Archive for the ‘Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix’ Category

MotoGP Sepang Results

October 29, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Valencia WILL Decide as Dovizioso Wins in Malaysia 

Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)

Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend

Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track

Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track

Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending

Dani Pedrosa

Valentino Rossi

Andrea Dovizioso

Johann Zarco once more, and, finally

Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya.

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After his first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday.  Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him.  (Though he would not win today’s race, he did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results.  The Ferrari F-1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world.  Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it.  The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been.  Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014.  He had won the first 10 races that year.  He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title.  He had been fast all weekend in practice.  Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again.  Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley—Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points—would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race—our fervent hope all season—it provides about as much drama as watching iron rust.

Preparing for Valencia

We have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season.  Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels.  The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season.  The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season.  Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

For the fourth time in five premier class seasons, Honda’s remarkable Marc Marquez stands on the cusp of a championship. His win in Australia last week left him with a short to-do list this week in Malaysia: 1. Try to finish no worse than second. 2. Try to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 3. If both #1 and #2 fail, lose to Dovizioso by seven points or less. Otherwise, he will have to return to Valencia in two weeks for some kind of decider. Probably the best thing for #93 would be to euthanize this title chase Sunday under the cover of darkness, many time zones removed from home, setting up a triumphal fait accompli return to Spain. We couldn’t disagree more. 

Recent History at Sepang

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. Though the title had already been settled, the grid was taking the competition seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to finish.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl somehow finished fourth, coming close yet again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Pedrosa, Rossi, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Rins, Folger, P Espargaro, Iannone, Baz, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Crutchlow, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi↓, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro↑

Tranche 3:   Petrucci↓, Rins, Iannone, Redding↑, Miller↑, Crutchlow↑, Lorenzo↓

Tranche 4:   Baz↓, Bautista↓, Smith↑, Abraham↑, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

I can tell from here that whatever problem Ducati experienced at Phillip Island translated into these rankings. All six riders who dropped a spot ride for Ducati. But Scott Redding and Karel Abraham each climbed a notch, again on Ducatis. I can’t think of any rider who belongs with Marquez in Tranche 1 at the moment. Sepang, where the title race will probably be decided, will be the last round fought in anger, and thus the last round for ranking the riders.

I welcome any and all readers to argue with my assertion that Marquez currently is in a class by himself. All too often we hear riders talking about “having a good rhythm,” which, watching carefully, one can understand. I recall Cal Crutchlow commenting that if you got out of shape in Turn 2 at COTA you would be screwed all the way through Turn 9. Marquez seems to have found his rhythm this year at Catalunya, since, other than the engine problem in England, he hasn’t been off the podium since and has racked up five wins in the process. Perhaps it takes four or five races to get fully acclimated to a new RC213V each year. At present, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the bike stops and Marquez starts, so closely are they intertwined.

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

My reflexive response to this question is, “Nobody.” That’s probably an overstatement.  Rossi will still be in the mix.  Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales should improve next season and, depending on the speed and handling of next year’s M1, may push Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso my have another career year with Ducati, but our confidence in his abilities this season has been shaken.

Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Jonas Folger will not become serious title threats, if ever, until they secure factory rides. Danilo Petrucci needs to learn how to be fast in dry conditions.  Jorge Lorenzo will, I’m pretty sure, simply serve out his sentence at Ducati and go looking for a better gig starting in 2019.  The young guns coming up from Moto2—Nakagami, Morbidelli, Luthi and Simeon—present no real threat in 2018, other than to the riders they may collect crashing out of their first few races.

One thing is certain. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and KTM are going to engage in a hellishly expensive silly season next year positioning themselves for 2019. There is a rumor going around that KTM has offered Marquez a blank check to defect after next season.

A final word about next season. Most MotoGP people I know are excited about the improvements visible in the Aprilia and KTM bikes, while Suzuki took awhile this season before starting to show renewed signs of life. All three figure to be stronger next season. Even so, it would take a miracle, in my opinion, for any of them to contend seriously for a championship before 2020. Conversation for another day.

Your Weekend Forecast

Before I go to weather.com to confirm, let me guess that conditions in central Malaysia will be brutally hot with a chance for torrential downpours at any given moment. Yes. Temps will approach 90° each day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms all weekend and, from the looks of it, the rest of the year. There will be some gruesome stuff growing inside those leather racing suits by Sunday evening.

