Posts Tagged ‘Assen’

MotoGP Assen Results

June 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Classic Rossi Win Tightens Title Chase

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

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

A Race for the Ages

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

One Last Thing

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

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

Race Results

2017 Standings

 

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MotoGP Assen Preview 2017

June 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Expect the Unexpected at the Dutch TT 

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

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

Recent History at Assen 

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

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

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

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:       Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso

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

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

Tranche 4:       P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:       Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1        Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silly Season Underway

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

We will  have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Results

July 17, 2016

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lucky Sevens Abound as Marquez Romps in Germany 

Occasionally in this world, team sports produce individual accomplishments that stay etched in people’s minds for years.  We know that Marc Marquez qualified on pole at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.  We know that he won at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.   We know that in doing so he became, at age 23, the seventh winningest rider in MotoGP history.  It is important, however, to acknowledge the work of his crew that made all of these sevens possible.

Qualifying Issues for Aliens

In Assen, it was Dani Pedrosa’s day in the barrel on Saturday, when he had to join the dregs in Q1 and failed to make it out, starting in 16th place and never making an impression in qualifying or the race itself.  This Saturday it was defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s turn.  For the first time since the current qualifying format was adopted in 2013, Lorenzo had to go through Q1 to get to Q2, which he did, barely, by 5/100ths of a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow, despite crashing hard late in the session.

Barely 20 minutes later, in Q2, Lorenzo parted company with his bike again, smashing his #2 while the crew was still busy putting #1 back together.  His scooter ride back to the garage was a sorry sight.  For the second round in a row, he started from 11th place on the grid, the sole difference being that in Assen he had to contend with the rain, while here the qualifying conditions were perfect.  It appears Lorenzo has lost confidence in his tires, his bike and perhaps himself.  This is a man in need of a vacation.

When the smoke cleared on Saturday, Marquez sat on pole, with Valentino Rossi looking dangerous on his Yamaha M1 in third.  But three of the top five spots belonged to satellite entries:  the occasionally amazing Hector Barbera sitting second on the two-year-old Avintia Ducati; mudder Danilo Petrucci in fourth on the year old Pramac Ducati, and Pol Espargaro, who coaxed his Tech 3 Yamaha into the five hole.  Even in dry conditions, things were shaping up oddly in Germany.

The only breaking news from Saturday was that Cal Crutchlow was angry after qualifying, starting from 13th when any wanker could clearly see he would have been on the second row but for Bradl’s stupidity blah blah blah…(yawn)…  However, this time he proved to be right.  And—MO will be the only racing site to provide this factlet—for the third and final time this season, he doubled his point total in one hour.  As usual, he diluted the goodwill generated by his performance today with a nasty post-race interview with Dylan Gray, taking credit for being the only rider with the “balls to go out on a wet track on slicks,” which is 1) incorrect, and 2) self-aggrandizing, never a pretty combination.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

The undercard races were fascinating.  Malaysian rookie Khairul Pawi simply ran away with the Moto3 tilt for the second time in his rookie season, again in the rain, after starting from 20th on the grid. Then there was the thrilling run to the wire in Moto2, where Johann Zarco, heading to Tech 3 Yamaha next season, pipped future teammate Jonas Folger at the flag on a surface that was wet-ish, but not drenched as it had been for Moto3.

Other than the abbreviated FP1, none of the MotoGP practice sessions had been run in the wet.  Marquez crashed heavily during the soaking morning warm-up session and was lucky to escape without the remnants of his RC213V embedded in his torso, after rider and bike went cartwheeling through the gravel together. Four hours before the race was to go off, Marquez’s crew had an intact #2 bike and, off to the side, an engine, two wheels and a pile of steel and fiberglass fragments they needed to instantly convert to a functioning MotoGP machine.  With no time to do it, and a potential flag-to-flag situation in the offing.

Decisions, Decisions

The race started with everyone on rain tires.  Marquez got off to a good start, but was immediately overtaken by Rossi, then Dovizioso on the factory Ducati. On Lap 3 Danilo Petrucci went through on both Marquez and Rossi into second place, seizing the lead from Dovizioso on Lap 4.  Suddenly, passing Marc Marquez became fashionable.  Jack Miller—yes, that Jack Miller—did so on Lap 6; Hectic Hector Barbera got in on the act on Lap 9.  Marquez was sinking like a stone.  He went hot into Turn 8 on Lap 11, spent some quality time in the gravel, and re-entered the fray trailing Dani Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone, although Petrucci had crashed out of the lead on the same lap.  If someone had offered me the opportunity to bet my house against Marquez at that point I would now be homeless.

While all this was going on, the rain had stopped by Lap 7, and the beginnings of a dry racing line were becoming visible from the helicopter. On Lap 13, Andrea Iannone had changed bikes and gone back out on the Michelin intermediates (perhaps “indeterminants” would be a better name).  Chaos reigned on pit row; crews were working madly, changing tires and brakes.  Dylan Gray was going mental, trying to suss out what was happening.  His guess was that the teams were fitting intermediate tires and steel brakes.  He would be proven wrong.

