Archive for the ‘MotoGP Assen’ Category

Why My Hypothesis is Looking Bad After Eight Rounds 07022018

July 2, 2018

© Bruce Allen July 2, 2018

My main pre-season prediction was that the eventual winner of the 2018 chase would accumulate fewer than 298 points. This was based on intuition that the difference in the bikes has been reduced and the overall quality of the riders, at least the top 18, has improved. Despite there being an extra round in 2018, I knew there would be one extra rider, which evened that out. I also figured the top five would be close again, the way they were last year. I wanted Andrea Dovizioso to give Marquez a run for his money again in 2018. And I even had Dani Pedrosa as a dark horse to win it all in 2018. In general, my thinking was that there would be fewer points available to the top five than there were last year when Marquez collected 298 points.

I could hardly have been more wrong. My primary thesis, that, outside of the top five, the top 18 were stronger than their 2017 counterparts, actually is proving itself correct. I can update the spreadsheet after every round. But I failed to take into account how Marc Marquez is punishing the field. Of the six rounds he’s finished in the points, he has collected 140 of 150 points available to him. Four wins in eight rounds, two seconds. Not like last year at all.

I failed to consider the possibility that 2017 was an outlier year for Andrea Dovizioso who, after having won two races in eight years, would go on to win six races in 2017, and that his accomplishment was likely a fluke rather than a matter of evolution of bike and rider. Evolution doesn’t work that quickly. Here’s the chart after eight rounds.

MOTOGP SPREADSHEETJPG

Several points stand out. The top five have, indeed, accumulated fewer points than last year, 525 to 492. The median number of total points year-to-date has risen from 34 to 41, again supporting the hypothesis. Riders 6-15 are smoking their 2017 counterparts 537 – 469. Jorge Lorenzo took 50 points off the board in two rounds. But Marquez is scoring a much higher-than-expected percentage of total points, killing the hypothesis. His win at Assen raised his projected total for the year from 312 to 333, which is a good measure of the impact of a win.

The chart shows what poor years Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa are having, as well as the exemplary seasons being put in by Marquez, Andrea Iannone, Pol Espargaro and Alex Rins, who leads the Most Improved Rider competition after eight despite a host of DNFs.

At his current rate, Marquez is tracking to score 333 points for the year. This compares to his 298 last year and Rossi’s record 373 points in 2008. Roughly midway, or just another spectacular season of racing among the yachting class.

MotoGP Assen Results

July 1, 2018

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez in Charge in Dutch Classic 

The Cathedral of Speed gave the 105,000 crazed Dutch fans in attendance a memorable liturgy today—the most closely grouped top 15 in MotoGP history, 16 seconds separating the lot. The action at the front—six different riders led at one point or other—was so intense it reduced the announcers to mere stuttering and grunting during the last three laps, panties in a full twist. At the end, the incomparable Marc Marquez put his stamp on a signature win, one of his best ever. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Practice sessions leading up to the two 15-minute MotoGP Qualifying Clusters were revealing. The factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales appeared to be enjoying themselves, despite a high-speed fail for Rossi during FP4. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki showed up in the top four a few times. Cal Crutchlow (Honda) and Andrea Dovizioso (Suzuki) were lurking in the neighborhood. Somehow, both Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro made it straight through to Q2.

But Marc Marquez was ubiquitous. Getting slightly ahead of ourselves, it appeared that though he led FP1, he sensed something needed fixed. He and his crew fixed whatever it was during FP2, which he mailed in. He then went out and led every session thereafter, including Q2 and the morning warm-up, earning pole in the process. Assen has always appeared to be a fun track for riders, and Marquez appears to enjoy the high-speed turns and right-left-right stuff.

The end of Q2 was like watching a video game. Johann Zarco, who had passed out of Q1 along with my boy Alex Rins, set a new MotoGP record, “Least Amount of Time on Pole in a Grand Prix Race” during the final moments, having led the pack for a full .407 seconds before being shredded by Marquez and pretty much everyone else. The standings projected on the screen flashed practically simultaneously at the end, the top 8 riders finishing separated by a three-tenths of a second. Blink of an eye. If you had the sound off it could have been Moto3.

In the words of Cal Crutchlow years ago, Q2 is “a lottery.” Prior to the race, I had doubts the remarkable qualifying results would have much to do with the race results, other than the likelihood that Marquez and Rossi would once again slug it out at the end. Marquez’ “win or bin” approach to MotoGP’s Amen Corner appeared firmly in place. My anticipation was that he would win or crash trying. Rossi appeared ready, willing and able to pick up the pieces if needed. Rookie Franco Morbidelli broke a bone in his hand on Saturday and was declared out of the race.

A Race for the Ages

I took six pages of notes during this one, trying to keep up with all the action, and failed. I captured most of the headline items, but there was too much going on, such that I, too, was reduced to stuttering and grunting. Let me try to give you the gist:

