Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of Aragon’ Category

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez Proves It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Vinales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda—you remember, the one with the acceleration issues—for the world championship.

It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Lorenzo) Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Jorge Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.

Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:

• “The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.”

We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017 Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Vinales chasing, Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Zarco and Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Vinales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.

Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:

1. Maverick Vinales 85
2. Dani Pedrosa 68
3. Valentino Rossi 62
4. Marc Marquez 58
5. Johann Zarco 55
6. Andrea Dovizioso 54
7. Cal Crutchlow 40

Vinales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Vinales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, could be blindingly bright and all too brief.

Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as re Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

• “Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki. Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017. Another Alien in the making.”

So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Iannone, Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.

Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand—the only rider ever to do so—and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia—started and finished second—that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)

• “Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”

We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher, a second one occurring when Pramac Ducati signed the lost-at-sea Tito Rabat to a deal for 2018, taking over for Redding. Moving the second seat on the team from the frying pan into the fire, if you ask me.

So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by (wrong about) Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Scott Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”

That didn’t take long.

Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.

• “It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”

Just sayin’. Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of his 2017 was better than the first. There.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.
• Dani Pedrosa. Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
• Cal Crutchlow. Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older—33 next year—appears to have reached the high water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
• Jonas Folger. Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps the best bike on the grid. If he improves even a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with frère Johann.
• Aleix Espargaro again brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.
• Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top ten finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
• Finally, Sad Sam Lowes. Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.

Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha, and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.

There are people out there—smart, otherwise-lucid folks—who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Vinales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a Yamaha wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Vinales began to falter somewhat, Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Round 14 matched the final 2017 standings.

2017 Season Graph color snip

Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.

As an aside, the spreadsheet appears to support the old golfing adage that you drive for show and putt for dough. Spraying the ball off the tee, then making long putts for saves and, finally, the win, is how the smart ones do it. In contrast to his fabled 2014 season, it took Marquez a while to understand the new bike and find his rhythm. Once he did, in Barcelona, and as he got closer to the 18th green in Valencia, he started making those putts. From then on he was essentially unstoppable.

Final Tranches of 2017

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham

The Last Word

MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.
Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Vinales is going to be a premier class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And, with plenty of hot young talent in the pipeline, MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.

 

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 24, 2017

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

No Rain as Spanish Reign in Spain 

Honda’s Marc Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in Aragon.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder now has momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and exiled Ducati pilot Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, dimmed somewhat. 

Valentino Rossi:  Genius at Work on Saturday

A pole for Rossi on Saturday would have entailed the active intervention of the Racing Gods. Some may argue that it was the Racing Gods themselves who put him on the front row. There are plenty of men out there who take this kind of risk, with this kind of injury, for money. There are very few who, like Rossi, undertake such dangerous stuff for the sheer love of the game. After all, there is a 10th title waiting to be won; the $200 million and the rest of it will still be there after racing is over. It is no secret that The Gods find favor in men with such commitment to their calling, which helps explain why, at age 38, he can still play.  Astonishing. 

Saturday gave us yet another example of why Rossi has more premier class racing trophies than any other rider ever. He is sufficiently competitive to ignore a twice-fractured leg, ride in four practice sessions, sail into Q2, and qualify on the front row, when any lucid mortal would be in traction. He gives himself a chance to gather points, even when he’s hurt. Quién es más macho? 

Practice and Qualifying 

Notable names that made the post-FP3 cut into Q2 included the factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati teams, as well as a sampling of interesting climbers—Mika Kallio, wildcarding on the third KTM (and showing up regular team rider Bradley Smith), Alvaro Bautista punching above his weight on the Ducati GP16, and an incredulous Andrea Iannone, who could not remember the last time he didn’t have to suffer through Q1 on the Suzuki.

