Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP – New Track Records

June 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen June 19, 2018

Continuing our previous discussion about the setting of new track records in 2018.

Threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examining our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” even with Michelins and the control ECU and big stars singing the blues.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball. Cover of Sports Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, our Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 

Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16            16         59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW            0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9           35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted a “win or bin” mentality for this central part of the season. Compare his to Rossi’s plan, to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put backs and some offensive rebounds. And keep an eye on Danilo Petrucci flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out.

It feels like a good time to remind folks about a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks better than it did two rounds ago.

Here are some random screenshots from Catalunya 2018.

 

 

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen        6/17/2018

Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo goes two for two.

The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.

Practice and qualifying 

At the close of business on Friday the fast five had a distinctly Latin look about it, as it consisted of the sons of families with names like Lorenzo, Iannone, Viñales, Dovizioso and Rossi. Spanish and Italian grand prix racing royalty. Marc Marquez was dawdling down in 12th place, at risk of having to pass through Q1, barring some kind of breakthrough in FP3. But his race pace was solid; it’s easy to suspect he was more concerned about what he might have to do in Q2 than he was about getting there.

In addition to the usual suspects, Hafiz Syahrin and Tito Rabat kept showing up in or near the top ten during the practice sessions. In FP3, they bracketed the four-time MotoGP champion in 8th, 9th and 10th places. Dutifully on to Q1 trudged Marquez, along with Syahrin, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins and the three KTMs, Kallio on another wildcard. During the somewhat meaningless FP4, Marquez recorded another historic save, in Turn 14, re-writing the laws of physics with his right elbow and knee sliders, dug into and destroyed by the tarmac. Marquez, reinvigorated, later led Taka Nakagami, a pleasant surprise on the second LCR Honda, into Q2.

Lorenzo screwedThe second qualifying session in Barcelona was, despite being virtually (statistically) random, a humdinger. Marquez laid down a quick early lap which looked like it might stand up, with Lorenzo in his garage having some kind of invective-soaked spasm. Andrea Dovizioso was whipping his Ducati GP18 into the front row, looking dangerous. Lorenzo returned to the track late and, on his last qualifying lap and stole the pole, making it 10 straight front row starts at Montmelo.

A late high-speed crash left my boy Cal Crutchlow starting from 10th. Vinales and Iannone were joined on Row 2 by gatecrasher Danilo Petrucci. Rossi and Johann Zarco found themselves consigned to Row 3, joined, again, by that Rabat guy on the Avintia Ducati. And poor Dani Pedrosa, his future unclear, whose spirit needed a boost and instead took a beating over the weekend, limped home to start 11th, having started from pole just last year.

What About The Flipping Race? 

Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo went through into a lead heMarquez Valencia 2017b wouldn’t have even considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, getting dogged himself by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This bummer, in turn, promoted a lurking Valentino Rossi into podium contention.

Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth place. Experience 1, Skill 0. And the racing itself was inferior to the Moto2 and Moto3 races, which were, as usual, off the hook. 

What We Learned at Montmelo

We think we learned that Ducati, Lorenzo and Honda may all be suffering from buyer’s remorse tonight, given his current form. Honda, at a minimum, keeps him off a Ducati that now suits him for the next two years. Lorenzo could stay hot for two or three more rounds and put himself back in the 2018 conversation.

Marquez rode a smart race, keeping Lorenzo honest all day without taking any undue risks. He also managed to stay clear of Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso’s title aspirations suffered a serious hit today as he crashed out of his third race in four outings. It’s gotta be in his head.

Rossi 2018Valentino Rossi is still relevant to the championship, but he will need something really, um, unlucky to happen to Marquez to be considered a serious contender for the title.

12 of the 26 starters failed to finish the race. Some good ones—Dovizioso, Rabat, Miller, Aleix and Syahrin–recorded DNFs. And so Franco Morbidelli gets two points for finishing three laps down.

What About the Big Picture

Marquez goes from leading Rossi by 23 to leading Rossi by 27. 11 points stand between riders #3 and #9. Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone all enjoy 66 points after 7 rounds. Lorenzo’s trajectory is straight up, while Dovi’s is straight down. Iannone is less predictable. One rider who is painfully predictable is Dani Pedrosa, who has crashed out of alternating rounds all season. Don’t bet on him to finish at Assen.

