MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Results

July 12, 2015

Marc Marquez dominates in German flashback.

By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast this weekend they seemed to exit the space-time continuum, re-entering in 2014 amidst a rewind of last year’s German Grand Prix.  Marquez, loving himself the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, comfortably led every practice session.  As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to also-ran status.  Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season. 

pedrosa_marquezMarquez now owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring.  Six consecutive wins from pole.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is fading into memory.  It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one next year and pummels it into submission in 2017.  And while Karel Abraham’s dad owns the Brno circuit, Marquez can now claim to own The Sachsenring, lock, stock and podium.

Today’s race was contested only until Lap 5.  Lorenzo got off to a slingshot start from the three hole and held the early lead; my notes on Lap 3 read “JL won’t hold up.”  Marquez went through Lorenzo easily two laps later and disappeared into 2014, leaving Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa in his contrail.  The three remaining Aliens hopscotched positions from there.  Rossi went through for good on Lorenzo on Lap 9.  Pedrosa repeated the Mallorcan assault on Lap 11.  Pedrosa, then, looking like a 2010 version of himself, went through on Rossi on Lap 17, delivering the final top four standings.  Rossi would get close to Pedrosa several times before submitting around Lap 27 determined, above all, to extend his 2015 lead on Lorenzo.

Marquez, celebrating his first win since Austin in April, would probably concede that today’s triumph falls under the Marquez at Aragonheading of a Pyrrhic victory, coming after so much devastation as to mean relatively little.  There are no bad wins, but, trailing series leader Rossi by 65 points, there aren’t very many good ones, either.  Meanwhile, the resurrected Rossi now has 13 successive podia under his belt; the expression “regular as a piston” comes to mind.  Even if Marquez returns to the form he showed us over the previous year and a half, there do not appear to be two other riders capable of consistently keeping The Doctor off the podium.  Rossi is living proof of a lesson Marquez is learning only this year—you don’t need to win every round to take the title.  Being consistently competitive will overcome occasional flashes of brilliance.  Consistently.

Elsewhere on the Grid

dovizioso-iannone-658x437Coming into Saxony, the Ducati contingent was surprisingly candid about their chances this weekend, conceding that the layout was not favorable to their bike’s strengths.  Then, Andrea Iannone on the factory team and Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac team, neither of whom received the memo, went out and qualified 4th and 5th respectively. Iannone would finish 5th today which, as teammate Andrea Dovizioso crashed out for the third time in the last four rounds, elevated him beyond question into the #1 seat on the factory team, sitting an astonishing 3rd for the year.  (I recall writing about Dovizioso only a month ago that “the guy never crashes.”  Since then, he has determinedly made a liar out of me.)  Hernandez slipped to 12th at the finish after battling for eighth place most of the day, while teammate Danilo Petrucci, in the midst of a highly gratifying season, came home in 9th, the #2 Ducati on the grid.  Maverick Vinales, on the Suzuki Ecstar, set an all-time record today by becoming the first rookie ever to score points in his first nine races.25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_original

Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith, he of the rapidly vanishing hairline, described by Nick Harris as “the best starter on the grid,” again finished a respectable 6th after qualifying 9th, putting just a little more distance between himself and Cal Crutchlow.  Prior to the start of the season, Crutchlow gave the clear impression he and his factory-spec Honda would be the top Brit on the grid, but such has not been the case.  With Dovizioso’s fortunes sinking below the horizon, Smith has now pulled into a tie with the Italian in 5th place for the year.  All Smith needs to do in the next couple of years to become a credible candidate to succeed Rossi on the factory Yamaha is secure dual British/Spanish citizenship and some high quality hair implants.

bradley_smithRich Men, Poor Men

Most of you are probably too young to grock the 1980’s TV miniseries reference.  But since the ouster of Gresini Aprilia #2 Marco Melandri this past week, the grid is now graced with two sets of brothers.  First and foremost are the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol, riding a factory Suzuki and satellite Yamaha respectively, with little brother Pol sitting in 9th place for the year while Aleix, the victim of some bad luck and poor decision-making, resides in 12th.  Aleix’s streak of front row starts ended today at two, the Suzuki somewhat surprisingly struggling at a track seemingly well-suited to it.  At the other end of the food chain are the Laverty brothers, Ulstermen Eugene and now Michael, toiling on an Aspar customer Honda and the #2 Gresini Aprilia, respectively.  Collectively, for the season, the Spaniards lead the Irish 108 to 7, this comparison only slightly skewed by the fact that Michael completed his first MotoGP race since last year today in 20th place.

Junior Class Headlines

Danny Kent tightened his stranglehold on the Moto3 title with another convincing win today, which is not news.  The fact that riders three through nine—seven riders!—were separated by .64 seconds IS news, something that could only happen in Moto3 and maybe the Rookie’s Cup.  Imagine losing out on nine championship points by 6/10ths of a second.

Belgian Xavier Simeon won the Moto2 tilt today, holding off season leader Johann Zarco over the last three laps for his first career win.  Never having heard the Belgian national anthem during a podium celebration, I was not surprised that Simeon got choked up, as it sounds like a cross between Richard Strauss, Josef Hayden, Todd Rundgren and ELO.  Personally, I too would hate to have that mess as my national anthem, preferring “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, for example.

First Semester Exams, Then Vacation

A number of teams are going off for some private testing this week; if you must know who and where, go to David Emmett’s site.  Then it’s off to summer vacation for a few weeks of Early Silly Season before returning for Round 10 in Indianapolis.  Today’s podium occupants must feel pretty good heading out of town for holiday, Jorge Lorenzo somewhat less so.  Despite the fact that we have now returned to an Alien class comprised of the Usual Suspects, things at the top of the food chain are sufficiently unsettled to promise an interesting second half.  One would have to be completely jaded to complain about the prospect of watching Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa in their current forms slugging it out for the rest of the year.2015 Aliens

MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Preview

July 7, 2015

Marquez reduced to spoiler as season hits halfway mark.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

Round nine of the 2015 MotoGP world championship returns to The Sachsenring, arguably the most Honda-friendly circuit on the tour.  Hondas have taken the checkered flag the last five times out, three wins from Dani Pedrosa followed by two from Marc Marquez.  Although the fortunes of the Repsol Honda team have suffered a downturn in 2015, both riders could easily be in contention for a spot on Sunday’s podium.  It’s that kind of track. 

motogp-suzuki-espargaro-vinalesMidway through the season, it can be said that Honda and Suzuki have opposing problems.  Suzuki’s problem, historical in nature, is a lack of horsepower available to complement the bike’s sweet handling.  Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales have combined to make the Ecstar team immediately competitive, far more so than it was in its previous iteration when sponsored by Rizla.  The bike and the riders are both better.  Espargaro, who was showing steady improvement early in the year, has been dragged down by consecutive DNFs at rounds five through seven, and sits in 12th place for the year.  Vinales, the consensus rookie of the year having finished in the points every round, sits in ninth place for the year, and deserves an Oakley contract to deal with a future so bright…he’s gonna need shades.

The factory Honda’s problem, on the other hand, is a surfeit of power, the result being a bucking bronco of a bike that pedrosa-marquezconsistently wants to get away from Marquez and, to a lesser extent, Pedrosa.  The veteran Pedrosa is dealing with it better than Marquez, the result of having spent 10 seasons on the bike or its previous iterations.  Marquez, whose early season escapades (DNFs in three of the first seven races) cost him a third consecutive world championship, is now engaged in a series of workarounds—2014 frame, harder front tires–in an exhausting effort to stay relevant while the engineers in Japan figure out how to make the RC213V rideable again.  (If he doesn’t mind a little pinging, perhaps the team should consider using regular gasoline rather than the high-test stuff.)

