Archive for the ‘italian grand prix’ Category

MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

Last time out in France, the racing gods smiled upon Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa while flipping off Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. The jam-packed top four took a beating, with Vinales now enjoying a 17-point lead over series #2 Pedrosa.  Rossi is hurt.  The Hondas are a pain to ride.  There’s lots on the line heading to Mugello and Round 6. 

[Before we start, I wanted to acknowledge, having met him several times, how much I respected Nicky Hayden as a person. His family must be shattered. Greatly respected in the paddock, I probably sold his racing skills short for years.  He touched the lives of countless people and will be missed by many more.  Kevin Duke’s tribute was just right.]

 “Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own. Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP™ – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.”  MotoGP press release 5/29/2017

Bollocks.  Mugello is a heavyweight brawl, staged in front of thousands of passionate, mostly Italian, fans of one rider/bike or other, in various stages of inebriation, celebrating speed, nationalism, camaraderie, and the unbridled joy that comes with winning what is, for them, the Super Bowl.  People thumping their chests, proclaiming, “The EU is great.  Whatever.  WE’RE ITALIAN!!!” 

The Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley is usually one of the most dramatic events of the MotoGP year. Home to Rossi and Ducati, Mugello is a MotoGP shrine; this is a week in which everyone’s Italian.  Unfortunately, it has arrived at a moment when Ducati Corse is having a rough time—five mechanical retirements at Jerez–and local hero Rossi has hurt himself in a training accident after crashing out of 20 certain points in Spain.

With three accomplished Aliens chasing him–something like a combined 175 years of racing experience–Vinales must take care of the knitting this weekend.  Memo to #25:  Riders coming to Mugello leading by 17 have left leading by 42.  Or trailing by eight.  This is one of the pivot points of the season; rookie mistakes are not tolerated.  Races like this are the reason Yamaha is giving you wheelbarrows full of euros.  Places like Mugello are where you earn money and reputation.  Keep your head down.

Recent History at Mugello

In 2014, Jorge Lorenzo, then Yamaha icon, despite having led for 21 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, getting pimped by 12/100ths, with Rossi third, at least finishing the race, if not winning it.  The win put Marquez six-for-six in 2014 while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, put both riders on the podium but was unable to take the win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53-point margin over Rossi, the season reduced to a race for second.

2015 was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what he had delivered in France two weeks earlier.  Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans.  Polesitter Andrea Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a long list of injuries.  Rossi was able to dismiss a healing Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium.  Marquez crashed out mid-race during his season of discontent.  The locals went home happy with two paisans and a Ducati on the podium.

Last year featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Ducati.

Tranche Time

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Miller,

Tranche 3:  Bautista, Iannone, Petrucci, Baz, Redding, Folger

Tranche 4:  A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Barbera, Lorenzo, (Rins)

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑↑, Folger↑, Dovizioso

Tranche 3:  Petrucci, Miller↓, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro↑, Iannone

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham↑, Smith↑

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

Generally, when folks argue about the relative merits of one team or one rider versus another, the argument ends with one of them bellowing, “SCOREBOARD, baby!”  In MotoGP, the bikes, anecdotally regarded as 20% of the package, allow the arbitrary and careless ranking of riders you see above without regard to the standings.  It may also reflect current trends different from those extant in Qatar or after Round 3.  Paging Jorge Lorenzo.  One last observation:  Danilo Petrucci is underperforming on the Ducati GP17.  He needs some serious rain.

Rossi’s Injury

Our crack research team has contacted Vale’s doctor and convinced him that Italy has no HIPPA regs to violate, in order to further convince him to provide us, complete strangers, with exclusive information on the rider’s current sitch.  As it turns out, his condition has been upgraded to “sore as hell.”  He has a list of internal injuries in which the word “kidneys” was included, which is never good.  But he is currently in the hot tub with a bevy team of qualified young nurses receiving intensive massage and should be somewhat recovered, if completely drained, as it were, come Friday.  MotoGP riders have great health insurance.  And high pain tolerance. Strong cores, too.

Look, they wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if he was bleeding internally.  The shame of it is that it comes at this time, when he desperately wants and needs to do well in front of his homeys.  The priests at his old country parish in Tivullia are praying for him.  This may turn out to be his last best chance to insert himself back into title contention this year.  He needs to cinch it up.

