Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP Jerez Results 2017

May 7, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motrcycle.com

Pedrosa rules as the 2017 plot thickens in Spain 

Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won today’s Spanish Grand Prix, leading wire to wire for his first win since Misano last year.  Teammate and defending champion Marc Marquez gave chase for most of the race but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those days… 

Dani-Pedrosa-2013-HD-Wallpaper-Photos

Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed the third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterward, felt like a win. When the smoke cleared, the 2017 race had tightened considerably, to the delight of the majority of fans, especially those expensively dressed. 

Practice

Practice sessions at Jerez varied from wet to damp to dry, and the timesheets were  informative:

FP1:  Wet. Repsol Honda veteran Dani Pedrosa, Brit Cal Crutchlow, and Australia’s Jack Miller.  All Hondas.

FP2:  Damp/drying.  Pedrosa, Miller and Crutchlow.  Hmmm.

FP3:  Dry.  Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Vinales.  Hmmm again.  Clearly Pedrosa has it going on this weekend.  Race day to be dry.  Seems to be pretty Honda-friendly.

Who goes through to QP2: Four Hondas and four Yamahas (Vinales 4th, Rossi 7th late), Iannone on the Suzuki, and Lorenzo the top Ducati in 8th.  Jerez is not a Ducati-friendly track, to say the least.

Q1:  Iannone and Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia advance; Petrucci and Dovizioso do not, but then comes the factory KTM team of Smith and Pol Espargaro, putting both on the fifth row for what I guess to be the first time.  I’m starting to develop a little motowood about this KTM bunch.

Q2:  The Usual Suspects, joined once again by Dani Pedrosa, dominate.  Pedrosa, teammate Marquez and Cal Crutchlow oust newest wunderkind Maverick Vinales from the front row.  Two Hondas and tres compatriotas on Row 1! Southern Spain is dancing in the streets.  It’s a big deal over there.

As dusk falls on Saturday, it looks like one of the Hondas is going to stand on the top step.  Yet, Rossi shows up on Sundays, as does Vinales.  Crutchlow and Lorenzo are lurking.  Worth a ticket if you’re in the neighborhood on Sunday.

Undercard:  Moto2 Procession

Moto2 Estrella Galicia heartthrob and series leader Franco Morbidelli crashed out of the lead unassisted, allowing young Alex Marquez to break his Moto2 cherry, winning easily for the first time since his Moto3 championship in 2014. Afterward, he was congratulated by big brother Marc in Parc Ferme, in a moment none of us ever forget, of which older brother must have surely reminded him.

The Race Itself

In the early action, Pedrosa took the hole shot from pole followed closely by Marquez.  Johann Zarco, the precocious rookie on the Tech 3 Yamaha, proceeded to trade paint with Valentino Rossi on Lap 1 before going through on him.  We watched Lap 2 in some amazement as he then proceeded to reel in Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Andrea Iannone, taking over third place behind the Repsol Hondas.  Say what you will about the French, this Zarco has onions.  Especially with a full tank.

By Lap 4 Lorenzo was running seventh and Rossi eighth, giving the crowd a brief flashback to 2009 and 2010 when the two of them used to duel regularly for Yamaha up at the front.  Lap 5 saw the impudent Zarco go through on Marquez into second place and Miller get taken down by the spatially unaware Alvaro Bautista, leading to the swing/slap thing from Miller.  On Lap 6 Crutchlow fell out of fourth place and Pol Espargaro grounded his KTM machine, while Lap 7 gave us more Lorenzo vs. Rossi.  During all of this, the Repsol Hondas were beginning to disappear, after Marquez had taken second back from Zarco.

On Lap 10, team Marc VDS Racing’s day was completely ruined when Tito Rabat crashed out, joining Bautista in the Zero Points Club.  Moments later, Andrea Iannone slid his Suzuki into the gravel.  Lorenzo was suddenly dogging Zarco for third place, and Dovizioso went through on Rossi, who was definitely having tire issues.  On Lap 12 Lorenzo made it through on Zarco and there was your podium.

There was some jousting further down the order that you’ll need to watch the video to understand fully.  Rookie Jonas Folger, on the second Tech 3 Yamaha, had the temerity to go through on legend Rossi on Lap 22 while Rossi’s tires continued to disintegrate beneath him. Lorenzo finally broke Zarco around Lap 23 for his first Ducati podium.  Plenty of exhaling taking place at Ducati Corse over that one.

Dani Pedrosa, climbing back into Tranche 1, and Jorge Lorenzo, advancing to Tranche 3, still have some go in their tanks.  That Lorenzo could do well at Jerez on the Ducati says much about him and the GP17, that they appear to be nearing a rapprochement that will allow Lorenzo, as well as Dovizioso, to compete for the podium most every time out.

Danilo Petrucci, with a solid seventh place finish on the Pramac Ducati GP17, moves up to T2. Here’s the rest, including a look-back at the previous rankings:

Rankings After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

New Rankings after Round 4:

T 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

T 2:  Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Petrucci↑

T 3:  Lorenzo↑, Folger, A Espargaro↑, Miller↓, Iannone, Redding

T 4:  Bautista↓, P Espargaro, Barbera, Baz

T 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham, (Rins)

Social climbers:     Pedrosa, Petrucci, Lorenzo, and Aleix Espargaro.

Lorenzo’s podium very impressive; he looked in command of the GP17.

Aleix Espargaro has the Aprilia competitive.

Pedrosa now owns a new record for consecutive seasons with at least one grand prix win at 16. Won it during the 3000th grand prix of the modern era.  Worthy of respect.  More titanium in him than most golf clubs.  Forearms like cables.  Little Big Man is what I used to call him, and I still like it.

Losing Face:          Miller and Bautista.  Miller, in part, for such a prissy swing he took at Bautista.  I don’t care that it was Bautista’s fault.  But either swing like you mean it or don’t swing.

Crutchlow is flirting with T3.

Rossi is flirting with T2 and hasn’t won since Mugello last year. Tire issues today not his fault, but rider’s choice nonetheless.

So Moto2 and MotoGP are Modeling One Another…

…as the following comparison clearly shows.  Focus groups have informed Dorna that fans prefer it if an old crafty veteran challenges a young buck for the top spot.  They don’t want either rider to get away.  And the more riders challenging for the title the better.  Four and five would be optimal.

