Lorenzo leads Yamaha rout in France

May 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere on the Grid

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

Old jokes are good jokes.

On to Mugello

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

The Monster Grand Prix de France is anyone’s race

May 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Le Mans

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

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

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

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

Enough already with the home races.

Quick Hitters and Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

Jorge Lorenzo coasts to win over Marquez and Rossi at Jerez

May 3, 2015

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

In the run-up to today’s Spanish Grand Prix, several things were clear. Defending world champion Marc Marquez would be riding wounded with a broken left pinkie. Jorge Lorenzo, dominating the practice sessions, had that look in his eye reminiscent of 2010, 2012 and late 2014. The Ducatis were having a tough time getting anything going in the Spanish heat. And Valentino Rossi had a great chance to secure his 200th career podium.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDAt the end of today’s high speed parade, most of the expectations were met. Lorenzo got away at the start, led every lap, and celebrated his first career win from pole at Jerez. On the final lap, he saluted the swooning fans in Lorenzo’s Land, his mojo clearly back in place. Marquez managed to secure second place, confessing afterwards that he chased Lorenzo mostly with his right arm, which was as sore as his finger in parc fermé. (Let’s hope he doesn’t show up on Wednesday with a case of arm pump.) Rossi got his podium and increased his lead from 6 points to 15 over a frustrated Andrea Dovizioso.

Ducati Woes in Spain

Last week, we heard the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, singing the blues about how hard it would be for them to compete at Jerez. I thought they were sandbagging; they obviously missed my earlier article proclaiming the GP15 competitive at every track on the calendar. And although five of the six Desmosedicis on the grid finished in the points, there is no joy in Città di Fango tonight. dovizioso-iannone-658x437

Iannone qualified solidly in third, but got caught in traffic at the start, dropping back to around 11th place early. He spent his day pedaling as hard as he could to finish sixth and, in the process, dropped from third place for the season to fifth. Dovizioso, mimicking recent Rossi acts by qualifying in the eight hole, started okay, finishing Lap 1 in seventh before going walkabout on Lap 2, which he finished in 25th place. As in last place. As in behind Alex de Angelis. He spent his day grinding his teeth to nubs on the way to an eventual ninth place finish. His seven (7) points today left him in second place for the season but increased his deficit to Rossi from six to 15, and brought his string of consecutive second place finishes to a grating halt.

On the brighter side, Yonny Hernandez pushed his Pramac entry to a respectable 10th place, teammate Danilo Petrucci (who lost 20 pounds during the offseason) managed 12th, and Avintia Racing’s Hectic Hector Barbera scored two points, ending the day in 14th place. On a day when I expected to see two Ducatis on the podium, my prognostication skills once again took a thorough thrashing.

Elsewhere on the Grid

CWM LCR Honda hooligan Cal Crutchlow, who doesn’t get enough respect here, ran a smart, controlled race for a legitimate fourth place finish, his only whining this week (other than a head cold) occurring after qualifying when he said he SHOULD have started on the front row but for a bad tire choice. The Espargaro brothers, Little Pol and Big Aleix, Pol and Aleixqualified well in fourth and sixth respectively and finished well, too, in fifth and seventh. They had an altercation during qualifying, after which they could be seen inside the Suzuki garage, where Aleix administered a Chinese burn on Pol, whereupon Pol retaliated with a wet willie, sticking his spit-soaked index finger in his brother’s ear. Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith qualified 10th and finished 9th, somewhat off the pace of his season to date.

Other than Assen, they’ve been hosting MotoGP races at Jerez longer than anywhere on the schedule. Today’s results raise the question as to whether we should consider Jerez to be Yamaha-friendly or Honda-friendly, presuming a healthy Dani Pedrosa would have finished somewhere in the top six. Hard to say, with all four Yamahas finishing in the top eight and both real Hondas, Marquez and Crutchlow, nestled in the top four. From this vantage point, only two conclusions are available. First, Scott Redding has to get his act together on the Marc VDS Honda; 13th place isn’t getting it done. Second, Jerez is definitely un-friendly for the factory Ducati team. At least it was today.

