MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 18, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Stakes High in Spanish Shootout

Sunday’s Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón de MotoGP is unlikely to have a momentous impact on the 2017 championship standings. Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, playing cat and mouse at 200 mph and tied at present, will head for the Pacific flyaway rounds separated by, at most, 25 points. The man in jeopardy of losing touch is factory Yamaha prodigy Maverick Viñales. A crash this week could put him some 40 points behind the leader—whoever it is—with four rounds to go, not a good place to be, even on a YZR-M1.

Recent History at Aragon

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon was a flag-to-flag cluster that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center. Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know—but the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth-place start to a thrilling silver medal finish over Cal Crutchlow, grinding his expensive British teeth once again on the factory Ducati.

In 2015, Lorenzo put on a clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card.

A year ago, Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Maverick Viñales won here in 2013 in Moto2. While riding the Suzuki, he managed 11th place the first year and a respectable 4th place last year. Lorenzo had two wins and a second here the last three years. On the Yamaha. This year he doesn’t see the podium. Who does see the podium are Marquez and Dovizioso, two masters at the height of their respective games (it just took Dovizioso much longer to get to this level than it did wonderkid #93.), on machines with differing strengths and weaknesses. Dovi is having a career year, while Marquez is having a career career, working on his fourth title in five premier class seasons. Rossi is down and out, and Pedrosa, down but not quite out, never having done more than get close.

But Viñales… Before the season began, I had him slotted for four wins and four DNFs. The wins number is within easy reach with five rounds left. But the falls, the falls, are they going to happen, or can he keep it upright, and stay close to the current leaders? At this point, he needs me to be right, or conservative, about the wins, and over on the DNFs. And that’s before the Tech 3 guys started running out of fuel on their 2016 M1s.

Lots of Movement in the Tranches

After Round 12 Silverstone

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 13 Misano

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi)
Tranche 2: Pedrosa↓, Zarco, Folger, Lorenzo, Petrucci↑, Rins↑
Tranche 3: Crutchlow↓, Barbera, Bautista↓, Baz, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, P Espargaro↑
Tranche 5: Abraham↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Bradley Smith all had solid results in Misano, in the rain. Should they repeat their credible performances this weekend, in the dry, they will be moving up in the standings, with Hector Barbera, Loris Baz and The Rider Formerly Known as The Maniac at risk of getting knocked down. Iannone may lose his contract on the Suzuki altogether if the suits at Dorna and Suzuki have their way, Johnny Rae’s name being mentioned as a replacement.

Alex Rins, on the strength of his 8th place finish at Misano, is ensconced, at least for now, in Tranche 2 along with Zarco and Folger. Rookie of the year undecided at this point. Other than a poor outing at the Red Bull Ring, Rins is showing steady improvement since his injury, with top tens in his last two races, under vastly differing conditions. I’d like to see him on a factory Yamaha one of these days, but he’ll probably have to take a number behind Tech 3’s Frick and Frack.

This Just In

World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark will have the hottest seat in the house this weekend, having been named to “replace Valentino Rossi” on the factory Yamaha. Good one. I’m sure Michael is a great guy, rock star-quality looks, but he should look up the word “cipher” in the dictionary: a zero; a figure 0. Synonyms: zero · 0 · nil · naught/nought. Placeholder. Imagine Lin Jarvis, “Just keep it warm if you will, please, old boy and try not to bang it about too much. Mr. Rossi is expected back soon.” I guess Katman Nakasuga, the Yamaha test rider who podiumed in Valencia a few years back, is busy this weekend, a wedding in his wife’s family or something equally inescapable.

Your Weekend Forecast

It doesn’t appear to have rained in the greater Alcaniz environs for some time now, and the long-range forecast for the weekend calls for clear skies, plenty of sunshine to heat the track, with temps in the 80’s and dust on the tarmac if you happen to find yourself off the racing line. These conditions favor the Repsol Honda team; Marquez likes sliding around in hot grease, and Pedrosa can get enough heat into his tires to be able to compete, unlike last time out.

[Speaking of Pedrosa, Alien cards get revoked when a rider develops a hole in his game. For Lorenzo, it’s rain. For Pedrosa, it’s becoming cold temps. (Dovi has been showing one around lately, but I heard one guy say it looked fake.) I think of Dovi as an Alien, although I cannot recall the date of his official entry into The Club. Rossi, Marquez, Vinales—they seem able to ride anywhere, in any conditions. Must be all that enduro and motocross training they do.]

Lorenzo at Misano

Petrucci and Marquez at Misano 2017

An irritating tendency of people trained in economics is to throw around the Latin term “ceteris paribus,” which translates to “all other things being equal,” which they rarely are. As for Sunday’s race, Marquez, Vinales and Dovizioso should end up on the podium, ceteris paribus. But Dani Pedrosa has an opportunity to make me eat my words. Jorge Lorenzo could go all Lazarus at a track he loves. Danilo Petrucci could FINALLY get that elusive first win. And when will Aleix Espargaro see everything fall into place, just once, allowing him to put the Aprilia on the podium?

 

As usual, the race goes off at 8 am on the US east coast and we’ll have results and analysis here ASAP.

 

Lorenzo

Jorge Lorenzo at Misano

 

 

Lazarus

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Provisional 2018 MotoGP Calendar Released

September 13, 2017

2018 Provisional FIM calendar

19 rounds. From the 18th of March to the 18th of November.  Eight full months. A single back-to-back–Brno and Austria–until the flyaway rounds.  Thailand shoehorned in between Aragon and Motegi, with two weeks on either side.  OK, I guess.  Perhaps the teams can leave some of their shish in Thailand and not have to schlep it all over creation again a week later.

The “Circuit to be announced” stuff around the British GP is becoming hilarious. As if Ebbw Vale is EVER going to get built. Personally, I see no reason why the government needs to help fund a racetrack that will have a temporarily nice effect on the local economy during construction but then will have a few low-wage jobs a few times a year thereafter. In a region that has perhaps 20 really nice days a year.

Surveying the venues, the one that looks out of place is Austin. The US is a terrible market for MotoGP and motorcycles in general. Plus Marc Marquez wins every time out.  I love the track itself, despite its being in Texas and the presumptuousness of its name (COTA) and motto (Get thrown off a mechanical bull on Saturday night!). Not sure about the length of the current contract between Dorna and the Texas folks, but I’d be reluctant to bank on it continuing much longer.

In the spirit of internationalism, we will ignore the location of Rio Hondo, a million miles from nowhere, in favor of extending a hand to our Latin brothers, who buy a lot of motorcycles and have only soccer to look forward to the rest of the year.

2018 is the year, I believe, when I finally convince the powers that be at Motorcycle.com to cough up the expenses for a Brno/Spielberg junket next summer. What this racing stuff needs is more local color, more interviews, more in-person photography, better writing…the list goes on and on. A reward for ten years of loyal performance does not seem out of order.

