Archive for the ‘MotoGP Mugellio’ Category

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo wins for Ducati in Italian clambake 

Nature abhors a vacuum. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With an Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was another great day to be Italian. (Even if they don’t exactly have a government at present.) The 2018 standings have tightened up to some extent. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds.

Mugello circuit

Magnificent Mugello

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday’s two practice sessions produced a few surprises. Maverick Vinales—remember him?—had it going on, as did rookie Franco Morbidelli on the usually moribund Marc VDS Honda. Several high-profile riders, including Andrea Dovizioso (our pick to win the race), Dani Pedrosa and Alex Rins were on the outside looking in on Friday night. Suzuki roughneck Andrea Iannone, hours after declaring Suzuki had washed its hands of him for next year, put himself at the top of the heap in an effective show of spite.

FP3 on Saturday was a different story. Marquez set the fastest lap in the history of Mugello. Dovizioso set the fastest top speed ever recorded in MotoGP, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls ‘liftoff speed,’ and was able to sneak into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Michele Pirro, on a Ducati GP18 wildcard, executed a 160-mph high-side at the end of the main straight, going all ragdoll and ending up in the hospital with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, a testament to the technical prowess of Alpinestars and Arai. (While his injuries kept him out of Sunday’s race, he is lucky not to have become Humpty Dumpty. In the photo of him giving the thumbs up from his hospital bed, he looked as if he had fallen from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.) Rins found something on Saturday, but Dani Pedrosa, Jack Miller and Vinales were shunted off to the Q1 corral. Interesting to note that at the end of free practice, #3 and 4 were Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, giving the day a bit of a vintage feel. This feeling would arise again after the race.

Early Rossi and Lorenzo

Rossi and Lorenzo early in their careers

Q1 held little drama, other than the continued sufffering of Pedrosa, who was unable to crack the top ten at all until Q1, ending up 20th on the grid. Vinales and Miller made it into Q2, which was a different story, as rider after rider broke the old track record (putting the author at 3 out of 4 for the season, batting .750). In a bit of poetic justice, the much-maligned (by me) Doctor Rossi laid down the fastest lap EVER at Mugello while securing pole, joined on the front row by The Squishy-Soft Spartan and Vinales. Two Yamahas on the front row after months of singing the blues. Iannone, Petrucci and Marquez on Row 2. Several balloons popped as Dovi could manage only 7th, Zarco 9th, and Miller 11th. None of which, to my way of thinking, would have much to do with Sunday’s race result. Wrong again.

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Yellow Mugello

Race Day

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By the time the main event rolled around, the racing surface was approaching 50° C, the hottest conditions of the weekend. Marquez had found success in the morning warm-up going with the hard front/hard rear combination, which would help him hold up later in the race. By comparison, both Rossi and Dovizioso went with hard/medium, and Mr. Softee, Lorenzo, went with medium/soft. Before the lights wnt out, we were thinking we’d already seen this movie, in which Lorenzo takes off like a scalded cat only to get devoured in the second half of the race.

Not today. In a salute to Michelin, Lorenzo was able to make the softer rubber hold up all day after taking the holeshot at the start. He fought off a challenge from Marquez, who crashed on Lap 5, and began creating a bit of a working margin on his pursuers, who included Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Later in the race, Danilo Petrucci showed up, with Alex Rins tagging along on his own factory Suzuki.

By mid-race, it was clear that Dovizioso, running second, wasn’t going to challenge Lorenzo, nor was Rossi, sitting happily in third, going to challenge Dovizioso. On Lap 12, Petrucci went through into third place, visions of an all-Ducati podium dancing in the head of Gigi Dall’Igna. But Petrucci’s tires went up with about six laps left, allowing both Rins and Cal Crutchlow through, demoting him to a demoralizing 7th. Which is more than his rival and competitor for a factory ride in 2019, Jack Miller, could say, as he crashed out on Lap 2, joining Dani Pedrosa, Scott Redding, Karel Abraham and Tom Luthi in making early exits from the proceedings.

