MotoGP Silverstone Preview

August 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the Chasers It’s Time to Fish or Cut Bait

MotoGP Madness descends upon the British Midlands this weekend as Round 12, the two-thirds mark of the 2017 season, arrives. Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez maintains his lead in the series at 16 points, but only 35 points separate the top five riders. A single mishap for #93 and it’s anybody’s season. Marquez was down by 37 points after Mugello, and has gained 53 points on the field in the last five rounds. His pursuers need to evacuate or get off the pot if they want to Let Valencia Decide.

The factory Yamaha contingent of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales are constrained in this effort by the appearance, if not the fact, that the 2016 M-1 carrying Tech 3 rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger around the great tracks of the world is a better bike than the 2017 iteration. We saw this previously at Honda, where the 2014 model of the RC213V was so superior to the 2015 model that Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis midway through the 2015 season in an effort to salvage his only non-championship campaign since coming up from Moto2 in 2013.

The opinions of the riders are mixed. I have not heard Rossi complaining about the bike any more this year than in previous years, other than 2011-12 when he was exiled to what was then Ducati Island. Vinales has no frame of reference. He undoubtedly thought he had died and gone to heaven when he won three of his first five premier class races on the Yamaha. Since Mugello, though, he has lost to at least one of the Tech 3 riders every time out. What other possible explanation can there be for two rookies snapping at the heels of a future hall-of-famer and the arguable GOAT? It’s gotta be the bike.

Recent History at Silverstone

2014 was The Year of Marquez. He had reeled off 10 wins in a row to start the season, followed by his curious 4th place finish last time out at Brno. With a lead in the championship of 53 points, many thought Brno was a bump in the road. Some thought otherwise, that somehow Marquez might have been “broken.” Silverstone, making it three dry races in a row in that wettish year, was where we would find the answer.

With a front row of Marquez, Dovi and Lorenzo, the two Spaniards went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead. On Lap 18, after some classic paint-trading, Marquez bulled his way through on his countryman, proving that just because you haven’t started shaving yet doesn’t mean you aren’t sporting a large pair. At the finish, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), the top five completed by Rossi (+8.5), Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2). At least Vale had the pleasure of pimping Pedrosa at the flag. Dovi’s GP14 was still difficult to ride.

2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 that season was shaping up as a Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the grid during the four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi. The weather gods got involved just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.

Last year, on a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 slimmed things down to a 19-lap joust. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Vinales ending his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by my boy Cal Crutchlow and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who won a knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, leading the season by 50 points, not a whisker on his chin.

Yamaha-Friendly has become Ducati-Friendly

Andrea Dovizioso has won three times this year, at Mugello, Catalunya and now Austria. Throwing out Austria, which some say was added to the calendar for the express purpose of giving Ducati a venue they can dominate, we looked at recent results at the other two cribs. At each, Marquez won in 2014, with Yamahas taking both in 2015 and 2016. My conclusion is that Ducati’s success is coming at Yamaha’s expense. We have spoken over the years about how some tracks favor a particular brand, and for all those years it was only Honda or Yamaha. Now Ducati has been added to the mix. And Silverstone, with its long lines and fast turns, is built for speed.

Lastest Rider Reports for 2018

Courtesy of a bevy of releases and reports elsewhere, we suspect or know most of the following. Alvaro Bautista will stay at Aspar. Karel Abraham appears likely to stay as well. Takaaki Nakagami will officially join Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda. Reale Avintia Racing appears to want to sign Tito Rabat, for whatever reason. Perhaps they suspect his fortunes will improve on a satellite Ducati versus his lackluster results on a satellite Honda. Sam Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Mike Kallio and Thomas Luthi are rumored to be contending for the second Marc VDS bike alongside Franco Morbidelli. And Xavier Simeon, late of Moto2, is in the running to displace Loris Baz at Avintia. Many of these are still in the “rumor” stage.

Re-Tranching for the Helluvit

After Round 10:

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

After Round 11:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautistaꜛ, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucciꜜ, Baz, Lorenzo
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rinsꜜ, Reddingꜛ
Tranche 5: P. Espargaroꜜ, Rabat, Smith Lowes

This is becoming a three-tiered Usual Suspects diagram. There are nine or ten riders consistently in the top two tranches, and another similar number regularly in the bottom two. Tranche three, the median, if you will, gets movement from both directions; there should be more variance in Tranche 3 than in the 1&2 and 4&5 combinations. Like it or not, Alvaro Bautista seems to be a Tranche 2 guy, Lorenzo a #3. Iannone, Rins Redding and Pol Espargaro have joined the have-nots and not-yets at the bottom of the bowl, all moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Meanwhile, Tranches 1 and 2 are more or less static.

A more enterprising writer with, say, an advanced degree in economics would model the rankings for each rider each week, compare it with the chart of their results, perform multiple regression analysis on the two curves, whip out a couple of derivatives, and lose to crushing boredom every single reader he ever had in one chart. He would, however, have an interesting graphic representation of the relationship between a rider’s objective performance and his subjective ranking. Perhaps all this tranching stuff is just a big popularity contest.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long range forecast from weather.com shows (what else?) cool and damp conditions expected for the weekend. Temps in the high 60’s, chance of rain each day. Perfect conditions for cultivating mold, not so much for motorcycle racing, especially for Honda, whose bikes like it hot. I expect to see two Spaniards and one Italian on the podium Sunday afternoon humming the Spanish national anthem. We’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as possible thereafter,

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MotoGP Red Bull Ring Results

August 13, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Denies Marquez in Austrian Thriller 

Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP world championship will be remembered for the duel between Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez on the race’s last lap. By then, a lead group of six or seven riders had shrunk to just the two top riders in this year’s series. At a track seemingly designed for the Ducati, Dovi held off the best rider on Earth by a fraction of a second in a race people will be talking about for years. 

Practice and Qualifying

All three of the meaningful practice sessions leading up to Q1 were dry or mostly dry.  Dovizioso owned Friday, at/near the top of both sheets, and, feeling confident, took some time off early in FP3 to visit a cute little used book store not far from the track, ending the session in 16th place. The Octo Pramac team could only be described as “cheesed off” after FP3.  Redding, who will be riding an Aprilia next season, missed passing through to Q2 by 6/1000ths of a second.  Teammate Danilo Petrucci was another full 6/1000ths behind Redding.

As expected, the Ducatis were loving themselves some Austria. In addition to Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo passed through to Q2 in an encouraging 4th place, while Loris Baz and Karel Abraham (having a better year than I expected) flogged their GP15s to a couple of fast laps and into the front four rows of the grid, regardless of what might happen in FP4 or, for that matter, qualifying itself.  For these two riders, rapidly approaching “journeyman” status, this is a win. Punking Redding and Petrucci, both on newer bikes, had to feel pretty good, too.

Along with Marc Marquez, who led the way into Q2, most of the usual suspects did well.  Johann Zarco, the factory Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, Lorenzo, and Cal Crutchlow appeared to have solid race pace.  Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki produced one fast lap in three days but made the cut. Names failing to make the Q2 grade included Dani Pedrosa, Jonas Folger, Bautista, Barbera, both Espargaros and my boy Alex Rins (20th!).

