MotoGP Mid-Season Report Card

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Here we compare the championship standings at the midpoint of the season to our pre-season projections, team by team. Those projections, posted back in February, were surprisingly good. A few riders were overrated, a few underrated, but overall things have proceeded in a fairly orderly manner. Those of you who disagree should post your own first half predictions, keeping in mind that hindsight is almost always 20/20.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Expectations for Fausto Gresini’s 2017 MotoGP team were pretty low coming into the season; the advice “bring a book” comes to mind. I expected Aleix Espargaro to be the #1 rider and Sad Sam Lowes a distant #2. Few surprises here. Espargaro has gotten more from the RS-GP than has Lowes, who may become unemployed on November 13. The Aprilia continues to have pneumatic valve issues which have hampered Espargaro’s results.

Espargaro has enjoyed his best outings at Qatar, Catalunya and The Sachsenring, three different layouts, suggesting he can produce in all kinds of conditions. He could be a top ten threat next year on an improved bike. For now, he’s just making me look good.

Ducati Factory Team

One of the good news/bad news teams this year. Andrea Dovizioso, the underpaid #1 rider, has assumed Alien status and is toiling at the heart of the championship race, with Brno and Red Bull Ring, two friendly tracks, in his immediate future. Jorge Lorenzo, on the other hand, has found the transition from the Yamaha more than a little difficult. He has a Wicked Witch of the West-sized hole in his game—when it rains, he melts to the bottom of the grid. He currently occupies ninth position for the year in a dog-eat-dog fight for eighth. Ho hum. Management, I hear, expected something more for their mega-euros when they hired the triple world champion.

The Lorenzo-Ducati marriage, it seems, was not made in heaven. Presuming he runs away at the end of 2018, it’s anybody’s guess where he may end up thereafter; retirement is not beyond reason. As for our preview, the salient observation was “…the odds favor (Dovi) to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.”

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow, my whipping boy, who upped his game in 2016, apparently out of spite, won twice last year (Brno, Phillip Island) and finished the season in seventh position, despite bookending his efforts with two DNFs to start the year and two more to finish it. Sitting tenth this season, with two front row starts and no wins, he has been punked by the precocious Yamaha Tech 3 rookie duo of Folger and Zarco. I expected more production from Cal this season (although in 2016 his second half was way better than the first) despite having observed, “With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again” in 2017. I still don’t.

Marc VDS Racing Team

This team has performed about as expected. Terribly. Tito Rabat, #2 to Jack Miller on the satellite Hondas, was at some point deemed a bust. Finally. As for Miller, the Australian Unguided Missile has worn out his welcome with Honda, and will join Danilo Petrucci on the #2 Pramac Ducati next year, sending Scott Redding packing. Having met Miller, he has a Trojan spirit, he adores the sport and the trappings that go with it; he lives life at high RPMs. Despite five top ten finishes, his two DNFs and assorted maladies put him solidly in 12th place at the turn, the exact midpoint where he deserves to stand. A fluky win at Assen in 2016 was, in the end, all that stood between him and ritual hari-kiri at headquarters. His signing by the #2 Ducati team portends plenty more casts and titanium plates for the young Aussie.

My prediction for the team’s 2017 campaign, which has been distinguished only by its utter lack of distinction, suggested Miller is over-rated and that the MotoGP team might go out of business sooner than had been hoped. Mostly wrong, but the piece ended well:

This team could be out of existence in a year or two, providing an opportunity for the moon, the sun and the stars to align in such a way that, as Dani Pedrosa’s contract on the factory Honda team expires, young Miller is standing at the door, kindly showing him the way out. A national day of celebration will follow in Australia, one in which Livio Suppo, team boss at Repsol Honda, having been out-voted by marketing folks seeking an Australian Alien, may not be participating.

The team is going into 2018 with Franco Morbidelli, coming up rock solid from Moto2, assured, and a second rider to be named later. Meanwhile, the Estella Galicia Moto2 team will feature Alex Marquez and Joan Mir, currently leading the Moto3 series, in 2018, which will be great fun, too.

Where was I?

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

By far, the best and biggest surprise of the season. Expectations were minimal—two Moto2 grads on satellite Yamahas—despite positive off-season testing. But Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger are making the affable Herve Poncharal look brilliant, and are already signed for 2018. The team has accumulated front-row starts and podiums, with wins narrowly evading them at their home cribs in France and Germany.