So, what did we learn today? That Jorge Lorenzo is, somehow, BACK? No. He admitted as much himself in the post-race presser, in which he said the track and the conditions need to be right, as they were today, for him to compete for a win. That Marc Marquez is, somehow, beatable? Not really, since the last time he crashed out was over a year ago; it’s way too early to think of this as a thing. That Valentino Rossi is, somehow, at age 39, still capable of competing at a high level? Absolutely. Though he still hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008, he gave the fans a show. (And while 40 is not the new 30 in MotoGP, third place on the podium is as good as a win for Rossi in 2018.) That age and experience can still, on occasion, beat young and quick? Yes. Lorenzo (31), Dovizioso (32) and Rossi (39) dusted the likes of Marquez (25), Vinales (23) and Rins (22). Mugello respects its elders.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ lead at the top has been cut from 36 points over Vinales to 23 points over Rossi. Vinales in 3rd and Iannone in 7th are separated by seven points. Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller are slugging it out for 8th, while Lorenzo has suddenly appeared in the top ten, if only for the moment.

In our preview the other day, we suggested at least one of the top five riders might hit the floor today; Marquez and Miller complied. We suggested that Andrea Dovizioso needed to come through at his home crib, which he did, to the tune of +20 points. We thought Petrucci, Rossi and, yes, Jorge might make some noise. Check. We commented during the week how qualifying had little to do with race results, and were wrong, despite Maverick Vinales having started 2nd and finished 8th. We thought Johann Zarco might carry the colors for Yamaha; he finished 10th. Just goes to show that if one makes enough predictions, a few are likely to work out.

The Undercards

Once again, the Moto3 race was breathtaking. Teammates Jorge Martin and Fabio DiGianntonio on the Del Conca Gresini Hondas fought it out all day with KTM’s Marco Bezzecchi. At the flag, Martin crossed the line first, a full .019 seconds ahead of Bezzecchi, with DiGianntonio lagging another .024 back. Three riders within half a second at the flag. Another day at the office in Moto3.

Moto2 was equally compelling. Both Marcel Schrotter and Mattia Pasini crashed out of the lead, Schrotter failing to complete a single lap. The front group then consisted of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM versus Lorenzo Baldassarri on the Pons HP40 Kalex and, at the end, rookie Joan Mir on the Marc VDS Kalex. Francesco Bagnaia, on his way to the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team next year, finished fourth. Once again, all four riders finished within half a second of Oliveira. Prior to the race it was confirmed that Mir would be signing a contract with the Suzuki ECSTAR team to ride alongside Alex Rins beginning next year. THAT will become a formidable team.

Not-Quite-Groundless Speculation

The announcers were speculating whether today’s win by Lorenzo would save his seat on the factory Ducati team next year. I’m thinking maybe, as long as the impossibly proud Lorenzo is willing to take about a 75% pay cut, which doesn’t seem likely. The speculation continued later, with Petronas, the massive Malaysian energy company, rumored to be considering a leveraged buyout of the Marc VDS team and forming a satellite Yamaha team fronted by Lorenzo and Syahrin. Such a team would, presumably, give way to a Rossi-run SkyVR46 team in 2021.

Back to Spain in Two Weeks

The flying circus returns to Barcelona in two weeks, to Montmelo, the favorite track of those whose favorite track isn’t Mugello. Today was a day for the Italians; June 17th is likely to be a day for the Spaniards. To give you, the reader, something over which to ruminate in the interim, your newest tranching tool follows.

 

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Dovizioso, Iannone, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Zarco, Vinales, Miller

Tranche 3:   Lorenzo, Pedrosa, A Espargaro, Rins, Rabat

Tranche 4:   Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Bautista, Syahrin

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

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Mugello Madness

MotoGP Mugello Preview

May 28, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati, contenders must make a stand this week

How many times since 2013 have we heard a Nick Harris say, “Marquez appears to be getting away at the front?” Plenty. And I have a hard time remembering the last time he crashed out of the lead in one of those. This season is getting away from us. Mugello, with its rich history, is home base to the Rossi and Iannone delegations, as well as Ducati’s home crib. Armed with his new contract, it is step-up time for an Italian rider on Italian equipment with an Italian crew performing in an Italian shrine.

It is Andrea Dovizioso’s time. He is the #1 rider for Ducati Corse. This is his best Andrea-Dovizioso.jpgopportunity to slow down the runaway freight train with the number 93. The Desmosedici has been designed to perform well here. He won last year’s race.

We could say much the same thing about Andrea Iannone, who has done well here of late, except that he now rides for Ecstar Suzuki. He’s posted a second and a third here in the last three years and must be considered a bona fide challenger on Sunday. How well the GSX-RR holds up on the long Straight of Mugello will determine whether he can take a shot at Marquez. Or Dovizioso.

