MotoGP Sepang Results

October 29, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Valencia WILL Decide as Dovizioso Wins in Malaysia 

Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)

Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend

Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track

Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track

Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending

Dani Pedrosa

Valentino Rossi

Andrea Dovizioso

Johann Zarco once more, and, finally

Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya.

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After his first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday.  Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him.  (Though he would not win today’s race, he did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results.  The Ferrari F-1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world.  Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it.  The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been.  Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014.  He had won the first 10 races that year.  He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title.  He had been fast all weekend in practice.  Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again.  Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley—Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points—would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race—our fervent hope all season—it provides about as much drama as watching iron rust.

Preparing for Valencia

We have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season.  Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels.  The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season.  The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season.  Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

MotoGP Sepang Preview

October 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Mature Marquez Seeking Fourth Title 

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

Recent History at Sepang

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

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

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

Tranche Warfare

After Round 15    Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

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

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

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

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera↓

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

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

Who Will Challenge #93 in 2018?

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

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

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

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 Motegi Results

October 15, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

DesmoDovi Smokes Marquez; Race Tightens

For the second time this season, Factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez gave us a late-race knives-in-a-phonebooth duel, a ten-point spread in the standings at the top of the heap at stake. And for the second time this season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of the first win, a last lap exchange of fortunes in Austria. Now it’s Two for the Road, as the two “blessed” riders in this year’s championship, separated by 11 points, seem destined to square off in Valencia.

Then There Were Two

Entering today’s race, there were, like, two and a half contenders for the title, as Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi had been eliminated every which way but mathematically, and Yamaha savant Maverick Vinales was hanging on to contention by his fingernails. Now, with all three chasers having had counterproductive days, it has come down to Marquez and Dovizioso.

Both riders, as we’ve said before, are at the top of their respective games. Unfortunately, it took Dovi an extra few years to arrive, causing him to miss the rock star status afforded the Spaniard. But he is the only rider out there able to trail Marquez for the lead and the title and feel good about it. The most successful Ducati pilot of the last ten years, Dovizioso appears to welcome these last lap duels, treating them like tic tac toe matches in which one gradually limits the possible responses available to the opponent until the door is closed. In post-race interviews, he and Marquez laughed about knowing the strategy each other would use in the last few turns.

Practice and Qualifying

Racing in the rain on Friday and Saturday produced a set of Unusual Suspects in both Q1 and Q2. Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso especially found things suiting their fancies on Friday and led the way directly into Q2 joined, eventually, by the likes of both factory Suzuki riders, Pedrosa and Petrucci, Zarco, Rossi, Lorenzo, and one Aleix Espargaro, having flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to the third best combined time on the grid.

The wet conditions, as always, pushed some familiar names down into Q1; the Usual Suspects welcomed Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and the cadre of Japanese subs and wildcards to the nether regions. The feel-good moment of the entire weekend occurred at the end of Q1 when both factory KTMs advanced into Q2. For being an enormous Austrian engineering and manufacturing behemoth KTM sure attracts a lot of warm fuzzies from MotoGP fans, with their bold colors, plucky riders and virtually unlimited budgets.

Q2 offered a number of great moments and a case study in not counting one’s eggs before they hatch. Marquez laid down a rapid early lap on rain tires, looking invincible, and rode around for awhile on a drying track before pitting and ending the session futilely on slicks. Valentino Rossi tried to qualify on slicks, desperately seeking solutions, failed, and would start Sunday’s race in 12th position.

A number of riders chose to attempt their flying lap on the last go-round, including Petrucci into a blistering second, Aleix Espargaro missing the front row by an eyelash, and Johann Zarco, coming out of nowhere, seized his second premier class pole of 2017 on the 2016 Yamaha. (His first, at Assen, led to a 14th place finish.) With top pursuers Andrea Dovizioso starting 9th and Maverick Vinales 14th, the title chase appeared primed to take a beating on Sunday.

As the Lights Went Out

Jorge Lorenzo followed Marquez’s hole shot into second place at the start and took the lead in Turn 9. Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati and polesitter Johann Zarco had their noses in it, with Dovizioso going through on Zarco on Lap 2 and Petrucci doing the same to Lorenzo to take the lead. With Doviozoso in the mix and Vinales out of it, the front four became, on Lap 4, Petrucci, Lorenzo, Marquez and Dovizioso. A Ducati triple-team on poor young Marc. Not to worry. Lorenzo began to actively work his way backwards, falling from podium contention to 8th by Lap 6.

