MotoGP 2016 Brno Results

August 21, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Cal Crutchlow first Brit since 1981 to win a GP 

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

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

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

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Brings Us to Jorge Lorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo.

MotoGP 2016 Brno Preview

August 16, 2016

© Bruce Alllen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Aliens Seek Redemption in Round 11

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

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

Recent History at Brno

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irrational Exuberance

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

MotoGP 2016 Austrian Grand Prix Results

August 14, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Iannone wins; Ducati 1-2 first since 2007

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

First Things First

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

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

Confusion at the Start

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

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

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

Racing Gods Wore Red Today

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

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

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

Curb Your Enthusiasm 

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2016 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

August 9, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Ducati has the Inside Track for Round 10

Based upon the test results after Round 9, it appears MotoGP Chief Cheddar Carmelo Ezpeleta has finally located a circuit at which the Ducati teams can compete for a win, their first since 2010.  The two-day test, at which the Repsol Honda and Tech 3 teams were AWOL, found seven of the top eight times on Tuesday clutched by Ducati pilots.  Wednesday, it was the top four and six of the top ten, with the factory Yamahas and Suzukis claiming fifth through eighth.

Ducati Corse’s battle cry heading into the year was, “Back to winning races in 2016!”  Due to some back luck (Andrea Dovizioso) and bad judgment (Andrea Iannone) this has yet to be the case.

For the Ducati Desmosedici, which is blisteringly fast in the straights, but still difficult to manage in the turns, the ideal circuit layout design is shown below, two long straights with but two turns.

Two turns

The next best layout would look rather Daytona-ish, with only three turns.   Three turns.png

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval layout would be great, too, with only four turns:Four turns As we saw back in July, the Red Bull Ring, consisting of nine (9) turns, is overtly Ducati-friendly.  It favors the Ducati so much it is easy to imagine, like, two of the Italian machines on the podium this weekend.

Red Bull Ring is as close as MotoGP is likely ever to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats.Circuit_Red_Bull_RingAccording to some F-1 sites, the racing surface is relatively low grip, low abrasion and bumpy in places; what we kickball pitchers used to refer to as “fast and bouncy.”  Tire choices, as always, will be important, with the softer options predicted to be in high demand.  One thing is certain—the track is fast, meaning Jorge Lorenzo will have a puncher’s chance to improve his 2016 fortunes this weekend.

When Last We Left our Intrepid Heroes

Speaking personally, it seems like 2015 since MotoGP has been front of mind.  These back-to-back vacations (one race since June 26) are great for the riders and the teams, miserable for the hack journalists (me) trying to maintain some readership during the summer months.  For those of you who share my general lack of recall, let’s review where we are and how we got here.

  1. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda, 170 points.  Three wins, eight podiums, in the points every time out despite a slide-off in France.  Looking consistent and mature, riding eerily like he did in 2014.  Perhaps because he’s on a 2014 frame.  With a 48-point lead heading into the back nine (38 of which he’s gathered since Montmelo during the Great Yamaha Collapse), he is the man to beat.  Now showing the maturity to settle for second place when a win isn’t in the cards.
  2. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, 122 points.  Three wins, five podiums, two DNFs.  Since winning at Mugello, he crashed at Catalunya, finished 10th at Assen and 15th at The Sachsenring, the latter two in wet conditions.  Cannot maintain his signature high corner speed in the rain.  Unless he can make a major move this weekend and the following week at Brno, his chances to repeat and earn his fourth premier class title would appear to be toast.  Heading off into the wild red yonder next season with Ducati, where world championships are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
  3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 111 points.  Two wins, four podiums, three DNFs, including an unforced off at Assen that has hurt his chances for a 10th premier class title in 2016.  Blew an engine at Mugello in a race he might have won otherwise.  Despite a new two-year contract at Yamaha, he will need all his skill and a pile of bad luck for Marquez if he is to challenge this year.  In a déjà vu to 2008, he will have a fast, young, aggressive teammate next season in Maverick Vinales, who could push him farther than he seems to be going in 2016.
  4. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda, 96 points.  No wins, two podiums, one DNF.  Though he denies it, Pedrosa, to me, appears to have lost his passion for racing.  He understands he will never win a premier class title.  He is not competitive on a bike being designed for his teammate.  He is signed with the Repsol team through 2018, but I don’t know why.  He is able to provide good feedback to the engineers, none of whom appear to be listening to him.  He has tax issues.  He flirted with Suzuki earlier this year before re-upping with Honda.  He is in danger of losing his Alien card, and is starting to remind me of Colin Edwards late in his career when he could be counted on to finish fifth.
  5. Maverick Vinales, Suzuki Ecstar, 83 points.  No wins, one podium, one DNF.  Ticketed to the factory Yamaha team for next season, his star is rising as quickly as Pedrosa’s is falling.  He could take Pedrosa’s Alien card from him next year, 2018 at the latest.  According to many he is The Next Great MotoGP Rider.  Last year’s Rookie of the Year turned 21 this past January and has a lot of racing in front of him.
  6. Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 Yamaha, 72 points.  No wins, no podiums, one DNF at The Sachsenring.  Prior to crashing out of the last round he had finished in the points every time out.  Top-ranked satellite rider on the grid, slated to join the nascent KTM factory team for its maiden season next year.  At 25 years old, he will likely never hold an Alien card, but he is fast and consistent.
  7. Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati, 65 points.  Winless, he has finished in the points every time out in the midst of his best ever premier class season.  Having accumulated a grand total of 94 points in his last three seasons combined, he is getting lots of speed out of his two-year old Ducati.  Qualified in the middle of the first row in Germany.  At 29 years old, he is getting a little long in the tooth for this sport.  Were he to earn a newer version of the Desmo next year he could see some top five finishes.
  8.  Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati, 63 points.  No wins, two podiums, four DNFs in a dumpster fire of a season in which I had tagged him for Alien status.  He has changed his nickname from Crazy Joe to The Maniac; to me, he is Loose Cannon, having taken both his teammate Andrea Dovizioso and rival Jorge Lorenzo out of races.  The most dangerous rider on the grid, he was encouraged by Ducati management to find new employment starting next year, and has been picked up by Suzuki Ecstar, where he will make life interesting for teammate Alex Rins in 2017 and 2018.  Has shortened the ubiquitous “win or bin” motto to just “bin.”
  9. Andrea Dovizioso, Factory Ducati, 59 points.  Two podiums, four DNFs and an empty bottle of Tums to show for his 2016 season.  He’s been poleaxed by Dani Pedrosa, chop-blocked by Andrea Dovizioso, and had an engine come loose on him before finally having earned a DNF in Race #2 at Assen, after leading Race #1 when it was red-flagged.  At age 30, having flirted with Alien status earlier in his career, he appears to be a good wingman for Lorenzo starting next year.  Steady, mature, reliable, drama-free, Dovizioso should not be sitting in ninth place at this point of the season.
  10. Eugene Laverty, Aspar Ducati, 53 points. #3 satellite rider on the grid, finished in the points every time out on his beat-up old Ducati.  Seems significantly faster than brother Michael who, it must be acknowledged, was stuck with even worse machinery than Eugene.  As of this writing Laverty is unsigned for 2017, despite being the highest placed Brit on the grid, if not the noisiest or most irritating.  In my unsolicited opinion he has earned a MotoGP seat for next season with one of the Ducati satellite teams.