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

Aspar has re-upped with Ducati for 2018, suggesting there will be eight Desmosedici’s on the grid again next season.  With Dorna’s stated intent of having four bikes for each manufacturer, and Suzuki probably ready to field a satellite team, this is a surprising development.  There is also talk that Audi is interested in selling the Ducati business. The Aspar team is typically short of cash; perhaps the three newer OEMs were reluctant to sign up with a financially shaky operation like Martinez’s.  The 2018 deal could be adversely affected by a sale at the corporate level as well.

2015 Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent will be back on the Moto2™ grid at Mugello as he replaces injured Iker Lecuona at Garage Plus Interwetten while the Spaniard recovers from a broken collarbone.  This after a decent guest appearance in France in Moto3.  This after he walked out of his contract with Kiefer Racing in Moto2 earlier in the year.  And this after titling in Moto3 in 2016.  Guy’s getting passed around the MotoGP mosh pit.  One suspects he may have to serve a year’s perdition in Moto3 before finding a new full time ride in Moto2 for the following season.  Must still have plenty of sponsor money.  Memo to Danny:  Fix, or swallow, your problems–don’t walk away from them.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-term weekend weather forecast is for sunny and hot, conditions once favorable to the Hondas.  Since it’s hard to predict tomorrow’s weather, we’ll ignore Sunday’s for now, but rain is always possible.  As for results, it’s hard for me not to see both factory Yamahas and Marc Marquez on the podium.  Or one from the factory Ducati team if the weather holds.  Dani Pedrosa.  Cal Crutchlow. Jack Miller in the rain.  The mind reels.

Before some readers get wound up, let me acknowledge the likelihood that the Moto2 and Moto3 races will be breathtaking thrillers.  I’ll do what I can. The MotoGP race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S.  We will, as always, have results and analysis here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2016 Mugello Results

May 22, 2016

©  Bruce Allen

Lorenzo wins in Italy; Rossi blown away

For those of you whose loyalties lie elsewhere, let’s be clear:  Jorge Lorenzo deserved to win the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM today.  After a poor qualifying session on Saturday, he slingshotted his way into the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 1, withstood heated challenges from teammate Valentino Rossi and rival Marc Marquez, and crossed the finish line a blink of an eye in front of Marquez.  But heading into the second third of the 2016 season, storm clouds are building on his horizon.

Drama on Saturday

Ducati pilot Andrea Iannone, who had been a blur in practice all weekend, laid down his fastest lap midway through Q2 and goofed off thereafter, believing he had claimed pole.  He failed to account for #46 and his almost infallible sense of the moment.  Rossi scorched Mugello to secure the pole on his last flying lap, sending the crowd into paroxysms of joy.  Minutes later, teammate-in-waiting Maverick Vinales pushed his Suzuki to the very limit, crossing the line a mere 9/100ths of a second behind Rossi, dropping Iannone to third and Marquez to fourth, with an unhappy Jorge Lorenzo relegated to the five hole.  Aleix Espargaro managed sixth, producing a rock-hard first two rows featuring both Suzukis, two Yamahas, a single Honda and, somewhat surprisingly, Iannone’s lone Ducati.

The drama/collusion between Rossi and Vinales offers a useful glimpse into the future, as Vinales flirted with the all-time track record on a relatively inferior machine.  Remaining deferential to his soon-to-be teammate, his performance on Saturday served notice that Vale should dismiss any presumption of occupying the #1 seat on the team next year.  Maverick Vinales is, arguably, The Next Great MotoGP Rider.

Yamaha Blows Up on Sunday

I’m trying and failing to remember if I’ve ever seen a Yamaha four-stroke throw a rod in MotoGP.  Yet Jorge Lorenzo lost one in the warm-up practice on Sunday morning at the end of the front straight.  No harm done, other than putting a dent in his limited engine allocation for the year.  But when Valentino Rossi lost his engine on Lap 9 while in hot pursuit of Lorenzo, that was a different story.  What had been shaping up as a classic all day intra-team battle with title implications devolved instantly into Rossi’s second DNF of the season and a 37 points deficit to Lorenzo for the year.  Both incidents appeared to involve engine braking, perhaps pointing out a flaw in the seamless transmission Yamaha worked so hard to develop over the past few years.  Team press releases later this week will provide some clarity.

