Posts Tagged ‘Cal Crutchlow’

MotoGP Motegi Preview

October 10, 2017

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

OMG–Three Races in Three Weeks

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

When Last We Left our Heroes…

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

Recent history at Motegi

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

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

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

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

Life in the Tranches

After Round 13 Misano

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

After Round 14 Aragon

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

Catalonia Referendum

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

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

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

Gazing at the Crystal Ball

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Assen Preview 2017

June 19, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Expect the Unexpected at the Dutch TT 

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

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

Recent History at Assen 

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

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

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

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1:       Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso

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

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

Tranche 4:       P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:       Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1        Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silly Season Underway

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

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

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

We will  have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Catalunya Results 2017

June 11, 2017

©  Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso repeats; Vinales comes back to the field 

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 Catalan GP

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

MotoGP Catalunya Preview 2017

June 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Needs a Win—Right Now Would Be Fine

The small fleet of 747s that is the MotoGP Moving & Storage Company lands this week in Barcelona for the second of four Spanish rounds.  The track, recently reconfigured for safety reasons, has been roundly criticized by the riders as no longer fun or “MotoGP-worthy.”  Blah blah blah.  By the time Friday rolls around, every rider with a drop of Spanish blood in him will be banging on about the history of Montmelo and overflowing with optimism about his team’s prospects.  Business as usual amongst the yachting class.

Maverick Vinales and his factory M1 sit on top of the world, stiff-arming half a dozen wannabe chasers, learning his trade and thinking seriously about a world championship.  He had nothing substantial to gain from any effort to track down eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso on Sunday; 20 points was plenty that day.  There were Ducatis everywhere.  The Hondas appeared to offer but two settings, “SLOW” and “DANGEROUS.”  If only that pesky Petrucci hadn’t been on his back the last third of the race, he could have relaxed a little.

Alvaro Bautista had a memorable day, flogging his GP16 to a solid 13 points.  And Tito Rabat’s game is so messed up that on a day when the rest of the Hondas were simply trying to stay shiny side up, he finishes 11th for the second round in a row, his best outcomes since Brno last year, four spots ahead of Jack Miller, second only to The Great Marquez amongst the Hondas.

Recent History at Catalunya

Catalunya 2014 took place during The Year of Marquez, as the fearless sophomore sensation first mixed it up with Yamaha mullah Rossi, followed by another close encounter with teammate Pedrosa.  Marquez ended up winning his seventh straight 2014 race by half a second over Rossi after Pedrosa, forcing the issue late in the day, touched tires with Marquez and bounced wide, allowing Rossi through, ultimately settling for third.

Whatever faint hopes Marquez held for a third consecutive title in 2015 ended on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he dumped his Honda RC213V in the gravel, his day and season done.  With Lorenzo having leapt into the lead on the first lap, and knowing what would happen if he let the Mallorcan get away, Marquez had no choice but to try to force the issue early. At the end of the day, he trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Game over for Marquez while the war between the factory Yamaha teammates continued, as the Brits say, to hot up.

Last year’s classic featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez to slug it out for the rest of the day.  Rossi prevailed after a challenge from Marquez subsided when his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Vinales on the Suzuki.

A brief review:  Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez have enjoyed victory here recently, while Pedrosa and Vinales have been sniffing around.  Everyone is saying the new layout favors everyone but them.  Other than Vinales, the Aliens will be pressing this weekend.  After Mugello, Pedrosa and Lorenzo have some splainin’ to do concerning the status of their Alien cards.

Tranching Around

This re-ranking is tempered by the fact that the tires played a distinct part in Sunday’s results.  That, and the fact that it’s all totally arbitrary to begin with.

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Dovizioso

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

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham, Smith

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

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)

My sense of symmetry is offended by the presence of only two active riders in Tranche 5. I keep wanting to put someone like Karel Abraham in there.  Also Tranches 2 and 3 are, unfortunately, over-booked; according to FAA regulations, one rider needs to move down a notch from each.  We’re asking for volunteers…

Michelin Still Pedaling Hard to Keep Up

Readers, your boy Cal Crutchlow has been running his mouth again, after Sunday’s disastrous outing at Mugello. Claims the tires brought by Michelin had been designed for the Ducatis, that even the hard option was way too soft for the Honda riders.  Also used the term “ruthless” to describe Dani Pedrosa’s riding style, which I think is a bit of a reach.

