Archive for the ‘2016 MotoGP championship’ Category

2016 MotoGP Top Tenner

December 29, 2016

 

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, who, in accordance with their editorial calendar, have elected to hold it until January 6, 2017.

Here are the top ten “things” that defined the 2016 season, in rough order. Not all of them are actual events.

  1. Danilo Petrucci earns promotion over Redding to a full factory ride at Pramac for 2017. The moment?  Valencia.  Started 14 races, finished in the top ten eight times.  Flirted with a front row start at The Sachsenring, tied Rossi, in fact, but fell to fourth over some obscure tie-breaker. At 26 and relatively burly he’s not Alien material, but he can handle the Desmosedici as well as any of the satellite riders and is a baller in the rain.  On a full factory bike Mr. Petrucci could easily challenge for a podium or three in 2017.

    iannone-and-dovi-in-argentina

    Iannone collects Dovizioso in Argentina

  1. Andrea Iannone gets his first premier class win in Austria while working himself out of a job—slide-off at Losail; collects Dovi at Rio Hondo; crashed out of second place at Le Mans; crashes at Catalunya, Silverstone and Sepang. By mid-season the fearless Italian was being encouraged by Gigi to consider a change of teams for next season, with Suzuki eventually drawing the winning number.
  1. The decline of Dani Pedrosa. The moment?  When the lights went out at Losail.  More losailDNFs in 2016 than wins.  Another Motegi collarbone, this time in FP2.  But a brand new contract nonetheless.  Dani peaked in 2012 (seven wins, finished second to Lorenzo by 18 points), and is definitely on the back nine of his career.  An entire career spent with one manufacturer is impressive in itself.  Pedrosa, although well-liked in the paddock, has always struck me as a kind of brooding guy, when he wasn’t displaying his “little man” complex and beating hell out of the field at joints like Laguna Seca.  To embark upon another two years of non-Alien level competition may prove to be a mistake.  The next Colin Edwards.
  1. The Silly Season. Jonas Folger, Johann Zarco, Sam Lowes and Alex Rins earn promotions from Moto2. The return of the prodigal lawyer, Karel Abraham, to Aspar Ducati, his pockets bulging with sponsor money.  Out the door are Eugene Laverty to WSB in a very raw deal (I thought he earned another MotoGP season), Stefan Bradl, taking his declining game to WSB as well, and the unfortunate Yonny Hernandez, who had a great 2015, a lousy 2016 and not enough backers to keep his ride.  A healthy number of current riders changed scenery, as usual, but a 23- bike grid with six manufacturers offers a number of alternatives for those journeymen seeking the elusive factory ride.  Paging Bradley Smith.
  1. Cal Crutchlow rises from the dead after a difficult start to the season (five points incrutchlow the first four rounds) with wins at Brno and Phillip Island. The moment:  Brno, Lap 16, on a drying track.  Crutchlow goes through on Iannone and quickly gets away, having made the correct tire choice in one of the 2016 rounds that started wet and ended dry.  First win by a British rider since the earth cooled.  At Phillip Island he went out and thumped the field (Marquez having already secured the title), establishing himself as a credible podium threat in 2017, when he will have even more microphones shoved in his face, to which we look forward with great enthusiasm.
  1. Marquez titles after a difficult 2015. Uncharacteristically settles for third in Jerez marquezbehind Rossi and Lorenzo, showing a maturity that wasn’t there in previous years.  The moment?  Motegi, when both Rossi and Lorenzo crashed out.  His win on Honda’s home field suddenly made him world champion for the third time.  Some people will say his save in practice at Assen was the moment, but he has made a career out of impossible saves.  Winning titles is what makes him go.

marquez-season-graph-jpeg

  1. maverick-vinales-wiki-profile-picture

    The Next Great Rider == Maverick Vinales

    Maverick Vinales gets first podium at Le Mans, wins at Silverstone on his way to the factory Yamaha team. The Next Great Rider secured Suzuki’s first podium since 2009 at Le Mans, then broke their 10-year non-winning streak with a scintillating win at Silverstone.  Nature, and Yamaha executives, abhorring a vacuum, he was the only real choice when Lorenzo announced his impending departure.  Vinales’ Alien Card is stamped and waiting.  The best part?  See him in civilian clothes and he looks like a cabana boy at the Ritz.

