Archive for the ‘marc marquez’ Category

MotoGP: No Jocking Required

March 5, 2016

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageI’ve just discovered something I, as a would be writer, loathe.  Note to self:  Never use this technique unless it pertains to, say, the last race of the season, 5 points separating teammates and rivals, Marquez in the mix, in which case it may be permissible to jock the sport while you’re reporting on it.  Otherwise, DO NOT PROMOTE MOTOGP WHILE YOU’RE IN REPORTER MODE.

So I’m reading this nice article—pre-season preview—when it finishes with a jee-whiz-MotoGP-is-SUPERBAD or something equally self-serving; starved, as the writer visibly is, for eyeballs.

So, yes, I think it’s a shame more Americans don’t watch MotoGP and yes, I encourage australia-testmaverick-vinales25people I know and people in the universe to read about it.  But when I’m on deadline, getting paid to think hard about the sport, I’m not taking time out to ponder how I love Michelin tires on my ride.  It’s bad form, especially for someone like me who doesn’t ride at all.  Of course, if I ever found a sponsor willing to buy me a disclaimer, no telling what might happen.  None of the OEMs that MO deals with want to sully their reputations by sponsoring the likes of me, and who can blame them?

I feel no need to stroke Dorna, as they seem to derive pleasure from making the process of credentialing excessive.  One with years writing about this stuff should not have to buy tickets from a scalper in Jerez to report on the GP there, the only halfway serious American journalist bothering to make the trip, on his own dime, and they tell me they can’t find me even the usual lousy credential.  Ended up having way more fun in the crowd anyway.

FIM_LogoWhat my readers expect from me is an objective accounting of events up to and including the race, delivered with as many laughs as I can haul out of th
e closet.  They expect me to call a spade a spade, especially when it involves controversy between riders.  The only rider whose picture sits on my wall is Lorenzo, from Indianapolis in 2010, the year he won his first title.  Under the heading “Saving Grace”, the feed from Dorna is superb, and the very British commentary is helpful.  For those of you condemned to TV—now pay TV in the US—with or without commercial breaks, your coverage sucks.  With the Euro down the drain, it’s a cheap time to buy a video pass and stream the race at your leisure.

IannoneSo, we will call the 2016 season the way we see it.  At this juncture, it looks like Vinales is going to be a top four guy, and even Redding, taking to the Duc like a duc to water, is sniffing around the top of the timesheets.  Pedrosa looks miserable, Marquez desperate to stay on the bike with any pace at all, and Rossi sounding unconvincingly like all the changes work in his favor.  Lorenzo, meanwhile, has that look in his eye.  As he learned in 2011 and 2013, however, the look in the eye thing doesn’t necessarily get you a repeat, a threepeat or a fourpeat.

Jorge looks ready to defend his title actively and vigorously.

Everyone is hoping the rest of the grid fights harder for 10th place, with good fights going on all over the track.  If the elapsed time between the finish of the first and last bikes of last year, or top ten bikes of last year, versus this year show the grid tightening up, that’s what Dorna’s after, and that’s what the satellite teams are pushing for.  Whether anyone but the top four or five riders ever finds their way to the podium is another matter.  The world longs to see some new faces at the press conference.

rossi-marquez_gold_and_goose

Let us pray against parades and for flag-to-flag contests and against a championship that gets away from itself in the first eight weeks, with someone emerging at the front by 100 points.  Otherwise, there will always be things to write about.  We will miss Nicky Hayden especially, as he was always good for a laugh.  We pray that Bautista and Bradl don’t end up racing each other for last place each week.  We pray that things end well between Yamaha and 46, and Honda and 26, when the time comes.  And we look forward to meeting the next generation of Aliens, the guys who will take your dollar in a game of reflexes, the guys who can dunk at 5’7”, the guys who can execute a bicycle kick on the soccer field.  And the guys who will join Lorenzo and Marquez in the championship battles leading into the 2020’s.

No jocking required.

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MotoGP 2015 Valencia Results

November 8, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Jorge Lorenzo seizes win, snatches 2015 title from Rossi

The record books will show that Jorge Lorenzo’s win today, together with Valentino Rossi’s 4th place finish, gave the 2015 championship to Lorenzo by five points. There will be documentation attesting to the fact that Valentino Rossi passed 20 riders in the first 10 laps, ultimately making it up to 4th place on the grid, at which point he was spent.

LorenzoCaptureThere will be no explanation, visual or otherwise, why either of the Repsol Hondas didn’t give Lorenzo a serious go on the last two laps; the term “team orders” has ceased to exist. The three points given Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang were, in the end, decisive.

The bells are not ringing in Tavullia tonight.

Setting the Stage

Jorge Lorenzo laid down “the best lap of my life,” in his words, on Saturday to capture pole in a race where getting away at the front would solve a lot of problems. Joined on the front row by Repsol Honda troublemakers Marc Marquez and the suddenly-hot Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo earned the best possible track to the title on Saturday.

Everyone know Rossi would be starting from the back row. Everyone had done the math about where Rossi would arrive when. Lorenzo knew, as we all knew, that winning the race meant Rossi’s eventual placement was less of a concern; anything outside of second would put the Italian in 2nd place for the season.

pedrosa-marquezThus, on a Honda-friendly track, in front of a sellout crowd and actual millions watching on TV around the world, Jorge Lorenzo exerted his will upon the field and his top competitors to win in Valencia. In a must-win situation he showed us his mental toughness and again brings into question why he bothered to get involved in the Rossi/Marquez tiff. Had he floated above the controversy, his title would shine a lot brighter than it does. He reminds me of my wife’s strong suggestion that I never resist an opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

On the Track…

…The Usual Suspects took their places, Lorenzo followed closely by Marquez, Pedrosa trailing and, eventually, Rossi occupying fourth, unable to do anything about the action so far in front of him. For Rossi to claim the title, he needed both Marquez and Pedrosa to treat Lorenzo rudely, going through to put the Mallorcan in third place.