Loris Baz was the second rider to enter pit lane when, suddenly, Marquez himself entered after Lap 17.  When #93 returned to the track, Nick Harris and Matthew Brit, calling the race, became semi-hysterical upon discovering that Marquez’ crew had fitted his bike with slicks and a dry setting.  What had been a pile of breathtakingly expensive junk barely four hours earlier had become the fastest bike on the track.

The leaders, all on wet tires, were at this point lapping in the 1:35 range.  Marquez, squeezing his bike into a racing line perhaps a foot wide, completed Lap 23 in 1:28.  Though it was too soon to tell, the race was already over.  The leaders, other than Jack Miller, entered the pits on Lap 24, way too late to challenge Marquez.  Miller, having decided to go down with his ship, finally pitted on Lap 26 on his way to a very respectable, if ill-considered, seventh place finish.  The Pawi/Miller parley, offered by London bookies at a billion to one, was history.  Marquez eased back on the gas on Laps 29 and 30 and still won by 10 seconds.

In the post-race press conference, Marquez revealed that he and his crew have decided that the intermediate tires “do not exist for them.”  The startling decision to put him back out on slicks, which I had been crediting to a cerebral Santi Hernández, had actually been made weeks earlier.  We have observed in past years that MotoGP teams are “teams” in only the loosest sense, as the #1 rule on track is Beat Your Teammate.  Today, however, it became clear that this is, in fact, a team sport, that the sublime efforts of a supremely gifted rider will often be scuttled by lackluster work from his crew (see Bradl’s race here in 2014).  For the Repsol Honda #1 team today, it was, indeed, a brilliant team effort that produced a scintillating win.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez came to Germany leading the 2016 chase by 24 points and left leading by 48 as Jorge Lorenzo again failed to show up in any meaningful way, finishing 15th with his head down, his hopes for a fourth world title in 2016 in tatters and totally at the mercy of the weather.  Teammate Rossi lost more ground again today, coming in eighth and trails now by 59 points.  Marquez likes to say that Assen and the Sachsenring offer opportunities to gain or lose a lot of ground.  Even if that’s true for every circuit on the calendar, he took control of the championship over these last two rounds, making it hard to argue with him.

The top ten finishers, listed below, were interesting, as is often the case in flag-to-flag contests.  The Ducati contingent had another highly productive weekend, thanks mostly to the weather, which also contributed to a dismal outing for Suzuki Ecstar—Vinales 12th, Espargaro 14th.  The grip problems the Suzuki experiences on dry surfaces are magnified in the wet, according to team principal Davide Brivio.

Most of the grid heads to Austria tonight for two days of testing.  Marc Marquez, the 2016 championship now officially his to lose, is heading to the beach.  It is reasonable to expect that before he leaves tonight he will have picked up a big dinner check, a small thank you to his crew for a big job well done.

2016 German Grand Prix Race Results

2016 Championship Standings after Nine Rounds

Australia worships Jack Miller at The Cathedral

June 26, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

MotoGP 2016 Assen Results 

The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story.  Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps.  Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters.  And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.

2016-06-26a

Assen in the rain

Saturday’s qualifying sessions were adventures on a track that was wet but drying quickly.  Pol Espargaro whipped his Tech3 Yamaha into Q2 with a scintillating last lap, joined by Yonny Hernandez, one of the several Ducatis doing especially well.  One rider doing especially not well was Dani Pedrosa, who suffered the ignominy of plodding through Q1, never once threatening to graduate to Q2.

Q2 itself was equally dramatic, as Marquez crashed early, stole some surprised attendant’s scooter to hustle back to the pits, waited for his crew to convert his second bike from dry to wet settings—what was it doing with dry settings anyway?—ultimately putting his RC213V at the top of the second row.  The session ended with Dovizioso, Rossi and Scott Redding daisychaining to the flag for an atypical first row.  Jorge Lorenzo looked tentative, having barely avoided Q1, and started the race in 10th place.  Four Ducatis in the first four rows would have been five if not for Iannone’s brainfart at Catalunya, which penalized him to the back of the grid.

Recapping—Lorenzo started 10th, Pedrosa 16th and Iannone 21st.  Conditions looked ripe for some higher-than-usual finishes on Sunday for several non-Aliens.  Such would, indeed, be the case.

2016-06-26 (5)

If nothing else Tito Rabat had an upgraded brolly girl.

Dovizioso Wins Race #1 to No Avail

Turns out the voices in my head last week telling me factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso could win the Dutch TT were right.  Sort of.  The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during the race, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance.  With Dovi leading Danilo Petrucci, Rossi and Scott Redding, three Ducatis in the top four proved beyond any doubt that the improvements in the Desmosedici’s performance on dry tracks has not come at the expense of its historical stability in the wet.

2016-06-26 (4)

No kidding.

That there were relatively few crashers in the first race—Avintia Ducati plodder Yonny Hernandez, who led most of the way in a true shocker, eventually crashed out of the lead and, for good measure, crashed again on his #2 bike.  Andrea Iannone, who had sliced through the field from 21st to 5th ran out of luck on Lap 14 but was able to rejoin the race in time to qualify for the second race.  The rain, buckets of it, cooled both the air and the track, and the paucity of crashers in the first race would be over-corrected in the second.

