Archive for the ‘MotoGP Catalunya’ Category

MotoGP Catalunya Results 2017

June 11, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso repeats; Vinales comes back to the field 

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 Catalan GP

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

MotoGP 2016 Catalunya Results

June 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Events Overshadowed by Moto2 Tragedy

Misano 2010                 Shoya Tomizawa

Sepang 2011                Marco Simoncelli

Catalunya 2016            Luis Salom

Montmelo has now had its name added to the list of circuits which have claimed the life of a rider during the current decade in MotoGP.  The finger-pointing and recriminations commenced immediately in an effort to pin blame for the Friday death of Luis Salom on something or someone.  My own sense is that the state of the Spanish economy over the past decade has led to “austerity measures” on the part of track owners unable, or unwilling, to invest in improvements—in this case, a gravel trap—that could save lives.

Which is the story of EU capitalism in a nutshell—a system in which myopic short term policies lead to lasting iniquity.  On a macro scale, the deconstruction of the Greek economy taking place before our very eyes, enforced by the EU with Germany, of all countries, cracking the whip, will inevitably lead to lasting hardship for the vast majority of her citizens.  On a micro scale, deferred investments in safety measures at a Spanish racing venue directly result in another bright young life being snuffed out.

Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya

Marquez loses battle, winning the war

The modified layout of the Circuit Catalunya brought about by Friday’s tragedy arguably converted Montmelo from being highly Yamaha friendly to Honda friendly, with both Repsol Hondas qualifying on the front row, Dani Pedrosa for the first time this season.  Marquez owned Q2, laying down a 1:43.9 on his first series and a 1:43.5 on his second, half a second clear of Lorenzo in the two slot.  Rossi saved himself for Sunday by leaping from ninth place to fifth on his last lap.  The surprise of the afternoon was Hectic Hector Barbera placing his Avintia Ducati at the top of the second row, missing out on a front row start by 15/1000ths of a second. With the notable exception of Rossi, Spaniards hogged the front two rows.

Rossi was the fastest rider in the morning warm-up, delivering a preview of the day’s events.  The race itself started normally enough, with Lorenzo winning the holeshot, the lead group forming up behind him consisting of Marquez, Iannone on the Ducati, Dani Pedrosa and Suzuki hotshot Maverick Vinales, with Rossi getting lost in the sauce on his way to eighth position.  By Lap 2, Rossi had sliced his way back to fourth, the four Aliens at the front trailed by a slavering Vinales who immediately began putting ragged moves on everyone he found in his way.

Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 3 as I was noting “Lorenzo getting away?”  In what appeared to be a budding replay of last year, Marquez was overriding the RC213V on Laps 4 and 5, trying to keep the Mallorcan from disappearing, while Rossi, now flying, morphed the front two into a front three.  On Lap 6, Rossi passed Marquez easily and immediately set his sights on Lorenzo, who by that point was definitely NOT getting away.

On Lap 7, as first Rossi, then Marquez, went through on Lorenzo, it became apparent that Lorenzo was unable to maintain his speed in the turns, his edge grip apparently shot to hell.  Pedrosa went through him on Lap 9.  Vinales, having eaten his Wheaties that morning, started attacking Lorenzo relentlessly on Lap 10, almost as if he intended to usurp Lorenzo’s ride next season, as is the case.  Vinales stole Lorenzo’s lunch money today on Lap 12 after half a dozen failed attempts.  And while Rossi held the lead at this point, there was nothing comfortable about it, as Marquez refused to wilt despite losing ground coming out of all the slow turns.

Iannone Becomes a Verb

Nothing much changed at the front, then, until Lap 17, at which point Lorenzo was struggling to hold on to 5th place with Andrea Iannone threatening.  Somewhere in the middle of the circuit, possibly Turn 7, a routine left hander, Lorenzo was in the apex of the turn when Iannone, heading straight for him, running hot as an acetylene torch, slammed on his brakes, his rear tire leaving the ground, but not in time to avoid T-boning the triple world champion.

With his day now completely ruined and his lead in the 2016 championship but a memory, Lorenzo gained something new in common with next year’s Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso:  He had been Iannone’d by a rider likely to be giving Suzuki major second thoughts heading into a new two-year contract with a painfully low racing IQ.  While Iannone’s takedown of teammate Dovizioso at Le Mans was the result of poor judgment, today’s wreck appeared to involve no judgment at all.  Race Direction, which really knows how to hurt a guy, is likely to punish the jugheaded Italian with a point or two on his license, the equivalent of being ticketed for littering after drunkenly causing a four car pileup on an expressway.  Two points on your racing license is a hangnail; getting knocked out of a race while leading the championship is something closer to a disaster.

