Rossi seizes the day, extends championship lead

April 19, 2015

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

The second Grand Prix de la República Argentina of the modern era started out as a parade and ended with everyone—riders, fans, announcers—gasping for air, going mad over the events on Lap 24. Defending world champion and Honda poster boy Marc Marquez would have, could have and should have won this race. But two errors on his part, combined with one of Valentino Rossi’s finest hours, spelled disaster for the young Catalan, who now sits squarely behind the eight ball heading to Jerez.

AleixResults of the practice sessions on Friday looked as though Carmelo Ezpeleta had drawn the names out of a hat. FP1 included Suzuki #1 Aleix Espargaro 1st, Pramac Racing homeboy (sort of) Yonny Hernandez 4th, Avintia Racing’s hapless Mike di Meglio 8th, and Marquez 10th, sandwiched between non-contenders Alvaro Bautista and Jack Miller. The factory Yamaha contingent featured Rossi in 14th and Jorge Lorenzo 20th. FP2 was closer to form, ignoring Rossi loitering in 9th place.

By Saturday afternoon, things were mostly squared away. Marquez qualified on pole, with my boy Aleix 2nd (Suzuki’s first front row qualifying run since Loris Capirossi at Mugello in 2009) and factory Ducati #2 Andrea Iannone edging CWM LCR Honda hothead Cal Crutchlow for 3rd place. Lorenzo could manage only 5th place, while Rossi would qualify 8th; more about that later.

Marquez Leads the Parade for 11 Laps

Yonny on fire

At the start, Marquez jumped out to the early lead, which grew to over four seconds midway through the race. Crutchlow, feeling his oats in his first visit to Rio Hondo, led the trailing group, followed by the two factory Ducatis and the factory Yamahas. Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 6. Moments later, Pramac’s Hernandez was on fire, literally, the Colombian’s bike spewing flames until Yonny, suddenly aware that he was “doing a Zarco”, pulled off-track and ran away before the inevitable explosion, which failed to materialize as the marshals assailed the inferno with half a dozen fire extinguishers. Anyone in the market for a used Ducati?

By Lap 9, Lorenzo had fallen off the pace, his 2015 season starting to resemble the debacle he experienced during the first half of 2014. In quick succession, Rossi, his fuel load having dropped, went through on Iannone in Lap 9, spanked Crutchlow on Lap 10, and disposed of Dovizioso on Lap 11, emerging in second place, over four seconds behind Marquez. It was at about that time that many of us, presumably including Marquez, realized the first of his two mistakes today: he had abandoned the extra hard rear tire for the softer option after the first sighting lap. Rossi had stuck with his original choice of the harder option, a decision which would prove crucial as the race progressed.

Suddenly, It’s a Race

I quit taking notes on Lap 14, and instead jotted down the gap between Marquez and Rossi, as follows:

Lap 14 4.1 seconds Rossi
Lap 15 3.7
Lap 16 3.5
Lap 17 3.0
Lap 18 3.1
Lap 19 2.3
Lap 20 2.0
Lap 21 1.2
Lap 22 1.15
Lap 23 0.4

Things came together, in more ways than one, on Lap 24. Rossi appeared rock solid, breathing down Marquez’s neck. Marquez’s rear tire appeared made of Crisco, as he was sliding all over the place, both tires adrift in the corners. The riders exchanged places twice, leaving Rossi in the lead by a nose. In the middle of turn five the two touched, to no one’s surprise, Marquez dropping back ever so slightly. But at the exit of turn five, they came together again hard, Rossi in front and on the line, the front of Marquez’ Honda folding up, leading to a fast lowside, bike and rider sliding 50 yards into the grass. Race Direction looked at the incident for a full 20 seconds before declaring no foul. End of story.

Marquez’ second mistake? Realizing that Rossi had the pace, and being too stubborn, too willful to allow him through and settle for second place and the 20 points that would have accompanied it. Yes, he has the heart of a champion, and two world titles to show for it. Yes, his lizard brain was fully in charge at that moment. But he needs to understand that he cannot win every race, even those that appear to be his for the taking. Instead, he now trails the fully rejuvenated Rossi by 30 points. Hell, he even trails the toasted Jorge Lorenzo, not to mention both factory Ducatis. He has put himself in a bad place, with no one to blame but himself.

As promised, here’s a quick question for Rossi fans. What do today’s race, the 2015 season opener at Qatar and Phillip Island 2014 all have in common? In all three, Rossi qualified 8th and won the race. For Vale, his career has reached the point where his starting position on the grid is essentially irrelevant. With the right tires and the right setup, one thinks he can win from anywhere on the grid. At age 36, he may be as strong as he’s ever been. He has surpassed Lorenzo as the #1 rider on the Yamaha team, and he may eclipse Marquez as the 2015 world champion. Dude is tougher than a two dollar steak.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The Espargaro brothers had an interesting day. Aleix, on the factory Suzuki, started from the middle of the first row. Pol, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, started from the outside of row six. Aleix managed to finish 7th, three seconds in front of his brother in 8th.

crutchlow and millerThe CWM LCR Honda team enjoyed a successful day, with Crutchlow’s prototype pipping Iannone at the flag for third place, while Jack Miller, on the production version, finished 13th to take the top open classification award for the day, what I like to think of as the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award.

What I can’t figure out is why Cal always seems to be pissed at someone. He can pretty much be counted upon to complain about something or someone at every single round. Yesterday, he was honked at Jorge Lorenzo (a double premier class world champion) and/or Maverick Vinales for preventing him from qualifying on the pole. As if. Today, given Marquez’ ill fortune, he lucks into the last step on the podium on a day he would normally finish fifth. During the obligatory post-race interview with Dylan Gray, he goes all ungracious, thanking “all the people that wrote me off” for the win. For a guy who makes millions of dollars doing something he loves to do, he has a very unbecoming supersized chip on his shoulder. Today’s majestic, awe-inspiring triumph rocketed him up from 7th place coming into the weekend all the way up to 6th. I, for one, am blown away.

From where I sit, Crutchlow ran a good race. On a factory spec Honda, he should.

On the Horizon: Jerez

Among other things, Marc Marquez needs some home cooking. He’ll get it in two weeks at Jerez, where he will need to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone, put himself in third place for the season, and start chipping away at Dovizioso and Rossi. Last year he dealt with the pressure of reeling off 10 consecutive wins to start the season. This year, he has a different kind of pressure to deal with. This year we’ll see what he’s made of.

Dovizioso moves up the MotoGP standings after two rounds

April 14, 2015

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

One year ago, heading into Round 3 in Argentina, I was pretty sure of two things: 1. Marc Marquez was going to win a second MotoGP world championship in 2014, and 2. Valentino Rossi’s alien days were behind him. Going 1-for-2 is great in baseball, not so much in the world of motorcycle prognostication. As it turns out, Rossi may offer the biggest obstacle to Marquez’ quest for a third consecutive title. And Andrea Dovizioso’s application for membership in the alien club has now been approved, at the apparent expense of Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa.

Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014The remarkable resurrection of the Ducati brand under the guiding hand of Gigi Dall’Igna has finally interrupted the seemingly interminable streak—going on eight years—of Honda/Yamaha domination of podium celebrations in the premier class. Though there has been the occasional Ducati sighting—Dovi twice in 2014, Crutchlow finishing third in Aragon last year, Nicky Hayden third in Jerez in 2011, Rossi himself with three podia in two seasons—it’s been a painfully long time since the Ducati was competitive. The factory team has already rung up two seconds and a third this season and appears capable of challenging at every track on the circuit. Dovizioso is now a top three rider, and his partner, Andrea Iannone, is right there with him, gaining experience every time out and working on his own alien resumé.