Ihr Wochenende Prognose

As regards the weather in the Spielberg metro area, cool, wet conditions midweek are expected to give way to drier and gradually warmer weather for the weekend, with Sunday looking like the warmest day of the three.  The track is likely to be dirty from lack of recent use and a couple of days of rain.  FP1 and FP2 could present some surprises, with the slow track, riders not very familiar with the layout, and cool weather.  All of which leads me to predict that some unfamiliar names will show up in Q1.

As for the race itself, I can’t help but think the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team should be in the mix, along with Lorenzo and Marquez.  Rossi, pressing, can be expected to threaten the podium, too.  The dramatic changes in elevation resemble the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and we all know who owns that joint.  Put a gun to my head and I’ll say Marquez, Lorenzo and Dovizioso on the podium Sunday; no idea as to which of the three will stand on the top step.

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

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Results

July 17, 2016

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lucky Sevens Abound as Marquez Romps in Germany 

Occasionally in this world, team sports produce individual accomplishments that stay etched in people’s minds for years.  We know that Marc Marquez qualified on pole at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.  We know that he won at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.   We know that in doing so he became, at age 23, the seventh winningest rider in MotoGP history.  It is important, however, to acknowledge the work of his crew that made all of these sevens possible.

Qualifying Issues for Aliens

In Assen, it was Dani Pedrosa’s day in the barrel on Saturday, when he had to join the dregs in Q1 and failed to make it out, starting in 16th place and never making an impression in qualifying or the race itself.  This Saturday it was defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s turn.  For the first time since the current qualifying format was adopted in 2013, Lorenzo had to go through Q1 to get to Q2, which he did, barely, by 5/100ths of a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow, despite crashing hard late in the session.

Barely 20 minutes later, in Q2, Lorenzo parted company with his bike again, smashing his #2 while the crew was still busy putting #1 back together.  His scooter ride back to the garage was a sorry sight.  For the second round in a row, he started from 11th place on the grid, the sole difference being that in Assen he had to contend with the rain, while here the qualifying conditions were perfect.  It appears Lorenzo has lost confidence in his tires, his bike and perhaps himself.  This is a man in need of a vacation.

When the smoke cleared on Saturday, Marquez sat on pole, with Valentino Rossi looking dangerous on his Yamaha M1 in third.  But three of the top five spots belonged to satellite entries:  the occasionally amazing Hector Barbera sitting second on the two-year-old Avintia Ducati; mudder Danilo Petrucci in fourth on the year old Pramac Ducati, and Pol Espargaro, who coaxed his Tech 3 Yamaha into the five hole.  Even in dry conditions, things were shaping up oddly in Germany.

