultaneously.  The great ones find a way, mentally, to juggle all of this sensory input, to keep it all “under consideration” and as balanced as possible at 200 mph.  Very complex neural networks for most of these guys.  We see, over time, the top riders emerge.  The equipment is secondary; the Alien title is not bestowed on the machine but on the man who rides it.  His “to do” list during a race is staggering:

  • Beat teammate.
  • Do not crash.
  • Keep it on line.
  • Keep it on revs.
  • Keep positioned to overtake.
  • Keep it in gear.
  • Watch braking points
  • Watch gas and gauges.
  • Stay in lead group.
  • Conserve rubber.
  • Humiliate certain opponents, if possible.
  • Do not get schooled by other riders.
  • Watch settings.
  • Watch pit board, or not.
  • Win in turns.
  • In rain, double all of the above.

During all this, we can only imagine what a recording of a Valentino Rossi during the 45 minutes of a race would sound like, in Italian.  Imagine a grinding drone of guttural, high-pitched noise, interspersed with bits of epithets against riders and their mothers, as well as shards of prayers to The Virgin.  Perhaps 180 F bombs.  Each overtake accompanied by an airy “B-bye!!”  Late in the race, ideally, more of the same. In a perfect world, it’s a jubilant AMF! to his Spanish rivals. Occasional despair, stronzo this, stronzo that, and plenty of self-recrimination.  See blown engine in Mugello.

One of Rossi’s gifts, in addition to the ability to keep a lot of plates in the air, is his honesty, with himself, and, when convenient, with the public; he does shill for a lot of companies.  Bottom line—he has retained many of the above skills from the time he was the best rider on the planet, and has seen several others diminished.  He makes up for these losses by being more strategic, more of a long term thinker.

He’s seen it all before.  When he has the magical “pace”, he can still win races.  When he doesn’t he doesn’t over-ride to compensate.  Pretty much plays the cards dealt to him, but still plays as hard as ever.  And sells bazillions of hats, T shirts and leather riding jackets at what? $2500 per?  It’s good to be king.

I was told by a guy I worked for years ago that the way to become successful in business is by learning to enjoy and do well things other people don’t want to do.  It’s much the same in MotoGP, other than it’s something other folks CAN’T DO, to combine these skills—muscle tone, clarity of vision, balance, aggression, and courage.  Along with, ahem, mechanical aptitude.

These guys do for motorcycle folks what the NHL does for hockey folks.  Sure, you can wander down to the local high school and watch kids play hockey.  But an NHL game is radically faster, more precise, more violent, and, ultimately, way more interesting than the HS game unless your kid was starting on the #1 scoring line.

So it is for MotoGP riders and their bikes who, compared to normal “commute during the week and ride for fun on weekends” folks, operate on a different plane.  At speeds and lean angles most can only imagine.  I wish more people were into it.  The fact that Americans are no longer competitive at this level does not surprise us, but their absence puts makes it hard for the series to draw much interest from the U.S., despite the size of the market.  It’s a huge car market and a limited motorcycle market.

For every Yamaha sold in the U.S. probably 20 are sold worldwide, especially at the smaller displacement end of the range.  Asian markets are motorcycle markets—streets are congested, gas is confiscatory, speed doesn’t really matter.  People walk and ride bikes.  The main thoroughfares in most large Asian cities would not support their current traffic levels if everyone drove cars. So the U.S. will stay screwed re watching MotoGP on cable.  You have to go to pay-per-view or subscribe to the MotoGP feed.  Pricey, need to be a little nuts to do it. Or have money to burn.

It’s Silverstone race weekend 2016 and I’m thinking mostly about the riders.

MotoGP 2016 Silverstone Preview

August 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

It’s Anyone’s Race This Year 

With six different winners in the last six races, trying to predict a winner for Round 12 is a fool’s errand.  The usual suspects (minus Dani Pedrosa), Iannone, Miller, Crutchlow—who’s next?  During this period, series leader Marc Marquez has built his lead over his nearest pursuers by being aggressive when he can and protective when he can’t.  With #93 up 50+ heading to the two-thirds marker, there’s an eerie absence of pressure.  Marquez can be cautious from here on out, while the Yamahas, or at least Rossi, have already conceded defeat.  Sunday’s race should be a nice stroll in the Northamptonshire countryside, then.