Dall’Igna has moved the Ducati MotoGP program from the outhouse to the penthouse in barely 18 months. Had Aprilia opted to give him his payday and keep him in the fold, he would have likely accelerated their own “program” back to respectability in a third of the time it will now take.

Conventional business wisdom early in the 21st century has it that, in a corporation, no one person is indispensable. I’m pretty sure Ducati brass might take the other side of that argument these days.

Recent History in Argentina

Last year’s Gran Premio Red Bull de la República Argentina saw the riders return to South America for the first time since pedrosa-marquez1999. Being the newest entry on the calendar, everyone had to familiarize themselves with the layout in the free practice sessions. Marquez’ performance during the shakedown process was instructive. He spent FP1 on his Vespa Bellissima, finishing 14th and taking in the lay of the land. He then dusted off his RC213V and finished first in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the WUP and the race itself.

The race saw Marquez go through on leader Lorenzo on Lap 17, lay down a vapor trail, and cruise to a 1.8 second win ahead of Dani Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, his season already in tatters, pushing to the limit to finish third. Rossi spent most of the day dogging Pedrosa on his way to a discouraging fourth place finish. What we didn’t know then was that The Doctor would suddenly get a second wind, producing 12 podia in the next 15 races and a solid second place finish for the year, restoring his credibility, confidence and mojo and putting to rest any claim Lorenzo might have had to being the #1 rider on the team.

The Big Picture

MotoGP, like it’s most distant of distant cousins, the NFL, occasionally finds itself with early season contests deemed “critical” by media types and Those in the Know. If Round 3 in Argentina is critical for any rider, it would be Jorge Lorenzo, battling Marquez and himself to remain in the championship conversation. He has finished fourth in each of the first two races, showing some strength early before fading late. An equipment glitch was to blame in the first instance, bronchitis (or faster riders) in the second. Entering the season I had him penciled in at #2 for the year behind Marquez, ahead of both Dovizioso and Rossi, with Pedrosa 5th. He now also has an undeniable aversion to running in the rain which, at some point during the year, will cost him.

Marquez, interviewed elsewhere this week, stated he views Dovizioso and Rossi as his primary opponents this season. Hard to argue with that. The second group forming up behind the top three includes Lorenzo, Iannone, Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow. Kind of group 2A and 2B. If Lorenzo wishes to climb back into the top four, he will need to make some noise this weekend. He was competitive here last year; he needs to assert his will on the field, including the Catalan, and come home with some hardware, or look forward to continuing battles with the likes of Maniac Joe and Crutchlow. The suits at Yamaha corporate expect much more from him.

Team Suzuki seems to be getting as much as seems reasonable from Mssrs. Espargaro and Vinales. Both in the top ten in Austin. Both with a perceived advantage at short stubby places like Assen and the Sachsenring. Both riders young, talented and aggressive. Points every time out. A nice beginning to their return to the grid.

Finally, the new Ducati GP15 seems to be having some spillover effect on the 14 series bikes being run by Pramac Racing. Yonny Hernandez opened the season with a top ten finish at Losail, with Danilo Petrucci following suit this past week in Texas. Other than Hernandez’ DNF in Austin, it’s been points every time out for the Ducati B Team. Everything’s coming up roses in Bologna. In the rather unlikely event Pramac runs the GP15 next season, they could be battling Crutchlow and Smith for top ten finishes all season long.

Two Riders Heading in Different Directions

BradlBSmith

Stefan Bradl, currently toiling for Yamaha Forward Racing, and Bradley Smith, onboard the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, exemplify the vagaries of premier class racing. Bradl earned his promotion to the premier class after taking the Moto2 title in 2011 while Marc Marquez was still seeing stars from his brutal highside crash during practice at Sepang. Bradl stepped aboard the LCR practically-factory spec Honda and could only manage 8th and 7th place finishes his first two seasons before slipping to 9th last year and losing his seat to Cal Crutchlow.

Smith, never having won a title in any division, was apparently tapped for promotion early in the 2011 season when he strung together three straight podia in Moto2. He would finish the year in 7th position, stayed another year during which he slipped to 9th before somewhat surprisingly being named to succeed Colin Edwards on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Since then he’s driven the satellite M1 to a 10th place finish in 2013, followed by 8th last year, and currently sits 6th in this year’s chase, while Bradl has yet to score a point this season.

Herve Poncharal, owner of the Tech 3 team, and David Emmett over at Motomatters.com are getting hoarse singing Smith’s praises these days, while no one’s saying nuthin’ about Herr Bradl. And while I’m not yet totally sold on Smith, it’s clear that Bradl is methodically working himself out of MotoGP, with WSBK looming on his horizon.

Your Weekend Forecast

Other than a chance of rain on Friday, conditions should be perfect for the weekend, sunny with temps in the low 70’s. Playing the percentages, I look for Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi on the podium at day’s end, with some kind of event involving Jorge Lorenzo niggling at the back of my mind. Last year’s race offered few surprises. Unlike most of his competitors, Marquez probably hopes for more of the same this weekend.

We’ll have results, analysis, commentary and photos later in the day on Sunday.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

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

Repsol Honda reigning champion Marc Marquez extended his winning streak in the U.S. to six, taking an easy win at The Circuit of the Americas by a country mile over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso who had himself fought off several challenges from Yamaha former world champion Valentino Rossi. Confirming that Losail was an outlier, and tightening the standings at the top of the premier class food chain, COTA provided few surprises.

A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and rode quietly into the sunset, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi. Lorenzo launched a late charge to finish fourth, followed by Iannone on the #2 Ducati, Smith and Crutchlow, who was unable to maintain the winning speeds he showed in practice. Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales claimed 8th and 9th, respectively, and Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci continued to impress in 10th place.

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

2015 COTA Q2 Front RowCaptureQ2 was a great example of why the qualifying format of MotoGP is occasionally better than the race. Marquez jumping off his broken bike, the CHECK ENGINE light red, climbing the wall, sprinting 200 yards to his cold #2 bike with the wrong tires, flogging it across the start/finish line seconds before the checkered flag waved, then pushing his RC213V harder on the flying lap to a new track record and his third consecutive pole in Austin. I don’t think any other rider on the grid could manage that.

Add to his natural ability and quality equipment the fact that he’s seeing Austin on the big bike for the third time, and knows exactly where he is on the track. He already knows the correct line here. Now all he has to do is pick the right tires and keep it on the track through turn 1. His lap at the end of qualifying, after an extended sprint, with a big moment, on a #2 bike he described as having “setting not so good,” trashed the previous record by four-tenths. Close to inconceivable.

You get the sense Marc Marquez has GPS in his head and can pretty much go as fast as he wants. He rides a million dollar bike like it was a miniature BMX in the schoolyard in 5th grade. Marquez in Sepang 2013

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

Weather was iffy all weekend, at a track that is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most demanding on the 18-round calendar. It is, likewise, becoming increasingly clear that Jorge Lorenzo cannot compete in the rain.

The consecutive crashes at Assen and the Sachsenring in 2013 involved wet weather, and it appears he’s lost his ability to push in the wet. His FP2 in the wet was another example. There was a race or two last year where he failed to post due to the wet. And although the weather ended up not being a factor during the race today… There’s still the damnable Catalan.

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

The Brits seem to be getting it together. Both Crutchlow on the CWMLCRAMF, etc. Honda and Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda made appearances in the top three during practice sessions, with CC 2nd in both FP2 in the wet and FP3 in the dry. Redding ran 3rd in FP1 before qualifying 6th. Not to mention young Danny Kent, the great hope of soccer hooligans everywhere, dominating the Moto3 race. Dominating at a track like Austin says you’re good at everything. Sam Lowes’ first win in Moto2 was even sweeter. Could Crutchlow or Redding break into the top three?

