Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of Argentina’ Category

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Results

April 8, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Crutchlow prevails in Argentina, leads series

Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday was a Honda clambake, with the factory guys and Cal Crutchlow hogging the top three spots on the combined FP1/FP2 timesheet. Dovi and Lorenzo looked dazed and confused in the dry, Dovi mailing in a clean 24th in FP2. Factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales were keeping their powder dry in 6th and 7th. The two anomalies in the top ten were Tito Rabat, Honda alum and current (GP17) Ducati pilot, sitting impudently in fourth position, as if he belonged there, and Andrea Iannone, copying him in 5th. My boy Alex Rins sat 8th after finding over a second in FP2. Zarco was loitering down in 9th, Jorge Lorenzo, in full Replay-of-the-Horror-of-2017 mode, lagging in 16th place. Miles to go before he sleeps.

Saturday’s wet FP3 meant the standings from FP2 stood, which, in turn, meant that big names, like Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci and Syahrin would have to slug their way out of Q1 to even have a shot at the first four rows on Sunday. Two satellite Ducatis (Rabat and Miller) found their way directly into Q2, along with a bevy of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. Q1 saw Aleix Espargaro flog his Aprilia into Q2, joined therein by Andrea Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Petrucci, eyeing a Ducati factory seat next year, starts from 18th, while Jorge Lorenzo, trying to defend one, could manage no better than 14th.

The last three minutes of Q2 are becoming my favorite part of the weekend. One by one, the Alien class and its aspirants reach back and take aim at pole, holding nothing in reserve, fuel loads minimized, soft new rubber on the back. One by one, they flash into pole position, only to be immediately deposed by the next red-eyed dervish with the throttle pegged. Marquez, incandescent all weekend, sat in pole position for most of the session, until he was blistered late, in the described fashion, by Alex Rins (?), Tito Rabat (??), Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa. While the announcers were busily gushing over Dani’s 50th grand prix pole, Jack Miller, who had pitted very late on a drying track to try a final lap on slicks and had his transponder go out on him, crossed the line almost unnoticed and stuck the fastest lap of the day on pole. In the process, he became the first satellite Ducati rider in history to occupy pole for a premier class grand prix.

Jack Miller has taken to the GP17 like, pardon the expression, a duck to water. Fast in Valencia last November. Fast all winter. Fast in practice in Qatar, although he whiffed on race day. Now, fast here, at least for one lap. Jack Miller is making a case for enhanced respect from these quarters. As is Tito Rabat, who seems to be breathing air again after two years of sucking canal water. Both on used Desmos.

Before the Lights Went Out

Due to the persistent light rain they have in this part of Argentina, which works the way my kitchen lights do when my grandson is fiddling with the switch, virtually everyone on the grid started bailing into pit lane five minutes before the start, all planning to switch from rain tires to slicks, all planning to start from pit lane. All except for one, the polesitter, Jack Miller, on his Alma Pramac Ducati, sporting slicks and ready to race. Race Direction, citing legitimate safety concerns pertaining to having 23 powerful men and machines crammed into the space of an eat-in kitchen, decided to change the rules of the sport on the spot, re-forming the grid three rows back of Miller.

The weirdly re-formed grid sat waiting for the lights to go on when Marquez, anxious in the six hole, waved to indicate his bike had stalled, pushed it a few yards, nonchalantly jump-started it, and pushed it back into his grid spot, waving off that Danny guy who was gesticulating wildly that Marquez needed to return to pit lane. So #93 started the race under a cloud, out of breath, suspecting he would be penalized. Unbalanced.

During the Race

There were so many key moments in the race that I can only bullet-point them:
• On the opening lap, Johann Zarco, jockeying with the factory Hondas up front, gave Pedrosa a slight hip check sufficient to send Little Big Man over the handlebars.
• Marquez went through on Miller on Lap 2 and the world prepared for him to get away, when
• He was given a ride-through penalty for dissing Mr. Aldridge at the start, entered pit lane in first place and exited in 19th with some serious motowood going on and that look in his eye. This left a top three of Miller, Rins and Zarco, with Crutchlow loitering in fourth, keeping his powder dry, thinking deep thoughts.
• Marquez, slicing his way recklessly through the field, dove through a non-existent opening, displacing Aleix Espargaro, who retired five laps later. For this second foul Marquez was ordered to give up one place, which became two in the midst of the pure confusion in command of the track.
• On Lap 17, Miller, whose tires were turning to syrup, ran so far wide that Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins all went through on him and stayed there. He deserved better on a day when he had, by himself, earned an enormous strategic advantage over the field which the powers that be took away from him.
• On Lap 21, Marquez, for no apparent reason, thought it would be smart to reprieve his stunt with Espargaro with his old buddy Valentino Rossi, who ran wide into mud. Down and out. A buzz went through the crowd. Not this again.
• Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins put on a sensational show over the last three laps. After two rounds there have been six separate riders on the two podia.
• Before being demoted to 18th position, Marquez had worked his way back from 19th to 5th, and, in the process, confirmed the opinions of everyone out there who already thought he was a jerk.

After the Race

Immediately after the race, Marquez and two of his handlers, with about 20 MotoGP.com video cameras on them, walked down to Rossi’s garage, to offer an apology for his comportment on the track. Mr. Rossi’s representative, a Mr. Vaffanculo, let it be known that Mr. Rossi was not currently interested in Mr. Marquez’ apology, and that perhaps Mr. Marquez should go perform a physically-impossible act. The cheek-turning exercise failed to produce the desired results. So now we have to spend the next six months listening to people bang on about The Rivalry. Which, if you believe what you hear, never actually went away.

The Big Picture

The season standings have been reshuffled, which is good news for some and not-so-good news for others. To wit:

Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi each lost five spots in the championship chase. Marquez lost three, but it could have been worse, as many will argue he should have been black-flagged after the Rossi incident. He may still find himself with some penance to pay in Texas in two weeks.

Winners include Alex Rins, who went from zero to 9th place, Miller, who went from 10th to 6th, and Zarco, who moved from 8th to 3rd.