Another Montmelo Classic at the End

Marquez was in hot pursuit of Rossi, riding on the limit, when his pit board flashed the “Lorenzo KO” sign at him on Lap 19.  His immediate reaction was to not react.  He stayed on Rossi’s rear tire, backing into turns, losing ground on the exits, testing Rossi’s resolve once and again until Lap 23, when he went through and made it stick, leaving pretty much everyone watching the race gasping for air.  But Rossi, somehow still at the top of his game in 2016, took the lead back the next time around.  When Marquez suffered yet another “moment” in Turn 7 of Lap 24, he finally appeared to capisce his pit board’s message and let Rossi get away, knowing he had taken the lead in the 2016 campaign.  With a world class competitive spirit, Marquez has now gained the perspective he lacked early in his premier class career and understands that 20 points in the hand is better than 25 points a second and a half in front of you.

The Big Picture Refocused

The disruption in the 2016 standings brought about by Rossi’s blown engine in Mugello has now been largely corrected, thanks to Rossi’s rock-hard performance and Iannone’s rock-hard cranium.  Montmelo has bestowed her not inconsiderable charms on young Marquez, who retakes the championship lead for the first time since Jerez, with Lorenzo now 10 points behind him and Rossi another 12 behind Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, who podiumed today for, like, the thousandth time in his career, continues to maintain a faint grip on his ragged Alien club card, with 43 points standing between him and Marquez.  The series now takes a bit of a breather before heading to The Low Countries at the end of June for the first Dutch TT Assen in history not to be run on a Saturday.

I don’t want to talk about the controversy which blew up Saturday night about who attended the Safety Commission meeting on Friday evening and who didn’t, about who might have shot off their mouths criticizing the decisions pertaining to the modification of the track layout without bothering to attend.  Factory Yamaha riders are apparently above all that scut work.

I do, for the benefit of readers who believe I am constantly on Cal Crutchlow’s case, wish to say something positive about the Coventry Crasher.  Recall Mugello, after which I praised Cal for doubling—DOUBLING—his point total for the season with his scintillating 11th place performance in Italy.  Those of you who found that achievement brilliant will be astounded to learn that HE DID IT AGAIN TODAY!  With 10 points entering today’s race, and a credible sixth place finish, his point total for the year now sits at 20!  Never mind that three of the four riders who retired or crashed out of today’s race would have likely finished in front of him, resulting in a 9th place haul of seven points.

As the old saying goes, if you want to finish sixth, you must first finish.

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.

Marquez prevails in riveting Catalan GP

June 15, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Catalunya Results by Bruce Allen

As the bikes lined up for the start of the 2014 GP Monster Energy de Catalunya, the racing gods appeared to have had enough of Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez. His first crash of the season at the end of qualifying relegated him to the third position at the start, ending a string of seven straight poles. Teammate Dani Pedrosa looked ready to rumble, and storm clouds were building to the west; the smell of a flag-to-flag fiasco was in the air. Would his 2014 winning streak come to an end in the rain at his home track?

Um, no. Marquez engaged in a two-wheeled form of hand-to-hand combat with Yamaha mullah Valentino Rossi, followed by a knife fight with teammate Pedrosa, and ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi with Pedrosa settling for third. Those of us who thought we had seen the best of MotoGP at Mugello two weeks ago were treated to an even more compelling race today, as both Rossi and Pedrosa looked capable of winning. A Repsol one-two was only averted in Turn 11 of the last lap, when Pedrosa, desperate to overtake Marquez one last time, touched tires with his teammate, wobbled wide, allowing the opportunistic Rossi to capture second place. And the rain never fell.