With the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo hitting on all cylinders this season, and Pedrosa having missed three of the first four rounds of the year to arm pump surgery, Marquez’ role has been reduced to that of a spoiler.  He can still contend for wins and podiums to salve what has had to have been a miserably disappointing year.  But more importantly, he can have a material effect on the competition between Rossi and Lorenzo.  He can be the fly in the ointment, a wild card mixing it up with the Bruise Brothers and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Lorenzo - MarquezAssen is a perfect example; had the drama at the final chicane turned out differently, Lorenzo might have won the race, Rossi might have ended up in the gravel, and the standings at the top would be reversed.  The boys in blue have ten rounds of this stuff to look forward to, not to mention Marquez’s reputation for risky business in the turns.  If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, there will be plenty of Rossi and Lorenzo fans pulling for #93 to assert his influence during the remainder of the season.  On the other guy.

Recent History in Saxony

The 2012 German Grand Prix had all the makings of a Repsol Honda clambake.  The Hondas had been fast in practice, with Pedrosa and Stoner flanking the briefly brilliant Ben Spies and his factory Yamaha on the front row.  When the lights went out, the two Hondas went off to wage war by themselves, leaving Lorenzo by himself in third place, Andrea Dovizioso and Spies battling for fourth, with homeboy Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi scrapping over sixth place.  Amazingly, Stoner lowsided out of the race on the “penultimate” lap (I hate that word), awarding the win to Pedrosa.  Lorenzo moved up to second, and Dovizioso punked Spies for third; three Yamahas finished in the top four.  At the end of the day Lorenzo led Pedrosa by 14 points on the way to his second MotoGP title that fall.

2013 was to have finally been Dani Pedrosa’s year.  He had avoided injury early in the season, and led the championship heading into Round 8 in Germany.  Lorenzo was wounded in Assen, Rossi was still getting re-acquainted with the Yamaha after two years at Ducati, and rookie Marquez was, well, a rookie.  Instead, Pedrosa went flying over the handlebars in FP3 on Saturday morning, returning to Spain for yet another surgery on his pulverized collarbone.  Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring his own wing; with the two Spaniards missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots.  Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish for the remainder of the season.  Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified brilliantly in the middle of the front row, finished second for his best premier class result ever on the Tech 3 Yamaha ahead of Rossi, chosen over Crutchlow by the suits at Yamaha corporate to ride for them in 2014 and beyond.

Last year’s fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of rapidly changing weather conditions.  Fan fave Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up at the start on slicks and enjoying a 12 second advantage over the Alien contingent on the first lap.  Alas, though his crew had thoughtfully mounted slicks on his LCR Honda, they had neglected to change the setting from W(et) to D(ry), causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish.  Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.  What fireworks there were that day were extinguished in the first five minutes.

Arm Pump: An Occupational Hazard of MotoGP

015129-rod-laverBack in the 60’s there was an Australian tennis player, “Rocket” Rod Laver, whose left forearm—he was a southpaw—was roughly twice the diameter of his right.  When he wasn’t playing, just standing around, he looked like one of those photoshopped pictures you see of guys with one arm and one leg extending from their shoulder sockets.  MotoGP riders are going to have to do more than they’re already doing to build up their right arms, as virtually all of them suffer the effects of operating throttle and brake against heavy centrifugal force while wrestling several hundred pounds of steel and rubber.  Perhaps if they were to spend the offseason dipping cones at Baskin Robbins they could build large enough forearms to withstand the rigors of an 18 round season.

Not that arm pump is the only occupational hazard in this sport.  Road rash, crushed digits, cracked skulls and shattered collarbones all contribute to the festival atmosphere at races, followed by jetlag, jock rot and a variety of, ahem, social infections.

This is a man’s sport.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If Marc Marquez is capable of winning again in 2015, it should be at The Sachsenring.  We’ll have results and analysis right here Sunday morning.

Rossi holds off Marquez in riveting Dutch classic

June 27, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Assen Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

Heading into the 66th annual Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, Movistar Yamaha poohbah Valentino Rossi held the championship lead, teammate Jorge Lorenzo had the momentum, and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez was mired in an existential crisis.  Rossi shed his Alan Iverson-like disdain for practice, was quick all weekend, and qualified on pole.  Lorenzo, whose recent history at Assen has been horrific, never looked completely comfortable.  And Marquez, desperate for a return to his winning form over the past two seasons, arrived on a hybrid 2014/2015 model RC213V, looking for answers.  At the end of the day, all three stood on the podium, but only Rossi was happy about it. 

The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

                                    The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

The two Yamaha teammates traded their customary places during Friday’s qualifying session, with Rossi, typically starting from the third row, sitting on pole while Lorenzo, generally on or near the pole, started 8th.  Aleix Espargaro, on the #1 factory Suzuki, had to go through Q1 before emerging brilliantly in the middle of the first row, while Marquez, seeming far more in control of his machine all weekend, would start third.  The factory Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, experiencing their usual angst when Assen is dry, started from 6th and 10th places, respectively.  And Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who was lightning fast on Thursday, misplaced his mojo and began the race in the 11 hole.  A heavy crash during Saturday’s WUP left him wounded and shaken as the lights went out.

One of my standard complaints about MotoGP is that, compared to Moto3 and Moto2, there is relatively little fighting up front.  Someone, recently Lorenzo, takes off like a scalded cat leaving the rest of the field struggling to be second-best.  Today, Rossi and Marquez, joined briefly by Lorenzo, took off early to wage their own private war.  It was, however, anything but dull, a battle for the ages.

Rossi, despite leading for all but four laps, was unable to catch his breath at all, as Marquez, looking like last year’s model, stayed glued to his rear tire all day.  Most riders would eventually wilt under this kind of pressure.  But Rossi, with 84 premier class wins and 111 career wins under his belt coming into Assen, has been here before.  It was around Lap 6 that the econ major in me emerged, the equation looking like this:

P:  (#93/#46) > (#46/#93)

For you laymen, this reads “The pressure on Marquez with Rossi dogging him is greater than the pressure on Rossi with Marquez dogging him.”  No one leading a MotoGP race in 2015 wants to see Valentino Rossi appear in his rearview mirror.  And Rossi knows he will get the maximum out of his bike every time out; if someone is going to pass him, it’s because their ride is superior to his on that day.  In which case there is nothing to worry about.

It was clear that Marquez would challenge Rossi at some point, which he did on Lap 20, going through decisively into the lead, to which he appeared to be holding on for dear life as Rossi refused to budge.  Sure enough, on Lap 24, Rossi and Marquez exchanged the lead twice, Rossi emerging in front.  He widened the gap on Lap 25, the announcers advising us that Marquez appeared to have been “broken.”

Um, no.