Statistically, the most attractive cross-class matchups for this season appear thus as of May 7, 2017:

Moto2          Franco Morbidelli             MotoGP        Marc Marquez

Moto2          Tom Luthi                       MotoGP        Valentino Rossi

Moto2          Miguel Oliveira                MotoGP        Maverick Vinales

Moto2          Alex Marquez                  MotoGP        Jorge Lorenzo

Judging from Sunday’s performances, things are about where the suits want them.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

The Big Picture Heading to Le Mans

In the premier class, the top four is as tight as Tupperware:

Rossi           62

Vinales        60

Marquez      58

Pedrosa       52

This is sweet.  This is what fans want, heading into Round 5.  The tranching and the standings stand up, I feel, to one another.  Some riders have positive momentum, while others are struggling.  The Tech 3 Yamaha guys are strong every time out and not intimidated by future hall of famers.  Each of the top four is fully aware of the chestnut that in order to finish first, one must first finish.

Over at Moto2, Morbidelli now leads Luthi by a manageable 11 points, with Oliveira another 15 points back. Alex Marquez and 20-year-old Italian wonder Francesco Bagnaia (second today after successfully fighting off an extended challenge from Mattia Passini) make up the top five.  Six riders took the checkered flag within the first ten seconds at Jerez.

One of the things Le Mans is known for is sketchy weather.  If, as is not uncommon, conditions are less than ideal in northern France two weeks hence, we could see how the top four MotoGP riders perform in the wet, the cold, or both.  This could be revealing about those riders with aspirations to top five finishes for the season. Riders like Miller and Petrucci enjoy the rain, while other riders don’t.  Wet weather could further tighten the race at the top of both classes.

For the focus groups and the suits at Dorna it just doesn’t get any better. 

Full Jerez 2017 Results 

2017 Standings after 4 Rounds 

MotoGP Whinefest

April 29, 2017

©  Bruce Allen

This is a piece I never posted, written before the 2016 season in which I suggested Jorge Lorenzo would be my favorite to win the title.  The prediction was terrible, but some of the other stuff not bad.

I’ve just discovered something I, as a would-be writer, loathe.  Note to self:  Never use this technique unless it pertains to, say, the last race of the season, 5 points separating teammates and rivals, Marquez in the mix, in which case it may be permissible to jock the sport while you’re reporting on it.  Otherwise, DO NOT PROMOTE MOTOGP WHILE YOU’RE IN REPORTER MODE.

So I’m reading this nice article—pre-season preview—when it finishes with a jee-whiz-MotoGP-is-SUPERBAD or something equally self-serving; starved, as the writer visibly is, for eyeballs.

So, yes, I think it’s a shame more Americans don’t watch MotoGP and yes, I encourage people I know and people in the universe to read about it.  But when I’m on deadline, getting paid to think hard about the sport, I’m not taking time out to ponder how I love Michelin tires on my ride.  It’s bad form, especially for someone like me who doesn’t ride at all.  Of course, if I ever found a sponsor willing to buy me a disclaimer, no telling what might happen.  None of the OEMs that MO deals with want to sully their reputations by sponsoring the likes of me, and who can blame them?

I feel no need to stroke Dorna, as they seem to derive pleasure from making the process of credentialing excessive.  One with years writing about this stuff should not have to buy tickets from a scalper in Jerez to report on the GP there, the only halfway serious American journalist bothering to make the trip, on his own dime, and they tell me they can’t find me even the usual lousy credential.  Ended up having way more fun in the crowd anyway.

What my readers expect from me is an objective accounting of events up to and including the race, delivered with as many laughs as I can haul out of the closet.  They expect me to call a spade a spade, especially when it involves controversy between riders.  Under the heading “Saving Grace”, the feed from Dorna is superb, and the very British commentary is helpful.  For those of you condemned to TV—now pay TV in the US—with or without commercial breaks, your coverage sucks.  With the Euro down the drain, it’s a cheap time to buy a video pass and stream the race at your leisure.

So, we will call the 2016 season the way we see it.  At this juncture, it looks like Vinales is going to be a top four guy, and even Redding, taking to the Duc like a duc to water, is sniffing around the top of the timesheets.  Pedrosa looks miserable, Marquez desperate to stay on the bike with any pace at all, and Rossi sounding unconvincingly like all the changes work in his favor.  Lorenzo, meanwhile, has that look in his eye.  As he learned in 2011 and 2013, however, the look in the eye thing doesn’t necessarily get you a repeat, a threepeat or a fourpeat.

Jorge looks ready to defend his title actively and vigorously.

Everyone is hoping the rest of the grid fights harder for 10th place, with good fights going on all over the track.  If the elapsed time between the finish of the first and last bikes of last year, or top ten bikes of last year, versus this year show the grid tightening up, that’s what Dorna’s after, and that’s what the satellite teams are pushing for.  Whether anyone but the top four or five riders ever finds their way to the podium is another matter.  The world longs to see some new faces at the press conference.

Let us pray against parades and against a championship that gets away from itself in the first eight weeks, with someone emerging at the front by 100 points.  Otherwise, there will always be things to write about.  We will miss Nicky Hayden especially, as he was always good for a laugh.  We pray that Bautista and Bradl don’t end up racing each other for last place each week.  We pray that things end well between Yamaha and 46, and Honda and 26, when the time comes.  And we look forward to meeting the next generation of Aliens, the guys who will take your dollar in a game of reflexes, the guys who can dunk at 5’7”, the guys who can execute a bicycle kick on the soccer field.  And the guys who will join Lorenzo and Marquez in the championship battles leading into the 2020’s.

No jocking required.

2010: Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

April 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Filet of Rossi on Lap 21; Roast of Pedrosa on Lap 27 

The Gran Premio bwin de Espana at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday was a hash of the worst and the best that MotoGP has to offer.  The first 22 laps were an absolute parade with virtually no lead changes and little drama, aside from guys pushing 200 mph on two wheels.  The last five laps were a masterpiece by Jorge Lorenzo, who moved from fourth place to first for his first win of 2010.  In the process, he again demonstrated the patience and strategic thinking he has lacked until now.  It appears that his development as the heir apparent to Valentino Rossi may now be in its final stages. 