In order to keep the KoolAid drinkers off my neck, I’m promoting Rossi to Tranche 1 with Marquez. It’s something of an honorific, as his best days are clearly behind him. 12 wins since 2009. But still finishing races, still standing on the podium, ready, willing and able to step up to the top whenever circumstances permit. He deserves respect, but you really shouldn’t bet on him to win anymore.

Marquez is holding things together at the top, making saves other riders can only dream about. If Lorenzo goes off and wins the next three, all Marquez needs to do is keep it close. His margin is such that, short of a royal blowout, Lorenzo’s hopes of a title in 2018 are modest.

Make Big Money Tranching at Home!

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, Pedrosa, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

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

Bits and Pieces

To no one’s surprise, Jack Miller has signed a new one-year contract with Pramac Ducati, joining Pecco Bagnaia on what promises to be a fascinating 2019 team. It turns out that Petrucci’s contract with the factory Ducati team is also for one year only. When is this guy ever going to get some respect? He has been winning with inferior equipment his whole career. Now that he is fully up to speed as a factory Ducati rider he should be a consistent threat to podium.

Here’s an instant quiz: How many total world titles across all classes were standing on the podium on Sunday afternoon? Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi?

Today, as in Mugello, was Hammer Time for Lorenzo, looking more like the old Lorenzo, on rails, churning out lap after lap within 2/10ths of each other. He is mesmerizing; I literally nodded off, having slept poorly the night before.

Sitting here thinking I don’t expect Lorenzo to fare as well at Assen as he did today at Montmelo. But I didn’t expect him to win here either. OR at Mugello. So what do I know. I pretty much just work here. If, miraculously, Lorenzo does dominate in the Low Countries, he must be considered a legitimate threat to fight for the title.

A fortnight ago, Lorenzo was ‘washed up and left for dead,’ in the words of Mick Jagger. Tonight, he’s thinking about a hat trick, an effort that would cement his claim to have earned a part in the championship conversation.

In the meantime, as we submit this piece, we hope Aron Canet is OK after a big crash in the Moto2 race. He was stretchered off the track to the medical center. 

The Undercards, in eight seconds each:

In Moto3, Enea Bastianini punked Marco Bezzecchi at the wire, with Argentine Gabriel Rodrigo third. Jorge Martin led a parade of riders who crashed out of the race, leaving the door open. Rodrigo secured his first career podium in grand prix racing.

In Moto2, 19-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo took his first win, stiff-arming KTM star Oliveira pretty much all day, with Alex Marquez holding onto third. At the top of the Moto2 food chain, Pecco Bagnaia leads Oliveira by a single point after seven rounds, trailed by Marquez and Lorenzo Baldassarri.  The races in both divisions are regularly breathtaking, worth the price of the video subscription.

On to Assen

The MotoGP Flying Circus returns to The Cathedral at Assen in two weeks, a revered place capable of delivering upsets. Anything can, and often does, happen at Assen. Expect huge heaping doses of optimism from all the top riders, as it’s in their contracts that they must bubble over with pre-race excitement.

MotoGP Silly Season Turns Serious

June 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen  June 6, 2018

Who’s Under Contract for 2019: Updated after Mugello

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez, JORGE LORENZO
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso, DANILO PETRUCCI
Suzuki ECSTAR: Alex Rins, JOAN MIR
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira, HAFIZ SYAHRIN
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

Congratulations to Lorenzo, Petrucci and Mir on their new factory rides. Of the three, Lorenzo is likely to have the hardest time making the adjustment.Congratulations, too, to Hafiz Syahrin, who will remain with Tech 3 KTM next season and is fighting for rookie of the year in 2018.

Riders as yet unsigned for 2019:

  • DANI PEDROSA
  • ANDREA IANNONE
  • JACK MILLER
  • BRADLEY SMITH
  • SCOTT REDDING
  • TOM LUTHI
  • KAREL ABRAHAM
  • ALVARO BAUTISTA
  • TAKA NAKAGAMI

With only one factory seat available (Aprilia), it would seem logical for either Pedrosa or Iannone to end up there. Quality ride is still available with Pramac Ducati. Nakagami will probably re-sign with LCR Honda, but no announcement has been made as yet.