Race #2—Weirder than Race #1

The first two rows of the second 12 lap sprint were filled, in order, by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Rossi, Redding, Marquez and Pedrosa, the latter three having been charging toward the lead group in race #1 when the red flags came out.  This, then, was the second time in 90 minutes that there would be no Spanish riders on the front row, the last time being Mugello in 2011.  Interesting to note that joining Michele Pirro on the back row was Jorge Lorenzo, who had been mired in 20th position when the first race ended.  I have sent an official request to the Movistar Yamaha team to cease issuing press releases advising us that Lorenzo has no major concerns about racing in the wet.

Race #2 started much the same as race #1 with Dovizioso and Rossi battling up front.  Marquez, nowhere to be seen the first time out, settled into third, being tailed by, um, Jack Miller. The 21 year-old back marker whose 10th place finish in Barcelona marked the high water mark of his MotoGP career to date was somehow sitting in fourth place looking, well, rather comfortable, if totally out of place.  With cold air, a cold track and cold tires, the crashing began on Lap 1, with both Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crashlow leaving the asphalt, Pedrosa rejoining the festivities miles out of contention.  Rossi went through on Dovizioso and appeared ready to repeat his win of last year.

On Lap 2, Octo Pramac hard luck guy Danilo Petrucci, who had ridden the wheels off his Ducati in race #1, leading when it was called during Lap 15, retired with a mechanical issue, the picture of desolation.  Shortly thereafter Dovizioso quieted the voices in my head with a high speed off from second place, leaving Rossi alone in front leading Marquez by roughly two seconds with Pol Espargaro seizing third place on the Tech 3 Yamaha.  It was on Lap 3 when, shortly after Brit Bradley Smith laid down his own Tech 3 Yamaha that Rossi, appearing to have hit a puddle, lowsided at Turn 10 and, unable to restart his M1, laid his head on the saddle in complete, utter frustration.

2016-06-26 (9)

Rossi banging his head in frustration.

Suddenly, it was Marc Marquez leading the Dutch TT, with this Miller guy snapping at his heels like he hadn’t skipped through Moto2 while Marquez was busy winning a couple of premier class championships.  On Lap 4, Aleix Espargaro crashed his Suzuki out of the race and, unaccountably, Miller went through on Marquez into the lead.  My notes at this juncture read “JM will NEVER finish this race.”  Wrong, as wrong as wrong ever gets.

At the End of the Day

2016-06-26 (6)

One Shining Moment for the pride of Australia.

History will record that Jack Miller kept his bike upright and roared to his first premier class podium and win in wet conditions in the 250th MotoGP race of the four stroke era.  He became the first rider not named Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi or Pedrosa to win a MotoGP race since Ben Spies pulled off a similar miracle at Assen back in 2011.  He became the first satellite rider to stand on the top step of the podium since Toni Elias at Estoril in 2006.

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As strange a podium as you’re likely to see anytime soon.

For the first time since Misano last year two satellite riders stood on the podium, Redding  for the second time in his MotoGP career.  Only 13 riders finished the race, with crashers Pedrosa and Smith several laps down but still in the points.  Some astute reader will reveal the identity of the last Australian rider before Casey Stoner to win a MotoGP race; our crack research department is off on holiday this week.  Jorge Lorenzo improved greatly on his result from the first race, crossing the line 10th and capturing 6 points, probably shaking like a leaf.

The Big Picture

For Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, the weekend was a debacle.  For Ducati Corse, placing four bikes in the top seven, it was a triumph; Gigi Dall’Igna can only hope for a bevy of wet races during the second half of the season.  Marc Marquez commented several times after the race that his second place finish today felt like a win, as it powered his lead over Lorenzo from 10 to 24 points and pushed Rossi from 22 points back to a daunting 42.  He also refused to respond to a disrespectful crack from Miller during the post-race presser and now is exhibiting the maturity he has needed in the past to go with his ridiculous talents.  It says here he will win the 2016 championship.

Turning our gaze to Dresden, Germany and the tiny, cramped, very Aryan Sachsenring, we are stunned by the events which unfolded today during the first Dutch TT ever run on a Sunday.  The crowd or 105,000 surely got its money’s worth—two races for the price of one, and perhaps the only win of Jack Miller’s premier class career, as I expect him to return to Tranche Four in the weeks to come.

Though I will not deny Miller his One Shining Moment, I’m not sold on his talent nor his attitude.  Perhaps if he reads enough of this stuff he will take a look in the mirror, realize that he is the source of many of his own problems, and think twice before taunting Marc Marquez in a post-race press conference, should he ever be invited to one again.  Trailing the double world champion by 112 points, the only term he should use to address Marquez in 2016 is “sir.”

