Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Dovizioso’

MotoGP Jerez Results 2017

May 7, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motrcycle.com

Pedrosa rules as the 2017 plot thickens in Spain 

Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won today’s Spanish Grand Prix, leading wire to wire for his first win since Misano last year.  Teammate and defending champion Marc Marquez gave chase for most of the race but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those days… 

Dani-Pedrosa-2013-HD-Wallpaper-Photos

Underdog Jorge Lorenzo claimed the third step on the podium in a credible performance on the factory Ducati, his first podium in red which, he said afterward, felt like a win. When the smoke cleared, the 2017 race had tightened considerably, to the delight of the majority of fans, especially those expensively dressed. 

Practice

Practice sessions at Jerez varied from wet to damp to dry, and the timesheets were  informative:

FP1:  Wet. Repsol Honda veteran Dani Pedrosa, Brit Cal Crutchlow, and Australia’s Jack Miller.  All Hondas.

FP2:  Damp/drying.  Pedrosa, Miller and Crutchlow.  Hmmm.

FP3:  Dry.  Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Vinales.  Hmmm again.  Clearly Pedrosa has it going on this weekend.  Race day to be dry.  Seems to be pretty Honda-friendly.

Who goes through to QP2: Four Hondas and four Yamahas (Vinales 4th, Rossi 7th late), Iannone on the Suzuki, and Lorenzo the top Ducati in 8th.  Jerez is not a Ducati-friendly track, to say the least.

Q1:  Iannone and Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia advance; Petrucci and Dovizioso do not, but then comes the factory KTM team of Smith and Pol Espargaro, putting both on the fifth row for what I guess to be the first time.  I’m starting to develop a little motowood about this KTM bunch.

Q2:  The Usual Suspects, joined once again by Dani Pedrosa, dominate.  Pedrosa, teammate Marquez and Cal Crutchlow oust newest wunderkind Maverick Vinales from the front row.  Two Hondas and tres compatriotas on Row 1! Southern Spain is dancing in the streets.  It’s a big deal over there.

As dusk falls on Saturday, it looks like one of the Hondas is going to stand on the top step.  Yet, Rossi shows up on Sundays, as does Vinales.  Crutchlow and Lorenzo are lurking.  Worth a ticket if you’re in the neighborhood on Sunday.

Undercard:  Moto2 Procession

Moto2 Estrella Galicia heartthrob and series leader Franco Morbidelli crashed out of the lead unassisted, allowing young Alex Marquez to break his Moto2 cherry, winning easily for the first time since his Moto3 championship in 2014. Afterward, he was congratulated by big brother Marc in Parc Ferme, in a moment none of us ever forget, of which older brother must have surely reminded him.

The Race Itself

In the early action, Pedrosa took the hole shot from pole followed closely by Marquez.  Johann Zarco, the precocious rookie on the Tech 3 Yamaha, proceeded to trade paint with Valentino Rossi on Lap 1 before going through on him.  We watched Lap 2 in some amazement as he then proceeded to reel in Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, and Andrea Iannone, taking over third place behind the Repsol Hondas.  Say what you will about the French, this Zarco has onions.  Especially with a full tank.

By Lap 4 Lorenzo was running seventh and Rossi eighth, giving the crowd a brief flashback to 2009 and 2010 when the two of them used to duel regularly for Yamaha up at the front.  Lap 5 saw the impudent Zarco go through on Marquez into second place and Miller get taken down by the spatially unaware Alvaro Bautista, leading to the swing/slap thing from Miller.  On Lap 6 Crutchlow fell out of fourth place and Pol Espargaro grounded his KTM machine, while Lap 7 gave us more Lorenzo vs. Rossi.  During all of this, the Repsol Hondas were beginning to disappear, after Marquez had taken second back from Zarco.

On Lap 10, team Marc VDS Racing’s day was completely ruined when Tito Rabat crashed out, joining Bautista in the Zero Points Club.  Moments later, Andrea Iannone slid his Suzuki into the gravel.  Lorenzo was suddenly dogging Zarco for third place, and Dovizioso went through on Rossi, who was definitely having tire issues.  On Lap 12 Lorenzo made it through on Zarco and there was your podium.

There was some jousting further down the order that you’ll need to watch the video to understand fully.  Rookie Jonas Folger, on the second Tech 3 Yamaha, had the temerity to go through on legend Rossi on Lap 22 while Rossi’s tires continued to disintegrate beneath him. Lorenzo finally broke Zarco around Lap 23 for his first Ducati podium.  Plenty of exhaling taking place at Ducati Corse over that one.

Dani Pedrosa, climbing back into Tranche 1, and Jorge Lorenzo, advancing to Tranche 3, still have some go in their tanks.  That Lorenzo could do well at Jerez on the Ducati says much about him and the GP17, that they appear to be nearing a rapprochement that will allow Lorenzo, as well as Dovizioso, to compete for the podium most every time out.

Danilo Petrucci, with a solid seventh place finish on the Pramac Ducati GP17, moves up to T2. Here’s the rest, including a look-back at the previous rankings:

Rankings After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso ↓, Zarco ↑, Miller ↑,

Tranche 3:  Bautista ↓, Iannone ↓, Petrucci, Baz ↑, Redding ↑, Folger ↑

Tranche 4:  A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Barbera ↓, Lorenzo ↓, (Rins ↓)

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

New Rankings after Round 4:

T 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

T 2:  Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Petrucci↑

T 3:  Lorenzo↑, Folger, A Espargaro↑, Miller↓, Iannone, Redding

T 4:  Bautista↓, P Espargaro, Barbera, Baz

T 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham, (Rins)

Social climbers:     Pedrosa, Petrucci, Lorenzo, and Aleix Espargaro.

Lorenzo’s podium very impressive; he looked in command of the GP17.

Aleix Espargaro has the Aprilia competitive.

Pedrosa now owns a new record for consecutive seasons with at least one grand prix win at 16. Won it during the 3000th grand prix of the modern era.  Worthy of respect.  More titanium in him than most golf clubs.  Forearms like cables.  Little Big Man is what I used to call him, and I still like it.

Losing Face:          Miller and Bautista.  Miller, in part, for such a prissy swing he took at Bautista.  I don’t care that it was Bautista’s fault.  But either swing like you mean it or don’t swing.

Crutchlow is flirting with T3.

Rossi is flirting with T2 and hasn’t won since Mugello last year. Tire issues today not his fault, but rider’s choice nonetheless.

So Moto2 and MotoGP are Modeling One Another…

…as the following comparison clearly shows.  Focus groups have informed Dorna that fans prefer it if an old crafty veteran challenges a young buck for the top spot.  They don’t want either rider to get away.  And the more riders challenging for the title the better.  Four and five would be optimal.