Amazingly, Lorenzo led Marquez and Pedrosa at the end of Lap 1 and at the end of Lap 30, without having to withstand a serious challenge of any import along the way. This oddity, which also resulted in an all-Spanish podium, is a little fishy. The casual observer, if the top three wore the same livery, might deduce that #93 and #26 were protecting the back of #99. The world will never know.

The worst part of all of this, as we know, is that the specific sanction imposed upon Rossi by Race Direction after Sepang had a direct bearing on the outcome of the season. What if Race Direction had, in its wisdom, assessed Rossi a two point penalty, slapping him on the wrist but allowing him to qualify? Is it that hard to see him finishing second from a second row start on a day the factory Hondas were not getting froggy?

And with triple world champion Lorenzo in effect criticizing the penalty as too lenient, is there any reason to suppose the team won’t be building a wall down the middle of the garage again in 2016, the way it was in 2009? No warm and fuzzies here.

Elsewhere on the Grid

bradley_smithPol Espargaro lashed his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to the line three seconds in front of teammate Bradley Smith to capture fifth place for the day, Smith just showing Andrea Dovizioso and his Desmosedici the shade. Aleix Espargaro brought his factory Suzuki across the line in eighth, with Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci bringing the LCR Honda and the Pramac Ducati, respectively, to the flag filling out the top ten.

Farther down the food chain, Maverick Vinales, Michele Pirro and Yonny Hernandez ended their year in the points. Vinales will continue with Suzuki in 2016, Pirro will continue to test for Ducati, and Hernandez moves to Aspar team but will remain on the junior class Ducati, teaming up with Eugene Laverty who stays with Aspar. Today, in his last MotoGP start, American Nicky Hayden finished 17th and out of the money, but he finished, as has been declared a MotoGP Legend, with three career wins and a championship to show for his body of work in the premier class. I hope he can find a competitive team and win a title in WSBK, one of the genuine nice guys in the industry.

Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl finished 14th and 18th today, and will begin practicing on the new Aprilia MotoGP bike on Tuesday in Jerez. Brit Scott Redding ended his generally fruitless association with Marc VDS Honda and will be suiting up for Pramac Ducati alongside Petrucci. (Scott, wouldn’t it have been easier just to lose 15 pounds?) Marc VDS will, in 2016, be bringing Tito Rabat up from Moto2 to ride alongside Jack Miller. Loris Baz will join top open class rider Hector Barbera at Avintia Ducati.

The top factory and satellite teams are standing pat, meaning some riders will not have seats for next season. This is life in the slow lane of MotoGP.

The Final Big Picture of 2015

Lorenzo edges Rossi for the title, with Marquez third and Pedrosa fourth; the Aliens remain unchallenged. Andrea Iannone outpoints Brit Bradley Smith by seven to claim fifth, with Smith the top satellite rider in sixth. Dovizioso slips to seventh place for the year, ahead of Brit Crutchlow in eighth. And Pol Espargaro pips Danilo Petrucci by a single point in the race for ninth place. The two Suzukis finish 11th and 12th, Espargaro outpointing his rookie teammate by eight.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

So MotoGP now has four respectable, competitive manufacturers, two of which have Alien class riders. The rule and tire changes for 2016 will shuffle the deck to a degree, but should not change the order of Aliens. Several junior class riders—Alex Rins and Miguel Oliveira among them—are soon going to be working in the premier class, along with some talented young Italian riders.

The Marquez-Rossi flap this season has exposed some weakness in the relationship between teams and sponsors, with some sponsors seizing upon the opportunity to back out of agreements going forward. Repsol is having a terrible year, courtesy of cheap crude oil prices, and was offended by the event, as was Honda, as was Movistar, as was Yamaha. There is no reason to expect that these types of incidents won’t continue to occur in the coming years.

Indianapolis is gone from the calendar, replaced by Austria, and the calendar is lengthened by a week. Testing this week at Jerez marks the beginning of next season, new bums on new seats. New tires. New electronics.

Goodbye to 2015

Each year, we try to find a quote that summarizes the season we’ve just seen. Without even doing the research, I recalled a statement from a movie several years ago that I believe sums up 2015 for Jorge Lorenzo. Heading into the season, there was faint hope that he would be able to compete with Marquez. As Marquez faltered, Rossi rallied, and Lorenzo was in a season-long dogfight.

There were plenty of points in the season where Lorenzo could have given up. In response to one, he went on a four race win streak. He kept it close until the very last week of the season, and had enough left to seize the day when the opportunity presented itself. He kept the faith.

It could have been Jorge Lorenzo that the young proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was speaking about when he observed,

“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out,
it is not yet the end.”

We look forward to bringing you MotoGP again next season.

MotoGP 2015 Motegi Preview

October 6, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Round 15: The Bruise Brothers Square off in Japan

mothra-vs-Godzilla - CopyThe MotoGP website is somewhat predictably promoting this week’s tilt between Movistar Yamaha tough guys Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as “The Clash of the Titans.” Which, to an on-the-street local racing fan here, would naturally bring to mind Godzilla. If, in fact, the Motul Grand Prix of Japan gives us a replay of Mothra vs Godzilla, I assume the indomitable lizard triumphs, suggesting that Rossi will play the role of Mothra. It is easy to envision Lorenzo on the top step this weekend, surrounded by Honda pilots, Rossi’s margin at the top of the 2015 heap vanishing in the haze.

This is the way racing is supposed to be. It’s a relationship thing, really. Rossi and Lorenzo have known each other as friends and rivals for a decade. Together, they’ve already given their present employer Yamaha the 2015 Manufacturer’s championship. They have a bazillion world championships between them, and Rossi’s current 14 points advantage. Lorenzo’s, um, demeanor when he came up as a rookie in 2008 was such that they built a wall down the middle of the garage and had to be kept separated. Since then, each has mellowed, Lorenzo has matured, and Rossi, somehow, remains humble, irrepressible and fast. Beating one another is one of their great pleasures in life.

It doesn’t get much better than this. If you’re a Honda fan, you can still have a good time. You’ll just have to wait for Rossi & Lorenzonext year to have a rider in contention for a world championship. This is The Year of the Yamaha.