The only breaking news from Saturday was that Cal Crutchlow was angry after qualifying, starting from 13th when any wanker could clearly see he would have been on the second row but for Bradl’s stupidity blah blah blah…(yawn)…  However, this time he proved to be right.  And—MO will be the only racing site to provide this factlet—for the third and final time this season, he doubled his point total in one hour.  As usual, he diluted the goodwill generated by his performance today with a nasty post-race interview with Dylan Gray, taking credit for being the only rider with the “balls to go out on a wet track on slicks,” which is 1) incorrect, and 2) self-aggrandizing, never a pretty combination.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

The undercard races were fascinating.  Malaysian rookie Khairul Pawi simply ran away with the Moto3 tilt for the second time in his rookie season, again in the rain, after starting from 20th on the grid. Then there was the thrilling run to the wire in Moto2, where Johann Zarco, heading to Tech 3 Yamaha next season, pipped future teammate Jonas Folger at the flag on a surface that was wet-ish, but not drenched as it had been for Moto3.

Other than the abbreviated FP1, none of the MotoGP practice sessions had been run in the wet.  Marquez crashed heavily during the soaking morning warm-up session and was lucky to escape without the remnants of his RC213V embedded in his torso, after rider and bike went cartwheeling through the gravel together. Four hours before the race was to go off, Marquez’s crew had an intact #2 bike and, off to the side, an engine, two wheels and a pile of steel and fiberglass fragments they needed to instantly convert to a functioning MotoGP machine.  With no time to do it, and a potential flag-to-flag situation in the offing.

Decisions, Decisions

The race started with everyone on rain tires.  Marquez got off to a good start, but was immediately overtaken by Rossi, then Dovizioso on the factory Ducati. On Lap 3 Danilo Petrucci went through on both Marquez and Rossi into second place, seizing the lead from Dovizioso on Lap 4.  Suddenly, passing Marc Marquez became fashionable.  Jack Miller—yes, that Jack Miller—did so on Lap 6; Hectic Hector Barbera got in on the act on Lap 9.  Marquez was sinking like a stone.  He went hot into Turn 8 on Lap 11, spent some quality time in the gravel, and re-entered the fray trailing Dani Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone, although Petrucci had crashed out of the lead on the same lap.  If someone had offered me the opportunity to bet my house against Marquez at that point I would now be homeless.

While all this was going on, the rain had stopped by Lap 7, and the beginnings of a dry racing line were becoming visible from the helicopter. On Lap 13, Andrea Iannone had changed bikes and gone back out on the Michelin intermediates (perhaps “indeterminants” would be a better name).  Chaos reigned on pit row; crews were working madly, changing tires and brakes.  Dylan Gray was going mental, trying to suss out what was happening.  His guess was that the teams were fitting intermediate tires and steel brakes.  He would be proven wrong.

Loris Baz was the second rider to enter pit lane when, suddenly, Marquez himself entered after Lap 17.  When #93 returned to the track, Nick Harris and Matthew Brit, calling the race, became semi-hysterical upon discovering that Marquez’ crew had fitted his bike with slicks and a dry setting.  What had been a pile of breathtakingly expensive junk barely four hours earlier had become the fastest bike on the track.

The leaders, all on wet tires, were at this point lapping in the 1:35 range.  Marquez, squeezing his bike into a racing line perhaps a foot wide, completed Lap 23 in 1:28.  Though it was too soon to tell, the race was already over.  The leaders, other than Jack Miller, entered the pits on Lap 24, way too late to challenge Marquez.  Miller, having decided to go down with his ship, finally pitted on Lap 26 on his way to a very respectable, if ill-considered, seventh place finish.  The Pawi/Miller parley, offered by London bookies at a billion to one, was history.  Marquez eased back on the gas on Laps 29 and 30 and still won by 10 seconds.

In the post-race press conference, Marquez revealed that he and his crew have decided that the intermediate tires “do not exist for them.”  The startling decision to put him back out on slicks, which I had been crediting to a cerebral Santi Hernández, had actually been made weeks earlier.  We have observed in past years that MotoGP teams are “teams” in only the loosest sense, as the #1 rule on track is Beat Your Teammate.  Today, however, it became clear that this is, in fact, a team sport, that the sublime efforts of a supremely gifted rider will often be scuttled by lackluster work from his crew (see Bradl’s race here in 2014).  For the Repsol Honda #1 team today, it was, indeed, a brilliant team effort that produced a scintillating win.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez came to Germany leading the 2016 chase by 24 points and left leading by 48 as Jorge Lorenzo again failed to show up in any meaningful way, finishing 15th with his head down, his hopes for a fourth world title in 2016 in tatters and totally at the mercy of the weather.  Teammate Rossi lost more ground again today, coming in eighth and trails now by 59 points.  Marquez likes to say that Assen and the Sachsenring offer opportunities to gain or lose a lot of ground.  Even if that’s true for every circuit on the calendar, he took control of the championship over these last two rounds, making it hard to argue with him.

The top ten finishers, listed below, were interesting, as is often the case in flag-to-flag contests.  The Ducati contingent had another highly productive weekend, thanks mostly to the weather, which also contributed to a dismal outing for Suzuki Ecstar—Vinales 12th, Espargaro 14th.  The grip problems the Suzuki experiences on dry surfaces are magnified in the wet, according to team principal Davide Brivio.

Most of the grid heads to Austria tonight for two days of testing.  Marc Marquez, the 2016 championship now officially his to lose, is heading to the beach.  It is reasonable to expect that before he leaves tonight he will have picked up a big dinner check, a small thank you to his crew for a big job well done.