The lot in Q1 included Jack Miller, pimped at the flag by Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who, in turn, tailed Jorge Lorenzo, looking strong on the Ducati GP17, into Q2. Others failing to make the A team included Danilo Petrucci, a shaken, not stirred, Jonas Folger, cleared by the medical center to participate, with Three Brits Not Named Crutchlow bringing up the rear, as it were.

With Lorenzo and Zarco joining the lambs, Q2 was worth the price of admission. It divided itself into halves, with each team making a tire change. Marc Marquez won the first half convincingly, and was challenging to extend his lead with four minutes left in the second when he lost the front, resulting in a fifth-place start behind Cal Crutchlow and in front of Dani Pedrosa, who had been quick all weekend.  The eventual polesitter, Maverick Vinales, edged a menacing Lorenzo, who had earlier edged Rossi (!) himself off the pole. A classic front row—something old, something new, something red…  An all-Honda second row. The other championship co-leader, Andrea Dovizioso, looking unsettled all weekend, made it only to the top of the third row.

#93–Mental Toughness on Display

Sunday would dawn with clear blue skies and hot temperatures, Honda weather in Spain. On a track finding favor with the Yamahas and Ducatis. Few riders had slept  easily on Saturday night. On a personal note, during qualifying my tranches were shredded like confetti on New Year’s Eve and I had predicted Rossi on the sidelines. Order needed to be restored, somehow, on Sunday. Generally, it wasn’t.

The heat predicted early in the week arrived, and tire choices and wear became determining factors.  A snapshot of this allegation shows Marquez on the top step having chosen a hard rear, Pedrosa on the second having chosen the medium, and Lorenzo on the third, having gone for the soft.  Just sayin’. 

Perhaps the strangest sensation today was watching Jorge Lorenzo, in red, looking kind of like the Lorenzo of old (minus the vapor trail) and leading from Turn 1 of the first lap until Lap 16, when Marquez eased through at Turn 12.  Lorenzo’s first podium in 10 rounds must be rather encouraging. Still, at the post-race press conference I found myself wondering about the last time I saw the series leader flanked by challengers trailing by 172 points, collectively.

With championship rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales having a generally rough day, and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi exchanging his crutches for handlebars, Marquez took advantage, creating some breathing room between himself and Dovizioso (-16), Vinales (-28), Pedrosa (-54) and Rossi (-56). Though not a crushing, decisive loss, both Vinales and Dovizioso struggled all day at a track they might dominate in different conditions.

What Does It All Mean?

  1. Rossi is, simply stated, a freak.
  2. Dovizioso and Vinales must move into carpe diem mode. This is undoubtedly Dovi’s last best chance to win a MotoGP championship; Vinales will get his chances.  Marquez says he has felt great since Catalunya and continues to feel great. For both riders, for the rest of the season, there can be only one mantra:  Beat Marquez.  Never mind beat your teammate. Nothing else matters. Beat Marquez or wait until next year.
  3. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, each Aliens at various points in their careers, now have holes in their games: Lorenzo gets the yips in the rain, and Dani cannot heat his tires in cold/wet conditions. In perfect conditions such as today they will continue to push for podiums. True Aliens can race in any conditions. Some might argue that Dovizioso is only truly competitive in cool or damp conditions; I’ll have Steve, our crack research team, look into that.
  4. Aleix Espargaro tied his best result on the Aprilia, a 6th place finish in Qatar, and, in the process, continues to make the Sam Lowes defenders of the world look demented.
  5. Mika Kallio finished 11th and, in the process, continues to make Bradley Smith look sick. Some KTM fans want Kallio in and Smith out now.
  6. My ranking tranches took a beating today. I need some time to digest the results, and will post new tranches in the Motegi preview. Apparently the Espargaro brothers want a word with me, while I could use five minutes of Alex Rins’ time to discuss how my Tranche 2 rider manages to finish 17th.

