Archive for the ‘MotoGP Aragon’ Category

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez Proves It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Vinales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda—you remember, the one with the acceleration issues—for the world championship.

It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Lorenzo) Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Jorge Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.

Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:

• “The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.”

We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017 Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Vinales chasing, Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Zarco and Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Vinales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.

Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:

1. Maverick Vinales 85
2. Dani Pedrosa 68
3. Valentino Rossi 62
4. Marc Marquez 58
5. Johann Zarco 55
6. Andrea Dovizioso 54
7. Cal Crutchlow 40

Vinales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Vinales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, could be blindingly bright and all too brief.

Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as re Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

• “Keeping them honest will be the likes of Lorenzo’s teammate and wingman Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki. Alex Rins, on the second factory Suzuki, and Johann Zarco on a Tech 3 satellite Yamaha are the Moto2 grads most likely to podium this year, with Rins looking, to me anyway, like the rookie of the year for 2017. Another Alien in the making.”

So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Iannone, Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.

Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand—the only rider ever to do so—and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia—started and finished second—that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)

• “Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”

We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher, a second one occurring when Pramac Ducati signed the lost-at-sea Tito Rabat to a deal for 2018, taking over for Redding. Moving the second seat on the team from the frying pan into the fire, if you ask me.

So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by (wrong about) Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Scott Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”

That didn’t take long.

Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.

• “It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”

Just sayin’. Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of his 2017 was better than the first. There.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.
• Dani Pedrosa. Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
• Cal Crutchlow. Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older—33 next year—appears to have reached the high water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
• Jonas Folger. Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps the best bike on the grid. If he improves even a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with frère Johann.
• Aleix Espargaro again brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.
• Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top ten finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
• Finally, Sad Sam Lowes. Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.

Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha, and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.

There are people out there—smart, otherwise-lucid folks—who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Vinales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a Yamaha wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Vinales began to falter somewhat, Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Round 14 matched the final 2017 standings.

2017 Season Graph color snip

Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.

As an aside, the spreadsheet appears to support the old golfing adage that you drive for show and putt for dough. Spraying the ball off the tee, then making long putts for saves and, finally, the win, is how the smart ones do it. In contrast to his fabled 2014 season, it took Marquez a while to understand the new bike and find his rhythm. Once he did, in Barcelona, and as he got closer to the 18th green in Valencia, he started making those putts. From then on he was essentially unstoppable.

Final Tranches of 2017

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham

The Last Word

MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.
Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Vinales is going to be a premier class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And, with plenty of hot young talent in the pipeline, MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.

 

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 24, 2017

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

No Rain as Spanish Reign in Spain 

Honda’s Marc Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in Aragon.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder now has momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and exiled Ducati pilot Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, dimmed somewhat. 

Valentino Rossi:  Genius at Work on Saturday

A pole for Rossi on Saturday would have entailed the active intervention of the Racing Gods. Some may argue that it was the Racing Gods themselves who put him on the front row. There are plenty of men out there who take this kind of risk, with this kind of injury, for money. There are very few who, like Rossi, undertake such dangerous stuff for the sheer love of the game. After all, there is a 10th title waiting to be won; the $200 million and the rest of it will still be there after racing is over. It is no secret that The Gods find favor in men with such commitment to their calling, which helps explain why, at age 38, he can still play.  Astonishing. 

Saturday gave us yet another example of why Rossi has more premier class racing trophies than any other rider ever. He is sufficiently competitive to ignore a twice-fractured leg, ride in four practice sessions, sail into Q2, and qualify on the front row, when any lucid mortal would be in traction. He gives himself a chance to gather points, even when he’s hurt. Quién es más macho? 

Practice and Qualifying 

Notable names that made the post-FP3 cut into Q2 included the factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati teams, as well as a sampling of interesting climbers—Mika Kallio, wildcarding on the third KTM (and showing up regular team rider Bradley Smith), Alvaro Bautista punching above his weight on the Ducati GP16, and an incredulous Andrea Iannone, who could not remember the last time he didn’t have to suffer through Q1 on the Suzuki.

The lot in Q1 included Jack Miller, pimped at the flag by Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who, in turn, tailed Jorge Lorenzo, looking strong on the Ducati GP17, into Q2. Others failing to make the A team included Danilo Petrucci, a shaken, not stirred, Jonas Folger, cleared by the medical center to participate, with Three Brits Not Named Crutchlow bringing up the rear, as it were.

With Lorenzo and Zarco joining the lambs, Q2 was worth the price of admission. It divided itself into halves, with each team making a tire change. Marc Marquez won the first half convincingly, and was challenging to extend his lead with four minutes left in the second when he lost the front, resulting in a fifth-place start behind Cal Crutchlow and in front of Dani Pedrosa, who had been quick all weekend.  The eventual polesitter, Maverick Vinales, edged a menacing Lorenzo, who had earlier edged Rossi (!) himself off the pole. A classic front row—something old, something new, something red…  An all-Honda second row. The other championship co-leader, Andrea Dovizioso, looking unsettled all weekend, made it only to the top of the third row.

#93–Mental Toughness on Display

Sunday would dawn with clear blue skies and hot temperatures, Honda weather in Spain. On a track finding favor with the Yamahas and Ducatis. Few riders had slept  easily on Saturday night. On a personal note, during qualifying my tranches were shredded like confetti on New Year’s Eve and I had predicted Rossi on the sidelines. Order needed to be restored, somehow, on Sunday. Generally, it wasn’t.

The heat predicted early in the week arrived, and tire choices and wear became determining factors.  A snapshot of this allegation shows Marquez on the top step having chosen a hard rear, Pedrosa on the second having chosen the medium, and Lorenzo on the third, having gone for the soft.  Just sayin’. 

Perhaps the strangest sensation today was watching Jorge Lorenzo, in red, looking kind of like the Lorenzo of old (minus the vapor trail) and leading from Turn 1 of the first lap until Lap 16, when Marquez eased through at Turn 12.  Lorenzo’s first podium in 10 rounds must be rather encouraging. Still, at the post-race press conference I found myself wondering about the last time I saw the series leader flanked by challengers trailing by 172 points, collectively.

With championship rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales having a generally rough day, and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi exchanging his crutches for handlebars, Marquez took advantage, creating some breathing room between himself and Dovizioso (-16), Vinales (-28), Pedrosa (-54) and Rossi (-56). Though not a crushing, decisive loss, both Vinales and Dovizioso struggled all day at a track they might dominate in different conditions.

What Does It All Mean?