Statistically, the most attractive cross-class matchups for this season appear thus as of May 7, 2017:

Moto2          Franco Morbidelli             MotoGP        Marc Marquez

Moto2          Tom Luthi                       MotoGP        Valentino Rossi

Moto2          Miguel Oliveira                MotoGP        Maverick Vinales

Moto2          Alex Marquez                  MotoGP        Jorge Lorenzo

Judging from Sunday’s performances, things are about where the suits want them.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

The Big Picture Heading to Le Mans

In the premier class, the top four is as tight as Tupperware:

Rossi           62

Vinales        60

Marquez      58

Pedrosa       52

This is sweet.  This is what fans want, heading into Round 5.  The tranching and the standings stand up, I feel, to one another.  Some riders have positive momentum, while others are struggling.  The Tech 3 Yamaha guys are strong every time out and not intimidated by future hall of famers.  Each of the top four is fully aware of the chestnut that in order to finish first, one must first finish.

Over at Moto2, Morbidelli now leads Luthi by a manageable 11 points, with Oliveira another 15 points back. Alex Marquez and 20-year-old Italian wonder Francesco Bagnaia (second today after successfully fighting off an extended challenge from Mattia Passini) make up the top five.  Six riders took the checkered flag within the first ten seconds at Jerez.

One of the things Le Mans is known for is sketchy weather.  If, as is not uncommon, conditions are less than ideal in northern France two weeks hence, we could see how the top four MotoGP riders perform in the wet, the cold, or both.  This could be revealing about those riders with aspirations to top five finishes for the season. Riders like Miller and Petrucci enjoy the rain, while other riders don’t.  Wet weather could further tighten the race at the top of both classes.

For the focus groups and the suits at Dorna it just doesn’t get any better. 

Full Jerez 2017 Results 

2017 Standings after 4 Rounds 

Lorenzo to Ducati: “Here’s what’s up.”

May 3, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Great headline– “Jorge Lorenzo wants Ducati to develop MotoGP bike like Yamaha“–and interesting article from one of the serious news sources in racing.  This after teammate Andrea Dovizioso went public last week with his opinion that the GP17 needed to be re-designed from the ground up.  At Ducati Corse and in the garage at Jerez, you can hear the sound of drumbeats off in the distance. Trouble with Gigi on the horizon, too. Newly arrived and highly paid triple world champion says he can’t compete on your bike.

Gigi Dall'Igna

Bummer.

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/129275

MotoGP Jerez Preview 2017

May 2, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dejó los juegos comenzar 

The reversal of fortune in Austin, Repsol Honda’s Maximum Marc Marquez winning while young savant Maverick Vinales kissed the tarmac for the first time in Yamaha blue, has produced an early three-man race for the top of the 2017 heap.  Valentino Rossi, teammate Vinales and Marquez now stand separated by 18 points with a lot of season left.  Six races in the next eight weeks means the offshore shakedown cruises are over.  There’s a title to be won.  In Europe.

After three far-flung rounds overseas, MotoGP returns to its European cribs with a wide-open race on its hands.  Behind the top three, another small cadre of riders—Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa among them—entertains serious thoughts of contending for serious points.  Here’s what we know so far:

  • Vinales and Marquez are in a league of their own, a league in which Rossi is trying desperately to remain. In our pre-season look we suggested Vinales could win the title but for the likelihood that he would crash out of too many (4) races.
  • That said, Rossi is leading the championship, guile, patience and a sense of the moment overcoming mad skills and youthful exuberance. For now.
  • The Ducati GP17 is not a radical improvement over its predecessor. As a result, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci will not threaten for the title, but will, at the right tracks, battle for the podium.  (They could actually finish 1-2-3 in Austria if it don’t rain, since there aren’t many of those pesky turns.)
  • Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa are not Aliens. Very good, but not (or no longer) great.  Plenty of actual miles on both.
  • If Johann Zarco were 22 instead of 26 he would be Alien material. Have to wait and see on Alex Rins.  Still not sold on Jonas Folger.  Very much sold on the 2016 M1.
  • Jack Miller, in a contract year with Honda, is improving.
  • A front row start in Argentina does not mean Karel Abraham is not a Tranche 5 rider.

Recent History

The 2014 race featured Marquez winning easily from pole during his 10 for 10 season.  Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the season; we had no idea he would end up spraying magnums of champagne 13 times on his way to second for the year.  Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late for the last podium spot, another indication that 2014 would not be Jorge’s year.

2015 was vintage Lorenzo.  Qualify on pole, get out front early, attach bike to rails, press “Go,” and keep the last 26 laps within half a second of one another.  Reg’lar as a piston, dad used to say.  Dull as dishwater, mom used to reply. The resulting procession left Marquez (nursing a broken digit on his right hand) 2nd and Rossi 3rd.

Last year, we observed The Doctor as he made a house call on Lorenzo, winning at Jerez for the first time since 2009.  He led every lap after an early challenge, Jorge-style, and was joined by teammate Lorenzo and Marquez on the podium.  The church bells rang in Tavullia a year ago as glazed Italians got off watching Vale, sense of the moment firmly in hand, spitting in the eyes of both Lorenzo and Marquez.  On their home soil.  Oh yes.

Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez have each won here in the last three years.  Maverick Vinales, The Heir Apparent, has a checkered record in southern Spain, his only win coming in 2013 with KTM in Moto3.  An 11th and a 6th with Suzuki the past two years.  In front of his homeys.  I think I speak for all of us when I say how much I would like to see Rossi, Marquez and Vinales go knives-in-a-phonebooth over the last three laps on Sunday.  I can hear ancient announcer Nick Harris gathering himself, saying, “Here.  We.  Go.”

Vinales and Rossi promo shot

Let’s Talk About Tranches

After Round 1:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Iannone, Crutchlow, Bautista

Tranche 3:  Petrucci, Lorenzo, Zarco, (Rins), Miller, Barbera, A Espargaro

Tranche 4:  Baz, Redding, P Espargaro, Folger

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso ↓, Zarco ↑, Miller ↑,

Tranche 3:  Bautista ↓, Iannone ↓, Petrucci, Baz ↑, Redding ↑, Folger ↑

Tranche 4:  A Espargaro ↓, P Espargaro, Barbera ↓, Lorenzo ↓, (Rins ↓)

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

:  Zarco, Miller, Baz, Redding, Folger

:  Dovizioso, Bautista, Iannone, AEspargaro, Barbera, Lorenzo, Rins

One of two possible conclusions is available when 12 of the 23 riders re-tranche after two rounds.  1. The author doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  2. A two-race span is entirely unpredictable in this sport, at any point in any season.  Even at the tail end of the annual Pacific sweat rounds and Valencia.  That a rider can go from 25 championship points to zero in the blink of an eye makes “trends” difficult to identify.

Zarco has been the surprise of the season, starting with the first half-dozen laps at Qatar.  Miller and Redding are top ten guys, or should be.  Loris Baz is punching above his weight on a Ducati GP15.  Folger has impressed early, but rookies get excited and crash.

Dovi, on the other hand, has his usual bad luck and a bike he claims needs to be redesigned from the ground up.  (The unpleasant sound you hear in the background is that of Gigi Dall’Igna grinding his molars to powder listening to Dovi.)  Barbera and Rins have been hurt.  Bautista, Iannone and Lorenzo have been unguided missiles.  And I had expected more from Aleix Espargaro than he has shown thus far on the Aprilia.