Sunday was a perfect day on the dazzling Spanish Riviera.  The usual suspects had qualified well on Saturday, led, somewhat surprisingly, by homeboy Dani Pedrosa, who apparently solved the suspension problems that had plagued him all year.  Pedrosa was on the pole, followed by Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi.  Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards completed Tranche One on this round, and it looked as if the long-suffering Pedrosa might enjoy his first day in the sun since his win last year at Valencia.

Recall that Round 1 in Qatar had left Casey Stoner gasping for air, Valentino Rossi looking impregnable, and Jorge Lorenzo sporting the long-awaited maturity he had lacked as recently as last season.  Lorenzo’s balls-to-the-wall racing style had secured second place in the world in 2009, but the three DNFs he recorded in his reckless (not wreckless) style had probably cost him the championship.  At Qatar, Nicky Hayden looked rejuvenated, Andrea Dovizioso looked threatening, and rookie Ben Spies looked ready for prime time.

As they say here in Spain, “Bienvenido a Espana.”

For the bulk of the first 20 laps today, it was Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso going round and round.  There was some action in the seven-to-eleven spots, but I’m generally too busy to pay much attention to that stuff.  Several riders went walkabout early on, including the soon-to-be-late Loris Capirossi and Aleix Espargaro.  Pramac Racing’s Espargaro recovered and re-entered the race, only to spend most of his day working feverishly trying not to get lapped by Pedrosa.  Ben Spies retired on Lap 7 with mechanical issues.  By Lap 20, the guys in the row front of us started passing big joints around, noticeably bypassing us.  One of the gorgeous brunettes (a dime a dozen in these parts) in the stand next to us was fiddling with her split ends.  “Off in the distance, a dog howled.”

Suddenly, it became obvious that Jorge Lorenzo had found something.

On Lap 10 he had passed Hayden without breaking a sweat, and began patiently lining up Rossi.  By Lap 21 he was on top of Rossi, and then past him.  Pedrosa, who led all day by more than a second—plenty in MotoGP time—led Lorenzo by .8 at that point.  I was thinking it would end up Pedrosa/Lorenzo/Rossi, a nice day for the hometown crowd, when Lorenzo left Rossi in his wake and drew a bead on Pedrosa.

Everyone knows the depth of enjoyment Jorge Lorenzo experiences passing teammate and arch rival Valentino Rossi.  Judging from how Lorenzo handled himself on the last three laps of this race, it’s possible he enjoys taking down Dani Pedrosa equally well.  Teammate or countryman?  Countryman or teammate?  Who really knows what’s going on in Jorge Lorenzo’s head?

Not that it matters.  Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa performed as expected in the last five laps of the race.  Lorenzo exerted his will on his bike and his countryman.  Pedrosa rode well in the lead and folded when it mattered, running wide in a late right-hander and allowing Lorenzo through, conceding the path to the win.  Talking a brave game all week long and then lacking los cojones at the moment of truth to hold his ground and force Lorenzo on to the brakes.  The book on Dani is “doesn’t like to mix it up in the corners.”  The book had it dead right today.

All in all, it was a great day to be a Spanish racing fan.  Early in the morning, it was 18-year old Spaniard Daniel Ruiz starting the day by winning the first Rookie’s Cup race of the season.  Pol Espargaro took the 125cc race while many of the fans were still finding their way to their seats.  Toni Elias, fresh off his crash in Qatar and nursing a bad wrist, battled Thomas Luthi and Shoya Tomizawa all day and finally prevailed for his first Moto2 win before his home fans, most of whom were delirious with joy at the end of the race.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa took the top two spots on the premier class podium.  And although the fans claim to prefer Pedrosa to Lorenzo, as Jorge hails all the way from Barcelona, for God’s sake, it appears they’ve grown a little weary of Pedrosa’s mad Chihuahua routine, his underdog-singing-the-blues rap.  There was no shortage of Lorenzo fans in today’s crowd.

Elsewhere on the grid, Pramac’s Mika Kallio had a great day, starting dead last and finishing 7th.   Marco Melandri recovered from a dreadful outing in Qatar to finish 8th today.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet qualified 6th and finished 9th, making him two for two this year qualifying better on Saturday than he raced on Sunday.  Alvaro Bautista recovered from a last lap fall in Qatar to finish 10th and claim the Top Rookie of the Week award from Hiroshi Aoyama, who won it at Losail but struggled today, finishing 14th.

The top five finishers in a great 17 lap Moto2 race today included Elias, Shoya Tomizawa, Thomas Luthi, Yuki “Crash” Takahashi and Simone Corsi.  The race was red-flagged early due to a pile-up involving some nine bikes, the first of what promises to be many such collisions in the overcrowded Moto2 field.

The crowd seemed as interested in the 125s today as they were the big bikes.  Espargaro claimed the top spot on the podium, flanked by two other Spaniards, Nicolas Terol and Esteve Rabat.

On to Le Mans for Round 3.

Getting to the 2010 Spanish Grand Prix was half the fun

April 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen            May 2010

For a couple of gringos, the road to MotoGP Jerez is a blast 

Last January, four of us decided to take a family vacation to southern Spain in early May.  I worked out a deal with my editor at Motorcycle.com to pay me handsomely to cover the Gran Premio bwin de Espana, subject to my securing press credentials, providing some extra copy and photos, and giving them way more than my usual vapid kitchen table rant.  In mid-April, after reserving and paying for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc., it became fully clear that Dorna, the Spanish company that owns the rights to MotoGP, was not going to sully their pressroom by credentialing the likes of me.  What had started out as a slam dunk junket had become a longshot. 

Four of us left for Spain from O’Hare on Friday afternoon.  I/we were lacking several of the necessities for most respectable journalists:  press credentials, tickets for the race, journalistic skills, and/or a clear idea of where the track was actually located.  When I say “we”, I’m including my intrepid son-in-law and budding photojournalist, Ryan Collins, who had the good sense several years ago to marry my youngest daughter Cate.  Ryan, who knows even less about motorcycle racing than I do, told me he was pretty much up for anything, up to and including trying to find the track, trying to get into the facility, and trying to provide some semblance of “covering” the race, as opposed to just missing a day on the beach, and instead sitting around with 130,000 drunk Spanish racing fans under a hot sun for eight hours.