When qualifying finally rolled around on Saturday afternoon, there was a discernible lack of drama in the proceedings.  Pedrosa and Petrucci passed comfortably through to Q2. Marc Marquez, in the process of securing his 70th grand prix pole, laid down a blistering lap with about six minutes gone for provisional pole, pitted for new rubber, and did the same thing again with a few minutes left.  In the process, he relegated the factory Ducatis to spots two and three on the front row.  The second row formed up on Vinales, joined by Danilo Petrucci and Johann Zarco, with Rossi lurking dangerously in seventh, Pedrosa eighth.

Like the Old Days.  For Awhile.

When the lights went out, Jorge Lorenzo took the hole shot on the Ducati and soon led a front group including Marquez, teammate Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. On Lap 2 it looked as if Jorge was getting away, reminiscent of 2010, 2012, etc.  But, unlike those halcyon days, he was unable to disappear, instead leading a tight group of six.  By Lap 5 Pedrosa had faded slightly, his place taken by Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco.  It should be noted that Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Zarco went out on soft rear tires, while the factory Hondas and Yamahas chose the harder compounds.

Early in the race we saw Dovi and Lorenzo double-teaming Marquez, forcing him into a two-front war. This lasted until Lap 12, which saw bikes 99-93-04 become 93-04-99.  The same type of thing occurred one lap later, when 46-5-26 quickly became 26-46-5.  On Lap 14, Rossi ran hot into Turn 1 and re-entered in seventh position, where he finished. No bells ringing in Tavullia tonight.

Then There Were Two

Pedrosa broke Lorenzo on Lap 20 and began chasing Marquez and Dovizioso, to no avail.  By lap 25 Pedrosa had had it, leaving 04 and 93 to slug it out to the finish, and slug it out they did.  Although the race analysis will show Dovi having led all of the last four laps, the splits between him and Marquez were illustrative:

Lap 25         .084

Lap 26         .159

Lap 27         .094

Lap 28         .176, including close encounters at virtually every turn on the track, as Marquez threw caution to the wind in his effort to win for the first time in Austria. After the race, Marquez laughed about the result, seeming serenely confident he will get a few wins here in the next decade.  For Dovizioso, at age 31, today’s win had to be as sweet as any in his career.

Concern in Yamaha Land

A track layout that is friendly to both the Ducati and the Yamaha produced a podium of two Hondas and a Duc.  To say that Round 11 was a disappointment to the Yamaha riders—Folger retired on Lap 4—is a bit of an understatement. Vinales (-24) and Rossi (-33) sit third and fourth in the standings.  Vinales is not yet the dominant force he is expected to become.  As for Rossi, with one win (Assen 2017) now in his last 22 starts, his last pole in Motegi last year, and his last title in 2009, we may be finally witnessing the inexorable march of time. With Lorenzo holding up well enough to finish fourth, the Yamaha delegation could manage no better than Zarco in fifth and Vinales, looking mortal yet again, sixth.

One more lesson learned here.  Honda is getting close to fixing the acceleration issues that have dogged them for much of the last three seasons.  Marquez was losing ground to Dovizioso on corner exit consistently today, but not like he did last year fighting mostly with the Yamahas.  Even with today’s loss, Marquez extended his championship lead and has put some daylight between himself and Vinales, Rossi and Pedrosa. Dovizioso, a dark horse entering the season, sits dangerously in second, 16 points back of Marquez.

Domino Theory

Sam Lowes is officially out at Aprilia for 2018, being replaced by Scott Redding and looking for a ride, any ride, for next year.  Redding had been pushed out of the Pramac garage by the signing of Jack Miller, who had been ejaculated from the Marc VDS Honda garage by Franco Morbidelli, whose promotion from the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia Moto2 team allowed Joan Mir a place to move up from the Leopard Racing Moto3 team, joining Alex Marquez. Leopard Moto3 struck back quickly, signing Enea Bastianini from Estrella Galicia’s Moto3 team to replace Mir.

Cosmic symmetry would be achieved if Marc VDS were to sign Lowes to a Moto3 contract for 2018. But Sam will be a hot ticket in Moto2 next year. Instead, they have undoubtedly signed some unbelievably fast 14-year old Spanish kid from the CEV cadre to replace Bastianini. In the US, colleges sign high school sophomores to play hoops or football, big money in their futures.  In Europe, it’s teenaged soccer players and motorcycle racers.

Final thought—Joan Mir is an Alien-in-Waiting, thrashing the field in Moto3.  He will be 20 years old in September.  He is a Honda guy and will be riding for one of the big money teams in Moto2 next year, albeit with a 750cc Triumph engine. You heard it here first—he will join the Repsol Honda team and Marc Marquez in 2019 and will receive his Alien Club membership card in 2020.

Two Weeks to Silverstone

While the stillborn Ebww Vale project in Wales turns to dust on the drawing board, Silverstone once again hosts the British Grand Prix on the 27th.  This has historically been a Yamaha-friendly venue.  Last year Maverick Vinales enjoyed his first premier class win here on the Suzuki, and must be considered a favorite for Round 12. The season is almost two-thirds complete, and Marc Marquez seems chillaxed battling four other riders and winning.  He appears much as he did in 2014—calm, having fun, downplaying his unworldly abilities. He appears happy even on days like today when he loses. By an eyelash.

Marc Marquez handles himself like a champion, like he’s been there before, like he’ll be there again before too long. Congratulations to Andrea Dovizioso for winning today’s battle.  My money is on Marquez to win the war.

MotoGP Red Bull Ring Preview

August 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Ducati Riders Licking Their Chops

Honda Racing took a turn slapping the competition around at Brno. This week, in a country synonymous with mountains, beer halls, and alarming political geneses, Ducati Corse gets its chance. The Track with Only Nine Turns hosts Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP championship on Sunday. Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jorge Lorenzo need to make hay while the sun shines, because Honda man-child Marc Marquez is pulling away from the field.

One of the truths of racing in general is that, on any given weekend, your chances of kicking away a possible championship exceed your chances of seizing it by the throat. Marc Marquez, the exception to many rules, could crash in Turn 1 of Lap 1 this week and still be in the heart of the chase, if somewhat humbled. But for his four chasers— teammate Dani Pedrosa, Yamaha bros Maverick Vinales and Rossi, and Ducati rep Dovizioso—crashing out of the points at this stage could spell the end of their year. For Marquez, this is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. For his pursuers, it is already Game 6, and they’re behind.

Overlooked Details from Brno

The announcers and I missed the fact that rookie Jonas Folger, one of the year’s great surprises on the Tech 3 Yamaha, could have podiumed on Sunday had his crew not been asleep at the switch. Starting 14th, Folger was right behind Marquez entering the pits at the end of Lap 2. Whether Marquez’ early stop had been planned or not (probably had), Folger’s was completely spontaneous and completely correct. Had his #2 bike been ready, he could have followed Marquez around all day and perhaps had a second consecutive silver. Or a maiden premier class win.