2016 German Grand Prix Race Results

2016 Championship Standings after Nine Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Preview

July 12, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

It’s starting to feel a lot like 2013

Misfortune having found Movistar Yamaha icons Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last time out in Assen, Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez looks to be getting away with the 2016 championship. For the riders currently trailing Marquez, i.e., everyone, the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland couldn’t come at a worse time.

The German Grand Prix arrives in the midst of a two-races-in-68-days drought; there are simply no opportunities to play catch-up until mid-August. Then, beginning with the newfangled Austrian Grand Prix, the grid confronts an eight- races-in-77-days stretch, culminating at Sepang at the end of October. Marquez has fared well during the orderly every-other-week schedule that opened the season. Once The Red Bull Ring arrives, teams will have few opportunities to make adjustments, with the frantic Pacific swing looming in the fall.

Scheduling issues aside, the Alien contingent faces major challenges cutting into Marquez’ lead in Germany, where he is undefeated since 2009. He has won every MotoGP race he has started here, from pole each time. (If you wish to take issue with the fact that he’s hung onto his 2014 chassis, feel free.) Meanwhile, Rossi hasn’t won here since 2009, with but two podia to show for his efforts since then. Jorge Lorenzo has never won here in the premier class, his high water mark having been four consecutive second place results between 2009 and 2012. And Dani Pedrosa, suffering out loud with the Marquez specs built into his 2016 RC213V, owned the joint until 2013. Although he’s finished second here the last two seasons, his fortunes have taken a downturn this year. One doubts he will see the podium this weekend.

Anyone thinking, “Well, what about Jack Miller?” at this juncture needs to make a New Year’s resolution to quit sniffing glue in 2017.

Recent History in Dresden

2013 looked like it would be 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 re-pulverized collarbone. Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring the collarbone he broke at Assen; with two Aliens missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots. Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish until 2015. Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified well in the middle of the front row on the Tech 3 Yamaha, finished second for his best premier class result ever, eight seconds ahead of Rossi.

The 2014 fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of a rapidly drying track at the start. Homeboy Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up on the grid with 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 wet to dry, causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish, seemingly running in molasses. Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.

2015: The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast last year they appeared to have snuck their MotoGP machines into a World Superbike race. Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, led every practice session. As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and 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.

Marquez owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Six consecutive wins, six consecutive poles. Fastest lap ever. Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is receding into memory. It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one this year and pummels it into submission in 2017.

2017 Rider Lineup

Unconfirmed riders in italics:

Repsol Honda
Marc Marquez
Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha
Valentino Rossi
Maverick Vinales

Ducati Factory
Jorge Lorenzo
Andrea Dovizioso

Suzuki Ecstar
Andrea Iannone
Alex Rins

KTM Factory
Bradley Smith
Pol Espargaro

Aprilia Gresini
Sam Lowes
Aleix Espargaro

LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow

Marc VDS Honda
Jack Miller
Tito Rabat

Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Jonas Folger
Johann Zarco

Pramac Ducati
Scott Redding
Danilo Petrucci

Aspar Ducati (Suzuki?)
Yonny Hernandez
Alvaro Bautista

Avintia Ducati
Hector Barbera
Loris Baz

It would not surprise me if the Avintia team were to jettison hard-luck Loris Baz in favor of noted underachiever Stefan Bradl, the highest profile rider not to have a seat lined up for next year. Bradl, not known for his ability to develop a bike, needs no such skills in order to pedal a two-year-old Ducati.

Quick Hitters

Aleix Espargaro abandoned all hope for eventual Alien status by accepting the second seat on the factory Aprilia Gresini team for the next two years. Factory money should soothe some of the pain…Nicky Hayden continues to perform respectably during his rookie season in World Superbikes with Honda, securing a podium and a fifth place finish at Laguna Seca over the weekend. He currently stands sixth for the season, a mere 13 points out of fourth, but a country mile from third. There are Aliens in WSB, too…Loris Baz returns from injury this week, having missed the last two rounds with around a dozen titanium screws in his foot. No FMLA for this guy, as his seat with Avintia for next season would appear to be in jeopardy, in part due to his recent extended absence…The elusive Circuit of Wales has applied for a new funding “scheme,” the same week it was revealed that one of its executives had $42,000 worth of landscaping performed at his home and billed to the track. In the UK, they don’t call these things schemes for nothing.

Your Weekend Forecast

At this writing, Weather.com tells us to expect wet conditions for much of the weekend, with temps rising from Friday to Sunday. If such turns out to be the case, it will bode well for the Ducati contingent, neutral for Marquez and Rossi, and negative for Lorenzo, who may show up with a note from his mom excusing him from any wet sessions. If, as is generally the case, Weather.com has it completely wrong, look for sunny skies on race day with temps around 80° F.

Speaking of completely wrong, the layout and expected weather conditions would seem to favor the Hondas and Suzukis; the Ducatis will rarely get out of fifth gear. I can visualize Marquez, Rossi and Vinales on the podium, with Jorge Lorenzo nowhere in sight. The tradition of leaving on holiday during the heat of the summer commences on Sunday evening, erasing all interest in MotoGP across the globe until mid-August. As usual, the race goes off early in the morning on Sunday in the states, and we will have results and analysis here around noon EDT.

