Archive for the ‘Moto2’ Category

MotoGP Assen Preview 2017

June 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Expect the Unexpected at the Dutch TT 

Even with the race going off on Sunday again for the second time, sixty-some years of racing on Saturday at the Cathedral have produced a number of curious finishes.  Nicky Hayden had his first and only non-U.S. win here in 2006.  Ben Spies won here in 2011 in what many of us mistakenly thought was the beginning of a great career.  And Jack Miller’s win last year defines “unlikely.” 

Aside from the usual suspects, there are several riders looking forward to the weekend.  Andrea Dovizioso, having won two in a row, had a second here in 2014 but has had nothing but misery since.  Aleix Espargaro has done well here on both the Forward Yamaha and the factory Suzuki; he would love nothing more than to flog an Aprilia to its first MotoGP podium.  But Sunday’s tilt figures to involve the factory Yamaha and Honda riders, all of whom are in the title chase.  It will be interesting to see if Dovi can keep the magic alive in The Low Countries.  Cal Crutchlow is armed with a shiny new two-year deal at LCR.  And, at Assen, anything can happen.  Ask Jack Miller. 

Recent History at Assen 

2014 was the Year of Marquez, and he made it 8-for-8 with a surprisingly easy win in one of those wacky flag-to-flag races everyone loves, complete with a Pony Express switcheroo in the middle.  Marquez was joined on the podium by Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, who narrowly edged out Aleix Espargaro, the top Yamaha finisher that day, who had crushed Q2, taken pole, and missed out on a podium—a Forward Racing Yamaha podium—at the flag by a mere 8+ seconds. But 13 points is 13 points.

2015 was the year Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi stopped exchanging Christmas cards, and it started at Assen. The last MotoGP Dutch TT to be run on a Saturday, Assen was the place Marquez chose to introduce his hybrid 2015/2014 bike with the previous year’s chassis, and it was like throwing a switch. The two went at it hot and heavy on the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez caroming wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, getting nudged into and through the briar patch at speed to win by 50 yards.  What a race.

Last year was proof that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn every once in a while.  This was a two-race day, not to be confused with a two-day race. The rain which had been around all weekend went all Bubba Gump during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been leading at the time.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning plaudits for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  My prediction at the time that he wouldn’t see another podium for the rest of the year, except from a distance, proved correct.  For the record, Scott Redding finished third that day, another symptom of the ambient weirdness of racing in Holland on Sunday.

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:       Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:      Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Pedrosa, Petrucci

Tranche 3:       Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:       P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:       Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1        Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

Tranche 2        Zarco, Lorenzo, Folger, Bautista↑, Pedrosa

Tranche 3        Petrucci↓, Crutchlow↓, Redding, Barbera↑, Iannone

Tranche 4        Miller↓, Baz↓, A Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5        P Espargaro↓, Smith, Lowes, (Rins)

Rossi’s last win was over a year ago, at Catalunya 2016. Normally, this would be enough to drop a rider a level.  I had Pedrosa in #1 and Rossi in #2 until I thought about a 5-lap match race, just the two of them, on their own bikes, at an agreed-upon track.  Upon whom would you put your money?

One of the cool things about Assen, for the purposes of this discussion, is that a rider from Tranche 2 or 3 can easily win here.  The cold and the damp haven’t always been kind to the Aliens, and the narrow kinks and curves here and at The Sachsenring next week often play havoc with the leaderboard.  Recall Casey Stoner’s acerbic remark, late in his career, that he could never get out of 5th gear in Germany.  But Assen is a high-speed track, especially compared to The Sachsenring.  The main thing they have in common is the weather.  And to think Dorna is preparing to take the series to Finland; the riders there may need studded tires.

All the riders, especially the contenders, need to be a little circumspect entering this next two weeks.  Recall Lorenzo and Pedrosa in 2013, with a total of three broken collarbones in two weeks.

Silly Season Underway

The names sifting to the top of the “Most Likely to Be Re-Accommodated” list in 2018 include Tito Rabat, reportedly at risk of being banished to WSBK after failing to set the world on fire in MotoGP.  (Paging Stefan Bradl.)  Also Scott Redding, Sam Lowes and, as rumored, Jack Miller, for whom the honeymoon with Honda appears to be over or at least tattered.  LCR wants a factory deal for Crutchlow and a #2 rider, possibly Taka Nakagami, currently laboring in seventh position in Moto2 but possessing outstanding lineage.