His crew, with the bike not yet set up for the dry, waved him off, causing him to have to take, in effect, a voluntary ridethrough penalty. He pitted again after Lap 3, changed bikes, and fought his way to a respectable 10th place finish. Another example of how the Repsol Honda crew dominates their competition, an aspect of racing that goes largely unnoticed. The other teams are WAY behind the factory Honda bunch. And I got nothing on Folger’s onboard messaging system.

One more thing: Pol Espargaro (9th) scored KTM’s first premier class top-ten finish on Sunday. We trust it won’t be their last.

Recent History at Red Bull Ring

A number of writers would, gratuitously, try to summarize this segment of the preview in a single sentence. In its debut season, last year’s Austrian round saw Ducati pilots Iannone and Dovi lead the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the bucolic Teutonic countryside, followed by everyone else. Stunts like this could explain why we have difficulty securing pressbox credentials for most races.

Mental Exercise, Austria-Style

Just for grins, imagine the following (okay, unlikely) scenario for this weekend’s race: Marquez gets a DNF. Pedrosa somehow wins with Dovizioso second. Rossi snakes Vinales for third. The standings going into Round 12 would look like this:

Marquez 154
Vinales 153
Rossi 148
Pedrosa 148
Dovizioso 143

Stranger things have happened, just not in this present life cycle.

Caution: Re-Tranching in Process

Comparing the rankings after Rounds 9 and 10:
After Round 9:

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

After Round 10:

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

Four riders moving up, three moving down. This thing should not change that much, meaning I am probably placing too much emphasis on Brno. However, Pedrosa has proven he is still a tier one rider in the right conditions. Aleix Espargaro could have easily finished sixth on Sunday. Loris Baz qualified for Q2, crashed out of 14th place. I am itching to drop Jack Miller like a bad habit now that he has checked out with Honda. I suspect he will make that task easy for me in the weeks and months to come .

Alex Rins missed a top ten finish in his first real return to health on the Suzuki by 5/100ths of a second, causing him to jump two levels. And Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo has now worked himself back into Tranche 4, a measure of the difficulty of changing one’s world championship riding style. It appears muscle memory, once attained, takes a long time to forget. Like Iannone, he is trying to re-program his lizard brain, which has mutated in response to years of Yamaha inputs. Thought he could do what Rossi couldn’t; the sin of pride. Be humble or get humbled, I say.

Brain Dump

Much is made of the the Autodromo’s nickname, The Czech Adrenaline Factory. It is compared to that of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, The Horsepower Rodeo. Totally unaware that these tracks even had mottos and nicknames, I came up with some ideas for other venues that may lack a snappy moniker:

The Sachsenring:    Ve Have Vays
Assen:                        Roll with Us at Assen
Rio Hondo:               Nowhere  ⇒  1000km
Sepang:                     Bungle in the Jungle
Silverstone:              Next Year in Ebbw Vale!
Valencia:                   Let Valencia Decide

Readers with other ideas are welcome to submit them below in the Comments section. Good luck coming up with something funnier than Argentina.

It’s Official

Finland is on the MotoGP calendar beginning in 2019. Dorna’s expansion plans are becoming very Wide World of Sports-ish— “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, spanning the globe,” from the steaming tarmac of Malaysia to the frozen tundra of Finland, imposing unbelievable strains on our teams in pursuit of the almighty euro.

Thailand and Indonesia are banging on the door, demanding to be let in, presaging two Pacific flyaways. With the global motorcycle and scooter markets booming, most notably in the Asia Pacific region, the calendar, like everything else, follows the money. Must be true in Finland, too.

A 20-round calendar can’t be far away.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather conditions for the weekend should provide something for every taste and budget. Friday is forecast to be wet, Saturday less so, and Sunday clear, cool and breezy. Wet practice sessions leading up to a dry race can be a problem for the riders and teams early in the season. At this point, they’ve all been there, done that. If there is a salient point somewhere in here, it’s that the temps are not expected to be warm enough Sunday to help the Hondas overcome the built-in strengths of the Ducati GP17 on a simple layout like this.

Which in turn means that the smart money will be on Ducatis on Sunday, notably Dovi and Petrucci. Marquez is bound to be a factor; Pedrosa, who will likely have trouble getting his tires up to temperature, not so much. The factory Yamahas, based upon last year’s race, will battle for the third podium spot; my money is on Vinales.

The races go off early Sunday morning again in the U.S. Look for results and analysis right here around noon Sunday EDT.

MotoGP Brno Results

August 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Honda Dominate Czech GP

The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much pre-race sturm und drang, turned out to be a fascinating six-lap race with a 16-lap warm down. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best meteorologists of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back.

As Sunday afternoon approached, the crews were in a collective lather trying to figure out the weather and pursuant tire combinations. Marquez changed from a hard rear rain tire to the soft while on the track, a minute before the sighting lap. Confusion reigned, the sky an off-putting combination of clear blue sunshine and heavy gray clouds. It was declared a Wet Race.

We have seen this before from the Repsol Honda crew. They out-thunk and out-worked the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams today, who had their #2 bikes set up for rain, while the Repsol team had both #2 bikes, #93 and #26, set up for the dry. Marquez, who has learned the hard way the benefits of pitting punctually on a drying track (see Phillip Island 2013, etc.), was the first to do so, Pedrosa the second, and rookie Johann Zarco the last of the frontrunners to come in.

A number of riders, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi among them, were forced to stay out longer than they wanted because their bikes weren’t ready. Lorenzo, especially, was hindered by his own team today. This must be unusually painful in that he had led the race from jump street for three laps, then was 19th for awhile before ultimately finishing another dismal 15th.

One of the best things about this sport is that the rider makes the decision when to come in for the change, despite the new messages flashing on his screen. Marquez seems to have an extra muscle that allows him to hit the apex, as it were, when it comes to these flag-to-flag events. And a crew that can roll with him.

Qualifying

Q2 was more or less predictable, given the heat. The battle for pole became one of circuit (Yamaha- and Ducati-friendly) vs. conditions (Honda heat), and conditions won out. Marquez unloaded his second consecutive (Sachsenring) pole lap with about a minute left, and nobody mounted a serious challenge after that. Rossi and Pedrosa had already completed the front row, while Dovizioso on the Ducati, LCR’s Crutchlow, nursing a damaged vertebra and Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo made up row two.

The Anointed Maverick Vinales, who had struggled all weekend, managed only the top of row three, along with Petrucci and Bautista, both of whom had passed through Q1 to get that far. Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati) completed the top 12.

Alex Rins (Suzuki) qualified in front of 10 other guys, since most of his fractures have now healed. Just sayin’. Brands that failed to make the grade yesterday included Jonas Folger (Tech 3), the indifferent Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) and Jack Miller (Honda), cooling his heels, anticipating climbing aboard a Ducati GP17 in November.

Down the line in Moto2 veteran Mattia Passini took pole for Kalex, trailed in short order by Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and Franco Morbidelli (Kalex). Oliveira has ridden the KTM factory MotoGP bike and claims to love it, as all good Moto2 riders should. He will find his way to MotoGP in short order. Morbidelli is already gone; Passini has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and got out of town.