Lap 26 found both riders pushing to the limit, with Marquez, sliding all over the place, lizard brain in control, suddenly closing to within a few feet of Rossi entering the last lefthander.  As Marquez dove inside, his front tire contacted Rossi’s right boot, the result finding Marquez running way wide into the final turn, and Rossi inadvertently cutting the corner, running straight into, and through, the gravel, somehow keeping his bike upright, emerging 50 yards in front of Marquez, and taking the time to look back at Marquez, as if to say, “THAT’S for lap four at Laguna Seca in 2013, stronzo.”Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

In a post-race interview, Marquez sounded miffed, as if Rossi had fouled him when they came together in the penultimate turn.  Instead of being happy returning to the podium for the first time since Jerez, the young Spaniard was ticked off at not having won.  Such is the competitive nature of Marc Marquez.  His team was undoubtedly ecstatic at seeing him return to the form he showed in 2014.  Unfortunately, it was on a day when Valentino Rossi returned to the form he showed in 2005.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Lest we forget, Lorenzo cruised around all day by himself in third place, for a highly unsatisfying podium finish, having failed to overtake his teammate for the series lead.  Andrea Iannone, making a case for recognition as the #1 rider on the factory Ducati squad, did much the same in fourth position.  The battle for fifth place raged all day, six riders going hammer and tongs, the final order comprised of Pol Espargaro (Tech 3 Yamaha), Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda), Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar).  The gap between 5th place and 10th was one (1) second; this can be a cruel sport.

Give Us More Facts, Fewer Opinions

Okay.  With his ninth career win here, Valentino Rossi becomes the most successful MotoGP rider in history at Assen.  Yamaha Racing, for the first time in its history, has now won six consecutive races.  Rossi won from pole for the first time since Misano in 2009.  Over the last three laps Andrea Dovizioso slipped from 8th place to 12th, following his worst QP of the year, starting in 10th.  After 66 years of racing at Assen on Saturdays, the race will be moved to Sunday starting next year.  Valentino Rossi has podiumed in 15 of his last 16 races; Andrea Iannone has finished in the top six every round this year.  The last time Jorge Lorenzo led the MotoGP standings was after the first round in Qatar in 2013.  Finally, Yonny Hernandez and Valentino Rossi tied today for the MDBG Award:  Most Delicious Brolly Girl.  :)

The Big Picture

Rossi now leads Lorenzo by 10 points approaching the halfway mark of the season, a year in which many of the races have been won or lost in qualifying.  If Rossi continues to qualify as he did today, he is going to be a force for the rest of the season.  Iannone remains in third place, with Marquez having leapfrogged a sagging Dovizioso into fourth.  Bradley Smith continues as the top satellite rider in 6th place, followed by Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Vinales and Pedrosa as your top ten riders.  Yamaha is cleaning up in the battle for the constructor’s trophy.

For the few remaining American fans left in the house, Nicky Hayden finished in 16th place today, and resides in 21st place for the season.

Next Up:  The Sachsenring

MotoGP descends on northeastern Germany in two weeks for the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland.  Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez have won the last five races here, making it one of the most Honda-friendly circuits on the calendar.  With the HRC season on life support, the Repsol Honda team could certainly use a win in Round 9.  While Dani Pedrosa’s woes continue, Marc Marquez appears to be back.  A third consecutive success at The Sachsenring would confirm it.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

MotoGP 2015 Assen Preview

June 23, 2015

Team Yamaha at a pivot point in the 2015 chase.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.led-zeppelin-1-front-588171

As the 2015 MotoGP season approaches the halfway mark, the factory Yamaha team of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the Bruise Brothers in Blue, have had things pretty much their own way. Between them, they’ve won six of the seven races to date. Double defending world champion Marc Marquez and his Honda RC213V have appeared, in the words of Led Zeppelin, dazed and confused. The annual visit to the Cathedral, the Motul TT Assen, could interrupt several recent trends.

Despite having camped out on the podium all season, Dr. Rossi has watched his lead over his Spanish teammate shrink from 29 points on the road to Jerez to a single point, as Lorenzo has hogged the top step of the rostrum for the last four rounds. Momentum is clearly in the Spaniard’s favor. But Assen, with its unpredictable (read: damp and cold) weather and stop-and-go traffic, has been a Rossi fave over the years—six premier class wins—while Lorenzo has only managed a single win here since 2008, during his first championship season in 2010. Since then, the Dutch TT has been a train wreck for #99, as follows:

• 2011—Marco Simoncelli, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, from whence he pedaled his posterior off to salvage a 6th place finish.
• 2012—Alvaro Bautista, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, this time putting Jorge down for the count. His 25 point lead heading into Holland evaporated in an instant, and he left tied with Casey Stoner for the series lead. Though he would eventually take the 2012 title, the Lorenzos and the Bautistas would not exchange Christmas cards that year or ever again.
• 2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone. His gritty 5th place finish that day presaged further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another dramatic highside destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the start of a new racing legend.
• 2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left. Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, The Doctor is Cool, Calm and Collected

RossiValentino Rossi, the ageless veteran, has things just about where he wants them at this point. He can afford to praise the ascendant Lorenzo, his teammate, while keeping his powder dry for what is a long, twisty season. He can be generous in his remarks toward the suffering Marquez, playing the role of the eminence grise, fully aware that Marquez will likely succeed him as the king of the sport, but not this year. And he can applaud the efforts of Ducati Corse and its two current heroes, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone. Nationalism runs a close second to Catholicism in Italy, where Rossi is a venerated icon.

In short, Rossi has positioned himself as a father figure to the rest of the top six riders on the grid, including Bradley Smith, who is making a name for himself on the Tech 3 Yamaha. And just in case the young guns start getting cocky, Rossi, more than any other rider on the grid, instills fear and despair when, after his usual mediocre start, he suddenly appears on pit boards—Rossi +1.4—and begins charging back to the front. He may be old, but he is still very dangerous on race day. He does not beat himself, and if you want to beat him, you need to run a perfect race.

How cool must it be to be Valentino Rossi?

The Trial Continues for Marc Marquez

As cool as it is to be Vale these days, it must be a pain being Marc Marquez in 2015. The lily has been rudely un-gildedmarquez_crash this season, to the extent that he is flirting with his 2014 chassis in an effort to re-discover the magic of the past two years. The racing press has been hounding him since Austin, the almost invincible air of the past year and a half having left the balloon. That he would not win the title in 2015 might have been anticipated, especially after the second half that Lorenzo turned in last year. But to fall so far so quickly has taken everyone, undoubtedly including Marquez himself, by surprise.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the margin between glory and gravel in this sport is very thin. A good time for my annual apology to the back third of the grid, upon whom I tend to heap abuse, despite the fact that they lap only a couple of seconds slower than the Aliens. Marquez, at the ripe old age of 22, is giving an object lesson in one of my favorite expressions of all time:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

The engineers at Honda will get the RC213V straightened out before too long, although doing so might not precede the RC214V. Marquez will learn from this year, the particularly acute lessons having been delivered in Argentina, Mugello and Catalunya. His “win or bin” mentality is being hammered, right before our eyes, into a “discretion is the better part of valor” approach, one in which 20 or 16 points are seen as far superior to zero.

The venerable Nick Harris, who has been calling MotoGP races since the earth cooled, rarely mentions points in his broadcasts without inserting the adjective “precious”, an attitude I believe Marquez discounted until this season. With a more stable bike beneath him, and a more mature attitude toward the competition itself, Marquez is bound to win a great many more titles before he hangs up his leathers.

This and That

Having apologized to the have-nots of the MotoGP grid, I must admit that my favorite news clip since Catalunya featured Marco Melandri, who, fronting for the Gresini Aprilia fiasco, is 0-for-2015. He disclosed in an interview this week that he is “optimistic” following the installation of a new swingarm on his RS-GP. I suppose that reducing the likelihood of getting lapped in a grand prix motorcycle race conforms to some notion of optimism.