Oh, and the news about Lorenzo’s move to Honda suggests he will not risk life and limb wrestling the GP18 for the remainder of the season. He should be competitive at Brno, Phillip Island and Sepang. As for the rest–meh. As for the Tranche 5 riders, it’s always a mad scramble to see who can come up with the sponsor money, as it counts for far more than the skill of the riders.

Simon Crafar and Steve Day

June 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen              June 4, 2018

If you have some real miles on your odometer, this will make more sense.

Simon Crafar2

 

Steve Day

Flounder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Dylan Gray. Not Nick Harris.

I get it that Simon Crafar was kind of a big deal in motorcycle racing some years ago, and is a SME regarding motorcycle racing in general. He is nervous, and doesn’t possess a great reservoir of questions when he’s conducting an interview. Despite his wealth of knowledge, he consistently asks riders these squishy “how does it feel” questions that many are reluctant, unprepared or unable (in a second language) to answer.

On Sunday, Simon conducted possibly the worst interview EVER of Valentino Rossi, a task which is usually a lay-down, as Rossi is usually happy to have a mic stuck in his face. It took place in the midst of a riveting Moto3 race in which Rossi had some pronounced interest in several of the riders up front. Simon gets in his grill, delivers his “I’m here with nine-time world champion…” opener, and asks, “Who do you think will win?” Rossi, confused, thinking he’s still the MotoGP guy, stammers about how Jorge is strong and Iannone… when Simon interrupts, saying “No, the Moto3 race!” Rossi: “No idea.” Simon, equipped this time with a follow-up, asks, “How’s it feel to win pole here at Mugello?” “Rossi: “Is good.”  Simon: “Back to you, guys.”

As I was getting over this mess, it occurred to me that Matt and your boy Steve need to bring Simon up to speed, as it were, on a few of the finer points of MotoGP announcing:

  • They switched from 125s to 250s in Moto3 in 2012. They no longer run 125s.
  • The word is “best,” not “bist.”
  • He needs to focus on more technical questions, which will require that he employ the open probe “when,” as in, “When did you know you could win the race?” or, “When did you feel your front tire starting to melt?”
  • The season is a third over. Time to move on from “How does it feel?”

As for Steve Day, I saw him on camera for the first time and could not shake the image of Flounder, from Animal House, from my head. Here I expected a buff, English kind of jock who happened to have a high voice. Instead, it’s Stephen Furst in his mid-30’s, appears to possibly never have been on a motorcycle, and who gets his panties in a twist at the slightest provocation. OK, it’s fine to try to inject some excitement, but, for the most part, the action is exciting on its own. He needs to speak more calmly, as if he’s been there before, and in a lower register. They appear to be under orders to sound as utterly British as possible–rough treatment in a turn is “naughty.”  Both Matt and Steve are excellent at identifying riders during the heat of battle. But, whatever MotoGP does, it should keep Steve Day off TV. Better to put on Otis Day and the Nights.

Not Dylan Gray. Not Nick Harris.

 

MotoGP Mugello Results

June 3, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo wins for Ducati in Italian clambake 

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

Mugello circuit

Magnificent Mugello

Practice and Qualifying 

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

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

Early Rossi and Lorenzo

Rossi and Lorenzo early in their careers

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

Screenshot (134)

Yellow Mugello

Race Day

Screenshot (132)

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

The Undercards

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

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

Not-Quite-Groundless Speculation

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

Back to Spain in Two Weeks

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

 

Tranche 1:   Marc Marquez

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

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

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

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

Screenshot (139)

Mugello Madness

As a result of the Argentine fiasco,

May 29, 2018

…the Powers That Be issued this hilarious release “clarifying” the procedures to be followed in the event a great many riders find themselves on the grid, ready for their sighting lap, only to discover they have the wrong tires mounted. I’ve now read it three times, and each time it gets worse. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the new procedure is that all of the primarily red bikes go first, then the blue bikes, then the white ones, then all the others get in the back. That Danny guy decides what color your bike is, if it has multiple colors, and everyone knows Danny hates green. The qualifying placements are to be ignored completely, and the start is to resemble, as closely as possible, the start of a junior high school cross country meet. Some riders may find it advantageous to start from pit lane. Others may choose to start from the very back of the grid, facing the wrong direction, and run the entire race backwards. Valentino Rossi gets to choose his own spot, but can in no way start beyond the apex of Turn 1.