Except for crazed, ravenous guys like Crutchlow, winner last time out, Iannone, who popped his premier class cherry in Austria, and even The Black Knight, Jack Miller, who insists his latest injury is “only a flesh wound.”  Dani Pedrosa needs a win in the worst possible way.  Andrea Dovizioso is long overdue for his second.  And, with an assist from the weather, guys like Scott Redding might easily see themselves perched on the top step of the podium as #Sevenofseven. 

Recent History at Silverstone

The 2013 British GP was one of the great contests since I started covering MotoGP in 2008.  Marquez, with a 26-point lead over Dani Pedrosa after Brno, dislocated his shoulder in the morning WUP (nearly taking Alvaro Bautista’s RC213V in the teeth as he, too, slid off seconds later), then commenced a day-long chase of Jorge Lorenzo before finally succumbing at the flag by a microscopic 8/100ths of a second.  Pedrosa, in the mix all day, podiumed in third, a second and a half behind Lorenzo. The Spanish slugfest up front left Rossi and the other factory bikes sucking wind off in the distance.  On a day that appeared ripe for the field to close the gap on the leader, Marquez left Great Britain sore, but leading the championship by more than when he arrived.  Battle lost.  War won.  Perhaps the best British Grand Prix in the modern era.

2014’s gorgeous British GP made it three dry races in a row.  With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards again went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead.  Marquez took a run at him on Lap 14, but couldn’t make it stick.  On Lap 18, though, after a little bumping and grinding, the young Catalan wonder went through for good on the way to his 11th win of the season.  At the wire, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), with the top five made up of Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2).  The win put Marquez 10 for 11 on the year, brimming with confidence heading to Misano.

2015: Round 12 of the season was shaping up as another Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the two brightest lights of the sport hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions.  They qualified one-two, with Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, making up the top four.  The weather waited to intervene until just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

The main Spanish contingent at the 2015 race got rolled, as Marquez flipped his Repsol Honda RC213V out of second place in pursuit of Rossi at Turn 1 of Lap 13 while Pedrosa could manage but a weak fifth.  Lorenzo, who led early, gave us no reason to doubt that he hates riding in the rain; having fallen as far back as sixth by mid-race, he managed to recover sufficiently to finish fourth, going through on Pedrosa late, well after Marquez had left the building.  With all of his damage-control modules flashing red, Lorenzo managed to limit his debit to teammate Rossi today to 12 points; it could have been much worse.  Having started the race dead even, Lorenzo left down 12 with six left.  No hill for a climber.

To recap—

Marquez—a close second, a win and a DNF

Lorenzo—a win, a second and a fourth

Rossi—a fourth, a third and a win last year.

Pedrosa—sadly, no longer relevant.

Recent Injuries & Musings About Money

  • Dovizioso’s knee injury called “small” on MotoGP.com, quoting Dovi as saying,“…at the end of the test in Misano unfortunately my foot got stuck in the gravel and my knee twisted. I strained the medial collateral ligament and the anterior cruciate. Thanks to the Medical Centre at the Misano World Circuit for the instant support, my staff and the Fisiology Center; we are doing everything possible to be in the best condition to race the Silverstone GP.” Dovizioso’s status for Silverstone is Probable.
  • Bradley Smith leg injury: Slumming at the Oschersleben 8 Hours, Smith crashed during the free practice session.  No femur break, but definitely going to leave a mark. Brit Alex Lowes, who recently tested the Tech 3 M-1, will replace Smith at Silverstone and Misano.  Dude has DNF written all over him.
  • Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider Alex Rins (Moto2), contender, broke his left collarbone in a training crash. The Spanish Moto2™ rider suffered the injury during routine training on Wednesday, and underwent surgery on Thursday. Dr. Xavier Mir performed the operation in Spain. Go figure.  Rins’s status for Silverstone is, ahem, Probable.  No one, however, should doubt that rival Johann Zarco will become history’s first repeat winner in the Moto2 class.
  • Eugene Laverty’s pride. Despite having outpointed his competitors in Tranches 4 and 5, he is forced to step down to World Superbike:
  • Laverty 63
  • Scott Reading 54               Satellite Ducati
  • A Espargaro 51                   Satellite Ducati
  • Jack Miller 42                     Satellite Honda
  • Bradley Smith 42              Factory KTM
  • (Stefan Bradl) 39               WSBK, tail between legs
  • Alvaro Bautista 35              Satellite Ducati
  • Loris Baz 24                          Satellite Ducati
  • Yonny Hernandez   8         Satellite Ducati