Nicky Hayden, the last American standing, announced his intention of finishing as the top open class entry this year, which will necessitate doing something about Loris Baz, Jack Miller and Stefan Bradl.

Finally, the weekend forecast, which includes a good chance of rain and temps in the high 60’s and low 70’s. Unable to predict the weather, I can predict that Valentino Rossi will leave Assen still in first place for the year. I’m not sure who will win on Sunday—weird things happen in The Low Countries—but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Jorge Lorenzo. We’ll have race results right here on Saturday morning.

Lorenzo, Rossi blitz field in Catalan flashback

June 14, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Catalunya Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

As qualifying for the 2015 Grand Prix Monster Energy de Catalunya closed on Saturday, one got the sense that The Usual Suspects might not make it to Sunday’s podium.  The ascendant Suzuki Ecstar team had crashed the party, seizing the first two spots in Row 1 (for the first time since 1993), while Aliens occupied spots #3, 4, 6 and 7.  The upstart Ducati duo of Dovizioso and Iannone were mired in 5th and 12th places, respectively.  On Sunday, eight riders failed to finish, but when the smoke cleared, the Alien Class of 2012—Yamaha mandarins Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa—climbed the steps, the cheers of 97,000 Spanish fans ringing in their ears. 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDWhatever faint hopes double defending world champion Marc Marquez held for a third consecutive title ended on Lap 3 of today’s race when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he ran way hot into the sharp lefthander at Turn 10, left the racing surface and dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done.  With Lorenzo having jumped into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early.

The eerie stability of the Yamaha YZR-M1 this season, together with the frightening instability of the Honda RC213V, a hot, greasy track and the pressure on Marquez made this crash all but inevitable.  For young Marquez, two years of fried chicken has given way to a year of feathers.  Such is life in the upper reaches of the premier class.

Moto racing fans have now endured the pleasure of watching Lorenzo lead 103 consecutive laps, reduced to admiring the sponsor decals on his machine, as he has taken four consecutive wins for the first time in his premier class career.  Though he was shadowed by teammate Rossi over the last 19 laps of the race, there was never any real doubt as to the eventual outcome.

Rossi was once again the victim of his inability to master the “new” (2½ years old) qualifying format in MotoGP, having Rossibarely snuck into Q2 where he again foundered, starting today’s race from the third row.  Had he started from the front, as he did for over a decade prior to The Ducati Years, he stood a puncher’s chance of winning today’s race (and Le Mans as well).  Apparently, even for one as sublimely talented as The Doctor, old habits die hard.  With his lead in the championship reduced to a single point, the prospect of a 10th world title is now visible in the rearview mirror and getting smaller every week.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The odd assortment of riders scoring points today was brought about mainly by the carnage among a startling number of top tenners, including Marquez, Cal Crutchlow (second round in a row, on Lap 1, with an assist from Aleix Espargaro), Pol Espargaro, Andrea Dovizioso (second round in a row), and, sadly, polesitter Aleix Espargaro, racing two miles from the house where he grew up, crashing out of fourth place on Lap 21.  Consistent point scorers Andre Iannone, Bradley Smith and certain rookie of the year Maverick Vinales ended the day in spots four through six, while less certain (or downright dubious) riders Scott Redding, Stefan Bradl (?), Danilo Petrucci and Alvaro Bautista (?????) completed today’s top ten.

03-apriliaracing-bautistaMay the sports gods deliver me from the agony of listening to Bautista earnestly explain how, based upon today’s fluke of a result, he is convinced the Aprilia program is making great progress.  Seven of today’s eight casualties would have certainly finished in front of him (the lone exception being his downtrodden teammate Marco Melandri), putting him back in 17th place where he typically resides.  If Karel Abraham, injured in an impressive highside in FP4, had started and finished, 17th place would have become 18th, not exactly worthy of a humble, bright-eyed interview.

Moto3 and Moto2 Rocking

Today’s premier class procession, the tedium of which was interrupted only by the fingernails-on-blackboard screeching of breathtakingly expensive motorcycles grinding their way through gravel, paled in comparison to the heart-stopping action offered up in the junior class tilts.  In today’s first race, Brit Danny Kent padded his 2015 Moto3 championship lead with a brilliant series of toe-curling last lap maneuvers to steal victory by 3/100ths of a second over second place finisher Enea Bastianini, the top six finishers separated by less than a second.

The Moto2 race was a three man affair, with defending champion Tito Rabat, rookie Alex Rins and series leader Johann Zarco battling savagely over the last ten laps.  Rabat, desperate for a win to put himself back in the conversation for a repeat title, led most of these, dogged by Rins, until mistakes by both riders allowed Zarco the win, with Rins taking second and Rabat third.  Again, the top three finishers were separated by a single second.  Frenchman Zarco appears to have the inside track to this year’s title, but it is still early, and the gaggle of blueprinted 600cc bikes flying into the first turns of the world’s great racetracks virtually guarantees bedlam, as Sandro Cortese, Axel Pons and Xavier Simeon discovered the hard way today.

The Big Picture in MotoGP

For the factory Yamaha team, Round 7 of 2015 was a lucky #7, as it afforded both riders the opportunity to separateRossi & Lorenzo themselves from the field.  With Lorenzo and Rossi essentially tied, momentum clearly in Lorenzo’s favor, they lead #3 Ducati wild man Andrea Iannone by over 40 points.  Iannone, in turn, leads teammate Andrea Dovizioso by 11 points since Dovizioso, whom I pointed out last week never crashes, has now recorded DNFs in the last two contests.  For Marc Marquez, life has gotten so bad that he must now traffic with the likes of plucky satellite Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith, whom he leads by a single point after crashing out of three of the first seven rounds of the season.  Marquez is learning what my old friend Darby shared with me decades ago—good things come in threes, while bad things come in the millions.

Assen and The Sachsenring Beckon

17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes must have had Rounds 8 and 9 in mind when he wrote in 1651 that the hobbes_animnatural condition of mankind (presumably, MotoGP pilots toiling at Assen and The Sachsenring) is “nasty, brutish and short.”  [For complete accuracy, he should have added cold and damp.]  The annual MotoGP calendar has two sets of outliers—the cool, wet tracks in England, Holland and Germany, and the hot, humid and jetlagged venues in the annual Pacific flyaway.  The next month may prove adventurous to riders on early and out laps on cold tires in the narrow confines of Assen and Saxony.

The clear advantage the 2015 Yamahas enjoy in their ability to maintain corner speed will be minimized over the next month, a rare opportunity for the Hondas, Ducatis and, now, Suzukis to make some hay.  Jorge Lorenzo, a creature of rhythm and consistency, has both going for him by the truckload, and appears untouchable anywhere, from the rickety Wild Mouse rollercoaster on the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk to the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The next two tracks on the schedule are his least favorites.  If anyone is going to challenge him for the 2015 title, now is the time.

Marquez needs his rally hat at Spain #2

June 12, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Catalunya Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

boilig-frogI’ve been told you can put a frog in a pan of cold water and set it on a low fire, allowing the water to heat up gradually until the frog, just sitting there minding his own business, is cooked.  Playing the role of the frog at present and wearing #93 is defending world champion Marc Marquez, trailing series leader Valentino Rossi by 49 points as the 2015 season passes the one third pole.  Marquez fans around the world are going all Nelly, suddenly aware that “it’s getting’ HOT in here.” 

