Archive for the ‘Grand Prix of the Americas’ Category

MotoGP COTA Results

April 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Rossi Accept Gift from Vinales 

The run-up to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Maverick Vinales and Honda triple world champion Marc Marquez.  All day long, the British announcing crew was breathlessly prancing about the broadcast booth, pondering the sheer wonder of it all, going absolutely hyperbolic.  Showing no sense of the moment, Vinales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game. 

Practice, Practice, Practice 

FP1: Vinales was in charge, not having received the memo about Marquez’ ownership position at COTA.  FP2 was led by Marquez, snatched from Zarco; Vinales right behind, trimming his cuticles.  FP3 was Vinales, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Marquez.

Something had to be done about the weirdness in the standings.  Early in the season, MotoGP seemed to have fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Yamaha is just taking it to Honda—the 2016 M1 is competitive with the 2017 RC213V.  All four Yamahas sit in the top 11 for the season, including the two rookies.  Cal Crutchlow, the highest-ranked Honda, sits tied with rookie Jonas Folger.  Co-rookie Johann Zarco is on the move, a mere five points behind Folger and Crutchlow.  Three Ducs rest in the top ten led by, of all people, Scott Redding in fourth.

It was time to come up from the rabbit hole.  Time to return to Europe.  Just one more foreign outing in Texas to endure before things could return back to normal.

Establishing Positions

Q2 saw a few things put right, beyond the fact that Vinales and Marquez stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a bunch of Aliens and wannabees slugging it out for supporting spots in the top ten.  Vinales delivered the first sub-2:04 lap of the day with maybe 30 seconds left in the session.  20 seconds later, Marquez flogged his Honda to a fifth straight pole in Texas, from which he had won the previous four races.  Rossi snuck onto the front row late in the session, creating a second row of Dani Pedrosa, the impudent Zarco on the satellite Yamaha, and one Jorge Lorenzo, clad in white and red. Oh, and perhaps the save of the season, by Loris Baz late in the session.

Lorenzo and Jack Miller had made it through Q1, with Lorenzo putting the Ducati as high as fourth position before settling for sixth.  Zarco had been up near the top of the timesheets again all weekend, putting pressure on a lot of factory rides.  Miller crashed out of Q2 and appeared to be trotting back to the garage “gingerly,” his inevitable early-season injury having possibly arrived.  Dani Pedrosa was hanging around in fourth, back to starting up front with the big dogs.

In support of my blog, Rossi and Vinales had their first set-to on Saturday during qualifying, with Vinales seemingly cheesed off about Rossi cruising on the racing line.  Race Direction was later said to be considering sending a strongly-worded letter to Lin Jarvis asking him for “best efforts to prevail” upon The Franchise not to seriously injure The New Kid in Town.

The Race Itself

The 2017 American Grand Prix was more parade than firefight.  The factory Hondas and Yamahas emerged from the early chaos to form up the leading group, with Dani Pedrosa front and center.  Cal Crutchlow got clear of The Great Unwashed, and there was even a Jorge Lorenzo sighting around fifth place on the first lap.  The usual suspects quickly found themselves strung out along the bumps and potholes littering the Circuit of the Americas, which stands in need of a paving crew.

Although it took 21 laps and 45 minutes to confirm it, the race basically came down to four moves.  1) Vinales crashed late on Lap 2, leaving Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and Johann Zarco in the lead group.  2)  Marquez took the lead from Pedrosa on Lap 9.  3)  Rossi and Zarco came together a few minutes later, the Frenchman pushing Rossi wide to the right where he could cut back and increase his lead, incurring a hypothetical .3 second penalty that amounted to nothing but had the announcers, fully recovered from Vinales’ crash, happy to find something new to go mental over.  4) Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19.

Game.  Set.  Match

At Ducati Corse, Life Goes On

Andrea Dovizioso being interviewed elsewhere about his place in the Ducatisphere: 

Q:  So why can’t the problems (with the GP17) be solved?