Sunday’s Contestants in The Main Event

(Channeling Vince McMahon at this moment.) “The challengers in this year’s Rumble in Tuscany include, next to Andrea and Andrea, wearing #9 in red, from Terni, Italy, on the Praaaaaaamac Ducati, ladies and gentlemen, (as the crowd goes wild) 2018-MotoGP-Jack-Miller-Danilo-Petrucci-3.jpg

DanEEEEEElo PetrrrUUUUUUUUUcci!” Petrucci seems to have taken the bit in his teeth of late, understanding that his main rival for a factory Ducati next year is no longer a triple world champion. It is the suddenly fast Jack Miller, on a GP-17 who, given everything we know about him, could win Sunday’s race. Petrucci finished on the podium last year and is at the top of his game right now. Winning at Mugello is something he could tell his grandkids about one day.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, wearing #99 in red, from Mallorca, Spain, on the factory Ducati, triple MotoGP world champion and heavy underdog, please welcome

Lorenzo screwedHorrrrrrrrhay LoooooooooRENzo!” OK, so Lorenzo is 0-for-Ducati. He is getting even worse results this year than last year. And 2017 was a dumpster fire. But he loves Mugello, winning here five times between 2011 and 2016, when he edged out Marquez by 1/100th in one of his best races ever. Ever, I say. Plus, he has a lot riding on this one, having received “l’embarrassment du choix” from the suits at Ducati Corse, in the person of Gigi Dall’Igna. Win on Sunday or seek employment elsewhere next year. Bitch.

Jorge needs it not to rain.

“Here’s a man who needs no introduction. Wearing #46 in blue and yellow, from Tavullia, Italy, just down the road, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Il Dottore,

Rossi 2018VaLLLentino Rrrooooooooosi!!!” True, it’s been awhile for Rossi in his home crib. Nonetheless, this venue offers the venerable Italian an opportunity for two podia in a row, after finishing third last time out in France. As crummy as the YZR-M1 has been this year, it has always been well-suited to this track. His teammate, Maverick Viñales, took second last year, and somehow sits in second place for 2018 despite being winless after five rounds. His 57 points compare to 85 (and three wins) in 2017. This, then, is a fairly graphic illustration of how far off the pace the 2018 M1 is. A win by Yamaha on Sunday would require much bad juju on the Honda and Ducati teams.

Almost done bashing Yamaha. They do have the electric Johann Zarco riding what is becoming a vintage M1. It’s entirely likely that any Yamaha win on Sunday would arrive wearing #5. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, in my opinion. I believe he will tone down his aggressive riding style in the years to come, that much of what we saw last year and occasionally this year is intentional, the intent being to gain respect, a reputation that you will not be pushed around in the turns. Having accomplished that, he can go about trying to win a championship with KTM.

Personally, Mugello is my favorite circuit on the calendar, bucket list material. None of this stop-and-go stuff, holds a bunch of yellow smoke and 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans without much else to cheer about, and features the #1 sports idol in the whole country, Valentino Rossi. As we remarked last year, it is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won here since 2008. Which makes no difference whatsoever to his fans, who have short memories. Unless it comes to telling you all about Laguna Seca 2008, when Rossi put Stoner’s dick in the dirt on the next-to-last lap (I refuse to use the term penultimate) on his way to the win and the world championship.

Who’s Under Contract for 2019

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso
Ecstar Suzuki: Alex Rins
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

This leaves half the grid signed, the other half scrambling. It appears Scott Redding and Bradley Smith will not be in MotoGP next year. High-profile riders like Lorenzo and Iannone, Petrucci and Miller are waging their own wars in the midst of the races, trying to build arguments for factory rides next year. There will always be the Karel Abrahams of the world, riders with more sponsor money than talent. Without big backers, the riders at the bottom of the food chain will be scrambling for one-year deals somewhere. As one of our readers observes, this is life among the yachting set.

Your Weekend Forecast

From a week out, the weather looks reasonably good for metropolitan Scarperia this weekend. Chance of rain both Friday and Saturday, but clear and warm conditions are expected for race day. Something—the weather, food poisoning, a flood in the garage from a plugged commode—needs to intervene in the metronomic consistency of Marc Marquez and his Honda. Two years ago both Jorge Lorenzo and Rossi blew engines after bottoming out at the end of the main straight, bouncing, and over-revving. Rossi’s misfortune was that it happened in the race, where he had the pace to win.

