MotoGP 2016 Jerez Results

April 24, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi reigns in Spain 

Just when we thought we knew what to expect from the 2016 MotoGP season, today happened.  The practice sessions leading up to the (first of four) Spanish Grand Prix found the factory Yamaha team consistently at or near the top of the charts. Repsol Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez was competitive while struggling with rear grip.  Valentino Rossi waited until the last lap of Q2 to lay down the fastest lap of the weekend, for his first Jerez pole since 2005.  Today, The Doctor made a house call on Lorenzo, “administering a dose of his own medicine” in winning at Jerez for the first time since 2009. 

Today’s race was a reversal of form in several ways.  How many times have we seen Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Marquez get out front, try to leave the field behind, only to have #46 materialize on their rear tire looking for a way to steal their lunch money?  Today Rossi took this approach, withstanding an early challenge from Lorenzo on Lap 2, surrendering the lead for roughly 50 meters, before striking back and leading the rest of the race.  My trusty Dial-A-Cliché tool suggests “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” would fit well here.  (Look for the quotation marks this tool generates, much like a watermark.)

For the first half of the race, Lorenzo dogged his teammate, seeing red, personal animosity vying with grudging professional respect, looking desperately for a way through which never appeared.  Marquez, likewise, tailgated Lorenzo for many of the first 14 laps and looked to be lining his countryman up for what would have been a risky pass.  Having learned the hard way last year that “discretion is the better part of valor,” he decided to settle for third place, in front of his home fans, a bitter pill to swallow which left him leading the 2016 race “at the end of the day.”

Viewing the 2016 championship from a distance, the dynamics of the Honda/Yamaha rivalry have changed dramatically over the past few years with the reunion of the Bruise Brothers at Yamaha and the gradual fading of Dani Pedrosa on the #2 factory Honda.  On a personal level, the loathing existent between Rossi and Lorenzo, and Rossi and Marquez, has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Between 2011 and 2013 it was Lorenzo routinely getting double-teamed by the Hondas. In late 2013 and 2014 it was Marquez’s turn to get doubled by Lorenzo and Rossi.  Now, the personal having overshadowed the corporate, it is Rossi expecting resistance from Lorenzo and Marquez. During the podium ceremony, if you just watched Marquez and Lorenzo, you would have sworn Rossi wasn’t even there, the body language of the three screaming contempt, Latin-style.

All sports thrive on rivalries.  Team sports are far more predictable than individual sports like MotoGP because teams, despite the pronouncements of commentators, really don’t have personalities.  Highly competitive individuals, notably the three occupying the front row of today’s grid, most assuredly do.  These rivalries become more intense as they become personal; at this point they appear to be driving the 2016 season, “much to the delight” of the fans.

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Readers of a certain age will recognize the blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William Bell, the best version of which was recorded by Cream back in the 70’s.  Factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso should consider having the main lyric—“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”—stitched onto his leathers.

Dovizioso, who could easily occupy one of the top three spots for the season, finished a strong second in Qatar.  But he got flattened by teammate Andrea Iannone in Argentina while running second, and was pancaked by Pedrosa in Austin while contending for yet another podium.  Today, having qualified fourth, with the entire Ducati contingent struggling, he was running seventh when his bike emitted a puff of smoke, causing him to pull off onto the shoulder, turn on his flashers, and call AAA, his day over “through no fault of his own.”

Dani Pedrosa managed another low impact 4th today, a complete non-factor after Lap 6 despite a decent start.  The Suzuki Ecstar team, “on the other hand,” made it happen, with Aleix Espargaro taking 5th place, two seconds ahead of soon-to-be-Yamaha hotshot Maverick Vinales.  Ducati’s Andrea Iannone enjoyed an atrocious start, falling from his qualifying slot in 11th to 14th place by Lap 5.  His hard front tire, installed while he sat on the tarmac and untested all weekend, finally warmed up, and he clawed his way back to 7th at the flag.

Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro, the rider NOT joining the factory KTM project next year, kept his ride vertical again for an 8th place finish, falling from 4th to 5th for the season as Pedrosa stole his spot. Eugene Laverty, overachieving yet again, finished 9th as the #2 Ducati behind Iannone, with Hectic Hector Barbera completing the top ten on another second-hand Duc.

At the bottom of the premier class food chain today were two Marc VDS Hondas, Jack Miller, he of the splintered ankle and redneck facial hair, and Tito Rabat, getting consistently KO’d “punching above his weight.”  By far the saddest sack of the day was Scott Redding, who finished last, over a minute behind Rossi, the optimism of an outstanding offseason having become but “ashes in his mouth.”  Having announced this past week that his ultimate goal was a seat on a factory Ducati, he backed it up with perhaps his worst performance ever in the premier class.  Gigi, one assumes, was not overly impressed, much as my wife is when I announce that my ultimate goal is to get jiggy wit’ Heidi Klum.  Not sure which aspiration is less likely, though my wife does not suffer such uncertainty.

“Precious” Points

While I steal liberally from race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt, both of whom “have forgotten more about MotoGP than I’ve ever known,” I need to register a protest over their oppressive use of the adjective “precious” when discussing championship points.  Points are important.  Points are, well, the point of competing for a championship.  Points are never refused—“No thanks, I’ve got plenty already.”  But “precious,” other than its alliterative value, is best reserved for describing babies—kittens, puppies, penguins, etc.  Banging on about the precious 13 points Dani Pedrosa earned today, or Cal Crutchlow’s first five of 2016, makes me long for an American announcing team, who would probably refer to them as “points.”

A Look Ahead

The grid returns to the historic Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in two weeks, the standings at the top somewhat tighter than they were yesterday.  Tomorrow’s test at Jerez may offer an opportunity for the Aliens to work on the rear grip problems they all complained about—loudly–after today’s race.  The three Brits—Smith, Crutchlow and Redding—need to work on doing more racing and less talking.  Gigi Dall’Igna needs to give some thought to upgrading the machines on loan to Laverty and Barbera. Finally, with Lorenzo looming on the horizon, the two Andreas of the factory Ducati team “need to fish or cut bait.”

MotoGP 2016 Jerez Preview

April 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dog Bites Man – Lorenzo to Ducati 

So Jorge Lorenzo’s move from the factory Yamaha team to the factory Ducati team is now old news.  Maverick Vinales appears set to abandon the Suzuki team to take Lorenzo’s place.  We don’t know which of the current Andreas laboring for Ducati will be dislodged next year, but Sam Lowes has been tagged to move up from Moto2 to unseat either Bautista or Bradl on the Gresini Aprilia.  Dani Pedrosa’s seat with Repsol Honda appears to be in play; Suzuki is said to covet him or Dovizioso for 2017-18.  With several up-and-comers expected to graduate from Moto2 along with Lowes—Alex Rins and Johann Zarco first and foremost—the silly season is becoming more interesting than the 2016 championship season itself. 

Especially if Repsol Honda’s luminous Marc Marquez strolls out and dominates Jerez this weekend.  Which is entirely possible, after what he’s shown us recently in Argentina and Texas.  He appears to be, ahem, back.  The looming question as the season rolls into Round Four: who will be Marquez’s teammate starting next year?

