A Wingman is a Wingman

September 5, 2017

News coming out of the Ducati cabal is that Jorge Lorenzo, he of the three (3) MotoGP world championships, would be willing to accept “team orders” in order to help teammate Andrea Dovizioso secure the world championship for his employer. This is headline-type stuff, if true. Lorenzo, fiercely proud and defiant, would seem metabolically-unsuited to serve as wingman for anyone, including/especially a teammate.  Such thinking runs counter to the #1 rule of racing which is to always, no matter what, try to beat your teammate.

 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

Jorge Lorenzo, The Great Usurper, in better days.

 

Lorenzo, true to form, allegedly says, yes, it is true, but the time, she is not right. If, at some point in the season, it is clear Dovi’s situation is blah blah blah…then I will be happy to help him in any way I can wah wah wah.  Which is another way of suggesting Ducati take their team rules and sit on them. Either you’re a wingman or you’re not.

Let’s just say we find Lorenzo hunting Dovizioso on Lap 17 of Sunday’s race. Marquez and Pedrosa are in the mix, but we’re watching the two Ducati riders. Should Lorenzo attack #04 and possibly cause contact, or even worse, collection, how would management react? Part of the money they’re paying Lorenzo is for that overwhelming competitive nature in which his lizard brain takes over and he becomes lost in the moment, at breathtaking speeds, doing what he loves to do, as well, occasionally now, as anyone ever has.

So big money Jorge Lorenzo, goes the headline, is willing to accept team orders to protect Andrea Dovizioso, his putative understudy at the beginning of the season.  Right. Lorenzo, after years of working for the Japanese, says yes but means no. Put Lorenzo up there in the mix at the end of the race and he’s going to go for greatness.  It’s in his genes. He needs a win in the worst possible way. He’s got the grunt, now, for corner exit and long straights. He’s on a bike that has proven itself competitive at pretty much every track on the schedule, some, such as Austria, ridiculously so.

Lorenzo:  Team orders.  Good one.  I’ve got your team orders right here.

 

 

 

 

MotoGP Misano Preview

September 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Rossi Out—Then There Were Four

MotoGP turns its sights on stunning San Marino once again, returning this weekend for Round 13 minus The Doctor, who, as everyone knows by now, badly broke his leg in a training accident last week. Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, perhaps the Italian erede apparente, leads the now diminished 2017 chase pursued by three Spaniards. He and the two youngsters, Marc Marquez and Maverick Vińales, can only feel relieved that the yellow 800-pound gorilla has left the room. Dani Pedrosa, the third challenger, his prospects now marginally improved, hangs in contention by a thread.

If it turns out that this season was, indeed, Rossi’s last flirtation with a title, it will mark the end of an astonishing era. Even if he returns to racing this year and again in 2018, his more lucid fans cannot realistically expect him to compete for a tenth world championship. He would simply be honoring his contract with Yamaha, in his inimitable style. And so it goes amongst the yachting set.

Yamaha announced on Monday that no replacement would take Rossi’s spot on the grid at Misano. My guess, that Yamaha’s best test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, would take Rossi’s place was, not surprisingly, wrong. (Some readers will remember the Katman’s samurai performance at Valencia in 2012 when he ended up, after some weirdness, on the second step of the podium.)

It saddens me to consider the possibility that, one day, we will have watched Valentino Rossi race a MotoGP bike for the last time. But over the years we’ve learned not to write him off. He will likely ride again this year and, as regards returning for Yamaha in 2018 (drum roll please…wait for it…) Let Valencia Decide.

Recent History at Misano

The 2014 GP TIM di San Marino e Della Rivera di Rimini saw Movistar Yamaha homey Rossi win for the first time since Assen in 2013 and for the first time on quasi-Italian soil since San Marino in 2009. The fans immensely enjoyed watching the loathesome Marc Marquez crash his Repsol Honda out of the proceedings at around 50 mph. Two Italian riders on Ducatis claimed spots in the top five. All in all, it was a good day to be Italian.