 

  1. Nine race winners. Moment—when Dovizioso crossed the finish line at Sepang to become #9.  I expect some of you to quibble about whether an entire season can be somehow characterized as a “moment.”  If this really bothers you, I encourage you to read Nietzsche, and to remember that, when considered across the eons of time in the frigid vacuum of space and an expanding galaxy, the entire 2016 MotoGP season is the blink of an eye.  So go quibble somewhere else.

lorenzo

  1. Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati announcement on April 19. One of the worst-kept secrets entering the season was that triple world champion Lorenzo would defect from the factory Yamaha team to Ducati in 2017.  It was confirmed prior to the Jerez round, with Big Blue having already signed teammate and rival Rossi through 2018.  The forthcoming changes amongst the Alien contingent in 2017 produced undertones that seemed to color the entire season.  A number of factors conspired to limit Lorenzo to a disappointing third place finish in 2016, but he seems certain the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.  We shall see.
  1. Rossi blows an engine at Mugello. The turning point of the season.  Despite a careless slide-off in Austin, Rossi entered Italy with the scoreboard reading Lorenzo 90, Marquez 85, Rossi 78.  A three-man race.  He left Italy bereft, with Lorenzo 115, Marquez 105, Rossi 78.  He had completed Lap 8 checking out Lorenzo’s back wheel when, at the bottom of the main straight, his engine went up, just as Lorenzo’s had without consequence during practice.  Control of his 2016 future went up with it, in the thick white smoke pouring from his bike.  The bad luck he needed caught up with Lorenzo in the Teutonic territories of Holland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, but Marquez sailed through the season unscathed.

valentino-rossi-mugello

2016 was a season Rossi could have won.  Coulda?  Woulda?  Shoulda?  Didn’t.  Dude will be fired up for next year.  That makes two of us.

 

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Preview

November 7, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain closes on a fine season 

What will people reading this remember about the 2016 MotoGP season?  A Marquez year, his third of many, for sure.  The year Crutchlow won his first two races?  The year Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales each won his first?  The year Suzuki and Ducati and Australia broke their droughts?  The year Yamaha started one of their own?  My fave is the year nine different riders stood on the top step of the podium, some for the first time and some, perhaps, for the last. 

Dorna big cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Great Leavening proceeds apace.  The field has become more level, the notion of a win more plausible for the riders who aren’t Top Four or Five material; Jack Miller, currently residing in 17th place for the season, won in Assen.  Though one goal going in had been to make MotoGP more affordable, a laughable proposition, it did serve its twin purpose of delivering more competitive racing front to back on the grid.  It enticed Aprilia and KTM (wildcarding this weekend with Mika Kallio onboard) back into the fold.  It got Ducati back into big boy pants.

Lap times haven’t changed much.  It’s not as sexy as the custom ECU setup was, but I, for one, like it.  More rider, (slightly) less technology.  And next year, no wingies.  You readers are making me into some kind of old school purist. 

Previous History at Valencia 

Lorenzo’s 2013 finale win was a hollow victory; having needed the win, he was unable to keep Marquez out of the top five, which he also needed to do, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez, who ultimately finished third. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth; this was back when they were getting along.

The 2014 race was wet-ish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race with six laps left. Marquez took the win, blowing kisses to his fans during his victory lap, and was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous week, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.  El Gato’s fans were delirious, but the rest of the world seemed ticked off.

Of the four riders formally-known-as-Aliens, Pedrosa has the best record here, with three wins and three podia in ten starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 16 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in seven premier class starts, has three wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win, a place and a show in three MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat; I’d like to see him race here when the pressure’s on.  For those of you who insist, Cal Crutchlow DNF’d the 2013 race, got beat at the flag by Dovizioso in 2014 on his way to 5th place, and found himself in 9th position last year, 36 seconds off the pace.  There.

Sidebars

Most of the intrigue this weekend will emanate from the middle of the grid.  The civil war at Pramac Ducati is almost over; Petrucci has Redding by 16 heading into Valencia in the contest for factory GP17 next year.  Ducati pilots Hector Barbera and Andrea Iannone are fighting furiously for 9th place for the season, with Barbera holding a one point advantage coming into the weekend.  Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty, in his MotoGP swan song. will try to hold on to his single point lead over Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista in the fight for 12th place.

Random Thought 

I have a thought that needs airing out.  It may not be new, but it goes like this:  Marquez, since clinching in Motegi, still wants to win and has attacked the last two races hard, but has crashed out of each.  He had podium written all over him until he went down.  This illustrates the subconscious effect mindset (between fighting for a title and playing out the string) has on one’s focus, judgment and even balance.  Had he been in the midst of a title fight, I have no doubt he would have kept the bikes up.

While I’m at it, I’ve had a second thought for a while.  About how much fun it would be to listen to a digital recording from the inside of Valentino Rossi’s helmet during a race.  45 minutes of yelling, cursing, grunting, praying, and more cursing, all at high speed and pitch and, best of all, in Italian, so all you would understand is the names of the riders toward whom the invective is directed.  Not sure what the F*word is in Italian (cazzo, actually), but I bet you would hear it in the recording once or twice.  Possibly directed at Lorenzo’s mother.