  1. Rossi is, simply stated, a freak.
  2. Dovizioso and Vinales must move into carpe diem mode. This is undoubtedly Dovi’s last best chance to win a MotoGP championship; Vinales will get his chances.  Marquez says he has felt great since Catalunya and continues to feel great. For both riders, for the rest of the season, there can be only one mantra:  Beat Marquez.  Never mind beat your teammate. Nothing else matters. Beat Marquez or wait until next year.
  3. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, each Aliens at various points in their careers, now have holes in their games: Lorenzo gets the yips in the rain, and Dani cannot heat his tires in cold/wet conditions. In perfect conditions such as today they will continue to push for podiums. True Aliens can race in any conditions. Some might argue that Dovizioso is only truly competitive in cool or damp conditions; I’ll have Steve, our crack research team, look into that.
  4. Aleix Espargaro tied his best result on the Aprilia, a 6th place finish in Qatar, and, in the process, continues to make the Sam Lowes defenders of the world look demented.
  5. Mika Kallio finished 11th and, in the process, continues to make Bradley Smith look sick. Some KTM fans want Kallio in and Smith out now.
  6. My ranking tranches took a beating today. I need some time to digest the results, and will post new tranches in the Motegi preview. Apparently the Espargaro brothers want a word with me, while I could use five minutes of Alex Rins’ time to discuss how my Tranche 2 rider manages to finish 17th.

2018 Provisional Rider LineupWith the signing of Xavier Simeon from Moto2 to be the second rider at Reale Avintia Ducati, for whatever reason, the 2018 grid is now complete.  Three riders—Loris Baz, Hector Barbera and Sam Lowes—were shown the door.  Three more—Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat—believe a change of premier class scenery next season will improve their prospects.  And three riders were promoted up from Moto2—Franco Morbidelli, Tom Luthi and Simeon.

My question at present is this:  What does the Reale Avintia Ducati team expect in 2018 from Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon?  Less than they get this year from Barbera and Baz, in my estimation.  Xavier Simeon, really? I mean, Rabat has amassed 28 points in MotoGP this year, while Simeon has managed but 16 in Moto2.  Compare this to Baz with 39 and Barbera 23. The X-Man must have a wheelbarrow full of sponsorship money in his garage.

Next Stop: Asia

Three weeks to Motegi, with Marquez leading and feeling froggy.  Three weeks for Dovizioso and Vinales to figure out what on earth they must do to catch this guy. Three weeks to contemplate what Marquez might do to them on a bike he doesn’t have to wrestle all day.

Three weeks to figure out how they might be spending the next five months.

 

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 18, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Stakes High in Spanish Shootout

Sunday’s Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón de MotoGP is unlikely to have a momentous impact on the 2017 championship standings. Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, playing cat and mouse at 200 mph and tied at present, will head for the Pacific flyaway rounds separated by, at most, 25 points. The man in jeopardy of losing touch is factory Yamaha prodigy Maverick Viñales. A crash this week could put him some 40 points behind the leader—whoever it is—with four rounds to go, not a good place to be, even on a YZR-M1.

Recent History at Aragon

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon was a flag-to-flag cluster that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center. Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know—but the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth-place start to a thrilling silver medal finish over Cal Crutchlow, grinding his expensive British teeth once again on the factory Ducati.

In 2015, Lorenzo put on a clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card.

A year ago, Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Maverick Viñales won here in 2013 in Moto2. While riding the Suzuki, he managed 11th place the first year and a respectable 4th place last year. Lorenzo had two wins and a second here the last three years. On the Yamaha. This year he doesn’t see the podium. Who does see the podium are Marquez and Dovizioso, two masters at the height of their respective games (it just took Dovizioso much longer to get to this level than it did wonderkid #93.), on machines with differing strengths and weaknesses. Dovi is having a career year, while Marquez is having a career career, working on his fourth title in five premier class seasons. Rossi is down and out, and Pedrosa, down but not quite out, never having done more than get close.

But Viñales… Before the season began, I had him slotted for four wins and four DNFs. The wins number is within easy reach with five rounds left. But the falls, the falls, are they going to happen, or can he keep it upright, and stay close to the current leaders? At this point, he needs me to be right, or conservative, about the wins, and over on the DNFs. And that’s before the Tech 3 guys started running out of fuel on their 2016 M1s.

Lots of Movement in the Tranches

After Round 12 Silverstone

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 13 Misano

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi)
Tranche 2: Pedrosa↓, Zarco, Folger, Lorenzo, Petrucci↑, Rins↑
Tranche 3: Crutchlow↓, Barbera, Bautista↓, Baz, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, P Espargaro↑
Tranche 5: Abraham↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Bradley Smith all had solid results in Misano, in the rain. Should they repeat their credible performances this weekend, in the dry, they will be moving up in the standings, with Hector Barbera, Loris Baz and The Rider Formerly Known as The Maniac at risk of getting knocked down. Iannone may lose his contract on the Suzuki altogether if the suits at Dorna and Suzuki have their way, Johnny Rae’s name being mentioned as a replacement.

Alex Rins, on the strength of his 8th place finish at Misano, is ensconced, at least for now, in Tranche 2 along with Zarco and Folger. Rookie of the year undecided at this point. Other than a poor outing at the Red Bull Ring, Rins is showing steady improvement since his injury, with top tens in his last two races, under vastly differing conditions. I’d like to see him on a factory Yamaha one of these days, but he’ll probably have to take a number behind Tech 3’s Frick and Frack.

This Just In

World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark will have the hottest seat in the house this weekend, having been named to “replace Valentino Rossi” on the factory Yamaha. Good one. I’m sure Michael is a great guy, rock star-quality looks, but he should look up the word “cipher” in the dictionary: a zero; a figure 0. Synonyms: zero · 0 · nil · naught/nought. Placeholder. Imagine Lin Jarvis, “Just keep it warm if you will, please, old boy and try not to bang it about too much. Mr. Rossi is expected back soon.” I guess Katman Nakasuga, the Yamaha test rider who podiumed in Valencia a few years back, is busy this weekend, a wedding in his wife’s family or something equally inescapable.

Your Weekend Forecast

It doesn’t appear to have rained in the greater Alcaniz environs for some time now, and the long-range forecast for the weekend calls for clear skies, plenty of sunshine to heat the track, with temps in the 80’s and dust on the tarmac if you happen to find yourself off the racing line. These conditions favor the Repsol Honda team; Marquez likes sliding around in hot grease, and Pedrosa can get enough heat into his tires to be able to compete, unlike last time out.