 

MotoGP Misano Results

September 10, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins a classic; series tied

Magnificent Marc Marquez put on a last lap for his career highlight reel in beating a plucky Danilo Petrucci and conservative Andrea Dovizioso to the flag in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he truly is.

Marquez in MisanoThe weather gods pulled a 180° from Monday’s forecast, when it was supposed to be hot and sunny on Sunday, not Friday. Today’s rain scrambled the results in the morning WUP– witness Loris Baz sitting 3rd at the end of the session. Virtually no one had tested the 2015 racing surface in the rain. Ever. The main event, as they say, would be a lottery. Paging Jack Miller.

The Moto3 and Moto2 tilts were crashfests, half of the qualifiers in each failing to finish, and a number of points scorers having found the kitty litter not once, but twice, our old punching bag and substitute rider Alex de Angelis among them. It was easy to feel apprehensive as the MotoGP race approached

Practice and Qualifying

Marquez, Viñales and a bunch of Ducatis were making lots of noise on Friday and Saturday morning. Marquez recorded Saturday’s only sub-1:33 lap late in FP3. Hard-nosed Danilo Petrucci on a Desmo GP17 led the combined times until that point. Test rider Michele Pirro flogged his GP17 into Q2 along with a determined-looking Jorge Lorenzo, a big fan of this track when he rode in blue. Viñales was up near the top. Aleix Espargaro, happy with a new fairing, put his Aprilia into Q2. Cal Crutchlow, a lurking Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Zarco also passed Go and collected their $200.

Q1 was exciting in itself before the apparent graduates, Jack Miller on the Honda and Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were both penalized for exceeding the track limit and dropped out of the pole pageant, the trophies going to Ducati pilots Alvaro Bautista and Karel “Don’t Call It a Comeback” Abraham. Q2 gave fans plenty for their money as Maverick Viñales, carrying the sole torch for the factory Yamaha delegation, pimped Andrea Dovizioso at the close to steal his first pole since Mugello. Despite crashing out on a hot lap late in the session, Marquez managed to hold on to the third grid spot, the top three contenders for the 2017 championship qualified second, third and first, respectively.

Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco filled the second row. The perfect weather conditions of Friday and Saturday were expected to go south, so to speak, on Sunday, with rain in the forecast. Suggesting, as usual, that qualifying doesn’t always end up having much to do with the eventual result, especially when weather conditions change rapidly.

Let The Big Bikes Roll

The wet premier class race started routinely, other than Jorge Lorenzo taking the hole shot from fifth on the grid and leading the first six laps of the race, as if the track were dry as dust. He was followed in quick succession by Marquez, Divizioso, and Maverick Viñales, with Petrucci on the fly from his start in the middle of the third row. Once Lorenzo left the premises via a Lap 6 high side on his GP17, it was these four riders who would slug it out for the podium. And Viñales, on the factory Yamaha, never appeared to assert himself, riding in fourth place pretty much all day, still in the title chase, unwilling to let the rain put him in DNFville again.

Petrucci went through the leaders like the proverbial hot knife, sliding past Dovizioso on Lap 5 and Marquez on Lap 6. He then put on a clinic of riding in the rain for 21 laps, his rhythm perfect, virtually wobble-free, with #93 and #04 staying close enough to hit him with a rock. Showing nerves of steel and flogging the Ducati joyfully in front of 97,000 fans, 96,000 of whom were pulling for Rossi, Ducati, Petrucci, Dovi, and/or even Andrea Iannone who, in yet another gruesome weekend, retired on Lap 18 with arm pump. With Rossi out injured, the list grew to include Michele Pirro (who finished 5th on a productive wild card).

We watched intently as the last few laps of the race took shape. Petrucci, seeking his first premier class win ever, with nothing to lose and being a notorious mudder, leading the race after Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the lead on Lap 6. Marquez, appearing to struggle to keep up with Petrucci and fend off Dovizioso, and with plenty to lose in the championship chase, left Petrucci in the lead all day without letting him get away.

During the penultimate lap, Marquez seemed to mentally flip a coin and decided to try to win the race rather than manage it. In tricky conditions, with worn tires, he hit the front in Turn 1, took advantage of a Petrucci wobble in Turn 4, and gassed his Honda RC213V home by 1.1 seconds over the gutted Petrucci, putting in the fastest lap of the race in the last 1:47.07. Throwing caution to the wind, as it were. In stark contract to Dovizioso, willing to settle for third place, Marquez, with the heart of a champion, decided he was unwilling to settle for second. This is one reason he has three premier class titles and Dovi, as skilled and brave as he is, has none.

Weather Throws a Spanner

Cue the music: “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin

Rider         Start Position    Finish Position
Marquez              3                      1
Petrucci               8                       2
Dovizioso            2                       3
Viñales                1                       4
Pirro                   11                      5
Miller                 14                      6
Redding             19                      7
Rins                    20                      8
Folger                16                      9
Smith                 22                     10
PEspargaro       17                     11
Bautista             10                     12
Crutchlow          4                      13
Pedrosa               7                     14
Zarco                    6                    15
Baz                       15                   16
Abraham             12                   17
Lorenzo                5                  DNF
Barbera               13                 DNF
AEspargaro          9                  DNF
Lowes                  23                 DNF
Iannone               21                DNF
Rabat                    18                DNF

For those of you following our tranching exercise, we alluded last time how Scott Redding and Jorge Lorenzo consistently suffer reversals of fortune. Today, as predicted, was a great day for Redding and another dumpster fire for Lorenzo.

The Big Picture – Then There Were Three

Today marked the end of yet another premier class season of chasing the dream for Dani Pedrosa, who was never able to get his Repsol Honda’s tires heated up all day, could manage but two points for his 14th place finish and now trails Valentino Rossi, who no longer contends for the title, his leg and title hopes in pieces.

Round 14 in ancient Aragon looms, the last European round before the Pacific flyaway rounds and subsequent return to Valencia for the finale. With Marquez and Dovizioso now tied at 199 points and Viñales at 183, the chances of the 2017 title being undecided approaching the last Sunday of the season appear pretty decent. This was Viñales’ first race from pole with Yamaha where he failed to podium, which probably means nothing in the wet. But it was wet in Aragon in 2015. I’d like to see him close the gap with #93 and #04 before November.

For some of you, those who have a soft spot in their hearts for rookie Johann Zarco, the lasting image from today’s race will be that of him pushing his Tech 3 M1 across the finish line, utterly exhausted, for the sake of a single championship point, which says a lot about what it takes to excel in this sport. Personally, I prefer the backflips.

Zarco

 

A Wingman is a Wingman

September 5, 2017

News coming out of the Ducati cabal is that Jorge Lorenzo, he of the three (3) MotoGP world championships, would be willing to accept “team orders” in order to help teammate Andrea Dovizioso secure the world championship for his employer. This is headline-type stuff, if true. Lorenzo, fiercely proud and defiant, would seem metabolically-unsuited to serve as wingman for anyone, including/especially a teammate.  Such thinking runs counter to the #1 rule of racing which is to always, no matter what, try to beat your teammate.