If Marc VDS is to continue as a going concern in 2018 it will likely be with Franco Morbidelli and perhaps Alex Marquez coming up from Moto2 to replace a disenchanted Miller and a non-competitive Rabat.  Miller is alleged to have been rebuffed by Ducati for asking too much money but that could be re-visited.  And no word yet on who might take over for Sam Lowes, who is simply not getting it done.

Personally, I would like to see Jack Miller on a Ducati GP17 next year.  Could be just what they both need. And is it too hard to imagine Andrea Iannone, once again working himself out of a good job. teaming up with Morbidelli on the satellite Honda in 2018?

Given the family history of the Marquez brothers, I would expect Alex to stay in Moto2 another year, with the aim being to title there before being called up to the bigs.  Perhaps in time to coincide with Dani Pedrosa’s retirement from the Repsol team.  That would be something to talk about.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprise, surprise.  The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe this weekend calls for cool, damp conditions, with the best chance of rain on Saturday.  Temps in the 60’s and 70’s (F).  High risk out laps on cold tires and wet asphalt.  Not having a clue who might win this week (although this is exactly the kind of setup Rossi loves) we can only hope for a complete scramble, flag-to-flag, expectations turned upside-down, rain tires, and underdogs showing up on the podium.  In short, business as usual at Assen.

We will  have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Catalunya Results 2017

June 11, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso repeats; Vinales comes back to the field 

After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso has now taken two wins in eight days, recording superlative rides at both Mugello and now Montmelo.  A few days before Mugello he pronounced the GP17 unwinnable in its current configuration.  Gratifying to see his analytic skills are no better than mine. 

Practice and Qualifying

Q1 timesheet looked mostly normal—three Hondas in the top four—until I laughed out loud at the sight of Sam Lowes in seventh, at which point I suspected it was a circus out there.  Four riders failed to record a time on a drying track.

FP2 had more anomalies, Jonas Folger sitting third and Tito Rabat sixth among them.  Marquez was looking strong on the brakes; Jorge Lorenzo took second.   Jorge must be riding counter-intuitively, having stated to the press that riding the bike “normally” does not work for him.  At 140 mph and above and in traffic I’m sure his lizard brain reverts, which is why he cannot currently compete effectively.

Race Direction, changing horses in the middle of the stream, announced on Friday night that, for safety reasons (and perhaps to enhance Marquez’s chances of tightening the 2017 championship), the 2016 chicane would be used starting in FP3 and for the rest of the weekend, due to concerns about the racing surface where the old crappy asphalt and new crappy asphalt met: bumps, low grip, different composition, plague, locusts, etc.  Marquez, on Saturday, expressed his gratitude for their consideration by crashing four times, with a fifth fall on Sunday for good measure.

This was also good news for Jack Miller, who had been mistakenly using the 2016 chicane during all eight of his FP1 laps until he was black flagged.  But it meant that FP3 alone would determine who went through to Q2 and which two of the remaining 13 would have to earn spots in the front four rows.  (I may have messed up the tire controversy last time out, but I KNOW Lorenzo has been lobbying to have FP3 deemed the only session to determine qualifying pools.)

10 Lambs, in FP3 order:  Hondas Marquez and Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista (DucGP16) and Aprilia jinx Aleix Espargaro, Italians Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone, the Pramac Racing team, Redding leading Petrucci, and Hector Barbera, looking on Friday like he was doing motocross on his GP16, fighting it to a draw on Saturday morning.

13 Goats, in arbitrary order: both factory Yamahas, both Tech 3 Yamahas, Cal Crutchlow, the Marc VDS team, Loris Baz and the Down’N’Outs—Suzuki sub Sylvain Guintoli, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith (Laverne and Shirley) on the KTM, my boy Karel Abraham (DucGP15) and Sad Sam Lowes’ Aprilia.

Q1 was going to be a show.  Six Ducatis had automatically qualified to chase the Repsol Hondas in Q2; the law of averages itself increased the statistical likelihood of a Ducati win on Sunday.

Vinales and Folger fought their way through Q1, leaving notables with names like Rossi, Crutchlow and Zarco to start back in the pack, Crutchlow from 17th.  Rossi and Zarco, especially, missed out on Q2 by a few hundredths of a second each.

Obviously, Dani and Jorge heard about our challenge to their Alien credentials on Wednesday, as Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci formed the front row during Q2; Marquez, having crashed four separate times during the day and having completely run out of motorcycles, would still start Sunday at the top of the second row, Vinales ninth in his worst qualifying yet on the Yamaha.  Bradley Smith crashed heavily in practice and sustained injuries to his left hand that would keep him out of today’s race.