[Speaking of Pedrosa, Alien cards get revoked when a rider develops a hole in his game. For Lorenzo, it’s rain. For Pedrosa, it’s becoming cold temps. (Dovi has been showing one around lately, but I heard one guy say it looked fake.) I think of Dovi as an Alien, although I cannot recall the date of his official entry into The Club. Rossi, Marquez, Vinales—they seem able to ride anywhere, in any conditions. Must be all that enduro and motocross training they do.]

Lorenzo at Misano

Petrucci and Marquez at Misano 2017

An irritating tendency of people trained in economics is to throw around the Latin term “ceteris paribus,” which translates to “all other things being equal,” which they rarely are. As for Sunday’s race, Marquez, Vinales and Dovizioso should end up on the podium, ceteris paribus. But Dani Pedrosa has an opportunity to make me eat my words. Jorge Lorenzo could go all Lazarus at a track he loves. Danilo Petrucci could FINALLY get that elusive first win. And when will Aleix Espargaro see everything fall into place, just once, allowing him to put the Aprilia on the podium?

 

As usual, the race goes off at 8 am on the US east coast and we’ll have results and analysis here ASAP.

 

Lorenzo

Jorge Lorenzo at Misano

 

 

Lazarus

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

September 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead 

Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain.  By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left.  A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014. 

2016-09-25-12Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap.  Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.

The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions.  A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.2016-09-25-18

Disorder at the Start

As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today.  Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7.  From there, he went like this:

Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5

Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7

Passed Vinales on Lap 10

Passed Rossi on Lap 12

It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process).  Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez.  One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.

2016-09-25 (19).png

Off the Podium

Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance.  Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10.  Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.

In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say.  Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury.  Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals.  Bravo Nicky!

Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati 

The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away.  Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season.  They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.

In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much.  Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2.  (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.)  Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.

Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season.  No more whining.  He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one.  He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns.  As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50.  May the better man win.  But please, no more takedowns.

In the Junior Circuits

Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans.  (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder.  The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens.  I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.)  BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group.  At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds.  Give the people what they want—close racing.  Screw the displacement.

In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia.  This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane.  To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title.  Very impressive performance.

Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco.  By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point.  Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head.  Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.

The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific

All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing.  The rest of the contenders break down nicely.  Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second.  Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth.  Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth.  Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth.  And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th.  People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.

Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang;  26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today.  The math is easy.

Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders.  No rest for the wicked.  Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading.  Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.

MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Preview

September 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Yamahas look to regain lost ground in Spain

If Motorland Aragon were located roughly 50 miles west of its current location, it would sit in the exact middle of nowhere.  In 2010, the dusty outlier was to be a temporary emergency replacement for the ill-fated Hungarian GP track at Balatonring, which never got finished.  It has since become a fixture on the calendar, dreaded by journalists, a fourth Spanish round seeming to be exactly what the sport, with its international ambitions, doesn’t need, what with so many countries and venues banging on the door to get in.  Nonetheless, here we, or they, actually, are.

It’s getting crowded up front.

For Repsol Honda mandarin Marc Marquez the sudden arrival of parity in the paddock makes the task of defending his 43-point margin over grizzled Valentino Rossi somewhat more manageable.  Dating back to 2009, the only non-Alien to win a race since Andrea Dovizioso’s triumph in the rain at Donington Park that year was Ben Spies’ miracle at Assen in 2011.  When Jack Miller pulled a rabbit out of his own hat at Assen this year, the Alien win streak was broken, suddenly putting six or eight contenders on the board for each round and making it more difficult for the Rossis and Lorenzos of the world to gain ground even when Marquez is not challenging for the win.

Aragon is one of Jorge Lorenzo’s favorite tracks.  His team sponsor is the name sponsor for the race.  The forecast is for dry and warm conditions.  He has everything going for him and should win the race.  As long as Marquez stays in the top five and Rossi doesn’t take the win, the young Catalan doesn’t have too much at risk.

Recent History at Aragon

In 2013, rookie Marquez, unaware that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, secured the pole, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot during the race and beat him by 1.3 seconds.  Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the painful two-year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 13 seconds behind Marquez.  Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable.  Notwithstanding the gratuitous DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, Marquez would go on to clinch his first premier class title with a smart, strong second place finish at Valencia in the season finale.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon provided fans with 44+ minutes of two-wheeled slapstick, a memorable flag-to-flag affair that left the day’s results scrambled.  Exhibit A:  The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively.  Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center, claiming to be Batman, having run off the track on Lap 4 into an AstroTurf bog which grabbed his front wheel and held it fast, ejaculating him into the tire wall.

While Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know–the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth place start to a thrilling second place finish over Cal Crutchlow, pipped once again on his factory Ducati.  (In retrospect, this may have been the all-time high water mark of the entire Forward Racing MotoGP project, now extinct, as it was trying to finish the 2014 racing season in one piece.  By the 2015 campaign, its owner was under indictment, nobody was getting paid, and Alex de Angelis was renting the #2 seat behind poor Too Tall Baz.)

Last year, Lorenzo, in a race he absolutely had to win, did so convincingly, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains.  Thanks to Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, he reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place.  Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day.  But the diminutive Spaniard spitefully held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of a heretofore winless year.  Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again.

At 5’2” and 120 lbs. in this sport of small men, Dani Pedrosa likely has a “little man’s complex.”  This is not meant as criticism.  It might explain why Hondo so willingly signed him for another two years.  If you cut a guy like Pedrosa after a decade of loyal service, he would probably try to get even.  And, as Lyndon Johnson said of one of his innumerable sleazebag cronies, on the verge of handing him a major patronage job, “We’re better off with him inside the tent pissing out than the other way around.”

Stats Snafu from San Marino Article

Here are the actual stats for the second half of the season, Rounds 10-13:

Rossi           69

Crutchlow    54

Marquez      53

Vinales        53

Pedrosa       49

Lorenzo       40

Dovizioso     40

Iannone       33

My original idea for the Misano race summary—a spirited defense of Cal Crutchlow—which, bolstered by my math errors, was going to assert that he could indeed contend for a title, got stood on its ear by the actual numbers.  (The contested eighth place finish last time out didn’t help.  Nor did the outburst that followed.)  The numbers I sent to MO last time were gibberish.  My apologies.  I was silly to try to defend my alleged antipathy when #35 is eager to feed the flames of his own marginalization.