I think that about sums it up. Read it yourself, if you have 20 minutes you don’t care to ever get back.

Decision_of_the_Grand_Prix_Commission_20_May_2018_

 

Rumor: Mir to Suzuki in 2019

May 25, 2018

© Bruce Allen   May 25. 2018

Sounds like Honda’s MotoGP program has lost out again.

https://www.crash.net/motogp/contentm/896822/1/gossip-mir-decides-suzuki-motogp

Apparently being Marc Marquez’s garagemate isn’t the most highly sought-after gig in the paddock. First they lose Zarco to KTM, now apparently Mir to Suzuki. Pecco Bagnaia has already signed with Pramac Ducati. Does HRC really want to invest another two years in the loyal but flawed Dani Pedrosa? Hard to imagine.

Joan Mir

Will we read about Mir signing with Suzuki in the next few weeks?  Bummer for HRC.

Jorge Lorenzo is so screwed

May 23, 2018

Lorenzo screwed.JPG

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

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

 

MotoGP Le Mans Results

May 20, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

A win by Marquez in Yamaha Land chills the entire paddock

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history today, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. #93 enjoyed a walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s two sessions featured the likes of Zarco, Marquez, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Rossi, Miller, Viñales, Pol Espargaro and Pedrosa. In short, anyone who is anyone in the upper reaches of MotoGP. Everyone, actually. Except Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone, who were dawdling with Alex Rins in the low teens. As in, bound for Q1. Track records started falling on Saturday morning, as Viñales, Marquez, Rossi and Zarco beat the 2017 mark of 1’31.994. By the end of the day, Andrea Dovizioso had joined that short list.

Danilo Petrucci and the amazing aching Dani Pedrosa fought their way through Q1, leaving behind names such as Rins and Crutchlow. Like James Bond’s martini, Cal was shaken, not stirred, in a memorable high side in Q1 (after destroying his #1 bike in FP4), but was reported resting uncomfortably, no broken bones, in a local hospital and seemed unlikely to be in any condition to be competitive on Sunday. Sneering, asking Le Mans, like the Black Knight before him, if that’s all he’s got.

Question: Why would anyone with their #1 bike in pieces on the garage floor push their only remaining bike hard enough to highside, with a start on the first four rows already guaranteed? This, to me, is evidence of a rider who has lost control of his emotions or a rider with a low racing IQ. Just sayin’. Yes, there were over 100 crashes across all three classes this weekend. But discretion remains the better part of valor. No way Crutchlow should have been pushing that hard in Q2.

Qualifying, as exciting as it is, is, at this point in the sport’s gestation, much less meaningful than the start the riders get coming off the line. With the top ten or twelve riders separated by a mere second, it’s important to get to the first turn at or near the front. A front row starter who fails to get off can easily get lost in the sauce and enter Turn 2 in 12th place, having to burn up their tires to get back to the front. No way to run an airline.

For what it’s worth, Johann Zarco wrote his own story in French motorsports history on Saturday and started from pole in the 2018 French Grand Prix at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans, the first French rider to pole since 1988. There will be plenty of French babies born next February named Johann and Johanna. Joining him on the front row would be #93, looking dangerous as ever, and one Danilo Petrucci, making a case to join the factory Ducati team in 2019 rather than being trundled off to the struggling factory Aprilia endeavor. For Valentino Rossi, it was a good news, bad news day. The good news was that he broke the previous year’s track record in qualifying. The bad news was that he would be starting 9th on the grid.

Adding further weight to last week’s argument, the top eleven qualifiers were within a second of polesitter Zarco’s track-record time. The top nine qualifiers beat the former track record. Two conclusions: 1. Qualifying doesn’t mean nearly what it used to mean, if ever it did. 2. Our pre-season assertion that “track records would fall like dominoes in 2018” is proving to have been on the money. (Cue Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life”) Track records have been set at Jerez and now Le Mans. Qatar was a no, Argentina was a wet race, and the deteriorating condition of the self-proclaimed Circuit of the Americas will see lap times increase every year until the track is re-surfaced. So, I’m saying throw out Argentina and Texas and I’m two for three. Hall of Fame in baseball.