Recent History at Jerez

Dani Pedrosa won a close 2013 affair after going through on polesitter Lorenzo on Lap 6, Marquez running third.  The three spent the next 20 laps in that order, coloring in between the lines, but the heat began to take a toll on Lorenzo’s tires, and he appeared to be struggling as the race wore on.  Pedrosa and Marquez, on the other hand, looked fresh and, on Lap 27, the rookie began lining up Lorenzo as if he wasn’t a defending double world champion.  The two traded positions in Turn 6, Lorenzo refusing to yield.  But in the Jorge Lorenzo Corner, of all places, its namesake ran a smidge wide and Marquez, lizard brain calling the shots, dove inside.  As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, the Mallorcan being forced wide into third place for the day and the season.  To say he was unamused in Parc Fermè is a serious understatement.

The 2014 race featured an incandescent Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10.  Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the young season; at that time we had no idea he would end up on the rostrum 13 times on the way to finishing second for the year.  Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late in the day for the last podium spot, another indication that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the Mallorcan’s year.  Coming on the heels of his crash in Qatar, a flailing 10th place finish in Austin and a desperate 3rd in Argentina, Lorenzo’s 2014 season was over before it had fully started.

Last year’s race was pure vintage Lorenzo.  Qualify on pole, get out in front early, attach bike to rails, press “Go,” and keep the last 26 laps within half a second of one another.  Regular as a piston, as dad used to say.  The resulting procession left Marquez (nursing a broken pinkie on his right hand) alone in 2nd and Rossi likewise in 3rd.  Cal Crutchlow managed a respectable 4th place on the Come What May LCR Honda, with Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro closing out the top five.  My prediction of having two Ducatis on the podium was met with derision, as Maniacal Joe Iannone topped the Italian effort in 6th place, teammate Dovizioso having gone walkabout on Lap 2 on his way to a disappointing 9th.

The Big Early Contract Effect

From our Department of Undiluted Speculation comes this idea that riders signing big fat new contracts early in the season go on to underperform that year.  While our crack research department is looking back at earlier instances of this, we have in front of us two credible examples, with a possible third in the works:

  • Valentino Rossi re-ups with Yamaha weeks ago and is assured of a sweet ride through the end of 2018. Coincidentally (?) he’s off to his worst start since 2001, ignoring the lucrative Ducati dumpster fire of 2011-2012.
  • Bradley Smith, late of the satellite Yamaha team and moving on to richer pastures with the nascent factory KTM project next season, has amassed 16 points thus far this year. In 2014 he had 20; last year he was at 26.  Something has interrupted his trajectory, and I think it’s the money, a semi-conscious effort to avoid crashing before the big payday arrives.
  • On Monday it was announced that Lorenzo had signed his deal with Ducati, in exchange for wheelbarrows full of euros, 12-15 million at last estimate. The end of the 2015 season left the proud Spaniard’s ego bruised, with Yamaha unable to celebrate his championship in a “suitable” fashion while Rossi fumed and spat about a Lorenzo/Marquez conspiracy to deprive him of the title.  Jorge chalked up seven wins in the last 15 rounds last season.  It says here he will fall short of that mark this year.  On some level, conscious or otherwise, he may wish to punish Yamaha for their reverence of his rainmaking teammate and rival.  Saving himself for his new love and avoiding risk this season would manifest such desire; a rejuvenated Marquez would increase the possibility.

Maverick Vinales may prove the exception to the rule, as he is still trying to earn his Alien card and likely feels a good deal of loyalty toward the Suzuki team that sent his star rising.  If and when he signs his deal with Yamaha, I would expect him to keep pushing for podiums and wins, which may be within his reach at some circuits on the calendar.  He’s young enough not to fully appreciate the risks inherent in his sport, and has, as far as I know, not a single gram of titanium in his body.  Compare this to Dani Pedrosa, 20% of whose body weight is metal.  When Dani goes through airport security, klaxon horns blare and the lights start strobing.

The Kentucky Kid Gains Traction

Fans of Nicky Hayden will note that he recorded his first WSBK podium this past weekend at Assen, pushing him up to fifth place for the season.  Having watched him jump on a cruiser and immediately break the rev limiter at the AMA Indy Mile a few years ago, I thought Superbike would be a walk in the park for a guy who’s been riding since he was three.  Not so.  But he seems to be figuring it out, and few North American racing fans can be sorry to see him doing better.  You’ll not find a nicer, more accessible guy in the paddock than Nicky Hayden.

Your Weekend Forecast

As of this writing, the weekend forecast for Jerez de la Frontera is pretty much ideal—dry with temps in the mid-70’s.  They’ve been racing bikes at Jerez longer than at any other circuit outside Assen, though her glory has faded somewhat in recent years as the Spanish economy bottomed out.  Having attended the race in 2010, when Lorenzo came from WAY back to overtake Pedrosa on the last lap, I would be reluctant to count Jorge out this weekend.  My personal forecast is for an all-Spanish podium, one which includes Maverick Vinales.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis later in the day.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Results

April 10, 2016

Marc Marquez:  Lone Star in the Lone Star State

 On a nice spring afternoon outside Austin, Texas, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez, looking much the way he did in 2013 and 2014, put on another clinic, winning the Grand Prix of the Americas from pole for the fourth consecutive year.  The win makes Captain America 10 for 10 in premier class tilts run in the United States. 

I used to think that bingo was the only game in which one could be bored and anxious at the same time.  Today’s race—a procession, punctuated by life-threatening crashes—felt like an evening in the church basement.

Yamaha rider and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo knew, sitting next to Marquez on the front row at the start, that his only chance for a win today would occur on Lap 1, by getting in Marquez’s business, throwing the young Catalan off his rhythm, and trying to get away.  So determined was he to accomplish this that he narrowly avoided running off the track at Turn 1 and again at Turn 11, running ragged with cold tires, too much fuel, and no rhythm of his own.  It didn’t work, and Marquez took the lead he would never relinquish.

The front group included Valentino Rossi, Ducati’s hard luck Andrea Dovizioso and factory Honda afterthought Dani Pedrosa.  Rossi got caught in traffic and fell back to around 6th, where he and Pedrosa jousted for a short while.  At Turn 3 of Lap 3, Rossi lost the front at speed and slid well into the gravel, removing around a dozen sponsor logos from his leathers, his day over.  Our crack research staff tells me this is the first time in the last 25 races that Rossi has finished outside the top five.

While Marquez was disappearing, Lorenzo took firm control of second place, having gone through on Dovizioso on Lap 5.  Lap 6 saw Ducati Maniac Andrea Iannone go through on Suzuki #2 Aleix Espargaro into 5th place.  Pedrosa was dogging Dovizioso in the battle for third place on Lap 6 when the broadcast switched to his front camera.  Seconds later, Dovizioso’s bike filled the frame just in time to get poleaxed by Pedrosa, as the Spaniard lost the front in Turn 1 and his suddenly riderless bike creamed the Ducati.  How Pedrosa’s Honda missed Dovi’s left leg is a mystery.  The Italian’s day was over, but Pedrosa climbed back aboard his RC213V and turned a few more laps before calling it a day.