Anyway, props to Messrs. Zarco, Miller, Baz, Redding and Folger.  And who wants to jorge-lorenzo-ducatiexplain to me how Jorge Lorenzo is not a Tranche 4 rider right now?

Tito Rabat Thrown Under the Bus

Marc van der Straten is the deep-pocketed team owner of the Marc VDS Racing (Honda) MotoGP team, currently featuring Australian Jack Miller and Spaniard Tito Rabat in the saddle.  He was quoted elsewhere stating that, in essence, if Franco Morbidelli, also on the VDS payroll, wins the Moto2 title this year he can have Rabat’s seat next season.  Talking about what a giant step up it would be to have Morbidelli over Rabat, who, admittedly, has failed his MotoGP audition and would be better off at WSBK or going back to Moto2.

Van der Straten is awaiting clarification on the status of Jack Miller—will Honda continue to employ him directly?—hoping to end up with one very fast Italian and one mostly free Australian.  He should take some of his money and learn to give a press conference that doesn’t gut one of his riders.

Here I thought Marc VDS had had enough bad juju in MotoGP and was prepared to fold their tent and make way for a satellite Suzuki team.  Morbidelli, who is suddenly a calm, contained, undefeated King of the Hill in Moto2 at age 23, may be Alien material.  He also may NOT want to ride a Honda for the next few seasons.  Perhaps Marc VDS Suzuki Racing is in the cards; not sure Franco would be thrilled with that, either.  What becomes of the team probably depends on what Honda does with Jackass.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather is not expected to be a factor on Saturday or Sunday.  Jerez is one of the fans’ and riders’ favorite tracks; the weather and the crowd should be grand.  The facility itself, well-groomed and lush when I was there in 2010, has fallen on hard times and is now mostly dandelions and buttercups.

But they don’t call it The Spanish Grand Prix for nothing.  The race goes off at 8 am EST in the U.S.  We’ll have our usual instant results and analysis for you once the editorial staff, lawyers, and corporate censors have had a chance to discuss them during their customary post-race drinks and luncheon.

___________________

In 2010, before many of you were reading this stuff, I took my wife, daughter, and S-I-L to southern Spain for a vacation and to attend the MotoGP round at Jerez de la Frontera Which happened to be a great race.  MO helped with expenses; Dorna was no help, denying credentials to the only American journalist anywhere near the place.  I prepared an extra article, kind of “The Road to Jerez,” along with my usual race summary.  I wrote two of my all-time favorite MO articles that weekend, both of which were courtesy, in no small part, of some decent Spanish table wine.  Although these articles are long gone from the MO website, here are links to my MotoGP blog, where I’ve re-posted them:

https://motogpindy.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/getting-to-the-spanish-grand-prix-is-half-the-fun/

https://motogpindy.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/2010-lorenzo-enjoys-a-late-lunch-at-jerez/

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorycle.com

Marquez vs Vinales

Captain America needs a win 

As the checkered flag fell in Argentina, the shape of the entire 2017 season changed.  Suddenly, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and partner Valentino Rossi, the Boys in Blue, sit on top of the world looking down.  Those looking up, WAY up, include defending champion Marc Marquez and the factory Ducati team, currently residing on the other side of the proverbial tracks.  Marquez has never lost, deep in the heart, which makes Sunday’s contest what my wife (eyebrows raised) refers to as “critical?” 

Even though it’s so early in the season—Round 3—the Yamaha contingent appears to be in danger of getting away.  Vinales with two wins, Rossi with two podia.  Things in general going quite well thank you.  Lorenzo and his new employers at Ducati Corse–not so well, a 10th and last week’s early DNF to show for his efforts thus far.  Marquez and Pedrosa slammed to the tarmac instantly at the same exact location—different laps, with Jack Miller narrowly avoiding a third crash there—in a mechanical Venus Flytrap for factory Hondas at Turn 2 last time around.  Having left for Argentina in a bit of a hole, the Repsol Honda team imploded, their 2017 machine appearing difficult to ride and hard on tires.  Perhaps, as LCR loudmouth Cal Crutchlow intimated, gas consumption, too.

Marquez has never lost in the first four seasons at the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas (as if Laguna Seca and Indianapolis don’t exist).  The purpose-built facility has been a Honda favorite since its inception in 2013.  In this wacky season, it would not surprise to see Marquez, Vinales and The Black Knight, Jack Miller, fighting for podium spots in a reprise of 2014, when Miller won the Moto3 race, Vinales the Moto2 and Marquez the MotoGP.

As strange as it sounds, the 2017 season could devolve into an uneven two man, intra-team race between Vinales and Rossi, similar to the F-1 whippings administered by the 2002 factory Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, who took turns winning 15 of 17 races that year.  After last season, with nine different winners, we thought we were past all that.  This weekend could shed some serious light on that thinking.

Recent History at COTA

Marc Marquez, whom I refer to as Captain America while the rest of the world calls him as Marc Marquez, has never experienced defeat in Austin.  He won easily as a rookie in 2013.  He overwhelmed teammate Dani Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds in arrears on the factory Ducati.  In 2015, Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession.

Last year, while Marquez was sunnily getting away, Pedrosa lost his grits, his bike taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the last men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round.  Vinales edged out teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

Disorder in the Standings

Due to the logarithmic scoring system and early season shakedown cruises—curiously, Lorenzo’s complaint after his first lap fall in Argentina being he missed out on 25 laps of data—the championship standings after two rounds are currently out of equilibrium.  I looked back at the standings a year ago, and they were generally orderly, what you might expect, Aliens Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa occupying the top four spots.

This year, things are startlingly different.  Undefeated Vinales and the experienced Rossi stand well clear of Dovi in 3rd, 16 points behind Rossi.  Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding sits 4th.  Read that last sentence twice, because you’ll probably never see it again in your lifetime.  Squabbling over 5th place are Crutchlow, surprising German rookie and Tech 3 Yamaha upstart Jonas Folger, and Jack Miller, still ambulatory this early in the season.

Marc Marquez sits in a fantastic 8th place, 37 points down to Vinales, under a degree of pressure he has not previously felt in the premier class, on a bike he does not like.  Jorge Lorenzo, humbled triple world champion, is a bit of a steaming pile in 18th, consorting with the likes of Tito Rabat and the debut KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the Laverne & Shirley* of MotoGP.  (*You know, ‘always together.’)