My boy Cal Crutchlow pitted on Lap 6 and crashed out on Lap 16. Rossi, enjoying a miserable weekend in the rain, crashed out on Lap 6, too, joined by Karel Abraham and the Nosane kid subbing for Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha. For Nosane, the weekend must have been like you or me being dropped into the cockpit of Miss Budweiser in time for Thunder on the Ohio. No problem, the life vest inflates upon impact! For Rossi, his second crash in two years here puts an exclamation point on his disappointing 2017 season.

Anyway, early on it appeared Petrucci might get away for his first ever premier class win, until both Marquez and Dovizioso reeled him in. On Lap 14, both went through on the swarthy Italian, consigned him to a distant third step on the podium, and rode off for their private confab.

Mano à Mano for Ten Laps

After a few rather relaxed laps of lining him up, Doviozoso sailed through on Marquez on Lap 19, with Marquez returning the favor, a bit rudely, on Lap 22. This was the point at which I expected Marquez to get away. Instead, they exchanged the lead several more times until Lap 24, when Doviozoso found himself surviving a final desperate dive from Marquez with the extra drive coming out of Victory Corner necessary to pimp the Spaniard at the flag. This is a Reader’s Digest summary of what was a number of laps of insanely great racing by the two best in the game at this moment in history.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Fan favorite Aleix Espargaro drove his Aprilia from a 4th place start, a whisker off the front row, to a satisfying 7th place finish. The KTMs of Smith and Espargaro cleared Q1 and started 7th and 8th, respectively. Though they could only manage 11th (Espargaro) and 19th (Smith) things are looking up in KTMTown. The factory Suzuki team, fronted by Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, came to sudden life this weekend, qualifying 10th and 11th and finishing—gasp—4th (Iannone) and 5th (Rins). Two Suzukis in the top five, in the rain.

For the moment, two riders have lost their Alien status; Tranche 1 has been pared down. Tranches 2 and 3 are, therefore, inflated.

After Round 14 Aragon

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro, Bautista
Tranche 3: Crutchlow, Rins, Folger, Petrucci, P Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, Barbera, Baz, Rabat
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 15 Motegi

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Vinales↓, Pedrosa, Rossi↓, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro, Petrucci↑
Tranche 3: Rins, Folger, P Espargaro, Iannone↑, Baz↑, Bautista↓
Tranche 4: Crutchlow↓, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

Marching to Praetoria

Time just to catch our breath before coming up with a completely new, more
Australian set of out-of-round observations about some people’s favorite sport. At least at this point we can narrow our focus down to the two top guys, both of whom need to do some serious crashing before Maverick Vinales becomes relevant again.

Phillip Island appears custom-designed for the Desmosedici GP17. We have some research to do prior to mid-week, when the Australian GP preview comes your way. All I’m willing to say for sure, at this point, is that a meaningful Valencia finale just became more plausible, not less. Personally, I would like to see Dovi beat Marquez 1-2 in the next two rounds, at which point they would go to Valencia separated by a single point.

It could happen. Dovizioso needs no worse than a draw with Marquez over the next two rounds. Another win, or two, would be utterly convenient. As he has obviously learned by now, championships are won by putting the hammer down in those clutch, fight-or-flee moments. Throwing caution to the wind and letting your instincts and balance take over. He and the bike are finally one. He knows Marquez is going to come with both barrels blazing. As he did today, he needs to continue to channel the late Tom Petty:

“Well, I won’t back down.
No I won’t back down.
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down…
Gonna stand my ground.”    –Tom Petty   “I Won’t Back Down”

MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 10, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

OMG–Three Races in Three Weeks

Once again MotoGP embarks on its annual Darwinian excursion through some of the world’s most exotic time zones for what is laughingly called The Pacific Swing. As if it were a square dance and not a grueling test of mettle and metal. One week at Honda’s glowing home crib, one on the windswept tundra of the south Australian coast, and one in the autoclave of Sepang. Can Honda’s Marc Marquez seize his fourth MotoGP title on this chaotic cruise, or will he leave things dangling for the Valenciana finale?

When Last We Left our Heroes…

They had just completed the Aragon round in which triple world champion Marquez opened a can of whup-ass on his pursuers and vaulted into a 16-point lead over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and a 28-point spread over Maverick Viñales, everyone’s pre-season pick to win the title this year. Except me. My vast experience in this game (okay, it’s just a wild ass guess) tells me Viñales has another DNF left in him this season as the pressure mounts and Marquez piles up heart-stopping save after heart-stopping save, seemingly avoiding disaster each time out by the sharpest of razor-thin margins. As good as Viñales is, and will be, it must be daunting to watch Marquez perform his magic act week after week, crash six times in practice every weekend and lead the championship.