Gabriel Rodrigo secured pole in Moto3, ahead of rising stars with names like Romano Fenati (2nd), Joan Mir (4th), Bulega, Bendsneyder and Di Giannantonio. In their customary frantic fashion, 23 riders qualified under 2:10, with six of those under 2:09. Closer than a rush-hour bus in August.

With Sunday barreling down on them, the MotoGP riders went to bed Saturday night not knowing what to expect in the way of weather when they woke up on Sunday. Or tire choices. Or race strategy. Or anything much beyond the fact that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi had qualified one-two and were sharpening their blades, smiles in place, for Sunday’s soiree.

Aliens Flirt with Disaster

With Marquez disappearing from sight and the 2017 title up for grabs, the other contenders spent an alarming amount of time not contending today before making impressive saves. Dani Pedrosa sat in 8th place for a couple of early laps. Vinales was loitering as low as 13th on Lap 5. Rossi, who led briefly early, returned from his pit in 14th place, 28 seconds behind Marquez. That he made it back to 4th place at the flag is testament to his continued excellence at making lemonade out of lemons. Andrea Dovizioso, who I had expected to fight for the win today, finished Lap 6 in 15th place before rallying to 6th. All had the pace. None had the crew or, for that matter, the rider.

Both Pedrosa and Marquez gained ground on the Aliens today. Cal Crutchlow’s gritty performance, nursing a very sore back and taking 5th place, gave Honda three of the top five finishers at a track not particularly well-suited to the bikes strengths, which are few. The Tech 3 Yamaha rookies Zarco and Folger, either of which I had predicted could win today’s race, made a hash of things, with Folger crossing the line in 10th and Zarco limping home 12th. Zarco spent a few early laps in podiumland and too many laps before pitting. If you look up the noun “rookie mistake” in the dictionary, you’ll see his devilishly handsome face with his name in parentheses below it.

Elsewhere on the Grid

My boy Alex Rins finished in the points in 11th place. Depending on how the season ends, it is not out of the question that he could challenge Zarco and Folger for ROY consideration. Danilo Petrucci, running as high as 3rd in the early going, got passed by five riders, easy as you please, on his way to 7th place. Aleix Espargaro, who had been very high on the leader board early, got tangled up with Andrea Iannone in pit lane, was penalized three positions (for an error by his crew, releasing him at the wrong time) and still managed 8th place, miles ahead of teammate Sam Lowes and, more importantly, directly in front of little brother Pol on the KTM, who had to be happy for a top ten finish regardless.

The Big Picture

Yesterday, Marc Marquez had three Aliens sitting within 10 points of him, all slavering away at the idea of unseating him today at Brno. And while Dani Pedrosa lost ground to him (-26 to -31), the Repsol Honda duo gained ground on everyone else, including Dovizioso and the Yamahas. The order of the top five riders hasn’t changed, but Marquez now leads Vinales by 14, Dovizioso and Rossi by 20-something, and Pedrosa by over 30. For the triple world champion, who trailed Vinales by 37 points after Round 2, it’s getting easier to breathe. He looks and sounds like 2015 was a fluke and that he is, in fact, King of the Universe. Maverick Vinales may have to wait his turn.

Moto2 and Moto3 Results

The Moto3 championship became a, ahem, Mir formality as the brilliant young Spanish series leader held off hotheaded Italian Romano Fenati in a bit of a damp clinic on how to punk your rival. Fenati is officially the second-best rider in Moto3, as he has now finished second in four races in a row and five for the year. Oh, and Nicola Bulega plays up his resemblance to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and has the best hair in Moto3. That’s it.

Today’s Moto2 race was red-flagged due to rain and re-started as a six-lap sprint. Mattia Pasini and Franco Morbidelli had the first race by the throat, but both got splattered in the sprint, Pasini crashing out and Morbidelli getting swamped all the way down to eighth. Veteran Thomas Luthi took advantage of series leader Morbidelli’s travails, winning easily and cutting his deficit to the Italian in half.

On to Austria

Testing at Brno tomorrow for some of the teams, then back at it again on Friday at The Red Bull Ring, the Bonneville Salt Flats of MotoGP, in scenic Spielberg, Austria. Last year Iannone and Dovizioso made it a Dueling Andreas sweep for Ducati. With Iannone busy working himself out of a job at Suzuki, and Jorge Lorenzo stumbling around the Ducati garage with his fly down, it is up to Dovizioso and Petrucci to carry the flag next week. The factory Yamahas of Vinales and Rossi will be feeling the pressure of dealing with Marc Marquez who, at this point, should mainly be interested in trying to beat Vinales every time out.

Marquez, on the other hand, will be feeling little pressure heading to Schnitzeland. A podium there would be nice but not necessary. Keeping the shiny side up and finishing the race are important, while keeping a close eye on Vinales is just good business.

We will have a fresh new set of tranches ready for you by mid-week as we gear up for Round 11 in Austria.

Let Valencia Decide.

 

MotoGP Brno Preview

July 31, 2017

Brno’s Luscious Curves Portend a Great Race

MotoGP has been cleared for landing at historic Brno, nestled in the rolling Moravian region of the Czech Republic and host to the most widely-attended GP on the calendar. Five riders have formed the first group, tight as ticks, but the next two races favor the Yamahas and Ducatis. If Marc Marquez can hold serve this week and next, his chances of a title in 2017 will take a great leap forward. Chápeš? ¿Entiendes?

Recent History at Brno

Brno was where Marquez’ amazing 2014 win streak came to a curious halt at 10 by way of a fourth place finish that was utterly mystifying. #93 led most of the practice sessions and qualified on pole. Again. Having watched the race pretty carefully, it appeared to me that he just wasn’t that into it, that he let himself be beaten rather than trying to extend a streak that tested belief. It was Pedrosa’s first win in 10 months, his last having come at Sepang in 2013, edging Lorenzo by a few tenths and Rossi by five seconds. Those were the days when Marquez routinely rode out of control, and we saw none of that at Brno.

The 2015 race gave the crowd of 138,000 a rather disappointing high-speed parade; six of the top 8 starters crossed the line in the same position they started. One of these was polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who flogged his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the fastest lap ever recorded at Brno on two wheels in qualifying on Saturday. Leading, as if on rails, from wire to wire, Lorenzo pulled into a tie with teammate Valentino Rossi for the 2015 world championship and, holding the tiebreaker, pushed Rossi out of the lead for the first time that year. Marquez and Rossi joined Lorenzo on the podium that day.

Last year: With three wet/dry races in the previous four rounds, MotoGP fans had been getting accustomed to strange results. Aussie Jack Miller came out of nowhere to win at Assen on his satellite Honda. Marc Marquez held serve at The Sachsenring joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow and Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso. At Brno, the abrasive #CalCulator won his first ever premier class race ahead of Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi and Marquez. Cosmic justice prevailed—the biggest day in modern British racing history had virtually no impact on the 2016 season series. It did allow Crutchlow’s inclusion in the following chart.

