Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of Argentina’ Category

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.

 

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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.

Marquez Hat Trick in Argentina

April 27, 2014

New country, new continent, same outcome 

Repsol Honda crown prince Marc Marquez recovered from a confusing start to win the inaugural MotoGP chase at the picturesque Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo.  After slipping briefly into seventh (7th) place from pole position at the start, the charismatic Catalan sliced his way through the field, spent 13 laps in second place giving leader Jorge Lorenzo the heebie-jeebies, and went through Lorenzo’s Yamaha easily on Lap 17.  Cruising to the flag from that point, he became the first premier class rider to start the season with three wins from pole since Giacomo Agostini in 1971. 

Those of us fortunate enough to watch today’s race witnessed what is the greatest start to a MotoGP premier class season in 43 years.  Longer than most of you reading this have been alive.  Some have referred to Marc Marquez as the greatest rider to come along in a generation.  After his performance this weekend, he is arguably the best rider to have come along in two generations.  Maybe ever.

As a rookie, Marquez seized the title from Lorenzo, a reigning double world champion and one of the fine riders of the modern era.  Today, he spotted Lorenzo six positions and perhaps five seconds, punked him at the time and place of his choosing, and barely broke a sweat.  For Lorenzo, having given up 25 points to Marquez in Qatar and another 19 in Austin, finishing third today and appearing on the podium must have felt like a win.  A mere two years ago, a result like this would have had him cursing himself and spitting thumbtacks.  Down 53 points after three rounds in 2014, it promises to be six long months of brave smiles for the gentleman from Mallorca.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aside from the drama up front, there was plenty going on all over the grid today.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa had himself a rough start, too, falling back from the #3 hole on the grid and spending some quality time in seventh position before roaring back later in the day.  At the beginning of Lap 8 he sat in fifth place; by the end of Lap 9 he was running third, having put away both LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl and junior Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone.  Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by four seconds on Lap 12 and ended up beating him by a second and a half, despite having Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi in his rearview for most of the second half of the race.

Rossi, after watching his front tire get torn to smithereens in Austin, went with the Bridgestone Kevlar option today and was all over the board.  Finishing the first lap in second position, he ran wide on several occasions, one time courtesy of a hip check from Bradl, before finally settling into fourth place where he finished.  Having announced at the start of the season that the results in his first six races of this year would determine his future in MotoGP, I’d guess he’s still wondering whether he has what it takes to meet his own high standards.  Certainly, Rossi is too proud (and has too much branding to protect) to become the next Colin Edwards and continue suiting up years after his peak.

Stefan Bradl enjoyed a productive fifth place finish after starting ninth, courtesy of a brutal high side in qualifying that left him shaken, not stirred, in his team garage on Saturday afternoon.  Iannone, who has been impressive all year on the Pramac Ducati, ran with the first group again early in the day before finally finishing sixth, the top Ducati to cross the line, three spots ahead of factory rider Andrea Dovizioso who, occupying second place at the end of Lap 2, got passed like a hat at a revival meeting the rest of the day.

Let Me Just Say This about Alvaro Bautista

Dude seems to spend way more time and attention on his appearance than on his profession.  Cursed with abnormally good looks, he puts blond streaks in his hair, then has them removed.  Grows a nice two week beard, and today shaves it off.  Narcissists generally sit around wondering, “Gee, what can I do to make myself prettier?”  Alvaro Bautista shows all the symptoms.  Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, running Fausto Gresini’s factory spec Honda RC213V, he crashes out in Qatar, crashes out in Austin and today, with the pressure on, makes it as far as Turn 5 of the first lap before landing in the kitty litter.  This, barely five days after the volatile Gresini expressed “concern” about Bautista’s competitiveness, and three days after Bautista himself vowed to take no unnecessary risks in order to finish the race.

I expected Gresini to give Bautista the boot after 2012 and again after 2013.  There is just no way he will sign him to a new contract after this season.  With riders like Vinales and Rabat looking to move up from Moto2 next season, and Bautista’s history of underachievement and excitability—how many times has he found himself running up front early in races only to crash out, often taking other riders with him—Bautista is toast.  Devilishly handsome toast.  Adios, muchacho.

Quick Hitters

Once again this year, the Tech 3 Yamahas seem to be connected at the hip. It was 2012 when Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow seemed to spend the season fighting each other every lap of every week. Last year, Crutchlow had the advantage over then rookie Bradley Smith. This year, however, Smith and new teammate Pol Espargaro seem to be traveling in tandem again. Both riders crashed out in Qatar. In Austin, it was Smith finishing fifth and Espargaro sixth. Today, it was Smith seventh and Espargaro eighth. Unlike 2012, they are usually separated on the track most of the day, but somehow seem to end up back-to-back. Espargaro seems to be slightly ahead of where he was expected to be at this point, Smith slightly behind.

Nicky Hayden got worked by teammate Hiro Aoyama at the finish line today. As if having one of the slowest bikes on the grid isn’t bad enough, the Kentucky Kid gets jammed by Aoyama, who was last seen in a MotoGP top ten at Motegi in 2011. Ugh.

Cardion AB rich kid Karel Abraham, with another dazzling 13th place finish today, has collected more points in 2014 (8) than he did in all of 2013 (5). That Honda Production Racer seems to be working wonders for him.

Finally, before we start licking our chops over Jerez next week, we must note another disappointing weekend for Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha. Once again, expectations were high after he qualified fourth. Once again they were dashed when he went walkabout on Lap 2. Although he recovered sufficiently to finish 15th, he looks capable of challenging for the podium every time out, but isn’t getting it done. We’re sticking with our earlier call that he will finally get his podium at Assen or The Sachsenring.

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