So how does Gene Laverty not get an offer for 2017 and the likes of Bautista, Baz and Hernandez do? The obvious and unfortunate answer is, disappointingly, money.  Laverty, the Northern Ireland Brit, cannot make it rain the way some of these other guys can. If MotoGP is, indeed, 70% rider and 30% bike, owners are missing a bet overlooking Laverty on two-year-old hardware.  And, in a rather refreshing manner, he is one who avoids talking about his ability at length and instead comes across as humble, scrambling for a non-humiliating ride for 2017 which turns out to be a Ducati in WSBK, perhaps contending for a title.  Too old for a second visit to MotoGP in two years even if he has some success at Super Bikes.  He’ll be 33, and Rossi’s young Italians will be all over the place.

Thus, the inescapable conclusion that owners can do better financially and reputation-wise with a highly sponsored, non-competitive rider than with a leaner operation/pilot that threatens for podia on a regular basis.

The riders and their teams raise money and bring team sponsors along; guys like Hernandez must be almost irresistible: ”With warmest regards from my Colombian countrymen, here is more money than you’ve ever seen.  There will be some crashes.  Please be my team.  Thank you.”  I had Hernandez pegged for great things this year, based on what he had done during the offseason, but he doesn’t appear to have it any longer, if indeed he ever did.  Yet he will still be scoring MotoGP-caliber women, while Laverty will be relegated to Tranche 2 of the Rider Groupie guild.

Whither the Weather

Weather looks iffy this weekend.  As usual this time of year, the race goes off early Sunday morning Eastern time.  We will have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Results

August 21, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Cal Crutchlow first Brit since 1981 to win a GP 

With three wet/dry races in the last four rounds, MotoGP fans should be getting accustomed to strange results.  Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda.  Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring, but was joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso.  Today, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez.  Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series.

The practice sessions leading up to today’s race were warm and dry, with most of the usual suspects at or near the top of the sheets.  As usual in 2016, at tracks where the new ECU and Michelins haven’t been tested, it took some of the riders awhile to sort things out.  Dani Pedrosa, for example, ended the respective sessions 11th, 15th, 6th and 4th, and had to make it out of Q1 before starting the race in ninth place.

As qualifying session two approached the 15-minute mark, it looked like a race—Marquez, chasing Lorenzo’s impossibly quick qualifying and track record lap, found himself, late in a very quick lap, in a close encounter with Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha and Rossi on his Movistar Yamaha.  Marquez went through on both, hot-knife-through-butter style, on his way to an inconceivable track record lap of 1:54.596.  Rossi, unaware he was in Marquez’s way, seemed surprised when #93 blew past him and then barely dodged the slower Espargaro.  At the end of the session, it was Marquez, Lorenzo and Iannone on a very strong front row.  Had Marquez been running in clean air, he could have touched 1:54.2.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

As we’ve seen numerous times this season, two sunny days of practice yielded to a rainy, wet, miserable Sunday.  This reduced the Sunday attendance from 138,000 last year to 85,000 today.  Moto3 ran in a downpour; Moto2 in a steady rain until the last few laps.  As the premier class tilt approached, there was mass confusion in the garages and on the grid regarding tire choices.  And, in the end, it was tire choices that determined the outcome of the race.