Ryan and I set out from Cadiz, a jewel of a town that sits on the southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, on Sunday morning.  [By this time we had missed Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifications.  We had also survived a monstrous case of jetlag and the drive from Madrid to Cadiz in which I came uncomfortably close to getting us included in Spanish highway fatality statistics not once, but twice.  And although we missed the action at the track on Saturday, we caught the action on the strip in Cadiz on Saturday night, eating tapas amongst a bunch of riders and listening to the music of big bikes turning high RPMs on the seaside street in front of the restaurant all evening.]

Cadiz sits about 25 miles south of Jerez, and we had passed several Jerez exits on the drive down from Madrid on Saturday.  Once we cleared Cadiz on Sunday, the task of actually finding the track became pretty simple:  stay with the hundreds of bikes on their way to the race that morning.  Which sounds easier than it actually is, in that these bikes were mostly traveling in excess of 100 mph while the Guardia Civil politely turned a blind eye.  Finally, we were one of a handful of cars in a veritable sea of motorcycles, and getting to the parking lot was a breeze.  The way getting from point A to point B in a mosh pit is a breeze:  make no sudden movements, don’t resist, and go with the flow.

Problem #1 solved.

Problems #2 and #3—no press credentials, few journalistic skills—weren’t going to get solved this day.  This left Problem #4—no tickets to a sold out race.  On the walk from the parking lot to the track itself, I kept an eye out for ticket “vendors” on the street, and was finding none.  Plenty of guys and ladies selling a lot of other junk—Spanish flags, food, water, trinkets, belts (?), etc., from little improvised roadside stands.  No guys holding tickets in the air yelling “Got Four!” in Spanish and looking furtively over their shoulders for the aforementioned blackshirts who, one suspects, take a less generous view of ticket scalpers than they do speeders they’re unable to catch anyway.  A mile in and it was looking bleak, when we noticed a trailer set off on a little side “street” with a big sign on it reading “Taquillas”.  Ryan, my interpreter, said he had no idea what a taquilla is.  I, by this time, was hoping it was Spanish for “tequilas”, as I was ready to give in and spend the day drinking shots and eating limes.  It occurred to me that “tequila” is already a Spanish word, and one very rarely used in the plural, but I shook off this notion.

We approached the trailer, and people were, indeed, stepping up to a window and purchasing SOMETHING, but we couldn’t really tell what.  Apparently, by this time Ryan and I were looking fairly furtive ourselves, for it was at this moment that a guy in a Lakers shirt approached me and asked, in pretty good English, if we needed tickets.  He, it turned out, was getting comped by Repsol (a friend of a friend of a friend…) and was going to stand with the great unwashed in the Pelousse, the fans’ and riders’ favorite section of the Jerez track, between Turns 10 and 11, where the crowd gets right on top of the riders.  We negotiated a mutually satisfactory price for his tickets and, suddenly, Problem #4 was solved.

We still don’t know what folks were buying at that trailer; I’ll try to report back on that later tonight. (Later, it turned out they were “tickets.” but who knew?)  We do know that we sat high in the stands between Turns 12 and 13 with a great view of the race.  We spent plenty of time wandering around the facility mingling and taking pictures of a few of the gorgeous women you find in quantity at these events.  We watched one helluva Moto2 tilt and a premier class event that was a procession for the first 22 laps and a heart-stopping thriller for the last three.  We made it back to the parking lot and thence our hotel in one piece without dying of dehydration or getting T-boned by any of the nutjobs they issue drivers licenses to in Spain.  And we captured the story; a beautiful day spent 4500 miles from home in a second language, with a manual transmission, on the road to Jerez.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorycle.com

Marquez vs Vinales

Captain America needs a win 

As the checkered flag fell in Argentina, the shape of the entire 2017 season changed.  Suddenly, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and partner Valentino Rossi, the Boys in Blue, sit on top of the world looking down.  Those looking up, WAY up, include defending champion Marc Marquez and the factory Ducati team, currently residing on the other side of the proverbial tracks.  Marquez has never lost, deep in the heart, which makes Sunday’s contest what my wife (eyebrows raised) refers to as “critical?” 

Even though it’s so early in the season—Round 3—the Yamaha contingent appears to be in danger of getting away.  Vinales with two wins, Rossi with two podia.  Things in general going quite well thank you.  Lorenzo and his new employers at Ducati Corse–not so well, a 10th and last week’s early DNF to show for his efforts thus far.  Marquez and Pedrosa slammed to the tarmac instantly at the same exact location—different laps, with Jack Miller narrowly avoiding a third crash there—in a mechanical Venus Flytrap for factory Hondas at Turn 2 last time around.  Having left for Argentina in a bit of a hole, the Repsol Honda team imploded, their 2017 machine appearing difficult to ride and hard on tires.  Perhaps, as LCR loudmouth Cal Crutchlow intimated, gas consumption, too.

Marquez has never lost in the first four seasons at the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas (as if Laguna Seca and Indianapolis don’t exist).  The purpose-built facility has been a Honda favorite since its inception in 2013.  In this wacky season, it would not surprise to see Marquez, Vinales and The Black Knight, Jack Miller, fighting for podium spots in a reprise of 2014, when Miller won the Moto3 race, Vinales the Moto2 and Marquez the MotoGP.

As strange as it sounds, the 2017 season could devolve into an uneven two man, intra-team race between Vinales and Rossi, similar to the F-1 whippings administered by the 2002 factory Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, who took turns winning 15 of 17 races that year.  After last season, with nine different winners, we thought we were past all that.  This weekend could shed some serious light on that thinking.

Recent History at COTA

Marc Marquez, whom I refer to as Captain America while the rest of the world calls him as Marc Marquez, has never experienced defeat in Austin.  He won easily as a rookie in 2013.  He overwhelmed teammate Dani Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds in arrears on the factory Ducati.  In 2015, Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession.

Last year, while Marquez was sunnily getting away, Pedrosa lost his grits, his bike taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the last 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.  Vinales edged out teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

Disorder in the Standings

Due to the logarithmic scoring system and early season shakedown cruises—curiously, Lorenzo’s complaint after his first lap fall in Argentina being he missed out on 25 laps of data—the championship standings after two rounds are currently out of equilibrium.  I looked back at the standings a year ago, and they were generally orderly, what you might expect, Aliens Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa occupying the top four spots.