Several weeks ago we observed that Petrucci needed to fish or cut bait on the Ducati GP17.  With a podium at Mugello and a front row start here, he has clearly responded to our encouragement.  (Yes, we are aware he crashed out of fifth place in today’s race.  Musta thought he had enough tire left to go for fourth.)

The 2017 Catalan GP

With Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and the factory Yamahas stuck in the middle of the pack at the start, the lead group formed up with Jorge Lorenzo trying and failing to get away on his factory Ducati, followed by the Repsol Hondas, Dovizioso keeping his powder dry in fourth.  Lorenzo’s day went from good to bad to good again, as we watched him slip from first to as low as ninth before finding something when his fuel load dropped, ultimately finishing fourth when Petrucci went down on Lap 23.

Up front, as Lorenzo was fading out of the picture, Dovizioso was keeping cool tracking the Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making momentary moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17 when Dovi went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa who appeared, reputation aside, to have shot his tires to pieces earlier in the race.

For most of the day, the factory and Tech 3 Yamahas (with the exception of Jonas Folger, who was able to stay in touch with the lead group until his own tires began to disintegrate) loitered around in the middle of the pack, unable to make any impression on the lead or even second groups.  Late in the day Johann Zarco had recovered enough ground to punk teammate Folger for fifth, while both Rossi and Vinales made gradual progress in the second half, Rossi ending his day in eighth while Vinales suffered to tenth place, hometown humiliation, and six points.

Despite all the problems the Yamaha teams experienced over the weekend—none passing directly through to Q2, Folger and Vinales the only escapees from Q1—eventually all four finished in the top ten.  Riders having notable days today (keeping in mind that all things are relative) included Rossi (S13, P8) and Crutchlow (S17, P11).  Zarco was most impressive, having started 14th and finishing fifth, while Dovizioso, who started from the top of the third row, has pulled himself into credible contention for the 2017 title.  Today’s results leave him in second place, trailing series leader Vinales by a mere seven points.  During the after-race presser he said, “Today was the first time in my career I win a race without pushing to the limit.”  Uh oh.

Final Thoughts

Michelin still has issues when the temperatures soar, as they did today.  With venues like Aragon, Brno, and Sepang yet to come, Michelin needs to develop a compound for both fronts and rears that will stand up to the heat.  I agree with readers who have expressed the opinion that the Michelins perform fine in cool and moderate temps.  But with a quarter of the races held in places where it can get as hot as Sepang, my own personal vision of hell, the races devolve into a competition to see who can nurse their tires through the entire however many laps.

Alex Marquez won his second race of the season in Moto2 after a disastrous first two seasons in the middle division.  Some years ago, around 2013, I read comments that suggested Alex was faster than Marc one-on-one, and that Alex Rins, currently on the injured list, was faster than either of the Marquez brothers.  Such has not turned out to be the case.  Alex is only 21 years old, and if he has finally figured out the 600cc Moto2 Kalex, it’s only a matter of time until he gets his ticket punched to MotoGP.  It appears unlikely he will compete with his brother or rival Rins for quite some time.  It also appears that folks were overstating Rins’ potential, based upon what he had shown us in MotoGP prior to his injuries.  No instant sensation like Marquez and Vinales.

Joan Mir, leading the Moto3 series for Leopard Racing, will be moving up to the Estrella Galicia Moto2 team next year on a three-year deal that sounds like the third season might be with Honda in MotoGP.  Mir pulled off a scintillating win today at Montmelo to pad his lead in Moto3.  The Moto2 race today was not up to its usual riotous standard, as Marquez led wire to wire in the first truly easy race I’ve ever seen him complete in Moto2.  I keep waiting for him to morph into the second coming of Marc.  Perhaps today was the day.  Probably not.

Two weeks to the Assen/Sachsenring back-to-back.  The plot, at this point, has truly thickened.  Now there are five riders with legitimate aspirations to the 2017 title.  We leave you with a cliffhanger until we arrive at Assen:  Will there be five riders in Tranche 1 for the first time ever?  Could Valentino Rossi fall into Tranche 2?  Stay tuned.

MotoGP Mugello Results 2017

June 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Leads Ducati Charge; Rossi Fades 

Sunday at magnificent Mugello was that rarest of days, when one gets to hear the Italian national anthem played three separate times.  Italians placed 1-2 in a mind-bending Moto3 tilt.  Italian heartthrob Franco Morbidelli didn’t win in Moto2 today, but beloved countryman Mattia Pasini did.  In the main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium.  