Rule #1:  Beat Your Teammate

Riders know that if you do this one thing on race day, you can consider your outing to have been a success.  Just beat your teammate.  Here’s where the teams stand after two rounds, up close and personal:

Factory Teams

Repsol Honda:                 Marquez 13          Pedrosa 11

Movistar Yamaha:           Vinales 50            Rossi 36

Factory Ducati:                Dovizioso 20        Lorenzo   5

Factory Suzuki:                Rins 7                   Iannone 0

Factory Aprilia:                A Espargaro 10    Lowes 0

Factory KTM:                   Pol Espargaro 2   Smith 1

 

Satellite Teams

Pramac Ducati:                Redding 17          Petrucci 9

Aspar Ducati:                   Bautista 13          Abraham 8

Tech 3 Yamaha:               Folger 16              Zarco 11

Marc VDS Honda:            Miller 15              Rabat 5

Reale Avintia Ducati:       Baz 9                    Barbera 6

As you can see, the Boys in Blue have secured almost a third of the points on offer in the first two rounds, a trend which seems unsustainable.  And, ignoring the Yamahas, the satellite teams are taking it right to the factory boys all across the board.  Over time, large series of numbers typically regress to the mean.  Essentially, I’m suggesting that the 2017 season is nowhere near over, that there is plenty of meaningful racing yet to come, and that the Movistar Yamaha team cannot afford to become slack or over-confident.  Both Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone have now assured us that neither will crash out of a race again this season.  Taking neither offer, I would be more inclined to put my money on the Catalan than the erratic Italian.

Notice too how on the three satellite Ducati teams, the GP15 rider leads the GP16 rider two to one.  Had Hector Barbera not started the season injured, it could easily be three for three, with the factory bikes no better.  Would it be heresy to suggest that Gigi Dall’Igna’s magic peaked in 2015 and has been quietly trending downward since then?  Or is it the different riders changing things around?  All these anomalies make predicting podium celebrants, a fool’s errand in the best of times, an overt waste of time.  One can hope, for the sake of the season, that Marquez makes up some ground with the Yamahas this weekend.  He had been mostly bulletproof in Argentina until last round.  Anything other than an outright win on Sunday must be considered a painful loss. 

Your Weekend Forecast

Looking ahead four or five days, the weekend’s offerings weather-wise appear to have something for every taste and budget.  Friday—hot and cloudy.  Saturday—cool with rain.  Sunday—cool and dry.     The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time in the U.S., and we will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2017 Rio Hondo Results

April 9, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Viñales conquers Argentina; Marquez chokes out 

In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix.  Marquez, starting from pole, took the holeshot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4.  Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat. 

In winning his first two races on the factory Yamaha, Viñales tied two records dating back to the 1990’s.  Kenny Roberts, Jr. won his first two races on a new team in 1999 after having abandoned the Modenas KR3 team for Suzuki.  And Wayne Rainey (not Rossi, not Lorenzo) was the last Yamaha pilot to start the season with two wins back in 1990, well before Viñales was born.  Had Marquez not lost his grits today, both records might still be standing.  We’ll never know.

Practice and Qualifying Weirdness

Practice was dry on Friday.  Viñales topped FP1 and FP2, with lots of big names way down the order. Some unfamiliar names popped up in the top five—Danilo Petrucci, rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and Karel Abraham, of all people, in FP1; both Abraham and Petrucci appeared in the top five again in FP2. Saturday was a wet day, the first ever for Viñales on the Yamaha.  Accordingly, in FP3 he slipped all the way down to second place, behind LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, with Marquez in fifth.

Thus was the die cast for the first qualifying sessions of the season—Qatar canceled theirs due to some Biblical rain–and the separating of the goats into Q1 and the lambs into Q2, but in a Bizarro kind of configuration.  The lambs cinched into Q2 included, and I’m not kidding, Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Jonas Folger, Alvaro Bautista, and Karel Abraham.  The goats, relegated to the ignominy of Q1, and again I’m not kidding, included BOTH factory Ducatis, Dani Pedrosa, everyone’s new fave Johann Zarco, and Valentino Freaking Rossi.  Rossi and Pedrosa snuck into Q2 on their last laps of the session.  They aren’t called Aliens (or Alien Emeritus) for nothing.

Qualifying itself was more or less routine, with the notable exception of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 sitting in the middle of the front row beneath Karel Abraham.  Marquez started from pole, going four-for-four in Argentina, with Crutchlow sitting third, Pedrosa 5th and Rossi 7th.  Figuratively speaking, the wheels fell off for the factory Ducati team on Saturday, with Dovizioso slotted 13th and Jorge Lorenzo occupying his customary wet weather position of 16th on the grid.

Trouble at the Start

Lorenzo, the Great Spanish Hope of the factory Ducati team, saw his day end in the congested first turn as he tagged Andrea Iannone’s back wheel and quickly ended up in the gravel, the dream of one-upping Rossi in his own Yamaha-to-Ducati defection having morphed into a nightmare.  After two rounds, he trails series leader Viñales by 45 points.  (Although Marquez trails by 37, his deficit seems much smaller than JLo’s, since Marquez looks fully capable of winning races, while Lorenzo looks fully capable of nothing right now.)

Trouble in the Middle

Marquez’s gaffe on Lap 4 left a top five of Viñales, Crutchlow, Rossi, Pramac Ducati ex-cop Danilo Petrucci and Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa.  Petrucci, who would finish seventh, and Pedrosa spent the middle third of the race carving one another up until Pedrosa submitted a carbon copy of Marquez’ fall at Turn 2 on Lap 14. Moments later, on Lap 15, Aleix Espargaro, who has been overachieving on the Gresini Aprilia, lost the front at Turn 1 and collected factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso on his way to the runoff area.  Dovi, accustomed to getting creamed by Andrea Iannone and Dani Pedrosa, seemed nonplussed at having been clipped by the likable Spaniard.  Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, shown briefly in his garage at that moment, appeared to be throwing up in his mouth.

After the podium party, to which neither was invited, Pedrosa and Marquez could be seen in their garage, drunk, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, singing Citizen King’s “I’ve Seen Better Days” in some very ragged Spanish.

Ridiculous Results

Crutchlow, looking strong, managed to hold off Rossi until Lap 19.  He chased the Italian around for a few laps before calculating that 16 points were better than none, settling for third and a place on the rostrum.  No surprise there.  But who would have guessed that Alvaro Bautista, flogging the Aspar team Ducati, would cross the line fourth, followed by two rookies?  Johann Zarco, who is starting to make a believer out of me, came from 14th at the start to finish fifth, while Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger worked his way from 11th at the start to a legit sixth place finish and 10 points.  Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, allegedly texted his counterpart with the Repsol Honda team, Livio Suppo, after the race, asking Livio if he was interested in a few tips about racing in South America.

Scott Redding on the Pramac GP16, Jack Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and the aforementioned Karel Abraham completed today’s top ten.  Right.  That makes eight satellite bikes in the top ten, which last occurred during the 1952 Tour de France.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both KTM riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, finished in the points, putting KTM in the MotoGP books for the first time ever.  This is not ridiculous, either.  But KTM bosses issuing press releases declaring their intent to title in MotoGP within three years—ridiculous. 

The Big Picture

After two rounds, the big picture looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas.  Sure, the Movistar Yamaha team rules the world early in the season; I get that.  But Scott “The Whiner” Redding sits in fourth place, as if he belongs there. Rookie Jonas Folger sits sixth.  Jackass Miller sits seventh, with Marc Marquez tied for eighth with Alvaro Bautista.  WTF?  But the most acid-flashback-ish sight on the board is that of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo tied for 18th place with the helpless Tito Rabat.   I did a fast double-check—the walls of my hotel room do not appear to be melting, nor does the flesh seem to be falling off my face in great gross chunks.  I’m not having a flashback.  Jorge Lorenzo, uninjured, has earned five (5) points thus far in 2017.  The bosses in Bologna need to lower their expectations.  Right now would be fine.

