Archive for the ‘MotoGP Phillip Island’ Category

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That didn’t take long.

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

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

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

Let’s Take a Closer Look

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

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

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

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

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

2017 Season Graph color snip

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

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

Final Tranches of 2017

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

The Last Word

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

 

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 22, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Marquez Wins in Australia, Leads by 33

Honda triple MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group today for the win that now makes the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second today, teammate Maverick Vinales third. But having both factory Yamahas on the podium felt like a small achievement on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship came to an end.

Screenshot (44)Marc Marquez and RV213V fully engaged at Phillip Island.

The championship race, which has been tight all season, came unwound today. Andrea Dovizioso completed his dumpster fire of a weekend by getting broken at the line by both Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa for a miserable 13th place finish, his deficit to Marquez ballooning from 11 to 33 points. Vinales was eliminated from title contention today, as Marquez now leads him by 50 points and holds the tiebreaker. The first match point between Marquez and Dovizioso comes next week. If Marquez can hold onto 26- of his 33-point lead, it will suddenly become game over, see ya next year.

Notes from Practice and Qualifying

FP2 on sunny and windy Saturday saw the top 13 riders in the 1:29’s, led by my boy Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia at 1:29.225. Everyone improved on their previous best times in FP1. With the weather expected to become inhospitable on Saturday, the FP2 times, which would then determine who passed directly into Q2, excluded both Rossi and Lorenzo, who would have to battle their way through Q1. Oy. Such indeed proved to be the case.

Both qualifying sessions were run on dry track. Rossi and Brad Smith— I know, right? –escaped to Q2, Smith putting both KTMs into Q2 for the second week in a row, a definite sign of improvement in 2017 for the Austrian giant. Lorenzo starting 16th should put to rest all this talk about him finally coming around, after doing his ankle laying it down in the grass during FP4. Scoreboard.

Q2 ended with several riders flirting with disaster (notably Andrea Dovizioso, mucking around in 11th, and Lorenzo) and several others delivering first class rides, including polesitter Marquez, who took it from Vinales, who had taken it from odds-on ROY Johann Zarco. Jack Miller gave his homeys a thrill qualifying 5th. Oddly, there were no Ducatis in the top ten and only one, Dovizioso, in the first four rows. And at a track I used to think plays up to their strengths, but I guess not. It did in the Stoner days. No Ducs in the front row at PI for the first time since 2006.

Good for the title chase is Marquez (fourth consecutive PI pole) and Vinales on the front row. Bad for the title chase is Dovizioso sitting on row four. Marquez telling Dylan Gray how comfortable he feels on the bike these days is bad news for the field. Dovi shrugged off his worst qualifying session since Jerez, claiming his race pace had him feeling confident. Marquez would give that confidence a test on Sunday afternoon.

All six manufacturers were represented in Q2. Very good sign for the sport. Marquez enters the second of three Pacific rounds with a perfect game plan: Lead, somehow, by 26 points or more heading home to Valencia.

Race Day

Sunday morning’s warm-up practice was run on a wet track, the results somewhat meaningless, although Marquez still found his way to the top. By the time the main event rolled around (after Joan Mir had clinched the Moto3 title and KTM had swept the top two positions in Moto2, deferring Franco Morbidelli’s title celebration, like Marquez’, to next week), the track was dry, the sun was shining, and the breeze had dropped. The heavy black rain clouds heading toward the track had the announcers speculating about a likely flag-to-flag race which, to the disappointment of many, failed to materialize.

Although Marquez took the holeshot into Turn 1, Jack Miller, screaming out of the middle of the second row, took the lead in Turn 2 and appeared to be actually getting away early. The vast majority of the crowd immediately went completely mental, convinced Stoner’s Australian Magic had descended upon Jackass, looking forward to hearing the national anthem twice in one day. Such was not to be, either, though he managed a very respectable 7th today and may need re-tranching.

What happened was that a lead group of eight riders started trading paint in the corners for about 20 laps, resembling a hybrid of Moto3 and NASCAR. The contestants included Marquez, Rossi, Vinales, Miller, Zarco, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia, and Andrea Iannone looking aggressive on the Suzuki. I do not recall ever seeing as many passes in the front group as we saw today. Nor have I seen more bumping and grinding in the turns, with most of the eight brawlers sporting black tire marks on their leathers afterwards. At the post-race presser, Rossi complained a little bit about the danger involved in all the bumping from the younger riders (i.e., everyone), but all three podium finishers agreed “that’s racing” and Race Direction found it necessary to examine exactly zero of the, um, encounters.

Lap 22 of 27 turned out to be critical. Vinales had just taken the lead from Marquez when he got tagged by Andrea Iannone, causing his heart to miss a beat as he wobbled back to seventh place. Marquez, who had the lead on the previous lap, retook it, leaving Rossi, Zarco and Iannone to slug it out for the last two podium spots, Rossi on one leg. While the three were slicing each other up, Vinales came storming back and, at the wire, slipped in front of Zarco by 1/100th of a second to deprive the Frenchman of his second premier class podium, the first since Le Mans. It was, indeed, a day of finish line punking, as illustrated by the following deficits to Marquez:

2 Valentino Rossi YAM +1.799
3 Maverick Vinales YAM +1.826
4 Johann Zarco YAM +1.842

5 Cal Crutchlow HON +3.845
6 Andrea Iannone SUZ +3.871

9 Pol Espargaro KTM +16.251
10 Bradley Smith KTM +16.262

11 Scott Redding DUC +21.652
12 Dani Pedrosa HON +21.668
13 Andrea Dovizioso DUC +21.692

It’s nice to see both KTMs and both Suzukis in the Top Ten. On the other hand, Phillip Island was a debacle of epic proportions for Ducati Corse as their top finisher (from eight that started) was Redding in 11th place. Someone somewhere knows how long it’s been since a Ducati failed to finish in the top ten anywhere. Dovizioso, the top title challenger coming into the weekend, got caught up in the generally bad juju the Ducati teams experienced all weekend, and watched as the last best title opportunity of his premier class career mostly went away. And, BTW, Johann Zarco and his Tech 3 Yamaha are developing a reputation as the second coming of The Maniac. Not a compliment.

On to Sultry, Sweltering Sepang

The teams continue the grueling Pacific swing with their annual visit to Malaysia, much of the season’s suspense and excitement having been dissipated by another brilliant performance from Marquez, for whom the second half of 2017 has been, well, kind of easy. Podiums everywhere since Mugello with the exception of having thrown a rod at Silverstone. Now leading the season series by 33 points with two rounds left, he is speaking out loud about the need to be patient and protective of his nascent championship. He needs only to beat a gutted Andrea Dovizioso next week to claim his fourth premier class title in five seasons.

Sepang, with its raving crowds, broiling tarmac, torrential rain and friendly layout, is where the 2017 title will likely be awarded. Until then, like him or hate him, let’s just salute Marc Marquez for the workmanlike manner in which he approaches his job these days. Little flash, no bling, just superhuman balance, comically quick reflexes, a wide field of vision and a positive working relationship with his lizard brain.