Same old problem for the Hondas in Italy—having to put too much load on the fronts during braking to make up for the absence of acceleration on the back side of the apex. Marquez said much the same thing.  Not sure why things appear to be a puzzle every week for Michelin with a year’s experience under their belts.

The Lorenzo/Ducati cabal won the hard vs. soft carcass debate which, with a medium front/soft rear configuration, works like crazy for the Ducs, as we saw Sunday, when it’s not too hot on the track.  Let’s just say that starting next year in Mugello I don’t want to hear the Honda contingent wailing anymore.  Michelin can’t be the tire of choice for two manufacturers and the tire of last resort for the other four.  Another full year is plenty of time to sort this out.

Upcoming Weekend and Calendar Issues

Sunday’s race is the first of three in the next four weeks before the overly long summer vacation.  While Montmelo will likely remain a rider favorite, and The Cathedral at Assen as well, not too many guys like The Sachsenring.  All too often the cold, wet conditions in these latitudes play an oversized role in the world championship.  Except for 2015, the races at Assen have been pivotal.  We’ll take a closer look at both next time.

The long-term forecast for metropolitan Barcelona is for clear skies and warm temps over the weekend.  Honda weather.  Honda needs some weather, some juju, something cosmic going for it this weekend.  If I were Marquez I would seriously be lobbying to be allowed to use my 2014 frame again.  This 2017 machine he’s on is not competitive.  He shouldn’t have to work as hard as he (and Pedrosa, and Crutchlow…) have to in order to get some kind of drive out of the corners.

This is a Honda-friendly track, more so, if you believe Valentino, than it was before the new turns.  Marquez will be pressing, and the weather appears to be favorable.  I have him winning the race, Vinales second, and Zarco third.  Necessity is the mother of invention and all that.  Were I to follow my heart, I would have Marquez, followed by Zarco, Crutchlow and Rossi, with Vinales walking back from a gravel trap, shaken, not stirred.  Cal simply for the entertainment value.  I also confess to finding myself pulling for Marquez, as a triple world champion in his prime—never mind how you feel about him as a competitor/Lorenzo-lover/Rossi-rival—should have a bike suitable to his prodigious talents.  Honda does NOT want him looking around in 2018.

As usual, the race goes off at 8 am EDT in the U.S. and Canada, in likely addition to some locales in eastern South America.  We will have results and analysis right here in a jiffy thereafter.

MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

Last time out in France, the racing gods smiled upon Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa while flipping off Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. The jam-packed top four took a beating, with Vinales now enjoying a 17-point lead over series #2 Pedrosa.  Rossi is hurt.  The Hondas are a pain to ride.  There’s lots on the line heading to Mugello and Round 6. 

[Before we start, I wanted to acknowledge, having met him several times, how much I respected Nicky Hayden as a person. His family must be shattered. Greatly respected in the paddock, I probably sold his racing skills short for years.  He touched the lives of countless people and will be missed by many more.  Kevin Duke’s tribute was just right.]

 “Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own. Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP™ – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.”  MotoGP press release 5/29/2017

Bollocks.  Mugello is a heavyweight brawl, staged in front of thousands of passionate, mostly Italian, fans of one rider/bike or other, in various stages of inebriation, celebrating speed, nationalism, camaraderie, and the unbridled joy that comes with winning what is, for them, the Super Bowl.  People thumping their chests, proclaiming, “The EU is great.  Whatever.  WE’RE ITALIAN!!!” 

The Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley is usually one of the most dramatic events of the MotoGP year. Home to Rossi and Ducati, Mugello is a MotoGP shrine; this is a week in which everyone’s Italian.  Unfortunately, it has arrived at a moment when Ducati Corse is having a rough time—five mechanical retirements at Jerez–and local hero Rossi has hurt himself in a training accident after crashing out of 20 certain points in Spain.

With three accomplished Aliens chasing him–something like a combined 175 years of racing experience–Vinales must take care of the knitting this weekend.  Memo to #25:  Riders coming to Mugello leading by 17 have left leading by 42.  Or trailing by eight.  This is one of the pivot points of the season; rookie mistakes are not tolerated.  Races like this are the reason Yamaha is giving you wheelbarrows full of euros.  Places like Mugello are where you earn money and reputation.  Keep your head down.