National idol Valentino Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Danilo Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself.

A good day to be Italian, i.e., any day ending in the letter Y.  If only Vale could have…you know… 

Ducati placed five bikes in the top nine today, buttressing the argument that speed is of the essence here, and the Ducati Desmosedici is built for nothing if not speed.  Crutchlow had been quoted early in the weekend saying the race was Dovizioso’s for the taking.  Personally, it is my favorite circuit on the calendar, none of this stop-and-go drag racing, holds 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans, and annually features the #1 sports figure in the whole country, Valentino Rossi.  It is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s practices in ideal conditions produced some strange-looking timesheets. FP1 was Ducati Day at Mugello, with red bikes led by Andrea Dovizioso occupying five of the first seven spots, punctuated by the factory Yamahas.  FP2 was held Through the Looking Glass, with Aliens (or recovering Aliens) at 11th (Jorge Lorenzo), 12th (the injured Rossi), 13th (Vinales) and 14th (Marquez), Cal Crutchlow sitting astride the lot.  On Saturday, FP3 ended with Rossi, looking good, in P1 followed by Marquez and Lorenzo.  Fine.  But Alvaro Bautista in 4th? And Tito “One Fast Lap” Rabat, a Tranche Five stalwart, sitting 6th?  The Usual Suspects, the factory Yamahas, Hondas and Ducatis, made it into Q2 joined by Rabat on the Marc VDS Honda, Aleix Espargaro on the factory Aprilia, and the satellite Ducati delegation of Bautista and Pirro.

Q1 saw a very casual Johann Zarco, who waited until the session was more than half over, stroll out on the track and easily pass through to Q2 along with a slightly more frenetic Danilo Petrucci, who was making hay while the sun shines for once.  Q2 was the usual last-minute cluster, ending with the factory Yamahas up front (Vinales on pole) joined on the first row by a dangerous looking Andrea Dovizioso, with the second row consisting of Pirro followed by the two Repsol Hondas, Pedrosa in 5th.  Three Italians in the front four; the locals be habbin’ dat.

Lorenzo could manage only P7, while Zarco, perhaps a little too relaxed, started the race Sunday 11th, not what he had in mind when he left France.  Tech 3 Yamaha teammate and fellow rookie sensation Jonas Folger crashed out of Q1 and started the race 15th.  Crutchlow, bad karma having tagged him, missed out moving on to Q2 by 8/100ths, started in the 13 hole today, deep in the weeds.  He would get collected by Dani Pedrosa late in the day and was seen shoving the diminutive Spaniard while Pedrosa was trying to apologize.  As if Cal hadn’t been running 11th at the time, in hot pursuit of five points.

What About the Race?

Exiting Turn 1 of Lap 1, it was Rossi and Vinales, with Lorenzo (!), Dovizioso and Marquez chasing.  The high point of Jorge Lorenzo’s day was Lap 2, as he briefly took the lead before being passed, excruciatingly, one at a time, by at least seven other riders, finishing 8th with few visible excuses.  The top six coalesced, by Lap 7, as Vinales, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci on the Octo Pramac Ducati GP 17, a struggling Marc Marquez and a gripless Lorenzo.  Marquez spent much of the last half of the race jousting with Alvaro Bautista and his GP 16, and was unable to close the deal, finishing sixth, staying in the 2017 game but not helping himself.

Dovizioso went through on Vinales on Lap 14 for keeps, but was unable to get away.  Vinales and Petrucci gave valiant chase, but didn’t have it, not even at Slipstream City, the front straight at Mugello that is a racing wonder.  (In the Moto3 race you could be leading crossing the line and enter Turn 1 in eighth place.)  Rossi, the crowd-generated clouds of yellow smoke serving as incense in the cathedral of Italian racing, was unable to compete at the end, one assumes, due to injury.  The Italian press will call him a hero for simply showing up.  Just sayin’.

Dani Pedrosa on the #2 Repsol Honda lost his grits late on Lap 23, performed an awesome low slider, and took the pins right out from under Crutchlow.  In the process, Dani took himself out of second place, replaced there by Dovizioso and his shiny new 25 points.  The rest of the top nine, in addition to the Ducs, consisted of three Yamahas—Johann Zarco making something of a late charge after a poor start from 11th—and Marquez’s lonely Honda.  The second Honda to cross the line?  Tito Rabat on the Marc VDS wreck.