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

One looks at the bottom four qualifiers and cannot help but ponder how far the mighty have fallen:
• Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion, qualifying 22nd for Honda in his 200th grand prix start.
• Alvaro Bautista, sporting a 125cc world championship in 2006 and a second place finish in the Moto2 class in 2008, in 23rd for a thoroughly grateful Aprilia Racing Gresini team.
• Alex de Angelis, with 3rd place finishes in the 250cc class in 2006 and 2007 and an 8th place finish in MotoGP in 2009 sitting 24th for Octo IodaRacing.
• And, finally, unwilling and unmotivated, Marco Melandri, the #2 Aprilia rider on loan from WSBK, lollygagging in 25th place. His credentials include a world championship in the 250cc class in 2002, and second overall in MotoGP 2005 aboard the factory Honda. In case you’re thinking it’s obvious that Melandri is washed up, he spent the last four seasons in WSBK finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 4th, the last aboard the Aprilia

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

The Moto2 race was led by Kent going away, but the fight for second place was ferocious. The racing surface appeared to be “dirty.” Kent’s margin the largest in Moto3 history. Whoda thunk? The residual battle for second place, won by 15-year old rising star Fabio Quaternaro, was high quality stuff.

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

The French teenager Quaternero has it going on in Moto3. 15 years old. His star is, as they say, ascendant. The fact that rookie Alex Rins leads the series indicates the depth of talent at the top of the Moto2 food chain, although something’s up with Tito Rabat.

Danny Kent is a certified winner in Moto3 and needs to move up to Moto2 to determine if he’s the real deal or what. His team earned a 1st and a 3rd at COTA. Not a bad weekend. See what happens in Argentina and Jerez first.

Sam Lowes ran a great race for his first win in Moto2. The sun seems to be rising on The British Empire. Completive at all three levels. Hard to visualize Cal Crutchlow on the podium. But I can’t remember the last time I heard the British national anthem during a podium celebration either.

A Small Confession

Having grown up as a committed Washington Redskins fan I developed an intense dislike of all things remotely related to the state of Texas, from the state flag to the aw-shucks attitude of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys coach may he ever rot in… I digress. But I must admit that the Circuit of The Americas is well-designed and deserves its reputation as the most challenging circuit on the tour. I thought COTA was going to take the place of my home track in Indianapolis. As it turned out, Laguna Seca lost. But this place seems built for motorcycles, and the riders spend an enormous amount of time in turns. Great changes in elevation. Better than Indianapolis. Way better.

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

The crews are working frantically to get the grid packed up, stuffed into the three 747’s Dorna keeps for this purpose, and head off for South America, a nine hour flight, then cutting their way through triple canopy jungle to reach the garage area, portaging their trailers through snake-infested rivers, in time for practice on Friday. It’s no picnic being on one of these crews. And Rio Honda is a little off the beaten path.

We’ll bring you the race preview on Wednesday, with results and analysis on Sunday evening.

Marc Marquez seeking a return to normalcy, deep in the heart

April 8, 2015

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

For the second year in a row, The Grand Prix of Qatar delivered a riveting race with unexpected results. The 2014 edition saw putative race favorite Jorge Lorenzo dump his Yamaha M1 on the first lap, paving the way for a cage match between teammate Valentino Rossi and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez in which Marquez prevailed by a quarter second. A year later, it was the favorite Marquez going walkabout on Lap 1, setting up a night-long rumble between the factory Yamahas and the factory Ducatis (what?) in which Rossi eventually pipped Andrea Dovizioso at the flag.

2015 Losail PodiumThe podium celebration, an all Italian lovefest, included third place finisher Andrea Iannone on the second factory Ducati. No Spaniards. No Hondas. The result from Losail thus fits the definition of the term “outlier”: An element of a data set that distinctly stands out from the rest of the data. Those of you who expect to see a similar result this week in Austin please raise your hands.

Before turning our attention to The Lone Star State, let’s review what we learned from Round 1:
• The Ducati GP15 is the real deal, having more in common with the Yamaha M1 than the Honda RC213V. There is no truth to the rumor that the factory team is adopting the name Team Lazarus, but the Italian bike is once again competitive, a relief to everyone at Dorna and MotoGP fans around the world. It will do well at the tracks where the Yamahas excel, places such as Losail, Mugello and Brno. Having placed four bikes in the top 12 in the desert, with two on the podium, one can expect those numbers to be halved in Austin, a track seemingly custom-designed for the Honda.
• Dani Pedrosa’s 2015 campaign is screwed, blued and tattooed. How he managed to enter the season incapable of riding staggers the imagination. He is projected to miss from two to four of the next races. And the circumstances which led HRC to name Hiro Aoyama as his replacement rather than Casey Stoner must have been complicated to the extreme. Aoyama will do well to score points, while Stoner could probably climb aboard and challenge for the podium. Is Stoner ready? Possibly. Able? Probably. Willing? No. The choice of Aoyama tells me we are unlikely ever again to see Casey Stoner throw his leg over a MotoGP bike.
• Jorge Lorenzo’s team obviously forgot to pack the duct tape before leaving for Qatar. He told reporters after the race that it was his helmet liner, rather than tires or fatigue, which cause him to fade from 1st to 4th place late in the race, the liner (apparently on Lap 18) having slipped down to where it impaired his peripheral vision. Having led for most of the race, Lorenzo appears ready to contend for the title again in 2015.
• Valentino Rossi continues to defy the laws of nature, appearing as strong and skilled at age 36 as he was at 26. His post-race complaints about the concessions Ducati continues to receive were undignified for a future hall of famer. Having qualified 8th and won the race, he shouldn’t concern himself with Ducati having an advantage in qualifying with their soft rear tire. Vale needs to let the politicians worry about the regulations and focus on what former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis preached to his team for decades—“Just win, baby.”
• The underpowered Team Suzuki Ecstar will not be competitive at Yamaha-friendly tracks like Losail. I expect them to improve upon their results this week at COTA and to have their best outings at places like Assen, the Sachsenring and Indianapolis.
• The underpowered, underfinanced and undermanned Aprilia Racing Team Gresini is going to endure a long, painful season. A Paul Byrd Motorsports-type of season. The sole consolation for Fausto Gresini is that it is Aprilia’s money being flushed down the toilet rather than his own.

Recent History at COTA

pedrosa-marquezThe inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas (apparently Grand Prix of the Western World was already taken, presumably by F-1) in 2013 announced the arrival of Marc Marquez as a legitimate title contender. He and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa dominated the timesheets in practice, qualified 1-2 on Saturday, and jumped out to the early lead on Lap 1 of the race. Pedrosa led the rookie for 12 laps before Marquez went through effortlessly on Lap 13 and brought it home by a second and a half with Yamaha’s Lorenzo, pedaling as hard as possible, finishing third, six seconds in front of Cal Crutchlow, then on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. The win elevated young Marquez into a tie with Lorenzo for the 2013 championship lead, sent his confidence soaring, and paved the way for his first premier class title that fall.

Last year’s race was, as expected, another Repsol Honda clambake. Once again, the two Honda pilots finished in the top three during every free practice session. Once again they qualified 1-2. This time around, Marquez led from start to finish. Pedrosa trailed at the flag by some four seconds, with surprise third place finisher Andrea Dovizioso wrestling his Ducati Desmosedici to a miracle third place finish, albeit 17 seconds behind Pedrosa. This, you may recall, was the race in which Jorge Lorenzo comically jumped the start by 20 feet in a completely uncharacteristic loss of poise that, in combination with his DNF at Losail, brought his 2014 campaign crashing down around his ears.

Saluting Nicky Hayden

Sunday’s race will mark the 200th career start for Team Aspar’s Nicky Hayden, the sole American rider in MotoGP. At age 2015 Drive M7 Aspar .002 Test MotoGP Sepang 133 and clearly on the back nine of his career, Nicky still gets juiced for race days. With his wrist injury mostly healed, and a more competitive Honda RC213V-RS under him, he may yet have opportunities to finish in the top ten, but these will be few and far between.