Recent History at Mugello

In 2014, Jorge Lorenzo, then Yamaha icon, despite having led for 21 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, getting pimped by 12/100ths, with Rossi third, at least finishing the race, if not winning it.  The win put Marquez six-for-six in 2014 while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, put both riders on the podium but was unable to take the win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53-point margin over Rossi, the season reduced to a race for second.

2015 was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what he had delivered in France two weeks earlier.  Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans.  Polesitter Andrea Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a long list of injuries.  Rossi was able to dismiss a healing Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium.  Marquez crashed out mid-race during his season of discontent.  The locals went home happy with two paisans and a Ducati on the podium.

Last year featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Ducati.

Tranche Time

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

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑↑, Folger↑, Dovizioso

Tranche 3:  Petrucci, Miller↓, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro↑, Iannone

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham↑, Smith↑

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

Generally, when folks argue about the relative merits of one team or one rider versus another, the argument ends with one of them bellowing, “SCOREBOARD, baby!”  In MotoGP, the bikes, anecdotally regarded as 20% of the package, allow the arbitrary and careless ranking of riders you see above without regard to the standings.  It may also reflect current trends different from those extant in Qatar or after Round 3.  Paging Jorge Lorenzo.  One last observation:  Danilo Petrucci is underperforming on the Ducati GP17.  He needs some serious rain.

Rossi’s Injury

Our crack research team has contacted Vale’s doctor and convinced him that Italy has no HIPPA regs to violate, in order to further convince him to provide us, complete strangers, with exclusive information on the rider’s current sitch.  As it turns out, his condition has been upgraded to “sore as hell.”  He has a list of internal injuries in which the word “kidneys” was included, which is never good.  But he is currently in the hot tub with a bevy team of qualified young nurses receiving intensive massage and should be somewhat recovered, if completely drained, as it were, come Friday.  MotoGP riders have great health insurance.  And high pain tolerance. Strong cores, too.

Look, they wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if he was bleeding internally.  The shame of it is that it comes at this time, when he desperately wants and needs to do well in front of his homeys.  The priests at his old country parish in Tivullia are praying for him.  This may turn out to be his last best chance to insert himself back into title contention this year.  He needs to cinch it up.

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

Aspar has re-upped with Ducati for 2018, suggesting there will be eight Desmosedici’s on the grid again next season.  With Dorna’s stated intent of having four bikes for each manufacturer, and Suzuki probably ready to field a satellite team, this is a surprising development.  There is also talk that Audi is interested in selling the Ducati business. The Aspar team is typically short of cash; perhaps the three newer OEMs were reluctant to sign up with a financially shaky operation like Martinez’s.  The 2018 deal could be adversely affected by a sale at the corporate level as well.

2015 Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent will be back on the Moto2™ grid at Mugello as he replaces injured Iker Lecuona at Garage Plus Interwetten while the Spaniard recovers from a broken collarbone.  This after a decent guest appearance in France in Moto3.  This after he walked out of his contract with Kiefer Racing in Moto2 earlier in the year.  And this after titling in Moto3 in 2016.  Guy’s getting passed around the MotoGP mosh pit.  One suspects he may have to serve a year’s perdition in Moto3 before finding a new full time ride in Moto2 for the following season.  Must still have plenty of sponsor money.  Memo to Danny:  Fix, or swallow, your problems–don’t walk away from them.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-term weekend weather forecast is for sunny and hot, conditions once favorable to the Hondas.  Since it’s hard to predict tomorrow’s weather, we’ll ignore Sunday’s for now, but rain is always possible.  As for results, it’s hard for me not to see both factory Yamahas and Marc Marquez on the podium.  Or one from the factory Ducati team if the weather holds.  Dani Pedrosa.  Cal Crutchlow. Jack Miller in the rain.  The mind reels.

Before some readers get wound up, let me acknowledge the likelihood that the Moto2 and Moto3 races will be breathtaking thrillers.  I’ll do what I can. The MotoGP race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S.  We will, as always, have results and analysis here as soon as possible.

MotoGP Le Mans Results 2017

May 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi kicks it away; Viñales leads series 

vinales-on-yamahaedited

Today at the 30th running of the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, youth triumphed over experience.  Yamaha Top Gun Maverick Viñales withstood a classic last lap challenge brought by teammate and legend Valentino Rossi to capture Yamaha’s 500th grand prix win.  The youngster ended his day on the top step of the podium, the grizzled veteran his, prostrate in the gravel.  Ten years ago, Rossi would have won this race.  In 2017, the tide she is maybe beginning to turn.