Screenshot (41)

Celebration Lap at Phillip Island 2017

 

 

MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez vs. Dovizioso: All In Down Under

Those readers who can recall all the way back to last year will remember it as the year of nine winners. Some will recall it as a year Marc Marquez titled and eight other guys won races. 2017 will be remembered as the year Andrea Dovizioso got his Alien card punched and went looking for Marc Marquez at crunch time, anxious to take on the Spanish wonderkid.

Two legitimate title threats, neither one named Rossi, Lorenzo or Pedrosa. Each capable of winning on any track under any conditions. Each at the height of his powers, each virtually joined at the wrists and hips to his bike after years of getting up close and personal with it in some tight spots.

The last three races of the season beckon. Eleven points is like nothing.

For me, the most interesting moment at Motegi was when Dovizioso decided not to allow Marquez to get away over the last three or four laps. After leading a Ducati doubleteam with Danilo Petrucci for 20-some laps, it would have been a perfect opportunity for Dovi to settle for second, acknowledging Marquez’ inevitable place in the racing firmament. Instead, still having some rear tire to work with, he closed back up on #93, lined him up again, passed him on the last lap, resisted the late-lap dive, and put himself in great position to win a championship.

At this point in Marc Marquez’ career, there are few riders anxious for him to suddenly appear on their rear wheel late in a race. Dovizioso, it appears, doesn’t let it bother him. Certainly, he’s been there, done that on both the Honda and the Ducati, and has learned how to tame the Ducati, allowing it to do what it loves to do, which is to approach liftoff on the straights and try to keep it close in the turns.

Recent History at Phillip Island

2014: Having clinched the title the previous week at Motegi, Marquez crashed out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seemed to turn to ice. 23 riders started the race; 14 finished. Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s to the checkered flag, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium. None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under a barely visible speck in the distance, ahead of chaser Rossi by 57 points on the way to his second world championship. In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of joint.

2015: The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone. Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi for the last of many times on the final lap, surging onto the podium and trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17. Keeping in mind that Lorenzo ended up beating Rossi in 2015, Dovi should feel pretty good about trailing by only 11 with three rounds left.

The 2016 Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from this great track after the championship had been decided—see 2014. Crown champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win. Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, went to Bermuda for a few moments, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to an astonished Cal Crutchlow. Cal was joined on the podium that afternoon by Rossi and Maverick Vinales, then employed by Suzuki Racing. As so often happens in this sport, the best contest of the day was the fight for 7th place, won by Scott Redding on the Pramac Ducati, trailed by Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, the gap from 7th to 10th a full 45/100ths of a second.

So, to review and summarize, we’ve had two of the last four races here in which the title had already been decided, and two with real stuff on the line. Four different winners in four years. Honda having won the last two is the only discernible trend. Dovizioso has never done well here on the Ducati, but 2017 is a whole new year for him and the entire team minus, of course, Jorge Lorenzo, who is mentally re-living 2016 and 2015 every day.

Marquez is on a monstrous roll since Mugello, his gritty performance in Japan doing nothing to diminish the dimensions of his accomplishments this season. And challenger Dovizioso is unafraid. With a championship in the balance, this sounds like a pretty good recipe for a weekend of racing.

Short Quiz

Match the rider on the left with the number of premier class wins he has enjoyed since the end of the 2009 season:

Valentino Rossi_____               6

Jorge Lorenzo_____                12

Marc Marquez_____               21

Dani Pedrosa_____                 34

Andrea Dovizioso_____         38

[Answers, in order: 12, 38, 34, 21, 6]

Yes, it’s true. As much as we like to take cheap shots at Dani Pedrosa. As much as some of us, um, YOU worship the very ground Valentino Rossi limps on. Yet, in the years since The Doctor’s last title, Pedrosa has won almost twice as many races (21 to 12) as has Rossi. Marc Marquez trails Jorge Lorenzo by four wins and three years.

Just sayin’.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range weather forecast for the greater Cowes metro area calls for temps in the 50’s, windy conditions, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. Worse, possibly, than those we found in Motegi last week. And none of which matters in the least to our two primary punters, who will arrive ready for anything.

Marquez has the advantage of owning the lead (however slight), more successful history at this track, and the experience of having won multiple premier class championships. Andrea Dovizioso has the proverbial fire in the belly and the fastest bike in the civilized world. Dovizioso won in Japan due to a small “moment” and routine breathtaking save by Marquez midway through the last lap. One suspects it will be uncomfortably close again this weekend in the former British penal colony.

The race goes off in the middle of the night in most of the Northern hemisphere. Unlike all those pesky European rounds, we’ll post results after breakfast, my morning constitutional, and a bit of a hot shower.

 

2016 MotoGP Top Tenner

December 29, 2016

 

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, who, in accordance with their editorial calendar, have elected to hold it until January 6, 2017.

Here are the top ten “things” that defined the 2016 season, in rough order. Not all of them are actual events.

  1. Danilo Petrucci earns promotion over Redding to a full factory ride at Pramac for 2017. The moment?  Valencia.  Started 14 races, finished in the top ten eight times.  Flirted with a front row start at The Sachsenring, tied Rossi, in fact, but fell to fourth over some obscure tie-breaker. At 26 and relatively burly he’s not Alien material, but he can handle the Desmosedici as well as any of the satellite riders and is a baller in the rain.  On a full factory bike Mr. Petrucci could easily challenge for a podium or three in 2017.