RIDER PERFORMANCE: 1ST HALF VS. 2ND HALF
RIDER/YEAR     2013        2014          2015        2016       2017****
MARQUEZ     163/171*  225/137*  114/128  170/128*    129
ROSSI             117/120    141/154    179/146   111/138     119
LORENZO      137/193      97/166    166/164* 122/111       65
PEDROSA       147/153      148/98      67/139     96/59       103
DOVIZIOSO       81/59        99/88         87/55    59/112      123
CRUTCHLOW  116/72       28/46         66/59     40/101       64
VINALES          158/165** 120/154*** 57/40   83/119     124
*World Champion
**Moto3
***Moto2
****After 9 rounds
Better second half than first half. It should be noted that Marquez had the sandbox to himself in 2014 and 2016 and had no need to push during the second half of those seasons.

If Dovi finishes ahead of Rossi this year it will be a passing of the torch. Not necessarily to Dovi, but surely from Rossi. Vale, I fear, will be enticed to keep racing a year or two past his sell date. Perhaps schooling some Italian Moto2 grad on his own Sky VR46 team (a Suzuki satellite team?) without having to get out of the saddle. Until the student starts schooling the teacher. Paging Pecco Bagnaia. (BTW, Dovi’s second half has been worse than the first in three of the last four years. Rossi will probably beat him. Just sayin’.)

Pedrosa’s best days, too, are behind him. Iannone needs a different bike. Rins too early to say. Lorenzo looking lost. Talk of Petrucci replacing Lorenzo in 2018 is rampant. #09 is a hot ticket these days.

Silly Season in Motion

Alex Marquez and Joan Mir will team up together next season in Moto2 with Estrella Galicia Marc VDS. Should be formidable from jump street. Morbidelli takes over for Rabat at Marc VDS MotoGP, Rabat said to be negotiating a contract with Avintia or Aspar Ducati, whatever. Same with Miller, now signed with Pramac, moving Redding along. Appears Baz is toast, as Zarco is the new and improved token Frenchman. Taka Nakagami, moving up from Moto2, may be a done deal as the number two Honda rider for LCR alongside Crutchlow. Nakagami’s results have been so-so, but his nationality is perfect.

Herve Poncharal stands pat at Tech 3 Yamaha—who wouldn’t–as does Lin Jarvis at the factory Yamaha team and Livio Suppo at Repsol Honda. LCR keeps Crutchlow and adds Nakagami. Marc VDS drops Rabat, Honda shows Miller the door, and the team adds Morbidelli plus one more. Most every other team either has an opening for next season or appears willing to create one if the right rider comes along. This includes the factory Ducati team which, it is said, covets Petrucci in the worst way. Possibly enough to pay JLo to go away. Ahem… Enough to buy JLo out of his current contract. That’s better.

The answer, in my opinion, is for Lorenzo and Petrucci to switch teams for 2018, both keeping their current contracts and crews. Petrucci is able to give much better data than Lorenzo, and Ducati would have its competitive all-Italian team of Dovi and Petrux in place, finally. Lorenzo will come around or he won’t before leaving for greener pastures in 2019.

Bautista looking credible at mid-season, will stay with Aspar in 2018. The Excitable Romano Fenati moves up to Moto2 looking super-fast, highly volatile, and very special. Redding in the wind, feelings bruised. Rabat lining up a new deal. Barbera, Baz, hoping. Aprilia looks to stay put, as will KTM. Iannone must be gone at Suzuki, to be replaced by someone from Moto2; Rins stays. Lorenzo spends another year with Ducati in purgatory as Dovi fights for titles. The candidate to succeed Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda team will soon emerge; it is no longer Miller. It could conceivably be Mir or little brother #73 Alex Marquez, who is finally getting Moto2 figured out. One of the wildcards for 2018 is Rins, who could be nothing or could be, on a faster bike, a top ten threat.

Your Weekend Forecast

I can’t fully believe I’m saying this, but this could be the week Tech 3 gets their first MotoGP win. This is a good track for them, and Folger came pretty close to winning in Germany. No meteorological weirdness to juggle the outcome.

This part of the world is in the midst of a prolonged hot, dry spell, and the long range weather forecast is for those conditions to continue, to the delight of the Honda contingent. The top four—Marquez, Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi—should be rated more-or-less evenly heading into the race. They’ve all won, they’ve all crashed, they’ve all led the 2017 season, and they all REALLY need to avoid a bad start to the back nine. Plenty of pressure to go around. Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow like it hot on their Hondas.

Bring it on. The race goes off early AM on the US east coast, and we’ll have results here as soon as the fog clears.

MotoGP Mid-Season Report Card

July 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Here we compare the championship standings at the midpoint of the season to our pre-season projections, team by team. Those projections, posted back in February, were surprisingly good. A few riders were overrated, a few underrated, but overall things have proceeded in a fairly orderly manner. Those of you who disagree should post your own first half predictions, keeping in mind that hindsight is almost always 20/20.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Expectations for Fausto Gresini’s 2017 MotoGP team were pretty low coming into the season; the advice “bring a book” comes to mind. I expected Aleix Espargaro to be the #1 rider and Sad Sam Lowes a distant #2. Few surprises here. Espargaro has gotten more from the RS-GP than has Lowes, who may become unemployed on November 13. The Aprilia continues to have pneumatic valve issues which have hampered Espargaro’s results.

Espargaro has enjoyed his best outings at Qatar, Catalunya and The Sachsenring, three different layouts, suggesting he can produce in all kinds of conditions. He could be a top ten threat next year on an improved bike. For now, he’s just making me look good.

Ducati Factory Team

One of the good news/bad news teams this year. Andrea Dovizioso, the underpaid #1 rider, has assumed Alien status and is toiling at the heart of the championship race, with Brno and Red Bull Ring, two friendly tracks, in his immediate future. Jorge Lorenzo, on the other hand, has found the transition from the Yamaha more than a little difficult. He has a Wicked Witch of the West-sized hole in his game—when it rains, he melts to the bottom of the grid. He currently occupies ninth position for the year in a dog-eat-dog fight for eighth. Ho hum. Management, I hear, expected something more for their mega-euros when they hired the triple world champion.

The Lorenzo-Ducati marriage, it seems, was not made in heaven. Presuming he runs away at the end of 2018, it’s anybody’s guess where he may end up thereafter; retirement is not beyond reason. As for our preview, the salient observation was “…the odds favor (Dovi) to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.”

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow, my whipping boy, who upped his game in 2016, apparently out of spite, won twice last year (Brno, Phillip Island) and finished the season in seventh position, despite bookending his efforts with two DNFs to start the year and two more to finish it. Sitting tenth this season, with two front row starts and no wins, he has been punked by the precocious Yamaha Tech 3 rookie duo of Folger and Zarco. I expected more production from Cal this season (although in 2016 his second half was way better than the first) despite having observed, “With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again” in 2017. I still don’t.