As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory. When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. Some folks lost a lot of money betting on Vale for the championship at that point of that season.

Last year, Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career and winless in 2016, busted out on the picturesque sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, worked well enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.

To the casual observer, the Marco Simoncelli Circuit at Misano would appear to be Honda-friendly, with two wins in a row for the Repsol team. Series leader Andrea Dovizioso has started here nine times in the premier class, has finished every race, and has never podiumed. But that was then, and this is now.

The long-range forecast for the weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps heading well into the 80’s on Sunday—Honda conditions. But as we’ve seen numerous times this year, more and more tracks are becoming Ducati-friendly. DesmoDovi, with a lead to protect, needs a podium this time around. A third consecutive win would be totally convenient. At that point we might have to reconsider the entire concept and discuss tracks that are “rider-friendly,” Austin and Marquez leap to mind. And, interestingly, there is a Misano Man, Jorge himself, in the field.

Let’s Tranche Again!

After Round 11:

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

After Round 12:

Tranche 1: Vinales, 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

A word or two of explanation is in order. Jorge Lorenzo and Scott Redding are up one week and down the next; perhaps they deserve their own Tranche Yo-Yo. The Espargaro brothers are a conundrum. I want to keep Aleix in #2, as he is clearly improving and getting more from the Aprilia than Moto2-bound Sam Lowes. His demotion is due to two poor outings in a row. Finishing 11th and punking Tito Rabat at the flag last time out on the KTM, Little Brother Pol would have easily earned a promotion to Tranche 4 had he not crashed on the warm-down lap, which is sufficiently embarrassing to leave him where he is.

Jack Miller, Ducati-bound next year, just doesn’t give a rip anymore.

I would like to see Too Tall Loris Baz on the Ducati GP16; I think he has the juice to climb into Tranche 2 if he had a better bike. And Alex Rins (9th at Silverstone), now more or less fully healed, is making great strides on his Suzuki and could find himself in #2 as early as next week, especially if, as is his practice, Lorenzo follows up his positive result at Silverstone with a stinker at Misano. Memo to the Zarco and Folger jocks out there: I still think Alex Rins is going to be a baller in MotoGP.

Finally, a word of congratulations to veteran Thomas Luthi on having earned a promotion to MotoGP (Marc VDS) after seven years of loyal service in Moto2. He turns 31 this week, and will team with Franco Morbidelli on what is expected to be a satellite Honda. His Moto2 seat is being taken by a humbled Sam Lowes, sufficiently remorseful about his abrupt dismissal from the Aprilia MotoGP program to immediately announce his intention of winning the Moto2 title in 2018. Dude has stones; not so sure about the chops or the IQ.

Thailand? Thailand.

It’s official—MotoGP will start traveling to Thailand’s Chang International Circuit next year, with Finland coming onboard in 2019. The Powers that Be have announced that next year’s provisional calendar will be released soon. Many of us are wondering what this addition will do to the annual Pacific flyaway rounds. I’m thinking that four races in four weeks, most of them in grueling hot conditions, could push several teams, and a number of journalists covering MotoGP, to the brink. God forbid MO gets invited to send someone to Thailand next year, because that someone would probably be me, and the trip to Malaysia in 2014 put me in the hospital for three days afterwards.

Your Weekend Forecast

Sunny and hot weather. No #46. Cubic miles of thick yellow smoke pouring from the grandstands of the faithful. Major pressure on Dovizioso and Vinales, the sole factory Yamaha rep this weekend. Both Repsol Hondas on the podium. Dovizioso on the podium.

Just for the sake of cosmic symmetry, let us assume that Sunday’s results find Pedrosa repeating his win from last year, Marquez second, Dovizioso third, and Vinales fourth. This would produce the following Top Five heading for Aragon:

Misano proj.         Total
1. ADovizioso    3rd place 183 +16= 196
2. MMarquez    2nd place 174 +20 = 194
3. MVinales       4th place 170 +13 =  183
4. DPedrosa       1st place 148 +25 =  173
5. VR                          DNS 157 + 0 =     157

Sorry I can’t get these columns to align correctly.