Of the top ten riders for the year, four ride satellite bikes and two ride Suzukis. And the top team thus far this season is LCR Honda.

Next time out is Austin, which is Marquez’ personal sandbox. If he faces any kind of challenge at COTA, it portends an interesting year. A year that’s getting off to a grand start.

Rider Rankings after Two Rounds

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

Greatest of All Time

April 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez Valencia 2017b

Discussions of who is the greatest whatever of all time are usually tiresome affairs, made up of people who possess one or two indelible facts or impressions they then use to bludgeon any other arguments to pieces. This fruitless argument becomes more fruitless each year, as records and riders extend back to bygone eras where virtually nothing was the same as it is now, as regards machinery. It’s not just moto racing, it’s any sport.

It’s the usual problem with “of all time” comparisons. The historical context is everything. We humans, with our small brains and limited attention spans, both of which are generally focused on sex, don’t have the bandwidth to try to fully understand the competitive conditions extant, say, in the 1960s and 1970s when Giacamo Agostini was winning titles, lapping the field.

We have a hard time getting fully engorged by Angel Nieto, who won all those titles, mostly in the 70’s, on 80cc and 125cc bikes. We look at Rossi with his nine, seven in the premier class, and shake our heads, certain it would have been higher had he not reigned during the nascence of The Alien Class of riders, any number of whom will have their own claim to Hall of Fame stature in the years to come. Stoner. Lorenzo. Marquez.

Inevitably, we run into old school types like Matt Oxley or Kevin Schwantz who criticize the electronics in today’s bikes, making them sound like video games, over-powered and over-engineered pocket rockets that can practically ride themselves. This, I believe, is where the “of all time” argument gets complicated. I believe the video game aspect of today’s bikes is an extra layer of difficulty the riders from the 20th century didn’t have to deal with.

Here’s what I think. I think Marc Marquez, arguably the best rider of the current decade, could adjust to the bikes going back to the 1970s with little trouble , especially given his dirt-track riding style. The idea of taking a Wayne Rainey or a Mick Doohan out there, putting them on a 2018 MotoGP bike and saying, “Take it away!” is laughable. They wouldn’t be able to get out of pit lane. I think Marquez, on the other hand, is strong enough to enjoy racing the 500cc two-strokes.

There. In order to discuss the greatest of all time in MotoGP, you have to examine the context. In order to level the playing field, one must account for the difference in the machinery, which can only be done by some crude indexing. For instance, whereas Giacomo Agostini rated 98% on the 350cc MotoGP bike, he would rate only, say, 40% on today’s Yamaha M1. Rossi or Marquez, on the other hand, are up in the 90’s on the MotoGP bike and could get well up into the 80’s in a day or two on  the 350.

Marquez has the fundamental, intuitive balance and reflexes of a great rider. He also has the full array of video game skills and a powerful frame. He is the complete package.

Given the genesis of MotoGP, the impossible speeds and lean angles and the increasingly complicated electronics, I would vote for Marquez, presuming his career maintains its current arc, as the GOAT. If he can win three or four more titles in the next five years, he will be The Man. He’s facing the same problem Rossi faced starting in 2010–a new generation of riders. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Alex Rins. A rejuvenated Andrea Dovizioso. A bunch of fast movers in Moto2 anxious for factory rides in MotoGP beginning next year. Names like Bagnaia, Baldassarri, Mir and Fenati.

To me, it feels like we’re watching something special during what will be referred to as The Marquez Years. I pray it ends someday in triumph, on his terms, fully intact and ready for the next phase in his remarkable story.

Lorenzo - Marquez

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

MotoGP 2017 Rio Hondo Results

April 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Viñales conquers Argentina; Marquez chokes out 

In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix.  Marquez, starting from pole, took the holeshot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4.  Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat. 

In winning his first two races on the factory Yamaha, Viñales tied two records dating back to the 1990’s.  Kenny Roberts, Jr. won his first two races on a new team in 1999 after having abandoned the Modenas KR3 team for Suzuki.  And Wayne Rainey (not Rossi, not Lorenzo) was the last Yamaha pilot to start the season with two wins back in 1990, well before Viñales was born.  Had Marquez not lost his grits today, both records might still be standing.  We’ll never know.

Practice and Qualifying Weirdness

Practice was dry on Friday.  Viñales topped FP1 and FP2, with lots of big names way down the order. Some unfamiliar names popped up in the top five—Danilo Petrucci, rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and Karel Abraham, of all people, in FP1; both Abraham and Petrucci appeared in the top five again in FP2. Saturday was a wet day, the first ever for Viñales on the Yamaha.  Accordingly, in FP3 he slipped all the way down to second place, behind LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, with Marquez in fifth.

Thus was the die cast for the first qualifying sessions of the season—Qatar canceled theirs due to some Biblical rain–and the separating of the goats into Q1 and the lambs into Q2, but in a Bizarro kind of configuration.  The lambs cinched into Q2 included, and I’m not kidding, Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Jonas Folger, Alvaro Bautista, and Karel Abraham.  The goats, relegated to the ignominy of Q1, and again I’m not kidding, included BOTH factory Ducatis, Dani Pedrosa, everyone’s new fave Johann Zarco, and Valentino Freaking Rossi.  Rossi and Pedrosa snuck into Q2 on their last laps of the session.  They aren’t called Aliens (or Alien Emeritus) for nothing.

Qualifying itself was more or less routine, with the notable exception of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 sitting in the middle of the front row beneath Karel Abraham.  Marquez started from pole, going four-for-four in Argentina, with Crutchlow sitting third, Pedrosa 5th and Rossi 7th.  Figuratively speaking, the wheels fell off for the factory Ducati team on Saturday, with Dovizioso slotted 13th and Jorge Lorenzo occupying his customary wet weather position of 16th on the grid.