As for who will do what, I’m lacking any real insight, as the last few rounds of the MotoGP season remind me of the last few games of the NBA season which, for non- playoff-bound teams, is generally garbage time.  I am virtually certain that Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. If it’s a wet race I expect to see a Ducati on the podium as well, perhaps Petrucci. The third spot on the podium is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with Rossi, the default choice for a podium every single week.

We will post results and analysis sometime Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast.  Enjoy the show.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

MotoGP 2016 Philip Island Results

October 23, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Cal Crutchlow wins again as Marquez dozes off 

Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided.  Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he seemed to lose focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Crutchlow.

Saturday

Due to what the locals call “a bit of weather” and visitors often refer to as “a bloody howling gale” practice on Friday was basically a windy washout, FP1 being a scramble and FP2 called off entirely.  Which meant that the revised practice schedule and times on Saturday would be crucial in getting through to Q2.  The solution would require the use of differential equations.

Whereas the weather on Friday had been impossible, by Saturday it had improved to awful.  Marc Marquez, homeboy Jackass Miller and the Espargaro brothers peopled the top of the timesheets in FP3.  Beer sales in Australia jumped.  FP4 featured more rain and a top five of #Merican Nicky Hayden, Marquez, big brother Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki, plucky Loris Baz and Miller the mudder.  Beer sales in the United States were unaffected.

After several computer runs, Race Direction concluded the following riders would have to pass through Q1 if they wished to participate in Q2:  For the first time since the current format was adopted, The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Bradley Smith, etc..

To make things worse, Lorenzo and Crutchlow took the top two spots in the session, leaving Vinales in 13th and Rossi in 15th and, joined by Smith, producing one of the strongest fifth rows in MotoGP history.  There would be some cutting up to do on Sunday.  Meanwhile, for the first time, Rossi failed to make it to Q2.  Timing, poor luck, karma, slowing synapses, whatever.

Q2 was run in drying conditions with rain expected to arrive mid-session.  Tire combinations ran the gamut.  The conventional wisdom was that pole would be decided in the first 10 minutes.  Interlopers included Repsol’s Hayden, Aprilia’s Bradl and Pramac striver Danilo Petrucci.

After a single lap on intermediates, Marquez, Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and Petrucci came back in to change tires.  Marquez changed over to slicks front and back.  As the skies darkened, Marquez went out and ran a series of fast laps, one of the only riders on slicks, ultimately capturing pole by 8/10ths of a second.  Moral:  With a trophy in your back pocket, you can afford to take a few extra risks.  And the rain never arrived.

He was joined on the front row by Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who pimped Jack Miller and brother Aleix on the last Q2 lap to jump from fifth to third.  Row 2 included Aleix, Jackass and Danilo Petrucci, the top Ducati qualifier.  For the record, Jorge Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha limped to an embarrassing 12th place on the grid, slow even on slicks on the final few laps.  Seems to be saving himself for Ducati, where he will have to re-learn how to ride fast in the rain and perhaps in general.

Nicky Hayden is in for Pedrosa this weekend.  Dude qualified seventh.  Ahead of guys named Dovizioso and Lorenzo and Vinales and Rossi.  With no time to learn his way around a bike that loves to throw you into the cheap seats.  (Had he podiumed, unlikely as it was, they could have made a movie out of it.  Paging Mark Neale.)

Kudos to Dorna for such beautiful helicopter images of the track and the ocean.  They call to mind a ground-level photo of #51 Sic on the gas, the air fractured around him, the ocean behind hin, head down, a week before Sepang 2011.

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix

A brilliant sun rose over the windswept beauty of the venue on Sunday, a visual spectacle, while on the track conditions were cold, raw, crisp, brisk, etc., and dangerous.  Getting heat into the tires, especially the fronts, was at the front of everyone’s mind.  Once the lights went out, Pol Espargaro took the holeshot from third into the early lead, but surrendered it to Marquez at Turn 4, from whence The Champ would eventually crash on Lap 10.  Crutchlow found himself sandwiched by the two Espargaros.

