Archive for the ‘MotoGP Preview’ Category

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

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

Rider Spreadsheet 1

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

Rider Performance 3

 

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

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

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

After Mugello, the 2018 Fight is a Fight Again

Virtually lost amidst the frenzied game of musical chairs being played in MotoGP is the fact that, pursuant to his careless crash in Italy ten days ago, Marc Marquez has returned to Earth. Though the title still appears to be his to lose, his margin of error has been trimmed. Another off in the next few rounds will breathe life into his six closest pursuers. Or, he could win the next three rounds without breaking a sweat, forcing us to start thinking about 2019. Dude records way more wins than DNFs. 

Points-wise, the aforementioned pursuers are tight as ticks: 

2        Valentino Rossi                72

3        Maverick Viñales              67

4        Andrea Dovizioso             66

5        Johann Zarco                    64

6        Danilo Petrucci                 63

7        Andrea Iannone                60

These six fast movers are highly motivated to put some real pressure on Marquez. Rossi wants to show the world he still has it (?) at age 39. Dovi was this close last year and can still taste the title. Zarco has the fastest Yamaha on the track and believes he can pull it off, becoming the first satellite rider to win a premier class title EVER. Petrucci, bubbling over with confidence, wants to impress Gigi Dall’Igna even more than he already has. And Iannone wants to stick his thumb in the eye of the suits at Suzuki who lost confidence in him last year. As for Viñales, he simply wants to stay in the mix long enough for Yamaha to give him a bike he can win on.

Recent History at Catalunya

2015, it will be recalled, was The Year of Discontent for Marc Marquez. It was on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he hit the deck, his day (and season) done and dusted. Lorenzo, having seized the lead on the first lap, was doing his best to get away, and Marquez had to try to force the issue early. Boom. Lorenzo edged Rossi by almost a second, with Dani Pedrosa arriving some 20 seconds later. At the end of the day, Marquez trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis after this round, found his mojo, and collected six podia over the second half of his lost season.

Iannone and LorenzoThe 2016 tilt featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed after the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and never looked back, cruising to his third premier class title.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having earlier absconded with Marquez’ lunch money, went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race.

Silly Season Singalong

“Well we’re movin’ on uppetrucci.jpg

To the east side

To a de-luxe apartment in the sky.

Movin’ on up

To the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie.”

–Theme song, The Jeffersons, being sung (in three-part harmony) by Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, and Joan Mir

Jorge Lorenzo’s defection from the factory Ducati team to Repsol Honda has given voice to Petrucci, who has been itching for a factory ride seemingly forever. Bagnaia and Mir are being promoted from Moto2 to the majors (Pramac Ducati and Suzuki Ecstar, respectively) and are singing backup to Petrux. Lorenzo’s switch must be viewed as a lateral, along with a joyful Hafiz Syahrin, who has been retained by the Tech 3 team in its forthcoming KTM iteration. Syahrin made it into the premier class the hard way, by being the last man standing when Jonas Folger was pronounced unfit to race this year due to illness.

A number of riders have little reason to sing at this point of the season. Andrea Iannone has been dropped down a notch or three, moving from Suzuki to Aprilia next year. Dani Pedrosa, after 13 years on a factory Honda, could end up anywhere; the rumors of a satellite Yamaha team sponsored by Petronas next year persist, with Pedrosa one of the two riders thereon. Jack Miller, speaking confidently of a factory ride in 2019 only a month ago, will likely stay put with Pramac. He will, however, probably pick up a little Italian profanity courtesy of Bagnaia.

Drunkenly singing the blues, in English, in a dark corner of this article are Scott Redding and Bradley Smith, both of whom appear to be on their way out of the premier class. The jury is still out on Taka Nakagami, Tom Luthi, Karel Abraham, Tito Rabat and Alvaro Bautista, with Nakagami and Rabat most likely to hang around for another year. Then there is Hectic Hector Barbera, whose downhill slide continues. Last year at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in the premier class. Last week at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in Moto2. Today he is unemployed, courtesy of a DUI in Valencia after Round 6.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather should not be a factor this weekend, as the extended forecast for greater Barcelona calls for clear skies and warm temps. As for the race, I have narrowed down my pick for the winner to five riders.  Marquez does not have great history here, but he is Marquez, a threat to win every time out, not to mention being a little cheesed off at the Italian fans who cheered wildly when he crashed at Mugello. Lorenzo, Rossi and Dovizioso have recorded wins here in the last three years; Lorenzo can be expected to try to prove that last week’s win wasn’t a fluke. Rossi and Dovi are in the midst of a title chase, giving them all the incentive they need.