Trouble at the Start

Lorenzo, the Great Spanish Hope of the factory Ducati team, saw his day end in the congested first turn as he tagged Andrea Iannone’s back wheel and quickly ended up in the gravel, the dream of one-upping Rossi in his own Yamaha-to-Ducati defection having morphed into a nightmare.  After two rounds, he trails series leader Viñales by 45 points.  (Although Marquez trails by 37, his deficit seems much smaller than JLo’s, since Marquez looks fully capable of winning races, while Lorenzo looks fully capable of nothing right now.)

Trouble in the Middle

Marquez’s gaffe on Lap 4 left a top five of Viñales, Crutchlow, Rossi, Pramac Ducati ex-cop Danilo Petrucci and Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa.  Petrucci, who would finish seventh, and Pedrosa spent the middle third of the race carving one another up until Pedrosa submitted a carbon copy of Marquez’ fall at Turn 2 on Lap 14. Moments later, on Lap 15, Aleix Espargaro, who has been overachieving on the Gresini Aprilia, lost the front at Turn 1 and collected factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso on his way to the runoff area.  Dovi, accustomed to getting creamed by Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa, seemed nonplussed at having been clipped by the likable Spaniard.  Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, shown briefly in his garage at that moment, appeared to be throwing up in his mouth.

After the podium party, to which neither was invited, Pedrosa and Marquez could be seen in their garage, drunk, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, singing Citizen King’s “I’ve Seen Better Days” in some very ragged Spanish.

Ridiculous Results

Crutchlow, looking strong, managed to hold off Rossi until Lap 19.  He chased the Italian around for a few laps before calculating that 16 points were better than none, settling for third and a place on the rostrum.  No surprise there.  But who would have guessed that Alvaro Bautista, flogging the Aspar team Ducati, would cross the line fourth, followed by two rookies?  Johann Zarco, who is starting to make a believer out of me, came from 14th at the start to finish fifth, while Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger worked his way from 11th at the start to a legit sixth place finish and 10 points.  Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, allegedly texted his counterpart with the Repsol Honda team, Livio Suppo, after the race, asking Livio if he was interested in a few tips about racing in South America.

Scott Redding on the Pramac GP16, Jack Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and the aforementioned Karel Abraham completed today’s top ten.  Right.  That makes eight satellite bikes in the top ten, which last occurred during the 1952 Tour de France.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both KTM riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, finished in the points, putting KTM in the MotoGP books for the first time ever.  This is not ridiculous, either.  But KTM bosses issuing press releases declaring their intent to title in MotoGP within three years—ridiculous. 

The Big Picture

After two rounds, the big picture looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas.  Sure, the Movistar Yamaha team rules the world early in the season; I get that.  But Scott “The Whiner” Redding sits in fourth place, as if he belongs there. Rookie Jonas Folger sits sixth.  Jackass Miller sits seventh, with Marc Marquez tied for eighth with Alvaro Bautista.  WTF?  But the most acid-flashback-ish sight on the board is that of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo tied for 18th place with the helpless Tito Rabat.   I did a fast double-check—the walls of my hotel room do not appear to be melting, nor does the flesh seem to be falling off my face in great gross chunks.  I’m not having a flashback.  Jorge Lorenzo, uninjured, has earned five (5) points thus far in 2017.  The bosses in Bologna need to lower their expectations.  Right now would be fine.

What does it all mean?  Other than Maverick Viñales having seized the 2017 season by the throat, not much.  There are 16 races left to go, and the precocious Spaniard is unlikely to win them all.  He will face some adversity along the way, allowing the rest of the Alien contingent—Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso—back into the picture.

Viñales admitted to feeling some pressure this weekend, especially in the wet on Saturday.  After today’s race, the pressure has fallen squarely on defending champion Marc Marquez, who let one get away from him this afternoon.  Whether today’s crash has ruined his season is unclear.  What is clear, however, is that #93 needs a win in Austin, where he is undefeated, in two weeks in order to avoid joining Jorge Lorenzo in the very bad place where he now resides.

 

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Results

April 3, 2016

 © Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins as racing gods take charge

To the casual observer looking at the final result, the 2016 Argentine Grand Prix would appear to have been just another MotoGP race.  Marc Marquez topped the podium, flanked by usual suspects Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa.  Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that the racing gods were in complete control for the entire weekend.  From FP1 to the final turn, it was el mano de Dios calling the shots.

Friday was as hot as the hinges of hell.  The Yamahas cowered in the heat; defending world champion and Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo finished 12th in the morning, improving to 14th in the afternoon.  Rossi managed 6th and 7th on Friday, but was not setting the world on fire, as it were.  Riders complained that the track was dirty, that no effort had been made to put it in racing condition since its last use back in December.  Turn 1 hosted a weekend-long series of crashes reminiscent of a 1960’s Jan and Dean anthem.  Naturally, Dorna responded to the criticism by signing a new three year deal with Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon, Octo Pramac Ducati pilot Scott Redding was minding his own business, doing 200 mph down the back straight when he experienced a private deus ex machina, the tread flying off his rear casing like a semi shedding a retread.  The impact removed a chunk of his rear fairing and left Redding with a welt on his back that looked like he’d been hit with a 2 X 4.  Dorna immediately went into lockdown mode (curiously re-starting the practice session) and, in consultation with a chagrined Michelin, began issuing releases faster than the scribblers could send them home, the last and most coherent of which (on Sunday morning) follows:

The race distance is changed to 20 laps.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN DRY CONDITIONS:

  • Riders must change bikes at the end of their ninth, tenth or 11th Lap.
  • If rain starts and Race Direction consider the situation to be dangerous the red flag will be shown and all riders should enter pit lane.
  • Teams will be given 15 minutes between the display of the red flag and opening of pit lane to make adjustments to the machines.
  • The second part of the race will be for 10 laps. Grid positions will be based on the result of the first part and will be declared a wet race.

IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN WET CONDITIONS

  • Riders may enter the pits to change machines only from the end of their ninth lap.
  • If the wet race is red flagged for other reasons when more than 13 laps have been completed then the result will stand and there will be no restart.

Marquez laid down a blistering first flying lap during Q2 which stood up, maintaining his record of never having not started from the pole in Argentina.  Lorenzo and Rossi had regrouped after Friday and traded places several times late in the session, with Rossi ending up second and Lorenzo third.  The second row included young phenom Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki, joined by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team, Dovizioso and Iannone.