  • Lap 1. Jorge Lorenzo lights his solid rocket booster and catapults from 10th place to 2nd at Turn 1, went through on Marquez later in the lap, and led the race. Marquez survived a heavy hip check early in the day that would have floored most riders. He then went through on Lorenzo on Lap 2 and led the race.
  • Rossi and Lorenzo both went through on Marquez on Lap 4. Lorenzo led a tight top four, trailed closely by Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso.
  • Lap 5: Lorenzo, being dogged by Rossi, loses the front and gets tagged hard by Rossi. Somehow, neither rider falls. Dovi goes through on Marquez into third place.
  • Lap 7: Marquez and Dovizioso go through on Rossi. Marquez finds himself in the midst of a Ducati double-team, courtesy of Lorenzo and Dovizioso. At this point in the race there was a nine-man lead group.
  • Between Laps 8 and 11 Alex Rins, on the Suzuki, moves up from 5th to 3rd, schooling both Rossi and Dovizioso on the way. Johann Zarco appeared to be gaining on the leaders.
  • Lap 12: The impertinent Rins gives Marquez another bump, dropping the him to 4th. Marquez returned the favor to Rins on Lap 14.
  • By Lap 16, the leaders were Dovizioso, Marquez, Lorenzo and Vinales, with Rossi snapping at his teammate’s heels. Both factory Yamahas, at this point, were flying.
  • On Lap 19, Vinales went through on Dovizioso into the lead. This marked the first time in 2018 that a Yamaha had led a race. Oh, how far the once mighty have fallen.
  • Lap 22 saw Dovizioso and Rossi, running one-two at the time, run each other off the track, each refusing to yield to the other. Simultaneously, Marquez and Vinales were doing the same thing to a lesser degree, staying out of the kitty litter. Later in the lap, Marquez executed a double move, going through on both Dovi and Rossi, into a lead he would not relinquish.
  • The final lap: Alex Rins, running third, decided it would be second or nothing at all, dove inside on Vinales, and beat him to the line. Rossi, too, passed Dovi late, but messed up the last turn—unlike him—and had to settle for 5th, as his homeboy punked him in the last turn.

You gotta hand it to Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Chief Cheddar at Dorna. He set about making the grid more competitive five years ago and has succeeded wildly.

Moto2 and Moto3

Jorge Martin prevailed in another Moto3 classic over Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini, the season championship leader changing yet again. Very tight at the top; 24 points separate the top five riders.

The Moto2 tilt was won by the serene Peco Bagnaia, who stiff-armed Fabio Quartararo and Alex Marquez for a win which was easier than the timesheet would lead one to believe. Dude is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo. He looks like Lorenzo. He sounds like Lorenzo. He rides like Lorenzo—Mr. Smooth. And he wins like Lorenzo. Looking forward to seeing him on a Desmosedici next year.

The Big Picture

Marquez has now stretched his 2018 lead to 41 points, a comfortable margin heading to a track in Germany where he has never lost. Rossi and Vinales occupy spots two and three; expect the wall down the middle of the garage any day. Johann Zarco in fourth leads Andrea Iannone in ninth by eight points. Jack Miller and Alex Rins are battling for the last spot in the top ten.

Membership in “The Anyone but Marquez” club jumped on Sunday afternoon, along with the growing sense that he is toying with the field. A win at The Sachsenring in two weeks would give him five wins in nine outings, a brutal pace no one can keep up with. Jorge Lorenzo gave us some early thrills today, but ultimately reverted to his previously disappointing ways. It was good to see the factory Yamahas in the fight, but my sense is that Assen is one of the few tracks where they can compete effectively. And, to those of you who have been arguing that Alex Rins is a mutt, I will continue to jock him, as well as his future teammate Joan Mir. Those two are going to be ballers in the next few years.

Tranching After Eight Rounds

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Top Finishers Today

Top Riders YTD

MotoGP Assen Preview

June 26, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

All eyes on Lorenzo at The Cathedral 

With the 2018 season a third gone, the presumption that Marc Marquez would ease into his fifth premier class title in six years has become passé. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jorge Lorenzo has given us convincing wins at Mugello and Montmelo. Whether this is a two-off or the start of a trend could be revealed this weekend. 

Assen

After a dominating performance at Le Mans, Marquez led the Sioux Nation with 95 points, while Lorenzo was buried in 14th place with 16 points to his name. A relatively simple modification to the profile of his fuel tank transformed him from Clark Kent to Superman and led to two convincing wins on the trot. Although he still trails Marquez by around 50 points, at least people are talking about him again. Too soon, in my opinion, to speak of him as a legit 2018 title contender. Not to mention there are five other fast movers, in addition to Marquez, standing in his way. But with  a single rostrum appearance at Assen since 2010, a Lorenzo podium on Sunday could be a portent of more to come. 

Recent History at Assen 

2015 was the year the Marquez and Rossi families 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, having a miserable year, introduced a 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 during the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez careening wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, happily taking the shortcut through the gravel trap at speed, laughing inside his helmet, to win by 50 yards. Jorge Lorenzo finished third, a mile behind the two adversaries.

The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical 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 positioned for his first win in seven years.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday.

With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory.  Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole.  Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda.  Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds.  Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Wouldn’t it be something if this turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?

New Track Records

I threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examing our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” with Michelins and the control ECU.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball at a cover-of-Sports-Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, MotoGP’s Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx   Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16             16        59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW              0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9               35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted, or at least backed into, a “win or bin” approach for this part of the season. Compare his plan to Rossi’s “NBA Old Man Strategy,” to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put-backs and some offensive rebounds. We mustn’t ignore Danilo Petrucci, happily flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out. Then, of course, there’s this Lorenzo guy…

We’ll keep an eye on a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks a little better than it did two rounds ago.

Bossa Nova in Brazil from 2021?

Dorna announced this past week a preliminary deal to bring MotoGP back to Brazil, and a new racing venue, starting in 2021. The last time the grid formed up on Brazilian soil was 2004, so the locals are probably pretty excited about the return of grand prix racing to the dance capital of the southern hemisphere.

A word of caution is in order. We’ve been here before, betting on the come in places like the Balatonring in Hungary and the aborted Ebbw Vale project in Wales. The failure to launch in Hungary brought us the Aragon round, for better or worse. (I’m one of those who believe hosting four grands prix in Spain is a little too much.) Racing on the new track in Finland is likely to start next season, although Michelin has yet to develop the titanium-studded slicks the riders will need to navigate the black ice in this Scandinavian jewel of a country.