No one was sweating the curious 5th place finish at Losail, where weird things often happen.  The win at Austin showed relieved fans that all was, indeed, well with the Repsol Honda wunderkind.  The careless crash in Argentina seemed like a bump in the road, until the fourth place finish in France, which had people scratching their heads.  When the expected comeback at Mugello ended in disaster on Lap 18, those of us anticipating a decade of Marquez titles were jarred by the realization that a third consecutive title in 2015 would require a fairly complete collapse by the entire Movistar Yamaha team and has become, to use my friend Kevin’s term for bad movie plots, “unlikely.”

Not impossible.  A win in Barcelona coupled with a bad weekend from the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team could put Marquez back in third place by Sunday afternoon.  Misfortune, as everyone knows, can strike quickly in this sport, especially at places like Assen and The Sachsenring, up next on the calendar.  But the fact that, for Marquez, the 2015 title now depends on Valentino Rossi AND Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of a race or two is vastly different from the scenario we’ve seen over the past two seasons.  Marquez morphed from dark horse to contender in 2013 when teammate Dani Pedrosa and rival Lorenzo broke collarbones in The Netherlands and Germany.  During his serene 2014, in which he barely broke a sweat winning the first ten races of the season, he could afford to ignore Lorenzo and Rossi and focus on dreaming up entertaining post-race celebrations.  The samurai ritual at Motegi last year was especially notable.Samurai celebration

Now, a year later, Marquez, sitting in fifth place, has lost control of his season.  The eventual outcome of the 2015 championship is in the veteran hands of Rossi and Lorenzo, both of whom look capable of winning.  The Yamaha and Ducati factories have given their riders much better machinery than they’ve enjoyed in years past, leveling the field, if not tilting it in their favor over the Hondas.

Personally, I can see Andrea Iannone blowing up in the second half of the season, going highside and recording a handful of DNSes; he is perhaps the most aggressive rider on the grid seated on a bike fast enough to enter a low earth orbit. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso rarely crashes and manages his tires, but has a single career win, at Donington Park back in 2009.  But, you say, Nicky Hayden won the 2006 title with only two wins; those days are long over.  Rossi, and especially Lorenzo, are riding as well as they ever have; the notion that both of them will suddenly fall off the chart is almost laughable.  Yet, for Marquez to win in 2015, that’s pretty much what needs to happen.

Catalunya—The Heart of Lorenzo’s Land

Lorenzo at workThe Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, closest to Jorge Lorenzo’s birthplace off the coast of Spain, is one of his favorite tracks.  Over the last nine years he has recorded eight starts, four wins, three seconds, and last year’s outlier, a fourth place finish in the midst of his half-season malaise.  He stomped the field in 2012, outraced Dani Pedrosa by 1.8 seconds in 2013, and suffered last year while Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa rode the wheels off their bikes, Rossi sneaking into second place after Marquez and Pedrosa traded paint late in the day.  Last year’s race was one of the best of all time, probably one of the most satisfying wins of Marquez’ young career.

Lorenzo, coming off a hat trick at Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello, will be the favorite on Sunday.  Hopefully, by then the locals will have sobered up from the celebration of their football team’s world title this past Saturday.  For sports fans in this part of the planet, having Barca put it to Juventus, followed by Lorenzo putting it to everyone eight days later would be the equivalent of having home teams winning the Super Bowl and the Final Four in the same week.  And while Marquez and Pedrosa and the rest of the Spanish riders will all spend some time this week talking about the pleasures of racing at home, most of the locals, and all of the frontrunners, will be rooting for Jorge.

A Quick Golf Analogy

Many of us read this week the startling figure that Valentino Rossi, leading the championship after six rounds, has led a total of four (4) laps all year, while teammate Lorenzo has led 91.  Looking at these two numbers in a vacuum, one would assume that Lorenzo would be leading Rossi by a country mile.  Not so.

As it turns out, the only lap that is important to lead is the last one.  The comparison to golf is irresistible.  This, I suspect, is why you read this column on a regular basis—the never-ending and always enjoyable links to other sports.  Football, baseball, and now golf.  Golfers have an expression that captures the essence of the counterintuitive 91 to four ratio….wait for it…

Drive for show, putt for dough.  You’re welcome.

Has Arm Pump Surgery Become a Status Symbol?

Avintia Racing’s Hectic Hector Barbera is the latest victim of the nasty arm pump syndrome.  Having undergone surgery this past week—think splitting the casing on a kielbasa and then sewing it back together–his participation this weekend is described as “doubtful.”  Every year it seems like half a dozen riders go under the knife for this repair.  These are some of the toughest guys on the planet, so the pain must be immense.  Since it’s usually the right arm, the throttle arm, I don’t understand why the manufacturer’s don’t simply install an accelerator pedal on the right side of the bike, since the riders’ right legs are generally useless anyway, other than Rossi and a few imitators.  Jorge Lorenzo, whose riding style approaches poetry, rarely kicks out his leg entering turns.  The aesthetics of grand prix motorcycle racing would be improved if riders kept their legs to themselves, another solid reason for an accelerator pedal.  Just sayin’.

Your Weekend Forecast

It looks like there’ll be warm temps and plenty of rain in the Montmelo area between Friday and Monday.  Good news for the Ducati riders, as the Desmosedici has always been surprisingly stable in the wet.  Bad news for most everyone else, making setup difficult and raising the possibility of a hair-raising flag-to-flag affair.  Rain is one of the wildcards that can shake up a championship, as it raises the likelihood of crashing and forces riders to be more conservative than usual.

For Marc Marquez and his ornery RC213V, the prospect of a wet weekend must seem like the racing gods are just piling on.  But, to the extent that weather could toss a spanner into the works of the factory Yamaha team, he has no choice but to embrace the elements and make them work for him.  If the Bruise Brothers end up on the Catalan podium and he ends up in the kitty litter his 2015 season will be poached.

Lorenzo ruins Italian clambake at Mugello

May 31, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Mugello Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDFor the third round in succession, Movistar Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead, switched on the autopilot on his YZR-M1, cranked up Kings of Leon on his MP3 player, and never broke a sweat in winning the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  What was suspected after Le Mans has now been confirmed at Mugello—Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat for the 2015 MotoGP championship.  The only way things could get any worse for Honda’s double defending world champion Marc Marquez would be if Lorenzo were to steal his girlfriend. 

Let’s face it.  Other than Ferrari’s periodic dominance in F-1 and the salad years of Agostini and Rossi, Italians haven’t had much to cheer about since the days of da Vinci and Michaelangelo.  The European Union has done little to dispel the rampant nationalism extant in most of the continent, and the motorsports rivalry between Italy and Spain has never been greater, with Spain having dominated MotoGP for the last five years.  The rejuvenation of Rossi and the resurgence of Ducati in 2015 have given hope to Italian racing fans, 91,000 of whom were in attendance today hoping for an Italian victory, whether by man or machine.  Were it not for Lorenzo, as strong as he’s ever been, they’d have fished their wish, as Andrea Iannone took second from pole on his Ducati GP15 while Valentino Rossi, the #1 athlete in the country, finished third on his Yamaha for his 10th podium in a row dating back to last year.

For Honda Racing Corporation and poster boy Marc Marquez it was another wretched weekend in a season of wretched weekends, the lone exception being Round 2 in Austin.  Saturday may have been the single worst day of Marquez’ premier class career, as he finished FP3 in 11th position, the meaningless FP4 in 5th, suffered the ignominy of consignment with the dregs to Q1, and failed to advance into Q2, resulting in his starting the race from 13th position, the only time in his MotoGP career he has failed to start from the first two rows.  But as the race started, he looked like the Marquez of 2013-14, climbing to 3rd place by Lap 3, looking loose and dangerous perched on Iannone’s pipes.

