Archive for the ‘COTA’ Category

MotoGP COTA Results

April 22, 2018

©Bruce Allen
Viñales Wins Fight for Second as Marquez Romps

The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.

None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas—Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.

Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.

Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Jack Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.

Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and Valentino Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, he laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”

Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and—guess who?—Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.

It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.

It Was Not a Great Race

Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.

Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.

Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters

Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.

Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.

Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.

The Big Picture

Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.

Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys—Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow—will win some races. The young guys—Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller—will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Viñales
Tranche 2: Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Zarco
Tranche 3: Rins, Iannone, Miller, Rabat, Aleix, Petrucci, Syahrin
Tranche 4: Pol, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Bautista
Tranche 5: Abraham, Simeon, Redding, Smith, Luthi

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.