 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

Jorge Lorenzo, The Great Usurper, in better days.

 

Lorenzo, true to form, allegedly says, yes, it is true, but the time, she is not right. If, at some point in the season, it is clear Dovi’s situation is blah blah blah…then I will be happy to help him in any way I can wah wah wah.  Which is another way of suggesting Ducati take their team rules and sit on them. Either you’re a wingman or you’re not.

Let’s just say we find Lorenzo hunting Dovizioso on Lap 17 of Sunday’s race. Marquez and Pedrosa are in the mix, but we’re watching the two Ducati riders. Should Lorenzo attack #04 and possibly cause contact, or even worse, collection, how would management react? Part of the money they’re paying Lorenzo is for that overwhelming competitive nature in which his lizard brain takes over and he becomes lost in the moment, at breathtaking speeds, doing what he loves to do, as well, occasionally now, as anyone ever has.

So big money Jorge Lorenzo, goes the headline, is willing to accept team orders to protect Andrea Dovizioso, his putative understudy at the beginning of the season.  Right. Lorenzo, after years of working for the Japanese, says yes but means no. Put Lorenzo up there in the mix at the end of the race and he’s going to go for greatness.  It’s in his genes. He needs a win in the worst possible way. He’s got the grunt, now, for corner exit and long straights. He’s on a bike that has proven itself competitive at pretty much every track on the schedule, some, such as Austria, ridiculously so.

Lorenzo:  Team orders.  Good one.  I’ve got your team orders right here.

 

 

 

 

MotoGP Misano Preview

September 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Rossi Out—Then There Were Four

MotoGP turns its sights on stunning San Marino once again, returning this weekend for Round 13 minus The Doctor, who, as everyone knows by now, badly broke his leg in a training accident last week. Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, perhaps the Italian erede apparente, leads the now diminished 2017 chase pursued by three Spaniards. He and the two youngsters, Marc Marquez and Maverick Vińales, can only feel relieved that the yellow 800-pound gorilla has left the room. Dani Pedrosa, the third challenger, his prospects now marginally improved, hangs in contention by a thread.

If it turns out that this season was, indeed, Rossi’s last flirtation with a title, it will mark the end of an astonishing era. Even if he returns to racing this year and again in 2018, his more lucid fans cannot realistically expect him to compete for a tenth world championship. He would simply be honoring his contract with Yamaha, in his inimitable style. And so it goes amongst the yachting set.

Yamaha announced on Monday that no replacement would take Rossi’s spot on the grid at Misano. My guess, that Yamaha’s best test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, would take Rossi’s place was, not surprisingly, wrong. (Some readers will remember the Katman’s samurai performance at Valencia in 2012 when he ended up, after some weirdness, on the second step of the podium.)

It saddens me to consider the possibility that, one day, we will have watched Valentino Rossi race a MotoGP bike for the last time. But over the years we’ve learned not to write him off. He will likely ride again this year and, as regards returning for Yamaha in 2018 (drum roll please…wait for it…) Let Valencia Decide.

Recent History at Misano

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini saw Movistar Yamaha homey Rossi win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time on quasi-Italian soil since San Marino in 2009. The fans immensely enjoyed watching the loathesome Marc Marquez crash his Repsol Honda out of the proceedings at around 50 mph. Two Italian riders on Ducatis claimed spots in the top five. All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory. When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. Some folks lost a lot of money betting on Vale for the championship at that point of that season.

Last year, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career and winless in 2016, busted out on the picturesque sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, worked well enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.

To the casual observer, the Marco Simoncelli Circuit at Misano would appear to be Honda-friendly, with two wins in a row for the Repsol team. Series leader Andrea Dovizioso has started here nine times in the premier class, has finished every race, and has never podiumed. But that was then, and this is now.

The long-range forecast for the weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps heading well into the 80’s on Sunday—Honda conditions. But as we’ve seen numerous times this year, more and more tracks are becoming Ducati-friendly. DesmoDovi, with a lead to protect, needs a podium this time around. A third consecutive win would be totally convenient. At that point we might have to reconsider the entire concept and discuss tracks that are “rider-friendly,” Austin and Marquez leap to mind. And, interestingly, there is a Misano Man, Jorge himself, in the field.

Let’s Tranche Again!

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucci, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rins, Redding
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Rabat, Smith Lowes

After Round 12:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2 Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins↑, A Espargaro↓
Tranche 4: Miller↓, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

A word or two of explanation is in order. Jorge Lorenzo and Scott Redding are up one week and down the next; perhaps they deserve their own Tranche Yo-Yo. The Espargaro brothers are a conundrum. I want to keep Aleix in #2, as he is clearly improving and getting more from the Aprilia than Moto2-bound Sam Lowes. His demotion is due to two poor outings in a row. Finishing 11th and punking Tito Rabat at the flag last time out on the KTM, Little Brother Pol would have easily earned a promotion to Tranche 4 had he not crashed on the warm-down lap, which is sufficiently embarrassing to leave him where he is.

Jack Miller, Ducati-bound next year, just doesn’t give a rip anymore.

I would like to see Too Tall Loris Baz on the Ducati GP16; I think he has the juice to climb into Tranche 2 if he had a better bike. And Alex Rins (9th at Silverstone), now more or less fully healed, is making great strides on his Suzuki and could find himself in #2 as early as next week, especially if, as is his practice, Lorenzo follows up his positive result at Silverstone with a stinker at Misano. Memo to the Zarco and Folger jocks out there: I still think Alex Rins is going to be a baller in MotoGP.

Finally, a word of congratulations to veteran Thomas Luthi on having earned a promotion to MotoGP (Marc VDS) after seven years of loyal service in Moto2. He turns 31 this week, and will team with Franco Morbidelli on what is expected to be a satellite Honda. His Moto2 seat is being taken by a humbled Sam Lowes, sufficiently remorseful about his abrupt dismissal from the Aprilia MotoGP program to immediately announce his intention of winning the Moto2 title in 2018. Dude has stones; not so sure about the chops or the IQ.

Thailand? Thailand.

It’s official—MotoGP will start traveling to Thailand’s Chang International Circuit next year, with Finland coming onboard in 2019. The Powers that Be have announced that next year’s provisional calendar will be released soon. Many of us are wondering what this addition will do to the annual Pacific flyaway rounds. I’m thinking that four races in four weeks, most of them in grueling hot conditions, could push several teams, and a number of journalists covering MotoGP, to the brink. God forbid MO gets invited to send someone to Thailand next year, because that someone would probably be me, and the trip to Malaysia in 2014 put me in the hospital for three days afterwards.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunny and hot weather. No #46. Cubic miles of thick yellow smoke pouring from the grandstands of the faithful. Major pressure on Dovizioso and Vinales, the sole factory Yamaha rep this weekend. Both Repsol Hondas on the podium. Dovizioso on the podium.