The gestation of the racing calendar follows a simple logic: Go racing where they sell lots of motorcycles and scooters. Which is why there are races in Malaysia and Thailand and but a single lonely event in the entire United States. Another thing that gets me is how the calendar tilts towards these hot, humid third world locations. I would enjoy attending more races than I do, but would not look forward to spending four days with damp underwear in places like Sepang, Buriram, Rio Hondo, etc. Can a southern Mexican round be far behind? And what about the Central African Republic?

A word to the Finnish Ministry of Tourism: If you are interested in promoting your lovely country and its lustrous racing heritage (?), why not invite a bunch of motojournalists into town for race weekend next year? THAT would be a junket I could get behind. Dry boxers, free food, high-access credentials—I’m there.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather this weekend should be perfect, plenty of sunshine and air temps in the 70s. Most years, this would be a good opportunity to pick Valentino Rossi for the win, but the 2018 Yamaha is still sucking. As much fun as it would be to see a new face on the top step of the podium, one must figure guys like Marquez, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Dovizioso will be in the mix. Personally, I’m pulling hard for two riders: Dani Pedrosa and Danilo Petrucci. Pedrosa, so he can enjoy another win in Repsol colors; Petrucci, because he is getting achingly close to his first win, remaining humble, and racing as well lately as anyone on the grid.

Hopefully, we will also get some clarification of Pedrosa’s future as well as the number of teams that will be competing next year. One gets the impression there is lots going on behind the scenes, with Yamaha, Aspar, Pedrosa, Morbidelli, and the remnants of the Marc VDS team heavily involved in the discussions. Thus the live streaming of Dani Pedrosa announcing to the world, prior to Catalunya, that he didn’t know what he would be doing next year. I’ll be holding a press conference of my own on Friday morning to announce that I will be spending that afternoon bodysurfing in the Atlantic ocean.

We’ll have results and analysis of Sunday’s racing right here as soon as our crack editorial staff, which loathes working on Sundays, finishes cleaning out the garage and cutting the grass.

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

I found myself quoting a statistic I hadn’t researched myself, one which, in a court of law, would be thrown out as hearsay. The statistic in question had to do with the number of wins scored by Everyman’s Hero, Valentino Rossi, since his last world championship in 2009. Presenting Exhibit A:

Rider Spreadsheet 1

Visual expression of what so many people say, how fun it would have been to watch Stoner and Marquez tangle. Anyway, if you remove the three years before Marquez got his ticket punched, the numbers look even more compelling;

Rider Performance 3

 

Bottom line: Rossi’s salad days, and those of Dani Pedrosa, are behind them. They should avoid the “Colin Edwards mistake” of hanging around two years too long. Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and even Iannone are getting a little long in the tooth. Time for some new blood at the top of the food chain.

Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Jack Miller on a Pramac GP19 next year. Jorge Martin moving on up in the next two years. Lorenzo Balddassarri. Miguel Oliveira for KTM. Everyone seems to love Xavi Vierge. Moto3 is packed with fast movers wanting to move up to Moto2. Plenty of knees and elbows in the turns. It appears that, career-wise, Tito Rabat has pulled off an amazing save, Marquez quality, and seems likely to find a ride for next year. He certainly seems to enjoy life on the Ducati, as does his boy Jack Miller.

MotoGP Assen Results

June 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Classic Rossi Win Tightens Title Chase

With more passing than you’d see at an April 20 party, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more riveting races in recent memory. Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole. Meanwhile, Rossi and Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—managed to beat Petrucci to the flag by .06 seconds. They don’t call him The Doctor for nothing.

RossiThe weather gods were just toying with us today—a drowned WUP, the usual thrilling Moto3 race on an almost-dry track, and spitting rain on several occasions during the MotoGP race. Several riders, guessing the big ol’ rain was on the way, pitted and changed to rain tires, including Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo (who had a note from Gigi D’allIgna stating he could put rain tires on whenever he wanted, even if the track was dry). The real rain never arrived, to the dismay of the early pitters, but high drama was around in excess.

Practice and Qualifying

Rehearsals for today’s battle featured something for every taste and budget. FP1 (wet) was topped by Petrucci on the Ducati GP17 followed by Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha and LCR Honda ruffian Cal Crutchlow. FP2 was dry, and the results were more typical—factory Yamaha pilot and series leader Maverick Vinales led, trailed by the other precocious Tech 3 rookie, German Jonas Folger, and that Marquez guy, you know, the one with all the trophies.

Saturday was pretty much wet all day, and the results reflected it. Scott Redding, Rossi, Marquez and Vinales topped FP3 in the wet; FP4 was wet again, so much so that a number of riders decided to play euchre in the garage instead of going racing. The Q1 and Q2 division had already taken place, and besides, when those leathers get good and wet, strange dark stuff starts growing in the grooves and creases. FP4 in the rain is for those other guys. Same for the soaking WUP.

Q1 saw Redding and Sad Sam Lowes, two British mudders, advance through to Q2, leaving names like Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, both Espargaro brothers and one Jorge Lorenzo to the back half of the grid, Lorenzo notably starting in the, um, 21 hole. (I thought “holes” only go down to ten, after which comes Everyone Else.) In case you missed it the first time, that was Sam Lowes on the Aprilia advancing into Q2 for the first time. He likely won’t have that many more chances.

As usual, Q2 was a fairly orderly process of riders seeking their natural level or something a bit higher, until the last two minutes, when it became your usual fire drill. Petrucci and his big bad GP17 held pole until perhaps five seconds from the end, when Marquez flashed across the line first, followed almost immediately by overachieving Frenchman Zarco, sending his crew into paroxysms of joy as the impudent rookie claimed his first premier class pole. Didn’t someone recently suggest that strange stuff happens at Assen? For the record, two of the pre-race favorites got stoned in Q2; Maverick Vinales started 11th today, just ahead of Dani Pedrosa.