As everyone knows by now, the correct choice for this race was the hard option front and rear.  At this writing, I am aware that five of the top eight finishers put hard tires on the rear—Crutchlow, Rossi, Loris Baz (17th to 4th), Hector Barbera, and Eugene Laverty (15th to 6th).  Marquez, expecting a flag-to-flag affair, went with soft/soft, as did Andrea Iannone.  Danilo Petrucci, who finished seventh on his Pramac Ducati, appeared to have the hard rear, but this is unconfirmed.  And while the riders on the softer tires had things their way during the first half of the race, it was the harder options which delivered the win to Crutchlow, second to Rossi, and fourth to a surprised Loris Baz in his best ever MotoGP result.

Some selected glimpses of the standings at various points in today’s race show:

  • Crutchlow finishing Lap 7 in 12th place;
  • Rossi finishing Lap 9 in 10th;
  • Baz finishing Lap 8 in 14th; and
  • Eugene Laverty finishing Lap 11 in 14th.

All four finished in the top six.  Once the tires warmed up and the fuel loads dropped, the riders who had rolled the dice on the hard rears began rolling through the field, while the rest of the grid, with the notable exception of Marquez, began sinking like anvils.  Andrea Dovizioso waved the red flag on his Ducati when the center of his rear Michelin disintegrated on Lap 10.  Teammate Iannone finished the race with no rubber in the middle of either tire.

Marquez, who led briefly, realized early on that managing his tires would be critical to finishing the race, as the rain stayed away but the track remained damp.  And despite the fact that he spent a good deal of the day in fourth and fifth position, none of the riders in front of him presented any threat to his championship lead.  Rossi went through on Lap 16, but took only four points out of Marquez, while the Catalan’s lead in the 2016 championship stretched from 43 to 53 points.  Calling Marquez’s performance today a salvage job is inaccurate.  It was, to be fair, a strategic triumph after a bad roll of the dice on tires.

Which Brings Us to Jorge Lorenzo

The best metaphor to describe defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s experience this weekend is descending from the penthouse to the outhouse.  The man cannot race in the rain any longer, an Achilles heel that may stand in the way of any future championships for one of the best dry riders in history.  He owned the track record on Saturday; he failed to finish the race on the lead lap today having made at least two, and perhaps five, separate pit stops.  Race coverage of his travails ceased after the second stop.

His lap times for laps 17-21 were all well over two minutes.  He came in on 17 and basically stole his #2 dry bike over the animated objections of crew chief Ramon Forcada.  One lap later he returned to the pit and jumped back on his #1 wet bike.  From there it gets confusing, but on Lap 20, a lap down to the leaders, he suddenly appeared in the midst of Barbera and Marquez, acting as if he were fighting for the lead, having apparently lost his mind.  I’m not sure there is a journalist brave enough to attempt a post-race interview with Lorenzo.  He ceded second place in the 2016 race to his rival Rossi and embarrassed himself in the process.  For a man with a very high machismo coefficient, things cannot get much worse.

As to what follows, many of you knew it was coming.

“As Far as I’m Concerned, They’re All Wimps”

Thus spoke Cal Crutchlow in the post-race interview with Dylan Gray, preening over his ballsy choice of hard tires, about the other 19 riders on the grid, three of whom have won multiple premier class world championships.

Today was Cal’s first premier class win.  His beloved wife presented him with his first child several weeks ago.  He’s young, handsome, wealthy and getting paid ridiculous jack to do something he would gladly do for free had he arrived in this world with a trust fund.  Yet, somehow, he finds the need to insult his colleagues—all of them—irresistible, and in the most demeaning way imaginable.  By impugning their manhood.  By asserting he was the only rider—he wasn’t—intelligent and bold enough to make what amounted to a lucky choice of tires.  In essence, for having the balls and brains to have rolled a seven in a craps game.

You are the MAN, Cal.  Rolling a seven.  On a day when a Brit won a premier class race for the first time in 35 years.  At a track where, in dry conditions, you would have done well to finish sixth, if at all.  In the presence of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, each of whom would absolutely eat your lunch in a match race in dry weather on identical equipment.  I’m starting to think, as skilled as you are, you’re missing a chromosome.  That you may have invested a few thousand enrolling in the Donald Trump School of Tact and Grace.  And, finally, that you will never again appear on the top step of a MotoGP podium, that Brno 2016 will stand as the high water mark of your classless career.