Australia worships Jack Miller at The Cathedral

June 26, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

MotoGP 2016 Assen Results 

The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story.  Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps.  Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters.  And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.

2016-06-26a

Assen in the rain

Saturday’s qualifying sessions were adventures on a track that was wet but drying quickly.  Pol Espargaro whipped his Tech3 Yamaha into Q2 with a scintillating last lap, joined by Yonny Hernandez, one of the several Ducatis doing especially well.  One rider doing especially not well was Dani Pedrosa, who suffered the ignominy of plodding through Q1, never once threatening to graduate to Q2.

Q2 itself was equally dramatic, as Marquez crashed early, stole some surprised attendant’s scooter to hustle back to the pits, waited for his crew to convert his second bike from dry to wet settings—what was it doing with dry settings anyway?—ultimately putting his RC213V at the top of the second row.  The session ended with Dovizioso, Rossi and Scott Redding daisychaining to the flag for an atypical first row.  Jorge Lorenzo looked tentative, having barely avoided Q1, and started the race in 10th place.  Four Ducatis in the first four rows would have been five if not for Iannone’s brainfart at Catalunya, which penalized him to the back of the grid.

Recapping—Lorenzo started 10th, Pedrosa 16th and Iannone 21st.  Conditions looked ripe for some higher-than-usual finishes on Sunday for several non-Aliens.  Such would, indeed, be the case.

2016-06-26 (5)

If nothing else Tito Rabat had an upgraded brolly girl.

Dovizioso Wins Race #1 to No Avail

Turns out the voices in my head last week telling me factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso could win the Dutch TT were right.  Sort of.  The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during the race, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance.  With Dovi leading Danilo Petrucci, Rossi and Scott Redding, three Ducatis in the top four proved beyond any doubt that the improvements in the Desmosedici’s performance on dry tracks has not come at the expense of its historical stability in the wet.

2016-06-26 (4)

No kidding.

That there were relatively few crashers in the first race—Avintia Ducati plodder Yonny Hernandez, who led most of the way in a true shocker, eventually crashed out of the lead and, for good measure, crashed again on his #2 bike.  Andrea Iannone, who had sliced through the field from 21st to 5th ran out of luck on Lap 14 but was able to rejoin the race in time to qualify for the second race.  The rain, buckets of it, cooled both the air and the track, and the paucity of crashers in the first race would be over-corrected in the second.

Race #2—Weirder than Race #1

The first two rows of the second 12 lap sprint were filled, in order, by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Rossi, Redding, Marquez and Pedrosa, the latter three having been charging toward the lead group in race #1 when the red flags came out.  This, then, was the second time in 90 minutes that there would be no Spanish riders on the front row, the last time being Mugello in 2011.  Interesting to note that joining Michele Pirro on the back row was Jorge Lorenzo, who had been mired in 20th position when the first race ended.  I have sent an official request to the Movistar Yamaha team to cease issuing press releases advising us that Lorenzo has no major concerns about racing in the wet.

Race #2 started much the same as race #1 with Dovizioso and Rossi battling up front.  Marquez, nowhere to be seen the first time out, settled into third, being tailed by, um, Jack Miller. The 21 year-old back marker whose 10th place finish in Barcelona marked the high water mark of his MotoGP career to date was somehow sitting in fourth place looking, well, rather comfortable, if totally out of place.  With cold air, a cold track and cold tires, the crashing began on Lap 1, with both Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crashlow leaving the asphalt, Pedrosa rejoining the festivities miles out of contention.  Rossi went through on Dovizioso and appeared ready to repeat his win of last year.

On Lap 2, Octo Pramac hard luck guy Danilo Petrucci, who had ridden the wheels off his Ducati in race #1, leading when it was called during Lap 15, retired with a mechanical issue, the picture of desolation.  Shortly thereafter Dovizioso quieted the voices in my head with a high speed off from second place, leaving Rossi alone in front leading Marquez by roughly two seconds with Pol Espargaro seizing third place on the Tech 3 Yamaha.  It was on Lap 3 when, shortly after Brit Bradley Smith laid down his own Tech 3 Yamaha that Rossi, appearing to have hit a puddle, lowsided at Turn 10 and, unable to restart his M1, laid his head on the saddle in complete, utter frustration.

2016-06-26 (9)

Rossi banging his head in frustration.

Suddenly, it was Marc Marquez leading the Dutch TT, with this Miller guy snapping at his heels like he hadn’t skipped through Moto2 while Marquez was busy winning a couple of premier class championships.  On Lap 4, Aleix Espargaro crashed his Suzuki out of the race and, unaccountably, Miller went through on Marquez into the lead.  My notes at this juncture read “JM will NEVER finish this race.”  Wrong, as wrong as wrong ever gets.

At the End of the Day

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One Shining Moment for the pride of Australia.

History will record that Jack Miller kept his bike upright and roared to his first premier class podium and win in wet conditions in the 250th MotoGP race of the four stroke era.  He became the first rider not named Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi or Pedrosa to win a MotoGP race since Ben Spies pulled off a similar miracle at Assen back in 2011.  He became the first satellite rider to stand on the top step of the podium since Toni Elias at Estoril in 2006.