Marc VDS Racing Team

This team has performed about as expected. Terribly. Tito Rabat, #2 to Jack Miller on the satellite Hondas, was at some point deemed a bust. Finally. As for Miller, the Australian Unguided Missile has worn out his welcome with Honda, and will join Danilo Petrucci on the #2 Pramac Ducati next year, sending Scott Redding packing. Having met Miller, he has a Trojan spirit, he adores the sport and the trappings that go with it; he lives life at high RPMs. Despite five top ten finishes, his two DNFs and assorted maladies put him solidly in 12th place at the turn, the exact midpoint where he deserves to stand. A fluky win at Assen in 2016 was, in the end, all that stood between him and ritual hari-kiri at headquarters. His signing by the #2 Ducati team portends plenty more casts and titanium plates for the young Aussie.

My prediction for the team’s 2017 campaign, which has been distinguished only by its utter lack of distinction, suggested Miller is over-rated and that the MotoGP team might go out of business sooner than had been hoped. Mostly wrong, but the piece ended well:

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

The team is going into 2018 with Franco Morbidelli, coming up rock solid from Moto2, assured, and a second rider to be named later. Meanwhile, the Estella Galicia Moto2 team will feature Alex Marquez and Joan Mir, currently leading the Moto3 series, in 2018, which will be great fun, too.

Where was I?

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

By far, the best and biggest surprise of the season. Expectations were minimal—two Moto2 grads on satellite Yamahas—despite positive off-season testing. But Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger are making the affable Herve Poncharal look brilliant, and are already signed for 2018. The team has accumulated front-row starts and podiums, with wins narrowly evading them at their home cribs in France and Germany.

I had Zarco and Alex Rins on the factory Suzuki battling for Rookie of the Year honors. Instead, Rins keeps getting banged up—despite having the reliable Iannone as his wingman—and hasn’t been able to show anything. (I thought Rins was brilliant in Moto2, but so was Toni Elias.) Instead, the Yamaha teammates are going mano-a-mano for Alien consideration in the foreseeable future.

The Tech 3 rookies stand sixth and seventh at the turn. Zarco’s season has had a great start, while Folger, on a steeper learning curve, has become utterly impudent as the season progressed, with a second at Sachsenring to close out his front nine. Despite trailing his teammate by 13 points, he has, as my old friend used to say, Mo Mentum on his side. Many people think the 2016 Yamaha outperforms the 2017 Honda RC213V.

This is just great stuff.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

No big surprises here. Maverick Vinales, The Annointed One, sits second. Valentino Rossi, The Legend Himself, sits fourth in an airtight four-man race. A number of publications conceded the 2017 title to Vinales on the basis of his impressive offseason. I remember when young hotshot Jorge Lorenzo joined the Fiat Yamaha factory team in 2008, seeing him flying over the handlebars in China. Rossi, as per usual, defies most lucid projections and continues to appear on the podium—four times, with a win in Germany allowing him to stay in the hunt at the turn. Spain and France have been unkind to him this season, but he is most definitely in the hunt. Again.

Say you’re leading a race you’re not expected to win, you being you and them being them, and you see a rider coming up hard behind you. Half a lap to go. Would Rossi, Marquez, Vinales or Dovizioso cause you to foul your leathers most quickly? For most of the past decade, it has been Rossi. As we said in February, “He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.”

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

Nailed it.

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

Petrucci currently sits eighth, exuding an aura that radiates his belief he could rank even higher but for some atrocious luck. Redding, as expected, is toast, his seat being taken by Jack Miller for 2018.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

The Team has recently re-signed Alvaro Bautista for 2018 and has noticeably not yet done the same with Loris “Too Tall” Baz. Baz has had a disappointing front nine, while Bautista, on the GP16, has performed, at times, better-than-expected in his inimitable win-or-bin style. Four DNFs and four top tens. As we said in February, “Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity. This year…he has a chance to peek at a podium or two after two grinding years with Aprilia. This may also be the best bike HE has ever ridden, although the Honda back in 2012-2013 was badass.”

Bautista in 11th and Baz in 15th should surprise no one. Expect more of the same in the second half.

Reale Avintia Racing

Two ordinary peas in a pod, back-markers both. Hector Barbera had an encouraging off-season, while Karel Abraham, on a Ducati GP-15, despite having somehow found himself qualifying on the front row in Argentina (probably suspecting his food had been laced) didn’t. Barbera started the season injured and has never seemed to recover. Abraham brings tons of sponsorship money and little else. He is, however, the only rider of which I’m familiar who has completed a MotoGP-to-WSBK-to-MotoGP switch. Marco Melandri? That’s saying something, I’m sure.

Both riders are on one-year deals and are vulnerable. Plenty to contend with in the second half for these two; lots of young Spanish and Italian guys want to ride these beasts.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Our pre-season preview ended the review of this team with the words, “Patience, grasshopper.” Which seems to be in vogue this year, as KTM appears determined to invest what it needs to become a force in MotoGP the way it has been in the underclasses. (It may also be true that a diversion of R&D resources to the MotoGP project has contributed to the factory’s dismal performance in Moto2 of late.)

Espargaro has had the better of Smith this season, as expected, although both are wallerin’ at the bottom of the food chain. Which, in this crazy sport, amounts to two seconds per lap, give or take.

Gotta love it.

Repsol Honda Team

Marquez leads the series at the break, perhaps a mild surprise after a slow start. Dani Pedrosa has morphed into late-career Colin Edwards, a reliable fifth place guy, sometimes above on the podium, sometimes below. He copped a surprising win at Jerez, and sits, well, fifth in the standings, trailing Rossi in fourth by 16 points. I hate to say it, but Pedrosa gets hurt almost every year. The prediction of him ending the year in seventh or eighth place is still good. IMO.

I said Marquez would have to beat the contenders on an inferior machine. He is doing so. Vinales is in his first year on the Yamaha, while #93 is in year five. Put them on the same machine in a series of 10-lap match races and Marquez would win six out of ten. A mature Marquez has learned to accept those days where he’s not going to win the race. Heart-stopping saves are his stock in trade. When he spins the ass end of the bike out entering the turns you just know somethin’s up.

Waiting for the chin slider.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

Walk-off winner of the Biggest Disappointment of the Year award, the program has seen Moto2 honors grad Alex Rins suffer several crash-related injuries, while transfer Andrea Iannone, the Italian Unguided Missile, has clearly called it a year on the Suzuki. He has been accused of simply going through the motions of racing. He has not protested those accusations forcefully.

I predicted Rins would challenge Zarco for Rookie of the Year. Right. As for Iannone, “Thus far in his premier class career, Iannone has been unable to harness his impossible speed, his temperament and aggressiveness often getting the better of him. It would be loads of fun to see him battle with the front group this season, and it could happen. Unless The Maniac is still, well, a maniac.”

I would guess it is difficult being Andrea Iannone these days. His is a bad bike/rider fit. He would do better on something faster, a satellite Ducati or Honda. As things stand Rins is still healing, while Iannone is imploding. This for a team that carried Vinales to a fourth place finish just last season, whose future was rapidly brightening.