As for Rossi, the world is correct.  An engine at Mugello and a brainfade at Assen are all that stand between him and his steadily diminishing chance for a title shootout with Marquez in Valencia.  (“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a lovely Christmas.”)

It’s the same reason I don’t play golf anymore.  You can have sixteen strong holes and two bad ones at the end and you suck.

Throw out the high and low scores for each rider.  Then count points.  A blown engine or fall wouldn’t ruin your season.  It would tighten things up in the top ten.

Rider Updates

Alex Lowes continues for Bradley Smith at Tech 3 Yamaha—his efforts came to naught in San Marino after having been eerily strong in practice.  Javier Fores stays on for Loris Baz at Avintia Racing, after having been down and out in Misano, trying to come to grips with the gentle Desmosedici.  Jack Miller, incurable optimist, had hoped to return from hand problems–just a flesh wound—but is being replaced on the Marc VDS Honda by Old Lonesome, Nicky Hayden, as the latter finds something fun to do to fill a break in his WSBK schedule.  And Andrea Iannone is hoping to return from back and judgment problems, the former supposedly requiring 25 days off.  The latter, unfortunately, appears likely to be with him always.

Your Weekend Forecast

Hot, dry and dusty this weekend.  It’s a Yamaha/Ducati circuit but the conditions could favor the Hondas.  Easy to envision Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez on the podium, just like the old days.  Pretenders to the weekend’s throne should include Pedrosa, Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso.  Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso’s Ducati teammate, could figure in the action but looks, as of this writing, like a DNS.  I’m dropping Crutchlow’s LCR Honda back to Tranche 3 in the hope it will motivate him to run with the front group.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis right here around noon.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

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

Repsol Honda reigning champion Marc Marquez extended his winning streak in the U.S. to six, taking an easy win at The Circuit of the Americas by a country mile over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso who had himself fought off several challenges from Yamaha former world champion Valentino Rossi. Confirming that Losail was an outlier, and tightening the standings at the top of the premier class food chain, COTA provided few surprises.

A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and rode quietly into the sunset, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi. Lorenzo launched a late charge to finish fourth, followed by Iannone on the #2 Ducati, Smith and Crutchlow, who was unable to maintain the winning speeds he showed in practice. Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales claimed 8th and 9th, respectively, and Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci continued to impress in 10th place.

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

2015 COTA Q2 Front RowCaptureQ2 was a great example of why the qualifying format of MotoGP is occasionally better than the race. Marquez jumping off his broken bike, the CHECK ENGINE light red, climbing the wall, sprinting 200 yards to his cold #2 bike with the wrong tires, flogging it across the start/finish line seconds before the checkered flag waved, then pushing his RC213V harder on the flying lap to a new track record and his third consecutive pole in Austin. I don’t think any other rider on the grid could manage that.

Add to his natural ability and quality equipment the fact that he’s seeing Austin on the big bike for the third time, and knows exactly where he is on the track. He already knows the correct line here. Now all he has to do is pick the right tires and keep it on the track through turn 1. His lap at the end of qualifying, after an extended sprint, with a big moment, on a #2 bike he described as having “setting not so good,” trashed the previous record by four-tenths. Close to inconceivable.

You get the sense Marc Marquez has GPS in his head and can pretty much go as fast as he wants. He rides a million dollar bike like it was a miniature BMX in the schoolyard in 5th grade. Marquez in Sepang 2013

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

Weather was iffy all weekend, at a track that is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most demanding on the 18-round calendar. It is, likewise, becoming increasingly clear that Jorge Lorenzo cannot compete in the rain.

The consecutive crashes at Assen and the Sachsenring in 2013 involved wet weather, and it appears he’s lost his ability to push in the wet. His FP2 in the wet was another example. There was a race or two last year where he failed to post due to the wet. And although the weather ended up not being a factor during the race today… There’s still the damnable Catalan.

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

The Brits seem to be getting it together. Both Crutchlow on the CWMLCRAMF, etc. Honda and Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda made appearances in the top three during practice sessions, with CC 2nd in both FP2 in the wet and FP3 in the dry. Redding ran 3rd in FP1 before qualifying 6th. Not to mention young Danny Kent, the great hope of soccer hooligans everywhere, dominating the Moto3 race. Dominating at a track like Austin says you’re good at everything. Sam Lowes’ first win in Moto2 was even sweeter. Could Crutchlow or Redding break into the top three?

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

One looks at the bottom four qualifiers and cannot help but ponder how far the mighty have fallen:
• Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion, qualifying 22nd for Honda in his 200th grand prix start.
• Alvaro Bautista, sporting a 125cc world championship in 2006 and a second place finish in the Moto2 class in 2008, in 23rd for a thoroughly grateful Aprilia Racing Gresini team.
• Alex de Angelis, with 3rd place finishes in the 250cc class in 2006 and 2007 and an 8th place finish in MotoGP in 2009 sitting 24th for Octo IodaRacing.
• And, finally, unwilling and unmotivated, Marco Melandri, the #2 Aprilia rider on loan from WSBK, lollygagging in 25th place. His credentials include a world championship in the 250cc class in 2002, and second overall in MotoGP 2005 aboard the factory Honda. In case you’re thinking it’s obvious that Melandri is washed up, he spent the last four seasons in WSBK finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 4th, the last aboard the Aprilia

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

The Moto2 race was led by Kent going away, but the fight for second place was ferocious. The racing surface appeared to be “dirty.” Kent’s margin the largest in Moto3 history. Whoda thunk? The residual battle for second place, won by 15-year old rising star Fabio Quaternaro, was high quality stuff.

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

The French teenager Quaternero has it going on in Moto3. 15 years old. His star is, as they say, ascendant. The fact that rookie Alex Rins leads the series indicates the depth of talent at the top of the Moto2 food chain, although something’s up with Tito Rabat.

Danny Kent is a certified winner in Moto3 and needs to move up to Moto2 to determine if he’s the real deal or what. His team earned a 1st and a 3rd at COTA. Not a bad weekend. See what happens in Argentina and Jerez first.

Sam Lowes ran a great race for his first win in Moto2. The sun seems to be rising on The British Empire. Completive at all three levels. Hard to visualize Cal Crutchlow on the podium. But I can’t remember the last time I heard the British national anthem during a podium celebration either.