One gets the sense that at some point Grand Prix racing becomes a way of life that riders, clearly past their prime, are either unwilling or unable to let go of until management comes along and thanks them for their years of service. Why else would Hayden, or anyone for that matter, elect to compete for 15th place in MotoGP when they could be fighting for podium spots in World Super Bike?

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Before delving into the weather, let me remind you that Marc Marquez is, after five races in the U.S., undefeated on American soil, with a win at Laguna Seca, two in Indianapolis and two here to his credit. With an 80% chance of rain all three days, this streak could be in jeopardy. While he is virtually unstoppable on dry tracks, his record in the wet, and especially flag-to-flag affairs (see Phillip Island 2014) is less impressive. Ducati bikes have enjoyed positive results on wet tracks in recent years; how the GP15 performs in the rain has yet to be seen.

The lights go out for the big bikes at 3 pm EDT with the broadcast carried on Fox Sports 1. We’ll have race results here later in the day.

The Doctor puts on a Clinic in the Desert

March 29, 2015

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

Rossi at ValenciaThere is a reason 36 year-old Valentino Rossi is still the most revered motorcycle racer on the planet. In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi, on the factory Yamaha, delivered a dazzling performance in the 2015 season opener, going hammer and tongs with factory Ducati #1 Andrea “DesmoDovi” Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths of a second to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.

Two-time defending world champion Marc Marquez, the immediate future of the sport, saw his chances for a season-opening win end in the first turn of Lap 1, when he was pushed WAY wide into the runoff area. How far off the racing surface was young Marc pushed, you ask? Far enough, it’s rumored, that a concession vendor offered him an ice-cold Coke. Re-entering the race dead last, he spent the evening slicing his way through the field, grinding his molars to dust, eventually finishing a respectable fifth, securing 11 points, and setting his sights on Austin, Texas. Guys like Marquez have short memories, and it’s a long season; no reason to think young Marc won’t win his third consecutive premier class title this year. Yet anyway.

Aside from Rossi’s heroics and Marquez’ travails, the story of Round 1 is the Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014unbelievable turnaround being engineered before our very eyes in the Ducati garages by Gigi Dall’Igna, the Great White-Haired Hope of Italian racing fans everywhere. Having parted company with longtime employer Aprilia late in 2013, Dall’Igna has given a miraculous and immediate boost to the fortunes of the Ducati racing program. Keep in mind that Dovizioso and “the other Andrea”, Crazy Joe Iannone, first threw a leg over the radical new Desmosedici GP15 35 days ago. At Losail, they qualified 1st and 4th, ran in the front group all day, eventually blew away Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo, and finished together on the podium, the first time I’ve seen two Ducatis on the podium since, well, for a good long time.

Now, before you start getting all whooped up about some kind of paradigm shift in MotoGP, let me remind you of several facts. One, this was the first round of the season, run in the middle of the night in the Middle East on the only circuit dustier than Aragon. Two, Marc Marquez is not going to suffer this kind of race very often; I fully expect him to dominate rounds 2 and 3 in Texas and Argentina. And three, the day is approaching when Valentino Rossi will no longer be able to perform at his unique level. Losail, recall, is a Yamaha-friendly track, one of the friendliest, in fact, and the Repsol Honda contingent (which claimed 5th and 6th places today) will enjoy significant advantages over both the Yamahas and the Ducatis at a number of circuits on the tour. Relatively speaking, Losail is the MotoGP equivalent of Bonneville, while Austin, Rio Hondo and Motegi are more similar to downtown Washington, DC at rush hour.

How About Shutting Up and Telling Us About the Race?

Okay. After a clean start, the early leaders were Dovizioso, Lorenzo (who had jumped up from the six hole), Iannone, Yonny Hernandez on a Pramac Ducati, Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha and his teammate Pol Espargaro; Pedrosa was stuck in the mud farther back, and Marquez was cruising the hinterlands. For a good part of the day, Lorenzo led The Two Andreas on a merry chase, while Rossi was working his way back into contention, having fallen as far back as 10th early.

Dovizioso went through on Lorenzo for the first time on Lap 9; the two would ultimately trade positions perhaps a dozen times, MotoGP at its finest. Iannone was keeping his powder dry in third place; Rossi showed up on his rear wheel on Lap 11. The four played Trading Places until Lap 19, when Dovizioso went through on Lorenzo again. Rossi immediately did the same, and then began his series of lead exchanges with Dovizioso, who was showing no signs of fatigue or tire wear. One had the sense that Dovizioso, younger, with more grunt, his years of handling and tire degradation problems apparently solved, would prevail in the run to the line. But it was not to be. Today, the Doctor schooled his students, all of them.

At the end of the day (Lord I hate that expression), we saw three Italians on the podium, which is to say the Spanish riders got blanked. Weird. We were left wondering whether Jorge Lorenzo, who showed up for practice 5 kilos lighter than he weighed at the end of last season, ran out of energy late in the day. Personally, I got the impression that Rossi treats practice the way established NBA stars treat the regular season—they only get amped up for the playoffs. Rossi, whose four practice sessions had him running 9th, 7th, 9th and 5th, and who qualified 8th, suddenly is the fastest guy in the joint when the red lights go out. If I’m Lin Jarvis, his boss, I’m okay with that.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Cal Crutchlow, on the Come What May LCR Honda, enjoyed a relatively successful maiden Honda outing, finishing 7th. He had taken time out of his busy practice schedule to flame Mike di Meglio of Avintia Racing for getting in his way during, like, FP1. Cal has morphed from one of the charming, likeable hard-luck guys on the grid to another mid-level clanging gong, and needs to take a nap. Tech 3 teammates Smith and Espargaro spent much of the day connected at the wrists and ankles, with Smith eventually crossing the line in 8th place, a tenth ahead of Little Brother. Yonny Hernandez completed the top ten in an encouraging outing on his Pramac Ducati, having qualified 5th (?) and running with the big dogs for a couple of early laps. Guy has some skills. In a bit of a disappointment, Big Brother Aleix Espargaro marked the return of a factory Suzuki program to the premier class with an 11th place finish after over-achieving in practice all weekend. The Suzuki is likely to perform better at the Honda tracks than places like Losail where top-end speed is at a premium.

Farther down the food chain, the maiden outing of the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini was a debacle, as expected. Alvaro Bautista got bumped by a charging Marquez early in the race and lost a brake caliper, while sad sack teammate Marco Melandri finished 34 seconds behind Alex de Angelis on his own hopeless Octo IodaRacing Team ART nag. Athinà Forward Racing’s Loris Baz, the record will show, finished his MotoGP debut three laps down, but spent some quality time mid-race in his garage getting his tires changed and spin-balanced and his ashtray emptied. The top rookie finisher today was, unsurprisingly, Maverick Vinales, who copped two points on his own Suzuki Ecstar. And Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, pushed his open class Honda to an uninspiring 17th place finish, just behind the once-competitive Stefan Bradl.

On to Austincircuit-of-the-americas

MotoGP returns to the U.S. in two weeks, descending upon the pretentiously-named “Circuit of the Americas” in Texas. (Let’s just call it Austin.) Expect radically different results in Round 2. But if today’s podium somehow repeats in the Lone Star State, MotoGP will have officially been turned on its head. Until then, we will view Losail 2015 as an outlier, while March 29 may be named a national holiday in Italy. Valentino Rossi fans around the world will savor today’s race, one of the best in his 20 years as The Alpha Male of Motorcycles.

