Archive for the ‘Phillip Island’ Category

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That didn’t take long.

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

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

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

Let’s Take a Closer Look

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

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

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

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

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

2017 Season Graph color snip

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

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

Final Tranches of 2017

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

The Last Word

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

 

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

Notes from Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Sultry, Sweltering Sepang

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

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

Screenshot (41)

Celebration Lap at Phillip Island 2017

 

 

MotoGP Phillip Island Preview

October 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez vs. Dovizioso: All In Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

Recent History at Phillip Island

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

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

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

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

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

Short Quiz

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

Valentino Rossi_____               6

Jorge Lorenzo_____                12

Marc Marquez_____               21

Dani Pedrosa_____                 34

Andrea Dovizioso_____         38

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

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

Just sayin’.

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

 

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Preview

October 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The Battle for the Top Ten Smolders 

2016 MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault.  In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish.  Round 17, The Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?” 

Recent History at Sepang 

Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas.  Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Jorge Lorenzo other than beating Rossi.  Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia.  Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

I was there in 2014 when Marc Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez.  The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling.  Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race.  Dani Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year.  LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years.  Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa won the race.  Nor for the fact that Jorge Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead.  The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.  Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter.  Those of you unable to forget are not alone. 

Strong in the Second Half 

Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria: 

Valentino Rossi                105

Marc Marquez                 103

Cal Crutchlow                  101

Maverick Vinales                98

Andrea Dovizioso               78

Jorge Lorenzo                    70

Pol Espargaro                    45

Hector Barbera                  19

Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right.  Same with Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender.  And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous.  Most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez.  He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.

Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level.  But he had management fooled, too.  They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Iannone’s GP16 instead of test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine.  Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.

Alien Nation

My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door.  Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.

A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team.  Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda.  That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.

Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning into the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision.  A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.

Your Weekend Forecast

Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long.  Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least November 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend.  Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.

With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual.  Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so.  Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales.  Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet.  Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself.  The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.

Round 17 goes off again in the middle of the night.  We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.

MotoGP 2016 Philip Island Results

October 23, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Cal Crutchlow wins again as Marquez dozes off 

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Australian Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang

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

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

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

2016 Phillip Island Results

MotoGP 2016 Championship Standings after 16 Rounds