Everyone Please Take Three Steps Forward

With Dovizioso and Rossi out and Pedrosa trailing the field, the remaining riders behind Lorenzo received promotions of three spots.  Kind of like going from private to lieutenant in ten minutes.  Iannone, running relatively cautiously after the debacle in Argentina when he took out teammate Dovizioso in a painfully stupid move, was, suddenly, contending for a podium.  The two Suzukis, experiencing their own rebirth of sorts, found themselves contesting fourth place in a battle Maverick Vinales would eventually win over Aleix Espargaro.

Octo Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding was winning The Battle of Britain, enjoying life in 6th place while Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, and Bradley Smith, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were slugging it out for seventh.  On Lap 8, Crutchlow, in an unforced error that was undoubtedly somebody else’s fault, slid off the track into the runoff area.  Scant seconds later, with Smith apparently rubbernecking at Crutchlow’s misfortune, the Tech 3 rider fell, his careening bike missing the back of Crutchlow’s ankles by mere inches.  Both men remounted the remnants of their bikes and were the last two riders to see the checkered flag.

A Moment of Reflection

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow are incomprehensibly lucky to be walking around tonight.  This is the second week in a row that Crutchlow narrowly avoided a disaster he didn’t even realize was happening.  Such is the nature of MotoGP, with objects moving at speeds uncontemplated by our Creator or the slow crawl of evolution (take your choice), lives hanging precariously in the balance.  Some riders, like Crutchlow and Dovizioso, may be lucky enough, or blessed enough, to tell stories about these things to their grandchildren one day.  Others, like Marco Simoncelli and Shoya Tomizawa, will never have grandchildren to hear them.  When a Jorge Lorenzo gets irritated by the stupid antics of an Alvaro Bautista and talks about risking his life every time he climbs aboard, he’s not just whistling “Dixie.”

The Big Picture

If you had suggested at Sepang during winter testing, when Marquez was lapping 1.5 seconds behind Lorenzo, that he would be leading the championship by 21 points after three rounds he probably would have suggested that you get your head examined.  Yet here we are.  The other anomalies in the top ten include Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro sitting fourth despite seeming to be having a difficult year, swarthy Ducati pilot and underachiever Hectic Hector Barbera sitting sixth, and Ulsterman Eugene Laverty sitting ninth.  Laverty’s euphoria from last week was short-lived, as he went from a highly fluky fourth place to four points in a week.  Still, not bad for a guy on a two-year-old Ducati.

Okay, so I’ve never been a big fan of Cal Crutchlow, who has always, in my opinion, talked a better race than he rides.  He so rarely mans up and takes the blame when things go wrong.  So I may be forgiven for enjoying seeing him sitting in last place, 0-for-2016 after three rounds.  Looking forward to the article on the MotoGP website—it should appear tomorrow or Tuesday—in which he explains who was to blame for today’s crash and how he skillfully avoided getting shattered by Smith’s unguided missile.  As they say in Coventry, hard cheese old boy.

And another thing.  Jack Miller, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, so cool and fast he was allowed to skip second grade, is declared out of today’s race after two more heavy crashes this weekend.  Honda is so anxious to locate the second coming of Casey Stoner, and the kid’s ambition is so large, he’s going to seriously injure himself or someone else out there, generally riding out of control and creating huge piles of brightly painted and utterly trashed carbon fiber.  Dude needs to think about a step back to Moto2.

A Final Thought Before Returning to Europe

Everything’s big in Texas—from the state itself, which takes 24 hours to drive across, to the iniquity of its junior US senator.  COTA maintains the tradition, with the most corners (20) in a MotoGP circuit (Red Bull Ring in Austria has nine), the longest straight on the tour, the steepest hill, seating for 120,000 fans, etc., etc.  But seriously, let’s just get it over with and rename the track the Marc Marquez Circuit.  Better yet, how about the Circuito Marc Marquez, since Texas was originally a northern state of Mexico before Sam Houston and his boys shoved the locals across the Rio Grande way back when.

Round Four touches off in Jerez in two weeks.  In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the Lorenzo to Ducati and Vinales to Yamaha stories, and will have them for you in full once they’re official.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Preview

April 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez has momentum heading for Texas

After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season.  Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere.  Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday. 

Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:

  • The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
  • The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
  • The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
  • The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
  • The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year.  With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
  • The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
  • In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.)  An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and who pushed the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year.  Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent.  Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture.  Kudos to all three.

Recent History at COTA

The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words:  Marc Marquez.  He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race.  He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati.  Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.

I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible.  The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight.  Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.  In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade.  In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.

OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control.  Big deal.  These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet.  To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.

A final thought concerning Marquez:  Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving.  I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin.  One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do.  (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)

WSBK and Nicky Hayden

Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball.  The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish.  As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points.  Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team.  It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.

Your Weekend Forecast

Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.

As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning.  Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.

Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium.  Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.

If you have access to the live broadcast—seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed—the race goes off at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Results

April 3, 2016

 © Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins as racing gods take charge

To the casual observer looking at the final result, the 2016 Argentine Grand Prix would appear to have been just another MotoGP race.  Marc Marquez topped the podium, flanked by usual suspects Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa.  Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that the racing gods were in complete control for the entire weekend.  From FP1 to the final turn, it was el mano de Dios calling the shots.

Friday was as hot as the hinges of hell.  The Yamahas cowered in the heat; defending world champion and Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo finished 12th in the morning, improving to 14th in the afternoon.  Rossi managed 6th and 7th on Friday, but was not setting the world on fire, as it were.  Riders complained that the track was dirty, that no effort had been made to put it in racing condition since its last use back in December.  Turn 1 hosted a weekend-long series of crashes reminiscent of a 1960’s Jan and Dean anthem.  Naturally, Dorna responded to the criticism by signing a new three year deal with Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon, Octo Pramac Ducati pilot Scott Redding was minding his own business, doing 200 mph down the back straight when he experienced a private deus ex machina, the tread flying off his rear casing like a semi shedding a retread.  The impact removed a chunk of his rear fairing and left Redding with a welt on his back that looked like he’d been hit with a 2 X 4.  Dorna immediately went into lockdown mode (curiously re-starting the practice session) and, in consultation with a chagrined Michelin, began issuing releases faster than the scribblers could send them home, the last and most coherent of which (on Sunday morning) follows:

The race distance is changed to 20 laps.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN DRY CONDITIONS:

  • Riders must change bikes at the end of their ninth, tenth or 11th Lap.
  • If rain starts and Race Direction consider the situation to be dangerous the red flag will be shown and all riders should enter pit lane.
  • Teams will be given 15 minutes between the display of the red flag and opening of pit lane to make adjustments to the machines.
  • The second part of the race will be for 10 laps. Grid positions will be based on the result of the first part and will be declared a wet race.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN WET CONDITIONS

  • Riders may enter the pits to change machines only from the end of their ninth lap.
  • If the wet race is red flagged for other reasons when more than 13 laps have been completed then the result will stand and there will be no restart.