2018 Provisional Rider LineupWith the signing of Xavier Simeon from Moto2 to be the second rider at Reale Avintia Ducati, for whatever reason, the 2018 grid is now complete.  Three riders—Loris Baz, Hector Barbera and Sam Lowes—were shown the door.  Three more—Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat—believe a change of premier class scenery next season will improve their prospects.  And three riders were promoted up from Moto2—Franco Morbidelli, Tom Luthi and Simeon.

My question at present is this:  What does the Reale Avintia Ducati team expect in 2018 from Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon?  Less than they get this year from Barbera and Baz, in my estimation.  Xavier Simeon, really? I mean, Rabat has amassed 28 points in MotoGP this year, while Simeon has managed but 16 in Moto2.  Compare this to Baz with 39 and Barbera 23. The X-Man must have a wheelbarrow full of sponsorship money in his garage.

Next Stop: Asia

Three weeks to Motegi, with Marquez leading and feeling froggy.  Three weeks for Dovizioso and Vinales to figure out what on earth they must do to catch this guy. Three weeks to contemplate what Marquez might do to them on a bike he doesn’t have to wrestle all day.

Three weeks to figure out how they might be spending the next five months.

 

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 18, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Stakes High in Spanish Shootout

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

Recent History at Aragon

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Movement in the Tranches

After Round 12 Silverstone

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

After Round 13 Misano

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

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

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

This Just In

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

Lorenzo at Misano

Petrucci and Marquez at Misano 2017

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

 

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

 

Lorenzo

Jorge Lorenzo at Misano

 

 

Lazarus

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

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 2015 Aragon Results

September 27, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Lorenzo seizes the day, cuts into Rossi’s lead

Factory Yamaha pilot Jorge Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely needed to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains of Aragon. 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. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hasn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to take Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the diminutive Spaniard willfully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a winless year.

Lorenzo in the rain at Le MansAs expected, the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday featured Lorenzo and defending world champion Marc Marquez, looking fast and dangerous on the #1 Repsol Honda. Marquez shredded the track record in qualifying on Saturday, earning yet another pole. His start today earned a C from the judges as he exited Turn 1 in third place behind Lorenzo and Andrea “Ironman” Iannone, racing again with a recently dislocated shoulder.

Marquez went through on the Italian later in Lap 1 and set his sights on Lorenzo. Unaccountably, as he was closing on the Mallorcan on Lap 2, he lost the front in Turn 12, backdropped by the massive stacked stone wall that always makes me think of The Inquisition. For the fifth time this season, young Marquez ended up in the gravel, the result of an unforced error caused, one would think, by youthful exuberance, overconfidence, a feeling of invulnerability or, most likely, a combination of the three, the magic of 2014 clearly gone. Until he learns to manage his emotions more effectively (the same problem Lorenzo had in 2008) he will not win another world championship.marquez_crash

As strange as it sounds, the lessons of 2015 may end up serving Marquez well. If he learns he doesn’t need to use every ounce of the considerable speed he possesses during every single moment of every single race, he will keep the shiny side up and compete for the next 10 or 12 world titles. Again and again we’ve seen the veteran Rossi keeping his powder dry and his tires intact, looking for the ideal opportunity to pass a rival and earn points. Winning a race by 12 seconds counts no more than winning by 12/1000ths; points is points, a fact often overlooked by youthful combatants.

67,000 Fans Held Their Breath

With Rossi glued to Pedrosa’s tailpipes all day, the mostly Spanish crowd waited for the inevitable takedown, when Rossi would go through and begin thinking about Lorenzo. Pedrosa passed the wounded Iannone on Lap 3, Rossi on Lap 4. (Iannone’s expected late day fade, due to pain in his shoulder, never materialized, as he finished a very gutsy fourth today, some 16 seconds clear of teammate Andrea Dovizioso.) Round and round they went, Rossi never trailing by more than 4/10ths nor less than two, until Lap 19.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380Over the last five laps, Rossi attacked the Spaniard no less than four times, going through briefly only to get re-passed in the next turn. He would try twice in Turn 1 and twice more in Turn 4, Pedrosa never conceding a thing. As the crowd began to turn blue from oxygen deprivation, Lorenzo took the checkered flag, with Pedrosa gasping his way to second and Rossi taking an exhausting third.