A Race for the Ages

Zarco’s intent, to get away from the pack and win going away, never bore fruit, as Marquez, Rossi and Petrucci formed a cozy lead group with the Frenchman. Rossi went through on Marquez on Lap 10 and set his sights on Zarco, passing him two laps later. Zarco struck back immediately, tried to cut inside, got his nose chopped off by Rossi, bounced wide, and never got back in the chase. With soft tires apparently dropping off, and the drizzle getting heavier, Zarco pitted on Lap 20, got caught speeding in pit lane, took his ride-through penalty, and finished the day 14th, just ahead of Lorenzo, who had not taken a penalty. For the 26-year old, dreams of world domination took a step backward today.

While Rossi led Marquez on a bracing mid-race chase, Petrucci following, several Aliens, notably Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso, were laying down fast laps and gaining on the leaders. In the final chicane on Lap 12, series leader Vinales hit the deck, his bike and championship lead cartwheeling away in the gravel.

Late in the day, Cal Crutchlow made an appearance on his LCR Honda, engaging in a personal pas de deux with Marquez all the way to the flag. While Rossi was busy pimping Petrux for the win after a sensational four-lap fight (where were the blue flags for the back markers getting lapped at the end?), Marquez and Dovi made a blurry Crutchlow sandwich at the flag, 12/100ths of a second separating Marquez in third from Dovi in fifth.

The Big Picture

The top of the 2017 standings chart are as tight as I can ever remember, with 11 points separating first and fourth places, Andrea Dovizioso parked at the top of the pile. Shades of Casey Stoner. Vinales, Rossi and Marquez are solidly in the hunt. Dovi seized the lead from Vinales today, while Petrucci leaped past Jorge Lorenzo into 7th place. Cal Crutchlow’s credible fourth place finish today allowed him to swap spots with Tech 3 rookie crasher Jonas Folger in ninth and tenth, respectively.

I was poormouthing Ducati Corse several weeks ago. Since then both Dovizioso and Petrucci have been making me look sick. Front row starts, wins, podiums—will it never cease? After a revolting start to the season (26 points in the first five rounds, two DNFs), Petrucci has come alive, with 36 points in the last three rounds, including an unlucky fall out of the points at Catalunya. And Dovizioso, the hottest rider on track for the last month, is, for the first time in his premier class career, getting asked about his chances for a world championship. Doing his best impression of an Italian-accented Colonel Klink, he consistently answers, “I know nut-thing.”

It could happen. And, simply for comparison’s sake, we should point out that of the three Ducati GP17s on track this season, triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo is running third. In eighth place for the season. Getting schooled every week by any number of less-distinguished riders. Constantly checking the weather radar on his phone. Sensitive to any aches in his surgically-repaired collarbones, sure signs of wet weather to come. From here, the only kind thing to do is quietly wonder what he’s going to do at the end of next season; Ducati has not been the panacea he had hoped for.

One Last Thing

If you sift through enough MotoGP sand, eventually you’ll discover a nugget. And so we found a video in which the British sportscaster described Bradley Smith’s left little finger, injured at Catalunya, as having been “marmaladed,” the second “a” pronounced “ah.” Evidence once again that, compared to idiomatic American English, British English has much higher comedic coefficient. Surely this term will be a heavy favorite in the “Best Use of Fruit to Describe a Rather Ghastly Injury” category at the annual British Produce Grower’s Association knees-up in Dover later this year.

With the German Grand Prix on Sunday, followed by a month of snoring through La Liga on cable, we’ll have the race preview here mid-week.

Race Results

2017 Standings

 

Australia worships Jack Miller at The Cathedral

June 26, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

MotoGP 2016 Assen Results 

The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story.  Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps.  Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters.  And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.

2016-06-26a

Assen in the rain

Saturday’s qualifying sessions were adventures on a track that was wet but drying quickly.  Pol Espargaro whipped his Tech3 Yamaha into Q2 with a scintillating last lap, joined by Yonny Hernandez, one of the several Ducatis doing especially well.  One rider doing especially not well was Dani Pedrosa, who suffered the ignominy of plodding through Q1, never once threatening to graduate to Q2.

Q2 itself was equally dramatic, as Marquez crashed early, stole some surprised attendant’s scooter to hustle back to the pits, waited for his crew to convert his second bike from dry to wet settings—what was it doing with dry settings anyway?—ultimately putting his RC213V at the top of the second row.  The session ended with Dovizioso, Rossi and Scott Redding daisychaining to the flag for an atypical first row.  Jorge Lorenzo looked tentative, having barely avoided Q1, and started the race in 10th place.  Four Ducatis in the first four rows would have been five if not for Iannone’s brainfart at Catalunya, which penalized him to the back of the grid.

Recapping—Lorenzo started 10th, Pedrosa 16th and Iannone 21st.  Conditions looked ripe for some higher-than-usual finishes on Sunday for several non-Aliens.  Such would, indeed, be the case.

2016-06-26 (5)

If nothing else Tito Rabat had an upgraded brolly girl.

Dovizioso Wins Race #1 to No Avail

Turns out the voices in my head last week telling me factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso could win the Dutch TT were right.  Sort of.  The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during the race, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance.  With Dovi leading Danilo Petrucci, Rossi and Scott Redding, three Ducatis in the top four proved beyond any doubt that the improvements in the Desmosedici’s performance on dry tracks has not come at the expense of its historical stability in the wet.