Marquez laid down a blistering first flying lap during Q2 which stood up, maintaining his record of never having not started from the pole in Argentina.  Lorenzo and Rossi had regrouped after Friday and traded places several times late in the session, with Rossi ending up second and Lorenzo third.  The second row included young phenom Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki, joined by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team, Dovizioso and Iannone.

A fifth practice session was hastily arranged for Sunday morning to introduce the riders to Michelin’s Fustercluck tire, an emergency compound intended for use only in the event of a Phillip Island 2013-scale disaster, which this was becoming.  The session was abandoned when Sunday dawned wet; the Moto3 race was a wet race, the Moto2 affair declared “dry” but far from it.  The track was drying quickly, the leaden clouds holding their water, so to speak.  After twisting itself into knots trying to determine how to avoid sending the riders out on tires they had never previously tried, Race Direction ended up with a dry race run under the ad hoc rules published above.

As the riders lined up on the grid waiting for the lights to go out, the racing gods, done messing with the weather, were casting lots to determine who would end the day frolicking with the lambs in the “Lucky” column and who would end up with the goats in the “Unlucky” column.  They apparently decided to consign one rider to a third category, “Thick as a Brick.”

Seriously, Are You Ever Going to Give Us the Race?

 The start was dicey at best.  Iannone and Pedrosa made contact in Turn 1, sending the Spaniard way wide and apparently ending his podium bid.  The front group emerged late on Lap 1 comprised of Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Goats Cal Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro slid off simultaneously at Turn 1 (no kidding) of Lap 2, Crutchlow evading Espargaro’s unguided missile by inches. (Both would re-enter and finish the race, for whatever reason.)  Yonny Hernandez, suffering the ignominy of starting his “home race” from the back of the grid, crashed out moments later.  Goat.

Jack Miller, on the Marc VDS Honda, appearing lamb-like, climbed all the way up to 7th position and actually went through on the laboring Lorenzo before crashing out on Lap 3, unlucky as usual.  Lorenzo himself, fresh off his win in Qatar, slid off at Turn 1 of Lap 6, his goat horns appearing as little winglets on his helmet.

As the front group began thinking about their mandatory pit stops, Marquez led Rossi by less than a second, followed by Vinales and the two factory Ducatis.  Rossi and Marquez went through on each other twice on Lap 9, providing a déjà vu of last year’s race.  Vinales, Iannone and Pedrosa, among others, pitted on Lap 9 without incident.  On Lap 10, Rossi tailgated Marquez into pit lane.  Both made clean swaps, Marquez holding the lead exiting the pits.  Along comes Tito Rabat on his Marc VDS Honda, a BFF of Marquez.  Somehow (wink wink) Marquez managed to enter the track in front of Rabat, while Rossi was forced to yield.  In the next minute, Marquez stretched his lead over Rossi from a few tenths to over two seconds.  At the time, it appeared Rabat was helping his buddy; Rossi’s comments after the race dispelled that notion, as his #2 bike wasn’t nearly as sharp as #1 had been.

Marquez puts down a vapor trail, leaving Rossi to duke it out with upstart Vinales, the two Andreas snapping and snarling right behind him (Rabat had checked out, pitting on Lap 11), Pedrosa a mile behind.  This went on for a while, with Vinales appearing to be lining Rossi up for a memorable pass.  (Farther back in the pack, Redding, in pure goat mode, had climbed all the way up to seventh position before his Ducati stalled, putting the capper on a gruesome weekend for the likeable Brit.)

You could almost hear the gods howling with laughter during the final two laps.  Vinales approaches Turn 1 on Lap 18 two feet off the racing line, finds a tiny puddle of water, and goes from lamb to goat in an instant, thoughts of his first premier class podium up in smoke.  Rossi, clearly a lamb, is suddenly relieved of one serious threat to his podium hopes, but has two more, the Andreas, to contend with, both of whom seem to have more pace.  Still, if you want to go through on Valentino Rossi late on Sunday, you had better pack your lunch, because it’s not gonna be easy.

Lap 20: Rossi is holding off Dovi, with Iannone threatening, in full Maniac mode, in the last three turns.  Iannone, desperate for a podium after crashing out of the lead in Qatar, sees a possible opening in the last turn, dives inside, loses the front, and collects Dovizioso on his way into the kitty litter.  Boom—game over.  Dovi, the blameless lamb, is stuck with the worst luck of the day.  Iannone must explain his actions to Race Direction and Gigi Dall’Igna, Thick as a Brick tattooed on his forehead.  Pedrosa is shocked to suddenly find himself on the podium.  And Eugene Laverty, on the Aspar Ducati, the luckiest lamb of all, finishes the day in fourth position, the leading satellite rider, a full eight spots higher than his previous best MotoGP career finish in Qatar two weeks ago.  The only word to describe the look on his face in Parc Fermè is “stunned.”

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez seizes the 2016 championship lead, ahead of Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, looking thoroughly downcast after the race, needs to figure out what’s up with his 2016 RC213V.  Hector Barbera resides in seventh place for the season, ahead of off-season strivers Vinales and Redding.  And The Maniac, who I had tagged as an Alien-in-waiting, having crashed out of five of his last six races, is 0 for 2016 after two rounds.

Next week it’s another Honda-friendly track in Austin.  One hopes that the racing gods got their fill today.  American racing fans don’t like all that livestock wandering around their racetracks.

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Preview

March 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo looks to extend his lead in Argentina

After a convincing performance in the Qatari desert two weeks ago, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo confronts one of his demons this week.  The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, running as usual at the shiny new-ish Termas de Río Hondo, operates outside of Lorenzo’s Land.  One of five venues on the 2016 calendar where Lorenzo has yet to taste victory in the premier class (quick–name the other four*), Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him this weekend. 

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageHaving tested at Losail just weeks ago, the grid had a reasonably good idea what to expect from the standard ECU and Michelin rubber when the lights went out in Doha.  Not so at Rio Hondo.  Friday will mark the first time the riders have set foot on the Argentine asphalt in 2016.  We are reminded of how Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez acquainted himself with the place in 2014 when the track first opened.  He strolled around in 14th place during FP1, then cinched everything up, lowered his visor, and topped the charts in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the warm-up practice and, finally, the race itself.  Caution will be the order of the day on Friday morning. Marquez swims across the line

Lorenzo’s pursuers in the 2016 chase—Ducati Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone, Marquez, teammate and nemesis Valentino Rossi foremost among them—have reason to feel optimistic heading for the southern hemisphere.  Both Marquez and Rossi have won here, in 2014 and last year, respectively.  Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa finished less than two seconds behind Marquez in 2014 and in front of both Lorenzo and Rossi.  Dovizioso claimed a clean second place finish last year, while Honda tough guy Cal Crutchlow was busy punking Iannone at the flag for his only podium of 2015.  Iannone, especially, having crashed out of the lead in Qatar, needs to make up some ground this week to cut into Lorenzo’s 25 point advantage.  God knows he has the bike upon which to do it.