Recent History at Motegi

2012. Heading into the race Yamaha Chico de Oro Jorge Lorenzo led Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa by 33 points, with Stoner in third recovering from the ankle he trashed in Indianapolis. That day, Pedrosa beats Lorenzo and Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista (?) comfortably in as empty a win as you’ll ever see. During the race, Stoner has issues, as does Rossi, plodding on his Ducati. Spies crashes off the factory Yamaha early, Crutchlow off his Tech 3 Yamaha late. Pedrosa, with all the momentum, leaves Japan trailing the rock-hard Mallorcan by 28 points with two rounds left, the fat lady singing in the background.

The 2013 race was summarized elegantly by this publication, as follows:

Sick of all the attention the racing gods were getting in the run-up to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, the weather gods put on a show of their own. They sent Typhoon Lekima barreling toward the island on Thursday, summoned a 7.1 earthquake on Friday night, and topped it all off with Typhoon Francisco on Saturday, making a shambles of the weekend practice schedule. Undeterred by the weather, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo ran a perfect race on Sunday, winning against all odds, and setting up a meaningful season finale against Marquez in Valenciana. Take THAT, weather gods!

Last year it was All Aliens, All the Time as Lorenzo led a pack of highly-paid pursuers to the finish line, with Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa all following on their factory machines, the time between 1st and 4th a mere 3.1 seconds. Though Diviozioso took the pole, the four Aliens were grouped from the 2 to 5 holes. Marquez, leading the series, conceded first place to Lorenzo and clinched the title. The race featured contact between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which arguably cost the Catalan the race. The Samurai ceremony afterwards was cool if somewhat ironic, in that a number of fans might have been offended while most western observers were clearly stoked.Samurai celebration

Comings and Goings

The team lineups are beginning to shape up for 2016, the year of the “spec” ECU and Michelins. The four top factory teams will remain the same. A supposedly revived Gresini Aprilia team will feature MotoGP underachievers Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl. Brit Sam Lowes reportedly has a contract with Aprilia for 2017-18, meaning one of the two vets will have to go. My take on this is that Fausto has barely tolerated Bautista all these years since Simoncelli, and that Bradl hadn’t had enough time to get under his skin yet but surely will. Big changes underway for the Gresini team this offseason.

The Monster Tech 3 team is to stand pat with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as expectations there continue to rise. Pramac Ducati gives Yonny Hernandez’s seat to Scott Redding, who needs all the grunt the Desmosedici can muster, to team with the ascendant Danilo Petrucci. (I’m not sold on Redding in the premier class yet, but am totally sold on Gigi Dall’Igna.) LCR Honda continues with the disappointing Cal Crutchlow, and Marc VDS signs Tito Rabat to a factory Honda, coming up from Moto2, to take Redding’s seat. The Most Blessed Jack Miller, the Anointed One, has a full ride with factory Honda and will land either on LCR or VDS.

Team Aspar, seriously negotiating a change from Honda to Ducati equipment for 2016, has signed Hernandez. Their second seat appears up for grabs, with incumbent Eugene Laverty enjoying no advantage going in. Deposed incumbent Nicky Hayden appears surely to be headed to World Super Bike, where he can expect to contend for titles again.

Avintia Racing stays with Ducati, Hector Barbera and the recently-signed Loris Baz aboard. The French Baz appears to have a surprisingly bright future at 6’3”, making the jet setters look like teenagers while whipping his cobbled-up Yamaha toward the top of the heap for open class riders.

Farther down the food chain, two of the remaining three teams looks to be out of business next season. Most likely to continue with Alex de Angelis is brave little Ioda Racing, hoping to field a two man satellite Aprilia team, rider #2 as yet un-named. Forward Racing seems doomed, and Karel Abraham’s future with his dad’s Cardion AB team is in doubt as he seems to have permanent damage from a foot injury he suffered last season. Dude needs to retire.

All of which suggests that KTM, upon their entry to the grid in 2017, may bump a team out of the chase, in addition to skimming a couple of up-and-coming riders, perhaps on their way up from Moto2. The chase is intended to be more competitive due to the standard ECU, which writers elsewhere have described as something of a target-rich environment for tampering behaviors similar to those admitted to recently by Volkswagen. Regardless, MotoGP continues, at its core, to be rather biblical, as you will always have the poor with you, the “privateer” teams that struggle every season but can’t pull themselves away easily. Those of you who have stood or rode on the tarmac understand the juice that drives these behaviors. I should be nicer to these guys.

The Thing is…

Everybody tells me the tires are everything. Whomever adjusts to the new Michelins most quickly will take the lead in the championship next year. It is probably going to be the worst year in MotoGP history to bet on the outcome. Though it could easily last only for a season, or even part of a season, there could easily be a shakeup in the Aliens lineup come 2016, the older riders becoming most vulnerable. Suppose Rossi decides to go out on top. Suppose Yamaha begins flirting with Marquez.

It promises, at the least, to be interesting.

Your Weekend Forecast…

…couldn’t be worse for most teams. Sunny on Friday and Saturday with a 90% chance of rain on Sunday. I was going to suggest people “plan to listen to the Spanish national anthem after the race, not the Italian.” But if it is a wet race, all bets are off on the outcome, with Rossi clearly holding the upper hand. Once again the weather gods appear poised to influence the standings.

Mothra may be feeling pretty good about the rematch.

2015 MotoGP Indianapolis Results

August 9, 2015

By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins Battle of Indy; Yamaha still winning the war

What is likely to be the final Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix today produced two memorable shootouts. Up front, defending Honda world champion Marc Marquez dogged Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo for 24 laps before stealing his lunch money at Turn 1 of Lap 25 and holding the Mallorcan off for the final three laps. The undercard featured Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa in an equally riveting daylong battle for third place. Rossi prevailed after half a dozen lead changes over the last 10 laps, keeping his string of 2015 podia intact and his lead over teammate Lorenzo at nine points.