A: “There’s a big difference between understanding the problems and solving them.”

Quoted elsewhere, it seems Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone has finally accepted as fact something the rest of the planet observed late last season.  This, allegedly, is News You Need: ‘Andrea Iannone says he is resigned to having to race with a top speed deficit with Suzuki throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.’  Please refer to the above quote from Dovi with regard to this revelation.

Rubbing salt in the wound, I’m pretty sure that Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone stole Jorge Lorenzo’s lunch money over the last few laps of the race.  We could be charitable and suppose JLo’s tires gave up on him.  Or we could be hateful and small and speculate that he got out-cojoñed by the two Italians.

The Big Picture 

With Vinales’ feet replanted in terra firma after an otherworldly start to his Yamaha career, we can now have a straightforward, adult conversation about the state of the MotoGP championship after three rounds.  The factory Yamahas and Hondas appear significantly ahead of everyone else early in the season.  Rossi and Vinales are frightening, Vinales for his sheer speed, Rossi for his strategic brilliance.

Marquez has atoned for his crash in Argentina and will push The Boys in Blue for the entire season.  The factory Ducati program is in deep yogurt, Dovizioso hanging onto fourth place by his fingernails while grasping bad luck with both hands.  LCR Honda stud Cal Crutchlow continues to nose around the top of the standings, his crash at Losail all that stands between him and a top three ranking.

So, order has been restored at the top of the MotoGP food chain just in time to return to racing in Europe.  Aliens occupy the top three spots in the standings.  Near-Aliens (semi-Aliens?) sit fourth and fifth, while the Alien Emeritus stands sixth.  The apparently brilliant Johann Zarco has seventh place all to himself, while teammate Jonas Folger is tied for eighth place with Pramac Ducati pilot Scot Redding and Jack Miller.  My boy Alex Rins, previously nursing a bad ankle, suffered a compound fracture of his wrist during practice this weekend and is out until further notice.

And Jorge Lorenzo, who sold his Alien Card for filthy lucre, sits counting his money in 13th place, with 12 points to show for his first three acts with Ducati.

A Look Ahead

Two weeks from now MotoGP blasts into the Spanish Riviera.  The racing will be at Jerez, while the action in the evening will be on The Strip in Cadiz.  Maverick Vinales, despite the good vibes associated with a return to home soil, probably will not be in the gift-giving mood in which he found himself today.

Excuse me while I butcher the old Smith Barney one-liner. If they want spots on the podium next time out, Rossi and Marquez will probably have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They’ll have to earn it.

Rossi, Vinales: Crossing the Line

April 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen

As teammates, the relationship between Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi cannot end well.

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

Back in college, we econ majors spent most of our time constructing simplistic models and graphs.  Within the current composition of the Movistar Yamaha team, we are watching an accelerated version of what some of us feared might be in store for Rossi.  His line, over time, having been very high for years, beginning to acquire a slightly negative slope after a strong upswing following the Ducati debacle.  Vinales’ line has a short, sharply positive slope.  That he will soon eclipse Rossi on a consistent basis is clear; the two lines may have already crossed.

Since last November, Rossi’s relationship with the rookie has been threatened by the Spaniard’s sheer precociousness, the same occasionally-breathtaking response we got in 2013 when Marquez and his Repsol Honda exploded onto the scene. A fulcrum point in modern MotoGP history. An obvious upsetting of the existing Order of Things.  The whole mentor/apprentice shtick advertised by Yamaha suits at the approach of winter testing lasted until, well, the very first test.

We are now at the stage where the two are competitors, likely well on their way to becoming rivals, given Rossi’s territoriality in the Yamaha garage.  Bit of a replay of Lorenzo’s arrival in 2008 and the advent of the legendary wall in the garage which turned out, after all, to have been at Bridgestone’s request, something having to do with data cross-pollination.

As Lorenzo improved and titled,  he and Rossi and learned to despise one another.  Rossi, the marketing machine, prevailed at age 37 or whatever.