A setback first half for the factory Suzuki project. Rins likely has a free pass for the rest of the year. It’s Iannone who must put up or shut up. He and Lorenzo are having to learn how to hit fastballs and curves from the opposite side of the plate. At 200 miles per hour.

Ain’t no cryin’ in MotoGP.

Just Sayin’

From the Motorcycle.com 2017 season preview summary:

February 22, 2017

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

1. Marc Marquez
2. Maverick Vinales
3. Valentino Rossi
4. Andrea Dovizioso
5. Cal Crutchlow

I had actually predicted the top ten, but the second five are now scrambled eggs I don’t feel like re-posting. Not what I expected. For the record, and completely out of order, the names included Iannone, Rins, Pedrosa, Bautista and, ahem, Lorenzo. Vinales was not picked to win the 2017 title because, somewhere, I predicted he would crash out of four races. Who knew the 2016 Yamaha would be such a beast?

So far so good here at Motorcycle.com in 2017. Looking forward to Brno and a raging second half. MotoGP needs some kind of phrase that people around the world can shout to support the universal hope that Round 18 in Valencia will be for all the marbles, that the 2017 season will all come down to one Sunday. One race. One lap. One turn. I am happy to suggest

Let Valencia Decide

If your favorite rider is in the mix that day, so much the better. No other motorsport offers competition like this. These guys are other-worldly.

For the second half, let’s hope things at the top stay tight. Imagine leaving Sepang in October with the four top riders separated by 10 points.

Let Valencia Decide.  Meanwhile, on to Brno.

 

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 2, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez goes 8 for 8 in Germany, takes season lead

The Sachsenring (or Knockwurstring as it is sometimes referred to, by me) has been Marc Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons. Make that eight, as the young Catalan survived some early challenges, patiently worked his way to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race, and won going away.

With defending champion Marquez seizing the lead in the 2017 championship and the season standings tighter than wallpaper, MotoGP leaves for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. After nine races, 10 points separate the top four riders. We have our third series leader in three rounds. Unpredictability rules the day, which is great for the fans and agony for the teams. For the riders and crews, every mistake is magnified, every risk taken another opportunity for disaster.

Compare all of this to a few years ago when there were one or two brands capable of winning races, joined by two or three competitive riders, a tiny little grid, and a bunch of field horses making up the numbers. When aging riders on lousy equipment could earn points a lap down on the field. It may be that we will someday look back upon these present years as the Golden Age of MotoGP.

Qualifying and Practice

As predicted, FP1 was dry, FP2 wet, and FP3 dry-ish; FP4 started dry and ended wet. Results varied wildly from session to session. The riders passing directly to Q2 included most of those we have ranked in the top ten at this point of the season. The two exceptions were 1) Aleix Espargaro, flogging the factory Aprilia in all conditions, while Johann Zarco struggled in all three sessions, and 2) Hector Barbera, who took Danilo Petrucci’s usual spot in Q2. Petrucci and Pol Espargaro on the KTM (!) passed through to Q2, the Italian with lots on his mind, the Spaniard thrilled to have escaped the mosh pit that constitutes the back of the grid when the lights go out.

This Petrucci guy, who just signed a new contract with Octo Pramac for next season, has been hanging around the front on Saturdays and Sundays for almost a month. Despite his disappointing outing today, the ex-cop has come of age in MotoGP. Meanwhile, ROY favorite Johann Zarco, reflecting the trouble France has always had with Germany, started 19th, firmly stuck in the mud with the entire Yamaha contingent save teammate and fellow rookie Jonas Folger, at his home crib, who started from the middle of the second row. Jorge Lorenzo, running at a Tranche 2 level in the dry, managed to secure sixth place on Saturday afternoon, dodging raindrops and praying the rosary for dry weather on Sunday.

Q2 itself started damp and ended less so. Petrucci held provisional pole as the session started winding down and riders started getting serious about grid position. And while Marquez, naturally, took the wind out of Petrucci’s sails with a strong finish—his eighth consecutive pole here—some of the other contenders ended the session in very strange places. Witness Valentino Rossi, series leader Andrea Dovizioso, and Maverick Vinales sitting 9th through 11th at the start. At a squinchy, cramped little joint like the Sausagering, that could be a problem for three of the top four riders. Dani Pedrosa, making me look bad yet again, pushed his Honda RC213V to third place for another front row start in Germany, to which he has become quite accustomed. He was clearly able to get sufficient heat in his tires by the end of the session to deem Q2 a success.

The Race—Plenty of Action, Few Surprises

After the usual high-octane rave party in the first two turns, the lead group emerged, comprised of Marquez and Pedrosa, one Jorge Lorenzo on soft tires, Tech 3 rookie Folger, Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati and Rossi, first of three Alien starters to emerge from the other side of the qualifying tracks. Once things got into a rhythm, both Repsol Hondas and Jonas Folger rose to the top of the heap, with Folger going through on Pedrosa in Lap 5 and Marquez himself on Lap 6, suddenly leading his home grand prix. WTF. Marquez took back the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 11, withstood 18 laps of consistent annoyance from Folger, and finally broke the rookie on Lap 29.

There was plenty of action a little farther back, involving mostly Yamahas and Ducatis trying to claw their way past one another into podium contention. A macro trend began to emerge, as the Yamahas, fuel loads dropping, started climbing the order, while the Ducatis, tires turning to wax, began falling back. Our crack-crazed research department tells us that at the end of Lap 3 there were two Ducs and one Yamaha in the top five. By the end of the day there were three Yamahas and no Ducs therein, with Alvaro Bautista, on an exemplary day supporting his high ranking on this site, the top Ducati finisher, in sixth place. Andrea Dovizioso, who started the day leading the championship, struggled to an eighth-place finish, three spots in front of demoralized teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

The Hondas were expected to do well today. They did—a win, and two on the podium—and might have done even better had the weather not cooled prior to the race. Not much was expected of the Yamahas, who delivered a mild surprise with all four bikes in the top ten and two in the top five. The Ducatis proved again, as if we need convincing, that tracks and conditions like these are poison for them.
Today offered the best opportunity to date for an Aleix Espargaro sighting on the podium, but he had trouble stopping his Aprilia all day, struggling nonetheless to a respectable seventh. And we look forward, with relish, to the interview with Cal Crutchlow explaining his tenth-place finish and identifying the corporate entity responsible for such a disgrace.

The Big Picture

The top four riders last week:

Dovi 115

Vinales 111

Rossi 108

Marquez 104

The Top four riders this week:

Marquez 129

Vinales 124

Dovi 123

Rossi 119

No matter who you root for in MotoGP, 2017 offers hope, opportunity and periodic high-quality gratification. Sr. Ezpeleta’s goal of parity, if not yet fully realized, seems to be progressing nicely. The expenses continue to be breathtaking. But the series is healthier than many other sports today because of the relative parity between the haves and the have-nots. Today’s second place finish by a (rookie) satellite rider [see Danilo Petrucci last week in Assen] says a lot; such a thing rarely happened 10 years ago. F1, by comparison, seems to be committing ritual suicide, coming up with new and different ways each year to become less appealing to fans.