Recent history at Motegi

In 2014 it was All Aliens All the Time as Lorenzo led Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa to the flag, the gap between 1st and 4th a scant 3.1 seconds. Though Dovizioso took pole, the four Aliens were grouped 2 to 5 at the start. Marquez, leading the series, conceded the win to Lorenzo and, in the process, clinched the 2014 title. The race featured a close encounter between Lorenzo and Marquez on Lap 5 which might have cost the Catalan the race, had it mattered. The post-race Samurai ceremony afterwards was a little over the top.

2015: Dani Pedrosa chose Motegi to make his annual stand, leading Rossi and Lorenzo to the line in a wet-ish affair. Marquez struggled into fourth place ahead of Dovizioso on the Ducati. Rossi and Lorenzo chewed up Bridgestone rain tires on a drying surface; Pedrosa, winless all season and dawdling in the middle of the pack for a while, came on strong at the end. This was the race in which Lorenzo and the rain became a thing. Rossi left Japan leading the series by 18 points with three rounds left, a virtual lock for a 10th world championship that would come unlocked on the macadam griddle at Sepang.

Last year, for the third time in four seasons, Repsol Honda supernova Marquez claimed the MotoGP world championship. He did it by winning the Japanese Grand Prix while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team—Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi—choked on the bile of their rivalry, both riders crashing out of a race in which neither could afford the slightest error.

Marquez has now won two of his three premier class titles in The Land of the Rising Sun. He won’t clinch a title on Sunday, but he is at a pivot point of the season. A win, especially a dominating win with sub-par performances by his main chasers, and he could wrap things up before returning to Europe at the end of the month. A crash, combined with podium finishes from Dovizioso and/or Viñales, could set us up for an all-the-marbles showdown in Spain in November. Let Valencia Decide!

Life in the Tranches

After Round 13 Misano

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi)
Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Zarco, Folger, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Rins
Tranche 3: Crutchlow, Barbera, Bautista, Baz, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, P Espargaro
Tranche 5: Abraham, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 14 Aragon

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Zarco, Lorenzo, A Espargaro↑, Bautista↑
Tranche 3: Crutchlow, Rins↓, Folger↓, Petrucci↓, P Espargaro↑
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, Barbera↓, Baz↓, Rabat↑
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

Catalonia Referendum

There are 10 Spanish riders in the premier class of MotoGP, a multiple of that number in Moto2 and Moto3. Of those 10, seven (7) are Catalans. Seems Catalonia wants independence from Spain, with its ponderous federalism, broken economy, black-shirted police reminiscent of the fascist Franco regime, and Castillian lisp.

Much the same as the Scots, the Catalonians have felt pinched by being part of a largely foreign federation for generations despite sharing a common language. Although turnout was reported to be light, the vote this past Sunday was over 90% in favor of Catalexit, despite the horrific presence of the Spanish police, shown on video dragging young women out of the polls by their hair. Allow me to make three points here. One, don’t be surprised if symbols of the Catalan independence movement find their way to the paddock. Two, Catalonia has every right to refer to itself as the capital of Spanish motorcycle racing. Three, if, somehow, Catalans were to form their own government and retain the euro, they will be screwed in years to come by not being able to control their own currency. Paging Greece. Just sayin’.

In case you’re wondering, or haven’t yet discovered Wikipedia, the seven Catalans are Marquez, Pedrosa, Viñales, Rabat, both Espargaro brothers, and Alex Rins. The three outliers are Lorenzo (Mallorca), Hector Barbera (Valencia) and Alvaro Bautista (Castille). This is quality research you’re just not going to find on other motorcycle publications. Unless they’ve discovered Wikipedia, too.

Gazing at the Crystal Ball

The locals at Sunday’s race will have two of their own on the grid. Given the fact that Japanese-made bikes dominate MotoGP, it must be irksome not to have any Japanese riders competing in the premier class. Not to worry, as factory test rider “Katman” Nakasuga has been tagged for a wildcard by Yamaha. Hiro Aoyama, whose last full season in MotoGP was 2014, will substitute for Jack Miller who, in his ongoing mission to emulate Valentino Rossi, broke his leg in a training accident last week. Expect Nakasuga to collect a few points and Aoyama to scuff his leathers battling with Tito Rabat and Sam Lowes to avoid finishing last.

Before laying myself open for the usual scathing criticism of my picks, I just want to remind readers that Marquez is on a 2013-style roll. In the eight rounds since Mugello, he has compiled four wins, three podiums, and a DNF when his engine went up at Silverstone while he was in contention. Had he podiumed at Silverstone, which appeared likely at the time, his lead would now stand closer to 40 points than 20, and we would be readying ourselves for some over-the-top title celebration at Phillip Island. As it is, we can still light candles for Dovi and Maverick as we look forward to Valencia.