This time around, it appears inevitable that Rossi will complete the circle, morphing from mentor to competitor to bitch.  Vale is only going to get older.  Vinales is only going to get better.

This relationship cannot end well.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorycle.com

Marquez vs Vinales

Captain America needs a win 

As the checkered flag fell in Argentina, the shape of the entire 2017 season changed.  Suddenly, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and partner Valentino Rossi, the Boys in Blue, sit on top of the world looking down.  Those looking up, WAY up, include defending champion Marc Marquez and the factory Ducati team, currently residing on the other side of the proverbial tracks.  Marquez has never lost, deep in the heart, which makes Sunday’s contest what my wife (eyebrows raised) refers to as “critical?” 

Even though it’s so early in the season—Round 3—the Yamaha contingent appears to be in danger of getting away.  Vinales with two wins, Rossi with two podia.  Things in general going quite well thank you.  Lorenzo and his new employers at Ducati Corse–not so well, a 10th and last week’s early DNF to show for his efforts thus far.  Marquez and Pedrosa slammed to the tarmac instantly at the same exact location—different laps, with Jack Miller narrowly avoiding a third crash there—in a mechanical Venus Flytrap for factory Hondas at Turn 2 last time around.  Having left for Argentina in a bit of a hole, the Repsol Honda team imploded, their 2017 machine appearing difficult to ride and hard on tires.  Perhaps, as LCR loudmouth Cal Crutchlow intimated, gas consumption, too.

Marquez has never lost in the first four seasons at the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas (as if Laguna Seca and Indianapolis don’t exist).  The purpose-built facility has been a Honda favorite since its inception in 2013.  In this wacky season, it would not surprise to see Marquez, Vinales and The Black Knight, Jack Miller, fighting for podium spots in a reprise of 2014, when Miller won the Moto3 race, Vinales the Moto2 and Marquez the MotoGP.

As strange as it sounds, the 2017 season could devolve into an uneven two man, intra-team race between Vinales and Rossi, similar to the F-1 whippings administered by the 2002 factory Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, who took turns winning 15 of 17 races that year.  After last season, with nine different winners, we thought we were past all that.  This weekend could shed some serious light on that thinking.

Recent History at COTA

Marc Marquez, whom I refer to as Captain America while the rest of the world calls him as Marc Marquez, has never experienced defeat in Austin.  He won easily as a rookie in 2013.  He overwhelmed teammate Dani Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds in arrears on the factory Ducati.  In 2015, Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession.

Last year, while Marquez was sunnily getting away, Pedrosa lost his grits, his bike taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the last men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round.  Vinales edged out teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

Disorder in the Standings

Due to the logarithmic scoring system and early season shakedown cruises—curiously, Lorenzo’s complaint after his first lap fall in Argentina being he missed out on 25 laps of data—the championship standings after two rounds are currently out of equilibrium.  I looked back at the standings a year ago, and they were generally orderly, what you might expect, Aliens Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa occupying the top four spots.

This year, things are startlingly different.  Undefeated Vinales and the experienced Rossi stand well clear of Dovi in 3rd, 16 points behind Rossi.  Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding sits 4th.  Read that last sentence twice, because you’ll probably never see it again in your lifetime.  Squabbling over 5th place are Crutchlow, surprising German rookie and Tech 3 Yamaha upstart Jonas Folger, and Jack Miller, still ambulatory this early in the season.

Marc Marquez sits in a fantastic 8th place, 37 points down to Vinales, under a degree of pressure he has not previously felt in the premier class, on a bike he does not like.  Jorge Lorenzo, humbled triple world champion, is a bit of a steaming pile in 18th, consorting with the likes of Tito Rabat and the debut KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the Laverne & Shirley* of MotoGP.  (*You know, ‘always together.’)

