Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Racing’ Category

MotoGP Assen Preview 2017

June 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Expect the Unexpected at the Dutch TT 

Even with the race going off on Sunday again for the second time, sixty-some years of racing on Saturday at the Cathedral have produced a number of curious finishes.  Nicky Hayden had his first and only non-U.S. win here in 2006.  Ben Spies won here in 2011 in what many of us mistakenly thought was the beginning of a great career.  And Jack Miller’s win last year defines “unlikely.” 

Aside from the usual suspects, there are several riders looking forward to the weekend.  Andrea Dovizioso, having won two in a row, had a second here in 2014 but has had nothing but misery since.  Aleix Espargaro has done well here on both the Forward Yamaha and the factory Suzuki; he would love nothing more than to flog an Aprilia to its first MotoGP podium.  But Sunday’s tilt figures to involve the factory Yamaha and Honda riders, all of whom are in the title chase.  It will be interesting to see if Dovi can keep the magic alive in The Low Countries.  Cal Crutchlow is armed with a shiny new two-year deal at LCR.  And, at Assen, anything can happen.  Ask Jack Miller. 

Recent History at Assen 

2014 was the Year of Marquez, and he made it 8-for-8 with a surprisingly easy win in one of those wacky flag-to-flag races everyone loves, complete with a Pony Express switcheroo in the middle.  Marquez was joined on the podium by Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, who narrowly edged out Aleix Espargaro, the top Yamaha finisher that day, who had crushed Q2, taken pole, and missed out on a podium—a Forward Racing Yamaha podium—at the flag by a mere 8+ seconds. But 13 points is 13 points.

2015 was the year Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi stopped exchanging Christmas cards, and it started at Assen. The last MotoGP Dutch TT to be run on a Saturday, Assen was the place Marquez chose to introduce his hybrid 2015/2014 bike with the previous year’s chassis, and it was like throwing a switch. The two went at it hot and heavy on the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez caroming wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, getting nudged into and through the briar patch at speed to win by 50 yards.  What a race.

Last year was proof that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn every once in a while.  This was a two-race day, not to be confused with a two-day race. The rain which had been around all weekend went all Bubba Gump during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been leading at the time.  Long story short—Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning plaudits for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things.  My prediction at the time that he wouldn’t see another podium for the rest of the year, except from a distance, proved correct.  For the record, Scott Redding finished third that day, another symptom of the ambient weirdness of racing in Holland on Sunday.

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:       Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:      Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Pedrosa, Petrucci

Tranche 3:       Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:       P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:       Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1        Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

Tranche 2        Zarco, Lorenzo, Folger, Bautista↑, Pedrosa

Tranche 3        Petrucci↓, Crutchlow↓, Redding, Barbera↑, Iannone

Tranche 4        Miller↓, Baz↓, A Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5        P Espargaro↓, Smith, Lowes, (Rins)

Rossi’s last win was over a year ago, at Catalunya 2016. Normally, this would be enough to drop a rider a level.  I had Pedrosa in #1 and Rossi in #2 until I thought about a 5-lap match race, just the two of them, on their own bikes, at an agreed-upon track.  Upon whom would you put your money?

One of the cool things about Assen, for the purposes of this discussion, is that a rider from Tranche 2 or 3 can easily win here.  The cold and the damp haven’t always been kind to the Aliens, and the narrow kinks and curves here and at The Sachsenring next week often play havoc with the leaderboard.  Recall Casey Stoner’s acerbic remark, late in his career, that he could never get out of 5th gear in Germany.  But Assen is a high-speed track, especially compared to The Sachsenring.  The main thing they have in common is the weather.  And to think Dorna is preparing to take the series to Finland; the riders there may need studded tires.

All the riders, especially the contenders, need to be a little circumspect entering this next two weeks.  Recall Lorenzo and Pedrosa in 2013, with a total of three broken collarbones in two weeks.

Silly Season Underway

The names sifting to the top of the “Most Likely to Be Re-Accommodated” list in 2018 include Tito Rabat, reportedly at risk of being banished to WSBK after failing to set the world on fire in MotoGP.  (Paging Stefan Bradl.)  Also Scott Redding, Sam Lowes and, as rumored, Jack Miller, for whom the honeymoon with Honda appears to be over or at least tattered.  LCR wants a factory deal for Crutchlow and a #2 rider, possibly Taka Nakagami, currently laboring in seventh position in Moto2 but possessing outstanding lineage.

If Marc VDS is to continue as a going concern in 2018 it will likely be with Franco Morbidelli and perhaps Alex Marquez coming up from Moto2 to replace a disenchanted Miller and a non-competitive Rabat.  Miller is alleged to have been rebuffed by Ducati for asking too much money but that could be re-visited.  And no word yet on who might take over for Sam Lowes, who is simply not getting it done.