This year, things are startlingly different.  Undefeated Vinales and the experienced Rossi stand well clear of Dovi in 3rd, 16 points behind Rossi.  Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding sits 4th.  Read that last sentence twice, because you’ll probably never see it again in your lifetime.  Squabbling over 5th place are Crutchlow, surprising German rookie and Tech 3 Yamaha upstart Jonas Folger, and Jack Miller, still ambulatory this early in the season.

Marc Marquez sits in a fantastic 8th place, 37 points down to Vinales, under a degree of pressure he has not previously felt in the premier class, on a bike he does not like.  Jorge Lorenzo, humbled triple world champion, is a bit of a steaming pile in 18th, consorting with the likes of Tito Rabat and the debut KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the Laverne & Shirley* of MotoGP.  (*You know, ‘always together.’)

Rule #1:  Beat Your Teammate

Riders know that if you do this one thing on race day, you can consider your outing to have been a success.  Just beat your teammate.  Here’s where the teams stand after two rounds, up close and personal:

Factory Teams

Repsol Honda:                 Marquez 13          Pedrosa 11

Movistar Yamaha:           Vinales 50            Rossi 36

Factory Ducati:                Dovizioso 20        Lorenzo   5

Factory Suzuki:                Rins 7                   Iannone 0

Factory Aprilia:                A Espargaro 10    Lowes 0

Factory KTM:                   Pol Espargaro 2   Smith 1

 

Satellite Teams

Pramac Ducati:                Redding 17          Petrucci 9

Aspar Ducati:                   Bautista 13          Abraham 8

Tech 3 Yamaha:               Folger 16              Zarco 11

Marc VDS Honda:            Miller 15              Rabat 5

Reale Avintia Ducati:       Baz 9                    Barbera 6

As you can see, the Boys in Blue have secured almost a third of the points on offer in the first two rounds, a trend which seems unsustainable.  And, ignoring the Yamahas, the satellite teams are taking it right to the factory boys all across the board.  Over time, large series of numbers typically regress to the mean.  Essentially, I’m suggesting that the 2017 season is nowhere near over, that there is plenty of meaningful racing yet to come, and that the Movistar Yamaha team cannot afford to become slack or over-confident.  Both Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone have now assured us that neither will crash out of a race again this season.  Taking neither offer, I would be more inclined to put my money on the Catalan than the erratic Italian.

Notice too how on the three satellite Ducati teams, the GP15 rider leads the GP16 rider two to one.  Had Hector Barbera not started the season injured, it could easily be three for three, with the factory bikes no better.  Would it be heresy to suggest that Gigi Dall’Igna’s magic peaked in 2015 and has been quietly trending downward since then?  Or is it the different riders changing things around?  All these anomalies make predicting podium celebrants, a fool’s errand in the best of times, an overt waste of time.  One can hope, for the sake of the season, that Marquez makes up some ground with the Yamahas this weekend.  He had been mostly bulletproof in Argentina until last round.  Anything other than an outright win on Sunday must be considered a painful loss. 

Your Weekend Forecast

Looking ahead four or five days, the weekend’s offerings weather-wise appear to have something for every taste and budget.  Friday—hot and cloudy.  Saturday—cool with rain.  Sunday—cool and dry.     The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time in the U.S., and we will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2017 Rio Hondo Results

April 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Viñales conquers Argentina; Marquez chokes out 

In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix.  Marquez, starting from pole, took the holeshot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4.  Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat. 

In winning his first two races on the factory Yamaha, Viñales tied two records dating back to the 1990’s.  Kenny Roberts, Jr. won his first two races on a new team in 1999 after having abandoned the Modenas KR3 team for Suzuki.  And Wayne Rainey (not Rossi, not Lorenzo) was the last Yamaha pilot to start the season with two wins back in 1990, well before Viñales was born.  Had Marquez not lost his grits today, both records might still be standing.  We’ll never know.

Practice and Qualifying Weirdness

Practice was dry on Friday.  Viñales topped FP1 and FP2, with lots of big names way down the order. Some unfamiliar names popped up in the top five—Danilo Petrucci, rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and Karel Abraham, of all people, in FP1; both Abraham and Petrucci appeared in the top five again in FP2. Saturday was a wet day, the first ever for Viñales on the Yamaha.  Accordingly, in FP3 he slipped all the way down to second place, behind LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, with Marquez in fifth.

Thus was the die cast for the first qualifying sessions of the season—Qatar canceled theirs due to some Biblical rain–and the separating of the goats into Q1 and the lambs into Q2, but in a Bizarro kind of configuration.  The lambs cinched into Q2 included, and I’m not kidding, Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Jonas Folger, Alvaro Bautista, and Karel Abraham.  The goats, relegated to the ignominy of Q1, and again I’m not kidding, included BOTH factory Ducatis, Dani Pedrosa, everyone’s new fave Johann Zarco, and Valentino Freaking Rossi.  Rossi and Pedrosa snuck into Q2 on their last laps of the session.  They aren’t called Aliens (or Alien Emeritus) for nothing.

Qualifying itself was more or less routine, with the notable exception of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 sitting in the middle of the front row beneath Karel Abraham.  Marquez started from pole, going four-for-four in Argentina, with Crutchlow sitting third, Pedrosa 5th and Rossi 7th.  Figuratively speaking, the wheels fell off for the factory Ducati team on Saturday, with Dovizioso slotted 13th and Jorge Lorenzo occupying his customary wet weather position of 16th on the grid.

Trouble at the Start

Lorenzo, the Great Spanish Hope of the factory Ducati team, saw his day end in the congested first turn as he tagged Andrea Iannone’s back wheel and quickly ended up in the gravel, the dream of one-upping Rossi in his own Yamaha-to-Ducati defection having morphed into a nightmare.  After two rounds, he trails series leader Viñales by 45 points.  (Although Marquez trails by 37, his deficit seems much smaller than JLo’s, since Marquez looks fully capable of winning races, while Lorenzo looks fully capable of nothing right now.)