Just for the sake of cosmic symmetry, let us assume that Sunday’s results find Pedrosa repeating his win from last year, Marquez second, Dovizioso third, and Vinales fourth. This would produce the following Top Five heading for Aragon:

Misano proj.         Total
1. ADovizioso    3rd place 183 +16= 196
2. MMarquez    2nd place 174 +20 = 194
3. MVinales       4th place 170 +13 =  183
4. DPedrosa       1st place 148 +25 =  173
5. VR                          DNS 157 + 0 =     157

Sorry I can’t get these columns to align correctly.

Am I projecting a Honda 1-2? Seems that way. We’ll have results and analysis here as quickly Sunday as possible. Ciao.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 27, 2017

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Wins Battle of Britain, Seizes Series Lead

On an idyllic Sunday afternoon in the British countryside, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of a dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping the factory Yamaha team at the flag. Disaster struck the Repsol Honda team on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in smoke. The 2017 championship heads to Misano in two weeks tighter than tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

Two of the three Brits on the grid, Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding, passed directly into Q2, both on the strength of their times in FP2. Familiar names who failed to do so included the usual suspects, as well as Danilo Petrucci, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins (again missing out on Q2 by fractions of a second), and Jonas Folger. In addition to Redding, both Espargaro brothers made it through, the KTM team (Pol’s crew) dancing for joy. Folger and Pedrosa went on to make it through Q1, setting up a scintillating Q2.

The Main Event on Saturday boiled down to Marc Marquez and everyone else. While the young Catalan marvel was busy breaking track records, one on each soft rear tire, the rest of the grid was running at the limit to stay within touch. One by one, Vinales, Crutchlow (who started on pole last year) and finally Rossi took runs at him, Rossi looking especially strong on his flying lap until encountering what he describes as his “usual” difficulty in the last sector.

With Rossi settling for second, and looking highly dangerous, Crutchlow completed the first row, Vinales, Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso (curiously, the top Ducati qualifier) making up Row 2. Parenthetically, Rossi’s time would have been the new track record had it not been for the impudent Spaniard sitting on pole. Vale’s main problem on Sunday, along with the rest of the Yamaha contingent, would be conserving his rear tire over 20 long laps on Sunday. Zarco in eighth and Folger in tenth place appeared not to be serious threats during the next day’s race, although the Yamahas dominated FP2, claiming the top three spots therein.

Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Jonas Folger, who had qualified 10th, crashed heavily in Sunday’s warm-up practice and could not start the race. And Pol Espargaro inexplicably crashed his factory KTM on the warm-down lap after the flag, something rarely seen at this level. In between fans were treated to 20 laps of sweaty palms and high drama, at the only track on the planet sufficiently British to feature a corner named Maggots.

In Honda Weather, Ducati Rules

With air temps in the upper 70’s and the track temperature over 100, it felt more like Spain than England, conditions the Hondas love and everyone else loathes. Valentino Rossi took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and had things his own way almost all day, the key word being “almost.” Almost, today, meant until Lap 18, when Dovizioso, who had been steadily climbing the time sheets after finishing Lap 1 in sixth place (from whence he started) went through cleanly and for keeps. Dovi had climbed into second place after dueling with and disposing of Jorge Lorenzo (Lap 2), Cal Crutchlow (Lap 3), Marquez (Lap 6) and Maverick Vinales on Lap 12. Sandwiched between Rossi and Vinales at that point, Dovi appeared unruffled, not pushing overly hard. My expectation was that he would eventually go the way of all PB&Js, swallowed up by the Boys in Blue.

Not today.

By Lap 14, Dovizioso was dogging Rossi, dragging Marquez along for the ride, everyone conserving tires and gas as best they could. Vinales and Crutchlow appeared to be struggling to keep up, the Spaniard the only one of the five sporting a soft rear tire, the other four on hard rears, as it were. Suddenly, out of the proverbial clear blue sky, a meaningful puff of white smoke emerged from Marquez’ RC213V (something I don’t recall seeing from a factory Honda in the last 10 years), and his day was over. Dovizioso technically took the lead in the championship at that moment, although there was plenty of race left, plenty of time for disaster to strike someone somewhere.

Not today.

Dovi Stiff-Arms the Yamahas

Once Marquez left the building, the front four consisted of Rossi, humming along unmolested, Dovi, Vinales and Crutchlow. With a third of the race left, Rossi looked to be encountering grip problems, not getting away, and suddenly Dovi appeared to be lining him up. Crutchlow seemed to be gaining on Vinales as the fans, collectively urging him on, awaited the eventual dropoff in the Spaniard’s rear tire. My only note on Lap 16 reads, “CC needs to GO!” Which, unfortunately for him, he never did. Instead, Vinales started showing signs of renewed life.

Shortly after Dovizioso went through on Rossi at the Stowe corner (referred to by most of us as Turn 15) on Lap 18, Vinales did the same, consigning Rossi, in his 300th premier class start, to deal with Crutchlow. It was on Lap 17 that Andrea Iannone, wearing out his welcome with Suzuki, lost the front and collected Danilo Petrucci on his way out. Petrucci, pedaling hard for a top 10 finish after a gruesome weekend, appeared less than completely amused by the turn of events.

During the last two laps, Rossi took several runs at Vinales, none succeeding, while Vinales, smelling blood and trailing Dovizioso by only 6/10ths of a second at the start of the final lap, fired in his fastest lap of the race on the last lap and came breathtakingly close to overtaking Dovi at the flag, losing by a tenth, with Rossi another half second in arrears. So much for the theory that soft rear Michelins and hot weather do not go together.

The Big Picture

Today’s shocker upset the championship standings at the top, as follows:
After Austria           After Silverstone
Marquez 174           Dovizioso 183
Dovizioso 158         Marquez 174
Vinales 150             Vinales 170
Rossi 141                 Rossi 157
Pedrosa 139            Pedrosa 148

35 points continue to stand between Dani Pedrosa, who finished today’s tilt in seventh, and the series leader. But Marquez’ DNF put him nine points behind Dovi, with Vinales snapping at his heels. Rossi and Pedrosa are still in the hunt, as in trailing by 20 or 30 points with six rounds left, i.e., just barely. The rest of the field, headed by Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo, need to find other reasons to race besides contending for a championship. Like beating your teammate, or beating a former triple world champion (#99, for instance) getting paid boxcars full of euros running sixth for the year. Dovizioso, lucky dog that he is, has the pleasure of all three motivators, and, at age 33, is a legitimate threat for his first premier class title. Earlier in the year he was singing the blues about the GP17 not being good enough to win a title this year. He may have to re-think that; perhaps his meaning was lost in translation.