My notes on Lap 5 include “Here comes Rossi,” who, at that time, had worked his way from 15th to sixth.  The MotoGP version of trying to get to a center seat in a crowded theatre. “Excuse me…thank you…pardon…yes, thanks…sorry…many thanks…”

Crutchlow, now firmly ensconced in Tranche 2, appeared to put second place away by Lap 8 except for the pesky Rossi, who kept picking off riders—Pol Espargaro on Lap 7 to 5th place; Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati on Lap 8 into 4th; Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki on Lap 10 into 3rd. When Marquez went down, everyone received a promotion, Crutchlow into the lead.

During all of this, Rossi’s future teammate and Alien apprentice Maverick Vinales, also on a Suzuki, also starting from the southern end of the island in 13th place, was moving on up to join his teammate and Dovizioso as they sparred for third.  Though unable to attack Crutchlow, Rossi secured second place as the battle for third widened, and Dovizioso found himself sandwiched by Suzukis.

At the end of the day, Crutchlow, Rossi and Vinales stood on the podium.  Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro and an irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo, on his way to Tranche 3, trailed, with Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller completing the top 10.  Yes, Aleix crashed his Suzuki late in the day.  Yes, Scott Redding failed to make any real headway in his personal battle with teammate Petrucci for a factory GP in 2017, with Petrucci in the lead, contrary to what I wrote a week ago.  Yes, Bradley Smith came out of nowhere, after dawdling in the mid-teens most of the day.

And yes, Nicky Hayden crashed very late, courtesy of a nudge from an oblivious Jack Miller, so intent on securing his own lackluster place today that he would ruin Hayden’s likely last MotoGP appearance, at least in factory colors, ever.

Come on, man.  You’re racing for, like, 10th place in a season going nowhere, nothing really at stake, right next to a former world champion and MotoGP legend.  Give the guy a little space, cosmic or earthly; make up for it later.  Hayden has earned your respect.  They don’t call you Jackass for nothing I suppose.

The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang

Marquez is STILL the champion.  Rossi has now put some daylight between himself and teammate Lorenzo, carrying a 24-point lead for second place into Round 17.  Lorenzo, apparently loafing around these days, needs to start worrying about Maverick Vinales, who trails him by 11 points and vectoring upward.  Or maybe the Mallorcan is beyond worrying.

The injured Dani Pedrosa has fallen to fifth and is not expected to compete in Malaysia, opening the door for Crutchlow, who sits sixth after today’s win and could easily jump a spot next week.  Dovizioso trails the Brit by a mere four points and could have his own designs on fifth place.  Pol Espargaro appears to have eighth place to himself.  Andrea Iannone is expected back next week to defend his 12- point margin over Hector Barbera, who crashed out of both races in which he was allowed to ride The Maniac’s GP16, gaining no ground on the Italian whatsoever.  Mike Jones did a very credible job parachuting in for the Avintia Ducati.

From freezing gale to equatorial heat in three days, the flying circus heads off for Kuala Lumpur, where it’s brutally hot and rainy.  The track at Sepang has recently been re-modeled and re-paved to eliminate much of the standing water of the type that almost cost Marquez his career, his 2011 hydroplaning practice crash there overshadowed by the Simoncelli events the next day.  He would experience double vision for six months, his career in jeopardy.  One trusts he will be more circumspect this time around.

2016 Phillip Island Results

MotoGP 2016 Championship Standings after 16 Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Misano Results

September 11, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

First win for Dani Pedrosa since Sepang 2015

For the first time since 1949 when MotoGP invented itself, eight different riders have won a premier class race in a single season.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career, winless in 2016, busted out today on the shores of the sun-drenched Adriatic with a convincing win over Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.  For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation worked well enough to keep his margin at 43 points with five rounds to go.

Practice

The WCMS at Misano is one of those “technical” tracks where the bikes don’t peg the throttle in 6th very much.  Top speeds are “low.”  On Friday the Ducatis had trouble breaking the top six.  It’s a great track with something for every taste and budget but does not play well to the Ducati’s strengths.  On Friday, it looked like it might be prime hunting grounds for Maverick Vinales, who gets around those tight areas with ease on his GSX-RR, if it weren’t too hot at race time. (BTW they’re going to love Vinales in Yamahaland.)