MotoGP 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead.  The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse.  Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone.  His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend.  Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Valentino Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Jorge Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left.  Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.  That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard.  Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca.  At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M-1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

Let’s review.  Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd.  Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Andrea Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016.  With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins.  The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9.  Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats.  Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team.  In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn.  Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Alex Rins leading the way, trailed by Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three.  Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class.  South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season.  His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season.  The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Nicky Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in World Superbike.  He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May.  Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori.  For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days.  But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin.  Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s.  Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier.  With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again.  Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet.  The voices in my head keep whispering Andrea Dovizioso.  And for the first time ever, we will have race results later on Sunday, not Saturday.  On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

Rossi holds off Marquez in riveting Dutch classic

June 27, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Assen Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

Heading into the 66th annual Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, Movistar Yamaha poohbah Valentino Rossi held the championship lead, teammate Jorge Lorenzo had the momentum, and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez was mired in an existential crisis.  Rossi shed his Alan Iverson-like disdain for practice, was quick all weekend, and qualified on pole.  Lorenzo, whose recent history at Assen has been horrific, never looked completely comfortable.  And Marquez, desperate for a return to his winning form over the past two seasons, arrived on a hybrid 2014/2015 model RC213V, looking for answers.  At the end of the day, all three stood on the podium, but only Rossi was happy about it. 

The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

                                    The bike lot at Assen for the 2015 TT.

The two Yamaha teammates traded their customary places during Friday’s qualifying session, with Rossi, typically starting from the third row, sitting on pole while Lorenzo, generally on or near the pole, started 8th.  Aleix Espargaro, on the #1 factory Suzuki, had to go through Q1 before emerging brilliantly in the middle of the first row, while Marquez, seeming far more in control of his machine all weekend, would start third.  The factory Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, experiencing their usual angst when Assen is dry, started from 6th and 10th places, respectively.  And Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who was lightning fast on Thursday, misplaced his mojo and began the race in the 11 hole.  A heavy crash during Saturday’s WUP left him wounded and shaken as the lights went out.

One of my standard complaints about MotoGP is that, compared to Moto3 and Moto2, there is relatively little fighting up front.  Someone, recently Lorenzo, takes off like a scalded cat leaving the rest of the field struggling to be second-best.  Today, Rossi and Marquez, joined briefly by Lorenzo, took off early to wage their own private war.  It was, however, anything but dull, a battle for the ages.

Rossi, despite leading for all but four laps, was unable to catch his breath at all, as Marquez, looking like last year’s model, stayed glued to his rear tire all day.  Most riders would eventually wilt under this kind of pressure.  But Rossi, with 84 premier class wins and 111 career wins under his belt coming into Assen, has been here before.  It was around Lap 6 that the econ major in me emerged, the equation looking like this:

P:  (#93/#46) > (#46/#93)

For you laymen, this reads “The pressure on Marquez with Rossi dogging him is greater than the pressure on Rossi with Marquez dogging him.”  No one leading a MotoGP race in 2015 wants to see Valentino Rossi appear in his rearview mirror.  And Rossi knows he will get the maximum out of his bike every time out; if someone is going to pass him, it’s because their ride is superior to his on that day.  In which case there is nothing to worry about.

It was clear that Marquez would challenge Rossi at some point, which he did on Lap 20, going through decisively into the lead, to which he appeared to be holding on for dear life as Rossi refused to budge.  Sure enough, on Lap 24, Rossi and Marquez exchanged the lead twice, Rossi emerging in front.  He widened the gap on Lap 25, the announcers advising us that Marquez appeared to have been “broken.”

Um, no.

Lap 26 found both riders pushing to the limit, with Marquez, sliding all over the place, lizard brain in control, suddenly closing to within a few feet of Rossi entering the last lefthander.  As Marquez dove inside, his front tire contacted Rossi’s right boot, the result finding Marquez running way wide into the final turn, and Rossi inadvertently cutting the corner, running straight into, and through, the gravel, somehow keeping his bike upright, emerging 50 yards in front of Marquez, and taking the time to look back at Marquez, as if to say, “THAT’S for lap four at Laguna Seca in 2013, stronzo.”Rossi vs. Marquez Lap 4, Turn 8, 2013 Laguna Seca

In a post-race interview, Marquez sounded miffed, as if Rossi had fouled him when they came together in the penultimate turn.  Instead of being happy returning to the podium for the first time since Jerez, the young Spaniard was ticked off at not having won.  Such is the competitive nature of Marc Marquez.  His team was undoubtedly ecstatic at seeing him return to the form he showed in 2014.  Unfortunately, it was on a day when Valentino Rossi returned to the form he showed in 2005.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Lest we forget, Lorenzo cruised around all day by himself in third place, for a highly unsatisfying podium finish, having failed to overtake his teammate for the series lead.  Andrea Iannone, making a case for recognition as the #1 rider on the factory Ducati squad, did much the same in fourth position.  The battle for fifth place raged all day, six riders going hammer and tongs, the final order comprised of Pol Espargaro (Tech 3 Yamaha), Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda), Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar).  The gap between 5th place and 10th was one (1) second; this can be a cruel sport.