MotoGP Projected 2015 Final Standings

December 1, 2014

MotoGP for Dummies 12/1/2014, by Bruce Allen

It being December 1, MotoGP enters its self-imposed two month hiatus, the only real break in a season which has, as is true in most sports, expanded and filled the calendar.  A competition season schedules 18 races over 31 weeks and includes a few dead spots. Pre-season work (“spring practice”) begins in early January, the same way spring football practice does at The University of Alabama.  It ends, finally, for everyone, at the end of November.  Crewing, owning, managing, and riding are, for all practical purposes, year-round occupations.  Highly intense year-round occupations.

Before I forget, here are the final 2015 standings, in an effort to relieve you of the need to actually watch Marquez win.  The rest, obviously, is totally SWAG-ed.  Top to bottom, the grid appears tighter than in years past, more solid, with more solvent mid-range teams and fewer struggling lower-tier teams.

  1.  Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda2014 MotoGP World Champion
  2. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha
  3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha
  4. Andrea Dovisioso, Factory Ducati
  5. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda
  6. Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati
  7. Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 Yamaha
  8. Scott Redding, Marc VDS
  9. Cal Crutchlow CWM LCR Honda
  10. Bradley Smith, Tech 3 Yamaha
  11. Stefan Bradl, NGM Forward Yamaha
  12. Aleix Espargaro, Factury Suzuki
  13. Nicky Hayden, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  14. Danilo Petrucci, Pramac Ducati
  15. Jack Miller, CWM LCR Honda
  16. Maverick Vinales, Factory Suzuki
  17. Yonny Hernandez, Pramac Ducati
  18. Alvaro Bautista, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  19. Marco Melandri, Factory Aprilia Gresini
  20. Karel Abraham, Cardion AB Honda
  21. Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati
  22. Mike di Meglio, Avintia Ducati
  23. Eugene Laverty, Drive 7 Aspar Honda
  24. Loris Baz, NGM Forward Yamaha
  25. Alex de Angelis, Octo Ioda Racing

The odds against this being the actual standings at the end of next year are incalculable.  However, if you, the nit-picking reader, would like, I would have much more confidence in the list if it were broken into tranches:

cropped-jorge-lorenzo-20131.jpgTranche 1:  Marquez↑, Lorenzo↑, Rossi↓, Pedrosa↓, Dovizioso↑

Tranche 2:  Iannone↑, The Espargaros↔, Redding↑, Crutchlow↑, Smith↔, Bradl↓Andrea Iannone

Tranche 3:  Hayden↑, Petrucci↑, Miller↔, Vinales↔, Hernandez↔, Bautista↓, Melandri↔

Tranche 4:  Abraham↓, Barbera↓, Di Meglio↔, Laverty↔, Baz↔ and De Angelis↓

In years past, when I’ve attempted to tranche the grid–it was a smaller grid back then–I would usually come up with five groups.  Next year it’s only four, suggesting, again, that the grid will be tighter, top to bottom, than in past years.  More financially stable, too.  Tighter competition, regardless of where it takes place during a race, is what gets the fans going. It needs a 25-bike grid that is generally well-financed and capable of generating, capturing, and using the data which seem to drive the sport–a sport that desperately needs a TV deal eliminating commercials during the 45 minutes it takes to run the race.

Anyway, on the day it becomes illegal to test machines, the best we can do is to speculate on next year’s prospects, at the top, middle and bottom of the food chain.  Even writing this, I sense that several of my picks are over- or under-rated, at least within their tranches.  Personally, I think it would be a blast to see either of the two young rookies, Vinales and Miller, do well, by which we mean performing at a high level before predictably crashing in four or five races.  Marquez surprised us in his rookie year by crashing out only once. Maybe one of these guys could do the same.  In his rookie year on the LCR Honda Casey Stoner finished eighth.Jack Miller

Nicky Hayden still has the ability to ride anything, and his Honda this year is going to be more competitive than last year’s model.  Still, he finds himself, turning 34, at the top of the third tranche, happy to be running for a Honda-supported team, prevailing most weeks against the two youngsters as well as a bunch of Ducatis and Aprilias.

Tranche Four has low expectations.  Or perhaps its just me, who has low expectations for them.  The fact is, Karel Abraham should lead this rather sorry group, but one or two of them may end up in tranche three. This is, career-wise, a downward socially mobile group, as their appearance in MotoGP, even at the back of the grid, will, for some, mark the high water mark of a career that will often end up in World Super Bikes or British Super Bikes.  Abraham, again, is the exception, as his dad owns much of the world they inhabit.  He can ride MotoGP until he decides to join the Czech bar and practice law.

So, perhaps the main surprise is my perception that the factory Ducati will improve, under the direction of GigiDall’Igna, to the point that Dovizioso will displace Pedrosa as The Fourth Alien. That Pedrosa may have, once and for all, lost a step, a step that left with his hope of winning a title in over the past four years.  My guess is that Pedrosa’s contract won’t be renewed after the 2016 season .  And that Alex Marquez will take the #2 seat on the Repsol Honda team beginning in 2017.

Talk about Tito Rabat.  Let’s assume Tito Rabat repeats as Moto2 champion in 2015, as expected, and decides that he wants to move up the following year.  It won’t be with the Repsol Honda team, who tried to field a three-bike team back in the day that didn’t work out. It could easily be as the second Marc VDS bike alongside Scott Redding, which might work out just fine, depending on the level of factory support MVDS is getting from Japan.

Rabat could negotiate a one year deal with MVDS, leaving him free to join Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha team if and when Rossi is not renewed after the 2016 season.  Of course, if the Repsol Honda team could figure out a way to have the three amigos–both Marquez brothers and Rabat–racing in the same colors it would be in complete cosmic alignment with the stars and spirits and incapable of defeat.  A karmic troika. Plenty of Spanish national anthems on podium celebrations.

(Don’t get me going on the Spanish national anthem.  My friend says it is an instrumental–people stand around humming–because the lyrics became illegal every few years as succeeding regimes demanded their own.)

So, is there anyone willing to argue that Marquez is not a lock in 2015?

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/26/2014

November 26, 2014
Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

 

LORENZO: SUGGESTION RE FLAG-TO-FLAG RACES IGNORED

I believe this to be true, having read it in a reputable publication.  This is a perfect example of why organizations that make decisions from the bottom up tend to do well, while organizations that make decisions from the top down tend to flounder.

This is the suggestion of one of the top three riders on earth that the rules be changed, as is often done at the drop of a hat, to force riders to pit within 2 laps of a white flag, rather than currently allowing them to do so.  It makes the white flag a consensus from all areas of the track, at which point it is out of the riders hands upon two laps.  It would effectively head off situations such as we saw this fall in which rain played an overly important role in the outcome of several races, far beyond the intent of the current rule.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDNot only did this recommendation arise from the bottom, but it arose from Jorge Lorenzo, a double world champion who has been on the sharp end of these rules, has ridden his million dollar motorcycle down, has walked away, and has been carried off.  He, better than the suits at Dorna and their committees, knows a good rule when he sees one.  The Powers That Be determine that the present rule is okay for now.  Someone’s back is getting scratched.

For riders, it is another reminder that they are, in general, employees, employees asked to  give a lot of feedback at high speeds about their employer’s machines.  If they were owners, say, they could vote to change the rules themselves.  As employees, though, those things are better left to the suits who write the checks.

MotoGP white flagThis expendable posture from owners toward riders, ultimately, leaves them little reason to compete hard outside of the team, but to do their best to best their teammate before all things.  So Lorenzo and Rossi go after each other, aware that Marquez travels in another dimension for now.  Pedrosa, one suspects, is training and training and training.  Pedrosa has a two year contract that could easily see him replaced by Alex Marquez after the 2016 season.