Am I projecting a Honda 1-2? Seems that way. We’ll have results and analysis here as quickly Sunday as possible. Ciao.

MotoGP Silverstone Results

August 27, 2017

© Bruce Allen   Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Wins Battle of Britain, Seizes Series Lead

On an idyllic Sunday afternoon in the British countryside, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of a dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping the factory Yamaha team at the flag. Disaster struck the Repsol Honda team on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in smoke. The 2017 championship heads to Misano in two weeks tighter than tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

Two of the three Brits on the grid, Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding, passed directly into Q2, both on the strength of their times in FP2. Familiar names who failed to do so included the usual suspects, as well as Danilo Petrucci, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins (again missing out on Q2 by fractions of a second), and Jonas Folger. In addition to Redding, both Espargaro brothers made it through, the KTM team (Pol’s crew) dancing for joy. Folger and Pedrosa went on to make it through Q1, setting up a scintillating Q2.

The Main Event on Saturday boiled down to Marc Marquez and everyone else. While the young Catalan marvel was busy breaking track records, one on each soft rear tire, the rest of the grid was running at the limit to stay within touch. One by one, Vinales, Crutchlow (who started on pole last year) and finally Rossi took runs at him, Rossi looking especially strong on his flying lap until encountering what he describes as his “usual” difficulty in the last sector.

With Rossi settling for second, and looking highly dangerous, Crutchlow completed the first row, Vinales, Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso (curiously, the top Ducati qualifier) making up Row 2. Parenthetically, Rossi’s time would have been the new track record had it not been for the impudent Spaniard sitting on pole. Vale’s main problem on Sunday, along with the rest of the Yamaha contingent, would be conserving his rear tire over 20 long laps on Sunday. Zarco in eighth and Folger in tenth place appeared not to be serious threats during the next day’s race, although the Yamahas dominated FP2, claiming the top three spots therein.

Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Jonas Folger, who had qualified 10th, crashed heavily in Sunday’s warm-up practice and could not start the race. And Pol Espargaro inexplicably crashed his factory KTM on the warm-down lap after the flag, something rarely seen at this level. In between fans were treated to 20 laps of sweaty palms and high drama, at the only track on the planet sufficiently British to feature a corner named Maggots.

In Honda Weather, Ducati Rules

With air temps in the upper 70’s and the track temperature over 100, it felt more like Spain than England, conditions the Hondas love and everyone else loathes. Valentino Rossi took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and had things his own way almost all day, the key word being “almost.” Almost, today, meant until Lap 18, when Dovizioso, who had been steadily climbing the time sheets after finishing Lap 1 in sixth place (from whence he started) went through cleanly and for keeps. Dovi had climbed into second place after dueling with and disposing of Jorge Lorenzo (Lap 2), Cal Crutchlow (Lap 3), Marquez (Lap 6) and Maverick Vinales on Lap 12. Sandwiched between Rossi and Vinales at that point, Dovi appeared unruffled, not pushing overly hard. My expectation was that he would eventually go the way of all PB&Js, swallowed up by the Boys in Blue.

Not today.

By Lap 14, Dovizioso was dogging Rossi, dragging Marquez along for the ride, everyone conserving tires and gas as best they could. Vinales and Crutchlow appeared to be struggling to keep up, the Spaniard the only one of the five sporting a soft rear tire, the other four on hard rears, as it were. Suddenly, out of the proverbial clear blue sky, a meaningful puff of white smoke emerged from Marquez’ RC213V (something I don’t recall seeing from a factory Honda in the last 10 years), and his day was over. Dovizioso technically took the lead in the championship at that moment, although there was plenty of race left, plenty of time for disaster to strike someone somewhere.