Practice and Qualifying

FP1, on a wet but drying track, provided the usual comedic results found in wet sessions, with Jack Miller over a second clear of Marquez and Zarco, with the Espargaro brothers, Pol on the KTM and Aleix on the Aprilia, finishing dead last together, not having it.  FP2, wetter yet, saw Andrea Dovizioso put his Ducati in front of Marquez and Danilo Petrucci, another mudder.  FP3, still soggy, was topped by Scot Redding, Cal Crutchlow and Miller again.  FP4 was dry—Viñales, Pedrosa, Rossi, and Zarco–but by then the lambs and goats had been separated.  That things were out of kilter was exemplified by Scot Redding leading the Q2 lambs.

The goats relegated to Q1 included some recognizable names—Tech 3 rookies Zarco and Folger, plus Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dovizioso.  Dovizioso led Zarco into Q2 after an exhilarating 15 minutes, with the Frenchman climbing into second place at the tail end of the session.  But both KTM bikes—Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro—had already passed straight into Q2, along with a few other surprises—Karel Abraham and Loris Baz among them.  Go KTM.  Go GP15s.

When the dust and fumes cleared after Q2, we were left with an all-Yamaha front row of Viñales, Rossi, and Zarco, followed by Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Dovizioso.  The announcers were so caught up in homeboy Zarco’s last lap push for the front row—crowd going mental—it barely registered, to me anyway, that Viñales had taken his second pole of the season, his first since Qatar.

Meanwhile, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, both having podiumed at Jerez two weeks ago, found themselves starting 13th and 16th, respectively, having failed to pass through Q1.  The cool temperatures, one believes, hindered Pedrosa, who always has trouble heating up his front tire.  The possibility that it was raining somewhere in France appeared to affect Lorenzo, whom one reader has described as suffering from aquaphobia, not to mention bipolar disorder, gobs of self-recrimination, and in need of a full reset.  His ride today, from 16th to 6th was respectable, his Friday and Saturday not so much.

The Race – A Yamaha Cakewalk.  Almost.

Zarco, starting from the middle of the front row, put his head down at the start and, entering the second turn, had taken the lead, with Viñales, Rossi, and Marquez comprising the front group.  It appeared that Marquez was working harder than the Yamahas and that Viñales and Rossi were keeping their powder dry, waiting for their fuel loads to drop before taking on the rookie.  On Lap 7, Viñales went through cleanly on Zarco while Marquez began dogging Rossi.

A second group had formed up consisting of LCR Honda hooligan Cal Crutchlow, factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, and Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa who, having started 13th, was busily slicing his way through the field.  Pedrosa pushed his way past Crutchlow and into 5th place by Lap 15, turning his attention to teammate Marquez.  Suddenly, on Lap 17, under pressure from Pedrosa and with the Yamahas getting away, Marquez lost the front in Turn 3 (for the third time in two days).  His two DNFs in the first five rounds have a decidedly 2015 flavor to them.

Rossi went through Zarco on Lap 23 and unsurprisingly began lining up Viñales.  Thus began five laps of primo quality racing, as the veteran and the wünderkind squared off, one on one, for bragging rights.  Rossi went through into the lead on Lap 26, a scene we’ve witnessed scores of times over the years.  But Viñales took it back as Rossi ran wide midway through the last lap, trying to block Viñales, then laid his M1 down in a gentle low side late in the lap trying to overtake him yet again.

Valentino Rossi was not interested in finishing second today.  It was his for the asking, and he politely refused. Upon his departure from the racing surface, Zarco got promoted to a silver while Dani Pedrosa suddenly found himself on the podium, through almost no fault of his own.  One more time, class: “In order to finish first…”

Those of you who recall my prediction that Aleix Espargaro would put his Aprilia on the podium today undoubtedly share my angst at seeing him parked by the side of the track, head lowered, smoke wisping from his engine. After a terrible qualifying session, he had been climbing the order all day from 18th place at the start and, to my thinking, could have easily snagged third place had his engine not given out.  Just sayin’.  No need for anyone to point out that he crashed out of 8th place on Lap 24.