What does it all mean?  Other than Maverick Viñales having seized the 2017 season by the throat, not much.  There are 16 races left to go, and the precocious Spaniard is unlikely to win them all.  He will face some adversity along the way, allowing the rest of the Alien contingent—Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso—back into the picture.

Viñales admitted to feeling some pressure this weekend, especially in the wet on Saturday.  After today’s race, the pressure has fallen squarely on defending champion Marc Marquez, who let one get away from him this afternoon.  Whether today’s crash has ruined his season is unclear.  What is clear, however, is that #93 needs a win in Austin, where he is undefeated, in two weeks in order to avoid joining Jorge Lorenzo in the very bad place where he now resides.

 

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

MotoGP 2017 Season Preview

March 11, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

With the start of the 2017 MotoGP season only weeks away, we take a look ahead at what will be on offer for racing fans this year.  [With clenched teeth, it is hereby affirmed that the opinions contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, publishers, and/or owners of Motorcycle.com] 

MotoGP is the fastest-growing motorsports flavor on earth.  That it has virtually no presence or accessibility in the US is a poor joke.  It appears the safety-conscious American parents of today are (understandably) reluctant to let their kids, most of them, anyway, learn to ride ATVs and motorbikes when they’re young.  Series organizer Dorna has recognized that a country wishing to develop world-class riders needs to have a formal development program, one of which was implemented in Great Britain just this year.  (Probably because of Cal Crutchlow, The Great English-As-A-First-Language Hope.)  Such leagues have existed in Spain and Italy for decades.

The fact is that the US, for its size, with expensive national marketing costs, doesn’t sell a lot of imported motorcycles, and it’s doubtful that showing more MotoGP races would change that.  So most of us Americans miss out.  Meanwhile the Aussies and Kiwis are all over this stuff, along with Europe and much of Asia.  No more giving up calendar dates in favor of F-1; MotoGP has MoMentum.  No more five weeks off in the middle of the summer, either.

Countries from Thailand and Indonesia to Hungary and Finland are clamoring to host races; pressure on the calendar, with four rounds still in Spain (quietly drumming my fingertips on the tabletop), is intense.  Even money says the calendar goes to 20 dates within five years.  And get rid of Aragon. Or Argentina.

Overall, 2017 has the look of a great season.  The Big Three factory teams of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati will dominate much of the action, as they are home to the Aliens, those riders whose balance and instincts are a step above the rest of the field—Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and new Alien on the block Maverick Vinales.

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

Due to last year’s amazing series of races which culminated in nine different riders standing on the top step of the podium, hope springs eternal for the riders and teams in the lower tranches.  Pramac, Aspar and Reale Esponsorama get new old hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista. It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.  (There are also rumblings that the team is planning to fold up its tent in the next year or two, possibly freeing up slots for a satellite Suzuki team.)

Let’s just look at this thing team by team, in alphabetical order.  We will wait until after the season opener to assign tranches to the various riders. 

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

     Sam Lowes

     Aleix Espargaro

Sam and Aleix need to be prepared for a long season.  Hard luck Espargaro, having lost out to Iannone and Rins at Suzuki, takes a step down joining the Aprilia factory effort, on the upswing but still learning their way around.  The Aprilia and KTM projects are likely to be relatively underfunded for the foreseeable future, slowing their development, and reducing their prospects to those of satellite teams.  For Lowes, somehow promoted from Moto2 despite world-class inconsistency, there will be a lot of badly scuffed leathers.  Espargaro seems to be getting the hang of things more quickly.

For Fausto Gresini, for whom the allure of the premier class is almost irresistible, 2017 will be like shooting 108 on the golf course—enough good shots to keep you coming back, but a vast majority of poor to terrible swings.  Two unfamiliar riders.  A not-quite-competitive bike. Bring a book.

Ducati Factory Team

       Jorge Lorenzo

          Andrea Dovizioso

Going into 2017, the factory Ducati team is the most interesting group on the lot.  The Italians expect plenty, and soon, from their brand new triple world champion.  Jorge Lorenzo, in turn, suggested that the first real day of testing at Sepang was a bit terrifying, but with the help of Stoner and Michele Pirro is adapting to the GP17.  No more getting blitzed in the straights, but he needs to re-learn cornering if he is to avoid “pulling a Rossi,” which seems unlikely, unless he finds himself unable to keep the bike upright. A win in Qatar would do a lot to build his confidence, although the same could be said for every rider on the grid.  Nice writing.

Consistent Andrea Dovizioso has been flying under the radar during the offseason, allowing the cameras to focus on Lorenzo while he plots his strategy to win the title himself.  The latest iteration of the Desmosedici will probably be a great bike, and Dovi has four years in with the factory.  Personally, I would love to see him fighting for a title with Vinales and Marquez.  It could happen.  I think the odds favor him to finish ahead of Lorenzo this season.

The Bologna bunch has recently received a patent for a new jet exhaust valve; don’t know what that’s for unless they’re interested in watching Lorenzo leaving Earth’s orbit.  It has also installed what is said to be an anti-chatter box behind the rider and bent the exhaust pipes and stuff around it.  They are keeping their 2017 fairing secret, but I expect it to resemble the new Yamaha innovation, with the interior wings in a laughable “bulge,” which is expressly forbidden under the rules, yet permitted by some guy named Danny.  “Y’see, it’s not so much of a “bulge” as it is a continuation of the radius…An’ that’s why they’ve blokes like me, to keep things strite, y’know.  Yeah.”

For me, the most interesting question is whether the big red bikes are to be housed in Lorenzo’s Land or Gigi’s Garage.

LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow

My personal favorite rider.  To disparage, mock, call out and, ultimately, have to eat crow over.  Crashlow won his first two premier class races in 2016, after years of making excuses and broadcasting blame for not having won earlier.  He has burned bridges with Yamaha and Ducati, although he seems to be a fair-haired child for Honda as of late.  Complaining a month ago that “Honda are on it’s back foot,” or some other foolish British verb conjugation, it seems the litany has resumed.  With Vinales added to the mix at the top, I don’t expect Cal to win two races again this season.

Marc VDS Racing Team NFL (Not For Long)

  Jack Miller

          Tito Rabat

The struggling #3 Honda team, at the end of the Sepang test in January, had neither rider fit to ride.  Tito Rabat was a great rider in Moto2 but is proving to be a bust in MotoGP.  Miller, tagged by HRC for greatness at a young age, is proving to be unable to keep the RC213V upright, piling up more serious injuries than The Black Night in the Monty Python classic, not to mention creating acres of shredded, brightly painted fiberglass.

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.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Johann Zarco

          Jonas Folger

Hmmm. Two freshmen on the satellite Yamaha team.  Herve Poncharal, team boss, has a thing for Folger; perhaps he likes the cut of his jib, but I haven’t seen much in the way of dominating performances in Moto2 to justify a promotion.  Zarco arrived on the strength of having become the only rider in Moto2 to title twice, consecutively, and is probably disappointed at not having a factory bike of some kind at his disposal.