Trouble in the Middle

Marquez’s gaffe on Lap 4 left a top five of Viñales, Crutchlow, Rossi, Pramac Ducati ex-cop Danilo Petrucci and Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa.  Petrucci, who would finish seventh, and Pedrosa spent the middle third of the race carving one another up until Pedrosa submitted a carbon copy of Marquez’ fall at Turn 2 on Lap 14. Moments later, on Lap 15, Aleix Espargaro, who has been overachieving on the Gresini Aprilia, lost the front at Turn 1 and collected factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso on his way to the runoff area.  Dovi, accustomed to getting creamed by Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa, seemed nonplussed at having been clipped by the likable Spaniard.  Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, shown briefly in his garage at that moment, appeared to be throwing up in his mouth.

After the podium party, to which neither was invited, Pedrosa and Marquez could be seen in their garage, drunk, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, singing Citizen King’s “I’ve Seen Better Days” in some very ragged Spanish.

Ridiculous Results

Crutchlow, looking strong, managed to hold off Rossi until Lap 19.  He chased the Italian around for a few laps before calculating that 16 points were better than none, settling for third and a place on the rostrum.  No surprise there.  But who would have guessed that Alvaro Bautista, flogging the Aspar team Ducati, would cross the line fourth, followed by two rookies?  Johann Zarco, who is starting to make a believer out of me, came from 14th at the start to finish fifth, while Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger worked his way from 11th at the start to a legit sixth place finish and 10 points.  Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, allegedly texted his counterpart with the Repsol Honda team, Livio Suppo, after the race, asking Livio if he was interested in a few tips about racing in South America.

Scott Redding on the Pramac GP16, Jack Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and the aforementioned Karel Abraham completed today’s top ten.  Right.  That makes eight satellite bikes in the top ten, which last occurred during the 1952 Tour de France.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both KTM riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, finished in the points, putting KTM in the MotoGP books for the first time ever.  This is not ridiculous, either.  But KTM bosses issuing press releases declaring their intent to title in MotoGP within three years—ridiculous. 

The Big Picture

After two rounds, the big picture looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas.  Sure, the Movistar Yamaha team rules the world early in the season; I get that.  But Scott “The Whiner” Redding sits in fourth place, as if he belongs there. Rookie Jonas Folger sits sixth.  Jackass Miller sits seventh, with Marc Marquez tied for eighth with Alvaro Bautista.  WTF?  But the most acid-flashback-ish sight on the board is that of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo tied for 18th place with the helpless Tito Rabat.   I did a fast double-check—the walls of my hotel room do not appear to be melting, nor does the flesh seem to be falling off my face in great gross chunks.  I’m not having a flashback.  Jorge Lorenzo, uninjured, has earned five (5) points thus far in 2017.  The bosses in Bologna need to lower their expectations.  Right now would be fine.

What does it all mean?  Other than Maverick Viñales having seized the 2017 season by the throat, not much.  There are 16 races left to go, and the precocious Spaniard is unlikely to win them all.  He will face some adversity along the way, allowing the rest of the Alien contingent—Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso—back into the picture.

Viñales admitted to feeling some pressure this weekend, especially in the wet on Saturday.  After today’s race, the pressure has fallen squarely on defending champion Marc Marquez, who let one get away from him this afternoon.  Whether today’s crash has ruined his season is unclear.  What is clear, however, is that #93 needs a win in Austin, where he is undefeated, in two weeks in order to avoid joining Jorge Lorenzo in the very bad place where he now resides.

 

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

MotoGP 2017 Season Preview

March 11, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

With the start of the 2017 MotoGP season only weeks away, we take a look ahead at what will be on offer for racing fans this year.  [With clenched teeth, it is hereby affirmed that the opinions contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, publishers, and/or owners of Motorcycle.com] 

MotoGP is the fastest-growing motorsports flavor on earth.  That it has virtually no presence or accessibility in the US is a poor joke.  It appears the safety-conscious American parents of today are (understandably) reluctant to let their kids, most of them, anyway, learn to ride ATVs and motorbikes when they’re young.  Series organizer Dorna has recognized that a country wishing to develop world-class riders needs to have a formal development program, one of which was implemented in Great Britain just this year.  (Probably because of Cal Crutchlow, The Great English-As-A-First-Language Hope.)  Such leagues have existed in Spain and Italy for decades.

The fact is that the US, for its size, with expensive national marketing costs, doesn’t sell a lot of imported motorcycles, and it’s doubtful that showing more MotoGP races would change that.  So most of us Americans miss out.  Meanwhile the Aussies and Kiwis are all over this stuff, along with Europe and much of Asia.  No more giving up calendar dates in favor of F-1; MotoGP has MoMentum.  No more five weeks off in the middle of the summer, either.

Countries from Thailand and Indonesia to Hungary and Finland are clamoring to host races; pressure on the calendar, with four rounds still in Spain (quietly drumming my fingertips on the tabletop), is intense.  Even money says the calendar goes to 20 dates within five years.  And get rid of Aragon. Or Argentina.

Overall, 2017 has the look of a great season.  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.

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.

Due to last year’s amazing series of races which culminated in nine different riders standing on the top step of the podium, hope springs eternal for the riders and teams in the lower tranches.  Pramac, Aspar and Reale Esponsorama get new old hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista. It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.  (There are also rumblings that the team is planning to fold up its tent in the next year or two, possibly freeing up slots for a satellite Suzuki team.)

Let’s just look at this thing team by team, in alphabetical order.  We will wait until after the season opener to assign tranches to the various riders. 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

     Sam Lowes

     Aleix Espargaro

Sam and Aleix need to be prepared for a long season.  Hard luck Espargaro, having lost out to Iannone and Rins at Suzuki, takes a step down joining the Aprilia factory effort, on the upswing but still learning their way around.  The Aprilia and KTM projects are likely to be relatively underfunded for the foreseeable future, slowing their development, and reducing their prospects to those of satellite teams.  For Lowes, somehow promoted from Moto2 despite world-class inconsistency, there will be a lot of badly scuffed leathers.  Espargaro seems to be getting the hang of things more quickly.

For Fausto Gresini, for whom the allure of the premier class is almost irresistible, 2017 will be like shooting 108 on the golf course—enough good shots to keep you coming back, but a vast majority of poor to terrible swings.  Two unfamiliar riders.  A not-quite-competitive bike. Bring a book.