    iannone-and-dovi-in-argentina

    Iannone collects Dovizioso in Argentina

  1. Andrea Iannone gets his first premier class win in Austria while working himself out of a job—slide-off at Losail; collects Dovi at Rio Hondo; crashed out of second place at Le Mans; crashes at Catalunya, Silverstone and Sepang. By mid-season the fearless Italian was being encouraged by Gigi to consider a change of teams for next season, with Suzuki eventually drawing the winning number.
  1. The decline of Dani Pedrosa. The moment?  When the lights went out at Losail.  More losailDNFs in 2016 than wins.  Another Motegi collarbone, this time in FP2.  But a brand new contract nonetheless.  Dani peaked in 2012 (seven wins, finished second to Lorenzo by 18 points), and is definitely on the back nine of his career.  An entire career spent with one manufacturer is impressive in itself.  Pedrosa, although well-liked in the paddock, has always struck me as a kind of brooding guy, when he wasn’t displaying his “little man” complex and beating hell out of the field at joints like Laguna Seca.  To embark upon another two years of non-Alien level competition may prove to be a mistake.  The next Colin Edwards.
  1. The Silly Season. Jonas Folger, Johann Zarco, Sam Lowes and Alex Rins earn promotions from Moto2. The return of the prodigal lawyer, Karel Abraham, to Aspar Ducati, his pockets bulging with sponsor money.  Out the door are Eugene Laverty to WSB in a very raw deal (I thought he earned another MotoGP season), Stefan Bradl, taking his declining game to WSB as well, and the unfortunate Yonny Hernandez, who had a great 2015, a lousy 2016 and not enough backers to keep his ride.  A healthy number of current riders changed scenery, as usual, but a 23- bike grid with six manufacturers offers a number of alternatives for those journeymen seeking the elusive factory ride.  Paging Bradley Smith.
  1. Cal Crutchlow rises from the dead after a difficult start to the season (five points incrutchlow the first four rounds) with wins at Brno and Phillip Island. The moment:  Brno, Lap 16, on a drying track.  Crutchlow goes through on Iannone and quickly gets away, having made the correct tire choice in one of the 2016 rounds that started wet and ended dry.  First win by a British rider since the earth cooled.  At Phillip Island he went out and thumped the field (Marquez having already secured the title), establishing himself as a credible podium threat in 2017, when he will have even more microphones shoved in his face, to which we look forward with great enthusiasm.
  1. Marquez titles after a difficult 2015. Uncharacteristically settles for third in Jerez marquezbehind Rossi and Lorenzo, showing a maturity that wasn’t there in previous years.  The moment?  Motegi, when both Rossi and Lorenzo crashed out.  His win on Honda’s home field suddenly made him world champion for the third time.  Some people will say his save in practice at Assen was the moment, but he has made a career out of impossible saves.  Winning titles is what makes him go.

marquez-season-graph-jpeg

  1. maverick-vinales-wiki-profile-picture

    The Next Great Rider == Maverick Vinales

    Maverick Vinales gets first podium at Le Mans, wins at Silverstone on his way to the factory Yamaha team. The Next Great Rider secured Suzuki’s first podium since 2009 at Le Mans, then broke their 10-year non-winning streak with a scintillating win at Silverstone.  Nature, and Yamaha executives, abhorring a vacuum, he was the only real choice when Lorenzo announced his impending departure.  Vinales’ Alien Card is stamped and waiting.  The best part?  See him in civilian clothes and he looks like a cabana boy at the Ritz.

 

  1. Nine race winners. Moment—when Dovizioso crossed the finish line at Sepang to become #9.  I expect some of you to quibble about whether an entire season can be somehow characterized as a “moment.”  If this really bothers you, I encourage you to read Nietzsche, and to remember that, when considered across the eons of time in the frigid vacuum of space and an expanding galaxy, the entire 2016 MotoGP season is the blink of an eye.  So go quibble somewhere else.

lorenzo

  1. Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati announcement on April 19. One of the worst-kept secrets entering the season was that triple world champion Lorenzo would defect from the factory Yamaha team to Ducati in 2017.  It was confirmed prior to the Jerez round, with Big Blue having already signed teammate and rival Rossi through 2018.  The forthcoming changes amongst the Alien contingent in 2017 produced undertones that seemed to color the entire season.  A number of factors conspired to limit Lorenzo to a disappointing third place finish in 2016, but he seems certain the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.  We shall see.
  1. Rossi blows an engine at Mugello. The turning point of the season.  Despite a careless slide-off in Austin, Rossi entered Italy with the scoreboard reading Lorenzo 90, Marquez 85, Rossi 78.  A three-man race.  He left Italy bereft, with Lorenzo 115, Marquez 105, Rossi 78.  He had completed Lap 8 checking out Lorenzo’s back wheel when, at the bottom of the main straight, his engine went up, just as Lorenzo’s had without consequence during practice.  Control of his 2016 future went up with it, in the thick white smoke pouring from his bike.  The bad luck he needed caught up with Lorenzo in the Teutonic territories of Holland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, but Marquez sailed through the season unscathed.

valentino-rossi-mugello

2016 was a season Rossi could have won.  Coulda?  Woulda?  Shoulda?  Didn’t.  Dude will be fired up for next year.  That makes two of us.

 

MotoGP 2016 Philip Island Results

October 23, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Cal Crutchlow wins again as Marquez dozes off 

Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided.  Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win.  Until Lap 10, when he seemed to lose focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Crutchlow.

Saturday

Due to what the locals call “a bit of weather” and visitors often refer to as “a bloody howling gale” practice on Friday was basically a windy washout, FP1 being a scramble and FP2 called off entirely.  Which meant that the revised practice schedule and times on Saturday would be crucial in getting through to Q2.  The solution would require the use of differential equations.

Whereas the weather on Friday had been impossible, by Saturday it had improved to awful.  Marc Marquez, homeboy Jackass Miller and the Espargaro brothers peopled the top of the timesheets in FP3.  Beer sales in Australia jumped.  FP4 featured more rain and a top five of #Merican Nicky Hayden, Marquez, big brother Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki, plucky Loris Baz and Miller the mudder.  Beer sales in the United States were unaffected.

After several computer runs, Race Direction concluded the following riders would have to pass through Q1 if they wished to participate in Q2:  For the first time since the current format was adopted, The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Bradley Smith, etc..

To make things worse, Lorenzo and Crutchlow took the top two spots in the session, leaving Vinales in 13th and Rossi in 15th and, joined by Smith, producing one of the strongest fifth rows in MotoGP history.  There would be some cutting up to do on Sunday.  Meanwhile, for the first time, Rossi failed to make it to Q2.  Timing, poor luck, karma, slowing synapses, whatever.

Q2 was run in drying conditions with rain expected to arrive mid-session.  Tire combinations ran the gamut.  The conventional wisdom was that pole would be decided in the first 10 minutes.  Interlopers included Repsol’s Hayden, Aprilia’s Bradl and Pramac striver Danilo Petrucci.

After a single lap on intermediates, Marquez, Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and Petrucci came back in to change tires.  Marquez changed over to slicks front and back.  As the skies darkened, Marquez went out and ran a series of fast laps, one of the only riders on slicks, ultimately capturing pole by 8/10ths of a second.  Moral:  With a trophy in your back pocket, you can afford to take a few extra risks.  And the rain never arrived.

He was joined on the front row by Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who pimped Jack Miller and brother Aleix on the last Q2 lap to jump from fifth to third.  Row 2 included Aleix, Jackass and Danilo Petrucci, the top Ducati qualifier.  For the record, Jorge Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha limped to an embarrassing 12th place on the grid, slow even on slicks on the final few laps.  Seems to be saving himself for Ducati, where he will have to re-learn how to ride fast in the rain and perhaps in general.

Nicky Hayden is in for Pedrosa this weekend.  Dude qualified seventh.  Ahead of guys named Dovizioso and Lorenzo and Vinales and Rossi.  With no time to learn his way around a bike that loves to throw you into the cheap seats.  (Had he podiumed, unlikely as it was, they could have made a movie out of it.  Paging Mark Neale.)