Right. The long-range forecast for race weekend calls for cool temps and wet conditions. Music to the ears of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, while such news gives Maverick Vinales the creeps and has no effect whatsoever on Marquez. Dovi needs to start another hot streak about now, although Motegi is not the friendliest layout for the Desmosedici. As we say every round, perhaps this is the week Aleix Espargaro puts an Aprilia on the podium. Probably not.

Your podium on Sunday—Marquez, Dovizioso and Crutchlow, who needs to sack up and start winning races again. Rossi is still recovering, Vinales is all tensed up, and no one else is relevant to the conversation. If history is a teacher, Dani Pedrosa will have trouble getting his tires up to temperature; besides, he’s already had his win for this year. This is Honda’s home crib, and all the other manufacturers want to stick it to them at their place. But with the season on the line, don’t expect Marc Marquez to hold anything back. He’s playing with house money these days, and can afford to take a few chances. 2017 just feels like his year. Again.

MotoGP Aragon Results

September 24, 2017

©Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

No Rain as Spanish Reign in Spain 

Honda’s Marc Marquez recovered from an error early in the race to win the dramatic third of four Spanish rounds, #14 in Aragon.  Following his blown engine in Britain and his win in the rain at Misano, the young Catalan wonder now has momentum heading into the three-races-in-three-weeks hell of the Pacific flyaway. The podium celebration, also featuring teammate Dani Pedrosa and exiled Ducati pilot Jorge Lorenzo, took us back to the old days of 2013. The prospect of settling the championship in Valencia, however, dimmed somewhat. 

Valentino Rossi:  Genius at Work on Saturday

A pole for Rossi on Saturday would have entailed the active intervention of the Racing Gods. Some may argue that it was the Racing Gods themselves who put him on the front row. There are plenty of men out there who take this kind of risk, with this kind of injury, for money. There are very few who, like Rossi, undertake such dangerous stuff for the sheer love of the game. After all, there is a 10th title waiting to be won; the $200 million and the rest of it will still be there after racing is over. It is no secret that The Gods find favor in men with such commitment to their calling, which helps explain why, at age 38, he can still play.  Astonishing. 

Saturday gave us yet another example of why Rossi has more premier class racing trophies than any other rider ever. He is sufficiently competitive to ignore a twice-fractured leg, ride in four practice sessions, sail into Q2, and qualify on the front row, when any lucid mortal would be in traction. He gives himself a chance to gather points, even when he’s hurt. Quién es más macho? 

Practice and Qualifying 

Notable names that made the post-FP3 cut into Q2 included the factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati teams, as well as a sampling of interesting climbers—Mika Kallio, wildcarding on the third KTM (and showing up regular team rider Bradley Smith), Alvaro Bautista punching above his weight on the Ducati GP16, and an incredulous Andrea Iannone, who could not remember the last time he didn’t have to suffer through Q1 on the Suzuki.

The lot in Q1 included Jack Miller, pimped at the flag by Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who, in turn, tailed Jorge Lorenzo, looking strong on the Ducati GP17, into Q2. Others failing to make the A team included Danilo Petrucci, a shaken, not stirred, Jonas Folger, cleared by the medical center to participate, with Three Brits Not Named Crutchlow bringing up the rear, as it were.

With Lorenzo and Zarco joining the lambs, Q2 was worth the price of admission. It divided itself into halves, with each team making a tire change. Marc Marquez won the first half convincingly, and was challenging to extend his lead with four minutes left in the second when he lost the front, resulting in a fifth-place start behind Cal Crutchlow and in front of Dani Pedrosa, who had been quick all weekend.  The eventual polesitter, Maverick Vinales, edged a menacing Lorenzo, who had earlier edged Rossi (!) himself off the pole. A classic front row—something old, something new, something red…  An all-Honda second row. The other championship co-leader, Andrea Dovizioso, looking unsettled all weekend, made it only to the top of the third row.

#93–Mental Toughness on Display

Sunday would dawn with clear blue skies and hot temperatures, Honda weather in Spain. On a track finding favor with the Yamahas and Ducatis. Few riders had slept  easily on Saturday night. On a personal note, during qualifying my tranches were shredded like confetti on New Year’s Eve and I had predicted Rossi on the sidelines. Order needed to be restored, somehow, on Sunday. Generally, it wasn’t.