Alex RinsComing on the heels of a breathtaking Moto2 tilt, with a front group of five riders, eventually won by rookie and soon to be MotoGP pilot Alex Rins, the MotoGP race was much more of a mano a mano affair. Kind of a Noah’s Ark thing, the animals boarding two by two. A pair here, a pair there…

At the start, Lorenzo rocketed out of the three hole to lead the pack into Turn 1, trailed by Marquez, Pedrosa, Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone, Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith and Rossi, whose loss today was once again assured in qualifying on Saturday. By the end of Lap 5 Rossi had taken over fourth place, and the lines were drawn. At that point, Rossi trailed Pedrosa by 1.6 seconds, but you got the impression that the Italian marvel wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

2014 MotoGP World ChampionBy Lap 14, Rossi trailed Pedrosa by a mere three tenths. While Lorenzo continued to lead Marquez, who appeared to be biding his time letting Jorge do the “donkey work,” I made a quick note: Y H H Y –> H Y Y H. This was my shorthand prediction that the Yamahas would move from positions one and four to finish second and third. Midway through the race, my suspicion that Marquez would eventually take down Lorenzo while Rossi outraced Pedrosa was, in the end, rewarded. Prior to the race I had envisioned two Hondas and one Yamaha on the podium; that prediction turned out wrong by 18/100ths of a second, Rossi’s margin over Pedrosa at the line.

At this point in 2015 there can be no argument that Marc Marquez has returned to his otherworldly form of the past two seasons. For the first 25 laps today he was maintaining strict control of his RC213V, not throwing the front into the turns and waiting for the rear to show up. Once he made his move on Lorenzo he engaged his “reckless abandon” setting and turned the dogs loose. Lorenzo would get close several times over the last three laps, but he wasn’t going to get past young Marquez late in the day. Pedrosa, who had improved steadily between Friday morning and Sunday, qualifying second, appeared ready, willing and able to podium today. There was a time when Pedrosa would have taken on the two leaders once his fuel load dropped, but that day appears to have passed.Rossi

Rossi, for his part, will either figure out how to deal with the 15 minute qualifying sessions or see perhaps his last best chance for a tenth world championship vanish before his eyes. He may be the fastest raceday rider on the grid, but his habit of consistently digging himself a hole on Saturday and trying to climb out on Sunday will eventually burn him. Lorenzo, much more interested in Rossi than Marquez, adjusted his strategy for qualifying, opting for three runs rather than two, simply in an effort to gain a front row start today. Had qualifying been limited to 13.5 minutes rather than 15, Lorenzo would have started at the back of the second row, his race strategy blown. This year, more than any year in recent memory, races are being won and lost on Saturday.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone qualified seventh and finished fifth today on his 26th birthday while teammate Andrea Dovizioso went seriously walkabout at Turn 2 of Lap 1, re-entered the race in last place, i.e., behind Toni Elias, and pedaled his posterior off for a distasteful ninth place finish. Dovizioso, once the model of consistency and control, had amassed a total of four (4) points in the previous four rounds before hitting a seven point jackpot today.

Iannone barely held off Brit Bradley Smith and his Tech 3 Yamaha, nose thoroughly out of joint over the fact that his teammate, Pol Espargaro, who trails him in the 2015 standings by 24 points, received a shiny new contract with the team for next year while Smith received bupkus. (I gotta think it’s the hair, or lack thereof.)
Anyway, Espargaro held off LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow today for seventh place while rising Octo Pramac star Danilo Petrucci, who had received a major tow on Saturday into a second row start, completed the top ten riders.

The two Suzuki guys had utterly forgettable weekends in Hoosierville. Rookie Maverick Vinales qualified ninth and finished 11th, while the elder Espargaro, Aleix, dawdled through Q2 to start 12th and could only manage a 14th place finish. While it’s safe to say the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not terribly friendly to any of the manufacturers, it seems distinctly unfriendly to the Suzukis. Team Ecstar will probably be thrilled to see Indianapolis fall off the calendar next year.

Just for the record, lest I be accused of ignoring the only American on the grid, Nicky Hayden had a criminally bad hair day today on his way to finishing 16th. Kind of a weak semi-mullet with a painfully lame mini-ponytail on top. The kind of haircut that would be much better suited to World Super Bike.

The Big Picture

Movistar Yamaha maintains control of the 2015 championship, with Rossi on top of Lorenzo by nine points and Lorenzo leading Marquez by 47. Even though Marquez has gathered 70 points over the last three rounds, Rossi has earned 57 and Lorenzo 49. At this rate, Marquez will not catch Rossi until Round 24, a virtual impossibility in an 18 round season. Iannone holds a solid grip on fourth place, 32 points ahead of Smith and 35 points ahead of former Ducati #1 Dovizioso. Despite having started three fewer races due to injury, Pedrosa now leads wannabe Alien Cal Crutchlow by six points, with Pol Espargaro a single point farther back. Vinales rounds out the top ten with 62 points.

Looking Ahead

It’s a short week until Round 11 at Brno, The Circuit That Desperately Needs a Vowel. Forward Racing is slated to perform its swan song in the Czech Republic, with the pitiable Loris Baz riding their last open class Yamaha until and unless he breaks it prior to the race. Karel Abraham figures to return to his Cardion AB Honda, since all his aunts and uncles will be there cheering for him to earn a point or two.

Brno is one of those long flowing circuits that tend to favor the Yamahas, so Marc Marquez will need to bring his A game if he intends to continue to cut the gap between himself and the Bruise Brothers. This doesn’t appear to present much of a problem, in that he once again looks unbeatable. But there don’t appear to be enough battles left to allow him to win The War of 2015.

Indy 2015 Capture

 

 

YTD Top TenCapture

MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Results

July 12, 2015

Marc Marquez dominates in German flashback.

By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast this weekend they seemed to exit the space-time continuum, re-entering in 2014 amidst a rewind of last year’s German Grand Prix.  Marquez, loving himself the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, comfortably led every practice session.  As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to also-ran status.  Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season. 

pedrosa_marquezMarquez now owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring.  Six consecutive wins from pole.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is fading into memory.  It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one next year and pummels it into submission in 2017.  And while Karel Abraham’s dad owns the Brno circuit, Marquez can now claim to own The Sachsenring, lock, stock and podium.