Personally, I would like to see Jack Miller on a Ducati GP17 next year.  Could be just what they both need. And is it too hard to imagine Andrea Iannone, once again working himself out of a good job. teaming up with Morbidelli on the satellite Honda in 2018?

Given the family history of the Marquez brothers, I would expect Alex to stay in Moto2 another year, with the aim being to title there before being called up to the bigs.  Perhaps in time to coincide with Dani Pedrosa’s retirement from the Repsol team.  That would be something to talk about.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprise, surprise.  The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe this weekend calls for cool, damp conditions, with the best chance of rain on Saturday.  Temps in the 60’s and 70’s (F).  High risk out laps on cold tires and wet asphalt.  Not having a clue who might win this week (although this is exactly the kind of setup Rossi loves) we can only hope for a complete scramble, flag-to-flag, expectations turned upside-down, rain tires, and underdogs showing up on the podium.  In short, business as usual at Assen.

We will  have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Catalunya Results 2017

June 11, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso repeats; Vinales comes back to the field 

After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso has now taken two wins in eight days, recording superlative rides at both Mugello and now Montmelo.  A few days before Mugello he pronounced the GP17 unwinnable in its current configuration.  Gratifying to see his analytic skills are no better than mine. 

Practice and Qualifying

Q1 timesheet looked mostly normal—three Hondas in the top four—until I laughed out loud at the sight of Sam Lowes in seventh, at which point I suspected it was a circus out there.  Four riders failed to record a time on a drying track.

FP2 had more anomalies, Jonas Folger sitting third and Tito Rabat sixth among them.  Marquez was looking strong on the brakes; Jorge Lorenzo took second.   Jorge must be riding counter-intuitively, having stated to the press that riding the bike “normally” does not work for him.  At 140 mph and above and in traffic I’m sure his lizard brain reverts, which is why he cannot currently compete effectively.

Race Direction, changing horses in the middle of the stream, announced on Friday night that, for safety reasons (and perhaps to enhance Marquez’s chances of tightening the 2017 championship), the 2016 chicane would be used starting in FP3 and for the rest of the weekend, due to concerns about the racing surface where the old crappy asphalt and new crappy asphalt met: bumps, low grip, different composition, plague, locusts, etc.  Marquez, on Saturday, expressed his gratitude for their consideration by crashing four times, with a fifth fall on Sunday for good measure.

This was also good news for Jack Miller, who had been mistakenly using the 2016 chicane during all eight of his FP1 laps until he was black flagged.  But it meant that FP3 alone would determine who went through to Q2 and which two of the remaining 13 would have to earn spots in the front four rows.  (I may have messed up the tire controversy last time out, but I KNOW Lorenzo has been lobbying to have FP3 deemed the only session to determine qualifying pools.)

10 Lambs, in FP3 order:  Hondas Marquez and Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista (DucGP16) and Aprilia jinx Aleix Espargaro, Italians Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone, the Pramac Racing team, Redding leading Petrucci, and Hector Barbera, looking on Friday like he was doing motocross on his GP16, fighting it to a draw on Saturday morning.

13 Goats, in arbitrary order: both factory Yamahas, both Tech 3 Yamahas, Cal Crutchlow, the Marc VDS team, Loris Baz and the Down’N’Outs—Suzuki sub Sylvain Guintoli, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith (Laverne and Shirley) on the KTM, my boy Karel Abraham (DucGP15) and Sad Sam Lowes’ Aprilia.

Q1 was going to be a show.  Six Ducatis had automatically qualified to chase the Repsol Hondas in Q2; the law of averages itself increased the statistical likelihood of a Ducati win on Sunday.

Vinales and Folger fought their way through Q1, leaving notables with names like Rossi, Crutchlow and Zarco to start back in the pack, Crutchlow from 17th.  Rossi and Zarco, especially, missed out on Q2 by a few hundredths of a second each.

Obviously, Dani and Jorge heard about our challenge to their Alien credentials on Wednesday, as Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci formed the front row during Q2; Marquez, having crashed four separate times during the day and having completely run out of motorcycles, would still start Sunday at the top of the second row, Vinales ninth in his worst qualifying yet on the Yamaha.  Bradley Smith crashed heavily in practice and sustained injuries to his left hand that would keep him out of today’s race.

Several weeks ago we observed that Petrucci needed to fish or cut bait on the Ducati GP17.  With a podium at Mugello and a front row start here, he has clearly responded to our encouragement.  (Yes, we are aware he crashed out of fifth place in today’s race.  Musta thought he had enough tire left to go for fourth.)

The 2017 Catalan GP

With Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and the factory Yamahas stuck in the middle of the pack at the start, the lead group formed up with Jorge Lorenzo trying and failing to get away on his factory Ducati, followed by the Repsol Hondas, Dovizioso keeping his powder dry in fourth.  Lorenzo’s day went from good to bad to good again, as we watched him slip from first to as low as ninth before finding something when his fuel load dropped, ultimately finishing fourth when Petrucci went down on Lap 23.