A fifth practice session was hastily arranged for Sunday morning to introduce the riders to Michelin’s Fustercluck tire, an emergency compound intended for use only in the event of a Phillip Island 2013-scale disaster, which this was becoming.  The session was abandoned when Sunday dawned wet; the Moto3 race was a wet race, the Moto2 affair declared “dry” but far from it.  The track was drying quickly, the leaden clouds holding their water, so to speak.  After twisting itself into knots trying to determine how to avoid sending the riders out on tires they had never previously tried, Race Direction ended up with a dry race run under the ad hoc rules published above.

As the riders lined up on the grid waiting for the lights to go out, the racing gods, done messing with the weather, were casting lots to determine who would end the day frolicking with the lambs in the “Lucky” column and who would end up with the goats in the “Unlucky” column.  They apparently decided to consign one rider to a third category, “Thick as a Brick.”

Seriously, Are You Ever Going to Give Us the Race?

 The start was dicey at best.  Iannone and Pedrosa made contact in Turn 1, sending the Spaniard way wide and apparently ending his podium bid.  The front group emerged late on Lap 1 comprised of Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Goats Cal Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro slid off simultaneously at Turn 1 (no kidding) of Lap 2, Crutchlow evading Espargaro’s unguided missile by inches. (Both would re-enter and finish the race, for whatever reason.)  Yonny Hernandez, suffering the ignominy of starting his “home race” from the back of the grid, crashed out moments later.  Goat.

Jack Miller, on the Marc VDS Honda, appearing lamb-like, climbed all the way up to 7th position and actually went through on the laboring Lorenzo before crashing out on Lap 3, unlucky as usual.  Lorenzo himself, fresh off his win in Qatar, slid off at Turn 1 of Lap 6, his goat horns appearing as little winglets on his helmet.

As the front group began thinking about their mandatory pit stops, Marquez led Rossi by less than a second, followed by Vinales and the two factory Ducatis.  Rossi and Marquez went through on each other twice on Lap 9, providing a déjà vu of last year’s race.  Vinales, Iannone and Pedrosa, among others, pitted on Lap 9 without incident.  On Lap 10, Rossi tailgated Marquez into pit lane.  Both made clean swaps, Marquez holding the lead exiting the pits.  Along comes Tito Rabat on his Marc VDS Honda, a BFF of Marquez.  Somehow (wink wink) Marquez managed to enter the track in front of Rabat, while Rossi was forced to yield.  In the next minute, Marquez stretched his lead over Rossi from a few tenths to over two seconds.  At the time, it appeared Rabat was helping his buddy; Rossi’s comments after the race dispelled that notion, as his #2 bike wasn’t nearly as sharp as #1 had been.

Marquez puts down a vapor trail, leaving Rossi to duke it out with upstart Vinales, the two Andreas snapping and snarling right behind him (Rabat had checked out, pitting on Lap 11), Pedrosa a mile behind.  This went on for a while, with Vinales appearing to be lining Rossi up for a memorable pass.  (Farther back in the pack, Redding, in pure goat mode, had climbed all the way up to seventh position before his Ducati stalled, putting the capper on a gruesome weekend for the likeable Brit.)

You could almost hear the gods howling with laughter during the final two laps.  Vinales approaches Turn 1 on Lap 18 two feet off the racing line, finds a tiny puddle of water, and goes from lamb to goat in an instant, thoughts of his first premier class podium up in smoke.  Rossi, clearly a lamb, is suddenly relieved of one serious threat to his podium hopes, but has two more, the Andreas, to contend with, both of whom seem to have more pace.  Still, if you want to go through on Valentino Rossi late on Sunday, you had better pack your lunch, because it’s not gonna be easy.

Lap 20: Rossi is holding off Dovi, with Iannone threatening, in full Maniac mode, in the last three turns.  Iannone, desperate for a podium after crashing out of the lead in Qatar, sees a possible opening in the last turn, dives inside, loses the front, and collects Dovizioso on his way into the kitty litter.  Boom—game over.  Dovi, the blameless lamb, is stuck with the worst luck of the day.  Iannone must explain his actions to Race Direction and Gigi Dall’Igna, Thick as a Brick tattooed on his forehead.  Pedrosa is shocked to suddenly find himself on the podium.  And Eugene Laverty, on the Aspar Ducati, the luckiest lamb of all, finishes the day in fourth position, the leading satellite rider, a full eight spots higher than his previous best MotoGP career finish in Qatar two weeks ago.  The only word to describe the look on his face in Parc Fermè is “stunned.”

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez seizes the 2016 championship lead, ahead of Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, looking thoroughly downcast after the race, needs to figure out what’s up with his 2016 RC213V.  Hector Barbera resides in seventh place for the season, ahead of off-season strivers Vinales and Redding.  And The Maniac, who I had tagged as an Alien-in-waiting, having crashed out of five of his last six races, is 0 for 2016 after two rounds.

Next week it’s another Honda-friendly track in Austin.  One hopes that the racing gods got their fill today.  American racing fans don’t like all that livestock wandering around their racetracks.

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Preview

March 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo looks to extend his lead in Argentina

After a convincing performance in the Qatari desert two weeks ago, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo confronts one of his demons this week.  The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, running as usual at the shiny new-ish Termas de Río Hondo, operates outside of Lorenzo’s Land.  One of five venues on the 2016 calendar where Lorenzo has yet to taste victory in the premier class (quick–name the other four*), Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him this weekend. 