The heat predicted early in the week arrived, and tire choices and wear became determining factors.  A snapshot of this allegation shows Marquez on the top step having chosen a hard rear, Pedrosa on the second having chosen the medium, and Lorenzo on the third, having gone for the soft.  Just sayin’. 

Perhaps the strangest sensation today was watching Jorge Lorenzo, in red, looking kind of like the Lorenzo of old (minus the vapor trail) and leading from Turn 1 of the first lap until Lap 16, when Marquez eased through at Turn 12.  Lorenzo’s first podium in 10 rounds must be rather encouraging. Still, at the post-race press conference I found myself wondering about the last time I saw the series leader flanked by challengers trailing by 172 points, collectively.

With championship rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales having a generally rough day, and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi exchanging his crutches for handlebars, Marquez took advantage, creating some breathing room between himself and Dovizioso (-16), Vinales (-28), Pedrosa (-54) and Rossi (-56). Though not a crushing, decisive loss, both Vinales and Dovizioso struggled all day at a track they might dominate in different conditions.

What Does It All Mean?

  1. Rossi is, simply stated, a freak.
  2. Dovizioso and Vinales must move into carpe diem mode. This is undoubtedly Dovi’s last best chance to win a MotoGP championship; Vinales will get his chances.  Marquez says he has felt great since Catalunya and continues to feel great. For both riders, for the rest of the season, there can be only one mantra:  Beat Marquez.  Never mind beat your teammate. Nothing else matters. Beat Marquez or wait until next year.
  3. Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, each Aliens at various points in their careers, now have holes in their games: Lorenzo gets the yips in the rain, and Dani cannot heat his tires in cold/wet conditions. In perfect conditions such as today they will continue to push for podiums. True Aliens can race in any conditions. Some might argue that Dovizioso is only truly competitive in cool or damp conditions; I’ll have Steve, our crack research team, look into that.
  4. Aleix Espargaro tied his best result on the Aprilia, a 6th place finish in Qatar, and, in the process, continues to make the Sam Lowes defenders of the world look demented.
  5. Mika Kallio finished 11th and, in the process, continues to make Bradley Smith look sick. Some KTM fans want Kallio in and Smith out now.
  6. My ranking tranches took a beating today. I need some time to digest the results, and will post new tranches in the Motegi preview. Apparently the Espargaro brothers want a word with me, while I could use five minutes of Alex Rins’ time to discuss how my Tranche 2 rider manages to finish 17th.

2018 Provisional Rider LineupWith the signing of Xavier Simeon from Moto2 to be the second rider at Reale Avintia Ducati, for whatever reason, the 2018 grid is now complete.  Three riders—Loris Baz, Hector Barbera and Sam Lowes—were shown the door.  Three more—Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Tito Rabat—believe a change of premier class scenery next season will improve their prospects.  And three riders were promoted up from Moto2—Franco Morbidelli, Tom Luthi and Simeon.

My question at present is this:  What does the Reale Avintia Ducati team expect in 2018 from Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon?  Less than they get this year from Barbera and Baz, in my estimation.  Xavier Simeon, really? I mean, Rabat has amassed 28 points in MotoGP this year, while Simeon has managed but 16 in Moto2.  Compare this to Baz with 39 and Barbera 23. The X-Man must have a wheelbarrow full of sponsorship money in his garage.

Next Stop: Asia

Three weeks to Motegi, with Marquez leading and feeling froggy.  Three weeks for Dovizioso and Vinales to figure out what on earth they must do to catch this guy. Three weeks to contemplate what Marquez might do to them on a bike he doesn’t have to wrestle all day.

Three weeks to figure out how they might be spending the next five months.

 

MotoGP Aragon Preview

September 18, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Stakes High in Spanish Shootout

Sunday’s Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón de MotoGP is unlikely to have a momentous impact on the 2017 championship standings. Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, playing cat and mouse at 200 mph and tied at present, will head for the Pacific flyaway rounds separated by, at most, 25 points. The man in jeopardy of losing touch is factory Yamaha prodigy Maverick Viñales. A crash this week could put him some 40 points behind the leader—whoever it is—with four rounds to go, not a good place to be, even on a YZR-M1.

Recent History at Aragon

The 2014 Gran Premio Movistar de Aragon was a flag-to-flag cluster that left the day’s results scrambled. Exhibit A: The factory Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi finished the day in the medical center. Lorenzo somehow won in the rain—I know—but the big story was Aleix Espargaro, who flogged his Forward Racing Yamaha from a tenth-place start to a thrilling silver medal finish over Cal Crutchlow, grinding his expensive British teeth once again on the factory Ducati.