Kudos to Dorna for such beautiful helicopter images of the track and the ocean.  They call to mind a ground-level photo of #51 Sic on the gas, the air fractured around him, the ocean behind hin, head down, a week before Sepang 2011.

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix

A brilliant sun rose over the windswept beauty of the venue on Sunday, a visual spectacle, while on the track conditions were cold, raw, crisp, brisk, etc., and dangerous.  Getting heat into the tires, especially the fronts, was at the front of everyone’s mind.  Once the lights went out, Pol Espargaro took the holeshot from third into the early lead, but surrendered it to Marquez at Turn 4, from whence The Champ would eventually crash on Lap 10.  Crutchlow found himself sandwiched by the two Espargaros.

My notes on Lap 5 include “Here comes Rossi,” who, at that time, had worked his way from 15th to sixth.  The MotoGP version of trying to get to a center seat in a crowded theatre. “Excuse me…thank you…pardon…yes, thanks…sorry…many thanks…”

Crutchlow, now firmly ensconced in Tranche 2, appeared to put second place away by Lap 8 except for the pesky Rossi, who kept picking off riders—Pol Espargaro on Lap 7 to 5th place; Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati on Lap 8 into 4th; Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki on Lap 10 into 3rd. When Marquez went down, everyone received a promotion, Crutchlow into the lead.

During all of this, Rossi’s future teammate and Alien apprentice Maverick Vinales, also on a Suzuki, also starting from the southern end of the island in 13th place, was moving on up to join his teammate and Dovizioso as they sparred for third.  Though unable to attack Crutchlow, Rossi secured second place as the battle for third widened, and Dovizioso found himself sandwiched by Suzukis.

At the end of the day, Crutchlow, Rossi and Vinales stood on the podium.  Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro and an irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo, on his way to Tranche 3, trailed, with Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller completing the top 10.  Yes, Aleix crashed his Suzuki late in the day.  Yes, Scott Redding failed to make any real headway in his personal battle with teammate Petrucci for a factory GP in 2017, with Petrucci in the lead, contrary to what I wrote a week ago.  Yes, Bradley Smith came out of nowhere, after dawdling in the mid-teens most of the day.

And yes, Nicky Hayden crashed very late, courtesy of a nudge from an oblivious Jack Miller, so intent on securing his own lackluster place today that he would ruin Hayden’s likely last MotoGP appearance, at least in factory colors, ever.

Come on, man.  You’re racing for, like, 10th place in a season going nowhere, nothing really at stake, right next to a former world champion and MotoGP legend.  Give the guy a little space, cosmic or earthly; make up for it later.  Hayden has earned your respect.  They don’t call you Jackass for nothing I suppose.

The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang

Marquez is STILL the champion.  Rossi has now put some daylight between himself and teammate Lorenzo, carrying a 24-point lead for second place into Round 17.  Lorenzo, apparently loafing around these days, needs to start worrying about Maverick Vinales, who trails him by 11 points and vectoring upward.  Or maybe the Mallorcan is beyond worrying.

The injured Dani Pedrosa has fallen to fifth and is not expected to compete in Malaysia, opening the door for Crutchlow, who sits sixth after today’s win and could easily jump a spot next week.  Dovizioso trails the Brit by a mere four points and could have his own designs on fifth place.  Pol Espargaro appears to have eighth place to himself.  Andrea Iannone is expected back next week to defend his 12- point margin over Hector Barbera, who crashed out of both races in which he was allowed to ride The Maniac’s GP16, gaining no ground on the Italian whatsoever.  Mike Jones did a very credible job parachuting in for the Avintia Ducati.

From freezing gale to equatorial heat in three days, the flying circus heads off for Kuala Lumpur, where it’s brutally hot and rainy.  The track at Sepang has recently been re-modeled and re-paved to eliminate much of the standing water of the type that almost cost Marquez his career, his 2011 hydroplaning practice crash there overshadowed by the Simoncelli events the next day.  He would experience double vision for six months, his career in jeopardy.  One trusts he will be more circumspect this time around.

2016 Phillip Island Results

MotoGP 2016 Championship Standings after 16 Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

Sadly, the race for the 2016 title is over, and we/I congratulate Marc Marquez on his third premier class championship.  But the end of the story of 2016 has yet to be written.  There will be controversy—will Marquez torment Valentino Rossi during these last three rounds, in the hope of elevating homeboy Jorge Lorenzo?  There will be paint-trading in the turns.  There will continue to be the races-within-the-race that capture so many people’s attention.  There will be Petrucci vs. Redding.  There will be crashes and run-offs and mistakes by guys operating at the outer limits of human endurance, testing the laws of physics at every turn.  What’s not to like?

Recent History at Phillip Island

2013:  Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista (on the satellite Gresini Honda) gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw the veteran Rossi beat Crutchlow and his LCR Honda by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini pilot by .053, the blink of an eye.  The race marked the first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium.  Marquez took a cheap DQ when, fighting for the lead, he neglected to pit in time, as Bridgestone, who ordered the mandatory mid-race pit stop, struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface.  Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014:  Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to ice.  23 riders start the race; 14 finish.  Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan sophomore, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium.  Ever.  None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.  In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of place.

2015:  The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone.  Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.  Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17.  What a difference a year made for Iannone, just twelve months ago the fair-haired child of Ducati Corse; this year a refugee to a possibly apprehensive Suzuki operation.

Sibling Rivalry

Such is the case with the brothers Espargaro.  A competition which undoubtedly started when younger brother Pol was still in diapers continues today as older brother Aleix tries to keep up with little bro.  At some point in the past, younger brother took the upper hand over big brother; glad I wasn’t there for that.  Pol, on the satellite Yamaha, brings a 24-point lead over the fraternal factory Suzuki into Round 16 and appears set to rub it in to Aleix’s face for the fourth year in a row.

Last year, on the same equipment, Pol was +9.  In 2014, Pol, still on the Tech 3 bike, with Aleix on the doomed Forward Racing Yamaha, put another 10 points on his sib.  In 2013, one would say that Pol won the day again, taking the Moto2 championship, while Aleix, slugging it out in the premier class on terrible ART hardware, claimed a decent 11th place finish.  Advantage Pol.

New digs for each next year.  Pol finally gets his factory ride with KTM, while Aleix moves down to the Gresini factory Aprilia, not yet competitive in the post Dall’Igna era.  The two bikes should be relatively competitive with each other, meaning that while the colors on the leathers may change, the appeal of an opportunity to give your brother a wet willie won’t.  MotoGP thrives on rivalries, even the friendlies.

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

Your boy Kevin Schwantz, world champion in 1993 in the 500cc two stroke era when men were men and women were glad of it, continues to milk notoriety from his reputation and is now approaching 23 years, more or less, of living off the fat.  Journalists still seek his opinions on moto racing and he is always willing to share them.  Bring the photographer.