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageHaving tested at Losail just weeks ago, the grid had a reasonably good idea what to expect from the standard ECU and Michelin rubber when the lights went out in Doha.  Not so at Rio Hondo.  Friday will mark the first time the riders have set foot on the Argentine asphalt in 2016.  We are reminded of how Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez acquainted himself with the place in 2014 when the track first opened.  He strolled around in 14th place during FP1, then cinched everything up, lowered his visor, and topped the charts in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the warm-up practice and, finally, the race itself.  Caution will be the order of the day on Friday morning. Marquez swims across the line

Lorenzo’s pursuers in the 2016 chase—Ducati Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone, Marquez, teammate and nemesis Valentino Rossi foremost among them—have reason to feel optimistic heading for the southern hemisphere.  Both Marquez and Rossi have won here, in 2014 and last year, respectively.  Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa finished less than two seconds behind Marquez in 2014 and in front of both Lorenzo and Rossi.  Dovizioso claimed a clean second place finish last year, while Honda tough guy Cal Crutchlow was busy punking Iannone at the flag for his only podium of 2015.  Iannone, especially, having crashed out of the lead in Qatar, needs to make up some ground this week to cut into Lorenzo’s 25 point advantage.  God knows he has the bike upon which to do it.

Not Riblets—Winglets!

Ducati wingletThe feng shui (Japanese for “latest fad”) in MotoGP these days are these little wing thingies that have sprouted from the front fairings of just about every bike on the grid over the past few years.  According to Matt Oxley, former rider and current paddock layabout, the appendages on the Ducatis are suspected of producing dirty air—read: turbulence—for trailing riders.  Many of us are accustomed to hearing this concept applied to racing yachts and fighter jets, but this is a new finding in MotoGP.  Matt cites anecdotal evidence that such turbulence came close to unseating Dani Pedrosa in Australia last year.

Several thoughts on this subject:  Why are the Ducs being singled out for causing problems, while none of the other manufacturers, all of whom are sporting riblets winglets, stand accused?  Sure, the Ducatis flirt with low Earth orbits on long straights, as we saw illustrated vividly at the end of Lap 1 at Losail.  But such would appear to be a matter of degree; it’s not like they’re breaking the sound barrier.  (Yet, anyway.)  Could this be a case of, ahem, “intelligent design,” deployed to discourage other riders from hitching a tow behind Iannone or Dovizioso?  The strakes are prohibited in Moto2 and Moto3; why, then, are they permitted on the fastest bikes on the planet?

The irony here is that subsequent to the tragic Marco Simoncelli crash at Sepang in 2011, Dorna and Grand Gouda Carmelo Ezpeleta announced their intention to reduce speeds and make the sport safer going forward.  Instead, they allow enhanced aerodynamics which improve traction, while the engineers beaver away to squeeze horsepower and torque out of the engines.  The result?  Iannone hits 218 mph in the warm-up at Losail, Dani Pedrosa is allegedly getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the wake, and the sport looks to be setting itself up for another pointless fatality.

MotoGP bikes are fast.  Fans are unable to distinguish between a motorcycle traveling at 190 mph and one traveling at 200 unless they’re running side by side.  Enough already with the winglets.

Speaking of enough already, Cal Crutchlow’s lament in Qatar that he crashed because “the bike didn’t know where it was” reveals just how Space Odyssey the electronics have become.  (“I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”)  I, for one, hope it becomes fashionable in the future for the riders to do more and the ECUs to do less, before MotoGP becomes just a big, noisy, expensive video game.

Pity Danilo Petrucci

PetrucciOne rider for whom I had high hopes this season is Danilo Petrucci, Scott Redding’s teammate on the Pramac Ducati team.  Despite having averaged 23 points a year during his first three premier class seasons, all of which were spent on execrable machinery, someone at Ducati saw something in him and gave him a ride on a second hand Desmosedici last season.  He went from having earned 17 points in 2014 to 113 and a top ten finish last year.  With an even stronger bike beneath him, I thought him capable of finishing between sixth and tenth this year.

Alas, bad luck intervened.  Petrucci smashed his right hand in a late pre-season testing crash, and did it again trying to return too soon in Qatar.  He is now out indefinitely, his place being taken by highly qualified Ducati test rider Michele Pirro.  The melody you hear in the background is the Colonel Bogey March being whistled by Casey Stoner, standing around, under contract to test for Ducati but unwilling to return to the track.  Virtually identical to the situation when he was testing for Honda and Dani Pedrosa broke his collarbone.  Married readers may detect in all this the invisible hand of Adriana Stoner, who, it must be assumed, has assured Casey that in the event she ever sees #27 on a race day track, the only function left to be served by his didgeridoo will be urination.

Questions in Search of Answers in Argentina

In no particular order:

  • Are any of the other Aliens strong enough to mount a serious challenge to Lorenzo this year? This would seem a good place to begin to find out.
  • Can Iannone (or Dovi) challenge Lorenzo mano à mano on Sunday, assuming he keeps his bike shiny side up? The Alien Club beckons.
  • Have Maverick Vinales, Scott Redding and Hector Barbera improved as much as we thought during the offseason?
  • Is Dani Pedrosa beginning to show signs of wear? Since the end of last season, which he finished strong, his testing and early season performance has been distinguished, in my dad’s words, only by its lack of distinction.
  • Who gets the last slot on the grid for next season? The name Tito Pons keeps surfacing, with either Pol Espargaro or Alex Rins the favorites to man the bike, whatever the bike turns out to be.  A brixxer would be nice.
  • The weather forecast for the Esteros environs calls for hot and mostly dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, with cool, wet air moving in for Sunday. Will the weather get in Lorenzo’s way?  The Ducs are voting in favor of rain.
  • Cal Crutchlow’s bike had an existential crisis in Qatar. Can it find itself this week in South America?
  • And what’s up with Aleix Espargaro? Maybe it’s the ECU, maybe it’s the tires; whatever it is, he needs to get with the program.  His wingman is making him look sick.

For those of you still able to watch on live TV, the race goes off Sunday at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results here by 6 pm EDT Sunday.   Instant analysis, free of charge, and worth every penny.

*COTA, The Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Sepang.  You thought I forgot.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

 

Rossi seizes the day, extends championship lead

April 19, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Rio Hondo Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The second Grand Prix de la República Argentina of the modern era started out as a parade and ended with everyone—riders, fans, announcers—gasping for air, going mad over the events on Lap 24. Defending world champion and Honda poster boy Marc Marquez would have, could have and should have won this race. But two errors on his part, combined with one of Valentino Rossi’s finest hours, spelled disaster for the young Catalan, who now sits squarely behind the eight ball heading to Jerez.