A Small Confession

Having grown up as a committed Washington Redskins fan I developed an intense dislike of all things remotely related to the state of Texas, from the state flag to the aw-shucks attitude of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys coach may he ever rot in… I digress. But I must admit that the Circuit of The Americas is well-designed and deserves its reputation as the most challenging circuit on the tour. I thought COTA was going to take the place of my home track in Indianapolis. As it turned out, Laguna Seca lost. But this place seems built for motorcycles, and the riders spend an enormous amount of time in turns. Great changes in elevation. Better than Indianapolis. Way better.

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

The crews are working frantically to get the grid packed up, stuffed into the three 747’s Dorna keeps for this purpose, and head off for South America, a nine hour flight, then cutting their way through triple canopy jungle to reach the garage area, portaging their trailers through snake-infested rivers, in time for practice on Friday. It’s no picnic being on one of these crews. And Rio Honda is a little off the beaten path.

We’ll bring you the race preview on Wednesday, with results and analysis on Sunday evening.

Lorenzo wins flag-to-flag Alien crashfest

September 28, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Results, by Bruce Allen.  

The 800th MotoGP premier class race in history started today in conditions resembling the first, held in 1949 as the Isle of Man TT—cloudy, damp and cool. When the weather here is dry, the place looks like something straight out of Mad Max; the only things missing are the sidecars and tanker trucks. When it rains, anything can happen, as today’s results demonstrated.

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon started under cloudy skies with a dry track, and had the makings of a typical all-Alien rout. Despite being hosted by the primary factory Yamaha team sponsor, both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo struggled all weekend, unable to find any grip or pace in practice. That they would qualify 6th and 7th, respectively, was actually something of a pleasant surprise, with Rossi having had to go through Q1 to get there. Meanwhile, the Repsol Hondas were blistering the tarmac, with putative champion Marc Marquez qualifying on the pole and teammate Dani Pedrosa second. The rest of the grid spent Friday and Saturday blowing engines, setting bikes on fire (Hector Barbera’s shiny new Avintia Ducati 14.2 converted into a smoking pile of black ash) and sliding off all over the place.

Dall'Igna, French MotoGP 2014Of special note prior to the start were the efforts of Ducati Corse and Magician-in-Chief Gigi Dall’Igna to provide machinery for every taste and budget. The result of their frantic preparations found factory #1 Andrea Dovizioso and rising Pramac star Andrea Iannone seated on the new GP14.2, and Avintia’s Barbera on a GP14.2 equipped with the spec ECU and open class software (providing a glimpse of 2016.) Pramac’s luckless #2 Yonny Hernandez and factory defector Cal Crutchlow were left to wrestle standard GP14s, hoping for rain. That their prayers were eventually answered shows the fickle nature of the racing gods, as follows.

A Dry First Half

The race announcers referred all day to “the mist”, an apparently British form of precipitation that had been thundering down on the track early in the morning, yielding to the more common form later in the day. And while it was officially declared a dry race at the start, the grass and runoff areas were bogs.

At the start, Iannone shot to the front from the #3 hole, followed in close order by Marquez, Lorenzo—on fire out of the #7 hole—and Pedrosa, with Rossi and Pol Espargaro not far behind. Iannone and Marquez traded positions twice on Lap 2 before Iannone, in the lead, ran wide and left the racing surface, something we have seen riders do hundreds of times.Rossi, Dutch MotoGP Race 2008

Typically, riders in this particular pickle run into the grass, slow way down, and eventually get things turned around, returning to the track down a few positions but otherwise intact. But as Iannone and, on Lap 4, Rossi discovered the hard way, today’s off-track conditions were anything but typical. Once they hit the grass, in almost identical postures, their bikes virtually stopped, throwing them over the handlebars, rider and machine then going ragdoll until coming to rest next to the wall. Iannone walked off, but Rossi was removed on a stretcher, reported later to be okay with the exception of a possible concussion. Thus, at the close of Lap 4, the leaders were Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Pol Espargaro and Dovizioso.

By mid-race, Lorenzo and Marquez had traded positions a few times, Pedrosa sat in third awaiting disaster in front of him, the rest of the field trailing, with Dovizioso having taking over fourth place from Espargaro the Younger. At this point, the racing gods yielded to the rain gods, and Round 14 of the 2014 season, #800 of all time, became perhaps the most memorable contest of the year.

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

By Lap 16, the mist had become something stronger, what we Americans call “rain”, with Race Direction waving first a white flag, then a white flag with a red cross taped to it, indicating the riders could return to the pits to swap out their machines for #2 bikes set up for the wet. Marquez and Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo, the expectation at that point that all three would pit together, with the Repsol teammates then going mano-a-mano to the flag, leaving Lorenzo a demoralizing third. Lap 17 saw Pedrosa and Marquez exchange places at least five times, leaving HRC kahuna Livio Suppo gasping for breath and Lorenzo dropping off the pace.

On Lap 18, Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro became the first rider to enter the pits followed in quick succession by pretty much everyone but the three remaining Alien leaders, who were still surfing around the circuit on slicks. Andrea Dovizioso crashed out on Lap 19, reducing the second GP14.2 to an engine, two wheels and a pile of recyclable materials. On a crucial Lap 20, Lorenzo pitted and Pedrosa crashed out of second place, got up, ran what seemed like a quarter mile to his idling RC213V, got it up and running and headed gingerly for the pits.

Marquez swims across the lineWhat did NOT happen on Lap 20 was Marquez entering the pits. For whatever reason—youthful exuberance, inexperience, a sense of infallibility—the defending champion rode past pit lane, his crew gesticulating wildly and thoroughly ignored. This single decision, reminiscent of his unfortunate DQ at Phillip Island last year, when he also pitted too late, cost him the win today. Inevitably, later in the lap, Marquez, now hydroplaning, lost the front, went down, and paid the price for his willfulness.

On Lap 21, the rain having become a downpour, Lorenzo found himself in the lead, with Marquez, still on slicks, still ignoring his team, acting like a stubborn child, his bike in tatters, dropping like a stone in the standings, finishing the lap in 10th position. Finally, on Lap 22, Aleix Espargaro having taken over second place, and Cal Crutchlow having miraculously materialized in third, Marquez entered pit lane, traded bikes, and returned to the track. Ultimately, he and teammate Pedrosa would cross the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Perhaps “disrespectively” would better describe their conditions at the end. Amazingly, while their day was ruined, their seasons were essentially unaffected by the day’s debacle.