Give Us More Facts, Fewer Opinions

Okay.  With his ninth career win here, Valentino Rossi becomes the most successful MotoGP rider in history at Assen.  Yamaha Racing, for the first time in its history, has now won six consecutive races.  Rossi won from pole for the first time since Misano in 2009.  Over the last three laps Andrea Dovizioso slipped from 8th place to 12th, following his worst QP of the year, starting in 10th.  After 66 years of racing at Assen on Saturdays, the race will be moved to Sunday starting next year.  Valentino Rossi has podiumed in 15 of his last 16 races; Andrea Iannone has finished in the top six every round this year.  The last time Jorge Lorenzo led the MotoGP standings was after the first round in Qatar in 2013.  Finally, Yonny Hernandez and Valentino Rossi tied today for the MDBG Award:  Most Delicious Brolly Girl.  🙂

The Big Picture

Rossi now leads Lorenzo by 10 points approaching the halfway mark of the season, a year in which many of the races have been won or lost in qualifying.  If Rossi continues to qualify as he did today, he is going to be a force for the rest of the season.  Iannone remains in third place, with Marquez having leapfrogged a sagging Dovizioso into fourth.  Bradley Smith continues as the top satellite rider in 6th place, followed by Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Vinales and Pedrosa as your top ten riders.  Yamaha is cleaning up in the battle for the constructor’s trophy.

For the few remaining American fans left in the house, Nicky Hayden finished in 16th place today, and resides in 21st place for the season.

Next Up:  The Sachsenring

MotoGP descends on northeastern Germany in two weeks for the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland.  Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez have won the last five races here, making it one of the most Honda-friendly circuits on the calendar.  With the HRC season on life support, the Repsol Honda team could certainly use a win in Round 9.  While Dani Pedrosa’s woes continue, Marc Marquez appears to be back.  A third consecutive success at The Sachsenring would confirm it.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

Johann Zarco, a man with a future in MotoGP.

MotoGP 2015 Assen Preview

June 23, 2015

Team Yamaha at a pivot point in the 2015 chase.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.led-zeppelin-1-front-588171

As the 2015 MotoGP season approaches the halfway mark, the factory Yamaha team of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the Bruise Brothers in Blue, have had things pretty much their own way. Between them, they’ve won six of the seven races to date. Double defending world champion Marc Marquez and his Honda RC213V have appeared, in the words of Led Zeppelin, dazed and confused. The annual visit to the Cathedral, the Motul TT Assen, could interrupt several recent trends.

Despite having camped out on the podium all season, Dr. Rossi has watched his lead over his Spanish teammate shrink from 29 points on the road to Jerez to a single point, as Lorenzo has hogged the top step of the rostrum for the last four rounds. Momentum is clearly in the Spaniard’s favor. But Assen, with its unpredictable (read: damp and cold) weather and stop-and-go traffic, has been a Rossi fave over the years—six premier class wins—while Lorenzo has only managed a single win here since 2008, during his first championship season in 2010. Since then, the Dutch TT has been a train wreck for #99, as follows:

• 2011—Marco Simoncelli, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, from whence he pedaled his posterior off to salvage a 6th place finish.
• 2012—Alvaro Bautista, the #1 rider on the Gresini Honda team, got over-excited on cold tires and knocked Lorenzo into the weeds on Lap 1, this time putting Jorge down for the count. His 25 point lead heading into Holland evaporated in an instant, and he left tied with Casey Stoner for the series lead. Though he would eventually take the 2012 title, the Lorenzos and the Bautistas would not exchange Christmas cards that year or ever again.
• 2013—Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone. His gritty 5th place finish that day presaged further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another dramatic highside destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marc Marquez and the start of a new racing legend.
• 2014—a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left. Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, The Doctor is Cool, Calm and Collected

RossiValentino Rossi, the ageless veteran, has things just about where he wants them at this point. He can afford to praise the ascendant Lorenzo, his teammate, while keeping his powder dry for what is a long, twisty season. He can be generous in his remarks toward the suffering Marquez, playing the role of the eminence grise, fully aware that Marquez will likely succeed him as the king of the sport, but not this year. And he can applaud the efforts of Ducati Corse and its two current heroes, the dueling Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone. Nationalism runs a close second to Catholicism in Italy, where Rossi is a venerated icon.

In short, Rossi has positioned himself as a father figure to the rest of the top six riders on the grid, including Bradley Smith, who is making a name for himself on the Tech 3 Yamaha. And just in case the young guns start getting cocky, Rossi, more than any other rider on the grid, instills fear and despair when, after his usual mediocre start, he suddenly appears on pit boards—Rossi +1.4—and begins charging back to the front. He may be old, but he is still very dangerous on race day. He does not beat himself, and if you want to beat him, you need to run a perfect race.

How cool must it be to be Valentino Rossi?