AleixResults of the practice sessions on Friday looked as though Carmelo Ezpeleta had drawn the names out of a hat. FP1 included Suzuki #1 Aleix Espargaro 1st, Pramac Racing homeboy (sort of) Yonny Hernandez 4th, Avintia Racing’s hapless Mike di Meglio 8th, and Marquez 10th, sandwiched between non-contenders Alvaro Bautista and Jack Miller. The factory Yamaha contingent featured Rossi in 14th and Jorge Lorenzo 20th. FP2 was closer to form, ignoring Rossi loitering in 9th place.

By Saturday afternoon, things were mostly squared away. Marquez qualified on pole, with my boy Aleix 2nd (Suzuki’s first front row qualifying run since Loris Capirossi at Mugello in 2009) and factory Ducati #2 Andrea Iannone edging CWM LCR Honda hothead Cal Crutchlow for 3rd place. Lorenzo could manage only 5th place, while Rossi would qualify 8th; more about that later.

Marquez Leads the Parade for 11 Laps

Yonny on fire

At the start, Marquez jumped out to the early lead, which grew to over four seconds midway through the race. Crutchlow, feeling his oats in his first visit to Rio Hondo, led the trailing group, followed by the two factory Ducatis and the factory Yamahas. Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 6. Moments later, Pramac’s Hernandez was on fire, literally, the Colombian’s bike spewing flames until Yonny, suddenly aware that he was “doing a Zarco”, pulled off-track and ran away before the inevitable explosion, which failed to materialize as the marshals assailed the inferno with half a dozen fire extinguishers. Anyone in the market for a used Ducati?

By Lap 9, Lorenzo had fallen off the pace, his 2015 season starting to resemble the debacle he experienced during the first half of 2014. In quick succession, Rossi, his fuel load having dropped, went through on Iannone in Lap 9, spanked Crutchlow on Lap 10, and disposed of Dovizioso on Lap 11, emerging in second place, over four seconds behind Marquez. It was at about that time that many of us, presumably including Marquez, realized the first of his two mistakes today: he had abandoned the extra hard rear tire for the softer option after the first sighting lap. Rossi had stuck with his original choice of the harder option, a decision which would prove crucial as the race progressed.

Suddenly, It’s a Race

I quit taking notes on Lap 14, and instead jotted down the gap between Marquez and Rossi, as follows:

Lap 14 4.1 seconds Rossi
Lap 15 3.7
Lap 16 3.5
Lap 17 3.0
Lap 18 3.1
Lap 19 2.3
Lap 20 2.0
Lap 21 1.2
Lap 22 1.15
Lap 23 0.4

Things came together, in more ways than one, on Lap 24. Rossi appeared rock solid, breathing down Marquez’s neck. Marquez’s rear tire appeared made of Crisco, as he was sliding all over the place, both tires adrift in the corners. The riders exchanged places twice, leaving Rossi in the lead by a nose. In the middle of turn five the two touched, to no one’s surprise, Marquez dropping back ever so slightly. But at the exit of turn five, they came together again hard, Rossi in front and on the line, the front of Marquez’ Honda folding up, leading to a fast lowside, bike and rider sliding 50 yards into the grass. Race Direction looked at the incident for a full 20 seconds before declaring no foul. End of story.

Marquez’ second mistake? Realizing that Rossi had the pace, and being too stubborn, too willful to allow him through and settle for second place and the 20 points that would have accompanied it. Yes, he has the heart of a champion, and two world titles to show for it. Yes, his lizard brain was fully in charge at that moment. But he needs to understand that he cannot win every race, even those that appear to be his for the taking. Instead, he now trails the fully rejuvenated Rossi by 30 points. Hell, he even trails the toasted Jorge Lorenzo, not to mention both factory Ducatis. He has put himself in a bad place, with no one to blame but himself.

As promised, here’s a quick question for Rossi fans. What do today’s race, the 2015 season opener at Qatar and Phillip Island 2014 all have in common? In all three, Rossi qualified 8th and won the race. For Vale, his career has reached the point where his starting position on the grid is essentially irrelevant. With the right tires and the right setup, one thinks he can win from anywhere on the grid. At age 36, he may be as strong as he’s ever been. He has surpassed Lorenzo as the #1 rider on the Yamaha team, and he may eclipse Marquez as the 2015 world champion. Dude is tougher than a two dollar steak.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The Espargaro brothers had an interesting day. Aleix, on the factory Suzuki, started from the middle of the first row. Pol, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, started from the outside of row six. Aleix managed to finish 7th, three seconds in front of his brother in 8th.

crutchlow and millerThe CWM LCR Honda team enjoyed a successful day, with Crutchlow’s prototype pipping Iannone at the flag for third place, while Jack Miller, on the production version, finished 13th to take the top open classification award for the day, what I like to think of as the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award.

What I can’t figure out is why Cal always seems to be pissed at someone. He can pretty much be counted upon to complain about something or someone at every single round. Yesterday, he was honked at Jorge Lorenzo (a double premier class world champion) and/or Maverick Vinales for preventing him from qualifying on the pole. As if. Today, given Marquez’ ill fortune, he lucks into the last step on the podium on a day he would normally finish fifth. During the obligatory post-race interview with Dylan Gray, he goes all ungracious, thanking “all the people that wrote me off” for the win. For a guy who makes millions of dollars doing something he loves to do, he has a very unbecoming supersized chip on his shoulder. Today’s majestic, awe-inspiring triumph rocketed him up from 7th place coming into the weekend all the way up to 6th. I, for one, am blown away.

From where I sit, Crutchlow ran a good race. On a factory spec Honda, he should.

On the Horizon: Jerez

Among other things, Marc Marquez needs some home cooking. He’ll get it in two weeks at Jerez, where he will need to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone, put himself in third place for the season, and start chipping away at Dovizioso and Rossi. Last year he dealt with the pressure of reeling off 10 consecutive wins to start the season. This year, he has a different kind of pressure to deal with. This year we’ll see what he’s made of.