The MotoGP tranches took a beating today. We will look closely at them this coming week, as Catalunya is the second of back-to-back weekends.

The Big Picture

Vinales finished second and extended his championship points lead to 26 over Dovizioso.  Rossi sits at 75, Marquez and Pedrosa tied for fourth with 68 points, and Zarco sixth with 64.  Lorenzo, Petrucci, Jonas Folger and Crutchlow complete the top ten.  So, a third of the way through the season, young Maverick leads the entire Sioux nation by more than a full race’s margin.

Zarco and the remaining Aliens are fighting for second place, hoping #25 would be kind enough to crash out in Catalunya next week.  Until he does crash—and, statistically, he will—the world is his oyster.  The Repsol Honda team is in relative disarray.  The Ducs are only competitive at places like here, Brno, Austria, Phillip Island and Sepang if it don’t rain.  Suzuki is not a good fit for Andrea Iannone.  The Aprilias and KTMs will probably do better at the tighter, slower tracks yet to come.

Maverick Vinales is calmly, methodically working toward his first MotoGP championship.

Quick Notes

The continuing tributes to Nicky Hayden in all three classes and the circuit itself fail to make it easier to accept that he is really gone.  Another serious blow to American bike racing.  So many kids have grown up wanting to be like Nicky Hayden.  Not so many, I expect, are coming along wanting to be like Ben Spies.

Regarding Michele Pirro’s wildcard on the Ducati GP17, reporting elsewhere refers to his becoming the third full factory GP17 on the grid, which, in turn, suggests Petrucci may not be on a full factory 17.  Which could help explain his relative lack of success until today, as I accused him of underachieving last week.  My acknowledged non-golden touch at work.

Herve Poncharal has already re-signed his two rookie wonderkids, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, to contracts for 2018.  The world expects Zarco to get scooped up by a factory team for the two years following.  Jury is still out on Folger, whom Poncharal describes as “careful,” citing the amount of data he produces.  That’s what known around here as a backhanded compliment.

Back at y’all on Wednesday.

MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Mugello

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

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

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

Tranche Time

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

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

Rossi’s Injury

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

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

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

MotoGP Jerez Results 2017

May 7, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motrcycle.com

Pedrosa rules as the 2017 plot thickens in Spain 

Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won today’s Spanish Grand Prix, leading wire to wire for his first win since Misano last year.  Teammate and defending champion Marc Marquez gave chase for most of the race but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those days… 

Dani-Pedrosa-2013-HD-Wallpaper-Photos

Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed the third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterward, felt like a win. When the smoke cleared, the 2017 race had tightened considerably, to the delight of the majority of fans, especially those expensively dressed. 

Practice

Practice sessions at Jerez varied from wet to damp to dry, and the timesheets were  informative:

FP1:  Wet. Repsol Honda veteran Dani Pedrosa, Brit Cal Crutchlow, and Australia’s Jack Miller.  All Hondas.

FP2:  Damp/drying.  Pedrosa, Miller and Crutchlow.  Hmmm.

FP3:  Dry.  Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Vinales.  Hmmm again.  Clearly Pedrosa has it going on this weekend.  Race day to be dry.  Seems to be pretty Honda-friendly.

Who goes through to QP2: Four Hondas and four Yamahas (Vinales 4th, Rossi 7th late), Iannone on the Suzuki, and Lorenzo the top Ducati in 8th.  Jerez is not a Ducati-friendly track, to say the least.

Q1:  Iannone and Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia advance; Petrucci and Dovizioso do not, but then comes the factory KTM team of Smith and Pol Espargaro, putting both on the fifth row for what I guess to be the first time.  I’m starting to develop a little motowood about this KTM bunch.

Q2:  The Usual Suspects, joined once again by Dani Pedrosa, dominate.  Pedrosa, teammate Marquez and Cal Crutchlow oust newest wunderkind Maverick Vinales from the front row.  Two Hondas and tres compatriotas on Row 1! Southern Spain is dancing in the streets.  It’s a big deal over there.

As dusk falls on Saturday, it looks like one of the Hondas is going to stand on the top step.  Yet, Rossi shows up on Sundays, as does Vinales.  Crutchlow and Lorenzo are lurking.  Worth a ticket if you’re in the neighborhood on Sunday.