Quick Hitters

Spain is one of the few countries where the podium celebration features the nation’s king. Juan Carlos hung out with Lorenzo and Marquez before the race and strolled across the podium afterwards, high-fiving all three riders. You’ll never see the King of America doing that in Indy or Austin, unless Donald Trump manages to steal the 2016 election.

The Spanish Grand Prix marked Lorenzo’s first pole since Misano last year and his first win since Motegi. He looked visibly relieved on the podium and gave us a classic Lorenzo Leap at the end. It would be fun to have a legitimate three way race this season, with Marquez, Rossi and Lorenzo in the hunt at the end. My irrational exuberance about the Ducati team needs a lift, which it may receive at Le Mans in two weeks if the French Grand Prix holds to form and gives us three days of rain.

Pol Espargaro finally got one of the monkeys off his back, beating teammate Bradley Smith for the first time this season. And it was a big weekend for the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, as they doubled their point total for the season from one (1) to two (2), based on Alvaro Bautista’s heroic run to 15th place. Fausto must be going insane, despite the pleasure of watching #2 rider Marco Melandri not finishing last today.

The Big Picture Heading for Le Mans

Is it premature to suggest that Jorge Lorenzo is back? Today he looked like he did over the second half of last year and during most of 2010 and 2012. Rossi took what the defense was willing to give him today and extended his lead in the championship, courtesy of the futility of the factory Ducati team. And Marquez, who should be close to 100% in two weeks, still looks capable of winning a third straight title. If you happened to have watched the Moto2 race today, Alex Rins’ fall in the Jorge Lorenzo turn on the last lap took him from first place in the championship down to third. Things can change swiftly in this sport, and there are 14 rounds left. It’s too soon to write off any of the three.

podium-mugello-2014Today was Jorge Lorenzo’s day. He will turn 28 tomorrow feeling great and looking forward to mixing it up with Marquez and Rossi in two weeks. Meanwhile, the teams will gather again tomorrow at the Circuito de Jerez for a fast one day test. If I’m Marc Marquez, I’m going to sit this one out and be grateful I didn’t do any more damage to myself today. If I’m Valentino Rossi, I’m going to count to 200, do whatever Lin Jarvis wants done and give some serious thought to how I can do a better job in qualifying.

If I’m Jorge Lorenzo, I’m going to replay today’s race in my head a few times and offer up a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupé for more days like today.

Repsol Honda team in disarray heading to Jerez

April 28, 2015

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

First it was Dani Pedrosa, after a disappointing season opener in Qatar, announcing that his chronic arm pump issues would require immediate surgery, keeping him out of the saddle indefinitely. Then, just the other day, we learn that teammate and Supreme Intergalactic Potentate Marc Marquez smashed the little finger on his left hand to bits in training, necessitating a delicate surgery and some hurry-up physio. Pedrosa is out, and Marquez has been deemed “questionable” for Round 4 this weekend. Several Italians smell blood in the water.

RossiFirst and foremost of the shark-ish Italians would be Valentino Rossi, sponsored this year by Fountain of Youth Waters. Rossi leads the title chase, having accumulated three podia and two wins thus far, making the application of the adjective “wily” almost unavoidable. He has shown speed, strategic thinking, consistency and sound judgment all year, and is, suddenly, a viable contender for his first premier class title since 2009. Our crack research department is looking into the last time a premier class champion suffered five years in between titles.

Next in line is Andrea Dovizioso, #1 on the factory Ducati team, trailing Rossi by six points after three mostly brilliant dovizioso-iannone-658x437outings on the new Desmosedici GP15, with three silver medallions to show for his efforts thus far. His wingman, Andrea Iannone, sits in third place some 20 points behind Dovizioso but still leading double world champions Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. With a third, a fifth, and an achingly narrow fourth place finish in Argentina to his credit, Iannone is thinking podium again this week.

Sitting in 12th place with but 10 points to his name, Dani Pedrosa’s season lies in ruin, offering him no reason to come back from his injury prematurely. Marquez, whose 36 points to date put him in fifth place, had likely been hoping to take over third place this weekend, the first of four Spanish rounds. Now, it appears he will be lucky to post at all, his customary whackadoodle riding style mostly out the window with a titanium splint on his left pinkie. The double defending world champion, one must think, will be content to line up on Sunday’s grid and capture some points while in healing mode. There is a word to describe the pressure on the wounded Marquez, after his ill-considered encounter with Rossi in Argentina; I just can’t think what it is. Immense? Indescribable? Intergalactic?