Not Riblets—Winglets!

Ducati wingletThe feng shui (Japanese for “latest fad”) in MotoGP these days are these little wing thingies that have sprouted from the front fairings of just about every bike on the grid over the past few years.  According to Matt Oxley, former rider and current paddock layabout, the appendages on the Ducatis are suspected of producing dirty air—read: turbulence—for trailing riders.  Many of us are accustomed to hearing this concept applied to racing yachts and fighter jets, but this is a new finding in MotoGP.  Matt cites anecdotal evidence that such turbulence came close to unseating Dani Pedrosa in Australia last year.

Several thoughts on this subject:  Why are the Ducs being singled out for causing problems, while none of the other manufacturers, all of whom are sporting riblets winglets, stand accused?  Sure, the Ducatis flirt with low Earth orbits on long straights, as we saw illustrated vividly at the end of Lap 1 at Losail.  But such would appear to be a matter of degree; it’s not like they’re breaking the sound barrier.  (Yet, anyway.)  Could this be a case of, ahem, “intelligent design,” deployed to discourage other riders from hitching a tow behind Iannone or Dovizioso?  The strakes are prohibited in Moto2 and Moto3; why, then, are they permitted on the fastest bikes on the planet?

The irony here is that subsequent to the tragic Marco Simoncelli crash at Sepang in 2011, Dorna and Grand Gouda Carmelo Ezpeleta announced their intention to reduce speeds and make the sport safer going forward.  Instead, they allow enhanced aerodynamics which improve traction, while the engineers beaver away to squeeze horsepower and torque out of the engines.  The result?  Iannone hits 218 mph in the warm-up at Losail, Dani Pedrosa is allegedly getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the wake, and the sport looks to be setting itself up for another pointless fatality.

MotoGP bikes are fast.  Fans are unable to distinguish between a motorcycle traveling at 190 mph and one traveling at 200 unless they’re running side by side.  Enough already with the winglets.

Speaking of enough already, Cal Crutchlow’s lament in Qatar that he crashed because “the bike didn’t know where it was” reveals just how Space Odyssey the electronics have become.  (“I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”)  I, for one, hope it becomes fashionable in the future for the riders to do more and the ECUs to do less, before MotoGP becomes just a big, noisy, expensive video game.

Pity Danilo Petrucci

PetrucciOne rider for whom I had high hopes this season is Danilo Petrucci, Scott Redding’s teammate on the Pramac Ducati team.  Despite having averaged 23 points a year during his first three premier class seasons, all of which were spent on execrable machinery, someone at Ducati saw something in him and gave him a ride on a second hand Desmosedici last season.  He went from having earned 17 points in 2014 to 113 and a top ten finish last year.  With an even stronger bike beneath him, I thought him capable of finishing between sixth and tenth this year.

Alas, bad luck intervened.  Petrucci smashed his right hand in a late pre-season testing crash, and did it again trying to return too soon in Qatar.  He is now out indefinitely, his place being taken by highly qualified Ducati test rider Michele Pirro.  The melody you hear in the background is the Colonel Bogey March being whistled by Casey Stoner, standing around, under contract to test for Ducati but unwilling to return to the track.  Virtually identical to the situation when he was testing for Honda and Dani Pedrosa broke his collarbone.  Married readers may detect in all this the invisible hand of Adriana Stoner, who, it must be assumed, has assured Casey that in the event she ever sees #27 on a race day track, the only function left to be served by his didgeridoo will be urination.

Questions in Search of Answers in Argentina

In no particular order:

  • Are any of the other Aliens strong enough to mount a serious challenge to Lorenzo this year? This would seem a good place to begin to find out.
  • Can Iannone (or Dovi) challenge Lorenzo mano à mano on Sunday, assuming he keeps his bike shiny side up? The Alien Club beckons.
  • Have Maverick Vinales, Scott Redding and Hector Barbera improved as much as we thought during the offseason?
  • Is Dani Pedrosa beginning to show signs of wear? Since the end of last season, which he finished strong, his testing and early season performance has been distinguished, in my dad’s words, only by its lack of distinction.
  • Who gets the last slot on the grid for next season? The name Tito Pons keeps surfacing, with either Pol Espargaro or Alex Rins the favorites to man the bike, whatever the bike turns out to be.  A brixxer would be nice.
  • The weather forecast for the Esteros environs calls for hot and mostly dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, with cool, wet air moving in for Sunday. Will the weather get in Lorenzo’s way?  The Ducs are voting in favor of rain.
  • Cal Crutchlow’s bike had an existential crisis in Qatar. Can it find itself this week in South America?
  • And what’s up with Aleix Espargaro? Maybe it’s the ECU, maybe it’s the tires; whatever it is, he needs to get with the program.  His wingman is making him look sick.

For those of you still able to watch on live TV, the race goes off Sunday at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results here by 6 pm EDT Sunday.   Instant analysis, free of charge, and worth every penny.

*COTA, The Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Sepang.  You thought I forgot.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

 

MotoGP 2016 Losail Results

March 20, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Jorge Lorenzo kicks off 2016 with a gratifying win

The 2016 Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and standard electronics across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium had been soaring.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects had once again asserted their dominance of the sport.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDQualifying had produced an ethnically-striated grid—Spaniards filling up rows one and three, with an all-Italian second row and an all-British fourth.  Lorenzo laid down a fast lap early in the session, as did Marquez a bit later, and both held up despite Maverick Vinales and “Maniac Joe” Iannone taking serious runs at them at session’s end.  Vinales missed out on the two hole by 4/1000ths of a second.  Iannone could have easily moved up to the front row had he not been momentarily held up by Scott Redding, who appeared to be doing his best to get out of the way.  (A track record final lap by Marquez was tossed when it was determined he had started it one second after the checkered flag had waved.)

Having watched six of the top seven riders in Moto2 jump the start, the start of the MotoGP tilt appeared somewhat sluggish, especially for Marquez and Vinales, who got lost in the sauce.  Marquez, looking WAY more comfortable than he looked last season prior to switching to his 2014 chassis, escaped from the crowd to join the lead group in fourth position.  Vinales, perhaps concerned about making an early-season mistake, found himself mired behind Dani Pedrosa, where he spent the entire evening.

The lead group formed up with Lorenzo leading the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati Iannoneteam, trailed by Valentino Rossi and Marquez.  At the start of Lap 2, both Ducatis flew past Lorenzo, Iannone in the lead.  Marquez slipped past Rossi on Lap 3 and began dogging Lorenzo on Lap 4.  I was just getting comfortable with the idea of Iannone winning his first premier class race when he lowsided out of the lead in Turn 13 of Lap 6, leaving Dovizioso to slug it out with the Aliens.  Sure enough, on Lap 9 Lorenzo found his way through on Dovizioso and that was that.  Marquez and Dovizioso would trade places a few times over the remaining 14 laps, but no one was able to mount any kind of serious challenge to Lorenzo once he found his rhythm.