Interesting to observe that of the top seven riders in the standings, only Zarco and Iannone have failed to finish every race, both having crashed out at Le Mans. This tells me that some of the other five—Marquez, Vinales, Rossi, Petrucci and Miller—are overdue for a DNF. Given the fact that no one seems to understand how it is that Vinales sits in second place for the year, and that he will be pushing hard, he would be my guess to record a DNF on Sunday. Surely one of the top guys will. Dovizioso, who has failed to finish his last two races, will NOT crash out again this week. Gazing into my Magic 8 Ball, conditions appear favorable for Dovizioso, Marquez and Petrucci.
motogp-san-marino-gp-2017-danilo-petrucci-pramac-racing-marc-marquez-repsol-honda-team-and

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states, and we’ll have results and analysis right here around lunchtime. Ciao!

Jorge Lorenzo is so screwed

May 23, 2018

Lorenzo screwed.JPG

This article captures the situation in the premier class pretty well. Lorenzo will be unable to save his seat. He will take a serious pay cut no matter where he ends up. Suzuki looks the most likely. He could end up on a Yamaha satellite team. He will be a minister without portfolio. Rossi escaped Ducati with most of his skills intact and a place at Yamaha for as long as he wanted it. Lorenzo, presuming another gruesome outing in Mugello next weekend, appears to have few good options available going forward.

http://www.marca.com/en/more-sports/2018/05/20/5b01520d22601df35c8b45e0.html

 

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That didn’t take long.

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

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

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

Let’s Take a Closer Look

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

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

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

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

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

2017 Season Graph color snip

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

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

Final Tranches of 2017

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

The Last Word

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

 

MotoGP Mugello Results 2017

June 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Leads Ducati Charge; Rossi Fades 

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

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

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

What About the Race?

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

Quick Notes

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

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

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

Back at y’all on Wednesday.

MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Mugello

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

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

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

Tranche Time

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

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

Rossi’s Injury

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

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

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

An Argument for Smaller Engines

November 25, 2016

Here is a fascinating article from GPOne.com.  The line which caught my attention was the one in which he informed us that the 350 km speed Iannone achieved at Mugello is referred to in the aviation industry as “take-off speed.”  He argues for 600cc prototypes in MotoGP, emphasizing that today’s bikes have too much horsepower–280–compared to the theoretical limit of 300.  Which, in itself, is remarkable.  Oh, and not enough downdraft to keep them from going airborne.

He goes on to explain that without the wings there will be serious wheelie problems and that it will simply be hard to keep the rubber on the road, as it were.  This supports my recent speculation concerning our Mr. Dall’Igna, who, we believe, is designing a new front fairing that will include molded self-contained “winglets,” especially since it is his bikes that are most likely to approach a low earth orbit.

Hidden in the article, I believe, is the concern that MotoGP could have a year in which multiple riders lose their lives, and old F-1 kind of year.  Which, I think, is a reasonable concern.  Despite advances like airbags inside the leathers, it is still a frightening enterprise to consider throwing a leg over one of these engineering marvels.

 

MARCO-SIMONCELLI-1

Marco Simoncelli, who died at Sepang in 2011.  The changes recommended in this article would not have saved his life.

 

What the MotoGP fans get now is huge speed and relatively little action in the turns.  The reason the Moto2 and Moto3 races are so wonderful to watch is that there is so much action in the turns.  Never mind that they can’t top 160 mph in the long straights; what gets people juiced is seeing them trading paint in the turns.  The interviewee’s approached would appear likely to deliver, even if the bikes can’t exceed 180 mph.

* * *

Obviously, after last year it is clear Yamaha, at least, will have to include some kind of rev limiter on their 2017 bikes.  How cool would that be–a rev limiter that restricts the rider to no more than 18,000 rpm.

The Chips are Down for Team Yamaha at Mugello

May 27, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Mugello Preview by Bruce Allen

mugello-circuit-aerial-viewMugello, one of the friendliest of the Yamaha-friendly circuits on the tour, hosts Round Six of the 2014 MotoGP world championship. In Italy, the Scarperia shrine sits just a notch below Assisi and The Sistine Chapel on the holiness scale. Since 2002, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, have won 10 of the 12 races held here. If, as expected, they get pierced again on Sunday by Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, the party is truly over.