The Big Picture

The most noteworthy occurrence at the 2014 Aragon GP was the historic performance of Aleix Espargaro, who deservedly became the first open class rider to secure a podium finish, providing, along with Barbera’s machine, a glimpse into the MotoGP world of 2016. The defiant Cal Crutchlow proved little else but that the Desmosedici can be competitive in the rain; on a normal day, he would have finished no better than sixth.Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

Remarkably, the standings at the top remained essentially unchanged. Marquez, who deserves to be taken to the woodshed by his ever-present father, came to Aragon leading Pedrosa by 74 points and left leading by 75. Pedrosa’s lead over Rossi for second place jumped from one to three points. Lorenzo was the big winner, gaining 25 points on his teammate, whom he now trails by only 12. Marquez’s magic number heading for the Pacific flyaway rounds is one, but it looks to be a dogfight for the next three positions for the 2014 season. MotoGP fans, I’m sure, join us in hoping Valentino Rossi is good to go for Motegi and beyond.

Postscript—The podium celebrations today were marred by the first ever, at least in my memory, appearance of a podium GUY. Usually, we are treated to the sight of two long-stemmed local beauties getting sprayed with champagne after the trophies have been handed out and the Spanish national anthem hummed. Hopefully, this appalling display of gender equality will, in the future, be confined to the workplaces and legislative chambers where it belongs. I, for one, am not ready for a big photo spread in Motorcycle.com or Crash.net of Motorcycle Hunks.

Heading back to Spain, Marquez needs to focus

September 22, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Previiew

Bruce Allen  © Motorcycle.com

For Repsol Honda super soph Marc Marquez, who flirted with perfection for much of the season, there remain but three goals for the 2014 MotoGP season. First and foremost—win the title, which is pretty much a done deal. Second—stay out of the hospital, which is to say take no unnecessary risks in a sport which is, by its very nature, risky. Third and last—break Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a single season.

raineyrossi1vt

Wayne Rainey and Vali

You and I would probably reverse the first two, which is one reason we’re not out there competing for world championships in anything. I was once told that to be successful in advertising, one had to lack the ability to recognize life-threatening situations. This goes without saying in motorcycle racing, where the trajectory of one’s life can change in an instant. Thus all the wheelchairs one sees at AMA events. And while we are consistently hard on the so-called back markers in the premier class, it must be admitted that all are hugely talented and courageous beyond belief. The difference between The Aliens and the Michael Lavertys is on the order of three to four seconds per lap. All of which validates the second of my tired clichés this week—the difference between good and great, in anything, is about 2%.

Marquez swims across the lineMarquez, with a 70-some point lead over teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, can clinch the title at Phillip Island with a couple of top two finishes between now and then. Not a tall order at all for the uniquely gifted young Spaniard. With 11 wins under his belt already, it is hard to imagine he won’t at least tie Doohan. And, should he tie Doohan with, say, two or three rounds left on the schedule, I expect he will go for the record. Despite the fact that he experienced the most serious crash of his career at Sepang in 2011, it would be tempting to go for history in the Honda-friendly Malaysian heat.

Recent History at Aragon

Despite the fact that Motorland Aragon was only added to the MotoGP calendar in 2010 as an emergency replacement for the still-born Hungarian circuit, there have been some great performances there in the years since. The track itself is a gorgeous place. The stacked stone wall looks like something straight out of the Inquisition, while the giant electronic billboard at the other end provides a stunning contrast, from medieval to ultra-modern. Too bad it’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere, 150 miles west of Barcelona. Not as remote as the Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, but not exactly convenient. To anywhere.

Back in 2011, Honda stalwart Casey Stoner, on his way to his second premier class title, arrived at Aragon leading defending champion and Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo by 35 points. At the start, Stoner and teammate Pedrosa went off to play by themselves, leaving Lorenzo to fiddle around with the likes of Gresini Honda pilot Marco Simoncelli and Yamaha teammate Ben Spies, both of whom he ended up beating soundly. Stoner took the top step on the podium and essentially clinched to 2011 title that day, leaving Lorenzo time to start getting accustomed to being referred to as “former champion.”

In 2012, it was Dani’s Revenge, as Pedrosa, who trailed the incandescent Lorenzo by 38 points on the heels of his last-row-start-first-lap-crash Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380at Misano two weeks earlier, won comfortably. Lorenzo claimed second that day, playing it safe, while Monster Tech 3 climber Andrea Dovizioso pushed his satellite Yamaha to the limit all day on his way to a satisfying third place finish. Pedrosa epitomized the “win or bin” mentality so often spoken of in racing, generally by Brits, by winning six of his last eight races that year and crashing out of the other two. Despite piling up his highest career point total in 2012, Pedrosa would end the year 18 points behind Lorenzo, a bridesmaid once again.

Last year, rookie Marc Marquez, not having been informed that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot, and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the two year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 12 seconds behind Lorenzo. Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the chippy DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, he clinched his first premier class title with a strong second place finish at Valencia on the last day of the season.

The Bottom Line

Marquez has now proven himself mortal, with his off-the-podium finish at Brno and the super slo-mo crash last time out at Misano. He doesn’t need to be sensational to achieve his #1 remaining 2014 goal, just good. He mustn’t lose concentration as the season winds down, in order to achieve his #2 goal. And, he will have several opportunities to secure his #3 goal, and further cement his place in MotoGP history, during the remaining rounds. This week’s race would actually be a good place to take a crack at #12, as Aragon is not what they call a terribly “technical” layout. With two wins here in the last three tries, he can go for the pole, check the competition in the first few laps, and decide mid-race whether conditions warrant going for the win. Moreover, he need not worry too much about what Lorenzo does, as the “threat”, such as it is, resides in Pedrosa and Rossi.

Quick Hitters

308_p01_pirro_portrait

Michele Pirro

This is the time of year when Gresini Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista typically rises from the dead. Since joining the Italian team in 2012, he has accumulated the bulk of his points in the second half of the season, narrowly averting a rough dismissal each year. This year, the team is leaving him; say hello to the factory Aprilia team, Alvaro. Perhaps Michele Pirro will become your teammate. He can certainly ride the Ducati, which means he can ride anything…KTM has announced it will join the grid in 2017 and begin testing at the end of next season. Having six manufacturers will certainly be more interesting than having three, although it probably won’t have much to do with goings-on at the top of the food chain…No word yet on whether Nicky Hayden will actually return to the sluggish Aspar customer Honda this round, this year, or ever again…Eugene Laverty, in a Field of Dreams moment, announced he will join the premier class next season, but that he doesn’t actually know, just now, with whom. Staging the announcement before signing the contract is the moto equivalent of “build it and they will come.”… Can two Lavertys be any more exciting than the one that has already accumulated three points this year? Just sayin’…Weather.com says it will be sunny and in the 70’s in Alcaniz this weekend, but Weather.com doesn’t know squat.