Undercard:  Moto2 Procession

Moto2 Estrella Galicia heartthrob and series leader Franco Morbidelli crashed out of the lead unassisted, allowing young Alex Marquez to break his Moto2 cherry, winning easily for the first time since his Moto3 championship in 2014. Afterward, he was congratulated by big brother Marc in Parc Ferme, in a moment none of us ever forget, of which older brother must have surely reminded him.

The Race Itself

In the early action, Pedrosa took the hole shot from pole followed closely by Marquez.  Johann Zarco, the precocious rookie on the Tech 3 Yamaha, proceeded to trade paint with Valentino Rossi on Lap 1 before going through on him.  We watched Lap 2 in some amazement as he then proceeded to reel in Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Andrea Iannone, taking over third place behind the Repsol Hondas.  Say what you will about the French, this Zarco has onions.  Especially with a full tank.

By Lap 4 Lorenzo was running seventh and Rossi eighth, giving the crowd a brief flashback to 2009 and 2010 when the two of them used to duel regularly for Yamaha up at the front.  Lap 5 saw the impudent Zarco go through on Marquez into second place and Miller get taken down by the spatially unaware Alvaro Bautista, leading to the swing/slap thing from Miller.  On Lap 6 Crutchlow fell out of fourth place and Pol Espargaro grounded his KTM machine, while Lap 7 gave us more Lorenzo vs. Rossi.  During all of this, the Repsol Hondas were beginning to disappear, after Marquez had taken second back from Zarco.

On Lap 10, team Marc VDS Racing’s day was completely ruined when Tito Rabat crashed out, joining Bautista in the Zero Points Club.  Moments later, Andrea Iannone slid his Suzuki into the gravel.  Lorenzo was suddenly dogging Zarco for third place, and Dovizioso went through on Rossi, who was definitely having tire issues.  On Lap 12 Lorenzo made it through on Zarco and there was your podium.

There was some jousting further down the order that you’ll need to watch the video to understand fully.  Rookie Jonas Folger, on the second Tech 3 Yamaha, had the temerity to go through on legend Rossi on Lap 22 while Rossi’s tires continued to disintegrate beneath him. Lorenzo finally broke Zarco around Lap 23 for his first Ducati podium.  Plenty of exhaling taking place at Ducati Corse over that one.

Dani Pedrosa, climbing back into Tranche 1, and Jorge Lorenzo, advancing to Tranche 3, still have some go in their tanks.  That Lorenzo could do well at Jerez on the Ducati says much about him and the GP17, that they appear to be nearing a rapprochement that will allow Lorenzo, as well as Dovizioso, to compete for the podium most every time out.

Danilo Petrucci, with a solid seventh place finish on the Pramac Ducati GP17, moves up to T2. Here’s the rest, including a look-back at the previous rankings:

Rankings After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

New Rankings after Round 4:

T 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

T 2:  Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Petrucci↑

T 3:  Lorenzo↑, Folger, A Espargaro↑, Miller↓, Iannone, Redding

T 4:  Bautista↓, P Espargaro, Barbera, Baz

T 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham, (Rins)

Social climbers:     Pedrosa, Petrucci, Lorenzo, and Aleix Espargaro.

Lorenzo’s podium very impressive; he looked in command of the GP17.

Aleix Espargaro has the Aprilia competitive.

Pedrosa now owns a new record for consecutive seasons with at least one grand prix win at 16. Won it during the 3000th grand prix of the modern era.  Worthy of respect.  More titanium in him than most golf clubs.  Forearms like cables.  Little Big Man is what I used to call him, and I still like it.

Losing Face:          Miller and Bautista.  Miller, in part, for such a prissy swing he took at Bautista.  I don’t care that it was Bautista’s fault.  But either swing like you mean it or don’t swing.

Crutchlow is flirting with T3.

Rossi is flirting with T2 and hasn’t won since Mugello last year. Tire issues today not his fault, but rider’s choice nonetheless.

So Moto2 and MotoGP are Modeling One Another…

…as the following comparison clearly shows.  Focus groups have informed Dorna that fans prefer it if an old crafty veteran challenges a young buck for the top spot.  They don’t want either rider to get away.  And the more riders challenging for the title the better.  Four and five would be optimal.