Another Master Class by Marquez

Jorge Lorenzo, currently earning something like €12 million from Ducati Corse, has been reduced in stature to that of a rabbit. Electing to race on soft tires, his job now is to get out front and push the early pace, in hopes of having 23 riders crash behind him. Short of that, he gets picked off over and over and over again, today ending up where we had him pegged, in 6th place. At the start of Lap 2, the lead group consisted of Lorenzo, Zarco, Dovizioso, Petrucci, Marquez and Rossi.

No Ducati has ever won a premier class race at Le Mans. Andrea Dovizioso kept that streak intact today, going through on homeboy Zarco into the lead on Lap 6 and immediately losing the front at La Chappelle. This left a top three of Lorenzo, Zarco and Marquez, who appeared very comfortable, keeping his powder dry. After trading places with Marquez several times on Lap 9, Zarco slid off at Turn 8, and it was like someone turned a switch. The bedlam of 105,000 blissful fans yelling their lungs out instantly became one of dead silence. There was no joy in Mudville today—mighty JZ had struck out.

By Lap 11, it was the African savannah in microcosm. Lorenzo, the gazelle, was being pursued by Marquez, the cheetah. Cheetahs are faster than gazelles, and gazelles know this. Thus, it came as no surprise when Marquez went through forcefully on Lorenzo on Lap 11 and made it stick. Having been stood up by Marquez, Lorenzo could only seethe as Petrucci snuck through as well. Rossi took his turn with Lorenzo on Lap 14, Jack Miller had his way with the poor Mallorcan on Lap 15, and even Dani Pedrosa, held together with baling wire, punked him on Lap 22. Both riders vying for Lorenzo’s seat on the factory Ducati team next year beat him like a rented mule today.

Petrucci, having survived Q1 and later putting his GP18 on the front row, added a second-place finish to his resume, making a strong statement for the bosses. Rossi found his way to the podium for the first time since Qatar, looking relieved to still be relevant. Jack Miller continued to make me eat my words with a very credible fourth place finish. And Providence prevailed today as both Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia and Alex Rins on the Suzuki managed to take the checkered flag and a top ten finish. Maverick Viñales rallied late to earn 9 points, while Cal Crutchlow did a heroic salvage job to claim 8th place in a race he probably should have been watching from his hospital room.

The Big Picture

As the announcers noted, there are but 13 points separating second and ninth positions in the standings. But there are 36 points between Marquez in first and Viñales in second. The season has developed a whiff of 2014, when Marquez spun off 10 wins in a row to start the season, leaving the field to fight over second place. He has now passed Mick Hailwood and tied Casey Stoner with 38 premier class wins. He loves the 2018 RC213V, and it appears to love him. His closest competitors took a major step backward today. A few more of these, and we’ll have to switch our focus to Moto2 and Moto3. For the record, the Moto3 race was nothing short of amazing today, with an ending you couldn’t even make up. Moto2 wasn’t as entertaining, despite scintillating performances from Pecco Bagnaia and Xavi Vierga.

Two weeks to Mugello. This is what MotoGP is all about—the iconic tracks, the history, the traditions, the memories of remarkable fights from years past. If this were The Master’s golf tournament, this part of the season would be Amen Corner. Jerez. Le Mans. Mugello. Catalunya. And Assen.

Marc Marquez has his boot on the windpipe of the 2018 season. Someone needs to knock him off in the next month, otherwise Valencia will be a fashion show.

Tranche This

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Zarco, Dovizioso, Miller, Pedrosa, Petrucci, Iannone
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Aleix, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat
Tranche 4: Syahrin, Morbidelli, Nakagami, Smith, Bautista
Tranche 5: Luthi, Simeon, Redding, Abraham

MotoGP Le Mans Preview 2018

May 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Vinales need to fish or cut bait

The 30th running of the Grand Prix de France at Le Mans—Round 5, for those of you keeping score at home—arrives at a critical time for the factory Yamaha team. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have been struggling with the YZR-M1 this year, searching in vain for feeling in the front and grip in the rear. Le Mans has been très Yamaha-friendly of late, M1s having gone three-for-three since 2015. Sunday would be a really good time for a replay.