My dark horse on Sunday is Dani Pedrosa. He is intimately familiar with Montmelo and has podiumed here the last six years. He has been jilted by his girlfriend of 13 years. He is looking for a ride next year and anxious to demonstrate that he has something left in the tank. And he would love to show Honda they’ve made a mistake—which is very possibly true—letting him go in favor of Lorenzo. The weather does not look to be a negative factor. And the fans, who simply want a Spaniard, any Spaniard, on the top step would get behind him if he finds himself in the lead. Stranger things have happened.

As usual this time of year, Moto3 goes off at zero dark thirty in the Eastern US, with Moto2 and MotoGP following. We will bring you results and analysis around noon.

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!

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.

 

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

For the fourth time in five premier class seasons, Honda’s remarkable Marc Marquez stands on the cusp of a championship. His win in Australia last week left him with a short to-do list this week in Malaysia: 1. Try to finish no worse than second. 2. Try to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 3. If both #1 and #2 fail, lose to Dovizioso by seven points or less. Otherwise, he will have to return to Valencia in two weeks for some kind of decider. Probably the best thing for #93 would be to euthanize this title chase Sunday under the cover of darkness, many time zones removed from home, setting up a triumphal fait accompli return to Spain. We couldn’t disagree more. 

Recent History at Sepang

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. Though the title had already been settled, the grid was taking the competition seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to finish.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl somehow finished fourth, coming close yet again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are in danger of joining the small cadre of bitter Hayden fans who remember Estoril 2006 and still, every year, wear their pink “PEDROSA SUCKS” t-shirts to the race in Austin.

The 2016 running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  DesmoDovi was joined on the podium by the factory Yamaha duo of Rossi and Lorenzo.

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Pedrosa, Rossi, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Rins, Folger, P Espargaro, Iannone, Baz, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Crutchlow, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi↓, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro↑

Tranche 3:   Petrucci↓, Rins, Iannone, Redding↑, Miller↑, Crutchlow↑, Lorenzo↓

Tranche 4:   Baz↓, Bautista↓, Smith↑, Abraham↑, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

I can tell from here that whatever problem Ducati experienced at Phillip Island translated into these rankings. All six riders who dropped a spot ride for Ducati. But Scott Redding and Karel Abraham each climbed a notch, again on Ducatis. I can’t think of any rider who belongs with Marquez in Tranche 1 at the moment. Sepang, where the title race will probably be decided, will be the last round fought in anger, and thus the last round for ranking the riders.

I welcome any and all readers to argue with my assertion that Marquez currently is in a class by himself. All too often we hear riders talking about “having a good rhythm,” which, watching carefully, one can understand. I recall Cal Crutchlow commenting that if you got out of shape in Turn 2 at COTA you would be screwed all the way through Turn 9. Marquez seems to have found his rhythm this year at Catalunya, since, other than the engine problem in England, he hasn’t been off the podium since and has racked up five wins in the process. Perhaps it takes four or five races to get fully acclimated to a new RC213V each year. At present, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the bike stops and Marquez starts, so closely are they intertwined.

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

My reflexive response to this question is, “Nobody.” That’s probably an overstatement.  Rossi will still be in the mix.  Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales should improve next season and, depending on the speed and handling of next year’s M1, may push Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso my have another career year with Ducati, but our confidence in his abilities this season has been shaken.

Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Jonas Folger will not become serious title threats, if ever, until they secure factory rides. Danilo Petrucci needs to learn how to be fast in dry conditions.  Jorge Lorenzo will, I’m pretty sure, simply serve out his sentence at Ducati and go looking for a better gig starting in 2019.  The young guns coming up from Moto2—Nakagami, Morbidelli, Luthi and Simeon—present no real threat in 2018, other than to the riders they may collect crashing out of their first few races.

One thing is certain. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and KTM are going to engage in a hellishly expensive silly season next year positioning themselves for 2019. There is a rumor going around that KTM has offered Marquez a blank check to defect after next season.

A final word about next season. Most MotoGP people I know are excited about the improvements visible in the Aprilia and KTM bikes, while Suzuki took awhile this season before starting to show renewed signs of life. All three figure to be stronger next season. Even so, it would take a miracle, in my opinion, for any of them to contend seriously for a championship before 2020. Conversation for another day.

Your Weekend Forecast

Before I go to weather.com to confirm, let me guess that conditions in central Malaysia will be brutally hot with a chance for torrential downpours at any given moment. Yes. Temps will approach 90° each day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms all weekend and, from the looks of it, the rest of the year. There will be some gruesome stuff growing inside those leather racing suits by Sunday evening.

As for who will do what, I’m lacking any real insight, as the last few rounds of the MotoGP season remind me of the last few games of the NBA season which, for non- playoff-bound teams, is generally garbage time.  I am virtually certain that Marc Marquez will end up on the podium. If it’s a wet race I expect to see a Ducati on the podium as well, perhaps Petrucci. The third spot on the podium is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with Rossi, the default choice for a podium every single week.

We will post results and analysis sometime Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast.  Enjoy the show.