Iannone, Monty Python’s Black Knight of MotoGP, racing with a bad left shoulder and fractured right elbow, would marquez_crashbecome a brick wall around which Marquez was unable to navigate while Lorenzo was cruising off into the ether.  After 15 laps of trying, Marquez went after the Italian again in Turn 3 of Lap 18 where the front of his RC213V washed away, sending him into the gravel for his second DNF of the young year.

For HRC, Lap 18 would get worse.  Moments later, Rossi went through on the tough Dani Pedrosa, looking recovered from his arm pump surgery early in the season, and who had spent much of the day in fourth place.  Rossi, having started eighth and faded to 11th early in the day, outraced much of the field on his way to yet another podium.  Despite leading the 2015 championship, Rossi knows that he will ultimately fall to Lorenzo unless he can get his merda together in qualifying, something he has generally been unable to do since the advent of the two-15 minute QP sessions in 2013.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Andrea Dovizioso, who qualified 3rd on Saturday and spent a good part of Sunday running with the group challenging for second place, retired with a mechanical issue on Lap 14 described as “rear wheel chatter.”  The chatter may have been about Iannone challenging him for the #1 seat on the Ducati team; Dial A Nickname Joe does love himself some GP15.  Pedrosa finished fourth—bravo Dani—in front of up-and-coming Bradley Smith, who flogged his Tech 3 Yamaha from the 11 hole at the start to another credible 5th place finish, following the #1 rule in motorsports which is “Beat your teammate by half a second”, Pol Espargaro crossing the line sixth.

Suzuki girlsSteadily improving Maverick Vinales, on the #2 Suzuki Ecstar, finished seventh for his best result in MotoGP while teammate Aleix Espargaro, still struggling with injuries suffered at Jerez, had another “sorely” disappointing DNF.  Spots 8 through 10 were occupied by Ducati, with wildcard Michele Pirro driving a GP15 to eighth, Danilo Petrucci finishing ninth pending an inquiry from Race Direction concerning an incident on Lap 3, and Yonny Hernandez closing in tenth place.  Constructor-wise, Round 6 produced another top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, one Honda and one Suzuki.

In addition to Marquez, other high profile crashers today included Jack Miller, enduring his indentured servitude on the CWM LCR production Honda, aging Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda, Stefan Bradl, heading for oblivion on the Forward Racing Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow, who banged up a thumb in the morning warm-up and, like Marquez, chose the hard option front tire, which let him down on Lap 21 as he fought Smith for fifth place.

I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that part of Iannone’s success today, under extremely painful conditions, may have been due to the radically upgraded brolly girl assigned to keep him in the pre-race shade.  She, in turn, may have been to blame for Joe coming this close to jumping the start as the lights were going out.  Let’s just leave it at that.

The Big Picture

Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots a third of the way into the season, with Rossi still leading Lorenzo by a scant six points; those two warriors could easily trade places in Barcelona.  Tranche Two, The Ducati Strata, finds Dovizioso two points in front of teammate Iannone, Iannone having the momentum leaving Italy.  In fifth place sits the dejected Marquez, on the bubble.  Difficult to say at this point whether he will rally back into the top three or, instead, go all immature and find himself sulking with the Tech 3 and CWM LCR entries.  My prediction of his return to prominence this weekend looked good early, but it’s pretty clear that Honda will not win a title this year in MotoGP.  The two Suzukis and Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Octo Pramac Ducati close out the fight for top ten status.

Although Jorge Lorenzo is clearly one of the more popular riders in MotoGP, he doesn’t seem to inspire the rabid podium-mugello-2014fascination of fans the way Rossi and Marquez do.  Fortunately for you, the reader, I have discovered why this is.  When Lorenzo is dominant, as he has been for the last three trysts, the race becomes dull, at best a fight for second place.  When Rossi or Marquez is winning races, it’s almost always some kind of dramatic, come-from-behind, paint-trading, barely-under-control affair that sets fans’ blood boiling.  Watching Lorenzo win is like watching iron rust.  Watching Rossi tracking down some unfortunate frontrunner or Marquez barging his way into the lead brings on head-bobbing, body-twisting gesticulation, full of “oh nos” and “oh yesses”, punctuated by grunts, groans and shouts.  Put another way, watching Rossi and Marquez win is like having sex with a partner, while watching Lorenzo win is like being, um, home alone.  Fun, but not nearly as satisfying.

On to Barcelona!

Mugello Race Results

2015 Championship Standings Year to Date

Rossi and Lorenzo lead annual assault on Mugello

May 26, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Mugello Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives.  Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year.  Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together.  Right now would be a good time to do so. 

Rossi & LorenzoValentino Rossi, surprisingly sitting in first place, observes that Marquez would be in the thick of it today were it not for his decision to go for the win in Argentina rather than settling for second place.  The resulting crash cost him 20 points that he would dearly love to have in his treasury, the price of youthful exuberance combined, perhaps, with a sense of entitlement.  Reverse the standings at the top—Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Rossi—and you’d have pretty much what I expected back in March.  Of course, it was I who, after Catalunya 2013, wrote Rossi off, suggesting he had already won his last MotoGP race.  When it comes to consuming racing news, you get what you pay for.

Recent History at Mugello

Going back to 2012, Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has had things pretty much his way here.  Having won rather easily in 2012 and 2013, he got involved in a cage match with Marquez last year that left most people breathless, the young champion eventually “pipping” the not-as-young former champion by 12/100ths at the flag after half a dozen laps of shoulder-to-shoulder combat.

In the 2012 affair, Lorenzo gave us one of the performances he has recently turned in at Jerez and Le Mans, leading from Turn 1, metronomic in his consistency, his pace untouchable.  Dani Pedrosa took second that year, with Andrea Dovizioso providing the home fans with their only sunshine, punking LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl at the line, back when Bradl was relevant.  Rossi, in his second and final year flogging the Ducati GP13, ended up an exhausted fifth, while countryman Dovizioso was celebrating his third consecutive podium that season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha.

2013 proved an eventful weekend at Mugello.  That was the year rookie Marquez, during practice, calmly stepped off his marquez_crashRC213V at roughly 150 mph seconds before plowing it into a concrete wall, setting a record for getting unseated at the fastest speed ever and living to tell about it.  At the start of the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Bautista was able to avoid an off-track beatdown only by virtue of the fact that the concussed Rossi was seeing double and couldn’t figure out which Spanish dumbass to whip.

Later in the race, Marquez crashed out of the lead unassisted, handing the win to Lorenzo, second place to Pedrosa, and third to Tech 3 ruffian Cal Crutchlow, who crashed so many times in practice his medical report ran to seven or eight pages.  The crowd went home disappointed, having only the pleasure of seeing Marquez with road rash on his leathers as consolation.

Last year, Lorenzo, despite having led for 21 of 23 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, with Rossi third, less than three seconds behind.  The win made Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking invincible, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, was unable to take the desperately-needed win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53 point margin over Rossi, a lead which was to prove insurmountable despite a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.

Honda Suddenly Lousy?  No.

Take one bad decision and a broken finger by Marc Marquez, add discernible improvement from both the Yamaha and Ducati camps, and suddenly everyone wants us to believe the RC213V is an un-rideable piece of crap.  Let’s not forget that Casey Stoner swung his right leg over it in 2011 and won a world championship, and that Marquez did the same thing in 2013 and 2014.  The naysayers overlook Stoner’s relative struggles on the Ducati between 2008 and 2010, and claim it is only Marquez’s shimmering brilliance that has made the orange, red and white bucket of bolts competitive over the last two years.