Marquez at Aragon

Let’s be honest. After awhile, MotoGP fans become inoculated to the incomprehensible speeds at which these bikes operate. What we pay to see is overtaking in the turns, riders running shoulder-to-shoulder, teeth gritted and bared, massive slicks separated by centimeters and violent consequences likely when they make contact. At Mugello, Marquez and Yamaha star Jorge Lorenzo traded places perhaps a dozen times over the last third of the race, leaving the fans soaked in sweat and the announcers breathless. Today, I lost count of the encounters between the three eventual podium winners.pedrosa_marquez

Rossi spent most of the day leading a group of five, the four aliens and LCR Honda’s designated fifth-place finisher Stefan Bradl. Lorenzo had taken the early lead, but was dismissed by both Rossi and Marquez during Lap 4. Rossi held the lead for the next 16 laps, holding off challenges from the Repsol Hondas, who seemed to have the pace, while Lorenzo trailed in fourth, hoping for a mistake by someone. Over the last six laps, all three of the leaders held the lead at various points. Even though Marquez technically led the last six laps, the intra-lap drama was thick; it was literally anyone’s race. Suffice it to say that as hard as Marquez had to fight in Italy, he needed even more today. And, as we’ve seen all year, he’s had what it takes when he needed it.

So, on the day that officially marked the 65th anniversary of grand prix motorcycle racing, we had the first ever instance of two brothers winning grand prix races on the same day. Marquez’ little brother Alex started the Moto3 race from pole and won comfortably on the Estrella Galicia Honda. For Honda Racing Corporation and ultra-proud father Roser Marquez, 2014 was a Father’s Day for the ages.

Checking Pulses at the Top

2014 Catalunya podium

In Alienville, amongst the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, a quick status check is in order. Marquez remains untouchable, although his candy-colored tangerine flake enamel was slightly scuffed on Saturday when he failed to capture the pole. His win today marked the 100th win by a Honda bike during the four stroke era. It would surprise no one if Marquez is on board for their 200th win a few years down the road.

Dani Pedrosa once again looks dangerous, after having had surgery to correct an arm pump issue. Though he captured his first pole in a year on Saturday, he hasn’t won since Sepang last year, but appears to have recovered from his physical issues.

Valentino Rossi has reclaimed the #1 spot on the factory Movistar Yamaha team, four years after having ceded it to Jorge Lorenzo. With five podia in seven starts, there can be little doubt The Doctor still has it. Lorenzo showed us at Mugello that he can still compete, but psychologically he appears very fragile. In years past he would simply go out and seize wins. In 2014, the moon, the planets and the stars all need to align perfectly in order for him to have a chance of winning. Such alignment has yet to occur in 2014.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The brothers Espargaro, Aleix on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha and junior rookie Pol on the Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, spent most of the day eyeball-to-eyeball, with big brother Aleix ultimately prevailing in 6th position, birth order still of paramount importance in Latin countries. Earlier in the year, I had predicted that Aleix might take a win at Assen or The Sachsenring, but such appears unlikely now, the difference in factory versus Marelli ECU software being too great to overcome. Aleix greatly covets a factory ride, which may come next year wrapped in Suzuki colors.

The Ducati contingent was led again today by veteran Andrea Dovizioso in eighth place, followed closely by Joe Iannone in ninth and a consistent Yonny Hernandez in 11th. Wildcard entry Michele Pirro, whom I had earlier this week accused of being under-rated, made a liar out of me by finishing 14th, almost a full minute behind the leaders and 18 seconds behind Hernandez. And, for the fourth time in seven starts this season, Cal Crutchlow failed to finish, apoplectic this time over an electronics issue that forced him to retire from the race. As charming as Cal has been with the media this year, he must be an absolute dream with his team, all sweetness and light, whenever a mechanical issue arises that interferes with his crashing out of the race.

Two Sponsorship Notes

GO&Fun girlCaptureToday we noticed two interesting developments on the sponsorship front. Interpol, the global equivalent of the FBI, is now a sponsor for Ducati, having apparently signed on to help the Bologna factory locate its competitiveness, last seen in 2009. And the brolly girls of the Gresini GO & FUN team, upon casual examination, appear to be wearing Camel Toe jumpsuits. With nothing going on for either Alvaro Bautista or Scott Redding, the umbrella girls are stealing the show. If I were Fausto Gresini, I would put Redding on the prototype and Bautista on the customer bike to see if things could possibly turn out worse.

The Big Picture

With Marquez firmly in charge, Rossi and Pedrosa now look set for a season-long battle for second place. Lorenzo and Dovizioso are close for now, but Lorenzo is likely to slowly pull away as the season progresses. The Espargaro brothers and Bradl will battle for sixth place; I expect one of the two Yamahas to prevail over the lone LCR Honda. Iannone on the Ducati and Bradley Smith on the #2 Tech 3 Yamaha are likely to complete the top ten for 2014.