2016-06-26 (4)

No kidding.

That there were relatively few crashers in the first race—Avintia Ducati plodder Yonny Hernandez, who led most of the way in a true shocker, eventually crashed out of the lead and, for good measure, crashed again on his #2 bike.  Andrea Iannone, who had sliced through the field from 21st to 5th ran out of luck on Lap 14 but was able to rejoin the race in time to qualify for the second race.  The rain, buckets of it, cooled both the air and the track, and the paucity of crashers in the first race would be over-corrected in the second.

Race #2—Weirder than Race #1

The first two rows of the second 12 lap sprint were filled, in order, by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Rossi, Redding, Marquez and Pedrosa, the latter three having been charging toward the lead group in race #1 when the red flags came out.  This, then, was the second time in 90 minutes that there would be no Spanish riders on the front row, the last time being Mugello in 2011.  Interesting to note that joining Michele Pirro on the back row was Jorge Lorenzo, who had been mired in 20th position when the first race ended.  I have sent an official request to the Movistar Yamaha team to cease issuing press releases advising us that Lorenzo has no major concerns about racing in the wet.

Race #2 started much the same as race #1 with Dovizioso and Rossi battling up front.  Marquez, nowhere to be seen the first time out, settled into third, being tailed by, um, Jack Miller. The 21 year-old back marker whose 10th place finish in Barcelona marked the high water mark of his MotoGP career to date was somehow sitting in fourth place looking, well, rather comfortable, if totally out of place.  With cold air, a cold track and cold tires, the crashing began on Lap 1, with both Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crashlow leaving the asphalt, Pedrosa rejoining the festivities miles out of contention.  Rossi went through on Dovizioso and appeared ready to repeat his win of last year.

On Lap 2, Octo Pramac hard luck guy Danilo Petrucci, who had ridden the wheels off his Ducati in race #1, leading when it was called during Lap 15, retired with a mechanical issue, the picture of desolation.  Shortly thereafter Dovizioso quieted the voices in my head with a high speed off from second place, leaving Rossi alone in front leading Marquez by roughly two seconds with Pol Espargaro seizing third place on the Tech 3 Yamaha.  It was on Lap 3 when, shortly after Brit Bradley Smith laid down his own Tech 3 Yamaha that Rossi, appearing to have hit a puddle, lowsided at Turn 10 and, unable to restart his M1, laid his head on the saddle in complete, utter frustration.

2016-06-26 (9)

Rossi banging his head in frustration.

Suddenly, it was Marc Marquez leading the Dutch TT, with this Miller guy snapping at his heels like he hadn’t skipped through Moto2 while Marquez was busy winning a couple of premier class championships.  On Lap 4, Aleix Espargaro crashed his Suzuki out of the race and, unaccountably, Miller went through on Marquez into the lead.  My notes at this juncture read “JM will NEVER finish this race.”  Wrong, as wrong as wrong ever gets.

At the End of the Day

2016-06-26 (6)

One Shining Moment for the pride of Australia.

History will record that Jack Miller kept his bike upright and roared to his first premier class podium and win in wet conditions in the 250th MotoGP race of the four stroke era.  He became the first rider not named Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi or Pedrosa to win a MotoGP race since Ben Spies pulled off a similar miracle at Assen back in 2011.  He became the first satellite rider to stand on the top step of the podium since Toni Elias at Estoril in 2006.

2016-06-26 (8)

As strange a podium as you’re likely to see anytime soon.

For the first time since Misano last year two satellite riders stood on the podium, Redding  for the second time in his MotoGP career.  Only 13 riders finished the race, with crashers Pedrosa and Smith several laps down but still in the points.  Some astute reader will reveal the identity of the last Australian rider before Casey Stoner to win a MotoGP race; our crack research department is off on holiday this week.  Jorge Lorenzo improved greatly on his result from the first race, crossing the line 10th and capturing 6 points, probably shaking like a leaf.

The Big Picture

For Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, the weekend was a debacle.  For Ducati Corse, placing four bikes in the top seven, it was a triumph; Gigi Dall’Igna can only hope for a bevy of wet races during the second half of the season.  Marc Marquez commented several times after the race that his second place finish today felt like a win, as it powered his lead over Lorenzo from 10 to 24 points and pushed Rossi from 22 points back to a daunting 42.  He also refused to respond to a disrespectful crack from Miller during the post-race presser and now is exhibiting the maturity he has needed in the past to go with his ridiculous talents.  It says here he will win the 2016 championship.

Turning our gaze to Dresden, Germany and the tiny, cramped, very Aryan Sachsenring, we are stunned by the events which unfolded today during the first Dutch TT ever run on a Sunday.  The crowd or 105,000 surely got its money’s worth—two races for the price of one, and perhaps the only win of Jack Miller’s premier class career, as I expect him to return to Tranche Four in the weeks to come.

Though I will not deny Miller his One Shining Moment, I’m not sold on his talent nor his attitude.  Perhaps if he reads enough of this stuff he will take a look in the mirror, realize that he is the source of many of his own problems, and think twice before taunting Marc Marquez in a post-race press conference, should he ever be invited to one again.  Trailing the double world champion by 112 points, the only term he should use to address Marquez in 2016 is “sir.”

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone.  His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left.  Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

MotoGP 2015 Assen Preview

June 23, 2015

Team Yamaha at a pivot point in the 2015 chase.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.led-zeppelin-1-front-588171

As the 2015 MotoGP season approaches the halfway mark, the factory Yamaha team of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the Bruise Brothers in Blue, have had things pretty much their own way. Between them, they’ve won six of the seven races to date. Double defending world champion Marc Marquez and his Honda RC213V have appeared, in the words of Led Zeppelin, dazed and confused. The annual visit to the Cathedral, the Motul TT Assen, could interrupt several recent trends.