Not today.

Dovi Stiff-Arms the Yamahas

Once Marquez left the building, the front four consisted of Rossi, humming along unmolested, Dovi, Vinales and Crutchlow. With a third of the race left, Rossi looked to be encountering grip problems, not getting away, and suddenly Dovi appeared to be lining him up. Crutchlow seemed to be gaining on Vinales as the fans, collectively urging him on, awaited the eventual dropoff in the Spaniard’s rear tire. My only note on Lap 16 reads, “CC needs to GO!” Which, unfortunately for him, he never did. Instead, Vinales started showing signs of renewed life.

Shortly after Dovizioso went through on Rossi at the Stowe corner (referred to by most of us as Turn 15) on Lap 18, Vinales did the same, consigning Rossi, in his 300th premier class start, to deal with Crutchlow. It was on Lap 17 that Andrea Iannone, wearing out his welcome with Suzuki, lost the front and collected Danilo Petrucci on his way out. Petrucci, pedaling hard for a top 10 finish after a gruesome weekend, appeared less than completely amused by the turn of events.

During the last two laps, Rossi took several runs at Vinales, none succeeding, while Vinales, smelling blood and trailing Dovizioso by only 6/10ths of a second at the start of the final lap, fired in his fastest lap of the race on the last lap and came breathtakingly close to overtaking Dovi at the flag, losing by a tenth, with Rossi another half second in arrears. So much for the theory that soft rear Michelins and hot weather do not go together.

The Big Picture

Today’s shocker upset the championship standings at the top, as follows:
After Austria           After Silverstone
Marquez 174           Dovizioso 183
Dovizioso 158         Marquez 174
Vinales 150             Vinales 170
Rossi 141                 Rossi 157
Pedrosa 139            Pedrosa 148

35 points continue to stand between Dani Pedrosa, who finished today’s tilt in seventh, and the series leader. But Marquez’ DNF put him nine points behind Dovi, with Vinales snapping at his heels. Rossi and Pedrosa are still in the hunt, as in trailing by 20 or 30 points with six rounds left, i.e., just barely. The rest of the field, headed by Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo, need to find other reasons to race besides contending for a championship. Like beating your teammate, or beating a former triple world champion (#99, for instance) getting paid boxcars full of euros running sixth for the year. Dovizioso, lucky dog that he is, has the pleasure of all three motivators, and, at age 33, is a legitimate threat for his first premier class title. Earlier in the year he was singing the blues about the GP17 not being good enough to win a title this year. He may have to re-think that; perhaps his meaning was lost in translation.

The Undercards

Taka Nakagami, fresh off the announcement he will be joining the LCR Honda team next season, found enough extra motivation from that to win today’s Moto2 race by a fraction of a second over a reborn Mattia Pasini, who started from pole for the third race in a row after not having poled for ten (10) years. Earlier, Aron Canet, another 17-year old Spanish wonder, took the abbreviated Moto3 race in which the top eight finishers were separated by 7/10ths of a second. The race was red-flagged with one lap to go after Bo Bendsneyder and Juanfran Guevara collided, with Guevara stretchered off to a hospital, apparently with significant injuries. At deadline no update was available on the status of his health. For most of the day, the Moto3 race had a lead group consisting of over 20 riders, easily some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing anywhere in the world. Next year I think I’ll just cover Moto3 and leave covering the premier class to some other old MOron.

Next Up: Misano

Two weeks from now the flying circus moves to the Adriatic Riviera at Misano, home track to Dovizioso and any other rider with a drop of Italian blood in his veins. All of the non-Italian Ducati riders will be paisans for a long weekend. Expect lots of red in the crowd to go along with the usual tiresome sea of yellow shirts, flags, banners and smoke. The 2017 season is two-thirds over, and nobody I know has a clue who will take the crown in what has become one of the most hotly contested championships in years.

Be there. Aloha.

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,

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.