The race goes off again this week at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results later on Sunday, as the editorial staff at Motorcycle.com will have sobered up and returned to their customary post-equinox stations by then.

Marquez tags Pedrosa, wins again at Aragon

September 29, 2013

by Bruce Allen. This story, along with hi-rez images, can be found on Motorcycle.com.

Marquez at AragonYears from now, when racing historians ask, “Was there an identifiable moment when Marc Marquez made it clear he would become one of the all-time greats in MotoGP?” many people will answer, “Lap six of the 2013 Aragon GP.”  Determined to go through on Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa at Turn 12, he grazed the back of Pedrosa’s rear tire, stood his bike up, and watched as Pedrosa lost control in a violent highside.  With Pedrosa done for the day, Marquez went on to track down Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo for the sixth win of his rookie year. 

With four rounds left in the 2013 season, it appears Marquez can coast to the first of what promises to be a healthy number of premier class world titles.  Lorenzo, his nearest rival, now trails him by 39 points while Pedrosa, battered, bruised and broken, stands another 20 points in arrears, the victim of Marquez’s lack of experience and utter fearlessness.  No one will suggest that Marquez’s move in Turn 12 was malicious; he came within a whisker of crashing out himself, saved once again only by his cat-like balance and reflexes.  If he can be accused of anything, it is a certain ruthlessness hidden behind his apparent baby-faced innocence.  But make no mistake about it:  Marquez is ambitious and driven, and you had better stand out of his way.

The other riders on the grid have already figured this out.  Jorge Lorenzo, who led from the first turn, found himself on Lap 14 with Marquezcropped-jorge-lorenzo-20131.jpg on his pipes.  Rather than be attacked by the rookie, Lorenzo, as competitive as they come, let Marquez through, admitting so in the post-race press conference.  On a windy day, with braking problems, Lorenzo decided he would be better off slipstreaming the Honda rider, attacking rather than getting attacked.  His strategy failed, as Marquez, once through, never looked back on his way to winning by 1.5 seconds.

Last week I talked about the eyes of Pedrosa and Lorenzo, how Pedrosa appeared resigned while Lorenzo seemed determined.  The images from today’s race will show Pedrosa wearing what’s known as the thousand mile stare, and a look of resignation—not to be confused with acceptance—now written on Jorge Lorenzo’s face.  Nothing Lorenzo could have done today or this season (other than paying heed to cold tires at Assen and the Sachsenring) was going to prevent Marquez from winning his first premier class title.  It has been a matter of too much bike, too much ability, and too much good fortune to end any other way.

One wonders about the atmosphere going forward in the Repsol Honda garage.  On the Marquez side, at age 20, his career path is now leaving contrails on the way to fame, fortune and glory.  On the Pedrosa side, there must exist a disturbing sense that part of the reason for his now certain ruin lays at Marquez’s doorstep.

On his 28th birthday, Pedrosa must understand that his future in MotoGP is likely to consist of a few competitive seasons, followed, perhaps, by a few non-competitive seasons, after which he will need to find something to do with the rest of his life.  Like Roman candles, the best MotoGP careers burn spectacularly for a short time, inspiring plenty of oohs and aahs, before leaving behind, in most cases, a charred, hollow, quickly-forgotten casing.  Winning a championship changes the end of the story and establishes a legacy; failing to do so reduces one to a Wikipedia entry.  In the opinion of many, Dani Pedrosa deserves better.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380

Elsewhere on the Grid

Yamaha #2 and Alien Emeritus Valentino Rossi took advantage of Pedrosa’s misfortune by out-riding GO&FUN Honda pilot Alvaro Bautista on the way to his fifth podium of the year.  Rossi, Bautista, LCR Honda German Stefan Bradl and Monster Tech 3 defector Cal Crutchlow formed the second group of the day and jockeyed for third place from Lap 6 on, with Rossi taking advantage of his experience to beat the two Hondas to the flag.  The same could be said for most of the grid from Row 5 up; for the non-Aliens, the 2013 Aragon GP pretty much ended up where it started.

Crutchlow’s teammate and fellow Brit Bradley Smith finished in his customary seventh place, while Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso topped teammate Nicky Hayden in their weekly tussle for eighth.  For the season, Hayden has finished seventh, eighth or ninth a total of 10 times and Dovizioso nine.  Dovizioso leads Hayden in the standings 112 to 102.  After 14 rounds last year, Dovi had accumulated 179 points.  The difference—67 points, or 5 points per round—is The Ducati Effect.  Crutchlow, leaving Tech 3 Yamaha at the end of the year for the Italian manufacturer, currently holds 156 points.  Expect him to be under 100 at this time next year, but living in a bigger house.

The Big Picture

The only conceivable factor clouding the picture as the 2013 season winds down is the fact that Marc Marquez suffered the single most injurious crash of his career at the next stop on the tour in Malaysia.  That was in 2011, and it was overlooked in the chaos and heartbreak surrounding the death that same weekend of Marco Simoncelli.  During one of the practice sessions following a rainstorm, with the track drying, Marquez failed to notice a puddle of water in one of the turns, hydroplaned at speed, going airborne and landing on his head.  His vision was impaired through the beginning of the 2012 season.  He will undoubtedly be more cautious this year, as he can clinch the title by finishing third for the next four races.

Jorge Lorenzo, of course, will not quit in his pursuit of his budding nemesis.  He will be at a disadvantage at Sepang due to the heat and Motegi due to the layout.  He will have a puncher’s chance at Phillip Island and Valenciana.  But unless Marquez crashes out at least once, Lorenzo will have to be satisfied as the runner-up in 2013.  And, as we’ve discussed above at length, probably for some years to come.

Otherwise, there is very little at stake in the remaining rounds.  Crutchlow is leaving his team at the end of the year and has nothing to prove.  Bradl would prefer to finish ahead of Bautista in the satellite Honda scrum, but each is under contract for 2014.  Nicky Hayden may be the most highly motivated rider on the grid for the duration, as he would dearly love to stick one in the eye of Ducati management and outpoint teammate Dovizioso before his ejection from the team.  If, as rumored, he hooks up with the Aspar Power Electronics team on what would be pretty much a 2014 factory Aprilia, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him beating the Ducati riders next season.  That would be something to cheer about.

Top Ten after Aragon

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 24, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  

See the edited version of this article, complete with hi-rez images, on Motorcycle.com.