The Trial Continues for Marc Marquez

As cool as it is to be Vale these days, it must be a pain being Marc Marquez in 2015. The lily has been rudely un-gildedmarquez_crash this season, to the extent that he is flirting with his 2014 chassis in an effort to re-discover the magic of the past two years. The racing press has been hounding him since Austin, the almost invincible air of the past year and a half having left the balloon. That he would not win the title in 2015 might have been anticipated, especially after the second half that Lorenzo turned in last year. But to fall so far so quickly has taken everyone, undoubtedly including Marquez himself, by surprise.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the margin between glory and gravel in this sport is very thin. A good time for my annual apology to the back third of the grid, upon whom I tend to heap abuse, despite the fact that they lap only a couple of seconds slower than the Aliens. Marquez, at the ripe old age of 22, is giving an object lesson in one of my favorite expressions of all time:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

The engineers at Honda will get the RC213V straightened out before too long, although doing so might not precede the RC214V. Marquez will learn from this year, the particularly acute lessons having been delivered in Argentina, Mugello and Catalunya. His “win or bin” mentality is being hammered, right before our eyes, into a “discretion is the better part of valor” approach, one in which 20 or 16 points are seen as far superior to zero.

The venerable Nick Harris, who has been calling MotoGP races since the earth cooled, rarely mentions points in his broadcasts without inserting the adjective “precious”, an attitude I believe Marquez discounted until this season. With a more stable bike beneath him, and a more mature attitude toward the competition itself, Marquez is bound to win a great many more titles before he hangs up his leathers.

This and That

Having apologized to the have-nots of the MotoGP grid, I must admit that my favorite news clip since Catalunya featured Marco Melandri, who, fronting for the Gresini Aprilia fiasco, is 0-for-2015. He disclosed in an interview this week that he is “optimistic” following the installation of a new swingarm on his RS-GP. I suppose that reducing the likelihood of getting lapped in a grand prix motorcycle race conforms to some notion of optimism.

Nicky Hayden, the last American standing, announced his intention of finishing as the top open class entry this year, which will necessitate doing something about Loris Baz, Jack Miller and Stefan Bradl.

Finally, the weekend forecast, which includes a good chance of rain and temps in the high 60’s and low 70’s. Unable to predict the weather, I can predict that Valentino Rossi will leave Assen still in first place for the year. I’m not sure who will win on Sunday—weird things happen in The Low Countries—but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Jorge Lorenzo. We’ll have race results right here on Saturday morning.

Magic Marquez leads pilgrimage to the Cathedral

June 23, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Assen Preview, by Bruce Allen

Repsol Honda God-child Marc Marquez leads his team and the rest of the MotoGP grid to Assen, which has been hosting Marquez at Aragonmotorcycle races in one form or another on the last Saturday in June since 1925. During this period, the race has morphed from the Dutch TT to the Dutch Grand Prix, from a road race to a closed-course tilt, and from motorized bicycles to the fastest two-wheeled racing machines on earth. Revered by fans and riders, Assen would be a fitting place for Marquez to set yet another modern day record.

Rossi 2014Recall 2002, when the MotoGP God-child was a brash 23-year old Italian named Valentino Rossi. Rossi had entered the premier class in 2000 after having won titles in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. In 2001 he would win the first of five consecutive world titles, taking 11 of the 16 races that year aboard the 500cc Honda. In 2002, a rule change brought about the beginning of the four-stroke era, to which Rossi adapted almost immediately. In 2002, during his second premier class title year, he won seven races in succession, a mark that has stood ever since.

A mark which is likely to fall this Saturday afternoon to a new Marc.

In the modern era of MotoGP, no premier class rider has ever started stronger than has Marquez in 2014, winning the first seven contests of the season. Though the first five were relatively straightforward, the last two, at Mugello and Catalunya, have been bayonets at close quarters, and the young Catalan has not blinked. Assen, which, from the air, looks like a carelessly crushed little oval, boasts some of the highest average lap speeds on the tour, according to MotoGP. Yamahas have taken three of the last four races here, despite the shortest straight on the tour.Assen

Regardless, you can take all that talk, all those facts and figures, crumple them into a little ball and toss them in the trash. Marc Marquez is probably going to figure out a way to win Saturday’s race, establish a new record, and continue his ridiculous assault on 18-for-18.

Recent History at Assen

In 2011, Ben Spies, in his first year aboard the factory Yamaha YZR-M1, was the beneficiary of a first lap crash that took teammate and defending Assen and world champion Jorge Lorenzo out of contention. The charismatic and wildly erratic Marco Simoncelli, riding a factory spec Honda for Fausto Gresini, attempted to go through Lorenzo on cold tires, with negative consequences for both riders. Lorenzo re-entered the race in 15th position and worked his way back to a sixth place finish, while Repsol Honda pilots Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium.

The following year, Stoner, en route to his second world title, outdistanced teammate Dani Pedrosa by five seconds for the win. Running third again that day, this time on a satellite Yamaha, was Andrea Dovizioso. And again that year, Lorenzo was cut down by a Gresini Honda on Lap 1, this time by the narcissistic and spatially-clueless Alvaro Bautista. Four other riders crashed out that day, Colin Edwards retired with CRT problems, and Karel Abraham failed to start, having injured himself in practice. The 2012 race was notable for the fact that six (6) CRT bikes would finish in the points, owing to the demolition derby up front.