Rule #1:  Beat Your Teammate

Riders know that if you do this one thing on race day, you can consider your outing to have been a success.  Just beat your teammate.  Here’s where the teams stand after two rounds, up close and personal:

Factory Teams

Repsol Honda:                 Marquez 13          Pedrosa 11

Movistar Yamaha:           Vinales 50            Rossi 36

Factory Ducati:                Dovizioso 20        Lorenzo   5

Factory Suzuki:                Rins 7                   Iannone 0

Factory Aprilia:                A Espargaro 10    Lowes 0

Factory KTM:                   Pol Espargaro 2   Smith 1

 

Satellite Teams

Pramac Ducati:                Redding 17          Petrucci 9

Aspar Ducati:                   Bautista 13          Abraham 8

Tech 3 Yamaha:               Folger 16              Zarco 11

Marc VDS Honda:            Miller 15              Rabat 5

Reale Avintia Ducati:       Baz 9                    Barbera 6

As you can see, the Boys in Blue have secured almost a third of the points on offer in the first two rounds, a trend which seems unsustainable.  And, ignoring the Yamahas, the satellite teams are taking it right to the factory boys all across the board.  Over time, large series of numbers typically regress to the mean.  Essentially, I’m suggesting that the 2017 season is nowhere near over, that there is plenty of meaningful racing yet to come, and that the Movistar Yamaha team cannot afford to become slack or over-confident.  Both Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone have now assured us that neither will crash out of a race again this season.  Taking neither offer, I would be more inclined to put my money on the Catalan than the erratic Italian.

Notice too how on the three satellite Ducati teams, the GP15 rider leads the GP16 rider two to one.  Had Hector Barbera not started the season injured, it could easily be three for three, with the factory bikes no better.  Would it be heresy to suggest that Gigi Dall’Igna’s magic peaked in 2015 and has been quietly trending downward since then?  Or is it the different riders changing things around?  All these anomalies make predicting podium celebrants, a fool’s errand in the best of times, an overt waste of time.  One can hope, for the sake of the season, that Marquez makes up some ground with the Yamahas this weekend.  He had been mostly bulletproof in Argentina until last round.  Anything other than an outright win on Sunday must be considered a painful loss. 

Your Weekend Forecast

Looking ahead four or five days, the weekend’s offerings weather-wise appear to have something for every taste and budget.  Friday—hot and cloudy.  Saturday—cool with rain.  Sunday—cool and dry.     The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time in the U.S., and we will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Results

April 10, 2016

Marc Marquez:  Lone Star in the Lone Star State

 On a nice spring afternoon outside Austin, Texas, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez, looking much the way he did in 2013 and 2014, put on another clinic, winning the Grand Prix of the Americas from pole for the fourth consecutive year.  The win makes Captain America 10 for 10 in premier class tilts run in the United States. 

I used to think that bingo was the only game in which one could be bored and anxious at the same time.  Today’s race—a procession, punctuated by life-threatening crashes—felt like an evening in the church basement.

Yamaha rider and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo knew, sitting next to Marquez on the front row at the start, that his only chance for a win today would occur on Lap 1, by getting in Marquez’s business, throwing the young Catalan off his rhythm, and trying to get away.  So determined was he to accomplish this that he narrowly avoided running off the track at Turn 1 and again at Turn 11, running ragged with cold tires, too much fuel, and no rhythm of his own.  It didn’t work, and Marquez took the lead he would never relinquish.

The front group included Valentino Rossi, Ducati’s hard luck Andrea Dovizioso and factory Honda afterthought Dani Pedrosa.  Rossi got caught in traffic and fell back to around 6th, where he and Pedrosa jousted for a short while.  At Turn 3 of Lap 3, Rossi lost the front at speed and slid well into the gravel, removing around a dozen sponsor logos from his leathers, his day over.  Our crack research staff tells me this is the first time in the last 25 races that Rossi has finished outside the top five.