Up front, as Lorenzo was fading out of the picture, Dovizioso was keeping cool tracking the Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making momentary moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17 when Dovi went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa who appeared, reputation aside, to have shot his tires to pieces earlier in the race.

For most of the day, the factory and Tech 3 Yamahas (with the exception of Jonas Folger, who was able to stay in touch with the lead group until his own tires began to disintegrate) loitered around in the middle of the pack, unable to make any impression on the lead or even second groups.  Late in the day Johann Zarco had recovered enough ground to punk teammate Folger for fifth, while both Rossi and Vinales made gradual progress in the second half, Rossi ending his day in eighth while Vinales suffered to tenth place, hometown humiliation, and six points.

Despite all the problems the Yamaha teams experienced over the weekend—none passing directly through to Q2, Folger and Vinales the only escapees from Q1—eventually all four finished in the top ten.  Riders having notable days today (keeping in mind that all things are relative) included Rossi (S13, P8) and Crutchlow (S17, P11).  Zarco was most impressive, having started 14th and finishing fifth, while Dovizioso, who started from the top of the third row, has pulled himself into credible contention for the 2017 title.  Today’s results leave him in second place, trailing series leader Vinales by a mere seven points.  During the after-race presser he said, “Today was the first time in my career I win a race without pushing to the limit.”  Uh oh.

Final Thoughts

Michelin still has issues when the temperatures soar, as they did today.  With venues like Aragon, Brno, and Sepang yet to come, Michelin needs to develop a compound for both fronts and rears that will stand up to the heat.  I agree with readers who have expressed the opinion that the Michelins perform fine in cool and moderate temps.  But with a quarter of the races held in places where it can get as hot as Sepang, my own personal vision of hell, the races devolve into a competition to see who can nurse their tires through the entire however many laps.

Alex Marquez won his second race of the season in Moto2 after a disastrous first two seasons in the middle division.  Some years ago, around 2013, I read comments that suggested Alex was faster than Marc one-on-one, and that Alex Rins, currently on the injured list, was faster than either of the Marquez brothers.  Such has not turned out to be the case.  Alex is only 21 years old, and if he has finally figured out the 600cc Moto2 Kalex, it’s only a matter of time until he gets his ticket punched to MotoGP.  It appears unlikely he will compete with his brother or rival Rins for quite some time.  It also appears that folks were overstating Rins’ potential, based upon what he had shown us in MotoGP prior to his injuries.  No instant sensation like Marquez and Vinales.

Joan Mir, leading the Moto3 series for Leopard Racing, will be moving up to the Estrella Galicia Moto2 team next year on a three-year deal that sounds like the third season might be with Honda in MotoGP.  Mir pulled off a scintillating win today at Montmelo to pad his lead in Moto3.  The Moto2 race today was not up to its usual riotous standard, as Marquez led wire to wire in the first truly easy race I’ve ever seen him complete in Moto2.  I keep waiting for him to morph into the second coming of Marc.  Perhaps today was the day.  Probably not.

Two weeks to the Assen/Sachsenring back-to-back.  The plot, at this point, has truly thickened.  Now there are five riders with legitimate aspirations to the 2017 title.  We leave you with a cliffhanger until we arrive at Assen:  Will there be five riders in Tranche 1 for the first time ever?  Could Valentino Rossi fall into Tranche 2?  Stay tuned.

MotoGP Catalunya Preview 2017

June 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Needs a Win—Right Now Would Be Fine

The small fleet of 747s that is the MotoGP Moving & Storage Company lands this week in Barcelona for the second of four Spanish rounds.  The track, recently reconfigured for safety reasons, has been roundly criticized by the riders as no longer fun or “MotoGP-worthy.”  Blah blah blah.  By the time Friday rolls around, every rider with a drop of Spanish blood in him will be banging on about the history of Montmelo and overflowing with optimism about his team’s prospects.  Business as usual amongst the yachting class.

Maverick Vinales and his factory M1 sit on top of the world, stiff-arming half a dozen wannabe chasers, learning his trade and thinking seriously about a world championship.  He had nothing substantial to gain from any effort to track down eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso on Sunday; 20 points was plenty that day.  There were Ducatis everywhere.  The Hondas appeared to offer but two settings, “SLOW” and “DANGEROUS.”  If only that pesky Petrucci hadn’t been on his back the last third of the race, he could have relaxed a little.

Alvaro Bautista had a memorable day, flogging his GP16 to a solid 13 points.  And Tito Rabat’s game is so messed up that on a day when the rest of the Hondas were simply trying to stay shiny side up, he finishes 11th for the second round in a row, his best outcomes since Brno last year, four spots ahead of Jack Miller, second only to The Great Marquez amongst the Hondas.