I had Zarco and Alex Rins on the factory Suzuki battling for Rookie of the Year honors. Instead, Rins keeps getting banged up—despite having the reliable Iannone as his wingman—and hasn’t been able to show anything. (I thought Rins was brilliant in Moto2, but so was Toni Elias.) Instead, the Yamaha teammates are going mano-a-mano for Alien consideration in the foreseeable future.

The Tech 3 rookies stand sixth and seventh at the turn. Zarco’s season has had a great start, while Folger, on a steeper learning curve, has become utterly impudent as the season progressed, with a second at Sachsenring to close out his front nine. Despite trailing his teammate by 13 points, he has, as my old friend used to say, Mo Mentum on his side. Many people think the 2016 Yamaha outperforms the 2017 Honda RC213V.

This is just great stuff.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

No big surprises here. Maverick Vinales, The Annointed One, sits second. Valentino Rossi, The Legend Himself, sits fourth in an airtight four-man race. A number of publications conceded the 2017 title to Vinales on the basis of his impressive offseason. I remember when young hotshot Jorge Lorenzo joined the Fiat Yamaha factory team in 2008, seeing him flying over the handlebars in China. Rossi, as per usual, defies most lucid projections and continues to appear on the podium—four times, with a win in Germany allowing him to stay in the hunt at the turn. Spain and France have been unkind to him this season, but he is most definitely in the hunt. Again.

Say you’re leading a race you’re not expected to win, you being you and them being them, and you see a rider coming up hard behind you. Half a lap to go. Would Rossi, Marquez, Vinales or Dovizioso cause you to foul your leathers most quickly? For most of the past decade, it has been Rossi. As we said in February, “He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.”

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

Nailed it.

The #2 Ducati team. Danilo Petrucci, the burly ex-cop, may find himself in the mix once in a while (probably in the rain) this season onboard the GP17 he won fair and square in the intra-team competition with Scott Redding last year. Redding, sadly, will not be in the mix on his GP16, as he seems unable to get over the hump in the premier class after a glittering (?) run in Moto2. With three name sponsors, it seems likely the team will have plenty of frames and fairings to replace for Redding as he goes bumping around the tracks of the world, muttering about how it just isn’t fair.

Petrucci currently sits eighth, exuding an aura that radiates his belief he could rank even higher but for some atrocious luck. Redding, as expected, is toast, his seat being taken by Jack Miller for 2018.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

The Team has recently re-signed Alvaro Bautista for 2018 and has noticeably not yet done the same with Loris “Too Tall” Baz. Baz has had a disappointing front nine, while Bautista, on the GP16, has performed, at times, better-than-expected in his inimitable win-or-bin style. Four DNFs and four top tens. As we said in February, “Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity. This year…he has a chance to peek at a podium or two after two grinding years with Aprilia. This may also be the best bike HE has ever ridden, although the Honda back in 2012-2013 was badass.”

Bautista in 11th and Baz in 15th should surprise no one. Expect more of the same in the second half.

Reale Avintia Racing

Two ordinary peas in a pod, back-markers both. Hector Barbera had an encouraging off-season, while Karel Abraham, on a Ducati GP-15, despite having somehow found himself qualifying on the front row in Argentina (probably suspecting his food had been laced) didn’t. Barbera started the season injured and has never seemed to recover. Abraham brings tons of sponsorship money and little else. He is, however, the only rider of which I’m familiar who has completed a MotoGP-to-WSBK-to-MotoGP switch. Marco Melandri? That’s saying something, I’m sure.

Both riders are on one-year deals and are vulnerable. Plenty to contend with in the second half for these two; lots of young Spanish and Italian guys want to ride these beasts.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Our pre-season preview ended the review of this team with the words, “Patience, grasshopper.” Which seems to be in vogue this year, as KTM appears determined to invest what it needs to become a force in MotoGP the way it has been in the underclasses. (It may also be true that a diversion of R&D resources to the MotoGP project has contributed to the factory’s dismal performance in Moto2 of late.)

Espargaro has had the better of Smith this season, as expected, although both are wallerin’ at the bottom of the food chain. Which, in this crazy sport, amounts to two seconds per lap, give or take.

Gotta love it.