While Marquez was disappearing, Lorenzo took firm control of second place, having gone through on Dovizioso on Lap 5.  Lap 6 saw Ducati Maniac Andrea Iannone go through on Suzuki #2 Aleix Espargaro into 5th place.  Pedrosa was dogging Dovizioso in the battle for third place on Lap 6 when the broadcast switched to his front camera.  Seconds later, Dovizioso’s bike filled the frame just in time to get poleaxed by Pedrosa, as the Spaniard lost the front in Turn 1 and his suddenly riderless bike creamed the Ducati.  How Pedrosa’s Honda missed Dovi’s left leg is a mystery.  The Italian’s day was over, but Pedrosa climbed back aboard his RC213V and turned a few more laps before calling it a day.

Everyone Please Take Three Steps Forward

With Dovizioso and Rossi out and Pedrosa trailing the field, the remaining riders behind Lorenzo received promotions of three spots.  Kind of like going from private to lieutenant in ten minutes.  Iannone, running relatively cautiously after the debacle in Argentina when he took out teammate Dovizioso in a painfully stupid move, was, suddenly, contending for a podium.  The two Suzukis, experiencing their own rebirth of sorts, found themselves contesting fourth place in a battle Maverick Vinales would eventually win over Aleix Espargaro.

Octo Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding was winning The Battle of Britain, enjoying life in 6th place while Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, and Bradley Smith, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were slugging it out for seventh.  On Lap 8, Crutchlow, in an unforced error that was undoubtedly somebody else’s fault, slid off the track into the runoff area.  Scant seconds later, with Smith apparently rubbernecking at Crutchlow’s misfortune, the Tech 3 rider fell, his careening bike missing the back of Crutchlow’s ankles by mere inches.  Both men remounted the remnants of their bikes and were the last two riders to see the checkered flag.

A Moment of Reflection

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow are incomprehensibly lucky to be walking around tonight.  This is the second week in a row that Crutchlow narrowly avoided a disaster he didn’t even realize was happening.  Such is the nature of MotoGP, with objects moving at speeds uncontemplated by our Creator or the slow crawl of evolution (take your choice), lives hanging precariously in the balance.  Some riders, like Crutchlow and Dovizioso, may be lucky enough, or blessed enough, to tell stories about these things to their grandchildren one day.  Others, like Marco Simoncelli and Shoya Tomizawa, will never have grandchildren to hear them.  When a Jorge Lorenzo gets irritated by the stupid antics of an Alvaro Bautista and talks about risking his life every time he climbs aboard, he’s not just whistling “Dixie.”

The Big Picture

If you had suggested at Sepang during winter testing, when Marquez was lapping 1.5 seconds behind Lorenzo, that he would be leading the championship by 21 points after three rounds he probably would have suggested that you get your head examined.  Yet here we are.  The other anomalies in the top ten include Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro sitting fourth despite seeming to be having a difficult year, swarthy Ducati pilot and underachiever Hectic Hector Barbera sitting sixth, and Ulsterman Eugene Laverty sitting ninth.  Laverty’s euphoria from last week was short-lived, as he went from a highly fluky fourth place to four points in a week.  Still, not bad for a guy on a two-year-old Ducati.

Okay, so I’ve never been a big fan of Cal Crutchlow, who has always, in my opinion, talked a better race than he rides.  He so rarely mans up and takes the blame when things go wrong.  So I may be forgiven for enjoying seeing him sitting in last place, 0-for-2016 after three rounds.  Looking forward to the article on the MotoGP website—it should appear tomorrow or Tuesday—in which he explains who was to blame for today’s crash and how he skillfully avoided getting shattered by Smith’s unguided missile.  As they say in Coventry, hard cheese old boy.

And another thing.  Jack Miller, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, so cool and fast he was allowed to skip second grade, is declared out of today’s race after two more heavy crashes this weekend.  Honda is so anxious to locate the second coming of Casey Stoner, and the kid’s ambition is so large, he’s going to seriously injure himself or someone else out there, generally riding out of control and creating huge piles of brightly painted and utterly trashed carbon fiber.  Dude needs to think about a step back to Moto2.