What the heck.  Dani Pedrosa, should he fulfill his final two-year contract with Honda, would become the Spanish Loris Capirossi.  Long, distinguished careers without a single MotoGP championship.  All that meat and no potatoes.  And is it possible he might actually forego his final contract and call it a career, clearing the way for a Crutchlow vs. Miller tussle for the second Repsol seat?  The fact that he will be in Valencia this weekend makes that notion doubtful.

Your Season Ending Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for greater Valencia this weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps in the low 70’s.  The 2016 war being over, there is one last battle to be fought on Sunday.  With so few of the riders having any skin left in the game, this one will be for bragging rights only.  With the exception of Marquez, Rossi, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, many of the top ten are vulnerable to a drop in the standings, while some still have an opportunity to profit.  For instance, if Pedrosa is unable to post for the start, Cal Crutchlow is likely to nab sixth place for the season.  Great.

As to the results to come, I like Rossi this weekend.  Guy still has a chip on his shoulder and is still fast.  Marquez will compete for the win just for fun.  Lorenzo says he wants a finish to his Yamaha tenure he can be proud of.  Pedrosa will be in no shape to win but will still show up.  The rest of the fast movers—the Dueling Andreas, Crutchlow, Vinales—are always up for a podium chase.  My picks for the weekend?  Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Yamaha ends it’s losing streak, Vinales primps for his big boy debut next season, the podium celebration is as awkward as possible, and Lorenzo leaves team Yamaha with his head held high.

Next year starts on Tuesday.

This Just In

I am traveling most of Sunday.  The Valencia race results will post on Monday morning.  Thanks for your patience, real or imagined.  Ciao.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

MotoGP 2016 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

Sadly, the race for the 2016 title is over, and we/I congratulate Marc Marquez on his third premier class championship.  But the end of the story of 2016 has yet to be written.  There will be controversy—will Marquez torment Valentino Rossi during these last three rounds, in the hope of elevating homeboy Jorge Lorenzo?  There will be paint-trading in the turns.  There will continue to be the races-within-the-race that capture so many people’s attention.  There will be Petrucci vs. Redding.  There will be crashes and run-offs and mistakes by guys operating at the outer limits of human endurance, testing the laws of physics at every turn.  What’s not to like?

Recent History at Phillip Island

2013:  Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista (on the satellite Gresini Honda) gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw the veteran Rossi beat Crutchlow and his LCR Honda by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini pilot by .053, the blink of an eye.  The race marked the first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium.  Marquez took a cheap DQ when, fighting for the lead, he neglected to pit in time, as Bridgestone, who ordered the mandatory mid-race pit stop, struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface.  Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014:  Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to ice.  23 riders start the race; 14 finish.  Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan sophomore, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium.  Ever.  None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.  In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of place.

2015:  The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone.  Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.  Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17.  What a difference a year made for Iannone, just twelve months ago the fair-haired child of Ducati Corse; this year a refugee to a possibly apprehensive Suzuki operation.

Sibling Rivalry

Such is the case with the brothers Espargaro.  A competition which undoubtedly started when younger brother Pol was still in diapers continues today as older brother Aleix tries to keep up with little bro.  At some point in the past, younger brother took the upper hand over big brother; glad I wasn’t there for that.  Pol, on the satellite Yamaha, brings a 24-point lead over the fraternal factory Suzuki into Round 16 and appears set to rub it in to Aleix’s face for the fourth year in a row.

Last year, on the same equipment, Pol was +9.  In 2014, Pol, still on the Tech 3 bike, with Aleix on the doomed Forward Racing Yamaha, put another 10 points on his sib.  In 2013, one would say that Pol won the day again, taking the Moto2 championship, while Aleix, slugging it out in the premier class on terrible ART hardware, claimed a decent 11th place finish.  Advantage Pol.

New digs for each next year.  Pol finally gets his factory ride with KTM, while Aleix moves down to the Gresini factory Aprilia, not yet competitive in the post Dall’Igna era.  The two bikes should be relatively competitive with each other, meaning that while the colors on the leathers may change, the appeal of an opportunity to give your brother a wet willie won’t.  MotoGP thrives on rivalries, even the friendlies.

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

Your boy Kevin Schwantz, world champion in 1993 in the 500cc two stroke era when men were men and women were glad of it, continues to milk notoriety from his reputation and is now approaching 23 years, more or less, of living off the fat.  Journalists still seek his opinions on moto racing and he is always willing to share them.  Bring the photographer.

Anyway, over at someothersite.com, Schwantz was asked about his impressions of Jack Miller, stating his belief the young Australian would become some kind of great rider in time.  (Assuming he still possesses all of his body parts when that time arrives.)  He also conceded that Marc Marquez “impresses” him, what with three MotoGP titles by age 23 and all.