Tell Us Again What We Learned This Winter

Nothing.  Elevated expectations for Vinales and Octo Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding didn’t pan out, at least in Round One.  This is a good time to point out that the Qatar GP usually offers up a few surprises to which followers of MotoGP give too much weight.  This is probably more true in 2016 than usual, given the technical changes everyone was dealing with.  Here’s what we know at this moment:

  • The top riders have already adjusted to the Michelins and the control ECU.
  • Dovizioso and Iannone will do well at the long, sweeping circuits like Brno and Phillip Island. We don’t know how they will hold up at the cramped little joints like The Sachsenring and Motegi.
  • Marc Marquez has finally learned that 16 points is better than none.
  • Valentino Rossi, now joined at the hip with Yamaha for the rest of his career, will have more fruitful days than he did today. Although he qualified better than usual, there was no late-race challenge from #46.  His choice of the harder option rear tire proved to have been in vain.
  • Michelin has figured out a lot of stuff in a very short time. Many of the riders set their fastest laps of the day late in the race.
  • Iannone has replaced the departed Nicky Hayden in the competition for the absolute worst haircut on the grid. At this point, he’s winning by a mile.
  • The competition for the top riders has already begun.

Early Season Silliness

RossiRight, so Rossi and Lorenzo were reportedly offered contracts for 2017-18 simultaneously, by email.  Rossi signs his immediately.  Lorenzo does not.  Rossi suggests Lorenzo is shopping Ducati.  (Lorenzo is, in fact, shopping Ducati.)  Lorenzo fires back that Rossi had no choice because no one else would want him.  Boom.  Bradley Smith, on the verge of eviction by Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal, signs a deal with KTM for next year, leaving Yamaha a spot with which to woo Alex Rins.

I would say the odds of Lorenzo moving to Ducati in 2017 increased at the close of Lap 1, when the lead group entered the front straight.  Lorenzo, at the front of the pack, could only sit and watch as both factory Ducatis effortlessly blew past him, Grant-through-Richmond style, forcing him to push harder in the turns than he might have wished for the rest of the race.  The speed of the Desmosedici (Iannone was clocked at 218 mph on Saturday) combined with the skills of Jorge Lorenzo herald a formidable force if, indeed, Lorenzo elects to switch.  He would probably enjoy, too, the prospect of winning a title or three at Ducati, which The Doctor was unable to do, albeit during the pre-Dall’Igna era.

Here’s an easy one:  If and when Lorenzo bolts for Ducati, Yamaha will immediately sign the 21 year-old Vinales for as long as they can.  He’s the hottest property in MotoGP right now, despite his mediocre performance today.  Honda, on the other hand, needs to decide soon if they really want another two years of hard-luck Dani Pedrosa, or if the future wouldn’t look much brighter with Marquez and Vinales (or Marquez and Rins) fronting the Repsol factory team.

The Big Picture

I’m not even sure there IS a big picture so early in the season.  Iannone’s impression of Lorenzo’s 2014 crash in the desert has needlessly put him behind the eight ball for the rest of the year; why he was pushing so hard so early in the race, with all that bike beneath him, is a mystery.  Rossi, his meal ticket punched for the next three years, may have lost a bit of intensity—about racing, that is.  He seems fully charged up for a season-long verbal feud with Lorenzo, and would probably welcome Marquez back into the fray as well.  Dorna, it seems, is not amused by Rossi’s baiting of his two Spanish rivals, and may try to convince him to cool his jets. Having a 27 year-old Rossi snarling and snapping at you was once a frightening prospect.  A 37 year-old Rossi, who has been beaten by both Lorenzo and Marquez, not so much.  Yamaha may live to regret their pre-emptive signing of Rossi, especially if it ends up costing them both Vinales and Rins.

Two Weeks to the Middle of Nowhere

The grid has a little time to screw things back together before heading off for a back-to-back, Round Two in Argentina and Round Three in Austin.  Even old econ majors like me are not too geeked up about hearing the teams yammer on about analyzing all the data they collected this weekend.  Whatever.  It’s good to have the bikes back on track competing in anger.  It’s great having Nick Harris calling the shots in the booth.  It’s good for the sport to have Marquez competitive again this year.  It will be good—next year—to have more bikes on the grid.  And it will be fascinating to see which bums end up on which seats as the season rolls on.

For now, Lorenzo rules.

MotoGP 2016 Season and Losail Preview

March 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” 

Here we are again, nosing around the garage area and the vicinity of the start/finish line, anticipating a full new season of MotoGP.  Everyone is optimistic.  Everyone is putting their best foot forward.  The power brokers, the likes of Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis and Honda’s Livio Suppo, are maintaining low profiles, keeping their powder dry in case—this probably of more concern to Suppo than Jarvis—their 2016 project turns out to be a dumpster fire.

How have things shaped up as the season started in years past?

victory helmet2013–Heading into the season, with Stoner gone and Marquez arrived, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo looked ready, willing and able to repeat, with chase coming from Pedrosa, Rossi and Marquez. Rossi would take most of the year to get comfortable on the Yamaha in his first year back from Ducati purgatory.  Pedrosa and Lorenzo got hurt in the Netherlands and Germany.  Marquez made it look easy, snatching his first world championship as a rookie and assaulting the record books across the board.  Crutchlow, Bautista and Bradl were expected to make some noise at some point, and mostly didn’t.

2014–defending champion Marquez starts by reeling off 10 straight, then coasting to an effortless championship followed by Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, about as expected.

2015, it turns out, is not the three-peat envisioned by most Marquez fans.  He crashes out d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageof several races early, concedes the early lead to Lorenzo, concedes more to Rossi, and watches helplessly as the title devolves into a Rossi vs. Lorenzo scrap.  He mixes it up with Rossi on several occasions, the Italian getting the better of all of them.  Rossi and Lorenzo head into Valencia essentially tied for the lead but with Rossi having been severely punished for events in Sepang, resulting in him starting last on the grid and ultimately finishing fourth, with Lorenzo cruising to both the win and the championship, Marquez at his wing.

What Have We Learned During All This Winter Testing?

25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_originalSeveral things.  Lorenzo appears to be the man to beat.  Maverick Vinales intends to stick his nose in some podium contests and appears to have sufficient machine beneath him to do so.  Rossi, Marquez and Iannone appear destined to battle Vinales for second and third. Scott Redding may have found the right bike at the right time to propel him into a consistent top six performer.  (Remember him during his last season in Moto2 when he would ride the wheels off in the turns then get eaten alive in the straights.)  Dani Pedrosa needs to stay upright all season long if he wants to finish in the top four, otherwise he is destined for a second division seeding along with:

  • Andrea Dovisiozo
  • Cal Crutchlow
  • Aleix Espargaro
  • Pol Espargaro
  • Hector Barbera
  • Bradley Smith

Danilo Petrucci would have been in this group had he not broken his hand, and still might end up here.  Michelle Pirro will sub for DP in Qatar.

Those Aiming for Points Alone

The third tier, looking to make it into the top 15, will include Eugene Laverty, Loris Baz, Yonny Hernandez, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat.  Bradl sounds confident, but it smells of baloney.  Rabat says his goal is top ten finishes—he has his work cut out for him.