Lorenzo looked strong in FP1.  Rossi took FP1 because he felt like it—home race and all–and Marquez was keeping his powder dry. Pol Espargaro had a great Friday. Iannone took himself out of Round 13 at least with a formidable high-side in FP1 and a resulting cracked vertebra, his place on the factory-issue bike being taken by the very capable Michele Pirro.  There was a Pedrosa sighting during FP2.  By Q2 time it was hot but not insanely, Sepang-style hot. During the Sunday morning warm-up, it was Marquez, Rossi, Pirro and Dovizioso, team Ducati having apparently fixed a few things overnight:

FP1:    Rossi     PEspargaro      Vinales

FP2:   PEspargaro  Pedrosa    Dovizioso

FP3:   Marquez      Lorenzo       Vinales

FP4:        No               One             Cares

Q2:    Lorenzo       Rossi           Vinales        Marquez

 

Marquez, Pirro and Dovizioso made up the second row, with Crashlow qualifying 7th and Pedrosa 8th.

Eight for Eight

My notes make no mention of Pedrosa until Lap 5 when he went through on Maverick Vinales’ Suzuki into 5th place.  The factory Yamahas dominated early, with Lorenzo taking the holeshot into the early lead, only to give it up to Rossi on Lap 2.  Misano, a sea of yellow, is the only circuit on the calendar that offers a home court advantage to a rider—Rossi—which is palpable and can affect the outcome of the race.  For 20 laps today it appeared the homeboy would win.  But Pedrosa, having qualified 8th, his struggle continuing, took our advice today, said “to hell with it,” put his head down, and won by 2.8 seconds over a disappointed Rossi, with Lorenzo ending the day in third, equally disgusted at having been unable to get away early.

Pedrosa, looking like the Alien of old, went through on teammate Marc Marquez in Turn 14 of Lap 14, leaving two Yamahas and half a race between him and the win.  He tracked down Lorenzo in Turn 14 of Lap 17.  Finally, he took down Rossi in Turn 4 of Lap 22, not once showing the Italian any daylight between there and the flag.  The podium photo could have been straight out of 2009 when the same three Aliens dominated the sport.  Back in the dark CRT days, could anyone foresee the day when eight different riders would claim a win in a single season?  In eight consecutive races?  Andrea Dovizioso and Scott Redding need to step up.

Dani Pedrosa accomplished his entire To Do list today:  Win the race.  Beat Marquez.  And keep Lorenzo and Rossi from gaining ground on his teammate.  Check, check and check.

In Defense of Crutchlow Bashers and Lovers

When we divide the season into two halves, we discover the first half winners:

Marquez      170

Lorenzo       122

Rossi           111

Pedrosa         96

Vinales          83

PEspargaro    72

Barbera          65

Iannone         63

Dovizioso       59

Crutchlow      40

First five rounds of the second half:

Rossi            77

Crutchlow    73

Marquez      71

Vinales        57

Dovizioso     58

Lorenzo       41

Despite his eighth place finish today, which was lowered to ninth over a rules infraction, Crutchlow could win the second half of the season.  He’s done well during the first half of the second half.  Which, in turn, suggests he could win an entire season, simply by winning both halves.  Of both halves.  Those of you who have been bugging me about under-tranching him must acknowledge that he left Assen in 14th place.  We know at least some of it wasn’t his fault—mechanicals.  But now having been on a hot streak, suddenly he’s an Alien?  No.

Today, with five rounds left, Cal Crutchlow sits in 8th place, 52 points outside the top four, and 130 behind Marquez.  It’s in Honda’s interest to give him the best equipment they’ve got, factory team or not.  He has recovered from his disastrous start to the season.  He is legitimately fast and skilled.  He is battling Marquez and was, until today, dusting Pedrosa.  He hasn’t crashed since Assen; some would say he’s overdue.  We don’t call him Crashlow for nothing.  So why are we spending so much time talking about him?