2016-06-26 (8)

As strange a podium as you’re likely to see anytime soon.

For the first time since Misano last year two satellite riders stood on the podium, Redding  for the second time in his MotoGP career.  Only 13 riders finished the race, with crashers Pedrosa and Smith several laps down but still in the points.  Some astute reader will reveal the identity of the last Australian rider before Casey Stoner to win a MotoGP race; our crack research department is off on holiday this week.  Jorge Lorenzo improved greatly on his result from the first race, crossing the line 10th and capturing 6 points, probably shaking like a leaf.

The Big Picture

For Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, the weekend was a debacle.  For Ducati Corse, placing four bikes in the top seven, it was a triumph; Gigi Dall’Igna can only hope for a bevy of wet races during the second half of the season.  Marc Marquez commented several times after the race that his second place finish today felt like a win, as it powered his lead over Lorenzo from 10 to 24 points and pushed Rossi from 22 points back to a daunting 42.  He also refused to respond to a disrespectful crack from Miller during the post-race presser and now is exhibiting the maturity he has needed in the past to go with his ridiculous talents.  It says here he will win the 2016 championship.

Turning our gaze to Dresden, Germany and the tiny, cramped, very Aryan Sachsenring, we are stunned by the events which unfolded today during the first Dutch TT ever run on a Sunday.  The crowd or 105,000 surely got its money’s worth—two races for the price of one, and perhaps the only win of Jack Miller’s premier class career, as I expect him to return to Tranche Four in the weeks to come.

Though I will not deny Miller his One Shining Moment, I’m not sold on his talent nor his attitude.  Perhaps if he reads enough of this stuff he will take a look in the mirror, realize that he is the source of many of his own problems, and think twice before taunting Marc Marquez in a post-race press conference, should he ever be invited to one again.  Trailing the double world champion by 112 points, the only term he should use to address Marquez in 2016 is “sir.”

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

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 prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge 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.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

MotoGP 2016 Catalunya Results

June 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Events Overshadowed by Moto2 Tragedy

Misano 2010                 Shoya Tomizawa

Sepang 2011                Marco Simoncelli

Catalunya 2016            Luis Salom

Montmelo has now had its name added to the list of circuits which have claimed the life of a rider during the current decade in MotoGP.  The finger-pointing and recriminations commenced immediately in an effort to pin blame for the Friday death of Luis Salom on something or someone.  My own sense is that the state of the Spanish economy over the past decade has led to “austerity measures” on the part of track owners unable, or unwilling, to invest in improvements—in this case, a gravel trap—that could save lives.

Which is the story of EU capitalism in a nutshell—a system in which myopic short term policies lead to lasting iniquity.  On a macro scale, the deconstruction of the Greek economy taking place before our very eyes, enforced by the EU with Germany, of all countries, cracking the whip, will inevitably lead to lasting hardship for the vast majority of her citizens.  On a micro scale, deferred investments in safety measures at a Spanish racing venue directly result in another bright young life being snuffed out.

Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya

Marquez loses battle, winning the war

The modified layout of the Circuit Catalunya brought about by Friday’s tragedy arguably converted Montmelo from being highly Yamaha friendly to Honda friendly, with both Repsol Hondas qualifying on the front row, Dani Pedrosa for the first time this season.  Marquez owned Q2, laying down a 1:43.9 on his first series and a 1:43.5 on his second, half a second clear of Lorenzo in the two slot.  Rossi saved himself for Sunday by leaping from ninth place to fifth on his last lap.  The surprise of the afternoon was Hectic Hector Barbera placing his Avintia Ducati at the top of the second row, missing out on a front row start by 15/1000ths of a second. With the notable exception of Rossi, Spaniards hogged the front two rows.

Rossi was the fastest rider in the morning warm-up, delivering a preview of the day’s events.  The race itself started normally enough, with Lorenzo winning the holeshot, the lead group forming up behind him consisting of Marquez, Iannone on the Ducati, Dani Pedrosa and Suzuki hotshot Maverick Vinales, with Rossi getting lost in the sauce on his way to eighth position.  By Lap 2, Rossi had sliced his way back to fourth, the four Aliens at the front trailed by a slavering Vinales who immediately began putting ragged moves on everyone he found in his way.

Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 3 as I was noting “Lorenzo getting away?”  In what appeared to be a budding replay of last year, Marquez was overriding the RC213V on Laps 4 and 5, trying to keep the Mallorcan from disappearing, while Rossi, now flying, morphed the front two into a front three.  On Lap 6, Rossi passed Marquez easily and immediately set his sights on Lorenzo, who by that point was definitely NOT getting away.

On Lap 7, as first Rossi, then Marquez, went through on Lorenzo, it became apparent that Lorenzo was unable to maintain his speed in the turns, his edge grip apparently shot to hell.  Pedrosa went through him on Lap 9.  Vinales, having eaten his Wheaties that morning, started attacking Lorenzo relentlessly on Lap 10, almost as if he intended to usurp Lorenzo’s ride next season, as is the case.  Vinales stole Lorenzo’s lunch money today on Lap 12 after half a dozen failed attempts.  And while Rossi held the lead at this point, there was nothing comfortable about it, as Marquez refused to wilt despite losing ground coming out of all the slow turns.