Bologna.

Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding have added fuel to this fire by asserting that the Honda is much harder to ride than they had anticipated.  This sounds like Redding making excuses for a slow transition to new equipment.  And, as readers of this column know by now, we have heard little other than complaints and excuses from Crutchlow ever since he arrived in MotoGP from World Superbike in 2011.  Anyone wishing to cite Stefan Bradl’s lack of improvement in three years on the Honda need only look at what he’s managed to accomplish on the Yamaha this year to dispel that thought.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Honda was a more advanced bike than the Yamaha, and a world ahead of the Ducati, for a number of years heading into 2014.  Advances by both factories have closed the gap significantly.  With all the Honda pilots (except Pedrosa) complaining about a lack of rear grip, it may be that some modifications are necessary; it does not mean HRC needs to go back to the drawing board.  Take away the crash in Argentina and the busted finger; Marquez would be battling Rossi for the 2015 title and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

All of this may reflect a decision from HRC that, with the standard ECU going into effect next season, there is less incentive to improve the bike than has existed up until now; add in the Michelin factor, which will change everything, and it may be that what we’re seeing is Honda engineers marshalling their efforts in the calm before the storm.  If you had asked any of the riders graduating to MotoGP in the last five years what their first choice of bike would have been, almost all of them would have chosen the Honda.

Two Quick Hitters and the Weather Forecast

Espargaro brothersOK, we get it—the Espargaro brothers are as close as, well, brothers.  This past week’s news, that each had surgery after Le Mans, suggests they may be taking this whole filial thing a little too far.  With only four points separating them for the season, the Espargaros make me regret having been an only child.

I’m constantly irritated by how race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt bang on and on about former world champion this and 250cc world champion that every weekend.  Not wishing to sound negative, but it’s difficult to ignore the hard times a number of former world champions are currently having in MotoGP, especially compared to the standings of the collection of “mutts” who haven’t won anything:

Nicky Hayden (MotoGP 2006)  16th      Andrea Iannone (0)  5thH

Hiro Aoyama  (250cc 2009)      19th     Bradley Smith (0)   7th

Alvaro Bautista (125cc 2006)   20th    Aleix Espargaro (0)  9th

Stefan Bradl   (Moto2 2011)      22nd    Danilo Petrucci (0)  11th

I won’t even mention Yonny Hernandez and Scott Redding.  Just sayin’.

With sensational weather forecast for the greater Mugello environs this weekend, the riders should be able to dial in LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Host LL Cool J poses in the press room during the GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live at Club Nokia on December 1, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)perfect race day settings.  One would think that Rossi, racing in front of his homeys, and Lorenzo, on a hot streak, at a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, will dominate the proceedings.  Personally, my imaginary money’s on Marquez.  And, in the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback.  The 2015 season has a long way to go.

Lorenzo leads Yamaha rout in France

May 17, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Le Mans Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

On a picture-perfect afternoon in the French countryside, Movistar Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez:  anyone even hallucinating about a world championship in 2015 will need to go through us.  Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez last time out, took the early lead and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career win in MotoGP.  Rossi had to slice his way through several Ducati GP15s to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to last year.  Meanwhile, it was another forgettable Sunday for Repsol Honda. 

Rossi & LorenzoLorenzo had been fast during the three dry practice sessions, got himself a mani-pedi during a wet FP4 (led by the Great French Hope Loris Baz), and qualified on the front row despite electronics issues.  Marquez, appearing rather unsettled all weekend, rallied during QP2 for a blistering pole lap, half a second clear of factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, in what would be his high point of Round 5.  Rossi, once again unable to get anything going in qualifying, started from the front of Row 3, as if it matters where he starts.  With 200 201 podia under his belt, The Doctor knows it’s where you finish that counts.

A typically hectic start to the race saw The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe, recently Maniac Joe, and now Ironman Joe (racing despite a dislocated shoulder suffered on Monday) Andrea Iannone immediately trade paint with Marquez, the Spaniard getting the worst of it.  Once the dust settled, it was Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Rossi forming up the first group.  Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, in his first race back from arm surgery, started eighth and was running seventh on Lap 2 when he lost the front in Turn 4.  He re-entered the race in 24th place, and spent the day testing his arm, finishing 16th.  His condition heading to Mugello in two weeks is anyone’s guess.

The race announcers speculated it was braking problems that were causing Marquez to climb from fourth place early to sixth place by Lap 5, as he ran wide several times, seeming, with a full fuel load, more out of control than usual.  Rossi, once again looking young and dangerous, pushed Marquez out of the way on Lap 3, bolted past Iannone on Lap 11 and stole Dovizioso’s lunch money on Lap 13, appearing eager to set up a battle with Lorenzo for the win.  And though that joust did not materialize, an epic battle behind Dovizioso for fourth place did, the combatants being Marquez, the wounded Iannone, and Last Brit Standing Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha (countrymen Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding having by this time ended up in the gravel).

With the race three-quarters over, whatever had been bugging Marquez early on appeared solved as he stalked Smith, Marquez in Sepang 2013who was himself preparing to go through on Iannone into 4th place. Over the last seven laps of the race, Marquez and Iannone conducted a cage match reminiscent of their days fighting in Moto2.  Smith, who on Lap 21 was lining up Iannone for fourth, found himself, instead, in sixth place on Lap 23, sucking air, while Marquez and Iannone went at each other with bayonets, changing places at least a dozen times.  Some of the best racing of the year was going on here, with Smith waiting for the seemingly inevitable crash of one or both riders that never came.  Marquez crossed the line on Lap 24 in fourth position, where he finished, while Iannone held Smith off long enough to claim fifth in as gutty a performance as one is likely to see, his left shoulder held in place by adhesive tape and popsicle sticks.  One might argue that Smith deserved a better result today, but in the end the factory bikes prevailed over his satellite entry.  Hard cheese for sure; no apology needed.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro and his factory Suzuki called it a day with mechanical issues early, the rider nursing a world of hurt suffered in a brutal high side in FP4.  Brother Pol on the other Tech 3 Yamaha finished quietly in seventh, with an overachieving Yonny Hernandez driving his Pramac Ducati to a gratifying eighth.  Maverick Vinales, who seems to be getting the hang of things on his own Suzuki Ecstar, punked Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci at the flag for a very decent ninth place finish, with Petrucci, promoted up from the hapless Ioda Racing team after last season, showing us why, ending the day in the top ten.  Nicky Hayden took top open class honors on his Aspar Honda in 11th place, followed by Baz, Avintia Ducati plodder Hector Barbera 13th, Eugene Laverty 14th (for his first premier class points) and Alvaro Baustista closing out the points on his Gresini Aprilia.

The Big Picture

After five rounds, Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots in the standings, Rossi clear of Lorenzo by 15 points, both looking ready to rumble into Mugello.  Dovizioso, sits four points behind Lorenzo in third, while Marquez, in a completely unexpected turn of events, saw his 2015 season deteriorate even farther, trailing Rossi by 33, his swagger and apparent invincibility of the past two years missing in action. Iannone, who with Dovizioso figures to do well in Mugello, sits eight points behind Marquez, with Crutchlow and Smith waging The Second Battle of Britain in seventh and eighth places, separated by a single point.