Last year, on a wet track, overachieving rookie Marquez chased a resurgent Valentino Rossi for a good part of the day, The Doctor prevailing for what would be his only win of the year on the factory Yamaha. Soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow, bitterly piloting the competitive satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, finished third, cementing his credentials to become a Factory Rider for Ducati Corse and, in the process, virtually ruining his career. Defending world champion Lorenzo fractured his collarbone during FP2, flew home for surgery, qualified 12th and managed to finish fifth in one of the grittiest performances many of us have ever seen. Pedrosa would endure his own season-screwing collarbone fracture the following round in Germany, the two injured Aliens leaving the door open for Marquez’ shocking rookie championship.

Marc Marquez winning the title in 2013 was a surprise. In 2014, the surprise will be if he doesn’t win the title. Assen has been the site of a number of unexpected outcomes over the years, so another could be in the cards this week. My only advice to the Spanish youngster for Saturday: steer clear of Bautista and Redding.

Colin Edwards

An Apology to Colin Edwards

Many of you have accused me of treating Colin Edwards rather harshly in recent years, and I have come to agree. His interview elsewhere this week clearly illustrated the fact that he has paid his dues, enjoyed a great deal of success, and is as candid and honest about the sport and his place in it as anyone ever. He and Nicky Hayden seem to be kindred spirits.

Edwards’ best years were behind him when I began following MotoGP seriously in 2008. He is old school Texas through and through, brings a kind of dirt bike mentality to the sport, and likely would have enjoyed more success later in his career but for the advances in the control electronics that now dominate the grid. His performance at Silverstone in 2011, finishing third in the rain a week after breaking his own collarbone at Catalunya, was epic, both in terms of skill and stones. That it would be the last podium of his career is almost poetic.

This publication is full of shootouts, a term that brings to mind lining up a pair of thundering bikes at a streetlight, winding them up and lighting them off. Even at age 40, in that setting, with two identical machines, I would put my money on Edwards against anyone. If he had a couple of beers under his belt, I’d give odds.

Congratulations on a great career, Colin. I hope Michelin pays you wheelbarrows full of money to help them develop the next generation of MotoGP tires.

Ducati logoDucati Corse is SMOKIN’!

Perhaps you saw the announcement last week that Ducati will be leasing the Desmosedici, rather than selling it, in 2015. The subject is a bit academic, in that no one bought a single copy in 2014. (Unless they’re referring to Pramac Racing, which I think of as a Triple A factory team anyway. And why would they bother announcing a change in their relationship with Pramac to the press when they can just send an email?)

As regards 2015, I have only one question: To whom? Honda will surely beef up their production bike, in order to make amends with the likes of Aspar and Gresini. PBM Racing isn’t interested. There doesn’t appear to be a line forming of teams or riders anxious to risk life, limb and career on the Ducati. In fact, most of the current factory and Pramac riders appear willing to trade their current rides for just about anything short of an Evinrude-powered bathtub bolted to a couple of skateboards. Can the 2015 version really be a whole lot different/better than the 2014? Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Curious press release. If readers know more about this than meets the eye, please comment below.

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

It’s a shame that the Dutch Grand Prix is always run on the last Saturday in June which, in The Netherlands, is late winter. Again this year, high temps are forecast in the 60’s, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. The race goes off at 8:00 am EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Saturday afternoon.

MotoGP Assen 2013 Results

June 29, 2013

Rossi Wins, Bionic Lorenzo 5th in Dutch TT 

It was a thoroughly hectic weekend for factory Yamaha kingpin Jorge Lorenzo at the 2013 Dutch TT Assen.  Broke his collarbone in a routine highside in FP2 on Thursday afternoon, chartered a jet to Barcelona that day, had a couple hours of surgery early Friday morning, grabbed a bite to eat, flew back to Assen, slept a little on the plane, started 12th and finished 5th in the race.  Had to be helped off his bike at the end.  Ho hum. 

Another day at the office for Lorenzo.  This is a man chasing a third championship. This is a man with a pair the size of hubcaps.  Less than 36 hours after receiving a titanium plate and eight screws to hold it on, Lorenzo, The Bionic Man, in a world of pain, risks life and limb, so to speak, in order to stay within range of series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa.

So, instead of facing a barely comprehensible 32 point deficit, Lorenzo heroically manages to stay in second place, within 9 points of Pedrosa.  That Pedrosa would cooperate by having an uncharacteristically bad outing and finishing 4th was good fortune itself.  It’s still a race, albeit an uphill one for Lorenzo, for the title.  For today, the race had about the best possible outcome for Lorenzo, who is somewhat miraculously bent, not broken.

Meanwhile, Back at the Race

Largely overlooked in all this were two performances, one serene, the other sublime, almost surreal.  The first was Monster Tech 3 Yamaha ruffian Cal Crutchlow, winning the pole as a Brit for the first time in 11 years, the first satellite bike on the pole since yank Ben Spies, on the same bike, did it in Indianapolis in 2010.

Despite a poor start, and despite looking like he could crash out of a podium at any moment, as is his wont, Crutchlow went through on Pedrosa on Lap 21 to finish 3rd, a great result for the suddenly hot Englishman.  His late run at Honda rookie Marc Marquez didn’t work out, as the two bikes touched, Marquez held his line, and Crutchlow lost his.  End of story for second place.  Crutchlow richly earns his third podium of the season and does nothing to diminish his prospects for 2014.