The Undercards

Taka Nakagami, fresh off the announcement he will be joining the LCR Honda team next season, found enough extra motivation from that to win today’s Moto2 race by a fraction of a second over a reborn Mattia Pasini, who started from pole for the third race in a row after not having poled for ten (10) years. Earlier, Aron Canet, another 17-year old Spanish wonder, took the abbreviated Moto3 race in which the top eight finishers were separated by 7/10ths of a second. The race was red-flagged with one lap to go after Bo Bendsneyder and Juanfran Guevara collided, with Guevara stretchered off to a hospital, apparently with significant injuries. At deadline no update was available on the status of his health. For most of the day, the Moto3 race had a lead group consisting of over 20 riders, easily some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing anywhere in the world. Next year I think I’ll just cover Moto3 and leave covering the premier class to some other old MOron.

Next Up: Misano

Two weeks from now the flying circus moves to the Adriatic Riviera at Misano, home track to Dovizioso and any other rider with a drop of Italian blood in his veins. All of the non-Italian Ducati riders will be paisans for a long weekend. Expect lots of red in the crowd to go along with the usual tiresome sea of yellow shirts, flags, banners and smoke. The 2017 season is two-thirds over, and nobody I know has a clue who will take the crown in what has become one of the most hotly contested championships in years.

Be there. Aloha.

MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the Chasers It’s Time to Fish or Cut Bait

MotoGP Madness descends upon the British Midlands this weekend as Round 12, the two-thirds mark of the 2017 season, arrives. Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez maintains his lead in the series at 16 points, but only 35 points separate the top five riders. A single mishap for #93 and it’s anybody’s season. Marquez was down by 37 points after Mugello, and has gained 53 points on the field in the last five rounds. His pursuers need to evacuate or get off the pot if they want to Let Valencia Decide.

The factory Yamaha contingent of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales are constrained in this effort by the appearance, if not the fact, that the 2016 M-1 carrying Tech 3 rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger around the great tracks of the world is a better bike than the 2017 iteration. We saw this previously at Honda, where the 2014 model of the RC213V was so superior to the 2015 model that Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis midway through the 2015 season in an effort to salvage his only non-championship campaign since coming up from Moto2 in 2013.

The opinions of the riders are mixed. I have not heard Rossi complaining about the bike any more this year than in previous years, other than 2011-12 when he was exiled to what was then Ducati Island. Vinales has no frame of reference. He undoubtedly thought he had died and gone to heaven when he won three of his first five premier class races on the Yamaha. Since Mugello, though, he has lost to at least one of the Tech 3 riders every time out. What other possible explanation can there be for two rookies snapping at the heels of a future hall-of-famer and the arguable GOAT? It’s gotta be the bike.

Recent History at Silverstone

2014 was The Year of Marquez. He had reeled off 10 wins in a row to start the season, followed by his curious 4th place finish last time out at Brno. With a lead in the championship of 53 points, many thought Brno was a bump in the road. Some thought otherwise, that somehow Marquez might have been “broken.” Silverstone, making it three dry races in a row in that wettish year, was where we would find the answer.

With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead. On Lap 18, after some classic paint-trading, Marquez bulled his way through on his countryman, proving that just because you haven’t started shaving yet doesn’t mean you aren’t sporting a large pair. At the finish, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), the top five completed by Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2). At least Vale had the pleasure of pimping Pedrosa at the flag. Dovi’s GP14 was still difficult to ride.

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 that season was shaping up as a Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi. The weather gods got involved just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

Last year, on a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 slimmed things down to a 19-lap joust. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales ending his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by my boy Cal Crutchlow and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who won a knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, leading the season by 50 points, not a whisker on his chin.

Yamaha-Friendly has become Ducati-Friendly

Andrea Dovizioso has won three times this year, at Mugello, Catalunya and now Austria. Throwing out Austria, which some say was added to the calendar for the express purpose of giving Ducati a venue they can dominate, we looked at recent results at the other two cribs. At each, Marquez won in 2014, with Yamahas taking both in 2015 and 2016. My conclusion is that Ducati’s success is coming at Yamaha’s expense. We have spoken over the years about how some tracks favor a particular brand, and for all those years it was only Honda or Yamaha. Now Ducati has been added to the mix. And Silverstone, with its long lines and fast turns, is built for speed.

Lastest Rider Reports for 2018

Courtesy of a bevy of releases and reports elsewhere, we suspect or know most of the following. Alvaro Bautista will stay at Aspar. Karel Abraham appears likely to stay as well. Takaaki Nakagami will officially join Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda. Reale Avintia Racing appears to want to sign Tito Rabat, for whatever reason. Perhaps they suspect his fortunes will improve on a satellite Ducati versus his lackluster results on a satellite Honda. Sam Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Mike Kallio and Thomas Luthi are rumored to be contending for the second Marc VDS bike alongside Franco Morbidelli. And Xavier Simeon, late of Moto2, is in the running to displace Loris Baz at Avintia. Many of these are still in the “rumor” stage.

Re-Tranching for the Helluvit

After Round 10:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Bautista, Baz, Rins,
Tranche 4: Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone, Lorenzo
Tranche 5: Redding, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautistaꜛ, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucciꜜ, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rinsꜜ, Reddingꜛ
Tranche 5: P. Espargaroꜜ, Rabat, Smith Lowes

This is becoming a three-tiered Usual Suspects diagram. There are nine or ten riders consistently in the top two tranches, and another similar number regularly in the bottom two. Tranche three, the median, if you will, gets movement from both directions; there should be more variance in Tranche 3 than in the 1&2 and 4&5 combinations. Like it or not, Alvaro Bautista seems to be a Tranche 2 guy, Lorenzo a #3. Iannone, Rins Redding and Pol Espargaro have joined the have-nots and not-yets at the bottom of the bowl, all moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Meanwhile, Tranches 1 and 2 are more or less static.

A more enterprising writer with, say, an advanced degree in economics would model the rankings for each rider each week, compare it with the chart of their results, perform multiple regression analysis on the two curves, whip out a couple of derivatives, and lose to crushing boredom every single reader he ever had in one chart. He would, however, have an interesting graphic representation of the relationship between a rider’s objective performance and his subjective ranking. Perhaps all this tranching stuff is just a big popularity contest.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast from weather.com shows (what else?) cool and damp conditions expected for the weekend. Temps in the high 60’s, chance of rain each day. Perfect conditions for cultivating mold, not so much for motorcycle racing, especially for Honda, whose bikes like it hot. I expect to see two Spaniards and one Italian on the podium Sunday afternoon humming the Spanish national anthem. We’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as possible thereafter,

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 13, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Denies Marquez in Austrian Thriller 

Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP world championship will be remembered for the duel between Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez on the race’s last lap. By then, a lead group of six or seven riders had shrunk to just the two top riders in this year’s series. At a track seemingly designed for the Ducati, Dovi held off the best rider on Earth by a fraction of a second in a race people will be talking about for years. 