So.  Rain will continue to be allowed to affect the outcome of MotoGP races more than it should.  Riders will continue to subject themselves and those around them to elevated risks, continuing to run slicks in wet conditions past the time most suitable for making the change to a wet bike.  The suits, you see, have this thing…

Lorenzo is cool for stepping up and saying something constructive about one of the top issues in rider safety in the entire sport, a Subject Matter Expert if ever there was one. Having watched the 2008 Indianapolis GP in Hurricane Ike, I was astounded as to how much rain Race Direction allowed before calling a halt to the race at Lap 18, with the wind blowing the rain sideways, the cherry-picker camera and helicopter long gone.  That these guys run in rain at all is, in my opinion, ridiculous.  That they run in tropical storms is absurd.  Yet run they do.

There is something vaguely gladiatorial about keeping riders out on the track on slicks in the rain.  Management, whoever they are, makes these decisions for reasons other than good sense.  The driving force in this sport, according to many, is to increase rider safety while increasing wheel-to-wheel competition.  Leveling the field, allowing more riders to compete in the front group, more variation in podiums, higher ratings in more countries.

None of which has anything to do with getting riders off their slicks within two laps, to reduce their risk by taking away a decision that often results in a crash.  The suits are basically asking, “So, what does this Lorenzo guy know about it?”  One suspects that the rule change will take place on its own within two years, by which time the FIM will have claimed the idea as their own.  Regardless, it will probably be known as The Lorenzo Rule.

dumb as meetingsOne of my favorite Demotivator posters shows a group of suited men’s hands together in a huddle, with the caption “None of us is a dumb as all of us.”  So the rule for 2015 stays in place. Lorenzo is thanked for his suggestion, and MotoGP rolls the dice, praying that it either rains or it doesn’t.  Having reported the biggest crowds of their history, Dorna wants to build upon this success and is reluctant to change  a dynamic which appears to be working.  There are teams clamoring to join the fray, with 25 riders on the grid for 2015 as it stands, with KTM in the wings for 2016. Suzuki under pressure from Dorna to create a satellite team.

MotoGP seems happy to remain a boutique sport in the U.S., as Dorna continues to make little effort to cultivate American journalists.  Rather than taking guys like me out to dinner, they give us a hard time getting the kind of credentials they give to they guys who work for print publications, making it hard for us to do our jobs, and forcing us to make things up when we can’t find out what’s really going on.

Personally, I’m inclined to wonder or presume what folks are doing and saying.  As an example, it’s not a big reach to suggest that Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa are concerned about beating Marquez in 2015.  It’s not a big reach to suggest that sponsors and owners have “high level” concerns which transcend those of the gentlemen who ride the bikes, the Spanish guys.

Interest in  MotoGP in Spain is like what they get at NASCAR events n the U.S., the difference being the Spanish economy is in the toilet, while the US economy, while recovering, is still sputtering and trying to get a grip.  Interest in  NASCAR, which peaked some years ago, is its own problem, probably due in part to the economic downturn and saturation in US motor sports.  Somehow, MotoGP continues to draw in Spain, four times a year, more than any spanish_flag2other country.  All the great Spanish riders.  Remarkable.

November of 2014:  Lorenzo recommends that white flag mean mandatory pit within two laps.  Let’s try to remember this, so we can come back to it when it becomes law.  My favorite Russian stand up comic, Yakov Smirnoff, used to joke that back in the old Soviet Union, everything that was not forbidden was mandatory.  The tendency of any bureaucracy is to make more things mandatory; read the MotoGP by-laws some day.  Thus, the institutional inertia favors The Lorenzo Rule.  Just, not now.

For now, we go into the 2015 season with plenty on our plates.  Open, factory and hybrid bikes, more asterisks than the law should allow, all hoping to make some kind of impression in 2015 that will bring them some grace headed into the abyss of 2016 and the beginning of The Michelin Years which, one fears, could easily coincide with and become inseparable from The Marquez Years, into which we’ve already descended.Marquez in Sepang 2013

 

 

 

 

 

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES 11/24/2014

November 24, 2014

Man bites dog.

lin jarvisYamaha factory racing mullah Lin Jarvis declared over the weekend his belief that both Rossi and Lorenzo are capable of beating Repsol Honda double world champion Mark Marquez in 2015.

As if.

Jarvis, better than anyone, knows that the only way either of his current guys wins the world championship in the next two years is if Marquez injures himself.  Always a possibility in this punishing pastime; ask Lorenzo and Pedrosa especially.  At risk from oneself and from others. Difficult to insure.  Etc.

I love it when one the three things I remember from two degrees in economics makes itself useful. Ceteris paribus is the Latin phrase for “all things being equal,” which they never are.  The entire Western economic theoretical construct is based upon a premise that is true in the long run but definitely not true in the short.

Ahem.  Ceteris paribus, Marquez wins the next seven titles for Honda.

Jarvis is being a faithful corporate manager who is telling the bosses what they want to hear.  He is putting pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi to reach deep and become as great as they once were.  He is praying for rain and relying on Marquez’ aggressive riding style to ultimately lead to his, say, missing six rounds in a year and losing the title accordingly.Marquez at Aragon

It could happen.

So could Rossi or Lorenzo winning the title in any year in which Marquez did not injure himself.  It’s mathematically possible, but would be an upset in either case.  To suggest otherwise, as Jarvis did, is to put pressure on ownership, riders and engineers to try to keep up with what Honda is doing to them.

Jarvis’ team–engineering and design people are obviously brilliant.  They are also consistently a step or two behind their Japanese counterparts.  The most recent iteration of this fact is that Honda was first to the seamless transmission up, which later Yamaha put in place and which helped their performance.

Until Honda put in place the seamless downshift model, which Yamaha is currently trying to put together.

Always a step behind.

Rossi at ValenciaIt is unreasonable to assume that Rossi at age 35 is going to improve over the next two years; statistically, his best years are behind him.  Like Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago White Sox, Rossi gave two of his very best years to the Ducati program for naught but roughly €34 million. Rossi is not as good today as he was eight years ago.

One looks at Marquez’ balance and timing, his reflexes, his riding style, which has become the dominant style in the sport, adopted by riders and teams, with design implications, anxious to ride “more like Marquez.”

The current M-1 is not built to ride like the Honda.  It is designed to maintain speed, to enter corners from a different angle than the Hondas, which enjoy an overall advantage in corner exit speeds in those configurations.  The truth remains that at certain tracks–Austin and Argentina come to mind–the Hondas are going to enjoy a tremendous advantage, and that the number of so-called Yamaha-friendly tracks will continue to diminish as Marquez continues to win races.

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

Marquez vs. Pol Espargaro Moto2

The conversation veered to consideration of the so-called “bench,” the next generation of riders plugged into becoming factory Yamaha riders, naming only Pol Espargaro as a sure thing.  Ignoring, for now, the possibility that a 27 year old Tito Rabat would be an interesting successor to Rossi if, indeed, young Alex Marquez ends up as his brother’s teammate at Repsol in 2016.  Espargaro, Jarvis admits, would likely defect if not given a factory ride by the end of the 2016 season.  He seemed to regret the fact that his team was unable to sign Maverick Vinales.

Bottom line:  Jarvis doesn’t believe any of this.  He knows that Marquez on the Honda can beat either Rossi or Lorenzo on the Yamaha at his pleasure, generally as long as he finishes the race.  Marquez will fix his approach to riding in the rain, and that will be that.  Rossi says much the same, knowing how unlikely it is that it might be true.  Lorenzo ain’t talking, but he must be wondering how he will adapt to riding more like Marquez.cropped-alex-and-marc.jpg

One last thought.  We think the elevation of Alex Marquez to the factory Honda team in 2016 is a done deal.  This is a thought to put fear in the hearts of competing teams.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 21, 2014

Looking ahead to the shape of the MotoGP grid in 2015, we find

spanish_flag2  8 Spaniards, headed by Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.  Young Marquez and Rabat on the horizon.