Despite having camped out on the podium all season, Dr. Rossi has watched his lead over his Spanish teammate shrink from 29 points on the road to Jerez to a single point, as Lorenzo has hogged the top step of the rostrum for the last four rounds. Momentum is clearly in the Spaniard’s favor. But Assen, with its unpredictable (read: damp and cold) weather and stop-and-go traffic, has been a Rossi fave over the years—six premier class wins—while Lorenzo has only managed a single win here since 2008, during his first championship season in 2010. Since then, the Dutch TT has been a train wreck for #99, as follows:

• 2011—Marco Simoncelli, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, from whence he pedaled his posterior off to salvage a 6th place finish.
• 2012—Alvaro Bautista, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, this time putting Jorge down for the count. His 25 point lead heading into Holland evaporated in an instant, and he left tied with Casey Stoner for the series lead. Though he would eventually take the 2012 title, the Lorenzos and the Bautistas would not exchange Christmas cards that year or ever again.
• 2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone. His gritty 5th place finish that day presaged further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another dramatic highside destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the start of a new racing legend.
• 2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left. Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, The Doctor is Cool, Calm and Collected

RossiValentino Rossi, the ageless veteran, has things just about where he wants them at this point. He can afford to praise the ascendant Lorenzo, his teammate, while keeping his powder dry for what is a long, twisty season. He can be generous in his remarks toward the suffering Marquez, playing the role of the eminence grise, fully aware that Marquez will likely succeed him as the king of the sport, but not this year. And he can applaud the efforts of Ducati Corse and its two current heroes, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone. Nationalism runs a close second to Catholicism in Italy, where Rossi is a venerated icon.

In short, Rossi has positioned himself as a father figure to the rest of the top six riders on the grid, including Bradley Smith, who is making a name for himself on the Tech 3 Yamaha. And just in case the young guns start getting cocky, Rossi, more than any other rider on the grid, instills fear and despair when, after his usual mediocre start, he suddenly appears on pit boards—Rossi +1.4—and begins charging back to the front. He may be old, but he is still very dangerous on race day. He does not beat himself, and if you want to beat him, you need to run a perfect race.

How cool must it be to be Valentino Rossi?

The Trial Continues for Marc Marquez

As cool as it is to be Vale these days, it must be a pain being Marc Marquez in 2015. The lily has been rudely un-gildedmarquez_crash this season, to the extent that he is flirting with his 2014 chassis in an effort to re-discover the magic of the past two years. The racing press has been hounding him since Austin, the almost invincible air of the past year and a half having left the balloon. That he would not win the title in 2015 might have been anticipated, especially after the second half that Lorenzo turned in last year. But to fall so far so quickly has taken everyone, undoubtedly including Marquez himself, by surprise.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the margin between glory and gravel in this sport is very thin. A good time for my annual apology to the back third of the grid, upon whom I tend to heap abuse, despite the fact that they lap only a couple of seconds slower than the Aliens. Marquez, at the ripe old age of 22, is giving an object lesson in one of my favorite expressions of all time:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

The engineers at Honda will get the RC213V straightened out before too long, although doing so might not precede the RC214V. Marquez will learn from this year, the particularly acute lessons having been delivered in Argentina, Mugello and Catalunya. His “win or bin” mentality is being hammered, right before our eyes, into a “discretion is the better part of valor” approach, one in which 20 or 16 points are seen as far superior to zero.

The venerable Nick Harris, who has been calling MotoGP races since the earth cooled, rarely mentions points in his broadcasts without inserting the adjective “precious”, an attitude I believe Marquez discounted until this season. With a more stable bike beneath him, and a more mature attitude toward the competition itself, Marquez is bound to win a great many more titles before he hangs up his leathers.

This and That

Having apologized to the have-nots of the MotoGP grid, I must admit that my favorite news clip since Catalunya featured Marco Melandri, who, fronting for the Gresini Aprilia fiasco, is 0-for-2015. He disclosed in an interview this week that he is “optimistic” following the installation of a new swingarm on his RS-GP. I suppose that reducing the likelihood of getting lapped in a grand prix motorcycle race conforms to some notion of optimism.

Nicky Hayden, the last American standing, announced his intention of finishing as the top open class entry this year, which will necessitate doing something about Loris Baz, Jack Miller and Stefan Bradl.

Finally, the weekend forecast, which includes a good chance of rain and temps in the high 60’s and low 70’s. Unable to predict the weather, I can predict that Valentino Rossi will leave Assen still in first place for the year. I’m not sure who will win on Sunday—weird things happen in The Low Countries—but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Jorge Lorenzo. We’ll have race results right here on Saturday morning.

Marquez overcomes weather and odds, remains perfect

June 28, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Results, by Bruce Allen

The conditions confronting the riders and teams at the 2014 Iveco Daily TT Assen couldn’t have been worse. It had rained off and on all weekend, and race day featured everything from bright sunshine to hail (hail!) prior to the Moto2 tilt. The MotoGP teams were confounded by tire choices as the flag-to-flag contest unfurled. But when the rain and smoke cleared, Repsol Honda sophomore Marc Marquez had made it 8-for-8 in 2014.

Marquez swims across the line

Marquez swims across the line at Assen.

Round Eight of the 2014 season provided perfect conditions for upsets amongst the usual suspects. Jack Miller, leading the Moto3 league, crashed out of his race on Lap 2, leaving the door open for little brother Alex Marquez to win again today and significantly tighten the 2014 race. In Moto2, the feel good moment of the year occurred as Ant West, the grizzled field horse, doubled his career win total by prevailing on a drying track, winning for the second time in his grand prix career at the site of his first win back in 2003. As this goes to press, our crack research team is hunting down the “longest period between wins, career” stat in the archives.