Jorge Lorenzo, the struggling two-time world champion, has won the last three races at Mugello. Although the track sits a half hour from Rossi’s birthplace in Urbino, Lorenzo has treated it as his own personal playground since 2011. The first two of those wins came while Rossi was working for Ducati, one hand tied figuratively behind his back. Last year, Rossi returned to Team Yamaha and looked competitive in practice, only to get Bautista-ed on Lap 1. Last year’s race was notable, too, for being the only tilt of the year in which Marquez crashed out, leaving third place to burly Brit Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

Neither of those two events—Marquez crashing out, and Crutchlow finishing on the podium—are in any way likely to occur this year.

One recalls how Marquez spent a good portion of his rookie season parting company with his bike, including several times during marquez_crashSunday morning warm-up practices. He set an all-time MotoGP record last year at Mugello, calmly stepping off his RC213V at approximately 200 mph to avoid a close encounter with a concrete barrier on the main straight. It could be argued that the main difference between the 2013 version of Marquez and Marquez 2.0 is that he has learned how to keep his AIS—ass in seat. I don’t recall seeing him crash yet in 2014.

Whither Dani Pedrosa?

Marquez’ teammate, the Rodney Dangerfield of MotoGP, Dani Pedrosa, has evaded mention thus far. With a few notable exceptions, he has a formidable history at Mugello, with two wins, one of which came in MotoGP in 2010, the year Rossi went high side in practice and lost the #1 seat on Team Yamaha in the process. In eight premier class appearances at Mugello on the Repsol Honda, Pedrosa has collected the one win, three seconds, a total of five podia, and one DNF. He has finished second to Lorenzo the last two years. Although he sits in second place for the season, he is generally overlooked in most MotoGP conversations. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380The racing media is full of stories about how Suzuki wants to feature Pedrosa as it returns to the premier class in 2015. He has allegedly asked for eight million euros to pilot their #1 machine next year, perhaps in an effort to see if they’re really serious about spending what it takes to field a competitive team. The whole thing feels kind of like high school, when a girl with a bad reputation would return, looking kind of good, from a few years in another town. You might think about asking her out, knowing your own reputation would suffer. But it might be worth it wink wink.

Cal Crutchlow is the current poster boy for “willing to exchange speed for a paycheck.” Now in his late 20’s with virtually no chance of winning a world championship left to him, the dignified Pedrosa can be excused for being tempted to make the same trade. Certainly, Eugene Laverty will remind no one of Kevin Schwantz or Kenny Roberts Jr., the last two world champions to wear Suzuki colors. A team comprised of Pedrosa and, say, Andrea Dovizioso, who is a free agent after this season, could put an improved Suzuki product in podium contention.

Changes on the Horizon

Colin Edwards, #2 on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha team, will be riding a new team-built chassis this weekend, putting the bike at about 75% of what it will be next year when Yamaha reverts to supplying engines only, according to team manager Giovanni Cuzari. Edwards’ teammate Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is happy as a clam on the Yamaha frame, and intends to stick with it for the rest of the season. With Simone Corsi, the team’s Moto2 rider, having tested the MotoGP machine at the recent Jerez testing session, it is expected that Corsi will move up to take over Edwards’ seat in 2015.

Luigi Dall’Igna, the new Chief Cheddar at Ducati Corse, sprained his wrist this past week patting himself on the back for all the progress the team has made in 2014. He alluded to changes being made virtually every week in engine and frame, then changed gears, suggesting that Ducati might elect to design a completely new bike from the ground up. During all of this, reports continue to circulate that Andrea Dovizioso is actively shopping for a new ride next season, and that the disgruntled Cal Crutchlow may even buy out the second year of his contract while he’s still ambulatory.Ducati logo

Over at the Pramac Ducati team, the early impressive progress exhibited by Andrea Iannone has been blunted of late as he has recorded DNFs in his last two races. And Yonny Hernandez, who appeared to have a world of potential when he first joined the Ducati team in mid-2013 has failed to make any notable progress this season, yet another promising racing career nipped in the bud by the nasty Desmosedici. If Dovizioso and Crutchlow get out of Dodge, the silly season will reach new heights as Ducati Corse attempts to sign high profile riders willing to set their careers on hold for two years while Dall’Igna scrambles to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Paging Casey Stoner.