 

italian-flag6 Italians, headed by Rossi, Dovizioso and Iannone.

 

british flag3 Brits, headed by Cal Crutchlow, upon whom the pressure must be immense.

 

flag_french2 Frenchman, Di Meglio and Baz and

 

  • 1 each from the under-cards at USA, Columbia, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Australian Youth League.

Forgiving, as you seem to frequently do, the division of the grid into tranches, along the lines of junk bonds:

Tranche A: Aliens Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

Tranche B: Competitives:  Dovisiozo, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Andrea Iannone.

Tranche C:  Redding, Bradl, Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smth, Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales.

Followed by all the rest.  Probably more competitive top to bottom than 2014; the bad teams aren’t going to be so consistently bad.  There exist the possibilities of upsets with two extra manufacturers adding machines that will complicate starts and early turns.  Expect more from Suzuki with Espargaro and Vinales aboard than with de Puniet.  Expect the Aprilias of Bautista and Melandri to lag.  Expect Nicky Hayden to see more top ten finishes but remain far from relevant.  Don’t know what to expect from Jack Miller who appears fearless at this point but hasn’t yet had the business end of a 1000 cc bike pointed at his helmet.  I hope to see success for Vinales, the Espargaros, the Brits and some new Aliens–a coupla Italians, Dovizioso and maybe Iannone–would be greatly refreshing.  Marquez may yet again run away with the title, but the battle for second could widen and increase interest in the sport itself, as ethnocentric as it is.  That would be helpful heading into 2016, the first year of Michelins, coincident with what one has to expect to be the full fruition of Dall’Igna’s mystic hand at Ducati.

2016 should be comparable to 2002, the year MotoGP went from 2-stroke 500 cc bikes to 4 stroke 990 cc bikes, which was a biggie.  The premier class, confirmed as 4-strokes going forward, checked back down to 800 cc in 2007 and back up to 1000 in 2012. An earlier draft of this article, which was consumed by WordPress, went on to present a series of mundane observations about riders and teams and their prospects for 2015.  It concluded by suggesting that the 2016 Repsol Honda team could easily be represented by Alex and Marc Marquez, and the factory Yamaha effort would feature Jorge Lorenzo and Tito Rabat.  This supposed that both Rossi and Pedrosa would be ready to go quietly. It wondered out loud about the near term prospects for riders Rabat, Vinales and Alex Marquez, while conceding the 2015 and, if history is a teacher, the 2016 titles to Marc Marquez, who has always shown himself to be a quick study when it comes to making major changes in delivery systems.

cropped-alex-and-marc.jpgBy the end of 2016 Marc Marquez remains #1 in the world, with three of the next four riders to include Lorenzo, Alex Marquez and Rabat.   Ignoring Lorenzo, The Three Amigos train harder than anyone, play harder than their peers, and attract sponsors the way bright lights do moths. By 2016, they will all have factory rider status, a term which, at times, gets watered down to meaning little more than high rider salaries.  They will still have the best machines, the best crews, and no money worries.  And, because I don’t know everything, I must confess that another rider, one from  Tranche B, will be in the battle for places two through five.  The cumulative effect of the rule changes being put into effect between now and the start of 2016 should make the fight for places five through 15–points–much less predictable and more fun to watch. Two new factory teams, one of which will be decent, one of which will be bad.  The new Honda customer engine.  Marc VDS. The Espargaro brothers. Lots of Ducatis, fronted by Dovizioso and Iannone. 25 riders on the grid. An explanation for why Alex de Angelis might even bother with Ioda Racing.  The looming entry of KTM in the builder’s competition on 2016.

Dovi and Hayden AirbornMotoGP claimed to draw its biggest crowds ever in 2014 and named Indianapolis the best GP of the year.  Hunh. Despite Dorna’s best efforts not to promote the sport through online outlets, and the fact that not a single American rider competes at anything close to a winning level, MotoGP seems to be drawing followers in the US.  The people at the IMS do a lot to promote the race in August, even though it always comes after a break in the schedule and at the start of what one might think of as “the back nine.” by which time Marquez may have already clinched. Seriously, the Indianapolis race may draw 65,000 people on Sunday and look practically empty.  Other races draw as few as in the 30,000’s. Indy’s not bad at all, but it looks bad on TV.

This is all part of an effort to keep the MotoGP conversation going in the off-season.  Feel free to argue or disagree.  I watch the sport and get paid to think about it.  You might at least wonder why that is.

GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING FOR DUMMIES

November 15, 2014

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-itw

Unauthorized Fausto Gresini Bio  GP Racing 1997-present

Fausto Gresini has been an owner in the most difficult of spots for most of his 27 years at the helm of grand prix motorcycle racing teams, generally burning his own money or money he has personally raised from sponsors.  As a rider himself in the 80’s, he won world titles in the 125 cc class.  His teams have included a kaleidoscope of title sponsors and have won titles in the  250 cc and Moto2 classes.  Heading into 2015, he has a right to feel jinxed.

We assume Mr. Gresini to be self-aware, able to acknowledge that his efforts to create championship racing teams over three decades has been a constant struggle against a number of tides.  A strong nationalist, Gresini has always wanted to run a purely Italian team, riding Italian machines with Italian riders and joyful Italian sponsors. However, as a satellite team owner, what we in youth soccer used to manage and refer to as a “B Team,” Gresini has experienced few highs and numerous lows, watching his teams compete for titles in the premier class of MotoGP.

Fausto Gresini, the owner of a satellite team, needs to divide his time between driving the techs and riders, and charming sponsors to sign on the dotted line.  Over the years, these have included names such as Elf, Avo, Telefonica, Fortuna, Movistar (in 2005), and, recently, San Carlo, the big Italian chip manufacturer–snacks, not integrated circuits–from 2008 through 2012.  It is impolitic to observe that during the period 2001 to 2014 his teams have experienced two world champions–Daijiro Kato in the 250 class in 2001 and Toni Elias, the winner of daijiro_katothe intial year of Moto2 bikes in 2009–and the loss of their two top riders, Kato in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli in 2011.

Despite Fausto Gresini’s best efforts, success, or budding success, has been followed twice by tragedy that has set his program, such as it is, into the state in which it now exists, one of tarnished former greatness.

Gresini Racing, including the label of the sponsor of the season, has always had to work harder than his factory counterparts, most recently the factory Yamaha and Honda teams.  Gresini was a Honda man for decades, through the years 2003-2005. Sete Gibernau finished second for the year in 2003 and 2004, with then youngster boy toy Marco Melandri taking 2nd in 2005, 4th in 2006, and 5th in 2007.

Gresini Roars Back after Kato Death

Gresini had overcome the racing death of Kato in 2003 and had come back strong with Gibernau and Melandri in 2003 and beyond, San Carlo by his side from 2008-2012.  His fortunes turned south during 2007 with Melandri in MotoGP but turned north again in 2009 as journeyman Toni Elias won the Moto2 title.

Suddenly, in 2010 along comes Marco Simoncelli, the tall, gangly goofy-looking Italian free spirit who had managedMARCO-SIMONCELLI-1 to wrap his 6’something frame around the 250 cc bike in 2008 tightly enough to take the championship, followed by a third place finish in 2009. Gresini had signed the loose charismatic cannon to a two year contract in 2010 while the full-grown Melandri finished 10th and left for greener pastures.  Simoncelli himself managed 8th place in 2010,  getting joined by Hiro Ayoyama on the #2 bike who would take 10th the following year; the Italian spent most of the off season testing sessions near the top of the Alien rankings.

As the 2011 season approached, life was looking up for Fausto Gresini.  In addition to a for-real competitive MotoGP team of Somencelli on the #1 bike and Aoyama on the #2, he was looking at a promising Moto2 team featuring Michele Pirro, who can ride, and Yuki Takahashi, the great Japanese hope.  (Both would disappoint, with Pirro finishing ninth for the season and Takahashi 11th.)