Today’s race was contested only until Lap 5.  Lorenzo got off to a slingshot start from the three hole and held the early lead; my notes on Lap 3 read “JL won’t hold up.”  Marquez went through Lorenzo easily two laps later and disappeared into 2014, leaving Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa in his contrail.  The three remaining Aliens hopscotched positions from there.  Rossi went through for good on Lorenzo on Lap 9.  Pedrosa repeated the Mallorcan assault on Lap 11.  Pedrosa, then, looking like a 2010 version of himself, went through on Rossi on Lap 17, delivering the final top four standings.  Rossi would get close to Pedrosa several times before submitting around Lap 27 determined, above all, to extend his 2015 lead on Lorenzo.

Marquez, celebrating his first win since Austin in April, would probably concede that today’s triumph falls under the Marquez at Aragonheading of a Pyrrhic victory, coming after so much devastation as to mean relatively little.  There are no bad wins, but, trailing series leader Rossi by 65 points, there aren’t very many good ones, either.  Meanwhile, the resurrected Rossi now has 13 successive podia under his belt; the expression “regular as a piston” comes to mind.  Even if Marquez returns to the form he showed us over the previous year and a half, there do not appear to be two other riders capable of consistently keeping The Doctor off the podium.  Rossi is living proof of a lesson Marquez is learning only this year—you don’t need to win every round to take the title.  Being consistently competitive will overcome occasional flashes of brilliance.  Consistently.

Elsewhere on the Grid

dovizioso-iannone-658x437Coming into Saxony, the Ducati contingent was surprisingly candid about their chances this weekend, conceding that the layout was not favorable to their bike’s strengths.  Then, Andrea Iannone on the factory team and Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac team, neither of whom received the memo, went out and qualified 4th and 5th respectively. Iannone would finish 5th today which, as teammate Andrea Dovizioso crashed out for the third time in the last four rounds, elevated him beyond question into the #1 seat on the factory team, sitting an astonishing 3rd for the year.  (I recall writing about Dovizioso only a month ago that “the guy never crashes.”  Since then, he has determinedly made a liar out of me.)  Hernandez slipped to 12th at the finish after battling for eighth place most of the day, while teammate Danilo Petrucci, in the midst of a highly gratifying season, came home in 9th, the #2 Ducati on the grid.  Maverick Vinales, on the Suzuki Ecstar, set an all-time record today by becoming the first rookie ever to score points in his first nine races.25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_original

Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith, he of the rapidly vanishing hairline, described by Nick Harris as “the best starter on the grid,” again finished a respectable 6th after qualifying 9th, putting just a little more distance between himself and Cal Crutchlow.  Prior to the start of the season, Crutchlow gave the clear impression he and his factory-spec Honda would be the top Brit on the grid, but such has not been the case.  With Dovizioso’s fortunes sinking below the horizon, Smith has now pulled into a tie with the Italian in 5th place for the year.  All Smith needs to do in the next couple of years to become a credible candidate to succeed Rossi on the factory Yamaha is secure dual British/Spanish citizenship and some high quality hair implants.

bradley_smithRich Men, Poor Men

Most of you are probably too young to grock the 1980’s TV miniseries reference.  But since the ouster of Gresini Aprilia #2 Marco Melandri this past week, the grid is now graced with two sets of brothers.  First and foremost are the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol, riding a factory Suzuki and satellite Yamaha respectively, with little brother Pol sitting in 9th place for the year while Aleix, the victim of some bad luck and poor decision-making, resides in 12th.  Aleix’s streak of front row starts ended today at two, the Suzuki somewhat surprisingly struggling at a track seemingly well-suited to it.  At the other end of the food chain are the Laverty brothers, Ulstermen Eugene and now Michael, toiling on an Aspar customer Honda and the #2 Gresini Aprilia, respectively.  Collectively, for the season, the Spaniards lead the Irish 108 to 7, this comparison only slightly skewed by the fact that Michael completed his first MotoGP race since last year today in 20th place.

Junior Class Headlines

Danny Kent tightened his stranglehold on the Moto3 title with another convincing win today, which is not news.  The fact that riders three through nine—seven riders!—were separated by .64 seconds IS news, something that could only happen in Moto3 and maybe the Rookie’s Cup.  Imagine losing out on nine championship points by 6/10ths of a second.

Belgian Xavier Simeon won the Moto2 tilt today, holding off season leader Johann Zarco over the last three laps for his first career win.  Never having heard the Belgian national anthem during a podium celebration, I was not surprised that Simeon got choked up, as it sounds like a cross between Richard Strauss, Josef Hayden, Todd Rundgren and ELO.  Personally, I too would hate to have that mess as my national anthem, preferring “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, for example.

First Semester Exams, Then Vacation

A number of teams are going off for some private testing this week; if you must know who and where, go to David Emmett’s site.  Then it’s off to summer vacation for a few weeks of Early Silly Season before returning for Round 10 in Indianapolis.  Today’s podium occupants must feel pretty good heading out of town for holiday, Jorge Lorenzo somewhat less so.  Despite the fact that we have now returned to an Alien class comprised of the Usual Suspects, things at the top of the food chain are sufficiently unsettled to promise an interesting second half.  One would have to be completely jaded to complain about the prospect of watching Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa in their current forms slugging it out for the rest of the year.2015 Aliens

MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Preview

July 7, 2015

Marquez reduced to spoiler as season hits halfway mark.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

Round nine of the 2015 MotoGP world championship returns to The Sachsenring, arguably the most Honda-friendly circuit on the tour.  Hondas have taken the checkered flag the last five times out, three wins from Dani Pedrosa followed by two from Marc Marquez.  Although the fortunes of the Repsol Honda team have suffered a downturn in 2015, both riders could easily be in contention for a spot on Sunday’s podium.  It’s that kind of track. 

motogp-suzuki-espargaro-vinalesMidway through the season, it can be said that Honda and Suzuki have opposing problems.  Suzuki’s problem, historical in nature, is a lack of horsepower available to complement the bike’s sweet handling.  Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales have combined to make the Ecstar team immediately competitive, far more so than it was in its previous iteration when sponsored by Rizla.  The bike and the riders are both better.  Espargaro, who was showing steady improvement early in the year, has been dragged down by consecutive DNFs at rounds five through seven, and sits in 12th place for the year.  Vinales, the consensus rookie of the year having finished in the points every round, sits in ninth place for the year, and deserves an Oakley contract to deal with a future so bright…he’s gonna need shades.