Recent History at Catalunya

Catalunya 2014 took place during The Year of Marquez, as the fearless sophomore sensation first mixed it up with Yamaha mullah Rossi, followed by another close encounter with teammate Pedrosa.  Marquez ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi after Pedrosa, forcing the issue late in the day, touched tires with Marquez and bounced wide, allowing Rossi through, ultimately settling for third.

Whatever faint hopes Marquez held for a third consecutive title in 2015 ended on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done.  With Lorenzo having leapt into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early. At the end of the day, he trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Game over for Marquez while the war between the factory Yamaha teammates continued, as the Brits say, to hot up.

Last year’s classic featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez to slug it out for the rest of the day.  Rossi prevailed after a challenge from Marquez subsided when his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Vinales on the Suzuki.

A brief review:  Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez have enjoyed victory here recently, while Pedrosa and Vinales have been sniffing around.  Everyone is saying the new layout favors everyone but them.  Other than Vinales, the Aliens will be pressing this weekend.  After Mugello, Pedrosa and Lorenzo have some splainin’ to do concerning the status of their Alien cards.

Tranching Around

This re-ranking is tempered by the fact that the tires played a distinct part in Sunday’s results.  That, and the fact that it’s all totally arbitrary to begin with.

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa

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

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

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

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso↑

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Pedrosa↓, Petrucci↑

Tranche 3:  Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone, Bautista↑

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat↑

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

My sense of symmetry is offended by the presence of only two active riders in Tranche 5. I keep wanting to put someone like Karel Abraham in there.  Also Tranches 2 and 3 are, unfortunately, over-booked; according to FAA regulations, one rider needs to move down a notch from each.  We’re asking for volunteers…

Michelin Still Pedaling Hard to Keep Up

Readers, your boy Cal Crutchlow has been running his mouth again, after Sunday’s disastrous outing at Mugello. Claims the tires brought by Michelin had been designed for the Ducatis, that even the hard option was way too soft for the Honda riders.  Also used the term “ruthless” to describe Dani Pedrosa’s riding style, which I think is a bit of a reach.

Same old problem for the Hondas in Italy—having to put too much load on the fronts during braking to make up for the absence of acceleration on the back side of the apex. Marquez said much the same thing.  Not sure why things appear to be a puzzle every week for Michelin with a year’s experience under their belts.

The Lorenzo/Ducati cabal won the hard vs. soft carcass debate which, with a medium front/soft rear configuration, works like crazy for the Ducs, as we saw Sunday, when it’s not too hot on the track.  Let’s just say that starting next year in Mugello I don’t want to hear the Honda contingent wailing anymore.  Michelin can’t be the tire of choice for two manufacturers and the tire of last resort for the other four.  Another full year is plenty of time to sort this out.

Upcoming Weekend and Calendar Issues

Sunday’s race is the first of three in the next four weeks before the overly long summer vacation.  While Montmelo will likely remain a rider favorite, and The Cathedral at Assen as well, not too many guys like The Sachsenring.  All too often the cold, wet conditions in these latitudes play an oversized role in the world championship.  Except for 2015, the races at Assen have been pivotal.  We’ll take a closer look at both next time.

The long-term forecast for metropolitan Barcelona is for clear skies and warm temps over the weekend.  Honda weather.  Honda needs some weather, some juju, something cosmic going for it this weekend.  If I were Marquez I would seriously be lobbying to be allowed to use my 2014 frame again.  This 2017 machine he’s on is not competitive.  He shouldn’t have to work as hard as he (and Pedrosa, and Crutchlow…) have to in order to get some kind of drive out of the corners.

This is a Honda-friendly track, more so, if you believe Valentino, than it was before the new turns.  Marquez will be pressing, and the weather appears to be favorable.  I have him winning the race, Vinales second, and Zarco third.  Necessity is the mother of invention and all that.  Were I to follow my heart, I would have Marquez, followed by Zarco, Crutchlow and Rossi, with Vinales walking back from a gravel trap, shaken, not stirred.  Cal simply for the entertainment value.  I also confess to finding myself pulling for Marquez, as a triple world champion in his prime—never mind how you feel about him as a competitor/Lorenzo-lover/Rossi-rival—should have a bike suitable to his prodigious talents.  Honda does NOT want him looking around in 2018.

As usual, the race goes off at 8 am EDT in the U.S. and Canada, in likely addition to some locales in eastern South America.  We will have results and analysis right here in a jiffy thereafter.

MotoGP Mugello Results 2017

June 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Leads Ducati Charge; Rossi Fades 

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

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

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

What About the Race?

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

Quick Notes

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

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

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

Back at y’all on Wednesday.

MotoGP 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.