Fans Left Breathless at the Finish

The start of today’s race took the qualifying results from Saturday and dumped them into a VitaMix superblender.  Compare the starting grid with the standings after Lap 1:

Mugello Lap One

Rossi having left the building, Lorenzo was able to take a momentary breather until Marquez and his RC213V showed up on his rear tire.  Marquez remained there, apparently lining Lorenzo up, for 13 laps, with Lorenzo, the unmovable object, refusing to budge.  Twice Marquez tried to pass at the end of the front straight, both times running wide, allowing Lorenzo to retake the lead. The last lap was one for the ages, the riders trading paint and positions half a dozen times, with Marquez exiting the last turn with a 10 meter lead and minus his left elbow slider.  But Honda’s Achilles heel in 2016, crappy acceleration exiting the turns, once again bit Marquez, as Lorenzo slipped in behind him, pulled around 50 meters from the line, and won by a 100th of a second.

The record will show Lorenzo having led all 23 laps, apparently enjoying another of his patented cakewalks.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  He spent the first eight laps fighting off relentless pressure from Rossi; it was easy to envision the mutual disrespect, in conjunction with the primary MotoGP edict to beat your teammate, leading to disaster, with both riders in the gravel.  Suddenly, in contrast to the yellow smoke that had filled the air all day, there was an enormous cloud of white smoke billowing from Rossi’s pipes.  Some of the 99,000+ fans might have thought a new pope had been elected; the reality that their idol’s day was over sent a number of them heading for the exits, any reason for hanging around having gone up, as it were, in smoke.

Iannone won his second-half-of-the-race battle with Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium, which appeared to belong to Dovizioso until he made an uncharacteristic mistake on Lap 19, running hot and way wide, allowing both Iannone and Pedrosa through.  Having started 13th, having failed to advance through Q1, Dovi was probably happier today than he was yesterday.  Iannone undoubtedly enjoyed putting one in the eye of Ducati after losing his seat for next season.  With but a decent start he could have won the race today, as his pace after the third or fourth lap was dazzling.

Farther Down the Food Chain

Dani Pedrosa showed some pace during the last six or eight laps today, finishing fourth for the third round in a row, followed by Dovizioso.  Vinales ended his day in sixth place, his sensational qualifying performance long forgotten, while Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith enjoyed his best performance of the season, crossing the line in seventh.  The top ten was completed by Pramac tough guy Danilo Petrucci, Suzuki afterthought Aleix Espargaro and Michele Pirro on another Ducati wildcard.

For the record, LCR Honda egoist Cal Crutchlow doubled his point total for the season with a sparkling 11th place finish.  Shut my mouth.

The Big Picture

Lorenzo now leads the season by 10 points over Marquez, a source of confidence for the Mallorcan if not one of security.  Rossi, despite deserving better, finds himself 27 points behind Marquez and only 12 points ahead of Pedrosa, with Vinales another seven points back. A gaggle of riders sits in the 40’s—the Espargaro brothers, Hector Barbara and Iannone.  Eugene Laverty, the great Irish hope, closes out the top ten.  That Hector Barbera is the highest ranked Ducati pilot a third of the way through the season says something, though I’m not sure what.

A Question for Readers

Someone please enlighten me.  How is it that Honda, with a reputation for overly aggressive acceleration for years, comes into 2016 with a bike that accelerates so poorly as to cost young Marquez today’s race and several others already this year?  Most recently, Marquez blamed his crash at Le Mans on pushing too hard to compensate for the lack of power exiting the turns.  Put Marquez on the Yamaha and I would be happy to argue he would be undefeated this season.  Honda needs to thank their lucky stars they have Marquez; any other rider would be residing in Pedrosa’s neighborhood, with 60 or 70 points to his name.

About Those Storm Clouds on Lorenzo’s Horizon

Jorge Lorenzo is by no means a shoe-in for the 2016 title.  He has engine allocation concerns.  He has a number of circuits—Assen and The Sachsenring leap to mind—in his immediate future where he doesn’t normally do well.  He has a hungry and angry teammate to contend with.  Marquez is out-riding him on a slower bike which he suggested today in the post-race presser the engineers are getting figured out.