Both riders will be on steep learning curves this year, although Zarco faired surprisingly well at the Malaysia test.  He and Alex Rins figure to battle it out for rookie of the year honors.

MoviStar Yamaha Factory Team

          Valentino Rossi

          Maverick Vinales

Lin Jarvis’ factory Yamaha team enters the season with GOAT candidate Valentino Rossi and the heir apparent, the aptly-named Maverick Vinales, recently graduated from a two-year riding academy with the factory Suzuki team.  During those two years, he figured out how to win (Silverstone 2016) on a relatively slow bike.  Now that he has earned arguably the fastest complete bike on the grid, great expectations abound.

His “win” at the Sepang test in January affirms those who expect him to title in his first Yamaha season.  Marc Marquez, reigning and triple world champion, has been encouraging this thinking, talking publicly about how concerned he is with Vinales. Intentionally adding to the pressure, getting inside Vinales’ head.  Rossi-like.

Rossi maintains his Alien status, but it will be tested again this year.  (Dani Pedrosa is now an Alien Emeritus.)  He still has the passion and the conditioning and the experience.  But does he have the reflexes and balance he did when he was 28?  I think not.  I think he is also less of a risk taker now than he was a decade ago.  He will undoubtedly win some races this year, but may lose the season contest with his teammate, effectively ending their friendship for all time.  The intra-team competition could tighten significantly, however, if Vinales finds himself cartwheeling through a lot of gravel traps this spring.

Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati

      Danilo Petrucci (GP17)

          Cheesed Off Scott Redding (GP16)

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.

Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati

Alvaro Bautista (GP16)

Karel Abraham (GP15)

A satellite Ducati team with upset potential.  Alvaro Bautista, like Barbera, has been a consistent underachiever in the premier class.  His own high water mark occurred in 2008, when he finished second in the 250cc class behind a guy named Simoncelli.  In 2012 and 2013 he flogged Fausto Gresini’s close-to-factory spec Honda to 5th and 6th place finishes, respectively.  Meanwhile, enter Karel Abraham, previously employed by his dad before serving a one year sentence in WSB last year.  He’s back, for whatever reason, this time on a GP15.

Bautista has, over the years, shown moments of great skill and moments of sheer stupidity.  This year, again mimicking Barbera, 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.

We will stick our necks out here and predict zero podiums for the Aspar team in 2017.

Reale Esponsorama Racing (formerly Avintia)

  Hector Barbera (GP16)

          Too Tall Baz (GP15)

Another second-string Ducati team that could surprise, 2017 features Barbera on a GP16 and Baz on a GP15.  Hectic Hector’s career saw its high-water mark in the 250cc class in 2009 when he finished second to Hiro Aoyama.  Once he arrived in MotoGP, never having been the beneficiary of first class equipment, his career has leveled off. He has battled slow bikes, injury, and a low racing IQ to a series of undistinguished finishes.  Last year he showed some improvement which, if it continues this year, could actually make him a consistent top ten finisher.

Meanwhile, young Frenchman Loris Baz, who is, like, 6’3” tall, had an up and down second MotoGP season.  Three distinct episodes of “start slowly, improve, then crash” marked his year, including a fourth-place finish at Brno and a fifth at Sepang.  Riding a Ducati at 6’3” suggest you’re going to prefer the long flowing circuits over the tight squinchy ones.  He will need to learn to keep the bike upright if he is to continue in MotoGP.

Oh, and I checked—the French name Loris translates in English as “Loris.”  The only other Loris I ever knew was a girl. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith

          Pol Espargaro

Teammates on the Tech 3 Yamaha for the past two seasons, these two get factory rides with the rookie KTM factory team.  The Austrians have enjoyed decades of success elsewhere and feel it is but a matter of time before they start winning in MotoGP.  Years, perhaps many, in my opinion, but what do I know?

Of the two riders, I prefer Espargaro, a year younger, with a title under his belt in Moto2.  Smith seems like a nice guy, but appears snake bit.  It’s always something with Bradley–an injury, a mechanical issue, a head cold.  Whatever.  I will gladly back Espargaro this year in the intra-team rivalry, the only competition that will mean much of anything to this group.

The factory rollout of the KTM entries in all three classes included words from the Chief Cheddar at KTM Itself, Stefan Pierer, announcing his intention to fight with Honda for a MotoGP world championship in the not-too-distant future.

Patience, grasshopper.

Repsol Honda Team

   Dani Pedrosa

          Marc Marquez

Along with the factory Yamaha and Ducati teams, HRC is royalty in the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.  Repsol Hondas have been ridden by world champions Mick Doohan, Àlex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez.  Its prospects are decidedly mixed heading into 2017.

With several new engines to figure out, the Sepang test was a bit of a struggle, with Marquez working hard to finish second behind Vinales, but able to deliver several impressive 20-lap race simulations.  Appears to be another year in which Marquez will have to manage an inferior bike to battle for the title with the other Aliens.  He did it last year.  I believe Vinales will collect a number of wins and an equal number of DNFs, allowing a mature Marquez to slug it out with Jorge, Dovi and Vale again this year.  With two new riders, Suzuki Ecstar will not threaten.  Iannone?  Dovizioso?  I think not.

As for Dani Pedrosa, I look for him to finish seventh or eighth this season, as he has clearly lost a step since his prime in 2012.  Whether he’s interested in serving as Marquez’ wingman in 2017 is problematic.  If he slips out of the top ten Honda may buy out his last year and bring Miller or, more likely, Crutchlow onto the factory team in 2018.  Miller may blossom this year.  Probably not.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

  Andrea Iannone

          Alex Rins

The second most interesting team on the grid, a rapidly improving Suzuki will have two new riders in 2017.  Andrea Iannone worked himself out of a job on the factory Ducati last season and landed with Suzuki, which may be a piece of good luck for both parties.  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.

Alex Rins has had Alien written all over him since he was about 15.  Although he never titled in the lower MotoGP classes, he recorded two seconds and two thirds in three Moto3 and two Moto2 seasons. The Rins and Marquez families do not exchange Christmas cards, setting up a new rivalry for the next few years while Rins earns his whiskers.  He figures to become a problem for both Marquez and Vinales in that time.  Definite Alien potential here.

I see a couple of podiums in store for Suzuki in 2017, perhaps a handful.  Unless the bike is greatly improved they may not compete for a win, but the Suzuki program seems to be progressing nicely.  Perhaps 2018 will be their year.

Phillip Island Test 

Three productive days of testing at Phillip Island in early February taught us little we did not already know.  Marquez and Vinales seem to be running in a league of their own.  Dani Pedrosa still has some juice left in the tank.  And rookie Jonas Folger can coax at least one fast lap per day out of his Tech 3 Yamaha.

Cal Crutchlow and rookie Alex Rins ran almost identical fast laps on Friday.  Dovizioso and Lorenzo were running neck and neck for seventh and eighth places, respectively.  Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Alvaro Bautista finished ahead of Valentino Rossi, something you don’t get to report every day.  And lots of disappointed Ducati riders (six of the bottom nine) muttering to themselves farther back in the dust.  Not a great three days for Ducati Corse.