In 2015, Lorenzo put on a clinic, leading wire to wire on the dusty plains. He reduced his deficit to teammate Valentino Rossi from 23 points to 14, as Dani Pedrosa held off repeated assaults from Rossi over the last five laps to capture second place. Fans around the world expected Rossi, who hadn’t won a race on Spanish soil since 2009, to steal Pedrosa’s lunch money late in the day. But the mighty mite held on, denying Rossi four points he badly wanted, and tying his best result of what was, at that point, a winless year. Pedrosa would go on to win at Motegi and Sepang, settling for fourth place for the year once again, just holding on to his Alien card.

A year ago, Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win here. By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left. A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, one by one, on Dovizioso, Viñales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win in Spain since 2014.

Maverick Viñales won here in 2013 in Moto2. While riding the Suzuki, he managed 11th place the first year and a respectable 4th place last year. Lorenzo had two wins and a second here the last three years. On the Yamaha. This year he doesn’t see the podium. Who does see the podium are Marquez and Dovizioso, two masters at the height of their respective games (it just took Dovizioso much longer to get to this level than it did wonderkid #93.), on machines with differing strengths and weaknesses. Dovi is having a career year, while Marquez is having a career career, working on his fourth title in five premier class seasons. Rossi is down and out, and Pedrosa, down but not quite out, never having done more than get close.

But Viñales… Before the season began, I had him slotted for four wins and four DNFs. The wins number is within easy reach with five rounds left. But the falls, the falls, are they going to happen, or can he keep it upright, and stay close to the current leaders? At this point, he needs me to be right, or conservative, about the wins, and over on the DNFs. And that’s before the Tech 3 guys started running out of fuel on their 2016 M1s.

Lots of Movement in the Tranches

After Round 12 Silverstone

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi), Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautista, Folger, Crutchlow, Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Barbera, Petrucci, Baz, Rins, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Abraham, Iannone, Redding
Tranche 5: P Espargaro, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

After Round 13 Misano

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, (Rossi)
Tranche 2: Pedrosa↓, Zarco, Folger, Lorenzo, Petrucci↑, Rins↑
Tranche 3: Crutchlow↓, Barbera, Bautista↓, Baz, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, P Espargaro↑
Tranche 5: Abraham↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes

Jack Miller, Scott Redding and Bradley Smith all had solid results in Misano, in the rain. Should they repeat their credible performances this weekend, in the dry, they will be moving up in the standings, with Hector Barbera, Loris Baz and The Rider Formerly Known as The Maniac at risk of getting knocked down. Iannone may lose his contract on the Suzuki altogether if the suits at Dorna and Suzuki have their way, Johnny Rae’s name being mentioned as a replacement.

Alex Rins, on the strength of his 8th place finish at Misano, is ensconced, at least for now, in Tranche 2 along with Zarco and Folger. Rookie of the year undecided at this point. Other than a poor outing at the Red Bull Ring, Rins is showing steady improvement since his injury, with top tens in his last two races, under vastly differing conditions. I’d like to see him on a factory Yamaha one of these days, but he’ll probably have to take a number behind Tech 3’s Frick and Frack.

This Just In

World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark will have the hottest seat in the house this weekend, having been named to “replace Valentino Rossi” on the factory Yamaha. Good one. I’m sure Michael is a great guy, rock star-quality looks, but he should look up the word “cipher” in the dictionary: a zero; a figure 0. Synonyms: zero · 0 · nil · naught/nought. Placeholder. Imagine Lin Jarvis, “Just keep it warm if you will, please, old boy and try not to bang it about too much. Mr. Rossi is expected back soon.” I guess Katman Nakasuga, the Yamaha test rider who podiumed in Valencia a few years back, is busy this weekend, a wedding in his wife’s family or something equally inescapable.

Your Weekend Forecast

It doesn’t appear to have rained in the greater Alcaniz environs for some time now, and the long-range forecast for the weekend calls for clear skies, plenty of sunshine to heat the track, with temps in the 80’s and dust on the tarmac if you happen to find yourself off the racing line. These conditions favor the Repsol Honda team; Marquez likes sliding around in hot grease, and Pedrosa can get enough heat into his tires to be able to compete, unlike last time out.

[Speaking of Pedrosa, Alien cards get revoked when a rider develops a hole in his game. For Lorenzo, it’s rain. For Pedrosa, it’s becoming cold temps. (Dovi has been showing one around lately, but I heard one guy say it looked fake.) I think of Dovi as an Alien, although I cannot recall the date of his official entry into The Club. Rossi, Marquez, Vinales—they seem able to ride anywhere, in any conditions. Must be all that enduro and motocross training they do.]