One Last Tranche Before Vacation

After Round 8:

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

After Round 9:

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

Let’s not get too excited about Sunday’s results as regards the season-long tranchefest. The Sachsenring is an outlier—short and damp—and should be grouped with Losail and Austria as extreme circuits whose results should not be over-examined. Even so, Andrea Iannone should at least try to look interested in what’s going on with his career at Suzuki.

Next race is Brno in early August. We’ll have the race preview and a few words to say about the second half of the 2017 season earlier that week. Happy trails.

MotoGP Assen Results

June 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Classic Rossi Win Tightens Title Chase

With more passing than you’d see at an April 20 party, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more riveting races in recent memory. Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole. Meanwhile, Rossi and Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda. But Rossi—fast, patient and strategic—managed to beat Petrucci to the flag by .06 seconds. They don’t call him The Doctor for nothing.

RossiThe weather gods were just toying with us today—a drowned WUP, the usual thrilling Moto3 race on an almost-dry track, and spitting rain on several occasions during the MotoGP race. Several riders, guessing the big ol’ rain was on the way, pitted and changed to rain tires, including Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo (who had a note from Gigi D’allIgna stating he could put rain tires on whenever he wanted, even if the track was dry). The real rain never arrived, to the dismay of the early pitters, but high drama was around in excess.

Practice and Qualifying

Rehearsals for today’s battle featured something for every taste and budget. FP1 (wet) was topped by Petrucci on the Ducati GP17 followed by Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha and LCR Honda ruffian Cal Crutchlow. FP2 was dry, and the results were more typical—factory Yamaha pilot and series leader Maverick Vinales led, trailed by the other precocious Tech 3 rookie, German Jonas Folger, and that Marquez guy, you know, the one with all the trophies.

Saturday was pretty much wet all day, and the results reflected it. Scott Redding, Rossi, Marquez and Vinales topped FP3 in the wet; FP4 was wet again, so much so that a number of riders decided to play euchre in the garage instead of going racing. The Q1 and Q2 division had already taken place, and besides, when those leathers get good and wet, strange dark stuff starts growing in the grooves and creases. FP4 in the rain is for those other guys. Same for the soaking WUP.

Q1 saw Redding and Sad Sam Lowes, two British mudders, advance through to Q2, leaving names like Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, both Espargaro brothers and one Jorge Lorenzo to the back half of the grid, Lorenzo notably starting in the, um, 21 hole. (I thought “holes” only go down to ten, after which comes Everyone Else.) In case you missed it the first time, that was Sam Lowes on the Aprilia advancing into Q2 for the first time. He likely won’t have that many more chances.

As usual, Q2 was a fairly orderly process of riders seeking their natural level or something a bit higher, until the last two minutes, when it became your usual fire drill. Petrucci and his big bad GP17 held pole until perhaps five seconds from the end, when Marquez flashed across the line first, followed almost immediately by overachieving Frenchman Zarco, sending his crew into paroxysms of joy as the impudent rookie claimed his first premier class pole. Didn’t someone recently suggest that strange stuff happens at Assen? For the record, two of the pre-race favorites got stoned in Q2; Maverick Vinales started 11th today, just ahead of Dani Pedrosa.

A Race for the Ages

Zarco’s intent, to get away from the pack and win going away, never bore fruit, as Marquez, Rossi and Petrucci formed a cozy lead group with the Frenchman. Rossi went through on Marquez on Lap 10 and set his sights on Zarco, passing him two laps later. Zarco struck back immediately, tried to cut inside, got his nose chopped off by Rossi, bounced wide, and never got back in the chase. With soft tires apparently dropping off, and the drizzle getting heavier, Zarco pitted on Lap 20, got caught speeding in pit lane, took his ride-through penalty, and finished the day 14th, just ahead of Lorenzo, who had not taken a penalty. For the 26-year old, dreams of world domination took a step backward today.

While Rossi led Marquez on a bracing mid-race chase, Petrucci following, several Aliens, notably Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso, were laying down fast laps and gaining on the leaders. In the final chicane on Lap 12, series leader Vinales hit the deck, his bike and championship lead cartwheeling away in the gravel.

Late in the day, Cal Crutchlow made an appearance on his LCR Honda, engaging in a personal pas de deux with Marquez all the way to the flag. While Rossi was busy pimping Petrux for the win after a sensational four-lap fight (where were the blue flags for the back markers getting lapped at the end?), Marquez and Dovi made a blurry Crutchlow sandwich at the flag, 12/100ths of a second separating Marquez in third from Dovi in fifth.

The Big Picture

The top of the 2017 standings chart are as tight as I can ever remember, with 11 points separating first and fourth places, Andrea Dovizioso parked at the top of the pile. Shades of Casey Stoner. Vinales, Rossi and Marquez are solidly in the hunt. Dovi seized the lead from Vinales today, while Petrucci leaped past Jorge Lorenzo into 7th place. Cal Crutchlow’s credible fourth place finish today allowed him to swap spots with Tech 3 rookie crasher Jonas Folger in ninth and tenth, respectively.

I was poormouthing Ducati Corse several weeks ago. Since then both Dovizioso and Petrucci have been making me look sick. Front row starts, wins, podiums—will it never cease? After a revolting start to the season (26 points in the first five rounds, two DNFs), Petrucci has come alive, with 36 points in the last three rounds, including an unlucky fall out of the points at Catalunya. And Dovizioso, the hottest rider on track for the last month, is, for the first time in his premier class career, getting asked about his chances for a world championship. Doing his best impression of an Italian-accented Colonel Klink, he consistently answers, “I know nut-thing.”

It could happen. And, simply for comparison’s sake, we should point out that of the three Ducati GP17s on track this season, triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo is running third. In eighth place for the season. Getting schooled every week by any number of less-distinguished riders. Constantly checking the weather radar on his phone. Sensitive to any aches in his surgically-repaired collarbones, sure signs of wet weather to come. From here, the only kind thing to do is quietly wonder what he’s going to do at the end of next season; Ducati has not been the panacea he had hoped for.

One Last Thing

If you sift through enough MotoGP sand, eventually you’ll discover a nugget. And so we found a video in which the British sportscaster described Bradley Smith’s left little finger, injured at Catalunya, as having been “marmaladed,” the second “a” pronounced “ah.” Evidence once again that, compared to idiomatic American English, British English has much higher comedic coefficient. Surely this term will be a heavy favorite in the “Best Use of Fruit to Describe a Rather Ghastly Injury” category at the annual British Produce Grower’s Association knees-up in Dover later this year.

With the German Grand Prix on Sunday, followed by a month of snoring through La Liga on cable, we’ll have the race preview here mid-week.

Race Results

2017 Standings

 

MotoGP Assen Preview 2017

June 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Expect the Unexpected at the Dutch TT 

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

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

Recent History at Assen 

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

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

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

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:       Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso

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

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

Tranche 4:       P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:       Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1        Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silly Season Underway

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

We will  have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Catalunya Results 2017

June 11, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso repeats; Vinales comes back to the field 

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 Catalan GP

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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