Iannone Becomes a Verb

Nothing much changed at the front, then, until Lap 17, at which point Lorenzo was struggling to hold on to 5th place with Andrea Iannone threatening.  Somewhere in the middle of the circuit, possibly Turn 7, a routine left hander, Lorenzo was in the apex of the turn when Iannone, heading straight for him, running hot as an acetylene torch, slammed on his brakes, his rear tire leaving the ground, but not in time to avoid T-boning the triple world champion.

With his day now completely ruined and his lead in the 2016 championship but a memory, Lorenzo gained something new in common with next year’s Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso:  He had been Iannone’d by a rider likely to be giving Suzuki major second thoughts heading into a new two-year contract with a painfully low racing IQ.  While Iannone’s takedown of teammate Dovizioso at Le Mans was the result of poor judgment, today’s wreck appeared to involve no judgment at all.  Race Direction, which really knows how to hurt a guy, is likely to punish the jugheaded Italian with a point or two on his license, the equivalent of being ticketed for littering after drunkenly causing a four car pileup on an expressway.  Two points on your racing license is a hangnail; getting knocked out of a race while leading the championship is something closer to a disaster.

Another Montmelo Classic at the End

Marquez was in hot pursuit of Rossi, riding on the limit, when his pit board flashed the “Lorenzo KO” sign at him on Lap 19.  His immediate reaction was to not react.  He stayed on Rossi’s rear tire, backing into turns, losing ground on the exits, testing Rossi’s resolve once and again until Lap 23, when he went through and made it stick, leaving pretty much everyone watching the race gasping for air.  But Rossi, somehow still at the top of his game in 2016, took the lead back the next time around.  When Marquez suffered yet another “moment” in Turn 7 of Lap 24, he finally appeared to capisce his pit board’s message and let Rossi get away, knowing he had taken the lead in the 2016 campaign.  With a world class competitive spirit, Marquez has now gained the perspective he lacked early in his premier class career and understands that 20 points in the hand is better than 25 points a second and a half in front of you.

The Big Picture Refocused

The disruption in the 2016 standings brought about by Rossi’s blown engine in Mugello has now been largely corrected, thanks to Rossi’s rock-hard performance and Iannone’s rock-hard cranium.  Montmelo has bestowed her not inconsiderable charms on young Marquez, who retakes the championship lead for the first time since Jerez, with Lorenzo now 10 points behind him and Rossi another 12 behind Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, who podiumed today for, like, the thousandth time in his career, continues to maintain a faint grip on his ragged Alien club card, with 43 points standing between him and Marquez.  The series now takes a bit of a breather before heading to The Low Countries at the end of June for the first Dutch TT Assen in history not to be run on a Saturday.

I don’t want to talk about the controversy which blew up Saturday night about who attended the Safety Commission meeting on Friday evening and who didn’t, about who might have shot off their mouths criticizing the decisions pertaining to the modification of the track layout without bothering to attend.  Factory Yamaha riders are apparently above all that scut work.

I do, for the benefit of readers who believe I am constantly on Cal Crutchlow’s case, wish to say something positive about the Coventry Crasher.  Recall Mugello, after which I praised Cal for doubling—DOUBLING—his point total for the season with his scintillating 11th place performance in Italy.  Those of you who found that achievement brilliant will be astounded to learn that HE DID IT AGAIN TODAY!  With 10 points entering today’s race, and a credible sixth place finish, his point total for the year now sits at 20!  Never mind that three of the four riders who retired or crashed out of today’s race would have likely finished in front of him, resulting in a 9th place haul of seven points.

As the old saying goes, if you want to finish sixth, you must first finish.

MotoGP 2016 Catalunya Preview

May 31, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Suddenly, the Season is Getting Away from Rossi

Heading into Mugello two weeks ago, the world appeared to be Movistar Yamaha matinee idol Valentino Rossi’s oyster.  Sure, he was sitting in third place, courtesy of his slide-off in Austin.  But he was within striking distance of both Repsol Honda nemesis Marc Marquez and teammate/rival Jorge Lorenzo.  His sense of the moment led many to expect a dramatic win at his home crib.  Instead, a blown engine on Sunday has put him squarely behind the eight ball, the not-so-magic eight ball that had falsely predicted something grand in Scarperia. 

His immediate problem, of course, is Round Seven, the fast-approaching Spanish Grand Prix #2, otherwise known as Barcelona, Catalunya and, to the Spanish riders who love her like eight year-olds love their mothers, Montmelo.  With three wins in the last four outings here, Jorge Lorenzo would marry her tomorrow if she were, you know, human.  Marc Marquez, the holder of the fourth win during this period, his only one here in three premier class outings, has nothing against older women, and would gladly whisk her away to Monaco for a long off-season weekend, were such a thing possible.