The factory Honda’s problem, on the other hand, is a surfeit of power, the result being a bucking bronco of a bike that pedrosa-marquezconsistently wants to get away from Marquez and, to a lesser extent, Pedrosa.  The veteran Pedrosa is dealing with it better than Marquez, the result of having spent 10 seasons on the bike or its previous iterations.  Marquez, whose early season escapades (DNFs in three of the first seven races) cost him a third consecutive world championship, is now engaged in a series of workarounds—2014 frame, harder front tires–in an exhausting effort to stay relevant while the engineers in Japan figure out how to make the RC213V rideable again.  (If he doesn’t mind a little pinging, perhaps the team should consider using regular gasoline rather than the high-test stuff.)

With the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo hitting on all cylinders this season, and Pedrosa having missed three of the first four rounds of the year to arm pump surgery, Marquez’ role has been reduced to that of a spoiler.  He can still contend for wins and podiums to salve what has had to have been a miserably disappointing year.  But more importantly, he can have a material effect on the competition between Rossi and Lorenzo.  He can be the fly in the ointment, a wild card mixing it up with the Bruise Brothers and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Lorenzo - MarquezAssen is a perfect example; had the drama at the final chicane turned out differently, Lorenzo might have won the race, Rossi might have ended up in the gravel, and the standings at the top would be reversed.  The boys in blue have ten rounds of this stuff to look forward to, not to mention Marquez’s reputation for risky business in the turns.  If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, there will be plenty of Rossi and Lorenzo fans pulling for #93 to assert his influence during the remainder of the season.  On the other guy.

Recent History in Saxony

The 2012 German Grand Prix had all the makings of a Repsol Honda clambake.  The Hondas had been fast in practice, with Pedrosa and Stoner flanking the briefly brilliant Ben Spies and his factory Yamaha on the front row.  When the lights went out, the two Hondas went off to wage war by themselves, leaving Lorenzo by himself in third place, Andrea Dovizioso and Spies battling for fourth, with homeboy Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi scrapping over sixth place.  Amazingly, Stoner lowsided out of the race on the “penultimate” lap (I hate that word), awarding the win to Pedrosa.  Lorenzo moved up to second, and Dovizioso punked Spies for third; three Yamahas finished in the top four.  At the end of the day Lorenzo led Pedrosa by 14 points on the way to his second MotoGP title that fall.

2013 was to have finally been Dani Pedrosa’s year.  He had avoided injury early in the season, and led the championship heading into Round 8 in Germany.  Lorenzo was wounded in Assen, Rossi was still getting re-acquainted with the Yamaha after two years at Ducati, and rookie Marquez was, well, a rookie.  Instead, Pedrosa went flying over the handlebars in FP3 on Saturday morning, returning to Spain for yet another surgery on his pulverized collarbone.  Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring his own wing; with the two Spaniards missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots.  Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish for the remainder of the season.  Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified brilliantly in the middle of the front row, finished second for his best premier class result ever on the Tech 3 Yamaha ahead of Rossi, chosen over Crutchlow by the suits at Yamaha corporate to ride for them in 2014 and beyond.

Last year’s fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of rapidly changing weather conditions.  Fan fave Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up at the start on slicks and enjoying a 12 second advantage over the Alien contingent on the first lap.  Alas, though his crew had thoughtfully mounted slicks on his LCR Honda, they had neglected to change the setting from W(et) to D(ry), causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish.  Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.  What fireworks there were that day were extinguished in the first five minutes.

Arm Pump: An Occupational Hazard of MotoGP

015129-rod-laverBack in the 60’s there was an Australian tennis player, “Rocket” Rod Laver, whose left forearm—he was a southpaw—was roughly twice the diameter of his right.  When he wasn’t playing, just standing around, he looked like one of those photoshopped pictures you see of guys with one arm and one leg extending from their shoulder sockets.  MotoGP riders are going to have to do more than they’re already doing to build up their right arms, as virtually all of them suffer the effects of operating throttle and brake against heavy centrifugal force while wrestling several hundred pounds of steel and rubber.  Perhaps if they were to spend the offseason dipping cones at Baskin Robbins they could build large enough forearms to withstand the rigors of an 18 round season.

Not that arm pump is the only occupational hazard in this sport.  Road rash, crushed digits, cracked skulls and shattered collarbones all contribute to the festival atmosphere at races, followed by jetlag, jock rot and a variety of, ahem, social infections.

This is a man’s sport.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If Marc Marquez is capable of winning again in 2015, it should be at The Sachsenring.  We’ll have results and analysis right here Sunday morning.

Rossi holds off Marquez in riveting Dutch classic

June 27, 2015

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

Heading into the 66th annual Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, Movistar Yamaha poohbah Valentino Rossi held the championship lead, teammate Jorge Lorenzo had the momentum, and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez was mired in an existential crisis.  Rossi shed his Alan Iverson-like disdain for practice, was quick all weekend, and qualified on pole.  Lorenzo, whose recent history at Assen has been horrific, never looked completely comfortable.  And Marquez, desperate for a return to his winning form over the past two seasons, arrived on a hybrid 2014/2015 model RC213V, looking for answers.  At the end of the day, all three stood on the podium, but only Rossi was happy about it. 