Dovizioso moves up the MotoGP standings after two rounds

April 14, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Rio Hondo Preview, by Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

One year ago, heading into Round 3 in Argentina, I was pretty sure of two things: 1. Marc Marquez was going to win a second MotoGP world championship in 2014, and 2. Valentino Rossi’s alien days were behind him. Going 1-for-2 is great in baseball, not so much in the world of motorcycle prognostication. As it turns out, Rossi may offer the biggest obstacle to Marquez’ quest for a third consecutive title. And Andrea Dovizioso’s application for membership in the alien club has now been approved, at the apparent expense of Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa.

Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014The remarkable resurrection of the Ducati brand under the guiding hand of Gigi Dall’Igna has finally interrupted the seemingly interminable streak—going on eight years—of Honda/Yamaha domination of podium celebrations in the premier class. Though there has been the occasional Ducati sighting—Dovi twice in 2014, Crutchlow finishing third in Aragon last year, Nicky Hayden third in Jerez in 2011, Rossi himself with three podia in two seasons—it’s been a painfully long time since the Ducati was competitive. The factory team has already rung up two seconds and a third this season and appears capable of challenging at every track on the circuit. Dovizioso is now a top three rider, and his partner, Andrea Iannone, is right there with him, gaining experience every time out and working on his own alien resumé.

Dall’Igna has moved the Ducati MotoGP program from the outhouse to the penthouse in barely 18 months. Had Aprilia opted to give him his payday and keep him in the fold, he would have likely accelerated their own “program” back to respectability in a third of the time it will now take.

Conventional business wisdom early in the 21st century has it that, in a corporation, no one person is indispensable. I’m pretty sure Ducati brass might take the other side of that argument these days.

Recent History in Argentina

Last year’s Gran Premio Red Bull de la República Argentina saw the riders return to South America for the first time since pedrosa-marquez1999. Being the newest entry on the calendar, everyone had to familiarize themselves with the layout in the free practice sessions. Marquez’ performance during the shakedown process was instructive. He spent FP1 on his Vespa Bellissima, finishing 14th and taking in the lay of the land. He then dusted off his RC213V and finished first in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the WUP and the race itself.

The race saw Marquez go through on leader Lorenzo on Lap 17, lay down a vapor trail, and cruise to a 1.8 second win ahead of Dani Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, his season already in tatters, pushing to the limit to finish third. Rossi spent most of the day dogging Pedrosa on his way to a discouraging fourth place finish. What we didn’t know then was that The Doctor would suddenly get a second wind, producing 12 podia in the next 15 races and a solid second place finish for the year, restoring his credibility, confidence and mojo and putting to rest any claim Lorenzo might have had to being the #1 rider on the team.

The Big Picture

MotoGP, like it’s most distant of distant cousins, the NFL, occasionally finds itself with early season contests deemed “critical” by media types and Those in the Know. If Round 3 in Argentina is critical for any rider, it would be Jorge Lorenzo, battling Marquez and himself to remain in the championship conversation. He has finished fourth in each of the first two races, showing some strength early before fading late. An equipment glitch was to blame in the first instance, bronchitis (or faster riders) in the second. Entering the season I had him penciled in at #2 for the year behind Marquez, ahead of both Dovizioso and Rossi, with Pedrosa 5th. He now also has an undeniable aversion to running in the rain which, at some point during the year, will cost him.

Marquez, interviewed elsewhere this week, stated he views Dovizioso and Rossi as his primary opponents this season. Hard to argue with that. The second group forming up behind the top three includes Lorenzo, Iannone, Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow. Kind of group 2A and 2B. If Lorenzo wishes to climb back into the top four, he will need to make some noise this weekend. He was competitive here last year; he needs to assert his will on the field, including the Catalan, and come home with some hardware, or look forward to continuing battles with the likes of Maniac Joe and Crutchlow. The suits at Yamaha corporate expect much more from him.

Team Suzuki seems to be getting as much as seems reasonable from Mssrs. Espargaro and Vinales. Both in the top ten in Austin. Both with a perceived advantage at short stubby places like Assen and the Sachsenring. Both riders young, talented and aggressive. Points every time out. A nice beginning to their return to the grid.

Finally, the new Ducati GP15 seems to be having some spillover effect on the 14 series bikes being run by Pramac Racing. Yonny Hernandez opened the season with a top ten finish at Losail, with Danilo Petrucci following suit this past week in Texas. Other than Hernandez’ DNF in Austin, it’s been points every time out for the Ducati B Team. Everything’s coming up roses in Bologna. In the rather unlikely event Pramac runs the GP15 next season, they could be battling Crutchlow and Smith for top ten finishes all season long.

Two Riders Heading in Different Directions

BradlBSmith

Stefan Bradl, currently toiling for Yamaha Forward Racing, and Bradley Smith, onboard the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, exemplify the vagaries of premier class racing. Bradl earned his promotion to the premier class after taking the Moto2 title in 2011 while Marc Marquez was still seeing stars from his brutal highside crash during practice at Sepang. Bradl stepped aboard the LCR practically-factory spec Honda and could only manage 8th and 7th place finishes his first two seasons before slipping to 9th last year and losing his seat to Cal Crutchlow.

Smith, never having won a title in any division, was apparently tapped for promotion early in the 2011 season when he strung together three straight podia in Moto2. He would finish the year in 7th position, stayed another year during which he slipped to 9th before somewhat surprisingly being named to succeed Colin Edwards on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Since then he’s driven the satellite M1 to a 10th place finish in 2013, followed by 8th last year, and currently sits 6th in this year’s chase, while Bradl has yet to score a point this season.

Herve Poncharal, owner of the Tech 3 team, and David Emmett over at Motomatters.com are getting hoarse singing Smith’s praises these days, while no one’s saying nuthin’ about Herr Bradl. And while I’m not yet totally sold on Smith, it’s clear that Bradl is methodically working himself out of MotoGP, with WSBK looming on his horizon.