The surreal picture of the day, of course, was that of Valentino Rossi starting 4th, going through on Stefan Bradl into 3rd place on Lap 1.  Flying, looking eerily like the Rossi of 2008, he went through easily on Marquez on Lap 5 into 2nd place.  From there, it was one more lap until he slipped past Pedrosa on Lap 6 and won, not by a mile, but going virtually unchallenged over the last 20 laps.  It was fun watching, in turn, Bradl, Pedrosa, and finally Marquez thinking, “Holy s**t.  I’ve got Valentino-frigging-Rossi on my tail, and he’s got pace.  God help me.”  I wrote Rossi off earlier in the year, before his epiphany with the brakes this past week.  Let’s see how he does in Germany and Laguna, the rest of Amen Corner, before giving him his Alien membership card back.

As good a day as it was individually for Lorenzo and Rossi and Crutchlow, it was a great day for Team Yamaha, putting three bikes in the top five and two on the podium, with Lorenzo averting disaster, living to fight again another day for the 2013 title.  And, for the record, we are wondering when the last time was that neither Pedrosa nor Lorenzo stood on the podium after a race.  We should have that answer for you within two weeks.  All I can say is Jorge Lorenzo makes me shake my head—about Ben Spies.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Repsol Honda #2 Marc Marquez finished second today after three consecutive wins here over the past three years in the junior leagues.  He also has three wins in a row at Sachsenring, so expect him to be competitive again next time out.  Pedrosa has  three consecutive premier class wins there, too, while Lorenzo has four seconds in a row, some kind of frustration record.

Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda qualified for his first premier class front row, started well, but faded to his usual 6th place finish.  Brit Bradley Smith qualified 6th on his Tech 3 Yamaha but slipped to 9th at the flag.  In between the two were Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda and Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia CRT.  Bautista was celebrating not having taken a factory Yamaha out on Lap 1 and little else.

Andrea Dovizioso finishing 10th and Nicky Hayden 11th on the factory Ducatis were the high point of a lousy weekend for the Bologna branch of Audi Corporation.  Dovizioso, presumably, is smarting from having been assessed a penalty point, a whole penalty point, along with Hector Barbera resulting from a close encounter in qualifying in which they were observed trying to pimp-slap one another.  The penalty points, new this season from your friends at Race Direction, were for “fighting like girls.”

Dovizioso, who managed to qualify a sterling 15th on his shiny factory Ducati, said he has a clear conscience about the entire incident.  If you can willingly abandon a Yamaha ride for a Ducati ride, I guess you can have a clear conscience about lots of things.  Former partner and teammate Cal Crutchlow is fighting for podiums on the satellite Yamaha, and Dovi is slapfighting with Spaniards on the way to 10th place finishes.  Spaniards who’ve already been beaten up by their girlfriends this season.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Dani Pedrosa maintains his lead in the series, now leading Lorenzo by nine points.  In third sits Marquez, with 113 points, 14 behind Lorenzo.  Farther back, Rossi and Crutchlow are virtually deadlocked for fourth place, with Crutchlow at 87 and Rossi 85.  Here is the top ten after seven rounds in 2013:

Top 10 Riders after 7 rounds.

Heading to Germany, a very Honda-friendly track, Pedrosa will expect to extend his lead over Lorenzo, while Marquez, too, will be thinking career win #2.  Lorenzo, one thinks, would be delighted to finish second at the Sachsenring again this year, in his condition.  Perhaps his wingman Rossi can take up some of the slack and keep the Repsol boys at bay while the Mallorcan continues to heal.

As for Dani Pedrosa, despite an ordinary outing today, he leads the championship, perhaps at a later stage in the season than ever before.  He’s uninjured—did we mention that Marquez broke a toe and a finger in practice yesterday?—and leading the series, with some friendly circuits coming up.  It’s too early for him to begin thinking about getting conservative, about just not crashing.  But one gets the sense that, at some point, it will be time.  For the first time in his premier class career, he may find himself later this season with a trophy to protect.

Today, in the Netherlands, Team Yamaha had its day in the sun.  We’re only halfway to Valencia, but the 2013 Repsol Honda team must be feeling pretty sunny themselves.

July 1, 2012

Thanks to Motorcycle.com for the link.

Late Braking MotoGP

Assen, The Netherlands, Saturday, June 30, 2012–Immediately following today’s race, Cal Crutchlow, who labors for the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team, had a few choice words for fellow rider Alvaro Bautista, the #1 rider on the San Carlo Honda team.  At the start of the race, Bautista launched himself from the number eight spot on the grid, going white hot into the first turn.  The resulting, entirely predictable low-side crash removed Bautista from the contest, which is fine.  The problem was that it also removed championship leader Jorge Lorenzo, he of the factory Yamaha team, who was quietly minding his own business.  Crutchlow, too, was victimized by the reckless actions of Bautista, as he slipped from fifth position to 13th, trying to avoid the chaos in front of him.

Crutchlow was still amped on adrenaline and anger shortly after the race when someone stuck a microphone in his grille and…

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