This, you see, is exactly the kind of stuff the editors here at MO loathe.  Some guy whose glory days are way behind him, dispensing faint praise re the talents of riders, at least in the case of #93, would beat them like a drum on an identical equipment/same age basis.  But we’re not hating on it because it interests us.  We’re kind of going on and on about it because Marquez won the frigging title last week and we need something to rant about.

Back to the Race

The domino effect engendered by the injury to factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone continues in place this week, as Hector Barbera gets to wreck another brand new GP16 while Mike Jones takes his seat with the Avintia Ducati team.  Barbera and Jones were the last two riders to finish at Motegi, the Spaniard finishing outside the points due to an early mishap, whereas Jones finished a lap down but with his paint intact.  I imagine the bosses would prefer the latter to the former.

Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez having won here recently, Rossi the beneficiary of Marquez’ careless crash out of a four-second lead in 2014.  For the Yamaha teammates, they have attached blinders regarding whatever’s up with Marquez and are dialed in on one another, second place for the season and a load of machismo at stake.  Just as last year, Rossi enjoys a narrow lead over Lorenzo.  Lorenzo wants to arrive at Ducati in one piece but wants to beat Rossi more.  So it will be a great battle this time out.  Whatever happens thereafter we’ll take, too.

Conditions at Phillip Island this weekend are expected to be rough, with a 100% chance of rain on Friday giving way to clear skies on Sunday.  It’ll be the temps and the wind which will take its toll on riders and lap times, as temps are expected below 60° with cold northwest winds steady in the high teens, with stronger gusts.  A perfect weekend for Marc Marquez to lay low.  An imperfect setup for Lorenzo and Rossi, who must face off against one another in the teeth of the gale at perhaps the fastest track on the calendar.  The hint of rain spells advantage Rossi.

The race once again runs in the middle of the night in North America.  We will have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Motegi Results

October 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez – 2016 Campeón Mundial! 

For the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship.  He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and legend Valentino Rossi—choked on their own bile, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error.  This unlikely confluence of events is responsible for, among other things, the very pedestrian championship celebration prior to the podium.  Nothing like the Bushido spectacle we watched in 2014. 

Notes from Practice and Qualifying 

Repsol              FP2–Pedrosa out; Aoyama in.  Pedrosa needs to think about retiring before he starts to resemble Quasimodo.  Second serious injury suffered here by “The Master of Motegi.”  The break, which left his right collarbone in four pieces, was described by the rider’s surgeon as the “least serious” of all of Dani’s collarbone breaks.  Right.

Ducati                   Iannone out; Barbera in.

Avintia                  Barbera out; Mike Jones in.

Yamaha                 Katman Nakasuga wildcard

Lorenzo, Dovi, Marquez and Vinales were quick on Friday.  Smith and Miller returned from injury, young Jack needing to get some laps in before fighting for the win at Phillip Island next week–in his head.  Smith is lapping very slowly on Friday and appears to be saving himself for KTM.  Miller starts 14th, with Smith alongside him in the last spot on the fifth row.

Rossi somehow took the pole everyone in the joint expected would belong to Marquez, with #93 second and Lorenzo somehow completing the front row.  An international second row formed up on the top Ducati qualifier, Italian Andrea Dovizioso, joined by Brit Cal Crutchlow and Spaniard Aleix Espargaro, who whipped his Suzuki hard, pushing teammate Maverick Vinales, in seventh by 4/100ths of a second, to the third row and feeling pretty good about it.

If nothing else, Mike Jones, the replacement for Barbera at Avintia, won the battle of “Who Gets to Wear #7?”, beating Hiro Aoyama who, denied his usual number by some guy named Mike Jones, went with #73 and a long story as to why.

Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez each have 64 poles across all classes.  Rossi’s been at it 21 years, Lorenzo 15 and Marquez nine.  And, by the way, 64 is the all-time record, which will get broken a number of times every year for the next decade at least.  Is this the Golden Age of motorcycle racing?  Possibly.

The Race 

The 2016 Japanese Grand Prix was, itself, a conventional, low-drama affair.  Early on, the Yamahas asserted themselves, as the front group consisted of Lorenzo, Marquz, Rossi and Aleix Espargaro, who, along with his teammate Maverick Vinales, discovered how much the Suzuki GSX-RR does love itself some Motegi.  Rossi took a couple of swings at Marquez early but couldn’t get anything to stick, while Lorenzo was riding with “bumps and bruises” suffered on Saturday morning that would leave most mortals lying in a hospital somewhere.  Marquez went through on Lorenzo into the lead on Lap 4.  Rossi crashed on Lap 7.  Lorenzo crashed on Lap 20.  Season over.  Oh, and Dovizioso claimed second while Vinales took third.