Finally, in the cruelest release of the season. Honda announced that they would be making “major upgrades” in the RCV1000R, but not until 2015. Thus, the poor chumps who elected to go with Honda rather than Yamaha in the “open” category will be effectively stuck in fourth gear for the rest of 2014. Nicky Hayden must be grinding his teeth to powder, as the last few good years of his racing life circle the drain on the severely underpowered “customer” Honda. No explanation was offered as to why Honda is not actively seeking to improve the engine this year, although the rules would appear to allow such changes sooner rather than later.

Last but Not Least

As you recall, the weather at Le Mans this year was, contrary to recent history, wonderful. But Mugello, where the weather is rarely an issue, has a dicey forecast for the upcoming weekend. Rain is expected both Friday and Saturday, with skies clearing for race day. If the forecast holds, it will put major pressure on the teams to come up with dry settings on Sunday after tweaking the bikes for wet settings in practice, giving everyone something to complain about. Can Marquez go six for six? Can Team Yamaha put both riders on the podium? We’ll have all the answers right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Preview

May 27, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Team Yamaha Needs to Assert Itself 

As Round Five of the 2013 MotoGP championship season steams toward us, the very air crackling in its wake,  we are reminded of one of the oldest truths in motor sports.  We are reminded that championships are rarely won in the first quarter of the season.  They can, however, be lost.  Such is the inconvenient truth facing Yamaha pilots Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi this weekend at the circuit that will almost surely bear Rossi’s name someday. 

For Team Yamaha, finishing one-two at Mugello would be like holding serve—great, yeah, but nothing to really celebrate.  Anything less will range from a disappointment to a disaster, neither of which would be helpful at this point of this season.  Or, actually, any point.  Of any season.  Not helpful at all.

Expectations for Team Blue are high this weekend.  As are the stakes.

For the ebullient Repsol Honda team, fresh off their French triumph, putting one bike on the podium at Mugello is both necessary and sufficient.  Two would be a big win.  Zero only happens if someone fails to finish the race.  Two Hondas on the Italian podium spells trouble for the factory Yamaha team.  Trouble we might have seen coming, had we been paying closer attention to the season and less attention to Losail.

Losail gave us a false sense of Lorenzo/Rossi/Yamaha security.  Look at the points earned by the primary factory teams round by round:

Round/Venue

Repsol Honda Team

Factory Yamaha Team

     

One – Losail

29

45

Two – COTA

45

26

Three – Jerez

45

29

Four – Le Mans

41

13

 

Average (less Round One)

44

23

Losail affected our thinking, putting the end of last season, and the entire offseason testing program, out of our heads.  That was an error in perception. My error, though I’m probably not alone.  But Losail is, after all, the outlier, the season opener under the lights in the desert, and doesn’t really have much of anything to do with anything else.  So Lorenzo and Rossi’s surprising 1-2 at Losail obscured the fact that Honda appeared to have it very much going on heading into the season.  Other than at Losail.

Since then, that has been the exact case.  One/two, one/two and one/three in three “normal” rounds.   Yamaha might insist we throw out Le Mans as the second outlier—France in the cold and wet—but even doing so, the blue bikes are not keeping up.  Not in Texas or Jerez, which isn’t really surprising, given the layouts.  But not in Le Mans, either, where Yamaha success has generally come easily.  True, Rossi was flying when he crashed in France and looked to have podium written all over him, but such is life running with the big dogs.

Scoreboard. 

Changing of the Guard Underway?

If, as expected, Pol Espargaro signs a one year deal with Monster Tech3 Yamaha, it suggests the Rossi era at Yamaha will end, again, after the 2014 season, in The Doctor’s 35th year.  It will point to Lorenzo and Espargaro fronting the factory team versus Pedrosa and Marquez on the Hondas.  It means Yamaha will have to find more acceleration, while Honda seems to have found all it needs.

There is, too, the outside possibility Dani Pedrosa would not be offered a new contract at the expiration of his current deal after 2014. Lorenzo - Marquez To ride the Repsol Honda for nine (9) years, with all those wins, but no titles…And it doesn’t get any easier at age 30, which will be the age he turns in the first year of his next contract.  There must be those at Honda Racing HQ who have run out of patience with the gutsy little Spaniard.  They want titles; they don’t get all choked up listening to the Spanish national anthem.