If he wins the second half he’s an Alien.  And I’m a monkey’s uncle.  Dude is 30 going on 31.  At a minimum, he needs to start acting like he’s been here before.  He can afford to be gracious after good performances.  Save funny for the Tuesday interviews.  Now, if both of you Brits reading this would kindly step off my neck…

Elsewhere on Sunday

Brad Binder won the Moto3 race, applying a virtual death grip on the 2016 title.  I think some people are unexcited by this prospect due to a lingering negative hangover around historic South African racial practices, combined with the sheer size of his lead.  Crushing your opponents is frowned upon in all three MotoGP divisions as it takes the edge off the competition.  No question the fast South African is moving on up, but I suspect he has fewer fans in his fan club than, say, Valentino Rossi.

Rossi’s VR46 Racing seems to have identified and developed an entire posse of fast young Italian riders who are punching above their weight in Moto2 and Moto3.  The sport seems to be becoming less Spanish and more Italian.  For American fans, this change can be characterized as trivia.  For Italian fans, it’s another compelling reason to love #46, as he and his team appear to be elevating the profile of motorcycle racing across the country.  Lorenzo Baldassarri’s first grand prix win today in Moto2 supports this idea.

The Big Picture

With five rounds left—Aragon, the Pacific swing and Valencia—Marquez leads the series by 43 over Rossi and 61 over Lorenzo.  Pedrosa seized 4th place back from Vinales today.  Dovizioso leads Iannone by three points, while Crutchlow leads Pol Espargaro by four.  Hector Barbera rounds out the top ten.  Marquez increases his working margin today while struggling with grip and corner acceleration.  It’s hard to see how he can avoid capturing the 2016 title.  On, however, to the dusty plains of Aragon, the rabbit warren at Motegi, the cold, cutting winds of Phillip Island, the brain-melting heat of Sepang and, one hopes, the tension of the final race of the year in November at Valencia.  We hope there is a compelling reason to race at Round 18.  Whether there is or isn’t likely depends mostly upon Marquez.  And his suddenly tough little wingman.

MotoGP 2015 Sepang Results

October 25, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Marquez clash; title up for grabs in Valencia

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race. Not for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. Today will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his emotions to get the better of him, such that putting Marc Marquez in the weeds and out of the race became a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.

rossi-marquez_gold_and_gooseA one-sided war of words had erupted between Rossi and Marquez during Thursday’s press conference, when Rossi, unprompted, went off on Marquez for pretty much everything he could think of outside of halitosis. While a number of the top riders have criticized Marquez for his occasionally reckless riding style, up until this week no one had made things personal, which Rossi did. Slinging a bunch of defamatory accusations at a fellow rider is not against the rules, but it showed surprisingly bad form on Rossi’s part. Many of us thought it was purposefully overstated, Rossi playing mind games with Marquez, snubbing his teammate and championship rival Lorenzo, and/or putting the race stewards on alert for any misbehavior on Marquez’ part that could work to Lorenzo’s advantage.

Looking back, Rossi’s comments now appear genuine and perhaps even understated. What had gotten personal in the pressroom became personal on track today, with ramifications both immediate and forthcoming. The only good news resulting from today’s antics is that the season finale in Valencia has moved up the intensity chart, from “relevant” to “riveting” to, now, “epic.”

Business as Usual at the Start

Thanks to a fast final lap in qualifying on Saturday, Rossi climbed up to the front row of the grid, pushing Lorenzo back to fourth, with the thoroughly revived Dani Pedrosa sitting on pole after the fastest lap in Sepang history on a motorcycle and the ever-present Marquez sitting second. When the lights went out, Pedrosa took the hole shot and led heading into the first turn, trailed by Marquez and Rossi, Lorenzo having been swamped at the start. No worries. Midway through the lap, Lorenzo sliced past both factory Ducatis into fourth place, setting up an Alien encounter for the ages.

On Lap 2, Lorenzo went through on Rossi into third place while factory Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone was experiencing a mechanical failure that would end his day. In Turn 4 of Lap 3, Marquez (intentionally?) ran wide, allowing Lorenzo through, at which point Pedrosa and Lorenzo got away from their teammates and the drama that would follow. It appeared that Lorenzo, staying out of the fray in the media, was simply pushing hard to put some track between himself and Rossi. At this point we can’t know whether Marquez allowed this to occur or not. Matt Brit, the color guy on the announcing team, did ask, “How often do we see Marc Marquez going backwards in the standings?”