Statistically, the most attractive cross-class matchups for this season appear thus as of May 7, 2017:

Moto2          Franco Morbidelli             MotoGP        Marc Marquez

Moto2          Tom Luthi                       MotoGP        Valentino Rossi

Moto2          Miguel Oliveira                MotoGP        Maverick Vinales

Moto2          Alex Marquez                  MotoGP        Jorge Lorenzo

Judging from Sunday’s performances, things are about where the suits want them.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

The Big Picture Heading to Le Mans

In the premier class, the top four is as tight as Tupperware:

Rossi           62

Vinales        60

Marquez      58

Pedrosa       52

This is sweet.  This is what fans want, heading into Round 5.  The tranching and the standings stand up, I feel, to one another.  Some riders have positive momentum, while others are struggling.  The Tech 3 Yamaha guys are strong every time out and not intimidated by future hall of famers.  Each of the top four is fully aware of the chestnut that in order to finish first, one must first finish.

Over at Moto2, Morbidelli now leads Luthi by a manageable 11 points, with Oliveira another 15 points back. Alex Marquez and 20-year-old Italian wonder Francesco Bagnaia (second today after successfully fighting off an extended challenge from Mattia Passini) make up the top five.  Six riders took the checkered flag within the first ten seconds at Jerez.

One of the things Le Mans is known for is sketchy weather.  If, as is not uncommon, conditions are less than ideal in northern France two weeks hence, we could see how the top four MotoGP riders perform in the wet, the cold, or both.  This could be revealing about those riders with aspirations to top five finishes for the season. Riders like Miller and Petrucci enjoy the rain, while other riders don’t.  Wet weather could further tighten the race at the top of both classes.

For the focus groups and the suits at Dorna it just doesn’t get any better. 

Full Jerez 2017 Results 

2017 Standings after 4 Rounds 

2010: Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

April 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Filet of Rossi on Lap 21; Roast of Pedrosa on Lap 27 

The Gran Premio bwin de Espana at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday was a hash of the worst and the best that MotoGP has to offer.  The first 22 laps were an absolute parade with virtually no lead changes and little drama, aside from guys pushing 200 mph on two wheels.  The last five laps were a masterpiece by Jorge Lorenzo, who moved from fourth place to first for his first win of 2010.  In the process, he again demonstrated the patience and strategic thinking he has lacked until now.  It appears that his development as the heir apparent to Valentino Rossi may now be in its final stages. 

Sunday was a perfect day on the dazzling Spanish Riviera.  The usual suspects had qualified well on Saturday, led, somewhat surprisingly, by homeboy Dani Pedrosa, who apparently solved the suspension problems that had plagued him all year.  Pedrosa was on the pole, followed by Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi.  Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards completed Tranche One on this round, and it looked as if the long-suffering Pedrosa might enjoy his first day in the sun since his win last year at Valencia.

Recall that Round 1 in Qatar had left Casey Stoner gasping for air, Valentino Rossi looking impregnable, and Jorge Lorenzo sporting the long-awaited maturity he had lacked as recently as last season.  Lorenzo’s balls-to-the-wall racing style had secured second place in the world in 2009, but the three DNFs he recorded in his reckless (not wreckless) style had probably cost him the championship.  At Qatar, Nicky Hayden looked rejuvenated, Andrea Dovizioso looked threatening, and rookie Ben Spies looked ready for prime time.

As they say here in Spain, “Bienvenido a Espana.”

For the bulk of the first 20 laps today, it was Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso going round and round.  There was some action in the seven-to-eleven spots, but I’m generally too busy to pay much attention to that stuff.  Several riders went walkabout early on, including the soon-to-be-late Loris Capirossi and Aleix Espargaro.  Pramac Racing’s Espargaro recovered and re-entered the race, only to spend most of his day working feverishly trying not to get lapped by Pedrosa.  Ben Spies retired on Lap 7 with mechanical issues.  By Lap 20, the guys in the row front of us started passing big joints around, noticeably bypassing us.  One of the gorgeous brunettes (a dime a dozen in these parts) in the stand next to us was fiddling with her split ends.  “Off in the distance, a dog howled.”

Suddenly, it became obvious that Jorge Lorenzo had found something.

On Lap 10 he had passed Hayden without breaking a sweat, and began patiently lining up Rossi.  By Lap 21 he was on top of Rossi, and then past him.  Pedrosa, who led all day by more than a second—plenty in MotoGP time—led Lorenzo by .8 at that point.  I was thinking it would end up Pedrosa/Lorenzo/Rossi, a nice day for the hometown crowd, when Lorenzo left Rossi in his wake and drew a bead on Pedrosa.

Everyone knows the depth of enjoyment Jorge Lorenzo experiences passing teammate and arch rival Valentino Rossi.  Judging from how Lorenzo handled himself on the last three laps of this race, it’s possible he enjoys taking down Dani Pedrosa equally well.  Teammate or countryman?  Countryman or teammate?  Who really knows what’s going on in Jorge Lorenzo’s head?