Simoncelli, ruling the headlines but a hazard to himself and those around him, began the 2011 season showing promise on the factory-supported RC213V, but crashing out of three of the first six races, ruining the season of Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans, getting chippy with Lorenzo at a press conference, and slugging it out in the media with Albert Puig, Pedrosa’s Svengali, who seemingly had enough at that point to later re-define his job away from both Pedrosa and Simoncelli.

A disruptive force was Gresini Racing’s Marco Simoncelli in early 2011.

Lightning Strikes Again

Simoncelli, as we all now know, got things turned around in the second half of the 2011 season, with 4th place finishes at San Marino, Aragon and Motegi.  His second place finish at Phillip Island showed him capable of taking podia on a regular basis, all things being equal, which they never are.  Along came Sepang, along came the unthinkable, and Simoncelli was, instantly, snatched from the board.  The personal tragedy was accompanied by a corporate disaster, as the rug had suddenly been violently pulled out from under the Italian sponsors.  San Carlo would stick around for another year, a year in which they were left with Spanish underachiever Alvaro Bautista who was the only credible rider available late in the 2011 season, when they were suddenly bereft looking ahead to 2012.

Bautista who, one suspects, was never Gresini’s first choice on any count–ethnic, performance history–never did much with the Italian’s beloved factory-supported Honda (5th in 2012, falling to 11th in 2014) leading, ultimately, to Honda making it, um, unfeasible for Gresini to field a Honda-affiliated team in 2015.  This coincided with Aprilia’s decision to enter the MotoGP fray a year earlier than had been previously announced, intending to field a two-man factory team in 2015 under the expert direction of, guess who, Fausto Gresini, and giving themselves a year to adjust to the program before Michelin enters in 2016 with the new line of MotoGP tires.

Gresini, still today stuck with the increasingly dysfunctional Bautista, finally signed the aging, microscopic Melandri in early November to ride the second glued-together Aprilia factory entry in 2015 , as Melandri was going to be a victim of corporate Aprilia’s decision to support MotoGP at the apparent expense of a highly successful World Super Bikes program that had produced titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

There’s just something about running with the big dogs…

A Look Ahead

Gresini, for all his efforts, despite brutal events which disrupted the fabric of two separate teams, and through a financial crisis that continues in Italy, finds himself today heading up a factory Aprilia team that plans to enter two glued-together prototypes while they develop a new from-the-bottom-up prototype for 2016, complete with Michelin tires, for their amico, although they were, through financial worry and corporate dithering, unable to prevent chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna’s discouraging defection to Ducati Corse.

Despite his best efforts, Gresini is still stuck with Bautista and, now, with an aging Melandri, kind of an Italian Colin Edwards, whose grizzled features and extensive tenure are promoted as being directly helpful to Bautista, who has proven himself mostly un-coachable since winning the 2006 championship in the 125 cc class.  Bautista, always super-concerned with his appearance and less with his performance, has managed to finish twice in 13th place for the struggling factory Suzuki program in 2010 and 2011, and as a seriously underachieving factory spec Honda rider for Gresini in 2012 through 2014, able to deliver only 5th, 6th and 11th place finishes for the name sponsors in those years.

Honda said sayonara to Gresini at the same moment Aprilia decided to compress their timeline to enter MotoGP in 2015, putting Gresini in charge of two riders, lending to the belief that Gresini had been looking.  The program will be a bottom third team in the grand scheme of things, its riders likely to get lapped during a race or two.  Whether the underfunded Italian group can produce a competitive MotoGP setup for 2016 remains to be seen.

If Fausto Gresini has anything to say about it, Aprilia will come out in 2016 with an Italian name sponsor, factory support, a brand new bike and a new Italian rider to replace Bautista, with Melandri either hanging around or not, depending upon the availability of a stud Moto3 rider, such as Romano Fenati or Enea Bastianni, who could fill the vacuum at the top of the 2015 Moto3 class left by the graduation of Marquez, Miller, and Rins.  Such could presage the assumption of the #1 Aprilia bike in 2016 by an aggressive young Italian stud able to compete with a grid, all of whom are going to be adjusting to new controls and new tires.  A world full of Marquezes and Espargaros.  Rossis and Lorenzos. Vinales and Smiths.

It could happen.  One never knows.  Tires change everything.  Electronics and data have taken over.

At Least For Now

At least for now, Fausto Gresini will have some help from Aprilia keeping things together while life at the top of MotoGP prepares to adjust to common ECU hardware and new rubber in 2016.  Though there is less to do on the money side, there is much to do on the high octane side, which is where he’s probably most comfortable anyway.

Fausto Gresini’s MotoGP team will not challenge for a world championship in 2015.  He will probably be around, perhaps in a good way, in 2016, when things change for everyone.  He’s survived the loss of two riders and more sponsors than most people can name.  But there he is, riding herd on a group of paisano gearheads, still with that damned Spanish guy, and now with the old Italian guy, trying to glue together a credible effort for the home team in 2015 and beyond.

Are Fausto Gresini’s salad days behind him?  Probably.  Is he still in position to enjoy himself and get some visceral return on the investment of his time and effort as a year-round owner and operator?  Seems that way.

Perhaps he’s developed the perspective, after 27 years in the business, and with the passing of two riders, to be able to live life in the moment, to not obsess on what might have been, to accept his position in the corporate superstructure of a team as well as his prospects for achieving his goals, which haven’t changed in 27 years.  Perhaps he’s had to, in the words of Stonewall Jackson, “elevate them gun sights just a little lower, boys,” understanding where he currently stands in the scheme of GP racing, where there are the haves and the have nots.

Gresini is a poster child for an athlete incapable of generating consistent winning results as a coach, owner or engineer after a sparkling career behind the handlebars.  He could never coax performance at a level he could himself achieve from the bulk of the riders with whom he worked.  Kato and Simoncelli were exceptions, in more ways than one.

We return to the original question.  Questions, actually.

Does Fausto Gresini have a right to feel jinxed?  Most definitely.  Does Fausto Gresini have a realistic chance of coming back in 2016 with a competitive Aprilia factory team?  Depends on how you define realistic.  Is Fausto Gresini fully engaged in making things happen with his new team?  Undoubtedly.  Is Gresini, like Melandri, on the back end of his career?  Probably.  Would he do it all over again in much the same way?  Probably.  Would he give anything to have Kato and Simoncelli back?

You’re kidding, right?

2012-fausto-gresini-motogp-#2

 

The best thing, in my opinion, would be for Fausto Gresini to purchase the Pramac Ducati team and bring the hot young Italian riders through on Ducati machines with factory support.  One thinks his contract has an out clause permitting him to do such a thing, and that he would then be in position to achieve his dream once again.  Hot Italian riders on third generation Ducati equipment with standard ECUs and new rubber.  A Pramac team, even one featuring Hernandez and  Petrucci, purchased in 2015, could be competitive in the new world of 2016.  Bring in the young Italian guns and let them go at it in 2016 with Dall’Igna calling the shots.  I think Fausto would thrive in such a situation.

*****************************************************

I know nothing.

As a recovering econ major, we learned that the only value of a theory was its ability to predict things.  So much of the previous stuff is pure conjecture on my part, which is why it needs a byline.  If, however, much of it turns out right, then you need to keep reading everything on this site.  The sponsors need you.  My future here depends on it.  I seek comments from all of you about this and that, and don’t mind poking you when you’re, um, wrong.  If you ride, you should actually read the other stuff, too, because those guys have forgotten more about bikes than I’ve ever known.  They’re very good at what they do.  They will help you make better decisions about how to spend your discretionary dollars in this business.  Unlike myself, they are helpful.

 


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