During the post-race press conference, Pedrosa acted surprised when asked how he was able to withstand Rossi’s repeated attacks, a measure of the confidence with which he still approaches his trade. As his tenure with the factory Honda team approaches its end, he will be an asset to one of the newer teams—Aprilia or Suzuki or KTM—anxious to retain his services once HRC bids him farewell. Despite never having won a premier class title, he has forgotten more about this stuff than guys like Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera have ever known. Even if you’re a big Nicky Hayden fan with a long memory, Dani Pedrosa deserves your respect.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Five riders spent the shank of the day fighting over fifth place. Borrowing from the book of Genesis, “in the beginning” it looked like Tech 3 Yamaha little brother Pol Espargaro enjoyed the inside track, until he went walkabout on Lap 4, falling from fifth to tenth place, ultimately finishing ninth. This sounds worse than it actually was, as he finished only two seconds behind Dovizioso in fifth, separated by big brother Aleix on the Suzuki Ecstar, LCR Honda hooligan Cal Crutchlow, and teammate Bradley Smith. Smith, notably, had a forgettable weekend, qualifying 10th and finishing 8th, though still managing to hold onto fifth place for the season. Lame duck Pramac Ducati rider Yonny Hernandez completed the top ten, pipping Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales at the flag, despite a slew of pre-race flyovers from the Spanish Air Force, one of the two F-16’s emblazoned with Vinales’ #25.

Non-finishers today, besides Marquez, included the hapless Alex de Angelis, crashing out on Lap 6, Pramac Ducati overachiever Danilo Petrucci, who lowsided on Lap 10 for his first time outside the points all season, and a visibly pained Karel Abraham, who retired his open class Honda on Lap 12, apparently having re-injured his troublesome left foot. Karel, buddy, do the industry a favor and give it up. You’ve got a law degree and a rich father. Go put on an expensive suit and take clients to lunch, and let this MotoGP thing go. 38 points in three seasons–dude, it’s just not happening.

The Big Picture

In two weeks, the ass-dragging, sweat-soaked Pacific flyaway commences in Japan, with three races in three weeks. 14 points now separate Rossi and Lorenzo, two of the most talented riders on the face of the earth, on the same equipment, sharing the same garage. Old and crafty versus young and fast; the fable of the tortoise and the hare on two wheels. We all know how that ended. Whether the same holds true in MotoGP remains to be seen. Personally, I have my doubts.

Marquez now leads Iannone by a meagre 12 points in the battle for third place and looks vulnerable. If Iannone manages to capture third place for the year, I will be conferring Alien status upon him, certain that Gigi Dall’Igna will provide him a further-improved ride for 2016. Bradley Smith enjoys a four point advantage over Dovizioso for fifth place; it would be great to see the wide-eyed Brit finish the season in the top five. Whether Dovizioso will allow this to happen, if indeed he can do anything to prevent it, is yet another unknown. Pedrosa, now trailing Dovizioso by only ten points, could easily jump up to fifth place for the year based upon what he showed today, after having endured a wretched start to the 2015 season.

Ducati, Yamaha and Honda all have a dog in the fight for eighth place, as Petrucci, Crutchlow and Espargaro the Youngermotogp-suzuki-espargaro-vinales are separated by only five points. At the tail end of my attention span, the two Suzuki teammates are separated by a mere two points in the contest for 11th place. Certain Rookie of the Year Vinales, it would seem, has more on the line, in that ending the season as the #1 rider on the team would bolster his chances of securing a ride with one of the more established factory teams commencing in 2017.

As October approaches, we find one of the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers lighting candles for sunny skies and the other praying for rain. Is it even possible that the 2015 MotoGP championship hinges on the weather? The mind reels.