Four Unforgettable Laps

Lap 4 started with Rossi going through cleanly on Marquez, at which point it seems Marquez must have changed the setting on his dashboard from, like, “3” to “Get that Italian bastard.” Lap 5 was simply ridiculous, as the two went through on each other perhaps six or eight times, seeming to get more aggressive each time. The action continued on Lap 6 as Rossi, having passed Marquez once again, made a hurry-up signal with his left hand that I read as, “Come on, stronzo, you want some more of this?” Marquez, unafraid with his dad and brother in the garage, responded in the affirmative, setting up the events of Lap 7.

In a vivid example of the notion that reality is subjective, people will have wildly differing opinions on what actually occurred midway through Lap 7. Rossi, in the lead, appeared to drift wide in a fast right-hander, running slower than expected. As Marquez approached on his left, the Italian looked to his left once, then again, then appeared to slow down even more while veering farther left off the racing line. Marquez, expecting Rossi to accelerate, found himself with a Yamaha M1 closing in from his right and the curb approaching from his left. The two made contact, Marquez’ right front with Rossi’s left rear, causing Marquez to collapse the front and end up in the gravel. Rossi, having disposed of his new nemesis, went on to finish third; the last 13 laps were uneventful. As in, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

FIM Rule Changes and Race Direction

FIM_LogoImmediately after the collision, it was announced that Race Direction would be reviewing the incident. After the race, it was announced that Rossi had been assessed three penalty points for intentionally causing contact with another rider, similar to the penalty Hector Barbera had received in the morning for carelessly putting Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro in the gravel during the warm-up practice. The automatic appeal from Rossi’s people was unanimously declined.

Please bear with me while I go David Emmett for a minute. The three points, by themselves, would not have resulted in any kind of sanction for Rossi either today or at Valencia in two weeks. However, Rossi had received a penalty point at Misano earlier in the year for slow riding in the racing line during practice. It is this seemingly innocuous fourth point that is going to cause Rossi some major heartburn at the finale. FIM rules state that once a rider reaches four penalty points in a calendar year, he must start the next race from the last position on the grid.

Thus, the season finale finds the two top riders separated by a mere seven points, with the leader starting from the ninth row, while the challenger, Lorenzo, is likely to start from the first. I remember watching Marquez win a Moto2 race at Valencia starting from the back of the grid in 2012, and thought it was one of his most amazing feats. It is simply inconceivable that a rider, even a Valentino Rossi, can pull something like that off in the premier class. The question, then, becomes how far in front of Rossi Lorenzo can finish, assuming both finish the race. The last time I saw one of the Aliens start from the back row—Pedrosa, after an issue with a jammed tire warmer several years ago—he crashed out on Lap 1 grinding his teeth to dust trying to get back up front. Before moving on, let me remind you that Lorenzo holds the tiebreaker due to his having won more races this season than Rossi. Rossi’s seven point lead is actually six.

A Shocking Loss of Perspective

Today should have been a celebratory day for Valentino Rossi, as he became the all-time leader in grand prix racing starts with his 329th of a scintillating career. Today could have easily set up a spaghetti Western finish in Valencia, with the two rivals actually or effectively tied, facing one another, guns holstered and safeties off, at high noon in the middle of the dusty street. Instead, Rossi, the consummate veteran, the professional’s professional, allowed Marquez to get under his skin sufficiently to, in all likelihood, cost him a world championship.

Thus far this season, Rossi and Marquez have gotten physical three times. The first, in Argentina, left Marquez down and out, the first indication we received that his third premier class title might not be automatic. The second, in Assen, resulted in Rossi cutting the corner while Marquez ran wildly wide, giving Rossi his first win since Rio Hondo, the irony steadily building. Today’s clash left Marquez once again in the gravel as Rossi rode merrily on. The merriment, however, was short-lived.

Nothing gets sports fans going like a good blood feud, and we’ve got one now between two of the best ever, one at the tail end of his career, the other just beginning his own. Normally, it would be the younger combatant losing his cool and learning an important life lesson. Today, it was the grizzled veteran receiving a vivid reminder that one needs to keep his emotions off the track, that simply being annoying is not a violation of the rules, but administering an etiquette lesson at 100 mph is.

Looking forward to joining you all in Valencia in two weeks.

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01