Winning at Losail—What Does it Mean?

Only three of the last eight winners at Losail went on to title in their respective years—ossi-vs-marquez-di-sepangStoner in 2011, Lorenzo in 2012 and Marquez in 2014.  Since they are also three of the last five, it’s clear to me that past performance has little to do with future performance.  Recent performance, however, might well have something to do with performance this year.

Let’s just say this.  If young Mr. Vinales challenges for the win in Doha, that is significant.  A track built nicely for the Ducs and Yamahas, the Suzuki has not enjoyed a great deal of success in the desert.  A second place finish would put pressure on the Aliens behind him, as well on teammate Aleix Espargaro, who is not getting nearly as much from his identical ride.

I also think there is room in this championship for a second division rider to compete toward the top of the timesheets.  I’m thinking here of someone like a Barbera (or a Redding) for whom the standard ECU is an improvement.  Perhaps Barbera’s practice times in Australia were more indicative of what he’s able to produce now that the electronics are mostly equal.

233_Michelin_Michelin-Logo-2013-Frame_1

And, let it not go unsaid that whichever teams get accustomed to the Michelins the quickest will end up doing the best.  This is what separates the factory Yamaha and Honda teams from the rest, the skill of their teams at finding settings that work over race distances.  On whatever rubber you got.  The Ducatis seem not to mind the Michelins.

Clearly, with 13 crashes in Australia, most of which were blamed on tires, Michelin has plenty to do as well.  Riders will need to beware on cold morning outlaps in the northern latitudes.

Silly Season Silliness

With almost all the primary riders in contract years in 2016, rumors are flying already about who’s gonna sign where and when.  Jorge Lorenzo seems to be giving ground to his masters at Yamaha, first insisting he needed a deal in hand prior to the start of the season and now, suddenly, agreeable to some mid-season negotiations.  Rossi is saying two years or nothing from here; Yamaha has not leaped into his arms as of this writing.

Herve Poncharal has delivered an ultimatum to his pair of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro:  The future is now.  If you cannot deliver podiums on a regular basis I will need to find riders who can.  As boss, Herve has the right to express his opinion.  My opinion is that both factory Yamahas, Marquez, a couple of the Ducatis and maybe Vinales are better than either Smith or Espargaro.  Asking the Tech 3 riders to produce consistent podiums is asking a lot.  Perhaps Poncharal is thinking more in terms of creating vacancies for Vinales or Rins/Zarco/Folger.

alex-rinsVinales and young Alex Rins in Moto2 are in the wind, pretty much everyone’s best guess as to Aliens-in-Waiting.  An aging Dani Pedrosa (dearly coveted by KTM for 2017) at Repsol Honda, a seriously aging Rossi at Yamaha; at some point the suits are gonna pull some plugs.  Plus, it’s impossible not to wonder when Casey Stoner, watching riders he considers barely his equal go flying over the handlebars trying to get it on with the Michelins, says “lol” and climbs back onboard for a wildcard at Phillips Island.  Could throw a spanner into the works of more than one rider at that point in the season.  Easier to envision if doing so were to provide him an opportunity to interrupt a Yamaha or a Honda on its way to the title.  Stoner could easily add some extra testosterone to the mix.

And what about Marquez?  Easy to see him spending his career at Honda, assuming he wants to.  What if the RC213V remains un-rideable for the next three years?  What if Yamaha or Ducati establish some genuine dominance in the category?  Is it so hard to visualize young Marquez in Yamaha blue or Ducati red?  Not for me.

Ducati, with eight riders working for them, has some keepers and some others.  Iannone, Petrucci, Redding and Baz appear to be capable of top ten finishes.  My pick as the next Ducati shining star is Iannone, but he needs to make something happen this year.  With KTM joining the fray next season interested in poaching high profile riders, and several riders talking about moving from World Superbike (Johnny Rea) and Moto2 (Johann Zarco, Rins) there could be new faces on any number of the Ducati teams.  Especially now that it’s not viewed as a career killer.

So I expect Honda to make a spirited run at Marquez and Yamaha to do the same with Lorenzo.  Beyond that, teams may keep their powder dry and wait/see, or look to strike pre-emptively and roll the dice on a Vinales or a Rins or a Bradley Smith or Pol Espargaro, someone capable of giving them regular looks at podia on the right bike, and with plenty of upside.

Logo_Losail_International_Circuit.svg

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Qatar is anyone’s race and 2016 is anyone’s season, most especially Jorge Lorenzo.  Will Marquez and Rossi find themselves drawn to one another, magnetically, Rossi spoiling to continue the 2015 vendetta?  Do Marquez, Vinales and Iannone have enough to challenge Lorenzo on a regular basis?  Is this Rossi’s “one season too many?”  Does Ducati push Honda out of #2 in the builder’s competition?  Is the Suzuki under Vinales for real?  Is Dani Pedrosa still relevant to the title conversation?

My only prediction is that due to the tires and the ECU, we won’t see very many processions, and we won’t have someone, other than perhaps Lorenzo if everything goes perfectly for him, run away with the title in the first third of the season.  My annual hope, for no parades and a tight title fight, looks pretty good right about now.

My second only prediction is that the top four will be comprised of Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Iannone, perhaps in that order, with Rossi and Redding or Smith fighting for fifth place.  In retrospect, my pre-season predictions—2013 predicting Lorenzo, 2014 and 2015 Marquez—are usually poor.  One for three among the current lot.

There will be plenty of video and plenty to discuss in 2016.  We look forward to enjoying your comments if, as Jim Rome used to insist, you have a take, and you don’t suck.  Profanity is never welcome, but contrasting points of view, especially those that are well-written, are always appreciated.  As I’ve discovered over the years, MO has a pretty serious readership when it comes to the finer points of this stuff.  So, watch the races, bring your comments, and let’s share…lol…

The race goes off at 2:00 pm EDT; as this goes to press the TV availability is problematic.  We’ll have results, analysis and commentary right here late Sunday.

MotoMatters Losail Projections

March 6, 2016

As usual, the work done by my colleague David Emmett on his MotoMatters.com website is outstanding in its volume and quality.  In his recent article on the subject, he totaled the best 22 laps by each rider in order to re-evaluate the standings provided by best lap only.  He produced the following table, which I’m going to re-produce and assume his permission.  If he notifies me otherwise, I’ll gladly take it down.

David Emmett Chart

Emmett Chart1

 

 

 

 

Emmett Chart2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

victory helmetFactor in the cosmic motion brought on by new ECU and Michelins, and uncharacteristically good performances by names like Barbera and Redding–indeed, much of the Ducati contingent–and you could leave Qatar with three Ducs in the top five.  Then move the entire show to the Middle of Nowhere, Argentina-style for the annual Bungle in the Jungle, aka Hot and Hondarific, two weeks later, followed immediately by another Honda clambake the ensuing week in Austin.