Vinales is juiced and will be a factor once he learns how to start races. Rossi was reported to have spent the damp FP1 doing practice starts, working on getting up to speed in a hurry without wheelies or burning up his clutch.  Vinales should take a lesson from his teammate.  This reminds me of the old joke in which a tourist with concert tickets, visiting New York City for the first time, accosts one of the locals. “Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, man, practice.”

Lorenzo ruins Italian clambake at Mugello

May 31, 2015

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

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDFor the third round in succession, Movistar Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead, switched on the autopilot on his YZR-M1, cranked up Kings of Leon on his MP3 player, and never broke a sweat in winning the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  What was suspected after Le Mans has now been confirmed at Mugello—Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat for the 2015 MotoGP championship.  The only way things could get any worse for Honda’s double defending world champion Marc Marquez would be if Lorenzo were to steal his girlfriend. 

Let’s face it.  Other than Ferrari’s periodic dominance in F-1 and the salad years of Agostini and Rossi, Italians haven’t had much to cheer about since the days of da Vinci and Michaelangelo.  The European Union has done little to dispel the rampant nationalism extant in most of the continent, and the motorsports rivalry between Italy and Spain has never been greater, with Spain having dominated MotoGP for the last five years.  The rejuvenation of Rossi and the resurgence of Ducati in 2015 have given hope to Italian racing fans, 91,000 of whom were in attendance today hoping for an Italian victory, whether by man or machine.  Were it not for Lorenzo, as strong as he’s ever been, they’d have fished their wish, as Andrea Iannone took second from pole on his Ducati GP15 while Valentino Rossi, the #1 athlete in the country, finished third on his Yamaha for his 10th podium in a row dating back to last year.

For Honda Racing Corporation and poster boy Marc Marquez it was another wretched weekend in a season of wretched weekends, the lone exception being Round 2 in Austin.  Saturday may have been the single worst day of Marquez’ premier class career, as he finished FP3 in 11th position, the meaningless FP4 in 5th, suffered the ignominy of consignment with the dregs to Q1, and failed to advance into Q2, resulting in his starting the race from 13th position, the only time in his MotoGP career he has failed to start from the first two rows.  But as the race started, he looked like the Marquez of 2013-14, climbing to 3rd place by Lap 3, looking loose and dangerous perched on Iannone’s pipes.

Iannone, Monty Python’s Black Knight of MotoGP, racing with a bad left shoulder and fractured right elbow, would marquez_crashbecome a brick wall around which Marquez was unable to navigate while Lorenzo was cruising off into the ether.  After 15 laps of trying, Marquez went after the Italian again in Turn 3 of Lap 18 where the front of his RC213V washed away, sending him into the gravel for his second DNF of the young year.

For HRC, Lap 18 would get worse.  Moments later, Rossi went through on the tough Dani Pedrosa, looking recovered from his arm pump surgery early in the season, and who had spent much of the day in fourth place.  Rossi, having started eighth and faded to 11th early in the day, outraced much of the field on his way to yet another podium.  Despite leading the 2015 championship, Rossi knows that he will ultimately fall to Lorenzo unless he can get his merda together in qualifying, something he has generally been unable to do since the advent of the two-15 minute QP sessions in 2013.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Andrea Dovizioso, who qualified 3rd on Saturday and spent a good part of Sunday running with the group challenging for second place, retired with a mechanical issue on Lap 14 described as “rear wheel chatter.”  The chatter may have been about Iannone challenging him for the #1 seat on the Ducati team; Dial A Nickname Joe does love himself some GP15.  Pedrosa finished fourth—bravo Dani—in front of up-and-coming Bradley Smith, who flogged his Tech 3 Yamaha from the 11 hole at the start to another credible 5th place finish, following the #1 rule in motorsports which is “Beat your teammate by half a second”, Pol Espargaro crossing the line sixth.

Suzuki girlsSteadily improving Maverick Vinales, on the #2 Suzuki Ecstar, finished seventh for his best result in MotoGP while teammate Aleix Espargaro, still struggling with injuries suffered at Jerez, had another “sorely” disappointing DNF.  Spots 8 through 10 were occupied by Ducati, with wildcard Michele Pirro driving a GP15 to eighth, Danilo Petrucci finishing ninth pending an inquiry from Race Direction concerning an incident on Lap 3, and Yonny Hernandez closing in tenth place.  Constructor-wise, Round 6 produced another top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, one Honda and one Suzuki.