Vinales is making it hard not to envision him clutching a world championship trophy in his first premier class season.  If he can stay within himself and not get overly excited it could happen this year.  Then, when Rins joins the fray in 2019… 

* * *

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 Ten 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
  6. Jorge Lorenzo
  7. Dani Pedrosa
  8. Alex Rins
  9. Andrea Iannone
  10. Alvaro Bautista

MotoGP 2016 Sepang Results

October 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso becomes ninth winner of the season 

The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others.  For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix.  Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez* and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them.  The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia. 

Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday) 

Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions.  A healthy number of you will get this right away.  For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code. 

FP1 dry        MM, MV, SR, AI, VR. JL10 CC13

FP2 wet       JM!

FP3 dry        MV, MM, JL, VR, HB.  CC13, JM17

FP4 wet       MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM   VR8, AI12

Q1 damp      CC, LB moved through.  A bunch of good riders didn’t.  Sepang is like that.

Q2 damp      AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI.  AE7, MV8, AB9

Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions.  FP2 was canceled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping.  Marquez, Vinales and The Bruise Brothers were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed.  But this is practice.

Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.”  The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position.  He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row.  Dude has some onions.

[So Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.”  Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season?  Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.]

The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions.  I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders.  Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise.  As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place.  Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.

The Race

In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race.  As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19.  It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.

After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe.  He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate.  It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems.  The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.

The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early.  By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing.  By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading.  Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds.

Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive.  One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason.  First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12.  Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points.  On Lap 13 Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.

And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi–friends, Romans, and countrymen—left to Duc it out on the Sepang tarmac.  Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that.  Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 when he won his first at Donington Park.

The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results.  Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place.  The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Barbera and Baz both recording memorable results.  Maverick Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish.  The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.

Pity the Fool 

The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha.  Eight races winless at Motegi.  Nine at Phillip Island.  Now ten at Sepang.  The flyaway rounds—Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares—have been a disappointment.  The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed.  The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives.  You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on.  Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.

It’s a tough league.

 

*Already clinched title.

MotoGP 2016 Phillip Island Preview

October 18, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

 Plenty at Stake Down Under

Sadly, the race for the 2016 title is over, and we/I congratulate Marc Marquez on his third premier class championship.  But the end of the story of 2016 has yet to be written.  There will be controversy—will Marquez torment Valentino Rossi during these last three rounds, in the hope of elevating homeboy Jorge Lorenzo?  There will be paint-trading in the turns.  There will continue to be the races-within-the-race that capture so many people’s attention.  There will be Petrucci vs. Redding.  There will be crashes and run-offs and mistakes by guys operating at the outer limits of human endurance, testing the laws of physics at every turn.  What’s not to like?

Recent History at Phillip Island

2013:  Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista (on the satellite Gresini Honda) gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw the veteran Rossi beat Crutchlow and his LCR Honda by .11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini pilot by .053, the blink of an eye.  The race marked the first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium.  Marquez took a cheap DQ when, fighting for the lead, he neglected to pit in time, as Bridgestone, who ordered the mandatory mid-race pit stop, struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface.  Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.

2014:  Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to ice.  23 riders start the race; 14 finish.  Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan sophomore, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium.  Ever.  None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.  In case we’ve neglected to mention it in the past, Phillip Island is a Yamaha/Ducati kind of place.

2015:  The Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for everyone.  Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to steal the victory from compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.  Lorenzo, trailing Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 coming in, was blessed that day by a statement performance from factory Ducati (then #1) Andrea Iannone, who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading for Sepang and Round 17.  What a difference a year made for Iannone, just twelve months ago the fair-haired child of Ducati Corse; this year a refugee to a possibly apprehensive Suzuki operation.

Sibling Rivalry

Such is the case with the brothers Espargaro.  A competition which undoubtedly started when younger brother Pol was still in diapers continues today as older brother Aleix tries to keep up with little bro.  At some point in the past, younger brother took the upper hand over big brother; glad I wasn’t there for that.  Pol, on the satellite Yamaha, brings a 24-point lead over the fraternal factory Suzuki into Round 16 and appears set to rub it in to Aleix’s face for the fourth year in a row.

Last year, on the same equipment, Pol was +9.  In 2014, Pol, still on the Tech 3 bike, with Aleix on the doomed Forward Racing Yamaha, put another 10 points on his sib.  In 2013, one would say that Pol won the day again, taking the Moto2 championship, while Aleix, slugging it out in the premier class on terrible ART hardware, claimed a decent 11th place finish.  Advantage Pol.

New digs for each next year.  Pol finally gets his factory ride with KTM, while Aleix moves down to the Gresini factory Aprilia, not yet competitive in the post Dall’Igna era.  The two bikes should be relatively competitive with each other, meaning that while the colors on the leathers may change, the appeal of an opportunity to give your brother a wet willie won’t.  MotoGP thrives on rivalries, even the friendlies.

Kevin Schwantz—Milky Milky

Your boy Kevin Schwantz, world champion in 1993 in the 500cc two stroke era when men were men and women were glad of it, continues to milk notoriety from his reputation and is now approaching 23 years, more or less, of living off the fat.  Journalists still seek his opinions on moto racing and he is always willing to share them.  Bring the photographer.

Anyway, over at someothersite.com, Schwantz was asked about his impressions of Jack Miller, stating his belief the young Australian would become some kind of great rider in time.  (Assuming he still possesses all of his body parts when that time arrives.)  He also conceded that Marc Marquez “impresses” him, what with three MotoGP titles by age 23 and all.

This, you see, is exactly the kind of stuff the editors here at MO loathe.  Some guy whose glory days are way behind him, dispensing faint praise re the talents of riders, at least in the case of #93, would beat them like a drum on an identical equipment/same age basis.  But we’re not hating on it because it interests us.  We’re kind of going on and on about it because Marquez won the frigging title last week and we need something to rant about.

Back to the Race

The domino effect engendered by the injury to factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone continues in place this week, as Hector Barbera gets to wreck another brand new GP16 while Mike Jones takes his seat with the Avintia Ducati team.  Barbera and Jones were the last two riders to finish at Motegi, the Spaniard finishing outside the points due to an early mishap, whereas Jones finished a lap down but with his paint intact.  I imagine the bosses would prefer the latter to the former.

Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez having won here recently, Rossi the beneficiary of Marquez’ careless crash out of a four-second lead in 2014.  For the Yamaha teammates, they have attached blinders regarding whatever’s up with Marquez and are dialed in on one another, second place for the season and a load of machismo at stake.  Just as last year, Rossi enjoys a narrow lead over Lorenzo.  Lorenzo wants to arrive at Ducati in one piece but wants to beat Rossi more.  So it will be a great battle this time out.  Whatever happens thereafter we’ll take, too.