RossiA word about Valentino Rossi—podium #201 was his today, leading me to project when he will reach #300 (2022), #400 (2030) and #500 (2039), just in time for his 60th birthday.  I hope that whomever is writing this column at that time remembers to give him props.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous.  At age 36 he shows no signs of slowing down, dominating a young man’s game like no other before him.  Had he not gotten his nose out of joint and accepted the millions offered him by Ducati for two years of perdition, he would already have a leg up on podium #300.  Much like Michael Jordan after his two season train wreck/experiment with baseball, Rossi has been welcomed back by the Yamaha team he should never have left, picking up right where he left off at the end of 2010.  Better, in fact, than he was at the end of 2010.  His next venture after MotoGP should be the marketing of The Valentino Rossi Diet, one which guarantees to take five years off your appearance every ten years. The diet, one imagines, will preclude alcohol, tobacco and chasing women.  And while strict adherents to the plan will not live forever, it will certainly seem that way.

Old jokes are good jokes.

On to Mugello

As if the Repsol Honda team didn’t have enough to worry about already, the next stop on the schedule rests in the picturesque Tuscan hills overlooking the fabled city of Bologna, Italy, home of Mugello, a Yamaha track if ever there was one.  These days, it must also be considered a Ducati track.  Today’s result at Le Mans—a top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, a Honda and a Suzuki—came at a neutral site.  Mugello, as most of you know, is anything but neutral.

The Monster Grand Prix de France is anyone’s race

May 13, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Le Mans Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

This Sunday, MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage to France’s Loire River valley for Sunday worship services at Le Mans, one of the shrines of motorsports. The main combatants in this week’s tilt—Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez—have won the last three rounds of an intriguing season. If it rains as per usual, the fourth Alien, Andrea Dovizioso, on the factory Ducati, a known mudder, could contend as well.

podium-mugello-2014As for the second member of the Repsol Honda team, Dani Pedrosa, the silence emanating from HRC since Jerez had been deafening. Pedrosa raced at Losail in Round One despite a flare-up of his chronic arm pump issue which, some folks say, is a result of his simply not being big enough physically to handle 1000cc of brute force. After the race, he returned to Europe for radical/experimental surgery on his arm, and had been absent for the last three races. At Jerez, we were led to believe he would make his return this week. Lo and behold, on Tuesday Pedrosa finally announced he would be at Le Mans. His release fell just short of predicting he would race on Sunday.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380There seems to be a growing sense at HRC HQ that Pedrosa’s injury may be a career-ender. Call it the sound of distant thunder, or idle speculation. What is clear is that Pedrosa, one of this most accomplished riders in MotoGP history, will not win a championship in this lifetime. Too much Rossi, too much Lorenzo, and now too much Marquez. Moto2 is bursting with young talent—Tito Rabat and Alex Rins leap to mind, with Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger and the currently-struggling Alex Marquez not that far behind. One of these guys is going to end up on the second Repsol seat at some point.

With all the money Honda has tied up in MotoGP, they cannot simply stand around if Pedrosa, despite his 15 years of loyal service across three racing classes (and three world titles) starts showing his age. Even the biggest Pedrosa fans must admit that his best years are behind him. Though he will not turn 30 until September, he is old for his age, having had enough titanium inserted and removed from his body to build Lance Armstrong’s bicycle.

If someone were to ask me what I think–an unlikely occurrence–I would expect him to show this week, secure a top ten finish, and make some kind of announcement after the race concerning his future with the team. If the fiercely proud Pedrosa feels he is no longer able to compete at an elite level, he may call it quits. On the other hand, I suppose it’s just as likely he could go out, qualify on the front row, and finish on the podium, his health and confidence fully restored. But Le Mans has never been his favorite circuit, and if it rains, as expected, he may get a case of the yips, as has befallen Jorge Lorenzo. I don’t know about you, but if I’m nursing a surgically-repaired limb, I’m not eager to walk down a flight of stairs, much less go eyeball-to-eyeball with the likes of Valentino Rossi in the rain.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2012, it was dry on Friday and early Saturday, but the rains arrived in time for qualifying, and the race itself was run in a deluge. Lorenzo’s crew dialed in a perfect wet setting for his M-1, and he had one of those outings, not unlike Jerez two weeks ago, where he seemed to be on rails. He was joined on the podium by Rossi, who pushed his Ducati through the mud for the first of his two podia that season, despite finishing almost ten seconds behind his once and future teammate. Defending world champion Casey Stoner, days after announcing his impending retirement at the end of the year, hydroplaned to a third place finish, apparently having been convinced by his pregnant wife that she would take a dim view of raising their child as a young widow.

In 2013, it was Pedrosa who beat Tech 3 Yamaha tough guy Cal Crutchlow and rookie Marc Marquez to the finish in another French downpour, putting himself in the lead for the season, where he would remain until a cursed Round Eight at The Sachsenring, when he fractured his collarbone—again—clearing the way for Marquez to eventually take the title. The reunited factory Yamaha team of Lorenzo and Rossi floundered helplessly that day, Lorenzo crossing the line seventh and Rossi a distant 12th.

Last year, it was a dry race in which Marquez continued his historic run of poles and wins, although the top six finishers—Marquez, Rossi, Alvaro Bautista (Alvaro Bautista?), Pol Espargaro, Pedrosa and Lorenzo—were separated by a scant seven seconds. Bautista, who averaged one third-place finish a year for his three seasons under Fausto Gresini’s lash, pimped Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro by 6/10ths at the finish to deprive Herve Poncharal’s French team of a desperately-desired podium at their home race.

Have I mentioned how old it gets having these riders go all squishy in the media when their “home” races roll around? pol-espargaro-bradley-smith-tech3-yamaha-motogp“Right, we view Le Mans as a home race for our team, in that our chief mechanic’s cousin’s sister-in-law used to be married to a cop in Toulouse.” Please. The Tech 3 team has an American sponsor, a Japanese bike, a Brit and a Spaniard in the saddles, but because the team’s management is French, this is their home race. Really? Using this logic, Tech 3 Yamaha could actually count the four Spanish races, the two American rounds, Le Mans, Donington Park and Motegi as home races, giving them a grand total of nine, or half the season. With such an advantage, it’s surprising they aren’t the leading team on the grid.

Enough already with the home races.

Quick Hitters and Your Weekend Forecast

The Jerez test the day after the race was mostly uneventful, other than Marquez turned some laps rather than resting his hand. He says he will be stronger at Le Mans, which doesn’t actually rise to the level of “news.” Andrea Dovizioso’s pre-Jerez prediction that the factory Ducati team wouldn’t do well there stood up pretty well, with Iannone coming across sixth and Dovi, after his brief detour early on, ending up ninth. Both are confident heading to France (name one rider who’s not) although Iannone will compete with a recently dislocated shoulder suffered at the Italian team’s private testing session at Mugello. Aprilia tested their version of the seamless shift gearbox at Mugello and pronounced it a success, though it won’t be ready in time for this weekend. #1 rider Alvaro Bautista is confident it will improve their results going forward, raising the question: What wouldn’t?

As for the weather, the forecast for the greater Sarthe area calls for temps in the 60’s all three days, with the best chance of rain on Friday. I’m not saying I don’t trust the French—well, I guess I actually am—but I would be surprised if it doesn’t rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8 am EDT Sunday, and I’m sure most of you join me in hoping for more action like we saw at COTA and Rio Hondo. Anyone with a prediction for the podium Sunday is welcome to comment; I, for one, have no idea. Unless it rains, in which case Jorge Lorenzo won’t be around for the celebration.Lorenzo in the rain at Le Mans


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