Qualifying on Friday was a cluster. GO&FUN Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and factory Ducati Brit Cal Crutchlow had managed to sneak through Q1. Though the track for Q2 was dry, rain was fast approaching. The riders knew they would need to get their flying laps in early, the result being that the session looked like a race, with most of the 12 riders grouped together up front. Marquez appeared to have streaked to the pole with perhaps eight minutes left. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha flew across the start/finish line, 1.4 seconds better than Marquez for the first pole by a non-major factory rider in over a decade. The eight minute qualifying session ended with Espargaro, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on the front row, Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone, Crutchlow and Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Bradley Smith on the second, and a dazed Jorge Lorenzo funking around in 9th place.

Wet at the Start, Dry at the Finish

Rain was falling as the big bikes lined up on the grid, beneath a patchwork of blue skies and black rainclouds. Factory Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati wannabe Yonny Hernandez were the only riders opting to start the race on slicks. Rossi changed his mind on the sighting lap, opting to start on rain tires from pit lane; having qualified 12th, he wasn’t giving up that much. Hernandez stuck to his guns, resulting in two (2) tire changes during the race and a 19th place finish, a lap down to Marquez and company.

As is usually the case at the start of a race, the qualifying order became jumbled immediately. Andrea Dovizioso and Marquez jumped out in front of Pedrosa, Espargaro and pesky overachiever Iannone. By Lap 2, Lorenzo had worked his way up to 6th place as the rain, which had been pouring down minutes earlier, pretty much stopped. For the Ducati riders, wet tracks are the great equalizer, as the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas drops down to where the Ducati runs all the time. Thus, at the end of Lap 4, the top six riders included Dovizioso in second, Iannone in fifth and Crutchlow in sixth. Alas, the rain stopped spitting, and the Aliens, or at least most of them, began heading for the front of the pack.

By Lap 6, Dovizioso was again sniffing Marquez’s rear, and it was time to switch bikes. The leaders pitted, did their Pony Express thing, and exited pit lane on slicks. During this Brief Shining Moment, Lorenzo held the lead with Nicky Hayden, who had managed to qualify 22nd, occupying second place. The two would ultimately finish 13th and 17th, respectively; Assen’s reputation as The Cathedral would be incomplete without a few martyrs.

Drama on Lap 7

Pushing hard on his out lap, Marquez ran wide, briefly went walkabout, and re-entered the fray trailing Dovizioso by four seconds, Doviziosowith Aspar plodder Hiro Aoyama sandwiched between the two fast movers. By then, the sky was mostly black, and it appeared another Pony Express change was in the wind. Had it occurred, with a number of the riders, including Aoyama, still on their rain tires, the results could have easily gotten scrambled.

Marquez, along with his other traits, proved today that he is highly adaptive to changing conditions, and just plain lucky. Lucky, in that the rain held off, allowing him to methodically track down Dovizioso on Lap 16 and ultimately win by almost seven seconds. Early on, while the race was being delayed, neither he nor his team appeared excited or anxious while confusion reigned. Again, we were reminded of the words of Kipling, who wrote of being able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Crew chiefs were turning purple yelling instructions at their mechanics, and riders were running back and forth to the bathrooms. During all this, Marquez appeared relaxed, almost bored. I found myself wondering how often he shaves, if ever. With his smooth chin and easy smile he looks like a high school kid waiting for his date to finish doing her hair.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aleix Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa fought a day-long duel for third place, with the racing world pulling hard for Espargaro, but it was not to be. Rossi, a mile behind the eight ball at the start, rode the wheels off his Yamaha YZR-M1, ultimately finishing fifth ahead of amico Iannone in fifth. Bautista managed not to cause any mayhem and moved up from 10th at the start to seventh at the close, followed by Smith, Crutchlow and LCR Honda’s Stafan Bradl.

The Big Picture

Marquez, now at 200 for 200, leads Pedrosa and Rossi by 72 points. Dovizioso sits in fourth, with a thoroughly messed up Jorge Lorenzo suffering in fifth place. Aleix Espargaro jumped ahead of brother Pol, who crashed twice today before retiring. Bradl, Iannone and Smith complete the top ten.

The Good News and the Bad News

If there is any good news for the riders at the top of the standings not named Marquez, it is that they are all relatively healthy. No broken collarbones sticking out like at this time last year, no ankles held together with screws and adhesive tape. The bad news is that The Sachsenring, next up on the calendar, is one of the two most Honda-friendly circuits on the tour, along with Motegi.

There is no reason to believe that Marquez will fail to repeat his win there last year, which would leave him undefeated at the halfway point of the season. With MotoGP’s annual summer vacation kicking in after that, the grid will have to deal with a rested and refreshed #93 when racing starts up again at Indianapolis in August. Awesome.

Since March, the concept of The Undefeated Season has shifted from Impossible to Implausible to Unlikely to Possible. If it continues, we will be forced to reverse our linguistic field, returning to Impossible on the eve of Valencia in November.

It could happen.

2014 Assen Top Ten Capture

2014 Top TenCapture

Magic Marquez leads pilgrimage to the Cathedral

June 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Preview, by Bruce Allen

Repsol Honda God-child Marc Marquez leads his team and the rest of the MotoGP grid to Assen, which has been hosting Marquez at Aragonmotorcycle races in one form or another on the last Saturday in June since 1925. During this period, the race has morphed from the Dutch TT to the Dutch Grand Prix, from a road race to a closed-course tilt, and from motorized bicycles to the fastest two-wheeled racing machines on earth. Revered by fans and riders, Assen would be a fitting place for Marquez to set yet another modern day record.