The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

                                    The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

The two Yamaha teammates traded their customary places during Friday’s qualifying session, with Rossi, typically starting from the third row, sitting on pole while Lorenzo, generally on or near the pole, started 8th.  Aleix Espargaro, on the #1 factory Suzuki, had to go through Q1 before emerging brilliantly in the middle of the first row, while Marquez, seeming far more in control of his machine all weekend, would start third.  The factory Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, experiencing their usual angst when Assen is dry, started from 6th and 10th places, respectively.  And Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who was lightning fast on Thursday, misplaced his mojo and began the race in the 11 hole.  A heavy crash during Saturday’s WUP left him wounded and shaken as the lights went out.

One of my standard complaints about MotoGP is that, compared to Moto3 and Moto2, there is relatively little fighting up front.  Someone, recently Lorenzo, takes off like a scalded cat leaving the rest of the field struggling to be second-best.  Today, Rossi and Marquez, joined briefly by Lorenzo, took off early to wage their own private war.  It was, however, anything but dull, a battle for the ages.

Rossi, despite leading for all but four laps, was unable to catch his breath at all, as Marquez, looking like last year’s model, stayed glued to his rear tire all day.  Most riders would eventually wilt under this kind of pressure.  But Rossi, with 84 premier class wins and 111 career wins under his belt coming into Assen, has been here before.  It was around Lap 6 that the econ major in me emerged, the equation looking like this:

P:  (#93/#46) > (#46/#93)

For you laymen, this reads “The pressure on Marquez with Rossi dogging him is greater than the pressure on Rossi with Marquez dogging him.”  No one leading a MotoGP race in 2015 wants to see Valentino Rossi appear in his rearview mirror.  And Rossi knows he will get the maximum out of his bike every time out; if someone is going to pass him, it’s because their ride is superior to his on that day.  In which case there is nothing to worry about.

It was clear that Marquez would challenge Rossi at some point, which he did on Lap 20, going through decisively into the lead, to which he appeared to be holding on for dear life as Rossi refused to budge.  Sure enough, on Lap 24, Rossi and Marquez exchanged the lead twice, Rossi emerging in front.  He widened the gap on Lap 25, the announcers advising us that Marquez appeared to have been “broken.”

Um, no.

Lap 26 found both riders pushing to the limit, with Marquez, sliding all over the place, lizard brain in control, suddenly closing to within a few feet of Rossi entering the last lefthander.  As Marquez dove inside, his front tire contacted Rossi’s right boot, the result finding Marquez running way wide into the final turn, and Rossi inadvertently cutting the corner, running straight into, and through, the gravel, somehow keeping his bike upright, emerging 50 yards in front of Marquez, and taking the time to look back at Marquez, as if to say, “THAT’S for lap four at Laguna Seca in 2013, stronzo.”Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

In a post-race interview, Marquez sounded miffed, as if Rossi had fouled him when they came together in the penultimate turn.  Instead of being happy returning to the podium for the first time since Jerez, the young Spaniard was ticked off at not having won.  Such is the competitive nature of Marc Marquez.  His team was undoubtedly ecstatic at seeing him return to the form he showed in 2014.  Unfortunately, it was on a day when Valentino Rossi returned to the form he showed in 2005.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Lest we forget, Lorenzo cruised around all day by himself in third place, for a highly unsatisfying podium finish, having failed to overtake his teammate for the series lead.  Andrea Iannone, making a case for recognition as the #1 rider on the factory Ducati squad, did much the same in fourth position.  The battle for fifth place raged all day, six riders going hammer and tongs, the final order comprised of Pol Espargaro (Tech 3 Yamaha), Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda), Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar).  The gap between 5th place and 10th was one (1) second; this can be a cruel sport.

Give Us More Facts, Fewer Opinions

Okay.  With his ninth career win here, Valentino Rossi becomes the most successful MotoGP rider in history at Assen.  Yamaha Racing, for the first time in its history, has now won six consecutive races.  Rossi won from pole for the first time since Misano in 2009.  Over the last three laps Andrea Dovizioso slipped from 8th place to 12th, following his worst QP of the year, starting in 10th.  After 66 years of racing at Assen on Saturdays, the race will be moved to Sunday starting next year.  Valentino Rossi has podiumed in 15 of his last 16 races; Andrea Iannone has finished in the top six every round this year.  The last time Jorge Lorenzo led the MotoGP standings was after the first round in Qatar in 2013.  Finally, Yonny Hernandez and Valentino Rossi tied today for the MDBG Award:  Most Delicious Brolly Girl.  🙂

The Big Picture

Rossi now leads Lorenzo by 10 points approaching the halfway mark of the season, a year in which many of the races have been won or lost in qualifying.  If Rossi continues to qualify as he did today, he is going to be a force for the rest of the season.  Iannone remains in third place, with Marquez having leapfrogged a sagging Dovizioso into fourth.  Bradley Smith continues as the top satellite rider in 6th place, followed by Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Vinales and Pedrosa as your top ten riders.  Yamaha is cleaning up in the battle for the constructor’s trophy.

For the few remaining American fans left in the house, Nicky Hayden finished in 16th place today, and resides in 21st place for the season.

Next Up:  The Sachsenring

MotoGP descends on northeastern Germany in two weeks for the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland.  Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez have won the last five races here, making it one of the most Honda-friendly circuits on the calendar.  With the HRC season on life support, the Repsol Honda team could certainly use a win in Round 9.  While Dani Pedrosa’s woes continue, Marc Marquez appears to be back.  A third consecutive success at The Sachsenring would confirm it.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

Lorenzo, Rossi blitz field in Catalan flashback

June 14, 2015

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

As qualifying for the 2015 Grand Prix Monster Energy de Catalunya closed on Saturday, one got the sense that The Usual Suspects might not make it to Sunday’s podium.  The ascendant Suzuki Ecstar team had crashed the party, seizing the first two spots in Row 1 (for the first time since 1993), while Aliens occupied spots #3, 4, 6 and 7.  The upstart Ducati duo of Dovizioso and Iannone were mired in 5th and 12th places, respectively.  On Sunday, eight riders failed to finish, but when the smoke cleared, the Alien Class of 2012—Yamaha mandarins Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, and Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa—climbed the steps, the cheers of 97,000 Spanish fans ringing in their ears. 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDWhatever faint hopes double defending world champion Marc Marquez held for a third consecutive title ended on Lap 3 of today’s race when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he ran way hot into the sharp lefthander at Turn 10, left the racing surface and dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done.  With Lorenzo having jumped into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early.