In addition to Marquez, other high profile crashers today included Jack Miller, enduring his indentured servitude on the CWM LCR production Honda, aging Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda, Stefan Bradl, heading for oblivion on the Forward Racing Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow, who banged up a thumb in the morning warm-up and, like Marquez, chose the hard option front tire, which let him down on Lap 21 as he fought Smith for fifth place.

I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that part of Iannone’s success today, under extremely painful conditions, may have been due to the radically upgraded brolly girl assigned to keep him in the pre-race shade.  She, in turn, may have been to blame for Joe coming this close to jumping the start as the lights were going out.  Let’s just leave it at that.

The Big Picture

Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots a third of the way into the season, with Rossi still leading Lorenzo by a scant six points; those two warriors could easily trade places in Barcelona.  Tranche Two, The Ducati Strata, finds Dovizioso two points in front of teammate Iannone, Iannone having the momentum leaving Italy.  In fifth place sits the dejected Marquez, on the bubble.  Difficult to say at this point whether he will rally back into the top three or, instead, go all immature and find himself sulking with the Tech 3 and CWM LCR entries.  My prediction of his return to prominence this weekend looked good early, but it’s pretty clear that Honda will not win a title this year in MotoGP.  The two Suzukis and Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Octo Pramac Ducati close out the fight for top ten status.

Although Jorge Lorenzo is clearly one of the more popular riders in MotoGP, he doesn’t seem to inspire the rabid podium-mugello-2014fascination of fans the way Rossi and Marquez do.  Fortunately for you, the reader, I have discovered why this is.  When Lorenzo is dominant, as he has been for the last three trysts, the race becomes dull, at best a fight for second place.  When Rossi or Marquez is winning races, it’s almost always some kind of dramatic, come-from-behind, paint-trading, barely-under-control affair that sets fans’ blood boiling.  Watching Lorenzo win is like watching iron rust.  Watching Rossi tracking down some unfortunate frontrunner or Marquez barging his way into the lead brings on head-bobbing, body-twisting gesticulation, full of “oh nos” and “oh yesses”, punctuated by grunts, groans and shouts.  Put another way, watching Rossi and Marquez win is like having sex with a partner, while watching Lorenzo win is like being, um, home alone.  Fun, but not nearly as satisfying.

On to Barcelona!

Mugello Race Results

2015 Championship Standings Year to Date

Rossi and Lorenzo lead annual assault on Mugello

May 26, 2015

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

MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives.  Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year.  Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together.  Right now would be a good time to do so. 

Rossi & LorenzoValentino Rossi, surprisingly sitting in first place, observes that Marquez would be in the thick of it today were it not for his decision to go for the win in Argentina rather than settling for second place.  The resulting crash cost him 20 points that he would dearly love to have in his treasury, the price of youthful exuberance combined, perhaps, with a sense of entitlement.  Reverse the standings at the top—Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Rossi—and you’d have pretty much what I expected back in March.  Of course, it was I who, after Catalunya 2013, wrote Rossi off, suggesting he had already won his last MotoGP race.  When it comes to consuming racing news, you get what you pay for.

Recent History at Mugello

Going back to 2012, Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has had things pretty much his way here.  Having won rather easily in 2012 and 2013, he got involved in a cage match with Marquez last year that left most people breathless, the young champion eventually “pipping” the not-as-young former champion by 12/100ths at the flag after half a dozen laps of shoulder-to-shoulder combat.

In the 2012 affair, Lorenzo gave us one of the performances he has recently turned in at Jerez and Le Mans, leading from Turn 1, metronomic in his consistency, his pace untouchable.  Dani Pedrosa took second that year, with Andrea Dovizioso providing the home fans with their only sunshine, punking LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl at the line, back when Bradl was relevant.  Rossi, in his second and final year flogging the Ducati GP13, ended up an exhausted fifth, while countryman Dovizioso was celebrating his third consecutive podium that season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha.