Last year at this time, Rossi and Vinales sat 1-2 in the standings, at 62 and 60 points respectively. (Marquez, who had gotten off to a relatively slow start, was right there at 58 points.) This year, it’s Marquez and his formidable Repsol Honda at the head of the class with 70 points, atop Vinales in third (-20) and Rossi in sixth (-30). With super soph Johann Zarco sitting second on the Tech 3 Yamaha, a surprising Andrea Iannone fourth on the factory Suzuki, and hard luck Andrea Dovizioso fifth on the factory Ducati, it’s crowded at the top of the food chain. Not to mention Cal Crutchlow’s favorite rider, Cal Crutchlow, lurking a mere two points behind Rossi.

Marquez’ dominant performance at Jerez pumped some unwanted air into the standings. Heading to Andalucía, the top five riders were separated by a mere eight points. Today it’s 24. With the factory Yamaha team struggling, bitching and moaning, it may be up to Monsieur Zarco to carry the flag for the Hamamatsu brand on Sunday. A win by Marquez here in Yamahaland would send a chill through the entire paddock.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2015, on an idyllic Gallic afternoon, the Movistar Yamaha team delivered a clear

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01

Lorenzo and Rossi during better days

message to Marc Marquez: any Catalan plotting a third consecutive world championship in 2015 would need to first dislodge The Boys in Blue. Lorenzo, in a replay of his cakewalk in Jerez the previous round, got away early and was never challenged. Rossi, starting on the third row, had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014. Dovizioso whipped his GP15 to third place. It was a forgettable Sunday for the Repsol Honda team, as Marquez, wrestling the nasty 2015 Honda chassis, crossed the line fourth, while teammate Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

 

Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. Maverick Vinales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him. Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here last year, leading the race for the first six laps until Vinales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Vinales into the lead on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Vinales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] With Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place.

Bits and Pieces

If the Marc VDS team weren’t the sorriest outfit on the grid, more people would be interested in the kerfuffle currently raging between owner Marc van der Straten and team manager Michael Bartholemy. Allegations of financial impropriety, meetings scheduled and cancelled, dueling press releases, etc. News outlets are reporting that interest in the team from Suzuki headquarters has cooled recently, due in part to the ongoing static. And while Honda is reportedly interested in keeping the team in its camp, for whatever reason, Yamaha appears to have the inside track to supply the team beginning in 2019. As an aside, rider Franco Morbidelli began to show signs of life at Jerez, having collected his first premier class top ten finish.

 

Gigi Dall'Igna

Rock–Gigi–Hard Place

Plenty of drama emanating from the Ducati contingent, as the grossly underpaid Andrea Dovizioso is playing hardball on salary negotiations for 2019-2020. He has them over a barrel. Gigi “Unibrow” Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda for the Italian factory, can’t wait to unload Jorge Lorenzo and therefore must sign Dovizioso. Dovi knows this, and is holding all the cards. Dall’Igna is quoted as saying the issue will be resolved by the Mugello round, making it sound like they will have a deal by then or it’s no deal. Right. Meanwhile, Dovi is busy wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. Dude’s bank account is gonna get laced.

 

Poor Bradley Smith. Confronting the fact that he’s just not very fast, he seems to be trying to talk his way onto the Tech 3 KTM satellite team for next year. Team principal Herve Poncharal put that idea to rest this past week, pointing out that it makes no sense to put a (mediocre, tapped-out) veteran rider in a developmental role on a satellite team. Look for Bradley in Moto2 or World Superbike next year. If he’s not bagging groceries at your friendly local Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended weather forecast for the Sarthe river region calls for dry, cool conditions all three days, with the warmest temps of the weekend, on Sunday only reaching the low 70s. We will assert this to be Yamaha weather, as the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis like it wet. (The Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia riders are not fond of weather period, being averse to any and all conditions. Cool, warm, dry, wet—all present problems. This is patently unfair to the Suzuki team, where Andrea Iannone is resurrecting his career at the same time Alex Rins is demolishing his.)

As for the race, we all know that predicting race results is a fool’s errand. Which is why I’m going to predict not one but two Yamahas on the podium. Rooting, as usual, for the championship to come down to a shootout in Valencia, I would enjoy seeing Zarco get his first win at home, followed by a factory Yamaha (pick one) and Marc Marquez. Dovizioso deserves a good outcome, but I fear Pedrosa will have trouble heating his tires. It would also be fun to watch Lorenzo and Crutchlow fighting it out for sixth place; the post-race interviews would be a conditional verb tense food fight.

Check back on Sunday afternoon for results and analysis. Feel free to chime in on the DISQUS comments section at Motorcycle.com to confirm Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.