Ranking the Bikes

Sparing no expense, we here at MO have commissioned a non-scientific study ranking the overall capabilities of the various machines found on the grid.  In doing so, we relied on mood more than methodology.  The following rankings emerged:

2017 Yamaha

2016 Yamaha

2017 Honda

Ducati GP17

2017 Suzuki

2017 KTM

Ducati GP15

2016 Honda

2017 Aprilia

Ducati GP16

Readers are encouraged to take issue with these rankings.  We will re-rank the riders in our preview of the upcoming Mugello round.

Sidebars

The fact that Jack Miller is still with us after the crash he experienced on Saturday is nothing short of a miracle.  He later qualified in 11th place in the dry Q2 after dominating FP1 by a second and a half, having gambled on slicks late in the session.  [I wonder if the “mudders”—Miller, Petrucci, etc.—regret having developed a reputation for riding well in the rain at 190 mph.  Comparable to those guys who make a living tying themselves to the back of an enraged bull and trying to stay attached for 10 seconds after someone touches an electric prod to his nuts.  That moment when you think, “Am I really doing this?  Is this at all sustainable?” ]

Was it my imagination, or did pretty much every satellite Ducati in the field crap out today?

Finally.  The grippy new racing surface was supposed to lower qualifying times by a second or two.  Last year Lorenzo qualified at 1’31.975.  This year, on a dry, perhaps somewhat dirty track, Viñales qualified at 1’31.994.  But at the end of the 28-lap race on medium tires, Viñales and Rossi were trading lap records every time around.  Viñales set the newest lap record on the last lap of the race. So, the new asphalt appears to meet the ideal spec of non-abrasive with good grip.  And Michelin appears to have figured out Le Mans.

The Big Picture

Watching all three races today, I got the distinct impression that MotoGP is on the verge of being taken over by the ludicrously fast young riders populating Moto3 and Moto2.  Viñales beats Rossi and Zarco beats Pedrosa today, and one gets the impression that leadership amongst the premier class is on its way to turning over.  The Rossis, Pedrosas and Lorenzos seem to be in jeopardy of being pushed off center stage by names like Viñales, Zarco, Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Mir and Fenati, among others.

Until you look at the 2017 standings and see Dani Pedrosa and Vale Rossi grazing near the top of the food chain.  Veteran riders occupy four of the top seven spots for the year, five if you count Marquez. Maverick Viñales has put himself 17 points clear of his nearest competitor as the season turns toward Mugello.  He will have to keep eating his Wheaties if he intends to stay there.

PS–I neglected to post the Le Mans preview, which you can find right here.

 

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 Results

April 23, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez, Rossi Accept Gift from Vinales 

The run-up to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Maverick Vinales and Honda triple world champion Marc Marquez.  All day long, the British announcing crew was breathlessly prancing about the broadcast booth, pondering the sheer wonder of it all, going absolutely hyperbolic.  Showing no sense of the moment, Vinales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game. 

Practice, Practice, Practice 

FP1: Vinales was in charge, not having received the memo about Marquez’ ownership position at COTA.  FP2 was led by Marquez, snatched from Zarco; Vinales right behind, trimming his cuticles.  FP3 was Vinales, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Marquez.

Something had to be done about the weirdness in the standings.  Early in the season, MotoGP seemed to have fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Yamaha is just taking it to Honda—the 2016 M1 is competitive with the 2017 RC213V.  All four Yamahas sit in the top 11 for the season, including the two rookies.  Cal Crutchlow, the highest-ranked Honda, sits tied with rookie Jonas Folger.  Co-rookie Johann Zarco is on the move, a mere five points behind Folger and Crutchlow.  Three Ducs rest in the top ten led by, of all people, Scott Redding in fourth.

It was time to come up from the rabbit hole.  Time to return to Europe.  Just one more foreign outing in Texas to endure before things could return back to normal.

Establishing Positions

Q2 saw a few things put right, beyond the fact that Vinales and Marquez stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a bunch of Aliens and wannabees slugging it out for supporting spots in the top ten.  Vinales delivered the first sub-2:04 lap of the day with maybe 30 seconds left in the session.  20 seconds later, Marquez flogged his Honda to a fifth straight pole in Texas, from which he had won the previous four races.  Rossi snuck onto the front row late in the session, creating a second row of Dani Pedrosa, the impudent Zarco on the satellite Yamaha, and one Jorge Lorenzo, clad in white and red. Oh, and perhaps the save of the season, by Loris Baz late in the session.