Practice and Qualifying

All three of the meaningful practice sessions leading up to Q1 were dry or mostly dry.  Dovizioso owned Friday, at/near the top of both sheets, and, feeling confident, took some time off early in FP3 to visit a cute little used book store not far from the track, ending the session in 16th place. The Octo Pramac team could only be described as “cheesed off” after FP3.  Redding, who will be riding an Aprilia next season, missed passing through to Q2 by 6/1000ths of a second.  Teammate Danilo Petrucci was another full 6/1000ths behind Redding.

As expected, the Ducatis were loving themselves some Austria. In addition to Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo passed through to Q2 in an encouraging 4th place, while Loris Baz and Karel Abraham (having a better year than I expected) flogged their GP15s to a couple of fast laps and into the front four rows of the grid, regardless of what might happen in FP4 or, for that matter, qualifying itself.  For these two riders, rapidly approaching “journeyman” status, this is a win. Punking Redding and Petrucci, both on newer bikes, had to feel pretty good, too.

Along with Marc Marquez, who led the way into Q2, most of the usual suspects did well.  Johann Zarco, the factory Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, Lorenzo, and Cal Crutchlow appeared to have solid race pace.  Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki produced one fast lap in three days but made the cut. Names failing to make the Q2 grade included Dani Pedrosa, Jonas Folger, Bautista, Barbera, both Espargaros and my boy Alex Rins (20th!).

When qualifying finally rolled around on Saturday afternoon, there was a discernible lack of drama in the proceedings.  Pedrosa and Petrucci passed comfortably through to Q2. Marc Marquez, in the process of securing his 70th grand prix pole, laid down a blistering lap with about six minutes gone for provisional pole, pitted for new rubber, and did the same thing again with a few minutes left.  In the process, he relegated the factory Ducatis to spots two and three on the front row.  The second row formed up on Vinales, joined by Danilo Petrucci and Johann Zarco, with Rossi lurking dangerously in seventh, Pedrosa eighth.

Like the Old Days.  For Awhile.

When the lights went out, Jorge Lorenzo took the hole shot on the Ducati and soon led a front group including Marquez, teammate Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. On Lap 2 it looked as if Jorge was getting away, reminiscent of 2010, 2012, etc.  But, unlike those halcyon days, he was unable to disappear, instead leading a tight group of six.  By Lap 5 Pedrosa had faded slightly, his place taken by Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco.  It should be noted that Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Zarco went out on soft rear tires, while the factory Hondas and Yamahas chose the harder compounds.

Early in the race we saw Dovi and Lorenzo double-teaming Marquez, forcing him into a two-front war. This lasted until Lap 12, which saw bikes 99-93-04 become 93-04-99.  The same type of thing occurred one lap later, when 46-5-26 quickly became 26-46-5.  On Lap 14, Rossi ran hot into Turn 1 and re-entered in seventh position, where he finished. No bells ringing in Tavullia tonight.

Then There Were Two

Pedrosa broke Lorenzo on Lap 20 and began chasing Marquez and Dovizioso, to no avail.  By lap 25 Pedrosa had had it, leaving 04 and 93 to slug it out to the finish, and slug it out they did.  Although the race analysis will show Dovi having led all of the last four laps, the splits between him and Marquez were illustrative:

Lap 25         .084

Lap 26         .159

Lap 27         .094

Lap 28         .176, including close encounters at virtually every turn on the track, as Marquez threw caution to the wind in his effort to win for the first time in Austria. After the race, Marquez laughed about the result, seeming serenely confident he will get a few wins here in the next decade.  For Dovizioso, at age 31, today’s win had to be as sweet as any in his career.

Concern in Yamaha Land

A track layout that is friendly to both the Ducati and the Yamaha produced a podium of two Hondas and a Duc.  To say that Round 11 was a disappointment to the Yamaha riders—Folger retired on Lap 4—is a bit of an understatement. Vinales (-24) and Rossi (-33) sit third and fourth in the standings.  Vinales is not yet the dominant force he is expected to become.  As for Rossi, with one win (Assen 2017) now in his last 22 starts, his last pole in Motegi last year, and his last title in 2009, we may be finally witnessing the inexorable march of time. With Lorenzo holding up well enough to finish fourth, the Yamaha delegation could manage no better than Zarco in fifth and Vinales, looking mortal yet again, sixth.

One more lesson learned here.  Honda is getting close to fixing the acceleration issues that have dogged them for much of the last three seasons.  Marquez was losing ground to Dovizioso on corner exit consistently today, but not like he did last year fighting mostly with the Yamahas.  Even with today’s loss, Marquez extended his championship lead and has put some daylight between himself and Vinales, Rossi and Pedrosa. Dovizioso, a dark horse entering the season, sits dangerously in second, 16 points back of Marquez.

Domino Theory

Sam Lowes is officially out at Aprilia for 2018, being replaced by Scott Redding and looking for a ride, any ride, for next year.  Redding had been pushed out of the Pramac garage by the signing of Jack Miller, who had been ejaculated from the Marc VDS Honda garage by Franco Morbidelli, whose promotion from the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia Moto2 team allowed Joan Mir a place to move up from the Leopard Racing Moto3 team, joining Alex Marquez. Leopard Moto3 struck back quickly, signing Enea Bastianini from Estrella Galicia’s Moto3 team to replace Mir.

Cosmic symmetry would be achieved if Marc VDS were to sign Lowes to a Moto3 contract for 2018. But Sam will be a hot ticket in Moto2 next year. Instead, they have undoubtedly signed some unbelievably fast 14-year old Spanish kid from the CEV cadre to replace Bastianini. In the US, colleges sign high school sophomores to play hoops or football, big money in their futures.  In Europe, it’s teenaged soccer players and motorcycle racers.

Final thought—Joan Mir is an Alien-in-Waiting, thrashing the field in Moto3.  He will be 20 years old in September.  He is a Honda guy and will be riding for one of the big money teams in Moto2 next year, albeit with a 750cc Triumph engine. You heard it here first—he will join the Repsol Honda team and Marc Marquez in 2019 and will receive his Alien Club membership card in 2020.

Two Weeks to Silverstone

While the stillborn Ebww Vale project in Wales turns to dust on the drawing board, Silverstone once again hosts the British Grand Prix on the 27th.  This has historically been a Yamaha-friendly venue.  Last year Maverick Vinales enjoyed his first premier class win here on the Suzuki, and must be considered a favorite for Round 12. The season is almost two-thirds complete, and Marc Marquez seems chillaxed battling four other riders and winning.  He appears much as he did in 2014—calm, having fun, downplaying his unworldly abilities. He appears happy even on days like today when he loses. By an eyelash.

Marc Marquez handles himself like a champion, like he’s been there before, like he’ll be there again before too long. Congratulations to Andrea Dovizioso for winning today’s battle.  My money is on Marquez to win the war.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati Riders Licking Their Chops

Honda Racing took a turn slapping the competition around at Brno. This week, in a country synonymous with mountains, beer halls, and alarming political geneses, Ducati Corse gets its chance. The Track with Only Nine Turns hosts Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP championship on Sunday. Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jorge Lorenzo need to make hay while the sun shines, because Honda man-child Marc Marquez is pulling away from the field.