Your Weekend Forecast

Other than a chance of rain on Friday, conditions should be perfect for the weekend, sunny with temps in the low 70’s. Playing the percentages, I look for Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi on the podium at day’s end, with some kind of event involving Jorge Lorenzo niggling at the back of my mind. Last year’s race offered few surprises. Unlike most of his competitors, Marquez probably hopes for more of the same this weekend.

We’ll have results, analysis, commentary and photos later in the day on Sunday.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

MotoGP 2015 COTA Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Repsol Honda reigning champion Marc Marquez extended his winning streak in the U.S. to six, taking an easy win at The Circuit of the Americas by a country mile over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso who had himself fought off several challenges from Yamaha former world champion Valentino Rossi. Confirming that Losail was an outlier, and tightening the standings at the top of the premier class food chain, COTA provided few surprises.

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 rode quietly into the sunset, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi. Lorenzo launched a late charge to finish fourth, followed by Iannone on the #2 Ducati, Smith and Crutchlow, who was unable to maintain the winning speeds he showed in practice. Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales claimed 8th and 9th, respectively, and Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci continued to impress in 10th place.

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

2015 COTA Q2 Front RowCaptureQ2 was a great example of why the qualifying format of MotoGP is occasionally better than the race. Marquez jumping off his broken bike, the CHECK ENGINE light red, climbing the wall, sprinting 200 yards to his cold #2 bike with the wrong tires, flogging it across the start/finish line seconds before the checkered flag waved, then pushing his RC213V harder on the flying lap to a new track record and his third consecutive pole in Austin. I don’t think any other rider on the grid could manage that.

Add to his natural ability and quality equipment the fact that he’s seeing Austin on the big bike for the third time, and knows exactly where he is on the track. He already knows the correct line here. Now all he has to do is pick the right tires and keep it on the track through turn 1. His lap at the end of qualifying, after an extended sprint, with a big moment, on a #2 bike he described as having “setting not so good,” trashed the previous record by four-tenths. Close to inconceivable.

You get the sense Marc Marquez has GPS in his head and can pretty much go as fast as he wants. He rides a million dollar bike like it was a miniature BMX in the schoolyard in 5th grade. Marquez in Sepang 2013

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

Weather was iffy all weekend, at a track that is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most demanding on the 18-round calendar. It is, likewise, becoming increasingly clear that Jorge Lorenzo cannot compete in the rain.

The consecutive crashes at Assen and the Sachsenring in 2013 involved wet weather, and it appears he’s lost his ability to push in the wet. His FP2 in the wet was another example. There was a race or two last year where he failed to post due to the wet. And although the weather ended up not being a factor during the race today… There’s still the damnable Catalan.

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

The Brits seem to be getting it together. Both Crutchlow on the CWMLCRAMF, etc. Honda and Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda made appearances in the top three during practice sessions, with CC 2nd in both FP2 in the wet and FP3 in the dry. Redding ran 3rd in FP1 before qualifying 6th. Not to mention young Danny Kent, the great hope of soccer hooligans everywhere, dominating the Moto3 race. Dominating at a track like Austin says you’re good at everything. Sam Lowes’ first win in Moto2 was even sweeter. Could Crutchlow or Redding break into the top three?

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

One looks at the bottom four qualifiers and cannot help but ponder how far the mighty have fallen:
• Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion, qualifying 22nd for Honda in his 200th grand prix start.
• Alvaro Bautista, sporting a 125cc world championship in 2006 and a second place finish in the Moto2 class in 2008, in 23rd for a thoroughly grateful Aprilia Racing Gresini team.
• Alex de Angelis, with 3rd place finishes in the 250cc class in 2006 and 2007 and an 8th place finish in MotoGP in 2009 sitting 24th for Octo IodaRacing.
• And, finally, unwilling and unmotivated, Marco Melandri, the #2 Aprilia rider on loan from WSBK, lollygagging in 25th place. His credentials include a world championship in the 250cc class in 2002, and second overall in MotoGP 2005 aboard the factory Honda. In case you’re thinking it’s obvious that Melandri is washed up, he spent the last four seasons in WSBK finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 4th, the last aboard the Aprilia

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

The Moto2 race was led by Kent going away, but the fight for second place was ferocious. The racing surface appeared to be “dirty.” Kent’s margin the largest in Moto3 history. Whoda thunk? The residual battle for second place, won by 15-year old rising star Fabio Quaternaro, was high quality stuff.

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

The French teenager Quaternero has it going on in Moto3. 15 years old. His star is, as they say, ascendant. The fact that rookie Alex Rins leads the series indicates the depth of talent at the top of the Moto2 food chain, although something’s up with Tito Rabat.

Danny Kent is a certified winner in Moto3 and needs to move up to Moto2 to determine if he’s the real deal or what. His team earned a 1st and a 3rd at COTA. Not a bad weekend. See what happens in Argentina and Jerez first.

Sam Lowes ran a great race for his first win in Moto2. The sun seems to be rising on The British Empire. Completive at all three levels. Hard to visualize Cal Crutchlow on the podium. But I can’t remember the last time I heard the British national anthem during a podium celebration either.

A Small Confession

Having grown up as a committed Washington Redskins fan I developed an intense dislike of all things remotely related to the state of Texas, from the state flag to the aw-shucks attitude of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys coach may he ever rot in… I digress. But I must admit that the Circuit of The Americas is well-designed and deserves its reputation as the most challenging circuit on the tour. I thought COTA was going to take the place of my home track in Indianapolis. As it turned out, Laguna Seca lost. But this place seems built for motorcycles, and the riders spend an enormous amount of time in turns. Great changes in elevation. Better than Indianapolis. Way better.

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

The crews are working frantically to get the grid packed up, stuffed into the three 747’s Dorna keeps for this purpose, and head off for South America, a nine hour flight, then cutting their way through triple canopy jungle to reach the garage area, portaging their trailers through snake-infested rivers, in time for practice on Friday. It’s no picnic being on one of these crews. And Rio Honda is a little off the beaten path.

We’ll bring you the race preview on Wednesday, with results and analysis on Sunday evening.