Lorenzo and Jack Miller had made it through Q1, with Lorenzo putting the Ducati as high as fourth position before settling for sixth.  Zarco had been up near the top of the timesheets again all weekend, putting pressure on a lot of factory rides.  Miller crashed out of Q2 and appeared to be trotting back to the garage “gingerly,” his inevitable early-season injury having possibly arrived.  Dani Pedrosa was hanging around in fourth, back to starting up front with the big dogs.

In support of my blog, Rossi and Vinales had their first set-to on Saturday during qualifying, with Vinales seemingly cheesed off about Rossi cruising on the racing line.  Race Direction was later said to be considering sending a strongly-worded letter to Lin Jarvis asking him for “best efforts to prevail” upon The Franchise not to seriously injure The New Kid in Town.

The Race Itself

The 2017 American Grand Prix was more parade than firefight.  The factory Hondas and Yamahas emerged from the early chaos to form up the leading group, with Dani Pedrosa front and center.  Cal Crutchlow got clear of The Great Unwashed, and there was even a Jorge Lorenzo sighting around fifth place on the first lap.  The usual suspects quickly found themselves strung out along the bumps and potholes littering the Circuit of the Americas, which stands in need of a paving crew.

Although it took 21 laps and 45 minutes to confirm it, the race basically came down to four moves.  1) Vinales crashed late on Lap 2, leaving Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and Johann Zarco in the lead group.  2)  Marquez took the lead from Pedrosa on Lap 9.  3)  Rossi and Zarco came together a few minutes later, the Frenchman pushing Rossi wide to the right where he could cut back and increase his lead, incurring a hypothetical .3 second penalty that amounted to nothing but had the announcers, fully recovered from Vinales’ crash, happy to find something new to go mental over.  4) Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19.

Game.  Set.  Match

At Ducati Corse, Life Goes On

Andrea Dovizioso being interviewed elsewhere about his place in the Ducatisphere: 

Q:  So why can’t the problems (with the GP17) be solved?

A: “There’s a big difference between understanding the problems and solving them.”

Quoted elsewhere, it seems Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone has finally accepted as fact something the rest of the planet observed late last season.  This, allegedly, is News You Need: ‘Andrea Iannone says he is resigned to having to race with a top speed deficit with Suzuki throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.’  Please refer to the above quote from Dovi with regard to this revelation.

Rubbing salt in the wound, I’m pretty sure that Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone stole Jorge Lorenzo’s lunch money over the last few laps of the race.  We could be charitable and suppose JLo’s tires gave up on him.  Or we could be hateful and small and speculate that he got out-cojoñed by the two Italians.

The Big Picture 

With Vinales’ feet replanted in terra firma after an otherworldly start to his Yamaha career, we can now have a straightforward, adult conversation about the state of the MotoGP championship after three rounds.  The factory Yamahas and Hondas appear significantly ahead of everyone else early in the season.  Rossi and Vinales are frightening, Vinales for his sheer speed, Rossi for his strategic brilliance.

Marquez has atoned for his crash in Argentina and will push The Boys in Blue for the entire season.  The factory Ducati program is in deep yogurt, Dovizioso hanging onto fourth place by his fingernails while grasping bad luck with both hands.  LCR Honda stud Cal Crutchlow continues to nose around the top of the standings, his crash at Losail all that stands between him and a top three ranking.

So, order has been restored at the top of the MotoGP food chain just in time to return to racing in Europe.  Aliens occupy the top three spots in the standings.  Near-Aliens (semi-Aliens?) sit fourth and fifth, while the Alien Emeritus stands sixth.  The apparently brilliant Johann Zarco has seventh place all to himself, while teammate Jonas Folger is tied for eighth place with Pramac Ducati pilot Scot Redding and Jack Miller.  My boy Alex Rins, previously nursing a bad ankle, suffered a compound fracture of his wrist during practice this weekend and is out until further notice.

And Jorge Lorenzo, who sold his Alien Card for filthy lucre, sits counting his money in 13th place, with 12 points to show for his first three acts with Ducati.

A Look Ahead

Two weeks from now MotoGP blasts into the Spanish Riviera.  The racing will be at Jerez, while the action in the evening will be on The Strip in Cadiz.  Maverick Vinales, despite the good vibes associated with a return to home soil, probably will not be in the gift-giving mood in which he found himself today.

Excuse me while I butcher the old Smith Barney one-liner. If they want spots on the podium next time out, Rossi and Marquez will probably have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They’ll have to earn it.

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.