One of the truths of racing in general is that, on any given weekend, your chances of kicking away a possible championship exceed your chances of seizing it by the throat. Marc Marquez, the exception to many rules, could crash in Turn 1 of Lap 1 this week and still be in the heart of the chase, if somewhat humbled. But for his four chasers— teammate Dani Pedrosa, Yamaha bros Maverick Vinales and Rossi, and Ducati rep Dovizioso—crashing out of the points at this stage could spell the end of their year. For Marquez, this is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. For his pursuers, it is already Game 6, and they’re behind.

Overlooked Details from Brno

The announcers and I missed the fact that rookie Jonas Folger, one of the year’s great surprises on the Tech 3 Yamaha, could have podiumed on Sunday had his crew not been asleep at the switch. Starting 14th, Folger was right behind Marquez entering the pits at the end of Lap 2. Whether Marquez’ early stop had been planned or not (probably had), Folger’s was completely spontaneous and completely correct. Had his #2 bike been ready, he could have followed Marquez around all day and perhaps had a second consecutive silver. Or a maiden premier class win.

His crew, with the bike not yet set up for the dry, waved him off, causing him to have to take, in effect, a voluntary ridethrough penalty. He pitted again after Lap 3, changed bikes, and fought his way to a respectable 10th place finish. Another example of how the Repsol Honda crew dominates their competition, an aspect of racing that goes largely unnoticed. The other teams are WAY behind the factory Honda bunch. And I got nothing on Folger’s onboard messaging system.

One more thing: Pol Espargaro (9th) scored KTM’s first premier class top-ten finish on Sunday. We trust it won’t be their last.

Recent History at Red Bull Ring

A number of writers would, gratuitously, try to summarize this segment of the preview in a single sentence. In its debut season, last year’s Austrian round saw Ducati pilots Iannone and Dovi lead the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the bucolic Teutonic countryside, followed by everyone else. Stunts like this could explain why we have difficulty securing pressbox credentials for most races.

Mental Exercise, Austria-Style

Just for grins, imagine the following (okay, unlikely) scenario for this weekend’s race: Marquez gets a DNF. Pedrosa somehow wins with Dovizioso second. Rossi snakes Vinales for third. The standings going into Round 12 would look like this:

Marquez 154
Vinales 153
Rossi 148
Pedrosa 148
Dovizioso 143

Stranger things have happened, just not in this present life cycle.

Caution: Re-Tranching in Process

Comparing the rankings after Rounds 9 and 10:
After Round 9:

Tranche 1    Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2    Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Bautista, Pedrosa, Crutchlow
Tranche 3    Lorenzo, Barbera, Miller, A Espargaro
Tranche 4    Redding, Baz, Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone
Tranche 5    Rabat, Smith, Lowes, Rins

After Round 10:

Tranche 1    Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa↑
Tranche 2    Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro↑
Tranche 3    Barbera, Miller, Bautista↓, Baz↑, Rins↑↑ 
Tranche 4    Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone, Lorenzo↓
Tranche 5    Redding↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

Four riders moving up, three moving down. This thing should not change that much, meaning I am probably placing too much emphasis on Brno. However, Pedrosa has proven he is still a tier one rider in the right conditions. Aleix Espargaro could have easily finished sixth on Sunday. Loris Baz qualified for Q2, crashed out of 14th place. I am itching to drop Jack Miller like a bad habit now that he has checked out with Honda. I suspect he will make that task easy for me in the weeks and months to come .

Alex Rins missed a top ten finish in his first real return to health on the Suzuki by 5/100ths of a second, causing him to jump two levels. And Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo has now worked himself back into Tranche 4, a measure of the difficulty of changing one’s world championship riding style. It appears muscle memory, once attained, takes a long time to forget. Like Iannone, he is trying to re-program his lizard brain, which has mutated in response to years of Yamaha inputs. Thought he could do what Rossi couldn’t; the sin of pride. Be humble or get humbled, I say.

Brain Dump

Much is made of the the Autodromo’s nickname, The Czech Adrenaline Factory. It is compared to that of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, The Horsepower Rodeo. Totally unaware that these tracks even had mottos and nicknames, I came up with some ideas for other venues that may lack a snappy moniker:

The Sachsenring:    Ve Have Vays
Assen:                        Roll with Us at Assen
Rio Hondo:               Nowhere  ⇒  1000km
Sepang:                     Bungle in the Jungle
Silverstone:              Next Year in Ebbw Vale!
Valencia:                   Let Valencia Decide

Readers with other ideas are welcome to submit them below in the Comments section. Good luck coming up with something funnier than Argentina.

It’s Official

Finland is on the MotoGP calendar beginning in 2019. Dorna’s expansion plans are becoming very Wide World of Sports-ish— “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, spanning the globe,” from the steaming tarmac of Malaysia to the frozen tundra of Finland, imposing unbelievable strains on our teams in pursuit of the almighty euro.

Thailand and Indonesia are banging on the door, demanding to be let in, presaging two Pacific flyaways. With the global motorcycle and scooter markets booming, most notably in the Asia Pacific region, the calendar, like everything else, follows the money. Must be true in Finland, too.

A 20-round calendar can’t be far away.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions for the weekend should provide something for every taste and budget. Friday is forecast to be wet, Saturday less so, and Sunday clear, cool and breezy. Wet practice sessions leading up to a dry race can be a problem for the riders and teams early in the season. At this point, they’ve all been there, done that. If there is a salient point somewhere in here, it’s that the temps are not expected to be warm enough Sunday to help the Hondas overcome the built-in strengths of the Ducati GP17 on a simple layout like this.

Which in turn means that the smart money will be on Ducatis on Sunday, notably Dovi and Petrucci. Marquez is bound to be a factor; Pedrosa, who will likely have trouble getting his tires up to temperature, not so much. The factory Yamahas, based upon last year’s race, will battle for the third podium spot; my money is on Vinales.

The races go off early Sunday morning again in the U.S. Look for results and analysis right here around noon Sunday EDT.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Honda Dominate Czech GP

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much pre-race sturm und drang, turned out to be a fascinating six-lap race with a 16-lap warm down. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best meteorologists of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back.

As Sunday afternoon approached, the crews were in a collective lather trying to figure out the weather and pursuant tire combinations. Marquez changed from a hard rear rain tire to the soft while on the track, a minute before the sighting lap. Confusion reigned, the sky an off-putting combination of clear blue sunshine and heavy gray clouds. It was declared a Wet Race.

We have seen this before from the Repsol Honda crew. They out-thunk and out-worked the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams today, who had their #2 bikes set up for rain, while the Repsol team had both #2 bikes, #93 and #26, set up for the dry. Marquez, who has learned the hard way the benefits of pitting punctually on a drying track (see Phillip Island 2013, etc.), was the first to do so, Pedrosa the second, and rookie Johann Zarco the last of the frontrunners to come in.