Lorenzo needs to keep his streak going 

The 2013 MotoGP championship chase has now come down to the annual Pacific Swing, sandwiched between Aragon and Valenciana.  A mere five rounds left for all the marbles in the premier motorcycle series on Earth.  Seven weeks for Honda little big man Dani Pedrosa or defending Yamaha champion Jorge Lorenzo to erase the 34 point gap Repsol rookie Marc Marquez has built over the past six months.  Good luck with that.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380Many followers of the sport, myself included, feel it is actually a two man race, that Dani Pedrosa has been spiritually broken over the last six rounds.  He had ruled at the top of the heap after Round 7 at Assen, with two golds and three silvers, and led challengers Lorenzo and Marquez by nine and 23 points, respectively.   Having re-broken his left collarbone in practice at the Sachsenring, he has given up 57 points to his rookie teammate since mid-July.  His body language these days gives the impression of a beaten man.  His are the brooding eyes of a contender who has, once again, fallen short of the prize.

Two time and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo, on the other hand, Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDseems to have found a second wind since Brno.  By winning at Silverstone and again at Misano, he has clawed back 10 of the 44 point deficit he faced in late August.  Although it will take a minor miracle, and some rookie mistakes by the relaxed Marquez, to put Lorenzo within reach—say 10 points—of the title by the time Valenciana rolls around, he will concede nothing.  He is probably not going to make it.  From Lorenzo’s vantage point, he may run out of time, but he will not have lost.  His are the eyes of a champion.

Here’s the thing.  Marquez has proven, among a host of other things this season, that he is a rapid learner.  As good as he has become since April, he is only going to get better, and faster, over the rest of this decade.  What he has accomplished this season—six poles, five wins, and 12 podiums in 13 rounds—he has done almost purely on instinct.  Add experience and maturity to the mix, and he appears likely to emerge in a class by himself.

Marquez the ManHRC management is going to keep a death grip on Marquez’ services and provide him with the finest equipment on the griduntil he quits the game.  2013 could be the last realistic opportunity for Jorge Lorenzo to secure his third world championship.  No wonder he’s pressing; if we can see the writing on the wall, surely he can, too.  One mistake, though, and it’s over.

A Brief History of MotoGP at MotorLand 

A last-minute substitution for the failed Balatonring circuit in Hungary in 2010, MotorLand Aragon is an anomaly:  a Yamaha-friendly circuit at which Jorge Lorenzo has never won.  Casey Stoner won easily that year on the Ducati, joined on the podium by Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden, who punked Lorenzo on the penultimate turn of the race for his annual post-2006 rostrum.  The race in 2010 was memorable for having had two Ducatis on the podium, the last time that is likely to happen in my lifetime.

Stoner won again in 2011 for Repsol Honda, followed at some distance by teammate Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Marco Simoncelli.  Valentino Rossi, befouled by the new six engine rule that year, became the first rider ever forced to start from pit lane for going over budget on his engines on his way to a 10th place finish.

Last year, Dani Pedrosa, in the midst of his white-hot finish to the 2012 season, blistered the field and fended off all four Yamahas, with Lorenzo and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Andrea Dovizioso joining him on the podium.  Stoner sat out with the injury suffered at Indianapolis three rounds earlier, and his sub, journeyman Johnny Rea, acquitted himself nicely with a gratifying 7th place finish onboard the Repsol Honda.

Let’s review.  Since 2010, Dani Pedrosa has a gold and two silvers.  Jorge Lorenzo has, in order, a 4th, a 3rd and a 2nd, an encouraging trend if ever there was.  Young Marquez crashed out of the 125 race in 2010, won handily in Moto2 in 2011, and finished second to Pol Espargaro last season in a Moto2 classic, with the top four riders crossing the line within 2 seconds of the winner.  MM ♥ Aragon.

I’m not going out on a limb predicting that these three will end up on the podium on Sunday afternoon.  After all, they’ve hogged the top three spots seven times this year, including the last four rounds.  Alien Emeritus Rossi, meanwhile, has four consecutive 4th place finishes going for him.  His frustration has reached such a high level that he announced this week he’s forming a Moto3 team for 2014, perhaps giving some thought to what life will be like after his racing days are over.  His winning days are largely behind him already.  MotoGP is a young man’s game; there are no Peyton Mannings in MotoGP.

Musical Chairs in the Lower Tranches

Expect the announcement this weekend that Nicky Hayden will be joining the Aspar Power Electronics team for 2014 with enhanced involvement/investment from the Aprilia factory.  Don’t expect his teammate to be Randy de Puniet, who appears likely to take 2014 off to test for Suzuki prior to returning to the grid in 2015.

Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is reportedly torn between remaining with Aspar or taking his act to the NGM Forward Racing team to join the ancient Colin Edwards on Yamaha-powered FTRs.  With Scott Redding having signed with the GO&FUN Gresini team and slated for one of the new Honda “production” bikes, there appears to be a seat available for someone at either Aspar or Forward Racing.  I’d like to hear some ideas as to who might end up where.  Laverty’s brother Eugene has expressed interest in the Aprilia MotoGP program, apparently anxious to whip up on brother Michael.  Not to mention quadrupling his salary.

At the bottom of the food chain, Michael Laverty is getting a bit of a promotion on the PBM team, moving from the PBM ART to the ART ART in a dazzling display of acronyms.  Yonny Hernandez, as we mentioned last time, is taking over for Ben Spies on the Pramac Ducati, with Spies insisting his contract is in no jeopardy for 2014; we’ll see about that.  Australian Damien Cudlin, last seen subbing in MotoGP in 2011, will apparently replace Hernandez on the PBM team for the last five rounds of 2013.

Karel Abraham has cashed out for the year, with his Cardion AB seat being taken, at least this week, by Former Ferracci MV Rider Luca Scassa.  Scassa, onboard a Kawasaki, is sixth this season in World Supersport, not exactly a threat to crash the top ten at Aragon.

Honda Weather for Round 14

Temps are expected to rise into the 80’s and 90’s this weekend at Motorland, such conditions favoring Pedrosa and Marquez.  But Lorenzo is overdue for a win here, having tasted victory at the three other Spanish venues.  Has Pedrosa thrown in the towel?  Can Lorenzo keep his streak, and his championship dreams, alive?  Will Marquez provide another last lap thriller?  Tune into Fox Sports 1 at 8 am EDT for live coverage of the Gran Premio Iveco de Aragon.   We’ll have results right here on Sunday morning.