Bravo.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Preview

August 16, 2016

© Bruce Alllen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Aliens Seek Redemption in Round 11

After getting schooled by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team in Austria, the fast movers at Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda look to get even this week in The Czech Republic.  These ambitions appear justified, in that the Automotodrom Brno has a healthy number of what are called “turns,” whereas the Red Bull Ring is more of a long straight with a couple of kinks in it.  It will take a heroic effort from the Ducs to convince the racing world that Sunday’s historic result wasn’t an outlier.

Despite this rather sour outlook, the stock of the Ducati program jumped this past weekend.  Series leader Marc Marquez this week shared his opinion with the media that the Andreas will be a force to be dealt with for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  They will be fronting Jorge Lorenzo in 2017 and 2018, which will raise their prospects yet another notch.  They should also be competitive at three of the fast circuits left on the 2016 calendar—Brno, Silverstone and Sepang.  Only their execrable start to the season appears to stand between them and Alien status.

Recent History at Brno

In 2013 rookie Marc Marquez, suddenly the blessed heir apparent, won at Brno for a fourth straight victory, edging teammate Pedrosa by 3/10ths with Lorenzo another two seconds back.  He ended the day leading Pedrosa by 26 points and Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left.

An anxious Lorenzo got off early from the five hole, hoping to blitz the field, but the Hondas gradually reeled him in, Marquez going through on Lap 16 and Pedrosa three laps later.  Valentino Rossi, gradually rounding into form on the Yamaha after two years in red, pipped pretender Alvaro Bautista at the flag for 13 points but still trailed Lorenzo by 26. It was at this point of the season that many people began getting comfortable with the idea, previously unthinkable, that rookie Marquez would take the title that year.

Brno was the site where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying.  #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole.  Again.  Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief.  It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Lorenzo by a few tenths and Rossi by five seconds.  Those were the days where Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.

The “anyone but Marquez” mentality that had gradually descended upon the grid was in full force that day. It was Andrea Iannone on the Pramac Ducati who tangled with Marquez twice early, with Rossi assigned to keep the rookie at bay later in the race.  Not that it mattered, as the 2014 championship had been decided well before then.  Marquez would head to Silverstone leading Pedrosa by 77 points and Lorenzo by 90, what we in Indiana refer to as “a country mile.”  I suppose if you ask Aliens whether they ride for titles or records they will usually choose titles; records can be broken, taken away.  Titles, not so much.

The 2015 bwin Grand Prix České republiky gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started.  One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year.  Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day.

With Marquez wrestling his 2015 RC213V to a draw most of the season, the Rossi/Lorenzo rivalry would keep growing until the first round of the Pacific flyaway in Sepang, when Marquez and Rossi tangled for the second time, the first having come at Assen. The wheels proceeded to come off the championship chase, so to speak, in a firestorm of hard feelings and bad sportsmanship, culminating in an ugly season finale in Valencia in which Rossi was forced to endure a last row start after some highly unbecoming behavior in Japan.

Irrational Exuberance

Paraphrasing the words of ex-Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, most of the riders in the premier class grid can be accused of being overly optimistic about their prospects on a given weekend.  Nicky Hayden, now competing in World Superbike, was perhaps the most prominent example of this thinking.  Having won his only world championship during the down year of 2006, with but three premier class wins to his name during a 13-year career, The Kentucky Kid was generally convincing when describing his chances at any race, other than those few in which he was injured, as being good.  His usual take— “Well, we’ll wind it up, try to stay with the front group, look for some opportunities to steal a spot or two, and see what happens.  The reason they run these danged things is on account of you never know who might win.”  All this, during his last five seasons, generally on his way to 12th place and four points.