Rossi 2014Recall 2002, when the MotoGP God-child was a brash 23-year old Italian named Valentino Rossi. Rossi had entered the premier class in 2000 after having won titles in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. In 2001 he would win the first of five consecutive world titles, taking 11 of the 16 races that year aboard the 500cc Honda. In 2002, a rule change brought about the beginning of the four-stroke era, to which Rossi adapted almost immediately. In 2002, during his second premier class title year, he won seven races in succession, a mark that has stood ever since.

A mark which is likely to fall this Saturday afternoon to a new Marc.

In the modern era of MotoGP, no premier class rider has ever started stronger than has Marquez in 2014, winning the first seven contests of the season. Though the first five were relatively straightforward, the last two, at Mugello and Catalunya, have been bayonets at close quarters, and the young Catalan has not blinked. Assen, which, from the air, looks like a carelessly crushed little oval, boasts some of the highest average lap speeds on the tour, according to MotoGP. Yamahas have taken three of the last four races here, despite the shortest straight on the tour.Assen

Regardless, you can take all that talk, all those facts and figures, crumple them into a little ball and toss them in the trash. Marc Marquez is probably going to figure out a way to win Saturday’s race, establish a new record, and continue his ridiculous assault on 18-for-18.

Recent History at Assen

In 2011, Ben Spies, in his first year aboard the factory Yamaha YZR-M1, was the beneficiary of a first lap crash that took teammate and defending Assen and world champion Jorge Lorenzo out of contention. The charismatic and wildly erratic Marco Simoncelli, riding a factory spec Honda for Fausto Gresini, attempted to go through Lorenzo on cold tires, with negative consequences for both riders. Lorenzo re-entered the race in 15th position and worked his way back to a sixth place finish, while Repsol Honda pilots Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium.

The following year, Stoner, en route to his second world title, outdistanced teammate Dani Pedrosa by five seconds for the win. Running third again that day, this time on a satellite Yamaha, was Andrea Dovizioso. And again that year, Lorenzo was cut down by a Gresini Honda on Lap 1, this time by the narcissistic and spatially-clueless Alvaro Bautista. Four other riders crashed out that day, Colin Edwards retired with CRT problems, and Karel Abraham failed to start, having injured himself in practice. The 2012 race was notable for the fact that six (6) CRT bikes would finish in the points, owing to the demolition derby up front.

Last year, on a wet track, overachieving rookie Marquez chased a resurgent Valentino Rossi for a good part of the day, The Doctor prevailing for what would be his only win of the year on the factory Yamaha. Soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow, bitterly piloting the competitive satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, finished third, cementing his credentials to become a Factory Rider for Ducati Corse and, in the process, virtually ruining his career. Defending world champion Lorenzo fractured his collarbone during FP2, flew home for surgery, qualified 12th and managed to finish fifth in one of the grittiest performances many of us have ever seen. Pedrosa would endure his own season-screwing collarbone fracture the following round in Germany, the two injured Aliens leaving the door open for Marquez’ shocking rookie championship.

Marc Marquez winning the title in 2013 was a surprise. In 2014, the surprise will be if he doesn’t win the title. Assen has been the site of a number of unexpected outcomes over the years, so another could be in the cards this week. My only advice to the Spanish youngster for Saturday: steer clear of Bautista and Redding.

Colin Edwards

An Apology to Colin Edwards

Many of you have accused me of treating Colin Edwards rather harshly in recent years, and I have come to agree. His interview elsewhere this week clearly illustrated the fact that he has paid his dues, enjoyed a great deal of success, and is as candid and honest about the sport and his place in it as anyone ever. He and Nicky Hayden seem to be kindred spirits.

Edwards’ best years were behind him when I began following MotoGP seriously in 2008. He is old school Texas through and through, brings a kind of dirt bike mentality to the sport, and likely would have enjoyed more success later in his career but for the advances in the control electronics that now dominate the grid. His performance at Silverstone in 2011, finishing third in the rain a week after breaking his own collarbone at Catalunya, was epic, both in terms of skill and stones. That it would be the last podium of his career is almost poetic.

This publication is full of shootouts, a term that brings to mind lining up a pair of thundering bikes at a streetlight, winding them up and lighting them off. Even at age 40, in that setting, with two identical machines, I would put my money on Edwards against anyone. If he had a couple of beers under his belt, I’d give odds.

Congratulations on a great career, Colin. I hope Michelin pays you wheelbarrows full of money to help them develop the next generation of MotoGP tires.

Ducati logoDucati Corse is SMOKIN’!

Perhaps you saw the announcement last week that Ducati will be leasing the Desmosedici, rather than selling it, in 2015. The subject is a bit academic, in that no one bought a single copy in 2014. (Unless they’re referring to Pramac Racing, which I think of as a Triple A factory team anyway. And why would they bother announcing a change in their relationship with Pramac to the press when they can just send an email?)

As regards 2015, I have only one question: To whom? Honda will surely beef up their production bike, in order to make amends with the likes of Aspar and Gresini. PBM Racing isn’t interested. There doesn’t appear to be a line forming of teams or riders anxious to risk life, limb and career on the Ducati. In fact, most of the current factory and Pramac riders appear willing to trade their current rides for just about anything short of an Evinrude-powered bathtub bolted to a couple of skateboards. Can the 2015 version really be a whole lot different/better than the 2014? Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Curious press release. If readers know more about this than meets the eye, please comment below.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

It’s a shame that the Dutch Grand Prix is always run on the last Saturday in June which, in The Netherlands, is late winter. Again this year, high temps are forecast in the 60’s, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8:00 am EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Saturday afternoon.