Returning to Assen

Up next on the calendar is the annual pilgrimage to The Cathedral at Assen, the scene of Valentino Rossi’s surprise win last season. Steeped as it is in motorcycle racing history, Assen appears to be a suitable place for Marc Marquez to continue his assault on the record books. Low speeds are a given in The Low Countries, meaning the factory Hondas will have a built-in advantage.

As if they need another.

2014 Catalunya Top Ten

Catalunya Top Ten Race FinalCapture

 

2014 Championship Standings after 7 Rounds

 

Champ Standings after 7 RoundsCapture

 

Marquez returns home, looks to stay perfect

June 10, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Catalunya Preview by Bruce Allen

Round 7 of the 2014 MotoGP season thunders into northeastern Spain, home to the historic Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and, as luck would have it, Repsol Honda boy wonder Marc Marquez. Marquez, who grew up 70 miles west of here, considers Montmeló his home track. Sunday is likely to be Friends and Family Day in Catalunya.

cropped-jorge-lorenzo-2013.jpgSince Mugello, a number of people, some of whom have an axe to grind, have suggested that double world champion and Yamaha kingpin Jorge Lorenzo is BACK. Certainly, his performance in Italy was his best of 2014 and one of his best ever. But, with his bike performing flawlessly, at a track seemingly designed to the strengths of the YZR-M1 and riding at the limit pretty much the entire day, he was only able to manage second place. Two or three years ago, a ride like that would have been an almost certain win. In 2014, as good as it was, it wasn’t good enough.

Back in 2011, Lorenzo fought Andrea Dovizioso’s Repsol Honda, winning by one second with an elapsed time of 41:50.09. In 2012 he beat Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa by five seconds, with a time of 41:37.48. Last year he beat Pedrosa by five seconds with a time of 41:39.73. This year, even with the time lost exchanging places with Marquez a dozen times, his time was 41:38.37. Minus Marquez and the time lost fighting him, it would have been his fastest Italian Grand Prix ever.

Not good enough. We observe that the second fastest rider on the grid riding at the absolute limit at perhaps his favorite track on the tour is not fast enough to beat Marc Marquez. Thus, we are left to conclude that the only thing standing between Marquez and perhaps 25 wins in a row will be a careless crash or plain bad luck. A blown engine. A tire losing pressure. A hornet in his helmet. Getting “collected” the way LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl did at Mugello, by Cal Crutchlow’s riderless Ducati, grinding its way to the gravel pit.

Conventional wisdom in this sport has it that success is 80% rider and 20% bike. If you accept this, and unless you have a closet fullMarquez at Aragon of #93 gear, the prospect of the standard ECU in 2016 has to give you the creeps. I expect Marquez to come to grips, as it were, with the Michelin tires in 2016 as quickly as anyone and sooner than most. With a standard ECU and everyone running the same software, 80% may go to 90%. An unsettling prospect, to be sure.

Recent History at Catalunya

“Recent” is a relative word, especially when it comes to MotoGP. Looking back at the last three races here, we’ve seen the premier class change radically in 36 months. Exhibit A: 2011, when Marco Simoncelli took the pole on the Gresini Honda. During the race, Casey Stoner rode his Repsol Honda to the win by 2.4 seconds over Lorenzo, with Ben Spies’ factory Yamaha another 1.9 seconds in arrears. Three of the four top riders that day are no longer racing.

In 2012, the lactose intolerant Stoner started from pole, finishing off the podium as Lorenzo led Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso across the line. Last year, Pedrosa started from pole—an accomplishment he has yet to repeat—finishing second to Lorenzo, but beating the pesky Marquez to the line by 6/100ths.

Progress at Pramac: Fact or Fantasy?Pramac_Racing

Watching the races this season, I’ve caught myself thinking that the once laughable Pramac Racing team has really improved a lot in the past year. Recall 2009 when Aleix Espargaro, Niccolo “Pokey” Canepa and Mika Kallio, late of Moto2, fronted the Italian satellite Ducati team. Kallio had a decent campaign, despite “retiring” from five races, finishing the year with 71 points. But Canepa and the 20 year-old Espargaro collected a total of 54 points between them while Rossi was winning the championship with 309 by himself.

Last year, the team started the year with Michele Pirro and rookie Andrea Iannone. Pirro, who I think is somewhat under-rated, collected five top ten finishes before being replaced by Yonny Hernandez after San Marino. Iannone, who came up from Moto2, was unprepared for life on the Desmosedici, managing a scant 57 points for the season to go along with a number of DNFs and a collection of injuries. Anyway, after six rounds in 2013 the Pramac duo had 49 points.