2013 proved an eventful weekend at Mugello.  That was the year rookie Marquez, during practice, calmly stepped off his marquez_crashRC213V at roughly 150 mph seconds before plowing it into a concrete wall, setting a record for getting unseated at the fastest speed ever and living to tell about it.  At the start of the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Bautista was able to avoid an off-track beatdown only by virtue of the fact that the concussed Rossi was seeing double and couldn’t figure out which Spanish dumbass to whip.

Later in the race, Marquez crashed out of the lead unassisted, handing the win to Lorenzo, second place to Pedrosa, and third to Tech 3 ruffian Cal Crutchlow, who crashed so many times in practice his medical report ran to seven or eight pages.  The crowd went home disappointed, having only the pleasure of seeing Marquez with road rash on his leathers as consolation.

Last year, Lorenzo, despite having led for 21 of 23 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, with Rossi third, less than three seconds behind.  The win made Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking invincible, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, was unable to take the desperately-needed win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53 point margin over Rossi, a lead which was to prove insurmountable despite a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.

Honda Suddenly Lousy?  No.

Take one bad decision and a broken finger by Marc Marquez, add discernible improvement from both the Yamaha and Ducati camps, and suddenly everyone wants us to believe the RC213V is an un-rideable piece of crap.  Let’s not forget that Casey Stoner swung his right leg over it in 2011 and won a world championship, and that Marquez did the same thing in 2013 and 2014.  The naysayers overlook Stoner’s relative struggles on the Ducati between 2008 and 2010, and claim it is only Marquez’s shimmering brilliance that has made the orange, red and white bucket of bolts competitive over the last two years.

Bologna.

Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding have added fuel to this fire by asserting that the Honda is much harder to ride than they had anticipated.  This sounds like Redding making excuses for a slow transition to new equipment.  And, as readers of this column know by now, we have heard little other than complaints and excuses from Crutchlow ever since he arrived in MotoGP from World Superbike in 2011.  Anyone wishing to cite Stefan Bradl’s lack of improvement in three years on the Honda need only look at what he’s managed to accomplish on the Yamaha this year to dispel that thought.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Honda was a more advanced bike than the Yamaha, and a world ahead of the Ducati, for a number of years heading into 2014.  Advances by both factories have closed the gap significantly.  With all the Honda pilots (except Pedrosa) complaining about a lack of rear grip, it may be that some modifications are necessary; it does not mean HRC needs to go back to the drawing board.  Take away the crash in Argentina and the busted finger; Marquez would be battling Rossi for the 2015 title and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

All of this may reflect a decision from HRC that, with the standard ECU going into effect next season, there is less incentive to improve the bike than has existed up until now; add in the Michelin factor, which will change everything, and it may be that what we’re seeing is Honda engineers marshalling their efforts in the calm before the storm.  If you had asked any of the riders graduating to MotoGP in the last five years what their first choice of bike would have been, almost all of them would have chosen the Honda.

Two Quick Hitters and the Weather Forecast

Espargaro brothersOK, we get it—the Espargaro brothers are as close as, well, brothers.  This past week’s news, that each had surgery after Le Mans, suggests they may be taking this whole filial thing a little too far.  With only four points separating them for the season, the Espargaros make me regret having been an only child.

I’m constantly irritated by how race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt bang on and on about former world champion this and 250cc world champion that every weekend.  Not wishing to sound negative, but it’s difficult to ignore the hard times a number of former world champions are currently having in MotoGP, especially compared to the standings of the collection of “mutts” who haven’t won anything:

Nicky Hayden (MotoGP 2006)  16th      Andrea Iannone (0)  5thH

Hiro Aoyama  (250cc 2009)      19th     Bradley Smith (0)   7th

Alvaro Bautista (125cc 2006)   20th    Aleix Espargaro (0)  9th

Stefan Bradl   (Moto2 2011)      22nd    Danilo Petrucci (0)  11th

I won’t even mention Yonny Hernandez and Scott Redding.  Just sayin’.

With sensational weather forecast for the greater Mugello environs this weekend, the riders should be able to dial in LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Host LL Cool J poses in the press room during the GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live at Club Nokia on December 1, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)perfect race day settings.  One would think that Rossi, racing in front of his homeys, and Lorenzo, on a hot streak, at a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, will dominate the proceedings.  Personally, my imaginary money’s on Marquez.  And, in the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback.  The 2015 season has a long way to go.