Some of you may wish to point out that Marquez trailed Pedrosa by 30 points after six rounds in 2013 and still managed to win the title. This was due in no small part to both Pedrosa and Lorenzo having been sufficiently genteel to suffer broken collarbones at Assen and The Sachsenring. Valentino Rossi, on the other hand, has been absurdly healthy during his entire career. Starting his 16th season in the premier class, the Italian has recorded a DNS exactly four (4) times, all of which occurred in 2010 after his brutal crash in practice at Mugello.

Trailing the virtually invulnerable Rossi by 30 points is vastly different than trailing the snake-bit Dani Pedrosa.

Recent History at Jerez

Factoid, courtesy of MotoGP.com: Rossi, with six premier class wins here, the most recent in 2009, is one of only three non-Spaniards ever to occupy the top step of the MotoGP podium in Jerez, along with Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi.

The Jerez round in 2012 was memorable, with defending world champion Stoner trimming Lorenzo by a second and Lorenzo punking Pedrosa at the flag by 4 /10ths. With the podium separated by a mere second and a half, one could be forgiven for thinking this had perhaps been the Moto2 race. Nicky Hayden, who qualified his Ducati third on Saturday, would fondly remember this race as the last he would start from the front row.

Dani Pedrosa won the 2013 affair which, too, was memorable if for entirely different reasons. Jerez 2013 was the day rookie Marc Marquez sprouted some premier class whiskers, as described here:

“As the riders crossed the start/finish line for the last time, Marquez re-appeared on Lorenzo’s pipes. Lorenzo, who had struggled all day with front grip, appeared to be in trouble, but continued blocking Marquez, other than a momentary exchange of positions around Turn 6. Finally, though, at, of all places, the Jorge Lorenzo corner, its namesake went a shade wide and Marquez, lizard brain firmly in control, dove inside. As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, with Lorenzo being forced wide into third place both for the day and the season.”

Lorenzo - MarquezLast year’s race featured Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10. A jubilant Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the season; at that time we had no idea he would end up on the rostrum 13 times on the way to finishing second for the year. Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late in the day for the last podium spot, another harbinger that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the Mallorcan’s year.

With Honda and Yamaha having split the last eight races here, this weekend’s tilt would have been considered a Japanese crapshoot under normal circumstances. The abysmal health of the Repsol Honda riders, a white hot Rossi, a desperate Lorenzo and two suddenly competitive Ducatis suggest there may not be a Honda on the podium come Sunday afternoon. CWM LCR Honda pilot Cal Crutchlow may have something to say about this, after an encouraging ride at Rio Hondo, but his history at Jerez has been, um, undistinguished up until now.

Compared to recent years, the first weekend of May 2015 must be termed anything but normal.

More Rounds, New Tracks on the Horizon

Dorna released word this week suggesting that the MotoGP season may find itself extended up to perhaps 20 rounds in 2017, with the Red Bull Ring in Austria (referred to by some as one of the most dangerous circuits on the planet) definitely on the way, along with the possibility of another Asian round. I read elsewhere that a Finnish track is nearing completion, and that the owners have told F-1 to kindly pound sand, wishing instead to host a MotoGP round in the foreseeable future. As if England and German aren’t cold enough. What could possibly be next? The Siberian GP?

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com says the weather in Jerez this weekend will be hot and dry, normally a good thing for the Repsol Honda team. Whether it will be hot and dry enough to help Marquez remains to be seen. Perhaps conditions will allow Crutchlow to find his way back onto the podium for a second consecutive round, but I don’t think he has too much experience on the RC213V when the track is melting and oozing grease. If nothing else, broiling temps will give him something to complain about.

2015 Losail PodiumOne would have to be silly not to pick Rossi to win on Sunday, especially after Marquez suggested this may be his last opportunity to do so. (I’m not sure about the wisdom of throwing down on The Doctor with your hand in a cast.) Anyway, I expect to see Dovizioso second on the podium, with Lorenzo, Iannone and Crutchlow slugging it out for third. The lights go out at 8 am EDT, and we’ll have results, commentary and analysis right here by noon.

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?


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