A Final Thought Before Returning to Europe

Everything’s big in Texas—from the state itself, which takes 24 hours to drive across, to the iniquity of its junior US senator.  COTA maintains the tradition, with the most corners (20) in a MotoGP circuit (Red Bull Ring in Austria has nine), the longest straight on the tour, the steepest hill, seating for 120,000 fans, etc., etc.  But seriously, let’s just get it over with and rename the track the Marc Marquez Circuit.  Better yet, how about the Circuito Marc Marquez, since Texas was originally a northern state of Mexico before Sam Houston and his boys shoved the locals across the Rio Grande way back when.

Round Four touches off in Jerez in two weeks.  In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the Lorenzo to Ducati and Vinales to Yamaha stories, and will have them for you in full once they’re official.

MotoGP 2016 COTA Preview

April 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez has momentum heading for Texas

After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season.  Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere.  Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday. 

Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:

  • The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
  • The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
  • The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
  • The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
  • The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year.  With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
  • The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
  • In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.)  An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and who pushed the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year.  Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent.  Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture.  Kudos to all three.

Recent History at COTA

The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words:  Marc Marquez.  He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race.  He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati.  Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.

I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible.  The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight.  Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.  In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade.  In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.

OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control.  Big deal.  These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet.  To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.

A final thought concerning Marquez:  Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving.  I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin.  One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do.  (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)

WSBK and Nicky Hayden

Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball.  The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish.  As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points.  Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team.  It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.

Your Weekend Forecast

Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.

As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning.  Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.

Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium.  Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.

If you have access to the live broadcast—seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed—the race goes off at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.

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.

Marc Marquez seeking a return to normalcy, deep in the heart

April 8, 2015

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

For the second year in a row, The Grand Prix of Qatar delivered a riveting race with unexpected results. The 2014 edition saw putative race favorite Jorge Lorenzo dump his Yamaha M1 on the first lap, paving the way for a cage match between teammate Valentino Rossi and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez in which Marquez prevailed by a quarter second. A year later, it was the favorite Marquez going walkabout on Lap 1, setting up a night-long rumble between the factory Yamahas and the factory Ducatis (what?) in which Rossi eventually pipped Andrea Dovizioso at the flag.

2015 Losail PodiumThe podium celebration, an all Italian lovefest, included third place finisher Andrea Iannone on the second factory Ducati. No Spaniards. No Hondas. The result from Losail thus fits the definition of the term “outlier”: An element of a data set that distinctly stands out from the rest of the data. Those of you who expect to see a similar result this week in Austin please raise your hands.

Before turning our attention to The Lone Star State, let’s review what we learned from Round 1:
• The Ducati GP15 is the real deal, having more in common with the Yamaha M1 than the Honda RC213V. There is no truth to the rumor that the factory team is adopting the name Team Lazarus, but the Italian bike is once again competitive, a relief to everyone at Dorna and MotoGP fans around the world. It will do well at the tracks where the Yamahas excel, places such as Losail, Mugello and Brno. Having placed four bikes in the top 12 in the desert, with two on the podium, one can expect those numbers to be halved in Austin, a track seemingly custom-designed for the Honda.
• Dani Pedrosa’s 2015 campaign is screwed, blued and tattooed. How he managed to enter the season incapable of riding staggers the imagination. He is projected to miss from two to four of the next races. And the circumstances which led HRC to name Hiro Aoyama as his replacement rather than Casey Stoner must have been complicated to the extreme. Aoyama will do well to score points, while Stoner could probably climb aboard and challenge for the podium. Is Stoner ready? Possibly. Able? Probably. Willing? No. The choice of Aoyama tells me we are unlikely ever again to see Casey Stoner throw his leg over a MotoGP bike.
• Jorge Lorenzo’s team obviously forgot to pack the duct tape before leaving for Qatar. He told reporters after the race that it was his helmet liner, rather than tires or fatigue, which cause him to fade from 1st to 4th place late in the race, the liner (apparently on Lap 18) having slipped down to where it impaired his peripheral vision. Having led for most of the race, Lorenzo appears ready to contend for the title again in 2015.
• Valentino Rossi continues to defy the laws of nature, appearing as strong and skilled at age 36 as he was at 26. His post-race complaints about the concessions Ducati continues to receive were undignified for a future hall of famer. Having qualified 8th and won the race, he shouldn’t concern himself with Ducati having an advantage in qualifying with their soft rear tire. Vale needs to let the politicians worry about the regulations and focus on what former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis preached to his team for decades—“Just win, baby.”
• The underpowered Team Suzuki Ecstar will not be competitive at Yamaha-friendly tracks like Losail. I expect them to improve upon their results this week at COTA and to have their best outings at places like Assen, the Sachsenring and Indianapolis.
• The underpowered, underfinanced and undermanned Aprilia Racing Team Gresini is going to endure a long, painful season. A Paul Byrd Motorsports-type of season. The sole consolation for Fausto Gresini is that it is Aprilia’s money being flushed down the toilet rather than his own.