Anyway, over at someothersite.com, Schwantz was asked about his impressions of Jack Miller, stating his belief the young Australian would become some kind of great rider in time.  (Assuming he still possesses all of his body parts when that time arrives.)  He also conceded that Marc Marquez “impresses” him, what with three MotoGP titles by age 23 and all.

This, you see, is exactly the kind of stuff the editors here at MO loathe.  Some guy whose glory days are way behind him, dispensing faint praise re the talents of riders, at least in the case of #93, would beat them like a drum on an identical equipment/same age basis.  But we’re not hating on it because it interests us.  We’re kind of going on and on about it because Marquez won the frigging title last week and we need something to rant about.

Back to the Race

The domino effect engendered by the injury to factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone continues in place this week, as Hector Barbera gets to wreck another brand new GP16 while Mike Jones takes his seat with the Avintia Ducati team.  Barbera and Jones were the last two riders to finish at Motegi, the Spaniard finishing outside the points due to an early mishap, whereas Jones finished a lap down but with his paint intact.  I imagine the bosses would prefer the latter to the former.

Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez having won here recently, Rossi the beneficiary of Marquez’ careless crash out of a four-second lead in 2014.  For the Yamaha teammates, they have attached blinders regarding whatever’s up with Marquez and are dialed in on one another, second place for the season and a load of machismo at stake.  Just as last year, Rossi enjoys a narrow lead over Lorenzo.  Lorenzo wants to arrive at Ducati in one piece but wants to beat Rossi more.  So it will be a great battle this time out.  Whatever happens thereafter we’ll take, too.

Conditions at Phillip Island this weekend are expected to be rough, with a 100% chance of rain on Friday giving way to clear skies on Sunday.  It’ll be the temps and the wind which will take its toll on riders and lap times, as temps are expected below 60° with cold northwest winds steady in the high teens, with stronger gusts.  A perfect weekend for Marc Marquez to lay low.  An imperfect setup for Lorenzo and Rossi, who must face off against one another in the teeth of the gale at perhaps the fastest track on the calendar.  The hint of rain spells advantage Rossi.

The race once again runs in the middle of the night in North America.  We will have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2015 Phillip Island Preview

October 13, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo needs to win big this week and next

Movistar Yamaha idol Jorge Lorenzo, he of the two fairly recent world championships, has a steep hill to climb to set up a climactic finale to the 2015 season in Valencia. Which, in turn, necessitates opening a can of whupass on his legendary Italian teammate and rival, Valentino Rossi this week in Australia and next time out in Malaysia. It’s hard to envision Rossi, at this stage of his career, allowing an 18 point lead to disappear in two weeks. Sure, I know, that’s what Marquez almost did last year; my money’s on the old guy anyway.

Recent History at the Australian Grand Prix

2012. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, pressing, trailing Lorenzo by 23 points with two rounds left, in full “win or bin”

2012/10/20 - mgp - Round16 - Sepang - MotoGP - Casey Stoner - Repsol Honda - RC213V - Action

Casey Stoner circa 2012

mode, crashed early, his day and season over in one fell swoop. Stoner won for the sixth consecutive time at Phillip Island. Lorenzo finished a comfortable second and clinched the title, becoming the first Spanish double world champion. Other than Stoner’s Honda, it was two/three/four for Yamaha, as Lorenzo captured second, Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 Yamaha took third, and his Tech 3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line fourth.

2013: Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista gripped in a hair-raising battle cropped-jorge-lorenzo-2013.jpgfor third that saw Rossi beat Crutchlow by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini Honda pilot by .053 seconds, the blink of an eye. The first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium. Marquez took the cheap DQ when he failed to pit in time, as Bridgestone struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface. Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014: Marc Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to glass. 23 Rossi 2014riders start the race; 14 finish. Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan wonder, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium. Ever. None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.

A Little Perspective

That Phillip Island is a Yamaha-friendly track is virtually beyond dispute, now that Casey Stoner has retired. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have enjoyed success in Australia, Rossi’s mainly coming in the pre-Stoner days until winning last year. Jorge Lorenzo is capable of winning at any track in the world. He is MORE capable of winning at a circuit like Phillip Island so well-suited to his riding style. If he gets out in front on Sunday, and the creek don’t rise, he’ll probably take an easy win. Rossi doesn’t need to win; he just needs to figure out how to stay close to the front. In front of Lorenzo, as always, is better than behind Lorenzo.

It is easy to imagine this being a race Marquez wants to win badly. After a ho-hum fourth place finish in Japan on Sunday, Marquez remains winless at Motegi in the premier class, followed this week by Phillip Island as the only two venues where he has yet to win in the MotoGP class. At Motegi, the story was the weather. This weekend the story will probably be the track, as Phillip Island is the fastest track on the calendar, and the Yamahas love it here. The intra-team battle at Movistar Yamaha promises to overshadow any other considerations. Beyond the weather, it will pay to watch tire degradation, as the Yamahas suffered last time out. The new surface at Phillip Island is highly abrasive; the Hondas, especially the minute Pedrosa, may enjoy an advantage late in the day when fuel loads have dropped and tires are going south.

In dry conditions, it still seems that the Aliens—Lorenzo and Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa—continue to dominate the proceedings. Pedrosa made Lorenzo’s job harder last week by winning at Motegi, taking the win away from the Mallorcan and pushing him to shred his front tire early, allowing Rossi to go through late in the day.

Up until Sunday, Lorenzo was telling the world that all he needed to do was to win the remaining rounds to be world champion. Now, even that daunting task will not be enough, as he needs a Repsol Honda between him, winning, and Rossi, dropped to third place in this scenario, the only one that presents a realistic shot at this thing. Unless Rossi crashes… In short, Lorenzo has now lost control of his destiny. He needs to run the table and hope Rossi suffers some misfortune.

I can’t speak for everyone here, but what I want this season is for Lorenzo and Rossi to head to Valencia tied. Winner take all in Spain. The neatest, most simple way for this to occur is for Lorenzo to win, Marquez or Pedrosa to place and Rossi to show in each of the next two Pacific rounds. I don’t want Lorenzo (or Rossi, for that matter) to arrive in Valencia with some mathematical chance of winning, any kind of slim possibility or puncher’s choice.

I want them going there dead even.

That would be a race.

All of which means Lorenzo needs to win in Australia and hope for help from one, or both, of the Repsol Honda guys, who are clearly capable of providing such help. They’re equally capable of winning the daggone race, which would make Lorenzo’s job even harder, trying to stretch 20 points to reach as far as 25 would go. As is almost always the case, all Lorenzo can really do is go out and try to win the race. Any effort to control what might be going on behind him, by, for example, coming back to the pack, is unlikely to pay great dividends.

Alex de Angelis

alex-de-angelis (1)After watching Alex de Angelis go handspringing through the gravel in practice at Jerez in 2010 along with the remnants of his bike, I thought he was indestructible. (Search YouTube for “Alex de Angelis practice crash Jerez 2010”) And he walked away from that one. We read yesterday that his condition following his crash in FP4 at Motegi is now rated “critical,” and that he has blood on the brain, broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and more.