Now, suddenly, Dani Pedrosa is sounding an awful lot like Hayden.  His last three outings have produced a total of 23 points.  In the midst of what has arguably been his least productive premier class season ever, the following words came out of his cake hole yesterday: “It’s very wide, with some very fast corners, and you must be able to hit the best lines to set good lap times, as it doesn’t forgive the smallest mistake.”  He continued, “I just hope that the weather is stable so we can use all the practice time and try to build up some more confidence and speed.”  Finally, “In this second part of the season, we should find some more suitable tracks for us. Of course Brno has some long straights that can be demanding for us, but it’s a track that I’ve liked since I started racing, and I always have a good feeling there.”   The headline which accompanied this soliloquy read “Pedrosa upbeat on Brno prospects.”  Jeesh.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions in the greater Brno area are expected to deteriorate as Sunday approaches.  The best chance of rain appears to be on Sunday, with a weather system moving in on Saturday night.  I’m starting to sound like Al Roker.  Practice sessions should be dry, but Sunday could give us another hilarious flag-to-flag event.  Both Moto3 and Moto2 could have a red flag in their future on Sunday morning.

As to the podium, I am leaning toward Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  #93 is a fast healer and will want to get back in the mix after the problems he experienced in Austria.  Lorenzo and Rossi count Brno among their favorite tracks, assuming the weather cooperates.  I would like to see a Ducati or two on the podium, but fear Iannone and Dovizioso may still be nursing hangovers from last time out, in addition to a little irrational exuberance.  Those two will be praying for rain.

We’ll have results and analysis right here early Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Austrian Grand Prix Results

August 14, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Iannone wins; Ducati 1-2 first since 2007

By any measure, today’s Austrian Grand Prix was an eventful race.  The starting grid featured an all-Italian front row for the first time since Motegi in 2006.  Andrea Iannone, late of the factory Ducati team, won his career first premier class race, several whiskers in front of teammate Andrea Dovizioso.  Ducati bikes finished 1st and 2nd for the first time since Phillip Island in 2007.  But once the celebration dies down, the Bologna factory may need a reality check, as explained below.

First Things First

The practice sessions on Friday and Saturday made it seem like the world had been turned upside down.  Maverick Vinales, on the Ecstar Suzuki, and the factory Ducatis dominated the proceedings in cool weather, while the Aliens of the factory Honda and Yamaha teams were loitering in the middle of the pack.  Marc Marquez trashed his RC213V early in FP3 and got a free helicopter ride to the local hospital to have his shoulder and head examined, pronouncing himself fine a bit later.  “Fine,” in this instance, meaning only a dislocated left shoulder and a near concussion.

A bracing Qualifying 2 saw the top four places change completely in the final 30 seconds of the session.  Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Rossi and, finally, Iannone topped the timesheets, with Rossi having owned it for roughly two seconds.  Ducs finished 1st and 3rd, Yamahas 2nd and 4th.  Repsol Hondas in 5th and a discouraging 12th for Pedrosa, a full second off the pace.  Suzuki Ecstars in 6th and 9th.  Overall, the factory Ducatis must have felt gratified; the Yamahas relieved; the Hondas (with a wounded Marquez) lucky, and the Suzukis disappointed, especially Vinales, who was a blur during the first three practice sessions before backing off in FP4.

Confusion at the Start

Moments before the red lights went out, four back markers jumped the start, including WSBK defector Stefan Bradl, satellite Ducati pilots Yonny Hernandez and Hector Barbera, and malcontent Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda.  Three of the four took their ride-through penalties like men.  Barbera, lacking some spatial awareness (Pitboard?  What pitboard?) and with a faulty “Call Home” light on his dashboard, failed to realize his sin until he was black-flagged around Lap 11.  Jack Miller, who had pronounced himself fit for the first time this year on Friday, suffered his third fall of the weekend during the morning warm-up and was held out of the race with hairline fractures to his wrist and several vertebrae, a mudhole in his chest, his customary limp back in place.  Those of us who thought his win in Assen was a fluke are being proven right.  Monty Python fans worldwide are starting to call Miller The Black Knight.

Marquez, hurt but not injured, approached the race in damage control mode.  The lead group materialized early, consisting of the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams.  With Marquez settling into fifth place and Vinales into sixth, Dani Pedrosa showed up out of nowhere in seventh; these three riders would hold their respective spots all day.  The action, and plenty of it, would be amongst the front four.