Recent History at COTA

pedrosa-marquezThe inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas (apparently Grand Prix of the Western World was already taken, presumably by F-1) in 2013 announced the arrival of Marc Marquez as a legitimate title contender. He and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa dominated the timesheets in practice, qualified 1-2 on Saturday, and jumped out to the early lead on Lap 1 of the race. Pedrosa led the rookie for 12 laps before Marquez went through effortlessly on Lap 13 and brought it home by a second and a half with Yamaha’s Lorenzo, pedaling as hard as possible, finishing third, six seconds in front of Cal Crutchlow, then on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. The win elevated young Marquez into a tie with Lorenzo for the 2013 championship lead, sent his confidence soaring, and paved the way for his first premier class title that fall.

Last year’s race was, as expected, another Repsol Honda clambake. Once again, the two Honda pilots finished in the top three during every free practice session. Once again they qualified 1-2. This time around, Marquez led from start to finish. Pedrosa trailed at the flag by some four seconds, with surprise third place finisher Andrea Dovizioso wrestling his Ducati Desmosedici to a miracle third place finish, albeit 17 seconds behind Pedrosa. This, you may recall, was the race in which Jorge Lorenzo comically jumped the start by 20 feet in a completely uncharacteristic loss of poise that, in combination with his DNF at Losail, brought his 2014 campaign crashing down around his ears.

Saluting Nicky Hayden

Sunday’s race will mark the 200th career start for Team Aspar’s Nicky Hayden, the sole American rider in MotoGP. At age 2015 Drive M7 Aspar .002 Test MotoGP Sepang 133 and clearly on the back nine of his career, Nicky still gets juiced for race days. With his wrist injury mostly healed, and a more competitive Honda RC213V-RS under him, he may yet have opportunities to finish in the top ten, but these will be few and far between.

One gets the sense that at some point Grand Prix racing becomes a way of life that riders, clearly past their prime, are either unwilling or unable to let go of until management comes along and thanks them for their years of service. Why else would Hayden, or anyone for that matter, elect to compete for 15th place in MotoGP when they could be fighting for podium spots in World Super Bike?

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Before delving into the weather, let me remind you that Marc Marquez is, after five races in the U.S., undefeated on American soil, with a win at Laguna Seca, two in Indianapolis and two here to his credit. With an 80% chance of rain all three days, this streak could be in jeopardy. While he is virtually unstoppable on dry tracks, his record in the wet, and especially flag-to-flag affairs (see Phillip Island 2014) is less impressive. Ducati bikes have enjoyed positive results on wet tracks in recent years; how the GP15 performs in the rain has yet to be seen.

The lights go out for the big bikes at 3 pm EDT with the broadcast carried on Fox Sports 1. We’ll have race results here later in the day.