Rossi, winless here since 2009 and no big fan of anything Spanish, normally wouldn’t give her a second look.  He would disrespect her father and call her mother a filthy puttana.  Unfortunately for The Doctor, he has to make nice this weekend.  Mistreat Montmelo and she will bite you in the ass, leaving a mark.  She prefers Spanish men, having given all 25 points of herself to them for four years running.  If you’re Italian and have designs on a 10th world championship, you had better bring flowers, a little something frilly for her mama, and be on your best behavior during qualifying and on race day.  Montmelo has not given herself to Rossi since 2009, and, not being fooled by the roses and lace, she would like nothing better than to kick his culo Italiana down the road to Assen. 

Recent History at Catalunya

Back in 2013, Factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo won a number of battles at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya.  He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to the line for his second consecutive win of the season and his second in a row at Montmelo.  He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars, and the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive. Disaster lurked just around the bend, however, as he crashed heavily at Assen the next time out, and followed that with another brutal off at The Sachsenring, opening the door for rookie Marquez to take his first premier class title that fall.

Catalunya 2014 took place during The Year of Marquez, as the sophomore sensation first went hammer and tongs with Yamaha mullah Rossi, followed by a knife fight with teammate Pedrosa.  Marquez ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi after Pedrosa, forcing the issue late in the day, touched tires with Marquez and got the worst of the encounter, finally settling for third.  Those of us who thought we had seen the best of MotoGP at Mugello two weeks earlier were treated to an even more compelling race that day, as both Rossi and Pedrosa looked capable of winning.

Whatever faint hopes double defending world champion Marquez held for a third consecutive title in 2015 ended on Lap 3 at Montmelo 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 out 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. At the end of the day, he trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Game over.

Catalunya was one of six DNFs suffered by young Marquez last year.  And though he’s solved that particular problem, at least for now, he has yet to solve the acceleration and handling issues that have plagued the factory Honda for the last two years.  He is being forced to override, testing the limits of Michelin adhesion, every week.  His present 10-point deficit to Lorenzo is due to a crash at Le Mans while he was riding as if possessed; though he finished the race, he had but three points to show for his efforts that day.  At a track like Montmelo, such comportment can be hazardous to one’s health and well-being.

Scott Redding Selects a Role Model:  Cal Crutchlow

Quoting from an article published Tuesday in a reputable racing publication, “Crutchlow denied that his confidence was down, and does not believe that backing off to ensure he finishes races is the answer.”  Which is exactly what he was, um, “encouraged” to do by LCR management at Mugello, probably along these lines: “Listen, Cal.  Is that short for Californicate?  Whatever.  Wreck another of our bikes during today’s race and it’s your bollocks.  You will be limping to the unemployment line tomorrow.  We will tear up your contract and the lawyers you hire to enforce it.  You’ll never ride in MotoGP again, because you won’t be physically able to climb up on the saddle.  We are SICK and TIRED of your mouth and your crashing out of every bleeding race.  Finish the effing race. Or else.”  The article went on to capture Cal using a LOT of conditional verb tenses:

“At the end of the day, you put me on a Yamaha, I’ll hammer the two guys that are on the satellite Yamahas, there is no shadow of a doubt.”

“You put me on the satellite Ducati, I’ll hammer them guys as well.”

“I am pissed off at this situation but I can’t get myself out of this situation. What can I do?”  Well, Cal, you could go postal in the media, light a fire under your employers, and watch your contract not get renewed.  Is there anyone reading this who expects to see Crutchlow riding for LCR again next season?  Having previously given the finger to both Yamaha and Ducati, if someone were to film his racing biography it would have to be titled Burning Bridges: The Cal Crutchlow Story.

Not to be outdone, Scott Redding, late of Octo Pramac Ducati and with a full 16 points to show for his body of work this season, in the same publication, expressed his intent to remain with the Pramac team next season while acknowledging his disappointment at not having been tagged for the factory seat next to Jorge Lorenzo.  Sounding like Pramac would be damned lucky to keep him.

As if.

He then launched into a whinefest, reminding me of my five-year-old grandson when he suspects his big brother receives an incrementally larger slice of cake for dessert: “To do the contracts so early is a bit unfair and all the top guys keep changing around in the factories so it doesn’t give the younger guys the opportunity,” he said.  He continued, “I am 23, I’ve got maybe two years here and then try again, who knows what could happen in the future.”  One thing that could happen in the immediate future, Scott, is someone like Johann Zarco or Franco Morbidelli or Lorenzo Baldassarri could take your seat at Pramac and send you trundling off to World Superbike.

Seriously, I am not anti-Brit.  I’ve happily visited the country several times, have friends who live there, hope, for their sake, they stay in the European Union, love fish and chips, the whole lot.  I would love to see these guys taking podiums; the steady diet of Spanish and Italian riders (paging Casey Stoner) gets a little old after a decade or so.  But these two, speaking as if they are God’s gifts to motorcycle racing, need to shut up and take some points.  They need to look at the scoreboard and acknowledge they will be lucky to be riding for ANYONE next season.  They are in Tranche Five, wallering, as we say in Indiana, in the muck at the bottom of the MotoGP food chain.

They should NOT be getting quoted anywhere popping off about what they’re going to do, or could have done, or would have done.  In Tranche Five, the only people to whom you dictate terms are the crew guys going out to pick up lunch.

* * *

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S.  We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.


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