The eerie stability of the Yamaha YZR-M1 this season, together with the frightening instability of the Honda RC213V, a hot, greasy track and the pressure on Marquez made this crash all but inevitable.  For young Marquez, two years of fried chicken has given way to a year of feathers.  Such is life in the upper reaches of the premier class.

Moto racing fans have now endured the pleasure of watching Lorenzo lead 103 consecutive laps, reduced to admiring the sponsor decals on his machine, as he has taken four consecutive wins for the first time in his premier class career.  Though he was shadowed by teammate Rossi over the last 19 laps of the race, there was never any real doubt as to the eventual outcome.

Rossi was once again the victim of his inability to master the “new” (2½ years old) qualifying format in MotoGP, having Rossibarely snuck into Q2 where he again foundered, starting today’s race from the third row.  Had he started from the front, as he did for over a decade prior to The Ducati Years, he stood a puncher’s chance of winning today’s race (and Le Mans as well).  Apparently, even for one as sublimely talented as The Doctor, old habits die hard.  With his lead in the championship reduced to a single point, the prospect of a 10th world title is now visible in the rearview mirror and getting smaller every week.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The odd assortment of riders scoring points today was brought about mainly by the carnage among a startling number of top tenners, including Marquez, Cal Crutchlow (second round in a row, on Lap 1, with an assist from Aleix Espargaro), Pol Espargaro, Andrea Dovizioso (second round in a row), and, sadly, polesitter Aleix Espargaro, racing two miles from the house where he grew up, crashing out of fourth place on Lap 21.  Consistent point scorers Andre Iannone, Bradley Smith and certain rookie of the year Maverick Vinales ended the day in spots four through six, while less certain (or downright dubious) riders Scott Redding, Stefan Bradl (?), Danilo Petrucci and Alvaro Bautista (?????) completed today’s top ten.

03-apriliaracing-bautistaMay the sports gods deliver me from the agony of listening to Bautista earnestly explain how, based upon today’s fluke of a result, he is convinced the Aprilia program is making great progress.  Seven of today’s eight casualties would have certainly finished in front of him (the lone exception being his downtrodden teammate Marco Melandri), putting him back in 17th place where he typically resides.  If Karel Abraham, injured in an impressive highside in FP4, had started and finished, 17th place would have become 18th, not exactly worthy of a humble, bright-eyed interview.

Moto3 and Moto2 Rocking

Today’s premier class procession, the tedium of which was interrupted only by the fingernails-on-blackboard screeching of breathtakingly expensive motorcycles grinding their way through gravel, paled in comparison to the heart-stopping action offered up in the junior class tilts.  In today’s first race, Brit Danny Kent padded his 2015 Moto3 championship lead with a brilliant series of toe-curling last lap maneuvers to steal victory by 3/100ths of a second over second place finisher Enea Bastianini, the top six finishers separated by less than a second.

The Moto2 race was a three man affair, with defending champion Tito Rabat, rookie Alex Rins and series leader Johann Zarco battling savagely over the last ten laps.  Rabat, desperate for a win to put himself back in the conversation for a repeat title, led most of these, dogged by Rins, until mistakes by both riders allowed Zarco the win, with Rins taking second and Rabat third.  Again, the top three finishers were separated by a single second.  Frenchman Zarco appears to have the inside track to this year’s title, but it is still early, and the gaggle of blueprinted 600cc bikes flying into the first turns of the world’s great racetracks virtually guarantees bedlam, as Sandro Cortese, Axel Pons and Xavier Simeon discovered the hard way today.

The Big Picture in MotoGP

For the factory Yamaha team, Round 7 of 2015 was a lucky #7, as it afforded both riders the opportunity to separateRossi & Lorenzo themselves from the field.  With Lorenzo and Rossi essentially tied, momentum clearly in Lorenzo’s favor, they lead #3 Ducati wild man Andrea Iannone by over 40 points.  Iannone, in turn, leads teammate Andrea Dovizioso by 11 points since Dovizioso, whom I pointed out last week never crashes, has now recorded DNFs in the last two contests.  For Marc Marquez, life has gotten so bad that he must now traffic with the likes of plucky satellite Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith, whom he leads by a single point after crashing out of three of the first seven rounds of the season.  Marquez is learning what my old friend Darby shared with me decades ago—good things come in threes, while bad things come in the millions.

Assen and The Sachsenring Beckon

17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes must have had Rounds 8 and 9 in mind when he wrote in 1651 that the hobbes_animnatural condition of mankind (presumably, MotoGP pilots toiling at Assen and The Sachsenring) is “nasty, brutish and short.”  [For complete accuracy, he should have added cold and damp.]  The annual MotoGP calendar has two sets of outliers—the cool, wet tracks in England, Holland and Germany, and the hot, humid and jetlagged venues in the annual Pacific flyaway.  The next month may prove adventurous to riders on early and out laps on cold tires in the narrow confines of Assen and Saxony.

The clear advantage the 2015 Yamahas enjoy in their ability to maintain corner speed will be minimized over the next month, a rare opportunity for the Hondas, Ducatis and, now, Suzukis to make some hay.  Jorge Lorenzo, a creature of rhythm and consistency, has both going for him by the truckload, and appears untouchable anywhere, from the rickety Wild Mouse rollercoaster on the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk to the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The next two tracks on the schedule are his least favorites.  If anyone is going to challenge him for the 2015 title, now is the time.

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 seizes the day, extends championship lead

April 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

Marquez Leads the Parade for 11 Laps

Yonny on fire

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

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

Suddenly, It’s a Race

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere on the Grid

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

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

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

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

On the Horizon: Jerez

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