Anyway.  If Marc Marquez is, indeed, The Next Great Thing and, by extension, Espargaro the Next Next Great Thing, then whom, we wonder, is the Next Next Next Great Thing?  Scott Redding?  Alex Rins?  Alex Marquez?

It was only 2011 when Marco Simoncelli looked like The Next Great Thing.

Whomever he turns out to be, he will enter MotoGP at a time when it is becoming homogenized.  When the prototype bikes will be getting slowed and the CRT bikes faster.  When teams will likely experience more sudden success and more thorough financial failure.  Where the rules will continue to bend in favor of the more democratic CRT bikes, and away from the monolithic factory behemoths and traditional sponsors who have funded and ruled the sport forever.

The revelation that Dorna Big Cheese and magnate Carmen Ezpeleta is a closet socialist is too sweet.  He’s starting to make MotoGP sound like kids’ rec league soccer, wanting “EVERYONE to get a trophy!”  “Yes, we would like 30 bikes that all go the same speed and that cost the teams €100,000 each only.  They can use as much fuel as they like and are limited to 12 engines for the season.  No other rules.  We don’t need no more steenkin’ rules.  12 engines.  €100,000 each.  Plenty of gas.  Brolly girls.  That’s IT.”  Which, in the opinion of a lot of purists, is in fact desirable.  Delusional, but fun to think about.

MotoGP is morphing, squeezed by economics , resembling World SuperBikes more each year.  Now, if Aprilia would step up with a two bike factory team, and if Suzuki could become relevant again.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see, say, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies united on a hot new Suzuki MotoGP team.  If not Hayden, then perhaps Spies and Redding, who currently rides 9kg over the weight floor in Moto2 and would be a force on 1000cc.    How about Big Brother Aleix Espargaro and Crutchlow fronting a factory Aprilia team?  If Little Brother gets a prototpe, it’s only fair that big brother gets one too.

Back to Mugello

MotoGP success for team Yamaha in Italy—both bikes on the podium—would move the focus to the following three rounds,  spaced bi-weekly, more or less, in Catalunya, Assen and the Sachsenring  heading into the heat of the summer.  Catalunya favors Yamaha.  Assen and Germany both favor Honda, at least recently.  Let’s review.  Team Yamaha needs to score a lot of points in Italy and Catalunya, keep it close in northern Europe, and hope to still be in it heading for the U.S. in July and August.

Otherwise, we’ll be reduced to arguing Marc vs. Dani or Dani vs. Marc.  When we’re not scratching our heads over whatever became of Stefan Bradl.  Or ruminating about why Cal Crutchlow doesn’t get any respect from owners.

As to our hope for two competitive factory teams at the top of MotoGP in 2013, one of two possible answers will emerge in Tuscany:  If Pedrosa and Marquez continue their hot streak at Mugello, it will probably mean Honda all the way in 2013.  That would be a No.  If Lorenzo and Rossi find what they need and dominate the proceedings, that would be a Maybe.

Let’s not forget the 2010 race.  Mugello that year was Round Four.  After Round Three in France, Lorenzo led Rossi 70 to 61, Dovizioso trailing in 3rd with 42.  Rossi had his high side in practice and was suddenly down and out of the chase for the title.  After Mugello, it was Lorenzo 90, Pedrosa 65, (Rossi 61), Dovizioso 58.  It was essentially over, suddenly Lorenzo’s to lose.  In the blink of an eye.

At 200 mph on two wheels with the best in the world on the best of the world, as observed in Forrest Gump, “(stuff) happens.”  Marquez, to his credit, has been off his bike only once thus far in his premier class debut.  Pedrosa, on the other hand, has been separated from his too often to count over the years, generally with bad and lasting effects.  Marquez’s style seems to invite the close encounters he’s enjoyed over his brief career.  But he, too, has memories of Sepang, where he hit his head hard enough in 2011 to have double vision for the next six months.  While the rest of the world grieved for Sic, Marquez also dealt with the possibility that his promising professional career had ended before it fully started.

As we’ve already seen, such worries were misplaced.

See live coverage of the Italian Grand Prix Sunday at 7:30 am EDT on SpeedTV.  We’ll have the results of the race here on Sunday afternoon.