Historians will argue for years weeks as to where this race was actually won, or lost.  Some will insist it was at Turn 10 on Sunday when Rossi went lowside, unforced, for the third time this season.  Some will say it was at Turn 9 on Sunday, where Marquez went through on Lorenzo on Lap 4 and where Lorenzo lost his grits on Lap 20, the moment at which Marquez effectively clinched the title.  Some will say it was Turn 2 on Saturday, when Lorenzo crashed heavily in FP3 and was airlifted to the local hospital, only to return in time for FP4.  After Lap 4, when Marquez took the lead for good, the only drama concerned whether the 2016 trophy would be awarded to Marquez in Japan or Australia.

Random Thoughts Before The Big Picture 

  • The pressure on Lorenzo and Rossi, especially, had to be immense while the riders waited for the red lights to go out. Rossi, who suffers notoriously from jetlag, can’t have been feeling great sitting on pole, while Lorenzo had been in a wheelchair with an IV drip barely 28 hours earlier.  It was pressure for one and pain for the other that forced the errors.  It also extended the Yamaha non-winning streak to 8.
  • Riders at Motegi spend 30% of their time on the brakes. Looks like the fabled braking power of the Yamaha M1 may be overrated, as Pol Espargaro was the top-finishing Yamaha 19 seconds behind Marquez.
  • In the Redding vs. Petrucci cage match going on at Pramac Ducati, Scott Redding exercised his “rope-a-dope” strategy to perfection, staying on teammate Danilo Petrucci’s rear wheel all day and conceding a single point to the Italian. Not sure what the official score is in the garage, as Petrucci was penalized by management for his takedown of Redding in Aragon.
  • Today’s race attendance was just over 52,000. Back in the late 70’s I was sitting in a friendly nickel-dime-quarter poker game one night and drew three cards inside to a straight flush for a $2.00 pot.  Marquez today probably felt at least a little like I did that night long ago, taking the world championship thousands of miles from home in front of a small crowd in the middle of the night.
  • What is the Repsol Honda team going to do with all the props they’ve packed away for the Phillip Island championship celebration? 

The Big Picture

With three races left, we turn our attention to the MotoGP undercards and the Moto2 title fight.  Johann Zarco gave himself some breathing room over challenger Alex Rins by taking second place today while Rins finished out of the points, presumably the result of a crash or a leisurely walkabout in the kitty litter.  Zarco’s 21-point cushion with three rounds left make him the odds-on favorite to become the first repeat Moto2 champion since the category came into existence.

The undercards in the premier class:

  • Rossi and Lorenzo recorded DNFs; Rossi’s margin over Lorenzo in the battle for second best remains 14.
  • Maverick Vinales leapt over the injured Dani Pedrosa into fourth place for the season with his 16 points today, to the delight of Team Suzuki.
  • Andrea Dovizioso’s podium today pushed him past Cal Crutchlow into sixth place. Crutchlow, for his part, rallied from a non-descript start to finish fifth and blamed disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic field for his poor start.
  • Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro claimed 10 points today, breaking the tie for eighth place with the idle Andrea Iannone.
  • Suzuki pilot Aleix Espargaro, on the strength of his formidable fourth place finish today, cut Hector Barbera’s lead in the race for 10th to two points. This despite the fact that Barbera had a shiny new Avintia Racing GP16 to crash today, which he took full advantage of on Lap 9.

Marching to Pretoria

Round 16 launches this next week at Phillip Island.  As such, it kicks off the dreaded Epilogue section of the season, the three races (and three previews) we here at MO need to spice up to maintain your interest and engagement once the title has been decided.  (Not that our usual work has all that much to do with motorcycle racing anyway.)  Rest assured that we’ve kept our own powder dry and are fully prepared to speculate on things at least remotely related to MotoGP in Australia, Malaysia and Spain.

As Arlo Guthrie admitted in the folk classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” I’m not proud.  Or tired.

MotoGP 2016 Motegi Preview

October 4, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Yamaha non-win streak is a thing 

Round 15 of the 2016 MotoGP championship is the first leg of the annual Pacific flyaway, three races in three weeks during which the title will be decided.  Unlike 2013 and last year, this year’s finale at Valencia will not be the dramatic season-decider they love hosting in Spain in November.  A question gaining traction in the paddock raises the issue of whether it’s the Honda winning the title or the Yamahas losing it.  Big Blue hasn’t had a win this year since Rossi’s win over Marquez at Catalunya back in early June. 

After going four-for-four between Jerez and Catalunya, things have gone badly for the factory Yamaha team, their current winless streak their longest since, um, a long time ago.  Factory officials deny any problem, giving us the “it’s just one of those things that happen some years…” explanation.  Rossi continues to fight hard, the end of his career somewhere on the horizon.  Lorenzo, since Mugello, has amassed 67 points out of a possible 200.  Do people agree it’s a fair statement that most of the wins collected by the six non-Movistar winners have come at the expense of the Yamaha factory team, specifically Jorge?  Is it possible he has, subconsciously, checked out?  Seeing red, as it were?