The setting was ripe for drama.  The factory Yamahas had recently experienced two rounds of hell on wheels, a “black period” in Lorenzo’s words.  Rossi had crashed out at Assen and finished eighth in Germany, while Lorenzo had a tenth and a 15th to show for his last two rounds.  The Ducs, meanwhile, started the race with bad history and completely different tire configurations, Iannone opting for softer options on the front and rear than Dovizioso.  With the track as hot as it had been all weekend, a number of viewers, myself included, suspected The Maniac of being overly aggressive in this choice.  We would be proven wrong.

Racing Gods Wore Red Today

The first quarter of the race featured a lot of jostling, a verb we seldom use, as all four riders took faint, uncommitted runs at one another.  By Lap 7, the Ducatis had established a slight margin over the Yamahas, who were trailing but well within striking distance.  For most of the next 13 laps, the order consisted of Dovizioso, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rossi.  Anyone who had watched the race in Argentina early in the season suspected this alignment would not last.  Iannone’s reputation as a destroyer had many of us expecting the worst for the Bologna factory’s representatives.  These expectations were magnified by his tire choice.

Iannone proved everyone wrong.  He went through cleanly on Dovizioso on Turn 9 of Lap 20, cementing the final finishing order in the process.  The expected challenge from Rossi never materialized; he appeared satisfied to simply finish in front of Marquez, unwilling to flirt with disaster by trying to go through on Lorenzo.  Lorenzo appeared capable of challenging Dovizioso and probably would have at any other circuit.  But the Red Bull Ring is just too fast, the fastest track on the calendar.  The superb handling of the YZR-M1 never came into play today.  At the end, the lone remaining challenge left to the four riders was the same as it always is—beat your teammate.  In this, Iannone and Lorenzo prevailed.

In their post-race comments to Dylan Gray, Dovizioso sounded like he had finished 13th, so great was his disappointment at not having been able to track down perhaps his least favorite rider on the track.  Lorenzo, on the other hand, was jubilant, having emerged from the “dark days” and taken five points out of Marquez.  Now, if he can take five points out of Marquez every round through Valencia, he will only lose the 2016 title by three points.  An unlikely prospect, to be sure, as Marquez is a quick healer, and there is a chance of rain between now and November.

Curb Your Enthusiasm 

Early in this writing, I alluded to the notion that today’s celebration in the Ducati garage should be tempered slightly by the context in which it was earned.  Certainly, with 100 races between today’s win and their last at Phillip Island in 2010 a celebration is justified.  But consider:

  • The circuit layout was ideal.
  • The weather was ideal.
  • The Michelins were superb.
  • Marc Marquez was off his game.
  • Jorge Lorenzo, coming out of his funk, trailed Iannone by only 3.4 seconds at the finish.

Certainly, a win is a win is a win.  I’m just sayin’ that it was facilitated by a confluence of conditions unlikely to repeat themselves until, well, next week at Brno, with Phillip Island another more remote possibility.  Ducati has put themselves back in the winner’s circle.  To assert they’re all the way back is premature.

The Big Picture

So the top five riders for the season remain unchanged. Iannone and Dovizioso leapfrogged their way into Tranche 2 past Pol Espargaro who, now sitting eighth, remains the top satellite rider on the grid, and Hector Barbera, who got KO’ed today.  Scott Redding, the top Brit finisher today in eighth place, remains the top Brit for the season, completing the top ten.

Eugene Laverty, the Urgent Ulsterman, was running comfortably in 11th place when disaster struck in the last turn of the last lap, when he crashed.  Based upon his lap time, it appears he hoisted the bike on his shoulders and carried it across the finish line, finishing 18th but doing nothing to hurt his merit for a premier class ride somewhere next season.

One of our readers, who had predicted an all-Ducati podium, was closer to being right than I expected.  This same reader is, at this moment, expecting me to crack wise on Cal Crutchlow.  Sorry to disappoint, but I’m confident Cal will come out with something in an interview today or tomorrow far more embarrassing than anything I could dream up.  Something questioning the parents’ marital status at the time of his birth of the wanker who claimed he jumped the start of the Austrian Grand Prix.  In a gesture of conciliation, I have decided to ignore Cal’s scurrilous 15th place finish today and promote him to Tranche Four.

At MO, we are determined to keep things fair and balanced.