Lorenzo at Misano

Petrucci and Marquez at Misano 2017

An irritating tendency of people trained in economics is to throw around the Latin term “ceteris paribus,” which translates to “all other things being equal,” which they rarely are. As for Sunday’s race, Marquez, Vinales and Dovizioso should end up on the podium, ceteris paribus. But Dani Pedrosa has an opportunity to make me eat my words. Jorge Lorenzo could go all Lazarus at a track he loves. Danilo Petrucci could FINALLY get that elusive first win. And when will Aleix Espargaro see everything fall into place, just once, allowing him to put the Aprilia on the podium?

 

As usual, the race goes off at 8 am on the US east coast and we’ll have results and analysis here ASAP.

 

Lorenzo

Jorge Lorenzo at Misano

 

 

Lazarus

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

Provisional 2018 MotoGP Calendar Released

September 13, 2017

2018 Provisional FIM calendar

19 rounds. From the 18th of March to the 18th of November.  Eight full months. A single back-to-back–Brno and Austria–until the flyaway rounds.  Thailand shoehorned in between Aragon and Motegi, with two weeks on either side.  OK, I guess.  Perhaps the teams can leave some of their shish in Thailand and not have to schlep it all over creation again a week later.

The “Circuit to be announced” stuff around the British GP is becoming hilarious. As if Ebbw Vale is EVER going to get built. Personally, I see no reason why the government needs to help fund a racetrack that will have a temporarily nice effect on the local economy during construction but then will have a few low-wage jobs a few times a year thereafter. In a region that has perhaps 20 really nice days a year.

Surveying the venues, the one that looks out of place is Austin. The US is a terrible market for MotoGP and motorcycles in general. Plus Marc Marquez wins every time out.  I love the track itself, despite its being in Texas and the presumptuousness of its name (COTA) and motto (Get thrown off a mechanical bull on Saturday night!). Not sure about the length of the current contract between Dorna and the Texas folks, but I’d be reluctant to bank on it continuing much longer.

In the spirit of internationalism, we will ignore the location of Rio Hondo, a million miles from nowhere, in favor of extending a hand to our Latin brothers, who buy a lot of motorcycles and have only soccer to look forward to the rest of the year.

2018 is the year, I believe, when I finally convince the powers that be at Motorcycle.com to cough up the expenses for a Brno/Spielberg junket next summer. What this racing stuff needs is more local color, more interviews, more in-person photography, better writing…the list goes on and on. A reward for ten years of loyal performance does not seem out of order.

 

MotoGP Misano Results

September 10, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins a classic; series tied

Magnificent Marc Marquez put on a last lap for his career highlight reel in beating a plucky Danilo Petrucci and conservative Andrea Dovizioso to the flag in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he truly is.

Marquez in MisanoThe weather gods pulled a 180° from Monday’s forecast, when it was supposed to be hot and sunny on Sunday, not Friday. Today’s rain scrambled the results in the morning WUP– witness Loris Baz sitting 3rd at the end of the session. Virtually no one had tested the 2015 racing surface in the rain. Ever. The main event, as they say, would be a lottery. Paging Jack Miller.

The Moto3 and Moto2 tilts were crashfests, half of the qualifiers in each failing to finish, and a number of points scorers having found the kitty litter not once, but twice, our old punching bag and substitute rider Alex de Angelis among them. It was easy to feel apprehensive as the MotoGP race approached

Practice and Qualifying

Marquez, Viñales and a bunch of Ducatis were making lots of noise on Friday and Saturday morning. Marquez recorded Saturday’s only sub-1:33 lap late in FP3. Hard-nosed Danilo Petrucci on a Desmo GP17 led the combined times until that point. Test rider Michele Pirro flogged his GP17 into Q2 along with a determined-looking Jorge Lorenzo, a big fan of this track when he rode in blue. Viñales was up near the top. Aleix Espargaro, happy with a new fairing, put his Aprilia into Q2. Cal Crutchlow, a lurking Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Zarco also passed Go and collected their $200.

Q1 was exciting in itself before the apparent graduates, Jack Miller on the Honda and Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were both penalized for exceeding the track limit and dropped out of the pole pageant, the trophies going to Ducati pilots Alvaro Bautista and Karel “Don’t Call It a Comeback” Abraham. Q2 gave fans plenty for their money as Maverick Viñales, carrying the sole torch for the factory Yamaha delegation, pimped Andrea Dovizioso at the close to steal his first pole since Mugello. Despite crashing out on a hot lap late in the session, Marquez managed to hold on to the third grid spot, the top three contenders for the 2017 championship qualified second, third and first, respectively.

Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco filled the second row. The perfect weather conditions of Friday and Saturday were expected to go south, so to speak, on Sunday, with rain in the forecast. Suggesting, as usual, that qualifying doesn’t always end up having much to do with the eventual result, especially when weather conditions change rapidly.

Let The Big Bikes Roll

The wet premier class race started routinely, other than Jorge Lorenzo taking the hole shot from fifth on the grid and leading the first six laps of the race, as if the track were dry as dust. He was followed in quick succession by Marquez, Divizioso, and Maverick Viñales, with Petrucci on the fly from his start in the middle of the third row. Once Lorenzo left the premises via a Lap 6 high side on his GP17, it was these four riders who would slug it out for the podium. And Viñales, on the factory Yamaha, never appeared to assert himself, riding in fourth place pretty much all day, still in the title chase, unwilling to let the rain put him in DNFville again.

Petrucci went through the leaders like the proverbial hot knife, sliding past Dovizioso on Lap 5 and Marquez on Lap 6. He then put on a clinic of riding in the rain for 21 laps, his rhythm perfect, virtually wobble-free, with #93 and #04 staying close enough to hit him with a rock. Showing nerves of steel and flogging the Ducati joyfully in front of 97,000 fans, 96,000 of whom were pulling for Rossi, Ducati, Petrucci, Dovi, and/or even Andrea Iannone who, in yet another gruesome weekend, retired on Lap 18 with arm pump. With Rossi out injured, the list grew to include Michele Pirro (who finished 5th on a productive wild card).

We watched intently as the last few laps of the race took shape. Petrucci, seeking his first premier class win ever, with nothing to lose and being a notorious mudder, leading the race after Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the lead on Lap 6. Marquez, appearing to struggle to keep up with Petrucci and fend off Dovizioso, and with plenty to lose in the championship chase, left Petrucci in the lead all day without letting him get away.

During the penultimate lap, Marquez seemed to mentally flip a coin and decided to try to win the race rather than manage it. In tricky conditions, with worn tires, he hit the front in Turn 1, took advantage of a Petrucci wobble in Turn 4, and gassed his Honda RC213V home by 1.1 seconds over the gutted Petrucci, putting in the fastest lap of the race in the last 1:47.07. Throwing caution to the wind, as it were. In stark contract to Dovizioso, willing to settle for third place, Marquez, with the heart of a champion, decided he was unwilling to settle for second. This is one reason he has three premier class titles and Dovi, as skilled and brave as he is, has none.

Weather Throws a Spanner

Cue the music: “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin

Rider         Start Position    Finish Position
Marquez              3                      1
Petrucci               8                       2
Dovizioso            2                       3
Viñales                1                       4
Pirro                   11                      5
Miller                 14                      6
Redding             19                      7
Rins                    20                      8
Folger                16                      9
Smith                 22                     10
PEspargaro       17                     11
Bautista             10                     12
Crutchlow          4                      13
Pedrosa               7                     14
Zarco                    6                    15
Baz                       15                   16
Abraham             12                   17
Lorenzo                5                  DNF
Barbera               13                 DNF
AEspargaro          9                  DNF
Lowes                  23                 DNF
Iannone               21                DNF
Rabat                    18                DNF

For those of you following our tranching exercise, we alluded last time how Scott Redding and Jorge Lorenzo consistently suffer reversals of fortune. Today, as predicted, was a great day for Redding and another dumpster fire for Lorenzo.

The Big Picture – Then There Were Three

Today marked the end of yet another premier class season of chasing the dream for Dani Pedrosa, who was never able to get his Repsol Honda’s tires heated up all day, could manage but two points for his 14th place finish and now trails Valentino Rossi, who no longer contends for the title, his leg and title hopes in pieces.

Round 14 in ancient Aragon looms, the last European round before the Pacific flyaway rounds and subsequent return to Valencia for the finale. With Marquez and Dovizioso now tied at 199 points and Viñales at 183, the chances of the 2017 title being undecided approaching the last Sunday of the season appear pretty decent. This was Viñales’ first race from pole with Yamaha where he failed to podium, which probably means nothing in the wet. But it was wet in Aragon in 2015. I’d like to see him close the gap with #93 and #04 before November.

For some of you, those who have a soft spot in their hearts for rookie Johann Zarco, the lasting image from today’s race will be that of him pushing his Tech 3 M1 across the finish line, utterly exhausted, for the sake of a single championship point, which says a lot about what it takes to excel in this sport. Personally, I prefer the backflips.

Zarco