The 2016-2017 workout conducted by the Repsol Honda team at Aragon on 9/28, their fifth day of the five allotted to them this season, was characterized as fruitful.

All of which puts a little extra pressure on young Vinales heading into 2017. 

Recent history at Motegi

The 2013 race, preceded by two typhoons and an earthquake, was won by, of all people, Jorge Lorenzo.  Marquez and Pedrosa followed, the only riders to finish within five seconds of the Mallorcan.  A good idea of how Rossi’s day went is the fact that he ended up in sixth place behind Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.

In 2014 it was All Aliens, All the Time as Lorenzo led a pack of highly-paid pursuers to the finish line, with Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa all following on their factory machines, the time between 1st and 4th a scant 3.1 seconds. Though Dovizioso took pole, the four Aliens were grouped 2 to 5. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and, in the process, clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which might have cost the Catalan the race, had it mattered. The second-world-title Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat overdone, testament to the belief of many that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Last year, Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair.  Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso on the Ducati.

Pedrosa would go on to win at Sepang.  He recorded seven wins in 2012 to two in 2015; he is well along the back nine of his distinguished career.

Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo stood at 18 points with three rounds to go.  The title was his to lose.

Elevated Frustration Coefficients 

Aside from Marquez, every rider on the grid is suffering from Elevated Frustration Coefficients (EFC) due to the circumstances of his 2016 season, the number raised by every piece of bad equipment, bad riding, bad luck and low rent under the sun.  Here are a few—

  • Valentino Rossi: a slide-off in Texas, an engine in Italy, a careless fall at Assen stand between him and a title chase. He loathes his teammate.  And he’s been caught on camera recently being somewhat crude.  Hurts t-shirt sales.  EFC unusually high.
  • Jorge Lorenzo: crashed in Argentina and Catalunya; made a hash of the middle of the season. Appears unable to compete on wet tracks.  Starting to look like a short-timer at Movistar Yamaha.  Trailing Rossi elevates his EFC.
  • Dani Pedrosa: disaster of a season somewhat revived by his stirring win at Misano. Continues to have grip problems on a bike being built to Marquez specifications.  Giving feedback on new equipment while #93 stays on his 2014 frame.  EFC somewhat dulled, along with expectations.
  • Maverick Vinales: on the cusp of greatness.  Already being called an Alien—he’s not.  But he soon will be on the factory Yamaha.  With Rossi there to guide him until they become rivals—figure six rounds next season—he will have a steep learning curve, nothing he can’t handle.  Less stressed than most.
  • Cal Crutchlow: in a perfect world he would be leading the championship series.  Just ask him.  As it is, he’s a midfielder with more quotes than podiums.  He won his race this season.  Will there be more?  EFC gets raised by waking up in the morning.

And so on and so on.  The lead that Marquez has built, one brick at a time, along with the drought at Movistar Yamaha, along with the startling EFC data, suggest he will have to be suckered into losing the 2016 title.  The only thing that can hurt him now is crashing out of a round or two.  People praying for a close premier class finish must necessarily pray for rain, otherwise it appears to be smooth sailing for Marquez and his third title in four seasons.

Here’s what 2017 looks like in Tranches 1-4:

Same Equip                New Equip

  1. Marquez (1)      Lorenzo (2)
  2. Rossi (2)            Vinales (2)
  3. Pedrosa (3)       Iannone (3)
  4. Crutchlow (2)  P Espargaro (3)
  5. Dovizioso (3)    Rins (3)
  6. Barbera (4)        A Espargaro (3)
  7. Redding (4)
  8. Bautista (4)
  9. Petrucci (3)

The changes at the top of the food chain—Lorenzo to Ducati, Vinales to Yamaha, Iannone and Rins to Suzuki—appear to weaken Marquez’s 2017 competition, as all of these guys will be on new equipment.  Rossi remains the exception, and will continue to press the detested Spaniard.  The 2017 Yamaha M1 is being advertised as a quantum evolution of the bike; one assumes Honda engineers have something going on to give the RC213V more grunt coming out of turns.  Can Yamaha improve their bike by more than enough to compensate for the growing realization that, mano á mano, Marquez, today, probably beats Valentino on identical equipment?  Can Lorenzo and Vinales crack the top five consistently on new rides?  What if it rains?  Is Crutchlow actually in Tranche 2?

Here We Go Again

The MotoGP season is beginning to resemble a Red state/Blue state map of the racing world.  Both Honda and Yamaha (joined by Ducati) have tracks where they are expected to win, due to layout, design, average speed, average corner speed, etc.  Austin for the Hondas, Mugello for the Yamahas, etc.  Red and blue states if you will, where holding serve is imperative.  This, then, leaves the “battleground states,” the tracks where neither manufacturer enjoys a distinct advantage.  Teams fight desperately for wins in those battleground states, as they typically decide the title when things go according to form. They also present opportunities for upsets—see Assen over the years.