Not that it matters.  Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa performed as expected in the last five laps of the race.  Lorenzo exerted his will on his bike and his countryman.  Pedrosa rode well in the lead and folded when it mattered, running wide in a late right-hander and allowing Lorenzo through, conceding the path to the win.  Talking a brave game all week long and then lacking los cojones at the moment of truth to hold his ground and force Lorenzo on to the brakes.  The book on Dani is “doesn’t like to mix it up in the corners.”  The book had it dead right today.

All in all, it was a great day to be a Spanish racing fan.  Early in the morning, it was 18-year old Spaniard Daniel Ruiz starting the day by winning the first Rookie’s Cup race of the season.  Pol Espargaro took the 125cc race while many of the fans were still finding their way to their seats.  Toni Elias, fresh off his crash in Qatar and nursing a bad wrist, battled Thomas Luthi and Shoya Tomizawa all day and finally prevailed for his first Moto2 win before his home fans, most of whom were delirious with joy at the end of the race.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa took the top two spots on the premier class podium.  And although the fans claim to prefer Pedrosa to Lorenzo, as Jorge hails all the way from Barcelona, for God’s sake, it appears they’ve grown a little weary of Pedrosa’s mad Chihuahua routine, his underdog-singing-the-blues rap.  There was no shortage of Lorenzo fans in today’s crowd.

Elsewhere on the grid, Pramac’s Mika Kallio had a great day, starting dead last and finishing 7th.   Marco Melandri recovered from a dreadful outing in Qatar to finish 8th today.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet qualified 6th and finished 9th, making him two for two this year qualifying better on Saturday than he raced on Sunday.  Alvaro Bautista recovered from a last lap fall in Qatar to finish 10th and claim the Top Rookie of the Week award from Hiroshi Aoyama, who won it at Losail but struggled today, finishing 14th.

The top five finishers in a great 17 lap Moto2 race today included Elias, Shoya Tomizawa, Thomas Luthi, Yuki “Crash” Takahashi and Simone Corsi.  The race was red-flagged early due to a pile-up involving some nine bikes, the first of what promises to be many such collisions in the overcrowded Moto2 field.

The crowd seemed as interested in the 125s today as they were the big bikes.  Espargaro claimed the top spot on the podium, flanked by two other Spaniards, Nicolas Terol and Esteve Rabat.

On to Le Mans for Round 3.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorycle.com

Marquez vs Vinales

Captain America needs a win 

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

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

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

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

Recent History at COTA

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

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

Disorder in the Standings

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

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

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

Rule #1:  Beat Your Teammate

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

Factory Teams

Repsol Honda:                 Marquez 13          Pedrosa 11

Movistar Yamaha:           Vinales 50            Rossi 36

Factory Ducati:                Dovizioso 20        Lorenzo   5

Factory Suzuki:                Rins 7                   Iannone 0

Factory Aprilia:                A Espargaro 10    Lowes 0

Factory KTM:                   Pol Espargaro 2   Smith 1

 

Satellite Teams

Pramac Ducati:                Redding 17          Petrucci 9

Aspar Ducati:                   Bautista 13          Abraham 8

Tech 3 Yamaha:               Folger 16              Zarco 11

Marc VDS Honda:            Miller 15              Rabat 5

Reale Avintia Ducati:       Baz 9                    Barbera 6

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

MotoGP 2017 is here

January 27, 2017

For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week.  The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.

Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest.  The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development.  The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner.  If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title.  Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.

Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.

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The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there.  The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.

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The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi.  Marquez remains in a league of his own.  He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers.  Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether.  Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.

Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years.  I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.

Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave.  He should win three races this season.  And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.

I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi.  Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017.  Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi.  If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces.  The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.

Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle.  Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP.  Welcome to the big league, rookies.

Visit crash.net  for practice times.

 

Moto2 Going to 750cc in 2018?

January 8, 2017

If you believe what you read online, there are reports, notably not on the MotoGP website, that Triumph will replace Honda as the sole engine supplier for Moto2, providing the series with a 750cc triple that would up the stakes in the junior class.

If this is true, this is news.  The domino effect is that it will probably cause Moto3 to raise the displacement on their bikes, too, to 400 or 500cc with a bunch of hyper-hormonal teenagers riding them.

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Niccolo Antonelli, photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

What could possibly go wrong?