Conditions at Phillip Island this weekend are expected to be rough, with a 100% chance of rain on Friday giving way to clear skies on Sunday.  It’ll be the temps and the wind which will take its toll on riders and lap times, as temps are expected below 60° with cold northwest winds steady in the high teens, with stronger gusts.  A perfect weekend for Marc Marquez to lay low.  An imperfect setup for Lorenzo and Rossi, who must face off against one another in the teeth of the gale at perhaps the fastest track on the calendar.  The hint of rain spells advantage Rossi.

The race once again runs in the middle of the night in North America.  We will have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Aragon Results

September 25, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez dominates Aragon, adds to series lead 

Repsol Honda’s suddenly cerebral Marc Marquez took a big step toward seizing the 2016 MotoGP title with a formidable win on the Spanish plain.  By thumping the factory Yamaha Bruise Brothers, he increased his margin from 43 to 52 points with four rounds left.  A mistake on Lap 3 took him from first to fifth, but he remained patient, kept his powder dry, and went through, all stealthy-like, on Dovizioso, Vinales, Lorenzo and, finally, Rossi on the way to his first win on Spanish soil since 2014. 

2016-09-25-12Q2 was a fright for all riders not named Marquez as the young Honda stud put down at least three laps capable of securing pole. He was joined on the front row by Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki and, with all zeroes showing on the clock, Jorge Lorenzo, who, needing a front row start, came through with the chips down to steal the third spot on the grid with an impressive last lap.  Row 2 materialized with Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and Rossi in sixth.

The domination I had expected from Lorenzo heading into the weekend was nowhere in sight, as he appeared to be riding constantly on the limit and just barely managed a front row start after four nondescript practice sessions.  A big crash during Sunday’s WUP convinced him to go with hard tires front and rear and contributed to his best finish since his win at Mugello back in May.2016-09-25-18

Disorder at the Start

As the red lights went out, a front four—Vinales, Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi—took shape (Marquez collecting several friendly paint samples from his front-running buds), followed by a second group composed of Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro on the #2 Suzuki, and Dani Pedrosa, who wasn’t feeling the Misano magic today.  Marquez had taken the lead by Lap 3 before falling to fifth place when he made a meal of Turn 7.  From there, he went like this:

Passed Dovizioso on Lap 5

Passed Lorenzo on Lap 7

Passed Vinales on Lap 10

Passed Rossi on Lap 12

It is interesting, to me anyway, to note that three of today’s top four finishers made significant mistakes on the track—Marquez on Lap 3, Vinales on Lap 10, and Rossi on Lap 22 (giving up four points to Lorenzo and Marquez in the process).  Yet Lorenzo, happy to finish second, appeared to run a mostly flawless race but was unable to secure the win in what is becoming yet another Year of Marquez.  One hopes the Catalan’s detractors will give him props for pushing for the win today, rather than “playing it safe” at 200 mph.

2016-09-25 (19).png

Off the Podium

Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, started fifth and finished fifth today in what announcer Nick Harris described as a “phenomenal” performance.  Maverick Vinales, Alien-in-waiting, hung with the leaders for the difficult first half of the race before running too hot into Turn 12 trying to pass Lorenzo on Lap 10.  Eventually finishing fourth, the 21-year old Spaniard is enrolled in the advanced class of Winning in the Premier Class of MotoGP and will be a heller next year on the factory Yamaha.

In a tip of the hat to our American fans, both of you, replacement rider Nicky Hayden scored a point on the Marc VDS Honda subbing for Jack Miller, which is more than contract rider Tito Rabat could say.  Nicky was involved in a three bike wreck on Saturday that could have ended badly, lucky to have avoided injury.  Today, in his first go with the common ECU and Michelin tires, and he outpaced Yonny Hernandez and Loris Baz, not to mention two recalcitrant Pramac Ducati rivals.  Bravo Nicky!

Side Bet at Octo Pramac Ducati 

The incident in Turn 1 of Lap 1 today involving Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci could be seen coming from a mile away.  Pramac Ducati riders Petrucci and Redding have agreed to a last-half-of-the-year showdown—Brno to Valencia—the winner earning a shiny new factory GP17 to destroy next season.  They will drop the lowest score of the eight, per my recent suggestion.

In the tricky first turn today, the two got tangled up, with Redding dropping his bike on the floor temporarily and Petrucci, half a race later, being asked to take a ride-through penalty by Race Direction thank you very much.  Before today’s scrap, the raw score was Petrux 21 Redding 2.  (One dropped score would change it to 16-2.)  Even though both riders finished outside the points today, the team may sanction Petrucci for his alleged infraction, which was not shown on the broadcast of the race.

Redding, meanwhile, needs to eat his Wheaties for the rest of the season.  No more whining.  He has demanded a factory bike for 2017, and now has the opportunity to earn one.  He needs to resolve not to allow himself to be bullied by the hulking Petrucci, who loves a good scrap in the turns.  As of today, Redding holds 55 points, Petrucci 50.  May the better man win.  But please, no more takedowns.

In the Junior Circuits

Brad Binder placed second in a riveting Moto3 race today to secure the 2016 championship with four rounds left…to blow kisses to his fans.  (To me, Jorge Navarro looks more like a future Alien than does Binder.  The Alien rules require applicants to have won something while in their teens.  I’ve asked our crack research department to look at the stats to see which current Moto3 and Moto2 riders meet this requirement.)  BTW, when I tuned into the race there were a dozen bikes in the lead group.  At the end, it felt like a beatdown, but the top 11 finishers were separated by four seconds.  Give the people what they want—close racing.  Screw the displacement.

In the recent past it was always Moto3 or the 125s whose championship came down to Valencia.  This year Binder has been operating, like Marquez, on a different plane.  To clinch in September is amazing, and today’s race was no cakewalk; Binder had to risk all on the last lap to secure second place and the title.  Very impressive performance.

Meanwhile, in Moto2, a dehydrated Alex Rins managed sixth today, two spots in front of fading defending champ Johann Zarco.  By doing so, on the heels of a broken collarbone and, this week, gastroenteritis, he cuts Zarco’s lead in the chase to one point.  Sam Lowes won the race going away to put himself back in the championship conversation taking place in his head.  Zarco has been in a slump lately, without the look of a defending champion, while Rins, another Alien-in-Waiting, has kept it together through a rough patch to sit tied with four rounds to go.

The Big Picture Heading to the Pacific

All things being equal, Marquez should clinch sometime on the Pacific swing.  The rest of the contenders break down nicely.  Lorenzo vs. Rossi for second.  Vinales vs. Pedrosa for fourth.  Crutchlow vs. Dovizioso for sixth.  Iannone vs. Pol Espargaro for eighth.  And Hector Barbera vs. Eugene Laverty for 10th.  People should have plenty to cheer and argue about through Valencia.

Marquez’s magic numbers: 76 heading into Phillip Island; 51 heading into Sepang;  26 heading into Valencia. He’s at 52 today.  The math is easy.

Now comes the most brutal part of the season for the teams and riders.  No rest for the wicked.  Lots of hours in the air, lots of jet lag, lots of cold and hot weather, lots of loading and unloading.  Lots of stress for everyone, but especially the factory Yamaha riders chasing the chimera.

MO will keep you on top of all you need to know, starting a week from Wednesday.