Repsol Honda Team

Marquez leads the series at the break, perhaps a mild surprise after a slow start. Dani Pedrosa has morphed into late-career Colin Edwards, a reliable fifth place guy, sometimes above on the podium, sometimes below. He copped a surprising win at Jerez, and sits, well, fifth in the standings, trailing Rossi in fourth by 16 points. I hate to say it, but Pedrosa gets hurt almost every year. The prediction of him ending the year in seventh or eighth place is still good. IMO.

I said Marquez would have to beat the contenders on an inferior machine. He is doing so. Vinales is in his first year on the Yamaha, while #93 is in year five. Put them on the same machine in a series of 10-lap match races and Marquez would win six out of ten. A mature Marquez has learned to accept those days where he’s not going to win the race. Heart-stopping saves are his stock in trade. When he spins the ass end of the bike out entering the turns you just know somethin’s up.

Waiting for the chin slider.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

Walk-off winner of the Biggest Disappointment of the Year award, the program has seen Moto2 honors grad Alex Rins suffer several crash-related injuries, while transfer Andrea Iannone, the Italian Unguided Missile, has clearly called it a year on the Suzuki. He has been accused of simply going through the motions of racing. He has not protested those accusations forcefully.

I predicted Rins would challenge Zarco for Rookie of the Year. Right. As for Iannone, “Thus far in his premier class career, Iannone has been unable to harness his impossible speed, his temperament and aggressiveness often getting the better of him. It would be loads of fun to see him battle with the front group this season, and it could happen. Unless The Maniac is still, well, a maniac.”

I would guess it is difficult being Andrea Iannone these days. His is a bad bike/rider fit. He would do better on something faster, a satellite Ducati or Honda. As things stand Rins is still healing, while Iannone is imploding. This for a team that carried Vinales to a fourth place finish just last season, whose future was rapidly brightening.

A setback first half for the factory Suzuki project. Rins likely has a free pass for the rest of the year. It’s Iannone who must put up or shut up. He and Lorenzo are having to learn how to hit fastballs and curves from the opposite side of the plate. At 200 miles per hour.

Ain’t no cryin’ in MotoGP.

Just Sayin’

From the Motorcycle.com 2017 season preview summary:

February 22, 2017

There you have it. Due to incessant demand, and for those of you interested in going into debt with your bookies, here’s my prediction for the Top (Five) finishers, in order, for the 2017 season. Bookmark this article so you can rub it in my face in November. Expect a 404 Error Page Not Found at that time, especially if I’m way off:

1. Marc Marquez
2. Maverick Vinales
3. Valentino Rossi
4. Andrea Dovizioso
5. Cal Crutchlow

I had actually predicted the top ten, but the second five are now scrambled eggs I don’t feel like re-posting. Not what I expected. For the record, and completely out of order, the names included Iannone, Rins, Pedrosa, Bautista and, ahem, Lorenzo. Vinales was not picked to win the 2017 title because, somewhere, I predicted he would crash out of four races. Who knew the 2016 Yamaha would be such a beast?

So far so good here at Motorcycle.com in 2017. Looking forward to Brno and a raging second half. MotoGP needs some kind of phrase that people around the world can shout to support the universal hope that Round 18 in Valencia will be for all the marbles, that the 2017 season will all come down to one Sunday. One race. One lap. One turn. I am happy to suggest

Let Valencia Decide

If your favorite rider is in the mix that day, so much the better. No other motorsport offers competition like this. These guys are other-worldly.

For the second half, let’s hope things at the top stay tight. Imagine leaving Sepang in October with the four top riders separated by 10 points.

Let Valencia Decide.  Meanwhile, on to Brno.

 

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2 Responses to “MotoGP Mid-Season Report Card”

  1. Old MOron Says:

    Wow, great review, Brucey. Bonus points for sneaking in some info about Joan Mir. He’s going to be on the best team in Moto 2. Should be a force. The calm, steady head of Romano Fenati is also graduating to Moto 2 next year. He looks like kind of a husky kid. Should do better on a bigger bike.

    Woo-hoo, let Valencia decide!

  2. Old MOron Says:

    I just looked up your season preview on MO. You had another ringer for JackAss: “Miller may blossom this year. Probably not.”

    Ouch, truth hurts. But I like the guy, so I hope he blossoms on the back nine.

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