Ducati Factory Team

       Jorge Lorenzo

          Andrea Dovizioso

Going into 2017, the factory Ducati team is the most interesting group on the lot.  The Italians expect plenty, and soon, from their brand new triple world champion.  Jorge Lorenzo, in turn, suggested that the first real day of testing at Sepang was a bit terrifying, but with the help of Stoner and Michele Pirro is adapting to the GP17.  No more getting blitzed in the straights, but he needs to re-learn cornering if he is to avoid “pulling a Rossi,” which seems unlikely, unless he finds himself unable to keep the bike upright. A win in Qatar would do a lot to build his confidence, although the same could be said for every rider on the grid.  Nice writing.

Consistent Andrea Dovizioso has been flying under the radar during the offseason, allowing the cameras to focus on Lorenzo while he plots his strategy to win the title himself.  The latest iteration of the Desmosedici will probably be a great bike, and Dovi has four years in with the factory.  Personally, I would love to see him fighting for a title with Vinales and Marquez.  It could happen.  I think the odds favor him to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.

The Bologna bunch has recently received a patent for a new jet exhaust valve; don’t know what that’s for unless they’re interested in watching Lorenzo leaving Earth’s orbit.  It has also installed what is said to be an anti-chatter box behind the rider and bent the exhaust pipes and stuff around it.  They are keeping their 2017 fairing secret, but I expect it to resemble the new Yamaha innovation, with the interior wings in a laughable “bulge,” which is expressly forbidden under the rules, yet permitted by some guy named Danny.  “Y’see, it’s not so much of a “bulge” as it is a continuation of the radius…An’ that’s why they’ve blokes like me, to keep things strite, y’know.  Yeah.”

For me, the most interesting question is whether the big red bikes are to be housed in Lorenzo’s Land or Gigi’s Garage.

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow

My personal favorite rider.  To disparage, mock, call out and, ultimately, have to eat crow over.  Crashlow won his first two premier class races in 2016, after years of making excuses and broadcasting blame for not having won earlier.  He has burned bridges with Yamaha and Ducati, although he seems to be a fair-haired child for Honda as of late.  Complaining a month ago that “Honda are on it’s back foot,” or some other foolish British verb conjugation, it seems the litany has resumed.  With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again this season.

Marc VDS Racing Team NFL (Not For Long)

  Jack Miller

          Tito Rabat

The struggling #3 Honda team, at the end of the Sepang test in January, had neither rider fit to ride.  Tito Rabat was a great rider in Moto2 but is proving to be a bust in MotoGP.  Miller, tagged by HRC for greatness at a young age, is proving to be unable to keep the RC213V upright, piling up more serious injuries than The Black Night in the Monty Python classic, not to mention creating acres of shredded, brightly painted fiberglass.

This team could be out of existence in a year or two, providing an opportunity for the moon, the sun and the stars to align in such a way that, as Dani Pedrosa’s contract on the factory Honda team expires, young Miller is standing at the door, kindly showing him the way out.  A national day of celebration will follow in Australia, one in which Livio Suppo, team boss at Repsol Honda, having been out-voted by marketing folks seeking an Australian Alien, may not be participating.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Johann Zarco

          Jonas Folger

Hmmm. Two freshmen on the satellite Yamaha team.  Herve Poncharal, team boss, has a thing for Folger; perhaps he likes the cut of his jib, but I haven’t seen much in the way of dominating performances in Moto2 to justify a promotion.  Zarco arrived on the strength of having become the only rider in Moto2 to title twice, consecutively, and is probably disappointed at not having a factory bike of some kind at his disposal.

Both riders will be on steep learning curves this year, although Zarco faired surprisingly well at the Malaysia test.  He and Alex Rins figure to battle it out for rookie of the year honors.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

          Valentino Rossi

          Maverick Vinales

Lin Jarvis’ factory Yamaha team enters the season with GOAT candidate Valentino Rossi and the heir apparent, the aptly-named Maverick Vinales, recently graduated from a two-year riding academy with the factory Suzuki team.  During those two years, he figured out how to win (Silverstone 2016) on a relatively slow bike.  Now that he has earned arguably the fastest complete bike on the grid, great expectations abound.

His “win” at the Sepang test in January affirms those who expect him to title in his first Yamaha season.  Marc Marquez, reigning and triple world champion, has been encouraging this thinking, talking publicly about how concerned he is with Vinales. Intentionally adding to the pressure, getting inside Vinales’ head.  Rossi-like.

Rossi maintains his Alien status, but it will be tested again this year.  (Dani Pedrosa is now an Alien Emeritus.)  He still has the passion and the conditioning and the experience.  But does he have the reflexes and balance he did when he was 28?  I think not.  I think he is also less of a risk taker now than he was a decade ago.  He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.  The intra-team competition could tighten significantly, however, if Vinales finds himself cartwheeling through a lot of gravel traps this spring.

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

      Danilo Petrucci (GP17)

          Cheesed Off Scott Redding (GP16)

The #2 Ducati team.  Danilo Petrucci, the burly ex-cop, may find himself in the mix once in a while (probably in the rain) this season onboard the GP17 he won fair and square in the intra-team competition with Scott Redding last year.  Redding, sadly, will not be in the mix on his GP16, as he seems unable to get over the hump in the premier class after a glittering (?) run in Moto2.  With three name sponsors, it seems likely the team will have plenty of frames and fairings to replace for Redding as he goes bumping around the tracks of the world, muttering about how it just isn’t fair.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

Alvaro Bautista (GP16)

Karel Abraham (GP15)

A satellite Ducati team with upset potential.  Alvaro Bautista, like Barbera, has been a consistent underachiever in the premier class.  His own high water mark occurred in 2008, when he finished second in the 250cc class behind a guy named Simoncelli.  In 2012 and 2013 he flogged Fausto Gresini’s close-to-factory spec Honda to 5th and 6th place finishes, respectively.  Meanwhile, enter Karel Abraham, previously employed by his dad before serving a one year sentence in WSB last year.  He’s back, for whatever reason, this time on a GP15.

Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity.  This year, again mimicking Barbera, he has a chance to peek at a podium or two after two grinding years with Aprilia.  This may also be the best bike HE has ever ridden, although the Honda back in 2012-2013 was badass.

We will stick our necks out here and predict zero podiums for the Aspar team in 2017.