These guys risk their lives every time they suit up. We have noted in this space often in the past that the difference between the best and the worst in this sport is razor-thin, a couple of seconds per lap. This is the chosen profession of every rider out there; only a handful get to compete at literally the highest level in the world. Alex de Angelis has been one of those men. Add him to the list of people we must try to be nicer to.

We presume that Alex will recover and return to racing, if not this year then next, and send our sincere best wishes to his family, his team and his fans.

Your Weekend Forecast

High temps will be dropping from the 90’s on Thursday to the low 70’s on Sunday, with the best chance of rain on Saturday. The wind, as always, will be blowing hard from a different direction each day of the weekend, possibly becoming yet another factor in a pivotal contest.

Valentino Rossi, enjoying life with the lead, can afford to be strategic this weekend. No need to ride the wheels off his bike to take a win unless it’s Lorenzo in front of him and he just can’t help himself. For Jorge Lorenzo, the playoffs begin this week. Staying close to the front is no longer an option. He needs to run the table, praying for good weather and all things Spanish.

Last chances abound in Malaysia

October 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sepang Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

After the carnage in Phillip Island, the prospects of the various Aliens have changed significantly. If pending 2014 champion Marc Marquez is to challenge Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a season, he needs to win here. Dani Pedrosa, having spent the bulk of the season in second place, now finds himself fourth, looking up at both of the factory Yamahas, who made hay at his expense Down Under. Jorge Lorenzo, who many gave up for dead back in May, could finish the season in second place. As could teammate Valentino Rossi, who, at age 35, is entering the realm of “timeless elegance,” the finely crafted Swiss watch of motorcycle racing.

Rossi & LorenzoThat the events at Phillip Island were unusual is borne out by the fact that the last all-Yamaha podium in MotoGP took place at LeMans in 2008. With Tech 3 Yamaha sophomore Bradley Smith having stayed upright long enough to register his first premier class podium, there was plenty of weirdness to go around. One thing is certain—the new Bridgestone asymmetric fronts don’t work in cold weather. Whether they will work in hot weather, or any weather at all, remains to be seen; it will likely be quite some time before riders volunteer to try them again.

sepang-international-circuit

Sepang International Circuit

MotoGP returns this week to the tropics in Kuala Lumpur, where it’s always mid-summer; no concerns about windy cold weather here. And it returns with Repsol Honda Golden Boy Marc Marquez in a definite slump, having won just once since Indianapolis in August and having crashed in three of the last four events. Back in August, eclipsing Doohan’s 1997 record looked like a foregone conclusion; now, it appears to be a longshot. Personally, early in the year, I used to think that one of the amazing things about Marquez was that he never lost concentration. Now, it appears certain he has lost something; call it concentration, or motivation, or interest; whatever it was back in July is gone. For now.

Simoncelli

Simoncelli’s last race, at Phillip Island.

Recent History at Sepang

A recap of recent events at Sepang must necessarily start with the 2011 round. Heading in the premier class race that day, the charismatic and fearless Marco Simoncelli had survived a series of incidents early in the year that had given him a reputation for recklessness. He crashed out of the lead at Jerez early in the year, and got into a verbal shoving match with Lorenzo during Round 3 at Estoril. He crashed carelessly in the rain at Silverstone, and took Lorenzo out of the race at Assen. He enjoyed his first career podium at Brno, followed that with three solid 4th place finishes, and podiumed in second place at Phillip Island the preceding week. The bizarre, arcing low-side that took his life at Sepang came just as he seemed to be hitting his stride as a rider, when his future was at its very brightest.

Recall that was the same weekend that Moto2 phenom and title contender Marc Marquez hit an unseen puddle of water in FP1 and went ragdoll, ending up with a concussion that gave him double vision for six months and almost stopped his career before it really ever started. This accident, in turn, handed the Moto2 title to Stefan Bradl, who leveraged it into a promotion to the premier class with LCR Honda that he has now worked himself out of, to dangle the preposition.

The 2012 race can be summed up in these four words: James Ellison finished ninth. Six of the 20 starters crashed out of the race. Pedrosa won, followed by a cautious Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, who was there only to tune up for his annual and final Phillip Island coronation the following week. The race was called after 13 laps. And, just for the record, Nicky Hayden finished fourth in Sepang for the sixth time in his premier class career. If MotoGP were to keep a stat for Most Fourth Place Finishes at a Single Venue (Career), Hayden would own it.

Last year at Sepang, Dani Pedrosa gave one of the performances that, in years past, would have seen him win by 12 seconds. He slingshotted out of the five hole at the start and was sitting on leader Lorenzo’s pipes midway through the first lap. He then basically pushed Lorenzo out of his way and took the lead for good on Lap 5. Teammate Marquez, after a few bumps and grinds with Lorenzo, would take over second place and protect it all day, effectively ending Lorenzo’s quest for a repeat of his 2012 title. That Pedrosa would end up winning by a mere three seconds confirms what we all know—there was no Marc Marquez out there when Dani was running away and hiding from the field in previous years.

This Stuff is Harder than it Looks

WP_20141023_023In traveling to Sepang this week, I’ve learned a few things about this sport that I hadn’t understood before. We watch the riders and crews competing during practice and races and see a lot of concentrated effort focused on maximizing performance. We see none of what goes on behind the scenes. Nothing of the brutal travel schedules that have these guys crossing timezones like they’re lane markers. Nothing of what it takes to pack the entire grid into three 747s immediately after the race so things can get unpacked and on track in time for the next one. Nothing of the high stakes negotiations that take place between owners and sponsors, venues and race organizers, the host countries and the rights holders that ultimately pay the freight for this breathtakingly expensive pursuit.

Malaysia itself is a study in contrasts. Vast, gleaming skyscrapers built in the middle of steaming jungles. All of the trappings of Western culture—Westins, Victoria’s Secrets, and Johnnie Walker Black (who helped me write this article tonight) in the midst of a Muslim-majority country complete with remote villages lacking the most basic services. A vibrant multi-cultural mix of Malays, Chinese, Singaporeans and Indonesians competing in a market economy within a complex set of rules and social mores of which Westerners are completely oblivious. It is, in turn, dramatic, elegant, scary and emblematic of paradise lost. In my home town of Indianapolis, I used to remark on the land under active cultivation only, like, seven miles from the state capitol building. Here, one notices the glass and steel skyscrapers within a few miles of triple canopy jungle.

Malaysia calls itself The Land of Adventure. (They’re not referring to the 20-some hours it takes to get here from New York, which is an adventure in itself.) The adventure will continue this weekend as the big bikes of MotoGP hit the tarmac of the gorgeous Sepang circuit dodging rainstorms in hot pursuit of fame and fortune. We’ll have race results right here on Sunday evening.