Fast forward to 2014, with Iannone a year farther along and Hernandez figuring things out. Iannone, especially, calls to mind what Andrea Iannonefolks used to say about Kawasaki bikes—‘fast while they last.’ He has run with the leaders for brief periods, generally fading as his tires go, and having crashed out at Jerez and Le Mans. Hernandez has been “in the points” in every race this season, but has only 22 to show for his six outings. In short, the team has managed only seven more points than it had at the same time last season. Perhaps they’ve had a little more fun along the way.

As a footnote, Cal Crutchlow had 71 points at this time last season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Having earned his promotion to the Ducati factory team, he sits with 15 (15!) heading into Round 7. We’ve all heard how much Cal regrets the chain of events that brought him to where he is today. I’m wondering whether Ducati Corse doesn’t regret it at least as much as the burly Brit.

ECU Dispute

Ducati logoIn an effort to lower costs and level the playing field, Carmelo Ezpeleta and his minions at Dorna Sports declared prior to the start of the season that, commencing in 2016, every bike on the grid would run the same Electronic Control Unit and the same software. Since Dorna themselves wouldn’t know where to start designing the software, they decided that a committee comprised of engineers from the various factory teams—Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki—would assemble over bagels and coffee and, you know, just put their heads together and come up with the incredibly complex programming that keeps these machines from becoming airborne at every turn.

Honda-Racing-Corporation-Logo-623x275The Italian firm Magneti Marelli, headquartered in Bologna and assumed by many to be sleeping with the bosses at Ducati, has been offering its ECU to the Frankenbikes since the start of the CRT era in 2012. Honda, wanting nothing to do with Marelli or a control ECU, has threatened to pull out of MotoGP altogether over the issue, but seems to be bluffing, having signed Marquez through the 2016 season. The suits at Ducati are apparently screaming that Honda is having too much influence on the design of the software. Yamaha and Suzuki, like Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories, just be layin’ low, claiming, oddly, that they’ll be happy to work with whatever emerges from the coffee klatch/death match between Honda and Ducati. The dynamics of the whole deal—maximizing input without giving away trade secrets—are fascinating. Whether Ezpeleta & Co. designed this sideshow on purpose, or have been taken by surprise, it will be fun to watch for the next 20 months.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Sunny skies and mild temperatures are on tap for all three days, as one would expect for Marc Marquez’ homecoming parade. Anyone want to bet we won’t see the exact same podium this week as we did at Mugello? The lights go out at 8 am EDT; we’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Catalunya 2013 Results

June 16, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this column will appear on Motorcycle.com.

Jorge Lorenzo Repeats; Championship Tightens 

Factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo won a number of battles today at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya.  He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to the finish line for his second consecutive win of 2013 and his second in a row at Montmelo.  He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars.  He beat the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive.  So why does he seems destined to finish second in 2013? 

Race weekend 2013 in greater Barcelona was sunny, warm and confusing.  There was a different leader in each of the free practice sessions leading up to Saturday’s qualifying, in which series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa took the pole—his first ever here—in his 200th grand prix start.  The front of the starting grid today was weirdness itself:

  • a first row comprised of Pedrosa, Yamaha Tech 3 overachiever Cal Crutchlow and Lorenzo.
  • a hilarious second row featuring satellite Honda jug head Alvaro Bautista, factory Ducati #2 Nicky Hayden and Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez; and
  • an all-Italian third row of factory Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, satellite Ducati comer Andrea Iannone and factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso.

One of the areas in which Lorenzo has improved his game over the past few years is starting races.  Back in 2010 and 2011, he would routinely qualify brilliantly, only to enter the first turn of races in, like 6th place.  This, in comparison to rival Pedrosa, who generally started races as if he had been launched by the catapult on an aircraft carrier.  Again today, in a repeat of his performance at Mugello two weeks ago, Lorenzo entered Turn 1 aggressively ahead of polesitter Pedrosa, a critical move that would make his win today possible.

25 Laps of High Anxiety

By the end of the first lap, the top five consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Crutchlow and a frisky-looking Rossi, who appeared capable of a podium, if not a win.  Rossi has enjoyed six career wins here, but another poor qualifying practice, in a season full of them, consigned him to a fifth consecutive off-the-podium finish after his triumphant second-place result in Qatar.  More on Rossi later.