A number of riders, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi among them, were forced to stay out longer than they wanted because their bikes weren’t ready. Lorenzo, especially, was hindered by his own team today. This must be unusually painful in that he had led the race from jump street for three laps, then was 19th for awhile before ultimately finishing another dismal 15th.

One of the best things about this sport is that the rider makes the decision when to come in for the change, despite the new messages flashing on his screen. Marquez seems to have an extra muscle that allows him to hit the apex, as it were, when it comes to these flag-to-flag events. And a crew that can roll with him.

Qualifying

Q2 was more or less predictable, given the heat. The battle for pole became one of circuit (Yamaha- and Ducati-friendly) vs. conditions (Honda heat), and conditions won out. Marquez unloaded his second consecutive (Sachsenring) pole lap with about a minute left, and nobody mounted a serious challenge after that. Rossi and Pedrosa had already completed the front row, while Dovizioso on the Ducati, LCR’s Crutchlow, nursing a damaged vertebra and Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo made up row two.

The Anointed Maverick Vinales, who had struggled all weekend, managed only the top of row three, along with Petrucci and Bautista, both of whom had passed through Q1 to get that far. Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati) completed the top 12.

Alex Rins (Suzuki) qualified in front of 10 other guys, since most of his fractures have now healed. Just sayin’. Brands that failed to make the grade yesterday included Jonas Folger (Tech 3), the indifferent Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) and Jack Miller (Honda), cooling his heels, anticipating climbing aboard a Ducati GP17 in November.

Down the line in Moto2 veteran Mattia Passini took pole for Kalex, trailed in short order by Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and Franco Morbidelli (Kalex). Oliveira has ridden the KTM factory MotoGP bike and claims to love it, as all good Moto2 riders should. He will find his way to MotoGP in short order. Morbidelli is already gone; Passini has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and got out of town.

Gabriel Rodrigo secured pole in Moto3, ahead of rising stars with names like Romano Fenati (2nd), Joan Mir (4th), Bulega, Bendsneyder and Di Giannantonio. In their customary frantic fashion, 23 riders qualified under 2:10, with six of those under 2:09. Closer than a rush-hour bus in August.

With Sunday barreling down on them, the MotoGP riders went to bed Saturday night not knowing what to expect in the way of weather when they woke up on Sunday. Or tire choices. Or race strategy. Or anything much beyond the fact that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi had qualified one-two and were sharpening their blades, smiles in place, for Sunday’s soiree.

Aliens Flirt with Disaster

With Marquez disappearing from sight and the 2017 title up for grabs, the other contenders spent an alarming amount of time not contending today before making impressive saves. Dani Pedrosa sat in 8th place for a couple of early laps. Vinales was loitering as low as 13th on Lap 5. Rossi, who led briefly early, returned from his pit in 14th place, 28 seconds behind Marquez. That he made it back to 4th place at the flag is testament to his continued excellence at making lemonade out of lemons. Andrea Dovizioso, who I had expected to fight for the win today, finished Lap 6 in 15th place before rallying to 6th. All had the pace. None had the crew or, for that matter, the rider.

Both Pedrosa and Marquez gained ground on the Aliens today. Cal Crutchlow’s gritty performance, nursing a very sore back and taking 5th place, gave Honda three of the top five finishers at a track not particularly well-suited to the bikes strengths, which are few. The Tech 3 Yamaha rookies Zarco and Folger, either of which I had predicted could win today’s race, made a hash of things, with Folger crossing the line in 10th and Zarco limping home 12th. Zarco spent a few early laps in podiumland and too many laps before pitting. If you look up the noun “rookie mistake” in the dictionary, you’ll see his devilishly handsome face with his name in parentheses below it.

Elsewhere on the Grid

My boy Alex Rins finished in the points in 11th place. Depending on how the season ends, it is not out of the question that he could challenge Zarco and Folger for ROY consideration. Danilo Petrucci, running as high as 3rd in the early going, got passed by five riders, easy as you please, on his way to 7th place. Aleix Espargaro, who had been very high on the leader board early, got tangled up with Andrea Iannone in pit lane, was penalized three positions (for an error by his crew, releasing him at the wrong time) and still managed 8th place, miles ahead of teammate Sam Lowes and, more importantly, directly in front of little brother Pol on the KTM, who had to be happy for a top ten finish regardless.

The Big Picture

Yesterday, Marc Marquez had three Aliens sitting within 10 points of him, all slavering away at the idea of unseating him today at Brno. And while Dani Pedrosa lost ground to him (-26 to -31), the Repsol Honda duo gained ground on everyone else, including Dovizioso and the Yamahas. The order of the top five riders hasn’t changed, but Marquez now leads Vinales by 14, Dovizioso and Rossi by 20-something, and Pedrosa by over 30. For the triple world champion, who trailed Vinales by 37 points after Round 2, it’s getting easier to breathe. He looks and sounds like 2015 was a fluke and that he is, in fact, King of the Universe. Maverick Vinales may have to wait his turn.

Moto2 and Moto3 Results

The Moto3 championship became a, ahem, Mir formality as the brilliant young Spanish series leader held off hotheaded Italian Romano Fenati in a bit of a damp clinic on how to punk your rival. Fenati is officially the second-best rider in Moto3, as he has now finished second in four races in a row and five for the year. Oh, and Nicola Bulega plays up his resemblance to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and has the best hair in Moto3. That’s it.

Today’s Moto2 race was red-flagged due to rain and re-started as a six-lap sprint. Mattia Pasini and Franco Morbidelli had the first race by the throat, but both got splattered in the sprint, Pasini crashing out and Morbidelli getting swamped all the way down to eighth. Veteran Thomas Luthi took advantage of series leader Morbidelli’s travails, winning easily and cutting his deficit to the Italian in half.

On to Austria

Testing at Brno tomorrow for some of the teams, then back at it again on Friday at The Red Bull Ring, the Bonneville Salt Flats of MotoGP, in scenic Spielberg, Austria. Last year Iannone and Dovizioso made it a Dueling Andreas sweep for Ducati. With Iannone busy working himself out of a job at Suzuki, and Jorge Lorenzo stumbling around the Ducati garage with his fly down, it is up to Dovizioso and Petrucci to carry the flag next week. The factory Yamahas of Vinales and Rossi will be feeling the pressure of dealing with Marc Marquez who, at this point, should mainly be interested in trying to beat Vinales every time out.

Marquez, on the other hand, will be feeling little pressure heading to Schnitzeland. A podium there would be nice but not necessary. Keeping the shiny side up and finishing the race are important, while keeping a close eye on Vinales is just good business.

We will have a fresh new set of tranches ready for you by mid-week as we gear up for Round 11 in Austria.

Let Valencia Decide.