Marquez, with four wins and ten podiums, has scored points in blue and red states.  Starting to smell a landslide.

Riders Returning

Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha), Andrea Iannone (Factory Ducati), and probably Jack Miller (Marc VDS Honda) will return to the track off of injuries, following Loris Baz, who came back for Avintia Racing at Aragon.  All the regulars should be out for practice on Friday.  Thank you very much to Alex Lowes, Michele Pirro and Nicky Hayden for helping to fill up the grid of late.

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

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

September 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead 

Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain.  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, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014. 

2016-09-25-12Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap.  Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.

The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions.  A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.2016-09-25-18

Disorder at the Start

As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today.  Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7.  From there, he went like this:

Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5

Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7

Passed Vinales on Lap 10

Passed Rossi on Lap 12

It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process).  Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez.  One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.

2016-09-25 (19).png

Off the Podium

Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance.  Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10.  Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.

In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say.  Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury.  Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals.  Bravo Nicky!

Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati 

The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away.  Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season.  They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.

In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much.  Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2.  (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.)  Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.

Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season.  No more whining.  He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one.  He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns.  As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50.  May the better man win.  But please, no more takedowns.

In the Junior Circuits

Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans.  (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder.  The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens.  I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.)  BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group.  At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds.  Give the people what they want—close racing.  Screw the displacement.

In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia.  This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane.  To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title.  Very impressive performance.

Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco.  By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point.  Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head.  Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.

The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific

All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing.  The rest of the contenders break down nicely.  Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second.  Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth.  Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth.  Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth.  And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th.  People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.

Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang;  26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today.  The math is easy.

Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders.  No rest for the wicked.  Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading.  Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.

MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Preview

September 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere.  In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished.  It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in.  Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

It’s getting crowded up front.

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable.  Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011.  When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks.  His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race.  The forecast is for dry and warm conditions.  He has everything going for him and should win the race.  As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds.  Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez.  Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable.  Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair 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, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall.

While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know–the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati.  (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece.  By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Too Tall Baz.)

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains.  Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as 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 diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year.  Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.”  This is not meant as criticism.  It might explain why Hondo so willingly signed him for another two years.  If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even.  And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

Rossi           69

Crutchlow    54

Marquez      53

Vinales        53

Pedrosa       49

Lorenzo       40

Dovizioso     40

Iannone       33

My original idea for the Misano race summary—a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow—which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers.  (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help.  Nor did the outburst that followed.)  The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish.  My apologies.  I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

As for Rossi, the world is correct.  An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia.  (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore.  You can have sixteen strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider.  Then count points.  A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season.  It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha—his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice.  Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.  Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems–just a flesh wound—but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule.  And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off.  The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend.  It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas.  Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days.  Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso.  Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS.  I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon.

MotoGP 2016 Misano Results

September 11, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

First win for Dani Pedrosa since Sepang 2015

For the first time since 1949 when MotoGP invented itself, eight different riders have won a premier class race in a single season.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career, winless in 2016, busted out today on the shores of the sun-drenched Adriatic with a convincing win over Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.  For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation worked well enough to keep his margin at 43 points with five rounds to go.

Practice

The WCMS at Misano is one of those “technical” tracks where the bikes don’t peg the throttle in 6th very much.  Top speeds are “low.”  On Friday the Ducatis had trouble breaking the top six.  It’s a great track with something for every taste and budget but does not play well to the Ducati’s strengths.  On Friday, it looked like it might be prime hunting grounds for Maverick Vinales, who gets around those tight areas with ease on his GSX-RR, if it weren’t too hot at race time. (BTW they’re going to love Vinales in Yamahaland.)

Lorenzo looked strong in FP1.  Rossi took FP1 because he felt like it—home race and all–and Marquez was keeping his powder dry. Pol Espargaro had a great Friday. Iannone took himself out of Round 13 at least with a formidable high-side in FP1 and a resulting cracked vertebra, his place on the factory-issue bike being taken by the very capable Michele Pirro.  There was a Pedrosa sighting during FP2.  By Q2 time it was hot but not insanely, Sepang-style hot. During the Sunday morning warm-up, it was Marquez, Rossi, Pirro and Dovizioso, team Ducati having apparently fixed a few things overnight:

FP1:    Rossi     PEspargaro      Vinales

FP2:   PEspargaro  Pedrosa    Dovizioso

FP3:   Marquez      Lorenzo       Vinales

FP4:        No               One             Cares

Q2:    Lorenzo       Rossi           Vinales        Marquez

 

Marquez, Pirro and Dovizioso made up the second row, with Crashlow qualifying 7th and Pedrosa 8th.