There is no reason to believe the series championship won’t feature at least three manufacturers and five or six riders in the conversation heading to Catalunya.  This could be the year the Hondas get drop-kicked out of the top two.  This could be the year Ducati or Suzuki step up and capture some significant podium spots.  This would be so good for the sport, assuming it doesn’t come attached to the cost of multiple serious Alien highsides involving the Michelins.  And when I say Alien I’m really saying Marquez, whose connection to his Honda seems. at times this year, tenuous.australia-testmaverick-vinales25

My two strongest vibrations this season include Vinales and Redding who, one remembers, would ride the wheels off his Moto2 machine in the corners only to get overtaken consistently on the straights due to his size, which, on the new and improved Ducati, is not a problem.  We overlook him because he’s a Brit, not the usual talented Saxon mother’s son from the formal penal colony of Australia.  He’s not built like a rider, but he’s certainly showing something so far on the Duc.

ReddingVinales is an Alien waiting to happen, looking for that big contract next season, which might even come from Suzuki.  Suzuki needs another two man team and more data; they’re onto something there and they need to wear long pants and do this thing right. They could win the whole thing in a year or two.

 
Here’s one I’m happy to be wrong about, but Hector Barbera finishing well into the top ten this year would certainly shut me up about Hectic Hector.  While we’re at it, let’s hope that Alvaro Bautista does not become the human bowling ball he was in 2012 and 2013 (?) when he took Pedrosa and Lorenzo out of big races.  Barbera having a good year would give me a reason to sing his praises when he does well, striking a blow for satellite teams everywhere.  People’s favorite rider.  Their least favorite being the factory rider who NEVER podiums.  Several come to mind over the years.  No need to dwell on these guys.

This is my hope.  That in 2016 well will spend as much time discussing Maverick Vinales and Scott Redding as we do Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez.  Does such a thing presage less discussion going forward pertaining to Vale Rossi and Dani Pedrosa?  Probably yes.Marquez and Lorenzo

It could all be a colossal pre-season anomaly that goes away midway through the first lap at Losail later this month, when Rossi and Pedrosa emerge from the lights tight on the pipes of Lorenzo and Marquez.  A runoff from Vinales, a slider from Redding and we’re much closer to the status quo of the past few seasons.

There’s a new top three or four spot available on this grid for the year, and someone needs to step up and claim it.  It could be that Matquez takes himself out of too many races, unable to stay upright on the mad dog RC213V, what people used to say about Kawasakis back in the day–fast while they last.  Much like the Ducatis of the pre-Gigi era when they could haul it down the straights like crazy but you couldn’t turn them.  Marquez and Pedrosa, of all the Honda riders, should make the changes necessary.  Less certain on teams like LCR and Mark VDS Beer   Expect to see a lot of DNFs for all of the Hondas in 2016.

dovizioso-iannone-658x437Andrea Iannone should have what it takes to be the top Ducati rider in 2016, meaning he should be a top three contender. So Iannone, Redding and Vinales challenge Lorenzo and Marquez each week and Rossi some weeks, with more of Pedrosa or Barbera late in the season.

As usual, David Emmett is doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to statistical analysis of the pre-season.  I’m also sure he would agree that much of the preseason stuff has nothing to do with what happens when the red starting lights go out at Losail.  Most of us are just happy to have something to cover again.  Let the games begin.

 

 

 

MotoGP: No Jocking Required

March 5, 2016

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageI’ve just discovered something I, as a would be writer, loathe.  Note to self:  Never use this technique unless it pertains to, say, the last race of the season, 5 points separating teammates and rivals, Marquez in the mix, in which case it may be permissible to jock the sport while you’re reporting on it.  Otherwise, DO NOT PROMOTE MOTOGP WHILE YOU’RE IN REPORTER MODE.

So I’m reading this nice article—pre-season preview—when it finishes with a jee-whiz-MotoGP-is-SUPERBAD or something equally self-serving; starved, as the writer visibly is, for eyeballs.

So, yes, I think it’s a shame more Americans don’t watch MotoGP and yes, I encourage australia-testmaverick-vinales25people I know and people in the universe to read about it.  But when I’m on deadline, getting paid to think hard about the sport, I’m not taking time out to ponder how I love Michelin tires on my ride.  It’s bad form, especially for someone like me who doesn’t ride at all.  Of course, if I ever found a sponsor willing to buy me a disclaimer, no telling what might happen.  None of the OEMs that MO deals with want to sully their reputations by sponsoring the likes of me, and who can blame them?

I feel no need to stroke Dorna, as they seem to derive pleasure from making the process of credentialing excessive.  One with years writing about this stuff should not have to buy tickets from a scalper in Jerez to report on the GP there, the only halfway serious American journalist bothering to make the trip, on his own dime, and they tell me they can’t find me even the usual lousy credential.  Ended up having way more fun in the crowd anyway.

FIM_LogoWhat my readers expect from me is an objective accounting of events up to and including the race, delivered with as many laughs as I can haul out of th
e closet.  They expect me to call a spade a spade, especially when it involves controversy between riders.  The only rider whose picture sits on my wall is Lorenzo, from Indianapolis in 2010, the year he won his first title.  Under the heading “Saving Grace”, the feed from Dorna is superb, and the very British commentary is helpful.  For those of you condemned to TV—now pay TV in the US—with or without commercial breaks, your coverage sucks.  With the Euro down the drain, it’s a cheap time to buy a video pass and stream the race at your leisure.

IannoneSo, we will call the 2016 season the way we see it.  At this juncture, it looks like Vinales is going to be a top four guy, and even Redding, taking to the Duc like a duc to water, is sniffing around the top of the timesheets.  Pedrosa looks miserable, Marquez desperate to stay on the bike with any pace at all, and Rossi sounding unconvincingly like all the changes work in his favor.  Lorenzo, meanwhile, has that look in his eye.  As he learned in 2011 and 2013, however, the look in the eye thing doesn’t necessarily get you a repeat, a threepeat or a fourpeat.

Jorge looks ready to defend his title actively and vigorously.

Everyone is hoping the rest of the grid fights harder for 10th place, with good fights going on all over the track.  If the elapsed time between the finish of the first and last bikes of last year, or top ten bikes of last year, versus this year show the grid tightening up, that’s what Dorna’s after, and that’s what the satellite teams are pushing for.  Whether anyone but the top four or five riders ever finds their way to the podium is another matter.  The world longs to see some new faces at the press conference.

rossi-marquez_gold_and_goose

Let us pray against parades and for flag-to-flag contests and against a championship that gets away from itself in the first eight weeks, with someone emerging at the front by 100 points.  Otherwise, there will always be things to write about.  We will miss Nicky Hayden especially, as he was always good for a laugh.  We pray that Bautista and Bradl don’t end up racing each other for last place each week.  We pray that things end well between Yamaha and 46, and Honda and 26, when the time comes.  And we look forward to meeting the next generation of Aliens, the guys who will take your dollar in a game of reflexes, the guys who can dunk at 5’7”, the guys who can execute a bicycle kick on the soccer field.  And the guys who will join Lorenzo and Marquez in the championship battles leading into the 2020’s.

No jocking required.

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