Reale Esponsorama Racing (formerly Avintia)

  Hector Barbera (GP16)

          Too Tall Baz (GP15)

Another second-string Ducati team that could surprise, 2017 features Barbera on a GP16 and Baz on a GP15.  Hectic Hector’s career saw its high-water mark in the 250cc class in 2009 when he finished second to Hiro Aoyama.  Once he arrived in MotoGP, never having been the beneficiary of first class equipment, his career has leveled off. He has battled slow bikes, injury, and a low racing IQ to a series of undistinguished finishes.  Last year he showed some improvement which, if it continues this year, could actually make him a consistent top ten finisher.

Meanwhile, young Frenchman Loris Baz, who is, like, 6’3” tall, had an up and down second MotoGP season.  Three distinct episodes of “start slowly, improve, then crash” marked his year, including a fourth-place finish at Brno and a fifth at Sepang.  Riding a Ducati at 6’3” suggest you’re going to prefer the long flowing circuits over the tight squinchy ones.  He will need to learn to keep the bike upright if he is to continue in MotoGP.

Oh, and I checked—the French name Loris translates in English as “Loris.”  The only other Loris I ever knew was a girl. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith

          Pol Espargaro

Teammates on the Tech 3 Yamaha for the past two seasons, these two get factory rides with the rookie KTM factory team.  The Austrians have enjoyed decades of success elsewhere and feel it is but a matter of time before they start winning in MotoGP.  Years, perhaps many, in my opinion, but what do I know?

Of the two riders, I prefer Espargaro, a year younger, with a title under his belt in Moto2.  Smith seems like a nice guy, but appears snake bit.  It’s always something with Bradley–an injury, a mechanical issue, a head cold.  Whatever.  I will gladly back Espargaro this year in the intra-team rivalry, the only competition that will mean much of anything to this group.

The factory rollout of the KTM entries in all three classes included words from the Chief Cheddar at KTM Itself, Stefan Pierer, announcing his intention to fight with Honda for a MotoGP world championship in the not-too-distant future.

Patience, grasshopper.

Repsol Honda Team

   Dani Pedrosa

          Marc Marquez

Along with the factory Yamaha and Ducati teams, HRC is royalty in the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.  Repsol Hondas have been ridden by world champions Mick Doohan, Àlex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez.  Its prospects are decidedly mixed heading into 2017.

With several new engines to figure out, the Sepang test was a bit of a struggle, with Marquez working hard to finish second behind Vinales, but able to deliver several impressive 20-lap race simulations.  Appears to be another year in which Marquez will have to manage an inferior bike to battle for the title with the other Aliens.  He did it last year.  I believe Vinales will collect a number of wins and an equal number of DNFs, allowing a mature Marquez to slug it out with Jorge, Dovi and Vale again this year.  With two new riders, Suzuki Ecstar will not threaten.  Iannone?  Dovizioso?  I think not.

As for Dani Pedrosa, I look for him to finish seventh or eighth this season, as he has clearly lost a step since his prime in 2012.  Whether he’s interested in serving as Marquez’ wingman in 2017 is problematic.  If he slips out of the top ten Honda may buy out his last year and bring Miller or, more likely, Crutchlow onto the factory team in 2018.  Miller may blossom this year.  Probably not.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

  Andrea Iannone

          Alex Rins

The second most interesting team on the grid, a rapidly improving Suzuki will have two new riders in 2017.  Andrea Iannone worked himself out of a job on the factory Ducati last season and landed with Suzuki, which may be a piece of good luck for both parties.  Thus far in his premier class career, Iannone has been unable to harness his impossible speed, his temperament and aggressiveness often getting the better of him.  It would be loads of fun to see him battle with the front group this season, and it could happen.  Unless The Maniac is still, well, a maniac.

Alex Rins has had Alien written all over him since he was about 15.  Although he never titled in the lower MotoGP classes, he recorded two seconds and two thirds in three Moto3 and two Moto2 seasons. The Rins and Marquez families do not exchange Christmas cards, setting up a new rivalry for the next few years while Rins earns his whiskers.  He figures to become a problem for both Marquez and Vinales in that time.  Definite Alien potential here.

I see a couple of podiums in store for Suzuki in 2017, perhaps a handful.  Unless the bike is greatly improved they may not compete for a win, but the Suzuki program seems to be progressing nicely.  Perhaps 2018 will be their year.

Phillip Island Test 

Three productive days of testing at Phillip Island in early February taught us little we did not already know.  Marquez and Vinales seem to be running in a league of their own.  Dani Pedrosa still has some juice left in the tank.  And rookie Jonas Folger can coax at least one fast lap per day out of his Tech 3 Yamaha.

Cal Crutchlow and rookie Alex Rins ran almost identical fast laps on Friday.  Dovizioso and Lorenzo were running neck and neck for seventh and eighth places, respectively.  Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Alvaro Bautista finished ahead of Valentino Rossi, something you don’t get to report every day.  And lots of disappointed Ducati riders (six of the bottom nine) muttering to themselves farther back in the dust.  Not a great three days for Ducati Corse.

Vinales is making it hard not to envision him clutching a world championship trophy in his first premier class season.  If he can stay within himself and not get overly excited it could happen this year.  Then, when Rins joins the fray in 2019… 

* * *

There you have it.  Due to incessant demand, and for those of you interested in going into debt with your bookies, here’s my prediction for the Top Ten finishers, in order, for the 2017 season.  Bookmark this article so you can rub it in my face in November.  Expect a 404 Error Page Not Found at that time, especially if I’m way off:

  1. Marc Marquez
  2. Maverick Vinales
  3. Valentino Rossi
  4. Andrea Dovizioso
  5. Cal Crutchlow
  6. Jorge Lorenzo
  7. Dani Pedrosa
  8. Alex Rins
  9. Andrea Iannone
  10. Alvaro Bautista

Moto2 Going to 750cc in 2018?

January 8, 2017

If you believe what you read online, there are reports, notably not on the MotoGP website, that Triumph will replace Honda as the sole engine supplier for Moto2, providing the series with a 750cc triple that would up the stakes in the junior class.

If this is true, this is news.  The domino effect is that it will probably cause Moto3 to raise the displacement on their bikes, too, to 400 or 500cc with a bunch of hyper-hormonal teenagers riding them.

niccolo-antonelli

Niccolo Antonelli, photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

What could possibly go wrong?

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.