Eight for Eight

My notes make no mention of Pedrosa until Lap 5 when he went through on Maverick Vinales’ Suzuki into 5th place.  The factory Yamahas dominated early, with Lorenzo taking the holeshot into the early lead, only to give it up to Rossi on Lap 2.  Misano, a sea of yellow, is the only circuit on the calendar that offers a home court advantage to a rider—Rossi—which is palpable and can affect the outcome of the race.  For 20 laps today it appeared the homeboy would win.  But Pedrosa, having qualified 8th, his struggle continuing, took our advice today, said “to hell with it,” put his head down, and won by 2.8 seconds over a disappointed Rossi, with Lorenzo ending the day in third, equally disgusted at having been unable to get away early.

Pedrosa, looking like the Alien of old, went through on teammate Marc Marquez in Turn 14 of Lap 14, leaving two Yamahas and half a race between him and the win.  He tracked down Lorenzo in Turn 14 of Lap 17.  Finally, he took down Rossi in Turn 4 of Lap 22, not once showing the Italian any daylight between there and the flag.  The podium photo could have been straight out of 2009 when the same three Aliens dominated the sport.  Back in the dark CRT days, could anyone foresee the day when eight different riders would claim a win in a single season?  In eight consecutive races?  Andrea Dovizioso and Scott Redding need to step up.

Dani Pedrosa accomplished his entire To Do list today:  Win the race.  Beat Marquez.  And keep Lorenzo and Rossi from gaining ground on his teammate.  Check, check and check.

In Defense of Crutchlow Bashers and Lovers

When we divide the season into two halves, we discover the first half winners:

Marquez      170

Lorenzo       122

Rossi           111

Pedrosa         96

Vinales          83

PEspargaro    72

Barbera          65

Iannone         63

Dovizioso       59

Crutchlow      40

First five rounds of the second half:

Rossi            77

Crutchlow    73

Marquez      71

Vinales        57

Dovizioso     58

Lorenzo       41

Despite his eighth place finish today, which was lowered to ninth over a rules infraction, Crutchlow could win the second half of the season.  He’s done well during the first half of the second half.  Which, in turn, suggests he could win an entire season, simply by winning both halves.  Of both halves.  Those of you who have been bugging me about under-tranching him must acknowledge that he left Assen in 14th place.  We know at least some of it wasn’t his fault—mechanicals.  But now having been on a hot streak, suddenly he’s an Alien?  No.

Today, with five rounds left, Cal Crutchlow sits in 8th place, 52 points outside the top four, and 130 behind Marquez.  It’s in Honda’s interest to give him the best equipment they’ve got, factory team or not.  He has recovered from his disastrous start to the season.  He is legitimately fast and skilled.  He is battling Marquez and was, until today, dusting Pedrosa.  He hasn’t crashed since Assen; some would say he’s overdue.  We don’t call him Crashlow for nothing.  So why are we spending so much time talking about him?

If he wins the second half he’s an Alien.  And I’m a monkey’s uncle.  Dude is 30 going on 31.  At a minimum, he needs to start acting like he’s been here before.  He can afford to be gracious after good performances.  Save funny for the Tuesday interviews.  Now, if both of you Brits reading this would kindly step off my neck…

Elsewhere on Sunday

Brad Binder won the Moto3 race, applying a virtual death grip on the 2016 title.  I think some people are unexcited by this prospect due to a lingering negative hangover around historic South African racial practices, combined with the sheer size of his lead.  Crushing your opponents is frowned upon in all three MotoGP divisions as it takes the edge off the competition.  No question the fast South African is moving on up, but I suspect he has fewer fans in his fan club than, say, Valentino Rossi.

Rossi’s VR46 Racing seems to have identified and developed an entire posse of fast young Italian riders who are punching above their weight in Moto2 and Moto3.  The sport seems to be becoming less Spanish and more Italian.  For American fans, this change can be characterized as trivia.  For Italian fans, it’s another compelling reason to love #46, as he and his team appear to be elevating the profile of motorcycle racing across the country.  Lorenzo Baldassarri’s first grand prix win today in Moto2 supports this idea.

The Big Picture

With five rounds left—Aragon, the Pacific swing and Valencia—Marquez leads the series by 43 over Rossi and 61 over Lorenzo.  Pedrosa seized 4th place back from Vinales today.  Dovizioso leads Iannone by three points, while Crutchlow leads Pol Espargaro by four.  Hector Barbera rounds out the top ten.  Marquez increases his working margin today while struggling with grip and corner acceleration.  It’s hard to see how he can avoid capturing the 2016 title.  On, however, to the dusty plains of Aragon, the rabbit warren at Motegi, the cold, cutting winds of Phillip Island, the brain-melting heat of Sepang and, one hopes, the tension of the final race of the year in November at Valencia.  We hope there is a compelling reason to race at Round 18.  Whether there is or isn’t likely depends mostly upon Marquez.  And his suddenly tough little wingman.