The next 24 laps reminded me of playing Bingo in a church basement, which offers players a unique combination of boredom and anxiety.  The only change in the top four positions occurred when Cal Crutchlow, heavily jinxed by me in last week’s preview, slid off the track and out of the race on Lap 6 for his first DNF of the season.  As in Mugello, Lorenzo desperately fended off the determined Pedrosa until his fuel load dropped, at which point he was again able to breathe, while not actually “breaking” Pedrosa until the last three laps.

What broke Pedrosa today was less Lorenzo than teammate Marquez, who spent his entire day in third position.  Late in the race, when it became clear Pedrosa was not likely to overtake Lorenzo, the rookie decided to make a run at him.  He spent most of the last three laps of the race attached to Pedrosa’s pipes, like a terrier on a pants leg, until the last lap, when he had a “MotoGP moment” during a last-gasp move on Pedrosa that forced him to stand the bike up and concede second place (by 6/100ths of a second).  Marquez is a baller, with five podiums and a DNF in six rookie starts.  He will file today’s race under “Lessons Learned in 2013”.

Don’t be surprised if this is the last time Pedrosa ever tops Marquez in Catalunya.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Alvaro Bautista, onboard the FUN&GO Gresini Honda for what has to be the last season, once again exhibited his low racing IQ for the world to see.  Dude qualified fourth and had an outside shot at a podium.  But, heading into Turn 10 on Lap 1, he seemed to take aim at Rossi, went in hot, lost the front, and slid out, barely missing the Italian’s rear wheel and a repeat of their conjoined debacle in Mugello last time out.  Another bonehead move on cold tires, reminiscent of Assen last year where he almost wrecked Lorenzo’s season.  I join Fausto Gresini in wondering what the hell is up with this guy.

Riders enjoying a productive day today included LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, who salvaged 11 points after starting in 10th place, and Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Bradley Smith, who held on for sixth place in his best outing of the year.  Andrea Dovizioso managed seventh today despite running on the rims as he crossed the finish line.  Aleix Espargaro was again the top CRT rider, ending the day in eighth place.

Normally we ignore much of what happens in the lower tranches of MotoGP, but today we make two exceptions.  We congratulate Colin Edwards, on the NGM Forward Racing CRT, who, in 9th place, managed his first top ten result since finishing 5th at Phillip Island in 2011.  And we salute 10th place finisher Michelle Pirro for his versatility.  So far this season, he has been a test rider for Ducati.  He has been a wildcard on the Ducati “Lab Bike.”  He has been a substitute rider for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati.  Today, though, he was onboard the Lab Bike wearing Pramac colors, the third, and hopefully last, permutation of a second-stringer for Ducati Corse.  Will we ever again see Ben Spies in MotoGP?

As The Sun Sets on Valentino Rossi

Barring rain at a layout like Aragon, it’s possible Valentino Rossi has won his last race in the premier class of MotoGP.  The guy who defined the sport for most of a decade has lost a step, as was clear today.  Sitting alone in 4th place after Crutchlow’s crash, The Doctor was unable to mount any kind of challenge to Marquez over the next 19 laps.  He appeared to be hoping for something bad to happen to one of the leaders, which would have elevated him to a cheap podium.  As we’ve said here before, most knowledgeable MotoGP observers say it’s 80% rider, 20% bike in this league.  If you buy that reasoning, you may also buy the idea that Rossi is done as a championship contender.  The following graph shows Rossi’s wins per season since joining the premier class in 2000.

Rossi Wins per Year Since 2000

The Big Picture 

After six rounds, Dani Pedrosa still leads Jorge Lorenzo by seven points.  Marquez trails Lorenzo by 23, with Crutchlow 22 points behind the rookie.  Barring crashes, which is like barring respiration, it is a two man race again this year.  Pedrosa’s lead is actually larger than it looks, for two reasons:

  • There are only a couple of Yamaha-friendly circuits remaining on the 2013 calendar.
  • Lorenzo is currently working engine #4, while both Pedrosa and Marquez are on their second powerplants.  With a statutory limit of five engines for the season, the likelihood that Lorenzo will have to start from pit lane in several races cannot be denied.

True, Lorenzo’s primary gift is his consistency, supplemented by his patience and tire management skills.  Scrawled on his helmet today was his mantra “Constant as a Hammer”.  He’s a polished professional at the top of his game, getting everything possible from his Yamaha M-1.  But the smart money is saying it’s not going to be enough in 2013.

Top Ten after Six Rounds