Rossi, Yamaha exploit Honda disaster Down Under

October 19, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Results, by Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi & LorenzoSimply looking at the final results, the 2014 Tissot Australian Grand Prix appears to have been a clear Yamaha triumph. In fact, it was a demolition derby in which the winners managed to survive, rather than dominate, the proceedings. True, at the end it was an all Yamaha podium, featuring Rossi on top, followed by Lorenzo and first-timer Bradley Smith. But with nine riders having crashed out or retired, the phrase “you need to be in it to win it” has never been more true.

The weekend featured the debut of Bridgestone’s latest creation, the asymmetric front tire, one which looked great on paper but proved to be the ruin of several top riders. Designed to withstand the searing temperatures generated on the left side of the tire in high speed lefthanders, it proved ineffective in cool conditions under braking into the rights, causing the shocker of the day–series leader Marc Marquez crashing out of a four second lead on Lap 18, appearing as though his front tire was made of glass, replicating the almost identical crash Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo experienced in FP1. Young Pol Espargaro suffered the same fate on Lap 25 while challenging for his first ever premier class podium. From a spectator’s point of view, it appears Bridgestone still has some work to do on this particular model. Plenty of work, in fact.Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380

That the top Honda finisher today was Alvaro Bautista in 6th place demonstrates the scale of the Debacle Down Under for the Minato factory. Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa got hit in practice by Karel Abraham, then got assaulted again on Lap 6 by crazy “Crazy Joe” Iannone, who plowed into the rear of Pedrosa’s bike without a prayer of getting through cleanly. Iannone and his Pramac Ducati went flying up and off the track, while Pedrosa managed to stay upright, only to pit on Lap 7 in sheer disgust. The incident will be looked at by Race Direction in Sepang, with a stern slap on the wrist possible for the Italian rider, while Pedrosa’s chances to finish second for the season suffered a serious blow. Iannone appeared to suffer a bump on his knee, which qualifies as “just desserts” in our opinion.

The third bizarre incident took place on Lap 19 and involved LCR Honda defector Stefan Bradl and Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro, who graduates to the factory Suzuki team next year. Similar to the incident on Lap 6 (and an earlier incident at Indianapolis), Bradl attempted to fit himself into space that didn’t exist, smashing into the rear of Espargaro’s bike. Bradl and bike immediately left the premises, while Espargaro continued on for a few hundred yards before pulling off into the grass and smashing his windscreen in frustration. He was probably irked, in part, by the thought that his little brother would overtake him in their season-long battle for 6th place in the standings. But Smith’s podium and Pol’s own crash means they’re still separated by a single point, only now fighting for 7th, as Smith went through on both of them.Bradl

The fourth and final shocker today involved my boy Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified his Ducati GP14 in second place—on a dry track—and had climbed from 9th place on a terrible first lap to third at the end of Lap 22. On the next Lap he blew by Lorenzo into second place and appeared interested in Rossi’s whereabouts, his Desmosedici looking fast, stable and dangerous. On the final lap, with second place firmly in his grasp, and a second podium in three outings his for the taking, he simply lost the front for no visible reason. In doing so, he reminded us of an NFL wide receiver who gets behind the defense, makes the catch, high-steps 30 yards all alone, and spikes the ball on the five yard line. And so it is that Crutchlow, with a higher opinion of his riding ability than almost anyone anywhere, remains stuck at 63 points for the season and, as predicted here last year, sits well behind both of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders, proof that in MotoGP as elsewhere, you gotta be careful what you wish for.

crutchlowAfter the race, Rossi was ecstatic, having won in Phillip Island for the first time since 2005. Lorenzo was dejected, complaining that his front tire was destroyed, and that his poor choice prevented him from challenging for the win. Tech 3 pilot Bradley Smith who, from a distance, appears to have no eyebrows, was shocked and elated to discover, only after the checkered flag flew, that he had podiumed, so busy with what was happening around him that he was completely unaware of what had been going on in front. He acknowledged getting pushed around earlier in the race, and was suitably self-effacing during the press conference, attributing his first premier class podium to luck and the work of his team. It is gradually becoming easier to understand why Herve Poncharal chose Smith for his #2 bike back in 2012 rather than Scott Redding, although Redding’s future is exceedingly bright, with the Marc VDS team soon to be in the premier class fold.

Calamity at the Top = Celebration at the Bottom

With the likes of Marquez, Pedrosa, Bradl, et al failing to finish today, it became an all-you-can-eat banquet for the back markers of the premier class. Danilo Petrucci, the heavily-bearded hope of Octo IodaRacing and soon to be Pramac #2, saw his season points total increase by 44%, adding four points to his previous total of nine. For Avintia’s Mike di Meglio it was a 50% increase, the last rider crossing the finish line adding two points to his previous four.

From there, the percentage increases were otherworldly. Alex de Angelis, having taken Colin Edwards’ seat on the Forward Racing team, doubled his point total for the season by finishing ninth, going from 7 points to 14 for the year. Another big winner today, in percentage terms, was Paul Byrd’s hapless Michael Laverty. Laverty, who is seeing his MotoGP career come to an end just as his brother Eugene’s is starting, experienced a 150% increase in his point total for the season in just one cool, windy afternoon. Coming into Round 16, he had amassed two (2) points in 2014. Today, he earned four. And although this may not sound like much, in truth, well, it really isn’t. Byrd and Laverty have some fierce defenders amongst the readers of this column, but they’re just not terribly good at either the racing or the business of raising money and bamboozling sponsors. Fans of David versus Goliath will applaud every single point these guys earn, but there has to be a better way to make a living than this.

The king of the have-nots today, however, was Hectic Hector Barbera, once again propelled by Ducati power for Avintia after a year and a half away from Pramac Racing. Not only was he the top Open class finisher today, but his 11 point, fifth-place finish, on top of the three points he had earned all season before today, represent an almost incalculable increase of 366%.

That, my friends, is some racing. A day of functionality in a season of despair.

The Road to Kuala Lampur

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were the big losers today, Marquez coming back to the pack while Pedrosa dropped from a tie for second for the season to fourth place. We will be traveling to Malaysia this coming week to keep an eye on things at Sepang next weekend, posting a few extra bits between now and then on Facebook and Twitter .

Unlike Phillip Island, Sepang is a very Honda-friendly place, and we look for Marc and Dani to get back some of the mojo they left behind in Australia. But Rossi and Lorenzo, each having now won twice this season, both believe they can compete with the Hondas, so it promises to be an exciting “penultimate” round of racing. Watch this space during the coming week for news and views from the self-styled Land of Adventure.

Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo ready to rumble for 2nd place

October 18, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

In what is likely to be a preview of the rest of the decade in MotoGP, three Aliens not named Marquez will begin their assault on the vice-championship this week at Phillip Island. Heading into Round 16 Down Under, a mere three points separate Yamaha ironman Jorge Lorenzo from teammate Valentino Rossi, who sits tied with Repsol Honda mini-Marc Dani Pedrosa. While world champion Marc Marquez’ mom dusts off some space in the family trophy case for the 2014 hardware, there’s plenty of racing left this season. victory helmet

Late in 2012, while MotoGP legend Casey Stoner was busy winning his sixth consecutive Australian GP here, we suggested it might be fitting to rename the track Stoner Island, an idea widely ignored in Australia but adopted, strangely enough, in San Marino, which renamed its own circuit in memory of the late Marco Simoncelli. Given the fact that Simoncelli missed his chance to win a premier class race, while Stoner’s victory count is somewhere in the 40’s, you wouldn’t expect much resistance to the idea from the locals, who have precious little else to brag about. A couple of tennis players from back in the 60’s, maybe. Whatever.

Who, you may be wondering, holds the record for the second-most wins at Phillip Island, presuming Stoner owns the record? I mean, after all, we’re squarely in the midst of trying to generate some excitement over an impending battle for second place in 2014. So, again, who has the second most career wins at Phillip Island? Casey Stoner, that’s who, with his six. Valentino Rossi, with seven, holds the record, with one win having come in the 500cc class in 2001 and two in the 250cc class in 1998 and 1999. OK, so Stoner had the most premier class wins; we’ll give him an asterisk for his trouble.

Now, for $500 and the game, who won the race in 2006, in between Rossi’s four in a row and Stoner’s six? Nicky Hayden? No, dude has only three career wins in the premier class, none of which came in Australia. Dani Pedrosa? No, he was a sullen, aggressive rookie in 2006 and finished 15th that year. Drum roll, please…the winner of the 2006 Australian Grand Prix was… Marco Melandri onboard the Gresini Honda.

More Recent History at Phillip Island

STONER_PI2012 marked the last of Stoner’s six wins at his home crib. That year, Jorge Lorenzo struggled to second place, some nine seconds in arrears. Five seconds behind Lorenzo was Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha, scoring his second career podium in the premier class that day. Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he could over the second half of the season to catch leader Jorge Lorenzo, lost his marbles on Lap 2 and saw his day and his season come to another dismal end. The best race-in-the-race that day saw Andrea Dovizioso win a thrilling run to the flag, punking both Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl and their respective Hondas by a few hundredths of a second.

Last year’s race was a fiasco from start to finish. Over the previous winter, the track owners had invested $3 million resurfacing the circuit, making it the grippiest, fastest circuit on the calendar. And, incidentally, the most rubber-hungry surface on earth. With its host of high-speed bends, the riders were generating enormous amounts of heat in the tires, which were decomposing beneath them as fast as the crews could put them on. Bridgestone, in its infinite wisdom (read: unwillingness to spend the money testing their tires on the new surface), arrived in Australia to a symphony of complaints, ranging from Carmelo Ezpeleta to the kid who drives Jorge Lorenzo’s scooter in the pit area.

By Sunday, Race Direction was issuing Orders of the Day every half hour. The race was shortened from 27 laps to 26, then to 19, then to 19 with a mandatory tire change by the end of Lap 10. The teams set up two bikes for each rider, each equipped with soft tires and half a tank of gas, and the lights went out. As Lap 10 was ending, Lorenzo and Marquez were leading, running shoulder to shoulder. Lorenzo exited into pit lane as Marquez, inexplicably, kept right on going, only to pit at the end of Lap 11.marc-marquez-black-flag

The combination of a flurry of ad hoc rule changes being translated into three or four different languages with riders’ lives and millions of dollars of machinery hanging in the balance proved too much for Marquez and his team, whose late tire change resulted in a black flag DQ on Lap 15, handing the race to Lorenzo. The win kept the Mallorcan in contention for the title, which he only grudgingly surrendered two weeks later in Valencia. Pedrosa and Rossi made up the rest of the podium, with Rossi pipping Crutchlow and Bautista at the finish for the only satisfying moment of the entire day.

You Heard It Here Last

We have been somewhat derelict in keeping up with the rider changes happening in the second echelon of MotoGP in preparation for the 2015 season. This is due in part to the fact that every single motorcycle publication on earth has published the abundant team press releases, including ourselves. At this point, all but two or three seats have been claimed.

Familiar faces changing livery for 2015 are headlined by Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl, as the Brit takes over for Bradl on the #1 LCR Honda and Bradl downshifts to join Forward Racing. Danilo Petrucci goes from the Ioda Racing frying pan to the Pramac Ducati fire, where he will join Yonny Hernandez on the junior Corse team. And Aleix Espargaro gets to realize his dream of riding for a factory team, as he moves from Forward Racing’s Open class machine to the new Suzuki GSX-RR.

At least four new faces will grace the grid next season. The Drive 7 Aspar team is giving Hiro Aoyama the boot in favor of Eugene Laverty, who joins the premier class, alongside teammate Nicky Hayden, after several productive seasons in World Superbike. With Paul Byrd folding up his tent next year, we are spared the sight of two Lavertys on the grid, as brother Michael is “evaluating opportunities” in WSBK and British Superbike, i.e., scrambling to find some kind of ride on road courses rather than dirt ovals.

Up-and-coming Moto2 grad Maverick Vinales brings his game to MotoGP joining Aleix Espargaro on the factory Suzuki. Forward Racing, having ejected Colin Edwards and, in turn, been jilted by the elder Espargaro, will make a go of it with Bradl and Frenchman Loris Baz, all 6’3” of him, who will try to fold himself around the Yamaha powered machine, elbows and knees sticking out all over the place, sure to remind some of us of Super Sic the way he used to look on his Gresini Honda. But without question, the highest profile rookie heading into 2015 will be Jack Miller, the young Australian skipping a grade, moving directly to the premier class from Moto3 on a three year deal, the first of which is likely to be spent in various hospitals around the globe. Crikey, but that’s a steep learning curve, Mr. Miller.

Fausto Gresini, in his eternal quest for Italian riders for his satellite squad, has abandoned his relationship with Honda in favor of a low budget operation with Aprilia for the next few years, with Alvaro Bautista somehow retaining his #1 seat with the team, a second rider yet to be named. Scott Redding moves to Marc VDS Racing and their shiny new factory spec Honda, which should elevate the Brit’s game and set up some interesting fights with countryman Crutchlow on the same bike. Hayden, Laverty, Miller and Karel Abraham will be the beneficiaries of an upgrade in the so-called customer Hondas, as the Japanese factory switches out the severely underpowered RCV1000R in favor of what they’re calling the 213V-RS, powered by this year’s fire-breathing RC213V engine in conjunction with a standard ECU and complete with Open class fuel, engine, testing and tire concessions.

Like I said 1400 words ago, there’s still plenty going on in MotoGP. The Marquez Years are upon us, and we must look past young Marc, seeking our pleasure in the profane, the ridiculous and the sublime, all of which are in lavish supply as the 2014 season wends its way to the finish line at Valencia in November.

We’ll have Phillip Island results right here on Sunday evening.